Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
I wasn’t sure why I had come to this temple. To get away from the stares and the vulnerability I felt on the streets? The shameless leering and whistling of Indian men made me feel exposed to my core – a constant reminder that I didn’t belong in this country, that no matter how much mehindi I painted on my hands, I would always stick out to the men loitering at chai stalls.
I rarely felt as weak as I had these past few weeks, as overwhelmed and as used. Everywhere I went, I was judged purely on the way I look. Rich enough that no matter how many gruff “nahis” I uttered, rickshaw drivers always cajoled me to go places I didn’t need to and charged triple the local price. Blonde enough to be a picture of Western promiscuity, an opportunity to practice broken pick-up lines and lean in for the occasional butt-squeeze.
At first, this temple seemed an unlikely place to seek relief. Garish, it didn’t fit in a city of faded buildings; the din of incessant ringing bells and chanted mantras penetrated the cracks of the paint. Dirty too – remains of milk offerings and hibiscus flowers clung to my bare feet. Crowds hoping for a blessing by the goddess rhythmically circled the temple. No space to think. And it reeked; the unmistakable smell of India, that raw, intimate stench of human flesh.
Yet, in the midst of all this chaos, I felt calm.
Looking up, Ma-Durga’s enormous painted eyes were penetrating. Was she what comforted me? Durga is a strong, fearless goddess who doesn’t let anyone get in the way of accomplishing her goals. I thought of Durga’s tectonic laughter, her patience, her bravery and her confidence – the strength to defeat demons. Is it these human qualities that separate her from every other Goddess, that make her the kind of woman I want to be?
Beneath the dirt, the smell, and the noise, this temple represented a touchstone for my aspirations. These walls didn’t break under the stress of high standards. They flourished. This temple inspired people. As I looked around, I realized that everyone seemed happy – the stark contrast of smiling white teeth on brown skin. This temple gave me a sense of comfortable familiarity in an otherwise foreign place, and reminded me that to belong is more complicated than simply fitting in.
I slipped on my sandals and made my way into the street. My frustration wouldn’t change anything. In fact, my self-consciousness kept me from immersing myself in the culture and the community that surrounded me. Laughter, patience, bravery, confidence. I feel the strength of Durga within me. I am my own temple.
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