“Somewhere in the distance, the sky broke into dawn. Darkness gave way to shards of light. Mohuli felt a tiny green shot rupture the hard shell of her soul, clawing its way out. Her heart no longer felt barren. It now held the promise of flowers, leaves, trees, and birds, and she was ready to make it rain”The Goddess’s Homecoming by Nibedita Deb
The passage above comes at the end of Shoshti, the first short story in a lineup of five. It ends the story of Mohuli, an artisan from a small village who finds some form of hope to latch on to.
And with the end, the story leaves an honest lesson.
Hope comes in many forms. It is sometimes misleading, like a mirage. And at other times, it is a blaze of light that can bring life to a dying soul.
The Goddess’s Homecoming is a collection of five short stories authored by Nibedita Deb. The five stories are modeled around the five days of Durga Puja. Every Indian has a basic understanding of Durga Puja. We all have grown up watching pandals come up at a nearby community centre or park every October.
Deb goes beyond this superficial understanding of Durga Puja and the culture behind it. She delves deep into the myths and legends behind Goddess Durga. The interweaving of these myths with real world narratives makes for a wholesome experience.
Durga and the meaning of womanhood
The five stories take us through the stories of five women. Some are dealing with their perilous reality, others remember the scars of a painful past.
In their sorrows and struggle, they all find some form of solace in the shadow of Goddess Durga.
Mouli in Shoshti (the first short story) finds a way to express her innate artistic brilliance. She becomes more than an obedient wife who walks around eggshells around her husband and his second wife. She transforms into an artist who has a vision and instinct for her trade.
In Ashtami (the third story in the book), princess Anjali simmers with temper because of the injustice she had to face many years ago. The scars of the injustice are still fresh in the mind of Anjali. This clouds her judgment and starts turning her into something she’s not.
In Navami (the fourth story in the book), Mrinmayee shows us a different side to Durga. She moves beyond the general tales of courage and wrath surrounding Durga. Instead, we get to see the Goddess in a different light thanks to an intricately woven narrative set in contemporary times.
Deb doesn’t delve into delicate prose to saddle the readers for a long period. She keeps it simple and provides readers an immediate pathway into her world. This style is common across all her five stories.
There is generous use of Bengali words in the story which naturally makes it more authentic. Deb takes care to explain the meaning of each Bengali word. This may appear a little jarring to Bengali readers or someone with a slight grasp over the language, but it’s not a major flaw.
The brilliance of the story lies in the cultural backdrop of each short story. Deb appears in full form when referring to legends and narratives. The first story for instance provides a magnificent insight into the five natural elements and a secret element at the end. Similar local and cultural narratives are repeated in other stories as well. Deb takes great care to explain the significance of each narrative and its link to the plot of the story.
The Goddess’s Homecoming is a must-read this holiday season. It takes us beyond the general perception of Durga Puja and delves into the myths and legends behind.
The overarching narrative centers on the idea of womanhood and its connection with Goddess Durga. However, some of the stories go beyond womanhood. They speak to a more human desire to do good and survive the odds.
You can buy the book here.