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My mom thought she was teaching others about the importance of prayer and a puja room, but she ended up learning something else instead!
Amma (my mom) was visiting us in California while the kids were having their summer break. It was a welcome respite for me as Amma would now take care of the cooking, go on talking sprees with me and share all the interesting news of our village back home and manage my naughty kids.
She also added a new task to their schedule and made the kids pray to God every evening lighting a lamp. Amma used to make me do this every day as a kid and the most interesting phenomenon for me then was lighting the lamp. I was fascinated by fire; its color, smell, shape all excited me. I would sit looking at the lamp for hours while Amma poked me from behind reminding me to repeatedly chant all the hymns.
As an adult and a working mother, I never really had the time to carry forward this tradition to the next generation and Amma was not pleased at all.
“Neethu, please don’t bore me with your ‘I have no time Amma’ response. I want you to sit down with the children and chant God’s hymns everyday for at least five minutes”.
“Amma please, if you want to do it, please go ahead. But don’t force me to do something I don’t want to” Amma knew I was a stubborn breed and she left me at that.
But I must admit, I secretly cherished the sound of my kids chanting those hymns and I loved it that Amma was making them do it everyday. It took me back to my childhood and I could still smell the air of our village back in the 80’s. The kids too seemed to be loving the new ritual and looked forward to these praying sessions with their grandma.
It was the weekend and my American co-worker Nancy had called me for her housewarming party. Amma was rather curious to see how an American’s house looked like. So she too came along. The house was fairly big with substantial front and backyard. I felt very proud of Nancy’s achievement. She was a single mother managing three kids on her own. Nancy took me and Amma around the house and described all the rooms to us. Finally Amma turned to me and asked something in Malayalam.
Nancy wanted to know what Amma had asked me. And I explained that she is asking if there is a Puja room in the house.
“What is a Puja room?” Nancy wanted to know.
Amma loved that question. For the next ten minutes, Amma enlightened Nancy (of course with me as the translator) about the God’s room that every house back in India has. “The room is dedicated to God, and we pray and chant God’s names in there. This brings in positive energy and good luck to one’s family.” Amma concluded the lecture with “No home is complete without a Puja room.”
“Very interesting!” Nancy nodded. And Amma patted herself on the back on her brilliant, thought provoking discourse.
After three months, it was finally time for Amma to go back to India. The frequency of her reminders to give kids fresh food, teach them to respect elders, and to make them pray every day increased as the day of her departure got closer.
Nancy had called us over for dinner the weekend before Amma’s departure.
After the early dinner, we sat in her portico drinking tea. Nancy slowly got up and announced, “I have a surprise for Aunty.” She then came closer and took Amma by her hands, and gestured me to follow her. I followed as she walked ahead holding Amma’s hands. They walked past the corridor of her house and reached a small dark room on the rear side, away from the other rooms. Nancy switched on the dim lights of the room and exclaimed “Ta daa, here is our Puja room.”
“Whoa!” I screamed unable to stop myself. It was a beautiful room painted white with white tiles on the floor. The room was empty except for a small candle in the middle of the room raised on a platform and a green cotton rug with white cushions on either side spread on the floor of the room. There were no images or idols of any deity, yet it felt so divine, so peaceful, so serene in there.
Nancy continued, “Thank you so much Aunty for giving me this wonderful idea. We all need to meditate and withdraw ourselves from our busy world for some time everyday. You have no idea how much more positive and peaceful I feel after spending ten minutes in this room everyday before sleep. You have changed my life Aunty.”
Amma’s face brightened and glowed in the candlelight. She grinned as she placed her hand on top of Nancy’s head and uttered “God bless you my child.” Amma then threw a look at me and I knew instantly what she meant. “Ha, You need to listen more to your mother!”
Back at home, I was bragging to my husband about how Nancy added a puja room to her house, thanks to my mother.
“Amma even taught an American lady in my office the significance of a Puja room!”
“No Neethu, it was Nancy who taught me many things,” Amma gave a deep sigh while we both turned in her direction bewildered.
“She taught me it’s not the idols or the shape, color, looks of the deity that matter. Its the human mind.”
“She taught me it’s okay to open yourself to new ideas, if it brings positivity in you. It does not matter how alien it sounds to you, or that it comes from the other side of the world.”
“Finally she taught me, that we are all essentially the same, We come from the same energy and we go to the same. It doesn’t matter what our religion on this earth is.”
I held my mother’s hand and squeezed it, looking lovingly into her deep set eyes.
Published here earlier.
Image Source: pixabay