Allow me to [re]begin with an ending.
That, after all, was I think the best thing I took from Revolutionary Routes. It is not a confession that disregards the bigger picture of the historical, but perhaps is the more specific yet less blatant admission that the personal is the political. Here, perhaps just more mindful in my silence, my non-mention of well-known names in politics is due to the fact that I focus on what is my own:
My own roots.
For 2011′s All Souls’ Day, I accompanied my parents, eldest brother, and relatives from my mother’s side in Malabon, to visit the grave of a grandfather I never met. There’s no fairy tale here: the cemetery wasn’t packed, but it was more than a stroll under the sunshine. Searing heat; noise like endless blabbering; and below our feet: broken paths, rocks, and concrete living together in moon-floor harmony.
Maybe this is just me, but I look back at that day and remember the laughter. My brother and I laughed–laughed!–at the silly nicknames we discovered some of our relatives had; relatives, mind you, whom we had never met. That was what it was: laughter at who my aunt thought was alive but my mother said was dead; puns under the sun care of my brother; the sheer joy, ironic now, of a non-working holiday that has nothing really spectacular about it, when you’re under the sun facing graves of people you’ve never met, laughing to your heart’s content, at your younger cousin who tells your lola, ‘Nay, wag kang nega!, all, all in good fun.
But lest I lead anyone astray, it wasn’t that the stories were enlightening (a cousin, killed in some alley; relatives we’ve lost touch with:the works!), but that we called to mind telenovela scripts and compared them to our own: who would’ve thought? Case in point, a querida my deceased grandfather brought to a family party, to be entertained with grace and smiles by none other than my beautiful but naive grandmother!
On the way home, we ate at Ma Mon Luk; not the food I was wanting and probably not something I would crave for, I’d have to say. But there it was, like some strange leitmotif. You’re romanticizing this, you might say; I agree. In the general scheme of things we experience life and may create imaginary threads, incoherent signs–things that don’t really mean a thing.
But sometimes when you can read a message and garner a lesson from it, maybe, just maybe, you get the clue that it’s important. Maybe when you spend a day with [extended] family, visit some graves, eat at one of the metro’s oldest restaurants (there’s a vintage telephone by the entrance, faded photographs of celebrities adorning the walls: Ronnie Rickets, Richard Gomez, oh my!), you know there’s a deeper story. When you read a novel and you get impatient for things to reach the core of the narrative, the gut-wrenching climax and light bulb peripeteia, this impatience is only because you insist that there is something there; because you know this is an essential element to the story.
We ate our merienda, and the conversation veered, quite simply, to my father and how he broke his arm when he was a young man. The solution (perhaps only one? I’m hoping, certain, there was actual medicinal treatment) included tradition: hilot.
And so he got one, on a street in old day Malabon, from a man famous for kneading hands, old hands. Hands for hilot.
He met my mother (if I’m not mistaken) what, two years after that? The intervening time period is important, but not so much to this little entry; he had to call the office she was working for, strictly for business matters; she liked his voice; the rest is history, not for here–at least, not yet.
One night, when he brought her home, they passed a familiar street, where he points to a familiar building; Dyan ako nagpahilot, he says, and she exclaims in the delight of coincidence and perhaps, happiness: Yung lolo ko ang taga-hilot dyan!
It’s too easy to say it ended at that (both the courtship of the long past and the merienda of the more recent kind). My mother talked of the Spanish and Chinese in her blood; we joked of my brother’s dark complexion, talked about the only obvious mestizo trace in us–that straight, down-to-business bridge of a nose.
Perhaps, after all, there is nothing revolutionary on a day when you hear stories about the people who constitute your family tree. The truth is that life was heat and poverty and war and old streets your parents will reminisce about, almost Nick Joaquin style, without the elaborate prose and endless sentences decorated with commas and semi-colons like banderitas on fiesta day.
All I could think of was this: I knew I didn’t have the complexity of mind to understand the political intricacies and the law jargon Revolutionary Routes was written with. And I know it doesn’t matter, at least in the sense that I could grasp the concept of injustice and why it remained unjust, unsolved, unanswered for; why Elias grapples with the crocodile until today.
But I know what matters, personal-as-political, is the shameful admission that my lack of knowledge is not so much on a national scale, as it is on a close filial one. A couple of years back (was it just when Robert Jordan died or just before? Again, I fail to remember), when fans visited his beloved south; when they met his friends and family and celebrated his life (after his death, then, more like), and one of the fans who was involved with the Tar Valon website, I believe, dared to tell and ask its readers something along the lines of how every household there knew their family history, more than a generation past, down to the maiden name of a great-great grandmother. Something to that effect.
I have none of that. It is there, to be sure, but names and faces and personal history other than what is dished out to me on a hot cemetery on a non-working holiday is lost on me. I do not envy the author’s family history its pains nor joys; I cannot wish away the events in their lives for them in the singular (and pompous) knowledge that things would have been better without the pain.
The author herself, nearing the last pages, writes,
How to end this sad trip down my lola’s memory lane. A happy ending would be nice, something like: fate was kinder to her towards the end, she saw Narciso vindicated and back in Congress; she saw the family returned to her beloved Tiaong, recovering lost ground. As if she only had to suffer the five sorrows, pay some karmic debt, and all was fine again [Italics mine].
This is the greatest awareness Revolutionary Routes has given me. I feel it is not my place to talk about what it does for Philippine history, literary or otherwise (but how strange to presuppose that the two aren’t intertwined!). I can only attest that, though it is not an easy read (particularly for a fiction-lover like me), it is worth the try and worth what it makes you realize you don’t know about your family.
For all that you don’t know is still there, and it might not wait forever. This isn’t to erase whatever indifference I feel towards people in my family I’m afraid we may have broken ties with for an extended and ambiguous stretch of time. I will not pretend that this stretch of time does not relieve me.
This is perhaps, after all, just the simple admission that it is true: whether in the stories of our parents or in the pages of history, or in your own unsaid, roots matter and cannot be erased. They are not significant by way of destination, but remembrance, precisely so that we can look and walk forward, out of damning cycles and circles of mistakes that are not our own.
(Part I, by the way, is here)