I was around ten years old, when I got my first scar. In the temple, of all places. We were on a family vacation in India. We were in attendance for a distant cousins wedding. I didn’t much care at the time, but I was too young to roam around the streets of Hyderabad. My sister (three years older) and I were both confused at the whole tradition. Yes, we were Indians but we grew up in New Zealand, we weren’t used to weddings of this magnitude everyday. It was there that this poor wedding had to be paused to heed my injury.
There were hundreds of people gathered at the temple, a brigade of footsteps filled the echo accompanied by chants of old mystical hymns by priests dressed in white linen. There were men with long white beards, there were women dressed in white saris, making their way inside to watch the ceremony. It was an angelic sight. Alongside the temple was a large courtyard blanketed with a shiny marble surface, where the majority of noise was created by kids my age and older, playing football or running around aimlessly. We could hear pigeons fluttering above us, scoping out new areas to search for food. The temple was a pigeons paradise, there was always food scattered across the courtyard. I saw a man who looked well into his nineties (with his thin white beard down to his knees, and his skeleton body) feeding the birds, he sat on the hard marble floor with one leg folded and the other leg raised. I could hear him mock the pigeons cry, and scatter grains of rice around him. I thought he must have been a mad man by the way he was smiling, but now that I look back, I think he was genuinely happy.
A flock of birds were perched upon a shrine which was placed in the middle of the courtyard. It was one of the many gods idolised in this way. This shrine however was especially big, probably the biggest in the temple. It was no skyscraper, but for a temple, you certainly could compare. The shrine was shining in its glorious golden pose against the sun. The base of the shrine (also covered in gold) had scriptures carved into it, explaining the gods name, the mantra and the history. The shrine was enclosed by barbed wire, to stop it from being defaced by a crazy on-looker or a trespasser. These temples were literally a gold mine for thieves, especially those who have no affiliation with god or Hindu tradition.
My sister and I watched my parents join the end of the crowded queue to attend the ceremony. We told them we will wait outside, and come in later.
“Wanna play tag?” I asked my sister.
She replied with a shrug. I took that as a yes and we joined the company of the other kids in the courtyard. Naturally I was “it” and we began running around, crazy and wild just like my fellow brothers and sisters. We were just another drop in the ocean, it felt great, it felt like we belonged.
This is where the line gets blurry. I had to ask my sister what happened after. All I remember was, my nose pouring blood, and a sharp object — which felt cold like ice — pierce my nose. I remember crying in pain every time I inhaled. I remember the moments before too, I was running like a wild stallion, trying to outrun my sister. She was fast, I knew I was faster. I remember turning around to see where she was, she was miles behind I was good as gold. That’s when it happened. My sister came screaming toward me, a small crowd gathered around. My fellow brothers and sisters, the old man feeding the birds, my parents rushed over. They saw blood raining on the marble floor. My sister couldn’t take it anymore, she had to get some air. I stood there, pinned to the barbed wire, a piece of the wire shot through the bridge of my nose. It must have untangled itself from the fence, it was jutted outward, and my nose just happened to be its victim. My sister recalls an old women just beyond the crowd praying for me, she sat on the marble floor, bowed her head and repeated a mantra several times. The doctor separated the circle around me and carefully removed the wire, like you would remove a piece of meat from a shish-kebab. I got taken to the hospital right away, pools of blood covered the marble floor, the pigeons stood perched on the shrine waiting for their next meal.
Anytime I see a temple, I remember the pigeons, the shrine, the old man feeding the birds, the blood, and that damn loose wire. I run my fingers over the bridge of my nose, the scar still remains deep and memorable. I never got to see the wedding. The shrine remained untouched, the gods name was Jyestha — the goddess of Misfortune — I laughed at that.