After a pause of the pandemic years, this island with its otters, idyllic beaches, palm trees, angsanas, parakeets and golden orioles mixed with modern technology and tall skyscrapers gears up to celebrate its National Day — a day when it came to its own fifty seven years ago. Veteran writer and academic, Kirpal Singh, who was a young boy at that time (1965), shares with us his memories of what had been the past in the years Singapore was born as a country. On the other hand, Tan Kaiyi, a young writer, celebrates the feeling of holiday in the air with a dark story — a typical local favourite — focussing on the parade. We also share from our treasury some pieces by expat writer Ayesha Baqir and poetry by iconic names from Singapore like Desmond Kon Zhicheng–Mingdé and Marc Nair — all these giving us a glimpse of Singapore of a post-independence era.
Dr Kirpal Singh, an eminent academic and writer, takes a nostalgic journey back in time to recall the start of Singapore as an individual entity.
The years 1964-66 were very interesting– not only because on 9 August 1965 we became the Republic of Singapore but also because of the events (some may even term these as “shenanigans”) surrounding to the lead-up to our final independence. I was a little more than fifteen years old and though not fully in the know or swing of things, it was pretty obvious real changes were afoot. The racial riots of 1964 left a deep impression– some may call it a “scar”—and many of us were truly worried and even frightened at what prospects lay in wait.
Nerves were running high and tension was palpable. Much as our teachers tried to hide hard truths, it was abundantly obvious that major changes were bound to usher a new and different ethos. My late Uncle was in the thick of things and though he did his best not to display anxiety, the various insinuations in the media– coming as they did from a variety of differing personalities with radically different perspectives — did not assure much comfort in what was to come. The hubbub left many wondering and many others questioning what had gone wrong. They demanded the “truth” be revealed.
And so it was. Mr Lee Kuan Yew addressed the nation and in-between wiping his clearly moist eyes told us that we had been kicked out of Malaysia! The shock took minutes even hours to sink home. Neighbours chatted across fences just to confirm what they had heard. But it was too late to do much by way of not accepting our fate: Singapore was now out of Malaysia and had to embrace the future alone, without the larger community that had formed in the two preceding years. It was the start of a new chapter in our short history– and a new beginning.
The new chapter in our history began with a clear glimpse of Lee Kuan Yew wiping his eyes. After all his long-cherished dream of a “Malaysian Malaysia” was now, in a sense, shattered. Whatever the details of that critical meeting that is said to have taken place in Cameron Highlands between the Tengku Abdur Rahman and Lee Kuan Yew one fact emerged: Singapore was on its own — no longer a part or partner of Malaysia.
Thus began the slow and arduous journey of our independent Republic of Singapore. In 1965, I was fifteen and though still a teen it was abundantly evident that a truly historic transition had taken place.
Whether it was Lee Kuan Yew’s oratory or his emotional self that made the impact, it was clear that most Singaporeans rallied behind him and resolved to ensure that we survived. Survival was our prime and major consideration, and all endeavours were directed to realising this goal. Crucial to this was the daily recitation of our National Pledge- “We the citizens of Singapore pledge ourselves as one united people…”. Whatever people may say our National Pledge remains sacred and sacrosanct.
As I look back at the tumultuous tensions and uncertainties we faced in those early years of our Republic’s nationhood, I can never state that we were despondent or unable to push forward. Yes, it will be folly to try and claim that everything was hunky-dory. No, far from it. But one thing was totally clear and universally accepted, as Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, we were now on our own and we had to shape our own destiny. All the doubts and unpredictable consequences notwithstanding Singapore was now the youngest new nation on planet Earth and her citizens were committed to ensure the nation survived.
And she did. Indeed, Singapore gloriously more than survived! She soared and within less than a decade of Independence– by 1975– we were showing ample signs of “earned success”, a reward that even opponents of Lee Kuan Yew had to acknowledge as “ real”.
There’s not much need for me to go into all the many new legislations and policies and rules and regulations that were mooted and passed in Parliament and embraced by all branches of our young Republic. The Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary had to be built on strong and impartial foundations without regard to race or language or religion. It was for the young an exciting and sometimes bewildering phase of history. But Mr Lee kept sharing his vision of a thriving young nation bent upon making a mark in history. Slowly but surely, said Mr Lee, Singapore would build her muscles and demonstrate what is achievable when citizen and together in order not so much to “show off” but essentially to survive. Survival was the foremost goal– all else could come afterwards.
And so we worked hard– very hard — and despite all the trauma and pain, we pushed and pushed and soon began to experience for ourselves the fruits of our determination. More and more nations began to realise that there was indeed a new kid on the block in Southeast Asia and that this kid was unrelenting in its efforts to succeed and succeed with distinction.
And so, today, as we celebrate our 57th year of Independence we can proudly claim to have surpassed all expectations and put to paid any misgivings anyone might have harboured.
Before Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed on, he said, movingly, while strolling through our Gardens By the Bay, that looking around he was glad we did what we did. He felt all his sacrifices were more than worth.
And so here we are celebrating our National Day in joy and even glee.
But we cannot ever forget or ignore the harsh lessons we learned along our journey to full and complete Independence. We live in a world crippled by numerous setbacks — the pandemic just being one.
It remains for others to evaluate the progress and strides our young and tiny island nation has taken. For my generation our Singapore is a miracle — a miracle realised through hard sacrifice and unwavering faith.
Kirpal Singh is a poet and a literary critic from Singapore. An internationally recognised scholar, Singh has won research awards and grants from local and foreign universities. He was one of the founding members of the Centre for Research in New Literatures, Flinders University, Australia in 1977; the first Asian director for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1993 and 1994, and chairman of the Singapore Writers’ Festival in the 1990s. He retired the Director of the Wee Kim Wee Centre.
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By Tan Kaiyi
“No, I did not commit those murders.”
“But the evidence was overwhelming.”
“Overwhelmingly false. The judge dismissed the case and I was not convicted.”
“Everything, from the knives to the bags to the photos were found in your HDB flat. How can you deny that?”
His eyes shifted. “I…I am not denying anything. If the public is unhappy, they are free to disagree with the ruling of the Supreme Court.”
The faces froze on the projector screen. Mahesh placed the remote on the table.
“There,” he indicated to Leong. “When you said you were not denying anything, there was a slip. If you did not do it, you should be confident. Viewers might notice these things.
Leong took a sip of water. For a thin sixty-five-year-old man, he looked radiant and alert. His appearance was such that it seemed to acquit him already from the murders he was accused of. But Mahesh believed that Leong could pull them off if he was half his age. Though his client worked as a simple administrative assistant for most of his life, Leong was one of the sharpest people he had media trained.
“Isn’t it natural to stutter? Even when I speak sometimes, I might not utter the exact words in mind,” Leong said.
“People are more forgiving in a casual conversation. Here, you will be in front of the nation talking about killings you did not commit.”
“It sounds like I’m on trial again.”
“Unfortunately, Mr. Leong, you’ll always be on trial.”
When they first met, Mahesh didn’t think much of Leong. In fact, he was surprised that a man of Leong’s age knew about public relations and had the money for his services. The client had come through a fellow freelancer, Marcus. They had worked in BCW for many years until they decided they had enough of working for people. “Who commissioned the media training?” Mahesh asked. Marcus was sheepish and vague. All he responded was that it was someone from linked to the government.
“Wouldn’t it have come from GeBIZ?” Mahesh asked. Government contracts usually came strictly from the online tender portal.
“Would we be talking if it was on GeBIZ?” Marcus replied.
The circumstances didn’t matter. As long as he was paid, Mahesh was happy to oblige.
Mahesh and Leong ran through a few more practice interviews. Each time, Mahesh sharpened his questions, trying to steel up Leong for the upcoming onslaught on CNA(Channel News Asia). About an hour later, Mahesh called for a break. They sat down and had their refreshments.
“You were very hard in the last round of questions,” Leong said.
“Rather hard now than suffer later on TV,” Mahesh said, taking a gulp from his Coke Zero bottle.
Leong sipped on his green tea. During the break, Mahesh studied him. He looked exactly like how the witnesses described the National Day Killer in the report. Lanky and not very tall, the perpetrator looked as if he was a homeless cardboard collector. However, he had the fitness of an NS commando. A police report stated that a pursuing officer was unable to catch up with a masked figure leaving the scene of a murder. The policeman was in his twenties and won numerous fitness awards in his cohort. Despite that, he couldn’t keep up. Mahesh examined Leong. The old man was certainly lean and walked in steady strides.
The media trainer shook off those thoughts once he was aware of them. He reminded himself that the Supreme Court’s decision was final. Leong was innocent and he was here to help him reinforce that to the public.
“Shall we go again?” Mahesh asked Leong. The old man nodded wordlessly.
“Let’s do one last round,” the younger man said.
Leong indicated that he was ready to go with a thumbs up.
Mahesh introduced himself as a fictional TV presenter and began the questioning. Leong learned fast. He now was able to deal with the unpleasant topics around the time before he was acquitted as the National Day Killer: the comments from the public, the stares and flashes he received from cameras when he was shuttled between the prison complex and the courthouse and the crushing sense of injustice that the real murderer was out enjoying the serenity and freedom that rightly belonged to him. He flinched before but now, it was as if he was truly innocent. As if, Mahesh caught himself thinking. There’s no as if. Leong was not the murderer.
“The killer left messages about how it never rains on National Day. What do you make of that?”
“I don’t know. Why not you ask him?”
“Him? What makes you think it’s him?”
“I don’t think I’m fit to answer these questions. It should be left to the police.”
Leong was getting more confident.
“In the notes he left behind, the killer said that his killings were a tribute. It appeases what he calls the great spirits of the earth and calls on their blessings for whoever rules the land. The fact that it never rains on the parade was proof of his success. What do you think of that?”
“I have no insights into the mind of a madman. I’m sure you’re curious but this is a question, again, for the police,” Leong said it assertively while maintaining a steady gaze at Mahesh. Good, the younger man thought.
“So, are you the National Day Killer?” Mahesh asked abruptly. He noticed that Leong tended to get tired around eight minutes into the interview. A direct question was meant to throw him off and test him.
Leong responded brilliantly and firmly, “No, I am not.”
Mahesh switched off the camera. “Fantastic, I think we’re done.”
Leong smiled, patted his hands against his legs as if congratulating himself on a good day’s work done and stood up. The old man thanked his trainer for the session and offered his help to pack up.
“You did very well today. If you need to revise before the broadcast in three days, just give me a call,” Mahesh said as he kept his cameras, laptop and other equipment.
“I’m afraid that’s all the money I have for this,” Leong said, chuckling.
“I hope it’s worth the investment. Not a lot of people would think to prepare themselves before going on camera. CEOs have frozen on screen for answers that were not as pointed as what you’ll be receiving.”
“Well, it wasn’t entirely my idea,” Leong said.
Leong had walked off to the far corner of the room to dump the empty cans of beverages they had consumed during the session. He returned and said, “That’s the last of it. Shall we?”
The two men left the room and Mahesh locked up the office he had rented based on a favour from a friend. The younger man offered the older man a ride to the nearest MRT. “Thank you, it’s quite a walk,” Leong said. “This old man needs to protect his legs,” he said while walking untroubled to the car.
During the journey, Mahesh went through what would happen on the day itself again. He assured Leong that he’d be there on the 12th of August and reminded Leong of what he should wear and when he should show up at the studio. When he discussed the schedule with Leong in the car, Mahesh was worried that he might be overbearing. He had run through these details multiple times with the older man, but he knew that people could be forgetful under stress, and it was better to be sure. The media trainer wondered why they would want to air such as controversial story three days after National Day, but he guessed that the producer must have been desperate for exciting content. He or she must have fought the government censors ferociously to get the green light.
Once he was satisfied that the Leong remembered all the details, he switched to other topics of conversation for the rest of the drive.
“Mr. Leong, do you ever feel that it’s unfair to you?”
“That you’re put on trial by the public like this and the real killer is out there still.”
“There’s no fair or unfair. You just accept what the world gives you.”
“That’s quite a grim outlook.”
“Not really. We just have to live with history, with what is given to us and what we should do next.”
Mahesh drove on quietly, taking in the Leong that was slowly unveiling beside him. During their time together, they were so focused on the media training that the younger man had no time to strike up a personal conversation with his client.
“What do you mean by live with history?”
“It was that outlook that made us. Our country went through a tough time before it got to where it is today. We forget that our streets were riddled with crime and blood. Just about sixty years back, we were killing each over the colour of our skin. And then, for some reason, we made it.”
“We had good leaders.”
“Yes, but facing the uncertainty of this world, even great leaders cannot succeed if they haven’t been elected.”
“But our people elect them.”
“I’m not just talking about people. History must elect them. That is the ultimate reason for success.”
“What do you mean by history?”
Leong went on, “The flow of events, the spirit of the ages, the soul of the people. All of these must be aligned for our success. And is it too much to thank these forces that have allowed us to flourish?”
Mahesh couldn’t really piece together these momentary revelations immediately. It was only after a few weeks after the broadcast of the interview, which went seamlessly, that he thought of whether he should contact the police.
The judge dismissed the case and I was not convicted. That line of Leong from the video replayed in his head.
The judge dismissed the case and I was not convicted.
The car approached the pickup and drop off point of the nearest MRT station. Mahesh, not fully knowing what to say, told Leong as the older man exited the car, “It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Leong. What you said was interesting. Perhaps, there are some truths to be learned from the pioneer generation.”
“There’s nothing. All we need is to be thankful,” Leong said as he smiled and shut the passenger door.
 National Service or a two year compulsory uniformed service for all male Singaporeans and Permanent residents, normally served from age 18-20. Subsequently, the have to return and serve for a short period (few weeks) for a given tenure.
 Metro rail. Mass rapid transit
Tan Kaiyi is on a literary odyssey to unearth the wonders and weirdness within the mundane. His poems have appeared in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS). His play, On Love, was selected for performance at Short & Sweet Festival Singapore. He has also been published in Best Asian Speculative Fiction (2018), an anthology of science fiction, fantasy and horror stories from the region.
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Book review of Tagore’s last novel by Meenakshi Malhotra on his death anniversary
Title: Four Chapters
Author: Rabindranath Tagore
Translator: Radha Chakravarty
With Char Adhyay (1934, Four Chapters), Tagore’s last novel, he returns to his critique of violence, an almost ubiquitous preoccupation in this last phase of his writing which had earlier witnessed the production of Ghare Baire (1916, The Home and the World) and his essays on nationalism. Both, The Home and the World and Four Chapters, share an underlying preoccupation about the limits of patriotism and the legitimacy of violence: does love for one’s own country justify violence and revolutionary terrorism? To put it in a philosophical vein: do the ends justify the means?
Like in The Home and the World , Tagore uses a triangulated relationship, if not a tripartite narrative structure. The plot could be summed up thus: Ela, a modern woman, looks for engagement, to give structure and meaning to her existence. At odds initially with her traditional but authoritarian mother, she grows up developing a strong sense of justice and a mistrust of blind superstitions and meaningless rituals, which hardly equip her to fit into a traditional marriage. After losing both her parents, she is under the care of her uncle and aunt, when she meets the charismatic Indranath, a disappointed scientist who has now turned to militancy and revolutionary terrorism. On the other side is Atindranath or Atin (also called Antu), with whom Ela forms a romantic attachment. In the last segment of the novel, we realise that Ela’s politicisation had also pushed Atin into militancy since Ela’s dedication to the cause had co-opted him into it.
Stylistically this novel is striking. It consists of little narrative but is dialogic for the most part. As such, as the editor-translator mentions, the work acquires a dramatic quality. Also, Four Chapters comes across as a vehicle for ideas and at times, the novel seems to be weighed down by the predominance of ideas. Thus ideas of national regeneration, selfless action circulate in the text without being directly co-related with the plot and story structure. The characters often are eloquent in their own praise. They seem to be mouthpieces produced as a result of clashing ideologies.
Four Chapters depicts the new, modern woman in all her complexity and confusion, poised on the brink of something new, yet unable to let go completely of the old. Torn between political zeal and romantic passion, Ela represents a model of womanhood which is recognisable and perhaps relatable. Displaying agency, she says she wants to “publicize the increase in women’s rights in the modern age.” Women , she feels, “don’t hesitate to speak the truth now”. In the “new literature, Bengali women’s characters are eloquent in their own praise. They have usurped the clay sculptor’s role of fashioning the images of goddesses.”
Both a scientist as well as a political leader, Indranath surveys human history as a continuing saga of oppression, death and destruction. His cold impersonality is contrasted with the romantic zeal and passion of Atin, who is devoted to Ela beyond doubt. Though Ela reciprocates his passion, she is committed to bow to the overarching cause of the nation and its freedom from subjugation. Yet Ela shows herself capable of great devotion as is evident in her impassioned exchanges with Atin. She tells him, “You are great. I can see your brilliance, dazzling as a flash of lightning.” Fully aware of his devotion and of his romantic idealisation of her, she contrasts the small details which preoccupy women to the dazzling brilliance of Atin’s mind. In all these exchanges, we see her intelligence shine through. Moreover, she realises the entrapment of women’s biology. Nature, she feels, “has humiliated women from the time of our birth.” “We enter this world bearing destiny’s purpose in our biology, our bodies.”
In contrast to the passionate and emotional Atin is the character of Indranath, who, seems cold, calculating and two-dimensional and driven by a single ideological narrative. Indranath, the political zealot is charismatic but professes to be impersonal, commands and considers herself pledged to the nation’s cause. It is he who wins Ela over to the nationalist cause.
Nationalism here serves as a veneer for his revolutionary terrorism. As Radha Chakravarty writes in the ‘Introduction’ to the translated edition, “The novel charts the volatile scenario that arises from the conflict between Ela’s forbidden love and her dangerous involvement with political violence. Through the relationships between Ela, Atin and Indranath, the narrative explores the interface between love and revolutionary politics”. She also adds that the first draft of the novel focused on the romantic plot and did not have the character of Indranath. The character of Indranath is supposedly based upon a scholar-activist who was criticised by Tagore. In a letter written in August 1934, Tagore wrote to Prafulla Nath Tagore, saying that the latter must be aware of his eschewal of violence: “You are aware that I am completely against the oppressive tactics of those who follow the path of terrorism…I have written a work of fiction that is cast as a protest against the terrorists.”
Tagore’s political views and novelistic stance elicited the wrath of many compatriots, political activists, extremists and nationalists who felt that this stance was expressive of his collusion with colonialism. Further, as Chakravarty phrases it, his “challenge to authoritarianism and insistence on freedom of thought” also aroused the suspicion of the British administration in India. Anticipating controversy, Tagore himself took steps to have it translated into English, though it took some time for the translation to see the light of day.
Radha Chakravarty’s recent translation captures the nuances of a complex text. It is one of the rare instances where the translation has rescued the occasional stiltedness of the original and thus fares better in some instances. The novel, which runs the occasional danger of collapsing under the weight of its own ideas in the original Bengali version, is modernised and through this particular translation, the narrative is made more empathetic to the needs of the contemporary reader. This is a translation of a difficult novel which serves to give a fresh lease of life to an important but not a very popular book, and restores it for the modern reader.
Dr Meenakshi Malhotra is Associate Professor of English Literature at Hansraj College, University of Delhi, and has been involved in teaching and curriculum development in several universities. She has edited two books on Women and Lifewriting, Representing the Self and Claiming the I, in addition to numerous published articles on gender, literature and feminist theory.
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“I was three years old at the time of the bombing. I don’t remember much, but I do recall that my surroundings turned blindingly white, like a million camera flashes going off at once. Then, pitch darkness. I was buried alive under the house, I’ve been told. When my uncle finally found me and pulled my tiny three year old body out from under the debris, I was unconscious. My face was misshapen. He was certain that I was dead..." -- YASUJIRO TANAKA/ LOCATION: NAGASAKI/DISTANCE FROM HYPOCENTER: 3.4 KM, AFTER THE BOMB, https://time.com/after-the-bomb/
Recalling the incidents of 1945 — when two bombs were dropped in the name of peace destroying towns, populations and a way of life of innocents who had nothing to do with the aggressive invasion of the power-hungry, instilling suffering for generations to come, and justifying the whole incident in the name of peace — should have taught humankind lessons that we would never forget. When I read about the incidents, the horror of these make me shudder. Even the sky changed colours. The Earth grew barren as life on it writhed to an untimely halt, some wounded towards a painful end and some dead. Some of our species suffered in the most horrific ways. For some death lingered with pain. For others, life lingered with pain — both emotional and physical. Has that all been forgotten or erased from our minds?
Given the current global atmosphere, we perhaps most need to pray for peace: peace, to alleviate hunger; peace to be with loved ones; peace to have access to resources at a reasonable price so that all of us can afford to live in comfort. And yet the wars rage…
As we move ahead this year, poetry around war has proliferated in our pages, showing why we need peace. Today, in this issue we bring to you writing that looks for peace as well as our older pieces describing the horrors of the atom bomb in Hiroshima.
An interview with nuclear war survivor’s daughter, author Kathleen Burkinshaw, who continues to suffer the aftermath of the Hiroshima blast that only her mother had faced and has written a book, The Last Cherry Blossom, describing the horrors of the war, life before it and after. Click here to read.
By Michael R. Burch
MILESTONES TOWARD OBLIVION “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” —Ronald Reagan A milestone here leans heavily against a gaunt, golemic tree. These words are chiseled thereupon: "One mile and then Oblivion." Swift larks that once swooped down to feed on groping slugs, such insects breed within their radiant flesh and bones ... they did not heed the milestones. Another marker lies ahead, the only tombstone to the dead whose eyeless sockets read thereon: "Alas, behold Oblivion." Once here the sun shone fierce and fair; now night eternal shrouds the air while winter, never-ending, moans and drifts among the milestones. This road is neither long nor wide ... men gleam in death on either side. Not long ago, they pondered on milestones toward Oblivion. LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS Lay down your arms; come, sleep in the sand. The battle is over and night is at hand. Our voyage has ended; there's nowhere to go ... the earth is a cinder still faintly aglow. Lay down your pamphlets; let's bicker no more. Instead, let us sleep here on this ravaged shore. The sea is still boiling; the air is wan, thin ... Lay down your pamphlets; now no one will “win.” Lay down your hymnals; abandon all song. If God was to save us, He waited too long. A new world emerges, but this world is through . . . so lay down your hymnals, or write something new.
Michael R. Burch’s poems have been published by hundreds of literary journals, taught in high schools and colleges, translated into fourteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, and set to music by seventeen composers.
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Sometimes, after a downpour, there is a rainbow. Though finding a real leprechaun with a pot of gold at the end of the shimmering diaphanous arch seems unlikely, rains inspire another type of treasure — a trove of poetry written around clouds, showers, thunder from across continents. We would like to share with you some of our gatherings from the Borderless treasury, starting with translations of Tagore to modern day poetry — all conversing around seasonal outpourings from the sky in their own way…
Monomor Megher Songi (My Friends, The Clouds), a song translated by Professor Fakrul Alam.
My mind keeps company with clouds And soars with them in all directions. To the pitter patter pitter patter of sravan showers, My mind swerves towards infinite space....
Click here to read the full poem.
Who has covered her bosom In blue, who has come Back to play with slivers of lightning? Oh, who has untied her hair in abandon on the palace's roof?
Click here to read the full poem.
Cicadas in the Rain by Jared Carter.
Only when it began to rain could I hear it, in late summer, after they had all risen high in the saucer magnolia tree – a soft, slow rain at first, while the light still held in the west.
Click here to read the full poem.
Passing Clouds by Devangshu Dutta
Cloud after cloud day after day, burdened with feelings. regrets and hope...
Click here to read the full poem.
Black clouds claimed the light Drifting, secretly drifting. Wind grasped my hair, tugged it across my eyes..
Click here to read the full poem.
The Rain-meditation by Sunil Sharma
The clouds grey and pregnant With condensed water, Bend down and Kiss the parched earth...
Click here to read the full poem.
Rainfall by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
I take refuge in the falling rain. It falls only for me. The raindrops fall on my head. I find comfort in rainfall.
Click here to read the full poem.
Tagore’s Mono Mor Megher Shongi (‘The Clouds, My Friends‘)has been translated by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.
This narrative is written by a youngster from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. Lockdown had been written in Hindustani by Jishan and translated to English by Grace M Sukanya. Click here to read.
Click on the names to read
Michael R Burch, Supatra Sen, Jenny Middleton, Pramod Rastogi, Ron Pickett, George Freek, Devangshu Dutta, Candice Louisa Daquin, David Francis, Raja Chakraborty, Michael Lee Johnson, Ashok Suri, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Sutputra Radheye, Maid Corbic, Rhys Hughes
Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes
Sohana Manzoor leaves one wondering if the story is about felines or… Click here to read.
Erwin Coomb has a strange encounter at night. Is it real? Click here to read.
The story by Rinu Antony focusses on chance encounter at a bus stop. Click here to read.
Paul Mirabile travels to 1970s Italy to experience a crime inside a sixteenth century well. Click here to read.
Musings/ Slices from Life
A poetic account by Mike Smith as he explores the area that hovers between England and Scotland. Click here to read.
Hema Ravi visits a farm that houses animals that had a past in Disney. Click here to read.
Notes from Japan
Musings of a Copywriter
Meredith Stephens sails the Australian coastline, recording her experiences with words and her camera. Click here to read.
Ravi Shankar treks up to Tilicho Tal at 4940 m. Click here to read his trekking adventures.
Dan Meloche visits a contemporary Canadian novel written as an animal fable to draw an unexpected inference. Click here to read.
The Observant Immigrant
When the mountains and grass had life, stones whispered how the world came to be… 'Stonehenge', Daily Star
And as the world came to be, there was war — war that seems to rage in some part of the world or other. The British Museum has an exhibit which states the first battle was staged 13,000 years ago… in what is now Sudan, long before the advent of written history. This was even before the advent of people who built the ancient Stonehenge which was constructed around 3000-2000 BCE. And battles still continue to rage. The Jebel Sahaba casualties in Sudan 13000 years ago were less than 100. But the current conflicts claim in terms of tens of thousands which prolonged could stretch to millions. The last world war (1939-1945) which lasted for six years had a total of 75-80 million persons who perished. Ukraine-Russia conflict has within five months had a casualty count of more than 14000. And yet weapons and nuclear arms continue to proliferate decimating humanity, nature and towns, destroying homes, erasing ruthlessly and creating more refugees. The only need for such battles seem to be to satiate the hunger of the warlords secure in their impenetrable fortresses while tens of thousands are annihilated and natural or nurtured landscapes lie emaciated, mutilated and polluted.
What would be a good way of ending such wars?
Tagore sought the development of better instincts in humankind as an antidote. He wrote in the last century: “Any teaching concerning man must have human nature for its chief element. How far it will harmonise with human nature is a matter of time.”
With wars getting deadlier and more horrific, we can only try to awaken, as Tagore suggests, the better nature in man to move towards a peaceful world. What would be a more effective way of doing it than writing with the hope of a kinder and accepting future?
For that let us start with translations of the maestro Tagore himself. We have a song about the season — monsoon, ‘Monomor Megher Songi (My Friends, the Clouds)’, translated by Professor Fakrul Alam, a painting by Sohana Manzoor interpreting the lyrics and a transcreation of ‘Nababarsha or New Rains’ was shrunken into a popular Rabindra Sangeet and reduced to twenty lines in English by Tagore himself. The connect with nature is an important aspect that enables humans to transcend petty concerns leading to dissensions of different kinds as evidenced in the maestro’s humorous feline skit, translated by Somdatta Mandal. A translation of Dalip Kaur Tiwana’s ‘The Bus Conductor’ from Punjabi by C. Christine Fair adds zest to this section. Fazal Baloch has translated a folktale from Balochistan involving the supernatural and Ihlwha Choi has taken on the cry for peace on behalf of Ukraine while translating his own poem in Korean. The Nithari column has a story by Jishan in Hindustani, translated to English by Grace M Sukanya, showcasing the struggle of a youngster during the pandemic – rather a sad narrative, which though fictitious has its roots in reality.
Our poetry section touches upon the timelessness of dissensions and darkness with Michael R Burch’s poem on Stonehenge and Supatra Sen’s poem on Ukraine. This has been allayed by love poetry by Maid Corbic from Bosnia. George Freek’s poem ruffles with its reflective lines. And in the midst of it all, is poetry by Ryan Quinn Flanagan reflecting on the seven stages of man. Will the process of aging or human nature ever change? I wonder if Rhys Hughes can find an answer for that in humorous verses as he has shared in this issue. In his column, Hughes has written about an imagined anthology of short stories.
Our short story section has echoes of humour around felines by Manzoor, somewhat in tune with the mind frame seen in Tagore’s skit on this issue. Humour rings tinged with an apparition in Erwin Coombs’s narrative – should one call it dark humour or is it just his style? Paul Mirabile goes for gothic darkness in his meanderings around Italy.
Strangely, we seem to have a focus on short stories this time. Keith Lyons has interviewed Steve Carr, a journalist, a publisher and writer of 500 short stories who is questing to create a ‘perfect short story’. Reading out excerpts from her short story at a literary festival in Simla, Bollywood celebrity, Deepti Naval, was in conversation with eminent film journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta. She spoke of her literary aspirations while unveiling her autobiography in verse, A Country Called Childhood. This conversation has been shared by Sengupta with Borderless. It is interesting to see how Naval’s reactions to social malaise contrasts with that of the film director, cinematographer and actor, Goutam Ghose, who was present during the unveiling of her book. He had responded to communal violence by making a film on Lalan Fakir extolling virtues of love and kindness, called Moner Manush (2010) and then made a book on the film called, The Quest (2013) which has beautiful translations of Lalan Fakir’s lyrics by Sankar Sen.
Our non-fiction sections seem to be hosting multiple travel stories across UK by Mike Smith, along the Australian coastline by Meredith Stephens, on the Himalayas with Ravi Shankar and an unusual visit by Hema Ravi to a farm in US where animals that had been used in Disney films in the past are homed. Our environmental columnist, Kenny Peavy, actually wrote about his cycling trip from Thailand to Indonesia on a bamboo cycle made by a Singaporean! And from Japan, Suzanne Kamata explored a museum in the neighbouring town of Mure. The museum on a hill hosts the art of American Japanese Artists, Isamu Noguchi.
We do have non-fiction that moves away from travel: noir humour by Devraj Singh Kalsi and an essay by Candice Louisa Daquin on a very interesting subject – ‘Is it Okay to be Ordinary?’ Is it? Dan Meloche has written a literary essay on Canadian novelist Andre Alexis’s award-winning novel, Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue (2015). While Meloche spoke of how the novel departed from Orwell’s Animal Farm, his narrative brought to my mind a novel closer to our times set in England by Jasper Fforde called Constant Rabbit (2020) – this a science fiction while Alexis’s was an apologue or an animal fable. Fforde did use the rabbits rather well to highlight the current times.
We have book excerpts of two recent books that I would call really outstanding. One of them is Aruna Chakravarti’s The Mendicant Prince, which is being released this week, and is based on the evergreen contentious case of the prince of Bhawal that has even been explored even in cinema. The other, Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumar by Nabendu Ghosh, has been published posthumously and is not a translation from Bengali but written in English originally by this trilingual writer.
Called ‘Dadamoni’ affectionately, iconic actor Ashok Kumar is regarded as “the one personality who symbolises Indian cinema’s journey from Bombay Talkies to Bollywood”. This book has been reviewed by Indrashish Banerjee, who calls it ‘a reflection on the Hindi film industry’ as well as a biography. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Booker winner Geetanjali Shree’s Mai, Silently Mother, a Sahitya Akademi winning translation of her Hindi novel by Nita Kumar, reiterating the dialogue that had been kindled on motherhood last month by Rinki Roy Bhattacharya and Maithili Rao’s The Oldest Love Story (2022). Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Prosanta Chakrabarty’s Explaining Life Through Evolution plotting how life evolved on earth. Parichha tells us: “Meaningful, wide-ranging and argumentative, this is a must-read book. It will propel us to imagine and reimagine life around us.” Another book that sounds like a must-read has been reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, Tagore’s Gleanings of the Road, translated by Mandal. She tells us: “ ‘Gleanings’ represents the quintessential Tagore…Ably introduced and translated by Somdatta Mandal, a renowned Tagore scholar, the translation captures the iridescent and luminous quality of Tagore’s prose and its chiaroscuro effects.”
There is more to tempt. Please stop by on our contents page and take a look.
We would like to hugely thank all our contributors and readers for being with us and helping us grow. I would like to thank my team, who despite hurdles they face, always lend a helping hand and wonderful words from their pens or computers to get Borderless on its feet. I apologise for the delay and thank you all for your patience. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her fabulous artwork.
I wish you all a wonderful July and peace in a war-torn world. We are all affected by the ongoing conflicts. Let us hope for peaceful and just resolutions.
Tagore’s Nobobarsha (or ‘New Showers’) celebrates the onset of rains. The poem was written in 1900 and brought out that year itself as part of Kshanika (Momentary). It can also be found in Sanchayita (An Anthology of Selected Works), his poetry collection brought out by Visva Bharati, in 1931.
New Rains My heart dances today — dances like a peacock. Like the shimmer of its plumes, My heart glistens with rapturous colours. When I see the sky, my longing loses itself in euphoria. My heart dances today — dances like a peacock. The clouds rumble, rumble high up in the heavens. The rain rushes in. The new stalks of rice quiver. Doves shiver silently in their nests, frogs croak in flooded fields, The clouds rumble, rumble in the heavens. I see the clouds’ tear-filled eyes lined, lined with blue kohl. Ecstasy innervates The grass and deep shady woods. The floral bowers bloom with a new zest. I see the clouds’ tear-filled eyes are lined with blue kohl. Oh, who has untied her hair in gay abandon, in abandon on the palace's roof? Who has covered her bosom In blue, who has come Back to play with slivers of lightning? Oh, who has untied her hair in abandon on the palace's roof? Oh, by the riverbank lined with grass, who sits in dark raiment dripping purity? The young malati flowers wonder distractedly As they gaze at the distant skies, where Does the vessel float as it leaves the ghats? Oh, by the riverbank lined with grass, who sits in dark raiment? Oh, who swings today on the lonely swaying bakul branch, swings and sways? The bakul flutters and falls. An aanchal* soars to the the sky with yearning, A lock of hair flies to cover the eyes, the karabi flower drops. Oh, who swings today on the lonely swaying bakul branch? In this chaos, who has moored his boat, his new boat by the riverside? Clumps of cotton-like moss Fill the watery banks. The clouds sing soulful songs with tear-filled eyes. In this chaos, who has moored his new boat by the riverside? My heart dances today — Dances like a peacock. A heavy downpour falls on the new leaves, The garden quivers with the chirrup of crickets. The river has crossed the bank and approaches the village. My heart dances today — dances like a peacock. *Loose end of a Saree (This poem has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty)
There is also an English translation of the poem by Tagore. The translation is shorter and of twenty lines only as opposed to the 41 lines of the full-length poem. The poet’s translation is a part of Tagore’s Poems edited by Krishna Kripalani, Amiya Chakravarty, Nirmalchandra Chattopadhyay and Pulinbehari Sen ( Calcutta: Visva Bharati, 1942).
The poet’s own translation is sung in the original language it was written in, Bengali. Here we present the song sung by a reputed singer, Srikanto Acharya.
Thanks to Bichitra Varorium, to Anasuya Bhar for her research and editorial advise, Sohana Manzoor for her art and editorial comments. Tagore’s short translation has also been used as a resource for improving the translation of the full-length poem.
 Bichitra Varorium, researched by Anasuya Bhar