Sunday, April 28, 2013

American ♫ Desi Girl ♫

Chapter 8 

The Interpreter of Melodies

It had been several years since Mama had been able to go whole hog with celebrating Diwali. They had all been just too busy or too tired. This year she had made up her mind to celebrate it just the way she had seen it done in Jaipur at Dadima’s. She had even grown marigolds in the vegetable patch in anticipation of this day. Mango leaves were now available at the local Indian grocery stores, so she could make swags with mango leaves and the marigolds she decided. She’d try her hand at rangoli. Having played with sidewalk chalk in her childhood for hours on end she knew she could create something pretty. She spent hours planning it all.

The LP was back from school admiring questioning tinkering with the décor and getting in Mama’s way but that was the whole idea to begin with, to pass on a tradition, so Mama did not exactly mind. The significance of each color and symbol was fascinating for the LP who had just discovered that flags and coats of arms had meanings beyond the obvious, just having studied those in school.

Mama had, in her growing years, been very afraid of making displays of the swastika or the Om or anything obviously Indian, in an effort to fit in. Over the years society had become more accepting of diversity. She, having seen yoga centers pop up in every strip mall in town and regretting never having learned to sit in the lotus position while the bones had been tender enough the ligaments limber enough, decided it was okay to paint tiny swastikas in turmeric on the lintel. Until of course the offspring came up with the usual, “Mama!” accompanied by the rolling of the eyes and the shaking of the head and so on.

Mama had thought about this for a while now preparing the decorations and holiday treats for a week and had internally come to an understanding of this whole business of signs and symbols and celebration and diversity. Especially since she had seen at the local temple the mandap had been decorated with a string of miniature disco ball look-alike silver Christmas ornaments. It looked very pretty. It did look out of place. But no one seemed to care. This probably would not have happened at Dadima’s, but here in Fairview it was perfectly okay.

She had then got to thinking about cultural notions like “it’s raining today” or “let’s all open our presents and see what we got” or “you’ve got yourself a serious tan”. They often meant opposite things in Jaipur and in Fairview. And that was okay. Likewise, swastikas, a holy symbol to more than a billion people worldwide today had meant quite the opposite to more than a billion people for a number of years. The swastika had been around for millennia in various parts of the world. Its place in peoples’ hearts and minds had changed over time.

“The Interpreter Of Maladies” — short story by Jhumpa Lahiri

rangoli via Google

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