Categories
Stories

         Oliver’s Soul

Paul Mirabile weaves yarn of murder and madness in Madrid of the 1970s         

                            

Madrid: Courtesy: Creative Commons

I am jotting this down while it is still fresh in my mind, hoping that the police will not jump to hasty conclusions and accuse me falsely of the killing. The murderess, after relating the incident to me, left that very evening ; that is to say, the evening I found her at home standing over the corpse of my dear friend Oliver. Since her departure, the entire affair has shaken me up, given the terrible fact that I am the only person available, and I shall add, sound of mind, to offer an explanation. Here let me give you an account of what actually took place before anything injudicious happens to me.

She was a religious fanatic, the murderess, that I am certain, and although I had these impressions of her, I could never pin-point the source of material she utilised in her indefatigable tirades apropos the necessity of man to humiliate himself before God, who, as she insisted, created man in order that he may serve Him, and suffer the cross as He did. Apparently she was well read in mediaeval Christian dogma, and especially in the works of Fray Luis de Granada, Saint Thomas of Aquinas and Abelard. She had been a student of theology and philosophy, albeit a poor one, but did have an entertaining command of the subtle teachings and techniques of Meister Eckhart and Jacob Boehme.

Our conversations were weighty, yet erratic. The evening of the murder, for example, she picked up a book and tossed it out of the window. We had been talking about the physical attributes of the soul, and it seemed I had upset her over something. I asked her why she loved Oliver instead of me, and without a word she promptly threw out three more, one of which one was the Bible ! I heard them sailing through the still, night air and land on the small plaza below with a soft thump. Her eyes wandered off to stare at the empty space just below the low-ceiling of her flat. A crooked smile stretched on her bloodless lips. A fly had sailed in on the waves of the interminable Madrilenian heat from the open window, buzzing annoyingly about the wrought iron chandelier. She seemed to enjoy that buzzing.

When she had snapped out of her mesmerised state, she placed her hands upon my head and drew me towards her. She kissed me full on the lips. It was the first time we had kissed in many months. In the same distracted vein, she whispered that a sickness had befriended her, and a revelation had swollen her eyes with vivid scenes of lurid pleasure. At first she laughed, or rather giggled. A short time later, she said Oliver was coming to kill her, and that we must protect ourselves from him. I sat up staring at her in disbelief. She remained calm, disclosing her love for him, but added, that alas pure love could not be a defence against external, mundane effects. Love, she felt, could be overcome and defeated when the hour arrived for his meditated act. She continued saying that his soul could not forfeit this unleashed wave of energy, for he lacked in guided spiritual strength. I listened to her, not believing that Oliver was what she said he was. She continued to whisper in fey tones, her cold, blanched lips sometimes touching mine, whilst the wretched heat and that irritating buzzing were driving me insane.

The evening passed without any other incident, although her tone and breathing touched strange chords in my heart. She was obviously ill, but I refrained from asking her if she needed anything, or if I could be of any help. No, I take that back, I am lying to you : the thought never occurred to ask her ! Instead, my thoughts reached out in search of Oliver’s face. She made some more tea, we chatted a while then I left without a kiss.

The following morning, the air was less oppressive when I visited her; perhaps I had regrets about leaving so abruptly. She wasn’t in, but on the broken tiles, slipped halfway under the door was a note. It was Oliver’s handwriting, who apparently in great haste, had scrawled something about coming over that evening at around seven. Slipping the note back in its place, I elected that it would be better if I divulged to Oliver the scope of his lover’s uncanny behaviour and affected revelations. Rescinding the idea however, I walked the streets until nightfall.

The torrid dampness of late autumn in Madrid painted a dismal picture at that empty hour. The baroqueness of the city took on a ponderous, eerie, melancholic aura. I felt plunged in some Edgar Poe intrigue, sensed the triviality of my gestures and acts. My nerves were on edge: could hours be so onerous ? I continued my dreary pacing without pangs of hunger or weariness of stride. Suddenly, I found myself at the small plaza just below my sick friend’s flat, and where, from her window, she had a full view of the statue at the centre of the square, a commemorative homage to a fallen hero whose name I no longer recall. He held a huge white cross in his clenched fists, his eyes gaping feverishly ahead of him. Checking my watch, I read two. Looking up at her window, I saw the lights flash. Her head popped out, and I asked myself if she had, for some enigmatic reason, sensed my presence. What an absurd thought! I, nevertheless, slipped behind the statue, and kept perfectly still.

Thank heavens the hour was late and no one was in the street. Otherwise, some sober or insomniac portero[1] would have certainly run to the police. I must have cut a ridiculous figure, skulking behind that wild-eyed, cross-bearing zealot. I chanced another glance at her window. She had vanished. Recalling our conversation last evening, and Oliver’s note in the morning, I debated whether it were wise to go straight up or call the police. I decided to go up. In any case, the police would have thought me drunk, and perhaps would even have thrown me in jail.

I darted across the plaza into the shadows of the adjacent building. I can assure you that I felt like a thief sneaking through those bleak, heated hours of the night. A hussy with brazen bangles clinking in sad obscurity happened to discover me in the shadows of the doorway. Throwing up her arms, she let out a shriek and ran off across the plaza, her high-heels rapping, tapping and clacking a monotonous dirge upon the crooked stones. I speedily entered the building of Oliver’s lover. Happily the portero was either asleep or decidedly drunk. The stairway lay quiet.

My imagination was racing. Would she actually kill him ? How could she have ever conjured up such an extravagant idea ? Was she turning her destructive forces against Oliver because he had so oftentimes agreed to our platonic triad as the very proof of her incapacity to love just one man … or love any man ? Or was it her untamed inner drive set against society’s cruel hypocrisy of condemning a human being’s marginal existence as it played out in the complexity of an ever-shifting triangle ? It is true, however, that within the spheres of every man’s mind, dark moments instigate arrogance and envy to chase out reason and replace it with the urge to turn to crime and passion. I made haste, almost tripping on the last carpeted step.

I was startled to find her door ajar. I hesitated before I entered, apprehending what the consequences could be if my intrusion proved untimely … In one way or another. Oliver mustn’t know I suspected foul play. As for his lover, at this point I could not care a fig. It was merely a friendly visit. At two in the morning?

I strode boldly into the nondescript sitting room, stealing a glance at her. She stood there, gaping at me in bewilderment. Then a silly grin played across those thin, ghastly lips. She pointed to the mahogany table where the bloodstained corpse of Oliver lay, a kitchen knife thrust deep within his breast. I quickly shut the door then raced back to Oliver’s still warm body. She remained standing with that same plastic grin spread over a face of grotesque scorn.

Oliver was stone dead, his heavy body losing blood fast. A huge crimson pool formed under the mahogany table. Not a word passed between us. She scrutinised me, though, with a sort of curious air. Finally I stood, took hold of her shoulders, and signalled with a nod of my head to Oliver’s corpse. She pushed me away roughly, asked me to put aside my air of feigned mystery, then turned to make some coffee. I couldn’t believe the whole scene. Oliver lay murdered in the most despicable fashion and she sails off to the kitchen to make coffee! And that same damned fly kept buzzing about above me, flustering further my already knotted thoughts. I suddenly realised that I had walked into a terrible predicament. For all I knew she could have called the police, pinning the crime on me. Had I touched the knife ? No, thank God …

I glanced down at Oliver, my last thoughts finding their way into his, into our close, confidential past. We had so much in common, so much had been shared, and … and then she entered our manly nobleness, disrupting our toilsomely constructed dialectics. Had we not planned a long voyage to the East to spend a few years studying Eastern philosophy? The murderess returned with the utmost aplomb and placed the silver tray on the mahogany table round which the odour of thick, oozing blood wavered in wisps of despair.

I observed her carefully. She didn’t seem to be waiting for the police. Yet, she held her cup of coffee so delicately, as if that were the very cup with which she would scoop up Oliver’s blood and drink with it! I shuddered at this ridiculous image, again glancing at the Oliver’s frozen-white face. It was a mask of incomprehension … of unabashed innocence ! She asked me to sit, and soon began her morbid tale :

Oliver came as expected, carrying with him his usual pile of books. I interrupted to ask her which ones but she gritted her teeth and told me to keep my mouth shut. She didn’t like his books, they were foul, blasphemous and degrading to a pleading soul. But she loved him dearly, and that was enough for her to disregard these heinous felonies. This was the very reason for his death, she panted, her breath odious, nostrils wide. She loved him so much, but his books were soiling his pure, inborn thoughts. Those books were the external elements hacking away at his candid soul, squeezing him dry of his instinctive, natural energies derived from the inner depths, a gift from the Almighty. His poor, poor soul was incapable of overcoming these assailing evil elements from without. Oliver was a coward ! He dared not face extremities in fear of direct confrontation. She understood his dilemma, pitied him, sought to salvage him. He came to her explicitly for redemption. Oliver’s soul had to be soothed, then redeemed. She read it on his face, not in his vile books. His eyes had gone wild, the world blotting out his innate goodness. Weakening from these destructive powers, she tried to save him with her tenderness and love. This he took as mockery, throwing her savagely to the floor. She fully understood now that he had been ensnared by his own constructed cage of bookish death-traps.

She asked him if he wanted to die. The cage of death imprisoned him. He couldn’t break the iron bars, preferring to grapple with his gnomic books, boding his own plunge into the pits of slime and filth. He went berserk — tearing out her books from their shelves, stamping on them like some lunatic. And while he did so, she went ever so quietly into the kitchen to retrieve the salutary knife. He stopped, and eyed her funnily; what was the need of a knife? In that instant she went up to him, holding the life-saving helve firmly in hand. Oliver put out both hands but the blade was already deep inside his chest. She sighed as his big body slumped peacefully at her feet. He had been finally liberated from ignominy. Nothing again would ever harm him …

I listened in awe, and during those minutes (hours?) of madness a cold sensation slithered up my spine: she could kill me, too! The deadly killer was not strong, but her terrible tale left me hollow, defenceless. Her eyes searched mine, studying me, reading me. Are not the eyes the windows of the soul ? She walked towards the corpse, then burst into peels of harrowing laughter. I jumped up. She wrenched the knife out of Oliver’s chest and brandished it high overhead.

Dashing to the door, I heard footsteps and great gasps of breath right behind me. They resounded eerily as they followed mine down the stairway, my gait diminishing at each footfall downward. Into the street I charged, and hied to the statue. Only once had I gained the statue, I chanced a glance behind me. There was no one …

At home I resolved to run to the police, though, I couldn’t summon the nerve to make the move, much less the strength to descend back into the streets. I was frightened of the ill-lit, lonely lanes of cobblestone. And that insufferable heat and mugginess … Perhaps she was looking for me. She did have my address, I was sure of that. Unable to sleep, I sat at the window, scanning the narrow lanes below. The night was calm, not a soul passed, not a sound to disturb the hollow darkness. A light drizzle began to fall, the tiny drops flickering like silvery tinsel under the sallow, mournful street lamps.

The next morning, after a sleepless night, mooning confusedly in my flat, and before going to the police, I resolved to make a bee-line to her place to see if anything might have happened to her after my flight. With the new day, albeit a sunless one, all my feelings of insecurity had left me, and I felt strong enough to climb those wooden stairs and knock at her door. She didn’t answered … I turned the knob. Her door had been left unlocked.

Stealthily I inched my way into the sitting room, she apparently had gone out. But that infernal fly still hovered round the chandelier as if it had been sent by some Higher Spirit to hound me, to testify and vouch to the gruesome events of the evening before. And the loathing stench of blood ? And Oliver’s corpse ? Then I espied a note on the mahogany table, set beside the silver tray and empty coffee cups. In her customary scribble, the murderess had written that she would take the night train to an unspecified destination.

I looked around in a panic. Where had she hidden the body? I shuddered at the idea that my fingerprints were smudged on almost every item of that flat. She had completely gone mad, and I … yes I … what could I do ? Her friends (for I’m sure she must have had some lady friends) would definitely visit her, and when they found her gone, would believe something was amiss and go to the police station. Mine and Oliver’s names would be noted in all her address and notebooks, and there is no doubt that she had often spoke of us to those lady friends of hers. I could very well be suspected, even accused. Oliver and I were so close, so intimate. One need not be a Sherlock Holmes to put two and two together. And what did I care if she loved Oliver more than me ? Could the police possibly think that I would have murdered him for such a silly motive ? If so, then why hadn’t I murdered her ?

I dragged my feet out of the building and back to my dismal dwellings, where I am presently finishing this deposition for the police. I expect them very shortly now, I think it has been three days since the murder. At the same time, I feel as if I’m writing out a confession, or a death warrant for her, who, perhaps with very good reason, has put much distance between the scene of the crime and myself. As to Oliver, well, his soul now must lie somewhere far beyond the uncertainty of love, hatred and zealous misfortune … Did it not comprehend that our earthly existence was but a fleeting souvenir of timeless Eternity ?


[1] porter

Paul Mirabile is a retired professor of philology now living in France. He has published mostly academic works centred on philology, history, pedagogy and religion. He has also published stories of his travels throughout Asia, where he spent thirty years.

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Categories
Poetry

Poetry by David Francis

Courtesy: Creative Commons
THE CROP-DUSTER, ALABAMA


It’s evening; the windows are tinted:
I’ve seldom seen such landscape from a bus,
enchanting shades of green, without a gloss;
so leafy, “leafy” is what I’ve printed
in my letter—that was the adjective
with which I conveyed this peculiar state’s
fullness, a cornucopia of traits
flowing through this leafiness like a sieve.

Two radios play, one of them is heard;
not bothering with headphones in front
of me, a man as if to anoint
has his head down, like a sea-alighting bird.

In back, the reflections merged in the glass,
both of us watching the crop-duster pass.


EXPEDITION


Walking in fisherman’s boots
all the way to the fence,
deer hindquarters flash and thrash
through the thorns, and gluey spider webs
break against my innocent face;
crows maul the sky with their cries
and then, silent as pine needles snapping underfoot,
the give-way of a rotten trunk next to
those towers of those who live in the mud
and my own subsidence, rubbery, sodden;
scraping off on a root, nailed boards
reveal a blue canopied treehouse—
not the first in my sunny youth;
at the fence I rest in the sundown,
enervated in the cacophony of gloom
and transfixed by the motes floating
in the high-vaulted clearing.

David Francis has produced seven music albums, Always/Far: a chapbook of lyrics and drawings, and Poems from Argentina (Kelsay Books).  He has written and directed the films, Village Folksinger
(2013) and Memory Journey (2018).  He lives in New York City. 

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Categories
Review

An Aesthetic Rebellion set in Mumbai

Book Review by Gracy Samjetsabam

Title: Half-Blood

Author: Pronoti Datta

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

Half-blood by Pronoti Datta is a gripping noir-fiction that speaks about the harsh realities of urban settings, morally negotiated characters, dysfunctional families, and atypical individuals with dark secrets and surprises. Pronoti Datta was a journalist for about a decade and a half, covering culture and society in Bombay, the city from which she draws inspiration. She resides in Bombay and works as an editor of digital content. Half-blood is her debut novel.

The novel starts with a letter from Burjor to Moonie (Maya), the two main characters of the novel. In the letter, Burjor clandestinely explains his reason for disappearance by writing, “You see, Moonie, I did a terrible thing for which I had to leave Bombay. I don’t want to burden you, in this letter, with the details of my deed – or my life. It’s a long story and I’m not a man of words.” The prologue with this letter sets the tone for the story. The book has thirty-two   chapters with an ‘Epilogue’ that gives the new order of things and “a sense of having created meaning” to life, or rather to newer ways of looking at life.  

The story gives a glimpse into the lives of the dwindling Parsi population of Mumbai. The narrative spanning generations, time and space is a perfect read for those who love city stories, or love to know more about multicultural India. Most importantly, it is a fascinating story for those who love crime and suspense with a touch of history and culture. Datta brings to fore snippets specific to the lives of people and places in the then Bombay and now Mumbai. The author successfully addresses the failures, shortcomings, and the uglier side of life with wit and humour.

Maya, a journalist, who is young, talented, confident, ambitious, and disillusioned with life suffers from an existential crisis. She resurrects the past in search of her roots and meaning in life. Through the limited clues left in the “letter” from her biological father, she traces her bloodline. She embarks on a journey, stumbling upon unexpected facts and fiction on the life of Mumbaikars and Parsis some of who are poor and sometimes half-blooded or of mixed ethnicity. This is a story of rags-to-riches, underrated heroes and people in the sidelines. Burjor Elavia, a half-blood, a “fifty-fifty” is an “Adhkachru” — an illegitimate child of a Parsi man and a tribal woman. He accepts poverty and bondage to resist being pushed aside as a non-existent bastard.

Through the story of Burjor and Maya in Mumbai from the seventies, at the time of the prohibition till the 26/11 attack in 2008 in recent times, Datta weaves the  less explored facets of history of the city into her fiction. The characters in the novel range from different religions, language backgrounds, and communities residing and crisscrossing paths to give voice to the culturally diverse mega-city.

Maya, born to Mini and Burjor, is adopted by an unusually matched Bengali parent. Brought up in Mumbai, she grew up in a locality with a good mix of residents from different communities and religions. Moved by stories of those who “persisted in their beliefs, fielding scorns and disapprobation, and emerged victorious,” she goes on to study Philosophy in Delhi and mingles with friends from across the country. Datta presents a realistic picture of a young girl of mixed descent from Mumbai, pursuing her path of self-discovery by connecting the past with the present. In this quest, she unravels smaller plots that add to the larger picture. As she unravels her own past, Maya describes her situation as similar to that of the Prince of Denmark — Hamlet. She says, “I am Hamlet looking into my father’s ghost.” Datta grinds a story that carries a peek into the time and gives a space to those at the margins and the unconventional like the infamous “Aunty Bars,” savage liquor barons, Adivasi women, scandalous navjotes[1], and children growing up in multicultural society

The novel is an aesthetic rebellion as it delves into the Parsi way of life including that of poor Parsis, good-hearted rogues, crime and punishment in defiance of pigeon-holes and labels about a community or group. Half-blood as the title suggests, reveals wider horizons and deeper nuances of identity. A fiction about modern India, this book takes us on a tour of less revealed nooks of history and culture to unearth beauty in diversity. Elegantly presented with a cover design by Maithili Doshi Aphale, which speaks for itself, the Speaking Tiger book, Half-blood breaks through stereotypes and clichés to win your heart.


[1] A religious initiation to Zoroastrianism, the religion followed by Parsis

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Gracy Samjetsabam teaches English Literature and Communication Skills at Manipal Institute of Technology, MAHE, Manipal. She is also a freelance writer and copy editor. Her interest is in Indian English Writings, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, and World Literature. 

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Categories
Poetry

My Mantra

By Ashok Suri

MY MANTRA

In the mesmerising twilight, 
I see untapped sources of delight.
There are no regrets,
But a new awareness, a new insight.

My prayers are now warm,
Not mere words uttered in haste.
My enthusiasm never fades
Even if I’m not ideally placed.

I cannot remain unmoved,
If I see the poverty-stricken in plight.
In the world torn by wrongdoings,
Clashes and mutual distrust,
My jivan mantra* is simple:
‘Trust in God and do the right.’


* Jivan Mantra: Guiding principle of life 

Ashok Suri is a retiree and is settled with his family in Mumbai. He tries to convey in simple words what he wants to say.

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Categories
Essay

A View of Mt Everest

By Ravi Shankar

Everest up close. Photo courtesy: Ravi Shankar

The water was hot and the pressure optimum. For me the shower was a moment of pure bliss. I had heard poetic descriptions from fellow trekkers of the shower at the Eco Lodge. The hot water condensed in the cold air forming a welcome cocoon of warmth around me. Unfortunately, the shower duration was limited to five minutes. The water was heated using gas as was common throughout the Everest trekking region of Nepal. In the Annapurna region, north of the city of Pokhara, solar water heaters were common. Gas heaters always make me feel guilty about the environmental impact.  

The water washed away the accumulated grime and sweat. The shower was expensive, and I was on a tight budget. My funds only permitted a shower once every ten to fourteen days. We were researchers involved in a clinical trial on high-altitude illness. The participants were enrolled at Pheriche more than 700 meters below and the study end point was at Lobuche (4900 m).  Participants received two medical check-ups at high altitudes and two cups of tea/coffee for participating.

The Eco Lodge was an upmarket lodge in Lobuche in the year 2007 and we were staying there for over a month. Participants came to the lodge to complete the study and receive a second medical check-up. We listened to their chests, provided a physical examination, and measured their blood pressure and oxygen saturation. We had received a discount on the room rent but the food was expensive. Lobuche is situated at the foot of the Khumbu glacier. Everything had to be hauled from below.

For a long time, Lobuche had an unwelcome reputation due to the poor quality of the lodges. The restrooms were dirty, and the bedrooms flimsy. Maintaining hygiene in the cold dusty environment was a challenge. The Eco Lodge was the first upmarket lodge offering wood-panelled bedrooms with glass windows and clean toilets. The lodge had night toilets inside and day toilets outside. We were allotted an inside room in the main building. Dr Anup and I were the two doctors at Lobuche. The rooms were unheated and freezing though the main dining room had the ubiquitous cast iron heater burning yak dung. Yak dung is precious as fuel at these altitudes. It burns well with minimal smoke and residue and the flame is hot.    

We were also the only doctors camped at Lobuche though some of the larger groups did have a doctor and the Sherpa guides were well-versed in altitude sickness. We did receive occasional calls for assistance. The Mountain Medicine Society of Nepal (MMSN) and the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) conduct clinical trials in the Everest and Manang regions of Nepal every fall. These provide medical students an opportunity to work with foreign experts and develop an interest in the subject. You receive transportation to the site, the services of a porter and a subsistence allowance.

Participants in the study had been instructed to check in with us after they had settled in Lobuche. In the evening we used to go around the other lodges looking for participating trekkers who had not yet met us. The evenings were chilly, and a freezing wind blew from the high Himalayas across the glacier. On climbing the moraines of the glacier there were spectacular views of the snow peaks. Sunset on Mt Lobuche and Mt Nuptse is not to be missed. The peaks turn golden yellow, then red, different shades of pink and finally the light is slowly extinguished.

The dining room at the Eco Lodge was smaller than the one at Nuru’s place in Pheriche and there was no green house. Dining rooms are the beating hearts of trekking lodges. At Lobuche the Sun was often covered in clouds and a cold wind blew off and on. The lodge did have glass tiles in the roof to capture the Sun. At night the dining room was cosy, and we met some interesting persons there during our stay. In those days there was no telephone service and no internet. A satellite phone was available in case of emergencies.        

Nights in the room were freezing and I was reminded of Peter Matthiessen’s descriptions in the book The Snow Leopard of the long freezing nights in his tent at Shey Gompa in Dolpa. Our room was inside and out of the wind, and we also had a glass roof to catch the Sun. Anything kept outside in the room would be frozen solid by the morning. You had to keep stuff with you inside the quilt so that it could be gently warmed by your body heat. The long silent nights were conducive to meditating about life (and death).  

From Lobuche it is a four-hour hike to the Everest Base camp at 5400 m. The hike is through the Khumbu Glacier and through stones and boulders. Some of the boulders were larger than a house. Global warming has resulted in significant shrinking and drying of the glaciers and the Khumbu and Ngozumpa glacier in the Everest region have both retreated significantly. The hike passes through the settlement of Gorak Shep and the weather can change dramatically in a few minutes. I had started my trek on a clear, sunny day but halfway through clouds gathered and the mountains were shrouded in white. Soon it started snowing heavily. The boulders became slick and slippery in the snow and walking became difficult.

During a previous visit I had visited ‘The Pyramid’, a scientific research station run by an international consortium in association with the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST). The research facilities were great, and the station is located at a 20 minutes’ walk from the trail. The station is entirely powered by solar energy. The location is spectacular, and the station is located far from the trials and tribulations of our imperfect world.

Staying in a trekking lodge for over a month is a different experience. Trekkers come and go but we continued to remain in the lodge. The cold was our constant enemy. The tips of your fingers became numb after a few minutes in the cold wind. The ultraviolet rays were strong at the high altitude, and I was soon tanned a dark shade of brown. Lobuche was the highest altitude at which I had stayed for nearly 40 days. All things considered I still preferred staying with Nuru at Pheriche where the climate is more hospitable, and life was gentler.

My friend Anup left at the end of the month. I had changed my place of work and still had some time before I joined a new medical school being set up in the Kathmandu valley and could stay longer till the next group of doctors could reach Lobuche and manage the study. The settlement of Lobuche was set up to meet the requirements of trekkers to the Everest Base Camp and to Kala Pathar (black rock), a famous Everest viewpoint. I was alone in my room, and it felt strange. The second team soon reached us, and I briefed them about what had been done and handed over the study material. Soon it was time to trek down to Pheriche, Pangboche, Tengboche, Namche Bazar (the Sherpa capital) and eventually fly out from the Tenzing-Hillary airport at Lukla to Kathmandu.  

As mentioned, Lobuche for a long time had a terrible reputation. The quality of the lodges has steadily improved from bunk beds in dormitories to individual rooms. I was searching for lodges in Lobuche on the web recently. Many lodges now offer free wi-fi. The Pyramid also offers lodging at the 8000 Inn. With all these welcome developments, Lobuche can confidently and maybe, indignantly shrug off its reputation as the ‘arm pit’ of Nepal!  

The Himals. Photo courtesy: Ravi Shankar

Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer.

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Categories
Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

From a Kafkaesque Dream to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra

The Penguin Cafe Orchestras, and the plural is necessary because there were several of them, were responsible for a unique sonic experience, creating a blend of folk, jazz, classical and faux ethnic music that managed to pull off the difficult trick of sounding instantly familiar to the subconscious mind, as if it had already existed in the past but had been forgotten for ages and now was being retrieved from some pool of inspiration common to humanity.

They formed one of the background soundscapes to my student years. I recall the first time I heard a Penguin Cafe track. It was ‘Music for a Found Harmonium’ and it accompanied a short film featured on television called simply ‘Interlude’ that I have never been able to trace since. The melody and the visuals matched well, but it was years before I learned who was responsible for the music and I did so by pure chance. I went into a record store and bought the album Broadcasting from Home at random. That was a habit of mine back then.

Perhaps the cover image had intrigued me. Listening to the album at home I was delighted to recognise ‘Music for a Found Harmonium’ as the opening track. But I might be misremembering. There’s a suspicion in my mind that I actually bought the album Signs of Life on cassette first. It hardly matters. The title of that soul enhancing song, ‘Music for a Found Harmonium’, struck me as curiously enigmatic, so much so that I later entitled one of my books Stories from a Lost Anthology as a sort of tribute, an allusion noticed by no reviewers.

The real story behind the track is that Simon Jeffes (1949-1997), founder of the Orchestra, was on tour in Japan and wandering through the backstreets of Kyoto when he found an abandoned harmonium balanced on the apex of a pile of rubbish. He located the person who had discarded it and obtained permission to take the instrument away. The song was composed to celebrate this lucky find. I have never found a harmonium in a backstreet, or any other musical instrument for that matter, not even a harmonica. But Jeffes was special and attracted beauteous oddity by some form of magnetism he carried around within himself.

That magnetism is present in all the music he made. Born in 1949, Jeffes studied the classics in London before trying his hand at experimental music. He grew to be dissatisfied with the barren tonalities of contemporary avant-garde work. Similarly, his brief flirtation with rock came to nothing. African music alone seemed to contain elements he was seeking, powerful rhythms, freer harmonic approach, the mysterious qualities of its silences, an unmelodramatic emphasis on cadence, imaginative tuning systems and improvisational flair. Most of all, he was seeking pure musicality, pieces constructed of the vital essence of the art.

A Penguin Cafe composition rarely seems made up of separate parts, but is much more like an organic growth. Melody and harmony, rhythm and tone colour are fused together right from the very beginning, in an ambient seed. Then the piece grows into fruition with little fuss and perfect symmetry. In 1972, food poisoning confined Jeffes to bed where he dreamed of a Kafkaesque residential block full of people with empty lives. The following day a voice in his head said distinctly, “I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe. I will tell you things at random.” Jeffes tried to imagine what the house band of that cafe might sound like. When he recovered, he transformed his dream into truth and invented the PCO.

For the Orchestra, he recruited like-minded players Helen Leibmann, Steve Nye and Gavyn Wright. Calling themselves the “four musicians in green clothes”, they began recording and in 1976 released their first album, Music from the Penguin Cafe. Leibmann on cello, Nye on keyboards and Wright on violin remained with Jeffes for most of the subsequent recordings of this first phase of the Penguin Cafe adventure, but apart from Jeffes, Leibmann was the only member who has appeared on every one of the early albums. For this first release, they also recruited Neil Rennie on the ukulele and Emily Young to design the eye-catching album cover. Emily Young, who is now a high-regarded sculptor, was supposedly the same Emily that Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd sang about in ‘See Emily Play’.

Music from the Penguin Cafe is the most uncharacteristic and dissonant of the Orchestra’s productions. The multi-instrumentalism and big arrangements that were to become a trademark are largely absent. Though Jeffes plays bass, quatro, spinet, cheng, ring modulator and mouth percussion on some tracks, his primary duty is as an electric guitarist. The two earliest songs, ‘Penguin Cafe Single’ and ‘The Sound of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away and it Doesn’t Matter’, rely on just four basic instruments, with Nye’s electric piano and Leibmann’s cello largely displacing Jeffes, and they wrench the heart, sounding like reservoirs of poignancy, dammed to prevent sadness slipping over into the other tracks.

Despite lengthy improvisational passages, highly unusual for the early Orchestra, they are among the most successful songs on the album. Other oddities are dubious and not wholly forgivable, including a drenching vocal lament and a squeaky piece called ‘Pigtail’. Only on one track does the Orchestra provide a foretaste of what was to follow in the coming magical years, ‘Giles Farnaby’s Dream’, spinet and ukulele in foot-tapping mode, the strength of the piece deriving from its frenetic repetition. The album is the least Penguiny of the Orchestra’s productions and it was released on the Obscure label of ambient maestro Brian Eno.

Avant-gardists believe it to be their best album and easy listeners regard it as their worst. But it is neither. It is simply a prelude to the next four albums, which are the quintessential recordings. Yet there was a five year wait for the first of these. Jeffes never seemed in a hurry. The eponymous Penguin Cafe Orchestra (1981) defined the Penguin Cafe sound once and for all with the opening track, ‘Air à Danser’, which can almost be regarded as the PCO’s anthem. The jumpy guitar and wistful strings sound instantly recognisable even to someone who has never heard the piece before. It is the most perfect example of Jeffe’s ability to tap into the Universal Subconscious, an effect that is both pleasing and slightly eerie.

Several other tracks became mainstays of live performance, ‘Cutting Branches for a Temporary Shelter’, ‘Numbers 1-4’, the two ‘Yodel’ songs and ‘Paul’s Dance’. Best of all, however, is the funky and hypnotic ‘Ecstasy of Dancing Fleas’, a hugely gleeful song with warm bass and joyous refrain. The method of working employed by the Orchestra almost guaranteed good albums. Over a number of years, recordings would be made and only the finest tracks released. Again, Jeffes was never in a rush to push his music out there. He preferred a measured approach. This doesn’t mean that all his music sounds polished. Sometimes rough-edged work is exactly what is required to provide ideal incarnations for musical ideas.

After Penguin Cafe Orchestra, it was difficult to believe that a more archetypal sound could be achieved, but in Broadcasting from Home (1984), Jeffes refined the spirit of the music even further. The PCO had grown to encompass thirteen members of varying abilities and Jeffes had taken to playing more and more instruments. With another whimsical but haunting Emily Young cover, this is a vital release and tracks such as ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’, ‘Prelude & Yodel’, ‘In the Back of a Taxi’ and ‘Heartwind’ are impossible to dislike. Strangely enough, the album contains a couple of sequels to tracks on the first release. ‘More Milk’ and ‘Another One from the Colonies’ are wry comments on their predecessors. Musicians include Geoffrey Richardson on viola, shaker and bass; Dave Defries on trumpet and flugel; Annie Whitehead on trombone; Nye, Leibmann and Rennie on piano, cello and ukulele; and Jeffes on drums, harmonium, omnichord, soloban, dulcitone, penny whistle, violin, milk bottles, triangle, bass, and much more. It is easy to forget how peculiarly exotic some of those instruments seemed to the British public in those days. Musically we were far more insular then than we are now.

The fourth album was released in 1987. Signs of Life has a ‘frontier-ceilidh’ feel to it, taking elements of American country music, bluegrass and mountain folk. There is also a classical touch, particularly in the moody ‘Oscar Tango’. Sadness was a rare emotion in the Orchestra’s output, apart from in some of the very early material. It is on Signs of Life that the description of the PCO as ‘a string quartet letting its hair down at some mysteriously-located barn dance of the future’ most holds true. The opening track, ‘Bean Fields’, is quirky and imprecise and one of my three favourite Penguin Cafe tracks ever. ‘Dirt’ is rhythmic and compelling, as is ‘Sketch’ and ‘Swing The Cat’. ‘Southern Jukebox Music’, on the other hand, belies its title and is a deeply melodic lament. ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ is a punning title that references the metronymic pulse of the piece but also the town of Mobile, Alabama, and further connects the album to its basic Americana source, although the music seems to belong to another galaxy and to the distant past of our preliterate ancestors just as much as it does to any existing tradition. The ten minute long meditation ‘Wildlife’ is an acquired taste, seeming at first to be a directionless filler, but is perfect background music for simple relaxation or mind wandering. Personally it is my daydreaming and falling asleep music of choice. It evokes a strange forest soundscape where very little happens but everything eventually is found to have changed. Of the two pieces played wholly by Jeffes, one deserves special mention: ‘The Snake and the Lotus (The Pond)’, a piece just for bass, primeval and rather mystical.

The next two albums were live recordings. When in Rome… (1988) is a wonderful retrospective of the previous work and thus the best introduction to the PCO’s career. Pieces from all four albums are included and many have been improved, especially ‘Giles Farnaby’s Dream’ and ‘Air à Danser’, which have both been spiced up. Others sound almost identical to the studio recordings. The deliciously smooth atmosphere of the performance is captured well and the musicians are in complete empathy with each other. Missing on this album is Gavyn Wright and the PCO is down to nine members, but Bob Loveday on fiddle more than makes up for the loss. This is the only album where a member, Geoffrey Richardson in fact, actually plays more instruments than Jeffes. Less convincing is Still Life (1990), a ballet arrangement of material for a conventional orchestra. Although a nice album in itself, some of the pieces, such as ‘Numbers 1-4’, have been overdone, and this sixth release is probably the least essential album of them all. Nonetheless, listeners who prefer the grander feel of a larger orchestra and the traditional accents associated with classical music could do much worse than to seek it out.

Unusually for a project associated with Jeffes, the cover isn’t by Emily Young, and this detracts from the finished result. Luckily she was back on hand for the seventh, most sprawling, ambitious and varied of the PCO’s albums to date. Union Cafe (1993) was one of my most cherished albums of the decade in which it appeared. I appreciated its abundance and it felt more like a voyage than their other albums. This is not to say that all here is smooth and accomplished. Some tracks are doldrums in the sound ocean. As for the bolts of its realisation, more musicians than the PCO had ever employed before were used, though sadly Steve Nye isn’t one of them. The other originals, Leibmann, Wright and Rennie, seem content to share duties with a host of other puffers, pluckers, scrapers or bangers. Even Jeffes has decided to wisp himself out a little, be less dogmatic and often takes a lesser role in the performance of his own compositions. On two tracks, ‘Thorn Tree Wind’ and ‘Discover America’ he plays nothing at all. The former is given over entirely to the warblings of an electric Aeolian harp and credited to the winds of the cardinal points. This is fair enough as the winds compose the piece while in the act of playing it. The latter track employs a large number of strings, including twelve violins (led by Gavyn Wright), four violas, four cellos and two double basses. The result is an ear wash that doesn’t necessarily leave the ears feeling cleaner. But the variety is impressive. There is a track played by a computer called ‘Pythagoras on the Line’ that seems similar to a song on an earlier album called ‘Telephone and Rubber Band’.

There is also the excellent ‘Vega’, one of the Orchestra’s longest tracks to date; the salty ‘Organum’ and ‘Another one from Porlock’ and ‘Lifeboat (Lover’s Rock)’. Jeffes had recently announced his awakened re-interest in the Western Classical tradition and this new enthusiasm, together with the experience gathered from exploring other cultures, resulted in this album, which might be a melange, a mess or a masterpiece. The opening track is the superlative ‘Scherzo And Trio’ and because it is superlative I guess this means I ought to say nothing more about it, as superlative things are quite beyond praise, so my dictionary informs me.

Yet the one track that really stands out, conceptually if not sonically, is the tribute to composer John Cage, who had died not long before the album was made. Entitled ‘Cage Dead’, these words are all the notes of the melody, played strictly in that order, C-A-G-E-D-E-A-D. This is an example of a musical version of OuLiPo[1] (itself useably explained and defined as a playful workshop to create literature-that-is-both-constrained-and-made-ingenious by mathematics) officially known as OuMuPo, or Ouvroir de musique potentielle. Essentially it is trickery of the highest whimsical order and John Cage himself perhaps would be very pleased by it. Having said that, he could be inexplicably stringent and uncompromising about his music. He was a composer who wrote a piece requiring a musician to wear a tuba like a hat and not play it. When it was first performed he berated the musician for not wearing it in the correct manner and therefore spoiling the sound.

Now I have drifted off the point. Partly and paradoxically defined as avant-garde easy listening, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra are whimsical and catchy, yet there’s an improbable seriousness too, and a deep sadness embedded in some of the melodies. Good, I have returned to the point, deftly, quite deftly. After Union Cafe there were dramatic changes. Jeffes died. In effect he was the PCO and it became a ghost after his leaving. Yet as ghosts sometimes do, it floated on, splitting like ectoplasm that turns out to be flimsy fabric in an eerie half glow.

Some of the musicians who had worked with Jeffes wanted to continue with the PCO, as is only to be expected. We might also say they had the right to do so. The moral right, perhaps, but not the copyright. The words ‘Penguin Cafe Orchestra’ are not in the public domain, unlike the sound waves they threw out into the atmosphere during their performances and recordings. Jeffes’ son, also called Jeffes inevitably, wanted the name for himself, or a variation of the name. There was plenty of toing and froing and confusion and struggling. Eventually the situation thankfully seemed to settle down somewhat and we were left with…

(a) A set of original musicians in a combo initially called The Anteaters and then renamed the Orchestra that Fell to Earth, who mainly play PCO songs at festivals, and (b) Jeffes Junior in an outfit called Penguin Cafe, no relation to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra yet at the same time every relation to it. Penguin Cafe are a group of many musicians, none of whom were in the PCO, and they have released three albums so far (I write this in the year 2018). These albums are good albums, nobody can accuse the younger Jeffes of trampling or otherwise violating the memory and legacy of his father. Very good albums in fact. But they have a different tone to the albums of the old PCO. They are lusher, they sound sometimes as if Philip Glass was involved in some way, there is a rotational melancholy and not a bean field, temporary shelter or harmonium on a trash heap in view. I know I sound disparaging and I don’t mean to. I will shut my mouth soon, so don’t worry.

A Matter of Life (2011) is a rich surge of sound and one especially succinct critic described it as a ‘love letter’ to the original PCO music. Certainly there is nothing to suggest a travesty of what has gone before. The proprietor of the Penguin Cafe, if he is listening, will have no inclination to expel his house band and secure the services of another. I could drink cappuccino to this music all morning. Yet the lush element is suggestive of an autumn after the heady spring and sultry summer. I long for off-key twangs, for an occasional wrong note. But if this was the first album I ever sampled that had the words ‘Penguin Cafe’ on them and I was unable to make judgments based on the emotional resonances of prior knowledge sharpened by nostalgia, I would be happy enough. The music has the quality of being perfectly ignorable if you wish to ignore it and yet it also rewards careful listening. When you choose to focus in close to the unfolding soundscapes, it is gratifying.

‘Landau’ is perhaps my favourite track, bouncy and melancholic at the same time. ‘Sundog’ is also very nice indeed. ‘The Fox and the Leopard’ contradicts everything I have said in the prior paragraph, being as softly jolly and funky as the earlier ‘Ecstasy of Dancing Fleas’. Perhaps I don’t know what I mean anymore. The Red Book (2014) and The Imperfect Sea (2017) present more of the same thing, hypnotic and wistful songs with a strong driving core that seems to want to become pure trance music. I haven’t yet seen them perform live but I absolutely will when I get the chance. This statement also applies to The Anteaters (who fell to earth). I had the privilege of being present when suggestions for a name change were open to their listeners. I had nothing to offer, but later the words ‘The Great Aukestra’ popped into my mind, an example of l’esprit de l’escalier (or ‘staircase wit’) in which one thinks of a rejoinder or a proposal when it is too late to be of any use. The great auk was the northern version of the more familiar southern penguin. It became extinct in the middle of the 19th Century and Anatole France wrote a satirical fantasy about a society of them called Penguin Island, in which he explains that the word ‘penguin’ first referred to auks. The great auks were the original penguins.

I am about to go now, but I have just recalled that I forgot to mention a six track EP that the PCO released in 1983. The Penguin Cafe Orchestra Mini Album features four songs that can be found on other albums and two originals, one of which, ‘Piano Music’ (recorded live in Japan) is a gentle and dreamy piece that is also a little odd harmonically, reminiscent perhaps of Sorabji but not quite. It is nothing special really but it has a haunting quality despite its brevity. Yet the reason why this EP is worth hunting down is a track called ‘The Toy’, pure magic and too little-known compared with so many of their other songs. Right, I’m off.


[1] Ouvroir de littérature potentielle; roughly translates to “workshop of potential literature”. It is a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians who seek to create works using constrained techniques. 

Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.

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Categories
Poetry of Jibananda Das

Shorter Poems of Jibananda Das

Translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam

TO A PAINED ONE

Now late at night you have a bed,
A quiet and dark room,
Placidity and silence.
Think of nothing more.
Listen to no one speaking,
Just wipe your bloodied heart clean
And tucked like the tuberose,
Go to sleep. 
   
CITIES

My heart, you’ve seen many big cities
Cities whose bricks and stones
Accents, affairs, hopes, frustrations and terrifying deprivations
Have turned into ashes in the cauldron of my mind.
Nevertheless, I’ve seen the sun amidst thick clouds in a corner of a city
I’ve seen the sun on the other side of the river of a port city
Like a love-struck farmer, he bears his burden in the tangerine-cloud coloured fields of the sky;
Over the city’s gaslights and tall minarets, I’ve also seen—stars—
Like flocks of wild geese heading towards some southern city.

DAYS AND NIGHTS

The whole day went purposelessly.
The whole night will pass miserably.
Full of frustrations and failures,
Day in, day out, life is drudgery
To be wasted away.
And yet the phanimansha’s thorns we see 
Daubing the dew delightfully; not one bird in the sky
All knowingly guilty birds in their nests now lie.

(These translations are from Jibanananda Das: Selected Poems with an Introduction, Chronology and Glossary, translated by Fakrul Alam, published by The University Press Limited, Dhaka, 1999. Republished with permission from the original publisher.)

Jibananada Das (1899-1954) was a Bengali writer, who now is named as one of the greats. During his life he wrote beautiful poetry, novels, essays and more. He believed: “Poetry and life are two different outpouring of the same thing; life as we usually conceive it contains what we normally accept as reality, but the spectacle of this incoherent and disorderly life can satisfy neither the poet’s talent nor the reader’s imagination … poetry does not contain a complete reconstruction of what we call reality; we have entered a new world.”

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

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Categories
Review

Her Stories – Thinkers, Workers, Rebels, Queens

Book review by Bhaskar Parichha

Title: Her Stories –Indian Women Down the Ages — Thinkers, Workers, Rebels, Queens

Author: Deepti Priya Mehrotra

Publisher: Rupa Publications

This is a motivating book and a curious one too. Talking about several women of substance, it goes to jog your memory about their contributions to the respective arenas.

Her Stories–Indian Women Down the Ages- Thinkers, Workers, Rebels, Queens by Deepti Priya Mehrotra is a bold account of the women who have been overlooked and ignored. A political scientist with cross-disciplinary interests, Mehrotra counsels civil society organisations on gender and education issues. Having taught social science at Delhi University and TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences), she is the author of pioneering books that include Home Truths: Stories of Single Mothers, A Passion for Freedom: The Story of Kisanin Jaggi Devi, Gulab Bai: The Queen of Nautanki Theatre and more.

Says the book’s blurb: “Some were celebrated, others vilified. While some were casually neglected. Yet, the story of these women lived on Her-Stories is a discussion of women from Indian history whose contributions have been all but forgotten. These were poets, performers, warriors, saints, philosophers, activists and more, yet we hardly remember their courage and contributions. The time has come to bring their history to the fore.

“Their stories describe desperate situations, ingenious strategies and brilliant sparks of feminist consciousness. Rather than accounts of isolated ‘great women’, these stories place at the center the ordinary woman, in all her splendid diversity, multifaceted struggle and achievement. The women profiled were encouraged and supported by others—their achievements represent the aspirations of many in the past and provide inspiration for us in the present.”

Spanning different regions of India, the book presents in chronological order from the second millennium BCE to the mid-nineteenth century India stories of women who have been thinkers, doers, movers and shakers who have subverted hierarchies, brought peace out of chaos and survived despite routine devaluation. Philosopher Sulabha, philanthropist Vishakha, fearless Uppalavanna, wandering bard Auvaiyar, justice maker Leima Laisna, astronomer Khona, mountain queen Didda, radical poet Akkamahadevi, intrepid Sultan Razia, martial artiste Unniyarcha, poet-saint Janabai, Gond Rani Durgavati, historian Gulbadan, cultural ambassador Harkha, pepper queen Abbakka, fakira Jahanara, brave Onake Obavva, Dalit rebel Nangeli, dancer-diplomat Mahlaqa Bai Chanda, lion queen Jindan, Nawab Begum Qudsia, sharpshooter Uda, guerrillera Hazrat Begum and feminist writer Tarabai Shinde.

Writes Mehrotra in the introduction: “Where mainstream histories display yawning gaps, feminist scholarship, and Dalit, subaltern and gender studies have gradually unearthed rich data, and made analytical advances. Some gaps persist, for historical sources are inevitably limited. One needs to sift through document, legend, myth and hagiography, to arrive at the most plausible truth. While remaining true to evidence, through empathy and imagination facts grow wings and characters come alive.”

The book is incontestably a saga of valiant women achievers, dissenters, fighters and advocates who changed the wave of complacent human existence. Igniting the spark of feminist consciousness, it celebrates the stories of women with forgotten glory. 

In ‘Didda: Mountain Queen’, she contends: “Didda ruled in Kashmir for 50 years: nearly half of it is as an absolute sovereign. She earned the rare distinction of bringing stability into the fractious kingdom. Didda’s father-in-law, Parvagupta, was a clerk until in 949, he killed King Sangramdeva and grabbed the throne, only to die within a year. His son Kshemagupta took over, and proved as incapable as his young wife, Didda, was capable. Kshemagupta married Didda immediately after assuming power, slyly calculating that her royal lineage would provide legitimacy to his rule. Didda’s father was Simharaja, king of Lohara, and her maternal grandfather was Bhima Shah, powerful ruler of Kabul and Gandhara. Didda was in her mid-20s when she married, later than the usual age of marriage—quite likely because she suffered from a disability.” 

Mehrotra reasons about the book: “Critical feminist subaltern historiography asks new questions and makes fresh interpretations. The move away from androcentric elite history breaks down walls, releasing a surging ocean of human beings who have much to tell. Women characters emerge from nooks and crannies; each different, in varied circumstances, yet each laboring against the grain of patriarchy, in some or the other aspect of her life. For centuries, patriarchy has defined and limited, reserved the public sphere for men and assigned subsidiary roles in the private domain to women.” 

“Mainstream male-stream-history has colluded with these constructions, naturalizing women as stereotypical daughters, wives, mothers symbols  of domesticity, rather than active human being Dalit and working-class women have been, additionally, naturalized as workers whose labor belongs to the elite.” 

In about three hundred pages, Mehrotra writes about the injuries without making it an insipid narrative. She captures the drama concealed beneath the surface. If the women she dwells on in the book were not just victims, but makers of history and of literature, philosophy, law, medicine, science, art, architecture, music and religion, Her Stories goes that extra mile to bring out the tale of survival in a system rooted in domination and defeat.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of UnbiasedNo Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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Categories
Poetry

Mosquitoes & Daffodils

By John Grey

Courtesy: Creative Commons
MOSQUITOES

They've flown
in squadrons
since before
airplanes.

And they've 
been attracted
to human skin,
long in advance
of the first human romance.

Likewise,
they've sucked blood
for centuries, 
with enough 
dedication to the task
to put every vampire
in Romania to shame.

Does that mean
I respect them too much
to swat them?

No, just that
that the only good insect
is a dead antediluvian.

DAFFODILS

Massed daffodils in robust grass,
day after day – you know you’re safe.

For they bloom harmless, 
but deep with longing for the sun and rain.

Always rise up at morning’s call,
white-petaled, yellow-bud kisses.

Yesterday, the same.
Twenty years ago, no different.

Soft wind croons, low voltage beauty,
seeing them now like seeing them in retrospect.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Stand, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. His latest books are “Leaves On Pages”, “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself”, available on Amazon. 

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Categories
Poetry

Framed Mesh

By Antara Mukherjee

FRAMED MESH 

The rasp of sand on sieve,
flipping urgency 
in rice grains on heat, 
an entourage to the jangle 
of her dozen green translucent dreams 
sold to her at the village fair 
wafting of love
through hordes 
in sherwanis and seheras alike 
matched with mannequin reds 
conceding to a horoscoped fate 

indistinguishable 

like the men in her new home, 
who take turns 
to unveil her at nights  
distributed even 
by the hypostyles 
of power and precedence, 
polyandrous as Pandavas 
fading in the daylight 
that ripens guavas, pickles, needlework 
in the barefoot corridors 
while the granular language of being 
falls through 
her framed mesh 
—the penury of silence.

 Antara Mukherjee’s poems and stories have appeared in Kitaab, Sahitya Akademi, Muse India, The Chakkar, Joao-Roque Literary Journal, Usawa Literary Review, The Chakkar, The Alipore Post and Verse of Silence among others. 

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