"Repeat after me," Mom said, "Om Mrityunjay Mahadev..."
"Om Mrityunjay Mahadev...," I repeated like a parrot.
Calcutta (as it was known back then) had still not shrugged off the days of "load-shedding" and it was during one such evening during a power failure that Mom decided I was old enough to start learning Sanskrit shlokas.
I still remember the dark room, Mom sitting on a sofa and asking me to repeat the shloka aloud. After about 5 times, I confidently declared that I'd memorized it completely. Like all mothers, Mom knew that it would take a lot more than just five repetitions for me to "know it by heart". She made me repeat the shloka a couple of hundred times over the next few weeks for it to get firmly embedded in my consciousness.
I was in Bangalore (as it was known back then ~sighs~) and staying alone in my one room apartment in Koramangala. I haven't ALWAYS been regular with my daily prayers, but do get curious about religion from time to time. Add to that, I've always been fascinated by the personality that is Shiva. I don't remember where, but I chanced upon Neelima Chitgopekar's book on Shiva.
Whilst browsing, I was merely reading aloud the many shlokas which were scattered through the length of the book when something strange happened. One particular shloka, which I hadn't ever heard in its entirety, let alone memorized, struck a chord somewhere. As I went back and forth over it, I realized that I started singing the shloka in a particular metre.
I was puzzled. Where was this coming from? How was I being able to anticipate the next few verses of a hymn which had never been taught to me?
It took me a while to figure out that I had known this shloka since my childhood. All my growing up years, I had heard Mom repeat the shloka while doing her morning and evening puja. And yes, the shloka was repeated in the exact same metre that I was repeating it in now. I had never paid any particular attention to her while she prayed; I would be reading a book or running around the house like any normal kid. But somewhere, the shloka had stuck inside my head and today it was all coming back to me.
I realize I have been very fortunate in my life to have some fantastic teachers. I keep bumping into new ones even today, and boy am I grateful I do.
But the one teacher who I owe it most to is my Mom.
"Guru Govind dono khade, kake lagu paaye?
Balihaari guru aapki Govind diyo bataaye."
The Lord and my teacher both stand in front of me,
I know not whom to offer obeisance first.
The answer to which is, dear teacher,
You were the one who showed me the path to the Lord.
Mom, you continue to inspire me.