Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.
- Coco Chanel
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The incessant ringing of the scarf bell mixed with the continuous chant of mantras by the new priest created something which at best could be categorized as commotion. The usual priest of the temple, uncle Bhojohori has such a sweet and melodious way of chanting the mantras, too bad he is sick and cannot perform today’s puja. Saswati thought of covering her ears with her little hands but she could not. Hundreds of eyes rested on her, scrutinizing her every move. Her parents and grandparents had told her to stay as calm as she could. “The Goddess would bless you dear”, her mother had told her. She seemed the most excited in her family, when the temple authorities had come to her grandpa with a request to allow them to worship Saswati as ‘kumari’. To the five year old Saswati this seemed very puzzling. In her five year old life she had been always told to worship goddesses but never become one. Also goddesses were supposed to be dolls dressed up in pretty clothes. Though she very much liked her pretty clothes and thought it would be very interesting if she could become a doll herself; Saswati was not sure if she could stay as one for a long time. Also it would be pretty inconvenient if she had to sit absolutely still and not speak at all. No, not just inconvenient, it would just be a disaster! But when her mother had looked her in the eye and requested her to be a goddess for a day, she could not refuse. A quick promise from her mother of a big Jellito ice cream later had quickly sealed the deal. Saswati watched from her high seat as the people before her stood with folding hands, some repeating mantras after the priest. Even her family was standing before her, with their palms joined. Saswati became more surprised when some of the devotees touched her feet for blessings. She became puzzled for a moment, not even sure if she could give blessings like the real goddesses. A man with one leg and on a cruch, started crying and asking her for mercy and blessings. Saswati became more puzzled, what was she supposed to do? She looked at her mother for some clues, but she was lost behind the crowd eager for the goddesses’ blessings. The priest and his helpers also did not seem of much help. The only offered smiles if Saswati looked at them. A sense of fear crept inside her. She looked everywhere and from the corner of her eyes looked at the idol of the goddess. She seemed to be smiling at Saswati, well goddesses always had smiles on their faces but this one seemed a little different to Saswati. It was as if it was her mother smiling at her, the dearest of all smiles for Saswati. She looked at the weeping man and placed her little hand on his head and lovingly caressed his hair. The man looked up in surprise, and on seeing Saswati’s love filled face, like that of a mother looking at her loving child; his tears knew bounds. He wept like a child, clutching one end of the little girl’s footrest. “Ma, Ma, Ma” He kept on repeating the words as his feelings, sorrow and memories all mixed together inside him. That day, after the puja was over, Saswati got her ice cream as she was promised. She was happy for the ice cream but it was surpassed by another kind of happiness that she felt through her whole being. As she walked home, holding her mother’s hand she happened to look at her mother’s face for a few moments and then she clutched her mother’s hand more tightly; a contended look on her face and a smile that didn’t want to go away.