Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Collage

With teeny tiny fingers wrapped tightly around a little cushion of fist, delicate feet twitching with bursts of energy, the cute button-like black eyes search around the room. There are yapping lips, lilting sounds mingling with sudden cacophony, colorful swirls of light dancing around, and a million different smells and sensations assaulting and confusing the wobbling little head.

“Oh he looks just like you!”, someone coos.
“No, look at his nose... just like daddy’s”, another one squeals.
“All of this doesn’t matter. He is sure to change in 3 months”, a wise voice remarks.
“Well, surely not his nose!”, the proud daddy interjects.

With every newborn that gets visited, the most assuredly pleasing and popular topic to dominate the conversation is - whom does the baby resemble? This topic of discussion continues forever, in every gathering, every occasion that brings together people after a long enough period of time. Even when you’re 60 and croon to your own grandchild, there will always be someone to wonder whom you look like, talk like, walk like, think like, cook like, eat like.

We seem to revel in immeasurable thrill and awe in finding traces of our genes manifested and taking life in other people. I can understand how amazing it is to look into eyes that mirror yours, to witness mannerisms that characterize your father, to hear the voice of your spouse, and to watch someone grow into a brand new person with a permutation and combination of traits that are intimate signatures of who you are, where you come from, and what you’re made of. It’s even more fascinating when a second aunt stumbles into a niece that has taken after her. An implicit bond blooms. The wonder of Nature at its best.

But, just like the newborn above who doesn’t grasp any of this, I’ve lived through most my life listening to people discuss about my appearance and characteristics with a glazed, disinterested look. As aunties stared and probed into my very soul trying to prove their point about my resemblance, I vacantly looked at their colorful silks and dissected their interesting, if quirky, behavior. It didn’t matter much to me whom I looked like. As a child, I always thought of myself as my own. Period. However, subconsciously, I seem to have been swayed by such talk. Popular opinions voiced by loud and opinionated aunties and uncles sunk into me, making me believe whom I’ve taken after, and whom I ought not to have taken after. Yeah, “ought not to”. It’s the perpetual maternal versus paternal clash. Maternal relatives stress you are an embodiment of them, while the paternal relatives put their foot down on such nonsense. In the end, the most loudest, emphatic statements win over.

At this stage in my life, when I’ve taken the interest and opportunity to get to know my maternal as well as paternal family, without the biases of one over the other, I eerily see myself in the most unexpected groups of people. For the first time, I see myself reflected in people beyond my parents. And it’s staggering to connect yourself with a wider circle of people who mostly remained strangers despite being family. It’s almost as if I’m rediscovering myself and my roots, and it’s humbling and eye-opening.

When people vote that you resemble one parent, you just go with it, even if you can’t see the resemblance for yourself that convincingly. But one fine day, you catch yourself in a picture and gasp, for today you can really see the uncanny resemblance, so much so that your heart skips a beat wondering if the camera and mirror can play such tricks. It’s a totally different feeling. My heart leaps as I see my mother’s smile in my eyes and lips, I see her insecurities and sensitive feelings rise in me, I sense her gait as I walk;  I see my father’s annoyed expression in my brows, his mammoth will in my glimmers of persistence, his perceptiveness in my occasional intuitions;  I see my aunt’s stoicism in my forehead and jaws, her stubborn introversion in my social anxieties, her words in my writing; I see my uncle’s absent-mindedness, his curiosities in my thoughts, his laid-back demeanor in my actions, and I no longer see me. I see them in me.

Every day, I come closer to the realization that I am indeed a collage of a gigantic picture of mankind. While earlier, this feeling of not just being “me” disconcerted me, now I find myself embracing it joyously. It is wondrous to say the least. For it is indeed true that despite the numerous traits and resemblances I’ve directly imbibed, how I choose (as I naively continue to believe) to act on these traits, in what circumstances and situations I display them, and how I learn to use and adapt them for my growth and to leverage my advantage, makes me “me”.