Lemon, Bergamot, Citrus and Summer: Spirituality and Soliloquy.
[Prelude: This excerpt is the first of a three-part essay written, in 2020, as an ode to my mother and grandmother. This ode puts forth my lens and my personal dilemmas which have arisen periodically, over the course of my mother’s (and to an extension, my family’s) battle with a critical illness. It aims to capture certain traits and patterns in their lives, which, for the better or worse, continue to impact my conduct in the face of adversity.
The severity and intensity of the period since is indescribably heavy to be recaptured through words. The titles consist of fragrances and feelings which keep me tethered to the light and make the process of writing this ode, a pleasurable one.]
A usual morning in my grandparents’ home begins with them performing their morning routine, which has been perfected over the years, much like a well-synchronized ballet. Religion plays a greater role in their lives than what mere religiosity to habitual practices would dictate.
My Ajji is a fervent believer of religion and God. To her, the two are inextricably intertwined and spiritual beliefs correspond with a belief in Hindu mythological figures. Each morning, as the sun rises and the quaint neighbourhood roads embrace a flurry of auto rickshaws rushing into the mysterious void where disinterested and half-asleep auto drivers congregate for their morning cups of chai, my Ajji sits to read her scriptures and sings a particular devotional song.
Her tone dips and rises on the same notes, each time she sings, almost as if her voice nonchalantly accompanies her, hand-in-hand, in this synchronized ballet of rituals. The song, which reveals aged and slightly coarser notes of her voice, sounds soothing in its own ways. As soothing as one would find the scent of Bergamot in their cup of black, loose-leaf tea on chilly, winter morning. Or better yet, the lightness one would feel while lying upon a bed of lavender-coloured Chrysanthemums on a cool, spring morning with the nascent warmth of the morning sun enveloping one’s face.
My mother, too, has always held a strong belief in God. She deviates from her mother’s outlook by believing in various religious visualisations of God- from Hindu mythological figures to Infant Jesus- their perceptions of religion and spirituality maintain a rhythm of divergence and convergence, much like the tributaries of a river.
My mother and Ajji, both, share an active interest in the craftmanship of religious idols and their decoration. Appreciating and categorizing the idols as per which one seems more aesthetically pleasing, while at the same time pedestalizing what the idols stand for. This interplay between humanizing the pedestalized and pedestalizing human notions of divine beauty, which seems partially oxymoronic, signifies the role that religion occupies in their lives.
The humanization of the divine also resurfaces every time my mother is riddled with the feeling that God has been unfair to her. In many ways, my mother has faced more hardships than many would deem fair. Growing up, my mother’s despair at having been treated unfairly by God would often fall flat on my ears, given my disinclination towards religious beliefs. While not much has changed in my outlook towards organized religion, my outlook on spirituality came to light the first time she was diagnosed.
I realized that it is not as simple as dismissing God. God may be a social construct but there exist situations where people need to believe in something, something other than themselves, to prevent themselves from spiraling over the things they possess no control over.
God, Universe or a tub of icecream (if that’s what you choose to reside your faith in) will exist if you need it to. Faith keeps people alive. Or at the very least, it can save you from feeling like every minute is insurmountable.
One of the moments which I have revisited over the years and one which both, my mother and I, hold onto is my Ajji’s sayings of ‘Udévré nald pannana’ (God will do good). The solace it provides me comes not from the figure she prays to but from the fact that I am yet to come across someone who keeps faith in God with the sheer conviction that she does and demonstrates her faith, through her rituals, over and over again, religiously, day by day.
The solace comes from my belief in the truth of her conviction. I wonder, then, if and to what extent my spirituality can be dissociated from religion. Not organized religion in a direct sense, but (my grandmother’s) religion and religiosity nevertheless.
Does it need to be dissociated? Perhaps, perhaps not. For now, I continue to let paradoxes mull and take solace in her sayings and her voice as she sings devotional hymns. With the tinker of hand bells echoing in the background, I watch the street waking up from its lazy stupor as I sip my morning tea.