Dialogues with Deities – A monthly series that gently reminds us to remember what life would be like if we succumbed to a pandemic. While settings shift from India to America, and characters change as well, each story explores the vital nature of relationships in life and death.
After completing his circumambulations inside the temple, he slumped his shoulders and said, “My country has not made much progress since my family came here 50 years ago. Indeed, I fear it has regressed. When one part of the country says, “Black Lives Matter,” another part counters, “Blue Lives Matter,” and yet another part hides its privilege by saying “All Lives Matter.” Now I am a grandfather and worry what my granddaughter’s America has become.” I reminded him that in 1969 he was rather unhappy with the way things were in his new country but found a way to hope.
As a child who recently migrated from his motherland, he was confronted with his ancestral heritage in his adopted land. Each night before going to sleep in his Midwestern home, he closed his prayers with a robust “Ambe Mata ki jai!” One night he quietly asked me, “Parvati-ji, just like you have many aspects, am I brown, white, or black or all three?”
I replied, “Beta, you have just now addressed me as Ambe Ma and Parvati-ji — fair, kind, and benevolent. I am also Durga and Kali — dark, ferocious, and a fighter of demons. Regardless of my iconography, I use my power as the Mother Goddess and the Warrior Goddess to make the world more just for all. Are you troubled by the tone of your skin?”
The adolescent version of the grandfather in front of me said, “Yes, my Indian skin, but also the skin of all the children at my new school. Today at recess, I played dodgeball, a game with two teams separated by a line. Kids on one side throw a hard rubber ball at kids on the other side to knock each other out of the game. I have been playing this now for many weeks. Do you know this sport?”
“I do not. But I’m sure Kali is quite up-to-speed on such war games. Please continue.”
Suddenly the little boy became serious and began sounding like a hopeful young man. “At today’s recess, I hoped that class warfare could end. The black boys continued to play on the Black Team, the white boys on the White Team, and a Mexican kid who always played on the Black Team. I decided that I could be black, white, and brown on the playground if not in the classroom, where, given my intellectual aptitude, I was clearly labeled white by my teachers. It has been a few weeks into the school year, so I asked Francisco why he was always on one team, and he looked at me as if I had just dropped to earth from Mars.”
The little boy recalls the schoolchildren laughing.
“Then I suggested to Francisco that he and I take turns being on the black and white dodgeball teams, he shrugged his shoulders and gave me a wry “sure, why not” smile. Since Francisco and I had equally good hands that rarely dropped balls, both teams were happy to have us playing for them.”
Dr. Raj Oza has written or contributed to: Globalization, Diaspora, and Work Transformation; Satyalogue // Truthtalk: A Gandhian Guide to (Post)Modern-Day Dilemmas; P.S., Papa’s Stories; and Living in America. He can be reached at satyalogue.com or amazon.com/author/rajoza.