Talking to Abah
He was not a perfect man, his duty as a father — or a husband — wouldn’t even come close to being adequate. But he was, as always, the only one in my broken family, — a family spilt into two before it had become three and too many — who encouraged me to think, critically, beyond tradition, beyond religion.
It was at night, i remember talking to my father. In a year of my childhood, and then my youth, i spoke to him less than a couple of times. Every conversation was special, and memorable. Either he was screaming at me, beating me for learning too slow, or we have a decent annual conversation that often challenged our minds.
As his second child, perhaps, his favourite if he had not married another woman and fathered younger sisters of mine (the last time i met him and heard of him was in 2004, he had 2 daughters with my step mother), i admired him, always, secretly, angrily. Yet I’m pretty sure i love my dad the same as i was before my parents separated. No matter what he means the world to me.
“Abah,” i spoke, “Adek ada teori tentang yang paling kecil, dengan benda yang paling besar. I think they were the same thing.”
He clasped his hands, covered his mouth with the benign fist he just made, slightly to his left, paused before he asked, “Teori apa? Cerita la.”
I took a pencil from his desk, and started to doodle the sun, the planets around it, the other stars, the Milky Way and the Andromeda, and formed many other galaxies and made what seemed the universe, and told, “benda yang paling besar kan Abah, i think is the smallest thing too. The universe and the subatomic particles are two same thing.”
He looked puzzled. I drew him the Rutherford model of an atom, and told although Bohr and quantum mechanics had modeled the atom to what may have been accepted as scientifically more ‘convincing’, the planetary model of that Rutherford had me think that perhaps, if electrons were planets, there were no smallest things in this world.
Electrons are actually planets, and the nucleus is the sun! What a tiny world!
“Imagine kan Abah, if i were a bacterium, the size of an E. coli, so small and so tiny, and let’s pretend that i can walk too. So, i’m walking on a human skin, for an example, on your arm. I’m walking there, on your arm. When asked by another bacterium, ‘What is the biggest thing in this world?’ i might answer, ‘Oh look, the biggest thing in this world is that thing’, and point to actually a drop of sweat, just a tiny drop of water. As a bacterium the size of an E. coli, i have never seen the sea, let alone knowing there’s vast sea on this planet. I have never seen our own planet, or even the bright sun every macro living beings can see, i can’t. I’m too small and too tiny and too microscopic, that for me to travel from your head to toe, by foot takes me at least more than 10 generations. And after 10 generations, our bacterial greatest discovery is a complete head to toe journey and we call it, ‘The Universe’. And ‘The Universe’ is just your whole human body, in actual reality. We’ve completed our journey, we do not know that you exist as a human being — we thought you’re “The Universe’ –, we sleep like a baby at nights — satisfied, nothing more to discover — until one day we’re transfered to another human body and we say, ‘Our universe has changed, it was darker yesterday’ and puzzled at ‘the new universe’, if i may, a person whose skin tone is much lighter than where we were before, on your skin.”
Abah looked a little disagreed. But being him, he never really spoke it and i secretly believed this was his way of telling me to sharpen my thoughts, before i actually speak something.
I took a few seconds to reflect and said, “We keep discovering ‘the biggest’ and ‘the smallest’ things because we are in this size, in this human size. We compare things within our human capability of comparing sizes. Nothing beyond that. It’s restricted to what we can see, and perceive. Dulu-dulu, kita kata bumi paling besar, lepas tu kata matahari pulak, lepas tu kata semua bintang-bintang dengan matahari campur bumi adalah yang paling besar. That, before we discovered other galaxies, other stars and cosmic dust outside the Milky Way. Lepas learnt about other galaxies, kita cakap semua berjuta-juta galaxies ni duduk dalam the universe, so the universe must be the biggest thing. But is the universe, in actual reality, the biggest thing in this world?”
He gave me the stare, and i understood it. “The same goes with the smallest thing. First, we said the smallest thing is actually the size of a dust — nothing smaller than a speck of that. Then we learnt chemistry, we said, ‘Oh, the smallest things are the molecules. Then a few more years after that, we said ‘Oh, the smallest things are the atoms who when joined can form a molecule’. Then we learnt about the chemical bonds, about covalent and ionic and we talked about …