The Coconut

By MAHIKA CHAWLA

For the Desk of:

His Excellency Lord Ganesha
The Deities’ Office
A Point in Space
World’s Capital of Assisting Hindus, India

From the Desk of:

“The Coconut”
A Binary Woman
And a Proper Student
Living in the world’s center of Affluence and Pretentiousness
The Upper East Side (Manhattan)
New York, USA

Ganesha,

Sir.

Is “Sir” the correct prefix with which to address you? I’ll be frank and admit that I actually googled this. Then I googled if you were even male. So if “Sir” is not appropriate, then my sincerest apologies; I do not mean to insult you. But you knew this already, didn’t you? After all, you are a god and isn’t a god conscious of everything? If this is true, then you already understand that I don’t know much about you. I can vaguely recall a few of your epics and there are statues of you in my house, but I am not a pious Hindu by any means. See, I don’t believe I realize the potential of you, or even of faith. 

I understand that degrees of devoutness are subjective and measured within the confines of a broad spectrum. Yet I feel guilty, sometimes selfish, when I reflect on my conventionally meager exercise of Hinduism, and my lack of motivation and desire to remedy this. 

I’ll tell you the truth: I think my relationship with faith is egocentric. For Christians, isn’t that the unavoidable sin: Adam and Eve indulge in self-gratification and all subsequent humans are inevitably damned at birth. That seems unfair. Then there's Sigmund Freud, who claimed that humans are helpless to their unconscious desires. What does this have to do with Hinduism? I don’t know. Honestly, religion, specifically mine, confuses the hell out of me. Thirty million gods, each with their own specialty, is daunting. Do I pray to all of them, or only to the few who specialize in the topic of my prayers? Are the others then offended? 

Ganesh Sir, in the end, I pray to only you because you’re distinguishable. Alongside having an elephant’s head, and I say this with the utmost respect Sir, you are the most profitable. You see, I pray when I have obstacles; you are “The Remover of Obstacles.” I hope you’re understanding my logic and that you will explain it to your colleagues, should they feel offended when I don’t call upon them…     

Sir, I feel I must establish something: I am taking advantage of your system with ignorance, not malice. I do regret my inability to acknowledge other gods, therefore my demanding relationship with you fills me with remorse. Never have I fasted or provided offerings, yet I constantly feel your association when my problems are suddenly abated. So I thank you for your unparalleled generosity.   

Now if I am to forgo all the religious bullcrap, this is the conclusion: I am still virtuous. Often, I have been called a nun, and then my psyche a nunnery. I’ll explain it to you. With no intention of sounding toady (or Catholic), I believe the habituals: no stealing, killing, cheating, etc. Then I believe more: the demeanor of privileged teenagers - more specifically their lack of down-to-earthness - is unethical. But we’ll get back to this… 

The nunnery has accepted other sisters like me, one of whom is the Virgin Mary because we both understand the dullness of having so many names. I consider only two of mine relevant. The first, Chotu (meaning small), is on account of my family. More accurately my extended family who all live in India. My dad is the youngest of six siblings who each have children. Naturally, I am the youngest of said children, hence the name. Everyone calls me Chotu, even the children of my cousins who are bizarrely older than me! If it seems weird Sir, I assure you the reality is weirder. 

My other name isn’t actually a name, but I feel it’s more telling than one. 

Now, as I stated before, Mr. Ganesh, a god such as yourself is well aware of all matters and people. But, if I’m mistaken, and you are only concerned with those of the Hindu religion, then I need to explain these circumstances to you in depth. I don’t question your knowledge, I just want to be safe. Anyways, in the elite, American school I attend, students are predominantly wealthy Caucasians. It’s easy to differentiate me by my skin but not by my behavior. A friend of mine harmlessly stated this one day, calling me a Coconut. Really I can’t tell if I like it or not, or even if I disagree with it. 

If you think about a coconut, it’s brown on the outside but with a white interior -- synonymous to myself. While my skin is Indian, my behavior and lifestyle isn’t. I don’t conduct myself like my family in India would. On a superficial level, I say ‘Merry Christmas’ but never acknowledge Diwali. I treat Indian food as a cuisine and not a typical, home-cooked meal. I live on the Upper East Side: modern, lacking any sign of Indian influence, and complementary to the sterile, high-class residential setting. Actually, I find this location pleasant. I like the consistent crowd I see, who wear two hundred dollar, casual jeans to the organic market on Sundays. 

But Sir, my parents are divorced and Mom lives on the Upper West Side, which is more eclectic, cultural, and less refined. Her house is furnished with Indian antiques, cloths, and figures of deities. Here, it’s not possible to forget Diwali. 

Maybe I should mention that Dad left India, abandoning his family and their conventions as soon as he could. Mom was forced to do the same on account of their arranged marriage. Sir, Dad hates India, you know. He really does. But how can I judge him for not resonating with the expectations and customs of his family when I don’t either? How can I when he has found his salvation in being a privileged American?

In any case, why did I choose to list The Upper East Side as my address above? Why do I then call it pretentious? You must have these questions. 

I’ve already mentioned that I like The Upper East Side. But I’ll also tell you that on my school’s website, Mom’s address is listed first. For several years, I have shamefully tried to change this and still cannot figure out how. It’s not that I’m worried about what my richer classmates will think of me. It’s because the posh, high-maintenance setting makes me feel safer, comforted almost. Upper East Siders are the same, and like the majority of students at my school. I know how to react and respond to what they say. On Sundays, I too peruse the grade A produce, but only after an hour spent with my SAT tutor. The occupants of The West Side aren’t always so predictable, and I can’t relate. They mention Diwali, and I know nothing about that. I do know that the wall unit at Dad’s house is made from ebony wood.

But then there’s another problem because I’m ashamed of that. I’m ashamed to like the wall unit more than the figurines of deities. I’m ashamed because I recognize and understand and, more than anything, appreciate the truth. The truth that when other elite students mention the Hamptons, I can talk about it as well but unlike them, I understand inferior places in the world. Also, isn’t this what I consider morally wrong anyways: to only acknowledge the privileged culture? 

The truth is, for me, to be an Upper East Sider is to be morally wrong. The truth is, if my family in India saw the wall unit, and the two hundred dollar jeans, and the SAT tutor, they would pity me. They would pity me for knowing the stores on Madison Avenue. They would pity my inability to remember the epics of Indian gods told to me by my grandmother. They would pity me for living the lifestyle that they consider idealistic and irrelevant. But they won’t ever tell me any of this. They’ll only tell me of my cousin, Prithvir Bhalla, in India who has just received a 98.5% on the Indian SATs. Prithvir will also be graduating high school with honors titles, isn’t it great? “Yes, and Indian Express newspaper just finished an article on Prithvir because he scored the highest in northern India! And in the article, he said he just focuses on his studies and sometimes plays cricket with his friends - he’s so modest. And Chotu, once a month he comes to the temple with us to pray for good results. We’ll go now and pray for you.” I’m only thinking, he definitely didn’t have a tutor. That’s why they're so proud. 

Then, a few days later, Mom brings me to the temple to pray. 

“Chotu, start praying. Don’t you want good results like Prithvir?” she says. But I don’t know who the god I’m standing in front of is, nor do I know their specialty. The plaque says ‘Brahma,’ but what does that mean? Sir, if I start praying to you, is Brahma offended? Mom has her hands folded and eyes closed and seems to be capable of communicating with him easily enough. I wish I could do that, but these surroundings just don’t make me feel anything. Actually, I feel uncomfortable standing here. 

Sir, did you know that coconuts grow in bunches? It’s true. On palm trees, they grow and ripen together in bunches. Once a coconut has completely ripened though, they fall from the tree to the ground. This part doesn’t happen in bunches, but each coconut does so separately. As each one hits the ground, it starts to roll away from the tree. One might roll in the vicinity of another coconut, or in a direction completely isolated from the rest. Regardless, they are no longer connected by the tree. If you ask me, I have already hit the ground but there are no other coconuts in sight. 

Anyways, yes, I want good results. My god, I want them so badly. More than anything, I do. I guess what I am asking you is if I can have them without the SAT tutor, but also if I can have them without calling on the gods. 

Yours forever,

Mahika Chawla
The Coconut
Of The Upper East Side