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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Of Picket Fences, Temples and Grieving

The houses propped themselves up from the snow, apologetic of their existence, battered by the snow, guarded by the lifeless tree trunks. They came in white, blue, grey and even lavender with abandoned trampolines, swings and frozen ‘soccer’ balls in their backyards. Some stood close to each other gasping for air – melancholic and deserted.

She sat at the window – head resting on the glass, sleeves of her leather jacket lying on an open book on her lap, eyes staring out at the gloomy landscape of leafless branches, lifeless houses and ‘whiteness’ passing by. “Approaching Riverside” announced the mechanical voice. Few got out, no one got in, the journey of the ‘whiteness’ resumed. She kept staring out. The lady seated behind her made a phone call.

“Hey Tracy, this is Amanda. How are you?”
“Listen, I was speaking to David this morning and he was saying that he read in the obituary that Ellen Smith had passed away.”
“…yeah I thought I should let you know…”

The conversation drifted away. She blinked and made a solemn pledge to pray for Ellen Smith as a cemetery passed by her window. Her eyes didn’t emote. She closed the book. An hour later, she stood up to get down.

It’s been nine years since she had lost someone dear to her. Every year on this date she grieves the loss in her own way. This year she took a train in the North Burlington Santa Fe line and travelled 50 miles west of downtown to a temple.

She is now a part of the ‘white picket fence’ dream!

The way we choose to grieve our loss is up to us. For some we may notice glum in everything – the battered houses or lifeless yards. For few, grieving could be pushing it to the farthest corner of their minds. The occasional flipping through the old albums, family gatherings, a moment passed by in remembrance – and we move on. Does the memory get dusty? Do we really move on from our loss? I read in books and watch in films that one must ‘move on’. I don’t know if that’s absolutely necessary. Can we not keep our loss and pain close to our hearts just as our triumphs and carry on with it as our strength? Does moving on mean shutting it off? Forgetting it? Or letting it go completely?

Sri Venkateswara Swami temple rose from the ground like a colossal building – standing tall amongst the picket fences in a land thousands of miles away from the origin of Hinduism. A number of deities dotted the temple. The sound of the Hoover (read vacuum cleaner) criss-crossing the wall to wall carpeted floor played in background.

“The Aarti is for free. You will need to buy Archana from the counter”, said the priest.
At -2 degrees the priest had his woollen vest on. “Ah! This onsite posting takes its toll on the priests too,” she wondered (not aloud). Imagine the level of onsite support and problem solving that is required.

  • From a land of spanking clean temple floors to carpeted floors – the challenge of maintaining the sanctity and purity of the temple premises (without using water).
  • The on-demand Aarti and Aarchana to perform. (Devotees drive for hours to come here. It’s not like there’s a temple in every corner!)
  • Improvising on the priestly attire to endure the climate, the list could go on...

“I’ll opt for the Aarti,” She smiled.

Two hours later, armed with a banana, a flower and some almonds as prasadam, she walked out in the rain to catch a bus back to the railway station. A Good Samaritan stopped his car, “Can I give you a lift?” he asked.

She came to the temple to remember someone lost forever. She went back with old memories and new ones – where people still stop to offer help and picket fence fails to segregate people’s ways of life. “Will the houses still look gloomy on the way back?”

Disclaimer: as before

to your comments

@karthikk...i really like your concept of getting noticed by being ignored...psst...i tell myself that quite so often. appreciate ur comment and encourages me 2 unleash more :(
@anon...does hate come that naturally? i doubt...it has some roots, in upbringing, in growing up...some link somewhere. thnx for ur comment.
@swat...only time will say hon' how much more u can endure and not turn-away
@deepti...thnx deeps...will keep u posted
@vajra...the most constructive piece of comment. what do u think? do i?

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Turning-Away

We do that a lot.

Let’s face it (yes, that contradicts the very premise of ‘turning-away’) we have our desk jobs, (courtesy which you are probably reading the blog right now), our daily chores (solving the mystery why Marlboro lights is a tad bit less smokier than Benson and Hedges) or the need to take some quality time-off (oh no yet another wrong umpiring decision against dada!). Life is after all a merry-go-round!

Thus faced with so many predicaments we often choose to turn away – from the musician who plays around the corner, from the march that urges to save Pune-tekdis, the empty seat next to a friend that beckons and on a more serious note the innumerable requests that crowd our mailbox to read and comment on blogs. We eventually TURN-AWAY from those requests.

We give them one chance – one miserly chance to prove their comprehension skills and their capabilities in expressing that. ‘Show your best or I am about to set my inbox filter’, we frown. But ‘they’ still hang on. They still keep trying, keep posting and keep mailing. Somewhat bitten by the guilt and to have ‘quality time’, I decide to pay them a second visit and probably a third. I rarely leave a comment (something worthwhile i.e.) and I move on.

I do not feel much as I seal the sentence for the writer’s thoughts (or cacophony of words) – a slow death.

Two blocks down Monroe from where I pass my time in oblivion these days, a musician plays his trumpet. Every morning, every evening – 6 days a week. An elderly man, cold, hazy eyes, an unshaved story of self-abuse. 4 days a week Tuesday to Friday, he so much as doesn’t even get a glance from the passer-bys although his music breaks the -22 degrees chill, stirs up an unnoticeable spring on one’s feet to the music but there is the hurry and people choose to ‘turn-away’. On weekends though, the story is a bit different. People stop to ask about his music, wait in the cold for him to finish his notes or just pass by dropping a dollar in his hat.

So before I seal the fate of my own blog by inviting the ‘turn-away’ phenomenon, should I wait for the weekends?

Disclaimer: My thoughts dictate my punctuation.

Photo (c): Durba Gupta