My 5-year-old niece – Sasha – drew this for me after she had suggested that I might have a cupcake for a heart. I do not think she meant anything profound by it. It was not an affectionate suggestion either. She said it because, at that moment, she felt it was fun to imagine her uncle having a frosted cupcake instead of a beating heart. Children can be pure; not pretentiously poignant like adults.
Sasha is my best friend too. Her behavior is so similar to mine that I am sure it worries her parents. She has the same pet peeves. She takes great pleasure in hyperbolic metaphors. She thinks clouds are spirits of dead animals. She gets emotionally-involved with pencil sharpeners and erasers. And she will fight you to the death over her favorite bubblegum.
I have heard this from other people too, who have similar bonds with their nieces or nephews. Perhaps it is an organic connection. But I never believed in it much before. Kids always looked like a lot of responsibility and stress, without the pay-off. That kind of love has never seemed unconditional. Sure, there are moments of bliss. Unimaginable comfort. A million little things that go a long way to connect a man or a woman to the world. Sort of like puppies, but better.
Until the moment I cradled her in the hospital room, an hour or so after she was born, I wasn’t that excited. My sister and I have been like second cousins. Once when we were young, we came up with a game called ‘ the wide blue sea’. We spread across our mother’s blue saree on the bed and pretended it was the ocean. There were sharks. It was awesome. That was probably 1986. Ever since we have barely had a meaningful sibling relationship. No rivalry either considering how to parallel our lives were. So I wasn’t really kicked about becoming a mamma (uncle). I knew it would be fun. And that I would post photographs of her on Facebook at some point. Not much else.
Things turned out differently. Ever since she peed on me in the hospital room, I have loved her more than anything else in this world. I do not see her as often as we would like to. Whenever we meet though, we have the best time ever. We giggle. We talk about sneaking behind penguins and putting woolen hats on them. We paint. We watch cartoons on mute and provide commentary. She makes fun of me for being a vegan by choice. I teach her the worst possible dance moves. It is the best.
I believe strongly that she will grow up to be a confident, positive and goofy person. She won’t let negativity get to her. People will misunderstand her. But they will also love her. It will only add to her character. Her unique and amazing talents. And it will shape the way she understands herself and her environment.
She will even take on the world, armed with a rare sense of wonderment and a cupcake that she can steal from my grave any time she pleases.
Obviously, this is our favorite song.