The Indian Quarterly
The Unfinished Book of Family Image Credit: The Indian Quarterly
The Unfinished Book of Family Image Credit: The Indian Quarterly

The Unfinished Book of Family

Every family is a novel in the making: a ready cast of characters, tales of heroism and farce, an easy organic structure. But though in the beginning there may have been the Word, the end will always be elusive.

Mandakini Dubey

HERE IS A DREAM. IT is night. I am reading something by a near-blind Argentinian. He translates, he writes, and to read him is to enter a room of mirrors, in which all stories are stories about stories. I am reading “The Library of Babel”, where the entire universe is described as a library of interconnected, hexagonal chambers, its shelves containing every volume ever written—from gibberish to the greatest treasures. As I read, the words begin to blur and the dream takes me into one of the rooms in that total library.

It is dark, and I am sitting on the floor. My eyes are closed, but I am writing furiously. The pen is flying—I have never written quicker or more copiously—but it is unclear that it’s making contact with the surface beneath it. I open my eyes and see myself in an infinite line of people, each doing what I am doing. Each book bears the same title: The Book of Family. I realise that I cannot read what I have written, and wake up.

So many people seem to collate that book with such ease, as an anthology of stories. The cast of characters is defined and listed, the well-loved anecdotes polished and strung together. But in my hands the book falls apart. The characters blur or vanish; the funny yarn dissolves before its punch line.

Other people’s families seem to have anecdotes and identities, when they say things like “We (Mehrotra/Habsburg) men are always henpecked” or “Have I ever to


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