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The Birth of The Chronicler of the Hooghly

By Shakti Ghosal

In our lives, we at times get confronted with intense and traumatic events which force us to question who we are, what really matters to us and what we believe in. In some ways these events alter our sense of reality. Each of the four stories in my book, The Chronicler of the Hooghly draws inspiration from such crucible events that I have had to face in my own life. The protagonists in that sense carry a bit of my own ‘experience and thought’ genes. As I see them now within the larger fabric of the stories, I do notice shades of myself and others who have been part of my life. Writing the stories has been a personal journey in that sense. At times the stories seemed to write themselves. The four stories portray five crucible experiences and invite the reader to experience those transformative moments. Chances are that the reader would be able to relate to them in some way.

The Chronicler of the Hooghly is currently under publication. Here is an excerpt from the book.

Calcutta, 1757

The battle having been won, it was Omichand’s turn to demand his share from the East India Company. However, he did not realise he had more than met his match in the wily Clive.

Clive welcomed him with all solicitousness.

“Your share Omichand? But according to our agreement, you are not entitled to anything at all! Take a look at the agreement”.

Clive laid out before him the original agreement which had no mention of any wealth share from the royal treasury for him.

The earth moved from under Omichand’s feet, the whole world seemed to be swaying around him. His throat constricted. His head swam. He could not believe his eyes. The signatories were all there but the agreement was different.

Omichand realized he had been duped. “You have cheated me, you have cheated me!” was all he could say.

“Not at all dear friend”, said the wily Clive softly. “In fact, we have collected considerable riches as spoils of war, including an exquisite necklace made of pearls. We would like to offer that to you. Of course, we would continue to have you as one of our preferred trading partners. With the changed circumstances with a new and supportive Nawab, we expect the trade volumes to go up significantly”.

A medium-sized wooden box was placed before Omichand. “Take this home and be happy with it”, said Clive signalling that the meeting was over.

Omichand came back to his quarters and dully opened the box. He found a few trinkets, some gold coins and a pearl necklace. Omichand in his disturbed state failed to recognise the necklace. The deception and humiliation were taking its toll. Or was it the necklace that had started exercising its evil control? The outcome though was that Omichand, the one-time cunning and ruthless trader, started losing his sanity. The rumour went that he was given to alternate bouts of uncontrollable laughter and howls of misery.

One day in a fit of blind rage Omichand decided to go to Murshidabad to demand his rightful share from the new Nawab, the share from which he had been cheated. When the guards of the royal court heard of his audacious claim, they simply wrested all his belongings including the wooden box and threw him into the dungeon where he met his sorry end after a few years. The contents of the box went to the Nawab’s treasury.

Unbeknownst to all, the curse of the necklace had moved back to the Nawab of Bengal. It would ensure the decline in the fortunes and influence of the Murshidabad Royal Court over the years.

**

Ironically, as Omichand’s fortunes plummeted, they were on the rise for his one-time friend Nabakrishna Deb. The latter was rewarded with untold riches because of his services to the Company in the conspiracy against Siraj Ud Daula. Earning the title of Raja, Nabakrishna Deb rose in stature to become one of the leading luminaries in Calcutta.

Raja Nabakrishna Deb came to know that Clive wanted to do a thanksgiving ceremony to celebrate his victory at Plassey. Unfortunately, there was no suitable place in Calcutta, the one church that had been there was destroyed in Siraj Ud Daula’s attack a year earlier.

Nabakrishna suggested to Clive, “Your Lordship, I would like to invite you to the Durga Utsav that I would be performing at my residence. You may offer your thanks to the Goddess Durga”.

What Clive did not know was that this really was not the time for Durga Pujo which falls during the Bengali month of Chaitra, the end March- beginning April period. However the shrewd Nabakrishna had directed his purohits to come out with a suitable date or tithi in the local calendar. The generous pronami that was offered no doubt motivated the local priest community to come out with the creative solution of Akaal Bodhon.This essentially permitted the Durga Pujo ritual to be performed in autumn.

On the appointed day of the Pujo, Clive drove in his carriage to Nabakrishna Deb’s residence in Shova Bazaar and participated in what was to become the biggest festival in the Bengali calendar. He was accompanied by a number of Englishmen. The pomp and grandeur of the pujo were such that it became a talking point and something to aspire for by the upcoming rich merchant class. The Company Pujo, as it became known as, was not the usual conservative ritual based Hindu puja. Instead, it became known for its dance parties, elaborate menu of meats from the Wilson Hotel and unlimited drinks!

It is also said that Raja Nabakrishna Deb’s guests were regaled with the performances of the best nautch girls of Calcutta, one of them being the sensational new courtesan Rajni Bai who also responded to the name Joba.

**

Present Day

Dusk was on its way. The twinkling lights on both banks brought in an ethereal quality all around. Conversations were muted as most guests were immersed in the surroundings. The low voice of the Chronicler seemed to gain in intensity.

“The betrayal was huge and its impact momentous. A betrayal that led to the Nawab of Bengal losing the battle and his independence to a much smaller army. A betrayal that led to the payment of huge bribe money of Rupees eighty million to Nabakrishna Deb and other conspirators. A betrayal which led to the British becoming the dominant power in the subcontinent for over two centuries”.

But what is interesting is that this greatest betrayal in Indian history is so inexorably linked to one of the biggest religious festivals in the country. What is ironic is that the secular nature of the Durga Pujo festival, which receives praise all over the world, finds it origin in a tale of conspiracy and betrayal.” The Chronicler paused, looking at Samir with his hooded eyes.

Samir sat fascinated, only to hear the soft voice resuming from far, far away.

“The Hooghly ghats then were a far cry from the crumbling cesspools that we are seeing today. With magnificent facades and European classical architectures, the ghats were witness to impressive steam ships and tall masted boats sailing out to faraway places in England, Australia and New Zealand as also upstream to ports on the Ganga”.

“Did you know that there were thriving French, Dutch and Armenian settlements on the Hooghly in the early years of colonisation?” the Chronicler asked.

“Well I had read about the French settlement”, Samir responded.

“Fascinating, is it not, that events and rivalries five thousand miles away in Europe would show up in the waxing and waning of the Hooghly ghats? And so, it was that as the British colonialism went into ascendancy after winning the Napoleonic Wars in Europe in the early nineteenth century, the settlements of other nationalities on the Hooghly faded into oblivion.”

“Hmm! Interesting indeed. But what happened to the pearl necklace carrying the curse?’ asked Samir.

“Well for that we need to get into another story. A story which too is inexorably linked to the Hooghly”, replied the Chronicler.

Shakti Ghosal is new to the genre of fiction. He uses a wide-angle narrative style in his writings into which he brings his rich global perspective and life experiences. He loves to explore relationships within emergent situations. An engineer and a MBA (Faculty Gold Medal 1984) from IIM Bangalore, Shakti Ghosal has lived close to four decades of corporate life in India and abroad. A professional certified Coach, Mentor and Trainer, Shakti Ghosal runs Leadership Workshop cum coaching programs for organisations as part of his commitment to develop and upgrade Leadership Incubation globally. He is a visiting professor at IIM Udaipur, IIM Kashipur and IIM Nagpur. www.linkedin.com/in/Shaktighosal, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMg92VMo3_Cw8k-cu1rYWwg Ghosal has been blogging for close to a decade ( about 800 followers, 39,000 hits from all over the globe) on Leadership incubation, performance, life experience, philosophy and trends, and more recently, on his forthcoming book.www.esgeemusings.com

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Excerpt

Corybantic Fulgours

Rhys Hughes introduces us to the delights of doodling poetry in his new book with a name that I would not dare to pronounce, Corybantic Fulgours.

I ought to explain the title. It’s a title I have wanted to use for a book for a number of years. I often write down titles for later use and I usually have no firm idea what the books or stories or poems will be like until I write them. I just like the music of the words and that’s sufficient reason for me to write the titles down. ‘Corybantic’ means to dance wildly but I can’t recall where I first learned its meaning. A ‘fulgour’ is a light or glow and I’m sure I picked the word up from M.P. Shiel or one of those other writers of ‘weird fiction’ from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries who loved to overindulge in archaic or abstruse words. I have always found it amusing that those writers tried so hard to be wilfully obscure. They were often very good writers but strove to make themselves less palatable to a popular audience rather than more popular. I admire this eccentricity. My favourite among them is Clark Ashton Smith, who never used one simple word when a dozen complex ones would serve.

So the title came first. Then I had to provide a rationale for using it. The book turned out to be a set of poems to accompany some drawings I had done. The drawings were all of monsters. I justified the title by declaring that these monsters were made from curdled light and that they danced a lot. Let’s say that I cheated in order to find an adequate reason for using the title, Corybantic Fulgours. I don’t mind admitting that this stratagem was highly contrived. Monsters themselves are highly contrived too, so it all fits together well. I have drawn monsters most of my life. But I must add a disclaimer here too. I don’t believe that I can really draw. What I actually do is doodle. I doodle a lot and the majority of my doodles turn out to be monsters. It is easier to draw monsters than anything else. The great thing about drawing monsters is that any mistakes will contribute to the monstrousness of the final image. Therefore those who can’t draw are better able to represent such entities monstrously.

In other words, I didn’t let the fact that I can’t draw well hold me back. I have long been interested in combinations of texts and imagery. Recently I obtained a volume of writings and drawings by the wonderful Mervyn Peake entitled Peake’s Progress that features work from the full span of his life, including projects he never completed. One section of the book is called ‘Moccus Poems’, written in 1929 or thereabouts, a set of drawings of monsters with simple short verses to accompany them. There are only six of them. Maybe there were more originally, but if so they have been lost. The drawings are excellent. Peake was an illustrator of genius. The poems are nonsensical and good fun. I decided that I wanted to attempt to create a book along the same lines. I know I can’t match Peake in image or verse, but I decided to amuse myself anyway.

I thought that if I doodled one monster every day, and wrote a poem for it, the book would be completed after two months or so. But I found that I was doodling more than one a day, sometimes four or five. I decided to stop only when I ran out of blank pages in the notebook I was using for my doodles. The result is that there are 54 monsters. One of the monsters, the ‘Unfeasible Space Giraffe’, covers three pages because he has such a long neck. He can stand on the surface of one planet and nibble the leaves of the trees that grow on another planet. But all the other monsters occupy one page to themselves. I wrote poems for each doodle as I went along. The monsters came first every time. The shape and size of each monster determined the length and structure of each poem, because I had to fill the remaining space with words and sometimes the remaining space wasn’t very much. I often curled and curved the poems around the bodies of the monsters and I allowed myself to enjoy certain typographical tricks, such as having text upside down or in the shape of a wave.

Poetry written for images that already exist is called ‘ekphrastic verse’. I didn’t know that until shortly before I began this project. The book took only two weeks before it was done. I am pleased with it. The hardest part was formatting the poems so that they followed the contours of the forms of the monsters, or at least appeared on the page in a manner that seems a little more interactive with the image than merely descriptive. Might I do a sequel one day or another similar book? I see no reason why not. What surprised me most was how purely enjoyable the creation of ‘Corybantic Fulgours’ was. Some books are headaches to write. This one was quite a delight. It turned out better than I had hoped.

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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Excerpt Poetry

Poems from Notes of Silent Times

Poetry from Nepal by Mahesh Paudyal

Workers’ Poem

In a small gathering on the lawn

The poet was reciting his verses.

A little away, some masons and labours were busy

Hammering nails.

The poet stopped, looked at them, and yelled—

“Stop your pranks! Can’t you see I am reading a poem?”

The workers were silent. The poet recited his verses.

Much later, when everyone was gone

The workers resumed their life-song.

I don’t know if the poet heard it.

***

Emperor and the Kids

“Emperor, we are hungry!”

This sounded like a shooting lullaby;

The Emperor slept for one more century.

“Emperor, please lend us your crown for a while;

We will play the king-queen game and return.”

The Emperor ordered:

“Officer! Send these children out of the four passes!

They are here to spread measles.”

***

Firefly

Firefly,

Perhaps it’s time that writes our existence.

No matter how much you try

To glow in broad daylight

You need to wait for the night

To make yourself visible

***

Storm!

Blow on, storm!

Blow with all your might!

Unless there is wind

And unless a few homes and roofs are betumbled

No one writes

An epic on air, the puny thing!

***

The Sky

All smoke rising from the earth

Goes skyward

But the sky is never called the country of smoke

It is always called

The land of the stars and moons

***

These poems are excerpted from his latest collection, Notes of Silent Times

Mahesh Paudyal is a Nepali poet, storywriter, critic and translator. A lecturer of English at Tribhuvan University, Mr. Paudyal has written extensively for children and adult readers, and has translated more than 2 dozen books from Nepali into English. His major works include Tadi Kinarko Geet (novel), Tyaspachhi Phulena Godavari (stories), Of Walls and Pigeons (stories),  Sunya Praharko Sakshi (poems) and Notes of Silent Times (poems). Among his seminal translations are Dancing Soul of Mount Everest (representative modern Nepali poems), Radha (an award-winning novel by Krishna Dharabasi), Unfinished Memoirs and Prison Notes by Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman and Silver Cascades (representative Nepali short stories.) A recipient of Nepal Bidhyabhushan, Narendramani Dixit Gold Medal, Bimal Gurung Memorial Award, Sudish Niraula Memorial and Prasiddha Kandel Memorial Award, he has also represented Nepal in many international literary seminars.]

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Excerpt

On the Pandemic: To the Rising

Poetry by John Beacham

“Open Up and Die” Updated and Re-titled, “Your Mask is Our Life!”


It all comes down to your masks and your big love, my friends, ‘cause the Big Love is just not in the U-S-A. Not yet. Not until the end of this poem. Perhaps

Florida, where the governor’s mansion makes you “live” with the virus, ‘cause, you know, business before safety. That is what it is is: the bosses’ money before your lungs, heart and brain

Open the gates, open the gates … onward, onward to Disneyworld!

Genocide by individual liberty

Illinois and California, where the demgov does a better job for a few weeks and still more people die than in all of victorious China ‘cause …

The “libgovs” capitulate to a tiny handful of open-it, anti-mask racists; there is no social or public health fabric flesh; there is no we the people, just delusions of “at least we’re not Florida or Texas or Arizona or South Carolina”

Genocide by liberalism

(33 percent

33 percent of children tested in Florida as of July 15 have the genocide. Children!

“We currently have 85 babies under the age of one year in Nueces County that have all tested positive for Covid-19,” said the director of public health for Corpus Christi Nueces County (in Texas).

“These babies have not even had their first birthday yet. Please help us stop the spread of this disease.”

Wear a mask!)

Now.  Quiet your heart, breath and ears feeling …

The pandemic is at your door.   At your door.      It is at your door!

Smashing your door into a million flying pieces of masks that twist a virus into tiny shards of mostly harmless waves harmonium

What other option? What other option? Tell me and …

Wait.  Track back finely

The United States, where we send the young out to get infected in pandemic spreading zones of crowded bars and gyms at the epicenter

The country of death and disease is not
Russia, Russia, Russia
It’s not China, China, China

Now.  Look.  I don’t blame the bar owners though some of them are scum

I don’t blame the bargoers though most should do better and don’t

I don’t blame the families getting together

I blame the system that is in reality a non-stop lo-fi psychic filament of virus transmission belt

So.    What now?

Have you seen the new futured-monument? It is twenty-one stories high. On top of the glory mountain. Five of us like one rock, all masked. Realist. Humanist. Crisp steel

Arms twined and extended to the sky with slightly cupped hands. Heads up. Steady and calm. Visage to the stars. Front foot forward to …

The socialist future we drink up as a lip-satisfying, face caressed gentle breeze fountain that was always there but now finally understood and welcomed

I say to you now: “Welcome, my loves!”

“Open Up and Die” and “‘Open Up and Die’ Updated and Re-titled, ‘Your Mask is Our Life!’” are from the book, “On the Pandemic, To the Rising,” which can be found here: https://www.mass-action.org/On-the-Pandemic-Poems.html

Florida is a capitalist dictatorship

Florida so sad …profit-open > your

Friends, let us not mince. The government is killing people. Thousands of people. Florida and everywhere

To be precise: GENOCIDE

Florida so sad is america. Don’t miss miss it—as america as California or NYC where they haven’t stopped the genocide with better words

Words, words, words that do not stick or solve or sinew or lead. Where is the leader? Ohhhh, where are you in all of this?

Listening? Shout it through that massive placard bullhorn over the four corners: Who will stop america?

You. You will stop america

Or else, sister. Or else as Columbus statues brought down by the work of the rainbow future teens

“Florida is a Capitalist Dictatorship” and “Florida is a Communist Dictatorship” are from the book, “On the Pandemic, To the Rising,” which can be found here: https://www.mass-action.org/On-the-Pandemic-Poems.html

John Beacham is a social justice activist, podcast host and college writing teacher who writes political commentary, poetry and science fiction. He is founder of MASS ACTION podcast and publications platform: https://www.mass-action.org. He would bird more if he could.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

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Excerpt Poetry

Poems from My Father’s Face by Chandra Gurung

Chandra Gurung’s poetry translated by Mahesh Paudyal

My Father’s Face

Two eyes glitter like the sun and the moon

In that face

A kite of self-confidence keeps flying

Beautiful orchids and rhododendrons bloom

Combating the storms of calamities

.

On that face

A sun rises every morning to carry the burden of a new day

And returns, at the end of the day

Hiding every line of sorrows

Carrying little parcels of joy

Making the house and the patio bright

.

On that face

Narrow are the eyes that read the world

Pug is the nose that looms with raised self-respect

Wrinkled are the cheeks where joys and sorrows glide

Chapped are the lips, where smiles stage a march-past

And the entire Mongol identity has been smouldered by heat.

.

But I am delightful

Happy beyond telling

When everyone says:

“You look exactly like your father.”

.

Trust

Since you are back

Take those roses on the table

And kindly adorn them in the hearts.

Let the fragrance of love waft from it.

.

Bring out on the veranda

A pair of chairs;

Let’s spend some intimate moments.

Also place a bottle of wine, and two glasses

On the table;

We shall spend

Some moments of life, talking.

.

Look!

My weary rags

My books, pen and paper abandoned like an orphan

The stubs of cigarette littered like unclaimed corpses

And the scratched mirror—

All await for a single touch

From you.

.

This dark evening

You showed up at my doorstep all alone.

At this moment

Every nook of my heart

Is filled with love, ripple by ripple.

.

Leave it!

Let that window remain open at least

It reflects my heartfelt belief

That you would certainly turn up.

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Desert: A Life of Mirage

There is not a single bright line of smile

On the broad canvas of the face

No butterfly of joy flutters on the cheeks

Desolate is this desert

Like a garden where all beauty has wilted.

.

There are dry tufts, devoid of life, everywhere

Dry hands of wind come to caress youth

The eyes accumulate dead excitement

And looms a mound of desolation

.

The youthful sun comes to face, eye-to-eye, all day long

The wind teases again and again

The desert longs to allure a traveler with its youth

Dreams of enchanting someone with its gestures

The desert is like a bride’s dream

Living in anticipation of a loving embrace.

.

Its breasts are decked by green date palms

A youthful cactus is tucked on its ears

And the desert stands in a long caravan of desires

Like a life of mirage

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All is well

Everything is fine.

Just now,

My children in immaculate uniform

Have been taken to school

By a house-boy their age

.

My parents are happy in an old-age home

I am off from the pack of my siblings

My better half spends time watching TV serials

My home has hosted peace pervasively

From this, we can perceive that

All is well.

.

Since a prayer room in the home accommodates

A bunch of deities

It has been long that praying has been a rare tale

Doesn’t it mean

Everything is fine?

.

Nothing ever tortures my heart

I don’t meddle in others’ affairs

And keep myself away from such trifling hassles

And thus, do not bother myself in vain

It’s true:

Everything is fine.

.

I keep my own ways

Act amiably with all

And keep myself away from problems

For this reason

Everything is fine.

.

I carefully maintain my looks

Dress up myself decently

And follow healthy dietary habits

In fact,

Is everything really fine?

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All these poems are excerpted from Chandra Gurung’s upcoming book, My Father’s Face, with the author’s permission

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Chandra Gurung is a Bahrain based Nepali poet.  He has an anthology of poetry to his credit. That was published in 2007. The second anthology of his translated poems titled My Father’s Face will be published from Rubric Publishing, New Delhi.  He has passion for translation as well. He has translated Hindi, English and Arabic poets into Nepali. He has also has translated some of the Nepali poets into Hindi. His works (poems and articles) have found space in many online and print magazines including More of my beautiful Bahrain, Snow Jewel, Collection of Poetry and Prose complied by Robin Barratt (UK), Warscapes.com and many leading Dailies in Nepal.

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Mahesh Paudyal is a Nepalese writer, translator critic and Assistant Professor of English at Tribhuvan University. His works basically foreground local epistemic traditions and Eastern mythological richness. He has published novels, stories, poems, plays and songs both for adults and children and has extensively written critical works. His major translations include Sheikh Mujiboor Rahman’s Unfinished Memoirs and Prison Notes into Nepali, Silver Cascades, a collection of Nepali short stories and Dancing Soul of Mount Everest, representative modern Nepali poems. He is the Executive Editor of Roopantaran, a translation-based journal of Nepal Academy.

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Excerpt Poetry

Poems from Rituals

By Kiriti Sengupta

A Place Like Home

Lights turned off,

three glasses retire

as the bar closes.

The first stands upright,

the other upside down,

another lies horizontal.

.

For last few hours

the crystals held liquor,

ice, scent and comfort.

They also witnessed

eyes that spoke volumes

while lashes refused

to flutter.

.

The pub reopens

the next day

to the riff of unrest.

.

Observance

1

Visitors, who checked in 

to see my father post-surgery, 

appeared stressed.

After his discharge several came home.

Eyes moistened, they wished him Godspeed.

All of us except Baba knew… 

Ma informed him months later.

.

No one pays a call anymore. 

Three decades…

2

Tittle-tattle halts.

The mother waves a goodbye

as the school bus sets off.

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Both these poems are excerpted from Kiriti Sengupta’s collection, Rituals (March 2019, Hawkal Publishers), with permission from the author

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Kiriti Sengupta is a poet, editor, translator, and publisher from Calcutta. He is the recipient of the 2018 Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize for his contribution to literature. He has published eleven books of poetry and prose and two books of translation and co-edited five anthologies. Sengupta is the chief editor of the Ethos Literary Journal.

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