By Rituparna Mukherjee

Sulakshana looked outside her window. It was still dark outside. The 25th day of September, it was Mahalaya[1]. She had set her alarm for 4 a.m. and had woken up much before that. Her mind was a sea of thoughts that day, not anxious, she had a sense of excitement that she hadn’t felt in months. Somehow the night leading up to Mahalaya, and the sound of Birendra Krishna Bhadra[2] from her ear plugs filled her with a potent nostalgia.

She was hungry. She looked at the plums on her dining table. They embodied autumn to her and autumn, in Edinburgh, was truly one of a kind. She had loved the changing colours of the trees when she had first arrived in the quaint city to pursue her masters in biochemistry seven years ago. She had escaped the city she had grown up in. Not because she didn’t love it. She did. Dearly. But she felt constricted there. A deep introvert, she felt her voice stifled amidst the din of family and over-achieving friends. She had not considered it an escape of course. She believed she was fulfilling a very middle-class dream, that of being the foreign-educated daughter.

She had always felt somewhat burdened by her name. Her name to her carried the expectations of her parents and family, which restricted her already timid movements. In the early days in Edinburgh, her friends and professors would respectfully ask the appropriate pronunciation of her name. She would shyly oblige and after a few trials and errors she became Sue. She didn’t mind. She somehow found it liberating, as if her limbs were cut loose of the excess baggage. She enjoyed the anonymity, the distant politeness, the cleanliness of the place, the beauty of the countryside and the gorgeous cafes. But in the utter silence of the night, Kolkata whispered to her in her dreams like a capricious child. She would often see herself walking its streets on the way back home from school, especially in the month leading up to the Durga Puja celebrations — where the city itself like a beautiful maiden would prepare for the days to come, each day bringing in a new adornment, a banner in one corner, bamboo stands of the pandals[3], skeletal at first would be brimful of the local artistry. She would wake up suddenly to the smell of shiuli and kadam flowers in autumn and be a little dismayed to find herself in a cold and windy city with barely any known faces.

Mostly, she missed her grandmother and mother. They were mirror images of each other. Sometimes she liked to think of herself as their reflection, but she didn’t want to be as quiet. She had just submitted her doctoral thesis and was suddenly at a crossroad again. She would have to extend her visa to stay in this country and until that was resolved. She could not leave. She had been promising her mother that she would come home for a short while since pre-COVID times. Her mother had stopped asking after a few months. She never broached the topic herself. It lay fermenting like old rice. Sulakshana was both ashamed and afraid to touch it.

She was getting good job offers in multi-national conglomerates that would have made her life easier. But her heart lay in research. Her situation was peculiarly prickly. She had managed to save some money during her tenure, but she knew she was in for large expenses. She wasn’t sure if she had enough not to be billed an economic migrant. She could not stand the ignominy. She could only work for 20 hours per week that had largely limited her income. She had earlier applied for a U.S visa only to be refused for not having a CV[4] on her. Her stellar academic record had not mattered. She recalled her father’s worried face while adding up the numbers during her Master’s application. She had to show all the money upfront, the tiniest mistake would mean instant denial. She knew she was in for another round of the same sore process. It was a dead weight tied to her limbs. She longed to be free.

Meanwhile Birendra Krishna Bhadra was chanting- “Kuber dilen ratna haar”- the God Kuber gave the Goddess Durga a necklace of gemstones. She smiled.  She would listen to the Mahalaya’s Mahisasur Mardini, the slokas or chants invoking the descent of Durga to Earth, from her childhood. The entire family would wake up at the crack of dawn and listen to the radio with rounds of tea and biscuit. She would sit huddled close to her grandmother, a part of her saree put protectively on her to prevent her from catching cold in the transitioning weather. Her grandmother would often ask her questions such as- “Accha[5], let me see if you have heard it well. What did the God Biswakarma give the Goddess?” Or, “Do you remember how many names the Goddess has?” She would never tire of these questions, or of making garlands out of shiuli flowers, her grandmother’s favourite. The other day when she spotted dhuna [6]in the incense department of the store in Edinburgh, her eyes watered with a pain she thought she would never know.

The Goddess had killed Mahishasur and was coming to her family. She knew she would have to decide soon. She could see the faint light of dawn spreading in the sky outside her window. That was the same everywhere. The story of the homecomingof Durga would always end with dawn, symbolic to her in so many ways. She felt a lump in her throat. Perhaps it was time to return home after all.      

[1] The start of the descent of the Goddess Durga from her heavenly home to Earth, her paternal home.

[2] Birendra Krishna Bhadra (1905-1991), a writer, playwright and radio broadcaster whose rendition of evoking Durga on her journey to Earth is one of the best-known and best-loved by Bengalis across the world.

[3] Marquee

[4] Curriculum Vitae

[5] Okay

[6] incense

Rituparna Mukherjee is a faculty of English and Communication Studies at Jogamaya Devi College, under the University of Calcutta. She is a published poet and short fiction writer. She works as a freelance translator for Bengali and Hindi fiction and poetry and is an editor at the Antonym Magazine.  She is also an ELT consultant and ESL author outside of her work and research schedule.



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