God give me an Ark...Please!
Ours was a very religious home. Both Mummy and Daddy were strongly entrenched in the preachy kind of religion in a big way, which made it but natural that we kids came under a dogmatic training. Well, not all the children, the fourth one namely me, did have it a bit easier. It never occurred to me then that I was a privileged one. However, even though I took my father’s leniency for granted, I never expected any from Mummy. She couldn’t fathom why I was being spoiled so much by my father. If I had spared a thought for it, I wouldn’t have understood it either. At the age of six, I had other more compelling issues to think about, none of which involved mum.
With both my elder sisters in boarding school, and just my brother and I at home, I took the full brunt of her disciplining. My brother was a meek soul; quiet and docile, who wouldn’t question anything mom or dad said. On the other hand, I was a fire- brand. I’d have to ask ten thousand questions before I’d do anything, and if my questions were not answered to my satisfaction I’d argue my case endlessly. If my mother got exasperated, I don’t blame her. I must have been a handful for her. She blamed daddy, poor man, for my argumentative nature and endless questioning. I would go into a fit of giggling as she’d grumble how my tongue was growing faster than I was. This only added fuel to the fire.
My biggest rebellion against religious restrictions arose because of being curtailed from singing anything other than hymns and choruses and I wanted to belt out ‘Travelling light...,’ ‘Lipstick on your collar’...,’ ‘One and a-two, I love you..,’ So I retaliated by refusing to pray out loud. I would say that I wanted to pray in my mind. Daddy was fine with it, trusting that I would pray but mum knew it was a ruse. Anyway, my enthusiastic participation in singing at evening family prayer mollified her. I remember once she caught me in one of those rare, pliable moods and cajoled me to pray loudly. I did. It went like this....
“Jesus bless mummy, bless Daddy, bless Faith sister, bless Ruth sister, bless Jasper brother......” and I proceeded to name each of our uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, friends and call blessings on them. She tried to interrupt me, but I was so caught up with remembering names I refused to listen. Finally, when I had done with the names I had to end the prayer but I was loath to do so. I was having such a good time. So I decided to “bless the people who were in, and bless the people who were out, and bless the people who were in and out.” By the time I reached ‘Amen’ my mother was laughing so hard she had tears running down her cheeks. She never coaxed me to pray again.
We were in Cochin (Kochi) those days. This city is in Kerala and situated on the coast of the Arabian Sea. It never rains in Kerala, it pours cats and dogs. The thunder-storms and lightning scared the daylights out of me. My brother would sleep like a log through the worst storm but I’d cower in my bed or then roll into his. When Daddy wasn’t home I’d run to Mummy and climb into bed with her, clinging so tightly to her that she’d have to loosen my arms. One terribly stormy day, it was very bad. I lifted my head and peeked through the window. I couldn’t see a thing for the sheets of rain water pouring down. I lay down again, my little heart was skipping a tad too fast. I shook up my brother.
“What is it?” he asked sleepily.
“It’s very bad outside. I haven’t seen so much of rain ever. What is going to happen? Will there be a flood?”
“Could be,” he mumbled and dropped off.
I had to know if there would be a flood. I jumped out of bed and stood at the window. The garden was water-logged and I couldn’t see the low shrubs. We’re going to drown, I thought. I panicked because I did not know how to swim. At such times for some unearthly reason, the mind recalls the most impossible things. Mine called up the story of the flood from Sunday school. ‘Everyone had died except Noah and his family,’ it prompted me. Think girl. I thought. Right there by the window, I folded my hands and said my first sincere prayer, out loud.
“Dear Jesus, you promised not to destroy the world with floods. I learned that in Sunday school. I know I have been stubborn and I make Mummy angry, but I am a good girl. So please give me an Ark like Noah had. I promise I will listen to Mummy. I will pray. I will not sing the songs I shouldn’t be singing. I will not even use those bad words I use sometimes. Please give me an Ark. Thank you.”
I was so exhausted by the end of it that I slept... as peacefully as a baby. My prayer had been answered, I had been given my Ark. Faith. This was a turning point in my spiritual life.