My dear Shiv,
Mama is writing you this letter as we just came back from a month long India trip, your first trip to India. The whole month in India, there was only one thing you did, being loved. You were all the time being hugged, kissed and protected, by our sweet loving family. It's funny that mama took you to China for a month in August-September 2015, but never thought about writing you a letter about it, because China is where mama comes from and to me it's nothing more than going back to hometown for a visit which I do frequently. I guess when you have your own family, either traveling to China, India or America, you would always feel like returning home.
It is mama's fifth time in India, we came back to California a few days already, but till now I have never stopped thinking about it, the places, the faces. From the first time I saw her in 2009, India changed so much and it could change even faster and more dramatically, mama has this strong fear that I might not have enough time to embrace, to breath all in, to write them down, before certain beauty disappears. This fear has its roots in mama's childhood in China. Throughout my childhood China changed completely, old houses demolished, forests replaced by metropolis, villages disappeared, rivers drained or polluted, in less than twenty years. Now the whole world is talking about China like a superstar, but sometimes all mama want is the passage to reconnect to the past.
I wish my grandfather’s house is still there for the big family to gather together every weekend, the pond in front is still filled with water and fishes, the hills in the back are still full of peach trees and they bloom in spring, I wish the neighbors are still around and sometimes we could meet up during lunar new year to talk about old times. Some of the best times of my life was spent following the neighborhood kids into the mountains, gathering under the bamboo trees exchanging horror stories, climbing peach trees with my cousin sister or simply watching the ants transport food and build anthills underneath the pomegranate tree in our little garden. My grandpa and the whole neighborhood’s houses are taken away because the local government decided to relocate and expand a primary school’s campus on our land. I had never imagined all that made me who I am, blurred out in front of my eyes, and blown away in the wind like dust. Yes now we live in fancy apartments, drive fancy cars, wear fancy clothes, but a soul like me, her heart stops singing, if she is taken away from her earth.
While mama was carrying you in my belly, there was a period as long as two to three months, I had been continuously dreaming about my grandpa's old house, the pond, the hills, the neighbors. Grandpa built it himself, as an outsider finally he settled in the town after many years' hard work by himself. Like other families, our family lost track of our ancestors, grandpa seldom mentioned anything. China was thrown upside down due to political traumas, prestigious families and almost entire high class wiped out, new generations mostly left rootless, and lacking interests in the search of roots. My grandfather, my mother’s father, was an extremely kindhearted person, he had high ideals and believed in self-discipline and sacrifice, he sincerely contributed his whole life to the building of the nation, as a response to the state propaganda at that time. In grandpa’s house, my parents got married there, I was born there, when my father was away for three years pursuing higher education, I spent all of my time there and grandpa played the role as my father for that three years. I still remember he took me wherever he went, we were often on the roof of his office watching trains pass by, we often took a walk after dinner in the forest nearby, our favorite place to listen to my grandpa’s mythological stories. Grandpa also passed away in that house, the image is still fresh and clear in my mind - a few hours before he went, when I, the kid he loved the most, entered the room, his face started trembling, lips shaking, tears came down, but he couldn't speak anymore, no last words to me.
What has been crashing me is that I won't be able to show you the house, the rooms we played hide and seek, the door frame which marks our height growth, the wall we jumped up and down again and again. Even though in the new Chinese society it is normal to be a drifter, pushed around like a float, I long for roots… Because of the months-long-dreams, I decided to name you after my grandfather, which is the middle name you have.
Mama is telling you the story about my grandfather and his old house, because when I saw the house and village in where your Papa grew up, and understood that while in China the government holds the ultimate ownership to all lands, in India individual people are the ones who have ownership to lands, government doesn’t, my heart was relieved. In India it’s illegal for the government to claim any private land, it’s unimaginable if the government could forcefully demolish someone’s house to make highway or malls. While acquiring lands for a thousand meter long highway usually takes two months in China, in India it seems never ending.
I want you to spend your golden childhood in the village where your Papa and his forefathers lived, running around with neighborhood kids, climbing mango trees, swimming in the water, I want you play your heart out during Durga Puja each year. I know when you grow up you will have strong attachment to your ancestral land as it is your roots, defines who you are, I know you would always want to revisit the village house, trees and rivers. When you get lost in the wild world, maybe you could only find peace and rediscover yourself if you could come back and sit on the door steps of the same old family temple. Mama doesn’t want any of that easily wiped out by anyone, any forces.
In the news they always compare the growth numbers between China and India, like comparing exam scores of two students, but you see, it’s very interesting to know all the stories before judging with a number, for example the part of the China mama knows and the part of the India Papa knows, it’s far more complicated than numbers, no? At current time, the whole globe is focusing on economic growth, people tend to compare with each other, especially the ability of money making, and tend to look down upon the ones with less possessions. But is improving life standard so important? How important is it comparing to other factors in life that makes happiness? Twenty years, fifty years, this is the time span most people set their mind on, but how minor is it compared to the history of India or China, history of mankind? How many people nowadays really know about histories?
My son, being equally a Chinese, an Indian and an American, naturally heritage their different ways of living, I want you to have a broad heart, capable of understanding, respecting and tolerating differences, capable of seeing back to the histories and looking forward to the futures based on that knowledge, I want you to not blindly follow mass opinions but observe and think for yourself. I want you to look for meanings of life and see beyond this worldly place, the human forms that we are just temporarily dwelling in.
I told you it’s mama’s fifth India trip right? Actually during the first few times, it was not easy for mama, being in this part of India, being exposed in front of all of your Papa’s family. Sometimes it felt like I was dropped into an entirely strange world, my pride and prowess were taken away somehow, certain things I was unable to understand but would only understand when time comes. There was confusion, sometimes even hurtful feelings, but smile it away was the only correct thing to do. Each time in India, there were different reasons mama had her tears for. However, misunderstandings will surely go away with time, because of each every family member’s efforts to help me blend in, now it feels more and more like home. The amount of love your Papa’s family can generate seized my heart.
And the most interesting thing is, deep down in my mind, I know it’s fate that brought me back to the family and I’ve always belonged in this family, I had my stories with one and another from my last life, or lives centuries back. Like you, my son, who you were to me when Buddha was meditating under the Bodhi tree? When Chinese priests were on their way to obtain Buddhist scriptures? Why are we still here in the Samsara? Do you remember the dream that made me believe you are Baba’s reincarnation? Mama would still have some doubts on the concept of reincarnation if it didn’t happen to myself. But right now nothing matters because we all live in the present, we should do our duties and will see through everything some day.
On our way back from India, in Hong Kong airport you were playing by yourself, smiling and waving to every passenger as you did in India, but not everyone is friendly enough to return your attention, most people seemed so busy rushing to places or drawn to their smartphones. It made a strong contrast to the days when we were in India, wherever we went, people were smiling at us, waving and opening their arms, their faces benign, smiles genuine. A lot of them might not have much to possess, not many places to go, but surely they are happy. While in the other parts of the world happiness is strongly connected to material satisfaction, what India has is rare and surreally beautiful. But will this change once India is also done with her transforms, and each citizen of hers is equipped with expensive devices? What makes them true and happy? Mama wants you to explore, to find out, with an open heart.
Ok I think I can wrap up this letter now, next time when we will be in India, you should be able to talk full sentences and have long term memories, maybe mama will write you another letter then :)