Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
Kolkata (calcutta) Jain Priest
by Hyla Bolsta
We stepped barefoot into a mirrored inner sanctum of the temple and gazed at a never-ending altar in its center. Two inch bits of yellow, turquoise and green flashed into each other repeatedly in infinite regression. Jack and I listened to the swish of bare feet on cool floors and the almost imperceptible hush of words recited under priests' breaths.
One fellow checked things, the candles, altar and floor. He was bare-chested and a mask covered his nose and mouth, an orthodox Jain. A diminutive old man caught my eyes and smiled. White cloth wrapped around him and through his legs to form a kind of pants. He nodded and looked over to Jack, keeping his smile.
"Hello" rustled from a cloud of white hair. Again, or maybe continuously, his thin lips formed that beckoning smile. In the pause that followed, a slip of his spirit melted into me. I don't know how.
With an appealing accent and a supremely kind voice, he asked direct, personal questions and recounted a visit to his daughter in New Jersey, pleasure animating his face. On hearing how long we've been married, he talked about his wife's death six months before. "I'm lonely. We were married more than sixty years. My son and his family come to visit, though."
"Why not live with them?"
"Oh no! I do not want to leave this temple. My life is here. I've been a Jain priest for many years." Even with this, he smiled.
"Do you ever fight, quarrel, you know?" he asked.
Jack and I glanced at each other. "Yeah, sometimes."
He took our hands and looked at us, from one to the other. "Don't argue even when you disagree. And don't part in anger; make sure you make up. Always be careful to keep peace between you, and you will have happy lives." We bowed and parted.
That was eight months ago. Sometimes, when Jack loses a phone number, his glasses or the time, or leaves coffee grounds spilled on the counter, my frustration brews. I think of that man and I want him to counsel me when my anger flares. He hasn't come around yet, but maybe this anecdote will attract him and he'll slip by to tell me once again where it's at.
Hyla Bolsta says, "I am a fine artist and illustrator for many years and a writer more recently. I like to travel - venture into new territories and open to other ways of life. My largest project right now is a book on The Kaddish - A Contemporary Illuminated Manuscript. Please check out my web site."
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