Categories
Slices from Life

Sails, Whales, and Whimsical Winds

Photographs & Narrative by Meredith Stephens

It was June, and we were sailing north along the coast of New South Wales. We arrived at Hacking Bay to weigh anchor at sunset, and later fell asleep to the gently rocking motion of the boat. The following day, Alex made an early start up the coast before I roused. In anticipation of rough waters, he brought me an anti-seasickness pill and a glass of water. After lying there in my cabin for half an hour, I heard Alex uncharacteristically utter an expletive. I knew I couldn’t stay in bed any longer.

“There’s a tear in my mainsail!”

“What now?”

“We can’t get to Pittwater today. We have to find a sailmaker as soon as we can.”

Alex rang his sailor friend Luke who put him on to a competent sailmaker. We had just passed Botany Bay near where the sailmaker worked, so had to turn around in rough waters and motor upwind back to the bay.

Soon after entering the bay into the St George Estuary we spotted the Captain Cook Bridge looming ahead of us. Would the mast clear the underside of the bridge? We gently and carefully started moving under the bridge. As we passed under it, we noticed the VHF antenna on top of the mast bending while scraping the underside of the bridge, so we reversed as quickly as we could and decided to wait nearby until low tide. After finding out the precise time of low tide we tentatively approached the bridge again, Alex all the while craning his head upwards and to the side of the helm to find the high point of the bridge. The VHF barely tickled the bridge, and we made it to the other side.

Then we navigated the boats dotted around the harbour while we made our way to the wharf. Shipwrights working there approached the berth and greeted us warmly. We threw them the docking lines and they expertly tied them to the cleats. The sailmaker arrived soon after to take the sail away for repair. We entreated him to have it ready before low tide the following day so we could pass back under the bridge and avoid being trapped another day.

We had twenty-four hours to pass in the Sans Souci neighbourhood and spent most of our time strolling along the pedestrian path by Botany Bay. Upon our return to the boatyard, the gates were locked, and we could not access the boat. Alex spied a metal ladder lying in the boat yard. He pulled it under a gap in the base of the fence and laid it against it. We climbed up and stepped onto one of the boats on the other side, and then lowered ourselves onto the ground. I ruefully thought that this was something only teenagers would do, but here we were in our sixties, using a ladder to enter a locked property.

The next morning the sailmaker arrived in good time and we heaved the sail back onto the boat. Alex raised the sail and looked pleased with the neat patch.

We waited until low tide, and then wove our way once more through the moored boats, even passing a sunken boat with its mast protruding through the surface of the water.

We precisely timed our passing under the bridge to low tide. As before, Alex proceeded under the highest point of the bridge.

We were exhilarated to have timed the low tide accurately and to have passed under the bridge with only the tip of the VHF antenna having gently grazed its underbelly. We exited the bay in relief and headed back to the Tasman Sea, turning back north to resume our trip up the coast.

Over the next few days, we enjoyed fair conditions for winter sailing. Sailing downwind was like floating in space. The boat cantered across the surface of the water but we had the sensation of being gently propelled through the air.

“This wind is a bit whimsical,” complained Alex, as he moved to the helm to turn on the engine.

“We are approaching Ballina so I have to keep an eye out for…”

“Whales?” I interrupted.

“No, craypots. There might be whales too, though.”

Alex scrutinized the horizon, shivering in his wet weather gear, searching for unforeseen objects.

The name of the town, Ballina, reminded me of the word for ‘whale’ in French:  une baleine. In fact, the name has nothing to do with whales. Rather it was probably named after the Irish town of the same name.

Whale sightings were the highlight of our voyage as we sailed north up the coast of New South Wales. They had migrated from the Antarctica for calving These were my reward when it was my stint at the helm. Sitting still and observing did not come easily to me. Usually, I liked to busy myself with errands, reading, writing or socialising. I gradually became used to sitting at the helm for hours at a time trying to remain vigilant to spot obstacles to our path. One such day I was sitting there, sensing the swell of the ocean gently rocking beneath me as I held my posture erect, listening to the swishing of the water against the hull, when I was suddenly shocked out of my trance by a spout of water erupting from the ocean surface. Waves do not erupt horizontally so it held my attention. Then I saw a whale throw herself into the air to somersault, and then reveal her fluke as she dived back in again.

“Alex!” I screamed, uncharacteristically, surprising even myself.

It was like being transported to a film set. Alex sensed my excitement and came out with his phone camera, moving to the bow to get as close as he could.

“They’re only a hundred metres away,” he observed.

They performed another flip for us, and flashed their flukes as they dived down. We kept scanning the patch of ocean where they had given their performance, but they did not reappear. I retreated to the helm and then turned around as I heard another splash behind me. The boat had moved on, and the whales were making a reappearance in their original spot.

The trials of seasickness, straining to keep alert while on duty, and sail damage were more than compensated for in the unanticipated sight of a whale breaching before my eyes. All the hardships dimmed in those moments of awe.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist from South Australia. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Muse, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine, Reading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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

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

Categories
Slices from Life

‘I am in a New York state of mind’

Narrative and photographs by Ravi Shankar

New York Skyline from a ferry

The new Oculus transportation hub was spectacular! Spacious, roomy, bright, and inviting. A vision in white. The building was designed by the Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava and consists of interlocking ribs that meet high above the ground. I was visiting the One World Trade Center and had taken the New York metro to the station.

One World Trade Centre

Built on the site of the twin towers, it is the tallest building in the western hemisphere. The height is 1776 feet, a reference to the year of American independence. The One World observatory is right at the top (100 to 102nd floors). The elevator ride to the observatory was fast. The history of New York is shown on the elevator panels during the 47-second ride to the hundred and second floor. The view of the New York skyline from the observatory was spectacular. The observatory has a lot to offer but most extra attractions are charged.

New York is infamous for even charging passengers to use the baggage trolleys at JFK airport. This is a service that is free in most of the world and something I could never get used to. The 22-story Flatiron building was the first skyscraper completed in 1903. Many iconic New York skyscrapers were seen, and their history was explained. The view down to the street level projected to the floor in the Skyportal was scary. City Pulse provided an opportunity to interact with the city ambassadors (locals with an intimate knowledge of the city). The collection of high-definition monitors provided me with an intriguing view of New York.  

I enjoyed taking the New York (NY) buses. There are different types of buses; most allow for easy wheelchair access. The next bus stop is displayed on the screen of the bus. Bus stops also have screens showing when the next bus is expected. Jamaica, where I was staying, had articulated buses. I did go on some long walks in the city. The weather was getting colder but was still tolerable. Cold is something you must factor in when visiting New York in the winter. The trees become bare ghosts stripped off their leaves. With the advent of spring, the dormant trees wake up. Coming from tropical climes a tree totally devoid of leaves, fruits, and flowers was a unique sight. 

The Baisley Pond Park was very near where I was staying. The 109-acre park includes the 30-acre Baisley Pond in the centre. Most trees were already bare. The park is a popular venue for sporting events and get-togethers in the summer. The weather greatly influences people’s lives in the northern climes. I enjoyed taking long walks in the park. Jamaica had people from all regions. There were African Americans, Hispanics, South Asians, East Asians, Africans, and others. I was staying in an AirBnB (a house owned by an African American gentleman named Kevin). The room was in the basement of Kevin’s house. We eventually became good friends. There were a few eating places located around Kevin’s house.

I decided to spend a few days in the quietest borough in New York, Staten Island. NY has five boroughs – the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Staten Island is the southernmost and for a long time was predominantly agricultural. Staten Island is not commonly visited by tourists. I took the bright, orange-coloured Staten Island ferry. The travel time is about twenty minutes. The ferry travels close to the Statue of Liberty, a gift from

Statue of Liberty from the ferry

the French people to the people of the United States. I took a bus from the ferry terminal to the house where I would be staying. The area had a large Hispanic population and I enjoyed food from the Dominican Republic and Mexico. The room was nice and warm, and the bay windows provided a good view of the street.

The Staten Island Zoo is an eight-acre urban zoo open throughout the year. The zoo is also called Barrett Park and is located on the estate grounds of a US war hero, Colonel Harden. The zoo is run by the Staten Island zoological society founded in 1933. The zoo holds frequent educational sessions. Winter was starting and many animals had been shifted to warmer enclosures. A lot of effort had been expended on recreating the native environment of most animals. Zoologists now know a lot about different animals and their habitats. I had seen similar effort being put in at the zoos in Taiping.

One of the highlights of my visit was the afternoon spent at Richmond Old Town. The site was for more than two centuries the seat of the Staten Island government. The government was shifted to the northern part of the island after the island became one of the boroughs of New York. The former county clerk’s office serves as a historic museum. I enjoyed stepping back in time. The visitor’s centre is in the third county courthouse. There are several historic structures.

There were individuals dressed as historical characters enacting different roles and speaking the lingua of the past. One of the highlights of the afternoon was the guided tour of different properties led by the museum curator. New York was originally settled by the Dutch and called New Amsterdam. The houses were built in the old Dutch style. People lived much more simply in those days and closer to the land. I saw straw beddings that attracted vermin easily and had to be disposed of periodically. I was reminded of a night spent sleeping on a straw mattress in a Nepalese trekking lodge when I was devoured alive by bed bugs. Bed bugs are a resilient species and I read they were making a comeback even in upmarket hotels in developed nations. The massive brick ovens used to bake bread were intriguing as was the old, solid furniture.

The afternoon was getting cloudy and windy as I took the bus back to my room. The next morning, I took the ferry back to Queens. Soon it was time for me to fly back. Terminal 4 at JFK airport can be very crowded. Luckily due to my frequent flier status with Kuwait airways, I had access to the Etihad lounge. Dusk was slowly settling on the airport and the sleek modern control tower was being lit in various fluorescent colours. This was an interesting visit to the Big Apple. NY is sprawling, rough, busy, rushed, kind, and individualistic.

People come to chase their dreams from all over the world. I was reminded of the famous song by Billy Joel and Tony Bennett titled ‘Í am in a New York state of mind’ as the plane gathered height and slowly left the lights of the big apple far, far below!     

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Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer.

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

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

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Slices from Life

Near-Life Experiences: Hiking in New Zealand

Sometimes all it takes is a short break to get away from the stresses of your life to realise you have been too busy to be truly living the life you really desire. Sometimes all you need are some near-life experiences to bring you back to Earth. Keith Lyons escapes city life to find his happy place. 

Abel Tasman National Park. Courtesy: Creative Commons

It was almost midday when I finally started to relax and instinctively know that everything was going to be alright. But before then, things had been a little bit rushed. With just 15 minutes before the flight boarding call, the taxi was still spinning a few blocks away on the Uber app tracker. I counted down the minutes, worried not so much about the high fare but about missing the flight. 

Still half asleep, I kept a lookout from my window seat at the snow on the ridges of the Alps, finding amid the peaks and valleys an emerald alpine lake, impossible to reach. Half-an-hour later after the plane touched down, I walked from the airport to the neighbourhood where I grew up, locating the supermarket, and assembling my late breakfast with provisions I’d bought for the journey: half a dozen multi-grain bread rolls, a bag of salad greens, and a small block of extra tasty mature cheese. Suitably fortified, I found camping gas sold in the hunting and fishing shop, though when I walked out of Gun City having purchased one canister, I got a nasty look from the mother with her young child, as if I had just bought a semi-automatic rifle to run riot in a primary school. Seeking the best cafe in town to enjoy a cup of coffee, I found it further along the street, a man in a wheelchair mobility scooter leaving with a broad grin as if he had been given a new lease on life a good enough sign for me. The owner gave me a friendly welcome and a cafe latte in a real cup. With blood sugar and caffeine levels now elevated, it was time to hit the road, to hitchhike to the trailhead, but some primitive drive kicked in when I went past the pizza parlour, so I gave in and commenced carbo-loading on a 12-inch pizza, justifying to myself that I’d be walking it off. 

And I did walk. First, out of town to the crossroads where I only had to wait a few minutes until a science teacher on her way to pick up her children stopped. She told me about their financial struggles and how a generous government allowance kept their family afloat. She dropped me in the next town, and I ducked into the last supermarket just to cram one more packet of crackers into my day pack. 

It was now early afternoon, and the logical part of my brain was asking why I hadn’t started on the hike, which would take four hours. The other part of my brain reassured me that it didn’t really matter what’s ahead, what was here and now was more important. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the sun felt hot on my skin. I walked to the edge of town, but with not so much traffic I was tempted to have a handmade ice cream with local frozen berries. By the time I cleaned my sticky hands with sanitiser, I looked up to see another car had stopped for me. A man with no legs. I moved the wheels of his chair further over in the back seat; later I worried he might not be able to reach them when he arrived at his destination. I was almost at mine. 

One final ride, with a former real estate agent who imparted some wisdom: Live your life to the full while you can, don’t wait till you are old, for then it might be too late, and health problems might blight your life. 

Inside, I felt that I needed this. To be on the road. To be travelling again after Covid lockdowns and fears about venturing out. I needed this to look beyond my day job, my family concerns, and my dilemmas with what to do to secure a long-term future. It seems ages ago, but when I woke up in the morning, the first email I had seen through bleary eyes was a quote from George Addair: “Everything you’ve ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear.”

I felt buoyed by the interactions, the sharing of truths, and the lifelong lessons. I almost wanted to continue this hitchhiking, this random experiment, at the mercy of the road and its drivers. But I had a reservation for a bunk bed in a park hut, and the holiday I’d planned at the start of the year was now taking shape. 

The trail, the Abel Tasman National Park ‘Great Walk’ (in New Zealand’s South Island) was familiar enough that I felt like I was coming home. I recalled walking part of this track as a child and in recent years I’d hiked sections, including the first four hours. Despite its familiarity, I saw new things, noticed details, and lingered to take it all in. I was in no hurry. So much depended on your mood, your pace, and your company. I took detours down to sandy beaches. I got breathless climbing and climbing and climbing to viewpoints. I stopped to drink the water still cold in my bottle. I sat at strategically placed seats to marvel at the panorama of sea, sand, forest and the horizon. From dazzling sunlight, the route drops into the gloom of forest cover, where I could smell the earthy sweetness of honey-dew on the breeze. The landscape was scenic, but there was more it was doing for my soul. Moving through it was to be immersed in it, to be nourished by the sight, the colours of life, the contrasts, and the abundance of nature. In my head, my soundtrack had songs on repeat, repeat, repeat. Then it skipped to another, to repeat a few times. I needed to upgrade my internal Spotify. I noticed my breathing, and how it deepened. I still had some tension, but slowly it was seeping away, dissipating. Yes, I would like some more of this. Yes, please. 

Every few minutes walkers heading out from day trips or longer multi-day hikes passed by, with ‘hellos’. The Europeans and North Americans invariably walked on the ‘wrong’ side of the trail. Some were seeking suitable places for Instagram pictures. Others clutched the cardboard containers that once held their packed lunch from the ferry operator, looking for a trash bin, despite the notices that everyone must take out whatever they bring in. 

At the hut, most had larger packs than mine, apart from an American who seemed to be staying overnight without any food. We watched him sitting outside using the free wifi, as if he was Googling ‘nearest store’ or finding out if any delivery services worked there. They don’t. The wood fire was lit in the main dining area, and exhausted souls sat around eating camp food and sipping hot drinks. And laughing. It was only just 9.30pm but already half the 30 or so guests had retired to their bunk rooms. There was talk about the need to rise early to take advantage of the low tide crossing, saving an hour or so of extra slog. 

I was woken by the rustling of plastic bags, the clomping of hiking boots on the deck outside, and the hiss of gas cookers preparing porridge and tea. I rolled over and tried to sleep, as I was still tired, a tiredness residual from late nights, long hours working, and the demands of modern life. 

When I finally got out of my sleeping bag and squinted my eyes out at the day, the last of the overnighters were getting ready to leave. I found myself alone. And here I found it. Peace. Stillness. Calm. It is in that place. And it was inside me. 

Framed by the gable roof of the dining hall, through the trees, it was misty across the sheltered bay. The water was still and flat, but I could hear the distant breaking on the shore like a lullaby. I slowly sipped a cup of Lady Grey tea to add clarity. I heard just the twitter of birdsong and saw two tiny birds flit here and there. From a treetop, came the chimes and whirls and clicks of a native bird. Light rain was soft on the tin roof. I was content just to sit and gaze out at the scene, reduced to flat grey tones. I was happy enough just to be breathing the air, which was moist and life-giving. My warm scarf wrapped around my neck gave the embodiment of love, while the woollen hat on my heat topped it off. I was complete.

I felt the need to move, but not to go out in the rain which was getting heavier. Instead, I remembered some Qi Gong exercises, my arms flailing out, torso twisting, rotating. I pulled up energy from the earth below. And with that movement, and in that space, there was nothing I wanted. Just being fully present was enough. It was all I could be at that moment. 

And you. How about you? When will you stop over-thinking, obsessing, and worrying? Just breathe and believe that everything will work out.

Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, who gave up learning to play bagpipes in a Scottish pipe band to focus on after-dark tabs of dark chocolate, early morning slow-lane swimming, and the perfect cup of masala chai tea. Find him@KeithLyonsNZ or blogging at Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).

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

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

Categories
Slices from Life

Dismasted in Bass Strait

A real-life sailing adventure with photographs by Meredith Stephens

After an arduous day of upwind sailing from Bittangabee Bay on the east coast of Australia to Nadgee Beach we crept into our cabin beds at 9 pm. A few minutes after midnight, crew member Katie suddenly roused to a bright light and looked out of the window. She observed a boat moving towards her, first coloured lights and then a white light. Katie jumped out of bed screaming “He’s gonna hit us!” Then she heard the sound of the crunching of metal against our hull. Skipper Alex got up and blasted his air horn. The neighbouring skipper moved his boat around so he could talk to us. Crew member Verity screamed in terror “Go away!”

Alex called out across the water to the other skipper.

“I can’t see how much damage there is now. What’s your phone number?”

The skipper called his number across from his boat and set off on his midnight voyage. We were not due to sail out until 3 am when the conditions were predicted to become favourable, but we were so shocked at having been hit by another vessel that we could no longer rest. We decided to set out immediately. We headed to an anchorage at the uninhabited Gabo Island, dropped anchor, and slept from 3 am until 6 am. Then Alex roused himself and dutifully took himself to the helm, turned on the motor, raised the anchor and started the anticipated fourteen-hour voyage to Lakes Entrance. Ninety-nine nautical miles later, at 9.50 pm, we arrived at a free public dock, and were greeted by pelicans. Katie alighted onto the dock and secured the lines to cleats and returned to the boat. All crew members slipped into a grateful rest despite the harsh lights of the dock penetrating through the hatches.

After a day ashore to rest and reprovision, we set off the following day at seven am. We had an uneventful sail until 10.30 pm when the halyard[1] to the gennaker[2] snapped. The gennaker trailed in the water between the hulls and Alex retrieved it, replacing it with the jib[3]. I trusted Alex with sails and halyards, and I could hardly keep my eyes open, so I retreated to my cabin and tried to sleep. Not for long though because I could hear Alex and Katie shouting to each other on the deck. My body was craving sleep, but I dared not succumb when there was obviously some sort of trouble. I had never heard Alex and Katie shout at each other. The only reason they were shouting must be in order to be heard over the wind on the deck. I forced myself out of the cabin bed and dropped from its formidable height which had been designed for much taller people. I made my way to the outside door, summoning the strength to venture outside and try and make myself useful, but the darkness, the wind and cold were intimidating. As I deliberated, I heard a crash. The front window had smashed into tiny pieces, which landed on the sofa and were scattered all over the floor. Alex was shouting from the deck, “The mast is down!” I glanced outside and noticed that the mast had landed on the portside deck, and several metres of its tip were trailing submerged behind the boat.

Meanwhile, the steering had been disrupted and the autopilot was no longer functioning. Alex tried to manually manoeuvre the boat to the right, but it would not respond, and he had to turn in circles to the left to attain the right direction. The mast dangling from our port stern was acting like a giant unwanted rudder. I glanced outside and noticed a fishing trawler about five hundred metres away on our portside. I alerted Alex and he was concerned that without steering we would inadvertently hit the trawler. He grabbed the VHF[4] radio and put out a warning on Channel 16 to alert them. No response. He tried again. Still no response. He gave up and returned to the deck in order to save the sails which were trailing us in the water. I remained inside and continued to try to make contact with the trawler, to no avail.

Then Alex realised that the VHF antenna was not working because it was at the end of the mast, which was now trailing in the water. He retrieved his hand-held VHF radio and tried to make contact again. This time the skipper of the trawler responded. They decided to stay close to us and then follow us, ready in case our situation deteriorated. We maintained radio contact with the other skipper until Alex managed to hoist some of the mast out of the water and regain autopilot control. At 3 am, we were confident that we could manage on our own, so we advised the other skipper and he took his leave. A stranger had obeyed the ancient maritime code to assist those in distress at sea, and we didn’t even know his name.

Alex headed for the aptly named Refuge Cove, but another vessel was sheltering there. He wanted a wide berth, so he was reluctant to stay near another boat in case we inadvertently swung into them. He took us on to Waterloo Bay, three nautical miles further. We moved deep into the bay over the next hour and arrived at a sufficiently sheltered spot to drop anchor at 10 am.

For the first time, Alex was able to carefully inspect the damage and was shocked to discover that the cross-beam[5] was broken in half and dangling precariously. This made it too risky to use the main anchor. Alex used a spare anchor instead. By this time, he had been awake for twenty-eight hours, so, we urged him to sleep.

“I think I’ll just tidy up the sails a bit before I sleep,” he insisted.

I also ventured onto the deck to help Alex and noticed the crashed mast, and the cross-beam which looked dented but had in fact snapped in half. Alex and Katie bound up the sails with ropes so as to keep them from falling into the water for the next leg of our trip. My hair was blown into knots around my face and the fierce Australian sunshine was forcing its way into my eyes. I briefly retreated inside to restrain my hair with a scarf and returned to the deck to see Alex and Katie persisting in the cold wind. I was barefoot as this was the best way to grip to the surface of the gently rocking vessel. As I gingerly walked towards Alex and Katie, I noticed shards of glass in front of me. Katie called out in warning, and I retreated. She pointed out the safe way to climb towards them and I trod in that direction, mindful not to fall. Next Alex took the dinghy to the tip of the mast to remove dangling lines and the still-attached jib.

I glanced up and noticed pristine white sands, turquoise waters, craggy mountains and even a few bathers who had obviously hiked here. There were no roads leading to this beach deep within a national park.

We spent the next day tidying up both the topside and the inside of the boat, in particular picking the scattered glass shards. Alex needed a block of wood to secure the mast, so we headed to shore to find one. If we were on holiday this beach would have been ideal. No-one was here, but there were deep footprints in the coarsely grained sand. We walked to the end of this idyllic beach, and I collected shells. Meanwhile, Alex found the perfect sized piece of wood.

We returned to the boat for a few hours of relaxation before setting off for the night sail at 11 pm. Alex had chosen this time because the sea was predicted to be at its calmest over the next twenty-four hours. Before departing, Alex placed the block of wood under the mast to create a pivot point and winched the mast up to ensure it was completely clear of the water and would not drag. I was standing in the saloon as Alex adjusted one of the winches securing the mast, and suddenly heard a cracking noise. A third window shattered. We searched for duct tape to secure the window, but our stores had been depleted. Instead, we used electrical tape, and Katie, who happened to be an artist, taped across the windows until they had the criss-cross design of Tudor windows.

I was nervous about sailing off again into the dark ocean. Would the vessel be seaworthy? Would we be stuck in the dark waters distant from help? I had to rely on Alex’ judgment. I retreated to bed and noticed a bright light through the hatch in front of me.

“Is that a vessel ahead?” I urgently asked.

“No, that’s the moon!”

I peered myopically ahead and worked out that the large shining light ahead was the comforting moon and was shedding a kind light to guide us on the waters ahead.

Alex and Katie took charge of the vessel in the night to continue west along Bass Strait to Yaringa, the nearest marina that could host us. I could hear them calling out instructions to one another. The seas were not yet as calm as we had hoped, and Katie was worried. I didn’t know what to do and retreated to the security of my bed. Then I heard another shattering of glass. A fourth window cracked, and this time Alex was the one to use what little tape we had to secure it in a criss-cross pattern.

Alex and Katie took turns overnight to keep watch. I woke to daylight and the sea was calm. The vessel gently rocked as we cruised along Bass Strait, now powered by motor rather than sail. Finally we entered the channel east of Phillip Island.

“The tide is in our favour. We are going to arrive early!” proclaimed Alex. “Shall I make a booking for dinner at the marina cafe?” he asked.

A resounding “Yay!” followed.

We followed the channel markers, passing small fishing vessels and a cruise ship. By 5.30 pm we arrived at Yaringa, and manoeuvred the vessel into the berth, all the while trying to prevent the mast, which was extending well beyond the boat, from hitting anything.

We had survived a fallen mast, four smashed windows, a broken cross beam and a disabled anchor, to arrive at the tranquility of a little-known marina at Yaringa, nestled in the mangroves on the outskirts of Melbourne. We gratefully stepped onto the pontoon, then walked ashore, savouring the sensation of terra firma. Even so, we were so used to the motion of the sea that we continued to sense the land itself rocking back and forth.

That night we enjoyed one of the best restaurant meals we have ever had, perhaps enhanced by our feelings of relief and gratitude.

We were in a quiet berth overlooking undisturbed mangroves. The boat was now motionless. There were no harsh overhead lights shining into our windows and the only ambient noise was birdsong. Alex had already contacted a shipwright and rigger who would attend to the damaged parts of the boat over the next months. We no longer needed to persevere sailing in darkness in a damaged vessel. In the relief of having reached safety, we fell into a well-deserved and deep sleep.


[1] A halyard is a rope that holds up a sail.

[2] A gennaker is a large sail attached to the bow used for sailing at right angles to the wind.

[3] The jib is a small sail set before the mast.

[4] Very High Frequency

[5] The cross-beam connects the two bows of a catamaran.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist from South Australia. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Muse, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine, Reading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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

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

Categories
Slices from Life

The Seven Grandfather Teachings

By Saeed Ibrahim

A carving by Indigenous artist Garrett Nahdee was installed a year ago on 18th November 2021 in the Legislative Chamber of Canada’s Ontario Assembly amidst fanfare and widespread media coverage. What  could have been the significance behind this much publicised event and the sculpted panel being given a place of prominence above the chamber’s main door?

The panel, called Seven Grandfather Teachings, are a set of guiding principles that give people the tools for how to live a good life. They form an integral part of the oral traditions that have been passed down for thousands of years, and from generation to generation, through storytelling and ceremonies of the Anishinaabe and other indigenous communities that were the original inhabitants of much of the traditional landscapes of the Great Lakes region of Ontario. Illustrating the Seven Grandfather Teachings,  the carving is meant to give symbolic  representation to the indigenous people of Ontario, to honour and acknowledge their historical and cultural contribution and to build bridges of reconciliation and understanding between communities.

In a broader sense, however, these ancient teachings embody a philosophy of life that is universally relevant and one wonders if the wisdom of the elders could serve as a panacea to soothe and heal the ills that plague our world today. If followed and put into practice together and as a whole, could they pave the way for a happier, healthier and more harmonious world order?   

Garrett Nahdee, who grew up in Walpole Island First Nation, a Anishinaabe reserve in southwestern Ontario, is not only the creator of the carving, he himself is a firm believer in its teachings. According to him, for the teachings to be meaningful and effective, change must begin with the individual. “The Seven Grandfather Teachings are great leadership traits, and when they are practiced in everyday life, you will see changes in your life. Burdens will be lifted, and bitterness will deplete, uplifting your spirit to soar to another level of progress.”

Saeed Ibrahim is the author of two books – Twin Tales from Kutcch, a family saga set in Colonial India, and The Missing Tile and Other Stories, a collection of 15 short stories. His other writings include newspaper articles, some travel writing and several book reviews.

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The Death of a Doctor

By Ravi Shankar

Zhi-Khro mandala, a part of the Bardo Thodol’s collection, a text known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which comprises part of a group of bardo teachings which originated with guru Padmasambhava in the 8th Century. Courtesy: Creative Commons

My friend, Dr Ramesh Kumaran first shared the shocking news with me on WhatsApp. Along with a recent photo, the caption mentioned ‘Mourning the sudden and untimely of our dear Joseph Francis (6th batch). May his soul rest in peace. 6th October 2022.’ I felt sick in the pit of my stomach. This was the first mortality among our MBBS batch mates. One of our friends died when he was studying for MBBS, but he had left the course and was suffering from a prolonged illness. Some of our batch mates had close encounters with death during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.   

I was reminded of my own mortality and the fact that we often forget that our time on earth is limited. None of us know when exactly or how we will die. This I believe is a good thing. Movies have explored the sad state of people who knew or supposed they knew when and how they would die. Humans stride through life assuming their immortality. We kill fellow humans indiscriminately. We learn to hate each other. We pursue wealth and power. When we leave our material existence on Earth, we can take none of the accumulated wealth and power with us. The ancient Egyptians believed otherwise and buried their Pharaohs with all they would need in the afterlife. Ordinary people had no such privileges. We do not know much about the afterlife. Here science ends and we enter the realm of religion.

I facilitated a module on Death and Dying for medical and other students and our ignorance about death is profound. Modern medicine has the motto of preserving life regardless of its quality. We have not been trained to let go and make a person’s remaining time on Earth worthwhile. This is slowly changing but change is slow. We do not live life assuming that any moment can be our last on Earth. The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol) tells us to live each moment in a spiritually fulfilling manner and mentions that we all have the potential to break free from the cycle of reincarnation and become spiritually enlightened beings.

I first met Joseph when I joined the Men’s hostel and the undergraduate medical (MBBS) course at Thrissur, Kerala, India. Our seniors were prowling around our floor abusing us and one of my friends was crying as he had just been forced to take off his moustache. Ragging still exists in India and students who were abused by their seniors wait for the new intake to take revenge. You are not able to take revenge on the powerful, so you take out your anger on the powerless. We see this all around in the modern world.   

Joseph stayed in a room near mine, and we became friends though not extremely close. One of the things I still remember about him is that he used to write with a fountain pen and used black ink. Even in those days when writing was still common most of us used ballpoint pens. He had impeccable handwriting. Joseph was always a perfect gentleman and willing to help others. I believe we did a few of our internship postings together. We collaborated on skits and other presentations during the college day celebrations. I still remember our college trip to Trivandrum Medical College for the Intermedicos festival and we stayed and slept in the badminton court inside the Men’s hostel. Life was simpler in those days. We were beginning to see the end of the MBBS doctor and specialisation, and super specialisation was becoming common. I feel this is a sad development and an MBBS doctor is competent to treat most illnesses. In fact, evidence shows that most illnesses can be handled by a trained paramedic. In most European countries, care is mostly delivered by general physicians while in the United States care is mostly provided by specialists. The amount spent and the health status of these countries/regions tell their own story.  

During those days, failure in MBBS examinations was common. Anatomy at the end of the first MBBS and Medicine at the end of the Final MBBS had the maximum casualties. Grading was arbitrary and there were no clear rubrics to guide the scoring. I was lucky to have squeaked through the anatomy dissection and the medicine courses. Joseph was unlucky and mentioned this often as due to his failures, he could not appear for the entrance exam of PGIMER[1], Chandigarh, one of the top postgraduate institutes in the country. One could not appear for the entrance exams failing the MBBS. A lot of effort has gone globally into changing the assessment system in MBBS and making it fairer and more objective.

Joseph used to join us for an occasional game of basketball. I next met him at Ollur, near Thrissur, when I was doing my post-graduation. St Vincent de Paul hospital was a multi-specialty hospital. I had come down to Kerala for a few days and stayed with Job and Joseph, both medical officers with who I shared a large apartment.

Over the years I lost touch with Joseph, and I next interacted with him in 2018 when I joined a WhatsApp group of my classmates. Joseph was very active in the group and was working as an anaesthesiologist in the United Kingdom. Many of my batchmates were working in National Health Service (NHS) and they often would mention how the NHS is being steadily starved of funds. The COVID pandemic hit the medical community hard. Doctors in practice seem to be especially vulnerable. We discussed this and postulated that it could be because they are exposed to repeated doses of the virus in high concentrations from multiple patients. Many doctors had lost their lives; many others I know were in the Intensive Care Unit for prolonged periods of time. Two of my classmates in the UK had serious illnesses requiring hospitalisation and prolonged intensive care.       

I next interacted with Joseph when I was unable to make a bank transfer to the UK to pay for membership fees of a professional organisation. The transfer was not going through and eventually, I asked Joseph if he could do the transfer from his account in the UK, and I would deposit the money in his account in India. He readily agreed. Joseph was always very helpful. During the last two years, I have lost several friends. Two academic collaborators, one in Malaysia and the other in Yemen passed away. Colleagues I knew in Nepal died due to COVID complications.

Death can be a celebration of a person’s life. An Irish wake is one last party to honour the deceased. Unknown diseases plagued the Irish countryside causing a person to appear dead. Hence a person would be waked in the deceased’s home for at least one night. I had the exact fear while certifying death. What if the person then woke up and disputed my certification? I was very careful and meticulous while writing out a death certificate.     

These deaths have underscored my own mortality. As someone once said, death and taxes are inevitable. Accepting one’s own mortality and coming to terms with our eventual demise makes you aware of the folly of chasing power and glory and can contribute toward a gentler, more decent world. Climate change is a testament to human greed and folly. We are still uncertain how liveable Earth will be during the next hundred years. As Mahatma Gandhi said, we can satisfy human needs, but we cannot satisfy human greed!  

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[1] Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research

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Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer.

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My Contagious Birthday Party

By Meredith Stephens

“How about you throw yourself a sixty-first birthday party?” Alex asked me.

It was hard enough having thrown myself a milestone sixtieth the year before. That had been fun, so on second thoughts I decided to throw myself another party. This time I would just ask extended family and a few close friends. I had finalised the RSVP when the day before the party my old friend Madeleine sent me a text: “Do you mind if I come without Gary? He has a clash….” I responded saying that that was fine and was looking forward to her company. Madeleine and Gary were anti-vaxxers.

I rescued the fairy lights Alex had bought for my party the year before and fixed them above the blinds. We had to leave the blinds open because our border collie had destroyed many of them when she had been left alone inside one day. We prepared the food and drinks, and my sister Rochelle brought the birthday cake. All the guests arrived except Madeleine. The evening wore on and I was getting a little tired, but as our guests were mainly around sixty like me, or young children, they excused themselves just at the right time. We don’t have stamina these days for long nights out.

Only when the last of the guests had gone home did I check my phone. Madeleine had sent me a text message excusing herself saying that she wasn’t feeling well. I knew there would have been a good reason for her not to have turned up.

The next day my adult daughter Eloise texted me to say her younger sister Annika was feverish. I went to visit her and discovered that she was motionless in her bed. I gave her a RAT[1] test and the result was negative. She was too sick to move and so I booked a locum. The receptionist told me the locum would be there in four hours. I spent the next hours bringing her water, serving her medicine to reduce her fever and passing a cool flannel over her forehead. Four hours later the locum had not arrived. So, I phoned the receptionist.

“He only has seven more calls before you,” she explained.

It was nearly midnight, so I decided to go to bed and wake up when the doorbell rang. Within thirty minutes the locum had arrived. I took him upstairs to Annika’s room.

“The RAT test was negative,” I explained, thinking he would administer a second one.

“Negative is negative,” he demurred. “Open your mouth,” he ordered my daughter.

He probed his torch inside her mouth and made her say ‘ah’. Then without any further comments or questions he announced, ‘It’s tonsillitis.’

He wrote out a prescription and was on his way, after having spent just a few minutes examining her.

I spent the rest of the night administering regular medicine to relieve her temperature. Even though the doctor had pronounced tonsillitis I had my doubts and kept my mask on. Until I didn’t. Annika was finally able to walk to the bathroom and back and seemed to have recovered slightly.

I wasn’t sure whether I should return to Alex, just in case I had caught something, but he rang me and told me it was ok to come back.

“We won’t get Covid. We’re invincible,” I asserted to Alex.

He looked at me quizzically. “Anyone can get it. Even people like us, who are triple vaxxed,” he countered.

As the day wore on, I had an unusual sensation of the onset of a fever. Unlike his usual robust self, Alex started to sense a dryness in his throat.

“We’d better go and get a PCR test,” he suggested.

We drove off to the testing center. Within twenty-four hours the results came to our phones: ‘Negative’.

Over the next day I continued to sense the onset of fever and kept taking my temperature. The thermometer confirmed what I had been suspecting. It was rising. Alex and I decided to go and get another test.

We drove to the testing center later in the evening when it was likely to be less crowded.

“Have you had a Covid test before,” the nurse questioned.

“Yes, we have.”

“When?”

“Yesterday.”

The nurse looked surprised but administered the test anyway.

The next morning a different message came to our phones: ‘Positive’ followed by an admonition to remain in our place of residence for seven days. This was followed by a message saying that if we required online counseling for the stress this would be provided.

I had to tell the party invitees about the positive case. I texted Grace and Jeremy. Negative. Next my sixty-three-year-old friend, Sally: Positive. Next my sixty-year-old friend Katie. Katie was dreading a positive diagnosis because she was looking forward to a trip to Bali with her best friend. Positive. Katie canceled her trip to Bali. I was relieved that my anti-vaxxer friends Madeleine and Gary had not attended because it would have been much worse for them had they contracted Covid.

Over the next few days the temperature persisted and we felt too tired to do anything. This was followed by a sore throat so severe that we could not even sip a cup of coffee. I suddenly craved a smoothie and remembered a recipe a friend in Japan had given me when my children were toddlers. This was made by combining a banana, some milk, and slices of canned pineapple in a blender. I told Alex the recipe, and he substituted yogurt for milk. I suggested adding feijoas from the garden.

 The result was something that even those with taste buds damaged from Covid could appreciate.

By Day Five our appetites had returned, and our taste buds restored. It was boring having to be confined indoors until the end of the week when we are not required by law to stay at home. It felt like the aftermath of a storm. I was grateful that the fever had gone and I could swallow again, but my body took days to recover from the shock it had had to endure.

(Photographs provided by Meredith Stephens)

[1] Rapid Antigen Test

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Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist from South Australia. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Muse, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine, Reading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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Keep walking….

Ravi Shankar recommends walking as a panacea to multiple issues, health and climate change and takes us on a tour of walks around the world, including in the Everest region and the island of Aruba in the Caribbean

Walks in Kuala Lumpur where the author is located currently.

The Government Medical College, Thrissur, Kerala, India has a sprawling and densely wooded campus. The old TB sanatorium at Mulangunathukavu (quite a mouthful even for Malayalis) had been taken over and modified to establish a medical college. There were villages on the outskirts of the vast campus. My undergraduate medical education days at the sylvan campus introduced me to the joys of walking. There were several quiet spots, and you could easily get among nature. The campus was rocky in places and may not have been prime agricultural land. The place could reach 40 degrees Celsius during the peak of summer in April and May.       

We occasionally walked to the tea stalls located in the villages and the walk along unpaved roads among blooming nature was interesting. The campus was much less crowded than it is today, and we enjoyed a relatively sheltered experience. Many of us eventually took to jogging in the early morning. Hitting the tarmac early before the activities of the day begin is a cleansing experience.

The Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), a premier health science institution in the city of Chandigarh, north India, hosts a number of attractive sites for walking.  Chandigarh was the first planned city in the country and sector 12 where the institute is located is congested but just across the road, the vast expanses, and the green lawns of Punjab University were inviting. The city is spread out and expansive and offers good opportunities for walking. The rose garden and the rock garden are vast. The heat during summer can be a challenge but even at the peak of summer, Chandigarh is a bit cooler compared to the cities on the plains and lovely to explore on foot.

The lakeside city of Pokhara is situated in the middle of the Himalayan country of Nepal. The city and the surrounding hills offer plenty of opportunities for walking and hiking. I occasionally walked between the two campuses of the Manipal College of Medical Sciences (MCOMS). We had to walk through the Prithvi Narayan (PN) campus and cross a suspension bridge across the milky Seti River. Rivers cut spectacular gorges through the soft limestone rocks in the valley. Later PN campus blocked access to outsiders and we had to take a longer way. There are also magnificent walks to Damside and Lakeside. The walk to the village of Batulechaur from the Deep Heights campus of MCOMS is also spectacular. The city is full of magnificent walks and hikes. Winter is the best time, and the views of the snow-covered Himalayas are spectacular.

Walks along the Himalayas

Hiking in the hills of Nepal is a unique experience. Change is coming slowly to the hills. For city-born and bred folks stepping into the hills may mean stepping out of one’s comfort zone. It can often be a journey back in time to a simpler existence. The ascents and descents are long and steep. The trail can deteriorate very quickly, and landslides are common. New trails have been created and some have eventually become rough jeep friendly roads. The trail to Manang north of Pokhara is now blasted through solid rock. The trail passes very close to Annapurna II and in bad weather, the trail can seem threatening.  Walking through the magical Manang valley provides you with a view of the back side of the Annapurnas. The flat trail is mostly easy but can get very dusty. The trail climbs steadily uphill and after Manang village climbs through barren hillsides.  

View from Pokhara

Weather changes quickly in the mountains and can transform from bright and sunny to cloudy and snowy within an hour. Sunny weather elevates the mood while cloudy and snowy weather seems threatening. A trail with a risk of avalanches is the one to the Machapucchare base camp (MBC). The classical pyramidal fishtail (Machapucchare) seen from Pokhara is seen as two separate peaks from MBC. I had hiked to the base camp in March and saw avalanches coming down on the other side of the river.

The Everest region Nepal

In the Everest region, the hike to Everest Base Camp (EBC) from Gorak Shep is a rocky one along the moraine of the Khumbu glacier. I had done this hike while I was staying at Lobuche for a high-altitude research project. The weather was cloudy and low-lying clouds soon closed in. It started snowing steadily and fresh powdery snow soon covered the rocky trails making walking slippery and difficult. The psychological effect of bad weather and the threatening silhouettes of the highest mountains on earth made me deeply uneasy.

Dusk at Wilhemina Park. Photo Courtesy: Ravi Shankar

The island nation of Aruba like most other parts of the world is becoming increasingly obese and overweight. Aruba created a network of walking paths to encourage physical activity. Aruba advertises itself as ‘One happy island’. I used to walk along the Caribbean coast from Wilhelmina Park to the airport. Rains are rare in Aruba and the paved trail is well maintained.

The Sun can be hot though the trade winds keep the temperature bearable. The plan is to extend the linear park from palm beach in the tourist area to the airport. Aruba has beautiful sandy beaches, and a lot of effort is expended on their maintenance and care. The Atlantic coast is less settled, and the waves crash against the rocky shoreline. There are excellent walks among the barren hills and along the old gold mine.

The city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia also has good walking paths. The Bukit Komanwel (Commonwealth hill) near my apartment has inviting walks. Due to the constant rains, the trail can be slippery in places, and caution is needed.

The city is green and the Perdana Botanical Garden in the heart of the city is well-maintained and has several walking trails. The pavements are usually maintained though due to the constant heavy rains they may be wet and covered with moss.  

One of the most difficult cities for a walker in my opinion would be the city of Mumbai, India. It is crowded, the traffic is chaotic, and the pavements are blocked by hawkers, stalls, and parked vehicles, and most shop owners keep their goods on the pavements. The concept of the pavement as a protected area for pedestrians seems to be lacking. The pavements are often dug up and the perpetually ongoing metro railway projects ensure more than half of the road may be unusable. Most open areas and woodlands have long been converted into housing projects and/or slums. The situation has steadily deteriorated during the last four decades.

The modern age has several conveniences and labour-saving devices. With increasing prosperity most people now own cars. Families have multiple cars. Cars can be a double-edged sword in reference to health. I think cars are addictive and the convenience makes you take them everywhere. You end up waking less and less unless you properly plan and stick to your exercise routine. Studies now indicate that all steps taken by a person are useful and can add up over the course of a day. In Malaysia recently there have been several virtual races motivating people to accumulate steps over the course of a day and month. The university where I work has a corporate wellness program and several virtual races are held over the course of a year.      

We are facing one of our biggest challenges in the form of climate change. A steady increase in carbon dioxide emissions since the start of the industrial revolution has caused global temperatures to rise. Sea level rise, super hurricanes, extremely heavy and concentrated rainfall, forest fires, and scorching summers are all being experienced. We seem set for at least a two-degree celsius rise in global temperature and we are still learning the catastrophic changes this can bring. Walking results in insignificant carbon dioxide emissions and helps us do our bit to save the planet. We are only taking care of planet Earth for future generations as, currently, humanity does not have a planet B.

Though I am a teetotaller a good quote promoting walking may be the one provided by Johnnie Walker, the whisky distillery. After the shutdown due to the pandemic, they launched a new campaign to get the world moving again. Keep walking!

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*All the photographs have been provided by Ravi Shankar.

Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer.

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KL Twin Towers near Kolkata?

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

On Panchami, the Fifth Day of Durga Puja, around noon, I was stopped by a small girl riding a pillion on her father’s motorbike. In a polite but hurried and restless voice, she asked me the way to reach the ‘Twin Towers’. Usually, I am not comfortable while offering directions, and often goof it up by saying left when I mean right. On this occasion, I exercised caution and pondered over the easiest and quickest route before advising her father to enter through the next lane and then turn right to find what was nothing short of a wonderland for the schoolgirl. She smiled and waved for prompt assistance while her father accelerated the two-wheeler. It was apparent they were new to this small town that had suddenly grown big in stature within weeks and emerged as a hotspot because of the replica of the Twin Towers from Malaysia as one of the Puja pandal themes here.   

The Puja organisers were surprised as the turnout surpassed their expectations and broke all previous records. Some analysts explained this unprecedented wave was the public response to the pandemic that had kept them indoors for two consecutive years. With people sharing images and reels across social media platforms, the ‘Twin Towers’ went viral, generating a big buzz among pandal hoppers to include it in the must-see list. The sea of humanity in this small town surged from neighbouring towns, far-off districts, and even other states.  

The grandeur of tall towers led to a google search for architectural wonders, modern and ancient, from around the world as likely themes for the puja pandals next year. The appeal of tall and towering structures offers a valid reason to see the lavish artificial mounts to be dismantled within a few days of idol immersion. Painstakingly built over the months, the hard work of artisans and craftsmen has paid off rich dividends – without any special efforts by the organisers. The public informed fellow citizens of all faiths, through every possible means of communication, to visit the Twin Towers and make the Puja celebrations complete.

It was much bigger than the crowds milling at any cadre-driven political rally organised in Bengal. Missing this marvel was a loss for devotees and non-believers who thronged the Puja pandals to see art and creativity in full bloom. “Have you seen the Twin Towers?” became the common refrain that gained currency among local people drawn from all sections. Tens of thousands of people stood in queues that moved at a snail’s pace, their floral and musk fragrances overpowering their perspiration. Driven by faith and the desire to see the architectural marvel and the Goddess, the crowds showed patience for hours, braving thunderstorms and intermittent showers without complaints, standing with umbrellas for their turn, without any attempt to jump the fence. 

Droves of people – armed with camera-flashing mobile phones – were busy capturing the Twin Towers from various angles, looking for a different click for their feeds, slowing down their pace to capture the images without blurring. The volunteers brandished batons to keep the crowds moving toward the exit gate. The entire process of entering the pandal and exiting was over within two minutes. The wait outside the pandal took a couple of hours at least.  

Although I had visited other pandals where the turnout was modest, I intended to see the ‘Twin Towers’ after Dashami, the last day of the festival, after the crowds thinned. I wanted to be bedazzled by the lights, so I did not venture during the daytime. I chose to go during in the late evening for a fully lit-up view of the colossal towers, to stand behind the crowds discussing bus routes and means of transport available at night, apart from momos and biriyani outlets in the vicinity. It was the last day after the week-long festival drew to a close. But the turnout remained steady and suggested it was perhaps the first day, showing once again that aesthetic appeal allures people and creates a hangover that refuses to subside even after the curtains are drawn.  

I came out of the premises and checked the random clicks on my phone. I was overwhelmed with the pride of having seen the replica. I had captured the precious moments, posing against the backdrop of the Twin Towers forever. 

Whether this Puja inspires people from Bengal to travel to Malaysia to see the towers is pure speculation. But it has made people complacent, and they happily declare they have seen the Malaysia ‘Twin Towers’ in Bengal. Crossing borders, oceans, countries, and continents to select themes, the Pujas in Bengal offer people the vicarious pleasure of seeing the global wonders come alive in the art form.  

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


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A Five Hundred Nautical Mile Voyage to Tasmania

Meredith Stephens writes of sailing to Tasmania when the pandemic had just started loosening its grip

Neither the wind speed nor direction were favourable as we tacked our way upwind. It was my turn to make the soup. I headed into the kitchen, grabbing rails and fixed furniture to steady myself. With each wave the boat lurched violently. I opened the fridge and a bottle of drink torpedoed across the galley. Then, on my hands and knees, I opened a bilge compartment trying to find the root vegetables. As I stood up, another wave surged and I nearly fell into the bilge. As I was trying to find cutlery I heard Luke’s voice offering to help me. I gladly accepted and found refuge after retreating to my bed. Luke’s steady sea legs meant the soup was ready in minutes.

We were sailing from Granite Island to Robe, in South Australia, on our way south-east to Tasmania. A four-hour journey by road would turn out to be thirty-six-hours by sea. Alex and Luke took three hour shifts at the helm overnight. The waves lurched beneath us. The sails were disobedient. Alex attached the tether to his belt and the rails, and headed out to the foredeck to fix it. Luke was at the helm and I held a rope at the rear deck. They shouted directions to me to pull and then release the rope. Alex fixed the sail as the boat accelerated.

That night the bed in my cabin surged with every crashing wave. There was no relief in the morning when the harsh Australian sunshine pushed its way into the cabin and gave me a resounding migraine. Trying to find relief from the skylight above my bed I staggered up the stairs to the saloon, lay down on the sofa and hid from the sun under a hoodie and coat.

Alex entreated me to lift my gaze to the horizon and so I peeped out and reacquainted myself with the shoreline. My normally healthy appetite disappeared and I had an overwhelming desire to sleep. But Alex was an experienced sailor and never gave up on encouraging me, pushing me beyond what I imagined I could do. Rather than curling up into a ball and giving up, I heeded his encouragement, and my seasickness gradually dissipated. I was well enough by the evening to accompany Alex on the twelve am to three am shift, but noting my tired expression, Alex told me to take leave and go to bed at two thirty am. Luke took over the three to six am shift, and then Alex took over from six am. When I woke at eight the waters were calm. My seasickness had gone and my appetite returned. I enjoyed a hearty breakfast and we calmly motored on to Robe.

We had to sail continuously for two long days and nights on the voyage from Robe to King Island, Tasmania. Alex consulted the app Predict Wind for the weather forecast and assured me that there would be little wind. He, of course, was disappointed because he wanted to sail, but I was quite happy to motor on calm seas if it meant I could be spared from seasickness. He is a climate warrior and wanted to rely on natural sources of energy such as wind. I knew we shouldn’t use fossil fuels, but I decided to tease him, urging, ‘Let’s use diesel!’, knowing full well how it contradicted his principles. He put my needs first, foregoing his love of sailing to motor on calm waters instead. 

I only knew about King Island because of its specialty cheese production, and looked forward to some cheese tastings. Alex asked me to do some research on King Island, and soon I learned that it had been the site of around 800 shipwrecks. This was not what I wanted to hear. I knew Bass Strait was notorious, but not that this single island in the strait had been the site of hundreds of shipwrecks. Nevertheless, Alex had equipped himself with state-of-the-art navigational equipment, and had the assistance of sailor Luke who had once sailed across the Atlantic, and he was unperturbed. I trusted Alex, and his confidence was contagious.

“It’s pretty shallow here,” I announced to Luke from the cockpit during my shift. “Only twenty-five metres.”

Luke and Alex guffawed. “That’s only because it’s too deep for the instruments to measure. It’s actually 1500 metres,” Alex explained.

I had a book ready to read for my three-hour shift but I left it unopened. I was enraptured by the milky and glassy surface and the ripples that glistened in the sun. I scanned the horizon for vessels, and tried to discover the ones that appeared in the monitor reported by Automatic Identification System (AIS). Unlike us, the other vessels on the monitor were container ships. Black birds perched on the surface of the water and took off as we approached. 

“Where are the dolphins?” I quizzed Alex.

“It’s too deep for them here.”

We repeated the shifts. As Alex’s research had predicted the waters were calm. My seasickness had disappeared altogether.

Two days after leaving Robe, the township of Currie on King Island came into view. Anchoring took a while because of the many submerged rocks. Finally, Alex was satisfied with the anchorage, and we decided to hop into the dinghy and go ashore. First, we had to register online with the Tasmanian e-travel. I completed the documentation on my laptop and finally was required to receive a verification code by SMS on my phone. I kept requesting new codes but none came. It turned out that there was no reception on this remote island for my phone provider. I gave up.

The four of us lowered ourselves into the dinghy with our bags. Alex pulled the cord to start the outboard motor, and we weaved between the other berthed boats to the shore. A police vehicle was parked on the shore facing us. A barrel chested police officer in a fluorescent orange vest motioned where we should land. At the wharf he was accompanied by a biosecurity officer.

The police officer greeted us politely and asked whether we had the necessary paperwork for entry. Luke and Alex had theirs, but Verity and I did not. Despite numerous reminders from Alex I had procrastinated and now I was paying for it. We clambered out of the dinghy to the wharf, and the officers took down Verity’s and my details. 

I had not been able to complete my application because my phone would not receive signals in this remote location. Alex tethered me to his phone, because his carrier had coverage. I fumbled around in the sunshine to download various apps to process my application. The phone screen was too small and the glare from the sunshine disturbed my vision even further. Even though I was traveling domestically, it was like trying to enter a foreign country without the right visa.

“I don’t want to hold you all up,” I said to the others. “Let me go back to the boat. I don’t care. I can read a book.”

Alex would have none of it. Then the biosecurity officer briefly disappeared, and reappeared with paper forms. 

“You can fill these out instead,” he offered. “Then you will have to take Rapid Antigen Tests back in the boat and wait fifteen minutes for the result. If it is negative you are free to travel. I’m just going to make a detour to the airport to pick up the tests for you.”

The biosecurity officer made the eleven kilometre trip to the airport and back to retrieve the Rapid Antigen Tests. Meanwhile, Luke cleverly engaged the police officer in banter, trying to find out the best places for tourists to visit on the island.

“The races are on this afternoon,” he kindly informed us. “They are held four times a year over summer.”

If it weren’t for the banter with the police officer we could never have learned this. We scrambled back into the dinghy with the Rapid Antigen Tests. Or to be more precise, the others scrambled into the dinghy. I lost my footing on the tires on the way down and collapsed in a heap into the dinghy. The mask had obscured my downward vision and I couldn’t see where I was placing my feet. I was rattled after having been greeted by a police officer and a biosecurity officer on the shore of the quiet fishing cove nestling alongside Currie. The others gasped as I fell and then fussed over me and I soon recovered. We sped back towards the boat.

“What else did the police officer tell you, Luke?” we probed, once in the dinghy.

“He said that the other day another vessel had come here from interstate. They too had had trouble getting internet access on this remote island and did not know that the entry requirements for Tasmania had changed while they were on board. They were so upset at being greeted on the shore by a police officer and a biosecurity officer that they started an altercation and had to be locked up.”

Hearing this I felt grateful that we had been treated with such civility. Again we clambered back on to the boat. Exhausted but relieved that we had been able to go on land in Tasmania, we decided to celebrate with Luke’s bottle of Chardonnay. Then, we proceeded with the tests.

As expected, we all tested negative and we took the dinghy ashore to explore Currie. We followed the police officer’s advice and walked through the town to the races. Alex and I were sitting in the stands, enjoying not only the horses but the spectacle of the local crowd in their finery. Alex abruptly looked up to the end of the aisle.

“Is that the police officer?” he asked me.

I studied him chatting to other racegoers in full regalia of his flack jacket, guns in his holster and fluorescent orange vest.

Alex turned to me and quipped, “Maybe that is why he seemed to be in a hurry to process our entry? He wanted to be at the races.

I had been struck by the story that Luke had heard from the police officer that the other interstate visitors had acted defensively when they heard about the new complicated entry requirements to Tasmania. Why had we been treated so differently? We were simply sent back to the boat and the officers had trusted us to act appropriately on the basis of the results of the COVID test. The officers seemed to be in a bit of a hurry to let us get on our way. Now we had an inkling why.

*All the photographs have been supplied by Meredith Stephens.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist from South Australia. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Muse, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine, Reading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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