Saturday 24 June 2017

Visa Temple by Sudha Balagopal

I lose Mother in the throng outside Visa Temple. A river of humanity walks around the shrine, singing, chanting. “Come, son,” Mother said a moment ago. Before I can protest, she's gone, borne on the tide of temple-goers.
Mother believes circumambulating the temple eleven times will make my brother's US visa come through. My engineer's mind protests, but I indulge my widowed mother's request and drive her here.
“Move,” a young woman orders. She stands so close, I smell the jasmine flowers in her hair.
“I'm not participating,” I tell Jasmine girl.
“Then, you shouldn't have come. You're in the way. Walk!”
Jasmine gives me a gentle shove. In moments, I'm swallowed by the crowd and walking alongside her.
As for Mother, only the residing deity holds the secret to her whereabouts.
My bare feet encounter warm stones worn smooth by thousands of devotees. The air heavy with incense and flowers, I hear coconuts thrown, cracked and offered in front of the sanctum.
Jasmine sets up a communal chant. Her bangles tinkle as she raises a shapely arm.
“Jai bolo, Govinda.” Her voice is deep, strong, earnest in supplication.
Responses reverberate from all four corners, “Jai bolo, Gopala.”
Echoes ricochet off the temple's walls.
I cannot accept any connection between a 500-year-old place of worship in an Indian town and the granting of US visas. Yet, hundreds visit each day.
I surrender to the collective pace.
When Jasmine falls silent, I ask, “How many more cycles?”
“Why do you care, non-believer?”
Curiosity. Are these her preliminary eleven rounds of praying for the visa, or the 108 thank-you circles after?
“So I know when to get off. I can't keep count.”
A woman extends a silver tray with flaming camphor, the aroma sharp, medicinal.
“Not telling. You don't believe.” Jasmine waves her palms above the flame, presses them to her eyes, embracing the energy.
“I don't wish to go to the US.”
As a heavy-set man jostles me, I teeter. Jasmine crashes against my body and I hold her up. She feels strong, sinuous.
“Sorry!” I;m apologizing for acknowledging sensation.
The light from the temple's oil lamps reflects in her eyes. The combination of camphor, coconuts, incense, flowers and history plant a curious yearning. I believe the guilt of losing Mother makes me breathless.
“I must go. Bye, Jasmine!”
“Who?” She reaches for her braid, scattering some of the flowers.
“Never mind. Good luck, although I don't understand why anyone does this.”
“Are you married?” she pushes back her hair, a challenge in her question.
Nervous, I laugh. “No.”
“You'll understand when you're separated from your spouse because of a piece of paper. I'll do a thousand rounds of this temple to be with my husband.”
Someone shouts my name.
“Mother!” I wave. When I turn around, Jasmine has disappeared.
In the car, Mother asks if I'll bring her back when my brother receives his visa.
I ponder before I answer.

(This story first appeared in Right Hand Pointing.)


  1. Loved this the first time I read it and more so now.

  2. Thanks, Paul!
    Also, I ought to mention that this story first appeared in Right Hand Pointing.

  3. Lovely to see your story again, Sudha. Ah, those smells!

  4. Gillian Walker25 June 2017 at 12:08

    Such an evocative story - great to read it again here.


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