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Musings

Leo Messi’s Magic Realism

By Saurabh Nagpal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Musings

Word Play

By Geetha Ravichandran

Every year, new words appear in the dictionary. There is also a contest of sorts among the new entrants and one gets elected the ‘Word of the Year’. A few years ago, the coveted title, awarded by a reputed authority in the field, went to ‘post-truth’. It is a matter of relief that while new entrants are feted, all the older ones are not given a ceremonial exit. Imagine the state of affairs if ‘truth’ were to be given a send-off!

One word that I would personally like to see erased is ‘breaking news’. After watching news channels religiously for so many years, I have still not figured out why news is ‘breaking’. Or, more particularly, why is it claimed that news is breaking, even after it has been broken. I think it would be a refreshing change to hear the ‘whole’ story or get wholesome news. Maybe, if the news is actually explosive it could be called ‘shattering news’. Or even news quake, if the idea is to draw viewership by sound bursts and stop viewers from flipping channels. However that may also prove to be a damp squib, as by now it is well known that ‘explosive disclosures’ do not cause earthquakes.

Seeing some words grow and acquire nuances is as interesting, as seeing  some others shrivel and fade away. The word ‘like’, for instance is increasingly used in conversation today, as a verbal comma. The word ‘hot’ is rapidly being replaced by ‘cool’ to convey approval. Today, everything in spite of global warming, is described as ‘cool’. Along with its derivative ‘chill’, it is the most expressive response one can expect from millennials.

Earlier, it took a Shakespeare to enrich language with a few thousand words. Today, the creative genius of many anonymous sources finds its way into circulation, before being elevated to the columns of dictionaries.  The software programmes which are in use for word documents, underline in red many multi-lingual words that are commonly understood by everyone but the programme.  On being prompted by the programme, whether the unrecognised word is to be ignored, corrected or added to the dictionary is a decision that has to be made. I for my part, contribute generously to the idea of adding new words. For, it’s a warm feeling when fringe words are acknowledged and given their due. 

I have heard the word ‘timepass’, used decades ago by vendors who would clamber up the compartment as our train neared the Bombay (now Mumbai) station to hawk everything from peanuts, to magazines, to rattles and toy cars. Now, the word has wide currency, describing a range of activity from listening to music, idling with a phone, blanking out in class or doing nothing. I am not sure whether lexicons have accepted this, but that does not seem to matter.

What we may well see in the future, is further elasticity in the use of language. The predictive text, which often behaves as if it is presumptive text, seems to know what has to be said. Need for any references or even the need to know how to spell have been considerably reduced. The idea, after all is to be understood.

In post-truth times – anything goes.

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Geetha Ravichandran lives in Mumbai. When she is not working, she watches the sky and the sea.  In the past year, her poems have been published in Borderless, Setumag and included in a couple of anthologies published by Hawakal.

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Musings

Seventy-four Years After Independence…

Mil ke rahe gi Azadi (We will get our freedom)

Aysha Baqir, an activist-author who works with and writes about women in Pakistan, passionately cries for a hearing

Mustard fields in Pakistan. Courtesy: Creative Commons

I dreamt of you again. Waves of lazy mustard fields rolled over the plains. Crowns of ancient firs, pines and deodars, brushed the feet of the giant mist-drenched peaks. Silver white sprays surged and throbbed down bare, black rocky slopes and foamed into turquoise pools.  The rise and fall of the gold sand stilled the earth.

I was part of you when you broke into the world and drank your first breath. Now I am alive in over a hundred and eleven million pulsing hearts and minds and spread over your countless tribes and towns. Yet, I remain, in most part, ignored, abused, oppressed, and repressed.  I am struck and beaten with sticks and rods. I am stripped, raped, and paraded naked. I am doused in petrol and set on fire. I am shot and beheaded. I am killed for honour they stuck between my legs. You gained your independence; yet I still seek mine in the promises you made me. You swore to honour and protect me with the rights my religion freed me with over a thousand years ago. And on this day, seventy-four years after Independence, I tell myself again and again, mil ke rahe gi azadi.

You forget I sacrificed my life for yours when you were a whisper, a glimmer, and gossamer of hopes and dreams. You forget how I risked my life and honour and stole out of my safe home into the treacherous shadows to join secret councils and meetings in which they spoke your name for the first time. I clapped and cheered for you on the roundtables. Breaking laws and curfews, I spied and snuck out letters and telegrams. I traded my gold bangles to fuel your strength. I disobeyed and defied my family, friends, and everyone else who dared to oppose your right to exist. I ran out into the streets, marched along the crowds, led the protests, and screamed your name when they charged me with lathis.  I raced up the civil secretariat to pull down the British flag and replaced it with yours. When I was arrested and imprisoned, I continued to protest without food and medicine, and when I was freed, I joined the women’s National Guard. As the violence erupted, I rushed to the refugee camps to aid the injured, distribute food, and boost the broken spirits. “Muslim women are… more impatient for Pakistan than men,”[i] I clung to the mantra feverishly even when my breath and body burnt and ached.

At dawn, before I could rise, stand tall and step out, you pushed me inside, shrouded me with a chador (stole), and bound me to your newfound, draconian ideals of law, religion, and culture. I fought for your freedom, and you seized mine. With every act and ordinance, you suppressed my right to speak, to be heard, and slashed the worth of my testimony and evidence. You questioned my right to education and work. You shredded my right to be safe in my country. I am made of brilliant shades, yet you chose to see the dullest in me.

Even then, blazed by determination fiercer than fire, I trudge to triumph and break barriers to win awards for sports, science, poetry, prose, business, theatre, entrepreneurship, academics, and filmmaking in an infinite longing to make you recognise me as your own. Yet every day you sell more of me, over and over again, into slavery, drudgery, and lifetime of servitude. I live in jhuggis (huts) of mud, rusted tin and cardboard and watch light fade from my daughters’ eyes while they watch me sweep your streets, gutters, and toilets. I earn less than you can count, and my earnings are not mine. I sow and harvest your fields from dawn to dusk; yet my daughters wither into waste, hungry.

I make up nearly half the country, yet in your parliament I represent less than twenty percent of the total. In your courts my testimony is never enough. My mind is starved; yet, just over half of me attends a primary school. And all of me, over a hundred million of me, is threatened by violence inside and outside my house. I am told to cover up, but I am groped and pinched in the crowded bazaars. I am hauled out of my car and raped in front of my small children. I am violated for the crimes my sons, brothers, and fathers commit. When I am assaulted, you subject me to the “two finger” test or call me immoral. When I protest, I am silenced in the name of honour. I am coerced to forgive and accept blood money. Some dare to taunt me “Apni Izzat Apne Haath Main (your honour is in your own hands).”  I promise you that if I held my honour in my hands, I would not cower like a hunted beast, I would hold it up high above my head, and march free through your lands.

You declare I have a right to education but forbid me from going to school or marry me off when I am eleven, twelve, or thirteen. You offer me rights with one hand and snatch them away with the other. I carry and birth your children when I am a child myself. When my husband beats me, my father begs him to forgive me and when my religion grants me my due share, you cheat me out of my inheritance. You sign accords, and agreements, local and international with powers big and small, but tomorrow if my brother, lover, husband father chops me into pieces; you tell me it is my fault, and the perpetrator walks away free. Sometimes. I tell myself it’s my fault. I am a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, but I am also a traitor to myself. Where is my self-worth?

Even the earth protests. The dry winds over the cracked barren soil moan my pain. The dark wet sounds of the rising sea echo my resentment.  When I cheer for my champions, conflict tears and cuts the conversation. You call me a liar. You twist and wrench my heroes, the ones who struggle for my freedom, and turn them into demons and traitors. What if Malala Yousafzai was a boy? Would you have protected and honoured her, and called her yours? Would you have given her a home? In the end you forget that your independence will never be complete without mine. You forget I am part of you. “There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women.”[ii]

What would Mr. Jinnah say if he saw me today?

Courtesy: Creative Commons : Quaid-i-Azam or Great Leader — the sobriquet stands for Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan

[i] Quote by Begam Jahan Ara Shah Nawaz, Dec 25, 1945

[ii] Quote by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jinnah Islamia College for Women, Lahore, 25 March 1940

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Aysha Baqir grew up in Pakistan. Her time in college sparked a passion for economic development. In 1998 she founded a pioneering not for profit economic development organization, Kaarvan Crafts Foundation, with a mission to alleviate poverty by providing business and marketing training to girls and women in low-income communities. Her novel Beyond the Fields was published in January 2019 and she was invited to launch her book at the Lahore and Karachi Literary Festivals and was featured in the Singapore Writers Festival and Money FM Career 360 in Singapore. Her interviews have appeared in Ex-pat Living, Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, Kitaab, and The Tempest.  She is an Ashoka Fellow. www.ayshabaqir.com

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Musings

The Road to Freedom

By Kanchan Dhar

Freedom. A clichéd status today. So many on social media, in books, in organisations promote it, debate it, but what is it really? It’s not a concept, it’s a journey, the outcome of which is the absolute liberation of the soul. Freedom doesn’t come easy. I feel that it’s a luxury you toil a hundred years to attain and another hundred to enjoy. Pain, blood, tears are some of its usual companions. Freedom also means you value your breathe, your moments so fiercely that you would be ready to flout every ridiculous postulation of society. The road to freedom is a trek to a Himalayan peak; you might stumble on the ragged terrain, roll down, lapped in snow, or lose breathe and muscles on the way; you might also successfully make it to the peak, a little battered but euphoric, perhaps even end up paving a safer path for another. Leave a trail for a fellow neighbour. Is it not worth a try?

I won’t say I have attained freedom, but the journey has started most certainly. And I won’t lie, it’s been so painful. It’s a lonely path, since you have to let go of so much, the baggage that society or your family loads on your little head right at birth. You must let go of it because you cannot possibly trek with a heavy weight without breaking your back. You only backpack what you really need, the basics to survive, so that light-hearted, you can enjoy your journey despite the challenges. In my case, I had to let go of an insensitive husband, an abusive father and his “home”, a dream career, the promise of an elite degree, cities that had briefly been my happy home. Every now and then a painful memory, a verbal trigger, a photograph lodges a rock so heavy in my heart, it takes days to unload it. I welcome the breaks and move again. You can never trek without the necessary pauses; you need them to strategise and recharge, plan the next mount.

As the pain grazes my skin and departs, I grow a little more than before; I have lately begun to worship my spirit, for recognising my worth; my eyes, for daring to witness a marvel; my feet, for leading me on. I have grown to become a devotee of life itself from a consumed, scorned lover. The transition amazes me! The peak is far still, but what keeps me going in spite of the hurt and the pain is the fact that I am tasting freedom in the air already. Its fresh, embracing, cool, and motherly. It’s the thrill of my gut, the strength of my footsteps, the magnificence of life that envelopes me in many shades, as I constantly push myself towards something better. The goal high up the mountain comprises of scented meadows draped with rhododendrons, an unnamed tributary of the Ganga, birds that squeak wild, butterflies flitting about seasonal blossoms in sensual glee, perhaps even a temple of a Himalayan goddess right on edge of the spur with clouds for a backdrop. A personal definition of a Turkish delight!

But am I really alone in this? What about the whispers that reach my ears from mountains afar, the gusts that willingly breathe stories into my ears? The rocks I walk must have been graveyards to millions of mountain people for eons. What about their memories, their stories that glide invisible along my feet? Every mountain trek is painful, at the same time exhilarating. So is the journey to freedom. To belong to the peak, even for a moment, to earn the oft-forbidden fruit called freedom, I would undertake this journey again and again.

Kanchan Dhar is a writer from Odisha/Pondicherry, India. Her pieces have found places in several anthologies from India and the US. Her debut book, Becoming Himalaya, is currently in press.

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Musings

A Stroll through Kolkata’s Iconic Maidan

Fort William was constructed by the British from 1696 to 1706 with permission from Emperor Aurangzeb. The old fort was damaged during the Siege of Calcutta. A new one was rebuilt (1757-81) near the restored building. The old one became the customs house from 1766 and a post office post-independence and the newer one went to the Indian army. Nishi Pulugurtha roamed the grounds near the fort or the Maidan with a camera & recapped a post covid world as it was in December, 2020.

It is a strange time that we are living in. And it seems to be getting even stranger with every passing day. It has become difficult to concentrate, to work, to deal with things as news keeps coming in. Suffering and death all around, the very sound of the ambulance last evening shook me as I was dealing with the loss of two dear friends. Both gone too early, both to the virus that seems to be wrecking lives in these times.  Staying at home is not an option for all, staying safe and doing things that would keep each safe is difficult for many. The bizarreness of the world we live in haunts and troubles.

As each of us struggle trying to hold on, my mind goes back to a walk one winter morning, towards the end of 2020 (I have been looking through older photographs these days, trying to hold on). One morning last December, I decided to go out for a long walk. Not in my neighbourhood, but a little further away. The city has a few places that one could be in the morning — places that are very familiar and have a charm of their own. Winters in Kolkata are crisp and pleasant. In the heart of the city is what is called the Maidan, a huge expanse of green. It is called Gorer Mathh in Bengali which translates into fort’s grounds. These are the grounds of the Fort William which is just across. The Kolkata General Post Office (GPO) is located near the site of the old Fort William.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

The Maidan is an iconic Kolkata location, one gets to see it in films, songs and photographs. The tram trundles along the grounds. It is one of the most scenic tram routes in the city. I have travelled past it myriads of times just to enjoy the ride along so much of green in the heart of the city. However, I do not recall walking there at all.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

Well, there I was finally, that December morning. As I walked along one end of the Maidan, with the Chowringhee skyline clearly visible and the tramline running past, the scenes that I saw felt nice. There was the lone milk man on his work routine. No rest for him.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

Quite a number of branches were lying around, most of them dry. They create strange shapes here and there. As I walked down from the northern side to the southern and back again, feeling the breeze, sitting down on a broken branch for a while, it sure felt nice being out in the open.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

There seemed to be a sense of calm with the sheep out for grazing with the men herding them, the sound of a few jingling bells, the men catching up on some conversation – all in a day’s work.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

In another part of the Maidan, a few young people were at a game of football.  A couple of cricket matches were on somewhere else, as the tall buildings look over the green.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

A few horses were grazing in another part of the open ground, before being yoked to the carriages that are used for joyrides.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

Three men in orange were out on a mission it seemed as they walked real fast cutting across the vast expanse, through the shade towards the road lining the tram tracks.

On some other parts of the Maidan, one could see people resting. On a concrete platform someone was enjoying a siesta.  A jhaalmuri vendor with his spicy, savoury snacks and the tea seller walking around looking for customers provided a respite from languor and more activity as life moved on.

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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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Independence Day Musings

An Immigrant’s Story

By Candice Louisa Daquin

I have an English accent because I learned English in England. After nearly 20 years in the US this is an accent, I wish I could rid myself of, owing to the assumptions made. I’m neither English nor imperialistic and Independence Day has always been challenging with comments like: “Well your side lost!” shouted my way a few times. I want to say, we’re all universal now, we all come from a multitude of places, accents and skin color aren’t accurate reflections of anything so stop being small minded.

Despite this, Independence Day has grown on me. Why? If I didn’t grow up in America, why would it really relate to me? Neither English nor American, it was hard to relate to. But you know what helped? Getting naturalized. Granted. I didn’t grow up in American schools pledging allegiance to the flag. This does inculcate and cause a great deal of loyalty which has brought 50 states into relative harmony, which is more than the EU could ever achieve in Europe.

Binding together such a melting pot of differing cultures into one ‘American culture’ is what made America, American. This is no small thing. And when you are an immigrant, there is nothing more emotionally rewarding than gaining that foothold, that coveted opportunity, to be part of the American Dream. The only question is, does it still exist, the dream part?

I would argue it does. As much as economically I know we can’t go from cotton picking farmer to CEO quite as readily as once we did, and that there are striations and class divisions in this country, even as we deny them. Though racism and bigotry continues to deny swaths of society, and affirmative action, permits entry, it’s more complicated than a straight shot to success the way we might have once imagined it, in the 1950’s heyday.

As I wasn’t alive in those days, I can’t speak to whether they were mythologized but I can say, America was affluent after World War II in a way Europe couldn’t imagine, being decimated in every respect. As such, there were leaps and bounds made in America that weren’t mirrored in much of the rest of the world. Like anything, this didn’t last, and America is no longer the leader of the world, if ever it was. But the dream is still alive, maybe as much in our imaginations as reality. Maybe it’s the idea of it more than the actuality of it.

That said, people send their kids to American universities to help them succeed, almost against modern wisdom. There are better schools elsewhere but we are still somewhat spellbound by the lure of big recognizable names, just as Hollywood continues to thrive, despite larger industries like Bollywood. We are sentiment to the America of old, and as such, the modern America can benefit from this and it does.

Independence gave America more of her identity than she had when she was being bled dry by the English royalty. America exists because of immigration. Native Americans were slaughtered in droves in order to ‘make way’ for the hordes of then foreigners. Parts of Mexico (Texas, New Mexico, California) were essentially stolen (or rightfully won, if you read some history books) in unfair wars, the French stupidly sold Louisiana and the Russians sold Alaska. These pieces came slowly together, and when the British lost America, the idea of truly being unfettered came into being and painted the American psyche.

So aside the obvious connotations and a holiday for most American’s who might not consider the historical import of Independence Day, what else does it represent? For many immigrants such as myself, it represents a change from what was. I didn’t grow up patriotic to a country, that was a foreign concept, and yet, as I stood in the Naturalization ceremony and put my hand over my chest and sang the songs, and waved the flag, as absurd as it felt on one level, it also felt very meaningful. That surprised me and my friends ‘back home’ might laugh to read this, but that’s what happens when you immigrate, or what should happen, you become something new. To me that’s what Independence Day is all about, a way forward from who you were before. Most of us could learn something from that, as we tend to be stuck in our ways, unable to relate to change and new concepts. There still is something deeply alluring about America and it’s our ability to take in a great variety of different people from all around the world and still retain a sense of what being American is, including transmitting this feeling to those newcomers as they arrive.

For this reason alone, we should all be proud to be American. For all the negatives, such as continuing racism and oppression, poverty and sexism, there are so many positive things about being American and that’s why so many people try to immigrate to American every single year. It’s no coincidence we’re continue to be a highly sought country to live in, it’s not simply our perceived economic opportunities, it’s the whole enchilada and that includes this elusive concept of what ‘being’ American is.

Many of us even from other countries, grew up deeply influenced by Americana. That included the golden years and even what came afterward, because Americans are very self-confident and they really know how to put their best foot forward. Social media may have us believe all is negative because there are those who like to criticize and never say anything positive, but this doesn’t really change things as much as we think. People still envy our freedom throughout the world and it was a hard-won freedom that none of us should forget, no matter where we live and where we intend to live. Freedom is something to never take for granted, and in this sense, Independence Day is a universal theme, freedom from oppression and the right to self-expression.

I hope American’s remember how lucky they are and spend less time fighting and more time appreciating those things we tend to take for granted. I can have an opinion in this country that disagrees with everyone and nobody will come and arrest me and take me away. Even if people don’t like my differences, I am protected by law and allowed to be different. Those are liberties many people don’t have, and I am mindful of this when I think of traveling as a gay woman, or for that matter, as a woman!

That said, we should also be mindful that freedom can vanish almost overnight, unless we make the right decisions in how we vote, and be aware of plans to undermine freedoms. Those who believe immigration is wrong, often point to increased immigration leading to less jobs, more change and an erosion of The American Way. I don’t agree, because the American way is immigration, it always has been. Sometimes bad (killing Native Americans, taking African slaves). Sometimes good (growing a country from people from every part of the world). If it didn’t work to have immigrants, America as we know it, wouldn’t exist.

However, with population increases, come difficulties, not least a lack of jobs, economic opportunity. So, we cannot simply open the gates without due care to the realities of this. The answer lies in being merciful to those who need better lives, and realistic about what we can do versus what won’t work. Equally, we need to be mindful of those who live here now and meet their needs as much as we help others. I feel lucky I have had a chance for a better life but I also miss my culture and the nuances of where I came from. I want others to have the chance I had, and I believe if you work hard and you are an honest person, you should be given that chance. Where that may fall short is when a person from a different culture fails to realize part of immigration is accepting you are coming to a different country and you must respect that country. If say, you are a man who is used to disrespecting women because your home country condones that, you cannot bring those values to a new country and expect that to work. In this sense, immigrants must be as responsible as the host country in their success as an immigrant and respect the host countries values. I feel safer in America as a gay woman and as a woman than so many other countries throughout the world. I don’t want that to change, and I want women from countries that condone gender-based-abuse to feel they can come to America and be unmolested.

We all make America better, when we respect this delicate balance. I for one feel immigrants are the most likely to vote and be active in making change, because they are both grateful and excited to have the chance. When I was naturalized, I was asked if I would vote because it was part of my ‘duty’ as an immigrant to give my input. I have voted in every election and I try not to bury my head in the sand about anything that matters because I feel it’s my duty to have my eyes wide open, that’s how we keep our independence and our freedoms.

The Inscription reads as: GALVESTON WAS THE PORT OF ENTRY FOR THOUSANDS OF IMMIGRANTS WHO SETTLED IN TEXAS AND THE SOUTHWEST. FEDERAL LAYS ENACTED IN 1875 ENDED THE UNRESTRICTED ENTRY OF IMMIGRANTS INTO THE COUNTRY AND LED TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE AREA’S FIRST U.S. IMMIGRATION STATION AT GALVESTON’S PIER 29. THERE U.S. CUSTOMS OFFICIALS CONDUCTED MEDICAL EXAMS, BAGGAGE INSPECTIONS AND FORMAL PROCESSING OF IMMIGRANTS. THOSE FOUND TO BE DISEASED OR INCAPACITATED FACED DEPORTATION. THE U.S. CONGRESS CHOSE GLAVESTON OVER NEW ORLEANS AS THE SITE OF A MAJOR NEW FEDERAL IMMIGRATION STATION IN 1906. PLANS TO BUILD AN IMPRESSIVE IMMIGRANT LANDING STATION ON PELICAN ISLAND COMPARABLE TO NEW YORK’S ELLIS ISLAND FACILITY WERE NEVER FULLY REALIZED. THE SCALED DOWN STATION, FULLY OPERATIONAL BY 1913, WAS DAMAGED BY HURRICANE WINDS IN 1915 ABD CLOSED IN 1916. tHE IMMIGRATION OFFICES WERE SUBSEQUENTLY RELOCATED TO A BUILDING ON GALVESTONS’S 21ST STREET.
A NEW 3-STORY IMMIGRATION STATION CONTAINING IMMIGRATION OFFICES, DORMITORIES, MEDICAL FACILITIES, A KITCHEN, AND DINING AND RECREATIONAL AREAS WAS COMPLETED HERE AT 1700 STRAND IN 1933. IT WAS USED AS AN IMMIGRATION AND DEPORTEE-STAGING FACILITY UNTIL ABOUT 1940 WHEN IT WAS CONVERTED FOR USE AS A U.S. CUSTOMS OFFICE. Photo and inscription courtesy: Creative Commons

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

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Categories
Musings

I am a Jalebi

By Arjan Batth

Frying Jalebis

A jalebi, with a name as eccentric as its appearance, is made by a halwai (or a confectionery maker) with skillful etchings of concentric circular shapes of a paste of flour in hot bubbling ghee like a discerning painter with a brush. Oil simmers in unison with Lata Mangeshkar’s filmi voice, price bargaining, and noisy traffic — a distinctly South Asian symphony. The jalebi becomes fully congealed, eventually submerged in syrup and infused with its sweetened spirit. This delicate confection is then put in a basket on the side of a narrow street or in the midst of a chaotic bazaar, appearing as a platter of petite suns, seducing the occasional child like a syrupy siren. There are other mithai or sweets among it — barfis, ladoos, gulab jamun and more besan (gram flour) progenies. But the jalebi, like me, is markedly different from the rest. While it may be quite odd to describe oneself as a confection, I have inevitably come to the realization that I am, quite indubitably, a jalebi.

I am a jalebi not because I am saccharine, nor because of my lingering unpalatable aftertaste, but rather, because I am different, with my intricately eccentric swirls and peculiar oddities — a disorderly collection of twists that spiral infinitely into oblivion. I remain a vibrant enigma that is overtly incongruous, out of place in the world around me, a spectacle that can’t quite be made sense of. Seeing myself as a jalebi seemed the only way to make sense of the various oddities I have exhibited from a young age. It finally offered an explanation for my differences which seemed to have no tangible cause or explicable origin. And while it was a peculiar explanation, it was an explanation nonetheless, one that temporarily ended a search for an answer and brought with it a certain equanimity. Although I may not be appealing in the way a jalebi is, I am indeed the confection — a twisted, swirly, and overly orange one.

It was self-evident from a young age that I was not like most others. It was this feeling of being different that later blossomed into a profound estrangement. Most people are products of their environment and are thus well adapted to their surroundings. However, I seem to be the product of some other, indefinable forces. I feel irrelevant, always having the urge to be somewhere else, where others are more similar to me in a place that would make me feel a little more relevant. I am under the impression that I was born into the wrong life, in the wrong circumstances or context, the subject of a divine blunder and ridiculed by probability. I should be this rather than that. There rather than here. I am frustrated by the immutability of it all, the permanence of the things you are born into — religion, culture, language, and time. While it may seem futile to be frustrated by such things, they didn’t seem to fit in with who I was.

Inevitably, I remain pierced by loneliness. It is a paradoxical loneliness, not one due to physical isolation, but one borne out of my ability to see the world differently than most and my inability to see the world conventionally. One of the most distressing things that I felt knew, or at least believed I knew, that there were others like me, but just that they weren’t where I was, as if they were deliberately staying hidden away from me. While I have had some relationships before, most lack the intimacy and closeness that comes with genuine friendship. Compared to others, my idiosyncrasies and differences seemed magnified to a microscopic level, making me feel that there was something wrong with me clinically. This estrangement created an opaque silence within me, when I could no longer make sense of what was happening around me. I felt completely different, the discomfort and incongruity in the air around me, almost seemingly tangible and graspable, as thick and viscous as sea water. It is this certain “off” feeling, a discomfort, a malaise of some sort, a feeling of deep irrelevance, that I often felt.

My condition seems to be mirrored by the big jalebi in the sky, the Sun, the suraj, who like me, exhibits much jalebi-ness. The Sun’s interstellar solitude reminds me of my own alienation. It is the only star of its kind in the solar system; the next nearest star is 4.25 light years (24.9 trillion miles) away. And quite significantly, both of us are seemingly encumbered by the weight of the universe.

While I may seem outwardly peaceful because of my superficial reticence, I actually remain quiet because of the turmoil within me. I am pensive while my thoughts attempt to make sense of the confusing world around me. My mind is a spiraling jalebi that tightens and tightens, swirls and swirls, twirls and twirls into neurotic rumination. I often feel disordered, like a faulty machine. I am anxious and apprehensive about some things, fastidious about minor aberrations, and often despondent.

Some days, everything seems to be tinged in a certain sadness. A certain understood, yet unspoken hopeless injustice. My melancholy springs from a fusillade of realisations about the world.  Being exposed to the world’s harshness and its lack of hope and reason, my reality seems to have a propensity, an innate tendency, to be brutal. I anachronistically experienced the Romantic ennui that French teenagers felt in the 19th century, trying to find meaning in our capitalistic, success driven world. Like Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby, “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” I am a ghost of sorts, a specter of vicarious and passive living. But beyond my nihilism, I am disturbed by the unfathomability of concepts that govern our universe: the concept of time, the size of the universe, death, the sun’s brightness, human consciousness. But as a single living organism, the universe has no obligation to make sense to me and holds no obligation of any other kind.

I am also a jalebi because of my South Asian background. Even though I have grown up thousands of miles away from India, it infuses itself into my life, an  every day, colouring of a distinct shade of Indianness. It is in the food I swallow. The thoughts I think. The genes that materialize my body. Yet, there is a disconnect to “my homeland” not only due to the seemingly interminable physical distance, but because I have spent my entire life in the West. As such, I perceive India and the world through a unique lens. I see it as a Westerner, yet also as an Indian, making sense of the world through a complicated, paradoxical mosaics. 

The boundaries of a culture are always delineated by an “us” and “them”. But I struggle to define the “us” and the “them”. In India, the borders between ethnic, linguistic, and religious identity all simultaneously converge and diverge. In the modern post-colonial era with the ancient civilization partitioned and shattered, the definition of Indian is constantly questioned and changing. As technically a minority in India’s extremely diverse cultural landscape, I feel like a decimal point, a fraction not a whole, in a country with over a billion people. And in the US, I am not just American, but an Indian American — another “doctor” trying to uphold the coveted model minority status.

I have long felt like an outsider, a conspicuous jalebi, in both places, perpetually stateless and displaced, like a refugee devoid of a nationality. As I don’t know what to think of my culture, I don’t know what to think of myself. There is no dictionary that contains my name as a word entry. No particular space to define me or explain who I am. It is absent. Unwritten. Blank. And so, in an attempt to define the indefinable, I define myself as a jalebi.

Rather than ponder upon my loneliness, I muse on the big jalebi in the sky, my constant companion. I try to find the sun in other things. The suraj meets me. Sometimes in the grass. In a busy city. Or near the ocean. On a windy day. Or on a walk. In my mind. In my dreams. Wherever really — sometimes among the surajmukhis (sunflowers)thatsprout out of the ground, with the grimming expression of the sun. The suraj is in the juicy, citrus fruits hanging off verdant trees. And of course, the sun is in every jalebi. I realize that because of the sun, all colours exist. Because of the sun, I am able to see. And while the sun does illuminate a brutal world, there are some things that my eyes can find worth looking at. I try not to think of the sadness that everything is tinged with, but rather the colours of our world. People wear sunglasses to dim the radiance of the sun, but I fully embrace its blinding light — I find solace in the sol. I sit there, a petite sun myself in the light of a large sun, wistfully wondering.   

And while I may feel quite alone right now, I think that other jalebis in other places are waiting for me. Somewhere on this spinning planet. Under the radiance of the big jalebi in the sky. Somewhere in this jalebi-shaped galaxy.

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Arjan Batth is a student from California. He has recently written a children’s book, ‘Dear Humans’, that tackles the issue of climate change. As a young South Asian-American, he is determined to represent Asians more in the writing field and has a passion for writing and literature. He can be reached at arjanbatth@gmail.com

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Categories
Lockdown Musings

Navigating Borders

By Wendy Jones Nakanishi

It’s a commonplace that Covid-19 has shrunk our world. To limit the spread of the disease, the borders of many countries throughout the world were closed in March 2020 to all non-residents, and returning residents were required to spend two weeks on re-entry in supervised quarantine hotels.

Many nations have followed China’s lead in enforcing national lockdowns of varying degrees of stringency, with citizens urged to observe social distancing, avoid public transportation, and refrain from non-essential journeys. In the year and a half that has elapsed since reports of a deadly virus in Wuhan first made news around the world, global passenger air travel soon plunged 90% from pre-pandemic levels.

Mass gatherings have been banned and the use of face masks made mandatory. Meanwhile, as millions across the globe have been confined to their homes, with offices and businesses shut, many economies are on the verge of collapse. Only a few countries have rejected the imposition of lockdowns on its citizens, including Sweden, South Korea, and Tajikistan. The UK, where I have been living since late 2020, chose to adopt severe restrictions to contain the disease, including three lockdowns and the closure of schools, restaurants and bars and non-essential shops. Unfortunately, despite all these precautions and measures, it has one of the highest Covid death rates in the world.

I imagine many people share my longing for a return to the days when we were free: when we could travel where we liked, when we liked, and as we liked, whether by car or train or plane. The adage ‘What once were luxuries now have become necessities’ comes to mind. Perhaps we didn’t sufficiently appreciate our luck as inhabitants of the global society of the twenty-first century.

When I compare the present-day to life in the sixties, seventies and eighties, I think it is as though technological advances have made us like gods. Computers are largely responsible, and the invention of the internet. We have grown accustomed to being able to find any information we might seek or to buy any item we might want just by tapping a few keys on a laptop or by scrolling the screen of a mobile phone. Should I nurture curiosity about the Russian Revolution— seeking its causes, wondering when it began and when it ended, keen for details of the figures who played a significant role in this historic event— I can ‘Google’ the topic and possess all this knowledge literally in a matter of minutes. Should I require furniture, caviar, or a plane ticket to Bali coupled with hotel accommodation, I can buy any of these with ease and speed. Modern-day technology means that the acquisition of information and the means to gratify desires are now literally at our fingertips. Our lives are easy and luxurious in ways I could scarcely have dreamt of when I was young.

I spent my childhood in a tiny town in the American Midwest. The population of Rolling Prairie, Indiana, numbered less than five hundred in the late 1950s—and it isn’t much larger now.

Downtown Rolling Prairie, Indiana Buildings and Architecture. Photograph provided by author

The main street was two blocks long and, ironically, a dead-end, terminating in the entrance to a grain elevator by railway tracks. The town was tiny, yet it held all that we needed. There were two churches and two bars, a post office, a hardware store, a five-and-dime, a barber’s shop, a grocery, a tiny restaurant, and a small clinic. Best of all was a general goods store called Bozek’s. It had a soda fountain, a pinball machine, booths with juke boxes, and a long counter where the town’s farmers congregated to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. We children loved Bozek’s. It’s where we lingered on weekends and met our friends. Walking home from school, we could stop to buy ice cream or candy.

I both loved and hated Rolling Prairie as a child. On the plus side were the long idyllic summer holidays lasting from the end of May till the end of August. One hot bright morning would dawn after another, and we would be free to play outside all day, every day, without supervision or constraint. There were tall trees everywhere, and my friends and I would dare each other to climb those with low-hanging branches. We’d have games of badminton in my front yard and play baseball in a vacant lot next door. I could ride my bike up and down streets so deserted I never needed worry about traffic. Rolling Prairie was a quiet, peaceful place bounded by flat cornfields stretching to a horizon dotted by farmhouses, barns, and silos.

 On the minus side was the fact that our town was so small everyone knew everyone else’s business. Gossiping was a popular pastime. My parents quarreled and divorced, and suddenly I was a child in the only single-parent household in town. I had to get used to being looked at and talked about.

I was also surprised that nobody seemed to share my boredom, my restlessness: feelings that grew stronger as I got older. My friends at school and their parents who were, by and large employed as farmers and factory workers or as the proprietors of the small shops in town, were apparently content to stay put while I dreamed of escape. The tales of adventure I borrowed from the tiny library next to the grocery store— books like Treasure Island and The Count of Monte Cristo— fueled an urge to see the wider world. 

Borders in the sense of spaces marked out and enclosed can be geographical and political, but they can also be metaphysical and psychological. That a sense of confinement can be a matter of perspective rather than actual physical limits became apparent to me when I went to university. I enrolled at a campus of Indiana University that was two hundred miles from my hometown and, with its student body of over thirty thousand, was a far more cosmopolitan and diverse environment than anything I had encountered before. I thought I’d left Rolling Prairie but, in retrospect, I realized I carried it with me, that I was confined by my background. I felt intimidated by my new friends. I was the small-town girl consorting with big city types. I was suddenly confronted by the depths of my ignorance of the wider world.

I had a good knowledge of history and geography and especially of American and English literature, but I didn’t know which cutlery to use at a formal dinner or how to pronounce words I’d come across in books but never heard uttered. I lacked the assurance to summon a waiter at a restaurant. I lacked my friends’ confidence and easy fluency in social situations. I’ve struggled ever since to overcome this handicap and, admittedly, whenever I feel weak or vulnerable, I can still be overwhelmed by that old sense of inferiority. I continue to address shop staff as a supplicant rather than as a customer and, even now, can be crushed by a sudden rush of shyness when I find myself in a large group of strangers.

On graduating from Indiana University, I had to decide what to do with my life. Two paths presented themselves: studying to become a lawyer or venturing to Paris to spend a year working as an au pair. I’d taken pre-law classes and enjoyed and excelled at them. On the other hand, I longed for adventure. It was the proverbial fork in the roads. The first was the sensible option, but I decided to take the road less traveled. 

This is where I lived as an au pair in France: L’Etang-la-Ville outside Paris.

I got a job with a wealthy family living in a charming village on the outskirts of Paris. I learned to speak conversational French. My au pair Madame taught me, on our daily morning shopping excursions, how to ‘faire les courses’ – how to choose a perfectly ripe Camembert or the freshest of fruit and vegetables – while Monsieur, from an aristocratic family, owner of his own vineyard, instructed me in how to appreciate the finest of wines. I was required to take French classes every morning at a nearby city and, in the process, acquired the knack of navigating a moped through crowded French city streets.

I was often terrified, sometimes confused, occasionally perplexed. I was both laughed at and encouraged. It wasn’t easy, but I was delighted my horizons were expanding. Growing up in the States meant that I knew life only as an American. The States is so vast, so sufficient unto itself as well as self-regarding that, although it borders Mexico and Canada and is a nation of immigrants, life there can be sheltered, even provincial. I’ve always found, for example, that people living in the American Midwest tend to have little knowledge of and less interest in the outside world.

Groningen, in northern Holland. Photograph by author

In France, on the other hand, I had access to a much wider view of life’s possibilities. The other European countries as well as the UK were within easy striking distance. I tried to take advantage of every opportunity for adventure. I lived in a squat in Holland, hitchhiked through Germany and France, enjoyed a very alcoholic cheese fondue in Zurich, ate pizza on the Spanish steps in Rome, rode on a gondola in Venice, and camped on the pure white sandy beaches of Spain’s Balearic Islands.

I subsequently spent four years doing postgraduate study in the UK. On earning my doctorate in eighteenth-century English literature, I was hired as an English professor by a newly opened university in a sleepy fishing village in western Japan. Shido, in Kagawa prefecture, was reminiscent somehow of Rolling Prairie, but instead of corn and soybean fields cultivated by farmers, it had fishermen cultivating the ocean. Shido faced Sanuki Bay, an inlet of the Seto Inland Sea. I remember my first sight of the sea stretching beyond the hill housing the university campus. Its calm surface was marked out in neat lines of sticks. I learned they demarcated beds for oyster farming: the sticks are used to suspend trays or cages of oysters just beneath the surface for two or even three years as the oysters mature and become fat and tasty. Shido is also a producer of amberjack fish and laver seaweed.

I had intended to stay in Japan for two or three years. I ended up living and working there for thirty-six, having met a Japanese farmer and married him, becoming the mother of three boys. My husband designed a log house that was put up by builders who came over from North Carolina accompanied by all the materials that would be used in its construction, sent from the States to a port in Kobe. Once the building was habitable, my husband went on to plant trees and flowers and bushes in our large yard, and so many I came to feel I was living in an idyllic garden.

Takamatsu, Japan. Photograph by author

It all seemed like home until I reached the mandatory retirement age at my university. With one of my sons in New York City, another in Vienna, the third living in his own apartment thirty miles from our home and my husband occupied with projects and hobbies, I felt I needed to embark on yet one more adventure. I knew I would be lonely and bored and depressed without the structure to my life—and sociable companionship— full-time employment had offered me since I first arrived in Japan in the spring of 1984.

I now live in Lancaster, in the northwest corner of England. I go back to Japan around twice a year to spend a month with family and friends and probably will eventually return there ‘for good’. The old saying goes that ‘a change is as good as a rest,’ and while life in England isn’t particularly restful, I’m glad of a new focus for my energy. I think constant challenges keep us on our toes, keep us young. While my professional life in Japan was devoted to mental activities— teaching university classes, conducting research, attending conferences, publishing academic papers and creative non-fiction— my life in the UK as a retiree is often surprisingly physical. As a volunteer at a nature reserve in Lancaster, I find myself weeding, digging, cutting hedges and planting trees, and I’ve even assisted in the construction of several fences. I swim twice a week and attend yoga classes on Sundays and Thursdays. Lancaster has a wonderful system of cycle paths and foot paths, and I go for long bike rides and long walks in stunning scenery. I also belong to a choir and to a speech club.

The limitations we set on ourselves, or that we unconsciously accept, can and should be challenged. Most borders are surprisingly unstable. This is even true at the most basic level. Most of us tend to think of ourselves as discrete beings, separated from others and from our environment in some significant fashion. Our skin forms the boundary of separation.

But a constant process of give and take exists between us and our environment. We humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. We eat and drink and then excrete. We shed cells and hair. We copulate and produce more human beings. We were born of the flesh and blood of our mothers and with a genetic imprint of both our biological parents. We cannot meaningfully maintain the idea of ourselves as entities independent of other humans or our surroundings.

What is true on the personal level is equally true on the national or international, where boundaries are tenuous and easily dissolved or redrawn. The maps of Europe and Africa needed continually to be updated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries because new countries were formed while some old ones simply disappeared—swallowed up by their neighbors. It was a febrile, dangerous time. With colonial expansion, territorial wars, and the rise of nationalism, some countries had their borders altered or were simply obliterated— assimilated by their neighbors. Some new nations also were created. Modern Italy came into being in 1861, while Germany was only unified as a politically and administratively integrated nation state ten years later, in 1871.

National borders are, of course, artificial constructs. They are created rather than natural or pre-ordained; they are man-made for convenience and expediency. Astronauts viewing the Earth from space have remarked on its beauty and fragility, saying that it looks like a blue marble orb with white swirls that is ‘hanging in the void’ or, as Buzz Aldrin described it in July 1969, ‘a brilliant jewel in the black velvet sky’. There are no signs of the terrible warfare that scars our planet and that are only too visible from a nearer perspective: barbed wire and bunkers, battle-ravaged landscapes, cities reduced to smoking ruins, and unexploded ordnance.

The pandemic has made us keenly aware of the existence of borders national and physical. It is not only that many of us have been confined to our own countries with travel to others proscribed. It has also focused our minds on our own personal limitations, both psychological and physical. Being forced to stay in our homes for long periods of time, deprived of the usual distractions offered by the outside world and by other people, we have been unable to escape our own company. I imagine these unprecedented circumstances have led to many of us embarking, often reluctantly, on journeys of self-discovery.  

Britain’s first lockdown was mainly viewed in a positive light. It was a warm and pleasant spring. People were enchanted by the novelty of the situation, relieved not to have to commute to jobs, glad to be allowed to work from home. For many, it inspired a frenzy of creativity. Facebook and Twitter were deluged by individuals boasting of how they’d lost weight by following exercise classes on Zoom or how they’d begun learning German. There were countless postings of photographs of home-made loaves of sour dough bread and immaculately maintained gardens gleaming with flowers. With the weather unusually fine, the national mood was optimistic. When the cases decreased during the summer months, it seemed we had all turned a corner. We’d had an interesting experiment. Now the virus was in remission and normal life beckoned.

Our optimism was premature. There was a resurgence of Covid cases in the autumn. The weather worsened and, to general horror and consternation, a second and then a third lockdown were imposed in the UK. A lockdown became an ordeal to be endured rather than an experience that offered enjoyment. The good intentions we harbored during the first—to acquire a skill, to embark on attempts at self-improvement, to spend quality time with the family— by and large were abandoned. The national mood darkened. We increasingly came to realize that Covid had the Earth’s inhabitants in its tight grip and that we had to simply grin and bear it and hope for the best.

Fortunately, it seems human ingenuity knows no bounds. Contrary to expectations, several vaccinations were developed, and in record time and by various countries: America, Britain, China and Russia. As I write this, in May 2021, more than thirty-seven million people in the UK have received at least one jab of either the Pfizer or the AstraZeneca vaccine. Despite the recent appearance of the so-called Indian variant of the disease, the number of Covid cases and deaths has plunged dramatically.

Life often has been compared to a journey. Some argue that it is the journey itself, not the destination, that matters. It’s been a rough ride for all Earth’s inhabitants since January 2020.

I consider it a mixed blessing that we can never recover our pre-pandemic innocence. On the one hand, it has made us acutely aware of borders and limitations personal and global. A certain insouciance about life’s possibilities has been lost, perhaps forever. We have been confronted by the stark fact of our mortality. We have also become aware of the power of governments to restrict our civil liberties.  On the other hand, perhaps we can take comfort in the opportunity we are granted to appreciate afresh and anew privileges once they are restored to us. It’s a chance for us to reassess our priorities and glory in whatever personal freedoms we are allowed in our post-Covid world.

I, for one, plan to spend the time remaining to me in urgent but joyous exploration both of my own self—through meditation and reflection—and the outside world, through travel. I hope I can preserve my keen sense of gratitude for having been spared Covid infection. I want to relish every opportunity, to jump at any adventure life might offer, knowing how everything can change, how quickly I can lose all the freedoms and pleasures I once thought my birthright.

Wendy Jones Nakanishi, an American by birth, spent thirty-six years in Japan, employed as a professor at a private Japanese university. She has published widely on Japanese and English literature.

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Categories
Musings

The Significance of Roll Numbers

By Shahriyer Hossain Shetu

“What is your roll number in the class?”

I was never able to answer this question. At a very young age, I realised that the importance of having a roll number is highly significant in our society. This significance includes three important aspects that reflect a student’s life: First, on a scale of balance, the weight of a roll number placed next to a grade is heavier than any other qualities of a student. Second, it adds an enormous impact on careers availing people to differentiate between the best and the worst. And third, it clarifies who deserve all the importance as well as compliments from everyone.

Back then, I was not familiar with the concept. Due to my unfamiliarity with the term, I ended up questioning my Abbu (father), “What exactly is this roll number thing, why does everyone keep on asking me this question?” His answer, being straightforward as always, was, “Ask your Ammu (mother).” His reply was very much expected considering how hasty he has always been because of his work as a journalist. Asking my Ammu would have been a waste because she too would give me a similar response to Abbu. The scenario was like a football match where I, like a football, was being passed between one player to the another from the same team, unable to determine where exactly I was going.

Before getting admitted to a school, I mostly spent my time watching television. CN (Cartoon Network) was my best mate with whom I had spent most of my childhood. I got so obsessed with the fictional characters of CN that I started to draw them on papers using pens of different colors. My obsession started to develop into a habit and gradually to an escape from reality. But my escape route had to be closed as I was told by my parents that it is religiously prohibited to draw human figures. Plus, there is no particular future in such an obsession. “The real talent only lies in books and knowledge.” And to have a bright future, the first step is to reach the top position in the classroom. Thus, I stopped drawing.

I did my schooling in an ordinary English Medium institution located in Dinajpur. Because of my father’s job as a district correspondent, I was lucky to spend my childhood in that beautiful region. One well-known place in Dinajpur is the Boromaath (literally, Large Field), a huge green field that can be considered as the heart of the district. My school was close to Boromaath and we would often bunk our classes to play cricket or football on the big field. Our school was the only English medium institution in that locality and the idea of O and A level was not much appreciated by people who lived outside the capital. Thus, very few students in our vicinity were English medium students because people were also suspicious of the system in such schools.

As we were fewer student, the idea of having roll numbers was futile. Although, instead of roll numbers, we had registration numbers that were not given based on any academic excellence, capability, or talent. These numbers were like a code that they had shared with us as evidence for being a part of that institution. One can say that the numbers were an unnecessary adjunct, occupying an extra space in our school identity cards right under our long names.

The idea of classifying students was visible, even though we had no discriminating term as the roll number next to our grades in school. This categorisation of students based on academic grades came with extraordinary packages that concerned only the top candidates — too much care from the teachers, applause from parents, and the privilege of having too many friends. Unfortunately, I was not among the good ones to receive such privileges as my marks were never satisfactory and the dream of achieving the “extraordinary package” was never a reality for me. Due to my incapability, I had to go through an extreme ordeal of taunts and insults from my surroundings. I was already declared as the “worst” kind.

The ordeal phase was mostly because of a particular distant relative who could’ve been a millionaire if criticising could be called his full-time vocation. I still can recall the face of that overly concerned person who loved to critique my every action like a war hawk. He assumed that I was too embarrassed to share my roll number with anyone because of my poor grades. I wasn’t sure of the reason for his fantastic assumption. His way of speaking seemed too absurd to me, and I ended up raising my voice to prove my point, wrecking all traditional beliefs. As a result, I received the title of a “discourteous” child in the family. He even informed my other relatives about my “rudeness” just to prove his point.

Being raised by a middle-class family that only follows ethics and traditions, I am not supposed to defend myself from elders (not even to save my dignity) as it is religiously as well as societally prohibited. Although, using the code of “seniority,” an elder can cut and split me into two with his sharp-edged words.

He still reprimands my parents for not raising me properly because of that particular reason. How can defending ourselves from senior citizens who are almost toxic, wicked, and torturous be wrong? What does it have to do anything with our parent’s nurturing method? I still couldn’t figure it out.

The importance of roll number is still high in our country. Is it necessary to analyze a child’s future just by seeing his academic grades and categorizing him/her in first to last numbers? I don’t know. But I do know that this idea is destroying lives before it even started.

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Shahriyer Hossain Shetu is a student in the Department of English & Humanities, ULAB. Some of his writing has appeared in Daily Star, Bangladesh.

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Categories
Musings

The Quiet Governance of Instinct

By Candice Louisa Daquin

I grew up in a rational household. With people who tried to be rational all the time and usually were not. Despite this, I cleaved to the notion, rationality above emotionality or any other kind of reasoning.

My grandmothers were ridiculed for their superstitions and their gut instincts and women whose hands flew to their chests as they felt deeply, were laughed at. The provable, science of reason was the raison d’etre that ruled the day.

In living this way, two things happened. Firstly, I neglected my other instincts entirely. Secondly, I was wrong many times.

Reason cannot explain everything. It merely presupposes itself to be objective and thus, empirical. But as with any man-made presumption, it’s only as good as its maker, who of course, is anything but rational. Furthermore, there’s value in instinct — that gut instinct, someone has walked over my grave feeling your grandmothers had and you laughed at. Looking back, I cannot tell you how many times my gut instinct about a person or a situation was right and I ignored it because it wasn’t rational. For those of us who are non-believers, it’s very hard to believe in something less tangible than reason. But when we realise we have only believed reason is tangible, we can see all is fallacy and begin over.

Beginning over means being open to all possibilities including those that are not easily explained.When I get a feeling about something, I cannot point to its cause and explain it. So many times, I ignored it. More fool me, given it was nearly always right. It’s hard to explain to someone why you don’t want to get to know them, because your instincts say it’s not a good idea, so you go ahead and you ignore that, tamp it down, and later on realise, when they reveal themselves to be the unbalanced person you thought they were initially, how you should have had the courage to be honest. But how do you honestly explain to someone you don’t trust them just based on a feeling?

Instead, we do the socially approved norms and we neglect our instincts because how can we honestly get away with basing everything on feelings?

It is then, a huge irony that feelings, those initial thoughts we have upon meeting someone, are so often right. It may be as simple as an instinct like other animals have, and the accuracy of it is based upon the same natural instincts all animals share, that has just been forgotten by humans. We should make room for the validity of gut instincts and ‘senses’ given how accurate they are. They may not fit well with modern society, we may not be able to tout them as we do science, math, provable things. But when we realise so much of math and statistics is created by us, and thus, is only as empirical as we’ve made it, we can see everything is subjective and there is room for other modes of thinking and feeling.

I’m continually astounded by how accurate my gut instinct is. I met a woman once who I ended up working with extensively on a project. By all accounts she was a professional and a boon to the project. However, my first impression of her was she raised the hairs on the back of my neck. There was just something ‘wrong’ but I ignored this, feeing absurd for my feelings, and proceeded to work with her and have a friendship through that work. With time she revealed herself to be mentally unbalanced and worse, nothing of what she purported, and I found myself wishing I had known, when in reality I always had.

Rather than kicking ourselves we should applaud ourselves when we do have the courage to stand by our instincts. They have always been with us, they are not artificially imposed, they don’t worry about what others think and they’re not subject to whim as much ironically, as ‘facts’ can be, in this day of mutable truisms.

When something feels wrong, it’s probably wrong. When someone doesn’t seem right, they’re probably not. Don’t let their faux-shaming of your instincts, or your own, stop you from doing what you need to do to ward off potential calamity. We have instincts for a reason, and just as your cat knows when a predator is watching it, you know when one is watching you.

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

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