POSTCARD #87: Delhi/Chiang Mai (Skype call): The whisper of a felt-tip pen on paper: shashee shashee shoo shoo shoo… otherwise, silence in the room. M is drawing a picture, colouring in, and this is a Skype call to Thailand – the picture and sound quality so good, it’s almost real. Sadly, though, it’s not real and you’d expect more animated conversations from a 10-year-old girl, but that’s not how it is right now. She stops what she’s doing for a moment and asks me: When you come here Toong Ting? I tell her in about one month from now, mid-September, not long. But it has no meaning, social media is not real, the Skype call only proves I’m not there. M calls me Toong-Ting, she’s my Thai niece and English is a 2nd language for her so, understandably, conversation runs out sometimes. It’s hard to look for words all the time. Skype calls are a fun thing to do but there’s a limit to the novelty of it… looking at a talking head, a portrait of a person with lips moving – it’s not the same as actually being there.
So she’s drawing a picture. No talking now, she’ll show it to me later, just the sound of the artwork taking place, and all I can see is the parting in her hair, the top of her head moving slightly with the movement of the pen. I have nothing to contribute here, just be the recipient of this drawing, be the voice coming through the speakers. I am he who isn’t here now… third person singular (‘he/she/it’); I am ‘it’, the face in the video screen. I am ‘him’, the object pronoun – him over there in India somewhere, 2000 miles away from here, and not able to help with her English homework.
I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with this… what do uncles do? I don’t have much experience, no children of my own. What do I have to offer, a West/East migrant, living in somebody else’s world? Why am I here? M often asks me that, ‘WHY?’ It’s her favourite question. Toong-Ting, why you go away from Inkland (England)? Why you come to Thailand? I usually say something about travelling for a long, long time in different countries, then getting married to Jiab. She’s always interested in the bit about getting married and all kinds of very carefully structured questions follow on from there. Now it’s ended, everything has been asked already. ‘I’ have been placed forever in the third person singular; I am ‘he’ who married her Auntie.
I want to see the picture she’s making. Wait Toong-Ting, she says and takes the iPad off its stand, walks around the room with it. I’m disorientated and getting a kind of vertigo with all the blurred movement, and just about to say something about it, when she puts the iPad down somewhere and goes away. I see a bit of upholstery and a corner of the ceiling… this must be the sofa. I can hear a clatter/clunk sound and then scissors cutting paper. I call out, hoping she can hear me: what are you doing now? But she doesn’t answer… focused on the cutting – long, extended scissors work. What can it be? M comes back, looks in my screen, smiling a bit, secretive face, eyes wandering off-centre to the tiny window in the corner, watching herself, her posture, her hair – is this how it is to be… ‘seen’?
You want to look Toong Ting? Some more hesitation, then she holds up a heart shaped paper with the words: ‘Love You’, done in colours. There’s no ‘I’ pronoun, and a reversed ‘y’ – its tail going the wrong way. So much more than I’d thought, so much greater than how I feel about myself. The generosity of it takes my breath away. Later Jiab helps her to stick it on the bookshelf with scotch tape; they take a photo and send it to me in an email.
“The self has no form. You cannot grasp it, you cannot see it, you cannot really define it. You can never say, “Ah, there it is”, (because) you are the consciousness, the perceiving. You are ‘it’. You can never see it as an object, external to yourself. It’s the essence. You are not what is seeing, you are the seeing.” [Eckhart Tolle – source: My Inner Medium]