“Aarti”- Hanuman Jayanti 2018

The wave of the crowd surged up behind me and I found myself gazing deeply and closely into Hanuman-ji’s eyes.   They twinkled with delight at the sincere  enthusiasm of his devotees as they clapped and bobbed and pressed forward pushing me almost into his lap.   As I tottered on my feet the sweet scent of the roses in his mala filled my nose in the close and airless room.   There was Hanuman-ji’s smile so close to mine-always the same serene expression through whatever tidal wave had rocked my life or the world or as then this room in which he stood.  And there it was again.  The tidal wave rose up and pushed me forward and I clutched the aarti lamp, several silk-clad ladies holding on to me and the lamp wherever they could and all of us moving together, circling the lamp, flames dancing dangerously side to side, pulling back just in time like retreating waves before igniting one of our softly trailing scarves.  I relaxed into the panic rising at the hot closeness of the crowd, craning my head up and gasping for air and falling back as I was claimed again by the ocean.  There were faces as far as I could see in all directions, pressed up against the windows and crammed into the doorway.  I flashed to the train rides across India and remembered curtaining off thoughts about how many of us hot and sticky humans were crowded into the packed cars with bars on the windows and how many stood between me and the doors.  And then unexpectedly I felt an upwelling of nostalgia for something that was not yet gone-a future backward memory of this moment and a wistfulness for this as the last big festival probably in which we would all be crammed into this room-the hot breath and loud bells and intense closeness with the murti.  And my  throat felt tight and strained like a trapped balloon and the helium tears began just barely to hiss out inside my head tickling my nose and burning my eyes.   And my heart, like a boat heavily laden, rocked on the nauseating waves in my belly. Then, like a massive ocean storm, the energy of the crowd and of the whole earth of breathing creatures suddenly surged and with an ecstatic and painful cracking the heart-boat burst. I was plunged into the ocean, no longer struggling to raise my head for air, tumbling and falling along with all of creation, held in Hanuman-ji’s lap.  I raised the conch and blew.  Held and helpless in the wave I blew again, jumping and dancing and singing.  We looked at one another and laughed and smiled and jostled and ladies were spit forward towards the altar and took their turn with the lamp.  I breathed in, and blew the conch again and almost went black and fell beneath the trampling feet and then the buoyancy of joy lifted me and I blew the conch again.  All of us were diving and floating and sinking and laughing and drowning.  All of us were one. And Hanuman-ji went on twinkling and smiling.

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