Categories
Musings

For the want of a cloth…

By Ratnottama Sengupta

Roti Kapda aur Makaan/ Maang raha hai Hindustan…

India is demanding food, clothing and shelter…

Sometime in 1949 writer-director-actor Manoj Kumar had heard a young man recite these lines in post-Partition Punjab. The simple line had stayed on in his mind and almost two decades later he came up with the film Roti Kapda aur Makaan (food, clothes and housing). By then India had its third prime minister Indira Gandhi who had swept into the office in 1967 winning with a huge popular mandate on the wings of the slogan Garibi Hatao (Do away with poverty). The three tenets of identifying poverty then outlined were – yes, lack of food, clothing, and roof over people’s head.

These, needless to add, were the prime concern of millions who had been uprooted, disowned by the nation they so far knew to be their own, driven out of their ancestral homes with barely a change of clothes, spending days and nights in refugee camp queues for one square meal and perhaps the vaguest hope of some employment.

In 1949 the Constituent Assembly was already meeting but had yet to formally adopt the Bharatiya Samvidhan – the Constitution of India that came into effect on 26th January 1950, the day that is gloriously celebrated every year with a gratifying display of our military might and cultural wealth on the Rajpath of the Capital. Full seven decades ago the Constitution  laid down a framework that delineates the fundamental code, the directive principles that would govern the political structure, powers, and duties of the government and its institutions – as much as it set out the fundamental rights and the duties of citizens.

We were perhaps receiving our first lessons in civics when Indira Gandhi stepped into the prime minister’s office. We learnt by rote the Preamble that asserts the solemn resolution of the People of India to Constitute the land into a Sovereign Democratic Republic that would secure every one of its citizens Justice – social, economic and political; Liberty – of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality – of status and opportunity; and Fraternity which would assure the dignity of individual and unity of the nation.

We were not, however, aware at that age that the two years before India gave itself the Samvidhan, nations of the world had united in declaring that recognition of the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. By the end of the barbaric World War II they had realised that disregard and contempt for human rights had resulted in the nightmarish acts that continue to outrage the conscience of mankind. By this time, universally, nations were keen to forge a world wherein humans would enjoy “freedom of speech and belief, freedom from fear and want.” These, it was proclaimed by one and all, were “the highest aspiration of the common man,” anywhere on the globe.

By the time the British left India to its destiny, the imperial power too had realised that, if man were not compelled to recourse to the last resort – rebellion against tyranny and oppression – then human rights ought to be protected by the rule of law.

So, in the Charter, the peoples of the United Nations reaffirmed their “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women.” The Human Rights Declaration was, then, meant “to promote social progress and better standards of life for larger freedom.”

By proclaiming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations,” member States of the United Nations had pledged the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights as fundamental to every freedom. Keeping the Declaration constantly in mind, they will “strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms, and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.”

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When I read this, I am astounded that Nabendu Ghosh, writing five years before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was almost setting the charter for nations to follow once they lose the harness of imperialism and emerge out of the shadow of colonialism. “When, despite repeated pleas, a man is deprived of his basic needs, what else can he do?” – wonders the leader portrayed in the mould of a Gandhi in Bastrang Dehi (Give Me a Rag, Please). “Millions and zillion years of civilisation has taught him to cover his natural anatomy, today how can he forget that nudity is primitive and accept nudity as normal? How can age-old norms hold sway over dire needs?” the writer poses.

In the swiftly developing crisis that engulfs the entire community which is suffering the aftermath of rationing and subsequent profiteering in clothes, the village Brahmin Bhattachajji is not apologetic for wearing a lungi, the mark of a mullah: bhaagte bhoot ki langot bhali! – one could add the Hindi proverb to imply, when one is running to save one’s skin, even a loincloth is most acceptable (something is better than nothing). Profiteering, we realise before the end draws up, is the worst of crime against mankind, for it fishes in troubled waters.

The writer ends by describing two opposite reactions – one, of a leader; the other, of a common man. Nationalist Manish turns his face away from the howling surrounding the half-naked corpse of Harimati: the sight and sound was ridiculing his leadership, taunting the failure of his processions to procure more than false promises, mocking his manhood, he felt. But Teenkori, Harimati’s husband, does not cry. He is lynched, he is jailed, he becomes a thief in his attempt to procure a sari for his abused wife who eventually commits suicide – but no, he does not shed a drop of tear. He becomes vicious, a savage look descends in his eyes, his fingers tingle just as do soldiers’ when they confront enemies.

To me, representing a generation which has, since it started walking, celebrated Republic Day by singing paeans to the Hindustan better than the rest of the world, Bastrang Dehi brought home truths that no history book has ever taught. Yes, I knew about the Bengal Famine of 1943 that saw millions starved for the want of rice dying on the streets of Calcutta – the erstwhile capital of the jewel in the British crown. Yes, they were uprooted; they were compelled to leave their homes and hearth in the villages and flock to the city in search of a meal. Yes, I knew that they died of cholera and dysentery as they snatched food out of bins from the jaws of snarling dogs too. But did I know that clothes too were rationed, and sold in the black market, sending saris and dhotis beyond the reach of peasants? Once the ‘Quit India!’ slogan rang out, most Indians would not touch the clothes from the English mills while the British were sending everything — food and handloom clothings produced in the Province — to the Theatre of the War in the North East, where American GIs were joining British Tommies to beat back the Japs who were regularly bombing Bengal.

Nabendu Ghosh, a devotee of the Buddha, must have read this gospel. A disciple of the Enlightened One complained that one of his flock was indifferent to his sermons. He was sorely disappointed that Tathagata’s teachings were falling on deaf ears. One day the Buddha accompanied the disciple to the hut from where he had been shooed away. The Buddha offered the man a bowl of rice, then turned to his disciple and calmly said, “Could you see the man was starving? Truth can be served to him only in a bowl of rice.”

Ghosh derived the title of Bastrang Dehi from the popular invocation of Goddess Durga that rings through Bengal year after year after year, at the advent of the Autumnal Festival: Rupang Dehi, Jayang Dehi, Yasho Dehi Disho Jayee! ( grant me Beauty, grant me Victory, grant me Fame!) By adapting the prayer to seek something as mundane as a piece of cloth, the writer underscores that food, clothing and shelter may be basic individual needs, but if humans constitute society these must be enshrined as basic rights even before we enshrine political liberty, rule of law, equality of worship, freedom of expression… Else democracy and justice and other lofty ideals of human life will go for a toss.

Decades after the history books have changed the way we look at the past, why do I still cringe when I read Bastrang Dehi? Because I know that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

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I am certain Anshu Gupta has never read Bastrang Dehi. But ‘Give me cloth’ was the plea that had launched his journey with Goonj – and it has earned him the Magsaysay Award, World Bank’s Development Marketplace award, Mother Teresa award, NASA’S Game Changing Innovation, the prestigious Ashoka fellowship… they are still coming in.

What had spurred the young man and his wife to start Goonj with merely 67 items of clothings? The realisation that clothing was overlooked as a basic human right. Today the NGO registered under Societies Act and for exemption under several sections and for foreign contributions etc, deals with more than 3500 tonnes of material every year. 

A real life incidence had prompted Gupta to start this arduous journey. One night, going home in Delhi’s winter, he met a three-wheeler scooter rickshaw driver, Habib. His rickshaw had this inscribed on its side: Laawarish laash uthaane wala (I pick up unclaimed dead bodies). Talking to him Gupta learnt that for every dead body Habib carried to the crematorium, he got twenty rupees and two metres of cloth. That, workload in winter was more than in summer. That, many underprivileged families don’t have enough clothes to stave off the cold. So much so that Habib’s little daughter Bano told Anshu, “When I feel cold, I hug a dead body to sleep. It does not turn around, it does not trouble me…”

Anshu Gupta deserves every single award that has come his way. For, unlike nationalist Manish of Bastrang Dehi, he did not turn his face away. That one meeting ignited in him the impulse to address the sufferings of millions due to shortage of clothing. He started collecting under-utilised used material, to maintain human dignity rather than to give them as charity. In the process he has triggered development with dignity across the land.

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Saare jahaan se achha... I still sing on Republic Day, and I still sing Sakal desher shera amaar janma bhoomi Independence Day. But when I run into Anshu Gupta at a conference perhaps in Budapest, I hang my head in shame. I am elated that Goonj has clothed millions. But even today, if a Tsunami, an Amphan or a Yaas sweeps the shores of Midnapur or Sundarbans, a Kendrapada or Bhadrak, in Bengal or Odisha – even today, I hear the cries of women and men cry out, ‘Give me a rag, please!”

It is a cry to save their dignity.

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Glossary:

Saare jahaan se achha… A song written by Iqbal in 1904 and adapted as a song for marching by the Indian army. Literally, translated to mean, the best in the world.

Sakal desher shera amaar janma bhoomi A song written by  Dwijendralal Ray (1863-1913). Literally translated to mean, the best country is my land of birth.

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Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. 

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Categories
Musings Tagore Translations

Two Birds: Musings on Tagore

Ratnottama Sengupta muses as she translates Tagore’s song, Khachar Pakhi Chilo (1892, The caged bird was)

TWO BIRDS

In a coop of gold, lived Cage Bird,
In the forest dwelt Free Bird --
How did the twain meet on a dawn?
What had Fate ordained?

"Dear One in cage," Free Bird called out,
"Come, let's fly into the wood."
"You come inside," chirped Cage Bird,
"The enclosure can be our home!"
"No!" Free Bird cried, "the chains are not for me!"
"Alas!" Cage Bird sighed, 
"How can I live in the holt!"

Free Bird sat outside and sang
All the forest songs he loved.
Cage Bird parroted all 
The tricks it had been taught -
'Twas as if they spoke two tongues!
Free Bird pleaded, "Dear one!
For me sing one Forest song!""
Cage Bird said, "You better rote
Songs of the cage, loved one!"
"No!" Free Bird wailed, 
"I do not parrot cliches!"
"Alas," sobbed Cage Bird,
"How do I sing what I've never heard!"

The Free Bird chimed, "Deep is the blue 
Of the sky above,
There's no bar in its expanse!"
"See!" Cage Bird twittered,
"How well-netted is the aviary
on all its four sides!"
"Let go of yourself!" Free Bird whistled,
"In the clouds above, just once!"
"This cosy corner is so very tranquil!"
Cage Bird chirped, "Why not 
Submit to its peace?"
"No! Where will I then fly?"
"Alas! Where in the clouds 
Will I find a perch?"

Thus the two birds loved each other
But could not unite.
Through the gaps their beaks would kiss
Their eyes bespoke their longing
But neither could understand
Nor express to the other
Their biding constraints.
They flapped their wings
They stretched their arms
"Come to me dear, let me
Hold you to my heart!"
"No!" the Free Bird feared,
"The door might snap shut!"
"Alas!" lamented the Caged Bird
"I have no might to fly!"
Birds in a large cage in Saratchandra’s home. Photo Courtesy: Ratnottama Sengupta

Growing up in a Vaishnav family where kirtan was a part of daily life, I had always loved this song Rabindranath Tagore composed in the kirtan style. In my later years I thought the Universal Poet had penned the Natya Geeti — song drama — in the context of the Freedom Struggle. No, I learnt in an essay by the poet: it was penned in 1892 to put into words a more universal philosophy — the duality that is part of every human existence. 
Difficult to comprehend? Perhaps not, once we obliterate the sameness of the two birds and attribute gender markers to them. Tagore himself thought of the caged bird as the woman in every man, and the free bird as the man in every woman. Perhaps that is why it is structured along the lines of the traditional Shuk Shari samvad — a conversational song between between two birds (parrots perhaps?) — wherein Shuk is a follower of the masculine, Purushottam Krishna, and Shari of Radha, the essence of femininity. However, I was prompted to look up the poem recently when I saw a large birdcage in a corner of Saratchandra Chatterjee’s house in Deulti some 60 km from Kolkata. It was pretty routine, apparently, for households then to have aviaries ‘domesticating’ finches, canaries, parakeets, cockatiels, lovebirds and other feathered pets — much like today’s people with pet dogs and cats. But I was struck by a different thought: Did the two birds represent the two stalwarts of Bengali Literature who lived at the same time? Did one look inside homes and scan woes besetting the happiness of their human relationships? And did the other take off from his perch on a branch of the tree rooted in terra firma, to swim in the boundless ocean above? Even today, one draws you out into the vast expanse while the other pulls you homeward. Together? They give us a  universe…

Notes:

Kirtan is devotional music.

Tagore (1861 to 1941) and Saratchandra (1876-1938) were contemporaries. While Saratchandra wrote stories based on real life to expose and reform social ills, Tagore’s work was more philosophically inclined, though he has written of such societal issues too.

In 1894, Rabindranath wrote in Aadhunik Saahitya while commenting on the works of the poet Biharilal Chakraborty –

“… There is an independently moving masculine entity within our nature, which is intolerant to bondage alongside a feminine one which preffers to be enclosed and secured within the walls of the home. Both of them remain united in an inseparable fashion. One is eager to develop significantly his undying strength in a diverse way by savouring ever-new tastes of life, exploring ever-new realms and manifestations and the other remains encircled within innumerable prejudices and traditional practices, enthralled with her habitual deliberations. One takes you out into the vast expanse and the other seems to pull towards home. One is a forest bird (or the free bird of the translation by Ratnottama Sengupta) and the other is a caged bird. This forest bird is the one that sings much. Although, its song expresses with its diverse melodies the whimper and its craving for unrestricted freedom.”

Rabindranath Tagore was a brilliant poet, writer, musician, artist, educator – a polymath. He was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. His writing spanned across genres, across global issues and across the world. His works remains relevant to this day.

Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. 

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Categories
Musings

The Great Freeze

P. Ravi Shankar shuttles through winters from Everest to New York to Kerala to Aruba in the Caribbean

My friend and colleague was turning blue. The cold wind hit me with the force of a sledgehammer. We both had on all the warm clothes we could bring. I had on me a woollen blazer, a full sleeve sweater, my shirt, a half sleeve sweater, and underneath it a thermal. The freezing wind cut through these layers like the proverbial knife through butter. I was beginning to lose sensation on my nose and extremities. We were in freezing weather for less than a minute crossing the road to where the car was parked. We were inadequately dressed for a February morning in New York city. A nor’easter had hit a day before and the temperature was below minus 24 degrees Celsius. The news channels mentioned it was the coldest day in over two decades. Luckily for us, the car was heated, and the seats could also be warmed. We slowly thawed after the flash freeze.  

We had flown from sunny Aruba (Dutch Caribbean) the previous day. Miami had perfect weather, but New York was freezing. Manhattan is full of skyscrapers. There is no direct rail line from the airport to Manhattan. New York has a decent public transport infrastructure but no airport metro. The city’s infrastructure does need some serious investment on upgrade and maintenance. The hotel room was warm and toasty. Outside, it was snowing. I saw the homeless on the freezing sidewalks trying to shelter from the bitter cold. Poverty amid opulent wealth.

I have mostly lived in warm places where your major concern is staying cool in the humid heat. In Kerala, in the south of India, a mundu or a lungi wrapped around the waist was the common male attire. The mercury in most areas never goes below 20 degrees Celsius. In New York during winter, the major concern was staying warm. Suddenly, common English expressions began to make sense. Warm welcome, warm greetings make sense when you are coming in from a freezing weather. When you are all hot and sweaty, the warmth seems unwelcome. Also, the European style of dressing was designed to minimise heat loss. Socks, hats, gloves, coats, tie, scarf. The buildings all had double doors to keep out the cold and keep in the warmth. Central heating kept the inside warm.

Keeping warm is expensive. I did some rough calculation and worked out that I would have to spend USD 1500 on winter clothing and over USD 250 monthly on heating bills. The tempo and rhythm of life changes in the northern latitudes with the change of seasons. Winters mean short days and time spent mostly indoors. The wily COVID virus is capitalising fully on this human behaviour. Summers translate to warm temperatures and long days. With global climate change, the highs in summer and the lows in winter are becoming extreme.  

On another occasion I was strolling by the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago enjoying the early morning view. There were gardens and walking paths by the shoreline. Suddenly a cold wind blew across the lake from Canada. Despite all the winter clothing I donned, I was frozen. In cold weather, it is important to have a waterproof and wind proof outer shell. These are expensive however, and as occasional visitors to cold climates, we were unwilling to invest in such clothing. Upstate New York is even colder than New York city, and Rochester is said to be among the snowiest cities in America.

New York city is relatively well-prepared for snowy weather with double doors, central heating, winter clothing and snow ploughs. So is Chicago. Some of the southern cities in the US also experience snowy weather due to climate change and are not prepared for occasional winter storms. The plains of northern India experience cold weather from December to March. A thick layer of smog blankets the plains. Trains and planes are delayed, and driving could become hazardous. Air pollution rises and the air becomes dangerous to breathe. The sun succeeds in clearing the fog only after ten in the morning. Kathmandu in Nepal also experience fog and increased pollution during winter. Pokhara is a Nepalese city without fog in winters. I have often wondered why. With beautiful views of the Annapurna range, winter mornings in Pokhara are occasions to be savoured. In these places there is no central heating. Quilts are widely used. I enjoy the quilt which slowly warms you up using your own body heat.

In the mountains of Nepal, external heating devices are common. In the Everest region, there is the yak dung burning cast iron stove in dining rooms. In the Annapurna region north of Pokhara, wood burning stoves are common. In Thak Khola, charcoal burning stoves under the table are used. The bedrooms, however, are unheated and freezing. I had stayed in Lobuche in the Everest region, at around 4900 m for over a month for a research project and the nights were freezing. The water bottle used to freeze. If you wanted something to not freeze, you kept it beside you on the bed inside the quilt.

Watching snow fall is relaxing. The snowflakes glide down and blanket the trees and the ground in white. The cold reduces a bit. Rain is more noisy and violent and often accompanied by thunder and lightning. Walking on snow is difficult. Soon the snow melts during the day and refreezes again at night and turns into ice. Ice is extremely slippery and dangerous to walk on. Snow is a rare treat for persons from tropical climates. However, living in snow covered regions is challenging.

Near the equator the climate is constant throughout the year. The rains cool down the atmosphere, but the hours of sunlight do not vary much. Life is not influenced by the seasons. The further north or south you go from the equator, seasons begin to colour your life. Summer brings long days, sometimes extreme heat and more time spent outdoors. Winter brings longer nights, snow, and more time indoors. In both New York and Chicago, in winter, the trees were totally bare, bereft of leaves. I could not believe they were still alive. With the coming of spring the green twigs would sprout again and the cycle of life resumes. The writing of poets and authors from temperate countries about the dreariness of winter and the warmth of spring and summer began to make sense to me — a person from and living in the tropics.      

      

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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
Musings Travel

The Ocean & Me

Meredith Stephens writes of her sailing adventures in South Australia

The international borders are finally opening, but we still hesitate to embark on overseas or even interstate travel. The travel ban has afforded us the opportunity to explore our home state of South Australia, which until now we have largely ignored. After so long remaining here in this drawn-out pandemic, and the constant uncertainty about changing travel requirements, we lack the courage to venture abroad again.

Just as well, because after our local hiking adventures to Eyre Peninsula and Yorke Peninsula, Alex announces that next we will be sailing to Kangaroo Island. We will stay at Brian and Rochelle’s shack on Emu Bay. Alex drives Verity and me down the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide, until we reach Carrickalinga Beach. Alex has taught me how to hike, and now he wants to share his excitement about sailing. He spends time on the long drive to Carrickalinga testing me on my sailing vocabulary. I have learnt words such as ‘headsail’, ‘mainsail’ and ‘jennika’. (Well, I thought it was ‘jennika’, but Alex tells me it is ‘jenniker’.) Meanwhile we pass through the sleepy towns of Myponga and Yankalilla, each boasting country bakeries with an array of doughnuts, buns and pasties which I try to put out of my mind. We successfully navigate these towns without stopping and I make do by simply remembering the array of treats at a sumptuous cafe in Moonta from our last trip.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

“Just wait a little longer,” Alex entreats me. Brian and Rochelle will have some really healthy food for us at their shack.

Brian and Rochelle are waiting for us at Carrickalinga with sparkling smiles and generous hugs. We maneuver ourselves and our luggage into the dinghy and head out to the boat. It’s moored in deeper water, and I have to scramble out of the dingy and onto the boat all the while making sure my laptop does not drop into the ocean depths. I clamber in and place the laptop inside the boat where it can’t get wet. Then I move outside to position myself at the bow where I sit with Brian and Rochelle. Alex is at the helm.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

The others had busied themselves unfurling the sails but Alex tells me that my job is simply to look for dolphins. Before long five of them are approaching the front of the boat. They proudly swim in between the two hulls, gracefully easing themselves in perfect arcs in and out of the water to catch a breath. One turns her head around, her body at an angle, so we can make eye contact.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

Once away from the shore and leaving the buffer of the hills, the wind picks up and Alex proudly announces that we are sailing at 16 knots. Carrickalinga has receded.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

I sit at the bow for hours, trying to hide from the punishing Australian sun, wrapping my hair around my neck. It’s too choppy to risk walking along the side of the boat to retrieve my cotton scarf. Water splashes on my legs but I dare not move.

As the hours pass Emu Bay looms into view. We spot the bright yellow ball on the ocean surface which signals the mooring below. Alex directs the boat toward the ball while Brian extends a long pole towards it and hooks it up. He then drags it on the boat and tethers it to a cleat.

When alighting the boat onto the dinghy I will have to make sure once again my laptop does not drop into the ocean. Alex detaches the dinghy and loads our provisions onto the front end. Then he pulls the motor cord repeatedly but it does not start. Brian and Alex confer but the motor refuses to be coaxed back to life. The sun is retreating. I can see Brian and Rochelle’s shack on the coast tantalizingly close.

“Shall we paddle in?” I suggest.

“It’s a bit choppy,” explains Alex. “We could wait until the waters are calmer tomorrow morning. We could sleep on the boat.”

I yearn for a bed on dry land, but there are five of us and I have to consider what the others might want. We all seem to be concerned about imposing on the others. Verity comes up with a solution.

“Let’s have a secret ballot,” she suggests.

Verity tears up some paper into five pieces. We each write down our preference, “boat” or “shore”. I write “shore”. Rochelle seems to be taking a long time writing down her preference. Verity collects the pieces of paper and spreads them on the table. Two say “shore” and two say “boat”. The remaining one says “I don’t mind sleeping on either the boat or going to shore.” It’s evenly split. Meanwhile sunset continues to approach, the wind is picking up and the water starts to look foreboding. Could we safely put four adults and their luggage into a dinghy? Verity seems to have read my mind.

“I think Meredith wants to go ashore,” she announces.

“That’s our decision then,” confirms Alex. “We will paddle to shore in the dinghy.”

Alex asks Rochelle and me to hop into the dinghy. He places our laptops and phones in a waterproof bag. Brian enters next and Alex detaches the dinghy from the boat. Then we maneuver the dinghy close enough for Alex to slide in. Meanwhile, Verity kayaks to shore.

We each have a paddle, Rochelle and I on the left of the dinghy and Alex and Brian on the right. Alex identifies the safest place on the cove to reach land.

“Girls paddle harder,” he urges. “Meredith, you’ve got the paddle the wrong way around.”

I look down. Typically visually unobservant, I look down at my paddle and turn it around.

We labour, pulling the paddles more firmly and deeply, until we reach the rocks. We disembark and pick up our luggage. I gingerly tread over the craggy rocks in my sandals.

“Where’s the shack?” I ask Brian.

Brian points ever upwards. I follow the direction in which he is pointing and drag myself up in my wet sandals while carrying as many bags as I can. Finally we see the house on top of the hill, and gratefully allow Brian to usher us in. Brian immediately pours us some tonic water decorated with a slice of dried orange.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

After nibbling on some nuts, cheese, hummus and crackers, Brian appears with home-made lentil burgers that he has revived from the freezer, topped with smashed avocado and haloumi. We devour these greedily as reward for our long sail and trek up the hill with luggage.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

 I find myself enjoying a spacious bed with clean sheets. Sleep is as delicious and pleasurable as a drink when I am thirsty, or a longed-for meal when I am hungry. I savour these moments of the comfort of the bed and suddenly it appears to be morning.

The sunshine forces its way into my bedroom. The silence of the corner of this remote island is punctuated by the lively tones of Alex, Verity, Brian and Rochelle’s voices. How could they have recovered so quickly? Despite the sunshine penetrating my closed lids, I persist in a somnolence which is just as delicious as the evening before.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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Categories
Musings

Crotons

By Kavya R K    

The pandemic, I feel, has made us very contemplative. We’ve begun to ponder over subjects that range from the grave aspects of life to the most trivial ones. There is also this category of thoughts that belong somewhere in the middle. They usually begin as silly musings but gradually transform and align with thoughts of greater dimensions. Although I’m not sure where to classify my current thoughts, I think that this very ambiguity gives them a place in the middle.

I have never been a keen observer of gardens. I love to spend time in parks, but someone would usually accompany me, and we’d get immersed in conversation. This used to keep me off the pleasure of savouring the blossoms, even though their tempting fragrance had always seduced me. However, those visits used to be brief and the acquaintance temporary.

For some weeks now, I have been taking back-and-forth cycle rides in my courtyard; thanks to us, the ‘obedient’ citizens, and the lockdown. One such day, I chanced upon the front row of decorative plants in my home. Until then, I hadn’t really paid attention to these. I was aware only of the flowering plants, rose and hibiscus, which grew at the two corners of the front yard. Like any other hopeless romantic, I also had an affinity for these flowering plants. I used to have imaginary baby showers and baptism ceremonies every time they bore a new flower. Although these were at the relatively unnoticeable part of the house, I used to spare some time to visit them.

Now this front row, which suddenly came into being for my eyes, had some densely grown croton plants. I realised that it actually made up the lion’s share of our front yard. I looked at it for a while. The croton leaves have always appeared to me as too chaotic and flamboyant. They have seemed to me quite undisciplined and shabby, because of the multi-coloured large leaves. They somehow didn’t fit into the norms of beauty I was conditioned to believe in. I used to feel that they lacked the sort of uniformity and harmony that nature upheld; something which should have been ingrained in the hues they were blessed with. But that day, the croton leaves held a different attraction for me. The variegated leaves seemed to breathe out a serenity I had never imagined them to have. The leaves were nestled close to each other, in a wholesome embrace that seemed to shield them from all adversities. Designed and coloured differently, no two consecutive leaves looked alike. Yet, the way they held each other, the way they grew wide, and withstood the direst of heat and rains, I realised, is the zenith of harmony and togetherness.

As I pedaled back, my mind reverberated with the voice of the crotons that echoed the universal concept of peaceful co-existence. The kind that demands us to accept the uniqueness of all identities and modes of being. That which relishes every single hue in the spectrum of humanity. A life that no longer insists on blossoms but learns to cherish the beauty of the bloomless. And therefore, the one that reconnects us to the relentless potential of nature where all it takes to grow, is a perspectival change.

Kavya R K is a Research Scholar at The Department of Indian and World Literatures, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. Her writings have been published in The Hindu Open Page, readingroomco.in , and in the anthology titled “100+ Splendid Voices“.

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

Categories
Musings

To Infinity & Beyond!

By Candice Louisa Daquin

Inclusiveness seeks to bridge gaps between peoples and places. Too often our parochial approach in life, leaves us alienated and estranged. But speaking of aliens … in the 2000’s it seems we are at last coming to the point in time where humans will begin to, if not live off world, then visit in greater numbers. Space travel? That’s truly borderless. How exciting to imagine traveling the universe and having our eyes opened to the immense possibilities of space!

Though the elites enjoy space travel, the question remains, will the human race en mass ever truly reach the stars and expand beyond Earth? With this in mind, I posit the following questions;

Is it viable?

Back in the 1950s there was a contagious worldwide fervour to go to space, fuelled by the fantasy of sci-fi writers and films that made this achievement seem imminent. Maybe after the two world wars and the fatigue of poverty contrasted with the hopefulness of better days ahead, we were finally able to dream. In a way, space travel has always been the purview of the dreamer. The Soviets launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik I, in October 1957. The competition and fear between America and the Soviet Union no doubt accelerated the development of space exploration during this time. Additionally, the cessation of world wars made this logistically more possible, and the knowledge gained from those wars was utilised to create space worthy ships. The race to get to space was a Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to develop their respective aerospace abilities and send satellites, space probes, and humans up into space. But the whole world was involved, with astronauts, scientists and researchers working together as much as they competed with each other.

In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin entered Earth’s orbit, in Vostok I, a space craft for one person, becoming the first man ‘in space’. In the 1960s, the US reached the moon (unless you believe that this was faked, in which case, film maker Stanley Kubrick made a faux film of reaching the moon, information on this can be found in the revealing documentary Room 237, by Rodney Ascher made in 2012!). If indeed the moon was reached, it seemed back then, this was just the beginning. There was a palpable obsession with the future. Technology that would get us to space gripped the United States and deeply influenced the cultural artefacts of the time. In 1955, Walt Disney paid consultants who worked on space-related projects to help him design the rocket ship rides of Disney’s Tomorrowland. Songs about space, art and fashion relating to space were all fascinations that beget the drive forward. Stanley Kubrick‘s film The Shining (1980) is supposed to have secret references to the faking of the lunar landing. Whether faked or real, the world believed humans landed on the moon and in a way that’s what counts most — perception.

Then wham! Our predictions of where we’d be by the 2000’s seemed vastly optimistic. For a plethora of reasons, not least, the sheer magnitude and cost of space travel. We were not riding on space elevators or darting around the universe by the 2000’s – so all those old shows predicting we’d be there by now, seemed to be just fantasy. Some people point to the Challenger explosion as the beginning of the end of American at least, space adventure. Cost, danger, the environment, many reasons can be ascribed but do not explain the extreme and total diminishment of interest. Once upon a time people pressed themselves to store fronts to watch old TV’s displaying live rocket takeoffs and now nobody seemed to care if America has abandoned her search for the stars. Was the interest just an epoch in time that has been replaced with other technologies and obsessions? How does this explain other countries who continue to fund and grow their space programmes? How can something as crucial as endeavouring to reach another world, be shelved in favour of the latest iPhone?

Astronauts have spoken out claiming the reason humans have only just returned to the lunar surface since 1973 (China just landed in 2020) isn’t based on science or technical challenges, but budget and political hurdles. This is easy to believe if you consider the American technology that landed them on the moon had less ‘tech’ than a modern-day scientific calculator. I remember going to Houston and seeing the original ‘space control’ and how tiny everything was and wondering how on earth they landed men on the moon and returned them safely. To advance that technology for further space exploration is both expensive, daunting and involves consistent agreement among politicians. Makes you wonder how it was ever made possible! The reason America funded the space race initially was because it was a point of pride (beating the Soviet Union) which as pathetic as that seems, seemed to gear up enough people to make it happen. Without that impetus, politics drowns the scientist and astronauts wish to advance space exploration.

The mother of invention isn’t just necessity, it’s also fantasy. Artists have long influenced inventors – think Star Trek and the low-tech ideas they had, which have been replicated more recently in flip-phones and video-chat. Sci-Fi writers and thinkers have influenced those who seek to go to space as much as anyone else. It could be argued there is no real delineation between fiction and reality in this case, owing to their mutual influence. If we could create a lunar base, scientists believe this base could evolve into a fuelling point for future further-flung missions into deep space. It could also lead to the creation of improved space telescopes and eventually enable us to live on Mars. We need to push ourselves to the next level of exploration – having relied upon ageing technologies that we have not funded sufficiently to advance. Now, billionaires like Elon Musk push for space tourism, rather than chronically underfunded agencies.

One of the biggest impediments, is how to pay and guarantee safety. NASA is under-funded and receives a tiny percentage of the overall US budget. Priorities go to the military and other immediate programs that are deemed more essential. Since this is political, it’s up to the public to generate an interest in space travel. Sadly, even when the Apollo program was at its greatest; after Aldrin and Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, only 53% of Americans said they thought the programme was worth the cost, according to a report in the Insider.With politicians changing too frequently to see through long-term investment space projects, this stymies those who believe space exploration should be prioritised. Buzz Aldrin has been strategising to get to Mars for over 30 years, as he lamented the lack of support space exploration receives. Aldrin and other experts agreed it must involve international cooperation: “A US-led coalition would include Europe, Russia, India, Japan and China, as well as emerging space nations the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and Saudi Arabia,” Aldrin said in an article in The Gaurdian. “We can afford to go to Mars but we must have fiscal discipline. We must focus our limited resources on only those things that are really necessary to get to Mars. In my view, we are currently spending over $6bn on programs we do not need to get to Mars. We need reusability, every element of the system.”

It’s nearly 2022 and we’re still not there en mass or reaching further. We’re told it’s possible but technologically there are hurdles to overcome, not least the effect of long-term space travel on the human body, or the effects of uncontrolled radiation from the (belt) or the methods by which we fuel vessels for such long-haul trips. Space radiation is one of the greatest risks for astronauts. “Determining astronaut health consequences following radiation exposure involve very complex processes,” stated Tony Slaba, Ph.D., NASA research physicist in a government website. “It’s difficult to quantify exactly how radiation is interacting with tissues and cells – and more complicated to quantify and determine what long-term outcomes are going to be in terms of the potential diseases and biological system effects.”

And that’s without touching on putting people into statis or some kind of sleep. We have great ideas and history tells us great ideas eventually become reality, but it’s taken us longer than we anticipated back then. Technologies like magnetic and water shielding have only gone so far and need to be prioritised if we’re to live off-planet. Another real threat, alien microorganisms, prions or diseases humans have zero exposure or immunity to. If we imagine what Covid-19 has wrought, it’s easy to see why bringing ‘space-bugs’ back to earth or exposing astronauts to unknown elements, could be fatal. Finding unbreakable ways of protecting everyone will prevent the science fiction horror stories from coming true. But what’s more likely? Thinking about potential dangers being brought back to Earth, or the excitement of exploration?

What does it bring us if we achieve it?

The people who will benefit from space travel won’t be you and I. It will be the trillionaires who can fund projects and much like early explorers they will exploit natural resources and profit from them. Whether they find planets made of diamonds or copper or other expensive minerals it will be they with their reach, who like plantation and slave owners will come out on top. One can argue this is a replication of the exploitation of the Earth, and those people working for the giant industries. I would agree. Does this mean all space exploration is without value? There is always value to reaching further, but it generally comes at a cost and requires exploiting the masses by the few. Pluses could include sending people off world to ease the burden on the planet as we become overpopulated. We might be able to terra form, and create liveable planets that can sustain life, although predictions suggest this would take lifetimes. One idea has been generation ships; where ships are able to manufacture a way to self-generate power and travel for long distances and time. Those in the ship may live their entire lives onboard and it may be their children or grandchildren who reach the final destination. The idea of sacrifice always exists when considering far-flung exploration, and this was often the case when people got into little wooden boats centuries ago in quest of unknown continents.

Can we learn from the mistakes made by early explorers? Or will we repeat history because it’s our nature? If we cannot create planets that are self-sustaining then we rely upon earth to supply those planets with food and water etc. and that’s less sustainable than not going off world. Potentially if we could make this work, it would be years in the future, but might give the human race the opportunity to significantly grow due to increased resources. Without this, we are stymied by the resources of one planet, which we are using up rapidly. Whether it’s a good thing to increase the human race throughout a galaxy or universe, remains unknown. We could be viewed as cockroaches or explorers, that’s up to the interpreter and our choices should we become a race of space farers.

A 2018 Pew Research Center poll showed the tide is turning, with the majority of voters saying NASA space exploration is necessary but majority want the skies scanned for killer asteroids. Maybe the way we get to space will change, in that we have to think of modern day, pragmatic methods of funding space travel, even if its in the guise of space tourism or tagging on the back of projects to protect the planet against killer asteroids. Maybe it will take another tragedy like an asteroid hitting the Earth to advance our current knowledge, as this seems to be the only way humans operate. We are less inclined to prevent disaster as to respond to it. Sadly, if the environment continues to be eroded, we may have no choice but to seek off-world options, and we don’t want to leave that option till it is too late to act. With dramatic weather pattern changes throughout the world, it’s never been more essential to protect Earth but we’ve not doing a very good job if the oceans and air pollution are anything to go by.

What are the potential down-sides?

It isn’t possible to talk about this without considering the many side-effects of space travel. Many I’ve already touched on but it’s worth really to reconsider history which has shown the penchant of humans to dominate and disrespect other cultures. Humans often consider themselves the ultimate alpha, the top dog, but in truth they could be replaced tomorrow depending on weather and climate and natural disasters, just as the dinosaurs were. We shouldn’t let our hubris make us forget our responsibility to our planet. Some argue space travel is a waste of resources and money because it’s looking beyond us rather than at what we already have. Shouldn’t we be fixing our home-grown problems before we focus on the skies? Others say we should look at the ocean before we consider space. Home grown issues include the devastation human beings have wrought on Earth, which most of us are familiar with.

Given we are reckless with our inventions. They benefit us but not necessarily the natural world around us. Is it any wonder to guess why expanding the human race can be a matter of concern? I’m not one who believes humans are the apex and that we are entitled to be. I predict one day we’ll give up our throne. But there’s the other side of me filled with the wonder of imagining what is out there. I mean, if space is infinite, which they have agreed upon, that means it never ends, a concept few of us can even understand or relate to. Imagine? Infinity. What does that even mean? When we humans begin-middle-end and everything around us does the same. It’s the true sense of forever, something larger than we will ever be. I’m filled with a fascination for a universe that doesn’t end, how do I wrap my head around that and comprehend the myriad possibilities this entails!

What I do know is if something never ends there literally are eternal possibilities meaning every possible eventuality must occur, because of the law of replication. There are only a certain number of creations that come from a universe containing certain components and those creations if given affinity, will reproduce in varied forms, but also replicate. I think this is where the concept of parallel universes comes from. Rather than a literal slice in time dividing one notion of reality from another similar but not the same version of reality. A universe that has no end, will eventually ‘play out’ every scenario, a little like you could crack any code if you had long enough to go through the permeations – but we don’t have time, so we don’t do that. The universe, however, does have time, infinite, so all that can be created will be, and all that has been created (including us) will be created (again) in shades of similarity. This I believe is where we get the concept of a parallel universe, although that’s not quite what it is.

If we add to this the concept of space and time, how time is not a set notion but rather, a perception based on humanity, the same goes for our understanding of the material world. In other words, we’re limited by our own physical presence and lifespan in our understanding of what is beyond us. For those like Steven Hawkins or Ashwin Vasavada (Project Scientist for NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity, in charge of a team of 500 researchers), they can see beyond what is literal and imagine like any great thinker, beyond what we know and assume, and extrapolate. This extrapolation includes quantum physics and the breaking away from normal modes of thinking to include things we’re only beginning to understand.

If time is not mutable, if concepts of reality really don’t exist as we assumed they did, then it throws everything into question. Is what we perceive as reality even remotely real? Or just a flawed, human-centric bias? And if the latter, the universe’s secrets are closed to the limitations of our minds? This is why some who have taken psychedelic drugs have said, sometimes the doorways of perception (Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, written about his experiences with mescaline in May 1953) must be opened differently. Huxley was in turn influenced by the poet William Blake who wrote: “If the doors of perception were cleansed then everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.”

Science, logic, mathematics, will probably provide us with many answers but in order for us, as sentient but limited-sentient beings, to evolve perceptively, we may need a further key to elucidate things beyond subjective perception. Some evaluation of psychedelic drugs as facilitators of mystical insight with great potential benefits for science could be that missing link.

Having read a great deal of science fiction, I wonder if I would think like this had the ideas not been implanted by some of those great science fiction tomes and operas. I suspect we build on what we learn, so nothing is entirely original, but in building on others, we may come closer to answers than if we operated in a vacuum. This is also true with making science fiction a reality. But just as our urge is to explore, we should be mindful of past mistakes as a race (human) and not repeat the colonialist model that only caused pain. Otherwise, life could be no more than a petri dish with us experimenter or experimented upon. There is more to life than conquer or absolute knowledge. There is the humility of experience and growing from it, which is something we often diminish. Perhaps spirituality and hard science are not after all, so incompatible.

Will it actually happen?

The development of nuclear-thermic powered propulsion systems to enable long-haul space-flight is essential to reduce crews journey time and make travel to Mars and beyond realistic. Heat shields to ensure landing is safer on unknown planets, would cut down on landing fatalities. Next generation space suits that are flexible and livable would allow explorers to spend more time in their suits than the suits of old that were not invented for long term use. There would also need to be a nuclear fusion style power system that enabled those landing on planets, to tap into power whilst on planet, and not fear running out. Radio systems used currently, can take up to nine years to send transmissions from say, Mars to Earth, so the development of technology like lasers to send information and communications rapidly would be essential. Scientists like Sharmila Bhattacharya (Director of Research in the Biomodel Performance Laboratory of the Space Bio-sciences Division, NASA) are spending decades researching the effects of the human body in space to understand how to survive, even thrive in space.

I’d love to think our progeny will reach space in a way we have yet to. Why? Because there is something fantastic about imagining us getting off-world and exploring. I think human beings are innately curious but like cats, their curiosity can be destructive. I would like a more utopian future, where we learn from prior mistakes and if we do reach space, we do so ethically. I don’t know if that’s possible, but anything less will be just another belching coal mine, suffocating those who work in it and those who live around it and that is not a dream I share.

Why is going to space so bewitching when we have unexplored oceans that we’re contaminating rather than exploring (Eight million metric tons: That’s how much plastic we dump into the oceans each year. That’s about 17.6 billion pounds — or the equivalent of nearly 57,000 blue whales — every single year. By 2050, ocean plastic will outweigh all of the ocean’s fish.). Without the ocean, the planet dies Is space travel selfish when starving people here on Earth need immediate help rather than pouring money into space flights that are at this time, only for the privileged? I think we all share a bigger dream of being ‘more’ than simply Earthlings. If a God exists maybe they don’t want us to go beyond these confines, or maybe they do. If a God doesn’t exist, then it seems obvious we’d want to go as far as we could, because again, this is our nature. It’s how we do it. And if we do it because we’ve ruined this planet, that’s a pretty good determinant that we’re going to make the same mistakes in space.  

Finally, is it necessary?

This is perhaps the most important question because we do a lot of things that are not strictly speaking necessary. Ever noticed how when someone gets money, they spend a lot of it on ‘unnecessary’ things? Why don’t some of these uber-rich people put money into worthy causes with the same intensity as frivolous? Why do those with money often need more? Why is the accumulation of material gain, so addictive? All this relates to a bigger question, a moral question. What is necessary versus what is not? For a rich person they go well beyond what is necessary in an ordinary sense because their wealth gives them more opportunity. Interestingly those who win the lottery are often said to be less happy after winning than before. Perhaps money is a double-edged sword. There is something to be said for adversity and earning our own way in the world, and a realistic measure. A bit like when you spoil and ruin a child because you indulged them and they no longer have a sense of the true worth of things.

We are very entitled when we get into those vaunted positions and perhaps things we think are necessary, are not. So how do we decide? Is it right for us to be a moral judge and tell others their dreams and excesses are not allowed? Realistically we could never control excess, so it’s not an option. There will always be people who live on different levels and have excesses the ordinary person cannot imagine. Those people may use up the resources we have to share, in greater quantity, which is bad. Or they may inadvertently propel our collective aspirations further. By having some of us who are capable of making dreams come true, the rest of us are swept along by the excess and the dream. In this sense, dreams are necessary, as they give us all something to aspire to, even if we may not literally be the one possessing the outcome of the dream.

I think it is necessary to have aspiration and fanciful dreams that aren’t strictly speaking practical or entirely pragmatic. Sometimes we just want to dream bigger than we are, because we know we are all going to die eventually, and we want something astounding. For some of us this may be God, for others it may be space (or it may be both). Without this, we revert back to the star gazers of the past, who probably also hoped their progeny would reach those stars but didn’t have the means to make it come true themselves. If you have the means, maybe you should use them, just as if you have the ability to invent and conceptualise, you do so. Maybe it’s an intrinsic collective wish that we should not neglect, by being entirely sensible. Maybe we won’t save the planet by aiming for the stars, but we might find a little magic.

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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

Categories
Musings

Kungfu Panda & Matrimony

By Alpana

Ay, you shall be together even in the
silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
…
And stand together and yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow

(‘On Marriage’, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, 1923)

What better way to describe the bond of marriage than through Gibran’s eloquent verses! Being married for over two years, any piece of writing on marriage that seems enlightening catches my attention instantly. Though, nothing substantial really comes out (every marital equation being different and unique) but why miss it when someone else is ranting, expressing, singing or explaining meticulously. Also, any similarity or dissimilarity may bring a cheer or a jeer on my face.

Currently, everyone in the world, irrespective of place, gender, nationality and creed, is struggling to thrive in the pandemic marred times. There is a constant push to remain afloat because “survival of the fittest” has emerged as the bitter truth rearing its head in every nook of the Earth. While headlines emerge as a frightful alarm on screens daily, what remains unreported is all that transpires in a typical household enduring the banters exchanged between spouses.

Being an assistant professor of English literature, I had often received unsolicited advice to marry someone who belonged to my profession. Well, my husband is a judicial officer, and I am glad that we have different fortes. Had it been otherwise, an unwanted competitive spirit might have taken deep hold. Why? Because that’s how marriage is, a never-ending tug of war where no one wins or loses but the game remains on for fun and adventure. In our case, the constant pulling is metaphorical at many levels. There’s a constant attempt by one to pull the other out of a deep trap called procrastination. Often the ‘art’ of procrastination is associated with husbands, but my spouse and I believe in parity in all fields. However, this phase came to a halt when this virus attacked humankind in an unprecedented manner beyond the reaches of all imagination and our country entered the seemingly endless period of lockdown. This is when people, locked into their homes all of a sudden, started digging deep into their inner selves only to come out alive with a slew of Instagram-worthy talents. That’s when some crisp and tangy flavours got accentuated in my marital life too.

When Gibran talks about ‘spaces’ in nuptial life in his work called ‘On Marriage’, one cannot agree more. There are times when we silently crib about being in dire need of a space. Partners often fear being outspoken in delineating such desire or else they get labelled as selfish, narcissist or indifferent. However, in most of the cases, the picture is coloured differently where space is not seen as a necessity. Being partners with different and demanding jobs respectively, it was difficult to erase these ‘spaces’ often standing wide and impermeable between us. However, with the advent of lockdown, we saw new horizons shining bright in variety of hues. During the pre-covid times, life was more work and less play, literally and at times metaphorically. During the pre-pandemic times, our jobs used to scoop out most of the zeal and left us all parched by the end of the day. Breakfast was done in a helter-skelter way; lunch was at workplace, but dinner time offered some respite from the daily grill.

One major reason is that my husband cooks some of the best meals in the world. We ate out frequently, as Gurgaon, the millennium city at the edge of New Delhi, was always briming with new and exotic options. However, the lockdown period unleashed the timid master chef hiding in my husband in all its glory. I am not exaggerating when I write this but after eating “pati ke haath ka khaana’ (food cooked by husband’s hand), I have become averse to the idea of eating out altogether. He creates magic in those woks and pans while I, standing beside him with a smile, just soak in the thrill and awe swaying in our kitchen. The food he prepares is not just a pretentious Instagram post but a key to my happiness and that, dear readers, is a rarity in an age where moments are only captured in pictures or videos. In my home, he captures them in the form of food cooked with love for the loved while I encapsulate them in hand-written letters. This brings me to other examples of how marriage of two different people with disparate interests leads to a household reverberating with diversification.

During our stay at home and work from home spree, we explored a bundle of things about each other which were otherwise not much thought (read, fought) over. They say that marriage is a union of two minds. Easier said than done, I would comment. The list of uncommon interests my husband and I have is a long one. While I am into reading, movies, Instagram and treating shopping as a pacifier, he is not even on social media. Watching romantic movies is a big no, since his profession includes grappling with myriads of clashes, marital disputes being one of them. From misplaced towels, spectacles and other such basic articles to painstakingly agreeing upon one OTT (over the top media service) pick for movie night, the reasons behind every day tussles are umpteen. He is traditional while I run away from family functions imploring me to unveil the true bahu (bride) apparently hidden somewhere in a deep corner inside me. Luckily, he helps me sail through such familial gatherings without any serious damage. He has a mentally exhausting job and to remedy all that fatigue, he talks to me, about our past trips, the movies we both loved, our first meeting, the issues troubling him, etc. I learn how to be a good householder from him, while he, as he puts it, soaks in all the positivity and encouragement my outlook emanates. That’s how our relationship becomes more than that of just marriage, it is a bond of companionship which cherishes being each other’s confidante and being practical and real.

Is it always “sugar and spice and everything nice”? Absolutely not. For days, it is but for the other days, we unleash our cynical sides. Because what is marital life really without a dash of skepticism and sarcasm. Besides being sugary and spice, it turns sour too. In other words, it keeps the palate guessing the mood of the day. It’s an unrepeatable blend of a variety of ingredients only the partners know because it’s their adored secret.

My marriage was an arranged one where the match is approached in probably stone cut objectivities. Days passed and new-found treasures of joys and revelations came to the fore. The pre-marital jitters, unsought opinions about marriage and the consequent chaos were soon left behind to make way for what was new and exciting. Marriage is a box full of surprises popping loudly to see the light of the day. What is important is to find the right time to unlock it and see the magical rollercoaster zip into focus lest the popping fades away. It is definitely not less than a rollercoaster because it will never fail to amaze you or give you the thrill, pun intended, in unimaginable ways. It’s chaotic when the Venn diagrams of each other’s interests find no overlap. It’s a boon when you are understood without uttering anything. It’s messy when one is a sloth while the other is a germophobe. It becomes a godsend when you come home to an appetizing food after a long day at work. It’s a blessing when half of the problem is solved just by sharing and being listened to. It’s therapeutic when your rants and mood swings are endured without any judgement or prejudice. In a nutshell, marriage cannot be put in a definition carrying a fixed set of words. The word ‘fixed’ is amiss in relation to marriage unless addressing the ‘roka’(obstacles), of course. Marriage is ever evolving and in progression with every day adding a new chapter to all that is tangled and sorted in the course of this voyage. It will always be witnessed as brimming with vicissitudes and symmetrical beams of bliss along with few asymmetrical ones.

The fun lies in its unpredictability and at times may feel like a stormy sea. But remember what Master Oogway once told Po, let the waves settle down because only then will the sunshine illuminate the bottom to make the solutions clear.

Alpana is working as an assistant professor at a government college of Gurugram. Besides reading books and clicking pictures, she can also be spotted tickling her infant or recommending movies to her husband which he eventually regrets watching. 

Categories
Musings

Simon Says

By Ishita Shukla

‘Simon Says’ is a children’s game for three or more players. One player takes the role of Simon and issues instructions to the other players, which should be followed only when prefaced with the phrase — “Simon says”. It was a fun and vibrant game we played as children. Little did I know that as a girl, the game would be embedded into my own life.

“Simon says” girls shouldn’t be alone in the vicinity of males because apparently half of the world’s population is a threat to the other half. And mind you, this is the rule of well-educated Indian families as a large proportion of girls are not allowed to step out of the house at the onset of darkness. Superficially, more and more families are encouraging girls to be independent and strong but are oblivious to the fact that we are taught to be cautious and are raised to be preventive. On one hand, we are taught to be outspoken and on the other to shush to save our “izzat” (honour). Funny how one chromosome can establish a whole discriminatory community? Funny how women are also the ones blamed for this because of the premonition that women are responsible for the sex of a child, even though it is biologically impossible for us! I guess it’s just the inability of the smartest species on the planet to open their mind just a tad. 

“Simon says” that women should be ready to give up their hopes and ambitions for the sake of their families. After all, we were born to make sacrifices, weren’t we? Why do you ask? Because we don’t have enough muscles and can’t speak in an authoritative tone like men. Oh, and also because men are raised to be dominating and are free to control women’s lives.

Simon says that women should pass on their legacies to their daughters. The legacy is none other than to play ‘Simon Says’ with a fake smile plastered on their face. I respect the progress we have made, but the reality is pellucid and we have a long way to go. Not just for men to thoroughly understand the privileges they are assigned, but also for women on how to stand against these privileges. 

In conclusion, I would like to introduce you to our Simon in my India — they are the societal norms.

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 Ishita Shukla is an aspiring writer from India. Through her writing, Ishita likes to put the spotlight on the less discussed topics and pour her heart out on  paper.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author and not of Borderless Journal.

Categories
Musings

Taking an unexpected turn

By Nitya Pandey

In the world of short-lived relationships, I used to believe that taking chances with strangers was a folly.

While trying to learn Korean, something that I did during the pandemic while locked up in my hometown, I chanced upon a post on a language learning community. A woman, not much older than me, from Incheon in South Korea, was looking for a language partner, who could help her with English. In return, she was happy to help out the partner with Korean. She was fairly comfortable with English, just that she needed somebody to have conversations with to build fluency.

In one of my rare bouts of extraversion, I told her that I would love to be her partner, the only caveat being that I was just starting out with Korean and would therefore need a lot of help. She agreed.

My efforts with learning a third language (English and Hindi being the first two) had turned out to be major disasters in the past, with multiple failed attempts at mastering French and Italian. I thought that my journey with Korean too, would not be very different. Writing it off as a fleeting distraction, I was sure that I would turn to other things once the world opened up. But…

With the days of handwritten letters and pen pals being a thing of the past, I never thought that this exchange would be anything more than a dusty memory, locked away in my mind’s attic after a few months.

Avid planners that both of us were, we started by laying down a pretty elaborate map to conquer the languages ‘foreign’ to us, painstakingly chalking out the routes we’d take, the pit stops we’d make and the milestones we’d cross together. We were both equally excited to embark on this journey, with all the prep work done successfully– books bought, stationary stocked and motivational quotes ready on the walls to fire us up. We took the first steps cautiously, like accidental travelers thrown together by the circumstances. We had no choice but to lean heavily on each other. With mutual support fueling our desire to keep moving, we gradually broke into short walks and came to enjoy them. We were soon walking about in abandon, with our conversations peppered with Korean and English phrases, slang and more.

A few months in, we started sharing glimpses into our lives: the spaces we lived in, the people we loved, the films we adored, the music that inspired us, the food we loved and the places we wanted to travel to. She had studied in Moscow, been all over Europe and Southeast Asia, being a textile trader and now lived in South Korea. I, on the other hand, had lived all my life in India with a few years spent in Colombo. She preferred films to books and cats to dogs, unlike me.  I loved collecting old books and postcards, a pursuit she couldn’t fathom in this day and age.

I often wonder about the point when we made the transition from unfamiliarity to friendship to sisterhood. I started calling her Unnie (Korean for a woman/sister older than you) and we started speaking in Banmal (casual Korean) instead of formal Korean. She would try out my mother’s recipes that I shared while I would listen to Korean music and watch films she recommended. She agreed to give reading fiction a shot and ended up crying over characters who fell on hard times. I used to help her make posters for a pet shelter that she volunteered for while she helped me build study material for English lessons that I would take for an NGO. I shared snippets of the refreshing monsoons and chai while she sent me pictures of the remarkable cherry blossoms, the snow piling up and steaming bowls of ramen.

We were soon sharing our hopes and dreams across the countless miles that separated us, across cultures that had moulded us into two very different people. We had grown to find a ‘home’ in each other; long conversations in Konglish (a mix of Korean and English) about joys and sorrows of moving jobs, leaving our families behind, losing a pet and thinking about the kind of future we wanted for ourselves. Calming my frantic soul, Unnie had opened a new world of living and of simply ‘being’. Learning to be my own woman, I could have never imagined that a stranger, I hadn’t met and who lived countries apart, would become a cherished part of my life.

A year down, I still wonder about the stroke of fate that got two kindred spirits together, trying to navigate their way though the confused age of late 20s and 30s. Wrapped in the wind, feeling aflutter, I am learning to take chances, bet on people and drench myself in the ‘kaleidoscope of experiences’ that life brings.

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Nitya Pandey is an Organisational Learning Advisor with a degree in History. An avid Austen fan, she loves all sorts of fiction and prefers staying in to read over weekends. She likes to journal her experiences as a way of capturing some of her cherished memories and has a fascination with all things ‘old’– forts, art, books, music and cinema.

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Categories
Musings

Leo Messi’s Magic Realism

By Saurabh Nagpal

Though it emerged as a political response to Eurocentric, objective forms of literature, magic realism is a postcolonial literary mode, which in its most elementary sense, fuses the fantastic, the magical, the mythical, the imaginary, the supernatural with the realistic, displaying the unbelievable in everyday, modern society in a very normal and acceptable manner. Unlike surrealism, this literary form does not make grandiose claims of transcending reality and unlike realism, it does not aim to represent one absolute Truth, rather it seeks to amplify the scope of and incorporate variant realities. One way in which magic realism functions is that it strives to defamiliarise the mundane, that is, to open alternatives, differing points of view on commonplace things and phenomena for its audience, thereby presenting newer realities. This literary form aspires to heighten the awareness of life’s connectedness or hidden meanings for its reader.

German intellectual, Franz Roh, coined the term ‘magic realism’ in 1925, however, the sense in which he used the term differs mightily from the literary genre that was responsible for the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s and 70s, and the revival of the novel form. The genre of magic realism finds its essence and context in the socio-political reality of Latin America. Alejo Carpentier, in his essay, On the Marvellous Real in America, delineates that in magic realism “improbable juxtapositions and marvellous mixtures exist by virtue of Latin America’s varied history, geography, demography, and politics – not by manifesto.” Gabriel García Márquez, a champion of this form, often elucidated that magic realist writings were unfathomable or were things to marvel at for a Western or a non-Latin-American reader, but for the natives, the so-called magical or imaginary was merely a part of their reality.

Lionel Andrés Messi, born on June 24, 1987, in Rosario, Argentina, hails from the land of literary giants and masters of the magic realism genre like Jorges Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar. Anyone who even has an inkling of football would have, most certainly, heard the name of Messi. Those more familiar with the beautiful game would be aware of the ridiculous records that he has set, the feats that he has achieved, the trophies that he has won, individual and collective, and so forth.

While his achievements are quantifiable, to a limited extent, in terms of goals, assists, trophies, and in the numerous new forms of statistical and analytical data catalogue tools that are emerging with the speed of light in the football industry, his greatest accomplishments still remain in the qualitative and emotional realm – he is a professor of joy and jubilance; a distributor of dreams; an inspiration to millions; a poet of bodily, sporting, and physiological aesthetics.

Messi’s astonishing or as the commentator Ray Hudson might put it, “magisterial” goals and moments of sheer excellence on the greens of a football turf are unforgettable and hence, very well documented, whether it be the dribbling wondergoal against Getafe in 2007 or against Real Madrid in the 2011 Champions League semifinal or against Athletic Bilbao in the 2015 Copa Del Rey final or that herculean header against Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League final or the outrageous chip against Real Betis in La Liga in 2019 or against Bayern Munich in the 2015 Champion’s League semifinal or the motley of searing free kicks that he has scored over the years. Honestly, the list is unending.

However, I want to emphasize that there is magic present in most, if not all, games that Messi plays in; that this magic is his every game reality; that he, in a way, defamiliarises football through his ability and body. This magic does not only exist in the dumbfounding, jaw-dropping goals that he scores or the killer assists that he makes (although it is most perceptible in such moments) but it also percolates through his whole manner of playing. It even resides in the seemingly less productive or significant things and movements that he performs on the field.

He stands at 5 feet 6 inches and visibly does not have the towering physique of an ultra-athlete that is fast becoming the norm of the game. He often slouches, bides his time by walking during a game, but his strolls are purposeful. While sauntering, he usually reads the game, mentally maps his surroundings, and acquires a nuanced kinesthetic awareness of his region. He does not have one of the fastest brains in the game for no reason.

Messi speaks the loudest when he has the ball at his feet. One of my friends said that his feet possess a strong spiritual connection with the ball. With the ball, he behaves like a child who just would not let go of his favourite toy. The thirty-four-old has championed the skill of dribbling and demonstrates it in its easiest, simplest form. He hardly performs flamboyant tricks, rather he makes efficient use of speed, time, and space by cunningly manipulating them. He can accelerate and stop dead and go again with rapid quickness. He shimmies, skims, skitters, skips, scampers with the ball at differing speeds and intensity in differing contexts, but is always oriented to solve some footballing problem. Repeatedly, with a drop of a shoulder or a twist of his body or a sudden change of direction, he opens newer perspectives and avenues to exploit on the field, making the viewer feel like a fool for not perceiving earlier that this move was also a possibility, that this route could have also been a reality. Similarly, the range of passes that he pulls off combined with his incisive vision that again and again opens the football field, like it is mozzarella on a pizza, show the diversified points of view that are visible to him, and with actions, he makes them visible to others as well. This is what is meant by defamiliarising events on a football field.

From his interviews and social media presence, Messi comes across as a shy, humble, quiet person in his private life but on the pitch, he is La Pulga Atomica, which translates as The Atomic Flea. A week after the start of 2021 Copa América, Jonathan Liew wrote in The Guardian, “Even at his (Messi’s) advanced age, is there a more purely expressive footballer in the world right now? A footballer with a richer or more varied vocabulary? Perhaps it’s no surprise that when you can perform something to the proficiency and complexity of language, a lot of people will confuse it with talking.” Like Liew, many others have also stated that Messi talks and expresses through playing football. I would like to take this notion further and assert that – like many postcolonial (among others) authors who understand language’s limitedness and its inability to express something fully, yet they seek to expand the scope of language by using innovative ways and choosing genres like magic realism (among others) – Messi too, through his style of play, his movements, his use of his body, in a way, tries to broaden the scope of footballing language.

Pep Guardiola once said, “Don’t write about him, don’t try to describe him, just watch him.” While Guardiola was implying that the genius of Messi was beyond description, he was also, through words and language, paradoxically describing the Argentinian. Articulating through paradoxes and by breaking binaries is another deconstructionist, postcolonial technique that writers regularly resort to when employing the conventions of the magic realist genre. And to comprehend what Messi does on the field, we are forced to make avail of paradoxes, contrasts, metaphors, and extra-terrestrial epithets because simple language fails us, even though he simplifies and unwraps football.

Eduardo Galeano, in his book, Soccer in Sun and Shadow appropriately pens, “The technocracy of professional sport has managed to impose a soccer of lightning speed and brute strength, a soccer that negates joy, kills fantasy, and outlaws daring.” However, Leo Messi, Barcelona and Argentina’s magical reality, drops his shoulder, shifts his body weight, and gracefully ballets pasts this assertion to stand for everything Galeano was longing for. Even in this contemporary football industry, Messi makes us feel the sport with such an intensity, such a passion that we are moved to express his play while, simultaneously, failing to do justice to it in our expression. 

Saurabh Nagpal is an aspiring sports journalist who loves cricket, football, and tennis, but a lot more than that also, beyond the field of sports. Follow him on Instagram @SportMelon_, Facebook @SportMelon, and Twitter @saurabhnagpal19

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