It always frustrated me that Pushpaben would tease me mercilessly about my silver jewelry. No matter that they were designer pieces from the 50’s or from prized workshops in Taxco, Mexico. They weren’t 22 carat gold; everything else in India is the equivalent of wearing junk jewelry.
Once I showed up in her home wearing a favorite pair of 10 carat gold vintage earrings from Mexico. The exquisite filigree always garners compliments. Pushpaben turned up her nose. She insisted that they were copper. Pushpaben may sound like a snob but she is simple and humble. This notion stems from her religious beliefs. She worships Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. One can pay homage by adorning oneself in gold. How wily of the gods to come up with this angle.
As a Westerner (and probably a heathen in her book) I am forgiven and allowed my idiosyncracies that include a penchant for silver jewelry. The last time I visited her, I wore a pair of 22 carat gold post earrings that I had bought a few years back before the price of gold had sky-rocketed. I knew that she would notice them. She made a comment immediately, something about it being about time that I wore the proper kind of jewelry.
After the most delicious lunch imaginable I was sent to the bedroom to take a siesta along with the rest of the family. Pushpaben covered me with a blanket and climbed in beside me. It was my first meal in her new house. They had lost their home in a devastating earthquake and had been issued a small plot of land in a re-settlement district outside the downtown area where they used to live. Very gradually they built their new home. It was beautiful and they were very proud of it.
We spoke of many things in our special language-a mix of English, Hindi and Gujarati all jumbled up, relieved that no one else was listening. I told her how magnificent her new house is. She fingered the chain that encircled her thin chest and smiled. She looked so happy that I didn’t expect what came next. “I sell my gold to finish house.” I was stunned. I looked at her chest and only then realized that the long and heavy gold chain that she always wore was missing and so were the bangle bracelets that used to line her slim arms. She was proud of her contribution. In her heart, her devotion to Lakshmi was in part responsible for her new home. After, we fell asleep, each with our own dreams.
I awoke refreshed but felt that Lakshmi was shaking me, beckoning me, calling me. Pushpaben was in the kitchen making tea. I sat down in the living room. Pushpaben brought the tea out. She saw me looking at a sticker on the floor by the steps leading up to the next level. “Lakshmi feet.” She explained. “Goddess welcome. Good luck she bring.” Lakshmi somehow seemed closer and more real. Pushpaben served the tea. Outside I could hear the voices of the children playing.