Resistance is futile

August 17, 2008

My nephew – so young he qualifies as piddly – has lately had the family in quite a flap. This is his first visit to India after his January birth, so every facial contortion has at least three people tending to him in an instant. He is presently at that perplexing stage where he cries for no reason, and adults respond with a variety of solutions: “Oh, he’s hungry. No. Maybe his stomach hurts. Maybe he’s teething?” Indeed, the child is teething. So we give him a finger to gnaw on. Then he jerks his head back, alarming the person holding him, and cries because he’s done chewing and wants to do something else.

This goes on through the day, and adults survive by passing him around. The handing over is ceremonial, filled with untold relief and inexplicable dread. The child begins by twisting around in a most startling manner and staring at the last person to hold him. The child might, depending on how he feels, start to either whimper or just plain bawl. His behavior isn’t personal. He just likes the ladies. Men need aids to be popular with him. The window is as good a crutch as any. Moving pictures fascinate him, so you stand by a window while he looks out, entranced. He’s capable of this for a long time, oblivious to his own explosive output of powerful gas.

There are other diversions. Show him a bright painting and he stands there, gaping, before thrashing about for something more. Mirrors hold him for longer. Much, much longer. So you hold him inches away from his reflection as he looks at you, himself, you, himself, you, himself – and you start contemplating life as a writer with children. Writing will never again be possible, not the free, unshackled use of words. But the kid is quick. He sighs. Not an adult sigh filled with ages of tedium, or a sigh forced out by the mounting pressures of daily life. This is a soft and gentle sigh, filled with baby breath, fresh as baby spittle. There’s no answer to that kind of sigh. So you pat him until he nods off, and hope he stays asleep long enough to get some writing in.


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