embryo of faith

by annapurna sharma

“We must reach there on time, make it fast. I am almost done, I’ll just check on him!” Padma hurried out of the kitchen.

She knocked on the bedroom door.

“Arav! Arav! Wake up dear.”

A sleepy voice said, “Come in Mom, the door’s open.”

It was just six in the morning. Arav had no idea why his mother was waking him up so early. It better be something good, he thought.

“What’s up, Mom?”

“Sorry dear, I couldn’t fill you in on this earlier. Today is a very auspicious day, ‘Vaikunta Ekadasi’. I and your dad have planned to take you to the Hindu Temple on Canyon Road. Quick! Duck in the shower and don’t forget to shampoo your hair. Wear these clothes and come down.”

“But Mom, I am on a holiday! What’s about this auspicious day and ---?”

“Arav, we are getting late. We’ll talk on our way.”

“Mom, but these clothes ---”

Paying little heed to Arav’s protests Padma went down to the kitchen. Subramaniam, her husband was mixing creamer in the coffee. 

Fuming and fretting over lack of choice, Arav dashed in for a quick shower.

“Oh Gawd! I have to wear these,” muttered Arav. 

“Arav, are you ready?”

He could hear his dad calling from downstairs. He pulled on the clothes reluctantly, then brushed his black hair and stole a glance at the mirror. ‘Hmm!’ He descended downstairs. 

“Ah! You look fab,” said his parents in unison.

Padma couldn’t take her eyes off her son, he resembled his dad. Tall, athletic with well-defined jaws and a thick black tuft of hair outlining his face, in his twenties, he looked handsome.  

Subramaniam gazed at Arav’s eyes, his thick dark lashes wide open to indicate his displeasure. Doe-eyed, he was so much like his mother.

As his parents stood beaming, Arav felt the family looked square in their clothes. His dad wore a cream-colored silk dhoti with broad golden edges; his mom draped a peach-colored pattu saree with violet zari brocade. She braided her hair and even pinned a rose in it. They were so different from the formal attire they wore to office every day. And his was a complete disaster. His mom’s smirk irritated him.

Padma looked closely at her son. The maroon-colored silk kurta with zari work bordering the neckline paired well with the off-white churidhar, and accentuated his looks. Indeed he looked elegant. She came closer, encircled his face with her hands and knuckled her fingers at the sides of her brow. This she did to ward off bad eyes and this wasn’t new to Arav. Subramaniam chuckled.        

“Are we going for a traditional fashion show?”  quipped Arav.

“We are off to the temple son,” answered Subramaniam with élan.

Then why this dress-hype? His mother is gone bonkers, thought Arav as they reached outside. His dad refused to allow him to drive, so he jumped in behind. Subramaniam reversed and shifted gear.

As the car sped forward, noticing Arav’s sullenness, Padma asked, “Arav what do you usually wear to the bar?”

“Now you are driving me crazy mom. What sort of a question is that? Dragging me out of bed at this early hour and a trip to the temple in this awful cold, it is I who need answers from you.”

“Now don’t get steamed up. I just wanna straight answer; I will explain the rest.”

“Something cool!”

“And for a swim?”

“Enough Mom! You know, trunks!”

“The dress-code is a discipline followed by any institute, whether school or sport. In Hinduism it is customary to wear traditional attire, at least on special days. And I see no reason for you to sulk.”

Arav grimaced. He was a whiz at computers but he knew zip about Hinduism. He wasn’t in the mood to rationalize.

Subramaniam beamed at his wife’s sharpness. He glanced in the rear view mirror at his son; it was a ‘your mom rules the house’ look. Arav groaned.

Born in a remote village in Andhra Pradesh, in a devout Telugu Brahmin family, Padma and Subramaniam migrated to the US in the early seventies as software pros. They settled in Malibu, California. Their intelligence helped secure scholarships, good education and a job abroad. They had an orthodox upbringing, and had to fight all odds to ascend to this level, especially so for Padma, as girls had less privileges. Persistence and hard work kept them going in a far-away country.  In spite of their accomplishments they led a simple life. They didn’t get carried away with the freedom in this new country. They nurtured liberal thoughts and ideas and had never forced any rules on Arav, their only son, who enjoyed a carefree life.

The car cruised westwards towards Calabasas where the temple was located. 

Padma went on, “Vaikunta Ekadasi is an auspicious day for Hindus. Lord Vishnu is worshipped on this day and legend says that observance of this holy day liberates one from the cycle of births and deaths. The Vaikunta Dwaram or the Gates of Heaven are kept open. A door like structure is made on the north side of the temple through which devotees enter the inner sanctum ---”

Her words fell on deaf ears, as Arav felt there was more to this trip.

They got down as his dad parked the car. 

‘Wow! The temple is pretty glitzy.’ It was nearly a decade since he last came here. Padma got down and went ahead to greet a few friends.

Biting his lower lip, a habit of his mother, Arav asked, “What’s going down dad?”
“Nothing to worry about. Since you went away to boarding, Padma filled in her leisure time with religious activities.”

Arav nodded understandingly. Padma summoned them and all three hustled into the temple. There was a long queue and they entered through a door on the north side. The temple wore a festive look. The smell of flowers, incense and Vedic chantings rent the air. 

“Can I get some grub around here?” asked Arav.

His mother chided him and said they had to partake the ‘Prasad’ first, which consisted of spicy, yellow rice called ‘pullihora’ and sweet rice called ‘pongal’ – both Arav’s favorites.

As they sat in the temple premises, Arav quietly took his mother’s hand in his and said, “What’s the flip side of the tale mom?”

“Nothing!” 

“Oh! Really? In all these years never have you gone bonkers and dragged me out of bed in the wee hours to visit the temple.”

For a while there was silence. 

“I am sorry, but last night I overheard you speaking to Andy. You sounded upset.”

Arav had applied for a post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard. He attended an interview recently and was awaiting the results. He performed well, but Ms. Drew who interviewed him was hard to please. He hadn’t applied to other universities as Harvard was his dream. If he didn’t get through, a whole year would be lost. Last night, he was speaking to his friend Andy about his concerns and was a bit worried. 

“I was a bit bummed. That’s all. What’s the connection with the temple?”

“The temple is a serene place, where you can calm down and soothe your nerves. The Lord’s door is open always, if you desire with a genuine heart, your wish would be fulfilled.”

“Aha! When did you develop such blind faith, Mom?”

“Faith is faith! It is neither blind nor deaf. Every religion preaches about a certain belief beyond human understanding,” dogmatized Padma.

“Certain things are beyond our comprehension. Maybe the time has come for you to develop a certain faith in the religion you are born into. Your friend Zaheer does his regular namaaz and reads the Quran and Andy goes to the church every Sunday. I felt maybe if you were initiated into this, which would put your mind to rest.”

“Mom I don’t believe in all this crap.”

Padma was furious, “Don’t behave like an atheist. If not Hinduism, you can follow any other religion of your choice. Faith is monumental. It has made a difference in my life, so will it in yours.”

Short story continued here......