Shreya’s Rakhi

Raksha Bandan is a real holiday celebrated in late summer throughout South Asia. The holiday Narali Purnima/Poornima, which also falls during this time, is celebrated specifically in the coastal region of Maharashtra, India.

Shreyamadhi rather enjoyed it when her father was in poor humor.

It made the sea a shade of grey-green that displayed many more subtle shades of meaning than the usual color; the air had a sharper salty tang; and, the sky became a rumbling pale grey as her cousins sighed and drifted down to try and calm their uncle’s ill temper. She knew he was listening when gusts of wind flicked at the surface of the water, and the ocean reached up with a hundred tiny whitecaps to greet them.

For her part, Shreya liked to watch the drama unfold as she sat on a spray-slicked rock on the beach, where the rocky shore met the water. It was never anything she had done, and it was usually something that was, in her opinion, not hugely important; but she did enjoy, she admitted to herself, poking at the issue and then fleeing to the surface while her father’s court cleaned up the resulting mess.

Lord Varuna ruled the wind, and he ruled the sea, and in the days leading up to Narali Purnima, there was enough frantic activity, short tempers, and you-forgot-to-order-the-what?! in her father’s court that Shreya had learned it was best to simply stay out of the way.

So she would drift up and up towards the glowing silver barrier of sea and sky, emerging to sit prettily on her favorite rock and watch with detached amusement as the waves rose high and the stress levels rose higher. This also gave her an excellent vantage point to watch the human village of Koralai that sat some way behind the rocky shore.

She found it far more entertaining, anyway, to watch the human side of things as the villagers prepared for the festival that would grant them her father’s blessings and allow them to safely sail after the monsoons. How they gathered together on the beach to talk and laugh, painting their boats bright, eye-catching colors that did not exist below the waves; how they strung together garlands of pretty, soft flowers and draped them over the boats and over the entrance of their houses; how they donned their most colorful saris and kurtas as the festival drew near. She watched with fascination as they mended their nets and as they mended their boats, flimsy wooden things that they staked their lives on. That was what struck her the most: how fragile humans were, how incredibly delicate, and yet how they, again and again, risked their short lives to go forth and brave her father’s temper after the monsoons had passed.

Out of all the fishing villages that paid respects to her father, Koralai was her favorite. It was not the largest or the luckiest. Quite the opposite. It was a tiny village that stubbornly clung to the edge of the sea, had withstood years of destructive winds and storms, and recovered; had pulled up empty nets again and again, and survived; and despite all this, the villagers kept stubbornly returning to the sea. It often seemed to Shreya that this village and its inhabitants encompassed the best traits that humans had to offer.

As always, Narali Purnima took place on the first full moon of that month. The nights leading up to the festival grew brighter and brighter, with silver moonlight glancing off the boats and puddling between rocks. Shreya was strolling along the shore in her human form. As she walked, she stared out at the twinkling lights of the fishing village and breathed in the scent of sweet coconut rice. It was rare to encounter another being at that hour, which is why she almost stumbled over the human boy in her distraction.

He cried out from where he’d been kneeling and dropped a handful of seashells, which were greedily sucked back by the waves. The look he gave her when he stood, that of mingled anger and despair, was so painful that Shreya immediately felt terrible.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Here…” She went to the water’s edge and crouched, flicking her fingers. Chastened, the sea immediately returned the shells it had swept away from the boy. She turned, stood, and presented them to him. He looked  at her warily. Shreya estimated him to be around fifteen years old.

“Who are you?” he asked. He seemed equally cautious and curious.

“My name is Shreya. I live nearby,” she said. It was technically the truth. “Who are you? What are you doing out here, at night?”

“I’m Vijay.” The boy looked embarrassed. “I’m collecting shells. For Raksha Bandan.”

 Raksha Bandan? Shreya had never heard of this. But the boy was giving her an odd, almost defiant look, and she felt compelled to speak.

“Yes,” she agreed amicably. “Raksha Bandan. It’s…very…” She struggled for a descriptor. “…complicated?”

The boy’s look had changed from defiance to utter confusion. “Do you not know what Raksha Bandan is? What village are you from that doesn’t celebrate?”

Shreya frowned. “The only festival happening now is Narali Purnima,” she said, neatly deflecting. 

“That’s not true,” the boy insisted. “Raksha Bandan comes before. It’s a few days from now. You’ve really never heard of it?” When Shreya’s frown didn’t budge, he pressed on. “It’s the festival that celebrates brothers and sisters,” he tried.

This piqued Shreya’s interest. Her siblings were all much older than her, and she wasn’t particularly close to any of them. She was the youngest, and the demigods below the surface usually asked her to stay out of the way when court business was being conducted. Especially now, when her father was preparing to bless the thousands of fishing villages that begged his favor. It was exhausting work, even for a god, and the entire court, including her brothers, were tied up in the elaborate rituals that would need to be performed in order to properly bless—or withhold favor from, or even curse —all the humans that prayed, lit diwas, and offered coconuts to the sea. Shreya honestly couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a real conversation with any of her siblings.

“Brothers and sisters?”

“Well, yes,” the boy said. “See, the sisters tie a rakhi—” he pointed to the shells in Shreya’s palm, which she now realized were strung together into a bracelet “—onto their brothers or cousins, who promise to protect them forever, and always be there to help them. And then we exchange gifts!”

This sounded glorious to Shreya.

“What kinds of gifts?”

“Anything. I give my cousins jewelry I make out of shells and coral, and some of them give me sweets. Anyway, it makes everyone feel better for a few days, before Narali Purnima.” The boy seemed to deflate as he named the festival. Shreya stared at him. Narali Purnima was a great and vast celebration; it was the most important festival of the year in her father’s underwater court, and the days leading up to it were a blur of songs, dances, and performances. It was a time of year that, despite the stress, all the demigods living in the seas and rivers came together to celebrate and honor their bond to protect and serve the human world. It was a time of excitement as well, as her father unveiled which villages would receive his blessings for the year.

“What do you mean?” she asked. An uneasy feeling was beginning to uncoil itself in her stomach.

The boy closed his eyes for a few moments, his eyebrows drawing together. He seemed to struggle for a bit, then finally said, in a halting voice, “I guess it doesn’t matter if you know. Everyone else in the region knows. Our village is cursed by Lord Varuna.”

“Cursed?” Shreya echoed stupidly. She struggled to keep a neutral expression on her face. “Why…why would Lord Varuna curse your village?”

“I’m not sure. It happened before I was born. Everyone says that there was a bad storm one year, and we couldn’t perform the puja…or maybe we didn’t perform it correctly? I don’t know. A lot of houses were destroyed during the storm, and everyone was distracted. Since then, we’ve barely caught enough fish to feed ourselves.”

“We’ve tried, every year, to win back the favor of Lord Varuna,” the boy continued. “We light the diwas, and do the puja perfectly, and sing all the right bhajans. But nothing ever changes. It’s like Lord Varuna has decided that we should keep being punished for something that happened more than a decade ago.”

Shreya chewed her lip, annoyed. That sounded exactly like her father.

The boy reached out, and took the shells from Shreya. “I’m hoping that if I make a rakhi out of seashells, and offer it to the sea, maybe one of the spirits that live below the surface will accept it, and bless our village. I know it’s probably a waste of time, but….”

Shreya stared at him, her mind racing as several things she’d considered to be quite unrelated suddenly came together. It hadn’t occurred to her to wonder why the little village struggled so much. She’d never bothered to spend time considering the consequences of the puja for the humans in any great detail; after Narali Purnima, she typically fled the drudgery and structure of the court as soon as she could leave, shed her formal attire, and borrowed her father’s makara for a joyride along the currents. She felt a little ill now, thinking about how she’d watched the village’s hardships with a sort of detached fascination.

Driven by something she couldn’t quite place, Shreya stepped forward with the impulsiveness that had gotten her into trouble all her life. “I will tie the rakhi on you,” she said. “I am an ocean demigoddess. I will help your village!” And then she flung her hair back over her shoulder, to drift dramatically behind her. Unfortunately, out of the water, there was no buoyancy. Her wet hair flopped against her back like a dead fish, making an unimpressive splack.

The boy scowled. “That’s not funny.” He turned his back on her, and began to pick his way over the rocks, back towards the village.


He sighed. When he turned, his face a mask of irritation, Shreya summoned the waves.

The water came tumbling forward crest-over-foam in its eagerness to please the daughter of the wind god. The water swirled around her, rippling her lehenga and causing her anklets and bangles to twinkle. Once she decided that she’d shown off enough, she released the waves, which melted back into the ocean. She regarded Vijay, who was staring at her in shocked silence, with a smug satisfaction. There was no mistaking her for a human now. 

The boy fell to his feet in front of her. “Oh, Goddess—”

That had not been what she’d intended.

“You can get up,” she said impatiently.

He peered up at her from the rocky ground.

“Get up,” she said, exasperated.

“Who are you?” Vijay asked. He got up slowly, looking at her with a reverence she didn’t like. It seemed like a vast distance had opened between them, all of a sudden.

“Nobody,” she insisted. “I’m just…” she struggled as Vijay continued to stare. “…an ocean spirit,” she finished lamely. “I’m nobody important.”

The sea bubbled behind her in protest.

Vijay stared at her. “And you’ll…you’ll tie a rakhi around my wrist?”

According to Vijay, that would make them brother and sister. Shreya wasn’t sure how many rules this would violate, and she didn’t particularly want to find out. But as she looked at him again, she thought about being ignored in her father’s court by her siblings and by the courtiers. She thought of her cousins, floating back up to the sky after speaking to her brothers, barely glancing at her. She knew they thought of her as flighty and unreliable; she thought of them as boring and obnoxious.

“Yes,” Shreya said, and she was surprised at how happy she was. “I’ll be your sister.”

Vijay beamed, and then laughed. “I always see the same people in my village, every day. It’s been a long time since I met someone new. Especially someone my own age.”

Shreya highly doubted she was the same age as him, despite her appearance. She opted to stay silent rather than voice this.

Vijay’s face suddenly shifted, becoming serious. “But what about Lord Varuna? You said you’re just a common spirit, or demigoddess. What if his curse taints you or your family as well…?”

“My family aren’t fishermen,” she said airily. “We’ll be fine.”

Two nights later, Shreya lazily allowed the waves to push her onto shore, where she straightened up, holding a large basket. It held several fresh, silver-blue fish as well as vegetables that could only be found in the sea, taken from the royal kitchens. The cooks had grumbled, but Shreya had used a tone that warned of temper tantrums, and everyone had immediately, wearily, let her have her way. For good measure, she also threw in a handful of pearls that she had coaxed some oysters into giving her, wrapped carefully in the prettiest seaweed she could find. She hoped that the gifts would be enough.

Vijay was waiting for her on the rocky shore with a small knot of friends, as he’d promised. He jumped up when he saw her.

“You see?” he said to them happily. “I told you. None of our parents would believe me, either.” As he spoke, he set a small cloth bundle on the rocks, and unfolded it to reveal a metal platter with a diwa, a nut, a pile of dry rice, and two small containers with a red paste and yellow powder.

“Are you really an ocean demigoddess?” a girl asked. She regarded Shreya with awe.

“Sort of,” Shreya said evasively.

Vijay cleared his throat. “Okay, everyone,” he said, and there was an undercurrent of real happiness in his voice. “This is my friend Shreya—I just met her, but she’s really nice. She’ll be tying a rakhi around my wrist tonight. She’s going to help our village. Soon, our nets will be full of fish!”

Everyone cheered. Shreya balked. She’d never promised that. Is that what he’d assumed? She figured that she could give them some gifts, or enough fish for a few days, and leave it at that. Shreya couldn’t imagine any possible way that she could actually bless this village without her father finding out. She thought back with annoyance at how her servants always complained that she acted before thinking. She didn’t like considering that she’d just proven them right.

Vijay turned back to her. “My father didn’t believe me, either,” he said, smiling. “But when we set sail after the puja tomorrow, he’ll see.”

“Ah,” Shreya said weakly as her mind raced. She wondered how fast she could disappear back into the water.

Vijay sat on a rock on the windy beach, as his friends guided Shreya through the Raksha Bandan ceremony. At their instruction, she pressed her thumb against the red paste and the yellow powder (“Sindoor and turmeric,” the girl explained helpfully) and then pressed her thumb against Vijay’s forehead in the space between his eyes, the mark prominent against his dark skin. Next, she pressed the dry rice against the sindoor-turmeric mark before sprinkling the grains on his head, where they sunk beneath his dark curls. Finally she performed the aarti, pressing the nut to his forehead and circling it around his head, and then circling the platter with the lit diwas in front of his face.

“Here,” the girl said. She pressed the rakhi into Shreya’s hands. It was beautiful and well done, even if it was just made of small, humble shells. Despite its appearance, however, Shreya knew full well the power of oaths, and how promises could trap gods and spirits in a way that humans could never understand. She took the rakhi and stared at it a little fearfully.

“Tie it,” a skinny boy urged. His eyes were wide, and mirrored the anxiety in his friends’ faces. They all leaned in, staring at her.

With a horrible sinking feeling that she had plunged in over her head, Shreya slowly tied the rakhi around Vijay’s wrist. 

Nothing unexpected happened, and Shreya started to relax. “Here are your gifts,” she said, and presented the basket to them, filled with the treasures she’d brought.

Vijay stepped forward. “This is for you,” he said quietly. “It’s not much, but…”

It was a small basket filled with fresh flowers and fruit: large flowers that had soft, velvety petals; smaller flowers that released a heady, intoxicating fragrance; and soft berries that seemed ready to burst with juice.

“It’s perfect,” she said, and meant it.

Vijay beamed at her, and she smiled back, trying to suppress a dark tendril of doubt that kept rearing up in her heart. As she took her leave of the villagers, Shreya glanced back to see Vijay and the others staring solemnly after her, pressing their hands together in respect. The last thing she saw before she sank beneath the waters was Vijay’s rakhi glowing faintly on his wrist, though by moonlight or binding magic, she couldn’t say. She shivered, and let the water pull her home.


Lord Varuna barely glanced up. “Yes, beta?”

Shreya ignored the looks being flung at her by some of her siblings as they bustled through her father’s primary office. “Do you remember that one village, Koralai?”


“Oh. Um. It was the one that, about sixteen years ago, got hit with that storm, right around Narali Purnima?”


“Do you remember?”

“Not really.”

Shreya chewed her lip. “You don’t remember the village that you haven’t blessed for sixteen years?”

One of her father’s advisors, Daka, stepped forward. Shreya had a particular dislike for the pedantic, insufferable demigod who was half-fish. “Your father has thousands of villages to manage,” Daka said coldly. You can’t expect him to remember the details of every single-”

“Even the ones that should have been blessed years ago?” Shreya shot back.

Lord Varuna gave her a warning look. “Shreya.”

“I’m only saying,” Shreya said, backpedaling. “Maybe we should revisit—”

“I’m sure that the demigods and spirits in my court are reviewing the necessary information,” her father said shortly. He looked up at her. “Why are you suddenly asking about this?”

Now everyone was staring at her. This was the opposite of her usual experience, and Shreya squirmed at the sudden attention.

“Well,” she said cautiously, “I was just at the surface the other night, you know, to see the stars, and I happened to be near that village, Koralai, and I suddenly remembered that we haven’t blessed it in any ritual for sixteen years, and I started wondering why…”

“You actually pay attention during the Narali Purnima rituals?” her brother said bluntly. “You’re always picking at your scales or playing with your hair.”

She felt herself flush against the cool water. “I pay attention,” she said defensively. Her brother looked back at her skeptically.

“As I said,” her father said. “I’m sure Daka has it under control.”

Of course Daka was the one in charge of it.

“Schedule a meeting with him, if you’d like,” her father continued. “In fact—” he beamed at the both of them, and Shreya and Daka exchanged mutually disharmonious glances. “—this will be an excellent learning opportunity. Daka, be sure to include her in relevant meetings.”

Daka stared at Lord Varuna. “It will be as my Lord commands,” he said dully, flashing Shreya a look of deep dislike, mingled with exhaustion. 

Shreya didn’t know why she thought for a single moment that Daka would do anything other than say, “Don’t get in the way”, and bustle off down a palace hallway, bubbles swirling behind him. She glared after him.

“Don’t make faces,” he said without turning around as he disappeared around a cluster of decorative indoor coral. Clenching her jaw, Shreya hurried after him.

“How often do you review the list of villages to bless?” she said.


“How frequently?”

 “Frequently enough,” he said impatiently.

Shreya gave him a sideways look. “Dad says you have to train me.”

Daka let out a long exhale, his gills fluttering.

“So,” Shreya continued, “How frequently do you review the list of villages that my father blesses? How do you decide what villages get blessed, or reconsidered once a blessing has been withheld? Or reconsidered once it’s been cursed?”

Daka pressed his webbed fingers against his temples. “Narayana, give me strength,” he muttered. “Very well. Listen, because I’ll only explain this once. For each village, we check their history. We see if it’s been blessed in the past, or if blessings have been withheld in previous years. This is taken into account when reviewing how the village has conducted itself this year, how devoutly the humans perform the puja to pay their devotions to your father, and when we calculate their offerings.”

“So you use the past history of the village to decide, in addition to how they’ve behaved this year?”

“Precisely. All of this factors into our decision-making process.”

“Okay,” Shreya said. “But what about villages that have been cursed?”

“Villages aren’t truly cursed. Mostly it’s just a matter of blessings being withheld. Those villages go on a different list, which is reviewed every ten years.”

“Ten years? Isn’t that a lot, for a human?”

Daka spread his webbed hands. “That’s how it is.”

“So…” Shreya’s mind worked. “Why did Koralai not get blessed again? It’s been more than ten years—”

“Oh, well,” Daka said. “Sometimes we don’t get to review a particular village before the year is up. In that case, things simply continue as they were. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.”

Shreya stopped walking. “What?”

Daka didn’t even slow down. “We don’t have endless time or resources, Shreya. Sometimes things get overlooked.”

“Overlooked?” Shreya echoed. She hurried to catch up with Daka, and narrowly dodged a servant carrying a large chest of underwater incense. “Shouldn’t someone be reviewing that, specifically? To make sure—”

“Like I said,” Daka said, sounding tired, “We don’t have endless time or resources. I don’t have endless time or resources. I’m severely short staffed. And now—” he opened a door, and glared at her “—I have a very important meeting. No, you cannot sit in. This is for grown-ups.” Before she could retort, or protest, he shut the door in her face, causing a cascade of bubbles to float upwards.

“Piece of flotsam,” she muttered, and a passing servant gave her a shocked look.

“Overlooked?” Vijay gaped at her the next morning, aghast. His shock started to harden into anger, and Shreya instantly regretted telling him. “Is that how it is? Gods and spirits throwing away our lives?”

“No, no,” Shreya said quickly. “No, it’s not like that. I’m not like that,” she added, because she didn’t like the look that was blossoming across his face.

“But you knew?”

“I didn’t!” Shreya protested. The hurt on his face made her feel awful. “I don’t even pay attention during the rituals, so there was no way for me to-”

This was entirely the wrong thing to say.

“You don’t ‘pay attention’?” he echoed. “The most important festival of the year, the festival which determines whether we eat or starve, and you don’t pay attention?” She flinched at the coldness in his voice.

“That’s not what I meant,” Shreya babbled.

He stood up. The wind rustled his simple cotton kurta.

“Thank you for your gifts, Devi,” he said, pressing his hands together and bowing his head. There was a formality to his voice that made her panic. “Our village appreciates all you have done. I recognize that you are a demigoddess, and I am a lowly human, and I had no right to ask more of you.”

“Vijay,” she begged. “Look, I…you’re my friend, I…”

“I realize that our village is simply one of many,” he continued. “I understand you have your own duties to fulfill. I will take my leave of you now.” His face was expressionless as he turned to go.


When he disappeared around the bend without bothering to look back, Shreya began pacing the rocky beach in agitation, remembering the night they’d met on the beach. A desperate human boy, and a lonely demigoddess.

She had to make this right.

She took a deep breath. Striding into the ocean, she sang out: “Makara!”

The waves churned, foam against green, as her father’s mount broke the surface, its tusks slashing the air and trunk twisting. Taking care to avoid the lashing tail, Shreya seated herself on the beast. “Take me to my father’s palace,” she ordered, pressing her hands against its broad, scaled shoulders.

The makara turned its muscular body and dove through the waves, speeding home. As they cut through the water, Shreya’s mind raced. Narali Purnima was next week. It was likely that Koralai would once again be “overlooked,” as Daka had said.

Vijay’s voice hung in her ears, his tone icy and distant: You knew?

The makara glided smoothly into the stables, trumpeting happily. The stable attendants rushed over, relief and anger in their faces.

“You took the makara?” one of them demanded.

Shreya shrugged. “I had somewhere I needed to be.”

“Your father needs him when traveling for meetings,” the attendant raged. “Do you expect Lord Varuna to show up on a whale?”

“I brought him back,” Shreya pointed out, as she drifted into the palace. She let the door swing shut behind her, muffling the angry voices of the stable attendants. Around her, the palace was a bustling swirl of colors and activity as the court fussed about, making last-minute preparations for Narali Pournima. Shreya strode through the chaos, agitated. She didn’t stop until she reached her father’s chambers, where she halted to a jerky stop. She stared hard at the intricately carved marble doors, and realized that she had no idea what to say. Her mind was a swirl of emotions and guilt and a sinking feeling that if she’d simply paid more attention to court affairs, she might have anticipated at least some of this mess.

Muttering a curse, she spun on her heel and stalked back to her room.

“Leave me,” she ordered her attendants curtly. They exchanged worried looks, but left.

Shreya sat on her bed, staring sightlessly at the shell-studded walls of her room. After Daka had shut the door in her face, Shreya had spent the rest of the day in the palace library, looking through the ledger of villages that her father had not blessed. She had been horrified to see that several of the villages had not been reconsidered for more than fifty years. From watching humans, Shreya knew what a substantial amount of time even half of that was. Daka’s words hung in her ears: We don’t have endless time or resources, Shreya.

I’m extremely short staffed.

There was an idea bubbling up under her thoughts, one that she did not like. Shreya groaned, and buried her face in her hands.

“I don’t want to,” she mumbled into her palms. “I really don’t want to.”

Still, Shreya was painfully aware that she had been the only deity in at least half a century to revisit the old ledgers. Worse still, it had become clear that nobody considered it enough of a priority to care, despite the very grim implications it had for the human world.

“I really don’t want to,” she said, once more, for the sake of being stubborn, and when she stamped her foot, her anklets clinked sympathetically.

A week later, the throne room had been lavishly decorated with brilliant pearls and colorful live anemone studded into the walls, and large gold-and-silver vases stood against the wall, with elaborate branches of the rarest corals artfully arranged. The heady aroma of underwater incense floated through the water. The sages and priests had begun setting up platforms for the rituals whose effects would ripple through water and time, deciding the fates of millions of humans.

Shreya strode through the frenzy, her heart beating very fast.

She didn’t slow down until she reached her father’s private chambers, where two of his personal guards stood blocking the door. They exchanged glances when they saw her.

“I require an audience with Lord Varuna,” she said.

“He’s preparing for the ceremony, Rajakumari,” one said apologetically. “He asked to not be disturbed.”

“Okay. Tell him I lost the makara,” she said.

Both guards paled. “Tell him yourself,” the second one said, and opened the door to let her in. 

Lord Varuna looked up in surprise as Shreya entered. His servants were draping him in garments of rich blue and red, his neck and wrists weighed down by gold.

“You look wonderful, beta,” he said fondly.

Shreya had taken care to dress in her grandest, most uncomfortable clothes. If she was going to speak to her father, she needed to show him how seriously she took this puja, despite having not taken it seriously at all for the past several hundred years.

“Thank you, father,” she said, pressing her hands together respectfully. Before he could turn away, she cleared her throat. “Dad? There’s something I wanted to talk to you about. It’s about the festival tonight.” Before she could lose her nerve, she plunged ahead. “I…I realize that I haven’t taken as much of a role in Narali Purnima as I should have, in previous years. I’d like to change that.”

Lord Varuna looked at his daughter in surprise. “Change that?” he echoed. “How so?” His servants exchanged surprised looks, and it was not lost on Shreya.

“I…want to help. With the villages that haven’t been blessed.”

“We’ve already prepared the lists,” Lord Varuna said. “Beta, go talk to Daka. I’m still getting dressed.”

“That’s the thing,” Shreya pressed. “Daka hasn’t been keeping proper track of the villages that you didn’t bless. It…it needs to be re-examined. Some of those villages have been going hungry a really long time. I made a list of all the villages he overlooked, which need to be—”

 “Daka has a lot to do,” her father said impatiently. “I know you don’t like him, Shreya, and I know you two don’t get along, but he has several hundred villages to manage, and you need to understand that he is doing his best with the limited staff that he has-”

“I’ll be on his staff,” Shreya blurted.

Every single demigod in the room stared at her, and the attendants dressing her father dropped their pins.

“What?” her father said. His mustache swayed gently in the current. “Shreya, if this is a joke—”

“It’s not a joke,” she said wearily. “Look.” She held up a scroll that she had spent the entirety of the previous week working on. “Dad, this is a list of some of the villages that it looks like Dak…ah…various staff…have forgotten over the years. Some of them haven’t been looked at for thirty or fifty years. I know we don’t think of what we do as casting curses, but that’s how the humans experience it—it can be up to half their lives. And a lot of the villages have been trying to make up for past mistakes. I think that should count for something.”

Her father seemed to weigh what she was saying. “You are willing to work under Daka, and help him review these…forgotten villages?”

“Yes,” Shreya said reluctantly. Her tone was not lost on Lord Varuna.

“I appreciate your offer, Shreya,” her father said. He seemed to be carefully choosing his words. “But, I think that this is a job for a more experienced deity. Perhaps, in a century or so, you’ll be ready for this level of commitment.” He smiled encouragingly, and turned away.

“I want to,” Shreya insisted. “Truly.” She absolutely did not want to, not at all. However, if the alternative was for Koralai and other human villages to potentially starve to death, Shreya didn’t think she had a choice.

“You wouldn’t be able to just come and go in the palace any longer, Shreya,” Lord Varuna warned. “You’ll have to be there for all the major meetings, and stay for the entirety of all the rituals. You’ll have to work.” He spoke as though that word would be all that was needed to change her mind. It was not, she acknowledged, an altogether terrible tactic and until very recently, it would have worked. But too much had changed. She’d made new friends, promptly lost them, and now knew that they were sentenced to almost certain death if something didn’t change soon. There was no way that she could go back to her old life of drifting carelessly through the waves, despite that a (very large) part of her wished to.

“I know,” she said. “I’ve thought about it. I’m willing to work under Daka. Will you take a look at what I’ve written?”

Frowning, her father reached out and took the scroll from her.

There was a heartbeat of silence. Then two.

Then three.

“You made this?” He was giving her a look she couldn’t quite place, one that she’d only ever seen him give to her brother.


“This is very impressive, Shreya,” Lord Varuna said quietly.

Shreya looked down, embarrassed. “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I tried to include all the right information…”

“You did well enough for your first try,” he said. “Most of the information we need is here. The rest can easily be added. The villages, your reasoning for providing blessings, all the factors that should be taken into account for this type of analysis…” he trailed off. The look was dancing in his eyes again. “I can see that you’re finally taking your duties seriously. Very well. Consider your request granted. I’ll have Daka informed immediately.”

“Thank you, Lord Varuna,” she said. She pressed her hands together. As she turned to take her leave, she paused.

“What is it, beta?” Lord Varuna asked.

“I need to make a quick trip before the puja,” Shreya said. “Can I borrow the makara?”

The twinkling lights of Koralai were rivaled only by the warm glow of the diwas and lanterns on the beach. At night, they would put the stars to shame. On the shore, the villagers stood dressed in what little finery they had, their festival attire and their boats providing a splash of color against a pale, cloudy sky. They sang bhajans and chanted as they offered a coconut to the ocean, calling on the blessings of Lord Varuna. Afterwards, the men pulled their boats out into the sea, for the first voyage of the fishing season.

Flower petals drifted from the garlands draped around the boat’s bows, swirling on the surface of the water and washing up on the shore, sticking to the dark rocks as the boats made their way solemnly to sea. On shore, the women danced and sang and ate naralichi karanji, while Vijay and his friends lit more lanterns.

Vijay wasn’t sure when the first shout went up, or the second. He remembered clearly, however, when everyone on shore started shouting in unison, and looking up to see the boats returning, their nets heaving with fish. His friends rushed past him to greet their fathers and uncles, and he would have too, but a movement against the far rocks caught his eye. While the village was distracted, he ran towards the rocks and waded into the water.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” the demigoddess responded.

There was a moment of embarrassed silence, and then they both blurted: “I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Vijay said. “Truly.” He held out his hand. “Please. Come celebrate with us.”

Shreya felt a pang in her heart. “I can’t.”

As Vijay frowned, she pushed forward. “I want to stay and celebrate with you. Really, I do. But I need to make sure that what happened to Koralai doesn’t happen again. I need to return to my father’s court, right now.”

Shreya saw confusion turn into shock as Vijay absorbed her words. “Your father’s court? You…your father…”

“Yes,” Shreya admitted. “I’m not just an ocean spirit.” Her eyes dropped, and she saw sunlight glinting just below his hand. She reached out and gently touched the rakhi still dangling from his wrist. “You didn’t take it off? Even after our fight?”

“Of course I didn’t,” he said. Flower petals swirled around them. “You’re my sister.”

K.S. Shere