Borderless September, 2020


Agron Shele, founder of Atunis, discusses his blog and anthology. Click here to read.


The Literary Fictionist :

Sunil Sharma, our columnist for fiction, takes us on a strange journey through the backstreets of Mumbai in A Stranger in the City. Click here to read.

Ghumi Stories: A Night too Long

Ghumi is an imaginary township located in the Chhota Nagpur plateau of Bihar in India created by writer Nabanita Sengupta. This story journeys back to 1984, to the anti-Sikh riots that broke out after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Click here to read

How Blue is your Sapphire

Relive the terror of the 2008 Taj Mumbai attacks in this gripping nostalgic retelling by Bhavana Kunkalikar. Click here to read.

This Land of Ours

Shevlin Sebastian captures man’s relentless struggle against unsympathetic forces of nature. Click here to read.

Flash Fiction: The Carpet

What can be under a carpet? Niles M Reddick takes us on a journey of discovery in his amazing flash fiction. Click here to read.

Flash Fiction: Nameless

Bhumika R. explores a strange phenomenon in New Delhi. Click here to read.

Musings/Slice of Life

Musings of a Copywriter:

An Encounter With Snakes: Our non-fiction columnist, Devraj Singh Kalsi, amuses with his hilarious take on snakes and snake charmers in his home in a pre-COVID world. Click here to read.

Paper Trails

A nostalgic journey back into the past by Julian Matthews, set in Malaysia. Click here to read.

Lounging through Lucknow Lores

Nidhi Mishra takes us on a nostalgic journey through the syncretic elements of Lucknawi culture. Click here to read.

Vignettes of life: Unhurried at Haripur

Debraj Mookerjee journeys into the heart of rural Bengal. Click here to read.

The Corridors of the Mind

Anasuya Bhar journeys to her childhood recalling her experience of having an artists for a father. Click here to read.

Racism is not only an American Problem

Young Shivam Periwal shows how it seeps in large parts of the world outside. Click here to read.


What Use is It? Reading James Joyce in the 21st Century

Dustin Pickering argues that Joyce is what we need during this pandemic. Click here to read.

Republic of Rananim

An exploration of Utopian dreams by Sekhar Banerjee. Click here to read.

Cozies and Me: Adventures during the Pandemic

Soma Das takes us on a journey through a genre of books called cozies.


Click on the names to read.

Geetha Ravichandran, adi (Adithya Patil), Sakshi Srivastava, Srijith Raha, Chaitali Sengupta, Amita Ray, Matthew James Friday, Navneet K Maun, Adrian David, A.Jessie Michael, Melissa A. Chappell, Roopam Mishra, Anjali V.Raj, Wansoo Kim, King Komrabai Dumbuya, Nishi Pulugurtha

Penny Wilkes, Saranayan BV, Sambhu R.

Limericks by Vandana Dharni

Book Excerpt

Notes of Silent Times by Mahesh Paudyal. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Meenakshi Malhotra reviews Love is not a word: The Culture and Politics of Desire, essays edited by Debotri Dhar. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris by Christopher Snedden. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Aysha Baqir’s Beyond the Fields. Click here to read.


Tagore’s Krishnokoli by translated by Rupa Chakravarti from Bengali to English. Click here to read

Sanket Mhatre‘s poems translated by Rochelle Potkar from Marathi to English. Click here to read.

Bina Theeng Tamang‘s poetry translated by Hem Bishwakaram from Nepali to English. Click here to read.

Aparajita Ghosh‘s story translated by Ratnottama Sengupta from Bengali to English. Click here to read.

Sara’s Selections

Click here to read writing of youngsters picked by Ms Sara.


Dreams that Flow… Click here to read


Dreams That Flow…

‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on…’

Shakespeare, Tempest, Act 4, Sc 1

Long ago, I had a dream… a dream where I was the sole player.

The dream changed to become more inclusive with the passage of time. It moved to create a new reality which was more fascinating than any other I could imagine. And you have all become a part of that reality for me — even though we all remain connected only in the virtual world — in a universe that links us seamlessly — in the reality created by Borderless Journal. Borderless has woven narratives together from all corners of the world and recorded a time which is in itself unique, not just because all time is, as Eliot says, unredeemable but also because the last six months have been one of an unmitigated battle to survive as a species against a virus that not only created a pandemic but mutates to infect more of mankind.

Today Borderless Journal completes six months of virtual existence. We started our journey on March 14, 2020, when the coronal heat had just started to scorch more of mankind. We started the journal with the hope of providing a space that would rise above all borders of politics, faith business to create a region to help move towards a positive mindset, above marginalised or divisive thought processes. We did not think of being unified by a pandemic! But by ideas.

And so many ideas were generated by writers through this year of travail for humankind, some related to the pandemic and some on other issues. Beautiful pieces emerged and helped Borderless become everyone’s journal — just as we all had dreamt.

When Borderless turned three months, we announced it would be a monthly. At six months, I want to add more to the journal by announcing two columnists — skilled acclaimed writers who have agreed to contribute on a monthly basis. Sunil Sharma starts a fiction column with us with a gripping story set in Mumbai — a narrative that leads you to uncover strange unknown secrets. Devraj Singh Kalsi starts a musing column with us with a funny nostalgic telling about his encounter with snakes and their charmers in his own home, which covers the theme I had set for this month — nostalgia and humour. Do not miss out on our two columnists this month.

The other story that will be published on a monthly basis are the Ghumi stories. Ghumi is an imaginary place created by the author, Nabanita Sengupta. She has six of them and each month, you can look forward to one. This month she shares with us a piece of nostalgia from 1984 — the riots around the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Another story by Bhavana Kunkalikar, an upcoming writer, covers a darker bit of history set during the 2008 terror attack at Mumbai. A senior journalist, Shevlin Sebastian, gives us another gripping read against violent and unsympathetic nature — a powerful read that assures if man can survive such violence, the virulence of the pandemic is just another episode in human history. Through all these stories we see the ascendancy of the human spirit which helps mankind cope with distress.

We have a lighter flavourful, nostalgic piece by Debraj Mookerjee on his trips into rural Bengal and another on the syncretic lore of Lucknow, the Lucknawi tehzeeb, brought to us by the founder of Bookosmia, Nidhi Mishra. And we have her and Archana Mohan to thank for not just Sara’s Selections but another thought generating musing by fifteen-year-old Shivam who concludes that “we all have to live together and in harmony”, inspiring divisive adults to unite under the banner of humankind. Bookosmia deserves kudos for giving us a huge access to the magical and imaginative kingdom of youngsters, which often has more wisdom than the adult realm. In our urge to simplify by classification, we forget that is pretty much what the Big Endians and Little Endians did in Gulliver’s Travels.

We have poetry from different parts of the world that is intense, some nostalgic, humorous and even, limericks. And we have our first poem from Korea by Dr Wansoo Kim, overriding the barriers that split the country in two after the second World War along the 38th parallel, pretty much around the time the Indian Subcontinent was split too. In Korea’s case it was ideologies based on ‘isms’ and in India’s case it was ‘religion’.

That Dustin Pickering brought out some of our pieces in his esteemed quarterly, Harbinger Asylum, in hard copy, is something that I feel very grateful for. I hope you have all got your copies of the quarterly. He has also generously contributed a literary essay trying to convince all of us that James Joyce is the writer of the hour. And we have Sekhar Banerjee talking of Lawrence’s utopia, Rananim – an interesting read, both essayists pleading for two different schools of thought being perfect for comprehending this age of dissonance! Interestingly Lawrence was born on 9/11, the day the New York towers tumbled taking millions of victims’ lives in a horrific , devastating attack of terror. While pieces touched on various dark issues even with the theme of nostalgia, none touched on this historic act of annihilation which changed the way we live and think. I wonder why? And we have another interesting essay on cozy novels by freelancer Soma Das, who finds these to be the most cathartic reads during the pandemic. An interesting bundle of essays!

This month we also carry an interview with the founder of an Albanian journal that tries to create a borderless world through poetry, Atunis Galaxy Poetry. The founder is none other than the gifted and established litterateur, Agron Shele, who kindly gave us some time.

Book reviews by Bhaskar Parichha, Meenakshi Malhotra, Rakhi Dalal and translations from various languages — Bengali, Marathi and Nepali — add to the colours of our oeuvre. We have a translation of a poignant Bengali story by the former Art’s Editor of The Times of India, Ratnottama Sengupta. I would list this one too as a must read.

There is always the mysterious more that I leave unmentioned to goad you on to explore our pages further. For, it is ultimately why we write — to be read. That is why I can never thank our readers enough for patronising us. I hope you all continue to find our journal interesting and gripping. Write to us if you feel we need to something different.

Have a fabulous journey through the September issue of Borderless Journal!

Thank you all for being a part of this fabulous dream.

Happiness and sunshine to all of you!

Mitali Chakravarty


In Conversation with Atunis Founder Agron Shele

Agron Shele, Founder Atunis

Each day, he brings out a variety of poems from all over the world. Some of it is translated from multiple languages and some are in English. The blog is called Atunis. He is a well-known figure in the Albanian literary world, Agron Shele.

A multifaceted individual, Shele has authored novels and poetry collections and brings out anthologies regularly featuring writers from all over the world in the form of an annual publication called, Atunis Galaxis.  Trained by various United Nations bodies, he is the chairman of the “Environment and Community” and “Children and youngsters” societies and the recipient of various literary awards in Albania. Currently, he resides in Belgium and continues to dedicate his time and efforts to publishing literary works with universal values. Universal values and spiritual development through literature for the benefit of mankind is a recurrent theme of this discussion. Let us now, plunge into the world this humanitarian visionary poet opens up for us.

What made you turn to writing? What languages do you write in?

My passion for writing came early in life and it relates to my childhood memories, as I initially began to read stories and legends by different authors. Fascinated by the majesty (beauty) of the descriptions of local and foreign authors, and the natural beauty of my homeland, I was inspired to write and research about written art, as one more form of communication; individual consciousness — contact with literary experiences (from mythology to postmodernism today) — the inner spiritual world. I write in Albanian, but my reading is not restricted to Albanian as I read in different languages as well.

You are also a professional management personnel. Does it affect your writing?

Of course, management also has a great influence on my work, as my collaboration is always with professional authors, with whom we do not only finish a single page of writing, but we also discuss the principles of a whole variety of different art themes, creative forms and structures on which a poem or prose is based and ultimately the latest trends and developments of universality thought.

When did you start Atunis? Tell us more about your blog. What is the intent of your blog?

Atunis Poetic Galaxy is an international link of writers, poets, and painters, which unites different nationalities with creative innovation but with a wide spiritual basis, to help the transmission of art in all ethical-cultural-social forms. Respect for diversity and different cultures forms a free literary spirit of communication between authors with full global literary identity. This is the goal of Atunis, a muse that circulates inside a global literary galaxy, where the journal explores art in the service of development, emancipation, divine justice, and human respect. The authors are united by the common literary spiritual force, described by a deep sense of aesthetics, motivated by an essential creative character and the revival of cultural values on the most civilized international scale. Atunis Poetic Galaxy was founded in 2011, registered under the Legislation and functions as a literary link, always in collaboration with other sister links and professional authors.

 What does the name Atunis mean?

Atunis is a Pelasgian word. Fortunately, this word is preserved even today in the Albanian language and has the meaning: The father left, the horse left (definitive meaning) — Good luck!

How many poets have you published in your blog? Do you publish prose in your blog? What languages does your blog carry?

The Atunis Literary Page has many authors’ publications, for the simple reason that this site publishes authors from all over the world and in many foreign languages. It is currently a site that has over 1.2 million viewers, but what makes it special is not the quantity of publications, but the quality and elevated level of presentation. So not everyone can be published on the Literary Page. In terms of publications, Atunis publishes in all genres: poetry, prose, drama, translations, literary criticism, reports, etc.

The languages on the Atunis literary site are English, Albanian, Italian, Spanish, French, and Dutch.

You bring out an anthology regularly. What is the frequency and what do you look for in finding poets for your anthology?

The Atunis Literary League publishes the Atunis Literary Magazine and the Atunis Anthology. We have published Literary Magazine (hardcopy): Atunis (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8) — (Albanian, English, Italian) and literary anthologies: Atunis Galaxy Anthology (2018, 2019, 2020). The authors are represented through the literary correspondence of the members of the Board of Directors with professional authors and with other International Connections (IWA-USA), IPTC (Asia), WPS, and many other connections in Europe and Poetas Del Mundo (Latin America).

Is your anthology always in English? Tell us more about the anthology.

Of course, it is. Atunis Galaxy Anthology is published in English and annually selects the literary feeds of successful authors. The magic of the word is the best articulation of synthesis and symbiotic memory and when words are raised into art, the expressed power touches on the apex at a new important level. Literature with its magical touch and its mysticism has always attracted many turbulent souls, souls that are reborn over the flirting of creational beauty, the beauty of life, natural beauty. Literature reflects the aspirations, values, and the purest thoughts on humanity. It captures such an important level of human vitality, where the word is transformed into a myth, into the production of genius ideas that moulds and shapes endlessly our civilization.

How do you tackle a variety of languages? Do you have a team or manage yourself?

Atunis Poetic Gakatika is a literary link managed by the Board of Directors, where each member of the Board is responsible not only for the country he represents, but also a basic language through which an author is introduced.

How do you juggle time between your development as a writer, the blog, and anthologies?

My free time is not only managed as a publisher but also as a creator. In my spare time, I edit books of colleagues, write in prose or poetry, and I write prefaces to books written by different authors.

Do you translate too? Poetry? Do you find the original and the translation at variance?

I am not a translator and I consider the translation of a poem or a fragment very sacred because, in my opinion, the field of translation is not simply the reflection of an entire creative world of an author, but also an attempt to unify the cultural diversity that it represents.

Edward Fitzgerald spoke of translating the essence of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat and not the literal text. Does that hold true for translations you use?

 Omar Khayyam has been translated into Albanian language by the master of translation of many works of Shakespeare, Theofan Stilian Noli, and what I would describe is that his literary, Rubaiyat, not only stands as a pearl in World Literature, but continues to influence today’s poets in their lyrical spirit. When you read Rubaiyat, it is like traveling to another world, which grabs you and transports you to another poetic galaxy. Khayyam is always inspiring and quite influential even today. Unrepeatable with his lyrics, this Persian uses this phrase as his motivational quote: “it is not known whether Persian created poetry or poetry created Persian”.

What future do you see for Atunis and yourself?

The Atunis Literary League is already home to many authors who, thanks to their cooperation, have enabled the exchange of ideas and unified elite literary thought through mutual translations, and as such, thanks to creative alternatives, they have become missionaries for more peace, divine justice, and civilization of human society.

  Any advice for upcoming writers?

I would recommend that young authors and poets read as many selected works as possible. This would help them build their foundation and develop their talent and generate new ideas that would lead to beautiful works of literary art. 


This was an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty




Yet, Forget Me Not…

Short story by actress film-maker Aparajita Ghosh translated from Bengali by Ratnottama Sengupta

Aparajita Ghosh

Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Rishi…

Today Rishi turned five. The slicing of the cake is celebrating that. This is to be followed by dinner.  Pulao*, mutton curry  and sweets. The four-five guests present all know each other. They are people who frequent this household. Snigdha kaki*, Pranab kaka*, and the young man Friday of this building. 

“Ananya, here’s your share of the cake, ” Bharati mashima* stretched her hand to offer it to me. How adorable she looks, this young lady of 70 summers! Red bordered white sari, a large bindi on her forehead, that endearing smile playing on her lips.  I took the cake from her and glanced at Rishi’s photograph. A chubby little boy, a headful of raven hair, happiness in his smile and sharpness in his eyes. He is in Hyderabad. In all likelihood, he is cutting a fancy cake in a bustling party. Probably he is not even aware that he has a Grandmother and a Grandfather. 

Holding on to the cake, I walked across the room to sit next to meshomoshai*. Long flowing snow white beard. A curious lack of guile marks  the face of this 84-year-old man. “Do you know dear,” he was telling  me, “Bharati has called so many times, to simply hear the kid’s voice. No one answered the phone. Not once…” 

That no one will pick up the phone is clear to everyone by now — save mashima and meshomoshai. After Kinkar da*‘s death, the day Kanchana left with Rishi, she had expressly said that no one should attempt to contact her in any way. She wanted to retain no link with this household in any manner whatsoever. 

Kinkar da was only forty then. It was the midnight of a sweltering July day. The call from the Police Station had come to our house. Later we got to know that ours was the last dialled number in Kinkar da‘s phone. Around 10 pm he had called to tell Maa that he had picked up a quality Hilsa, so we should lunch together the next day. Kinkar da‘s car was spotted on EM Bypass, crumpled like a tin toy car. Even before he could be taken to a hospital he had…

The post mortem report held the excess of alcohol in his blood to be the cause of death. Kanchana held Mashima and  Meshomoshai responsible for his death. “They not only put up with his bohemian ways, they even boasted about it.” And that was partly if not wholly the truth. They never objected to anything their son did. On the contrary, they took pride in their son. 

But, then, there was sufficient ground for that. Kinkar da was a renowned linguist. He was good at painting. His byline was a regular feature of many newspapers. Almost every week he was giving a talk on diverse platforms. All in all he was nothing short of a celebrity. In actuality he was a down to earth person. He would always dress in khadi kurta* and lose pajama. And always, he sported thick framed glasses. 

Kinkar da often took me out in his car. We would chat endlessly over puchkas*. Yes, he was senior to me by many years but he was more like a friend. He was my Confession Box. I looked up to him like my own elder brother, my dada. Even now I remember him on Raakhi* and Bhai Phonta*

“What’s the matter Anu? Why are you sitting still with the cake in your hand? You’re all right?” I was startled by Snigdha kaki‘s voice. “N-no no, I am fine,” I hastily replied. “Here, I’m having…” I was born in this very Suman Apartment, so all the elders in this building complex have a sense of belonging about me. And I love that. But this day is so very different that I am unable to enjoy anything. Haltingly I headed for the bedroom. A baba suit was resting on the bed — along with it, a Teddy bear and a pink coloured envelope. Rishi’s birthday gifts. 

Just like the four previous years, this year too these will be sent. I will myself courier them, and they will come back to me. Unlike the first time, that year it had been returned to the sender — mashima. Consequently, for three days and three nights, she did not utter a single word. Only, from time to time, she sat staring fixedly at Rishi’s photograph. The next time onward, I have been putting my flat number in the sender’s column. Like the last three years in all likelihood  this year, too, the gifts will lie hidden in my almirah.

I took out the letter from the envelope. mashima‘s handwriting. 

     Dear Dadubhai*,

Today you turn five. You must have grown in these years and learnt to speak full sentences. I hope you are learning Bengali too, dear child? Do master the language — your Grandpa has tons of books, you will read them all — some day. I have baked a cake for you today and cooked mutton-pulao for everyone. Don’t you be sad — when you come down here I will cook them again for you. We will also go out to visit all the attractions of this city. You have barely seen Kolkata. You just grow up fast and come visit us…

Much love and blessings to you shona*.

Lovingly – yours Thammi*

Just think! After all this I must lick the mutton pulao off my fingers. This day is to me no less than a punishment. So many times I have thought of going away somewhere to avoid the celebration. I don’t, only because of these two oldies. Take a look — they have put up balloons everywhere and done alpana* on  the floor at the entrance. Poor Rishi! He will never even hear about this. 

I did call Kanchana once. I had suggested that she come on a visit with Rishi. She had cut me short with her terse retort: “I will not let the dark shadows of that house spoil my child’s life. Spare me this request Ananya. If you do, I will be forced to sever all connections with you too.” I’m not sure what connection I have with Rishi and Kanchana. Still, I must admit, she does take my calls. But that is about all. 

“Ananya, don’t forget to courier the gifts tomorrow. ” I had not realised that mashima was standing by my side. I nodded in assent. “I had saved Rs 500 in my piggy bank, you know!” mashima continued to speak, “That’s why I could buy the Teddy. And don’t you like the dress? dadubhai is v-e-r-y fond of red!”

“How do you know that? You have not set your eyes on him since he crawled.” But the moment I had spoken, I bit my tongue in remorse. What’s this? What have I done! But mashima was offering an explanation: “Kinkar was very fond of red. Don’t you remember how many of his kurtas were in red? Rishi also…” the words trailed off as her voice choked with emotion. 

I held her in a tight hug. I couldn’t control myself either — I let my tears flow freely down my cheeks. 

It was well past midnight when I returned to my flat, after lending a hand in serving dinner and cleaning up afterwards. My parents are away at Santiniketan. So I permit myself this bit of ‘late night’ outing. Besides, I was having a tough time going off to sleep. Kinkar da, Kanchana, Rishi, mashima, meshomoshai — they kept crowding before my eyes…

Trinnng! Tring tring… T-r-i-n-ggg…. The constant ring of the calling bell woke me up. Is it for real or am I still dreaming in sleep? No, the bell is still ringing — and someone is also banging on the door. Must be Kamla. How many times I have told her not to wake me up early on Sundays? What is the tearing rush about? “Kamla come back later,” I was on the verge of telling the person on the other side of the door. I stopped mid-sentence as it wasn’t Kamla at the door, it was the young caretaker. Fear was writ over the face that was glistening with sweat. Before I could speak he said,  “Didi* please come up to the terrace right now!”

Before he had finished an unknown fear compelled me to race up the stairs. As I reached the landing I saw the two oldies, flopped on the terrace, crying away ceaselessly. I went across and sat down next to mashima. “See?” mashima turned towards me, “See how happy Rishi is?”

I could not make head or tail of what mashima was saying. I have yet to courier the gifts. So, did Kanchana make that elusive call?? mashima’s pallu* was all over the floor. Her hair was dishevelled. I can’t remember ever seeing meshomoshai so worked up over anything, not even on the day Kinkar da passed away! With her left hand mashima held me in a tight grip — and with her right hand she was caressing the red Rangan that stood in a pot at one end of the terrace. “See how it is bursting with flowers! This plant has never blossomed before, and today?!”

Three years ago, when this Rangan was planted, mashima had christened it ‘Rishi’. That sapling was smiling at the world today, with flowers on every leaf. Is it actually Rishi saying, “I am doing fine Thammi and Dadu. You too stay well!”

*Pulao — Indian fried rice

*Kaki — paternal aunt

*Kaku — paternal uncle

*Mashima — maternal aunt

*Meshomoshai — maternal uncle

*Da/dada — elder brother

*Khadi Kurta — a long Indian shirt made of homespun popularised by Gandhi

*Puchkas — savoury snack

*Rakhi — Indian festival to jubilate brother-sister ties

*Bhai Phonta — Indian festival to jubilate brother-sister ties

*Dadubhai/Dadu — grandfather

*Shona — darling (Gold)

*Thammi — grandmother

*Alpana — designs made on the floor with ground paste of uncooked rice, traditional folk art

*Didi — elder sister

*Pallu — loose end of the sari that drapes over the shoulder

*Rangan — ixora

Published originally in Bengali in December 2017 issue of Batayan, a Magazine of West Bengal Motion Picture Artists’ Forum.

Aparajita Ghosh, an actor and television anchor has done her Master’s in Mass Comm. She writes stories, has written plays including #Life, which was staged at multiple venues in Kolkata. She has directed Dance of Joy, a documentary on Rabindra Nritya, screened in Dhaka and Singapore, besides India, and the feature film Mystic Memoirs, screened in Kolkata International Film Festival 2019. Dance of Joy been to 7 international festivals and won 2 awards. Mystic Memoir as of now has been selected for 5 International festivals and won one award.

Ratnottama Sengupta turned director with And They Made Classics, on the unique bonding between screenwriter Nabendu Ghosh and director Bimal Roy. A very senior journalist, she has been writing for newspapers and journals, participating in discussions on the electronic media; teaching mass communication students, writing books on cinema and art, programming film festivals and curating art exhibitions. She has written on Hindi films for the Encyclopaedia Britannica; been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. The former Arts Editor of The Times of India is also a member of the NFDC’s script committee. Author of Krishna’s Cosmos and several other volumes, she has recently edited That Bird Called Happiness (2018/ Speaking Tiger), Me And I (2017/ Hachette India), Kadam Kadam (2016/ Bhashalipi), Chuninda Kahaniyaan: Nabendu Ghosh (2009/ Roshnai Prakashan).




This land of ours

Shevlin Sebastian captures man’s relentless struggle against unsympathetic forces of nature.


The rice is boiling in the steel utensil. Shamila watches as the white grains go left and right, up and down, and in circles. “Just like our lives,” she thinks, as she stirs the water with a wooden ladle.

It is a Sunday noon. 

Her husband, Suresh, is an electrician. He meets the family’s expenses, despite drinking a bottle of toddy every night. Shamila’s son, Pradeep, 22, works in a transport company in Mumbai, while her 20-year-old daughter, Reshma, is a salesperson at a cosmetics shop in a Bangalore mall. As for Shamila, she works as a maid in a house down the hill. But today is her weekly holiday.    

Shamila lives in a brick house of three rooms and a kitchen. It is modest: a wooden sofa, and two chairs in the living room. On the low centre table, there is the Malayala Manorama and a vase which has red plastic roses in it. In the bedroom, there is a wooden bed. The only ornamentation is a calendar hanging on the wall. In the children’s room, there is a wet patch at a corner where the ceiling meets the wall.

She takes a few grains in the ladle, presses it with her fingers to see whether it is cooked, and, when she confirms it is fully done, switches off the gas stove, and places a lid on top of the vessel.

Shamila walks barefoot to the living room. Clad in a blue nightgown, with white frills at the neck, she sits on a chair near the window and looks at the newspaper. She has tied her hair back into a topknot.

The house, on the slope of a hill in Thodupuzha, is in a scenic spot: surrounded by rubber trees and wet leaves. The only sound Shamila hears is the tap-tap of the raindrops hitting the asbestos roof. It is peaceful, although, in the newspaper, there are reports of murders, robberies and accidents. “No peace in the world,” she thinks and shakes her head. 

Soon, a sound rises at the edge of her consciousness. It puzzles Shamila. It seems like thunder, but she is not sure. What could it be? All at once, she hears shouts: it is a mix of fear and rage. Shamila’s intuition buzzes, and she experiences the first signs of panic: shortness of breath and trembling legs. The shouting goes on.  

Shamila opens the door and rushes out. Her neighbour, Parvathy, is pointing up, and screaming. 

Shamila glances upwards and sees an unimaginable sight. The top part of the hill is rolling down: thick, red mud, branches, roots, plants, leaves, tree trunks, stones, and bricks. The roar sounds as if somebody is shouting in her ears. “It is a landslide,” Shamila’s mind screams. “RUN, RUN, RUN!”

She turns and flees, forgetting all about Parvathy. Shamila takes the narrow mud path, a shortcut to the road below, that people in the area use all the time. “Oh God, please save our houses, I beg you,” she says, even as she concentrates on running on the wet and slushy surface. But in another part of her mind, she knows how deadly a landslip can be. At a sharp turn on the path, she loses her balance but grabs a tree trunk to hold on. 

Through the branches, Shamila gets occasional glimpses of the tarred road. At the back, the roar is non-stop. She is panting now, more out of fear than tiredness. Shamila notices an overpowering smell in the air and realises that it is of wet mud.

There is a cry of pain, the sound rolling down the hill like a shriek. “Somebody is injured,” she thinks. “Krishna, please don’t kill anybody.”

Shamila reaches the road, her mouth open, her chest heaving forward and backwards with the effort. She can feel the wetness of the road through the soles of her feet. Soon, dhoti-clad men run past her towards the hill. They don’t stop to ask her what has happened. They all know what the roar is and what it means to their lives.

Her thigh and calf muscles are hurting. She has never run so hard in her life. Shamila wants to look back but is scared to see the devastation. But she knows where she has to go — to her husband’s friend, Murali’s tea shop, a shack by the side of the road, a kilometre away. She has to inform her husband she is safe. In her hurry, she had forgotten to take her phone. 

At the shop, Murali is sitting behind a rickety wooden table near the entrance, a white cloth towel tied around his head, like a bandana. The two men, who worked for him, have rushed off to see what is happening. Inside, there are tables and benches, placed against the bamboo walls, with an open area in the middle. At one corner, a TV set, with rusted buttons, has been placed on a shelf of a wooden sideboard.

When Murali sees her, he nods, and says, “Good, you are safe. What about Suresh?”

She smiles and says, “He is at a worksite.”

She asks for his mobile phone. He passes it to her. 

Shamila calls her husband and tells him she is okay.

Murali goes to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Shamila sits down on a bench. She is glad to give her legs a rest, although she is still breathing rapidly. Her heartbeat has still not slowed down. “How does a landslide start, with no warning,” she thinks? The image of the river of mud coming down the hill flashes in her mind’s eye. Her body shudders involuntarily.

Murali brings the tea in a glass, and a white towel. She wipes her face, arms and hair.

She sips with soft slurps. 

After a while, she senses that Murali is staring at her. When she looks up, she notices that his eyes are focused on her breasts. He looks frustrated. Shamila knows that his wife is fat and ugly and nags him. 

Murali blinks and realises that Shamila does not approve of what he is thinking. Embarrassed, he moves away and switches on the television. Both spot the red and white band moving across the bottom of the screen: “Breaking News: Landslip at Thodupuzha.”

“These TV guys move fast,” he says, with a trace of admiration in his voice.

“Yes,” she says. “They are everywhere. Too much competition, I guess.”

The ticker changes: “Many may have died.”

“Who could have died?’ says Murali, as they gaze at the screen.

“Must be Rekha’s old and sick mother,” says Shamila. “She is bed ridden.” 

“What about Parvathy?” she wonders and feels a stab of pain. Was the yell she heard that of Parvathy? Should she have stopped, gone up, and tried to save her? But Shamila knows that if she did that, she would have risked her own life.

“This is a tragedy,” he says. 

Shamila nods. 

The first visuals are aired. The slope has collapsed. Nothing is left, except mud, thatched roofs, some beds and chairs which are embedded in the soil. The local men she saw on the road are now wading through the muck, pulling away the debris, trying to locate survivors. 

Murali looks at her and says, in a flat voice, “I am sorry, but you have lost everything!”

“I am alive,” she says, pointing a thumb at herself. “That is more important than all the possessions in the world.”

Murali’s eyes enlarge, and his eyebrows go up. To have property is so important these days. He does not know what to say. So, he remains silent and looks at the screen.

Time passes. 

It is a silent tableau. Both of them gaze at the non-existent slope. 

Her husband appears at the entrance. When Shamila sees him, she feels her heartbeat against her rib cage, like a hammer. Suresh’s eyes are wild, the pupils enlarged, and he keeps opening and closing his mouth.

She embraces him. And, like her own experience, she realises his body is shaking. And soon, the tears are rolling down his face.

“We have lost everything,” he says. “There is no land anymore. It has vanished. The house has collapsed. All the valuables are lost, including your gold jewellery. How do we live? What do we do? Where do we go from here? At 45, how do I start from scratch? We have no insurance. And what will this idiotic government do? These politicians are only making money for themselves. They don’t care about the poor. This horrible life that we live, always on the edge, always struggling to make ends meet and to keep our dignity, to give our children a chance for a better life. All this is ash now. Nothing remains. Ashashashash…”

Shamila knows that all what Suresh has said is true. But she does not have the desire to think about the future. She is trying to recover from her panicky run down the crumbling hill. Her mind is blank, but she is glad she is alive, and not buried under the mud. She feels happy that she had the foresight to run, instead of trying to save some of their possessions, knowing that there was no time for that.

“Our children are earning,” she says, in a soft voice. “You are earning. I am working.”

Shamila sees a flash of anger in Suresh’s eyes. He raises his voice, and says, “How much can we earn? Do you know the price of land these days? You need lakhs of rupees. It is beyond us. We are poor, Shamila. We have lost our dignity. That is how cruel God is. I shudder at the life ahead. How will we pay for our daughter’s dowry?”

This mention about his favourite child makes Suresh to cry. 

Shamila hugs her husband, trying to press a mother’s warmth to him. She inhales a peculiar smell: a mix of sweat and muskiness coming off Suresh’s body. It is familiar. During the earlier years of their marriage it was appealing, but now she is repelled. She thinks of it as the stench of defeat.

Suresh becomes silent but continues to sob. This shock has hit the deepest part of him. Shamila becomes fearful. “Will he find the will and strength to overcome this?” she wonders. Shamila is not sure at all. Her intuition panics once again. She caresses his face and head, like as if he is a child. She knows that, underneath their bluster, all men are Mama’s boys.

“Come, sit down,” she says and leads him to the bench. “Murali, can you make a cup of tea?”

Murali moves to the kitchen.

Suresh wipes his face with a towel, which Shamila extends to him. They both stare at the screen once again.

Suresh’s body is becoming calm, as Shamila can sense that the trembling is slowing down.

Murali brings the tea and places it on the table.

Suresh sips it. 

By this time, people troop into the shop. One of them is businessman Harish Raghunandan, who has a walrus-like moustache. 

He grasps Suresh’s hand.

“Suresh, you have to remain strong,” says Raghunandan. “The colony of ten houses has been destroyed. Rekha’s mother, Lalithamma, Parvathy and her daughter, Meena, are dead. But there is no confirmation. There are others still buried under the mud. The men are trying to pull them out. It is unlikely there will be many survivors.”

There is pin-drop silence. Nobody knows what to say. 

“It is great luck that Shamila survived, thanks to her quick thinking,” says Raghunandan, looking at her with piercing eyes. “If you had waited for half a minute, you would have died.”

Shamila feels grateful for this praise by Raghunandan. She acknowledges it with the faintest nod of her head.

Raghunandan sighs, looks at Suresh, and says, “You may have lost everything, but your family is safe. Be happy about that.”

Suresh wants to be grateful, but all he can think about is the loss of his property. Raghunandan reads his mood and says, “Once I owned a large farmhouse and it burnt down. I had to start from scratch once again. Life has its trials. It is a rare person who enjoys a smooth ride. Sometimes, the setbacks can be life-threatening.”  

Suresh stares at him in silence. Shamila knows that her husband will say nothing. In public, he is shy and discreet.

It had been a love cum arranged marriage. The fathers of Suresh and Shamila had been friends for many years and worked as tappers in the rubber plantations of Thodupuzha. Every morning before they set out for work, they would stop at a temple and say their prayers. The families would meet during festivals like Vishu and Onam. 

As Shamila grew up, Suresh found her attractive: the shining brown skin, firm breasts, and slim figure were eye-catching attributes. Shamila had a few admirers. But when Shamila turned eighteen, Suresh told his father he wanted to get married to her. Shamila’s father agreed. As for Shamila, she did not have any problems, although she knew her life would be difficult. Suresh was a school dropout, who had apprenticed to an electrician, and was learning the trade. “What can we poor people expect?” she had thought when her father told her about the proposal. 

The couple had struggled and bought a plot and built the house. And although Suresh drank every night, he was not a wife-beater, and nor was he abusive, like the husbands of her friends.

Shamila walks to the door of Murali’s shack and beckons to Suresh to come out. Her husband has a questioning look in his eyes, but she urges him out with a wave of her hand. She no longer wants to sit with a group of men, all ogling her. She wants some privacy now.

When Suresh comes out, Shamila says, “Come.”

“Where to?” he asks, looking baffled. Shamila keeps her face blank, although there is a trace of a smile on her lips.

They walk for several minutes. The rain has stopped. A cool breeze is blowing.

Several ambulances roar past, their sirens blowing. Two police jeeps, with khaki-clad cops in it, also speed past. Following them is a group of men crammed into a minivan. They look like political party workers.

Shamila ignores them all, and, holding her husband’s hand, she turns left from the road, down a mud path, which leads into a forest. They carry on walking. Suresh says nothing. Instead, he is immersed in his thoughts. After walking for 20 minutes, they arrive at a pond. It is surrounded by large trees, with overhanging branches, on all sides, so the pond is hidden from view. Frogs are croaking at the edge of the bank and green leaves float on the surface.

“How did you discover this place?” says Suresh, and his voice echoes in the silence.

Shamila says, “My friend Ashwathy showed it to me one day. Isn’t it nice?”

He nods as they both sit on the bank, next to each other. 

They stare at the still water.

They can hear bird calls, and the chirp of a squirrel following by a few quick barks. And under all this, there is the ceaseless call of the crickets. The leaves are a shimmering green thanks to the monsoon showers.

Nature was undergoing its annual rejuvenation.

Minutes pass.

Then Shamila turns to Suresh and says, “Let’s always remember what Raghunandan said. If he can come back from disaster, then we can. It is very important that we stay positive and develop a fighting spirit.”

Suresh looks at her, and presses her hand…  

Shevlin Sebastian is a journalist based in Kochi. He has published around 4500 articles over 30 years, most of them feature stories. He has worked in Sportsworld magazine, (ABP Group), The Week magazine (of the Malayala Manorama Group), the Hindustan Times in Mumbai and the New Indian Express in Kochi and in DC Books, Kottayam. 




Korean Blast

By Wansoo Kim

Korean Blast

Old Japanese women,
Crossing the East Sea* at a breath
To have the blood of youth transfused
Through their throbbing drama stars,
Burst cheers and tears
As teenage girls.
Young people with yellow hair
Jump up tearing their vocal cords
To the song whose meaning they don’t know at all
Because K-pop gale blusters
In Europe and the American Continent
Where the hot blast of pop songs
Shook the young hearts of the Korean Peninsula
In my childhood.
The Korean hot blast
Crosses even the barbed-wire fence
Of the inter-Korean border
And melts even the hostility like stone
Surrounded like Fort Knox
In the hearts of the soldiers taking a gun.
The Korean Peninsula now
Is not ‘the land of the morning calm’
Or the land sobbing with grudges and sorrows any more
But the dreamland
With the living volcano of dramas and K-pops blazing
For the people of the world to wish to visit surely once.

*East Sea – Japanese Sea

Wansoo Kim is a Ph. D. in English Literature from the graduate school of Hanguk University of Foreign Studies. He was a lecturer at Hanguk University of Foreign Studies and an adjunct professor at Incheon Junior College for about 20 years. He has published 5 poetry books, one novel, and one book of essays. One poetry book, “Duel among a middle-aged fox, a wild dog and a deer” was a bestseller in 2012, one page from the book of Letters for Teenagers was put in textbooks of middle school (2011) and high school (2014) in South Korea, and four books (Easy-to-read English Bible stories, Old Testament(2017), New Testament(2018) and Teenagers, I Support your Dream”) were bestsellers. He was granted a Rookie award for poetry at the magazine of Monthly Literature Space in South Korea, and the World Peace Literature Prize for Poetry Research and Recitation, presented in New York City at the 5th World Congress of Poets(2004). He published poetry books, “Prescription of Civilization” and “Flowers of Thankfulness“ in America.(2019), received Geum-Chan Hwang Poetry Literature Prize in Korea(2019)and International Indian Award(literature) from WEWU(World English Writer’s Union)(2019).




Republic of Rananim

Sekhar Banerjee explores the relevance of D H Lawrence’s utopia … a tribute to the great writer who was born on 11th September 1885

D H Lawrence

“I want to go south, where there is no autumn, where the cold doesn’t crouch over one like a snow-leopard waiting to pounce. The heart of the North is dead, and the fingers of cold are corpse fingers. There is no more hope northwards, and the salt of its inspiration is the tingling of the viaticum on the tongue.” – writes D.H. Lawrence, or rather, D.H.L, in a letter to J.M. Murry in October, 1924 from a ranch in New Mexico. His death was then only six years away.

Lawrence always wanted to go somewhere. As we often do.  But, classically, DHL’s escape was never a tour. It was a flight; a refuge; an escape to an alternative space. We do not do it always.  However, we, at least some of us, do it sometimes.  We go from North to south and, again, from South to North with a secret intention of a flight even to the East and the West.  His letters reveal that it was neither a romantic wish nor a search for a place to live happily ever after. It was a desire, a fate, an ending ordained. This mortal wish was neither aggravated by a logical conclusion to live happy and healthy for another seventy years and write more on ways of the world, intimacy and relationships in a secluded place, nor by a wish to be immortal. He, actually, sought a comfortable place to live and die, unmasked. All he wanted was to unbound, to unfurl himself like a flag of his being — a flag of DHL. It would have been his republic.

However, deciding on a direction depends solely on where you are, and how geography and, to some extent, your perspective affect you. A north can be a north just beside your house, a south can be a south beyond your town or the continent, and a west is something which is just opposite of the east and vice versa.  But directions, rather than your perception of a place in a desired direction, dictate how you interpret directions and places.  Lawrence, for that matter, went almost to the end of directions — Australia to the south and Mexico to the west. And he had tried to measure such kilometres and latitudes that encompass Sri Lanka, India, and Vietnam in Asia besides some major cities nestled in sunshine in Europe and, obviously, in America.  Why had it become so imperative to traverse so many miles for him, mostly in sea from 1913 till his death in Venice in 1930 like an unhappy fish?

Aldous Huxley writes: “I remember very clearly my first meeting with him. The place was London, the time 1915. But Lawrence’s talk was of the geographically remote and of the personally very near. Of the horrors in the middle distance – war, winter, the town- he would not speak. For  he was on the point, so he imagined, of setting off to Florida- to Florida, where he was going to plant that colony of escape, of which up to last he never ceded to dream. Sometimes the name and the site of this seed of a happier and different world were purely fanciful. It was called Rananim, for example, and was an island like Prospero’s. Sometimes it had its place on the map and it was Florida, Cornwall, Sicily, Mexico and again, for a time, the English countryside. That wintry afternoon in 1915 it was Florida.”

The search for such Rananims gets more pressing when faced with constrictions — of war, of societal regulations, of totalitarian regimes, of rigid beliefs, of weather and of health — mental or physical, or, for that matter, a pandemic of world war proportions.  Don’t we all now harbour a wish to escape to a sanctuary of safety of eternal sunshine and quietude? 

The desire and resonance for a Rananim is as old as the birth of fire and use of iron. For Lawrence, it started as early as when he was seventeen or eighteen. All he wanted at that age was to take one of the big houses in Nottingham where he and all the people he liked could live together. This idea of a Rananim, a safe sanctuary of emotions and wellbeing, surfaced in DHL’s mind throughout his life. Beginning as a child’s wish to an indistinct political philosophy to a romantic idea of a promised, virgin haven  to, ultimately,  a dystopia of his own psyche, the Rananim he harboured inside the recess of his colourful mind changed its place , shape and essence with the changing realities of the world and the standing of his mind. But he held on to it like a piece of wood which he would use to make his own chair and would sit comfortably under the shade of a tree in a place only to be soothed — free and happy. In a letter to S.S.Koteliansky (January 3, 1915), Lawrence writes:

“We are going to found an Order of the Knights of Rananim. […] I want to gather together about twenty souls and sail away from this world of war and squalor and found a little colony where there shall be no money but a sort of communism as far as necessaries of life go. […] We keep brooding the idea – I and some friends.”

This was a pure, almost naive, wish to escape to someplace else.

Do we have our Rananims ? Don’t we all have a faint trace of an idea of living a ‘full’ life in another place, another time, as if, it is a memory of the past life? Don’t we actually have a sense of a perfect place etched in our skulls like a sense of proportion or a sense of aesthetics? How many times did we say while visiting a place that we would have loved to settle here or how many times did we look for pieces of land for a perfect dwelling – mostly in the countryside? What, then, compels us to think in a certain way for a paradise which might be lost forever?  Is it the endlessness of wars, violence or a pandemic? Is it a Sylvania (Latin: forest land ) printed in our genes since pre-historic times?  Or, rather, is it a monolith of a society which, slowly but surely, bypasses the individual and his or her otherness?  The more ‘other’ you are , the more you are excluded , and that, in turn, like the stereotypical third law of Newton, forces one more to dream up a parallel world, a civilisation of his or her own like an exclusive club with limited members. It’s either a Prospero’s Island or a Rananim of D.H.L.

We all have our republics within ourselves. And there are definite yet illegible directions inside our lingering thoughts to reach those Utopias. In another place, in another landscape, in another country, in another time, or in another society. We also, intrinsically, know that these Utopias are also destined to fail. They are always conceived to fail. Still we wish to find one.

Sekhar Banerjee is a bilingual writer.  He has four collections of poems and a monograph on an Indo-Nepal border tribe to his credit. He is former Secretary of Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi under the Government of West Bengal.  He lives in Kolkata, India. 




‘Women are Born Free, But Everywhere they are in Chains’

Book Review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: Beyond the Fields

Author: Aysha Baqir

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish International, 2019

Recently, an instagram handle questioned women: “No Men for One day — What if there were no men for 24 hours?” Majority of the women replied that they would go for a walk alone. And this is the year 2020. We are living in a so called modern world where women are now freer than ever to pursue their ambitions and make a life of their own. But what does this fear of going out alone, for such a small task as an evening walk alone, tells us about our social system. If educated, independent women feel uneasy venturing out of their houses alone in advanced societies, then it isn’t difficult to imagine what women in socially and politically repressive systems go through.  

In her debut novel, Aysha Baqir steers the reader’s gaze to a small village in 1980’s Pakistan, chronicling the lives of rural women whose existence was sanctified by the written and unwritten rules of the society. It was the time of Zia-ul-Haq’s reign and much controversial Hudood Ordinances.

Baqir grew up in Pakistan. After graduation, she won a scholarship to Mount Holyoke College where she studied International Relations. In 1998, she founded a pioneering not for profit economic development organization, Kaarvan Crafts Foundation, focused on poverty alleviation through the provision of business development and market-focused trainings for girls and women of rural Pakistan. Perhaps meeting those women and hearing their stories prompted Baqir to recount such stories of courage and defiance, even in the face of repression, which may become beacons of light for generations to come.

The narrative follows the life of a young Zara and her twin Tara. Poles apart in nature, they are bound by a sisterly affection for each other. Tara is the beautiful, fairer and obedient one from the duo who resigns herself readily to her mother’s desires and ideas. She is ready to get married as and when it pleases her parents. Zara, on the other hand is the rebel, who insists on studying though girls are not given education in their village. She is born in a society where more education for women is a matter of shame. If a woman reads or writes, would she be a good obedient housewife, good mother to her children? Would she be any good for the community?

Zara wishes to live her live abundantly, run amok in fields, eat Kairis from the trees, play outside, and study like her brother. It infuriates her, when more restrictions are imposed on her and Tara with the coming of age. That meant no going out alone and no playing and veiling themselves with burka even when stepping out with parents. Zara believes that she and her brother are equal, but for a life changing incident which brings her life to a halt.

It brings forth to her the reality of being a woman in her community — the brutal rape of her sister, the conduct of her parents in hiding it because it would bring shame to the family, their unwillingness to file a case because of Hudood ordinance in practice and then her subsequent marriage to someone in haste to veil the shame. When they lose contact with Tara and fear an unfortunate happening, it becomes too much for Zara, but she decides to find her sister.

This novel is the story of Zara’s grit and determination, her belief in the power of women in an unbalanced society, her conviction that she is not merely the body she inhabits but also the mind she possesses. She follows her sister to city, after convincing her parents, and plunges into the dangerous world of prostitution to bring back her sister.

Through this novel, the author attempts to bring forth the tribulations of women in such an oppressive system where it is not only the men but also women who play the agents of repression, to keep the system intact by inducing fear and shame in those who go wayward or rebel. In such systems, women are made subservient to imposed rules so much so that they accept them as code of honour even if adhering to them means hurting loved ones and acting against them.

Perhaps nothing could be more startling than the shaming of a rape victim or vilifying a woman who dares to fall in love. It is a system where the birth of a woman, in itself is a burden to family and a mother’s most important role is to suitably prepare them for marriage, to collect their dowry and start looking for prospective grooms when they come of age. Their propensity to literally dispose the girls as soon as possible, even takes over the maternal love which they only express by trying to put restrictions on their beloved daughters.

Baqir writes in a discreet manner and her narrative bears testimony to the amount of research and hard work which has gone into writing the book. For a reader from a neighbouring country, this book brings familiar sounds and smells which makes it more relatable. Local flavours are induced with the usage of Punjabi words. Word pairs are used to evoke the sense of belonging to familiar lands – playing on the concept of twins separated at birth. The ideas of women’s honour, shame and their bearing on family are comparable to that in India.  

Though changes are questioning patriarchal mindsets, women’s emancipation continues still to be a tough battle. Beyond the Fields is an effort to highlight the struggle of women and an entreaty to be on the side of humanity, to break the shackles which stifle women who are born equal to men but are made to feel inferior by the rules of society.


Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at . She lives with her husband and a teenage son, who being sports lovers themselves are yet, after all these years, left surprised each time a book finds its way to their home.




What Use is It?

Dustin Pickering argues that Joyce is what we need during this pandemic

James Joyce’s oeuvre is an extravagant literary experiment in stretching the bounds of language. Ulysses, for instance, is colourful and surreal in its use of stream-of-consciousness as we walk with the central characters through an actual Ireland Joyce recreated from memory. Finnegans Wake is linguistically complex yet satisfying to read only for enjoyment. These works are often criticised as being too obscure for readers, but I will argue that such obscurity is an essential force of the novels which resonate in today’s reality as much as in the times they were written. Ambiguity grants flexible interpretations, so in the spirit of Joyce, I will define how his work could relate to contemporary conflicts. This essay will present critical ideas that balance opposing approaches. Joyce’s literature is in dialogue with works of the past which present similar conundrums.

Structuring his novel Ulysses against The Odyssey creates a full loop culturally from the ancient western literature to modernist fixtures such as T S Eliot and Samuel Beckett. The novel was put on trial in the United States in a famous case that helped liberate literature from rigid legal definitions. Ulysses also challenges old fashioned perceptions that define a human being and suggests pivotal questions that flood the reader with exciting emotion. In and of itself, the use of image, myth, and form make the novel a tricky read but challenging as well. Any reader who decides the novel is worth exploring may find that he or she is Odysseus himself in the Protean sea of literary accomplishment. 

Chapter three, the Proteus chapter, can be construed as Dedaleus’ philosophical confrontation with identity. However, identity is interrogated philosophically, not politically, and the young Stephen presents the adolescent’s crisis of personal growth. He is sharp and inquisitive but not afraid of the tough questions. His perceptions suggest androgyny and continuous flux to identity as the narrative courses between thought and material reality. His interrogations are not just philosophical refutations. The use of stream-of-consciousness stylistically may serve an alternate purpose. 

Nicolas Berdyaev writes in The Destiny of Man, “It is with the greatest difficulty man learns to discriminate between personal and collective responsibility.” The question of the measuring rod of reality is brought to trial—was George Berkeley correct in asserting the primacy of the ideal world thus negating the material world? Does external prodding of self-image from peers and strangers construct identity socially? In a time that has turned this question upside down, the 21st century can benefit from this healthy skepticism. 

Sartre writes in the essay Existentialism, “We definitely wish to establish the human realm as an ensemble distinct from the material realm.” As moral creatures, humans establish value systems on principles of free will. Kant writes in Critique of Practical Reason, “For the moral law in fact transfers us ideally into a system in which pure reason, if it were accompanied with adequate physical power, would produce the summum bonum, and it determines our will to give the sensible world the form of a system of rational beings.” Perhaps Stephen’s own deliberations lead us to accept the premise that moral law is ultimately social. Human ability to reason and develop complicated societies is mimetic, but the final question is where do we derive our freedom—in the absence, or in the presence, of divine omnipotence? Meaning itself seems derived from moral foundation. 

Kant further suggests that material principles cannot lead to the moral law, and thus places moral foundations with a transcendental order that also creates freedom. Through these constructions we are granted the “categorical imperative.” Kant recognises the division of our nature into personal and social responsibility, but also that individual choice is founded through free choice. 

Stephen Dedaleus is plagued with guilt and restless yearning for truth, but that yearning is his own. The social world shapes it to a degree. However, Marx would offer that the individual is free only through the foundation of social relations, centrally the means of production. These questions are disputed fervently throughout western history. The previous century is rife with argumentation on this subject. In the world today we come in confrontation with this abstract freedom of will and are closer to renouncing it in favour of collective moral purpose. Ulysses provides a imaginative perspective for thought. Joyce’s life work is centred on language and its social reality.

In Finnegans Wake he explores the construction of language, but in Ulysses literary device does not offer conclusive formulations. The progress of the novel is embedded with this conflict. Even in Bloom’s moral crisis with his cheating wife, he appears to be alone with his emotions, yet we recognise that humanity’s struggle for freedom and happiness are universal especially when we don’t recognise the collective existence.

My own reading of Ulysses was without assistance from annotated guides. I enjoyed the language and the depth of imagination. Its impact is emotional and leads to intriguing self-discourse. In and of itself the book is worth examining for its carefully wrought structural dynamics. The Protean chapter plays interesting logical games with the reader. Perhaps the purpose of confounding so many questions into one literary space is to demonstrate their futility. The sea is described by Buck as Stephen’s “mother” although Proteus is male. Perhaps this skilful tactic of ambiguous symbolism anticipates many of the same questions asked today concerning sexuality.  Gender is conceived as “fluid” rather than fixed by a growing swath of intellectuals. 

Stephen Dedaleus lost his mother in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and is probably burdened by guilt for his defiance on his mother’s deathbed. “I will not serve” is Dedaleus’s rejection of orthodoxy; however, clearly his emotions are hither and thither. In the opening chapter, Stephen is in Martello Tower with two boarding mates. In the characterisations of these young men we observe differing understandings of time. Mulligan is insensitive and only recognises the near future while Stephen is more reflective and seemingly harmless in his introversion. We learn that Stephen is a deeply conflicted man, apparently searching for a kind of surrogate masculinity. In today’s world we are also questioning what masculinity means and how it affects men’s interpersonal behaviour. 

We see that Ulysses is almost a herald of today’s confused and hostile world in transformation. Today’s sociopolitical reality is lost within violent flux. Ulysses portrays a mock-heroic venture to define one’s reality in spite of turbulence. The novel also characterises Irish history and culture. By uniting the particulars of Ireland within the general presentation of complex reality, this literature challenges the reader in philosophical, not just literary, terms.

Joyce also employs stream-of-consciousness in his most difficult work Finnegans Wake. World languages are synthesised into brilliant puns as Joyce explores Irish history with mythical grandeur.  The title comes from an Irish ballad about a drunk named Finnegan who falls from a ladder and is assumed to be dead. He comes back to life when whiskey is accidentally spilled on his “corpse” at his own funeral. The cyclical structure of the book indicates a surreal resurrection. The central dreamer, HCE (Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker), is buried by sleep only to wake into the world of the damned again. A strange variety of theological, philosophical, and scientific explorations are developed within 12 years of writing. In essence the novel demonstrates the baptism of languages in their own fire. Finnegans Wake is Menippean satire and parodies much of the frailty of human incompetence or hubris. Several extenuating allusions to war and political fratricide coexist within the pages. The complexities of language are apparent as the reader experiences HCE’s dreamworld. 

In Teaching and Researching Listening, Michael Rost writes, “Whenever multiple sources, or streams, of information are present, selective attention must be used. Selective attention involves a decision, a commitment of our limited capacity process to one stream of information or one bundled set of features.” Perhaps the name of the protagonist (Earwicker) signifies the nature of the unconscious as an ambiguous language, a system of thought unavailable to the conscious mind. In itself, the inner ear practices selective attention as the reader by nature also selects particulars of the created dreamworld. 

William James wrote, “Everyone knows what attention is. It is taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” Consciousness in itself is perhaps selective hearing of the mind. The modern world is assailed with continuous information and data, most of which is useless. In reading this masterpiece of Western literature, we see our unconscious realm as thick and convoluted. This potentially admonishes the reader into carefully considering valid input from the external world. Again, we see how much of ourselves is left in the dark, yet we recognise the importance of the individual mind, and reflect on our massive blindness to how much we don’t know of what we don’t know. The conundrum is bare before our eyes through the Finnegans Wake text.

Joyce’s wife once pointed out that his writing is too obscure even for her reading. However, the obscurity is its carnal delight in facing reality and truth. Obscurity should not deter us from our own experience in reading these two masterpieces. Today’s world is more in need of obscurity in literature. Mystery encapsulates the world and literature is a powerful force to help define and interrogate it. 

Joyce’s literature is certainly not the exception but rather the proof of this rule. His literature abounds in ambiguous logic and allusion, thus making it fruitful for our ripening contemporary minds. Using complex but intriguing language concealed in moral and philosophical contemplation serves as powerful incarnation of truth. For the truth itself is dialogic. As he defines the distinct characteristics of the novel, Bakhtin writes, “A crucial tension develops between the external and the internal man, and as a result the subjectivity of the individual becomes an object of experimentation and representation.” Bakhtin also elaborates on humour’s ability to bring its object closer to us so we are able to laugh and mock. In this act, we liberate ourselves from the things that we least understand and wish to confront. 

These imaginative and complex novels of James Joyce present the noblest truths of human existence in a light that is not cruel or pretentious. For these reasons, they are fascinating books to read and enjoy even in the confused and hostile contemporary atmosphere. In fact, such perilous times are the greatest of times to appreciate literature.


Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 




The Myriad Hues of Love

Book Review by Meenakshi Malhotra

Title: Love is not a word: The Culture and Politics of Desire

Editor:  Debotri Dhar

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

Love is not a word: The Culture and Politics of Desire edited by Debotri Dhar is a timely and illuminating book. It asks the right questions, sets up the debate on issues which need to be debated in order to bring the many hues of love and desire out of stranglehood of monolithic constructions. Dhar has brought together some interesting essays  by noted academics, art historians and curators, cultural and literary  historians  and writers  musing on the theme of love, its histories and its manifestations in religious mythography.

In the first essay in the anthology, ‘Swayamvara, Arranged Marriage, Desi Romance’, Professor Malashri Lal brings her considerable acumen and expertise to offer “some fascinating perspectives on Indian love, mapping both continuity and change, possibility and paradox.” She draws upon a spectrum of sources to unsettle some of the binaries and clichés about love and marriage in India. She points out the very heterogeneous nature of Indian realities and the simultaneous existence of designer weddings along with the prevalence of child marriage, the latter motivated by  stark poverty and custom. In this heterogeneous context, where contradictions exist and jostle with one another, it is difficult to formulate one overarching reality which collapses every aspect of Indian reality into one single, overwhelming truth.  Drawing upon a diverse set of sources from the Indian epics like Ramayan and Mahabharata to the writings of diasporic women writers in the US, to Bollywood films, Lal problematises the question of women’s choice in love and marriage, even when it is arranged. In her essay, she highlights the exercise of agency enabled by the ancient practice of  swayamvara, where the  bride reviews a number of suitors and selects one as her husband to the popular Hindi film, Queen (2014), where the ‘bride’, jilted by her suitor at the eleventh hour when practically at the altar, sets off alone on a ‘honeymoon’ to Paris and Amsterdam. All these vignettes, according to Lal, point to a long history of critiques of compelled marriages for women. Decoding the history of marriage and the space both accorded to and  negotiated by women within it, the author traces both continuities as well as complicating questions of love versus arranged marriage, choice, desire and agency.

Some of the themes and issues initiated by the first essay are questions that come up elsewhere, albeit in varying registers. Professor Makarand Paranjape’s essay focuses on immortal love and on the lover-God Krishna and his consort Radha, who is “a milkmaid elevated to the status of the erotic and holy beloved of the Supreme Godhead”. Paranjape reads the figure of Radha in the context of Indian history, art, culture and metaphysics, traces the genealogy and argues that the increasing importance of Radha acted as a corrective to the male-dominated theology which lacked a strong Goddess prior to the emergence of Radha. According to the author, she is largely absent in the classical sources and in the scriptures, her origins shrouded in obscurity, but assumes importance later as Krishna’s chosen paramour in Jayadev’s Gitagovinda, which is how medieval poets like Chandidas, Vidyapati and Surdas write of her.

A common theme which is indicated in the previous essay is developed by Paranjape and then later, by Alka Pande in the subsequent essay on ‘Love, Longing and Desire: A Nayika’s tale’. The flattening out of desire in keeping with the imperial puritanical norms of social control dwell on how desirous voices create discomfort. The messiness of love and desire is sought to be controlled and circumscribed into the heteronormative frame of marriage. Both imperial control and nationalistic schemes of reform collude to silence and erase traces of lascivious female desire and the erotic is therefore subdued and subsumed into the discourse of female purity, with which it sits uncomfortably. Thus, Prof Paranjape discusses how, “with the beginnings  of colonial modernity in India, Radha the Goddess underwent another drastic modification, now coming to often represent illegitimate sexual desire. In the new Puritanism fostered during the so-called Indian renaissance(18th to 19th century), Radha and her dalliance with Krishna proved an embarrassment to the agenda of social reform that the proponents of Hindu respectability espoused.”

By the 20th century, Radha was represented as “a victim of patriarchy” — as a symbol of the degraded and exploited woman, a fallen or abandoned woman. This is a far cry from the tantric version of Radha , which exalts her, sometimes over Krishna. In other traditions, she is often domesticated and shown to be a “chaste and jealous wife”, very possessive of Krishna, given to fits of rage. The theme of romantic love  is played out in varying registers and the sacred and profane so intermingled and intertwined that it is difficult to separate the two.

Alka  Pande’s essay on ‘Love, Longing and Desire: A Nayika’s Tale’ is deliciously erotic in its texture as it  narrates the tale of Amrapali, the “nagarvadhu”(bride of the city) of Patliputra, who lives life and fulfils her desire on her own terms. It shows the courtesan as an empowered figure, who exercises considerable agency in her choice of partner after the demise of her royal consort. As a reader and an editor of Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, she claims to have transformed the book “from a compendium of living a deeply enriched and sexually fulfilled life to much more: strategies of romance, love, longing, desire, seduction and an unabashed valorization of carnal love.” (Pande,44) The essay also sets the record straight about the popular reception in the public imagination which sees the book as a manual of sex; rather it conforms to the Indian philosophy of “Purusharthas” which includes the goals of “dharma”, “artha”, “kama” and “moksha”, roughly translatable as virtuous living, material prosperity, aesthetics and pleasure and salvation, respectively. Kamasutra, in this narrative, emerges  as  a document which explores the art of living life to the fullest. Love and its many facets are explored along a spectrum of aestheticism, in a way that elevates it to a level beyond hedonism.

Christina Dhanaraj’s essay on ‘Swipe me Left, I’m Dalit’ explores the world of possibilities of romantic love for Dalit women, and finds the odds heavily weighted against them on account of caste prejudice. She therefore finds the optimistic and celebratory accounts on social media and /or dating apps like tinder which declare ‘caste’ as a thing of the past to be false and facile. Dalit women, according to the author, “carry the double burden of gender and caste, and are one of the most socially undervalued in India, are therefore under constant pressure to project an acceptable version that mimics the ‘savarna’ (upper caste) ideal.”

From the problems besetting inter-faith Hindu-Muslims relationships because of a persistent polarisation intensified by right-wing ideologies to the variegated spectrum of love’s vows and woes in Urdu poetry, are some of the themes explored in some of the subsequent essays.

 Rakhshanda Jalil, the eminent literary historian , points out interesting aspects of the “Barahmasa”( Twelve Months)which are songs of love, separation and yearning, both mystic and secular, in a woman’s voice. However, while the form concerned itself with the “women’s world, adopted a woman’s voice and spoke of a woman’s needs , none were actually written by women poets.’’(Jalil,125)Further, a study of the “barahmasas show how the word was lost to text, and orality to textuality, but also how pluralism was replaced by Unitarianism, multi-culturalism by puritanism, the feminine-gendered narration by the masculine, and inclusion by exclusion.”(Jalil,112)

Debotri Dhar’s thought-provoking musings on the profoundly gendered nature of love and waiting is a delightful read, punctuated with valuable insights into women’s writing and experiences. So are the other essays by Sumana Roy, Parvati Sharma and Didier Coste.

In its exploration of the variegated hues and discourses of love and its analysis of its many histories, the essays in the book demonstrate that love — as text, as play, pain and pleasure, in somewhat unequal measure —  is truly a many-splendoured thing and makes the world go around. These essays also illustrate the peculiarly gendered nature of love, where we are tempted to echo Byron’s  lines from Don Juan

Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart,

‘Tis woman’s whole existence


Dr Meenakshi Malhotra is Associate Professor in English at Hansraj College, University of Delhi. She  has edited two books on Women and Lifewriting, Representing the Self and Claiming the I, in addition  to numerous published articles on gender and/in literature and feminist theory. Some of her recent publications include articles on lifewriting as an archive for GWSS, Women and Gender Studies in  India: Crossings (Routledge,2019),on ‘’The Engendering of Hurt’’  in The State of Hurt, (Sage,2016) ,on Kali in Unveiling Desire,(Rutgers University Press,2018) and ‘Ecofeminism and its Discontents’ (Primus,2018). She has been a part of the curriculum framing team for masters programme in Women and gender Studies at Indira Gandhi National Open University(IGNOU) and in Ambedkar University, Delhi and has also been an editorial consultant for ICSE textbooks (Grades1-8) with Pearson publishers. She has recently taught a course as a visiting fellow in Grinnell College, Iowa. She has bylines in Kitaab and Book review.