Sunday, 16 October 2011


Society is “individual plus families”, and also means separate existence plus integrity or integrity based on individualized existence.  
. . . ..
A Custard Apple24. It’s knotty, lumpy fruit with many black seeds inside. Soft white edible flesh surrounds the seeds. But one cannot divide the fruit specifically for one soft white piece with one black seed. There are no individual pieces inside a custard apple. That is integrity without individuality.
An Orange. It’s smooth spherical fruit with eight to ten individual pieces, and each piece contains both orange flesh and yellow seeds. One can separate an orange piece from another. An orange piece is still an orange. That is integrity of individualists.
There are altogether three generations living at Zar Zar’s house. They are one big family; three small families and fifteen people. Grandpa and Grandma are the bossesof the house, but Grandpa is the main one in charge. He manages the household economically and socially. He owns a grocery and a photo shop. He has been managed them since he was very young. Grandma manages the grocery, and she  also helps with the photo shop. Zar Zar’s father is the eldest son and then the others are her uncle and aunt. Grandpa trained his children to help both of his small-scale businesses. Zar Zar’s father used to help Grandpa at the photo shop, and Uncle helped as an outdoor photographer. Zar Zar’s aunt had to help Grandma. Since the three children were not that good in school, and Grandpa asked them to study only basic subjects and not pursue specialized vocational training or professional degrees.  Grandpa arranged marriages for his three children after they completed their degrees. As usual, they couldn’t complaint, or go against their father’s wishes, and just accepted what they were asked to do. So they got married but never moved to other places, just made their house bigger and more extended.
The house was once two stories. The ground floor was for the grocery and photo shop, and the upper floor had three bedrooms; one for Grandpa and Grandma, one for Zar Zar’s father and Uncle, and the other for Aunt and a house-maid. When Zar Zar’s father got married, they kicked Uncle to the living room. But Grandpa made arrangements for another floor on top when Zar Zar was born and Uncle got married. Zar Zar’s mother had to help in the photo shop, and Uncle and his wife had to manage the outdoor photography and video production as directed by Grandpa. He noticed the time were always changing, and the business he had to be updated. All the income earned by any member of the family had to be put Grandpa’s hands and he distributed it for all the family’s needs. All his children, still, relied on Grandpa for pocket money even though they earned money on their own. Grandpa also arranged the educational plans for his six grandchildren; three from his elder son, two from younger son and one from his daughter.
Though Zar Zar’s father and his siblings always listened to their father, Zar Zar and her cousins didn’t want to listen to Grandpa’s words. They noticed that Aunt was told to get her bachelor’s degree in commerce, but, just managed the family’s grocery store after her degree. Grandpa just changed some goods in for his old-fashioned grocery – coffemix and bottled juice instead of onions and garlic. Then all family members always had to have meals together. In order to account for all sixteen individual preferences, the maid always made more or less the same recipe for every meal. So Zar Zar and children became bored eating at home. They didn’t really have any real distinctive personal belongings. They had to share everything, so they bought durable and reasonably-priced products only. They never tried to get more fashionable or luxurious things because they couldn’t share them with other family members like Uncle and Aunt. They didn’t even have privacy for their own family. But what did privacy mean, for them? Everything had to be decided by Grandpa. So how should truly discuss these things within their own families?
According to Grandpa, Zar Zar understood that these days it was really rare for a house to told three generations and they should be proud of it. However, what Zar Zar wants to do for her future won’t be the same as what her Grandpa wants her to do. How could she be proud of her family and home?
.. ….
Zar Zar’s family is a Custard Apple family. It’s knotty lumpy fruit with many black seeds inside. Soft, white, edible flesh surrounds those seeds. But one cannot divide the fruit specifically for one white piece with one black seed. There are no individual pieces inside a custard apple. That is integrity without individuality.
Grandma loved Maw Maw and her three siblings. And Grandpa loved the two children of Maw Maw’s aunt. Maw Maw’s uncle son is the youngest, and the entire family loved him. On weekends, Maw Maw’s big family usually did not have any free time because they always hosted a get-together for their extended family. They all lived in one condominium unit which held six separate flats. This building was formerly Grandpa’s old two-story house but he rebuilt it to accommodate the larger family. He saved the ground floor for a garage and occasional party space. Grandpa and Grandma lived in one flat, and he gave one flat to each for his three children and their families. Then the remaining two flats were rented to others, so he made a fair income from renting the flats and the garage.
Once Grandpa was an accountant for a government department. Grandma was a teacher. So they were making only a meager living while Maw’s father was young. Though Grandpa couldn’t support his family very well financially, he always gave good advice. When Maw Maw’s father passed his high school matriculation, Grandpa never encouraged his son to become an accountant like him nor a medical doctor as Grandma would have liked him to be. He just asked Maw Maw’s father about his own desire for his own future. Then Maw Maw’s father became a writer and editor and decided to marry Maw Maw’s mother, a Librarian with his parents’  approval. Maw Maw’s aunt became an engineer, and her husband was a marine engineer. Maw Maw’s uncle and his wife made a living by planting and gardening near Yangon. So Maw Maw and her cousin now started to think about their future since they were sure no one from their family would try to influence their choice of careers, they had to choose for themselves. They were solely responsible for their future.
Though Grandpa and Grandma had income, Maw Maw’s father, aunt and uncle took alternating responsibility for sending meals to their parents. Apart from that, they took care of their parents’ health and anything they needed, so Maw Maw and cousins were often at grandparents’ flat to share in the food and conversation. On the weekends, the grandparents got the whole family to get together for a special meal. The adults were always discussing and arguing. Maw Maw was older, so she never took part in playing with her younger cousins. Instead, she then sat among the seniors and listened to them. Grandpa used to point out any mistake in reasoning as his professional training as an accountant honed his ability to catch mistakes. Grandma also was proud of her teaching career and always the teacher. Maw Maw’s father always tried to maintain his critical faculty as a writer, and tried to look for anything wrong. So their discussions were always lively and noisy. But it never created a problem since everyone had an equal opportunity to discuss freely whether they agreed or disagreed. Sometime they became fed up with arguing and splitting into smaller family groups, then making meal with more interesting recipe or heading up to their own flats for the evening.
According to Grandpa, Maw Maw’s family members are good at arguing but they always gather together for their arguments. That’s why neighbors like them. But it is a challenge for others to understand how these children and grandchildren of different backgrounds and with their different careers always try to get together as a family and to argue with each other. Maw Maw hopes that her siblings will also be good at arguing one day. Maw Maw is proud of her family.
.. . ..
Maw Maw’s family is an Orange family. It’s a smooth spherical fruit with eight to ten individual pieces and each piece contains both orange fresh and yellow seeds. One can separate an orange piece from another. An orange piece is still an orange. That is integrity of individualists.
… . .
Nearly everyone has a family. Even if one has no family, he or she is still within a society.
If a society has more custard apple families, this society is a custard apple society.
If a society has more orange families, this society is an orange society.
Integrity without individuality. And integrity with individuality.
Custard apple and Orange.
Individual, Family, Society.
President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) once made a statement about his family and society that went something like this “I don’t know who my grandfather was. I just worried who my grandchild will be.”
 Ma Thida (Sanchaung)
That was published in Teen magazine in April 2004.
It was translated by author herself and polished by Tammara Ho/Thandar Aung.

No comments:

Post a Comment