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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Ritual Cleansing

A cold chill hung in the air during the early hours of the morning. This was just the way I liked it because it meant that my journey to the temple pond for my daily ablutions would be a dew-filled pleasure, the blades of grass and the leaves of low-lying plants being laden with moisture that would invigoratingly awaken anything it came into contact with. Personally, I liked the feel of the drops on my skin, tantalizing momentarily with a sharp burst of vivifying cold. It was still dark, and that meant the amount of dew on offer was currently at its enjoyable most, according to me. The moment dawn began to approach, the moisture appeared to cower away from the light, rapidly disappearing due to the heat of the Sun's rays, reminding us of the impermanence of water, and the delicate balance of all life dependent on it.

My morning walk to the temple pond took me out the back gate of my home. This was considered to be unorthodox by many, and had even led to much consternation by members of my family, mostly because it was considered unnecessarily disrespectful to the deities I was seeking to make my daily offering to. The ideal method was to leave my home as usual, through the front entrance, and then the front gate of the property, made especially more important by the fact that this first ritual of the day was meant to honor the Gods. Therefore, as it was explained to me, in no uncertain terms mind you, it was rude to sneak out the back way when we were on our way to pay our humbly heartfelt respects to the Gods. That made sense, a lot of sense, in fact, I definitely had to admit. The trouble was, my primary reason for going out the back way was due to a couple of factors. First, I didn't want to excite the neighbor's dog, permanently relegated to its roomy, shack-like kennel, fixed inches away from the boundary wall and the main gate, for it responded loudly to any disturbance, no matter what kind. Trust me, mango season is always hell when the fruits start falling to the ground in the middle of the night. It would almost appear to be a matter of religious observance, you would think, judging by the barking tribute the dog used to offer for each fallen mango. Of course, as far as this poor animal was concerned, I imagine the negligence that it had been forced to endure by its owners, labelling it a "Guard Dog" and then isolating it from any kind of affection so that it would react strongly to any sort of disturbance in its environment, was the cause of the neuroses that were still forcibly tolerated by its "masters", and neighbors, by extension.

Perhaps the most important reason for me to defy the sound logic of my fellow believers was, well, it used to take me a precisely longer amount of time to make my way to the temple pond, something I consciously attempted to do because I liked my short walk before arriving at my daily morning destination. The trouble with going out of the front gate in order to enjoy the duration of my preferred relaxed, early morning promenade, was that I would have had to purposely backtrack along a certain section of this path, so as to fit in my desired amount of walking for a morning. The reason I never attempted this was because visualizing it in my mind, it seemed like the kind of habit that would make me out to be crazy, causing more uproar among my well wishers than my currently "unacceptable" behaviour. I would even go so far as to say that I was pretty sure I knew which of my neighbors and fellow residents of this part of town would make the observation and then conjure up the tale of my madness, especially if I did a one-eighty-degree turn in front of their house to return to home, before repeating the move and finding myself passing by in front of them moments later, like a poor attempt at trying to confuse someone into believing that they had just experienced deja vu. Of course, the consequences of attempting to explain this to them would be an even greater folly in my book because instead of using it to try and understand my reasons for doing the obviously incorrect, they would resort to simple arithmetic, adding "idiot" to "crazy" and declaring me a lost cause, overall. We all have our quirks, but the less understandable and relatable they are, the more critical it is to not share them with others.

I always knew when I was approaching the temple because of a lone jasmine bush that stood outside the main entrance, like a lone sentinel, armed with the most pleasing fragrance, offering security and a sense of pleasure in advance of a meeting with (one of the) powers that be. This was the best time to catch this fragrant plant in all its splendor because come dawn and the first lot of eager worshippers, their hands would rain down on this poor bush, raping it of every open and partially-open blossom because they would rather spend the few coins it would cost them to purchase a ready made garland as offering. Such things made me wonder about how God would feel, being omniscient and omnipotent, watching people cut corners and being dishonest in their efforts when they worship her or him, not to mention doing so with great devotion. I wonder if she or he decides to look the other way, or is perhaps supremely magnanimous and wise, being able to accept that such things too are part of the human existence. On this particular morning, I was glad to see more than ten flowers in bloom, and sure enough, their heady floral scent had me all wrapped up in olfactory ecstasy. So drawn in by this was I that I decided to circumambulate the jasmine bush three times, out of a potent blend of piety and awe. As I came around the third time, I noticed one of the assistant priests coming out of the main entrance with a pail of water in his hands, most likely to wash the cobblestones that led up to the main entrance, as part of the temple's daily cleaning. Making eye contact, he waved at me, as I reciprocated, before quickly getting back to our respective plans of action. Completing my third circle around the jasmine bush, I made my way to the temple pond, which began with two steps sticking above the water, with the rest of the stairwell that led all the way to its greatest depth of approximately thirty feet at the center, being well submerged and hidden in the darkness. I must admit, there was a time in my life when faced with this sort of scene, I would have panicked and refused to get into the water, if not already running away screaming. However, as life happened, finding the in-between moments to be able to escape the masses of humanity made such things not only plausible, but a preference.

As I stepped into the water, I was most pleasantly surprised to find it at an ideally warm and welcoming temperature, seeming to lure me in as if I had not already been seeking out this experience first thing in my day today. I slowly felt for the edge of the steps that were submerged, making my way cautiously down them, using my toes as feelers, and as a first pass, submerging myself to just below my knees so that I could then sit down on one of the steps before submerging myself completely. I sometimes did this during the cooler months, where getting into the water proved to be a more shocking experience for the body, allowing myself to adjust to the temperature of the water so as not to end up offering my prayers in teeth-chattering mode. Early this morning, however, and most likely a hangover of the delightful jasmine fragrance that lingered in the air, I seemed to be strangely at peace with myself, and most content to just let my body be where it was, no matter what I had planned to do, or whatever was or was not happening around me. It could have been only two minutes, but it felt like an hour had passed between my earlier thought and the last one, and so, I finally decided to get myself up off the step and get on with my morning ritual. I stood up on the step that my feet were already on, and then, I slowly extended my left foot to feel for the next step, after I had successfully felt and moved past the edge of the step that I was currently standing on. Then, I proceeded to put all my weight upon it, but just then...

[In local news this morning, a middle-aged man was found drowned in the temple pond at one of the local temples. His body was discovered face down and floating near the middle of the pond. There was a large gash clearly visible on the back of the victim's head. The body was discovered by one of the assistant priests who was attending to his daily chores. Originally, police suspected foul play. However, after questioning several of the neighbors and other members of the temple priesthood, they established that the deceased had succumbed to an accident. It was thought that the mossy residue of those steps that were submerged caused him to lose his balance, resulting in him falling and sustaining a blow to the back of his head against the edge of the top step. This rendered him unconscious and unable to keep his head above the water. A combination of this concussion and resulting blood loss from the wound has been identified as what killed him. Police have confirmed that a complete autopsy will be conducted immediately, and the cause of death will be ascertained and divulged to the public.]
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