Us vs Them

By Shivani Agrawal

The best example of escaping reality comes alive in our relationship with the environment. Its pervasiveness and service to us at all times at no cost, makes it one of the most granted entities in human affairs. The sheer ease, simplicity and inconspicuousness with which it surrounds us makes it terribly easy for us to not notice it. Even our day to day seemingly harmless acts like drinking from thermocol glasses and reckless usage and disposal of plastic carry bags go a long way in affecting the dynamics of environment, at least, within our local limits.

Recently, I had a revelatory moment. It was a thing so simple yet it struck me after such a long time and much intellectual struggle. I was having tea at one of the tea stalls near my university. Sitting on a chair, by myself, I was enjoying my free space. Just then, a few birds (common mynahs and jungle babblers to be particular) came near me, chirping loudly (read irritatingly for me) hoping for some fallen crumbs for their food. However, I was a little more open-hearted and threw some pieces of snacks I had bought. Needless to say, they ate them hungrily. I continued the process and the birds left no chance to leave their share.  Soon after, another group of men sitting near me started throwing pieces of their snacks a little further away to two opposing groups of birds. As soon as the pieces were thrown to them, they would squeak loudly and fought with each violently to get hold of the titbits. This whole procedure was irritating as well as amusing.

Their noise irritated me. I felt as if the birds did not want to let us enjoy our tea siesta in peace and were determined to spoil every minute of it by creating a ruckus with their banter. However, after a moment, it struck me that maybe it was not they who were trespassing their space but we were who were encroaching on theirs. I realised that if we look around carefully, there seem to be very few places that we have left for these biological friends of ours. With our endless, large-scale, and unplanned constructions and lifestyles, there are hardly free spaces anymore where they can nest.

We have not left spaces for them where they can fend for and take care of themselves comfortably and find their ways out; places where their food would be available easily, sufficient ground to hop and skip and jump, habitats where they could build their homes and protect their young ones. They need spaces where they could grow and live comfortably and not be tress passers all the time. The earth belongs as much to them as us.

The earth has been inhabited by human beings in a hegemonic and an insensitive fashion. The living styles of humans have been conceived in such a manner that they leave little space for other creatures as if we are the only ones living on this planet. The intricacies of the interconnections are lost in this process. The fact of interdependence in the biological world is hardly remembered. There is great amount of interdependence among the creatures of the world which makes the earth sustainable. Without it, there could be little scope for life. The fact that the existence and survival of one species is dependent on others can no longer be ignored. All creatures great and small need to share the planet.

Physical spaces are increasingly cleared to make way for human activities with little thought for the habitats of other beings and their presence is seen as an encroachment. As our biological compatriots, they have an equal right on this planet as us. It should always be remembered that their existence that is dependent on ours but rather our presence in a chain of inter-linkages which makes our survival plausible.


Shivani Agrawal is a Research Assistant on a project on Gujarat’s coastal security. She enjoys reading, writing, teaching, quizzing and playing table tennis.



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Mother Teresa & MF Hussian: Touching Lives

By Prithvijeet Sinha

Mother Teresa–Goddess Of Peace by MF Hussain. Photo provided by Prithvijeet Sinha

Art is often made out to be something unattainable, acquired strictly by virtue of good taste. To me that supposition has a very myopic idea of what actually constitutes art.

Art is spontaneous, sensual and immediately attractive to the naked eye simply because it is all around us in diverse forms, beginning with the canvas of nature.

From the first rays of sunlight to the final nocturnal lull of the moon, waxing and waning with our existence, a landscape is the first index of the omnipotent power of the hands that create. The stakes are just as natural when an influential figure who has provoked meaningful thoughts has her portrait occupy a space which we commit to our memory. Memory is to art, after all, what the intermingling of colours and shapes is to the structure of an artistic creation – even more than its form. Hence, beholding an artwork that inspires is a moment of personal reckoning with the feelings it evokes.

An artwork that has greatly impacted my artistic consciousness is ‘Mother Teresa–Goddess Of Peace’ by the indefatigable Maqbool Fida Hussain. Mr. Hussain is entrenched in the fabric of popular culture for his unmistakable, humbling style and use of colours eschewing any hint of beautification that sometimes becomes an accursed necessity in art.

His portrait of the benevolent social messiah is no different. Mother Teresa is someone who has graced his canvas in many iterations and the Goddess of Peace is one among the many he painted around the 1980s. As founder of Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa occupies a unique space in our cultural consciousness as we know it, caring for the neediest masses that society is quick to eliminate from the mainstream. That she was painted by another unassuming individual who was austerity personified made them equals. Mr. Hussain, on his part, dissociated his oeuvre from the elitist pretensions of galleries and terminologies of the ‘art world’, making art that touched hearts.

The artwork has Mother Teresa in the middle, in her trademark white sari with a blue border, faceless — an individual whose attire spelled a divorce from pretensions of the world. It is in perfect consonance with the painter who mostly walked bare feet and had not even a single iota of self-recognition about his position as an icon. He was an everyman. To him, it was a vocation but also a necessity to survive.

For others it is the 9 to 5 rule. For him, it was his art.

For Ms. Teresa too, it was personal duty that called for sacrifice of the ego. So, they were doing what they thought was essential in maintaining the order of who they were, in direct relation with an often imperfect world.

The central figure in the painting is surrounded by a young girl, a cow and a dove in flight holding olive tree leaves in its beak. The cow symbolises innate innocence and spiritual purity in concordance with the child while the bird signifies the efforts of people to uphold peace and effect constructive change, never shying away from the reality of poverty that millions endure.

The way her attire is spread out is as if she is holding the beleaguered world in her empathetic care (a baby in this case is on her lap) signals a last hope. She rises above the maternal role of primary caregiver alone. She is a universal figurehead, a genderless representative. That’s why her motives and actions translate so well through the brushstrokes of another. That’s the reason her faceless presence isn’t about fear but as a blank space meant to be filled with the image of any face that could set the same compassionate precedence as her.

Today, my evolution as a writer and poet owes its debts to that day when this artwork became wholly animated for me, creating a blueprint that continues to inspire and provoke thought. That’s the power of art– to create a space in memory and nudge us forward towards change, whether it’s a painter for the cause of artistic integrity and no monetary considerations, a messianic voice for the spiritual upliftment of the downtrodden or a writer preserving their collective legacies through his contemporary words.

The passion in these two people’s efforts to always strive in achieving integrity in service of the truth is soul-stirring. It is so easy to be swayed by conformity, even if it’s within the confines of an educated middle-class structure. The painting is a gateway to that natural state of mind which only creates and never jostles for accolades. I see that in myself.

Sincerity is a prized attribute which is often splayed wide open, to be attacked by a modern world where propagandas and muddled agendas defeat our simplicity of being. But people like Mother Teresa and Mr. Hussain show us the path where one walks the line, forging a map of individuality where materialism just cannot make a dent because the intent is to look at the truth of millions who cannot raise themselves from a cycle of grinding dispossession and exploitative tempers.

Art takes its imprints from the unvarnished truth. This artwork achieves that, illuminating all who dare to effect constructive actions and challenge conformity.


Prithvijeet Sinha has been prolifically publishing works of various hues in journals and magazines like   Cafe Dissensus, Confluence, The Medley, Borderless, Wilda Morris’ Poetry Blog, Screen Queens, Rhetorica Quarterly, Lothlorien, Chamber Magazine, Livewire  among others. He believes writing to be the true music of the soul.



Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


Wanderlust or Congealed Stardust?

By Aditi Yadav

We are but stardust, swirling and travelling eternally across the universe. The interweaving of matter and energy in the cosmic space-time tapestry has always struck us with wonder and curiosity. As the Japanese poet Basho resonates in his Narrow Road to the deep north, “The months and days are passing wayfarers through endless ages, and travelers too the years that come and go. Those who float their life away on boats or meet old age plodding before a horse- they spend their days in journeying and call the journey home.”  Humans have marched on, often quite literally so, in the journey of life’s evolution.

To evolve one needs to survive despite all odds. It is an enterprise in desperation, driven by the basic instinct for survival. For several millennia, wandering to forage for food, moving on for a safe shelter and fleeing away from inclement weather or wild animals was the only way of life — on one’s toes, on the run, hanging on to dear life. Braving through raw and ruthless nature — the scorching sun, blistering winds, numbing snow, bone-chilling blizzards, tempests on seas, ravenous typhoons– what an extraordinarily heroic travelogue has been the journey of homo sapiens!

When the ‘wanderer-hunter’, settled as a farmer, the new sense of settlement brought in the novel element of ‘belongingness’ to a certain place, and the consciousness of possession or ownership. A brand-new idea of life bloomed. A settled and relaxed idea of ‘home’ now formed a part of new civilization. As a consequence, resource ownership in itself gave rise to trade, conflicts and wars. All of this entailed travel.  The merchants traveled distances to barter and earn. Many religious leaders travelled around to propagate and preach faith and worship – perhaps, as service to humanity, or maybe, as an attempt to know human consciousness. In another dimension, the ambition to rule over land and capture resources drove people in leaps and bounds on land, and establish colonies across oceans. What was once a globe of free vagabonds turned into a battlefield of fragmented land, air and water masses with contest for boundaries.  Most of it were accompanied by bloodshed and colossal loss of human life and bio-spheric devastation.

But there was a class of travellers of the other kind — the ones who travelled for the joy of travel, excitement of discovery, to pen a new story, or write a new song. Freebirds like Alberuni, Fa-Hsein, Hyecho, and their ilk left behind valuable records and are documented in history. I often wonder about the history of female travellers. Who was the first female who ventured forth all by herself? What became of her? Did she disguise herself as a male? There is no way of knowing. Maybe she could not document it due the lack of knowledge of the written word, or perhaps, she did not want to be discovered at all. Although in my heart, I do pray she had a safe and happy journey.

The eternal flame to travel has propelled us to reach escape velocity and launch travel into space. The space programs, the Mars rover, the moon missions are our most fascinating travel adventures. Sun light or star light that we bask in at any given time is a light from the past travelling toward us. The future light may be travelling too, waiting for us to reach out perhaps.

Even with such incredible progress, there is so much that suffocates us. What is home, when the soul does not feel at ease? The Vedic sages taught that for those with open hearts, the world is but one country — everywhere one goes is home. The earth we know, owes its existence to migrating populations. It’s ironic how immigrants are discriminated against in the modern times. May be the suffocation we often feel is only the pettiness that has crept in.

Travel to free yourself of these shackles, dear heart! Despite the constraints of finances, opportunities, fetters of the 9-5 schedule, travel – what are you living for, if not for the liberation of the self? My thoughts don’t wait for spring. They forever bloom and fall off like the petals of cherry blossoms. Yet, there is joy in visualizing how they blow with the wind, rest on someone’s shoulders or gently settle on the surface of river, drifting along without a thought about the destination. They die somewhere, without even knowing. To have blossomed and traveled is fulfilling enough.

The instinct to wander and travel, is as old as life itself — for that’s how life has propagated. The roots of life find nourishment through the peripatetics of body and mind. It is a malady that humans are born with; a melody in sync with one’s heartbeat. “Travel inside out and outside in. That’s the fate humans are born with”, sings the systole-diastole of the heart, resonating the cosmic big bang-big crunch. A whole world lies outside your window, and several worlds live inside you. Traverse the infiniteness of yourself, measure the earth in your stride while Keats sings on, “Let the winged Fancy roam, Pleasure never is at home.”


Aditi Yadav is a public servant from India. As and when time permits she engages in creative pursuits and catches up her never-ending to-read list. Her works appear in Rain Taxi Review of books, EKL review, Usawa Literary Review, Gulmohur Quarterly, Narrow Road Journal and the Remnant Archive.


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


What do Rishi Sunak, Freddy Mercury& Mississippi Masala have in Common?

By Farouk Gulsara

Rishi Sunak. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Rishi Sunak’s appointment to 10 Downing Street has made people aware of the significant presence of Indians in the African Continent. Indian-African cultural and trade exchanges had been ongoing as early as the 7th century BC. Africans are also mentioned to have significantly influenced India’s history of kingdoms, conquests and wars.

The second wave of Indian migration to Africa happened mainly in the 19th century with British imperialism via the indentured labour system, a dignified name for slavery. It is all semantics. What essentially happened at the end day is a large Indian diaspora in countries like South Africa, Mauritius, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and many more. Many of the Indians who made their way there as labourers, over the generations, began to play significant roles in the economy and professional representations in these countries.

A certain famous Indian diva born in Zanzibar to British colonial civil service who kicked a storm in the rock and roll is, of course, Freddy Mercury (1946-1991) as Farrokh Bulsara.

Idi Amin declared himself the President of Uganda after a coup d’état in 1971. The first thing that he did was to expel Indians from Uganda. His reasoning is that the South Asian labourers were brought in to build the railways. Now that the rail network was completed, they had to leave. They had no business controlling all aspects of Ugandan wealth.

In Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala (1991), the protagonists, Jay, Rinnu and young Mina, had to uproot themselves from Kampala overnight when Amin decreed that all Indians were no longer welcome in Uganda. With a single stroke of the pen, they became refugees. 

By 1990, they are shown to have become residents of Mississippi. The 24-year-old Mina is entangled with a local Afro-American man. This creates much friction between the two families. That is the basis of the movie. 

It is interesting to note many Asiatic societies complain that the rest of the world practises discriminatory, racist policies against them. In reality, they are quick to differentiate each other within their community — the high-heeled, the aristocratic ancestors, their professions, the fairness of the colour of their skins, you name it. And they call others’ racists. For that matter, everyone is a racist. The Europeans subclassify their community by economic class. The seemingly homogenous Africans also differentiate themselves by tribes. Remember Rwanda with their Tutsi and Hutu civil war? Even the Taiwanese have subdivisions. China and Russia have varying ethnicities across the vast span of their lands.

Interestingly, the politics of the oppressed is much like what we read in George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) and saw in the South Korean 2019 Oscar winner Parasite. Like how some animals are ‘more equal’ than others, the maids of the Parks feel more entitled than the freeloading dwellers of the bunker. Even amongst the oppressed, there is a class consciousness to sub-divide the oppressed.

Photo provided by Farouk Gulsara

Race-based politics is so passè. In the post-WW2 era, when the people of the colonies needed to unite to reclaim their land, it made a lot of sense to join under race. Past that point, it did not make any sense for the dominant ethnicity within the nation to claim the country as theirs. At a time when purebreds are only confirmed to be prized pets, it is laughable that politicians are still using racial cards to get elected. Each nation’s survival depends on its competitiveness, anti-fragility, and ability to withstand a Black Swan event. Race does not fall into the equation. With changing social mingling at school and the workplace, interracial unions are the norm. How is race going to be determined anyway? The fathers? The mothers are not going to take that lying down, of course!

The Afro-Americans were emancipated in 1863 after the Civil War, after generations of living as slaves. The black community, at least, still complained that they had received an uncashable cheque from the Bank of America for insufficient funds. Many Indian (and other races, too) labourers were no longer labourers by the second generation and had managed to springboard themselves out of poverty to occupy important positions in society. What gave? Did the coveted American dream slip them by? 

Coming back home to Malaysia, it appears that we will forever be entangled in race politics. In an era when minions around us who were basket cases decades ago have leap-frogged by leaps and bounds in science and technology, our leaders and people stay inebriated in the intoxicating elixir of race superiority. Imagine starting a political party in the 21st century where only people of a certain race can hold critical positions. In day-to-day dealings, expertise is compromised to maintain racial purity. Intertwined with race these days is religion.

Farouk Gulsara is a daytime healer and a writer by night. After developing his left side of his brain almost half his lifetime, this johnny-come-lately decided to stimulate the non-dominant part of his remaining half. An author of two non-fiction books, ‘Inside the twisted mind of Rifle Range Boy’ and ‘Real Lessons from Reel Life’, he writes regularly in his blog ‘Rifle Range Boy’.



Disclaimer: All the opinions stated in this article are solely that of the author.

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


Tsunami 2004: After 18 years

Sarpreet Kaur revisits the past with the hope of a better future

A vivid memory

A smile escaped my lips looking at the familiar newspaper, still just four pages of content. I can remember all those birthday listings, retirement announcements and situation vacant columns that formed part of this paper — coloured from the front-back and the time-tested black and white print in the inside. A balcony, a cosy chair, a newspaper and a cup of tea– what could be more perfect!

Suddenly a gloom overshadowed the day– it was 26 December 2022. The paper was filled with a long list of ‘Remembrances’ by families for their loved ones who lost their lives on that dreadful day. I could see a glint of sun here and a wrinkled grey of clouds somewhere on the canvas of azure water but my mind was not contemplating the beauty of this sea, it has already flown 18 years back — the cries of women, the heart-wrenching silence of kids, hopeful eyes in search of families, those shrieks to get as less as a glass of water, the echoing wails…

That day I discovered how fickle human life was, how harsh nature was, how devious some humans are and how godly some of our human mates were, all this was demonstrated in mere few hours. Who did this?

This very sea. This very sea did it. I am sure the sea must have had valid reasons. I can still feel the same shiver running down my spine. On that fateful day of 26th December 2004, this sea was furious, not serene as now. It was fuming with anger, ferociously.

Now, the houses on Andaman and Nicobar Islands are all decked up with big stars and shimmering lights, the faraway humming of carols have started accompanying the sea breeze. The winds are not humid anymore. It’s a calm breeze, the thunderous clouds have said goodbye and given way to the clear starry nights. There is an air of general merriment all around but still, there is something– no actually, that one thing which will always bring in the dark shadows no matter how many bright stars are hung over the doors.

That fateful night of the day after Christmas was followed by a heart-wrenching Tsunami. It drilled a big hole in every home on these islands. Someone lost a mother, someone a father, many lost everything and for a few their whole generations got wiped out by the sea. This year on the 18th dreadful anniversary of the Tsunami which we wish had never occurred, we will rewind the horrors. Now one might wonder at the need to do so. Why are we doing it? What’s done is done. However, we must recall because remembering our past is the only way to learn to have a better future.

Revisiting what happened

The first tremors were felt early in the morning. My whole family leapt out of the bed and went straight to the road and then the nearby playground. I could see dozens of people coming out of their houses, all with blank expressions about what was happening. Then after a few minutes of heart-tightening tremors, they stopped and we all smiled our relief to each other.  Then the news started pouring in. How a newly constructed house on a pillar gave up and crumbled like a house of cards. Another one said how the old building in Haddo wharf collapsed to the ground and one could hear the wails of people stuck inside it.

The ships were being sent to the sea to avoid damage. The ropes from the bollards were being ferociously untied. One merchant vessel, in all the clamour and chaos, cast off with one of its ropes still tied to the bollard. This bollard via the rope pulled it back and under the fast swell of the sea it rotated 180 degrees to one side, everyone shouted from the jetty as it was about to crush the smaller wooden ship with people on it. But God does exist because, by the miracle of God, the miracle of brakes or wind or something unknown, the ship stopped and drifted forward just a few inches away from the tumbling boat. The sheer force of the water had moved a Maruti 800 upright with one side towards the trunk; some people hastily tied it to the trunk itself with a rope to stop it from going into the sea. Dinghy boats were floating in the middle of the roads, a few others were already upside down and you could only make out the flat surface. One could see remorseful faces all around. They were not sad; they were looking terrified. Some were curious about what was happening. The Islands had never seen or felt such a thing ever. The Chatham bridge was underwater, the ships were floating to the level of a jetty, and the cars, autos, scooters everything one could see was floating. There was only chaos and chaos around.

Every second everyone was inching closer to the grave and it was said that when we witness something as crude as a Tsunami, humans tend to come together and show their humanity. But the Tsunami proved that it was not true. We, humans, are the worst kind of animals because on that fateful day, just when the Tsunami hit the Islands, a few shopkeepers doubled the rates of paan, tea etc. Some of the elected local representatives went into their burrows and the people who chose them were left off to fend for their own. The next few days saw no electricity, no water and no food.

People cried over the shortages.

Wards were filled with casualties, and the parking lot of GB Pant hospital had turned into a waiting room. These were the condition of the people around Port Blair. We have not yet touched on the other islands. What was happening in Katchal, Nancowry, Champin, Great Nicobar, Campbell Bay and many other small islands in the south was something no one could ever imagine. Whole villages were being swept away, the bodies were being gulped down. The terror of the sea had been unleashed.

In Nicobar, the devastation was unimaginable. Half of the trees had been uprooted. Trinket island was torn in half; Champin island was lost beyond communication and Kamorta was thirsty and hungry. The view was filled with battered houses, hanging roofs, crying infants, stranded grounds, tumbled life and floating bodies. No words or adjectives could ever do justice to what the people of the islands witnessed and suffered because of Tsunami.

We witnessed the humaneness of humankind too. The crew members of MV Sentinel were saviours who brought hope to the people of Nicobar that yet there were some who cared for them. The crew worked tirelessly saving precious lives, dinghy after dinghy was unloaded by the crew, the children and women were the first to come, they boarded and were fed on the ship.

Amidst this full chaos when the administration locked horns with humanism, these very people of MV Sentinel without worrying about their jobs and their own families, negated their orders and continued helping their people. On these islands, many influential people fled first on the crafts of money. However, some leaders outright rejected the ghastly idea of leaving the people behind to go on safer grounds. Till the end, they stayed.

Air force helicopters, coast guards, naval ships, army troops in conjunction with the administration worked together in those trying hours carrying out relief, search and rescue operations to their maximum capacity.  However it must be remembered that this was the first time the local people, administration and the armed forces were witnessing a disaster of such proportions. Many accusations were made on the duties of many in the position of power at that time without understanding the due pressure under which each and every one was. That made it much more pertinent to remember those days so that due precautions and arrangements could be made to revert future tragedies.

Without getting into too much of technical wordplay, we need to look at the reality of Tsunami which was all about behind the scenes. It is a well-known fact that the TV showed only selected pictures, trimmed numbers and blurred ideas to people out there. The tragedy of the Tsunami is imprinted on the heart of that lady who was shouting from the dinghy down below — “Mujhe mera bacha vapis de do. Return my child to me, when her child was taken away by the rescue ship onboard but suddenly the Captain refused to board any more passengers. The real horror is known by that bunch of humans who were waiting in the dinghy in the middle of the sea waiting for their turn. Real heroism was portrayed when the crew members of MV Sentinel said they would ot leave without leaving a single person behind. How slowly time went by when that girl waiting in GB Pant hospital for her parents to arrive. The real shock was sensed by the people on a stranded island listening to the radio: “Rescue teams have reached and all our people have been fed” while those mentioned were in a stranded island peeling the last coconut they had in their tattered bag.

At that time in that place and in that condition, people were looking out towards the shore with keen eyes, not for food, not for clothes, not for water — they were looking for hope, some sign of hope that yes someone was looking out for them, hoping that their existence mattered. Hope was all that they wanted.

Many years later, one could wonder how the sea which is a treasure for the fisherman, a mate for the sailor and home to the maximum of our living organisms could be so cruel. Then the other picture slides over showing the battered down forests, deforestation over acres, those oil spills, poachers, floating garbage, plastic entangled dugongs and almost extinct species. We leave no stone unturned and give plenty of reasons to the sea to be angry with us and once in a while nature understandably loses its cool.

We sure have come a long way since the first Tsunami, we have all the sensors, ships, rules and a detailed mechanism to handle such a situation and everything, but still, ARE WE READY TO BEAR THE NEXT HIT? Have we prepared enough to take head on the sea as the opponent? NO! no matter how technologically advanced we get we will never be ready to take on nature. The only thing that we can do is be respectful towards it. Yes! Development has to go side by side and change is the only constant law of nature but our greed could lead us to dig our own graves. Let the development be sustainable in its true measure not just on paper. This earth is not ours, we are mere tenants. Let us mend our ways before the owner loses his cool again.

(Special thanks to Denis Giles)

Sarpreet Kaur is a teacher, a Ruskin Bond fan and an aspiring writer. Her articles and stories have previously appeared in The Hindu, New Delhi Times, Cafe Dissensus, Muse India and many other magazines. This adapted from an earlier version in Andaman Chronicle.



Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


The Scream & Me

 By Prithvijeet Sinha

Scream by Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Courtesy: Creative Commons

Dignity of expression is an underestimated phenomenon; in times like ours where everything has to be blurted out loud from the biggest amplifiers, subtlety has become a jaded mode of creative power. What can be understood in two words and understatement needn’t be stretched to a point of vulgar oversimplification through metaphors and symbolism anyway. The sorry state of affairs obviously then finds an outlet through the arts.  Ideally, painting should capture the world as a beautiful sanctuary, where our place as heavenly creatures endowed with virtues galore and innate innocence, is sanctified. This it does in thousands of visual motifs.  But painting also evinces an ample canvas on which our internal world of chaos finds an adequate representation. That is where ‘art’ finds its footing.

For me, one artwork that will always stand the test of time when it comes to representing our internal implosion affected by socio-cultural, political consequences is Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’ (1893).

I don’t know when exactly I discovered it because it seems to bear such an omnipresent place in our cultural consciousness. However, to the best of my memory, my tenacious relationship with ‘Scream’ commenced more than a decade ago when I first set sight upon its hollowed out, skeletal figure, a personality who, it seemed, had placed us instantly in his/her shoes. Munch’s work thus has gone on to frame every moment that has blown the lid off societal hypocrisies and depravity, for this writer. It’s a scream that we all innately identify with because so much of our lives is spent repressing our self-expression, our sense of self-esteem and by extension, our rights. As our mental health, a culturally coded reality ignored throughout modern humanity’s materialistic stride, becomes a perennial victim of that repression, we yearn to speak. Recount our potential lost chances. Claim our minds, bodies and souls as our own. Retaliate at the status quo and in fair essence, scream.  Scream at the void, at our preceding generations, at calloused authority.

If you ask me then personally, the painting’s stance of an individual left in the middle of nowhere, imploding with the gesture of putting his hands on his ears and crying out, melting with the weight of the world, is most likely to be identified with my journey till now. That literal and oftentimes implicit scream is attached to parts of my whole being where nothing of prejudice, repression or even plainly documented neglect from our adults and guardians should reside. Yet they do.

I scream when my talents as a writer are taken to be temperamental or above careful analysis, as only an individual feat. I scream when a writer’s sensitivity doesn’t translate to a real vocation in the eyes of the world. I scream when my sustained silences groan and moan for days on end, only to be met with a premise of being ‘physically weak’ on my part; when my insides churn with inflaming pain attributable to chronic stomach troubles and indigestion since that day in 2000 where I was cursed with a bout of jaundice. When the strength to write gets overpowered by my depressive disenchantments; when gender roles are used as a rapier in common discourses, I scream.  I scream. I scream. Never audible enough to be heard. Always observing a kind of bourgeois tact that makes me come undone. I scream when the men tail me in moments of solitude at riverside parks, put hands on my body and refuse to acknowledge that there are asexuals out there who don’t crave the crassness of physical pleasure. Or even verbal grooming and cajoling.

I scream when the river gets dirty, filled with pollutants. The trees fall down. When a peaceful day is brutalised by the ancient prophecies of time; when concrete balls, lances of disease and traffic blasts produce a most grotesque symphony of the nature of the world, a preserve of noise, sound and fury signifying nothing especially as our mental states are poured out into doctors’ tables for consultations and fees, I scream. Gulping the air around me and melting with all the foregrounds and backgrounds this world can assist me with, to no avail, I get hollowed out.

Peace is a luxury to us mere mortals. Chaos is the lightning rod that governs us throughout. Since truth can never be shortchanged, Scream always haunts us with its presence, intimately involved in our implosions through the clogged networks of time and memory. I felt its echoes in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’sMemoria(2021), as Jessica, the protagonist, travelled along a network of vibrations emanating from aural worlds around her, dictated by the stillness of nature holding more than it dares to reveal; or, in that eight-minute unbroken piece de resistance in Dea Kulumbegashvili’s Beginning(2020) where her central figure drowns out the pandemonium of sexual defilement by laying her head on the ground, to keep herself sane and from death’s purview.

That scream is released in the final two minutes of the lyrics of Phoebe Bridgers’ breakout single ‘I Know The End’ (2020) where an apocalypse of the mind finds its literal projections compounded by rock guitars and drums, where the serenity of the preceding passages leads to an honest overflow, where aggression is supplanted by an exhausted sigh in the final coda. But also one, where silence is not an option. To me, Munch’s imprints let me reconcile with the fact that more than the politics of life and death as well as class, we are eternally doomed to imparting a facade of silence and repression to our ethos. It’s the inescapable truth and when bigotry such as the ones we encounter infects discourses, The Scream gags to be left out. It should, must be let out.


Prithvijeet Sinha, has built a prolific published corpus based on the intersection of poetry, cinema and culture. He hails from the cultural epicentre that is Lucknow, India.




A Fine Sunset

By Mike Smith

Camusdarach Beach. Photo courtesy: Mike Smith

Traigh Beach lies on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands, and from it you look out towards the islands of Eigg, Rhum, and Skye; you look out towards sunset.

It’s a beach I know well, for an outsider. I’ve visited it, probably on average more than once a year for the past forty years, and once or twice in the decade before that. I have written poetry on it. But as often as not, I’ve passed it on my way to another beach a couple of miles up the coast, and that beach, forty years ago, was featured in a film that has become something of a cult movie.

I’m talking about Camusdarach beach, and about Bill Forsyth’s movie Local Hero[1], which starred among others, Camusdarach beach.

But there’s another tale, and in fact more than one, that has drawn attention to this little stretch of coastline. Published as a short story a further fifty years into the past, and by a writer who is now almost totally forgotten, L.A.G. Strong’s[2] tale ‘The Seal’ doesn’t name the beach, but one of its minor characters has a dog named Darach, with has no other reason to be there but to give us that clue.

And the beach is described — broom, dunes, the path along the burn leading in, never mind that view of Skye and the other islands – with picture postcard accuracy. It’s a simple but haunting tale of intimacy not quite achieved between the newly married George, clumsy, boisterous and totally obtuse and the contemplative, highly sensitive Rosamund. The first time I read it, I was thinking of Camusdarach long before the dog put in its brief appearance!

It’s a remarkable story, for its subtlety and its insights, but also for the fact that there is not a single word in it that would need to be excised for you to imagine it taking place, and having been written, in the last day or two. Equally, it could have been written, and again word for word, a hundred years before its publication over ninety years ago. That durability, of place as well as the story is astonishing, and both reassuring and daunting. If one of my stories managed such a feat of, well, transcendence, I would be very happy. It would also be possible to transfer Strong’s tale to just about any beach anywhere in the world over all that time by merely adjusting the names of people, places, and that dog, and the nature of the eponymous animal and the plants growing behind the beach. How’s that for universality? And curiously, the fact that you could do that makes it less worthwhile to do it! Strong’s story in its original setting could speak to us all from the day it was written and will continue to do so while people fail to connect.

Yet I’ve found remarkably little written about Strong. He was a prolific writer across several genres – plays, poetry, essays, novels, as well as the short story – but he’s one of those very good writers (based on the thirty-one short stories in this collection), that seems to have dropped out of our consciousness. How could I find out if this was indeed the beach he had in mind, and why did I want to?

I recently took a holiday cottage overlooking Camusdarach and spent most of a week staring at that view. It’s one of those special places that, in its continuous changes and in its unchanging certainties, holds the attention, day into night, night into day. I made sure to take my copy of Strong’s 1931 collection Travellers, in which ‘The Seal’ is included. I thought it would be good to read it, looking out to sea as Rosamund does in the story. And it was.

But I re-read the other stories too, and among them found the names of Arisaig, and Morar, villages a couple of miles to south and north of me respectively. I found also Glenan Cross farm – to which he pins a headless ghost, and which still sits a bare half mile away on the other side of the coast road — and the name of one the little islands lying just beyond the headland to my left as I read.

So, no biographical evidence, but there in the stories, the minutiae of place that tells me he knew it and implicitly, like me, loved it, though he would have been an incomer too.

And as I’m working on this piece, and dipping into the story, I notice with a frisson of recognition two more little details a few lines apart: ‘She crossed the road’, and ‘After the room at the farm’, which makes me think he pictured her walking the path from Glenan Cross, though he doesn’t name it here, and which I too walked only a few weeks ago.

I’m not a great fan of tagging an author’s biographical details to their writings. What a story means to them is their business, and what it means to me is mine, and the two need neither coincide nor influence one another, but to find myself in a place I know, reading a story set in that place and written by an author who knew it too, brought me a little closer, and not only to the story. Might I say that it heightened my sense of a common humanity and the shared experience of a story as timeless as a fine sunset?


[1] Local Hero, 1983, Scottish movie

[2] Leonard Alfred George Strong (1896 –1958), a popular English novelist, critic, historian, and poet, and published under the name L. A. G. Strong.

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 




A Taste of Bibimbap & More…

By G Venkatesh

Ulsan, South Korea. Courtesy: Creative Commons

This was long ago. In the summer of 2013. Destiny brought me to South Korea for a week-long conference, the International Society of Industrial Ecology conference. I reached Ulsan, a city south of Seoul. Not having time to convert my USD to South Korean Won, before stepping onto the bus which would take me to the conference venue, and assuming that I could pay for my ticket on the bus, using my credit card, I proferred the latter to the bus driver. He shook his head. I then pulled out some USD notes and looked at him, hoping that I could pay the required amount of money in USD equivalents. He shook his head again. I said, “Okay, sorry,” and was about to turn and alight, when he turned his head and said something in Korean to the passengers on the bus. A young schoolgirl ran down the aisle towards me and said in fluent English, “You do not have to alight. I will but your ticket.”

I looked at the driver, and he smiled and nodded and beckoned me to take a seat. I looked at the girl, thanked her and asked, “Can I repay you in dollars?”

She smiled sweetly and said, “You are our guest. It is our duty to make sure that your stay in South Korea is comfortable. You do not have to repay me. You enjoy your stay here.”

I was lost in thought for the remainder of my journey, not having experienced anything similar to that before.

Bibmbap: Courtesy: Creative commons

The next day, I was guided to a restaurant about 200 metres from the conference venue, where I could eat some good-quality Bibimbap (Korean rice+vegetable dish). Being a non-experimental eater (one from whom gourmands would most certainly wish to stay away), I visited the same place for the very same meal at the very same time every evening for the next four days. Every time the elderly Korean lady who manned the counter, saw me walking in, she would intuitively know what I would be eating, and shout out ‘Bibimbap’ to the cook inside. On the 4th day, she asked me, in her broken English, ‘You here tomorrow also?’

I said, ‘No. I am going to Seoul tomorrow and then I fly to Mumbai.’

‘Oh, so last day dinner here. Then, you no pay today. Today free Bibimbap for you.’

‘But I would like to pay. I cannot eat without paying for it.’

‘No, no, free. I say free! You liked Ulsan?’

‘Okay, thank you so much. I liked the city a lot.’

I noted down the postal address of the restaurant and would send a postcard from Trondheim (Norway) – where I worked at that time in my career.

The next day, I had to take a train from Ulsan to Incheon. Time was at a premium when I reached the station. For some strange reason, my credit card ‘malfunctioned’. I had run out of Won and had foolishly forgotten to equip myself with some, as I assumed that the credit card would surely work at the ticket-vending machine at the station. I was a bit tense and started sweating profusely. I turned back and asked the young Korean boy who was next in the queue if the machine would accept USD or if there was some place nearby where I could quickly trade in my USD for some Won. He smiled, and said, “Do not bother. Where are you headed?”

When I said, Incheon, he stepped up and purchased my ticket for me. I read the price askance, did a  quick mental conversion to USD and requested him to let me repay him in that currency. He smiled again and said, ‘‘You are our guest. It is our duty to make sure that your stay in South Korea is comfortable. You do not have to repay me. Hope you enjoyed your stay here and will visit our country again.” So saying, he hastened towards the escalator on the right of the ticketing machine.

The very same words I had heard on the first day on the bus from the young girl. Perhaps this boy was her brother. Do-gooder siblings. Or perhaps they just represented the South Koreans – hospitable and helpful, doing God’s bidding on earth, smilingly and gallantly, without expecting anything in return…


G Venkatesh (50) is a Chennai-born, Mumbai-bred ‘global citizen’ who currently serves as Associate Professor at Karlstad University in Sweden. He has published 4 volumes of poetry and 4 e-textbooks, inter alia. 




September Nights

By Mike Smith

How beautiful this darkness! The air is still and comfortably warm, which for people of that age is surprising at this time of night. Half an hour and today will be over and night will have tipped into tomorrow’s early morning. The darkness will remain for an hour or two, more in fact now the year is turning too, with another season slipping into place.

Houselights are already off, not that there are many to be seen in any case down here in the valley: only the glimmer of one or two through the trees at each end of the river’s wide curve, and of the farm of course, behind, upon the rising ground. The double pizza-slice of flat grass field is a flood plain for when the river rises after heavy rain miles away upstream on the high fells. It has gathered becks as it falls and flows, and under the strictures of Civil Servants who have environmental boxes to tick no-one now who lives alongside keeps the channel clean, but natural processes clog and choke it for years until some catastrophic surge scours it out, bringing down fallen trees to smash bridges and riverside buildings to smithereens, collapsing banks and gouging the channel clean to bedrock.

The river’s nobody’s friend now; nobody’s resource. But miles away suits in offices can put up on their screens all sorts of proofs that everything is as it should have been since the ice-sheet’s retreat, when no-one lived here.

But tonight, the darkness is so complete that even the black amphitheatre of trees beyond the river’s further edge has merged with the black cloud-lagged starless, moonless sky and all has fallen silent. And people of that certain age, surprised at how pleasant it is to be motionless and silent, as if in a void, and to smell the faint odour of the distant pines and to feel the air warm upon their still warm skin, and to catch the sharp tang of salt upon their lips from tears running down their cheeks, they wait.

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




Remnants of Time Once Spent Together

By Sayali Korgaonkar

I thought I was never really close to my Aaji (grandmother). She became paralysed and suffered from many illnesses ever since I was too young to remember, so we barely interacted. When she passed away a few years back, I did not cry. I could not grieve as much as my mother did, or as my uncles and aunts did. I guess I am a bit like my father in that sense, not too emotional. A few years earlier when my grandfather had passed away, I remember everyone in my house crying, even those who barely knew him. I remember my father walking in from work, straight-faced, he touched my grandfather’s feet and went in to change. I thought my father wasn’t grieving his own parent’s death, but I have come to realise that everyone has their own way of dealing with grief.

Similarl, I think I still sometimes grieve my Aaji’s passing. I have come to realise I was closer to this woman in my life than I thought. When I was born, my Aaji stitched one of her sarees into a blanket for me. It was violet in colour and the softest fabric you’ll ever touch in your life. I have since grown out of the blanket by many inches, but I still keep it beside me as I sleep. On nights that I find it difficult to sleep, I hold the blanket close to me. I like to think of the immense warmth it gives as the love my Aaji filled it with when she first stitched it. I am 20 years old now, and I still cannot find peaceful slumber without the violet blanket.

My Aaji suffered from memory loss for about ten years. It got worse every day. The one thing I remember most though is that she would even forget her own sons and husband and mistake them for nurses or doctors. But in the twelve years that she was that way, she never forgot me. She always remembered me as her granddaughter, Sayali. I don’t think I appreciated that enough. And I think I still grieve for that to this day.

I have been fortunate enough to not lose too many people close to me yet. I have not experienced grief as much as many near me have, but I think I understand the weight it carries. The loss of a person is beyond anything that can be expressed in words. It is, however, something that is inevitable far too many times in one’s life. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1926-2004), a pioneering psychiatrist on near-death studies, once said that one will “grieve forever. There is no ‘getting over’ the loss of a loved one. We simply learn to live with it.” That quote has stuck in my head ever since her death. The loss stays with you forever, and it changes you in ways big or small. Just like my Aaji left behind the violet blanket of comfort for me, everyone will leave a part of their life with you to grieve over, the remnants of the time you once spent together. It might feel like a burden, in the beginning, but you come to accept it as part of your life eventually. It makes you strive to be a better person than you were yesterday.

Sayali Korgaonkar is a  writer at heart and an aspiring journalist, who is passionate about telling stories.