I have been waiting for an eternity to meet you, son! I see you wiggle in front of me. I gaze into your eyes and I want to know you. I hope you will learn something about me too. I have to remind myself not to think ahead, though it is very hard to control my excitement. I have so many stories to tell you. One day when you are older, you will know exactly what I mean.
For months now, your presence has been indelibly imprinted on my psyche. When I first heard your heartbeat when you were still inside your mother, my own heart raced uncontrollably. I have spoken to you in many words that I imagined made you move, suspending in my consciousness the logic that you did not understand. We kissed the picture of your perfect tiny left foot the doctors gave us after the ultrasonogram. As you grew, your mother winced every time you jabbed her in the ribs. On the night of February 29, the rarest of days, your mother and I rushed the hospital. She grimaced as the contractions progressively got stronger. In the middle of the night, I briefly dozed off to the rhythmic sound of your heart on the monitor. But we would have to wait another day to see you. You stubbornly resisted for 24 hours. Those were the most intense 24 hours of your mother’s life. It was by far the most emotionally draining of mine.
You announced your arrival in this world by screaming and furiously moving your arms and legs. I understand, son. Each life is bookended by two traumatic events – and even though the central character involved in these events never retains memories of them– they define us all. You experienced one such defining moment: the curtains were just raised in an act in which the rest of us only play supporting roles.
I know everything around you is confusing now. If I could speak clearly to you, I’d tell you that this is natural. Like a little bird trapped in a cage, you were flitting inside your mother all these months. Now you are free from one cage but inside another larger, more chaotic one, which we inhabit for all of our days. I do not profess to understand this larger cage. It bewilders me too. As your parents, we promise to provide a security blanket, so that you have some semblance of regularity in your life until you are prepared to collide with this immensity of the world. And when that moment comes, son, spread your arms to embrace this chaos!
Soak in the oxygen with your brand-new, expanding lungs. Move around and claim ownership of your immediate space. This is the world that we inherited, which is now rightfully yours too. Much of which you have in your possession, you received from us. I cannot fully catalog what I have given you, but perhaps as you grow older and you notice prematurely graying hair or a natural propensity for high-blood pressure, you will smile knowingly. The world calls certain traits, imperfections, but there are no perfections, son. We are all dealt a certain hand. Our characteristics define who we are.
Though I speak in incomprehensible words today, you need not worry about such trifles for a very long time. You were born with a multitude of neurons, but your brain is still plastic. Absorb all the information you can. Let the neurons fight it out to form connections, to develop skills, strengthen senses, and form memories. Your mother and I will watch you as you learn to smile and to clap. We will hold you as you crawl and as you take your first steps. As you learn to articulate both nonverbally and verbally. As you learn to express yourself through letters, numbers, lines, motions, and sounds. And all the while, we will learn how to be parents from you.
You know, I just have to tell you this story. The other day, we were visiting a specialty store for babies, which in itself was like entering a new country for the first time – complete with its own language, customs, and totems. We picked out some clothes for you and smiled at the cute taglines, “Mommy’s Little Helper,” “Daddy’s Rockstar,” but paused when we saw a shirt with “My Grandpa Loves Me” emblazoned across the front. Yes, he would have loved you, my dear.
You will get acquainted with our oral histories because we will feel the urge to tell you about those who we were honored to have known. I wish you could have known my grandparents. They were exemplary individuals, as were the uncles and aunts who can no longer personally welcome you into the extended family. But most of all, your mother and I are immensely saddened that you will never meet her father, your dadu: that void can never be filled with words and recollections.
Stories of other ancestors have passed from generation to generation, often so much that the distinction between history and legend has blurred. We will recount these stories to you. But I must warn you, son: there were some who treated men who were not like them and even their own women on unequal terms. In our own lives, we can renounce their despicable acts, but we must not forget that we are their descendants: lest we ever be proud of our distant past, we should remember that we cannot wish away the stigma associated with caste prejudice and religious persecution that hang like a proverbial albatross around our necks. We can never deny that we are inheritors of the asymmetry which they created, and the blessings and curse which come with it.
Of course you did not ask for this life. None of us came into existence of our own volition. As you came to this world through us, we were brought here by those who preceded us. Sometimes, when I see how we have treated this planet, words fail and tears escape. If I could believe, I would pray. If wishes came true, I would wish to make this a better place before your arrival. But that is a father who wants the perfect home and world for his son speaking.
When the burdens of the world bear down on you, as they surely will many times, please forgive us for our selfishness; you brought new joy and fulfillment to our lives in a way we had not known was ever possible. But son, that is not even a brushstroke on a painting. We did not rush in this direction. We made the decision at a relatively ripe age, not for ourselves or from any pressure from anyone else; we made it for you. It is true that you had no say in this life, and neither did any of us in ours. But son, what is volition without existence? What is reality, perception, joy, or even suffering without life? The clarity that even pain brings is a burden indeed, but how should it ever compare to not existing at all? My darling, know that we brought you here because we sincerely believe that despite all the suffering in this imperfect world, it is truly worthwhile to live.
To be able to experience the world is a gift beyond all others. To know that you are connected to all life is the ultimate thrill. For your true lineage extends billions of years into the past to form an unbroken bond with all life that has ever existed, from the first organisms which arose on our planet to every astounding form you see, and billions of others which you cannot perceive. And while it is true that you are I are infinitesimally small compared to the vastness of time and space, we are part of this spectacular chain. Our planet developed through a specific series of events; bubbling, expanding, seething, and cooling. The atoms in our body are cosmic; our energy, solar; the oxygen we breathe, excreted by ancient microorganisms, and our water, possibly from comets. If life had not formed on this pale blue planet, if through changes in the environment certain species had not existed and others become extinct, if our ancestors had not persisted through an evolutionary bottleneck that threatened to decimate them, modern humans would never evolved. We are the true extremophiles comfortable in our tiny refuge when compared to the inhospitable vastness of the known universe.
On an even more mind-boggling level, a precise chain of events had to occur for your birth to occur. One seemingly minor temporal change in billions of years of stochastic noise would have resulted in none of us being here. You are the result of a fantastic equation which even our most complicated mathematics cannot derive; your existence alone holds the key to more wondrous insight than any banal text can offer on the meaning of life. And not only do you exist, but you bear the gift of consciousness.
I speak, of course, of years to come. Your existential concerns now are quite different from what they will be two, ten, or twenty years from now. As you grow, you will build a mental library which you will be able to tap to develop definitive skills – hindsight and premonition. But there is a tradeoff. Today, you start with countless possibilities. Mine are more limited. As the years progress, we all walk along a path strewn with memories, regrets, and missed opportunities, a path on which we cannot return. I have my own share of accumulated baggage, son. Yet, I consider myself exceptionally fortunate for all I have received in this life, and most of all, for the love of your mother, who with her kindness, hospitality, and grace is quite certainly a better person than I have the capacity to ever become.
I am also fortunate because I have you.
You know, the other day, when I was up in the air, I looked out of the window and saw the setting sun light up billowing clouds: one day I will show you what it felt like to see those clouds. I want to read books to you that have made me smile and cry. I want to point out flickering stars in the wondrous night sky and tell you tales of galaxies beyond our farthest grasp. I want to show you microscopic life teeming in a drop of water and tell you that we know next to nothing about them. These are unexplored worlds, which maybe one day you will journey into on behalf of all of humanity.
You will see through your own eyes, but I will offer you my perception. Sometimes, you will want to walk fast; and I ask you to be slow. You will speak directly from the heart; I will insist that you also learn to think critically. I want to teach you how to play cricket, but maybe one day you will teach me how to play baseball too. (Either way, your mother will insist that you wear a helmet. Listen to her. Try not to hurt her sentiments, even when they are at odds with mine).
Through pure chance, you and I we were born men. We will never face many of the hardships women suffer in this inequitable world. Remember that a woman left everything she knew to start a family and bring you into this world: she carried your burden, nourished you, and bore the pain of your birth with strength. Honor her sacrifice and those of your female ancestors by treating women as your equals– with dignity, love, and respect.
Your mother and I were not born in this country. We made the long voyage leaving everyone and everything we knew behind. This country gave us a new life. We sought refuge here: we also found exile. This country accepts you as one of its own, but one day you too may heed an urge to leave it behind.
In life, you will find many who include you in artificial groups. There will be others who exclude you based on what you look like, what you think, or what you do. Do not despise them. We must all stumble through life and make our own way without a roadmap. And as we harness technology to tear down the physical barriers that separate us, we create other barriers based on criteria such as nationality, ethnicity, and wealth.
The day is not far off when you will learn to speak. Even though groping for words can be frustrating at times, I will say that language is a beautiful invention. Languages are inclusive and inviting, even when their speakers are not. Becoming fluent in a multitude of languages will give you wondrous vistas into the mind. We will teach you our words. In return, I hope you will teach us many new words in new languages you learn. And although today I write to you in English, a language you will learn, treat Bangla with respect. It is the quiet peaceful home where you will always find your name properly pronounced in your own voice, and your baba and ma talking to you.
Your mother and I connect you to incipient experiences rooted in an unknowable time and space. You will never fully understand our compulsions, but that should not drive a wedge between us. We will try to protect you, sometimes failing to realize that you will make mistakes like we did. In turn, you will be puzzled by our cluelessness. We will be wary of change and risk-averse. We will speak with a strange accent. When you interact with your peers, we will unwittingly embarrass you. We cannot help it. Such is the whimsy of the world.
We, in turn, will never fully understand you either. Your clothes will never be fashionable enough. Your allowance will never be adequate. The food on your plate will not always be what you want to eat. You will be angry with us. In many ways, this is deserved: we need to come full-circle too.
But as I look at you today, I promise you this much: even if we don’t always see eye to eye, you will get the affection, respect, and support you deserve as you seek to be true to your calling. When the time comes for you to move on– distant though it might seem now– I can hope that we will have provided an environment in which you will have learned well. For in the end, as much as I want to see the world through your eyes, I know that is not possible. There will always be a new country to discover, an unfathomable ocean to cross, another dimension to unravel. And even though, one day we will set sail for different shores, your mother and I will always be a compass on your voyage of self-discovery.