The author reflects on the rain, on God and the nature of life, on becoming an older sister and the pandemic
The rain looks like crystallized icicles falling in gray sheets from the sky. The earth moves with its impact. Every other sound is subdued, as if bowing down respectfully to Emperor Monsoon.
I watch from the window of my grandparents’ home in the city of Ahmedabad, India. The plants dance as the cascade of water washes off layers of dust from their delicate leaves. The rains have breathed life into them. Green looks greener, grey looks greyer, red looks redder, white looks whiter. Water has colored the world.
About a dozen langur monkeys are escaping into the branches before they are completely drenched, leaping from roof to roof, balcony to balcony, with confidence and ease. They never miss a step or make a mistake. Tiny baby monkeys clutch their mothers’ bellies. They do not have a care in the world. They are safe as they glide above the world with their family.
The stray dogs scurry away as well. They welcome the cool water on their overheated backs but prefer the shaded garage or the space under the cars. They want to hear the rain and feel the earth cool off before they venture out again.
I cannot resist feeling the rain on my skin. I skip to the patio and watch the drenched swing swinging gently by itself in the rain. Even the wood and metal on the swing seem grateful for the cool water on their burning bodies. I reach out and feel the drops on my palms. Slowly, I move forward beyond the shade of the patio and feel the rain thundering on my body. I feel like I am standing under a waterfall. I am completely wet in seconds. There is no stopping me now. I jump in the small puddles that rain has created on the patio, kick water into the air, and raise my face to the sky in utter delight. I skip, hop, and sing in the rain.
“Arjuna, everyone depending on his or her station in life has a certain dharma to perform. You are a warrior. Your Dharma is to fight for a righteous cause.”
— The Bhagavad Gita
These words are spoken by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita (meaning “the song of God” in Sanskrit) is a Hindu scripture that is a part of the Mahabharata, an ancient Hindu epic. It is a conversation between Prince Arjuna, a Pandava prince, and Krishna, who is an avatar, or incarnation, of Lord Vishnu, one of three supreme and divine deities in Hinduism.
My parents are atheists. They are raising my sister and me as atheists. This means that even though we celebrate many Hindu traditions and festivals, my parents do not believe in the existence of God. I have asked many times, ever since I was even younger than I am now, why they don’t believe in God. They reply matter-of-factly that there is no evidence or argument to suggest that any gods exist. They tell me that it is okay to believe in God, but that does not mean that there is a god.
“Your beliefs don’t make things exist, or make them real,” they respond critically.
What they say is discouraging for me. For many years, I had given up on these questions about God and just behaved like them. My grandparents, however, do believe in God. My trips to India over the years have given me a different perspective about this question. My grandparents pray in front of their temples in their homes every morning and evening. They light a lamp and incense stick and offer flowers and food to the deities. They sing Sanskrit hymns and meditate. Seeing their rituals and practices makes me wonder why my parents are atheists when they could be part of such beautiful and ancient customs and mythologies.
I have asked my grandparents the same question: “Why do you believe in God?” My dadi (my father’s mother) told me that God is everywhere and God is within you. God is like a friend who is there to help you when you need it. That makes me wonder whether prayers have the power to help me through my problems.
I have always been curious about these questions, and they have never really let me go. Since I had a lot of time and many things to worry about during the pandemic, I began to explore the many books we have on the topmost shelves of our house and to ask some new questions. Over the years, my grandparents have gifted me many books on Hindu mythology and philosophy. This spring and summer, I had the chance to dig into them.
I think I have some new arguments for my parents after many hours of reading and thinking. Here they go:
(1) There are many things that we don’t see, like our thoughts and feelings, but that does not mean they don’t exist.
(2) I don’t think that every question should be answered with science. There are other types of knowledge in this world, like what you get by experiencing something.
(3) It does not matter what you call God, or whether it has some form, or whether it exists. I think these are the wrong questions. I think a better question would be “What is God? What does it mean to you?” For me, hope, love, and courage are God.
Reading these epics and mythological stories has opened my mind to new ways of seeing the world. They have changed my perspective. They have given me hope, courage, and perseverance that I never knew before. It makes me feel happier than without this hope, courage, and perseverance. For that reason, I want to believe in the existence of God.
It is said in the Hindu scriptures that only if you open your mind to knowledge will you receive the knowledge. I understand how this can be true. When I was like my parents— not believing God—I didn’t know the things I know today. I know that belief can open your mind to new ways of seeing the world. I know that I have a duty to perform in my life. Right now, my duty is to be content with whatever I have.
PINING FOR A LITTLE SISTER
Since I was three years old until I was about four and a half, so the legend goes, I demanded, pleaded, and prayed for a little sister. Every single morning, I asked my mom the same question: “Do you have a baby in your tummy today?” The answer was an exasperated “No” every single day. Again, I would pray before drifting off to sleep to “please give me a little sister soon.” I am known for not giving up.
I wanted a sister so badly that I announced to anyone who would care to listen in pre-K that “My mommy has a baby in her tummy.” It seemed that everyone around me had a little brother or sister, or if they were very lucky, both! I was missing out on something major in life. My pre-K teachers told my parents how good I was with babies even when I was a toddler myself. I loved to watch them, make them laugh, and do whatever I could to help them. Naturally, I did not want to be left out of this life-changing experience.
People would congratulate my parents, and they would have to tell them that this was not true. I wanted it to be true, so it did not really matter whether it was true or not. It was true to me. My parents seemed perplexed and amused at how single-minded I was in this demand. They thought it was just a whim and I would get over it in week, a few weeks, or months. Not me! For the next two-and-a-half years, I persisted. The thought of failure never even occurred to me.
I remember that magical winter day when my parents announced, “You are going to be a big sister!” I was overjoyed.
The funny thing is that when I learned that I was going to have a sister, I kept it a secret and told no one until she was born.
THE BIRTH OF SAMIRA
It was a lovely fall day. The leaves were beginning to turn. Some leaves fell gently to the ground in the light September breeze. I was going to be a sister any day now. I had waited so long, watching my mother’s belly grow, imagining what my sister would be like. My parents told me how big she must be each month. She had grown from the size of a sesame seed to a pomegranate seed, to a pea, to a peanut, to an orange, to the size of my palm, to a baby with tiny arms and legs, to a baby with fingernails, to a soccer ball, to a watermelon, to a baby with a tail, to a baby with no tail and a head full of hair! It was such a mystery. Ever since I saw her on the screen as the doctor checked my mother, I could not wait any longer. It looked like she was giving me a “thumbs up” on the screen that day. She knows I am watching her, I thought. She knows I am her big sister, I imagined. I can’t wait to see you, Samira.
The September breeze blew on my face as I looked outside the bus window on my way back from school that day. It was the first couple of weeks of kindergarten, and it was not what I had expected. One of the things that shocked me most about school was how much we had to sit and how little we talked or played. I was full of questions about everything, but I felt I never got the chance to ask any of them. Getting on the bus to get back home was the best part of my day. I had memorized the route from school to the bus stop. I found a window seat and knew it was my stop when I saw either my grandpa, dad, or mom waiting for me at a distance. If it was my mom, it was my routine to jump out of the bus and give her belly a big hug and kiss, and greet Samira.
The bus was noisy, as it was every day. It was one of the several things that bothered me about school. How loud the day could be! I longed to get back to my room and immerse myself in my toys for the next few hours until I had forgotten all about school.
When is Samira going to be born? I have waited and waited and waited.
I ignored the loud children and looked through the bus window. I watched the birds perched on the trees and flying through the sky and let the noises dissolve in the background.
Little did I know that today was the day I would become a sister. Samira was born a sister; I became one that day.
When my stop arrived, the kids stormed out of the bus. I walked out of the bus quietly when I got the chance and jumped into my grandpa’s arms. His face looked different that day. It looked bright and happy, maybe relieved. As we walked home, he told me that he had a surprise to share with me. My sister was born, and she and my mama and baba were in the hospital waiting for me. I could not believe it!
“When do I get to go see her?” I exclaimed. I think I flew home from the bus stop in joy that day.
At home, my grandma gave me a snack, and I waited for my dad to pick my grandparents and me up to go to the hospital. It seemed like a long wait, but it was actually only an hour or so. I remember swinging my legs from side to side with excitement when we finally got in the car to go to the hospital. Is there a word for the excitement you feel when you wait for a joyous occasion? I have felt this excitement often—waiting for the airplane to land at the Ahmedabad airport so I can see my grandparents’ faces; waiting for the airplane to land at the Dulles airport to see my grandparents’ faces when they come to visit us; looking out of the train window to see my cousins’ faces in Pune; waiting in daycare for my parents to return from the university. This feeling of waiting for that one moment of joy. I have had a lot of training in the art of waiting. Waiting patiently is a good way to be for a child.
At last! I saw my mother sitting up on the hospital bed. She looked like she had been waiting for me too. She looked the same as she had in the morning when she waved me goodbye. She looked contented. I gave her a big hug and a kiss and just rested for a few moments.
But I quickly remembered to turn my gaze to her right. There she was. How tiny she is! That was my first thought. She was wrapped tight like a mummy, complete with a little pink-and-blue-striped hat. Her eyes were tight shut. She had, and still does have, the longest, thickest, curviest eyelashes of all. Her little mouth was like a flower bud, so beautifully shaped. Her cheeks were out of this world—round and smooth. She looked just like me. I was amazed at how much she resembled me. Everyone agreed.
I did not say a word and continued to observe her until my dad lifted her and placed her in my lap as I sat down. I cannot forget the feeling of holding her for the first time. She seemed heavy for such a tiny thing. I quickly got used to it. I touched her cheeks, and they were as smooth as the porcelain teacups Mama takes out for special guests. I whispered, “Samira.” She opened her eyes! Her eyes were enormous on her little face that was smaller than a small bowl. They were the prettiest eyes I had seen. She looked straight into my eyes, and we exchanged unspoken words. I heard her say, “I am here. We are going to have a lot of fun. I am going to be so naughty. Get ready!” She opened her little mouth to yawn, and her toothless mouth made me giggle. “I am ready, Samira. I have a friend for life. Thank you for coming. I love you so much.”
And so began the years of companionship. I have watched Samira grow and change and develop over the years—from her first smile to her very first day of kindergarten. She is the only friend I need.
A TEARFUL DAY
Some thoughts are difficult to think. They are even more difficult to put on paper. In September 2019, I experienced the most horrifying moment of life. My little sister, Samira, had celebrated her fourth birthday a few days ago. She was due for her yearly visit to the doctor and her last round of shots. My parents usually took us both to the doctor at the same time for our checkups. So I tagged along.
I watched Samira play with the toys in the waiting room in our doctor’s office. She wanted me to play with her; she does not like to play on her own when I am around. I complied, as I always do, even though I would have liked to be quiet and think. Just then, the nurse called both our names. Samira looked nervous. She has always been suspicious of this place and everyone in it. Of course, she makes sure everyone knows how she feels. I took Samira’s hand and walked with her, hoping that she did not create too much of a scene that day.
I was pleasantly surprised how cooperative Samira was during the initial part of the visit. Then came those dreadful shots. I got my flu shot first to show Samira that it would be alright. She was not at all convinced. Samira needed to get three shots to protect her against a number of diseases. She cried very loudly and was extremely distraught. It was over within minutes, or so we thought.
As my parents did some paperwork in the waiting room before we left, everything began to go wrong. Samira started sneezing violently. I have never seen her sneeze that way. It seemed as though a cup of snot came out of her nose, with over twenty-five sneezes in moments. She began to become drowsy. When my mom and dad tried to sit her down to wipe her nose, she could not even sit up. Her eyes began to close shut. Her face fell and turned pale. She seemed to fall asleep on my mother’s shoulders.
My parents were stunned, and we rushed back inside the doctor’s room. The next fifteen minutes were a blur of movement and people, tubes, oxygen tanks, and more shots. It seemed like I was still and everything around me was moving.
What is happening? What is going on?
My mom’s eyes looked like glass stones. My dad was still, thinking and listening. I heard snippets like
“. . . oxygen level going down,” “. . . 60 percent,” “. . . okay, it’s rising . . .” The doctor put me on her lap and rivers of tears flowed over. I don’t remember what she said. Something kind and reassuring in a calm and soft voice. I closed my eyes and begged someone to save her, silently.
Suddenly, I heard the ambulance blaring. There was another rush of people and equipment. More shots and tubes. Samira was carried and put on a stretcher and lifted into the ambulance. My mom left with the ambulance. She did not have a chance to look at me. I heard someone say, “She’s going to be okay.” Did I hear it or did I imagine it? I do not know for sure. I heard my dad’s soothing words, but I can’t remember what they were. I calmed down in the car as my dad and I drove silently behind the ambulance.
When we reached the emergency room at the hospital, we ran to find Samira. Samira’s eyes were open when I saw her. Her big, beautiful, bonny brown eyes. She had an oxygen mask around her face, and her skin was patchy and blue. She looked drained, but she was alive! She had survived. It was like opening my eyes after a nightmare to realize it was a dream. I felt I could breathe again.
I stayed with her for hours. I felt a surge of emotions. So much sadness for Samira and all the pain she was going through, relief that she was alive, anxiety about what would happen next and whether this would happen again, confusion about what had really happened, and a little bit of hope that something like this would never happen again.
The doctor told us that Samira needed to stay overnight. So my dad and I drove back home to gather some things like clothes, snacks, and toys. Back at the hospital, Mama and Samira looked much more like themselves by then. Samira was very hungry. She had not been given a thing to eat since breakfast. I was so happy to see her eat so gleefully.
After Mama and Samira finished eating, we all were taken to a room for the night. My dad and I made Samira comfortable and said goodnight. Samira didn’t want us to leave. So we stayed till she fell asleep. After that, I hugged my mama tightly and left.
That night, my dad told me that I could sleep next to him. I lay down my head and drifted off to a dreamless sleep. The day had finally ended.
WHAT IS A FRIEND?
Unfortunately, I have met many careless people in my school life. Careless people are those who don’t sacrifice anything for anyone, do only what they want, think only of themselves, and even in the hardest moments, ignore the pain of others. As a result, I have learned what friendship is.
You can recognize a friend only in time. Building friendship needs time. I have found that children my age are quick to “be friends” or become “best friends.” However, these friendships fade away or break just as quickly. It’s “easy come, easy go.” I prefer to take friendships slowly.
Affection is an important part of friendships. Affectionate friends are observant. They can see when you are sad or happy or in trouble, without you having to tell them. At the same time, affectionate friends use the right words at the right time. Saying the wrong words at the right time, or the right words at the wrong time—or the most damaging of all, the wrong words at the wrong time—can be hurtful. This past year I have experienced some of that. You can learn a person’s true character by the words they use.
True friends stick up for each other because they trust each other. Friends ask questions rather than making assumptions. They listen rather than making judgements. They believe rather than doubt. Friends don’t break each other’s trust.
A final quality of friendship is its purpose. Some people just want to be your friend because they want something from you. True friends are not looking for “something” from you. They are looking for a supportive ear for their questions or troubles, a shoulder to rest on when they are tired, someone to talk things through, and someone to share a success or delightful moment. Such friends have been rare in my life.
THE WORLD HAS CHANGED
The Earth revolves on its axis. One day ends and the next begins. Time passes on as it always has. Winter turned into spring, spring turned into summer, and summer has turned into fall as it does every year. However, everything feels different. Everything is different. Will it ever be the same again?
The world around me is lost. The world is motionless. The Earth is round, but time is flat. For weeks, I could not play outside. I still have not gone swimming since spring 2019. I no longer go to school. I no longer see my teachers or friends, except through a screen. Everyone can be here, but not here. I am told to believe that we are connecting with each other through a computer. I feel farther apart from everyone and everything.
These are the most unusual of circumstances. The news came out of the blue. “Pandemic,” “coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” “global health crisis,” “deaths,” “cases,” and many more new words became part of my world. Suddenly, all schools, offices, shops, and restaurants were shut down. Everyone was asked to “stay home,” leaving only for essentials or emergencies. Everyone was asked to wear face masks and gloves when they had to be outside among others. We are told there is an “invisible enemy” which we can defeat only by staying apart from each other.
While my family and I stayed safe inside our home, apart from the world around us, we depended on millions of others to keep this world moving on. I have felt lucky and guilty at the same time. I have probably learned more things through this experience than I have ever before.
I have learned how connected we are to the world around us. The coronavirus started in China but has spread quickly all over the world. Children all around the world are in the same situation as me. Millions of children’s parents all across the world have lost their jobs. Many children have lost one or more of their family members to this virus.
I have learned how important leadership is, especially during such a life-threatening situation. We don’t have good leaders in America. Our president through much of the pandemic made an already challenging problem even worse by lying and ignoring the problem.
I have learned that there is so much inequality in our country. Many people don’t have health care, and now that they have lost their jobs, they can’t go to the doctor if they fall ill.
I have learned that there is a lot of greed in our country. The health industry does not want to provide health care that people can afford. People hoarded food and toilet paper (toilet paper!) during this pandemic. The supermarket shelves were empty! I am scared to live in this kind of world—a world that is so fragile that a small push can topple everything down, a world that is so cruel and unjust.
I don’t understand everything, and I am thankful that I don’t. Unlike most grown-ups, I can always go back to the world of play and forget about my fears. Being away from school and everything else has given me the time to read, write, play, and think. Living through this global pandemic has allowed me to reflect on my experiences, my relationship to my sister, culture and faith, and my role in the world. I have learned that music, poetry, and companionship are the most important ingredients of my life.