I Remember, I Fear
Once every year, a good week after the first new moon of Ashwin, if you walk down the shore, southward from the embouchure where the Budhabalanga meets the Bay of Bengal, salt on your skin, wind in your hair, sand between your toes, you will find frozen in time and earth the ten-handed warrior Goddess, the eternal Mother, by her roaring lion. Her eyes, calm like the spring skies, gaze into the horizon where the sea and the sky form a liaison. Her trident strikes the final blow upon her nemesis, the Mahisasura. Her children—the Goddess of wealth, the Goddess of learning, the warrior God, and the elephant-headed God—stand tall on either side with an owl, a swan, a peacock, and a mouse.
I remember finding them shaded underneath the chadowa—a holy cloth in patterns of red and white—inside a makeshift bamboo pandal, draped in bright orange and fuchsia fabric.
I remember a raging fire upon a brick altar, a fire, who I was told was sacred, was alive, and a chanting priest fed him ghee.
I remember hypnotic rhythms from a man beating his sticks upon the membrane of a dhak and a boy hammering a thick piece of wood, the size of his palm, on a gong bell; both frantic, both poised.
I remember cotton wicks dipped deep in mustard oil, burning bright in a hundred and eight clay lamps, braving the winds.
I remember sea and camphor curling into a riveting and unusual aroma.
I remember feeling safe, because the storms in me had ceased—even if for only a moment.
But I fear.
I fear revisiting that place where I saw Goddesses and Gods for the first time, not their idols but in flesh—whatever that means.
I fear my mind, the memories it must have essayed in order to preserve, for perhaps, what I will find is far from what I chose to remember, because I may believe a hut is a fort.
I fear time, for perhaps, I will find ruins of what used to be, because the Goddess picked another shore.
So, I will tell you this:
If you find yourself on those shores where the Budhabalanga meets the Bay of Bengal, around that time of Ashwin when the Goddess comes home with her children, I pray you regale me with lies, with stories of how that shore lies unchanged, anchored in time, my memories unfrayed, and do so without guilt, otherwise—
I fear I may fracture under the weight of decay.
Tejaswinee Roychowdhury lives in West Bengal, India, and writes fiction, CNF, and the occasional poetry. Her work has appeared in Ongoing, Alphabet Box, Kitaab, Roi Fainéant Press, Third Lane, and Borderless Journal, among others. She is a lawyer and currently, also a Fiction/Stage Editor for The Storyteller’s Refrain. Twitter: @TejaswineeRC