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World Poetry Day, 2021

Celebrating Poetry without Borders

“And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name”

(William Shakespeare, A Midsummer's Night's Dream,1596)

Like clouds float, words waft through currents of ideas and take shapes and forms. We celebrate poetry across the world, across space and time, with the greatest and the new… our homage in words to the past, present and future…

A paean to the skies, the Earth and empathy with nature sets the tone for this poetic treat. I offer you a translation/transcreation of a Tagore song, from the original lyrics penned by the maestro in Bengali…

The Star-Studded Sky  by Rabindranath Tagore

( A translation/transcreation of Akash Bhora, Shurjo Tara, 1924)

The sky replete with sun and stars, the Earth brimming with life,
In the midst of this universe, I have found my abode.
Spellbound by the plenitude, songs awaken in my being. 

The infinite, eternal waves that create planetary tides 
Resonate through the blood coursing in my veins.

As I walk to the woods, I step on the grass. 
Heady perfumes of flowers startle me into a rhapsody.
Benefactions of joy anoint the universe.

I have listened, I have watched, I have poured my life into the Earth.
Through knowing, I have sought the unknown. 
Spellbound by the plenitude, songs awaken in my being. 

(Translated/transcreated by Mitali Chakravarty on behalf of Borderless Journal,2021)

Poetry connects with eternal human emotions over space and time with snippets from old and verses from new.

Poets continue to draw from nature to express and emote. In empathy with the forces that swirl around us are poems written by moderns, like Jared Carter.

 What is that calling on the wind
           that never seems a moment still?
 That moves in darkness like a hand
           of many fingers taken chill?

(Excerpted from Visitant by Jared Carter)

Click here to read Jared Carter’s Visitant and more poems.

Tagore wrote and painted. Here we have a poem about a painting done by the poet-artist herself, Vatsala Radhakeesoon.

An endless expanse swirls
over the tropical island.
At the foot of the Meditative Mountain,
birds, bees and butterflies wonder --
who is this mystic blue?

(Excerpted from Swirling Blues by Vatsala Radhakeesoon)

Click here to read Swirling Blues by Vatsala Radhakeesoon and gaze at the painting.

Separated by oceans and decades, were poets empathetic?

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you...

The smoke of my own breath,...

My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and 
dark-color'd sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belch'd words of my voice loos'd to the eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.

(Excerpted from Song of Myself, Walt Whitman, 1881)

And despite exuberance of poets and their love of nature, came wars from across continents. Here are some of the responses of poets from all over the world to war and the pain it brings…

A soldier and a poet, Bijan Najdi (1941-1997) wrote in Persian, he captured the loss and the pain generated by war on children for us. This has been translated by Davood Jalili for Borderless

The world does not become bitter with the sword.

It does not become bitter with shooting, cries and fists.

The bitterness of the world

Is not the deer’s necks

And leopard’s tooth

And the death of a fish...

(Excerpted from Our Children by Bijan Najdi)

Click here to read Our Children by Bijan Najdi

Maybe children have a special place in poets’ hearts. Michael R Burch from across the Pacific writes of their longings too…

I, too, have a dream …

that one day Jews and Christians

will see me as I am:

a small child, lonely and afraid,

staring down the barrels of their big bazookas,

(Excerpted from I, too have a dream by Michael R Burch)

Click here to read Dreams of Children by Michael R Burch and more by him.

From Nepal, Manjul Miteri travelled to Japan to design a giant Buddha. While visiting the Hiroshima museum, he responded to the exhibits of the 1945 nuclear blast, a bombardment that ended not just the war, but many lives, many hopes and dreams… It heralded the passing of an era. Miteri’s poem was translated by Hem Biswakarma for us from Nepali.

Orimen*!
Oh, Orimen!
Mouthful of your Tiffin
Snatched by the ‘Little Boy’*!
The Tiffin box, adorned with flowers,
Scattered and spoilt,
Blown out brutally.

(Excerpted from Oh Orimen! by Manjul Miteri)

Click here to read Majul Miteri’s Oh Orimen!

Continuing on the theme of war, what can war weapons not do? Karunakaran has written a seemingly small poem about warplanes in Malayalam that embraces the nuclear holocaust and more. The words are few but they say much… It has been translated by Aditya Shankar for us.

No warplane 
has ever flown like a bird,
has lost way like a bird,
has halted mid-flight reminiscing a bygone aroma.

(Excerpted from No Warplane Has Ever Flown Like A Bird by Karunakaran)

Click here to read No Warplane Has Ever Flown Like A Bird by Karunakaran.

From wars and acquisition of wealth, grew the greed for immortality.

Aditya Shankar writes rebelling against man’s greed, greed that also leads to war.

Through the tube,

the world poured into that room

with news of war and blood.

(Excerpted from Human Immortality Project  by Aditya Shankar)

Click here to read Human Immortality Project by Aditya Shankar.

Continuing the dialogue on discrepancies is a poem written by a visiting professor from Korea. Ihlwha Choi was in Santiniketan and just like Tagore found poetry in Krishnokoli, he found poetry in Nandini…

There was Nandini’s small shop along with fruits' stalls and the bike shop.

Cows passing by would thrust their heads suddenly

Into the shop thatched with bamboo stems....

...There lived a flower-like little girl selling chai near the old house of Poet R. Tagore.

(Excerpted from Nandini by Ihlwha Choi)

Click here to read Nandini by Ihlwha Choi

Poetry is about moods — happiness and sadness, laughter and tears.

Reflecting on multiple themes that mankind jubilates and weeps about is the poetry of John Grey, camping out in Australian outbacks, revelling in the stars and yet empathising with hunger… A few lines from his poem hunger.

Hunger can sing soft but compelling

in the voice of the one who last

provided you with three meals a day.

That’s years ago now.

Hunger has no memory

but it assumes that you do.

(Excerpted from Hunger by John Grey)

Click here to read Camping out, Hunger and more … by John Grey

And now we introduce some laughter. A story-poem by Rhys Hughes, about an alien who likes to be tickled…

“Oh, tickle me under the chin,
   the chin,
 please tickle me
 under the chin.
 It might seem quite fickle
 or even a sin
 to make this request,
 to ask such a thing,
 but I must confess
 that to ease my distress
 there’s nothing so fine
    as a tickle.
 So please tickle me 
 under the chin,
    the chin.
 Tickle me under the chin.” 

(Excerpted from The Tickle Imp by Rhys Hughes)

Click here to read The Tickle Imp by Rhys Hughes

And here is a poem by Tamoha Siddiqui, jubilating the borderless world of friendship.

Yesterday I heard the sound of colourful feet

to Indonesian beats, in the middle of Michigan:

white, black, brown, all were one

pitter-patter paces in a conference hall.

(Excerpted from Birth of an Ally by Tamoha Siddiqui)

Click here to read Tamoha Siddiqui’s Birth of an Ally

We share with you now from the most unusual poetry we have on our site, from a book called Corybantic Fulgours. If you want to know what it means, click here to check it out!

Concluding our oeuvre to jubilate a world without borders, here are lines from a poet who probably has influenced and united majority of writers across the world…another truly universal voice.

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
...
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.

Excerpted from TS Eliot's Four Quartets, Burnt Norton(1936)

The poetry of the historic greats are all woven by eternal threads that transcend man made boundaries. They see themselves almost as an extension of the Earth we live. Tagore, Whitman and Eliot write of the universe coursing through their veins. Shakespeare gives the ultimate statement when he brings in the play between imagination and nature to lift the mundane out of the ordinary. With inspiration from all these, may we move into a sphere, where poetry not only moves but also generates visions for a more wholistic and inclusive future.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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Index

Borderless, March 2021

Our First Anniversary Issue

Editorial

Happy Birthday Borderless Journal by Mitali Chakravarty: We complete a year on March 14th, 2021. A recap of the year, thanks to our contributors across 31 countries and a fresh look at our future along with what we look for in our pieces. Click here to read.

Interviews

Avery Fischer Udagawa is an American, who lives in Thailand and translates from Japanese. Click here to read more.

Anuradha Kumar is a writer who pans through different cultures and continents. Click here to read more

Stories

The Literary Fictionist

In Love Beyond Words, Sunil Sharma explores relationships. Click here to read.

Orang Minyak or The Ghost

A Jessie Michael explores blind belief in a Malay village. Click here to read.

Shoes in the Forbidden Attic

Vidula Sonagra explores childhood and its exigencies. Click here to read.

The Beggar

Shouvik Banerjee relates an unusual story set in Kolkata. Click here to read.

Ghumi Stories: The Threat Note

Nabanita Sengupta finds crime lurking in the darkness of Ghumi woods. Click here to read.

Flash Fiction: Fat!

The fiction by Supriya Rakesh is just about that — a fun-filled relook at being Fat. Click here to read

Musings

Musings of a Copywriter

Devraj Singh Kalsi ponders on Creativity and Madness in a lighthearted tone. Click here to read.

Adventures of a Backpacking Granny

In Where it All Began, Sybil Pretious recounts her first adventure on Mt Kilimanjaro. Click here to read.

Harvest your Patches

Aditi Jain philosophises on how the pandemic could be perceived as a patchwork quilt. Click here to read.

Moving from the Podium to the Helm

Meredith Stephens from Australia maps the impact of the start of the pandemic a year ago with the lockdowns being put in place. Click here to read more.

Essays

When West Meets East & Greatness Blooms

Debraj Mookerjee reflects on how syncretism impacts greats like Tagore,Tolstoy, Emerson, Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi and many more. Click here to read.

Reflections on Nobel Laureate Bunin’s ‘Un Petit Accident’

Mike Smith reflects on a short fiction by Russia’s first Nobel Laureate, Ivan Bunin. Could it be a precursor to flash fiction? Click here to read.

Beyond Ideological Borders

Anu Karippal explores the world beyond the margins drawn by ideologies. Click here to read.

Photo Essay: Birds & Us

Penny and Michael B Wilkes take us on a photographic journey with a narrative in San Diego. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Sangeeta Sharma, Penny Wilkes, Shraddha Arora, Anthony Wade, Vatsala Radhakeesoon, Jared Carter, Vijayalakshmi Harish, Ken Allan Dronsfield, Ihlwha Choi, Michael R. Burch

Story Poem

Rhys Hughes takes us on a brilliant trip with aliens popping out of treasure chests and humour. Click here to read.

Transcreations

Ratnottama Sengupta transcreates three poems from Bengali. Click here to read.

Translations

Poetry by Krishna Bajgai has been translated from Nepalese by Dr. Rupak Shrestha. Click here to read

Aditya Shankar translates Krispin Joseph‘s poetry from Malyalam to English. Click here to read.

Kumar Bhimsingha by Swarnakumari Devi, the sister of Rabindranath Tagore, was published in a magazine run by the Tagore family, in April 1887. It has been translated by Chaitali Sengupta. Click here to read.

The Magic Spell of Scheherazade’s Nights are reflections by Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016) on the magic of storytelling in Arabian Nights translated by Ratnottama Sengupta. Click here to read.

Book Excerpt

A Sense of Time & Other Stories by Anuradha Kumar, excerpted from the book of short stories. Click here to read

Book Reviews

Bidyut Chakrabarty’s Socio-political Thought of Rabindranath Tagore, published by Sage India, reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha. Click here to read.

Suzanne Kamata’s Indigo Girl reviewed by Gracy Samjetsabam, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 2011 Tsunami in Japan. Click here to read.

Sutputra Radheye’s Inqallab on the Wall, a collection brought out by Delhi Poetry Slam, reviewed by Rakhi Dalal. Click here to read.

Sara’s Selections

Sara’s Selections features young person’s writings from Bookosmia. Click here to read this section.

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Editorial

Happy Birthday Borderless Journal🎉

A huge thank-you to all our contributors and readers across the world.

Borderless Journal has contributors from all the marked areas in the world map.

Borderless Journal was launched on March 14th, 2020, exactly one year ago, with eight published pieces from four countries. Today, we celebrate our journal’s year-old existence with more than six hundred publications online from 31 countries across the world. All this would not have been possible without the commitment of some very gifted writers. So, we have made a couple of additions to our ‘About Us’ — Writers in Residence and the Children’s Section Facilitator. We did this to express our gratitude to these excellent writers and the Children’s Section Facilitator, Archana Mohan of Bookosmia, for contributing pro bono to Borderless, selflessly and generously with words that enriched our journal. We plan to continue pro bono with goodwill as our only profit, giving our readers free, unpaid, advertisement-free access to excellent works.

In this first year, not only has our content grown but we have moved forward in our attempt to be a repository of quality writing in the virtual world. Translations of greats like Saratchandra Chatterjee, Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore, Bijan Najdi, Syad Zahoor Shah Hashmi and Nabendu Ghosh nestle along with writings by the moderns. We have published works by winners of the Sahitya Akademi award and the Pushcart along with that of novices. Our oldest contributor was born in 1924 and the youngest, in our young persons’ selections, was four years old.

Values and issues taken up by writers across time have often been similar. At Borderless, we look for writing that breaks borders, not so much of techniques but of issues that affect our civilisation. We want to create a flood of positive values that will deluge the world’s negatives, help to usher in an era of development, tolerance, love and peace. We are often told that this is unrealistic. But when have ideals and utopias ever been based on realism? And yet they changed the world over a period of time. We would not have the wheel or the fire if cave dwellers had not imagined them.  Borderless hopes to walk untrodden paths. Our journal also aspires to respond to the calls made by youngsters for a better Earth, to explore and store samples of human excellence for posterity, and to support attempts to improve the future of our species.

As a part of our celebrations, we are also announcing two books, constructed with selected content from Borderless. Bookosmia is bringing out a book from the children’s section, thanks to both Nidhi Mishra and Archana Mohan. For our adult contributors and readers, we are also announcing a second book stocked with some of the gems we have collected over the year. We are in conversation with a publisher. Once that is finalised, we will announce the book on social media.

This month, we had given the theme of ‘as mad as a March hare’ and aliens were invited to contribute. That resulted in some fantastic poetry from Rhys Hughes and Vatsala Radhakeesoon and also from one of our Contributing Editors, Michael R. Burch. Rhys has given us a funny story poem about an alien who tickles our sensibilities. Our poetry section only improves with Michael’s touch. We have poetry again from Pushcart winner Jared Carter, Tom Merrill, Ihlwa Choi, and new writers like Vijayalakshmi Harish and Shraddha Arora.

We carry a translation of a well-known poet from Nepal, Krishna Bajgai. Aditya Shankar translated a Malayalam poem about violence against women by young Krispin George. It is a powerful poem and an excellent translation that sets the tone for the month hosting the International Women’s Day. That the protest is voiced by men is also significant, especially in a world where margins need to blend into a single united shout against all injustices. While the poem critiques a crime, the translated prose shows how despite violations and oppressions, humankind have progressed.

A short story by Tagore’s sister, Swarnakumari Devi (1855-1932), one of the first female editors of the Tagore family journal and one of the earliest progressive women of the nineteenth century, has been translated by Chaitali Sengupta. Juxtaposed to the story by Swarnakumari Devi which was perceived as an act of defiance against the voicelessness imposed on women in a patriarchal set up, we have an unusual reflection translated by the noted filmmaker and journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta. Written in Bengali by Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016) the piece, while being an in-depth analysis of Arabian Nights, is an emphasis on how women progressed within the century to become independent, intellectual, thinking entities beyond the bounds set on them by outmoded norms. Thus, while the prose showcases how much women have progressed, the poetry contribution by young Krispin George and Aditya Shankar reflects how men and women are now united in their struggle for justice. We have indeed come far from the biases inherent in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘Mandalay’, which was written after Swarnakumari Devi had already started writing and working against such divisive mindsets. Historically, we have moved forward.

A literary essay by Mike Smith tries to explore a new paradigm. He ponders if a short fiction by the first émigré Nobel Laureate from Russia, Ivan Bunin, could have been a precursor to flash fiction. We have experimented with a photo essay by Penny and Michael Wilkes. Some lovely photographs of the sea can also be found in the slice of life sent to us from Australia by Meredith Stephens. In Travels with the Backpacking Granny, Sybil Pretious takes the readers to the slopes of the Kiliminjaro with her 63-year-old self. Devraj Singh Kalsi in Musings of the Copywriter gives us his perception of creativity and madness – which you might say go hand-in-hand when you think of Vincent Van Gogh cutting off his ear and F Scott Fitzgerald who along with his wife, Zelda, suffered from depression. Kalsi gives the subject a satirical twist to explore if insanity can be substituted as medals of honour by a writer instead of ‘bits of metal’ that subscribe to more conventional concepts of fame and sanity. It is a fun read!

One of my favourite essays is by Debraj Mookerjee, who has shown how when West meets East, greatness blooms. He takes on giants like Tagore, Tolstoy, Emerson and many more. Reflecting the thoughts of one of these giants mentioned in the essay, is a book on the socio-political thoughts of Tagore where the author, Bidyut Sarkar, who is also the Vice Chancellor of Vishva-Bharati University and an erudite scholar, states: “Tagore stayed away from the hurly-burly of national politics. Despite sharing the nationalistic condemnation of the colonizer, Tagore never allowed this restrictive vision to cloud his concern for human emancipation.” Bhaskar Parichha has done an excellent review of the book.

Sutputra Radheye’s poetry collection from the Delhi Slam has been reviewed by Rakhi Dalal and Suzanne Kamata’s Indigo Girl has been reviewed by Gracy Samjetsabam. Indigo Girl is a novel that breaks cultural borders and norms to find love through a part-Japanese-part-American’s journey, with lessons learnt from a survivor of the Tohoku Tsunami in March 2011, where more than 15,500 died, a disaster that also led to the Fukushima nuclear plant melt down. The economic losses were estimated at $235 billion and people continue to be impacted by the decade-old disaster to this date. Indigo Girl, thus, is a celebration of mankind’s survival against multiple odds. It builds bridges across differences and disasters, a story of hope and friendships, values cherished in a borderless world.

We have an interesting excerpt from a book I really enjoyed, a collection of short stories that challenge man-made constructs, A Sense of Time and Other Stories. The author whom we interviewed, Anuradha Kumar, has 31 books with publishers like Hachette India to her credit, plus two Commonwealth awards and more. The other interview also stretches geographical bounds drawn by politicians. An American translator who lives in Thailand and translates from Japanese to English, Avery Fischer Udagawa, speaks to about her journey. Finding literature and bridging borders with translations is a recurrent theme in Borderless.

A number of stories that again look for the unusual can be found in this issue. I would like to mention an interesting one from Jessie Michael of Malaysia exploring blind beliefs, ‘Orang Minyak or The Ghost‘, while Sunil Sharma gives us a story that I will let you explore yourself. Sara’s Selections, showcasing a selection of writing from Bookosmia, adds to our oeuvre.

As usual, I have mentioned a few but not all of our content, which remains tempting.

I hope all of you will continue to enhance our writing and publishing experience by patronising our site and reading us regularly. Please do share our posts with your friends and family. We continue a family-friendly journal.

Again, a huge thanks and warm congratulations to the Borderless team and to all our fabulous contributors. We value each one of your pieces. Thank you.

To all our readers, welcome to our world and thanks for being with us and inspiring us to aspire for more. We have readership from more than 130 countries across the world.

Looking forward to the next lap of our journey –

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless, March, 2021

Borderless Journal is read in more than 130 countries across the world.
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Essay

When West meets East and Greatness blooms

Debraj Mookerjee explores how syncretism permeates between the West and the East — how the two lores do meet

Cultural influences travel at the speed of human imagination. In the modern world it is easy to plot the journey of cultural influences across the planet, thanks to the seamlessness created by communication technologies. The Internet links us all. But we also know cultural influences travelled through the globe since the earliest migration of humans.  We know the Chinese invented paper some 2000 years back. We know potato came to India from the new world through the Portuguese and became widely popular only around the 19th century. We know Marco Polo brought pasta from China to Italy. These are things we know. We also know because these are things. But along with things, ideas also travelled, as did poetry and song. Philosophy travelled, and ways of knowing and experiencing the world travelled. How many of us know for example that Ibn Rushid, an Andalusian of Arabic descent born in Islamic Cordoba, Spain, in 1126, translated Aristotelian philosophy into Arabic? Or the fact that these translations were further retranslated to Latin by Thomas Aquinas, a mediaeval scholar who was influenced by, though he differed strongly with, Ibn Rushid? Such is the power of ideas. Ideas are borderless. That is their power.

Within the context of the so-called East-West encounter, there are so many cross-cultural influences we are unaware of. Influences that travelled to and fro the West and India seeped into the cultural experiences of either worlds. History and society can be viewed in many different ways. Politics often invents a vocabulary that insists on differences. Art on the other hand weaves patterns that merge into each other, producing beautiful new forms. Art and the philosophy surrounding it bring different cultures into play with each other. We will walk around some examples of such cross-fertilisation. And in the process perhaps expand the borders of our own minds and how we look at the world. I shall dwell on two such instances of cross-cultural influences. First, I shall look at Gandhi and the influences he shared with the West and the sharing of political ideas and philosophies they produced. I will explore the diverse trajectories his core ideas of nonviolence and civil disobedience took in shaping up to what they eventually became, and even the influences they have had after him. I shall thereafter present Tagore and begin by looking at the shaping of his world view as a thinker and as an artist, reading closely into his specific interactions with particular milieus in England. Finally, I shall look at Tagore iconic music (Rabindra Sangeet) and trace the influence Western (especially Welsh) music had on his works.

 “You can love a person dear to you with a human love, but an enemy can only be loved with divine love.”
“Let us forgive each other – only then will we live in peace.”

Who would you imagine might have spoken these words?

Gandhi? Almost, but not quite. These are Tolstoy’s words. Tolstoy was a writer, a philosopher and a religious thinker. Gandhi was particularly influenced by Tolstoy’s ‘The Kingdom of God is Within You’ and his essay on ‘Christianity and Patriotism’. Tolstoy’s ideal of “simplicity of life and purity of purpose” had a deep and abiding impact on Gandhi’s core thinking. In ‘Christianity and Patriotism’, Totlstoy writes: “Patriotism may have been a virtue in the ancient world when it compelled men to serve the highest idea of those days — the fatherland. But how can patriotism be a virtue in these days when it requires of men an ideal exactly opposite to that of our religion and morality — an admission not of the equality and fraternity of all men but of the dominance of one country or nations over all others? But not only is this sentiment no virtue in our times, but it is indubitably a vice; for this sentiment of patriotism cannot now exist, because there is neither material nor moral foundation for its conception.”

Gandhi had carried Tolstoy in his heart for the longest time. But shortly before Tolstoy passed  away in 1910, as Gandhi began the active phase of his fight for human rights for Indians in South Africa, and thereafter his struggle for India’s independence, he wrote to Tolstoy, prompted by the writer’s ‘Letter to a Hindoo’, in which he paves a path for freedom sans violence. The letter from Tolstoy was addressed to Tarak Nath Das, editor of Free Hindustan, who advocated the violent approach. Gandhi apprised Tolstoy about the Indians’ ‘passive resistance’ against racial oppression in Transvaal. He wrote that nearly half of the total Indian population of 13,000 in Transvaal had left Transvaal rather than submit to the degrading law, and ‘nearly 2,500 have for conscience’s sake allowed themselves to be imprisoned, some as many as five times. Tolstoy’s letter explained why non-violent resistance and a resolve by Indians to become free were the only solution. Gandhi sought Tolstoy’s confirmation of the referred to above being written by him, and his approval to his friend printing 20,000 copies of the same for distribution and having it translated. He had ‘taken the liberty’ to write the letter ‘in the interests of truth, and in order to have your advice on problems the solution of which you have made your life-work.’ Gandhi quoted Tolstoy thus, as he introduced his letter, when indeed it was widely distributed: “Do not resist evil, but also do not yourselves participate in evil: in the collection of taxes, and in the violent deeds of the law courts and (what is more important) the soldiers. Then, no one in the world will enslave you.”

But there is a bigger symmetry at work here than just the transfer of wisdom from Totstoy to Gandhi. Thiruvalluvar was the legendary Tamil poet who lived some time between the fourth and first century BCE. His work Thirukkural is an unparalleled treatise on ethics, communicated in verse. The first translation of the Thirukkural in a European language was done in Latin by Constanzo Beschi, a Jesuit Missionary, in 1730. Beschi himself was a Tamil scholar and poet, known as Viramamunivar. Tolstoy is said to have read a German translation of the work. And his ‘Letter to a Hindoo’ was apparently inspired by what he’d read in the Tamil saint-poet’s work. Around the time, Gandhi wrote an article, ‘Tolstoy’s Satyagraha’, showing how thousands, acting on his views ‘advising people not to obey the laws of the Russian Government, not to serve in the army, and so on’, were going to jail. Tolstoy’s writings, though proscribed, were being published, leading to the imprisonment of his agent. Tolstoy thought that ‘my views are true, and that it is my duty to propagate them.’ Gandhi concluded: ‘True freedom is to be found—only in such a life. That is the kind of freedom we want to achieve in the Transvaal. If India were to achieve such freedom, that indeed would be swarajya.’

Gandhi had told Rev. J.J. Doke, his first biographer (1909): “It was the New Testament which really awakened me to the rightness and value of Passive Resistance. When I read in the Sermon on the Mount such passages as ‘Resist not him that is evil’, I was simply overjoyed, and found my own opinion confirmed when I least expected it. The Bhagavad Gita deepened the impression and Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You gave it a permanent form.”

When we imagine Gandhi, along with perhaps Asoka and the Prophet Mohammad, as among those historical figures who imagined society and politics through the prism of morality, we ought to know the influence of Tolstoy’s thoughts. Tolstoy thought of morality as a category that steps beyond politics. Gandhi could not afford that luxury. India needed freedom. So he introduced morality into politics. 

Gandhi harvested patriotism through the principles of Ahimsa and Satyagraha — Non-violence and truth force. The latter was the goal and the former the means. In these he drew influences from ancient Indian philosophy, and from thinkers like Tolstoy and the transcendentalists of America — more on the latter in a bit. So, we find a saint-like figure, a Russian aristocrat and also among the more celebrated writers of his time, conversing across time and space with one whom Churchill infamously labelled the ‘Naked Fakir’, but who went on to become the Father of a Nation.

Here is the interesting thing, and we need to frame this in the context of the Cold War that was to commence soon after the assassination Gandhi – that the other major influence on Gandhi came from, of all places, the United States of America. The Transcendentalists were radical thinkers of the early 19th century who rejected organised traditional religious belief systems. They believed in the ‘oneself’ of the self and the universe. Ralph Waldo Emerson, thinker, poet, writer philosopher, and the most famous of the transcendentalists, once wrote: “Within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty; to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE.”

Emerson took interest in Hindu texts thanks to his aunt Mary Moody. His idea of the over-soul, the universal oneness can be read as a derivative of the idea of Brahman – the singular force signified by the chant ‘Aum’. In this poem by Emerson entitled ‘Bhrama’, the oneness mentioned above is emphasised, as an idea subsumed in the concept of ‘Brahman’, which goes beyond this or that or even the specific injunctions of scripture:

 If the red slayer think he slays,
 Or if the slain think he is slain,
 They know not well the subtle ways
 I keep, and pass, and turn again.
  
 Far or forgot to me is near;
 Shadow and sunlight are the same;
 The vanished gods to me appear;
 And one to me are shame and fame.
  
 They reckon ill who leave me out;
 When me they fly, I am the wings;
 I am the doubter and the doubt,
 I am the hymn the Brahmin sings.
  
 The strong gods pine for my abode,
 And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
 But thou, meek lover of the good!
 Find me, and turn thy back on heaven. 

A contemporary of Emerson and one deeply influenced by him was Henry David Thoreau, who advocated both self-reliance and civil disobedience, elaborately discussed in his book, Walden Pond, which is an account of his experiments with asceticism. His practices were motivated by his encounter with yoga. Thoreau seldom was ecstatic. And yet he wrote: “What extracts from the Vedas I have read fall on me like light of a higher and purer luminary, which describes a loftier course through a purer stratum, free from particulars, simple, universal.” 

He was fond of quoting from the Bhagwat Gita, as was Gandhi. Gandhi was significantly influenced by Thoreau experiments and ideas. Gandhi, in his 1942 appeal ‘To American Friends,’ wrote, “You have given me a teacher in Thoreau, who furnished me through his essay on the ‘Duty of Civil Disobedience’ scientific confirmation of what I was doing in South Africa.”

At the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931, the American reporter Webb Miller, a long-time admirer of Thoreau, asked Gandhi, “Did you ever read an American named Henry D. Thoreau?” Gandhi replied: “Why, of course I read Thoreau. I read Walden first in Johannesburg in South Africa in 1906 and his ideas influenced me greatly. I adopted some of them and recommended the study of Thoreau to all my friends who were helping me in the cause of Indian independence. Why, I actually took the name of my movement from Thoreau’s essay, ‘On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,’ written about eighty years ago.” 

Miller noticed that Gandhi, a “Hindu mystic,” adopted from Thoreau the philosophy which was to affect millions of Indians and inspire them to defy the powerful British Empire. “It would seem,” Miller concluded, “that Gandhi received back from America what was fundamentally the philosophy of India after it had been distilled and crystallized in the mind of Thoreau.”  

The back and forth does not end here. We all know how Martin Luther King Jr was influenced by Gandhi. He once wrote, “While the Montgomery boycott was going on, India’s Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”

So ancient Indian philosophy influenced the transcendentalists. The transcendentalists influenced Gandhi. And Gandhi went onto influence King Jr. Kipling might have written that “East is east, and the West is West. And ne’er the twain shall meet”. At the cost of sounding frivolous, perhaps he had not read Mark Twain’s famous poem, ‘A passage to India’.

Gandhi and Tagore were in conversation in the deepest sense of the term, both captured by the tight frame of history, yet never ever contained by it. It is apposite, therefore, to try and capture within the rubric of the larger argument, the influences and intellectual trajectories of both Gandhi and Tagore. Tagore, India’s iconic poet, the first non-European to receive a Nobel Prize, who travelled to England in 1912 clutching a collection of 103 self-translated English poems, became a world phenomenon in a little more than a year. Though Tagore is revered among Bengalis and indeed all Indians as ‘Kavi-Guru’ (Poet Guru, as it were), his development as an artist was syncretic. 

As a young boy, he spent a month in Amritsar with his father and was greatly impressed by the devotional songs sung inside the Golden Temple, with his father often joining in. While a landlord in East Bengal during the 1890s he became familiar with the great Baul tradition of Lalon Shah. He absorbed Western influences, especially in his poetry, but also influences as diverse as the paintings of specific communities in islands as far-flung as New Ireland in Papua New Guinea! Tagore took to painting later in age and was never quite sure of his own work, but they have a magical haunting quality that is all too difficult to pin onto a singular culture.  

One of the first persons whom Tagore wanted to know was Stopford. Tagore, being a prominent member of the Brahmo Samaj, which was closely allied to Unitarianism, had heard so much of him, and had perceived an alignment of convictions. Sir William Rothenstein,in his account of Tagore’s days in London, says “Stopford Brooke asked me to bring Tagore to Manchester Square; ‘but tell him’, he said, ‘that I am not a spiritual man’.” Soon Tagore would become quite the toast of young poets, who would seek him out, Ezra Pound being prominent among them. Among others whom Tagore met were Shaw, Wells, Galsworthy, Andrew Bradley, Sturge Moore, and Robert Bridges. In a 1915 letter to Robert Bridges, Tagore wrote, “I know what this war is to you… Please let Mrs. Bridges accept my heartfelt sympathy and reverence [for one] whose son is fighting for the cause of liberty in one of the greatest wars in the history of mankind.” Bridges included Tagore’s poems in his Anthology The Spirit of Man in 1915. On his part, Tagore was struck by the breadth of view and the rapidity of thought that he found among his new friends. Addressing his English audience, he said: “Those who know the English only in India, do not know Englishmen … All you people live, think and talk while a strong, critical light is constantly focussed on you. This creates a high social civilisation. We in India, on the contrary, live secluded among a crowd of relations. Things are done and said within the family circle which would not be tolerated outside; and this keeps our social standards low.’ 

Tagore famous novel, Ghare Baire (The Way of the World, 1916; tran. 1919) presents his disquiet with insular nationalist sentiments, to the exclusion (of what he believed) larger humanist imperatives. His protagonist, Nikhil articulates liberal universal values and is willing to sacrifice his life to ensure peace in his domain (he is a landlord). His fiery friend, the nation (as mother) worshipping ultra-nationalist radical Sandeep, stokes the violence that ultimately consumes Nikhil, but from which he himself stealthily slinks away.

Tagore absorbed more than just ideas from the West. His music, especially the scores of many of his songs, was influenced by his interactions with the West. On his 2012 visit he’d heard the music hall songs and folk tunes that he later incorporated into his distinctive musical genre, Rabindra Sangeet. As a child, he’d heard his siblings play myriad instruments. His older brother Jyotirindranath, significantly, played the piano and violin. From him, Tagore developed an early ear for western musical lilts. Lively English, Irish, and Scottish folk tunes impressed Tagore, whose own tradition of Bhramo hymnody was subdued. Tagore confesses: “At seventeen, when I first came to Europe, I came to know it intimately, but even before that time I had heard European music in our own household. I had heard the music of Chopin and others at an early age.”

Of particular note is Robert Burns, whose poetry and music were quite widely known in metropolitan Bengal. His work was particularly popular with Bengali students in the early days of Hindu College (now Presidency University), Calcutta. The Scottish missionary to India, Alexander Duff, remembers students in Henry Derozio’s (poet and assistant headmaster of Kolkata’s Hindu Collge) discussion group reciting Burns’s poetry and singing his democratic anthem ‘A man’s a man for a’ that’. Two of Burns’s sons served for many years in the Company army, and one of them, James Glencairn Burns, was later appointed judge and collector of Cachar (in Assam), and became an expert in Hindi, instructing company cadets in the language on his return to England in 1839. Burns’s songs pervaded 19th century British India and were well known to many Indians: Rabindranath Tagore adapted at least three of them and set musical scores to the Bengali versions of the original melodies.

Tagore created one of his most popular songs, ‘Purano shei deener katha’, on the model of the old Scottish folk song collected by Robert Burns: ‘Auld lang syne’ (1788). Whereas the Scottish is in dialect, its Bengali counterpart in the standard tongue. There can be no literal translation in songs transcreated, as it were in a different language, since the nature of the two languages is different. And yet, there are great similarities between the songs. The original communicates the eternal sentiment of nostalgia for old friends, memories of good times and longing to revive the same. Tagore communicates the same basic sentiment. One should remember that even though Tagore adapts the tune of the western songs, he very often varies the tempo and the rhythm to suit his own creative needs. The mention of ‘dola’ (swing), ‘banshi’ (flute) and ‘bokuler tolay’ (beneath the bokul tree) introduces interesting indigenous cultural symbols. These words introduce the concept of the god Krishna and his worldly amour divesting them of both divine and erotic connotation. The Bengali song stands as an eternal paean to reunion of friends of all categories.

Tagore’s ‘Phule phule dhole dhole’ is a transcreation of Burns’ ‘Ye banks and braes of bonny Doon’ (1792), the tune of which is based on ‘The Caledonian Hunt’s delight.’ The first four lines of Tagore’s song evokes faint sweet breezes, rippling gurgling stream, cuckoo song and an undefined longing. It is close to the mood of the ‘Ye banks and braes,’ though more mystic and abstract. In Burns’ original version, the nostalgia and longing are rooted in unfulfilled love. In the Bengali, there is no hint of narrative, though the narrative is obviated when sung in its proper context. Sung independently, it appears as a universal romantic desire for an unattainable ‘something,’ intensified by the beauty of nature. 

But Burns was not the only one to influence Tagore’s music.  In 1885, much before his heydays, Tagore composed ‘Kotobar bhebechhilnu’, using the tune of Ben Jonson’s ‘Drink to me only with thine eyes’. The tune of the original English song is adapted to his original Bengali lyric. Tagore’s song raises interesting cultural issues. The words are radically different, though the mood of love is dominant in both, the English song is much more sensuous, redolent of physical and Petrarchan appeal. Tagore’s Indianisation is romantic, idealistic and self-effacing, but with a witty twist in the last two lines: “Now that you yourself have come to ask me/ How can I explain how much I love you?” Another Irish folk song that inspired Tagore was ‘Go where glory waits thee’ (1807), which was collected by Thomas Moore (1779-1852) and was based on ‘Maid of the Valley.’ Tagore’s songs ‘Ohe Dayamoy’ and ‘Aha aji e basante’ (O Kind One and It is Spring Today) are based on these two originals. 

There is a general consensus that Western and Indian songs are essentially different in that in the former the rhythm may change many times within the same song, while it remains the same in most Indian songs. Tagore nevertheless finds the change of rhythms ideally suited to express different facets of feeling (see Tagore’s essay ‘Sangeet o Bhab’). One cannot be entirely sure as to the exact source of his musical preference, whether it comes from Western music, or even from his ear for ‘kirtan’ (popular Bengal devotional music associated with the Vaishnavite tradition). But what is certain is that his music comes from a syncretic imagination, which was able to discern beauty and form beyond the restrictions of nation and culture.  

Debraj Mookerjee has taught literature at the University of Delhi for close to thirty years. He claims he never gets bored. Ever. And that is his highest skill in life. No moment for him is not worth the while. He embraces life and allows life to embrace him.

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Categories
Poetry

The Beeman

By Ken Allan Dronsfield

 
 
The Beeman 
 As geese slowly cruise around the edge
 of the pond, small goslings hurry to keep up.  
 The first light of the new day begins to peek
 above the horizon.
 A man with his coffee sits on the deck
 and ponders his day.
 Mists of the early morning move like tendrils
 across the water and dew twinkles in the
 green grass of the yard.
 The Beeman, donning hat and veil, slowly
 walks the path towards the apiary just as 
 a peach sunrise ignites a Georgia sky

Ken Allan Dronsfield is a prize winning poet from New Hampshire, now residing in Oklahoma. Ken loves writing, thunderstorms, coin collecting and spending time with his rescue cats, Willa and Yumpy.

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Categories
Poetry

Movement

By Anthony Wade

Starlings like iron filings flung

across the darkening sky,

slipping and slithering to the pull

of a celestial magnet,

or a black cloth wiping the sky clean

of the loss of this moving time.

Anthony Wade is Irish, legally trained in England but worked principally in The Netherlands.  He published a first poem in 2018, and a good number in several publications since.

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Categories
Poetry

Relationships to Remember

By Penny Wilkes

        

They travel through you.

Some tease and tickle brain cells or trick you unaware.

A few move in and out of the mind’s pocket.

 .

Others paddle and float in the bloodstream

then vacation into the heart to stay.

 .

A breath reveals those who flutter in the lungs.

Many from afar reside in hibiscus blossoms, a tulip or rose.

 .

When a tree branch brushes a hand, you’ll know who’s there.

A trickle of water or wave roll calls them to mind.

 .

A lemon’s scent or a phantom hand on the shoulder brings a hug of breeze 

There. Always there.

 .

As sun blends a spark of memory with tangerine sky,

a chuckle sounds into the sea with a flash of green.

 .

A rustle of wings returns those elevated to another plane.

Still they remain. There. Always there.

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Penny Wilkes served as a science editor, travel and nature writer and columnist. Along with short stories, her features on humour and animal behavior have appeared in a variety of publications. She has published an anthology of short stories, Seven Smooth Stones. Her poetry collections include: Whispers from the LandIn Spite of War, and Flying Lessons. She publishes a daily blog on The Write Life:http://penjaminswriteway.blogspot.com/.

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Categories
Review

Socio-political Thought of Rabindranath Tagore

Book Review by Bhaskar Parichha

Title: Socio-political Thought of Rabindranath Tagore

Author: Bidyut Chakrabarty

Publisher: SAGE Publications India, 2021

Eighty years after his death, Rabindranath Tagore continues to be written about. Any biographical or critical account of Tagore’s life and works — whether it is in Bengali, English or any other language — is noticeable and is received with reverence and respect. Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, ‘Where the Mind is Without Fear’, demonstrates the continuing universal appeal of the poet’s signature composition.

For the bard whose immortal lines reverberate even today — “If no one answers to your call, walk alone, walk alone” — no number of books can be enough to have another look at this great mind.

Tagore’s vision of transcending time, place, space and national boundary continues to resonate with people’s dreams and hopes all over the world. To read and understand Tagore, it is also necessary to understand the various national and global events of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century which critically shaped the poet’s language, incorporating distinct narratives.

The Socio-political Thought of Rabindranath Tagore by Bidyut Chakrabarty presents a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the socio-political, socio-economic and ideological preference of Tagore, with emphasis on nationalistic, inclusive and gender development ideas. It shows that Tagore’s socio-political ideas remain relevant not merely as a package for intellectual rejuvenation but also as a meaningful device for socio-economic transformation for the world.

Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati, West Bengal, and former professor in the Department of Political Science, Delhi University, Bidyut Chakrabarty is a reputed academician having taught in prestigious universities across counties. Chakrabarty has also authored Public Administration: From Government to Governance, Winning the Mandate: The Indian ExperienceCommunism in India: Events, Processes and IdeologiesIndian Politics, Society since Independence: Events, Processes and Ideology and The Governance Discourse: A Reader. His new book, Socio-political Thought of Rabindranath Tagore — all of 400 pages — is a venerable account of Tagore’s mental universe, his idea of nationalism, his thoughts on socio-economic reconstruction, his understanding of gender issues, his approach to education and, finally, his comprehension of universal humanism.

Says the blurb: “Rabindranath Tagore, an icon of humanism and universalism who always privileged India’s argumentative traditions, remains a source of inspiration for humanity. However, Tagore’s social and political ideas appear to have received inadequate attention presumably because of the hegemonic influence of derivative Western ideas and thoughts. This is where Tagore stands out, not only as a poet but also a visionary who charted a course of action in tune with human betterment, cutting across all kinds of man-made barriers and customary restrictive social, economic and political practices.” 

Chakrabarty sets out to understand Tagore’s political and social philosophy of universalism, humanism and cosmopolitanism, which the poet, to a large extent, inherited from his distinguished family lineage. As Tagore himself wrote, “It was as if we lived close to the age of pre-Puranic India through our commitment to the Upanishads. Along with that, there was a genuinely deep love of English literature among my elders.”

Writes Chakrabarty in the introduction: “An icon of humanism and universalism who always privileged India’s argumentative traditions, Rabindranath Tagore, popularly known as Gurudev, remains a source of inspiration for humanity. Born in a wealthy family with serious concerns for India’s cultural heritage, Gurudev designed, through his creative writings, a uniquely structured tapestry for India and the globe.

“Based on his own understanding of India’s cultural past, Tagore revived the lost socio-cultural traditions and ideological inclinations of the past just to develop a repertoire of knowledge that he thought was one of the effective means of rejuvenating a moribund nation reeling under colonialism.”

Chakrabarty writes in the prefacing remark  : “The book is a historical document in the sense that it was written at a critical time in India’s recent history when the entire nation voluntarily accepted home quarantine  to defeat the invisible  enemy in the form of COVID-19 virus that led to a pandemic in 2020.This was a testing time for humanity and the exemplary  steadfastness shown by everybody cutting across spatial boundaries  once again  proved that we win if we are united  and fail when divided.”

The book offers insights into Tagore’s political viewpoint developed through his interaction with leading personalities and ordinary people in India and abroad. There are several contradictory layers in his political vision. Tagore admired Ram Mohan Roy, but differed from his ideological outlook and disdained Bengali elites for imitating their colonial masters. He disagreed with Bankim Chandra’s ‘aggressive nationalism’. Though he appreciated the Western ideas of scientific progress, he made a trenchant critique of imperialism. He attended meetings of the Indian National Congress (INC), but disapproved of its policies and scorned its leaders for mimicking the West in their language and attire.

Then, how different was Tagore’s universal humanism? Writes Chakrabarty: “A firm believer in the notion, Tagore stayed away from the hurly-burly of national politics. Despite sharing the nationalistic condemnation of the colonizer, Tagore never allowed this restrictive vision to cloud his concern for human emancipation.”

What makes the book noteworthy is the logicality, lucidity of the language and its wholesome approach. Engaging and informative, the book is an essential read to know Tagore’s belief in social cohesion and the all-inclusive approach articulated in his political ideas.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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Categories
Poetry

Poetry in Translation

Aditya Shankar translates poetry by Krispin Joseph

Sleep

A hundred men
Unlikely to ever rise
Stands guard at the river bank
Though those buoyant feet
Would never let them float away.
The feet of the guard outlives
The primitive tribes of the river
And retreats, unsure if it is
The breast or the belly
That grazes their fingers.
To those who return from
The river, I need to enquire
About the taste of the girl
Who died yesterday.

(Urakkam, translated from Malayalam by Aditya Shankar)

Bio: Krispin is a poet, media person, editor and organizer. He has two poetry anthologies to his credit: La(R)va and Sharapova. He was the editor of an anthology of love poems for DC Books, Kerala. He has been part of the editorial team (both as team leader and sub editor) for the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) and the International Documentary and short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK).

Aditya Shankar is an Indian poet, flash fiction author, and translator. His work has appeared in international journals and anthologies of repute and translated into Malayalam and Arabic. Books: After Seeing (2006), Party Poopers (2014), and XXL (Dhauli Books, 2018). He lives in Bangalore, India.

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Categories
Stories

Kumar Bhimsingha

Kumar Bhimsingha by Swarnakumari Devi, the sister of Rabindranath Tagore, was published in Bharati & Balok, a magazine run by the Tagore family, in Boisakh 1293 of the Bengali calendar, April 1887 according to the Gregorian one. It has been translated by Chaitali Sengupta.

Swarnakumari Devi. Courtesy: Wiki

The king of Mewar, Rana Raj Singha, was resting alone in his sleeping chamber. Dusk had set in. As per the orders of the king, the servants had kept only one fire-lit lamp. The rest had all been extinguished. The soft light had created an ambience that gave a pleasant hue to the king’s thoughts. The day of the coronation was almost upon them, the day when prince Jayasingha would be anointed his heir, the next king of Mewar.

Rana Raj Singha’s mind was full only with the thoughts of how elated his royal queen would be on that special day and the happiness of the crown prince. He was not bothered about his subjects’ reactions at all. The gates of his royal chamber opened slowly, and his second queen Kamal Kumari entered inside. Startled, the king sat up on his bed, surprised to find her there. He indicated she sit on a seat near him. Once she was seated, the king asked, “You, at this late hour?”

The queen replied, “There’s no option left for me. You never show up, when I ask for you.”

A bit embarrassed, the king remembered that throughout the day, a couple of messages did come from the queen, requesting him to visit her in the inner chambers of the palace. Slowly, he said, “My dear queen, I forgot.”

Her mind hissed, yes indeed, such is my fate, that you’ve regularly forgotten me, there’s nothing new in it. Keeping her face expressionless, she only asked, “I just came to confirm; are the rumours that are brewing true, my King?”

Something forced the king not to come out with a direct reply. He simply asked, “Which rumours do you mean?”

The Queen responded: “Rumours, that says that your throne is going to be taken over by Jayasingha, during your kingship. Looks like our land is following the Muslim rulers in this regard.”

This sneering remark, aimed at Jayasingha was not lost upon the king. He said, “Rumours are gossip. Not the truth. My throne is not being usurped by Jayasingha; on the contrary, I’m bestowing it upon him.”

The queen laughed harshly. “Ah, so you’re passing the throne to him. Why such a haste to abdicate and retire, may I ask?”

Holding his surging anger in check, the king replied, “My dear queen, there’s no reason to laugh like that. A king must think a hundred times and act with deep consideration. Just think, the well-being and suffering of his subjects are so much dependent on his decisions. If I, the reigning monarch, do not take a decision now, then there is a chance is that in my absence, the question of succession would lead to a fight among the brothers, and ruin the kingdom.”

The Queen said: “But my observation is, that in trying to find a solution, you’re in fact, instigating one brother to fight the other. In the name of protecting your kingdom, you’re leading it towards destruction. If you wish to decide on your successor, in your presence, then, pray, why do you not declare your eldest son as the next king? Why are you usurping his rightful eligibility to the throne unlawfully and relinquishing it to the younger one?”

The words rang true, but they did not please the king. Sometimes, it was difficult to bear the truth. With supreme irritation, the king said, “Bhimsingha and Jayasingha were both born almost at the same time. The difference is their time of birth is so minute, that on the basis of that, Bhimsingha cannot claim to be the successor to the throne, just by virtue of being elder by a few seconds. They’re born on the same day, at the same time. Under the circumstance, the one who is more capable has a right to inherit the throne. I believe Jayasingha to be more capable of the two.”

Laughing, the queen said, “It seems like you want to turn the wheel of time; or, else, why would you accept the younger one, to be equal to the eldest one? I’m happy that just your mere words did not change the dictates of time. Even if a person is marginally older by birth, he deserves to be considered as the eldest. Lav and Kush were twins; but then why, did Lav succeed his father to the throne? Besides, let me ask you, on what grounds do you think Jayasingha is more deserving than Bhimsingha? Is Bhimsingha any less than Jayasingha in terms of bravery, honesty, intelligence, prowess? Who is admired by the army? Whose honesty enchants the nobles in your court? Whom do the subjects want as their future king? You’ll get your answer, if only you ask others. However, if you believe Jayasingha to be more deserving since he’s born of your favourite consort, and is, hence, your dear prince, of course, that is a different story.”

Her words, like sharp quills, invaded his heart. Angered, he said, “So be it.”

The queen, too, could hardly restrain her anger. “Then say that clearly. Why be pretentious and hide behind false words? Being a king, are you afraid to voice the truth?”

The king answered, “Nobody ever wanted to know the truth from me. None can claim that I’ve been untruthful.”

The queen replied, “Do you remember the day they’re born?”

She paused, her words were caught in the web of time, as she travelled back almost twenty years, remembering that day. The difference between the simple, trusting, young bride of yesteryears and today’s middle-aged woman, neglected, exploited, devoid of husband’s attention, was too great. The young Kamal Kumari of those days, who after giving birth to her first born, had waited with love and patience, for her husband to come, and to take her son in his arms, exulting in happiness. In the expectancy of his arrival, she completely forgot the pains of childbirth and in her heart, there flowed a stream of bliss. But when the moments changed to minutes, and then to hours, and still the King did not come, she felt neglected and hurt. Dejected and sad, she heard one of the maidservants saying, “Queen Chanchal Kumari, too, has given birth to a prince around the same time. The king is with her and he has tied the amulet of immortality, on the feet of the newborn. Later, he will come here.”

It had been a tradition of the Royal house of Mewar that at the birth of the firstborn, the king tied the amulet of immortality on the tiny feet. It was a symbol, whereby the king declared his firstborn, to be his successor. On hearing, that the king had unfairly put the precious amulet on the feet of his younger prince, instead of his elder one, a raging fire swelled fiercely in her heart. The tears from a mother’s eyes anointed the newborn on that day.

The queen clearly understood that her husband didn’t love her anymore. In the past too, such thoughts had assailed her, like frail doubts, but they never lasted long. She had reprimanded herself for doubting her husband. But, that day, the doubts that had only temporarily intruded, took root as the truth in her mind. Shell-shocked, the queen felt like dying.

When her husband came finally, to visit the newborn, she did not utter a word. Within a few days, she heard rumours within the palace walls, that claimed that because of the mistake on the part of the servants, who miscalculated the time of birth of Chanchal Kumari’s firstborn, the king had tied the amulet on her boy, thinking him to be the eldest.

Kamal Kumari did not have the heart to judge the veracity of this rumour. She had no trust on the king’s love for her, and his proximity only became another cause of pain and agony for her. How on earth would one engage in such talks with him? Many a times, she’d attempted to broach this subject, to question him, and each time, her misery had been so immense, that she came back before she could get her answers.

But after so many years, when she had almost no reason to disbelieve his very reason for tying the amulet on Jayasingha’s feet, she stomped with wifely hurt. She only remembered that she was Bhimsingha’s mother. She felt that it was only because he was born of her ill-fated womb, his luck forsook him, meting out grievous injustice by depriving him of his natural right. Deadly anger replaced the feeling of hurt then, and she stood against the king, to fight for justice, to fight for her son’s rights.

When the incidents around his birth flashed before her eyes, once again, it made her weaker; the fire of anger that lighted her eyes, at once turned tearfully misty, with the remembered hurt. But, not for long. Soon enough, the queen spoke angry words: “If you aren’t afraid to speak the truth, then why could you not come up with the real reason for tying the amulet on the feet of your younger son, when all the while, it was your eldest son, who deserved it?”

Angered, the king replied, “It’s not my duty to explain my decisions or the reasons behind them to the subjects. And if people misinterpret my actions, I can hardly be blamed. Right? If I’d hidden the truth on that day, fearing the public backlash, then I’d have hesitated to give him the throne, even today. If people had any wrong assumptions, let it be dismissed by this action of mine. This is my kingdom, and I reserve the right of bestowing it to whomsoever I please. I’m neither afraid of the public and nor should they have any right to comment on this.”

Unable to tolerate further, the queen stood up from her seat, and in an agitated voice, said, “No, don’t you dare think like that, O King. It might be your kingdom, but you’ve no right to bestow it upon anyone you deem fit. You may be the judge, but that doesn’t give you the right to be unjust. Your kingship doesn’t give you the right to break laws. And if a king does that, then he’s not a king – he is a despot, an unrighteous ruler. Such a king’s bounty will surely not be accepted by my son. The day he claims this kingdom as his rightful domain, it’ll be his. Even if you wish to bestow the kingdom upon him now, he will not accept it from you. Remember when your unfair decision results in bloodshed. It will take the lives of millions of innocent people, bringing huge destruction to this land. When bloodshed between brothers will bring the legacy of Mewar to ignominy, don’t blame them or others. Do remember then, O king, that this is the consequence of your sin. You’re a descendant of the famous Raghu clan, whose patriarch King Dashrath didn’t hesitate to banish his favorite son Rama to forest just to uphold justice. Despite being born into such an illustrious family, today, you defamed your family name. But, as long as this world exists, and the planets revolve, you will not be able to suppress justice with injustice. Truth shall triumph, O king, you would not be able to stop its march.”

Her words were clearly laced with deep hatred. Having spoken them out, the proud woman went out of the king’s bedchamber, in slow, graceful steps. She didn’t meet Bhimsingha that night and decided to have a talk with him the next morning.

2.

The queen departed. She left behind a cacophony of censure and her words continued reverberating in the Rana’s head, pounding like thunderbolts. His mind echoed back the words of his queen: “You are the descendant of the famous Raghu clan, whose patriarch King Dashrath didn’t hesitate to banish his favorite son Rama to forest…”  He felt dizzy. His majesty, the great Rana Raj Singha became as restless as a small child. “Oh, what have I done? I’ve compromised truth at the feet of fraternal love, despite being born in a family that upheld truth at all costs. Oh God, was this the purpose of my unlucky birth, only to tarnish the unsullied name of my family?”

It was, as if his closed eyes, were suddenly opened. Never before, had he thought about the matter in this manner. In his mind, since Bhimsingha and Jayasingha, both were born on the same day, neither of them had precedence on the throne. It was his kingdom, and he thought to bestow it upon whom he deemed fit. Blinded by one-sided love, he had, so far, failed to ponder upon the other aspect of the issue. But, today, he was cured off such an illusion, such an oversight, in a harsh way.

The night passed sleeplessly in a restless state. At the crack of dawn, he asked the guard, “Ask Prince Bhimsingha to come here at once.”

“Prince Bhimsingha?” The guard expressed surprise, for they all knew Jayasingha to be the crown prince. Checking his surprise, he went out to inform Bhimsingha.

The fact that he has been called to meet his father surprised Bhimsingha no less. It was a novel occasion, for he could hardly remember ever to be called by the king, his father. He thought, “Is this some new trick? Is he calling me to attend upon Jayasingha, to be his servant? But does he not understand that, as long as Bhimsingha has faith in his own prowess and bravery, the throne can never belong to Jayasingha.”

Remembering his father’s partiality angered him afresh. He was in a dilemma. He pondered on how he could turn down the invitation to meet him. However, he decided not to disobey the royal command. “On the other hand, today, in his presence, I’m going to speak out my heart,” he thought.

His heart seething with anger, Bhimsingha went to his father. But his anger melted as he glanced at the king looking for an escape route. Depression was written large on the king’s face and his eyes, although troubled, were deep with love as he looked at Bhimsingha. Anger and revengeful feelings vanished in a moment. In its place, there was a strange emotion of unexpressed pain.

The king, too, was surprised to see Bhimsingha’s calm, forbearing, respectful demeanor, just the very opposite of the image he’d conceived in his mind, in which Bhimsingha seethed with deep seated anger, frowning to demand fairness from him. Bhimsingha behaved like a loving son. Seeing his son’s respectful demeanour towards his father, embarrassed the king. His son’s respect, forbearance and calmness filled the king’s heart with deep contrition, a feeling which no amount of anger on Bhimsingha’s part would have aroused in the Rana’s troubled heart. In deep shame and repentance, the king could hardly glance at him.

Slowly, he said, “Son Bhimsingha!”

His affectionate tone surprised Bhimsingha. Never before, had the king expressed such tenderness towards him. Slight and neglect had been his lot from his father. The memory of a day when both the brothers were playing in the garden invaded his consciousness. The Rana had caressed Jayasingha fondly, but for him he had not spared a word of endearment. Hurt with his behavior, the boy had left the place, found his mother’s lap to shed his tears, without telling her the reason of his sorrow. Growing up, at every step, he’d observed the unfairness of his father. And by bestowing his throne to Jayasingha, he’d, finally, shown the height of unfairness. It had led him to believe that the king did not love him.

And so, after long years, when the king called him with such tenderness in his voice, it roused strong emotions in his heart, overwhelming him. In a trembling voice, he replied, “Father.”

All these years, Bhimsingha had addressed him as Maharaja, the king. Looking at him, the king confessed, “Son, I’ve wronged you grossly, please forgive me.”

Tears coursed down Bhimsingha’s eyes, tears of hurt and pride. The fact, that his father realised and acknowledged his unfair behaviour towards him, washed away his hurt. In his heart, he said, “I’ve lost your affection, for I stayed away, aloof from you, doubting your affection for me. For this reason, I seek your forgiveness, forgive me, father.”

He stood speechless in front of the king; the Rana, observing his silence, continued, “I know it is difficult for you to forgive me, but I’ll atone for the crime I committed, and thereby ask forgiveness from my conscience, from my God. You’re my firstborn; to you, shall I bestow my throne, on your head, the crown shall glitter. But even if I do so, Jayasingha would always stand as a barrier on your path, an impediment. It is because of my fault that he’s dreaming of possessing that which is not his. The greed of the kingdom would turn him to cause anarchy in the land. And there is, but only one solution to this problem.”

Saying so, he unsheathed the sword that glittered brightly against the rays of the sun. Holding it in front of Bhimsingha, he said, “Take this, and pierce this sword through his heart. Let one death ward-off thousands of deaths, let justice prevail at the downfall of injustice. Don’t panic, on the face of cold responsibility. No relationship is important enough.” His voice shook, as he uttered the words, realising their onus, in essence, within his heart.

Like a statue, carved in stone, Bhimsingha stood. In a flash, he understood what the king was going through. To uphold his duty, he was sacrificing his most valuable, loved treasure. Bhimsingha witnessed the intense loftiness of his father’s ideals. His greatness impressed his to the core. His love for his father increased a thousand-fold. Bhimsingha clearly understood, that in piercing the heart of his brother, he would in fact, be stabbing his father. He could hardly say anything. His mind only whispered, “You’re a god, a divine being.”

Watching him standing quietly, the king again reiterated, “Son, don’t shiver at this thought. You’d be committing this act to uphold justice, for the well-being of the land, there’s no sin in this act of yours. And even if you commit a sin, it would be not yours, it would be mine. Follow my command and fulfil it.”

Bhimsingha took the sword from his hand and kept it at the king’s feet. He said, “Father, take back your sword. I’ve no need for it. You’d indeed wronged me, but you’ve repented profusely for it. You’ve fulfilled your duty to the letter. Now let me fulfil mine. I’ll make sure, that there will not be a drop of bloodshed because of me; that Jayasingha would not commit anything untoward because of me. The right that you’ve bestowed upon me today, I grant that right to Jayasingha. From today onward, this kingdom shall rightfully be his. I’ll leave Mewar, to prevent myself from getting tempted, in future, by the greed of attaining the throne. Carrying the affection and the lofty ideals that you imparted to me today in my heart, I’ll leave my motherland Mewar tonight. If I fail to do this, let me not be known as your son.”

Not giving him a moment to respond or desist, Bhimsingha touched his father’s feet and was gone. Astounded, the king stood there.

That very day, Bhimsingha himself crowned Jayasingha. Then, along with his loved soldiers and nobles, he left Mewar. He never came back.  Many years later, when his companions returned to Mewar, they carried with them, the news of his death.

Swarnakumari Devi (1855-1932) was five years older to her sibling, Rabindranath Tagore. She was one of the first women writers of Bengal. She was also a social activist who fought for women’s liberation. Among Bengali women writers, she was one of the first to gain prominence. She helped orphans and widows. She opened an organisation to help women and opposed the evil of sati. In the 5 July 1932 issue of the Bengali newspaper, Amrita Bazar Patrika, just days after her death, she is  remembered as “one of the most outstanding Bengali women of the age” who “did her best for the amelioration of the condition of the womanhood of Bengal.”

Chaitali Sengupta is a writer, translator and journalist from the Netherlands. Her published works include two translations “Quiet whispers of our heart” and “A thousands words of  heart”. Recently her first prose poem collection Cross- Stitched words was published. Her poems have also been anthologized in many international collections and she writes for many print and online journals. 

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