How did your aadhya kumbasaaram (First Confession)go? asked my father. He was standing in front of the mirror, combing his hair, something which I loved watching. He was bald and beautiful, my father, with a less than half inch tuft of hair skirting the shining bald head at its base like a fading crescent moon. And Ichayan (as we called him) took ages combing it. Fascinating, the concentration with which his hand followed the comb as the latter went over and over again over the crescent.
It was good, I replied. I was almost six years old. As an after thought I made a confession in a conspiratorial voice. But my repentance was imperfect.
The comb stopped its monotonous activity for a second as Ichayan looked at me puzzled.
Yes, I said looking up at him. In a very knowledgeable tone, I repeated what Sister Vincentia of the Nazareth Convent who prepared me for the First Communion taught me. There are the two types of repentance. Perfect repentance is when you feel contrite for having hurt the good God. The imperfect one is when you repent your sins for fear of hell.
And the lowering my voice, I told Ichayan I couldn’t feel sorry for hurting God. But I am scared of hell. It doesn’t matter if your repentance is perfect or imperfect so long as you don’t hide any sin.
Ichayan burst into one of his explosive laughs. The comb soon resumed its action. When it finally rested on the hair brush kept face up on the dressing table, the white opaque pyramid shaped old spice jar was opened and I watched, fascinated as he splashed the after shave lotion into his palm and then patted his cheek – chin area with it.
I love that smell I told him. Some more liquid was splashed on his palm and he patted my cheeks with that palm. I was delighted and forgot all about the imperfect repentance.
The next day was a Saturday. My first communion was to be on Sunday. I was pretty thrilled about that one free day between the First confession Friday and the Holy Communion Sunday. I had exciting plans like climbing trees, playing kili and taking part in the cricket match scheduled for evening. My role in the match was that of a stepney batsman for both the teams (comprising my siblings, cousins and a 'madras Swami' who was my father's business partner) and of the ball boy to pick up the ball when one of the batsmen managed to connect the bat and the ball well. I loved the way one of my brothers imitated Vizzy, the commentator and went into squeals of ecstasy when some one was bowled or someone hit a ‘six’.
Saturday dawned. After breakfast, I was about to run out with my brothers to play kili when amma called out to me and said Get ready. Let’s go to Nazareth Convent.
Crash!!! Down came my dreams for the day - like the twin towers.
But why? I am free today. Mild hysteria in the voice.
Get dressed quickly. Don’t argue.
I didn’t argue because my soul was clean after my First Confession and the next day was my Holy Communion. Dejected, I went with amma to the Nazareth Convent.
I saw amma talking to Sister Vincentia who was nodding vigourously. Then she seemed to place a consoling hand on amma’s elbow.
Amma then left, leaving me in the Nazareth convent.
“Molly, you Know God is good?’ asked Sister V.
“Yes.’ I said sulking.
“You know he loves you”
I nodded in agreement though I was not very sure at that moment. Surely a God who loves me wont let me down like this, demolishing all my dreams for the day. He must have known how much I wanted a break from Him and from the two weeks of rigorous catechism lessons at the Nazareth Convent.
‘Then why aren’t you sorry that you hurt him when you sinned?”
So that was it! Ichayan had let amma into my confession secret, which he had found hilarious – but which amma couldn’t.
“I don’t know. I can’t feel sorry. I don’t know why”. Those were days when I hadn’t learnt the art of telling white lies. A lie – black or white - is a lie, and Thou shall not lie, says one of the commandments.
Then Sister V launched into a litany of the good things God has given me - good parents, good brothers, good school, good friends, food to eat, and good dresses, gold ornaments, car, dog - - --. The list was endless and I must confess that I was beginning to get impressed.
And then she turned herself into an advocate for the divine creator, presenting proofs of his great love. Her voice changed. Her eyes turned upwards on and off. Sometimes they rolled at the evidence of divine love. But what touched me – really and truly – was the way they became moist when she plunged into a superb narration of the great love which made God send his son to the earth and the shabby manner in which humans treated him. She got explicit about the passion of Christ. She shuddered and wept at every stroke of the hammer which sent the horrendous nails deeper and deeper into Jesus’ palms, feet. Held spell bound by the master story telling, I too shuddered whenever she did.
At the end of her histrionics, I was in tears.
And then she moved in for the kill.
“You were one of them, Molly. One of those brutal soldiers who tortured Jesus. Every sin you committed gave extra force to the blows of the hammer, the pain of the crown of thorns. Think, Molly ,Think, what you have done to your Lord”
I dissolved into helpless tears and asked pardon of my Lord for hurting him so much - --