Scattered, walking: The point of no return
By Lopa Banerjee
“Memory is a passion no less powerful or pervasive than love. It is [the ability] to live in more than one world, to prevent the past from fading, to call upon the future to illuminate it” – Night, Elie Wiesel.
My winter coat is unbuttoned, my feet are sweating under the thick shield of my leather boots, my gait is controlled, yet faltering. I falter, standing awkward and nervous, in the midst of a huge, never-ending congregation of a writer’s conference, with nameless, faceless humans. I am looking at this assembly of people, pure, artsy, conceited and fascinating, talking to each other, ignoring each other, humming, chewing bubblegum, laughing, brushing past each other in practiced grin. I stand like a shadow, forlorn and unrecognizable in the huge crowd, weighed down by the crushing presence of published authors, editors and the literati at the Sheraton Convention Center, downtown Seattle. In this mango blossom of eclectic Caucasian faces, measured conversations and plastic smiles, I ask myself, in a somnambulistic trance: “Do I fit in, anywhere here?”
I have taken a scenic ride in the light rail all the way to the gleaming downtown, moving past the unknown houses, neighborhoods and quaint little train stations, while being a passive onlooker to my co-passengers, authors and poets, who have laughed and frolicked, celebrating their books and the coveted, unexpected sunshine of late winter.
“Where have you come from? Are you here for the conference? Do you write?” A bespectacled writer, well into her late fifties, asks me, looking at my conference badge, tangled around my neck.
“I am coming from Nebraska, the Midwestern state. Yes, I do write some poetry and prose, scattered pieces, here and there.” I reply.
“And do you have a home back in Nebraska? A family?”
“Yes, I do have a husband and two little girls, five and three years old!”
“O wow! That’s quite handful! But you do look like you belong originally to…”
“To India. Have you heard about Kolkata, formerly called Calcutta?”
“O yes, I have. Mother Teresa’s missionary is there, right?”
…Our conversation continues for a brief time, and when the train halts at the terminal station, all of us step out, carry our luggage and walk our own ways, dissolving in the busy city streets, underneath the buildings, the concrete structures and the giant skyscrapers. I am the sheepish wanderer, walking the uncertain miles of this friendless, unknown city, while deep down within, my mind revisits the grave of memories like a long lost pet, to feel the dust, the smell of old worlds, forgotten, lame, shoved far back under the weight of tomorrow’s pregnant promises.
Each day, I munch on my half-baked love songs and old letters, gulp down my rejections, while stumbling upon today’s repetitions and the steady, insistent growth of change. Deep down within, I keep on playing with the mere imprints, with old suitcases of memories, with the speckles of dust over the childhood photo of my mother and me that stands, unnoticed, among a pile of pots and pans over the kitchen countertop. I touch the tinge of grey of the statue of ‘Ganesha’, the Indian God that she had once gifted me as a token of good luck. Revisiting memories and messages, I become her old cell phone, lost and stolen, haunting like a shadow of our lives lived together. The distance between us becomes the sleepless summer nights when we sweated and stuttered in the heat; the distance now becomes the parcels and letters shipped across seas that would never reach; the distance becomes the loneliness engulfing me, as I close my eyes so tightly that they burn.
Today, I stumble over, walk through the sudden bumps and ridges of this bustling, unknown city, thinking of the fading moments, minutes when I had watched old, familiar faces, glimpses of my old, forgotten home through the computer screen. I have wrapped my arms around newer, greener pastures, my fingertips wiping off the tears of my past, waiting for me, like a stranger, at the other end of the horizon. They walk, hand in hand with me; they accompany the black halo of my hair, dripping across my bare shoulders like a pale, ghostly touch. Oceans away, my chest creaks like an old wooden door. The flower buds, the raindrops, the mossy ponds and the wild geese of my old, juvenile days spring wide open, bounce and chase each other, as I continue walking the streets with my backpack, past the leafless trees, the busy pedestrians and the shops, my mouth hunting whispers as they turn into silhouettes, abruptly before dusk.
At home, ten thousand miles away from my verdant memories, I cook, water plants, feed, write and rewrite as I wander aimlessly in crinkled corners of my girlhood. I collide with the shadows of my past, both staying our separate, ubiquitous selves. Together, we wake to the early morning frost and the sullen smoke drifting to the far-flung corners of the sky. Our dreams are the pebbles thrown in the small water bodies, long buried and lost, rippling, from time to time, with feeble waves as childhood vignettes drift through the musty room where we sleep. Dreams fade, die and enliven every day as rippling mirrors– their voices, lovely, young and old.
I look at my migrant trails, my periodic returns to the finite and infinite spaces of my life, looking through the window of my soul into both the infinite and the little, unceremonious particulars of my present moment. A number of my friends have asked me why my childhood days in Barrackpore, a small town in the outskirts of Kolkata are important for me to remember. They have asked me why I would want to chase down my memories of Kolkata as an unsolved childhood mystery, and what are the revelations that I encounter with these memories. I guess it not only has something to do with my lonely, imaginative childhood, with my past heartbreaks and triumphs, my experiences with loss and grief, but also with an inner sense of regard, awe and reverence, as Elizabeth J. Andrew so fervently explains in ‘The Dilemma of Memory’, a chapter of her book Writing the Sacred Journey. It is this reverence that makes me revisit moments of my own birth when I gave birth to my daughters, makes me revisit the sufferings, revelations on the way to womanhood. It is this essential truth of my experiences that makes me revisit the events of death in my family.
Today, as I walk down the hilly ridges of the city, a stranger to its streets, the tangled beads of faces, I taste, chew and swallow this journey of mine, a journey where I uncover myself, a single, blessed inch every day.
Photo: Lopa Banerjee
Lopa Banerjee writes creative nonfiction, poetry, essays and book reviews. She is in her final year of studying creative nonfiction writing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She has written a a book-length collection of personal essays, and also a poetry collection, which has recently been accepted for publication. Her poetry, essays, and book reviews have also appeared and are forthcoming at Fine Lines, Prairie Fire, 13th Floor Magazine, About Place, Yahoo Voices, The Mind Creative, Northeast Review, and Incredible Women of India.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.