15 minutes

11:45 pm

I see a blank page and think of the wonderful things one could fill it with. Then, I see a burden too large to bear, because I can think of nothing. Absolutely nothing. My mind is like a blank slate. A tabula rasa, if I may call it that

I stare at my laptop, wondering what comes next. I run my fingers through my wet hair. I can smell my shampoo on it. To my horror, I find that I’ve had several strands of hair falling out. Is it the stress? I can hear the clock ticking, tick-tock, tick-tock. Each little tick reminds of the time I’ve spent whiling away, telling me to finish my work before the next day begins. But it’s too late. It’s nearly begun. What do I do?

11:50 pm

I think of the past.

I think of the new kinds of food I’ve experienced, of the lady down the lane from college. She sells hot-hot breakfast and lunch, and her food tastes like mamma’s cooking. I wonder why she decided to start her little business, but I never manage to stay long enough for all her customers to go away. I have class, and she had mouths to feed. I have a tale to ask, and she has one to tell. But we don’t know anything about it. Not yet.

I think about my dog, and how when the first time he snored, I was home alone and panicked because I thought that there was an intruder at home. I planned my murder in the 60 seconds that it took for me to realize that it was my dog. The intruder would be a thief, who as hiding inside the cabinet that we keep the UPS system in. He looks like the goons in every South Indian movie ever. He wants money, but I’m broke. He’s holding a knife out at me, and my dog is barking furiously. He tries biting the guy but only gets thrown into the wall. I hear a whimper, and then I see him breathing steadily, against the wall. He’s fainted. Suddenly, the intruder hears voices. He panics, stabs me, and jumps off of the balcony. He gets away. I can hear people walking up the stairs, and try to cry out, but everything becomes dark. My dog’s snores sound just like that of a human being. In fact, all dogs do. You ought to remember that.

I go back in time, to the holidays before my boards began. I learned how to cook three kinds of chicken at the very least. I learned how to fish-braid hair. I learned that I would have to alter my sleep cycle to make sure that I don’t fall asleep during my board papers. Couldn’t let that happen now, could we?

11:55 pm

While I think of the various things that I’ve been up to, and the things that I’ve done, I realize that I just may have run out of time. I’m beginning to sweat and I don’t know if it’s the weather, the stress or both. The summer is beginning, and it makes me want to chop all of my hair off. Global warming will bring out the worst in me. I wonder if I ought to put the fan on, but then I go back to thinking about writing. How does writer’s block function? How does one overcome it?

The weather is beginning to get to me. The low hum of the fridge joins in with the tick-tock of the kitchen clock. I wonder if it’s time to start wearing shorts again, and then wonder if I’m going to wear a saree tomorrow. I realize that I’m wasting my time and begin panicking, a little more than I was before. My eyes are droopy, my throat is dry and my ears are unable to drown out the noise that the various things at home make. And amidst it all, amidst the cantankerous chatter both inside and outside my head- an idea.

12:00 am

I’m done.

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Letter to the lost and found

Dear Old Love,

We haven’t really spoken in a while, but I don’t wonder why.

It feels like we were miles and miles apart. How’s the weather in hell by the way?

You found it to be quite amusing when I told you about my inability to write about us. You chuckled. I didn’t know if that was a good thing, or if it was something bad. It always fascinated me- your chuckle. I never knew what it meant, but pretended like I did, because I figured that I always assumed right. Did you know how confused I was? Because you would always look at me, with clear eyes that I couldn’t read, your expression blank, lips pressed together, making the air between us, if only for a moment, disappear. I don’t suffocate in those moments, and I don’t know why. I wonder if I felt that way because I held my breath, and found myself stuck in a moment that didn’t necessarily exist. I would have so many questions running through my mind. Is that why you looked at me? Were you as confused as I was?

In times of I wonder, I have those little moments replaying in my mind. I think of an old television set in a brown stand, playing the whole thing, while I keep zooming into the moment until I feel like I’m a part of it all over again. The air seems to disappear again, and I wonder why. I see static appearing on the screen. What’s fascinating is how things move from playing in black and white when I watch them and change into color when I’m a part of them. Do you ever feel the same?

I often wonder, if that first kiss under the light of a thousand stars, was as romantic as I thought as it would be. The stars didn’t shine bright enough, the animals lurking around in the night weren’t humming to a synchronized tune, and I couldn’t hear any background music. I think liked it more when you helped me pick out a bindi to match my outfit, and told me that I looked beautiful. That was the first time I used a maroon bindi, and I’ve loved them ever since. They seem to go with everything, don’t they?

You were both frustrating and exhilarating. You were a child, and so was I. I can hear your heartbeat when we hug. Did you know that?

Over the years, we seem to have become chapters in the other’s tale. Chapters, that made way for changes that made us better than we were, and built a friendship that both exists and doesn’t, for better or worse. And for that friendship, I don’t seem to feel the regret that I once did. I love how we’ve grown (as people because clearly, my height betrayed me a long time ago). We seem to have learned much more, become much more. Do you think so too?

I wonder what you would think of all this. If only you knew.

Yours truly,
Jane.

Under my cot

I was five years old, and the temperature that night, fifteen degrees Celsius. It was supposedly one of the coldest nights in Mangalore’s summer nights. After my bath. Prayers with my family and a scrumptious meal, my tiny little feet led me to the cot that awaited my return.  I quickly climbed onto it- a task, no longer cumbersome; and began the awkward task of having to unfold my quilt and blurry myself between it, and the warm quilt on the cot. It was my ‘dino blankie’, one of the random things that my mother thought we might “end up needing”. I quickly tucked myself in and began falling asleep, listening to the sound of the soft murmurs and sometimes, cheers coming from m numerous relatives (who were still wide awake) and the occasional howl from the dogs that were let out at night.

I don’t know how or when it happened, but nature grew on me. I always found solace amongst the smells of freshly cut grass, raw mangoes, the musty scent of the attic, the sound of the dogs howling, the rustle of the wind and the lullaby sung by the river that flowed a little away from the house- all filled with magic, color, and love.

As I began falling asleep, however, I was disturbed, by a slight noise coming from under the cot- something similar to a coconut being scraped. Although it quickly diminished right then, it soon began turning into a persisting noise that began bothering me.  And then, struck fear.

Mangalore is not known for its snakes. My mind began racing. Going out, was out of the question- I could get bit the minute I set out of my bed. Calling out wouldn’t help either- the murmur of the conversation that I could hear in the room was what was left of loud cheering from the hall room, with more than twenty people lending their voices. Yet, I tried- only to find that instead of a call for help, all the came out was a squeak. I decided to stay awake until someone came by, however, after all the day’s activities, my tiny body just couldn’t handle it.

It wasn’t until the moment that I fond the courage to actually take a peek, that I found one of our kittens, sleeping snug and warm against my leg.

Strawberry and Honey

I see a little girl, walking across a frozen lake. Only, the lake isn’t frozen. The water on the top is being held together by the leaves of the lotus flower. The white of the flower makes the lake seem frozen, because, there are oh so many of them. Her little feet make the water collected on the leaves splash like raindrops hitting the dry sand.

What if she falls into the lake? Her tender honey curls certainly won’t save her. Neither will her strawberry dress.

I scream. I don’t know how what to do.

A woman violently shakes me awake. “Thank God you’re okay. I  was so worried” she says.

I look past her and see a white lake. I then realize, that my strawberry dress in ruins.

Telescope

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to look at the stars through a telescope. Would they still twinkle like they do for me every night? Or would they show me the faces of the people we’ve lost, when people claim that they’re now stars that watch over us? Or, would they, like Mufasa said, look like the lost kings of jungles all over the world, roaring, shining brightly in the night sky? Would they be watching their homes being destroyed by savage men, helpless at their plight?

Big balls of gas, much like our sun, probably light the paths of solar systems of their own – civilizations undiscovered by us, animals, plants, and other unknown elements. Curiosity fills me every night when I look out my little window, wondering what it would be like to be there.

But, where is there? I wouldn’t know. I certainly would love to though. Would they have butterflies like we do? These foreign lands are unknown. Do they know we’re here? Do they want to know about us? Do they exist in a tranquility of their own, oblivious to our existence? Are they unconcerned about our need for fancy weapons, petty fights and our elaborate clothing?

Childish desires mix with adult curiosity to know, to learn, to see and to grow. What would that little telescope show?

The lady in red

I was always told, that fairer was better. And for the longest of time, I believed it. Aunties wearing blouses that didn’t quite fit them right would tell me how to make my complexion fairer, better. Ponds constantly came out with advertisements that said that their creams would “fix” whatever was wrong with your skin, somehow increasing your confidence at a job interview, and giving you that job you’ve always dreamed of. You could soar to greater heights with this beautiful skin, and if you didn’t have it, you simply weren’t beautiful.
I was once told not to worry about my complexion, because some men prefer women with a wheat-ish complexion, much like mine. Looking back, I feel like I should have worried about the fact that I was fourteen, and was being told what complexion men prefer. I barely knew any boys back then. Why was I being told to worry about men?
Over the years, this notion of fairer being better somehow settled in a quiet little nook in my unconscious. My rebellious teenage years had me telling myself that it didn’t matter what a person’s skin colour was. And for the longest of time, I had begun to believe it myself. I wouldn’t know how weak that belief was until I met the lady in red.

The lady in red was abandoned by her husband, a few days after her baby girl was born. I looked at the little baby, and for a brief moment reconsidered my strong dislike for children. She was a tiny little thing, with little rolls of baby fat covering her fair little body, chubby cheeks, and rosy lips, much like a plump, fresh peach. Her dark eyes, full of innocent wonder, left me wondering what kind of monster would abandon such a beautiful little baby.

And then, I saw the lady in red.

Her eyes so wide, the colour of freshly laid tar, thick long braided hair falling over her back, three piercings on each ear, each earring smaller than the first, and a silver nose ring that seemed like it was made just for her. The nose ring sat right behind the little curve on the right side of her nose, and was a simple ring, much like the rings one often sees at a wedding. What struck me the most was her beautiful, dark brown skin. It was a shade much like the one you would find on someone who worked in the hot sun, day in and day out. But at the same time, the smooth chocolate-caramel quality of her skin made me think otherwise. Her eyes, curious to know what would happen and yet lost in the pain of her past, couldn’t help but bring out all the empathy one can for someone in her situation. Her complexion showed care, without the tampering of toxic products on her skin. She had a soft, melodious voice, much like that of a mother singing a lullaby. And despite all that she had been through, one couldn’t help but see her resolve, to never be helpless again.

You can’t see any of her battle scars because her colour takes it away. Or rather, they aren’t obvious enough, because they don’t stand out awkwardly against her skin. You can’t see her pain because more often than not, people assume that pain comes out of a strong redness and blotching of the skin resulting from countless nights of despair. I looked at the resplendent red kumkuma in the parting of her hair. In a perfectly straight line, it showed no sign of breaking down. The dark of her skin brings out the brightness of the red. You wouldn’t know what happened to her because you rarely try to look under that dark smooth chocolate-caramel skin.
She wore a hand me down salwar, ripped at the edges and full of snags in the fabric, holding a baby in a perfect, soft pink blanket.

I often wonder what happened to her, and her little baby. She must have grown quite a bit by now.

Image from : Red Images (34) – WujinSHike.com

Her kind of goddess

Kalyani is the village goddess. It is said, that her ancestors, the Kashetty’s, are the family that is blessed by the dear goddess Kalyani, who decided to continue to be reborn into the same family forever after. When Kalyani wanted something, the entire village would work towards getting it done. Everyone is permanently at her beck and call. Every year, during the spring, the village holds its annual festival at the village temple, where she blesses her many devotees, and sometimes, performs some stray, well thought out miracles.

On the twelfth day, of the thirteenth full moon, the Kalyani temple of Shabarnath bursts out in an abundance of colors like never seen before. A display of fireworks from all over the world will color the night sky, an arrangement so beautiful, that even the dogs would face their mortal enemies to view it. It seems as if the night is meant simply for the celebration of the goddesses’ blessings in the village, for even the moon and stars begin to shine as bright as the fireworks. Colors as blue as the ocean, as green as the evergreens in the Western Ghats, as red as the rose, and as white as a lily, will adorn the homes in the little village of Shabarnath.  These are the only colors one can see each time the goddess is born, and they are always her favorite.

A large feast with generous meals is served in the temple all week long, with stalls at every corner arranged just like the goddess would like them to be. Performers from all over the country will be brought over for the people’s amusement. No expense would be held back, for it was the pride of the little village.

It is the one night in the year, that all the people will gather together- irrespective of caste and socioeconomic status, to praise the goddess that saved the village from the night terrors that gripped the minds of the men for over a decade before she arrived and cured them. The goddess was so pleased with the gratitude that was shown to her that she decided to reincarnate into the same loving family that provided her with shelter in those dark times.

Back at home, Kalyani creeps out of her room in the middle of the night to look at the fireworks display in the open ground. A beautiful maiden of fifteen, she is the goddess of the village. Everyone loved her, and everyone praised her.  However, something is amiss. She isn’t the goddess. She has never protected anyone. Her mother passed away when she was born, just like her mother’s mother did before her. They would never live to see thirty. Goddesses of the Kashetty family would become pregnant at the age of twenty-five; the same age the goddess was when she came to rescue the village. The goddesses would often be married off to the goddesses’ advisor, who could provide for them and upon their death, marry the woman who would help with the upbringing of the goddess.  An advisor would be groomed from her very birth, to become her husband, and then the father of the future goddess. He was kind, good-looking, and of course, from a rich family that would be able to provide for the goddess’s whims and fancies.

But Kalyani’s father is different. He is good-looking, and from a rich family as well. However, he isn’t the kind-hearted man he seems to be. His sole purpose, or what was taught to him at least, is to work toward maintenance the myth of the goddess’s blood running in the family. That is why her mother had to die. Developments in science meant that young women stood a better chance of survival during childbirth, but that was not the case here.  She knows that she will have to die before the age of twenty-six. That is her fate. She knows the man who will be her husband for nine long years before he marries the woman he really loves. He is big, strong, good-looking, and from a rich family. He is the son of the cousin of her father.

It was his idea for Kalyani to perform the miracles. “Healings” would cure any faith that strayed away. The goddess is, after all, the only way that the family can stay in power, with little or next to no government influence in the village. Every source of power would continue to be in the hands of one family.

The temple festival too is very cunningly organized. The outsiders are given strict orders about communication with the villagers. Any deviations would result “in serious punishment”. This only meant that the person would be pushed into the heart of the jungle nearby, where the tigers roamed free. The rest is history.

Kalyani knows what her fate is, but she also knows that she has the power to change it. She will only have to play the same game that her so called family plays- they, play on the emotions of the villagers.

Kalyani, with her hair out wild, black curls like tiny whiplashes ready to destroy anything that came in her way, eyes the color of cinnamon bark, with skin only a shade lighter, walks through the crowd that she commands, with her very stride singing a song of praise in honor of her ancestors, and the miracles she is due to perform that night.  She walks to her throne in the temple, her father and advisor beside her, and takes her place as soon as the village is struck by the sky’s loud roar.  The people fall to their knees in praise of her, chanting mantras in her holy name. She looks down and sees the thousand people willing to do her bidding. She begins with the traditional demand for gold, silver, and rubies. Then, she goes on to talk about her ancestors, to whom they owed their lives. She has in her, the voice of an angel, with the power of the devil.

Her hair begins to flow with the wind, getting longer with each passing second. Instantaneously, she begins speaking in a tongue, that to the common folk is utterly incomprehensible. The crowd trembles in fear, for they believe that she is displeased with them. She grows taller and taller with each chant, and rises from her throne, with her voice, booming over the winds of the mountains, demanding freedom. Never had such fury been unleashed, never had such fear spread among the people. They hadn’t come across a goddess so powerful since the goddess Kalyani herself.

Never, had freedom been given so willingly, yet fearfully. Never, had she tasted freedom the way she did now.

“That is quite a story you came up with Marsha… I would like to know how the rest of the tale goes. We’ve run out of time today, but how about we pick up the same place we left off next week?” said Talia, closing the file in hand.

Marsha meekly looked down, picked up her bag and walked out of the office.

Talia hadn’t moved. She was marveled by the sheer madness in the eight-year old’s mind.

She fingered the edge of the file at hand, careful to not cut herself over the edges.  She then looked down at the first page in the file that read ‘Marsha Addams.  Diagnosis: Schizophrenia’

 

 

Image source: deviantart.net

 

Rain rain, don’t go away

The rain has always fascinated me. There were always so many things that you could do with it- fight a pirate, create the perfect atmosphere for a séance, declare your love like dear Mr. Darcy did, put out a merciless fire, try sailing cross the ocean and then land on a random island where you could create your own nation, and even express your sadness, where your warm tears would be washed away by the cold water splashing on your face.

I loved standing on my terrace in the rain, with my arms out wide, spinning in circles as the raindrops fell on my face- it was so much like in the movies I watched. My love for Bangalore rain, however, never went beyond the gate of my building, because beyond it was pure filth. One can never know what animal feces or bits of garbage come along with the rain water that flowed all over the streets that still lack a proper drainage system. Or at least, that’s what mother would say.

Bangalore’s rain brought in cold winds from the Antarctic, and with it, a long bout of the common cold. I never appreciated the cold that I caught with my waltzing in the rain,  but it’s occurrence coinciding with the reopening of school after the summer break led me to secretly believe that school was what I was allergic too- not the rain. After all, it did last long after the rains did, and seemed to come back every time it could. Now that I’m in college, I think it’s the sheer stress of an Indian education that I’m allergic too. After all, I catch a cold a little after college begins, I had the same issue in school as well, and it takes months and months to go away- almost the length of a semester.  However, I couldn’t possibly use this as an excuse, because people haven’t actually died from studying. Yet.

However, it does have some perks. We’ve always had parking issues at home. By that, I mean other people park in front of our gate, and we have no means to take our car onto the road. In order to deal with the problem, we park our Wego in front of the gate. One fine day, when we were on our way back from the evening mass, our car being washed by the rain, my father asked me to move the bike from the gate. The rain wasn’t the problem. The black dress and six-inch heels were. Too afraid to say no, and too proud to look incompetent, I walked out of the car and began moving the bike.  Oh, the stares! Every person who saw me on the street looked at me the same way one would look at a snake charmer in a mall. My dress, six-inch heels, and lipstick did not belong in Bangalore rain. I felt both bold and stupid. Bold, because I could ride in a dress and six-inch heels, and stupid because I was in a dress and six-inch heels. I was one of those studs on the street, all Goth and fancy with my outfit.

The first week of rain would mean the end of summer and the beginning of the new academic year. It meant that I wouldn’t be able to wake up smelling wet grass in the morning, mingling with the scent of hot tea. It meant the end of the fights to sit in front of the “fireplace” in the kitchen, where my aunt would make our morning tea. It meant I wouldn’t have a tank full of hot water to use while I bathed because now I’d actually have to use a tap. Somehow, over the years, the idea of having to bring out hot water from the tank and mix it with cold water in Mangalore means more water than the warm water that comes out the taps in Bangalore. I realize that bathing in Mangalore requires more work, yet I feel like it doesn’t. Coming home meant that I would no longer get to eat hot-hot pez (boiled rice) with chicken sukka (a Mangalorean dish) huddled next to my cousins while it rained outside.

Over the years, I’ve seen the rain go from something pure and absolutely wonderful to something that finds itself in the same place and muck and disgust. Improper drainage systems lead to the flooding of the drains, which in turn causes the water to pour out onto the roads that people walk, drive and ride in. Through all of this, it has become an event that I have come to keep to myself now, enjoying it in more private terms.

What I think stays constant in my relationship with the rain, the one thing that seems to be a near perfect experience, is the sound of the pitter-patter the rain drops make, which lull me to sleep when I’m wrapped in my blanket listening to James Blunt’s Bonfire heart. Warm, comfortable, and in love. That is what the rain is to me.

Papa

When you think of you our grandfather, I know you think of chocolates. You think of sausages, bacon, salami and toasted bread for breakfast, a machine that was attached to his nose thrice a day, with a funny looking white smoke coming out of it, and, you think of our grandmother. Papa was an old man, and he had been old for as long as we remember.

Our visits to Vishakapatanam (Vizag) never lasted more than a week or two, but there was always something new to discover, something new to do. Sometimes, it would be shopping in the one mall in the city, sometimes, it would be eating in the Principal’s chair at our grandmother’s school, and sometimes, it was making sand castles on the beach, with our little, tiny-nailed hands being the only tools we had.

I remember listening to stories of when this old, frail, gray haired man with a golden watch on his wrist, could once carry rations used by a family of five for an entire week. I heard stories of the order he brought home from the British, which eventually led to the English breakfast we has almost every Sunday during our trips to Vizag. You heard these stories too, but you were too busy making paper planes to listen to the adults tell tales.

I remember a secret. Every morning, we run down to our grandparents’ room as fast as our little feet would carry us, my stuffed toy Appu flying in the air, clinging to the end of my fingertips, and your stuffed teddy bear Potlu rushing not far behind. We would slowly creep inside, and jump eagerly for the chocolate twisters that would miraculously emerge from a tiny little box in the cabinet that seemed to have an infinite capacity for our little delights. He would ask us to be as quiet as mice (we never understood the reference because the mice we saw were quite squeaky), and we would whisper till we ate, a little after which things got loud again. We weren’t allowed to have chocolates back then. The twisters were tiny, with two shades of brown. I don’t think we’ve eaten a single one without thinking of him. Do you remember how we were given only one a day, and no more? It was our little secret.

There was this one time, that chocolate bought for him, filled with the sailor’s favourite rum, accidentally found its way into my mouth. Our father reprimanded his father, who ignored him in return.

A couple of years later, in a moment of jest, you would pull dad’s chair as he was about to sit down, and would run behind Papa to have your butt saved. It worked. You would then wink at me, having successfully escaped dad’s wrath, and I would meekly look down, and silently finish my annoyingly healthy tomato soup.

In the years to come, we would watch Papa battling his lung problems, coming home unable to climb up to the first floor, and leaving after a month, fully able of scouting the entire building. In the few moments of weakness we were exposed to, our grandmother, his rock, would tell him that he would live to see a hundred. She never baked for us like grandmothers ought to do, or read out fairytales from our books. Instead, we would listen to stories of the children in her school, and watch her watching over Papa. In Vizag, we would watch her bathing Dickie, their dog, even at the age of 70, and stare him down when he tried messing with her after having decided that he could outsmart her.

Papa is an old Portuguese song that he learned at sea, with a vague tune that sometimes whistles in the wind. He is his own version of The Andrew Sister’s ‘Rum and Coca-cola’.  We never leaned the lyrics to either song, but I know that you cling to the faint tune you remember, because you still think of it in your dreams. You hum in your sleep. Did you know that?

I think we were twelve years old when he passed away. I remember not being able to attend the funeral because we had our exams going on. You didn’t cry the day he died, or the day after that. You didn’t cry, because you simply couldn’t.  Three days later, however, you cried. You cried on the stairs he struggled to climb during his last trip to Bangalore, gripping the railing for support, the same way he did. You cried because you couldn’t cry earlier, and because you didn’t know why you couldn’t. You cried and cried, and then you smiled. I cried with you. Out in the sky, we saw a new star that day. Papa’s star. It shone just for you and me, and seemed like it would always help us find our way home.

When my bones grow weak, my hair turns gray and I fade into oblivion, I hope to shine like Papa’s star, just for you. I wouldn’t want you to be alone. But then again, no one ever leaves, not really.

Chapels and the things Jesus taught me

Matthew 19:14 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

I’ve never been able to understand the deity who takes attendance every Sunday.

When I was younger, I would eagerly rush to church, almost every chance I could. This I did, for two reasons. The first was so that I could get to play with the few friends that I had in the basketball in the Friary. The second was that one of the Brothers in the Friary would let my friends and I pluck gooseberries from the green, green garden behind the church. On certain momentous occasions, we were also allowed to pet and play with the pets on campus. I sometimes wondered why we never got to see the same pig twice, but then got distracted with the abundance of gooseberries in the little black leather bag that my father had gifted me. Somewhere in my mind, lingered the sweet smell of pork vindaloo. I remember people speaking of a deity, and statues all around, but never actually got around to sitting down and doing a little research. After all, if I did any work, what would I do in the catechism lessons?

At the age of 10, I religiously joined the group of altar servers with my peers. We would fight to see who got to serve for the masses during the coming week. We were, in our opinion, just as important as the priests celebrating mass. We got to carry the chalices and cups containing the unblessed blessed sacrament, and also sang along with the choir. We got to ring the bell during the Eucharistic celebration, and sometimes even got to adjust the fan for the priest preaching at the altar. It also had the added benefit of the red and white outfits that made us look like St. Peter’s assistants.

The first four years that I spent in catechism classes primarily consisted of learning up prayers with words that were either too big, or too complicated for me to understand. I’m both proud and ashamed, about the fact that I still haven’t taken the time to understand the prayers that I religiously chanted for many, many years. Proud, because I don’t want to say something I don’t know about in its entirety. Most prayers came from specific events or occurrences that led to their existence. They meant something back then, but in most cases, have lost their significance. I feel ashamed because I feel like I’ve abandoned the Lord I was taught to love and fear. I’m still not sure about the beliefs I have, and what my religion means to me.

It wasn’t until I’d reached the seventh grade, that I had learned that ‘praying’ simply meant ‘speaking to God’. We were encouraged to come up prayers of our own, and many of us required quite a push to actually articulate our feelings in being frank towards a God we were always told to fear. When I finally got around to doing it, I wasn’t sure if was to pray out of love, devotion, or fear. This came after a year of my catechism teachers from the previous year made us sing hymns of their own, with tunes so jaded, even Lucifer begged for something different.

I listened to priests pray for peace, but they weren’t praying. They were reading out of a pre-prepared paper. Where was the truth in that? I could never tell if they really cared. Did they?

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God belonged to childlike hearts. What do you do when people take away that very heart?

John 13:34: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

At the young age of ten, while I struggled to discover the ways of the God I was destined to worship, I was also exposed to the hierarchy within the church. Masses were divided according to the languages popularly spoken by the parishioners, as were the catechism classes. It didn’t take me long to notice the fact that there was barely any interaction between the parishioners from the various languages. The few people that did mix along, either came from the altar service group, the choirs that sung together on some occasions, or the members of the church youth group. It took me a very long time to actually mingle the way I do now, and that mostly comes out of my experiences with the altar service group, the choirs and the members of the church youth group. I learned to actively use the languages that I had learned over time, from the bits and pieces of conversation that I came across and learned that differences come from personality and not where a person comes from.

When I was thirteen, I discovered the gay pride parades and the drives held towards bettering the lives of the LGBT community in the country, and all over the world. What I also learned, is that the heaven that claimed to open its gates to the people who were good, refuses to let in the people that God created, because they were just not like everyone else. I always believed that being ‘good’, came out of the kindness of your heart and the care that one shows towards another individual. It came out of our need to help the helpless, and take away any pain we came across. But clearly, I was wrong.

A little later, the rape rates in the country went up, there was an increase in the number of murders, Syria broke out in Civil War, and people suffered and died. I didn’t know what the Lord had in store for the world, and I still don’t. People suffered, and it was merely shunned away as God punishing people for their sins. What kind of a God punished women and children with rape? What kind of God punishes people with murder and war? I heard about the predictions for the end of the world, and yet it didn’t end.

I was told that I counted as a Gentile. I wasn’t one of the ‘chosen ones’. I wasn’t from the tribe that constantly rejected the God who gave a mortal to part the Red Sea for them. I wasn’t special, but I was asked to believe anyway. Are we not taken care of because we aren’t the chosen ones?

The world was then blessed with Pope Francis. The first non-European Pope. The first Pope to have a Twitter and Instagram account. He is the first to wash the feet of a group of prisoners on Maundy Thursday, the first to wash the feet of people of all ages and the first to wash the feet of refugees of different races and religions. In terms of what the church has been through and the atrocities it had brought out over the ages, he is the first to actually attempt to make amends. It is also in the same decade, that I am encountered with Principals and teachers, both quite religious, who question a student’s values and culture because she was sitting among a group of boys. Was she doing anything obscene? No. Was she breaking a rule? No. Then why was she condemned?

It wasn’t until my first year in college that I learned of the fact that the gospels weren’t written at the same time. In fact, they were written ages after Christ’s time, decades apart from each other- each adhering to its own theme. It was also the same year that I found out about the fact that almost every ritual we have, came from other religions. For example, the Pentecost was a Jewish feast, on a full moon. We celebrate Easter on the day of the Pentecost when there is a full moon. The church has over two thousand years of problems to amend, with the current Pope is working towards it. And yet, I find people condemning his every move. He washed the feet of refugees who weren’t Christian. Guess who else wasn’t Christian? Every one of the twelve disciples.

Jesus told us that everyone deserves to be treated as one would treat themselves. We don’t do it. And I fear to understand why.

John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

When I was fifteen, I discovered the church chapel.  It was a place of patience, a place of hope. The warmth of the air in the chapel contrasted with the cold floor, where I sat, a little away from the altar. Somehow, somewhere, I found comfort in the idea of being able to speak to God without a barrier. I was in church- so someone speaking to the air couldn’t possibly be the weirdest thing around.

I never managed to understand the sermons during mass that took on the shape of a public rant, or the telling of jaded jokes with morals that sometimes didn’t have even the remotest resemblance to the readings of the day.

Over time, I realized that I what learned in those hours of silence- things about God, things about myself- they were things I couldn’t have learned or understood anywhere else. When I joined college, I found a similar comfort in the college chapel. It is where I go when I feel lost. Because somehow, in talking to God, or in talking to myself, I find a way out of the pain and troubles I face.

In a church chapel, I feel safe. I’m not exposed, like in the high arches and gargantuan altars of a church. I’m surrounded by architecture as old as the church, but it doesn’t judge me the same. I’m free of the looks I get for a flaw in my outfit, for the way I sometimes falter when I walk. I could burst into tears, and I wouldn’t have people looking at me like I deserve to be in an asylum.

There is a feeling like home in those chapel walls- a feeling of love and care. A feeling that tells me that I have someone near, someone who hears my plea. It is here that I learned that if I really truly asked for something, I would get it. I find a sense of comfort in the unknown. These feelings could be a result of the culture I was raised in, or simply the need to have a higher presence that I could trust in, even when I thought that I have no one.

Over the years, I have come to learn, condemn and admire things about the church. I’m beginning to get a basic understanding of the way things work. I will be eternally grateful to my theology professor from last year because he showed us that religion is an amalgamation of various factors that can sometimes go astray. He showed me, that God is love. Not fear.

I learned that sometimes, there is a set method to things. These methods may be highly disorganized by their very nature, but are maintained for the perceived need of the hour.  Questioning things does help. But in that process of questioning, one must also be willing to find an answer. I still don’t know why we face the troubles we do today. I don’t understand why a God who “so loved the world, that he (us) gave his only Son”, would watch us suffer and punish the innocent with the pain they never deserved in the first place. One could argue, that the degree of suffering could be attributed to how far we’ve come as members of the human race, but the question of the need to cause suffering still remains.

And yet, I find comfort in the idea of a guardian angel watching over me.

Sometimes, I fear for what the answers to my questions would be. But more often than not, I wish that I was shown how beautiful my religion is rather than taught it, in words and excuses I still can’t comprehend. I will always have a much greater respect for the professors and priests who admit that my religion has its flaws, than those who pretend like the flaws don’t exist.

I still haven’t figured religion out, and wish that I was given the time to do so. I also believe that there are many like me who wish they had the opportunity to do the same.