Forward Freethought winner — Harini Pootheri

Harini Pootheri

By Harini Pootheri

“To lose a mother is like losing the sun above you.” — Life of Pi, by Yann Martel.

Sometimes, I wonder why I am the only life form that does not have a mother. Every being that is alive, even a cell, has a mother. After all, it is plausible that life begets life. However, in my case, it appears that death begets life. 

On March 15, 2012, the sun above my head disappeared, and dismal clouds began to pour. My mother, Vijaya Lakshmi Natarajan, died one year before Peter Higgs won the Nobel Prize in physics for discovering the Higgs boson, also called the “God particle.” When my mother came to the United States in 1991 with my father to pursue a better life, they could not even afford a plane ticket. Hailing from distant Tamil Nadu, India, my mother’s auspicious last name was the only possession that she could hold onto in a foreign country. Her last name, Natarajan, was a symbolic representation of the nature of God — but not in the traditional sense of an all-knowing creator living in the skies. 

However, Natarajan represents the most fundamental aspects of quantum physics, a ubiquitous God residing within every form of life. In front of CERN — the particle physics lab where Higgs discovered the “God particle,” stands a statue of Natarajan. The Higgs boson is depicted as the form of Natarajan because it contains no physical matter. Higgs’ discovery proved that although 99 percent of this world is composed of non-physical matter (known as Shiva or that which is not) — the remaining 1 percent is made up of physical matter (known as Shakti or inner strength). 

The theory of Natarajan differs from the traditional heliocentric religious concept of God, as instead, it postulates that God is not the external sun, but rather within us. All humans can learn to harness their inner strength, but one must first lose their external sun and conquer the impenetrable shadow of an eclipse. My mother’s core philosophy of Natarajan, the sun within, allowed her to fight until her last day, when she tragically committed suicide in front of my eyes. The moment she swallowed the last of the pills in the line-up of bottles, she gave me the same look the sun gives the moon before it sets. It was a look of silent defeat — my mother knew she had lost her battle and had accepted the inevitable darkness to envelop us both. I lost the sun that shielded me from my father’s beatings all of those years, the sun that absorbed the black and blues, the sun that warmed my cheeks after a tear ran down it, but most notably, the sun that welded my broken spirit when the weight of the world crushed it. 

Furthermore, by losing my external sun, I found the sun that is inside of me. Subsequently, I came to understand that the fundamental truth my mother taught me was that “suns do not surround the Earth.” In another sense, we do not need much to survive at the end of the day, only our inner strength. By embracing the oppressive darkness caused by the sun disappearing above my head, I found the light within. As a result, growing the sun within allowed me to unify my identity as each move to another foster placement shattered it. 

Like the nonphysical nature of the Higgs boson, although my mother would no longer be with me physically, she will forever reside in my inner sun. 

If I could say one last solace to her soul, I would tell my mother that her belief in Natarajan was proven true by the discovery of the “God particle.” Thus, I would like to honor her steadfast faith in the power of the sun by developing my personal philosophy and obtaining my undergraduate degree in philosophy with an emphasis on law and society at Cal Poly Pomona. My goal in the future is to become a judge and help at-risk youth in the foster care system build their inner strength and develop their philosophy as I did. Due to growing my inner sun, I could focus my efforts on developing my future and pursuing higher education. 

Harini, 18, attends Cal Poly Pomona.