Borderless February 2022

Winter in Africa. Painting by Sybil Pretious.


What’s Love Got to Do with it’ … Click here to read.


Sriniketan: Tagore’s “Life Work”: In Conversation with Professor Uma Das Gupta, Tagore scholar, author of A History of Sriniketan, where can be glimpsed what Tagore considered his ‘life’s work’ as an NGO smoothening divides between villagers and the educated. Click here to read.

Akbar: The Man who was King: In conversation with eminent journalist and author, Shazi Zaman, author of Akbar, A Novel of History. Click here to read.


One Day in the Fog, written by Jibananda Das and translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Mahnu, a poem by Atta Shad, translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

A Superpower in the Pandemic, written and translated from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Eyes of the Python, a short story by S.Ramakrishnan, translated from Tamil by Dr.B.Chandramouli. Click here to read.

Raatri Eshe Jethay Meshe by Tagore has been translated from Bengali as Where the Night comes to Mingle by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Pandies’ Corner

These stories are written by youngsters from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. The column starts with a story, Stranger than Fiction from Sharad Kumar in Hindustani, translated to English by Grace M Sukanya. Click here to read.


Click on the names to read

Rhys Hughes, A Jessie Michael, Jay Nicholls, Moonmoon Chowdhury, Mike Smith, David Francis, Ananya Sarkar, Matthew James Friday, Ashok Suri, John Grey, Saptarshi Bhattacharya, Candice Louisa Daquin, Emalisa Rose, Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Nature’s Musings

Penny Wilkes explores dewdrops and sunrise in A Dewdrop World. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

Rhys Hughes explores the paranormal with his usual wit in Three Ghosts in a Boat. Promise not to laugh or smile as you shiver… Click here to read.

Musings/ Slices from Life

Requiem for the Melody Queen

Ratnottama Sengupta sings her own paean in which a chorus of voices across the world join her to pay a tribute to a legend called Lata Mangeshkar. Click here to read.

Forsaking Distant Hemispheres for the Immediate Locale

Meredith Stephens introduces us to the varied fauna found in South Australia with vivid photographs clicked by her. Click here to read.

Breaking the fast

P Ravi Shankar takes us through a breakfast feast around the world. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Life without a Pet, Devraj Singh Kalsi gives a humorous take on why he does not keep a pet. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Bridging Cultures through Music, author Suzanne Kamata introduces us to Masaki Nakagawa, a YouTuber who loves Lativia and has made it big, playing for the President of Lativia at the Japanese coronation. Click here to read.


Farewell Keri Hulme

A tribute by Keith Lyons to the first New Zealand Booker Prize winner, Keri Hulme, recalling his non-literary encounters with the sequestered author. Click here to read.

Satyajit Ray’s Cinematic Universe: Can Isolation Lead to a New World?

Rebanta Gupta explores two films of Satyajit Ray, Kanchenjunga & Charulata to see what a sense of isolation can do for humans? Click here to read.

‘What remains is darkness and facing me – Banalata Sen!’

Rakibul Hasan Khan explores death and darkness in Fakrul Alam’s translation of Jibanananda Das’s poetry. Click here to read.

Dhaka Book Fair: A Mansion and a Movement

Ratnottama Sengupta writes of a time a palace called Bardhaman House became the centre of a unique tryst against cultural hegemony. The Language Movement of 1952 that started in Dhaka led to the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. In 1999, UNESCO recognised February 21 as the Mother Language Day. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

 In To Be or Not to Be, Candice Louisa Daquin takes a close look at death and suicide. Click here to read.


Navigational Error

Luke P.G. Draper explores the impact of pollution with a short compelling narrative. Click here to read.

The Art of Sleeping

Atreyo Chowdhury spins an absurd tale or could it be true? Click here to read.

Dear Dr Chilli…

Maliha Iqbal writes of life as a young girl in a competitive world. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In MissingSunil Sharma gives us a long literary yarn. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

Two Banalata Sen poems excerpted from Jibanananda Das: Selected Poems with an Introduction, Chronology and Glossary, translated from Bengali by Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

An excerpt from Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan. Translated from the Bengali by Radha Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Indrashish Banerjee reviews The Best of Travel Writing of Dom Moraes: Under Something of a Cloud. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews Masala and Murder by Patrick Lyons. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Kavery Nambisan’s A Luxury called Health. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Growing up Jewish in India: Synagogues, Customs, and Communities from the Bene Israel to the Art of Siona Benjamin, edited by Ori Z. Soltes. Click here to read.

Special Issues

Cry, Our Beloved… Click here to read (For Peace)

Born to be Wild …Click here to read (World Wild Life Day)


‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’

Art by Sohana Manzoor
‘Why does education in love not feature in today’s curriculum?’
— Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan (Translated by Radha Chakravarty, 2022, Seagull Books)

As the world celebrates Valentine’s Day, one pauses to think how far commercialisation has seeped in over time that the very concept of a tender emotion was questioned by Tina Turner in a song called, “What’s love got to do with it” nearly four decades ago. 

This was written even before Mahasweta Devi (1926-2016) published a nostalgic memoir of 1930’s Santiniketan in Bengali in 2001. She raised her pen to ask the very pertinent question that is quoted above. Why is education in love not a part of our curriculum anymore? She was reminiscing about her days in Santiniketan where children were brought up with rigorous academics while discipline was coloured with love and affection. They nurtured a love for nature in students too. This has become a rarity for many and perhaps needs to be revived as the Earth struggles to continue habitable for humankind. In the process of educating students to love and give, Santiniketan threw up many greats like the writer herself. We are delighted to host an excerpt from the start of Our Santiniketan translated beautifully by Radha Chakravarty.

Santiniketan was only the very visible part of a huge project taken on by Tagore (1861-1941). The other part now united with Santiniketan under the banner of Visva Bharati University is Sriniketan, a group of villages where Tagore experimented with raising consciousness and standards of villagers to integrate them into a larger world. He brought in new techniques in agriculture and crafts into the villages under this programme involving many prominent scientists, artists and humanists. And the project has blossomed. Did you know Tagore thought of himself as an NGO and his ‘life work’ he felt was developing villages (Sriniketan) and educating young minds to build a world where borders of knowledge, poverty and ignorance could be smoothened?

He wrote: “I alone cannot take responsibility for the whole of India. But even if two or three villages can be freed from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance, an ideal for the whole of India would be established.

“Fulfill this ideal in a few villages only, and I will say that these few villages are my India. And only if that is done, will India be truly ours.”

All this can be found in a book called A History of Sriniketan (Niyogi Books), written by Uma Das Gupta, a major authority on Tagore who moved from Oxford to Santiniketan and made Tagore’s work in these two institutions her own life’s work. We have featured her and her book in our interview/review section.

Raised out of such ashes of poverty that Tagore sought to dispel, are youngsters from the village of Nithari, where ceaseless efforts by volunteers of organisations like Saksham and pandies’ has given a new lease for life to those who have been exposed to violations, violence, divides, poverty and deprivation. One of them, Sharad Kumar, now studying to be an engineer, kicks off our new section called Pandies’ Corner with his story in Hindustani translated by a volunteer, Grace M Sukanya. His story learns from history and shows rather than tells.

A similar approach to view the present through lenses focussed on the past at a much grander scale has been taken by Shazi Zaman, an author and journalist, who has stepped into the Anglophone world with the transcreation of his own novel from Hindi to English, Akbar, A Novel of History (Speaking Tiger Books). He has brought to the fore how in days when sectarian violence based on religions killed, Akbar (1542-1605) tried to create a new path that would lead to peace so that he could rule over an empire united by administration and not broken by contentious religious animosities which often led to wars. In his interview, he tells us of the relevance of the Great Mughal in a period of history that was torn by divides, divisions so deep that they continue to smoulder to this day and date. That history repeats itself is evident though our living standards seem to improve over time. Bhaskar Parichha’s review of Growing up Jewish in India: Synagogues, Customs, and Communities from the Bene Israel to the Art of Siona Benjamin, edited by Ori Z. Soltes, also reinforces these divides and amalgamations in the modern context. The other books that have been reviewed include The Best of Travel Writing of Dom Moraes: Under Something of a Cloud by Indrashish Banerjee, and Gracy Samjetsabam has introduced us to an intriguing murder mystery in Masala and Murder by Patrick Lyons.

Translations have thrown up interesting colours this time with a Tamil story by a Sahitya Akademi winning writer, S Ramakrishnan, translated on our pages by B Chandramouli, one from Korean by Ihlwha Choi and of course a transcreation of Tagore’s songs where he sings of the meeting of horizons. A beautiful poem by eminent Balochi poet Atta Shad (1939-1997) has been translated by Fazal Baloch. We are again privileged to host an original translation of Jibananda Das(1899-1954) by Professor Fakrul Alam. We also managed to get permission to share some of Professor Alam’s fabulous translations of Jibananada Das from UPL (United Press Limited) and are starting it out by excerpting two of his poems on Banalata Sen, which were till now restricted to readership who only had access to the hardcopy. Rakibul Hasan Khan has given us an essay on these translations. An interesting essay on Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) by Rebanata Gupta and personalised tribute to the first Booker Prize winner from New Zealand, Keri Hulme (1947-2021), by Keith Lyons, who had many non-literary encounters with the sequestered author, add to the richness of our oeuvre.

Ratnottama Sengupta has also paid a moving tribute to the music legend, Lata Mangeshkar, who died at the age of 92 on 6th February, 2022. The choral symphony of multiple voices that hums through the paean recreating the larger than life presence of Lata reinforces that her lilting voice will stay embedded in many hearts and lives forever. Her perfect honing of musical skills delivered with the right emotions make her an epitome of human excellence. She gave the best of herself to the world.

Brooding on death and suicide is Candice Louisa Daquin essay. This is a topic under discussion as Switzerland might start a resort for abetting suicides. It is rather frightening that while people value life and as technology and humans work in consonance to preserve it, the rich can think of squandering away this unique process that has till now not been replicated. The other strange long literary yarn that is dark in colours is woven by Sunil Sharma as he explores the futility and self-pity experienced by retirees in their existentialist quest to find a meaning to live. It has bits of poetry too. Penny Wilkes has also introduced verses into her photographic tour of dewdrops. Candice’s vibrant poetry this time has joined that of Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Mike Smith, A Jessie Michael, Ananya Sarkar, Jay Nicholls, Saptarshi Bhattacharya, Rhys Hughes and many more I leave you to unfold. Rhys Hughes has also given us a spooky piece which says ghosts might be genies — check it out. Do you agree or is he just being bizarre and funny?

Wrapped in more dry humour is Devraj Singh Kalsi narrative on why he does not want pets. Meredith Stephens, on the contrary loves pets and sails the seas of West Australia with her camera, words, seals and dolphins. Luke PG Draper also speaks for animals — for the intrusion of pollutants that harm creatures like whales in his short story. Hop all over the world with Ravi Shankar breaking nightly fasts with food from different cultures. More colour is brought in by Suzanne Kamata who starts a new column, Notes from Japan — introducing us to Japanese sensation, Masaki Nakagawa, who has sung his way to hearts with Lativian songs that he loves, so much so that he got to perform at the Japanese coronation and has pictures with the Latvian President.

The time has come to let you discover the mysterious pieces that have not been mentioned here in the February edition — and there are many.  

Before I wind up till the next month, I would like to thank our fabulous team who make this journal possible. Keith Lyons has now become part of that team and has graciously joined our editorial board. Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious deserve a special kudos for their fabulous artwork. Our grateful, heartfelt thanks to all our wonderful contributors and readers who keep the journal alive.

Wish you all a lovely month.

Best wishes,

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal


Who Said You Could Die…

By A Jessie Michael

Woman on her Deathbed,1777, Abraham Delfos. Courtesy: Creative Commons
Who said you could die Ma,
Just because you are old?
The Ganges is called mother.
Like her you have flowed long,
Tributaries and distributaries webbing 
wide around the world.

You have lived so long in this world,
How will we breathe Ma if you die?
Your blood in our veins is our webbing.
A river dos not dry up because it is old
So who said you could die mother
Just because you have lived so long?

We are mothers with a mother,
Living in another world.
We have missed so long
your laden table, dishes to die
for, and curry rice balls of old.
The stories of your history is our webbing.

We still do not know the webbing  
Of the food of the mother --
Land, recipes of old,
Food of the gods from another world.
Our taste buds will die
Not having tasted them so long.

We have loved you so long,
How will we mend the webbing
Of the delta when you die mother?
You are the Ganges of our world.
You are eternal, not old.

We have also grown old
and our shadows are long.
What will we do in this wide world
but cling desperately to tattered webbing
Please stay. Breathe mother
Who said you could die?

A. Jessie Michael is a retired Associate Professor of English from Malaysia. She has written short stories for online journals, local magazines and newspapers. She has published an anthology of short stories Snapshots, with two other writers and most recently her own anthology The Madman and Other Stories (2016).



Borderless, October 2021

An Ode to Autumn: Painting by Sohana Manzoor.


Making a Grecian Urn… Click here to read.


Unveiling Afghanistan: In Conversation with Nazes Afroz, former editor of BBC and translator of a book on Afghanistan which reflects on the present day crisis. Click here to read.

The Traveller in Time: An interview with Sybil Pretious who has lived through history in six countries and travelled to forty — she has participated in the first democratic elections in an apartheid-worn South Africa and is from a time when Rhodesia was the name for Zimbabwe. Click here to read.


Travels & Holidays: Humour from Rabindranath

Translated from the original Bengali by Somdatta Mandal, these are Tagore’s essays and letters laced with humour. Click here to read.

The Quest for Home

Nazrul’s Kon Kule Aaj Bhirlo Tori translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Mysteries of the Universe

Akbar Barakzai’s poetry in Balochi, translated by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Gandhi & Robot

A poem reflecting the state of Gandhi’s ideology written in Manipuri by Thangjam Ibopishak and translated from the Manipuri by Robin S Ngangom. Click here to read.

Sorrows Left Alone

A poem in Korean, written & translated by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

The Song of Advent by Tagore

Written by Tagore in 1908, Amaar Nayano Bhulano Ele describes early autumn when the festival of Durga Puja is celebrated. It has been translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.


Click on the names to read

Michael R Burch, A Jessie Michael, John Grey, Rupali Gupta Mukherjee, Mike Smith, Saranyan BV, Tony Brewer, Baisali Chatterjee Dutt, Jay Nicholls, Beni S Yanthan, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Pramod Rastogi, Jason Ryberg, Michael Lee Johnson, Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad, Rhys Hughes

Animal Limericks by Michael R Burch. Click here to read.

Nature’s Musings

In The Lords of Lights, with photographs and a story, Penny Wilkes makes an interesting new legend. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In Pessoa and Cavafy: What’s in a Name?, Rhys Hughes comically plays with the identity of these two poets. Click here to read.

Musings/ Slices From Life

At the Doctor’s

In this lighthearted narration, Farouk Gulsara uses humour to comment on darker themes. Click here to read.

Taking an unexpected turn

Nitya Pandey talks of a virtual friendship that bloomed across borders of countries during the pandemic. Click here to read.

Travel in the Time of Pandemics: Select Diary Entries of an Urban Nomad

Sunil Sharma gives us a slice from his travels with vibrant photographs, changing continents and homes during the pandemic. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Surviving to Tell a Pony-taleDevraj Singh Kalsi journeys up a hill on a pony and gives a sedately hilarious account. Click here to read.


A Season of Magical Mellow Wistfulness

Meenakshi Malhotra through folk songs that are associated with Durga Puja explores the theme of homecoming. Click here to read.

What Gandhi Teaches Me

Candice Louisa Daquin applies Gandhiism to her own lived experiences. Click here to read.

How Women’s Education Flourished in Aligarh Muslim University

Sameer Arshad Khatlani dwells on the tradition of education among Muslim women from early twentieth century, naming notables like Ismat Chughtai and Rashid Jahan. Click here to read.

Once Upon a Time in Burma: Of Friendships & Farewells

John Herlihy takes us through more of Myanmar with his companion, Peter, in the third part of his travelogue through this land of mystic pagodas. Click here to read.

When Needles Became Canons…

Ratnottama Sengupta, who has edited an encyclopaedia on culture and is a renowned arts journalist, gives us the role ‘kanthas’ (hand-embroidered mats, made of old rags) played in India’s freedom struggle. Click here to read.


Lunch with Baba Rinpoche in Kathmandu

Steve Davidson takes us for a fictitious interview with a Tibetan guru in Nepal. Click here to read.

The Tree of Life

An unusual flash fiction by Parnil Yodha about a Tibetan monk. Click here to read.

Odysseus & Me: A Quest for Home

A short fiction from Bangladesh by Marzia Rahman on immigrants. Click here to read.

Dawn in Calicut

Krishna Sruthi Srivalsan writes of a past that created the present. Click here to read.

I am a Coward with Priorities

Tejaswinee Roychowdhury tells a story from a soldier’s perspective. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In Bapu, Denied, Sunil Sharma explores the fate of Gandhiism in a world where his values have been forgotten. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt of In a Land Far From Home: A Bengali in Afghanistan by Syed Mujtaba Ali, translated by Nazes Afroz. Click here to read.

An excerpt from letters written by Tagore from Kobi & Rani, translated by Somdatta Mandal. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Aruna Chakravarti reviews Golden Bangladesh at 50: Contemporary Stories & Poems edited by Shazia Omar. Click here to read.

Somdatta Mandal reviews Wooden Cow by T. Janakiraman, translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Kannan. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews Suzanne Kamata’s The Baseball Widow. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Mohona Kanjilal’s A Taste of Time: A Food History of Calcutta. Click here to read.



By A Jessie Michael

I awake to a wake,
(my very own it seems)
Of people familiar and not,
Unaware that I am awake at my wake.

What have I left 
in the wake of my awake life-
A speed boat existence
Swirling a lengthy, frothy wake?

How many were drenched by
The spray of my life’s wake?
I never turned to see
Too busy awake to the things before me

Now they reminisce, drink, smoke and snack
To keep awake at my wake.
“Go home. Sleep!” I say
But to them I’m not awake.

They keep awake at my wake
To celebrate me dead.
Where were they
When I was truly awake?

“O we were there,” they chatter.
“We were drenched by the wake
Of your speedboat existence.
Were you truly ever awake?”

A. Jessie Michael is a retired Associate Professor of English from Malaysia. She has written short stories for online journals, local magazines and newspapers. She has published an anthology of short stories Snapshots, with two other writers and most recently her own anthology The Madman and Other Stories (2016).



Borderless, September 2021


The Caged Birds Sing…Click here to read.


Professor Anvita Abbi, a Padma Shri, discusses her experience among the indigenous Andamanese and her new book on them, Voices from the Lost Horizon. Click here to read.

Keith Lyons talks to Jessica Mudditt about her memoir, Our Home in Myanmar, and the current events. Click here to read.


Be and It All Came into Being

Balochi poetry by Akbar Barakzai, translated by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Adivasi Poetry

A poem by Jitendra Vasava translated from the Dehwali Bhili via Gujarati by Gopika Jadeja. Click here to read.

A Poem for The Ol Chiki

 Poetry by Sokhen Tudu, translated from the Santhali by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar. Click here to read.

About Time

Korean poetry on time written and translated by Ilwha Choi. Click here to read.

Of Days and Seasons

A parable by the eminent Dutch writer, Louis Couperus (1863-1923), translated by Chaitali Sengupta. Click here to read.

Road to Nowhere

An unusual story about a man who heads for suicide, translated from Odiya by the author, Satya Misra. Click here to read.

Abhisar by Tagore

A story poem about a Buddhist monk by Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.


Click on the names to read the poems

Arundhathi Subramaniam, Michael R Burch, Sekhar Banerjee, Jeff Shakes, Ashok Suri, Tim Heerdink, Srinivas S, Rhys Hughes, A Jessie Michael, George Freek, Saranayan BV, Gigi Baldovino Gosnell, Pramod Rastogi, Tohm Bakelas, Nikita Desai, Jay Nicholls, Smitha Vishwanathan, Jared Carter

Nature’s Musings

In Sun, Seas and Flowers, Penny Wilkes takes us for a tour of brilliant photographs of autumnal landscapes with verses. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In Memory Gongs, Rhys Hughes creates a profound myth tinged with a tongue in cheek outlook … Click here to read.


Crime and the Colonial Capital: Detective Reid in Calcutta

Abhishek Sarkar explores the colonial setting up of the Calcutta detective department in 1887. Click here to read.

The Myth of Happiness

Candice Louisa Daquin ponders over the impositions on people to declare themselves happy. Click here to read.

Once Upon a Time in Burma: Of Babies and Buddhas

John Herlihy takes us through more of Myanmar with his companion, Peter, in the second part of his travelogue. Click here to read.

Bhaskar’s Corner

Bhaskar Parichha explores links between Politics & the Media. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life


Mike Smith muses about a black and white photograph from his childhood. Click here to read.

Leo Messi’s Magic Realism

Sports fan Saurabh Nagpal explores the magic realism in famous footballer Messi’s play with a soupçon of humour. Click here to read.

Infinite Possibilities & Mysterious Riddles

Keith Lyons gives a lively account of traveling across borders despite the pandemic. Click here to read.

Word Play

Geetha Ravichnadran explores additions to our vocabulary in a tongue-in-cheek article. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In When I Almost Became a Professor, Devraj Singh Kalsi gives humour tinged reasons on why he detached himself from being an academician. Click here to read.


Flash Fiction: Turret

Niles M Reddick relates a haunting tale of ghosts and more. Click here to read.

Silver Lining

Dipayn Chakrabarti travels through moods of the day and night. Click here to read.

Captain Andi is in love

Dr. P Ravi Shankar explores a future beyond climate change in Malaysia. Click here to read.

The Cockatoo

Revathi Ganeshsundaram captures the stardust in ripening years. Click here to read.

The Missing Tile

Saeed Ibrahim’s story reflects on the ties between an old teacher and a student. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In Return of the Ghost, Sunil Sharma explores the borders between life, ideas and death. Click here to read.

Book Excerpt

An excerpt from Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Somdatta Mandal, showcasing Tagore’s introduction and letters. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Rakhi Dalal reviews Anvita Abbi’s Voices from the Lost Horizon. Click here to read.

Basudhara Roy reviews Bina Sarkar Ellias’ Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Wendy Doniger’s Winged Stallion and Wicked Mares. Click here to read.

Independence Day


Malaysia is said to have been inhabited 40,000 years ago by the same tribes who populated the Andamans. Situated on the trade route between China and India, they assimilated varied cultures into their lore, including that of the Arabs. Phases of colonial occupation by the Portuguese, Dutch and British wracked their history from 1511. They suffered from Japanese occupation during the Second World War. The Federation of Malaya achieved independence after a struggle on 31st August 1957. In 1963, the British colonies of Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo were combined with Malaya and the country was rechristened Malaysia.

In 1965, Singapore was voted out due to ideological reasons, some of it being racial and political. This Partition was free of political bloodshed or violence between the two countries, unlike the earlier Partitions within Asia which led to much violence and bigotry — India, Pakistan and North Korea and South Korea (where the split along the 38th parallel was initiated by the West post-Second World War to settle matters between the ideological blocks of communism and capitalism).

Malaysia continues a federal constitutional monarchy with a Sultan and an elected Prime Minister at the helm and has a mixed population of Malays (Bumiputera), Chinese, Indians, Portuguese and other ethnicities. We present a selection of writing from this country, put together on the occasion of their 64th independence day, also known as Hari Merdeka or National day.


Benderaku (My Flag) by Julian Matthews. Click here to read.

A False Dawn by  Malachi Edwin Vethamani. Click here to read.

Colours of Words, three poems by A Jessie Michael. Click here to read.


Brother Felix’s Ward

Malachi Edwin Vethamani takes us to an exploration of faiths and borders. Click here to read.

The Night of Sirens

A Jessie Michael tells us of riots that set in during elections in Malaysia. Click here to read.


Colours of Words

By A Jessie Michael


Diversity is our last name.
Born speaking three languages (or four),
We, unconscious code switchers,
created creole 
before linguists caught up with us.
Colourless and colour blind.
Playing in each other’s homes,
Their food, became ours 
 Ours, theirs.
Their foul words ours,
And our curses theirs.

We walk into temples,
Mosques, churches,
attending christenings, weddings
and funerals.
No discomfort we feel 
participating in diverse festivals
of each religion and race.
Come to think of it, 
Diversity must be our middle name.

We don each other’s costumes 
as a matter of daily wear;
no one claims ownership,
it’s all national fare.
Then of course we marry each other
Creating a lovelier mess
of bi-racial and tri-racial children
of no definite ethnicity.
Growing up bi-religious and tri-lingual,
Colourless and colour blind,

We live everywhere in this world,
Never feeling we are different
until we have to fill a form.
Asian, Indian, European, East European
Middle Eastern, African, African American,
 American and other.
How the heck do we know?
Dang those forms that ask us so,
to tick boxes to put us into boxes.
Dang the politicians of single colour 
because they cannot see the rainbow.

Actually, diversity is our first name. 

HAVE WE?  HAVE WE?        

Have we learnt another language
to challenge our little brains?
Have we walked in others’ shoes 
and learnt of their pain?
Have we shared with them a cup of joy
and freely drunk of theirs too?
Have we sat at their table and
broken bread with them?
Have we stood beside the others 
and thought them just the same?
Have we risen above ancient anger,
forgiven our fellow men,
thought them worthy of our compassion
and stretched out our hands?
Have we emptied the bitter cup
that diminishes all men?

Our colours are but geography,
our religions but pathways 
to the same universal One.
So, who is to say who is better?
It is always our own buried fear,
that we pray at the altar,
then curse the man on the street
just because he looks different 
and is from another land;
just because we will not say
he is really a God-made-Man.

A. Jessie Michael is a retired Associate Professor of English from Malaysia. She has written short stories for local magazines and newspapers. She has published an anthology of short stories Snapshots, with two other writers and most recently her own anthology The Madman and Other Stories (2016).



Orang Minyak or The Ghost

A Jessie Michael explores blind belief in a Malay village

The nerves of Kampong Semut were aquiver with anxiety, fear and excitement, all melded together. The haven of wooden houses several miles from the nearest town and surrounded by coconut groves and padi fields, which were more and more a rarity, now had its slow, meandering peace shattered and its people shaken awake.  Adrenalin flowed fast and they jumped at shadows.

A hysterical village girl claimed that she had seen, against the light of the moon, the shape of a naked man climbing through her window. When she sat up, the shape slid out again and vanished. The village religious body initially put the claims down as the imaginings of a frustrated young woman but when more girls made similar claims, the villagers decided that there might be some truth to the matter. The village elders claimed the sightings could be that of an Orang Minyak, (Oily Man) — that grease covered, naked, dark, male malevolence that prowled villages, seeking to molest and rape virgins. This entity had long been quiet in the whole country and was beginning to be dismissed as myth.

 The village police first looked suspiciously at the village boys but could find no evidence. No fingerprints, no grease trails. Their parents, some of whom were in the police force too, could vouch for the male members of the family being home on the nights of the intrusions. It must have been a male from a neighbouring village; but, increasingly, by the very nature of these apparitions, they were prone to believe the old myth. The apparition came on moonlit nights and never in the rain. The police could only advise stop-gap measures. The girls were told to sleep close to their mothers or grandmothers and barricade all the windows. The men set up night patrols.

The ‘prowler’ stopped for a couple of months and then struck again when the villagers had dropped their guard a little to enjoy their evenings with family meals and chatter. This time, the Oily Man attacked Pak Din’s daughter as she was going to the outhouse nearby late at night. The light of the moon was bright enough so she carried no torch or lantern. The outhouse was clearly outlined as were the clumps of vegetation around. She could leave the outhouse door open for the quick visit.

 He succeeded in raping her as she was returning. Her family could only glean scraps of information from the shattered girl — a naked, oily, masked, man, the whiff of a strange incense and passing out. By the time she recovered to find herself half naked and screamed, the intruder had disappeared without a trace.

As usual the village descended on the village headman’s home. As usual Tok Baharuddin was not yet home. Tok Baharuddin was village headman, businessman cum politician, all rolled in one, who had to travel to town daily to drum up grass root support as well as business. As everyone knew, politics and business go hand in hand; one cannot exist without the other. He was good for the village, getting them a decent clinic, school, roads and always writing job recommendations for school leavers even if most did not land the jobs. He was so busy with meetings that he was out every day and often travelled out station for a few days. He was a feather in the village cap for the mention of his name put Kampung Semut on the local map.

When he returned that evening, Tok Baharuddin was apoplectic that the police were so negligent as to let this crime happen and not have any clues or suspects. He visited the victim’s house for a first hand version of the incident. “I’ll talk to the Police Chief,” he declared. “I’ll make sure this criminal hangs.”  As village chief he must be seen to take action to secure the safety of his village and naturally his own effectiveness and reputation.

The villagers listened to him respectfully. He was a good leader but he straddled the old world and the new and more and more he leaned into the new. He tactfully avoided, meaningless rituals and shunned dabbling in the occult.

The village men gathered again in each other’s homes to study the situation from another perspective.  Ariffin, a retired police officer who had served in other states, gave some hair-raising information. “You know, the Indians and Chinese also have this spirit phenomenon. Another being or spirit can enter a person and completely alter the personality and behaviour of that person until the spirit decides to leave. The spirit can speak in strange languages, make the host sick and harm others. When the episode of possession is over, the person reverts to normal but cannot remember anything of what happened.  In the most idyll of places, evil preys; it roams to feed its primal lust.”

Ariffin’s audience looked at each other. Was he saying it could be any of them? Perish the thought. One of the men burst out, “This is evil let loose. It is not human. The police can’t do anything. We will have to call the bomoh (local shaman /medicine man) from Trengganu to exorcise this village”.

Such practice was publicly declared to be pagan and unIslamic, so, a little argument arose if this was even allowed. The village Imam was soon outvoted and persuaded that all old customs could not be thrown out at the risk of harming their daughters and that they were to resort to this without blaming God for what was going on. The Imam bowed out gracefully, since his prayers all these months had proven ineffective. They did not worry about the headman who they knew considered himself a little too advanced to believe in shamans and bomohs. So, he could be expected to close an eye to their plans and not attend the exorcism exercise out of political correctness.

The exorcism was to be an expensive affair, for even a bomoh needed to make a living. And he had to exorcise the evil entity not only from the victims but from the whole village as well, which meant a visit to each house and building and there must have been fifty buildings at least. Every household contributed; at least RM200 each. Life was disrupted for two days over the weekend. The bomoh arrived from across the state border with his paraphernalia of keris (dagger), frankincense, pots, roots, oils and herbs. The village women sourced flowers and limes to make large pots of infusions.

Tok Baharuddin tactfully took a two-day business trip out of state, leaving his wife to attend to all the rituals.

 The main ceremony began at the village hall where the bomoh lit a small bonfire in a pot, fuelled with the herbal leaves and roots. He held a silver keris hanging on a chain over the flames and declared that the swing of the keris indicated the presence of an evil spirit lurking in the village. Someone had sent this entity from the nether world and it was unlikely to leave until it had claimed its prey of seven virgins to satiate its lust if the exorcism was not performed. The bomoh threw incense into the flames and a great cloud of smoke enveloped him and most of the room. While the smoke billowed and the attendees choked on the pungent odour of the incense, he muttered incantations and occasionally gave an almighty shout, commanding the evil spirit to leave the village.

The exorcism in the hall lasted an hour, ending with the medicine man sprinkling water infused with flowers and cut lime and into which he had blown and spat vehemently. No corner of the hall was spared. A similar but shorter, smoky ceremony was enacted at every house after which the occupants were instructed to bathe in the flower and lime infusion which they had prepared and into which the Bomoh had blown spells. Unmarried girls and women were given amulets to wear around their necks to ward off all harm. The following day all the public buildings were exorcised – the school, clinic, the police station, and as an extra precaution, the little mosque too. The villagers gathered at every building, the older ones, nostalgic for the practices of their forefathers and fearful of missing out on something, the younger ones fascinated by these old rituals they never knew existed in their culture. It was quite a spectacular performance at each stop. When it was all over, the bomoh was gratefully sent off with his tools and stash of cash. The villagers finally breathed in relief.

The exorcism gave the village two weeks of peace. Then the bold, daring, greasy phenomenon struck again in the dark, to attack Muna, the twenty-year old only daughter of the widower Pak Som.  Fortunately, Pak Som had not let his guard down. He boarded the windows and doors and kept a long pounding stick next to his mat. He gave a knife to Muna to keep beside her. They regularly burnt incense in the house to ward off evil. But that night Muna felt a slimy hand smelling of car engine oil trying to smother her. She could not scream but her hand clutching the knife obeyed her father instructions. She swung the knife hard against the thing’s back and it yelped. Her scream had her father out, swinging the pounding stick but he hit only air. The thing was gone. He rushed out and could not spot anything. The moon was shining full and looking up he saw, silhouetted against the silver orb, a black dog flying.

Allahu Akbar,” he muttered repeatedly. The neighbours were alerted and they came with their lanterns. They could only see the gap on the floor of the raised house where the Orang Minyak had removed a plank, and traces of blood on the knife, nothing else.

It was mid-day by the time Tok Baharuddin rushed over. He had been delayed arriving home from one of his late-night meetings in the town. A crash between his car and a buffalo had landed him in hospital to tend to his minor wounds while a mechanic tended to the car’s wounds and made in drivable. The villagers were too distraught to bother with his misfortunes. They were on a warpath. “The bomoh has been useless — not powerful enough. This evil had to be fought with evil. Someone has set a curse on the village and that person has to be found and destroyed by a stronger evil entity!”. Muna’s father was distraught. Black magic had the propensity to attract all the jinns and dark forces to the place where it was practiced and to the people who practiced it. Already he felt its tentacles tightening around his chest. He was quite sure his death was imminent. He had seen the ominous sign – the flying black dog.

The headman complied with their request. There was no other way to appease them except to let them fight fire with fire. He also had to show concern for his daughter just returned from the University in the city. Her polish and elegance might make her the next target. His wife was super vigilant, barricading the doors and windows, covering the wooden floors with linoleum and nailing planks against the eves so there was no entry to the rafters. What more could one do?

Tok Baharuddind’s daughter, Hasinah, while respecting the fears of the villagers was thoroughly bemused in private. She was quite sure it was a case of mass hysteria, the kind that occurred with village girls confined in boarding schools; only here they were confined to their village. To appease her mother, she agreed to keep a big stick next to her. As a precaution, despite her doubts, she took her camping flick knife to bed too

“I’ll be back at midnight. Be careful to lock up properly,” Baharuddin announced to his wife and children as he left for yet another business/political meeting.

His daughter played with the flick knife while waiting to sleep. She imagined the many ways in which she would attack an intruder and surprised herself with her imagination.

It was at midnight, when she drifted between sleep and wakefulness that Hasinah felt a hand slide up her thigh and another smother her. As she struggled against the naked being mounting her, she flicked the switch knife clutched in her outstretched hand and transferred all her strength into plunging him deep in the neck.

It was definitely blood, not oil, that spurted out of the Oily Man, warm and musty, mingling with the suffocating smell of grease and oil. He sprang up and ran to the front door, stumbling. She chased him and grabbed his arm but he slid from her grasp as the grease was intended to allow. She followed him out, shouting for the sleepers to awake. She looked around and saw a black dog flying, silhouetted against the moon.

The neighbouring men brought out torches and hurricane lamps and followed the clear trace of blood but could not track it beyond the front door. Still they persisted, fanning out their search. No one could bleed so much and go far, and spirits don’t bleed. Half an hour later they found the village headman, naked, oil covered and masked, bleeding to death in a ditch. Next to him, a dead black dog.

A. Jessie Michael is a retired Associate Professor of English from Malaysia and a writer of short stories and poems She has been published in anthologies and literary journals online.



Two poems from Malaysia

By A Jessie Michael

Caged Birdsong

They stride in graceful rhythm

Qi Pao* fluttering in morning breeze

They swing their cages with gentle sway

Going to Nanjing Park

To bathe in sunshine and breathe fresh air.


Their feathered friends rise and bend on perches

Flap their wings and stretch muscles.

They are one in movement, master and bird

Lifelong learners each, going to Nanjing Park

To bathe in sunshine and breathe fresh air


There’s a crowd of cages on every low branch

And sweet birdsong fills the air

Feathered friends chirp and tweet and trill

Outdoing each other; hearts are bursting

Here to bathe in sunshine and breath fresh air


Old men’s yarns and chortles mingle

With caged birdsong flowing free

A daily short spate of being alive

Voices let loose in cacophony

Bathing in sunshine and breathing fresh air


Then cages are curtained into darkness

Echoes of birdsong dissipate in the wind

Men in silence swing cages home

To drown in the darkness, and choke in the haze

Of crowded cubicles with no window space



My heart is a kite with a stone on its string

Straining and fluttering to be free

But it is anchored to earth while the wild winds sing


It longs for new love and youthful flings

It wants to break free, fly over the sea

But my heart is a kite with a stone on its string


It wonders what the future will bring

When the heart is corralled to what can only be

It is anchored to earth while the wild winds sing


I was the air beneath the falcon’s wing

I was the joy of sunshine before day’s reality

But my heart is a kite with a stone on its string.


Sometimes in a dream I feel the old zing

Of our youthful love, my heart’s soaring glee

But it is anchored to earth while the wild winds sing


The loss is too great, no end to the longing

The fluttering and flittering of fantasy

My heart is a kite with a stone on its string

It is anchored to earth while the wild winds sing.


*Qi pao – Cheongsam, a dress of Manchu origin.

A. Jessie Michael is a retired Associate Professor of English from Malaysia and a writer of short stories and poems. She has written winning short stories for local magazines and newspaper competitions and received honourable mentions in the AsiaWeek Short Story Competitions. She has worked with writers’ groups in Melbourne, Australia and Suzhou, China. Her stories have also appeared in The Gombak Review, 22 Asian Short Stories (2015), Bitter Root Sweet Fruit and recently articles in Kitaab (2019) and poems and Short story in Borderless (2020). She has previously published an anthology of short stories Snapshots, with two other writers and most recently her own anthology The Madman and Other Stories (2016).