Homeward Bound

Suchismita Dutta

Homeward Bound: Whispers from a Pandemic Diary

The poems in this series are a reflection of border closures, covid-travel restrictions and the pangs of not being able to go home for two years. I associate home with the familiar smell of spices, the aroma of chai, the commotion caused by street-vendors, and the voluptuous bazars selling fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Like many others, the two “lockdown” years of the pandemic not only robbed me of the joys and intimacies of family dinners, playtime with my little cousins and reconnecting with the familiar scenes of childhood but it also restricted me from physically participating in mourning the untimely deaths of family members due to covid; a loss that has left an irreparable emptiness in my life.

As we recuperate and heal from our losses during this time called the post pandemic, the poems in this series serve as a reminder of memories from a difficult time. 

Each poem is accompanied by a photograph that captures the sights, smells, and taste of Kolkata, my hometown in India. I took these photographs during my first home visit post pandemic.

At the airport

“I will be back next summer.”                                                                
said I, as I hugged Maa and Baba
They wiped their tears
And I, mine

Leaving behind the smell of spices,
the warmth of chai,
the big bougainvillea tree engulfing half our balcony
in a tight pink embrace
the big poster of Shah Rukh Khan in my study room
“The best Bollywood Hero!” written with a sparkly marker
Tears of separation
They wiped theirs
And I, mine

The first university graduate in the family
Baba’s pride and Maa’s little girl
It will be a wait of another year
They wiped their tears
And I, mine

“Bharer Cha,” or tea in an earthen cup

Next Summer

February; It’s a virus. Just like the common cold
“Don’t worry, Maa. This is temporary.
Yes, by summer everything will be fine.”
The summer sun will heal
it will kill the virus, doctors say
that summer passed
that winter too

Seasons disappeared into a void
along with thoughts of homecoming
“I will be back next summer, Maa”
The summer sun will heal
it will kill the virus, scientists say
that summer passed
that winter too.

The Yellow Taxi, Kolkata, India, May 2022


This variant is more dangerous.
“Baba, can you get the vaccine?”
There’s not enough for everyone
long lines at the hospitals
“Okay, hang in there. Please don’t leave home now.”

The cases are rising, our neighbor uncle, his daughter,
the old shopkeeper, the plumber, Raju, Baba’s friend…
All sick
Bodies piling up like leaves in autumn
Yellow, dry, wilted.
Only more putrid smelling, engulfing neighborhoods
“Please don’t leave home now.”

This variant is more dangerous
not enough hospital beds for everyone
long wait-times for the vaccine.
Your grandmother is sick,
and your uncle
only forty-five, young and exuberant
“Please don’t leave home now.”

Two family members, gone.

Howrah Bridge, India, May 2022


Two years later . . .

Landed at the airport.
The air is painfully humid
the spices have lost their aroma
the chai, as cold as an uninterested lover
a long and arduous sickness
and two years of neglect.

My big Shah Rukh Khan poster looks faded
dust, part sunlight from the west-side window
my room has empty cobwebs
perhaps the spiders have abandoned us.
A long and arduous sickness  
and two years of neglect.

My parents have aged
as if by almost seven years
but it’s only been two!
Their wrinkles, the faint cracks in the walls
that old beehive in our curry tree
empty, dry, dangling alone in exhaustion.

I gather my broken pieces together
I have aged too
as if by almost seven years
but it’s only been two.

Home, Kolkata, India, May 2022

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