Vol. 16, no. 5
November -- December, 2004
Family, Celebrations and Travels
I moved to Singapore four years ago. This was my first time outside ofIndia. Although I had always lived in a metropolis where most of myneighbors spoke different languages, I had never lived with people fromdifferent races and nationalities.
Singapore is a melting pot of religions, cultures, languages andnationalities. In spite of those differences, what I see in Singapore ispeaceful coexistence.
Then I look at the Indian sub-continent and I see Pakistan and India in aperpetual tug of war. I wonder why we forget history. After all, we allbelonged to the same nation and fought together for freedom. So what ifwe pray to different Gods and believe in different religions? Why shouldthat stop us from living together?
Discord is different from hostility. But if you let discord brew, iteventually becomes hostility. Any relationship is bound to be frustrating.But does that justify breaking it up? What is the challenge ofcharacter, unless we are able to put aside differences and still work forthe common good?
I hope a day will come when political leaders become more compassionate andsee the suffering of the people on both sides of the border, and feel thepain of losing one's home. When that day comes to leaders of India,Pakistan and Bangladesh-we'll be all one country again. We will give up ourindividual identities and become one nation, as we were less than sixdecades ago.
What is motivating people to fight? Mostly it is the love of land. Whogave us the right to divide what does not belong to us? In thisirrational fight, we are losing children, young men, and adults. They havelost the opportunity to enjoy the simple joys of sunlight and the cooldrizzle of rain. If each nation willingly gave up claims to disputed lands,then the world would be more peaceful and there would be money to goaround for food, shelter and medicine.
Buddha believed that desire is the root-cause of evil and he was right:Desire to be the most powerful, desire for land, desire to be the richest.Today simple problems with simple solutions have escalated to civil warsand terrorism.
Do the people want war? Not really. What they want is to be left alone, intheir pursuit of life-to work hard, eat good food, have fun, mingle withfamily and friends.
So, what would be Utopia to me?
A world where people are able to discuss their problems with each other andsort them out. A world where people are prepared to compromise by seeingthe big picture. A world where the money spent on war, defense and weaponswould be better spent in countries where food and medicine are stillluxuries. A world where people don't think they own the Earth.
Am I able to get all that without doing anything? I don't think so. I takesmall steps. I make the effort to learn about other cultures and otherpeople. Most importantly, I don't make assumptions about people I meet. Itry to think from another person's viewpoint. I try to understand why myfriends, whether Chinese, Malay or British, do things of which I don'tapprove. I remember to smile and listen as often as possible. Finally, Itry my best to remember that there is no single correct way to do anything.
Yes, I want my Utopia, and I am willing to work towards it.
-- Chitra Soundar
Witches fly on broomsticks at Halloween through graveyards and across themoon. But that's an imaginary story for the dark night of trick or treat,right? Did you know that there are real people living today who arewitches, or Wiccans? They practice a religion called Wicca. They believe ina mother Goddess and a father God and the sacredness of people, animals,plants and the Earth.
Life is a circle, according to Wicca. The seasons change each year fromcold to warm to cold again. From seeds grow plants that flower, make newseeds and die. The new seeds grow into new plants in a never-ending cycle.We, too, are born, grow up, and die. But death isn't the end for Wiccans.When someone dies, his or her spirit goes to a resting place to think aboutthe lessons learned in life and to grow young again. When the spirit isready, it is reborn into a new form.
To celebrate this circle and to worship Goddess and God, Wiccans haveeight holidays in the Wheel of the Year. Each holiday marks a turn of thewheel.
Samhain (SAH-wen). On October 31, the Wiccan year begins. Many leave outfood for the ancestors, who may visit in the form of ghosts. Candles lit incarved-out pumpkins on window-sills guide them on their way.Yule (Winter Solstice), around December 21. To Wiccans, the longest nightof the year represents the death of the sun. The sun is reborn thefollowing morning. As seeds in the earth receive the gift of life, so, too,do people give thanks for their gifts of life, love, abundance, learning,and fun. Exchanging gifts is one way to show thanks. Wiccans decoratetrees, symbols of life's circle, and sing Yule carols to celebrate thesun's rebirth.
Imbolg, February 2. Life stirs in the earth as sunlight increases duringthe day. Wiccans light fires or candles at night to celebrate, and tellstories around the fire.
Ostara (Spring Equinox), around March 21. Day and night are balanced.Wiccans examine balance in their lives. The earth awakens with sprouts fromseeds that were underground all winter. New seeds are planted. Eggs, asymbol of rebirth, are painted, hidden, hunted, and made intomobiles or cups.
Beltane, May 1. With the earth more fully awake, everything blooms. Wiccanscelebrate earth's power to grow flowers and edible plants, our talents tocreate pictures and stories and gardens, our gladness in seeing, hearing,tasting, and touching. They give thanks for all the different shapes, sizesand colors people come in. Many dance around a maypole, decorated withflowers and ribbons.
Midsummer (Summer Solstice), around June 21. The sun is at its peak on thislongest day of the year, then begins to decline. Knowing that nothing lastsforever, Wiccans practice letting go of what is worn out or completed, suchas old toys or being a baby. Letting go makes room for new toys or moregrownup interests and activities. To celebrate the sun's strength,grownups build bonfires and throw on flowers or herbs, happy for theirbeauty, but not sad as they disappear in fire.
Lammas, August 1. The days get shorter and harvest time begins. We cutbarley and grain, but other plants are still growing. Will there beenough rain? Will fire burn the crops? Wiccans think about these and otherhopes and fears. Have they quarreled with anyone? This is a good time tomake up and do things together, such as bake bread or play hug-tag.
Mabon (Fall Equinox), around September 21. Day and night are equal again,with the feel of fall. Wiccans gather more harvest, including grapes, andprepare for winter. They feast and thank Goddess and God for the bounty ofsummer. They restore balance with such activities as fixing broken lawnmowers and fences or bringing baked goods to nursing homes. Or they makemobiles with dried nuts, leaves, and feathers left by the birds, who arealso changing.
Samhain, October 31. The Wiccan old year ends and the new one begins. Youmay call this holiday Halloween. After harvesting the last fruits and nuts,Wiccans sweep away the nasty spirits and welcome in the good. Who knows? Maybe one of them got carried away and is sweeping his or her broom across the moon!
-- Stephanie Jo Grant,
"A new school year started and that is always scary. Our country needs toget through a difficult political time, beyond the war we have launched.It's all frightening." -- David.
Dear David: What is really frightening is when people do not figure outsolutions to unresolved issues. Problems don't disappear. People must beactive, face the truth of the past and work together to create a sound pathinto the future. I carry the story of The Giant and the Little Girl in mymind and heart all the time.
There once was a place where all the people were happy and content.Everyone was friendly and neighborly. Even the dogs and cats playedtogether.
Then one day a stranger was seen walking toward the village: a tall, tallstranger. As the stranger, who was a giant, came closer and closer, thepeople all ran into their houses and wouldn't come out.
The giant entered the village. He was enormous, towering over everything.All of a sudden a little girl stepped out on her porch. She jumped downfrom her porch. Her family yelled, "STOP! COME BACK! That's a giant!" Butshe didn't stop. She began to walk toward the giant.
The strangest thing happened. As the child walked toward the giant, hegrew smaller and smaller. Soon he was the same size as the girl. As shecame beside the giant, she towered over him. She stooped down and gentlypicked the giant up in her hands, asking, "What's your name?"
The giant whispered, "My name is F-E-A-R! Help me!! I have a terribleproblem. I guess I look strange. When I meet people they are afraid of me.And when people are afraid of me, I suddenly grow into a giant andeverybody runs away from me. YOU are not afraid of me, so I stayed small.Do you get it? It's crazy! Please help me!"
"I can take you for a walk through our village," the girl responded. "Iwant everyone to hear of your problem. When they know the truth, they willno longer be afraid of you. While we are going from house to house you canlook at me all the time, and then you will stay the same size as you arenow.
"But before we go, let's change your name. What do you want to be called?YOU should not be called FEAR, because YOU are not afraid. It's the peoplewho look at you who fear you. That's what causes you to grow into a giant."
"Will you hold my hand gently? If I get scared I'll shut my eyes. Oh, andwill you please call me PAL."
David, fear overcomes us when we dare not walk toward problems and fail tocreate sound solutions. Remember the spirit of the Little Girl.
"Hin-Jew" Festivals of Lights
Whenever we talk about holidays, my mother teases my sister and me abouthow we "make out like bandits." She is referring to the fact that we arehalf Jewish and half Hindu, so we receive gifts on both the festivals oflights: Hanukkah and Diwali. Though my mother teases us, I do not mindgetting two sets of gifts!
You may already be familiar with the story and traditions of Hanukkah. Itis the Jewish festival of lights. When the Maccabees reclaimed the HolyTemple in Jerusalem from the Greeks, they found that there was only oneday's worth of oil left to light the Menorah, which had to remain litconstantly. It would take eight days to receive more oil. Miraculously, theMenorah stayed lit all eight days. For this reason, we celebrate Hanukkahfor eight days, and each night, we add a new candle to the Hanukkah Menorah.
On Hanukkah, like most Jewish families, we light a Menorah and say a prayereach night. We also say a special prayer on the first night. After that, itis a tradition for my sister and me to play 'hot and cold' for our hiddenHanukkah gifts. When we walk towards the gift, our parents say 'hot,' andwhen we walk further away, they say 'cold.' We each receive one presentevery night of Hanukkah. Another part I like about this holiday is seeingfamily members whom we do not see often. My aunt usually stays for a fewdays, and we sometimes visit other relatives.
Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights. One of the many stories behindDiwali comes from Ramayana, an Indian epic. King Dashratha must send Rama,his eldest son and heir to the throne, to the forest for 14 years to keepboons he had granted to one of his three wives, Kaikeyi. The boons were agift for saving his life. She also wanted her son to be the king. However,her son refuses to sit on the throne and saves it for his eldest brother.Rama returns after winning a fierce war against a very powerful andunrighteous emperor, Ravana. The whole kingdom welcomes him home andcelebrates his return.
To celebrate Diwali, my family does a pooja, or prayers, in honor thegoddess Lakshmi. Since she is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, thepooja includes washing silver coins in milk and water. In India, peopledecorate their houses with lamps, similar to the way you might light upyour house for Christmas. My family just places a few candles outside. Wealso set off firecrackers, which is my favorite part. We often do thisactivity with friends to add to the excitement.
Both holidays have different histories and stories. We celebrate them indifferent ways, yet they both have the same meaning, literally andfiguratively. They both translate into Festival of Lights, and they bothmean family and presents for me!
-- Natania Field, 14,
Monsoons in Mumbai
The three of us ran, avoiding the large puddles. My soaked pants stuckuncomfortably to my legs as we heard another booming roll of thunder. Atelephone pole fell behind us and a bolt of lightning cracked the sky.I was caught many times in sudden downpours of rain when I visited myrelatives in India, but this incident was the most unforgettable one. Itall started one cloudy morning when I woke up to the sounds of the laundrybeing beaten.
By beating, I mean washing. The clothes were soaked in soapy water andbeaten with a wooden block on the marble floor. I never understood thismethod of washing clothes. Perhaps it was the satisfaction of wearinghand-washed garments. There was a washing machine but it was rarely used.My grandma dried the clothes on the clothesline underneath the kitchenwindow. They would billow in the breeze until they were dry. If it wereraining, the laundry would be done before bedtime and dried indoors. Onthis day, the laundry should have been done the night before, but no oneknew what was going to happen.
I wandered into the large balcony after breakfast, which was khakro, crispyflat bread, and milk with Bournvita. The milk was fresh buffalo milk (mostIndians prefer buffalo milk over cow's milk). The taste is more sour thanmilk from a cow, a taste not quite appealing to my taste buds. So, tosweeten the milk, I would stir in two large spoonfuls of chocolate powder."Is it going to rain?" Ritika, my younger cousin, asked, joiningme in the balcony. We gazed at the gloomy, gray sky.
Ritika and I waited for Bapuji, my grandfather, to come back from his dailymorning walk at the beach so he could take us to mandir, the temple.Ding-dong! Knowing it was Bapuji, we quickly put on our sandals, opened thedoor, and grabbed the umbrella.
We stepped into the busy streets. Mumbai is similar to Manhattan: lots ofpollution, traffic, excitement and overcrowding. We walked quickly, butcautiously, through the streets. Because it was monsoon season and itrained heavily. The floods blocked gutters and streets filled with murkywater for several days. When we reached the temple, we took off our sandals(it is disrespectful to walk into a temple with shoes on) and went insideto pray. Then we headed home. Although the sun wasn't visible behind thedark clouds, it didn't seem like it would rain.
We had barely walked two minutes when it suddenly started pouring. Itwasn't just a drizzle. The raindrops were as big as large grapes. We weretotally soaked in just a few seconds. We could barely see anything throughthe thick curtain of water in front of us. Street vendors rushed to covertheir products with big sheets of plastic, and everyone ran for a shelter.Bapuji, Ritika and I began running, too. I hoisted Ritika into my arms andwe splashed our way through the wet streets. I had stupidly left theumbrella at the temple. As we ran, it became worse. Lightning cracked thesky. Thunder roared loudly. Large gusts of wind howled. My cousin, beingonly two, began to sob on my shoulder, adding to the chaotic cacophony onthe streets.
Turning the corner, we heard a loud crack behind us. I doubled back and sawthat the telephone pole had fallen right across the street. It was afrightful sight. I wiped the wet hair from my face and ran to catch up withBapuji. Every pedestrian was running in whichever direction. Drivers hadslowed down, with their wipers on high speed, causing traffic jams andadding to the pandemonium on the streets.
We finally reached our building and ran up the steps to the apartment, oursandals squeaking with water, every step. I rang the doorbell and mygrandmother answered it, holding a candle. Apparently, the damagedtelephone pole had disrupted the electricity and caused a blackout.Even though it was daytime, it was so dark that we could barely see.
The three of us dried ourselves off. When it finally stopped raining inthe evening, I wandered into the kitchen and looked out the windowpane.There, underneath the window was the morning's laundry. It hung there,motionless, and thoroughly soaked.
-- Trisha Sanghavi, 13,
Skipping Stones Magazine