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Life of Pi (part 1 chapter 15)

2006-08-22 21:08

  Chapter   15

  His house is a temple. In the entrance hall hangs a framed picture of Ganesha, he of the elephant head. He sits facing out-rosy-coloured, pot-bellied, crowned and smiling-three hands holding various objects, the fourth held palm out in blessing and in greeting. He is the lord overcomer of obstacles, the god of good luck, the god of wisdom, the patron of learning. Simpatico in the highest. He brings a smile to my lips. At his feet is an attentive rat. His vehicle. Because when Lord Ganesha travels, he travels atop a rat. On the wall opposite the picture is a plain wooden Cross.

  In the living room, on a table next to the sofa, there is a small framed picture of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, flowers tumbling from her open mantle. Next to it is a framed photo of the black-robed Kaaba, holiest sanctum of Islam, surrounded by a ten-thousandfold swirl of the faithful. On the television set is a brass statue of Shiva as Nataraja, the cosmic lord of the dance, who controls the motions of the universe and the flow of time. He dances on the demon of ignorance, his four arms held out in choreographic gesture, one foot on the demon's back, the other lifted in the air. When Nataraja brings this foot down, they say time will stop.

  There is a shrine in the kitchen. It is set in a cupboard whose door he has replaced with a fretwork arch. The arch partly hides the yellow light bulb that in the evenings lights up the shrine. Two pictures rest behind a small altar: to the side, Ganesha again, and in the centre, in a larger frame, smiling and blue-skinned, Krishna playing the flute. Both have smears of red and yellow powder on the glass over their foreheads. In a copper dish on the altar are three silver murtis, representations. He identifies them for me with a pointed finger: Lakshmi; Shakti, the mother goddess, in the form of Parvati; and Krishna, this time as a playful baby crawling on all fours. In between the goddesses is a stone Shiva yoni linga, which looks like half an avocado with a phallic stump rising from its centre, a Hindu symbol representing the male and female energies of the universe. To one side of the dish is a small conch shell set on a pedestal; to the other, a small silver handbell. Grains of rice lie about, as well as a flower just beginning to wilt. Many of these items are anointed with dabs of yellow and red.

  On the shelf below are various articles of devotion: a beaker full of water; a copper spoon; a lamp with a wick coiled in oil; sticks of incense; and small bowls full of red powder, yellow powder, grains of rice and lumps of sugar.

  There is another Virgin Mary in the dining room.

  Upstairs in his office there is a brass Ganesha sitting cross-legged next to the computer, a wooden Christ on the Cross from Brazil on a wall, and a green prayer rug in a corner. The Christ is expressive-He suffers. The prayer rug lies in its own clear space. Next to it, on a low bookstand, is a book covered by a cloth. At the centre of the cloth is a single Arabic word, intricately woven, four letters: an alif, two lams and a ha. The word God in Arabic.

  The book on the bedside table is a Bible.

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