Tuesdays with my mother were akin to Morrie’s life lessons. I was in my late teens and every Tuesday, after school, we’d begin our ritual. Slice five limes in half, scoop out the pulp and you’re left with lime shells – the perfect tealight contraptions. Besides the waste of a perfectly good lime, I learned that it was bloody hard work to hack out lime pulp.
Lime shells, candle wicks and ghee (clarified butter) packed, and we’re off to a Hindu temple back home in Singapore. At the temple, I learned that nothing is free.
Hand over the dollars for a silver tray, bag of flowers and a ticket. The temple “receptionist” wrote names you’d requested on a prayer ticket from an invoice sheet booklet, the kind you get from Officeworks.
This ticket is like an entrance pass to the spiritual world. If you are feeling a bit fancy, you could upsize the platter to include a coconut – all of which are rentals you leave behind at the temple. Religion was apparently way ahead in green capitalism.
Right about then, my best friend would join me with her platter. I don’t like to judge, especially in a place of worship, but her lime tealights were really below par. Maybe I took this project a little too seriously but one of the highlights for me was definitely building the tealights to perfection.
After sprinkling the flowers evenly on the silver tray, you slide a wick into the lime shell and fill it with ghee. Place all 10 tealights on the tray, and you’re ready to go. Here’s one I prepared earlier.
As you prep, the ladies sang devotional songs. Right then, I learned that god really wouldn’t have appreciated the unoiled door swing noises that came out of my mother.
Third act, we light the tealights and present it to the deity. We stand, clasping our palms together to pray. My internal prayer went something like this, “Please god, help me pass all my exams with flying colours and keep my family and friends happy and healthy”. What? I’m Asian. We revere exams and our parents.
The priest then said priestly things in a prayer as he read out the names that were scribed in the tickets; you know the ones that were paid for earlier?
To my mother, this ritual was the reason anything good happened to us. For example, if I did pass all my exams with flying colours, it wasn’t so much that I studied late into the night everyday for weeks; it was a direct consequence of the sprit lime. If I didn’t do so well in a test, it was because I didn’t do as many tealight prayers as I should have. Our level of piousness was directly correlated to the number and strength of good things that happened to us.
To be honest, it really didn’t matter. Like my mother believed in that something bigger than her, my friend and I had succumbed to something bigger than us.
My hormones were the reason I bothered to wash, condition and blow dry my hair on Tuesdays. That was my ritual and the reason anything good happened to me.
All that clean, fizz-free hair, for the boys who come to the temple on Tuesdays. The boys who prayed and thus had an easier time being cordial to our mothers and gaining access to our world.
While the mothers engaged in friendly religious competition – who’d witnessed the Ganesh milk miracle, who came close to being in a trance mid-prayer, and who’d visited the most number of temples, then gossiped about the women who were not there, marriage statuses of their children and whom they could practice their self-proclaimed matchmaking skills on – my best friend and I gossiped about which boys we liked, which boys we think liked us and even, ooh wait for it, talked directly to a few of them opposite sex creatures.
For me, god made social situations with boys just a little easier. No number of Sweet Valley High books truly prepared me for the world of boys like Tuesdays with my mother.
For the adults, god made the perfect emcee. Bought a new car? Your son’s going overseas on an university scholarship? Make your announcement to the world for the very low price of a prayer ticket. Forget births, deaths and weddings, prayers had become very sophisticated to complement our modern lifestyle.
If you’ve detected, I don’t know, a sarcastic and perhaps a slightly dismissive tone in my words, you’re about to witness a one-eighty.
When I came to Sydney on my own from Singapore, I learned that I didn’t have to do anything religious or ritualistic anymore… so what did I do? Of my own free will, I went to a Hindu temple.
It’s not that I necessarily believe in god or the spiritual world, being in a temple reminded me of my mother, her love for me and her very funny way of showing it.
It reminded me of the women in the temple who truly cared for one another. Sure, there was gossip, but they were always there for each other in sickness, in health, in pain and in tears.
Tuesdays with my mother wasn’t the spiritual journey she may have expected it to be, it is a balm for our painful distance and a consolation that she’s surrounded by good people.
The author did not talk to boys in her visit to the Hindu temple in Sydney. She is now a grown-up.