For the People, Of the People, By the People

Painting by Gita Viswanath
"I wish you survival, 
And the closed sky above you."

— Refugee in my own Country/I am Ukraine, Lesya Bakun

Despite this being the season of multiple new years around Asia, we cannot close our eyes to the skies that connect all the world like a blue dome. Though celebrations and humour continue to lighten the darkness of war, while Ukraine is being wrecked, can we turn our faces towards only festivities?

I had an interesting anecdote about how before the onset of the Gregorian calendar, new years in the world were celebrated around March and in some places in September. The Earth would turn fecund and green with spring, a beautiful season sprinkled with love and nostalgia as Michael R Burch tells us in his poetry. However, despite all the opulence of nature, it is hard to watch a country being bombed and families splintered to man a war that supposedly guards a human construct called ideology and blocs. Ukranian refugee, Lesya Bakun, in an interview says: “It is not a clash of ideologies. It is a fight for our country and nation to exist.” Listening to Lesya’s stories makes one amazed at the bravery of the Ukrainians battling what seems to be cultural hegemony. It reminds of the war in Bangladesh in 1971. Though incredibly courageous in voicing her experiences, Lesya is traumatised and has a psychosomatic cough as she sends her voice and text messages from her mobile through Telegram. There were times when she was just weeping or angry for the questions asked, and justifiably so, as her home in Kharkiv, where she lived was under attack, and the town of Mariupol, where she was born, has been wrecked by the war.

The refrain of the pain of a refugee continues to reverberate in a book reviewed by Rakhi Dalal, Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die, written originally in Arabic and translated by Isis Nusair. The Syrian-Palestinian poet refused to clarify whether his writing was prose or poetry — perhaps these borders and boxes drawn by humankind are breaking down in reality. Perhaps, this new year, the time is ripe to look forward to a new world that transcends these borders. This is also the first time we have had the privilege of carrying reviews of translations from Arabic and also from Turkish. Gracy Samjetsabam has reviewed a translation of a Turkish novel by Iskendar Pala called The Tulip of Istanbul, translated by Ruth Whitehouse. Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed a book by Kiran Manral, Rising: 30 Women Who Changed India while Candice Louisa Daquin has drawn our focus on a poetry collection by Marjorie Maddox, Begin with a Question, where the perceived divisions do not matter while the poet questions the larger issue of faith in quest of answers.

Is it the same kind of quest that has led Strider Marcus Jones to create the Lothlorien Journal, named reminiscently after Tolkien’s elvish ‘Lothlorien’ in Lord of the Rings? Find out Jones’s views and flow with his fluid poetry in the featured interview. Keith Lyons has been in conversation with Ivy Ngeow, an upcoming writer and the editor of a recent anthology of Asian writing where she has retained different styles of English across the world in a single book. While this could be beneficial to writers, would readers be comfortable reading stories with different styles or dialects of English without a glossary?

Our book excerpts are from more Asian books.  The Year of the Rat and Other Poems edited by Malachi Edwin Vethamani has an interesting title poem which has been shared in the excerpt. The other excerpt is from a fast-paced novel, Half-Blood, by Pronoti Datta. We also have a fast-paced story by a writer from France called Paul Mirabile set in Portugal; two that verge on the bizarre from Keiran Martin and Amjad Ali Malik; a poignant story from Sutputra Radheye and another that shows the positive side of voicing a protest against wrongs by Devraj Singh Kalsi. Kalsi has also given us a tongue in cheek musing called When Books have Wings.

On the lighter vein are travel essays by Ravi Shankar and Meredith Stephens. They take us to the Himalayas in Nepal and to Tasmania! Suzanne Kamata has taken us to an owl cafe in Japan! At the end of her column, one feels sad for the owls as opposed to Erwin Coombs’ narrative that evokes laughter with his much-loved pet cat’s antics.

Humour is evoked by G. Venkatesh who with an ability to find silver linings in dark clouds talks of cricket and lessons learnt from missing his school bus. Adnan Zaidi has also analysed his poetic abilities with tongue-in-cheek comments. Kenny Peavy gives a lighthearted rendition in praise of boredom and interactions with nature. It is good to have laughter to combat the darkness of the current times, to give us energy to transcend our grief. Keith Lyons hovers on the track between humour and non-humour with his cycling adventures. Rhys Hughes seems to talk of both his favourite poem and the war in a lighter shades, in no way insensitive but his observations make us wonder at the sanity of war. We have much of war poetry by a number of writers, poetry on varied issues by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozabal, George Freek, Sybil Pretious, Kisholoy Roy, J.D. Koikoibo and many more.

Candice Louisa Daquin has taken on the onus of bringing to our notice how language can impact us in the long run while Ratnottama Sengupta has explored beggary in films, fiction and fact. The Nithari column runs a real-life story of a young boy narrated by his brother, Sachin Sharma. It has been translated from Hindustani by Diksha Lamba. The trauma faced in 2006 is strangely not discussed in the story though it hovers in the backdrop between the lines. We also have a translation of a Balochi folk story by Fazal Baloch and a Korean poem by Ihlwha Choi. Translations from Tagore by Fakrul Alam and Somdatta Mandal have honoured our pages again. Mandal has sent us fun-filled skits by Tagore. But are they just fun or is there something more? We also have a translation of a long poem that explores a different aspect of Tagore, his empathy for the downtrodden which led him to create Sriniketan and regard it as his ‘life work’.

We have a bumper issue this time again — especially for the Asian new years; Thai, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, multiple Indian and more…

We would like to thank Sohana Manzoor for our cover painting and Gita Viswanath for her artwork. I would like to thank our wonderful team who with their contributions make this journal a reality. All the contributors deserve a huge thanks as do our loyal readers.

I wish you all a wonderful start to a non-Gregorian new year and hope that peace prevails over parts torn by wars and dissensions.

Thank you all!

Mitali Chakravarty


Before the Sun Goes Down

By Amjad Ali Malik

“It sucks, man”, he muttered and took a deep breath. His hands were folded on the back of his head as he reclined in the chair.

“And then count the age gap. Here I am barely twenty; just trying to acclimatise to the Varsity culture. And she? Well, I guess, not short of her mid-thirties”, he frowned.

Between the two of them they shared the rented flat.

He was from a remote small town and had arrived in the metropolis one year ago. After joining the University, he found that the hostel was already occupied to its total lodging capacity. So, his parents reluctantly chose to let him stay in a private accommodation, and this had landed him in the flat.

She was already a renter there. Initially, they had kept their newfound acquaintance restricted to a tacit exchange of casual glances. Then ensued the short verbal greetings, which eventually led to intimacy. She told him that she was from another big city and had been transferred to this city by her employers.

Earlier, he had been going to a small restaurant in the neighbourhood for his meals. Then she told him that she would make meals for both of them, and they could split the expenses. He readily agreed. 

Every evening she would walk over, carrying two cups of tea to his partially furnished room. Sitting across the oblong table, sipping the tepid tea, they often made small talk.  During one such session, she said she had got a Masters in Political Science. However, she hardly ever commented on national or international politics. Once or twice, he tried to plumb her political leanings, but she disappointed him. She exhibited the same stolidity in religious matters. 

“Why are you so cold on the topics which intrigue almost everyone these days?” he asked her once again.

“Is it necessary to toe the line of others?” she retorted with a discomfiting smirk.

“Um-no, not at all.  I only asked it out of curiosity,” he sounded flustered.

In physical terms, she was sensuous. But her personal aura did not encourage much passion in the opposite gender.  He had to admit that she had something about her, which stirred awe rather than evoked salacious thoughts.

As their relationship became more frank, he began to cherish some private longings for her. When she was away, he would often try to conjure her tall, lithe figure to indulge in a mock act of dalliance, but could never get much further with it. Thus frustrated time and again, he ultimately came to weigh the possibility of marrying her, but in her presence, could not breathe a single syllable on the topic.

“What is she? Why is she so courageous and confident, while I am neither?” he used to wonder.

One day, he felt touched on the raw. “Do you have any girl friend?” she looked him straight in the face.

“M, me. No, no, not at all”, he jerked out.

“Hmm” she took a deep breath, and smiled coquettishly.

“Would you like to have one?”

“Well, am not sure what to say”, he replied meekly.

 She burst into a guffaw.  “Looks that you have yet to be weaned, boy!”

Her sudden vivacity flummoxed him, as he sat there gazing at her.

“Is she trying to flirt or is it a serious attempt to seduce?” he asked himself.

Meanwhile, she got up, collected the crockery and came near him. She stood beside his chair. Her intent gaze and the intoxicating fragrance of her perfume rattled his assumed composure.

“Let’s spend this time together and have fun. Who knows how the sun goes down tomorrow?” she whispered and made for her room.

The next day, as he entered the flat at the usual hour, he felt quite weird. She had not yet come back from her work. His patience began to run thin when after making several attempts to catch a glimpse of her, on the chance that she might have tiptoed onto the premises to give him a surprise.

He waited and waited until dusk set in. Still there was no sign of her.

“Where could have she gone? Over these past several months, she has never got late even for a short while. Has she met with some accident?” lost in such thoughts, he got up to go and dine at the restaurant. While dining, he cast a quick glance all around the hall, and then forgot that he had been hungry. The breaking news that flashed on the television screen rendered him insensible to his surroundings. The police had arrested a woman on the charge of first-degree murder of an aged prayer leader. The camera was constantly zooming in on her face. He gulped incredulously still glued to the screen. No further details of the case came in.

He hurried to the flat, collected all his effects and made for the


“Who knows how the sun goes down tomorrow?” her passionate words echoed in his ears, as he bade a tearful adieu to the city for good.


Amjad Ali Malik is a Pakistan–based writer. By profession, he is an Assistant Professor of English. The story “Before The Sun Goes Down” is his debut work.