The religious rookie

Yet another year of celebrating Diwali alone.
Hearing about the festivities back home I can’t help but feel forlorn.
Remembering the softly glowing lamps and fireworks dotting the night sky.
Feeling very feminine in our traditional clothes, I wonder why.
Boxes of calorie-laden sweets laid along with my favourite savouries.
Rooting for friends trying their luck at card parties.

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At dusk we used to gather for the Laxmi Puja as silence fell.
The money on the plate was for us, we could tell.
I’d help my father arrange the offerings of fruits and holy water.
The nip in the air heralding winter as the days got shorter.

Now in my apartment in Hong Kong feeling absurd and solitary.
Banishing all thoughts of being a little phoney.
I decided to venture into this uncharted territory.
Starting with an abridged version of praying to the goddess of wealth.
Not because I don’t need to pray for wealth, god-knows it’s quite the contrary.

I don’t go to temples. I don’t fast.
If there was a competition for devout, pious girls, I’d come last.
Keen on trying, yet, embarrassed of failing.
I told myself it would be smooth sailing.
The only one judging would be the lord himself,
So even if others accuse me of not being very traditional.
His love is thankfully unconditional.

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Dressed in my new Salwar Kameez I stood in front of my temple.
Nothing grand but a simple shelf of an IKEA cupboard.
I stood there in silence wondering what’s next?
No chants, verses that can roll off my lips.
I wondered if I should ring my mother for tips.

The self-recrimination! Stop worrying I wanted to shout.
Seeming inadequate and shallow, I urged myself to just pray.
The way I usually do. Have a conversation.
Pour your heart out. All the fears and the doubts.

But then this was no ordinary day, it was Diwali.
I was advised to search Youtube for artis.
That seems fake. It’s not a performance but a prayer.Don’t you agree?
So I lit some incense sticks which filled my apartment with their assuring scents.
Jasmine and Cinnamon, these were money well spent.
Sadly I can’t read Sanskrit and can’t carry a tune if my life depended on it.
I closed my eyes for the task and urged my mind to commit.

Om Jai Jagdish I started feebly, but at least I was trying.
The words flowing, like muscle memory, somewhat shakily I started to sing.
Maybe not in the correct order.
But miraculously one word followed the other.

My hands circling the small idols and some gold jewelry, my only treasure.
I could feel the Gods smiling. I had made the effort even if it was half-measure.
When I finished I could feel a presence and a sense of wonder.
I opened my eyes with a sense of disbelief to what had just transpired.
I felt calm, at peace and inspired.

We don’t need faith that binds us but blinds us.
To an extent that we forget to love, help and heal.
We lay too much importance on traditions and customs.
Instead let’s try to make someone smile and provide a meal.

Majority or minority. Sectarian conflicts. The constant strife.
Rioting over land to build a mosque or a temple.
Don’t all religions teach us to respect and be gentle?
God, in my expatriate experience, can have a space-saving shelf life.

Let’s keep it simple. To right the wrong.
End the evil in us and try something new.
Believe. Be good. Be true .

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