Categories
Nostalgia Slices from Life

Lounging through Lucknow Lore

Nidhi Mishra takes us on a nostalgic journey through the syncretic elements of Lucknawi culture

“I know you are from Lucknow, but must our daughter lose marks in your mother tongue for some whimsical assertion of your Lucknawi roots?!” my (Kannadiga) husband asked incredulously. He was even more stunned to see the hesitation I had in giving the obvious answer categorically.

I had barred my daughter to use the (correct) word ‘main’ in Hindi, a perfect translation of ‘I’ in English and all its variations (mera, mujhe etc) and instead had raised my girl to refer to herself as ‘hum’ (literally translates to ‘we’ in English). Her Hindi teacher had rightfully pointed out that it was not the right usage. In my mind I agree, but in my Lucknawi heart I think, “Why not?”


My brother recently pointed out that it is not to do with the interweaving of Urdu, since Urdu ghazals liberally use the word ‘main’ and its variations. Like so many other things about the city, this is another ‘unreasonable’ characteristic of belonging to Lucknow.

It will be exactly  two decades since I left Lucknow now, but the immense assimilation of cultures, language and location has not dulled the city’s flame in me.  I recall these beautiful lines by the two-times Man Booker prize winner, Hilary Mantel: “We can’t excuse the past, just for being over and done. We can’t say, ‘all water under the bridge’…The past is always trickling under the soil, a slow leak you can’t trace.”

I find it hard to define Lucknow, as must be the case for any city, for that matter. Yes, you can always sum it up in its Ganga Jamuna tehzeeb and lehza (syncretic culture), but sometimes it is hard to keep things brief. I depend heavily on people, incidents and anecdotes to illustrate the spirit of the city, as I had known it. 

In Lucknow, boundaries were blurred.

I did all my schooling in Lucknow, at the famous now 148-year-old old Loreto Convent, fluent in every Christian hymn and lover of every Christmas carol. My brother, who went to St Francis, grew up in a similar ethos. My best friend in Junior School was Saba and my brother’s was Danish. We lived a stone’s throw away from the iconic Hazratganj area. But we were never raised to notice religion in our surroundings or friends. How I wish I could make my kids unaware of these distinctions as well.

My grandfather was a very respected person. Legend has it that the level of his anger could be measured by how deep his transition was from conversational Hindi to Urdu. So, when he opened the conversation with “Barkhurdaar, aap nihayti ahmek insaan hain (Sir, you are a scoundrel; spoken in Urdu),” it was a red alert for anyone planning an escape from a beautiful sounding reprimand.

When my father talks of poetry, there is a special flicker in his eyes. He is a prolific writer himself and listening to Begum Akhtar with him on his long-playing record player, has been one of the finest pleasures of my life. It is no wonder that my mother is a naturalised Lucknawi who joyfully watches Urdu poetry gatherings, mushairas, on You-tube. My father still displays extraordinary pride when he shares that the bungalow in which Begum Akhtar resided, was leased out by our family. I think he relishes the fact that in some distant, dreamy way, there is a piece of paper which houses both his and the Begum’s name. 

In Lucknow, everyone had a poetic tongue.  

Muskuraiye, ki aap Lucknow mein hain (Smile, now that you are in Lucknow),” greets the billboard as you enter the city.

What happens when you end up brushing past another vehicle on the road? Freezing glares, verbal assault, even a fist fight?  In the Lucknow of my time, you would hear the other person say, “Gareeb aadmi hain sahib, gaadi chadha deejiyega? (I am but a poor man sir, run me over?)” You would have no option but to hand over your melted heart to that person and drive away.

Cycle rickshaws were ubiquitous in my time. The rickshaw pullers, who would physically pull our weight (though with the help of wheels on the vehicle) and had to put in so much manual labour, would always cheerfully ask, “Bataiye janaab, aaj kahan le jaaenge? (Please tell Sir, where will you be taking me today?)”

The Nawaabs of Lucknow 

We grew up with not just love for the good life, but also respect for it. ‘Shaukeen’ (aficionado) is a word which I find hard to translate but synonymous with Lucknow life.

My Dadi (grandmother) was the highlight of my growing up years and in my mind carried the charms of the city in her personality. Unlike most women from her time, she was extremely well-educated for her time (and even for today) with a master’s degree in literature and having joined my grandfather when he went for higher studies to England. It was not rare to hear her casually weave some Latin phrase, like Nil nisi bonum* into a conversation. She was responsible for my (rather early) transition from Nancy Drew and the likes to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, opening up the gates of romantic literature. 

Many years later, on my grandfather’s Shraadh (annual death ceremony), while conforming to the traditional brahmin rituals and serving of traditional food for the supposed appeasement of my grandfather’s soul, Dadi would also make sure that the holy cow was also served his favourite burger. She brushed aside stereotypes with little pomp, much panache and a lot of understated elegance. And in all of this, she personified the spirit of Lucknow to me.

Another differentiating trait was about taking life easy. While my kids are often told, “Early to bed, early to rise…,” I remember hearing the saying, ‘Aaram badi cheez hai, munh dhak ke soiye, kis kis ko yaad keejiye, kis kis ko roiye (Comfort is a big thing, relax and sleep peacefully. is there any sense in remembering and crying over people)’. I would love to trade a little bit of my ‘fast forward’ with a little bit of that pause.

This love for ‘the good things of life’ was not restricted to a certain class or community.

I remember hearing that the vegetable vendors would sell their goods with very unique descriptors- ‘Laila ki ungliyan, Majnu ki pasliyan (Laila’s fingers, Majnu’s cartilage)’ uniquely referred to ladies’ fingers and gourds. There was a love for culture that transcended classes and income levels. Another vegetable vendor was famous for his claim ‘Begum (Akhtar) ke bag ki sabziyan(vegetables from Begum Akhtar’s garden)’. No wonder literature and music were literally fed to us!

Culture was not something which was curated by and for the elite. It was on the road, it was in the offices– it was everywhere.

Well before I read about Keynesian theory in B-school, the tourist guides at the marvelous Bhool Bhulaiya (meaning labyrinth) had regaled some wonderful lessons around unemployment, wages and labour. It is said that around 1780, the region was badly affected by famine. The fourth Nawab of the Awadh Province, Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula Nawab thought of building this structure as a way to generate employment as well as provide food to people in return for their services. The people were too proud to receive compensation from the Nawab without earning it (equating it to alms). Hence a part of the monument would be constructed during the day by part of the labour, while the other part brought it down at night. This ensured that the Nawabi pride of the common man was intact, by earning his living. It took fourteen years for the monument to be completed.

Things change, places do too

I hear that now the rickshaw pullers of Lucknow (like in any other city), come straight to the point, “Itna paisa lagega. (It will cost you so much).” Not that there can be anything wrong with that statement — to the point, upfront and efficient. But poetry never cared about efficiency, nor did the Lucknawis of yore. 

Migration, politics and so much more has changed the fabric of the city a lot. William Dalrymple devotes a full chapter to what ‘Lucknawi’ used to mean, in his book Age of Kali. Notice the past tense in this whole piece. Sometimes I wonder if we are just romanticizing the idea of Lucknow. Did it really exist or was it just a dream!

Khwab tha shayad!

Maybe it was a dream

Khwab hi hoga! 

It must have been a dream

Sarhad par kal raat, suna hai, chali thi goli

Have heard that last night across the border, some shots were fired

Sarhad par kal raat, suna hai

Have heard that last night across the border

Kuchh khwaabon ka khoon hua hai

Some dreams have been murdered.

-Gulzaar Sa’ab

Disclaimer: I know no conversation on Lucknow is over without a special mention to its culinary delights. Unfortunately, I disappoint as a vegetarian there, with little meat to offer. Though I can swear, you would not get better kebabs in the world. Apologies for all the Hindustani in the piece for the English only readers. I found it difficult to talk of Lucknow without a splash of Hindi- Urdu.

* Latin for indicating that it is socially inappropriate to speak ill of the dead as they are unable to justify themselves.

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Nidhi Mishra is the founder & CEO of Bookosmia (smell of books)-a global movement for kids to be heard! An ex-banker, she pivoted from a 10 year banking career to her passion for reading and luring others to read to start Bookosmia. Nidhi is from Lucknow and we challenge you to have any conversation with her where she doesn’t bring it up. She went to Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University to pick up an Honours in Mathematics and a feminist flair on the side. An MBA from IIM Lucknow took her to a decade-long career in the financial sector, finally quitting as VP, HSBC as she suffers from a (misplaced) sense of satisfaction and a drive to do something meaningful with her time. Outside of Bookosmia, Nidhi spends much of her time complaining there is not enough time, overindulging her two beautiful daughters, organizing dastangoi/ghazals at her place and asking (unsuspecting) people to gift her all kinds of books-from Faiz to Kahneman to Tina Fey.
You can write to her at nidhi@bookosmia.com or visit www.bookosmia.com to know more.

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

Categories
Nostalgia Slices from Life

The Corridors of the Mind

By Anasuya Bhar

In the beginning it didn’t seem very serious. Actually it was a relief from a schedule that was really taking a toll on my health, both mentally and physically. And seriously, I was just imagining a kind of welcome break, like we have as an extension to the summer holidays in schools and colleges, in our state. Only that it wasn’t summer yet, then. But the first fortnight blended into a strange and unknown phenomenon called the lockdown.

We had started stocking up on our essentials and after the first panic attacks, were slowly settling in to a household sans working people, sans the exigencies of school, college or office, even sans visits that were occasional. The house around me slowly endeared itself anew as our home, corners were noticed, the covers of dust gone and gradually I began to feel a new sense of belonging.

This was a place that I had actually neglected in the mad rush of everyday life. But even walls, pictures, bedsteads, floors and cupboards have stories to tell. The ensuing silence, apart from the urgency of the patrol car or the daunting ambulance cries, had a general vacuous quality about it. Nevertheless, in that apparent vacuum, people like me, who settle in somewhat well to a walled calmness and insularity, often got lost in the years gone by. The wall was almost necessary to get away from the soaring statistics or unnerving pictures of death. Horror was, and is, all around, but if one needs to maintain sanity, one must, simply must look elsewhere.

The past few months have been a time for pleasant ruminations. I was going through my father’s memoirs. My father is an artist by profession, and has almost reached his eightieth year. What was happening effectively, through the reading process, was that the memories made me go back to a past where I too, was no less a protagonist than my father. When I was born, my father had already toured half the world in connection with art education, or even by dint of exhibiting his own works, and I featured midway into the story. For me the exercise was proving to be rewarding in a different manner, it reminded me of those incidents which were now so far away. Like the corners of my home, it seemed that the corners of my mind, and most gratuitously so, were being lit up, quite vividly. And now I too have a story to tell.

I was born into a world where colours, canvasses, the easel, spatula and brushes were as integral to my existence as food, or toys or stories. Ever since I can remember, I remember my father engrossed in his work-table with his creations.

In Pune, Maharashtra, where my earliest memories were founded, Baba* began experimenting with pencil. He made small drawings, sometimes realistic, sometimes fantastic, sometimes abstract. A part of the dining table, in a largish kitchen, served as his studio space in an otherwise cramped household with a toddler. He came home from work and after a quick dinner worked till the late hours of night. This same pattern continued for a long time well into the years when we returned to Calcutta in the eighties of the last century.

By then I had grown up and would watch him from a distance. He would be so engrossed in his work that he would hardly be conscious of anyone’s presence beside him. He usually made a ‘layout’ for his drawings. Usually, a layout would be a rough sketch on white paper with a blue or black ball point pen. He would sometimes, make several copies of this, in various proportions, sometimes singling out details or magnifying and diminishing other aspects as his temperament suited. At times he even cut and pasted paper into the layout in order to produce a collage as well as to get the feel of totality of a big picture. This was then, generally his working method, where the layout study would almost be a miniature of the original work.

In case of pencil drawings he would next take a large ivory board, of the Japanese variety, usually procured from G.C. Laha, or Kalpana, a shop in South Calcutta. The layout would be reproduced on this ivory board with such expertise that I would watch spell bound. Effortlessly, the lines came out in dark graphite pencils on the white board. The eraser had no role in this performance. The bold outlines would take shape intensely, while Baba poured over them for several hours. When there was much detailing to be done, he took a few days to finish one work.

Lines have always been very important in Baba’s works. The lines have to come correct; only then would the form emerge. That done, the other details would be worked upon, the folds of the apparel, for instance, the drapes. Years later, while studying Aristotle, I realized the truth of this same analogy while the philosopher said that plot was more important in theatre than the character.

Baba’s canvasses usually came home framed. Very rarely did the rolls and the frames arrive separately and we sprawled on the floor trying to get them stapled together! The first thing that Baba did with the canvasses was to fill them up with basic colours like red, green, blue or yellow, covering the white surface totally. He said that this would give the canvas a ‘body’ to support the colours of the painting, later. Once dried, he would begin, mostly one canvas at a time, perhaps two, but never four or five at a go. He would first make the line drawing, with a bold brush. He would then fill up the form, whether of a human figure or an animal, with basic blurbs of colour, in a flat unidimensional surface. The detailing, the shades, the lights, the perspectives would come much later. Baba has generally worked in the realistic, at the most cubist tradition in oils, never in the impressionistic mode.

An oil painting usually takes days to complete, trying to arrive at the exact form and thickness. In his works, he sometimes left faces without the regular features of eyes or the nose, or ears, or even the mouth. A naïve viewer, I often asked him, ‘why did you not draw the eyes, nose or mouth?’, to which he answered, ‘No, it is better to imagine them.’ And so one can. The form is so powerful that one has no difficulty in imagining the features in a blank face; it also gives the viewer an autonomy and freedom that is very different from the coercions of an imposed reality. Baba had the habit of changing his oil paintings several times. He still does; he ‘touches’ them up in efforts of improving them. Sometimes, a drawing would be wholly disowned and consigned to the basket, and a painting would totally be wiped off. Such works are totally lost to the world now.

One such work was the painting of a tramp. Cast in realistic mode, and dressed in western wear, the tramp was one who materialized slowly and painstakingly, in front of me. I grew to like it through the many alterations it suffered, through the several changes of its attire, until, finally I discovered, much to my chagrin, that the painting had been totally wiped off to make place for a completely new one! I felt rather sad at this unexpected end of the tramp, although the painter never rued his loss. In fact, the world would never come to know of the tramp’s existence beyond my memory or Baba’s.

To see a painter work, without intruding on his ways, gives a very different perspective to his art; different from the viewer, the collector or the critic. Here one gets to see the formation, which suffers several changes, and many revisions. A painter’s craft is always in flux and chaos, it only evolves through considerable pain, and is replete with the pangs of childbirth. The painter’s craft is hardly visible to the world, in art galleries or in the collector’s rooms; neither is it ever written down. The painter’s craft is perhaps revealed, occasionally to a simpleton like me, who found myself staring in awe at whatever he did. I hardly ever tried my hand at it. Now having migrated further off from the painter’s studio, both literally and figuratively, all I can do is to visit the corridors of my mind to reconstruct those once familiar, abundant and dear images.

Anasuya And her Baba

*Baba is my father Tapan Ghosh, a veteran artist and continues to paint and write in his Salt Lake home at Kolkata, India.

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

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Slices from Life

Singapore’s Secret Recipe

By Aysha Baqir

It was an early Saturday morning when I dropped my eleven-year old for a race in northeast Singapore. My son was excited to find his friend and I was anxious to find a coffee shop and nose-dive into the novel I had started last night. The race, I had been told, would last for over an hour. As we waited on the sidewalk for the light to change, I cheered up sighting a small mall on the left. Suddenly, the clouds cover shifted to reveal a clear blue sky. In the horizon, misty clouds shimmered and spun gold.

We entered the lush grounds and my sneakers made a squelching sound. I grimaced. It must have rained last night. How were they going to run?

“Mama,” My son tugged my hand to let me now he’d spotted his friend.  And in the next instant, with a quick “Bye, will call you when it’s over,” he darted towards the long cue in front of the uniform booth. For a few moments, I stood there. My eyes followed him until he joined his friends, and I forced myself not to walk after him to demand a goodbye hug. Catching the second, “you can go away now” look from him I turned around and trudged back.

I crossed the road and headed straight for the mall already anticipating the strong aroma and the smooth taste of a cappuccino, and then stopped, stumped. The glass doors were shut. I stared through the glass doors trying to get the attention of the cleaners who mopped and vacuumed. No luck. I stepped back and caught the sign for opening and closing hours. The mall would open at 9 AM. Impossible. This was supposed to be the “me” time. I peered again into the glass doors but when it was clear I would get no attention, I turned around and debated my options. I could head back to the park and wait it out, or explore the area. Pushing away the thoughts of the page-turner in my tote, I opted for the latter. In a few minutes I had crossed a few blocks and found myself in a quaint neighbourhood.  I walked along a narrow road with colourful buildings on either side. Red and gold decorations adored many doors. Some grocery and home supplies shops were already open.

I continued to walk further, and hearing chatter, turned a corner, stopped, and stared.  It was a small hawker centre with a row of stalls and a few dozen tables. All the tables were full. Grandparents, parents, and children gathered for the morning meal. Glasses and plates clinked and clanked.

Young and old and ate together. In one corner, a mother helped her son with his homework. In another corner a man helped to feed his aged mother. Some families exited, and more entered. They knew each other and stopped to talk and share news. Two young children played a game in a corner.

I moved forward drawn by the whiff of strong black sweet coffee mixed with the aroma of fried roti paratas, and creamy coconut laksa. My eyes lingered over mounds of white rice on fresh green pandan leaves, crisp leafy vegetable heaped on steamed noodles, stacks of butter toasts, bowls of soothing ayam sotto, and moist carrot cakes.

Spicy. Savory. Salty. Sweet. Flavors and colors blended and melted together. They ate different food, but they ate together.

Food brings people together.

Had I read it somewhere or heard it from someone? I didn’t remember. But in that moment, something shifted. The easy banter, the jokes, and laughs made me pause. I saw an old Chinese man offer a bowl of noodles to his friend. I saw an Indian dad urge his daughter to finish her vegetables. I saw a little Malay boy perform magic tricks to make his grandmother smile. Frowns faded. Faces beamed. From the ease with which they interacted, I sensed they knew each other and lived close by. Had they grown up together, shared life events, and supported each other through difficult and challenging times? Their differences ceased to matter when they ate together and shared food. In that one moment in a small hawker centre, I saw Singapore, a nation of approximately 5.7 million people and diverse ethnic groups become one. Warmth and love wove around them like fairy dust.

The Uncle at the coffee stand beckoned, and I ordered a black coffee. A distant memory tugged. I had seen this in my home country once upon a time, when neighbors knew each other and looked out for each other and when they ate together. Men, women, children, all together. No more. I remembered years back when my cousin had wandered outside our gate and walked to the nearby market and the fruit vendor had brought him back. The time was gone. But it existed here in this instant, where the individuals fused into families, merged into a vibrant community, and cemented into one strong nation. When people ate together, meal after meal, day after day, year after year, they became one, one nation.

I smiled at the Uncle as he handed me my coffee and decided that my son and I would have breakfast together before we headed home. I turned knowing I walked away something special, glanced back one last time and blew a prayer. Peace. Protection. Prosperity.  

Happy National Day, Singapore.

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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Categories
Humour Slices from Life

Bugs of Life

By Sohana Manzoor

I could begin in the style of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, “Last night, I dreamed I went to Carbondale again.” It would surely seem literary and romantic. I owe this write-up, however, to a former colleague who is currently a graduate student in the US.  As we were chatting on a video call, I noticed some shining pots and pans on the wall behind her. It might seem strange to our Bengali sentiments, but I was immediately taken back to my graduate student days in Southern Illinois. I recalled the studio apartments at Southern Hills where the kitchen was not a separate establishment but just a counter in the room. And pots and pans needed to be scrubbed clean and shiny if I wanted to hang them on the wall. If they turned too black, I would hide them in the cupboard.

Looking back after more than ten years, I now can see that I probably landed there in quite a dramatic way. Carbondale is a very small town at the southernmost point of Illinois. There was a small community of Bangladeshi students and faculty members associated with the Southern Illinois University Carbondale. And it would have been only natural to contact some Bangladeshi there and stay with somebody for the first few days. But the overly independent dunderhead that I was, I contacted the English Department instead to figure out a way to get directly to the grad student apartment I had rented on campus.

I often wonder now how I could dare to go alone to an unknown country, virtually knowing nobody. And when the student worker from the International Student Office dropped me off at my apartment after collecting the keys from the office, apart from my luggage, I had only a burger, some fries and a tall glass of coke from McDonalds. I had no phone, no computer, no internet connection, and no immediate way of letting my family know of my whereabouts. And yet, I just tucked my stuff inside the closet and lay down on the couch of the furnished apartment for a long, peaceful sleep. I doubt I can ever do that again.

It did not take too long for me to get acquainted with the Bangladeshi community there. I will always remember Beena Apa, the kind and ever helpful big sister who virtually rescued me the next day from my apartment in Southern Hills. I had never met her before, did not know anything about her either. But when she arrived at my door-step introducing herself, just one look on her beaming face told me that I could trust her. She took me to her apartment in Evergreen Terrace, another grad student housing complex, and I came to meet the vibrant Bangladeshi community there. 

Evergreen Terrace was for grad students with families, and it was surely brighter and more cheerful than Southern Hills, where I had taken my abode. Mine was a rather run-down place, and that is where the bachelor and “half-bachelor” graduate students lived. “Half-bachelor” is a term I invented for the men who were married but had left their wives and children back home. I met one family who had come to live in Southern Hills first and shifted to the family housing within a few weeks. I don’t remember their names anymore even though I can recall their story.

“Babu Bhai helped us to get there, you know. And he warned, ‘Shabdhane thaiko. Bagh tagh ase. Dorja khola raikho na (Be careful. There are tigers around. Don’t keep your doors open.)'” The man with a merry twinkle in his eyes said, “I thought he must be joking, but when we saw the place, especially after dark, we were convinced of the tigers.”

“But there are no tigers!” I replied, thoroughly confused.

He howled with laughter. “Only bugs (bagh). That’s what he had meant.”

No. there were no tigers in Southern Hills. Nor did I come across any of the ghosts or supernatural beings people claimed to have seen there. But yes, the place was almost wild, running amok with creepers and moss.  Some would find it eerie, as my PhD supervisor had, “It seems so desolate, Sohana. Are you sure you’re safe there?”

The apartment buildings stood apart, separated by tall trees, bushes and thickets. I had seen rabbits, deer and even skunks many times in the vicinity. One evening, as I was coming back from a walk and I thought I spotted a cat running down the stairs. I called out but it ran faster. Two days later, to my chagrin, I realized that the damn thing was not a cat at all, but a raccoon.

Friends advised me to move away to Evergreen Terrace. But somehow, by that time, I had fallen in love with Southern Hills. I remember surprising a deer family when a friend dropped me off late at night; the moonlight had caught the antlers of the male deer and he stood still trying to assess if I was a danger to his babies. The scene is etched in my memory as something magical. I watched the snow falling and draping the ground and the trees with white coverlets and curtains. The large magnolia tree with its wax-like flowers emitted a balmy fragrance that seemed very soothing. Squirrels ran up and down the trees and there was something very peaceful around that place. Every evening, when I returned from school, I looked forward to a quiet dinner with a book. I had no television and honestly, I had grown to detest them. I still do.

But living by oneself has its negative points too. I once discovered a large black crawling insect inside my laundry basket. I hate creepy-crawly things and rainy days in Carbondale were problematic for me because footlong earthworms used to take over the streets. Many of my friends had reported seeing me striding in boots through the rain water and cursing at the top of my lungs. Hence the moment I saw the crawling monster, I yelped and jumped on to my bed. But there was no Prince Charming to the rescue and I had to get it out myself. I surely was not going to sleep in the same room with that wriggly bug. Gritting my teeth, I put on gloves and got a pair of tongs from the kitchen cupboard and pulled it out from the basket. I dumped the thing in the commode and flushed it down, and then threw the tongs out too. To this date I am not sure what that horrendous creature was.

After two years at Southern Hills life there ended kind of abruptly. There were talks of demolishing the place as many of the buildings were old, leaky and not very comfortable. I could clearly see a decline in the population too. I also saw that rather than regular graduate students, there were strange looking people moving in.

A crazy pair took up the apartment next to mine and they were quite rowdy. Then one resident on the ground floor of another building was evicted because he was smoking pot inside his apartment and causing trouble for his two neighbours. I felt that safety might become an issue soon. At the same time, I could not help thinking that it was not the wild beasts, nor the supernatural beings, but the human bugs that were chasing me out of my heaven. Marie, a close friend of mine, asked if I wanted to take up a studio in her building. It was very close to the university, smaller in size than the place I had, and somewhat sparsely furnished. But it was way cheaper. So, finally, after two years, I gave up my blissful abode in Southern Hills and moved to the down town area.

Sohana Manzoor is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.

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Categories
Humour Slices from Life

Of Toilet Seats and the Seat of Power

By Santosh Bakaya

 “Pick up the phone, can you not hear it?” The Principal had the habit of not picking any landline call, as most of the landline calls were from the Directorate of Higher Education, and the Principal whose superannuation was just a couple of months away, was wary of attending to the calls,  afraid of some calamity falling on his head, delaying the financial benefits accruing post- retirement.   

So it was the personal assistant(PA) who picked it up on the extension in his room, while the Principal’s ears pricked up as he craned his neck in the direction of the room from where the PA dashed towards him, forehead creased.

“Sir, sir, the call was from the Directorate, the Chief Minister is coming here with his entourage.”

 “What on… earth… for?” The Principal stuttered, springing up from his chair, almost lurching — a ship in a storm-tossed ocean. A crushing sense of misery gripped him as he felt the riotous waves crashing against him with ominous messages. Then he gave vent to a series of curses that embraced the whole directorate, politicians, bureaucrats, clerks, peons, students and even the dogs and cats loitering outside his chamber.

“Next week, they will be headquartered here for a couple of days and will have the jansunvai [Public hearing] here”. The PA remarked in somber tones, as if bent on rubbing salt on the Principal’s already lacerating wounds.

 “The college building is a mess, what will they do here? The toilets are so pathetic. Even if they stay here for a couple of hours, we need to dismantle and renovate the toilets. The Indian style toilets will have to be replaced by western style toilets, there will be many bureaucrats and the PA of the chief minister is very suave and sophisticated — he was my friend once. I am done for.” He banged his head, almost on the verge of pulling out his hair, but sheepishly realized that it was a wig that he was wearing and wisely dropped the idea — and of course the hand from his head.  

“So, what if he is suave and sophist…icat…ed?” The PA asked, almost stumbling on the word, sophisticated, one eyebrow raised strategically.   

“Damn it! How foolish can one be! How will they use these Indian style toilets, tell me?” The Principal smirked.  

“Are they not Indians?” The PA asked, this time raising the other eyebrow.

A couple of boys had entered the office, holding on to two pieces of paper, when pieces of this conversation fell into their ears. They dashed out with this information, and blurted it out to the students, embellishing it with some tidbits of their own.

“You know, the Chief Minister is coming here with an army of people and the college authorities are going all out to make them comfortable.” One of them informed them in breathless excitement. This was followed by a collective gasp of indignation from the students and clucking of tongues and voicing of raucous dissent.  

 “Imagine the cheek of these college authorities! They are not able to solve the water-crisis in the college, but are conveniently thinking of jaguar toilet fittings for the VIPs!”

They are installing air-conditioners in the toilets. We are done for!”  

 “Our throats are getting parched, and they are being provided with mineral water.”

Inside the chamber, the Principal was moving around like a scalded cat; not mewing like a cat but barking incomprehensible orders, suddenly sitting on the chair, and then springing up as though pricked, pacing the room, looking at the ceiling, perhaps for some divine intervention, and then bursting out in perspiration. The impeccably dressed Principal now looked disheveled, shouting and cursing, making grotesque gestures and flailing his arms. He leapt and skipped and then absolutely tired and snuffed out, hop-scotched towards his chair, flung himself on it and soon fell asleep, absolutely wilted.

“How will we manage in a week? He whelped, leaping up suddenly, holding his stentorian snores in abeyance while the dog outside his cabin, which had been at the receiving end of his invectives, rolled up on a coil of rope, and forgiving the perpetrator of indignities, added his snores to those of the perpetrator, in a symbolic gesture of a truce.

“Toilets kaisey banengey (how will the toilets be made)?” The Principal barked anew, between two roof-shaking snores.


 For one week, the Corridor of Learning buzzed with the topic of renovation, while the Principal’s chamber also buzzed on and on. There was buzzing in the washroom, there was buzzing in the student circles, and there was buzzing in the Principal’s ears. 
The washroom was getting a facelift, while the faces of the students fell.

“You know, they are using the students’ funds for renovating the washrooms.”

“How dare they? This is unfair.”

“Very, Very unfair.”

“We will go on a strike.”

 “Yes we will. Taanashahi Nahi chalegi (Down with dictatorship)!”

 The seat of power was threatened by a toilet seat, things had come crashing down from the almost-ridiculous to the utter ridiculous.

 But the tragic irony of this entire fracas was that the caravan did come, but alas, none of the ‘sophisticated and suave’ men used the newly renovated and highly sophisticated washrooms that had been designed especially for them. All the money spent on the refurbishing and renovation of the toilets went down the drain.  What did not go down the drain, but down the delegates’ gullets and into their stomachs, was the absolutely lavish feast laid out for them so magnanimously by the college authorities.
The students strongly suspected that this money was also purloined from the Students Union Fund.

 

Dr. Santosh Bakaya is an academician, poet, essayist, novelist, biographer, Ted Speaker and creative writing mentor. She has been critically acclaimed for her poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi [Ballad of Bapu]. Her Ted Talk on the myth of Writers’ Block is very popular in creative writing Circles . She has more than ten books to her credit , her latest books are a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. (Only in Darkness can you see the Stars) and Songs of Belligerence (poetry). She runs a very popular column Morning meanderings in Learning And Creativity.com.

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Nyaung Hnin Noodle

A vignette of life from Myanmar By San Lin Tun

Nyaung Hnin Noodle

The whole house was active preparing for my sister’s birthday who turned twenty that year.  The evening before, the family gathered to plan for the event, I heard she would invite her friends from school. They would come to our house around 9:30 am. Our house was located in downtown Yangon, a few minutes away from famous shopping center, Bogyoke Aung San Market (formerly known as Scott Market). Earlier, most of the streets’ names were buzzing with British nomenclature. But later, they reverted to Myanmar names because people did not fancy Anglicised names.

Mother called out, “Dear Thinza, have you finished making up yourself? Come out and help with these arrangements for your birthday.”

 Thinza replied, “Yes, mom, just a minute. I will be ready. Please ask Tun to help you a bit now.”

I was in my room, reading a book but I heard their conversations. I emerged from my room and went to the living room where mom was laying down tables to serve guests. When Mom saw me, she told, “Tun, honey, get inside the kitchen where your granny is preparing Nyaung Hnin noodle.”

As soon as I heard the word “Nyaung Hnin”, my mouth became watery and my appetite quickened. I did not know that mom would prepare Nyaung Hnin Noodle for my sister’s birthday. I thought at first that they would order some chicken and parata (flat bread made of flour) for the guests. But, in the last minute, they changed the plan.

I replied, “Sure, mom. I will go and help granny.”

When I entered the kitchen, granny was still cooking the noodle. I asked her, “Granny, is it almost finished? I am a bit hungry now.”

She smiled at me and patted my head gently. Looking at me cheerfully, she said, “You naughty boy! You are not supposed to help me, right? You want to eat it now?”

She was stirring the pot gently with a wooden ladle. The gravy was yellowish and I saw bits of chicken and some onions in the gravy which was boiling with bubbles appearing on its surface. Its smell was so good that I tried to suppress my taste buds. But, I could not control it and asked, “Granny, can I try some?”

Glancing at me with fake scorn, she scooped a spoonful of gravy and gave it to me. I put the spoon into my mouth after blowing off the steam and heat from the gravy. So tasty. I exclaimed, “Yummy!” and nodded my head several times with satisfaction. It was really delicious. Seeing the expression on my face, my granny smiled and asked me how the gravy was. Savouring the flavour, I nodded my head with approval.

Granny beamed a broad smile and said, “It will be ready in a few minutes. Just wait here.” She put some more ingredients into the gravy and stirred it gently again. The kitchen was full of the savoury smell of the gravy for the noodle.

As I wiped plates and spoons with a napkin, a thought came into my head. Although we had this noodle quite often, I did not know the story behind the noodle. Suddenly, I wanted to know the story.

My sister Thinza came into the kitchen just then.

“Huh, Tun, what are you doing here? You are supposed to be with mom.”

I replied, “No, mom told me to help granny. So, I came here.” After listening to my explanation, Thinza left the kitchen for the living room.

Then, I asked my grandmother. “Granny, we have been having this noodle for a long time. Do you know who invented this recipe, when and why?”

Looking at me strangely, Granny stopped her stirring for a while. “Huh, Tun. That’s a good question. Why are you asking this question so suddenly? You see, I am busy with this. I will tell you later. Give me a big bowl. I will pour the gravy into that bowl.”

Granny poured the gravy into the bowl and soon the bowl was filled up with the gravy. Granny unwrapped the flat noodles and put them into the plate. She tried to lay out everything such as fritters, chili powder, shredded onions, tamarind liquid in different plates and saucers.

There was a custom we followed to eat the Nyaung Hnin noodle. We needed to use our fingers to take noodle from the plate. They said that it would feel more flavourful that way. Another feature was that the noodle had to be yellow, not white. Normally, noodle was white in colour. I asked my granny, what made the noodle yellow. She replied that it was smeared with yellow ginger powder.

When all set, granny asked me to go and tell my mom. When I reached the living room, mom was already laid out four circular low tables. As soon as she saw me, she asked me to bring the cutlery in. I laid five plates for each table. Beside the plates, I put spoon and forks.

It was only for guests. For us, we would have the noodle with fingers. We knew that some of them found it inconvenient using their fingers while having the noodle.  Soon, Thinza’s friends came one after another. They exchanged greetings, giving her birthday presents. All of them were seated at their respective tables.

They conversed with each other and seemed very happy. Thiza was very pretty with her pink blouse and a nice trendy hairdo. Thinza was busy ladling the gravy into the plate in which noodle had been placed. She moved from one table to another.  Everyone liked it and they asked for more gravy and noodle.

It seemed that they enjoyed eating it. I felt proud that it our special family recipe. I wanted to know the story even more.

Meanwhile, my father came with a birthday cake. Thinza blew candles and everyone sang the birthday song.

They had cake and left. The birthday party ended around 11 a.m. Thinza asked for permission from our parents to go out with her friends. They wanted to see a new movie at the local theatre. My parents agreed and Thinza went out together with her friends.

I cleared up. My granny sat on her easy chair in the verandah of our apartment. The verandah overlooked a school compound with tall trees. It was quiet because it was school holiday.

I sat beside her and massaged her limbs. She looked at me and smiled. She knew I wanted the story. Lifting a cup of green tea to her mouth, she sipped a bit and cleared her throat and started her narrative.

Nyaung Hnin lived in a small village in an island called Balukyun which means ogre island. Actually, the word “Nyaung” is a Mon word and means “Aunty” which is a literal translation for the word. Normally for a Myanmar woman takes “Daw” which is an honourable title for a lady or a woman in seniority. The village’s name was “Tawkanar” which was a Mon word. There were over sixty villages in the island and it was peopled by mainly the Mon.

They grew paddy and fish because their island was surrounded by the fast-flowing Thanlyin River which flows into Andaman Sea. Nyaung Hninn lived very close to my granny’s house and was related to her. Nyaung Hnin was five years older than my granny. Before she started selling noodle in the village, she was a rice broker.

She normally went up to Mawlamyine, a port city across the island to sell paddy. It was in socialist times and the business of the port was booming and thriving because of the goods smuggled from Thailand. Back in early 19th century, British settled in that port city and we knew that even George Orwell, a well-known British writer, then known as Eric Blair had his aunt in that port city.

A view of Mawlamyine

Nyaung Hnnin’s business prospered till her husband died in a shipwreck. Out of sadness and despair, she stopped working. She was jobless until one day she found the recipe when she cooked this noodle. She had been interested in cooking from a young age. Mawlamyine women or Mon women had excellent cooking skills.

One day, Nyaung Hnnin prepared a noodle curry. While cooking, she put some ingredients which would go well with the curry. She stirred the curry a while. It became less watery and started to thicken. It seemed a kind of normal noodle curry.

But, she changed a little bit of ingredients creating a new dish of her own. She poured the gravy into the small bowl in which flat noodle was put. She put some pounded pea, a small spoon of tamarind, a pinch of chili powder. She stirred all well. She tasted it. It was so delicious.

Then, she thought of selling the noodle in the village as snacks. She could sell it in the morning, afternoon and early evening. They would love it. She was pleased with the thought.

Granny stopped for a while to sip her green tea again. She carried on, “Later, she taught me how to cook it after I asked her the way to prepare the noodle. People in the village simply called her noodle ‘Nyaung Hnin Noodle’. They liked her noodle very much. So, they gave it a name and so it went with her proper name. She started selling it in 1970s. So, it’s nearly fifty years now. But she passed away in 1980s.”

Nodding my heads to her recount, I visualized the image of Nyaung Hnin and her features. She might have been as thin as my granny who was active and mindful in everything. She loved cooking too. I thought that she might have had the same sentiments as my granny — to feed people with goodwill and they wanted people to have good food.

I realised that our family recipe came down from our cousin-grandmother and the recipe was not much known outside of our family and some village relatives. But we still enjoyed having the noodle. Time and her struggles only added to the flavour.

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San Lin Tun is a freelance writer of essays, poetry, short story and novel in Myanmar and English. His publications have appeared in several magazines such as Asia Literary Review, Kitaab, NAW, PIX, Mad in Asia Pacific, Mekong Review, Ponder Savant and others. He is the author of a novel “An English Writer.”

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How green was our valley!

By Ratnottama Sengupta

Panoramic view of Fatima Devi High School, around 1960

Dwiref Bhai was Shubhu Da’s friend; Alka was mine. So whenever Alka and I quarrelled — which we still do — I would tell Shubhu to tell Dwiref to give her a sound scolding.

“Hmm!” he’d reply.

What did that mean? I had no doubt that it meant “Sure.”

And sure enough they did no such thing. So next we met, Alka and I were friends again — which we have been for six decades and more, through high water and low, with the entire families of the Mehtas, Ghoshs and then Senguptas too.

Fatima Devi English High School existed in Malad East even before Kanaklata and Nabendu Ghosh* moved in to 2 Pushpa Colony. I was born in 1955 with that address. Rashmikant Mehta and Family moved in to ‘Kshitij Kunj’ some years later. The neighborhood was a cluster of Goan style bungalows that were home to Sequieras and Marchons, to Jenny Aunty and Hubert, to Paul Mahendra, Tarun Bose and Madhup Sharma – actors, all three – to the Chopras, Kashmiris, Khemanis, Bhatias, Mohan, Anthony, George… Together we have consigned to flames so many Auld Lang Syne on New Year Eves. Among so many abiding memories that bind this assortment of Indian lives, the strongest one is of our Holis. The toli or band would start somewhere with the Sharmas and the Chopras carrying gulal*, the Mahendras and Marchons would join in as the group stopped at the Mehtas, wound their way down the tiny colony and finished at 2 Pushpa Colony — gorging on sweets at every pause to smear colours and share joi de vivre. Years down, when we grew up, we would bunch into cars, drive down to Marve or Aksa Beach and dip into the Arabian Sea to add tan to the pink and green gulals on our faces. Jaane kahan gaye woh din… where have those days disappeared!

‘The road to a friend’s house is never too long’ — read the legend on a porcelain vase I had got for Alka from my first visit to UK. That legend captured the essence of our bonding. Both our families flanked Fatima Devi. But, while Dwiref, Kshitij, Alka and Spandana went to that very school — part of which was housed in the Mehta mansion — Subhankar and I went to school in Dadar. This arrangement was to ensure that we would grow up with some knowledge of Bengali, a language that had been enriched with the literary outpouring of Nabendu Ghosh.

So, every day it was almost 6 pm by the time I was back from school — and nearing 7 — when I showed up in the Mehta household. That happened to be their dinner time: the four siblings would sit around the kitchen table for the hot rotis and mouth-watering sabzis, vegetables cooked savoury with spices which  Prafulben Mehta — Aunty — would whisk off the tawa. Quietly she would put another plate on the table and hungrily I would polish off whatever was dished out. And, with a serious face, Dwiref Bhai would adjust his glasses, look meaningfully at the plate and ask, “Uttama, how do you manage to time the clock so perfectly?”

Looking back at that table in my mind’s eye, I now sigh. I wish I could manage to turn the clock back in time too. How I long for those dhoklas and vadas, khandvis and chhoondas, spiced up with the comments baked in camaraderie!

Dwiref and Shubhu did not study in the same school but playmates they were all along. So, rather than exchange homework and classwork, they were always indulging in the give-n-take of comics. That is how I got my first lessons in the intricate history of World War II. That is how I got acquainted with the Phantom, ‘Mr Walker’. That is how Archie and Betty and Veronica also became our ‘friends’.

Dwiref and Kshitij, brothers two, were divergent in their looks and in their style too. If the demeanor of the elder brother took after the Bollywood dancing hero Shammi Kapoor, Kshitij tailored his ways after the dashing heartthrob of 1960s, Shashi Kapoor. This dawned on me when I took to writing on films in 1970s. Shubhu had by then graduated from the Film & Television Institute of India — so Cinema was the constant topic of conversation at 2 Pushpa Colony. I came to realize that Rashmikant Uncle and Anil Kaka also had style models in two earlier matinee idols — Rahman and Guru Dutt!!

While Kshitij took over the mantle of a highly revered Criminal Lawyer from the Senior Mehta brothers, Dwiref Bhai became a doctor — like my own elder sibling Dipankar. I couldn’t, however, benefit from his knowledge of medicine: he travelled to the East Coast of America; I, to the Eastern metropolis of Calcutta. Seldom did we chance to meet even on our holidays in Bombay. But on my first visit to New York, Dwiref’s name was there in my ‘must visit’ list, right next to the Statue of Liberty, Time Square, Lincoln Center, MOMA, WTC, Smithsonian, and Krishna Reddy. Unfortunately, while I could personally catch up with the other names, I had to rest content with a telephonic chat with Dwiref Bhai: the doctor had turned patient and was not fit to travel out of his apartment.

Even then, I did not gauge the severity of his ill health. But, then, did I gauge that for my Dadabhai* either? This calendar year, circa 2020 has snatched away both our elder brothers. Is that fair, Alka? But today we are not quarrelling. Today, in grief, we are enjoined — the Mehtas and the Ghoshs.

*Nabendu Ghosh was a well-known writer and Bollywood script writer and director. Ratnottama Sengupta is his daughter.

*Gulal – dry colours which are smeared on friends during the festival of colours in India, Holi.

*Dadabhai – Elder brother

Ratnottama Sengupta turned director with And They Made Classics, on the unique bonding between screenwriter Nabendu Ghosh and director Bimal Roy. A very senior journalist, she has been writing for newspapers and journals, participating in discussions on the electronic media; teaching mass communication students, writing books on cinema and art, programming film festivals and curating art exhibitions. She has written on Hindi films for the Encyclopaedia Britannica; been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. The former Arts Editor of The Times of India is also a member of the NFDC’s script committee. Author of Krishna’s Cosmos and several other volumes, she has recently edited That Bird Called Happiness (2018/ Speaking Tiger), Me And I (2017/ Hachette India), Kadam Kadam (2016/ Bhashalipi), Chuninda Kahaniyaan: Nabendu Ghosh (2009/ Roshnai Prakashan).

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Baudelaire and Paris

By Sunil Sharma

Gustave Caillebotte. Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877. 

I

Modern Paris was discovered by Baudelaire in his avatar as the flaneur. And Walter Benjamin made this figure intellectually respectful as a field of study.

In a recent visit to Paris, I hovered between two allied states of being a flaneur and a gawking tourist. I had come as a sightseer from Mumbai, India, allured by the tales and well-crafted image of a mythic Paris, drinking in the street flavours on those May days, passively registering the wide monuments and boulevards and palaces and towers in one clean and clear sweep — almost like a wide-angle shot in a Stanley Kubrick film. Spring had set in and the Paris of May 2014 was full of eager tourists from nations as wide apart as China and the USA; Africa and Middle East and Latin America. A bouquet of the ethnicities strung together.

Then, I became a flaneur, making a neat switch, in a single instant.

I became Baudelaire.

Different terms can make you look differently at a similar set of things or a common setting.

Of course, I did not have the urge to write a new millennium version of The Flowers of Evil. At best, you can parody a sacred text but you cannot re-write it, howsoever Borges-like you might be.

I am neither of the two.

Like Mallarme and Verlaine, you can carry forward an idea by expanding it further but cannot imitate with complete fidelity to the original.

So, not in a mood for a cheap replication of a master praised by Proust so profusely, I took on the stance of a flaneur and became a connoisseur of the street-life.

Was it possible?

Assuming the role of a figure long dead or supposed to be dead? Replaced by a tourist? Solo or in a group?

Armed with a camera or a cell phone, in casuals, the modern tourist — guided by brochures and online information and a city map — looks at the urban skyline vicariously familiarized by prior research. Or, could it be at a professional polyglot guide spewing bits and pieces of history like a typical street performer or an amateur actor? A mass tourist consuming the city, architecture, culture, food, arts and clothes — public life — in a predictable way and sequence largely decided by the tourist industry. A few breaks are possible in that routine.

But to resurrect the role and agency of the classic flaneur, you have to take on a different position and way of seeing.

And what was that?

I could not become a dandy—detached, arrogant, inheritor of a small fortune, an idler walking a tortoise on a Paris street of the nineteenth century. Even if I had the means, I could get arrested for an act of animal cruelty!

Those were different times!

So what can be done?

The clues lie in The Flowers of Evil, perhaps.

Will this title be acceptable today? With changing definitions of evil? With life becoming more liberal and open?

Baudelaire was a dandy and a cultivated flaneur—the painter of modern life; a gentleman stroller of the city streets. Part of, yet apart from, the crowds.

But then, not every dandy is a flaneur and every flaneur, a dandy?

Again, dandy is a historical invention, a social-engineering, manufacturing of a social type for a particular age.

Perhaps, a metro-sexual male, now no longer fashionable.

Is he a voyeur?

Perhaps, we all are, given the nature of our society.

Or, a keen participant, an acute observer, a chronicler?

For me, the answer lies in the personality of Charles Baudelaire who in turn was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe. But that would be complicating things further.

Let us stick to our central figure Baudelaire. His genius lies in radicalizing the trope of the French flaneur. A theme that fascinated Walter Benjamin who, in the twentieth century, tried to essay the same role performed so well by Baudelaire in the industrialized Paris of the nineteenth century. The former could not capture the underlying passion of Baudelaire in this unfinished project.

In fact, by the late 1990s and start of the 21st century, author-flaneur proved an impossible figure.

Market forces, on global level, have incorporated author as a producer of kitsch or dystopia. Dissidents were slowly and subtly disenfranchised.

We are all sellers!

Baudelaire resisted this initial process in Paris. Beckett was next. Sartre and Camus too tried.

Then the flow stopped.

The Flowers of Evil mounts a challenge to the order and morality of the Second Republic.

The poems challenge the bourgeois morality and conception of order and beauty and aesthetics in a radical way. The book talks of evil and implies that the source of evil lies in its origins — capitalism.

In that simple gesture of observing, participating, recording of street life, Baudelaire liberates himself from his historical position and becomes a true artist. By talking of prostitutes and vampires, the poet shows the underbelly of capitalism. His creations provide the material basis for highlighting these themes and give credence to outcasts from the system that feed on the blood of the innocent and the gullible.

The Flowers of Evil is the greatest indictment of the French bourgeoisie by a person deeply embedded in it as a bourgeois but a radical one that unveils the brutal face of a system that once talked of revolutionary slogan of liberty, equality, fraternity!

An evil society can produce evil flowers!

Vampires are for real!

II

That Baudelaire had not died in 2014 was proven on a street near the Eiffel Tower on that memorable trip.

A Roma girl, bold and audacious, stole my son’s cell phone from his shirt pocket. She returned it after a cop intervened.

I could smell evil in the air. The disenfranchised and the ethnic Roma are still the threat — like the prostitute and the vampire, the perpetual outsiders.

The Paris of Baudelaire is not safe.

The shoot-out at the Charlie Hebdo proves that.

The vampires are out.

This time round, Baudelaire the flaneur has disappeared. There is no one to warn us of these sinister presences.

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Sunil Sharma, an academic administrator and author-critic-poet–freelance journalist, is from suburban Mumbai, India. He has published 22 books so far, some solo and some joint, on prose, poetry and criticism. He edits the monthly, bilingual Setu: http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html
For more details of publications, please visit the link below:
http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/

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What waits for Rohingyas?

By Saifur Rahman Saif

Rohingya people, who have no identity of their own, are now facing another danger. The pandemic of COVID-19 took away one of the Rohingyas, who found shelter at a camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh on the wake of genocide in their own land in Myanmar.

United News of Bangladesh reported that the man died from coronavirus infection while undergoing treatment at the isolation centre at Ukhiya camp in Cox’s Bazar on Monday night.

Referring to Abu Toha MRH Bhuiyan, who works as a health coordinator at the Refugee, Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, the news agency stated that the deceased could not be identified immediately but he was a 71-year-old man.

It was the first confirmed case of death of a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is now home for over one million Rohingyas, who fled atrocities in Myanmar to Bangladesh.

In my earlier article in  Countercurrents, I tried to draw attention of the world community so that they would come forward to save Rohingyas from probable contamination of COVID -19. I don’t know whether anybody heard my appeal. In fact, the Rohingyas are no longer safe now from the devastation of COVID-19. We don’t know what is waiting for the densely populated Rohingyas. I also don’t know who will save Rohingyas from further deaths? Is it the Bangladesh government or the world community?

Super power USA is now facing manifold adversity- destructions of COVID-19, street demonstrations across the country and, so on. Many other powerful countriesare also in peril today. And Bangladesh, with 709 confirmed case of death from COVID-19 and 52,445 infected, is has failed to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The Gono Forum came up with the allegation on Tuesday as its president Kamal Hossain and general secretary Reza Kibria in a joint statement said that although World Health Organisation on March 11 declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the government announced general holidays in the last week of the month.

They also said that although Bangladesh had enough time to determine national strategy, the government failed to implement a fruitful strategy, New Age reported.

The Gono Forum leaders said that the rate of COVID-19 tests in the country was very low and people had no confidence on government’s information on COVID-19 infections and deaths.

They also said that the late announcement of public holiday amid relaxation put impacted people’s lives negatively as it failed to control the infections.

They said that only a small part of government aids reached to the poor and vulnerable due to corruption and inefficiency while lakhs of labourers and working class people faced unemployment.

The leaders said that withdrawal of public holidays ignoring recommendations of national technical advisory committee had created much anxiety among the people and the situation was worsening for the lack of adequate number of tests and mismanagement in the health sector.

In this situation, I cannot think of a future for the Rohingyas, at least not the kind I really wished for.

Saifur Rahman Saif is a Bangladeshi journalist. He works at New Age, a popular newspaper. He contributed a story in Freelance Success Stories published simultaneously from the USA and Canada. He can be reached at saifnewage@gmail.com

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First Published in Countercurrents.org

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Unbowed, She Stayed

By Bhaskar Parichha

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Muta Maathai

Born in Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940, she died in Nairobi in 2011. Wangari Muta Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which has  — through networks of rural women — has planted over 30million trees.

Africa’s future has been the subject of fierce debate with the international media: full of warnings about environmental and economic collapse.

True, development workers continue to create hypothetical solutions to the problems they see, yet with little effect and much controversy. While these outsiders haggle over projections and prophecies, Africans had been working on a variety of small, grassroots projects, which they believe, might change the course of their future.

The Green Belt movement is one such project which has been creating and recreating history. It is so easy, in the modern world, to feel disconnected from the physical Earth!

Despite dire warnings and escalating concern over the state of our planet, many feel out of touch with the natural world. But, the Green Belt organization — which has planted millions of trees throughout East Africa in order to provide sources of fuel, food, and a way to stop soil erosion and environmental degradation — is one example of an indigenous movement working to influence Africa’s ecology.

When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women that soon spread across Africa.

She spent decades working with the Movement to help women in rural Kenya plant—and sustain—millions of trees. With their hands in the dirt, these women found themselves empowered and “at home” in a way they never did before.

Maathai wanted to impart that feeling to everyone and believed that the key lies in traditional spiritual values: love for the environment, self-betterment, gratitude and respect, and a commitment to service.

While educated in the Christian tradition, Maathai drew inspiration from many faiths, celebrating the Jewish mandate ‘tikkun olam‘ (repair the world) and renewing the Japanese ‘termmottainai‘ (don’t waste).

Through rededication to these values, she believed Kenyan women could finally bring about healing for themselves and the Earth. Unrelenting through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya’s forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country.

The Green Belt Movement became the inspiring story of people working at the grassroots level to improve their environment and their country. Their story offered ideas about a new and hopeful future for Africa and the rest of the world. Besides being a native writer, Wangari Maathai was also a parliamentarian.

In 2002, she was elected to Kenya’s Parliament in the first free elections in a generation. In2003, she was appointed Deputy Minister for the Environment and natural resources.

However, worldwide recognition came her way when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004. In 2009; she was appointed a United Nations Messenger of Peace. This Nobel Peace Prize laureate recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage in her autobiography Unbowed: A Memoir.

 Her trailblazing story illustrates how African women are striding out.

Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies. His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books. 

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