My maternal grandfather was – is – famous in our country for his writing. His novels, his plays, his essays. His scandals. The cheating and the affairs, the messy divorce and how his family disintegrated. My mother all but cut off contact with him, so I never knew him. Not outside the secondhand childhood stories and the anger and the sadness and the way everyone who found out we were related looked at us just a little differently.
I’ve never called you that. In my head, you are my mother’s father and nothing more. Maybe it’d be different if I’d met you more than once, when they found the cancer and ammu put the hurt aside to go see you for the first time since everything. Maybe if I’d known you… but a lot would have to be different for that to happen, I guess.
Look, my mother uses you to teach us not to want things. She says people who only do what makes them happy are selfish. The only thing I want is to understand where I come from. The roots of my culture, of this grief, they tangle up above ground like a mangrove tree’s. As in - I cannot trace them. And I cannot wield your language – it trips on the tongue. Look, I wrote an essay about you and it was in English. I think that is the tragedy that brought me here.
The only thing I might have asked you is where the stories come from. I want to know if it’s in the blood. I write sometimes too, but only ever about sad things. I think you could’ve taught me some of those words that don’t exist in English. I wonder sometimes about the handful of fairytales you might’ve left me if you hadn’t chosen to run away. Look, I’ve taught myself not to ask for things but the want, it stays. I want to be happy.
My mother’s biggest fear is that we’ll become you. And I’m afraid I wouldn’t know the difference. But tell me where the stories come from. Where do dreams really lead if you’d let the world burn to chase them? Tell me that I wouldn’t want to know. Please.