Paromita Vohra: A wish and a prayer
I'm not the praying type, unless you count praying to someone called Please God, before exams or other impending doom. I grew up in a family where some people never prayed, and some prayed every day
I'm not the praying type, unless you count praying to someone called Please God, before exams or other impending doom. I grew up in a family where some people never prayed, and some prayed every day. No one asked me to pray, nor did I feel remotely curious about the process. I have never had a religious phase and don't expect to.
Of course, when one goes to a shrine, even as a tourist, it is expected that you will pray. After all, so many famous shrines owe their fame to a wish-granting facility manifested by knotted threads around pillars, locks on bridges, pennies in fountains, candles, wooden tablets and milagros in different desire-shapes — health, love, success or safe travels.
At such shrines, I've often tried to come up with a comprehensive prayer, covering all bases but never bought one of the wish-making objects. Perhaps I was being that terrible thing — realistic — which is another way of thinking wishes don't come true so one should not entertain them.
Then, last year, I spent some days in Myanmar and ended up going to a lot of shrines. Cave upon cave, Buddha upon Buddha, beauty beyond beauty. At the first one, a man gave me a yellow wish-making thread to tie around my wrist. I was nonplussed. It is one thing to go with a wish, and find a thread for it. It is another to be given a thread and have to find the wish.
I felt pressured to make it count too. One thread, one wish. I closed my eyes and struggled, but found I could not alight on one. I left a little troubled by this. It became my emotional task thereon, to find my wish. You could say I'm task oriented that way.
At every temple, I closed my eyes and tried to stop thinking, and instructed my deepest wish, 'make yourself known goddamit!' A few temples in, I stopped scolding myself. A few temples later, it obliged me with its presence, but also surprised me. I had not known that of all the things in the world I could want, this was the thing I wanted the most. By the last two temples, I prayed for it with a calm intensity.
People are always telling you that prayer and meditation are about transcending desire. And we often understand that as a state of getting to a place where we want nothing. But, maybe, prayers are not about liberating ourselves into desire as much as liberating ourselves from desire; of committing, in a world full of desires, to one desire that's our own — not what we are instructed to desire, by rituals, by algorithms, by marketing campaigns — and taking responsibility for our relationship with it.
I'm still not a praying type. Last week, in another country, I went to my first ever Durga pooja. Clueless about the ritual protocols I just
followed others, eventually ending up hands clasped, eyes closed, praying for something. This time it was easier to let the wish jump out at me. It surprised me again. I smiled to myself at the revelation.
The realistic question is of course: was my prayer granted? To be honest, that matter is under review. I do know this, I granted myself a prayer, and that's no small thing.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com
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