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. Read Part 1 of Parvati’s Playground HERE.
Half a century after speaking with a schoolchild about his experiences with racism on the playground, I heard the prayer of a troubled old man and sought to reassure him. “Beta, that story from your childhood – on that unforgiving blacktop schoolyard under the gaze of my fierce white sky – had a hopeful ending. That ending was part of a series of ongoing beginnings. What worries you today?”
He said, “Parvati-ji, maybe my country has made progress. Maybe it is I who has regressed. When a White man comes to my door, I assume he has some business to transact. When a Black man knocks on the same door, I have my guard up. And when an Indian man rings the bell, I welcome him as I would a friend or family member. Will we always be like this?”
I said, “Would you like a glimpse of the future?”
He replied, “Is that possible?”
“Actually, no, but I can show you how the present might just be the future.”
“What do you mean?”
I asked him to turn on his Internet-connected television. I added the “Parvati” app and showed him a live feed of his granddaughter playing with another child in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
The bandana-wearing, silver-haired gardener rakes leaves into small hills of orange and red. She combs circles in the sand around the fountain, all the while greeting the Botanical Garden’s visitors – old-timers and newcomers, alike.
Nearby, a girl with ribbons in her hair hugs an ancient pohutukawa tree, and another with beads in her braids dances around a patch of fiddlehead ferns.
As the two girls run toward the sand, Durga asks, “New to the park?”
Dalia responds, “Yup. New like the N-E-W geese joining the mallards in their pond.”
“Hey, you like to spell, too. I knew – K-N-E-W – I’d like you even more than I like words. And I really like words. My name is Durga.”
“I’m Dalia. Can you say your name again? What does Doorga mean? How do you spell it?”
“Durga, not Doorga. D-U-R-G-A. It comes from Sanskrit and is the name of the Mother Goddess who protects us and gives us girl power. It means beyond defeat.”
Dalia laughs, wriggles her toes in the sand, and asks, “Do you know what’s beyond defeat?”
Durga wrinkles her nose and hesitates. She knows her new friend’s laughter means that there’s a spelling puzzle in her question. Durga takes a deep breath, counts to three, and says, “Sand is beyond the feet, T-H-E F-E-E-T!”
“You got it. No one at home or school understands my jokes.”
Durga smiles victoriously, points to the bed of sunflowers, and says, “I know that you’re having fun with words. I also know that your name is that of a flower, F-L-O-W-E-R. Right, Dahlia?”
“Nope, Durga. That guess got flour – F-L-O-U-R – all over your face. My name is from Swahili, and it means gentle. No silent ‘H’ in my name.” She gives Durga a stick, holds her friend’s hand, and spells D-A-L-I-A in one of the sand circles.
“Thanks for wiping the flour off my face and getting my head out of the fog. I never heard of Sohilly before. Is it S-O-H-I-L-L-Y like the mound of grass near the duck pond?”
“Close, but not quite.” Dalia borrows the spelling stick and spells S-W-A-H-I-L-I in the next circle. She asks, “How do you spell Sanskrit? S-U-N-S-C-R-I-T, like a critter from the sun?”
“You’re funny, but also not quite right. Durga requests the stick, and next to S-W-A-H-I-L-I she draws S-A-N-S-K-R-I-T.
“Durga, do you use a stick to spell out words, too?”
“I do. I do. I do. T-W-O or T-O-O or T-O.”
Dalia says, “Two girls are too friendly to play alone in the sand.”
“How do you spell where your name is from?” Durga asks.
“K-E-N-Y-A,” Dalia replies. “How about your name?”
“I-N-D-I-A. Five letters ending in ‘A.’”
“Just like Dalia and Durga.”
“My parents came from India. But I was born here a few years after they arrived on an airplane.” Durga stretches her arms out and twirls like a propeller.
“When you say here, I hear H-E-R-E. Generations of my family were born here. The first ones were brought from Africa in the hull of a boat.” After pretending to swim and part the sand as if it was a dark ocean, Dalia uses the stick to spell A-M-.
Durga continues dragging the stick through the sand: E-R-.
Both girls share the stick with one hand each and write I-C-A.
Durga says, “I see America.”
Dalia adds, “America sees me.” Together, they shout, “We were born in the U.S.A.”
Durga holds Dalia’s other hand and asks, “Do you want to be my friend?”
Squeezing Durga’s hand close to her heart, Dalia squeezes her eyes even tighter and says, “My F-R-I-E-N-D.”
“Dalia, wow! You got it right away. When I spell friend, I sometimes pause to remember ‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C.’”
“Durga, ‘we’ before ‘me’ makes us friends for life. Durga and Dalia. Powerful and gentle. Together beyond defeat. Beyond the feet. Joined at the hip.”
After gathering more fallen leaves, the gardener rakes fresh circles of sand. Dalia and Durga throw confetti-like golden leaves in the air and ask her if it’s possible to be joined at the hip. She removes her bandana, ties it around a right leg and a left leg, and says, “Oh, yes. A graft. It’s how two people, two trees – even two countries – become one.”
The friends hop away across the oh-so-hilly grass. Hop together toward the duck pond like a three-legged critter with a sun-warmed heart.
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.