Post 36 – Jerri’s Musings #11 – Candles

Chennai, March 8th.  It was the anniversary of my mother’s passing yesterday. Every year we light a yartzheit candle for both of my parents’ anniversaries, even though they weren’t Jewish. We figure they wouldn’t mind.

Yesterday, I forgot. We were so busy packing for our trip to Chennai, and working on our presentation for the Fulbright conference, that it totally slipped my mind. I remembered at 6:30 this morning when we were in the cab, heading to the airport.

Tmple_webIn Chennai, Kala and Shyam took us to the Kapalishwar temple, an architectural and spiritual marvel in the usual intricate, South Indian style. It was huge, with dozens of shrines for Vishnu, Balaji, Ganesh, Shiva….

I saw a woman take out six tiny earthenware pots, fill them with oil, coil a wick inside each and then light every one of them while reciting a silent prayer. There were dozens of similar candles lit on stainless steel tables in front of each of the deities’ shrines.

DSC04259-Edit_webI thought to myself: why not? I asked Kala if it would be OK for me to light a candle for my mother, since I had forgotten to do so yesterday. She said: “Why not?” Shyam went and got 2 pots, each with oil, containing a small mesh packet of mustard seeds with a wick sticking out. I thought the other would be for good fortune for our project. I thought “Ach, my mother would die if she knew where we were and what I was doing.” But she’s already dead.

Since my mother loved elephants, I thought Ganesh would be the most appropriate god. We found a stray match. I lit one candle – “That’s for you Mom,” I said to myself silently. I lit the other pot, but the mustard seed bag flipped over and the flame went out immediately. I tried lighting it again, risking my fingers burning. It wouldn’t stay lit. “Your mother’s fighting it,” Alan said. “Oh, but I lit the first one for her,” I said. “Nah, this one’s her – she’s fighting.” I liked his version better. The first pot was burning steadily. Eventually the second pot gave up and stayed lit.

We said Kaddish. My mother would have died.




Post 29 – Jerri’s Musings #9 – Some Gems

EXITING BIG BAZAAR (local supermarket chain). 12/28/13

Big-Bazaar_webSecurity guard: “Are you happy today ma’am?”
Me, somewhat startled: “Yes, very happy. Are you very happy today?
Security Guard: “Yes, ma’am, very happy.”
He punched my receipt and off I went with a huge smile on my face.


Making my way in a crowded train to the door in order to bolt. I sashay left, a young man makes room for me. I turn and sashay right, another young man makes room, unfortunately blocking Alan’s exit, to his great chagrin.
“Well that was easy.” I say.
“Life is easy ma’am,” the second young man says.


Taxi_webJeet’s sitting up front with the driver. Alan and I are in back. Red light. A beggar comes knocking at the window. No eye contact. None of us pay any attention to him. He’s very persistent and won’t go away. Finally, Jeet rolls down the window, says something to him in Bangla and the man goes away. The taxi driver laughs.
“What did you say?”
“I told him that you were wicked people & would never give him any money.”

NEIGHBORHOOD. 2/4 – after the Sarasvati puja (celebrating the goddess of art, culture, learning & music). Talking with Brishty, a 10th grade teenager.

Brishty_webBrishty: “Why are you so white?”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Brishty: “Why is your skin so white?”
Me: (a bit speechless) “Well…I was born this way.”
Brishty: “But how do you get your skin so white?”
Me: “I don’t really do anything. (thinking to myself: actually, we folks spend a lot of time in the sun trying to look like you.) I’m Caucasian, I was born in Europe, and that’s how we look.”
Brishty: “Oh.”


“Hello Jerri,” I hear as I’m walking by.
“Hello,” I say, greeting a friendly neighbor man.
“I was telling my wife about you. She has very bad legs and cannot come down very often. She would like to meet you. Can you come for tea tomorrow at 5:30?”
“Of course.”
“You know, I feel like my day is not complete if I don’t see you, and I have not seen you walk by for several days now.”


Underwear-shrine_webAlan needed a plain white t-shirt. We stop at one of the many tiny underwear shops on the main street by our house. There are several men in the store, behind and in front of the counter. It’s stuffy. It’s taking a long time to find a plain white t-shirt, no logo, 105cm. I’m getting bored, impatient, hot. Finally, one is found, right size, no stupid logo, plain white.

One of the men behind the counter is walking around with 3-4 lit incense sticks, circling them around the densely stacked packets of bras, men’s and women’s underwear and t-shirts. His lips move silently. I wonder what prayers he’s incanting. I look at the torsos of oiled muscular men in slim Jockey underwear and think of the absurdity of the scene.

Shrine_webMy gaze moves over to my corner where there is a small alter, almost hidden around a stack of boxes. It’s heavily laden with fresh marigold garlands. Ganesh, the elephant god, is center stage. To his left is the ever-terrifying goddess Kali. It is hard to see, but to his right is Lakshmi, I think, goddess of wealth. The incense man finishes his prayers, touches his chest and forehead then places the sticks in a holder in front of Ganesh. I ask him if Lakshmi is Lakshmi. His face lights up. The rest of the men quickly come over. “Yes,” he says, very excited at my interest. Then all the men proudly point out the other idols, and explain them to us. They step out into the street with us, and wave good by. They watch as we walk away, all of us with huge smiles on our faces.


Debasish-Paul_webWe’re discussing the merits of different Darjeeling teas, first flush, second flush, autumn flush, various tea estates. The tea merchant brews a couple of different teas for us to try. We want to take a kilo home with us and then distribute small packets to friends.

I notice a small alter at the far end of the counter. Ganesh sits with a garland of marigolds around his neck and at his feet. I see something stir. A small gray mouse pokes its head up from behind the idol, looks around, nibbles at a marigold, then disappears.

“Ah… you have a mouse in your alter!” I say, laughing. “Yes, I know,” he says. “He lives there. He comes and eats the stuff inside the marigolds, drinks the water from the small dish that we have in front of Ganesh, then goes away. He always looks up at us before he takes a drink. He is always the same size. Sometimes we don’t see him for 2-3 months. Then he comes back. He never comes into the tea shop itself. Mice don’t like tea, you see.” “And you don’t trap and kill him?” I ask. “Oh no. You see, a mouse is the vehicle of Ganesh, we could never harm him.” I make a mental note to Google “Ganesh and a mouse” when I get home.

We settle on Chamong, 2nd flush.