Categories
Editorial

The Caged Birds Sing

...Don't you know
They're talkin''bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper...
-- Tracy Chapman,'Talkin 'Bout a Revolution
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 
— Bible 

We are living in strange times that seem to be filled with events to challenge the innovativeness of man. As if the pandemic were not enough, concepts that had come out of the best in our civilisation to unite mankind have been convoluted by a minority to manipulate and hurt the majority into submission. Life is not about surviving with faint-hearted compliance but about having the courage to live it as you want, facing it full up front, to voice out in unison against injustices, wrongs, and most of all to loan strength to help and care for each other. Often to understand this, we need to hinge on to our past, to learn from our heritage. But do we do that? In the hectic drive to be successful, we tend to ignore important lessons that could have been imbibed from the past. Like, did you know that the tribes in the Andaman can save themselves from a tsunami?

Padma Shri Anvita Abbi tells us all about the Andamanese and her attempts to revive their moribund language in her interview and book, Voices from the Lost Horizon, reviewed by Rakhi Dalal. While the review focusses on the uniqueness of Abbi’s work and the publication with its embedded recordings of the tribe fast dissolving into the morass of mainstream civilisation, her interview highlights the need to revive their lores that evolved out of a 70,000-year-old culture. On the other hand, Jessica Mudditt, interviewed by Keith Lyons, dwells on the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, which has been clearly the focus of her book, Our Home in Yangon. This interview focusses on the here and now of the crisis. But most crises have their roots deep and perhaps an exploration of these could help. There are 135 ethnicities in Myanmar but how many are actually integrated into the mainstream? Are they in the process of getting ‘lost’ like the voices of the speakers of Greater Andamanese?

That is why we tried to showcase a few such strains that are going unheard in the loudness of the ‘civilised’ mainstream. We have translations in poetry from Santhali and Adivasi, touching on the concerns of those who are often considered underdeveloped. And, perhaps, as Abbi said in her interview about the Andamanese, we can say much the same for these tribes too.

“These tribes are neither poor, nor uneducated (their knowledge of environment comprising birds, fishes, medicinal plants and their … weather predictions, and the Earth they walk on is amazing) …”

Distinctions have been created by a ‘civilisation’ entrenched in mono-cognitive enforcements leading to the loss of trust, confidence, languages, cultures and valuable knowledge about basic survival. Perhaps we can attempt to heal such wounds by imbibing the openness, love, devotion and compassion shown by the Buddhist monk, Upagupta (who is still revered in Myanmar as Shin Upagutta), in the translation of Tagore’s story poem, ‘Abhisar’ or ‘The Tryst’.  Somdatta Mandal’s translation of Tagore’s letters introduce similar humanitarian concerns when the maestro mentions a German anthropologist and his wife who for the betterment of mankind were journeying to study tribals in India. Tagore remarks, “The people for whom they are willingly prepared to undergo hardship and to overlook all sorts of danger are not their relatives, nor are they civilised.” And yet even a century ago to fathom more about mankind, attempts were being made to integrate with our ancient lore. The concept of being ‘civilised’ is of course now much under the microscope. What is being ‘civilised’?

 Is it about having power? We have Akbar Barakzai’s poem translated by Fazal Baloch on creation looking at the divide between a ‘civilised’ God and man. The theme stresses the two sides of the divide. More translations from Odiya, Dutch and Korean further mingle different flavours of the world into our journal — each questioning the accepted norm in different ways.

In an edition focussed on myths and stories from which we evolved, Rhys Hughes has created an unusual legend around elephants. His poetry also deals with animals — cats. One wonders if the T S Eliot’s famed ‘Macavity, the Mystery Cat’ could have to do something with his choices?  We were fortunate to have Arundhathi Subramaniam share her poetry on myths around Indian figures like Shakuntala and Avvaiyar and the titular poem from When God is a Traveller that won her the 2020 Sahitya Akademi Award. Michael R Burch continues on the theme dwelling on Circe, Mary Magdalene and Helen. Sekhar Banerjee has a more iconoclastic approach to myths in his poetry. Jared Carter talks of modern myths perpetuated through art and cultural studies as does Mike Smith in his musings with his glance back at the last century through a photograph.

We have poetry by a Filipino writer Gigi Baldovino Gosnell from South Africa, looking for a new world, a new legend, perhaps a world without borders. Tohm Bakelas has given us a few lines of powerful poetry. Could these poems be a reaction to world events? Smitha Vishwanath has responded to the situation in Afghanistan with a poem. In this edition, photographs and verses in Penny Wilkes’ ‘Nature’s Musings‘ draw from the universe. She writes, “The sun never asks for applause” — a powerful thought and perhaps one mankind can learn from.

Ghost stories by Niles Reddick and Sunil Sharma perpetuate the theme, especially the latter has a ghost that questions myths of ‘isms’ created in the modern-day world. We also have a writer from Malaysia, P Ravi Shankar, with a futuristic legend set in a far-off time where man has embraced the reality of climate change and artificial intelligence. An interesting and fun read as is Devraj Singh Kalsi’s professions about why he did not become a professor, Geetha Ravichandran’s light musing on word play and a young writer Saurabh Nagpal’s musing, ‘Leo Messi’s Magic Realism‘ — a footballer viewed from a literary perspective!

While our musings make us laugh, our essays this time take us around the world with the myth of happiness deconstructed by Candice Louisa Daquin, to Burma and deep into Kolkata’s iconic history of the detective department started in the nineteenth century. There is an essay by Bhaskar Parichha that explores politics and media and mentions ‘gatekeepers’ of the media who need to be responsible for influencing public opinion. Guess who would be the gatekeepers?

Bhaskar Parichha’s review of Wendy Donniger’s non-fiction exploring myths around horses, Winged Stallion and Wicked Mares, and Basudhara Roy’s review of Bina Sarkar Ellias’ Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems perpetuate the theme of the importance of the past on the one hand and question it on the other. But that is what Borderless is about — exploring the dialectics of opposing streams to re-invent myths towards a better future.

We have a bumper issue again this time with nearly fifty posts. I invite our wonderful readers on a magical journey to unfold the hidden, unmentioned gems scattered on the pages of the September Issue of Borderless. Thank you again to an outstanding team, all our global contributors who make every edition an adventure and a reality and our wonderful readers. Thank you all.

Have a beautiful month!

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

Categories
Tagore Translations

Abhisar by Rabindranath Tagore

Abhisar, translated as ‘The Tryst’, was written by Rabindranath in 1899. It is a story poem based on Upagupta, a Buddhist monk who lived in the 300 BCE and was revered by Emperor Ashoka and is still said to have a following in Myanmar.

THE Tryst

Sanyasi Upagupta
Was asleep under the shade of 
       The city ramparts of Mathura —
A breeze had blown off the lamps and flares.
The palace doors were shut. 
The stars of the night 
          Had disappeared behind clouds.

Whose foot adorned with anklets
          Suddenly rang on his chest? 
Startled, the sanyasi woke up.
His dreams fled. 
A dim light shone 
       on his forgiving eyes. 

The court dancer was going for a tryst with her lover,
        Intoxicated with her own vernal bloom. 
Dressed in a deep blue saree,
Her ornaments tinkled — 
As her foot fell on the monk, 
         Basabdatta halted.

With her lantern, she examined 
      his young radiant form —
A calm enduring tender face, 
A glance gleaming with compassion,
A white moon-like forehead 
       aglow with gracious peace.

The woman spoke in a gentle voice,
        Her eyes drooping with embarrassment, 
“Pardon me, O youthful one, 
I will be grateful if you come to my home. 
The ground here is hard and rough.
        This is not right the place to sleep.”

The sanyasi responded with kind words,
           “It is not yet time for me 
To visit O graceful one, 
Please go your way in prosperity. 
When the time is right, I will myself
            Come to your bower.”
                      
Eventually, a fiery spark thundered,
          Opened a monstrous mouth.
The young woman shivered with alarm.
As a terrifying destructive wind howled,
A lightening ripped a cruel smile
            Across the sky.

                 *

The year was not out. 
     It was an evening in Chaitra. 
The breeze fluttered with restlessness
The trees along the path were laden with buds. 
The King’s garden was flush with blooms of bakul,
       Parul and rajanigandha. 

From afar, wafting with the draft
      Was the mesmerising timbre of a flute.
The city was empty as everyone had left for
The festival of flowers in the honeyed woods. 
The full moon smiled at the town
      Emptied of people and protectors. 

On the lonely moonlit path, 
        The sanyasi walked alone
Under leafy branches, from where
Cuckoos cooed repeatedly —
After so many days, was it time for him
      To fulfil his tryst with the beloved? 

Crossing the town, the wise one 
        Went beyond the city walls. 
He stood beside the moat —
In the shade of the mango grove,
Who was that young woman 
         Lying near his foot? 

Her body was blistered with sores
         From a deadly disease —
As she darkened with the blight,
The citizens threw her out 
Beyond the city moat, fearing the
             Poison within her

The sanyasi sat down by her. 
        And put her stiff head on his lap —
He poured water into her chapped lips,
He chanted a mantra on her head,
Covered her body with a soothing
       Cool sandal paste. 

Bakul blooms were falling, the cuckoos were calling, 
       The night was filled with moonlight. 
“Who are you, o compassionate soul?”
The woman asked. The sanyasi replied,
“Tonight is that time. O Basabdatta,
         I have come for our tryst.”





Sanyasi-- a monk or mendicant, in this case a Buddhist Bhikshu

Chaitra -- spring when the old year ends and new starts in the Bengali Calendar. 

Tagore had translated this poem in English for a collection called Fruit-Gathering, brought out in 1916 by Macmillan. The eighty-six translated poems by Tagore in this edition were from a few selected collections in Bengali: Gitimala, Gitali, Utsarga, Kheya, Naivedya, Gitanjali, Katha and Balaka.

1916 edition of Macmillans’ Fruit-Gathering

(This poem has been translated for Borderless Journal by Mitali Chakravarty and edited by Sohana Manzoor and Anasuya Bhar.)

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