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This report is taken from PN Review 262, Volume 48 Number 2, November - December 2021.

Dying and living with de la Mare Subha Mukherji
On the last night of the blighted year just past, I suddenly woke up because I thought I heard a noise at the door: knock or whistle. I could not tell what hour it was. I stumbled downstairs to check my garden door and then my front door. Had I dreamt it? The whistle was a wild wind. The knock – it was someone, or something, I was sure, though my eyes just met darkness. But, like Bottom, and any audience in Shakespeare’s theatre, I was hearing sights (and perhaps seeing sounds too). In fact I thought I knew, for a minute, that it was Ma – my mother, who had died on Christmas day in Kolkata, while I was stuck here in cold and dark Cambridge, desperately and ceaselessly trying to get home to India through successive flight cancellations and Covid chaos. I was desperate because place seemed to matter. But perhaps it doesn’t to the dead. And it must not, to the living, when they want to hear-see the dead, and hear-say with them, against distance and spatial reality – a heresy best expressed not in prose but in poetic form, perhaps even in rhyme:

Someone came knocking
At my wee small door;
Someone came knocking,
I’m sure – sure – sure…

The theatrical analogy is pertinent. Ma was inherently dramatic: she took part in amateur theatricals all her life, wherever she found herself – from her crowded household with eight siblings as she was growing up, to stage-plays at social clubs later in life. She ...


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