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Musings

In the Winter Sun

A special for the Republic Day of India by Nishi Pulugurtha, what will it be like this year with social distancing and the global pandemic

The Republic Day of India being observed by school students wearing traditional clothes. Photo courtesy: Wiki

Christmas this year was a quiet affair like most other festive days for the past nine months of 2020. The pandemic has changed much of life as it was for all and for me. I have been indoors mostly.  Work and reading has kept me busy for much of the time. Online classes and examinations tire me but then reading and writing keeps me pleasantly occupied. And yes, cooking too. As the sun mellowed and temperatures dropped a little, I began to spend some time in the afternoon sun in the backyard. The water tank is my seat and a few plants around add to the ambience. A few colourful butterflies flitter around, the neighbour’s cat mews as it moved around.

I sat in the afternoon sun catching up on a novel that arrived a few days ago when I heard a voice. The two little girls in the red building just beside my apartment building were back again. They were at their mamar bari (maternal uncle’s house). The little one, the younger of the two, asked me what I was doing. The last time she was here, she was mostly quiet, following her sister around. It was the older one who did most of the talking. This time, the older one played a more protective role – that of the elder sister. When I expressed my surprise, she told me that the little one talks a lot nowadays. She, for one, still had online classes to attend to, she made it a point to tell me that. The mother looked out from the window with a warning — the little one asks too many questions and that they will keep coming. She added that if I was doing something important, I would be constantly disturbed. I smiled at them. 

I answered her question, told her that I was reading a book. She then wanted to know what the book was about. I told her it was a story book. She then asked me my name. When I told her, she repeated it after me. Then again, she asked me why I was sitting outside. And she went on and on. The questions kept coming. She had a small doll and she showed it to me. She wanted to see what I had in my hand. I show her the book. I know she could not see it clearly as she was on the second floor. But then, she was happy to see it. I guess, she was happy that I responded to her. A little later, she was joined by her older sister who smiled and told me they were going for lunch, reassuring me they would be back soon.

I smiled at the two at that window and as the questions stopped and the two disappeared, went back to the novel. The sun was on my back, a little kitty on the wall under the neem tree. As it got warmer, I moved indoors. I could hear their goings on. It was time for my classes too.

Today, I heard that familiar voice again. We have been talking almost every day now. She told me she has a book too. She told me she is reading. She even had a pencil in her hand. I asked her about her book, and she began a tale – a tale of a princess imprisoned in a big house. She tries showing me the pictures in her book. “Can you see the pictures?” she asks. I smiled at her and listened to the bits and pieces of her story. The older one appeared at the window bars, smiled at me and said that she had been reading that story to her sister. The little one wanted to read, everyone else around was doing so.

It is nice to see the book in her hand, her interest in them and in stories. It was also sad to note that they are, like most of us, stuck in small spaces. I hear the voices of these two girls ‘playing’ with the two young boys on the opposite terrace. Their play was verbal, they could not meet, run about or fight. One of the best childhood memories that I have is playing on the street just in front of our home. In winters we played badminton, our racquets would be out and dusted and shuttlecocks bought and kept ready. We lost many of the shuttlecocks. They would fall into the open drain, get completely wet and dirty, would land up on trees, would get damaged too soon. We took turns to buy them. There were plastic ones available too, and though they lasted longer we didn’t like them. We played singles and doubles as well – pushing and jostling on that road in the para (colony). We would stop for a passing vehicle and then get back to it, all over again. 

It is not just because of the times we are in, running around and playing on the streets is almost a thing of the past these days. There are other things that keep children more occupied and other activities too. Times change and so do norms. I just hope that these little ones get a nicer space to live in. As I go on with work, the headphones plugged in, cutting me from sounds excepting the ones that emanate from the laptop, I move, for some time, into another world, a world that most of us have got used to in these COVID-worn times. In one of my classes, one student says that since Republic Day was approaching and that we would still be online connected virtually, maybe in one class we could just talk about how our lives have been affected by the pandemic. “There would be the flag hoisted at college,” someone else chipped in.

“Yes,” said another, “but we wouldn’t be there. So, it would be interesting to talk about the scenario now.”

“I saw flags being made in a house nearby,” said another. I agreed to the idea immediately. I would surely like to hear about what young minds feel and think about things happening around us.

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Nishi Pulugurtha’s works include a monograph Derozio, travel essays Out in the Open, edited volume of travel essays Across and Beyond, and The Real and the Unreal and Other Poems

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Musings

Pandemic Tales: The Diary of a Hypochondriac

 By Mayuresh V. Belsare

Everyone we know has been fighting in their own ways in these uncertain times. My own conflicts have spanned from being highly emotional to confused and anxious. A lot of it would have remained buried in the pages of my diary had it not been for this urge to share my personal experiences from the COVID timelines. Here’s a peek into my personal journey from such times that I hope will entertain you no less, provided you believe in divine intervention.

In the past few weeks and months, we have understood the importance of focusing only on the meaningful aspects of our day to day life. I have always believed that in mitigating hurdles of existence, the universe comes to your rescue in the form of divine intervention. My everyday travel companion and faculty colleague, Apurva Bhilare, cackled unapologetically with unbridled joy upon hearing this. She agreed with me when I explained that I have coined this phrase to describe how much relaxed one feels to be unexpectedly relieved of some mundane, tedious and boring tasks, which if not done wouldn’t have made significant impact on many lives. At this, she too wished such divine interventions would come to her rescue as she planned to take leave and get married by the year end.

This divine intervention has helped us all to take a pause and take a relook at our lives. In my case the first six months proved to be peaceful. However, in the month of September, I got my first jolt. My wife had contracted an infection from the Corona virus. She resides in Mumbai and it was difficult for me to be by her side as I am based out of Pune.  Some did try to urge me to her side saying work should not be a hindrance in fulfilling my duties towards my family. Staying true to my nature and relying upon my wisdom, I did eventually ignore their conventional advice. But it got me thinking — am I slave to work or love? Or is my work my love? Turns out I am as ruthless as this system that compels an individual to beat machines at giving uninterrupted output.

A self-confessed hypochondriac, I was getting restless by this time. And I didn’t have to wait for long before I experienced the symptoms myself. The stage was set for an action packed sequence. The frequency of ayurvedic concoctions also known as kadhas* was increased to thrice a day. Other immunity boosting tablets cropped up on my workstation. Breathing exercises became my constant companion. Consulting a physician was the last resort on the action plan. Frantic calls were made to my scientist brother in the US and his advice sought. And yes, spirituality suddenly invaded my otherwise predictable life with all of its aura and myriad charm.

By this time my wife had conquered the initial fear and she had become stable. She said one need not panic and should try to stay calm. Surprisingly, she asked me to get tested if I continued to feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, my brother had asked me to wait and watch since he was well aware of my hypochondriac self. Genetically blessed with acute acidity that acts up in mysterious ways, I had experienced many of its scary manifestations in the past few months — from racy heartbeats to bouts of uneasiness.

Yes, I realised that in the past few months of the pandemic-imposed social isolation, I had valiantly braved innumerable onslaughts of this multi-headed demon, which included enduring unmanageable headaches to unexplained erratic heartbeats and what not. Add to this the unending and irrational work pressures day in and out. As a result, I had started contemplating an untimely termination of the drive to go ahead at all. Looking back, I can fearlessly confess to a severe depression without any inhibition. Once again I realised the need for family support. I have always believed that seeking any outside help is not only unscientific but also a sheer waste of hard earned money.

So, here I was popping homeopathy and ayurvedic tablets in the hope of driving away that familiar yet detestable throat infection that typically began as a sore throat and grew scarier with every passing hour. The unnerving news of my dear friend and another senior office colleague having fallen prey to the pandemic and being in hospital added to my anxiety.

However, it was not going to be easy for me to take any tests since it would mean pulling my septuagenarian parents into the melee. To make matters worse, a severe bout of cough had seized my mother. So, for a while I forgot my discomfort and, instead, took over her role. I made the poor creature swallow and ingest everything I could lay my hands on from her vast repertory of ayurvedic and homeopathy medicines. A diabetic patient, taking her out for any more tests would have jeopardised her health. The same went for my father. Though non-diabetic and healthy, his chronic cough coupled with exposed risk would have made matters worse.So, here I was, concealing my anxiety and putting on a brave face.

Then I could take it no longer. I called up my family physician. In the first call itself, he advised me to observe home isolation and immediately do a couple of tests including a chest x-ray. At the same time, he prescribed the medicines which are administered to COVID patients. From that moment, the pulse oximeter, thermometer and the blood-pressure measuring kit became my constant companion. For the next few days, the meticulousness with which I tabulated my hour-by-hour progress would have found a mention in any medical journal though it now remains reduced to pretty memorabilia.  Also, I wish I could explain to my physician how irrational his idea of self-isolation at this stage was as my parents and I had already shared our collective biota many times over within this period. Also, logic said that we would have to consume the same medicines irrespective of the infection.

Needless to say, when the physician called up the next day, as they had to keep records of patients with symptoms, he was furious as I had not done any tests. In desperation he asked me to report immediately should I experience further discomfort. By this time, my mother was back to her enthusiastic self and immersed in the preparation for hosting the annual ritual of the Navratri Puja* at home.

In retrospect, all of this looks a bit weird. But that’s how life is — it’s never all that simple, or is it for you? Fortunately, with divine intervention all was well and continues to be well. Apurva, I now hear has embarked on her journey of marital bliss too.

But hey, wait! What’s that with the second wave–I am feeling some soreness in my throat again.

*khadas: A homemade preparation using easily available spices and condiments

* Navaratri Puja: A ten-day long worshiping ritual of the goddess Durga

Mayuresh Belsare is a faculty at the Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, Vishwakarma University, Pune. His love for writing includes copywriting and writing for the audio-visual medium.

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Musings

From the Pages of a Soldier’s Diary…

By Mike Smith

My adoptive father was too old for military service when war broke out in 1939, but young enough by 1941 to be sent to India with the RAF (Royal Air Force), where he stayed until after that war’s end.

I’ve served, but not in an army, for five years under difficult circumstances, though nowhere near as difficult, and not half a world away from everything I knew about and had been led to believe. So, I have only an inkling of the stress he must have been under.

I have a couple of tiny diaries that he kept. Diaries were illegal for soldiers, I believe, which might explain their size. But they were sufficient for what he had to record, which by the second volume had reduced mostly to the chiselled capitals, day after day, of no mail.

I had, and to my regret, lost, a small pamphlet of Hindustani, issued to him by the Wild Woodbines cigarette brand. I can still count to ten – ek, doe, teen* and some more but probably not with good inflection. And phrases, the meanings of which have faded, can be brought to mind and tongue like fragments of old tunes. For a short time during my childhood, my father employed a man from the sub-continent, and he taught me a little more. I suspect he was badly treated, perhaps unknowingly, probably without conscious malice, by the other workers and left under circumstances that smacked, even to my child’s eye and ear, of dogs going to live on a farm.

His very presence, I think, must have owed something to my father’s experience of India. It had pervaded his consciousness and never left him. Neither did the malaria he had caught there. Throughout my childhood in the fifties, I was a chota wallah*, and slept in a charpoy, and was exhorted to jaldi jao*, not, I suspect, the politest way to summon or dismiss someone.

Quite co-incidentally I encountered an ‘old soldier’ of doubtful veracity, who plied me with British Army issue ration blocks dated to the 1940s, among which were ‘curry’, probably of the lamb or goat variety. To these, water was added, and the mush boiled. The smell was nice. I liked curry. But father would light a cigar, just as he did when our dog farted, and he’d reminisce about India, not fondly. The poverty and dirt had appalled him. He had misunderstood, or at least not become aware of the taboos on which hand did what. Yet he’d taken part in a failed distribution of tinned beef raided from the quartermaster’s stores, equally appalled at people literally dying in the streets of starvation, while the cinema reassured British troops of the vast food supplies kept for emergencies.

The Hindus had refused the meat, with a hostility that he never understood, but their refusal in the face of death both amazed him, and, I believe, destroyed his faith in the religion of his own country — he had a pious sister who, he told me, could never have made such a sacrifice for her faith. He had a brother-in-law too, who was a conscientious objector, and would never hear a word said against him. I think the Indian experience might have contributed to that. He told me also of a hut full of his comrades being ‘rescued’, from a harmless snake that was occupying the threshold, by one of the punka wallahs*, a man who never by word or smirk, he said, ever betrayed their moment of terror.

Sadly, my father died before I was old enough to have a really grown-up conversation with him about it.

So, India, though I’ve never been there, and though I’ve never talked to more than a handful of people who have lived there, has always been on the periphery of my life. My father had a camera with him and was far more of a photographer than he was a diarist. The black and white contact prints — from a Leica 35mm I believe — show jungles and deserts and temples and street scenes, even those streets with the dying upon them. They show servicemen in shorts and tropical kit, mostly standing in front of vehicles or planes. They show local workers on government service, which may or may not be the source of an acronym used in pay-books that has become tainted with misuse.

Since a short trip to China in the 1980s where a man dressed in military uniform welcomed us at Beijing airport with a smile (the smile seeming more fundamental than the uniform, I recognised he was just like me), I’ve believed we are all closer than we are distant, though we often stand or crouch on different sides of barricades erected in error and folly and for the benefit of those who would control us.

Recently I’ve had the good fortune to be rewarded with commendations and prizes in a series of flash fiction competitions run out of India, and to have the occasional piece taken for use in journals. For the years that I ran my BHDandMe blog, the 3rd largest group of readers was from India. Perhaps that drew me to reading writers whose names I don’t know how to pronounce and whose landscapes I have never seen except on a screen. And that’s been good for me, and in a strange way has brought me closer not only to them, but to the memory of my father.

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*ek, do, teen…: 1, 2,3… counting in Hindustani

*chota wallah: small man

*jaldi jao: Go fast

*punkah wallah: manual fan operators.

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com 

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Hope comes in strange shapes

Keith Lyons looks back at challenges of 2020, and expectation that lessons learned will translate into action in 2021.

‘Hope comes in strange shapes, when you don’t expect it’

Ray by The Muttonbirds

There are two things we all need going into the new year 2021, one is the temporary painful prick of a needle where your arm meets your shoulder, the other is an optimistic state of mind expecting and wanting things to change for the better.

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the year 2020 seemed far away. 

Yet it held so much promise.

That future date, boosted by science and technology, would usher in a high-tech world of chatty robot servants, human jetpack suits and anti-gravity flying cars. By 2020, I had somehow come to believe the notion that telepathy would be the main form of communication, and that books and newspapers would be a thing of the past. I might even get bored by the slowness of personal jetpacks, so would (naturally) prefer teleportation. 

By the year 2020, nobody would have to work, everyone would have so much leisure time, and life expectancy would be over 100, I surmised from young adult sci-fi books from the library and Popular Science magazines. 

So how did 2020 work out for me? 

Probably pretty much the same way it worked out for you. 

The year 2020 proved to be a big year, or as President Trump said ‘bigly’ — or was it is really ‘big league’.

Either ways, the year brought together the world’s 7.6 billion human inhabitants and also kept us apart. Not since the Second World War has the entire globe’s population been so affected by a global event: a pandemic.

The actual coronavirus, also variously known as ‘the China Virus’, ‘the ‘Rona’, ‘the boomer remover’ so tiny and small it can’t be seen with the naked eye. It is way smaller than a single red or white blood cell. But like a mosquito in a room with an elephant, coronavirus has been the main irritant as it has spread beyond Wuhan to our communities, aged-care facilities, hospitals, and loved ones. Only a few remote spots on Earth have so far evaded COVID. 

The virus, which is new on the scene having probably come from bats in a Yunnan cave via the Chinese live animal trade network, is not just extremely infectious and contagious in its transmission from human-to-human, but its fatality rate is much, much higher than influenza, possibly as high as 3%.

With only 13 months of study into the impact and quirks of this new virus, it is still too early to know the extent of the havoc coronavirus causes, but already we are seeing not just many deaths (coming up to 2 million worldwide), but also far-reaching consequences for those that get it and those working to treat the afflicted. Already there’s talk of ‘Long COVID’, with the effects of the virus lingering for months beyond the initial illness. While in late 2020 several fast-tracked vaccines were released for general use, there is still no cure with no drugs proven to treat or prevent coronavirus. 

You don’t need me to tell you this, but for most people, the universal experience of the pandemic has meant 2020 has been dubbed ‘a roller coaster’  by many, others preferring the oft-used ‘unprecedented’, while some call it like it is — ‘dumpster fire’. Amid the fear and the losses, we have all asked ourselves some serious questions about our life and the meaning of life itself.

“Most of all, perhaps, it is the year of not knowing,” wrote J.M. Berger in The Atlantic. These were the questions he brought up. Is it safe to send my kids to school? Can I go to the store? Do I still have to wipe down the mail?  The quandary for many in 2020 included ‘is it safe to go to work’ (do I still have a job?), ‘is it safe to exercise’, and ‘can I trust the government/public health officials’? 

I’ve got to confess, even though at the start of 2020 I was travelling in India, Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia, by mid-February, I arrived in my homeland of New Zealand. The following month we were put under lockdown which lasted five to seven weeks, effectively ‘flattening the curve’ and eliminating the virus from community transmission. I am one of the few people to watch the movie Tenet in a movie theatre surrounded by other audience members. Over 2020, and into the first week of 2021 with the attempted coup by Trump, watching the news has been surreal and disturbing. 

As we tend to do, the year-end is a time for reflection on the past 12 months, and a looking forward to the new year. But it is safe to say that few people have had a stellar 2020, with most wanting to get it over with and welcome in 2021. There’s been an interesting reaction I have noticed among some, who somehow thought that if we just make it to 31 December 2020, everything will be alright. As if the bad things from 2020 will not carry over. Yet it did.

We go into the new year with rising infection rates from the pandemic, many countries clocking up record days for infections and deaths. Let’s not forget the backdrop of economic crisis and of course, climate change. And on top of that the technical problems for the first-time users of Zoom. 

There are two important ideas that many are carrying into the New Year. The first is a technical solution to our problem, a vaccine which will not only possibly prevent individuals from getting the infection, but also lead to more immunity in our communities.

Actually, there’s more than one vaccine, with around 50 vaccines currently in trails, and some have already rolled out since December. The aim is for 70% of populations to be vaccinated to stop the pandemic. Already some 24 million shots have been given across 41 countries, according to the Bloomberg tracker. That’s quite impressive in a short time. Think of all the bodies now building up their natural immunity to be able to prevent contracting the illness and also passing it on to others. However, in the last year nearly four times as many people — 90 million — have caught COVID. 

As well as the prick in the arm of the vaccine, there’s another associated concept many expectantly have carried from 2020 into 2021, and that’s hope. While for some it is the belief that surely this year can’t be any worse than last year, for many there is some light at the end of the tunnel, and the prospects of 2021 being a re-set year when we move towards a world that is more equitable, sustainable and just. After a year of postponement, suffering, hardship and despair, there’s some momentum going forward, a cautious optimism, an empowered sense of resilience, and a belief that together we’re not going to be defeated by a deadly virus. 

Looking back on the last year, which saw some questions raised on whether lockdowns infringed on freedoms, and was the wearing of masks a political statement, there seems to be a very ugly side of humanity and human nature which has been exposed.

Before, conspiracy theories tended to be the domain of weirdo uncles and ‘know-it-alls’, but now this minority is more vocal and manipulative in spreading outlandish falsehoods using social media, in particular Facebook and YouTube, linking Hollywood elites, child sex trafficking, 5G causing coronavirus, deep state, compulsory vaccinations and microchips. As we have learnt in the last twelve months, those gullible enough to believe these wacky theories can’t be swayed by rational arguments, evidence, or myth-busting. Often these made-up stories, fake new hoaxes and ‘alternative facts’ can be used to fuel violence, terror or racism. 

But as well as some unsavoury aspects of human behaviour clearly evident in 2020, we have also seen the other side; the respecting of public-health guidelines, the revelation that some low-paid jobs are actually the most essential, a sense of community unity and shared responsibility. My wish is that through the ‘life and death’ wake-up call we’ve had in 2020 with coronavirus, that we reflect on what we have learnt and make small steps in making the changes real in our lives. After all, the events of 2020 have impacted not just on how we live, work and play, but on our health, wealth and global security. 

There are other stories that have come out of 2020, a new resolve, an awareness of things previously taken for granted, and the discernment that the most important things in life can’t be bought online. These more personal learnings are shared among many, with the realisation that what you thought you once wanted isn’t necessarily what you need.

As well as sorting out what’s important, a number of my friends have grown to value the importance of self-care, or at least the need to stop doom-scrolling to avoid getting easily triggered and upset.

Lockdown and time alone have heightened the importance of relationships, the choice to slow down, and what benefit there is in appreciating the small things. Connection with the natural world has been a green cure for many too, as demonstrated in numerous studies including one titled: less screen time and more green time. And if there is an idea that has come out of the harrowing times of 2020, it might be the desire for a kinder world, starting from loving oneself, and extending out to all. 

Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor who has been based in Asia for most of the 21st century writing about people and places. Find him at Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).

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No Longer Smug in South Australia

Meredith Stephens gives a first person account of how the pandemic free South Australia is faring balancing fears

Not only does Australia feel geographically isolated, South Australia feels isolated within Australia. Thanks to this isolation we somehow feel immune to the pandemic and enjoy months of zero cases. We look at the evening news aghast as cases soar in Europe and America. Finally, our neighbouring state Victoria gets the numbers under control, and travel between the states becomes possible. Alex has been looking forward to the borders with Tasmania opening so he can sail there from Adelaide and circumnavigate the island. First, he will sail to the historic town of Robe in the south-east of the state, and from there he will sail to Tasmania, weather permitting. He enjoys the extensive preparation, ordering a new inflatable life raft, a new dinghy, a new chart plotter, and installing a wind turbine. He has the standing rigging replaced too.

I want to sail with Alex but can’t because I’m teaching online. I wouldn’t be able to readily access the internet at sea due to the slow satellite connection. I ask Alex to prepare one of his T-shirts for me to take to bed in his absence. He wears the same T-shirt for several days in order to permeate it with his scent.

Suddenly there is news of a six-day lockdown. We have been spared lockdowns to date as we have smugly watched television news of excruciating lockdowns elsewhere. We have until midnight to attend to immediate business. The Chief Medical Officer appears on television and tells us we must decide where we will stay for the next six days. I opt to stay with my ailing mother and take Alex’s T-shirt with me to comfort myself.

I part from Alex and dutifully head to my mother’s home. After making her dinner and cups of tea, I accompany her to her bed, and make sure she takes her medicines. I heat her wheat bags to place behind her neck and on her toes. I watch some television to distract myself, and then exchange texts with Alex. Next, I have to face the night away from him. I don his T-shirt and hope his scent will soothe me to sleep, but it’s no substitute. I wake up with pain throbbing in my right temple and shooting up the right side of my neck. I touch my temple and feel the familiar dilated vein.

I must teach two classes online. I want to cancel because of my migraine, but if I do so I must make up the classes, so I persist with the lessons. The bright light of the screen pierces my eyes, but I find relief when I usher the students into breakout rooms and lie down for five minutes each time they interact with one another.

I search the house for pain relief. I beg Mum for some of her prescribed opiate tablets. She only has two left and permits me to have a quarter of one which she has cut out with the tablet cutter. Then the pain intensifies. I cannot find any aspirin but manage to find some Panadol from an expired blister pack. This gives me no relief. I am not sure I could get a doctor’s appointment at such short notice. Going to the emergency room would be counterproductive during a pandemic. I resolve to go to my daughter’s house. I know that she has two left-over prescribed opiate tablets. I determine to make the long drive despite the injunction not to leave the house. I go into Mum’s room to explain, but she is sleeping. So I leave a note on her bedside table. I leave my laptop there because I will be back in the evening.

I venture onto the deserted main roads. Will I be stopped and questioned by the police? After twenty minutes of driving, I see ten police cars on the opposite side of the main road, stopping drivers. I resolve not to take that route when I return to Mum’s. When I arrive at my daughter’s house, there is a text from Mum:

“Where are you? Are you okay? I am worried about you. I heard you leave.”

“I left a note by your bedside table. Didn’t you see it?”

“No. I missed it.”

“I’ll come back tonight.”

“No, Darling. I’ll be okay for the night. It’s too dangerous for you to drive in your condition.”

“Okay then. I’ll pop back tomorrow morning in time to Zoom my classes.”

Then my sister Rebecca texts me and asks after Mum. I explain that I have had to leave her in search of pain relief. I continue that I am worried about having left the house, but then my other sister Jemima forwards me a government message from social media saying that you may leave the house to care for an infirm relative or friend. Now I can consider my daughter’s house to be my base, and my trip to Mum’s to be legitimate. Rebecca and Jemima offer to take turns to stay with Mum until I recover.

I retrieve one of the prescribed opiate tablets at my daughter’s house, but the pain persists until the morning. I telephone the local clinic and make a telehealth appointment. The doctor calls me back at the appointed time and texts me a script.

Alex texts me asking how I am, and I send him the government message indicating that movement to care for someone who is unwell is legitimate. He offers to visit me and pick up the medicine on the way. My daughter shows me how to forward the script to him on my phone. Alex receives it and promises to come. I absorb his resonant voice, gentle tone, and the calm in his measured and carefully articulated speech. The tension eases and somehow, I find myself explaining to him that I am finally without pain.

Alex arrives at my door with my prescription tablets, but by now the pain has subsided. Knowing that I have left my laptop at Mum’s, he has brought me one of his. Not only that, he has brought South Australian yellowfish tuna which we can eat as sashimi, oysters, and some salmon. We sit down together while he explains to me how to use the Chromebook laptop, but rather than fixing my eyes on the screen I fix them on him, and once again imbibe his scent. We enjoy each other’s company for an hour before Alex has to return home.

Then my daughter informs us that the lockdown has been shortened. It appears that there was a misunderstanding during one of the contact tracing interviews and that the lockdown period will be reduced to three days. Travel within the state will be permitted.

Alex is relieved that at least he will not have to forego sailing, even though the circumnavigation of Tasmania will have to wait. Instead, he will sail into Spencer Gulf, within the state. The ocean is beckoning him, and he is grateful that he can now heed her call. The months of planning equipment, meals, and reading material will have paid off; he can resume his position at the helm, catch fish and squid for his meals, make use of his instinctive sense of wind direction, and be free to move or to stay according to whim, without a single care for COVID.

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 entitled What’s Cooking Mom? Narratives about Food and Family, The Migrant Maternal: “Birthing” New Lives Abroad, and Twenty-First Century Friendshipall published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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Musings

Time and Us

Anasuya Bhar takes us through 2020 — what kind of a year has it been?

We take Time for granted; we take our years for granted, dividing them into months and days of work and schedules of various kinds. We get lost in the maze of the small measures of time, the days, hours etcetera being our only counters of the great Hands. We forget the larger cosmic Time, which veers forward, with its own plan. In our break neck haste we, perhaps, only inch forwards to the inevitable end. The year 2020 began with the usual fanfare, banality, uncertainty and some trepidation for what it might bring. Some of my life’s uncertainties, incidences and vagaries usually keep me anxious and restless in an effort to secure some peace of mind. The first month brought in distress due to the misfortunes of a loved one. There were some other losses too, but what really put the fear of death among us, was Death itself, with the looming shadows of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Although I have not lived through any of the political or military wars, I felt I was going through some kind of a war in 2020 – a struggle for survival. I was unable to give a comprehensive shape to any of my thoughts. I could hardly account for anything that was happening and gazed at the rising pile of corpses in Europe and the other parts of the world. Poverty is a greater source of ailment where I live. Many succumb to it. As more of those who have less are out of work, poverty seems to be even more powerful an epidemic in this part of the world. There were many deaths, initially not from COVID19, but other instances of carelessness. But these too were passé for us who live in a country with an overflowing population. Things still happened to others in the remoteness of newspaper print.

That changed, however, and soon there were friends, cousins, and relatives getting infected. Doubt played hide and seek with a possible asymptomatic variety as well. There was always fear — fear that shook even the deepest layers of the consciousness and even allayed the strongest faith. There were children and aged parents. Death came stealthily and claimed its victim leaving no scope of any fuss or fanfare. The personal gave way to the public with invincible heroes succumbing to the virus. The list included many from our former President to actors, performers, sportspersons, poets, artists, and to academics. Even an icon as distinguished as Amitabh Bacchan was infected with virus, but he emerged triumphant. Many others were not as fortunate. We lost legends like Sean Connery and our own Soumitra Chatterjee in this year. In the case of the latter, it was a prolonged fight that the aged actor fought against the pandemic. With him, passed an entire era of Bengali culture that was more or less continuous in the spirit of the Tagores or the Rays.

The loss of both ‘Bond’ and ‘Feluda’ marked too much of a co-incidence in our lives. The lacuna that is left after the going of these stalwarts is not only felt particularly in their trade, but also to the entire global cultural scenario. We had just begun commemorating Satyajit Ray’s birth centenary, and Soumitra, the largest living icon of the former’s films and, perhaps, one of the greatest translators of his intellection, succumbed to the banal virus of Corona. The tiers in the uppermost rung of artistry and professionalism are being vacated; and perhaps, one may say, gradually making way, albeit reluctantly, for a new generation.

The year also had us think much about the dystopic and the apocalyptic in civilization, at large. There were also familiar prognostications of the ‘end of the world’ myth. The year, most definitely, marks the beginning of a whole new consciousness. We had stepped into a new millennium two decades ago, but one really did not feel any change overnight or even within a few days or years. Paradigm shifts happen over a period of time. The fault-lines take time to emerge and there needs to be enough distance, aesthetically and culturally, to perceive the changes with sufficient detachment.

For a particular century to emerge as the past, and the next to emerge as the present, one needs perspective. One also needs a new world view. People also succumb naturally to their deaths, especially those having seen most of the last century. A preliminary survey of each century usually shows drastic changes in the first two, three or four decades. The twentieth century saw most of its global events in the first four decades, after which there was reasonable calm and quietness. Equally interesting is the pattern of pandemics in the last few centuries. There is an uncanny similarity with them all dating in the 20s of each century.

The year 2020 seems to mark a new kind of beginning in various ways. While there is a most dystopic flavour to the times, one must acknowledge and also appreciate the spirit of resilience among humans. Newer modes of educating, connecting globally in the most unique and ingenious manners seems to be in vogue. The world of arts and letters has also perfected newer ways of expressions. The pandemic has, in many ways, proved to be a great leveller – the European, the Asian, the African or the American are going through a common crisis. There is, distinctly, a spirit of human solidarity that underlines the community, at large, keeping in abeyance the cultural, racial and political differences. Just like Picasso, Rabindranath, Einstein, and several others survived the last pandemic, the Great Wars or the holocaust, so did many of our grandparents. Would it be too presumptuous to count on destiny and chance, with the hope that we too would survive this, and have some stories to recount, perhaps, to our own grandchildren?

A philosopher had once said, that life would have lost all its meaning had there not been death; and that, we rush forwards doing what we do, because we know that there is a finite end for us. And Thomas Hardy had taken our minds to the chilling observation that our day of death lies skilfully hidden in the calendar year. We laugh, we cry, we continue through years with the nitty-gritty of life, but one particular year that day claims us, in an eternal embrace. Death is the only inevitable, irrevocable and irreversible truth and end in our lives. This year has taught us, among other things, the value of our lives, the value of relationships, the value of the world of nature, and taught us to value our time, before its ‘winged chariot’ gets hold of us.

Dr. Anasuya Bhar is Associate Professor of English and the Dean of Postgraduate Studies in St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College Kolkata. Dr. Bhar is the sole Editor of the literary Journal Symposium (ISSN 2320-1452) http://www.spcmc.ac.in/departmental-magazine/symposium/, published by her Department. She has various academic publications to her credit. Her creative pieces have been published in Borderless Journal, Setu Bilingual and Ode to a Poetess. She has her own blog https://anascornernet.wordpress.com/.

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Musings

Happy Hanukkah!

Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca tells us about the ancient Jewish festival of Hanukkah, with its origins in the early BCEs and the Seleucid Empire

Growing up in a Jewish home, Hanukkah, also spelled Chanukah (which means dedication in Hebrew), or the Festival of Lights, was one of my favorite celebrations. I loved this time of year as we lit the special Hanukkah Menorah (the candelabra of nine flames) lit by a Shamash, or main candle, for eight days, one candle for each day. The ninth candle was the ‘lighter’ or ‘helper’ candle. The older, more traditional Menorah had seven candles. The Menorah in my home is special since it was a gift to me from a dear aunt in Israel. In my mother’s home, the Menorah had pride of place in a corner of a special shelf in the living room.  

I have read that traditionally, the Indian Jews light an oil lamp instead of candles, but I remember the lighting of the candles in The Menorah in my home. I have also read that the late Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, who lost his life during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks had started the tradition of lighting the spiritual and festive lights of Hanukkah in 2003 at the Gateway of India, close to the Taj Mahal Hotel. Over the past decade, Chabad Mumbai has continued the tradition of lighting the menorah at Gateway of India with a wish to spread light and love.

I loved Hanukkah as I listened to the beautiful melodious prayers sung by the elders of the family, and the special dishes that were prepared. Like Diwali, it is also a time for gift-giving, especially to children.  Each day, we prayed the Hallel, the selection of five gratitude-themed psalms (113 – 118) from the Bible.

It is apt to compare Hanukkah with Diwali, the festival of light, albeit with a different history. The importance of light in all religions is significant as it represents the triumph of good over evil, the dispelling of darkness, which is said to be banished with wisdom, and obscurity is said to be be illuminated with truth.  In Judaism, light is also linked to creation, and to hope and redemption. The candles are never used for pleasure but have a holy significance. Light has always been a metaphor for wisdom.

 In 2020, Hanukkah will be celebrated from the evening of December 10th to December 18th, coinciding with the Jewish month of Kislev.  The Jewish calendar is a lunar one. It commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in Israel, where according to legend Jews had revolted against their Greek Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. The event took place before the birth of Jesus Christ. It is also a time to celebrate religious freedom, especially for Jews in India, a phenomenon unmatched anywhere else in the world because Jews never faced any sort of institutionalized anti-Semitism in India. 

According to early studies, it was said that the first Jews in India never celebrated Hanukkah, which indicates that their arrival in India pre-dated the re-dedication of the Second Temple which took place around 516 BCE. They were only introduced to Hanukkah much later.

It is customary to eat fried foods during Hanukkah, as oil is symbolizes the miracle of the feast, where a single night’s supply of lamp oil lasted eight days.  I remember eating the coconut milk curries, sweet flattened rice (poha), rice pancakes and the onion pakoras, at my grandmother’s home in Bombay. The biggest treat was China grass halva, which is a dessert, made of Agar-Agar and coconut milk. One of my aunts was well-loved for making this halva, and I have written and published a poem dedicated to her. The poem was named China Grass Halva. I missed her and the sweet dish when she immigrated to Israel. The Indian Jews, called the Bene Israel Jews, the community to which I belong, had this kind of cuisine at Hanukkah time. The cuisine was also influenced by Maharashtrian and Konkan cuisine.

In the Eastern-European tradition, the potato latke, which is kind of a pancake is usually served with applesauce. In Israel, a popular jelly-filled doughnut, called sufganya, is eaten.  My French-Canadian neighbor makes potato latkes, shaping them into small potato cakes, not into a pancake. She serves them with applesauce. Her husband’s mother had many Jewish friends.

Dreidels

A popular game played by the Ashkenazi Jews (Jews in Israel from western countries, as opposed to the Sephardic Jews who are from Africa and the Middle East) during Hanukkah, is Spinning the Dreidel, which is a kind of four-sided spinning top with some Hebrew letters on it. Legend has it that the Jews were forbidden by their Greek Syrian masters to study the Torah.  They would do so in secret, but whenever a patrol passed by, they would hide the Torah and pretend to be playing ‘Spinning the Dreidel’.  The letters on the dreidel have values and determine the winning or losing of the game! There is also a dreidel song that the children sing while spinning the top. We played with tops growing up in Bombay, but not the game of ‘Spinning the Dreidel’. 

In Calgary, Alberta, Canada, which houses the fourth largest Jewish community in the world, there is a special Hanukkah celebration at City Hall, where the Mayor lights the Shammash or ‘lighter’ candle on the Menorah to kick-off the 8-day celebration.

This year I wonder how such community celebrations will be impacted?

Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca was born and raised in a Jewish family in Mumbai.  She was educated at the Queen Mary School, Mumbai, received her BA in English and French, an MA from the University of Bombay in English and American Literature, and a Master’s in Education from Oxford Brookes University, England.  She has taught English, French and Spanish in various colleges and schools in India and overseas, in a teaching career spanning over four decades. Her first book, Family Sunday and Other Poems was published in 1989, with a second edition in 1990.

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Musings

The Essential Pujo

By Anasuya Bhar

     Mor bhabonare ki haway matalo o

Dole mono dole okarono  horoshe

My thoughts sway to a breeze unknown o

My mind swings, o swings, to a joy unspecific

              (Song, Rabindranath Thakur, my translation)

An unknown and unspecific joy – that is the tenor of Durga Pujo for me. A Kolkata bound urban inhabitant most of my life, this nameless ‘happiness’ need not always reside in something spectacular or great, but lies in the fulfilment of small wishes and family togetherness. Nature, usually wears a happy look with abundant sunshine, blue azure skies and fluffy candy-floss white clouds. Drizzles do punctuate, but they come with a naughty wish to play with the gaiety of the human moods, occasionally washing the dirt and the sweat away to offer more freshness, like the morning shewli* flowers do.

Pujo is the time for all things new — new dresses, new saris, new music, new poetry, new novels, festival numbers, and new movies. In fact, it is yet another calendar, in our hearts, to usher in the new and the blessed, with the spirit of Ma Durga – durgatinashini – the slayer of all evil, the bringer of goodness and peace. Pujo* also ushers in a season of giving and gifting, frenzied buying and mindless spending over not only clothes and accessories, but also on home decor and other amenities or even luxuries of life. The air and the times are considered to be auspicious – nothing can put a blemish on whatever one does. And of course, there is an unmistakable note of the ‘carnivalesque’ about it all – do whatever you wish, for these four days, all in the name of fun and revelry, there is no stopping you! These are also times of parental license, adolescents’ delights and the old timer’s reunion. These are times for which one waits for the whole year round, to replenish and refurbish the batteries that have not only exhausted themselves, but which have actually almost deadened themselves! It marks the spirit of life. And, as if to reiterate the mood, the darkest corner and even the narrowest of alleys of our Kolkata are lit, wearing smiles never seen before; the happiness is proclaimed loud in the dhaak* beats and the shonkho* sounds and the ululation during arati* and pujo. Rituals there are, but beyond the rituals, there is the celebration for our Uma’s homecoming with her kids, all dressed up to meet their fellow earthlings. It is this joy and homeliness, which has endeared Durga Pujo to all and the sundry, beyond faith and regional narrowness – it is perhaps the only Indian festival which is celebrated not only beyond Bengal, but in almost all other countries, abroad.   

Pujo now, has perhaps, become a little more commercialised than what it was when we were children. There is a huge roll of money and a huge display of public spectacle now, more in the spirit of the ‘carnivalesque’, than what it was when we were children. Sometimes, there is a lack of that familiar intimacy, which marked community or sarbojonin pujo during my childhood. Perhaps our jet-set lifestyle where we think more about our work and our deadlines rather than ourselves, our homes or even our families, is partly responsible for this. We have, undoubtedly, become more mechanical, when we choose to say that we are too busy to ‘stand and stare’.

There is one particular Durga Pujo event, which I would like to share with you – an event which happened long ago, but which has stayed with me in the corner of my mind. When I was, maybe, twelve or thirteen years old, we had ‘enacted’ Sukumar Ray’s ‘Gandha Bichaar’ – ‘The Perfume Crisis’ – as a part of the Cultural Programme for our community or para’s  puja ‘Lake Sarbojonin Durgotsav’ in Lake Terrace of the Deshapriya Park area in south Kolkata.  The concept of the para, Bengali for community / locality is, sadly enough, gradually disappearing. It usually means a community that feels together, enjoys together and even weeps together.  It is a little short of an extended family. Now, we are a little distanced from our own family members as well!

So, there was a certain Chandana di* at our para who showed a lot of zeal in collecting the children and organizing a ‘show’ for the year’s Pujo cultural programme. The venue would be a not-so-formal stage erected for the purpose near the Puja pandal. The piece, a selection from Sukumar Ray’s Aabol Taabol* is a great favourite among children, and this one had many characters, which could accommodate most of us. As is already known, ‘Gandha Bichaar’ is to do with identifying a certain mysterious smell which troubles the nostrils of a fussy king. He calls upon all his important men, who slight him in some pretext or the other, until the show is stolen by an old nonagenarian, who comes forward, to identify the smell, with the fearless of death.

Ray’s poem did not have any female characters, and most of the children in the group were girls, excepting one solitary boy – Jishu Sengupta, the now celebrated icon of Bangla cinema – who was the natural choice for the King. Hence, the added confusion of dressing us all up as men. I, being the eldest in the group, was given the part of the nonagenarian! The only advantage I had was my short hair: the one aspect which did not need to be redone in the disguise as a man.

We were a bunch of busy kids that season! Chandana di arranged for umpteen number of rehearsals in her flat. Many were absent, giving her a headache as to how the show could be pulled off finally. Anyway, on the final day, we did pull through, even with all our faults! We had selected a garage space near the pandal as our ‘green room’. We jostled for space trying to look our best as the king’s men. For me, it was the worst, as someone had the wonderful idea that I should give a guitar recital on that very evening and before the play! Hence, I had to quickly graduate from being my own self to a nonagenarian. This put so much needless stress on my nerves! Our costumes were home-grown ones, selected and approved by Chandana di, our mentor, director and producer.

The performance went by in a whiz! There was someone prompting from behind the arras and there were mikes hung from the impromptu roof of the erected stage. And mistakes were amplified in proportions that perhaps outwitted Sukumar Ray himself! There were instances of complete pauses when the little ones forgot their lines and could make nothing of the prompter. There were instances of moustaches coming off, and spontaneous sneezes at being tickled by the wheezier ones! There were also instances of dhotis* trailing off or tripping others! And the little King sat and gazed with all the dignity of the state!

Our performance was, however, lauded and applauded by most of the para. I remember my mother taking a lot of photographs on her Canon camera, and then making multiple copies of them so that everyone could have a memory of the enactment. (Sadly, I could not locate those photographs.) We spoke of that performance and shared the fun for many more autumns to come. Now most of the players are all women, and yours truly is greying forwards. I have no news of Chandana di, for a long time now. In yet another autumn, one truer to my own life, and during yet another Pujo, I sit here reminiscing this one spring performance of my life, being closeted indoors by yet another theatre – the grimmer one of Covid! Nevertheless, the spirit lives on, as yet another Pujo slowly veers towards closure, we wait for the next one, and for many more to come.

*Shewli — Jasmine

*dhaak — drum

*shonkho — conch shell

*arati — worship with incense

*Pujo — prayer, in this case refers to the festival of Durga Pujo

*di — short for didi or elder sister

*Abol Tabol — Available as The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray

Dr. Anasuya Bhar is Associate Professor of English and the Dean of Postgraduate Studies in St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College Kolkata. Dr. Bhar is the sole Editor of the literary Journal Symposium (ISSN 2320-1452)http://www.spcmc.ac.in/departmental-magazine/symposium/, published by her Department. She has various academic publications to her credit. She is also keen on travel writing and poetry writing. She has her own blog https://anascornernet.wordpress.com/.

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Musings

Blade of Grass: A Lesson Learnt

By Dr. D.V.Raghuvamsi

A blade of grass in my garden dancing in the summer morning breeze has offered a valuable lesson. I need to dismantle my human ego to accept it.

The entire world now grapples with the novel coronavirus that poses a threat to the lives and lifestyle adopted by humans. Of course, there is no doubt that Nature is transformation and transformation is Nature. But speaking on a pessimistic note, the pandemic may be interpreted as a way of the supreme design to balance several aspects. After all, life is all about balancing things!

If I have to come to terms with the fact that a small entity is able to pose a challenge to the technologically developed world, and make the so-called superior species pause, it is time to look within the trivial spaces of the human mind.

Is this pandemic a pre-planned act of Nature? Is this outbreak to make us comprehend that human organism is not the most all-powerful species on Earth? I use the term, ‘human organism’ only to drive home the point that we are a part of multiple species that are supported by the Earth.

I wish to put forward the idea that no other species is under the threat of Covid-19. Does it reinstate that it is the human perspective that has to change? Yes! It’s obvious.

If I have to delve into the deeper spaces, I feel that it is the human ego that pollutes all the entities. If we can take a zoom shot of the things happening around and observe the pattern, I can take home, three important aspects. In the first cycle, it is the human being who started exploiting the other species; in the second cycle, humans moved forward with the exploitation of his fellow beings. In the third cycle, it won’t be an exaggeration if I contend that man is exploiting his own inner self, paving a way for psychological disorders.

Till date, all the viruses disturbed the physiological elements feeding on the different organs of the human body. In future, there may be a day that uproots the so-called most developed entity called, ‘Human Mind’. A microorganism may pose the world’s biggest challenge to the home of thoughts, driving people towards illness that uproots the very foundation of human intelligence.

The whole world is eagerly waiting for a vaccine that treats the coronavirus. Human intelligence is on it and there have been developments on this front. But what if there comes a small entity that threatens the existence of human intelligence? It would be the end of the world for we have made other species subservient to man made technological constructs and they would remain as passive spectators while they watch the last human life on Earth snuff out the species to extinction.

In the name of war over resources, several countries all over the world have completed the second cycle of winning over their fellow beings. Perhaps now, we are headed for the third cycle of destruction. A reorientation of the approach towards other species that abound in Nature is something that demands attention. Living with Nature should be the slogan for today and even tomorrow, for it paves a way for the creation of sensitivity that treats all of living species as one. A moment can be the epitome of transformation. It is the concept of co-existence that constructs it.

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Dr. D.V.Raghuvamsi has been working as Assistant Professor in MVGR College of Engineering, Vizianagaram, Andhra Pradesh . His interests include penning down short stories that offer a bird eye-view of the varied faces of human psyche.

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Musings

Of Cats, Classes, Work and Rest

By Nishi Pulugurtha

On the step of the building just opposite my living room window is a cat. A beautiful tabby that is in repose – a blissful repose, it seems, as I struggle to deal with things online. Examinations, messages, mails, calls, meetings, discussions – they just seem to go on. Beyond working hours, on Sundays too – yes, they do keep me busy, maybe keep me sane, however, at the same time they are tiring and exhausting. I attend sessions which tell me of various technical aspects of the online platforms that supposedly will make things easier, my take on them —  they seem to be even more complicated.

The cats are not my pets. It is just that I like to observe things around me and working from home my views are limited these days. One of my neighbours has about four pet cats, I can hear her calling out to them – Chini, Mini, Kini, Tini. I hear them purr in response to the call. They snuggle around her feet as she walks out. She picks up one, cuddles it and then picks up another. I see her kneeling and talking to them. That conversation goes on for a while. I hear all kinds of noises – human and feline. She goes in and gets to work and the felines decide to remain in the compound. I guess they want some more of the sun – it is scorching still but that does not seem to stop them.

One of them crawls into the green space in front. She seems to be looking for something — maybe she did get a scent of something that could be a delicious afternoon meal or snack. There is a big noise, an uproar, you could say. That is my other neighbour. I hear her go on. She seems to be shouting at someone. I can clearly understand that she is trying to drive something out of her house. She hollers out to her husband to close the kitchen door. She has just finished her cooking. Well, one of the felines decided to visit neighbours and that was the reason for the commotion.  Inspite of all this shouting and hollering, Mita makes it a point to mix a little bit of leftover rice and some fish bones every day after lunch. She puts this in bowls and puts them out in a small dish near the steps. Slowly the cats venture forth. She has been doing this for years now. She has a late lunch, a very late lunch.

I am in between classes then, online classes and need a cup of tea to cheer me up. As I make myself a cup, I see her walking towards that empty space, bowl in hand and a few of the felines following her. She is no longer shouting at them. Rather, she is talking to them, asking them to wait for a while. She leisurely walks, greeting someone in the distant window. As she puts the food, the felines get busy.

Mita decides to catch up on some conversation with the lady who lives upstairs. As I put on my headphones, I can hear their voices. I am off to another world, a virtual one – my classroom these days. The class consists of new students who are more than lost in all this huge virtual space. I tell them I am in as much trouble as they are in. I am still trying to negotiate my way through this maze of platforms, learning something, trying to learn and not always succeeding. They are quiet for some time, and then I see a message in the chat box. I answer, ask them to speak one by one. I have the list of names on a list, a list that has numbers too – numbers that confuse. This is the first time I am unable to associate the name with the person. I have never seen them, do not know when I will meet them in a classroom.

Room 212 on the second floor, a big, warm, airy room that in the summer months burns, is the allotted classroom for my students. The windows of the room look out to the huge playground. A lot of activity is seen there. A lot of noise too, that disturbs my class. I need to raise my voice to be heard by all. A couple of huge trees stand between the windows and the playground — trees that are home to beautiful pigeons and mynahs. Between the trees and the huge playground is a narrow path that meanders around the playground, branching off at two places. That physical space of my college and the classroom, the space beyond lingers on in my mind as I talk to these students who have just joined college. They have not been to the college. All they have seen are images in the virtual world. We go on trying to make some sense of things.

When it is done for the day, I still have work to be done, attendance and the like – there are still things that I need to attend to. I hear the sounds of the cats purring. They are all under my car that is parked just outside the window. It has been parked for most of the time in the past few months. The space beneath the car is the favourite afternoon siesta time for the cats. They play, they rest in the much cooler space there — nice and cozy too. As I walk on the terrace in the evenings to take a break from work, the two little girls on the neighbours terrace call out to me and point to two cats high up on a ledge. Like these two little ones they are at play too. A little later the cats are near the red toy teddy that has been discarded and tied to a pole on the terrace of the house opposite, their play still on.

Dusk settles in and the autumnal sky hues bring in much colour. The clouds, the setting sun, and that all those exuberant colours remain for a while. The cats are in by now. I know I will hear their names being called out again a little while later, at dinner time. As it gets dark and I turn towards the stairs I see a pair of bright eyes sparkle on the verandah grill – comfortably at rest.

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Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic and writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in various journals and magazines. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010), guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus and has a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). Her recent book is an edited volume of essays on travel, Across and Beyond  (2020). She is now working on her first volume of poems.

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