The Hindi Word for Prayer By Shreya Khullar

The Hindi Word for Prayer

There are no temples where I live so
we rent out a rec center for worship.
I call it “Indian Church” to my white
friends in second grade, while we are
segregated based on who has a peanut
allergy and who doesn’t. A lump of sweet
butter lodges in my throat when they laugh at
my turmeric stained teeth. I try to remember
that a transgender man came to bless my birth.
A hermaphrodite like the Hindu God, Shiva, a
half-man, half-woman, whole-god. My
mother kneads incense into sticky rice balls
shaped like milk-cake clouds. The kind
served in Diwali dinners with stumbly dancing
and hymn. My name is a Sanskrit word for
auspicious, and I can bless the rain we
wash our vegetables with. I can entice
worship with just three ingredients. Half
marigold used to decorate gold pleated idols, half
question asked by an inquisitive second grader
Is this who taught you to appreciate real food?
half poem by a girl devoted to the cavity of religion.
A blessing calculated as one hundred and fifty percent.
The tax of carrying my culture on my skin like a
tattoo tightens my lips when I speak in foreign tongues.
In this life, the cost of sweet creams and sour curries comes
at around half a second grade soul, half a heart of a mother
whose child no longer enjoys the food of her ancestors, and
half a plate of julienned marigolds for my country’s idolatry.
So when they question how my mother can taste the hum
of pulsing earth and drink the sky, I tell them
Yes, this is who taught me to appreciate real food.

By Shreya Khullar


Shreya Khullar is a junior in high school from Iowa City, Iowa. She was born in India and has been learning classical dance since she was three feet tall. Shreya is usually curled up with a book in her bed, and when she’s not reading, she can be found watching romcoms on Netflix or crying over her physics homework. Her work has previously been published in Hypernova Lit and recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

One thought on “The Hindi Word for Prayer By Shreya Khullar

  1. Thank you for that beautiful poem. I’ve been fascinated with the very rich culture of India since writing for a South Asian newspaper in the early 90s, before you probably were born. 🙂 Your food, music, dance, history, religions, languages, and wisdom have much to offer the rest of us.

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