In my cool corner of the temple, the anxious, old engineer furrowed his brow, threw up his hands in exasperation, and moaned like a wounded animal. “Oh, Sheetala Mata, what do I do with my granddaughter who tosses things hither and thither, making a mess of our home? Before retirement, my wife and I worked decades in Silicon Valley, saved our earnings, and built our dream home. But now the little rascal has turned the place upside-down.”

Relieved that it was not a more serious matter like smallpox, monkeypox, or that pandemic-inducing COVID-19, I smiled and pointed to the broom I always carry with me.

Kalighat's Goddess Shitala (Image credit: Wikipedia)
Kalighat’s Goddess Sheetala

He shook his head and said, “I’ve tried to teach her to straighten up her mess, but she just pouts, ‘No! No! No!’”

I suppressed a chuckle, tried to assume the seriousness of the other Gods and Goddesses in our temple, and asked him if he knew why I always carried a broom.

The kind but foolish fellow shrugged his weary shoulders and gave a response in the form of a question. “To keep the temple clean?”

I thundered, “Arrey, duffer. Why should I, Sheetala Mata, sweep the temple? That is the job of the pujari and perhaps devoted temple volunteers like yourself. Did not your parents from Rajasthan teach you about my importance?”

His eyes grew cloudy as if cataracts were imminent, so I helpfully added, “Perhaps you remember eating cold food and cleaning your home before Holi?”

A diya-lamp brightened his face. “Oh, yes. You are the Goddess of Cleanliness and Smallpox. We clean our homes to ward off diseases. But why the tanda, the cold puri and halwa that my wife does not allow me to even microwave?”

I was stunned that this was apparently an intelligent man; he had architected semiconductor chips almost as tiny as the variola virus for which Dr. Edward Jenner developed a vaccine that has saved more lives than all the people of America. I patiently explained, “The cold food teaches a tradition of cooking only what you need and not eating leftovers.”

Suddenly his wife entered the temple with their granddaughter. The engineer borrowed a broom from the pujari and asked the child to begin sweeping. The sweet little one’s mischievous smile treated the broom like a rocket ship. She teased her grandfather, “Babaji, blast off to outer space, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. Blast off to outer space, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh.”

When I explained to the toddler what I had taught her grandfather, she dutifully swept the temple and asked if I could come home with her. Of course I complied, for who can resist the charm of a charismatic child? When we reached the custom-built home that glowed with sunshine, the grandfather and grandmother took off their shoes at the door. The grandfather bent low, removed his grandchild’s shoes, and gave her a broom in hope that his teaching and mine was a sustained success.

With a voice of angel, the child entered her sunny residence and agreeably said, “All my yesses, yesses, yesses are for school, park, and temple.”  Then she took a long pause and looked around her living room cluttered with a kingdom of Lego pieces, a forest of stuffed animals, and a rainbow of crayons. Flinging away the broom, the granddaughter smiled at the old engineer as if she knew how to keep him forever young. “And, Babaji, my ‘no’s, ‘no’s, ‘no’s are for you, you, you at home, home, home.”

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...