The Lakshmi Puja Question

Two weeks ago* I was invited to a party in the Indian city of Kolkata where I have been living since the beginning of the year. The evening was dedicated to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, the patroness of fortune, affluence and prosperity. Our hostess and good friend, Jeena, was wearing a red saree with a bunch of keys tied to the tip of it — a cute local tradition. Everyone around, both men and women, were also dressed in traditional Bengali outfits, mostly of red color, and in one of the corners of her apartment there was a place with a little Lakshmi statue, lots of small lights and gifts to worship the goddess.

As you probably know, India is ambiguous as it comes to its stance in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian war. That is caused by historical reasons and, in particular, the friendly relationship the country had with the Soviet Union. So when Jeena introduced me to the other guests sitting around on the sofas in her living room, she proudly added: ”Iryna is Ukrainian and she has explained to me that this tension and oppression on the part of Russia has been there for at least four centuries already, it’s nothing new at all” — and invited me to continue. After just a few moments, as I felt my audience was not much interested in the topic, one man sitting at my side tried to cut me short. Or maybe I just got that impression because he seemed to be enjoying his festive snack more. “So, everything is destroyed there, in Ukraine? Is there anything functioning?” — he asked.

Normally, I would respond differently, but, bearing in mind the visual representation of the war on Indian TV, I took a slower and a more determined approach. What I saw on the Indian news was more like a fragment of a video game, with the screen divided in two parts, Zelenskiy on one side, Putin — on the other. A video of a city devastated by Russian bombs. With graphic elements and animation, to make it look like a video game. Unfortunately, I couldn’t read the scripts, but the overall impression was quite bizarre. Rather quickly the news ceased to be broadcasted, as did the interest of my interlocutors at the party.

But at least I managed to say that the country is fully functioning. That on that day the opening of a huge bookstore took place in Kyiv. That the pits from the bombs in Ukrainian streets are gone overnight and new businesses are opening. Despite the air alert sirens, despite the problems with electricity, despite all the anxiety and risks my people face to carry on with their daily tasks and with the fighting for my country at the frontline.

If you want to explain it in Hindu terms, goddess Lakshmi has never left my country. They say, Ukrainians have changed the general image of a refugee — well-off, well-dressed, well-educated and well-European, escaping from the bombs, and not from poverty, and going back to their homes as soon as it becomes possible. Even if it was still dangerous. But home is home.

* This text was written on October 31, 2022 — Editor’s note

Author: Iryna Vikyrchak, Ukrainian writer

Literary Editor: Halyna Pekhnyk

Illustrator: Victoria Boyko

Content Editor: Maryna Korchaka

Program Directors: Julia Ovcharenko and Demyan Om Dyakiv Slavitski