Portrait of a Time
As a child, my parents taught me many things: some magical (don’t make faces; if the winds change direction, your face will get stuck that way), some important (call your grandparents). But my family has never been religious. I was never asked to memorize prayers or to place my faith in rituals. At home, our religion was nothing more than my grandfather’s nightly retellings of the Ramayana, whispered into our ears. Our trips to temples, few and far between, felt like visiting distant relatives — people I had only vaguely heard of and never really known.
I was nine years old the first time I visited the United States of America. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? To say the whole thing like that — the United States of America, these United States of America, the American States, United. Do you hear the bald eagle screech in there, somewhere? My father sat me down before we left and said to me, “Yash, there are rules there, do you understand?” I shifted my head a degree to the right; there was a dragonfly on the window pane. “You can’t litter there.” The world was my trash can. “No sticking gum under tables.” Where else do they put their gum? “In fact, no gum — you’ll lose your teeth.” Wait, what? “I’m serious — look at me. If you throw things away on the street, they’ll arrest you. Then you can sit in jail, and we’ll come back home. Do you want that?”