Ratnottama Sengupta shows the impact of Gandhi and his call for non-violence on Nabendu Ghosh as she continues to emote over his message of Ahimsa and call for peace amidst rioting. Click here to read.
The night has nearly come to an end.
The old year is almost past.
Under this dust, it will lay down
Its worn-out life at last.
Whether friend or foe, wherever you go,
Old wrongs cast
Away. On this auspicious day,
Old grievances shed as the old year parts.
— Nobo Borshe or on New Year by Tagore
Mid-April, Thailand celebrates Songkran and Cambodia, Thingyan — water festivals like Holi. These coincide with the celebration of multiple New Years across Asia. Sikhs celebrate Baisakhi. Kerala celebrates Bishu and Tamil Nadu, Puthandu. Nepal celebrates Nava Varsha and Bengal Nobo Borsho or Poila Boisakh. A translation of Tagore’s poem on the Bengali New Year in spirit asks us to dispense with our past angst and open our hearts to the new day — perhaps an attitude that might bring in changes that are so needed in a world torn with conflicts, hatred and anger. The poet goes on to say, “I want to tie all lives with love” but do we do that in our lives? Can we? Masud Khan’s poems on love translated by Professor Fakrul Alam explore this from a modern context. From Korea, Ihlwha Choi tells us in his translation, “Loving birds is like loving stars”. But the translation that really dwells on love bringing in changes is Nabendu Ghosh’s ‘Gandhiji’, translated by Ratnottama Sengupta, his daughter. The short story by Ghosh highlights the transformation of a murderous villain to a defender of a victim of communal violence, towering above divides drawn by politics of religion.
Another daughter who has been translating her father’s works is Amna Ali, daughter of award-winning Punjabi writer, Nadir Ali. In ‘Khaira, the Blind‘, the father-daughter duo have brought to Anglophone readers a lighter narrative highlighting the erasure of divides and inclusivity. A folktale from Balochistan, translated by Fazal Baloch, echoes in the footsteps of ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ — a story that can found in the Andersen’s Fairy Tales published in the nineteenth century. I wonder which narrative had come first? And how did it cross cultures retaining the original ideas and yet giving it a local colour? Was it with traders or immigrants?
That such narratives or thoughts are a global phenomenon is brought to the fore by a conversation between Keith Lyons and Asian Australian poet Adam Aitken. Aitken has discussed his cross-cultural identity, the challenges of travel, writing, and belonging. Belonging is perhaps also associated with acceptance. How much do we accept a person, a writer or his works? How much do we empathise with it — is that what makes for popularity?
Cross cultural interactions are always interesting as Rhys Hughes tells us in his essay titled ‘My Love for RK Narayan’. He writes: “Narayan is able to do two contradictory things simultaneously, namely (1) show that we are all the same throughout the world, and (2) show how cultures and people around the world differ from each other.” The underlying emotions that tie us together in a bond of empathy and commonality are compassion and love, something that many great writers have found it necessary to emphasise.
Mitra Phukan’sWhat Will People say?: A Novel is built around such feelings of love, compassion and patience that can gently change narrow norms which draw terrifying borders of hate and unacceptance. We carry an excerpt this time from her ‘Prologue’. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed Chitra Banerjee Divakurni’s latest , Independence. Starting from around the time of the Indian Independence too is Song of the Golden Sparrow – A Novel History of Free India by Nilanjan P. Choudhary, which has been discussed by Rakhi Dalal. The Partition seems to colour narratives often as does the Holocaust. Sometimes, one wonders if humanity will ever get over the negative emotions set into play in the last century.
Closer to our times, when mingling of diverse cultures is becoming more acceptable in arts, Basudhara Roy introduces us to Bina Sarkar Ellias’s Ukiyo-e Days…Haiku Moments, a book that links poetry to a Japanese art-form. While a non-fiction that highlights the suffering of workers by enforcing unacceptable work ethics, Japanese Management, Indian Resistance: The Struggles of the Maruti Suzuki Workersby Anjali Deshpande and Nandita Haksar has been reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha. The narrative, he writes, “tells the story of the biggest car manufacturer in India through the voices of the workers, interviewed over three years. They give us an understanding that the Maruti Suzuki revolution wasn’t the unmitigated success it was touted to be when they tell us about their resistance to being turned into robots by uncompromising management.” That lack of human touch creates distress in people’s hearts, even if we have an efficient system of management and mass production is well elucidated in the review.
These changes are reflected in our musings too. Sengupta has written on how change is wrought on a murderous villain by the charisma of Gandhi in her father’s fiction, as well as this world leader’s impact on Ghosh and her. Devraj Singh Kalsi addresses food fads with a pinch of sarcasm. From Japan, Suzanne Kamata has written of a little island with Greek influences, a result of cultural ties brought in by the emperor Hirohito. Ravi Shankar takes us to Pokhara, Nepal, and Meredith Stephen expresses surprise on meeting a shipload of people from Colorado in the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere while on her sailing adventures with beautiful photographs. Stories by moderns reflect diverse nuances depicting change. While Brindley Hallam Dennis writes of the passing of an era, PG Thomas integrates the past into the present to reflect how they have a symbiotic structure in the scheme of creating or recreating natural movements through changes wrought over time in his story. Paul Mirabile explores the darker recesses of the human existence in his fiction. As if in continuation, the excerpt from Rhys Hughes’ The Wistful Wanderings of Perceval Pitthelmseems to step out of darker facets of humanity with a soupçon of wit at its best.
To create a world that endures, one looks for values that create inclusivity as reflected in these lines from Charles Chaplin’s My Autobiography, “Mother illuminated to me the kindliest light this world has ever known, which has endowed literature and the theatre with their greatest themes: love, pity and humanity.” This quote starts off a wonderful essay from film-buff Nirupama Kotru. Her narrative carries the tenor of Chaplin’s ‘themes’ to highlight not only her visit to the actor’s last home in Switzerland but also glances at his philosophy and his contributions to cinema across borders.
Our issue rotates around changes and the need for love and compassion to rise in a choral crescendo whirling with the voices of Tagore, Charles Chaplin as well as that of twenty-first century writers. Perhaps this new year, we can move towards a world – at least an imagined world — where love will wipe away weapons and war, where love will take us towards a future filled with the acceptance of myriad colours, where events like the Partition and the Holocaust will be history, just like dinosaurs.
Huge thanks to all our readers and contributors, some of whom may not have been mentioned here but are an integral and necessary part of the issue. Do pause by our April edition. I would also like to give my thanks to our indefatigable team whose efforts breathe life into our journal every month. Sohana Manzoor needs a special mention for her lovely artwork.
Delhi in the 1960’s:
Nostalgia about Lahore was high.
Partition displaced refugees spoke of
misery, mayhem, murder. Deda Ji regretted
that, at the time of leaving, a pillowcase of house jewels
was misplaced. Bhabhi Ji had similar regrets--
leaving priceless possessions behind in Lahore
But what struck us-- newcomers to the grand city
were the names of shops.
So many of them were
named after places in Western Punjab,
or those now in Pakistan. For instance,
A popular eatery called ‘Lahorian di Hatti’
‘Quetta DAV School’.
Small eateries served dishes called ‘Pindi ke Chholey Bhatoorey’.
A shop with the name ‘New Lyallpur Cloth House’.
There were ‘Lahorian Jewellers’, ‘Sindh Wood & Ply’,
Karachi Sweet Shop, Karachi Stationery Mart, Quetta Store,
Peshawar Sweet Bhandar, Lahore Watch Co., Sialkot Jewellers
and also ‘Abbott Drycleaner’s’, whose shop, it turned out,
had not been named after some monastery’s abbot
but after ‘Abbottabad’ --a town in Pakistan
(made famous by the capture of Osama Bin Laden by US Navy Seals)
Thus, many places in erstwhile undivided India,
but no more in India now.
Lahore, Quetta, Rawalpindi, Lyallpur, Sindh,
Abbottabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Sialkot
made their presence felt in a walk in any area of Delhi.
The Partition displaced people had suffered immense tragedies and losses
And had also brought a little bit of their homeland with them.