Tonight, I am a girl with a Hindu heart, far from home.
It is less the Christian zealots I resent, should they call me a demoness. I understand enough of the transubstantiation of Jesus Christ to know that bones and blood, that their offerings directly into the human mouth, are proof of a hungry God, willing us to eat. And how I love that Nazarene's briary wilderness, his renegade, holy heart, bursting out of his chest with the desire to be consumed.
It is the zealous Hindus I repudiate. Those who admonish, their mehendi-stained hands thick with reproach, that there are wrong ways to pray, to share, to pronounce, to sing, to utter, to catch aflame. No, they say sneering, it's not actually called that, don't you know anything? Didn't you learn this in school? Your temple, your pundit (do you even have one?) would be ashamed. What kind of Hindu are you?
A wild one.
I don't despise order. I am not a violent opposer of correction in the art of how to pray. If you know a better way, by all our gods, show me. But don't scold me. I am not your flushed-cheeked child, primed for a mandir-mandated upbraiding. In my rurality, in my stumbling pronunciations of the Hindi I do not understand from the pdf document of how to perform Lakshmi puja I have downloaded from the internet like so many of you, there is belief. I believe in the places I pitch my uncertain voice, trembling, towards our four-armed, munificent Mother.
You are not getting to samsara faster if you can spell it in Sanskrit. We are all of us, chipped off the dentition of the subcontinent, flourishing in our Caribbeanness, forging our own atlas of prayers. We have what we have, brought across the water. We have what we've made here, too, in the farmsoil and sugar, in the gobar and hibiscus.
When I pray to Lakshmi, I do it with my heart leaking open. Even now, an Atlantic away from Las Lomas, Trinidad, where my family is conducting the puja I usually perform cross-legged, my round body bending before the murtis and incense like a swollen roti, I can hear our prayers. I cannot translate them in any way that will satisfy the purists, but that doesn't matter to the One I hope hears them with all her heart. So I pray, here, in Shepherd's Bush, prostrate before the glowing laptop screen, deyaless, chandanless, no tika between my brows, no aarti flame flickering through the house to bless it. I have what I have, which is as much as so many daughters and sons and children of Lakshmi have in the diaspora, in the homeland, when they lack community, implements, outfits, sweets, coconut oil.
I have my heart. And it is for Her.
I wish all of you, each zealot and sweet pretender, each acolyte and henna-swirled beti, a Divali four-handed with blessing upon blessing upon blessing upon blessing. Goddess knows I have been a pretender, too. I've told others they spoke the wrong words, walked the wrong way in this world – and how fatal then was my thinking, how impoverished my vision of all the human heart can hold. If all the puja stores of the world were emptied out tomorrow, if every riverbed choked in an emptiness of clay so no more light-bearing vessels might ever be made, how would you pray on this day? What implements, imported from India, now lost to eco-disaster, would you hold? Oh, if you have a tealight candle, light that. If all you have in your small mold-laced apartment is a ClipArt printout of an orangeish Om, stick it up on your wall and let it sing you through the darkness, let it incandesce the night.
You. Exactly as you are, devotee to the Goddess. You are infused with all you need to pray right. Fall on your knees. Dance in your skirts. Lift up your paisley-swirled hands to the light. Lakshmi will never ask you to apologize for the prosperity of your joy. Look at her smiling, an expensive murti a shade or ten too white, a chalk outline on a council flat pavement, a gif on Twitter, flowing gold.
She is here for you tonight. She is here for all of us. Open your two trembling hands to her confident four. Let her pour love all over your astonishing, beautiful life.