Elsewhere, by Nina Guttapalle

If I pressed my ear up

against the cold walls of this temple,

I could hear a murmuring of voices,

all the whispered prayers of

ordinary believers

trapped inside here.

It is a one-sided conversation.

An unrequited love.

My parents tell me that the deities are supposed to

watch over us,

grant us our prayers,

and drive away evil.

These are

omnipotent, many-armed deities.

Everything is in their will.

They say I should pray to Laxmi for wealth,

to Saraswati for a good education,

to Ganesha for an obstacle-free life.

Each deity with its own duty.

The list is endless.

But these are just

lifeless, man-made statues.

No.

They are idols.

They must be worshipped.

Pray to them.

And then comes the food.

A palmful of dried golden raisins.

Holy water. Milk.

Apples. Bananas. Coconut.

But it’s just fruit.

No.

It’s God’s fruit.

Blessings.

Take it.

Touch it to your eyes.

The right eye.

Then the left.

I have circled here enough times

to understand the physicality of it:

heel and toe against cool tiles,

palms loose against each other.

I have faked faith enough times

to know how to shape my lips,

even if the words

    that fall

               from

                       my

                             tongue

are cold and bare of any prayer.

My defiance has made me weary.

The phrases that shape it have been

thrown against my parents so many times,

a weak wind against

the fortress.

But still,

I want my voice to sound loud and clear.

I want it to become something

tangible,

sharp-edged,

dangerous,

a weapon to rattle loose my parents’ prejudices.

If I could I would have shoved by disbelief,

tooth and nail,

between my parents’ closed hands

so that they could understand that

I do not want to be here.

I want to be some place

where I don’t have to pretend

that a palmful of golden raisins

is something more than a

palmful of golden raisins,

where I don’t have to utter

empty prayers to statues that are

nothing more than statues,

where I am not forced to

put my faith into something

I don’t have any faith in,

where I am not scolded

for not believing,

for not understanding,

for not wanting to understand.

I don’t want to understand.

I want to be

elsewhere.

-Nina Guttapalle

Featured in Vol. 1 Iss. 3
Featured in Vol. 1 Iss. 3
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