It is said that King Vikramaditya of yore was once told by a soothsayer that he would be ruling his country for only 30 years more. The clever king circumvented the dire prediction by dividing his time between his kingdom and the forest. He would rule the kingdom for 6 months and stay in the forest for the rest of the year, thus doubling the predicted duration of his regime.
A similar on- for- sometime and off- for- sometime seemed to be my fate too, having married a defense officer. Whenever my husband got posted to a non-family station or a station where quarters were not yet available, I had to pack my things (Fortunately bulk of the household stuff accompanied my husband wherever he went) and leave for my mother-in law’s place, as renting a house outside the campus and commuting to work was not economically viable.
My mother-in law lived in the annexe of her sister’s bungalow with the rest of the family inBangalore. Once we moved there, we had to get used to a way of life vastly different from the military one. Going to temple formed a major portion of the lives of my mother–in law and her sister. Between the two of them, there would be some occasion or other requiring a visit to the temple throughout the year. We also as family would accompany them.
My 2 year old son just loved these visits__the open space to run around, the pealing bells, the tasty prasadam etc. He would keenly watch the temple rituals,—the divine bath given to God with milk, curds, ghee, honey and coconut water poured over the idol with mantras accompanying it, the classic decoration of God with multicolored flowers, the Mangalaarathi etc.
After a couple of months, quarters were allotted to my husband and he asked me to join him with the children. These quarters were actually bachelor quarters converted to family quarters and as such, were not very spacious. But as a typical Services wife, I managed to arrange everything to the best of my ability in the space available. This made things a bit cramped.
Thus, the ‘Shrine’ consisting of a small rosewood mantap and small silver idols had to be arranged in a corner in the kitchen on a small table.
One day I happened to leave a vessel full of fresh curds near the shrine by mistake and I was busy elsewhere. Some time passed. The house was too quiet. In my family with an extremely mischievous son, ‘Silence’ was not golden but a sign of some calamity. Sure enough, when I came into the kitchen to check on him I found that he had poured all the curds on the mantap, the idols, the table and the lamps and other paraphernalia. He announced gleefully in his baby language, “Mom, I have given a curd bath to God”
Though the sight of white curds on the black rosewood mantap was as aesthetic as a black forest cake, I had a tough time cleaning it. That day our lunch had to be served without curds, one of the two most essential ingredient of South Indian meal, the other being rasam.
I could not take any punitive action on the staunch, budding Hindu,Brahmin,Srivaishnava culture activist who might be carrying a speck of divinity, as I had only myself to blame.