Artist’s Date 11: Bindis, Burfee, Boy with an Elephant Head

I’ve been dreaming of the Hindu god Ganesh.  Boy with an elephant head.  Remover of obstacles. 

Ever since my pilgrimage to Devon Avenue with Nithin.  We went for bindis and burfee – sparkly jewels I wear on my third eye, and Indian sweets made of nuts, ghee, sugar and spices.

Ever since my friend Dina created – or perhaps, more accurately, uncovered (think David, already in the marble) – a prayer and meditation space in my bedroom.

Applying feng shui principles, she moved the position and location of my bed – leaving birch tree stickers on the wall as an off-center headboard.  Shifted a bookcase.  And a patch of hard-wood real estate emerged.

She laid down a piece of fabric I bought at the market in Rwanda and placed my sacred items on top of it.  Tibetan prayer chimes.  A swath of white cloth from my meditation initiation ceremony.  A piece of quartz, a gift from my friend Tori.

She added a round terrarium from Clover.  A sculpture of Durga – the Hindu goddess for and within me, according to my college religious-studies professor.  A carved wooden box – a wedding gift from my friends Patsy and John. 

They filled it with blank cards, inviting our guests to share their prayers for us that day.  I turned it into a God box, filling it with scraps of paper scrawled with situations I can no longer pretend to handle.  Names of boys.  Friends.  Relatives.  And also, orders to the universe.  Written as sales receipts for homes.  Offices.  Partners.  Some fulfilled.  Some I’m still waiting on.

I added some books.  A prayer I wrote to myself.  And a towel to cushion my ankles when I sit cross-legged.

I looked up from the floor.  The wall space above, noticeably naked.

Friday I went back to Devon Avenue, to Resham’s, to find Ganesh.  To fill the space.  Artist’s Date 11.

Walking in, I am overcome with the smell of sandalwood.  The smell of my meditation teacher, Paul Brown.  He doesn’t wear sandalwood.  He wears Norma Kamali.

I ask Huma, wife and half-owner, if she has a wall hanging of Ganesh.  She isn’t sure.  I ask about Durga.  She is certain she does not.

She unfolds a stack of batiks, smoothing each with her hands, stopping at an oversized piece of a goddess and forest animals.  She begins to tell me its folklore, but never quite finishes a sentence. Instead, she trails off saying, “And the story just goes on and on.” 

I get the feeling the story changes a little bit each time it is told.  Changes a little bit by each teller.  But I do not know this for certain.

She continues talking.  Unfolding.  And Ganesh emerges.  She seems surprised to see him.  I am too.  He is exactly as I imagined, even though I have never seen this batik before.  He appears to be dancing, one of his four hands in a classic mudra (Hindu gesture).  His mouse at his side, holding cymbals. 

It is mine.

I finger a rack of wool pashminas and I think of Sue, my roommate in Rwanda.  She wore one in the still cool mornings, eating fruit and some variation of potatoes.  Looking out to the land of 10,000 hills. 

I wrap one around me.  Rose on one side, turquoise on the other.  Gold threads running through it.  Fringe on the edges.  I feel her presence.  A body memory.  We are sitting in the Kigali airport.  I am weeping.  I am not ready to return to the States.  To my divorce.  To my life.  Sue’s arms are around me.  She kisses my shaved head.  I am comforted.  I feel like a child. 

I tell Huma about Sue’s scarf.  How I had wanted one of my own.  And now I do. 

We talk about travel.  About India.  About Africa.  How we feel bad ass using local toilets – holes in the ground.

I show her photographs saved on my phone, a mini album.  Little girls with shaved heads.  I tell her they are fascinated with mine.

I explain that I traveled to Africa with my synagogue.  She remembers when this neighborhood was Jewish.  Which restaurant had the best hot dogs.  I cannot imagine Huma eating hot dogs.

I mention my divorce.

She asks how long we were together.  Fifteen years.  “Yes,” she nods.  She is not surprised. 

Fourteen years is a common time for couples to part, she explains, launching into another Indian folktale.  This one of a god and goddess who lived in the forest for 14 years – lost.  When they emerge, are “found,” they leave one another.

Sound like my parents.  Like my ex-husband and I.  Iron clad in adversity.  But finding little else binding us together when that is gone. 

Huma writes up my bill – by hand.  She hesitates. 

A sign on the wall states this is a fixed-price store.  I wonder.  I have watched Nithin bargain in other stores, but not here.  Is she waiting for me to make an offer?  I don’t.  I feel uncertain.  A little foolish.  A lot gringo.  But I don’t really care.  I found what I was looking for.    

I cross the street to Sukhadia Sweets.  I order rosewater soaked “cutlets” and specialty burfee – made just during the winter.  The heat and spice linger at the back of my throat.  I am half-watching Indian soap operas. 

I text Nithin to tell him where I am.  To see if he wants burfee.  I leave out the part about paying retail.

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