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.
Everyone is eventually repatriated. Look at me. In this form as a stone sculpture, I am returned to Tibet. All these years later, after this 12th-century stele of Parvati and me was stolen, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has agreed to repatriate us to our land of origin. Don’t my consort and I look heavenly atop Mount Kailash? The clouds are bursting, and I’m ready to change form and begin dancing for joy. Home. Home. We are safely back home. Someday the Dalai Lama will return as well, perhaps just his ashes in the snow.
The traveler climbing Himalaya looks frazzled, bedraggled, and maybe a tad bit addled by the lack of oxygen at the summit. Between breaths, he begins murmuring my name like those ghosts walking through cremation rituals, wailing, “Om, namah Shivaya! Om, namah Shivaya!” Some like to repeat “Rama nam satya hai,” but I pay more attention to those that call out my name.
“Lord,” he implores, “Please give me a few more months. I’d like to attend my nephew’s white coat ceremony.”
Bored by human trifles and irritated by the mistaken identity, I reply, “Dude, you’ve confused me for Yama, the God of Death. Yeah, I’m the “Destroyer of the World, but I don’t spend my time worrying about each individual creature’s demise.”
As if the impending doom has damaged his hearing, he continues, “Lord Shiva, you are all-knowing. So you must know that my nephew is like a son to me. He will be happy if I make it to his medical school for this once-in-lifetime ceremony. Then I can go to the next world contented that the family will have its first doctor. Starting from pre-school, I’ve not missed a single one of this boy’s graduations. I would even cut short consulting travel to be home for his important passages in life.”
“Yes, yes,” I say, impatiently. “After the white coat ceremony, you’ll want to attend his graduation day. Then his wedding. And then celebrate the birth of his first child. The cycle never ends.”
“No, no. I’m not greedy. Just a few more months of life, please. He’ll be a surgeon, you know.”
“You don’t say. A surgeon. Well, my man, let me tell you about my own experience with surgery. Like you, I used to be away from home quite a bit. One time my lady, Parvati, was getting herself ready for my return. She laid out her finest threads, a tie-dyed bandini sari that I was especially fond of. She gathered her diamonds and rubies that paled in comparison to her own sparkling beauty. And she prepared for a bath in perfumed water. Knowing that scoundrels were about, Parvati told her loyal son, Ganesha, to block entry to the house until her bath was complete. Well, I didn’t know anything about this son of mine since on this particular travel of mine, my better half had shaped him out of the sandal paste on her body and breathed her sweet-smelling Goddess-breath-of-life into the little fellow. Tired of my vagabond ways, I returned home to Mount Kailash, hair all matted and body smeared with ashes from the funeral grounds. The impudent lad didn’t recognize his own Daddyo and told me I could not enter my own house. Furious, I sliced off his head and marched right in. You can imagine Parvati’s horror. Her blood-curdling scream almost sent me back to the burning dead bodies. To make amends, I did a little surgical transplant: with the help of my friend Brahma, I put an elephant’s head where my son’s cheeky noggin used to be.”
“My Lord,” he moans, “I’ve heard that story many times since I was a small boy. I thought it was just a myth. Now I can confirm that you are all-powerful. You brought Ganesha back to life. Can you not do the same for me? Your son is helping me write this memoir. Can you not put a bit more ink into my story?”
I say, “If Yama has you on his speed dial, ain’t nothing I can do. He’s the Dharmaraja; he does his duty and expects the same from the rest of us. Fear not. Deal with your own dharma, and karma will follow. Anyway, I gotta take care of my stuff. Some pretty heavy things these days as I attend to Big Bangs and little viruses.”
My visitor understood that I would not be his savior. Perhaps he had internalized that in whatever time he had left, he had to listen to the music of his soul. He could choose to trip the light fantastic or go quietly into the night. Either way, there was little value in regretting missed events.
I bid my new friend farewell, transformed into Nataraja, and in closing said, “I dance my cosmic dance and recreate the world after its destruction. See you in your next incarnation, dude.”
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.