Keith Lyons introduces us to Kenny Peavy, an author, adventurer, educator and wilderness first-aider who has travelled far and wide and wishes everyone could connect with the natural world right outside their door. Click here to read.
Ideally, I would love to start the New Year with laughter and happiness! Then perhaps, the whole year would be dotted with humour …
Laughter clubs often practice laughing for health benefits. I know the pandemic makes both guffawing outdoors or in a group hard but think of the funniest possible thing and, perhaps, you will start laughing. For me what works other than children’s and monkeys’ antics, are my trips to the dentist, especially the trip where I wondered on the fringe benefits of ‘laughing gas’ (as given in the PG Wodehouse novel of the same name), only to be informed that it was used exclusively for young children. For me, an adult, there was only — you have guessed it — the jab that numbs your lip function to lubber. I discovered if I could make light of a dentist drilling by learning from Harry Potter (the spell to get rid of the terrifying boggart, who took the shape of the thing you feared most, was to imagine the funniest thing, focus on the humour in it, and shout ‘Riddikulus’ with a wand pointed at the creature in the form of your worst nightmare), then I could pretty much get rid of most fears.
The other thing I have been wondering for sometime is can one write an editorial that is humorous when the content is serious? I would have wanted to ask that question to many, including Ruskin Bond, who continues as one of my idols. I would love to touch hearts with the humour and the sensitivity that flavours his writing. It is tough to convey a complex thought with the simplicity and elegance of a writer who can be read and understood easily. I think we have a few of them around and I interviewed one. You all probably know him well— Rhys Hughes. I have given the reasons for the interview in lieu of Mr Bond, who continues a distant star beyond the horizon of online interviews. We discussed humour and its role in literature, leaving out completely in the cold, the fictional Mr Bond who answers to the names of James and 007 and has made entertaining films, which can be seen as serious or non-serious.
Another major issue in this world currently is climate change. In keeping with the need for acceptance of this reality, Keith Lyons introduced us to a nature lover, author and adventurer Kenny Peavy, who loved the fictional adventurer called Indiana Jones and has been working towards living in harmony with nature. He moved to Indonesia from America and is trying to raise awareness. You can find much, though not elephants, in the interview that encompasses the story of a man who cycled across a continent on a bike made of bamboo. However, you can find some writing on a king who acquired the skill to ride and tame elephants in our book excerpt from Shazi Zaman’sAkbar: A Novel of History. The excerpt does not showcase his elephant taming skills as did the Bollywood blockbuster Jodha Akbar but is focussed on bringing out the syncretism in the Mughal monarch’s outlook which made him seek out exponents of other religions. Sangita Swechcha’s and Andrée Roby’s anthology, A Glimpse Into My Country, with excerpts of short stories from Nepal and Zimbabwe, like Kenny Peavy, cycle across multiple borders as does our fiction. We feature stories from within and without the continent with Fazal Baloch recombining a couple of folklores from Balochistan to a single tale. Fiction from young writers highlight compassion and a varied perspective. Steve Ogah has a story from Nigeria which almost rings with overtones of Alex Haley’s Roots. Sohana Manzoor has given us a poignant narrative with an inspiring twist at the end, an absolute antithesis of the humorous one she rolled out for us last month. Candice Louisa Daquin has also given us an exceptional short fiction along with her column where she discusses the changing face of families in the current context.
While Daquin’s focus is mainly towards the West, we have an essay from Sanjay Kumar on families that live in the greyer zones of big cities, children from an outcropping called Nithari in Delhi, where they or theirs suffered neglect, abuse, carnage and cannibalism in their formative years. Introducing the impacted children, Kumar explains how they transcended the wounds that lacerated their lives. This piece is a precursor to a column called ‘Children of Nithari’. Starting February, the abuse victims will give us a story a month which will be translated by young volunteers from pandies’, an activist theatre group founded by Kumar, and published in Borderless. Another article from Balochistan reflects on the lack of literacy and efforts to bring children into the folds of schooling. Pakistan ranked 99th out of 132 countries on the literacy survey in 2021. We are privileged to be the voice of the unheard.
Two essays that ring of concerns raised in the Kenny Peavy interview are to do with climate crisis in the Sunderbans and waste disposal in Delhi. Both of these are written by researchers who are working on these issues.
We have travel pieces from Australia – one is a sailing adventure by Meredith Stephens and the other is about a trip to the Sand Dunes of Western Australia by Shernaz Wadia. Ravi Shankar has also taken us through winters from the Everest to New York with his globe-trotting non-fiction. Penny Wilkes takes us on a flight of creativity with beautiful photography.
We have a stellar layout of translations. Professor Fakrul Alam translated another poem by Jibananada Das and Borderless is honoured to publish it to the world for the first time. We have a translation from Korea and another of a Brahmo hymn, Aji Shubho Dine, by Tagore, which is sung often during festivals. The icing in our Tagore section in this issue is Ratnottama Sengupta’s translation of the Kobiguru’s ‘Two Birds’ (Khanchar Pakhi Chhilo) along with a musing which reflects on the perspectives of the two contemporaries, Tagore and Saratchandra. She has also translated a well-known Bengali poet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Dutt wrote just before the advent of Tagore and had an interesting past which has been vividly depicted by Sunil Gangopadhyay in Those Days (Sei Somoy in Bengali), a novel that has been translated by Aruna Chakravarti. Bhaskar Parichha has given us a tribute on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Fakir Mohan Senapati, who, he claims, has the same standing in Odia literature as Tagore in Bengali or Premchand in Hindi.
Parichha has also reviewed Amit Ranjan’sJohn Lang; Wanderer of Hindoostan; Slanderer in Hindoostanee; Lawyer for the Ranee. It looks like an interesting read where an immigrant Australian came supported Rani of Jhansi in India. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Selma Carvalho’s Sisterhood of Swans, again a story of migrants and their lives. The theme seems to echo among the books that have been reviewed this time, including Gracy Samjetsabam’s take on Anuradha Kumar’s The Hottest Summer in Years, a story about a German immigrant to India in the twentieth century. Meenakshi Malhotra’s review of Somdatta Mandal’s translation of A Bengali Lady in England by Krishnabhabini Das (1885) highlights the views of a traveller rather than an immigrant as the lady did return home after a ten-year sojourn in Britain. As Meenakshi contends, “The process of travel offers opportunities for emancipation where exposure to other cultures offers her a way of viewing and of gaining a perspective on her own experiences and that of her sisters in India. Krishnabhabini constantly refers to her Indian sisters and bemoans their sorry state and ignorance when she sees how active British women were in their families and societies…”
I was supposed to try my hand at a humorous editorial, but I realise that is tough when the ground is small. For humour, we need rolling acres where we can etch out each detail till it cannot be milked further for laughter. But I promise you I will keep trying to please the readers till one evolves to write like Ruskin Bond.
I would like to thank my fabulous team who even if not actively contributing to content are always at hand to advise and help. I would especially want to thank both Sohana Manzoor and Sybil for their fantastic artwork, which is as wonderful as their writings. I would like to give heartfelt thanks to all the contributors who have made this journal possible and each reader who comes back to our journal for more every month. Some of the pieces remain unmentioned adding to the mystery of the content, just like, Christmas gifts which need to be unwrapped and continue a reality even in January in some parts of the world – the Russians celebrate on January 7th and the Spaniards extend their festivities to January 6th.
Do take a look at this month’s edition for not just the stories mentioned here but for more.
I wish you all a wonderful New Year filled with laughter.
The Hottest Summer in Years is just one of the two books published in quick succession by the author, Anuradha Kumar. The other A Sense of Time and Other Stories appeared a month before this one. Kumar has authored a number of books and writes for a number of journals. She has won the Commonwealth Award twice in 2004 and 2010 for her short stories. Earlier in 2021, in an interview, Kumar said that she lives and writes across continents and declared that she was “truly a borderless writer”. The Hottest Summer in Years (2021), is a testimony that upholds her declaration.
This novel opens with the protagonist, Hans Gerter, a perplexed young man caught in between dichotomies, in a world alternating between war and peace in the early 1960s, when India too as an independent country was young. The ‘Prologue’ sets the tone of the story. The protagonist is shown to be part of a German firm setting up the steel industry in a small town in the heart of India, a historical truth fictionalised with skill.
The first chapter starts with the puzzling murder of Ahmed Ali. It encompasses the formal and informal meetings of people, the ploy in the efforts to frame the Raja Sahib, the politics of governance and power play taking shape in a newly born India, the brewing Hindu-Muslim tension with a potential to ignite bigger flames in the future, and amidst all these Gerter’s attempt to protect the Raja’s family even as he whirls between his two worlds of the past and present. Gerter ruminates through the story and reflects on the heat in Africa of his childhood and the mirage-like images of all that happens after the night of the murder which holds the story together in what was supposedly one of the hottest years recorded in India, thus justifying the title of his novel.
Love, lust, and belonging criss-crosse across borders to amalgamate with the history and politics of the period from the 1940s to the 1960s. Gerter’s own history is beautifully linked to the Nazi regime and the German holocaust that followed. Through Gerter’s journey from Germany to his displacement in Rourkela and then to Dharamsala, a narrative that spans continents, Kumar brings out the futility of the big wars and their effect on the mental health of people across generations.
Blending facts and fiction, mesmerising scenes of love, abandonment, and mystery make the book an imaginative and compassionate read. Kumar manages to creatively flit through history wherein she props on the landscape people, forests, forest dwellers, animals, Adivasis, seas, the voyage, the call of the wild at night, the train and the railways. Each character and even the vehicles the Blue Daimler, Gerter’s constant companion, the green Austin or the ship SS Giovanni are brilliantly placed to add to the wealth of the narrative. Gerter battles with the fear of the inner demons that breed from his past and present. His taking up the role of a protector in the process changed him. Memory, love, and freedom drive the story with history and mystery gelled in.
The cosmopolitanism in the story is starkly evident but subtly worked on. It is interesting to note the nature in which his ideas of home and identity sway with the impact of the places his destiny takes him. Gerter brings out the beauty in being the young edgy global citizen, who is everywhere and yet nowhere, as he describes himself as “always on the margins” and that “no place had been home” despite being in many homes far away from home. With a childhood spent in the west of Africa and, in his early youth having awakened to the truths of war and of his country, Germany in the early 1940s, Gerter sped on greater realisations of people he had met or been with, in different places in time. Despite the despair, madness and gloom, a letter and the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) shines new hope in towards the end of Gerter’s narrative.
Kumar’s historical novel is a well-packed and well-paced story. It brings forth nightmares, conspiracies, insanity, secrets and fills them with love, hope and aspirations for a better world. The damages of war, the heartbreaks, the longing to mend the wrongs in life and history come together in Kumar’s fiction. In a blend of cultures and history, the story blends genres. Noir and mystery meet history in fiction. Indian writer, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, rightly described the novel as “… A noir-ish, brooding read, a book to be savoured delicately…”. Kumar, through Gerter in the novel, brings to light how we share different worlds, how multiple people seem to reside in one person and the varied lives we live. A beautiful cover illustration by Sanjhvi Noul rightly speaks to us on the climate of the book. Kumar’s The Hottest Summer in Years is definitely an all-season book.
Gracy Samjetsabam is a freelance writer and copy editor. Her interest is in Indian English Writings, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, and World Literature.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
“Nothing can be unconditional: consequently, nothing can be free.”
“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
-- George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists, Man & Superman (1903)
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), a great writer and playwright, used these epigrammatic lines to bring focus on what people thought was liberty or freedom from oppression, from regimes that were dictatorial. While discussing concepts of freedom, one does wonder if political freedom solves all humane issues, occasions we celebrate with great aplomb, like the birth of a nation.
This month started with the observance of July 4th, the date of the American Revolution in 1776 and the publication date of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in 1855. In between these two years, in 1789, ten days down the line, on July 14th, another significant occurrence has been handed down by history to be celebrated as the Bastille Day— the day prisoners were freed from Bastille, a major event that led to the overthrow of the insensitive monarchy in France, a symbolic resurgence of the common, exploited man that has often been seen as an inspiration for later uprisings to reinforce the concept of democracy or liberté, égalité, fraternité.
As we move forward in time, towards August, one wonders if liberty attained by these means was good for all fellow humans? France was part of the Allied Forces that with America taking the lead dropped not one but two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945, to end the Second World War. Did the ends justify the means? Reflecting the cry and suffering of these victims, we have poetry from Suzanne Kamata, a well-known writer from Japan. Michael Burch on the other hand has shared poetry with us which shows how the nuclear programme continued unrepentant despite the devastation it caused. One must give kudos to the descendants of the victims of the nuclear blast that they have forgiven the perpetrators, admitted their own hand in the Second World War and moved ahead. In that spirit, we have an essay on peace by Candice Louisa Daquin, who joins the Borderless team as a writer-in-residence.
We have much happening in poetry this time with an interview of American poet Jared Carter, a recipient of number of awards and fellowships, including the Walt Whitman Award and the Guggenheim fellowship. He walks us through how he created the poem ‘Yeti’ (first published in the May edition of Borderless) and talks of the impact of artifacts from China and India on his own thought processes, the impact of Du Fu (712-770) and much more. We have a poem in Du Fu’s style this time by George Freek and an interesting poem with a Chinese title by Carter, a title that can have multiple connotations and yet each seems to fit the poem perfectly.
Rhys Hughes has brought humour into our pages with both his poetry and essay on William Mcgonagall, who bore the sobriquet of the worst writer in the world through his life and had things thrown at him when he read his poetry in Dundee. Yet, his work survived the beatings, and he lives on known as the ‘Scottish Homer’.
More poetry by Singaporean poet Marc Nair gives us a glimpse of the little island as viewed by someone who has grown up on it. Poetry is always multi-hued, and we have Lorraine Caputo transport us to a Garífuna village in Honduras. Penny Wilkes takes us ‘Down the Path of Nostalgia’ with a mix of old and new photography, prose and poetry on how almost a decade after the end of the Second World War, she started her love affair with photography and nature. It hovers between poetry and musings, and this time we have a rare musing by Jared Carter too. Devraj Singh Kalsi continues cogitating with wry humour while arranging bookshelves. We also have the backpacking granny visitingIndonesia. Post sharing this trip, our granny — Sybil Pretious — plans a little break from publishing to complete her memoirs.
A riveting flash fiction by Kaiyi Tan celebrates the spirit of conquest in these dark times, weaving into the pandemic lore the quest for personal freedom. Stories this time carry a real life one by Jean Kortum on adoption — her own struggle. But then, stories can be real or unreal – draw a bit from both to reflect bigger truths or create alternates that sink into the human mind as a perceived reality and leave an imprint deep inside the heart, like that of Niles Reddick. My conviction is that some lived experiences of writers seep into each story, whether it is from Bangladesh or India or by our literary fictionist, Sunil Sharma. His narrative continues infused by suspense.
We have a complete translated story of Tagore by Radha Chakravarty as our book excerpt this time. ‘The Parrot’s Tale’, ostensibly part of a children’s collection, reflects Tagore’s response to conventional schooling — a reason for him to start Shanti Niketan perhaps. She has also shared two of her translations of Rabindranath’s songs from Bhanusingher Padabali (1884, Bhanusingh’s verses). Chakravarty generously consented to an interview and has given us a glimpse of her journey as a translator and critic. We also have translated a long poem by Tagore on our pages, a poem that inspires hope, though it was named Dushomoy (1897, Bad Times) finally. The original name had been Swarga Patthe (On the Path to Heaven) as can be seen from a page in his diary. We have been fortunate in finding a recording of his voice reciting the poem in Bengali and the print of a sample page of the manuscript bearing his signature.
Keith Lyons from New Zealand in his very brief essay has quoted American novelist William Faulkner, “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” And perhaps we need to remember this if for no other reason, then, just to maintain our own sanity in these strange, almost unreal times as we attempt to unite as humankind to free ourselves from an unknown and unfathomable virus.
In a more sombre note, last week, untroubled by the virus, a victim of cancer, Bollywood legend Dileep Kumar, aged 98, breathed his last. Ratnottama Sengupta adds an unusual colour to the Borderless Journal with her tribute to this hugely acclaimed actor. In the process, she unfolds for us a brief history of the Indian cinema, and a glimpse of a world that transcends all man made constructs in quest of perfection.
We have an interesting set of reviews this July. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Anuradha Kumar’s riveting short story collection, A Sense of Time. A murder mystery for young readers, Murder at Daisy Apartments by Shabnam Minwalla, has been reviewed by Gracy Samjetsabam. The Third Eye of Governance–Rise of Populism, Decline in Social Research by Dr N Bhaskara Rao, reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha, seems to be a non-fiction that looks forward to bridging gaps between academia and the real world, a truly felt need. Parichha has also given us an essay on a man who inspired Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, to make him a part of his lore, a journalist who moved around all of Asia with equal aplomb and a sense of humour – a truly global citizen called Richard Hughes.
I want to thank all our wonderful contributors for making this edition a reality. And readers, we leave you to explore the unknown… like that place we call outer space. A huge thank you again to not only all our wonderful contributors, our faithful readers but also to the fabulous Borderless team scattered across the world.
Before I wind up, a little bird trills a song of hope in my ear. Business tycoons have started stepping into the mysterious void of space to eventually – let us hope — create affordable travel for common man, though it has started off as an expensive proposition. Will this be an industry that will generate more jobs on and off Earth and find new places for man to inhabit? After all, when George Bernard Shaw wrote his plays and essays, we had yet to cross the frontiers beyond Earth, had never even thought of flying across the world in budget airlines or mining moons!
Will we have a new world, a new outlook and a new set of hopes and aspirations as we stretch the frontiers of our home planet?
Wish you all a wonderful month of reading and thinking.
A Sense of Time is a collection of short stories by Anuradha Kumar that stretch across different periods of time, hurtling through the past into the future. A two-time Commonwealth award winner, Kumar has authored thirty-one books, written for Economic and Political Weekly among many other journals and newspapers, woven stories for children under a pseudonym and has released two books almost together in 2021, the other being The Hottest Summer in Years amidst excellent reviews.
Reading Kumar’s A Sense of Time is akin to going on an unplanned journey which takes you to places most unexpected, the roads twisting and turning as you march on with bated breath, wondering where or what it might lead you to. You have to remain alert at all times lest you might miss something crucial to a story. The narrative style in each story is crisp, never faltering once. And the most striking thing is Kumar’s ability to conjure vivid imagery in the mind of the reader. The spaces that her pen creates might either be real or illusive, the enticement is decidedly palpable.
The story, ‘Entomologist at Trial’, is a about a small town lawyer trying to make it big at High Court. He fails each time he bases his decisions on idealism. It is essentially a satire on the society which derides integrity and where being successful is far more important than being right. ‘Pandemic 2121’is a love story based in an imagined future where the protagonist is separated from her lover, from a different planet, because of the policies of her planet’s government. Here the author addresses the innate human longing for things simpler and basic to human nature for sustenance amidst a pandemic like situation similar to that witnessed in 2020.
In some stories, Kumar explores the world of women from distinct backgrounds. Rekha from ‘Rekha Crosses the Line’ is a bored middle class housewife looking for ways to distract herself from her mundane existence and from the anxieties forced upon her by the familial expectations. It also explores the murky world of Godmans thriving in a society where people flock in the hope to find answers or to while away their time deliberately, knowing exactly what they are entering. ‘All the Way to the Twelfth Floor’ follows the events of a day in the life of Gauri who works as a house help for different apartments in a society. Kumar focuses upon the perilous circumstances women engage in this work sometimes confront, their apprehensions and the acts they feel obliged to do to for the sake of their livelihoods. It is also a peek into the apathy with which the society treats women working as domestic helps and employers’ lack of concern to the vulnerabilities they might be exposed to.
‘Dorothy Cries in the Bus‘ is the story of a journey taken by two women of different nationalities brought together by circumstances and their effort to connect with each other. It essentially focuses on their similarities as women dealing with their marriages and discovering a kinship in unusual circumstances. ‘Missing’ takes us to the world of a woman married to an army soldier and her efforts to keep the household functioning in the absence of her husband who rarely gets a leave from his posting. The story, however, also turns our attention to the meagre salaries the army soldiers earn and the psychological stress they endure which is seldom focused upon. The heroic welcome that Gudiya’s husband receives in the village upon his return on a vacation stands in stark contrast to the reality of his everyday life marred by difficulties to procure even nutritious food for his ailing father.
Some stories are also biting satires on the ways a society acquires and becomes accustomed to. ‘The Man Who Played Gandhi’ is a story of a man who gets invited to play Mahatma at various events. Das takes great pain to look like Gandhi, wear similar clothes, practice the same kind of gait and the way of spinning the charkha. He also memorizes Bapu’s speeches which he delivers to sometimes a rapt audience. As the years after independence progress, he realises people don’t really care about the Mahatma or his ways anymore. At one event, he is invited to appear only to be made to disappear again — as a magician’s prop. Through the course of this narrative, Kumar highlights the growing indifference of the citizens towards the ideals or edifice upon which India was constructed after a long struggle faced by the independence movement.
‘Big Fish’takes us to the world of a refugee family living on the brim of society, its fears and vulnerabilities. It also showcases the apathy of a government towards such people whose sole existence could hang on the whims of officers given charge to identify them.
The titular story, ‘A Sense of Time’,has elements of supernatural where time gives the impression, of drifting and sometimes advancing, but traps the reader into a delusion with such alacrity so as to leave her mystified by the experience. The disorientation which Kumar manages to entice a reader into is at once intriguing and spell-binding.
Kumar’s writing clearly comes out as bold, experimental and confident. The pace with which she commences a story never loses its hold on the reader. Though there are a couple of stories where the ending may leave a reader wondering or wanting for a closure but author’s choice to keep them open ended emulates life as sometimes experienced in reality. Instances where you may come across people only passingly and may never come to know everything about them. But then this is how life is. This is the beauty of it, our ability to keep some experiences in memories and identify our own existence as transient, only fleeting for those we unexpectedly meet on our journey.
Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ .
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.
She has a strange mix of oeuvres. She flits between young and adult readers — writes for all ages across borders, across continents and across oceans, in newspaper, journals and in books. She has written thirty-one books in all (a number of them with Hachette India), has won the Commonwealth awards for short stories a couple of times, written under the pseudonym of Aditi Kay, worked in the Economic and Political Weekly for almost 9 years and now lives in USA weaving stories of people around her and the worlds she inhabits. Meet Anuradha Kumar, who has already released two books in 2021. One is called The Hottest Summer in Years and the other that held me mesmerised has been published with Weavers Press San Francisco and is called A Sense of Time and Other Stories.
The unique thing about A Sense of Time is that it stretches through different time zones, the past, the present and the future. It has stories that linger and leave an aftertaste of nostalgia and the past or encapsulate you in the future in a world where living and working in outer space is as much a reality as is the recurrence of pandemics. It carries you into a dimension that Kumar builds with words, a unique space where her perceptions evoke a sense of the unusual, the sensual and the real. A strange story about a bus journey of an American in India which uncovers the commonality of experiences of women across continents, of a man who trains to be Gandhi, of Indians in America, of a strange case in court, of friendship between a child and a wanted man, a murder in the train which travels in a strange way through time — the titular story — and many more.
What makes these stories riveting is they make you feel like you have tasted the manna from the land of Lotus Eaters and for some time, you forget your own reality and live with the characters. They stay in your head even after you finish the stories. Reading her stories was a pleasurable experience and finishing all of them created a longing to read a few more from Kumar’s pen. Without more ado, let us plunge into a discussion on Anuradha Kumar’s wonderland.
Tell us Anuradha, what spurred the writer in you? When did you start writing and why?
It was quite an accident. I did write when asked for the school magazine, but the more serious kind of writing, like now, came later. I remember being very bored during my time in the corporate world and writing down something. And I found that quite a panacea for boredom. And soon, writing became more than just a panacea, and more than just a response to things other than boredom.
But your ‘why’ holds so much more, and I feel quite pompous answering that. But the more one writes, and reads, there are just more questions. So, while earlier writing meant getting things like character, plot and narrative arc in place—things a good writing programme can teach you—now it’s a bit more about the answers you are seeking to various things, and writing is one way toward that.
How many countries have you lived in and how has this impacted your writing? How long have you been away from India?
For a bit more than a decade. And we have lived in Singapore, and in the US, first in Maryland and now in New Jersey. I guess I must be bothered by questions of identity, and belonging, but also about how the self changes in response to alienation and isolation and movement. Changes that can at times not be visible and emerge years later or in entirely different circumstances.
At a point, you wrote as Aditi Kay. Were these all children’s books with Hachette India? Why did you take a pseudonym and what made you drop it?
Adity Kay is how I write historical fiction; for older readers especially the three books on ancient India’s three ‘big kings’ (Chandragupta Maurya, Vikramaditya and Harshavardhana). These have been published by Hachette india and the last of the three came out only last year. When I began writing these in 2012, I was already writing more children’s fiction as Anu Kumar. My editor advised that a different name would help in not bringing up any ‘association’ with the other name, and the series could be presented as something unique by a new writer.
Recently, you have brought out an unusual collection of short stories, A Sense of Time. What spurred you to write such diverse stories — each one could be seen as a stand-alone that leaves a lingering after taste in one’s being?
These were written over the last decade. The oldest was, I think, the first one, ‘The Entomologist at the Trial’—I realised I was wackier then—and the most recent ones are the Pandemic love story, and ‘Comfort Food’ — both these set in worlds different from the ones I had known even a decade ago. I just had them and kept returning to these stories, revising them occasionally, and then early last year, Moazzam, my publisher, suggested I send him some stories, so I revised them again. And this book happened, all thanks to him.
You have a unique story set one hundred years from now. What spurred you to try a sci- fi in the middle of stories rooted in our times or the recent past. Did you research to write the sci-fi or is it fully from your imagination?
It partly rests on a historical coincidence. The influenza epidemic was just a century ago, and I read somewhere that pandemics similar to ours will never really go away. Neither will love, nor will our attempts to find it regardless of the differences that exist between us.
What kind of research goes into writing all these stories?
I hope to learn from what other writers do. But it’s always a learning process. Every writing is a way to learning how to write for the first time. I (try and) read a lot of the writers I admire Alice Munro, William Trevor, Yiyun Li, Michael Ondaatje, Yoko Ogawa, and others, and reading must go simultaneous with the writing that one attempts. Looking back, as I gathered up and revised, and at times rewrote all these stories, what I found interesting was trying to remember where I was, what I was reading, when I wrote the initial version. For years and months later, how I looked at this story was different, and I wanted to now rewrite and revise it a different way.
Few of your stories leave the conclusion undefined and the reader wondering about how the aftermath links to the narrative. It is a distinctive style and unique. But what made you do it and why?
The conventional, old-fashioned story had a beginning, middle and end. I still hope that for my reader/s, my stories will linger in some way. That they will remain with the character, the story, for a while, maybe a long while. It’s much like what happens in real life. People we encounter, some of them linger on in our memories for various reasons. I’d like my stories to be that way too.
Most of your stories are outside a world caught in the pandemic, how do you see life beyond this virus? Do you think the future will be like the past?
I wish I had a ready answer to that.
I think this long isolation has made us reconsider and rethink various things, especially how we relate to one another. Questions about who and what really matter have always been important, and maybe this time has made us think on these things that much more.
Your stories are rooted in different issues that affect man. Do you see a commonality in the thread that runs through the stories, like you did in Coming Back to the City: Mumbai stories?
I can’t say quite so easily. I am curious about how people see the world, in everyone’s unique perspective, and also in trying to see the person under the skin. In fact, this latter thing, about trying to get under a person’s skin sometimes stopped me from writing a story, because I sort of got knotted up in all the complexities within us, and sometimes not being judgemental isn’t a good thing when writing a short story, so I had to work that out too. Am still working this out.
You don multiple hats in writing — switching between young adult and adult fiction and beautiful essays on history in online forums. How do you juggle your time to do all of it?
I just write, I don’t know anything else. And the good thing is, if you shut the world out, all the craving for attention, and just focus on what really matters, one does get better at it – at writing.
You moved your publisher from India to US with this book. Is there a reason for it?
I’ve lived in the US for around 9 years now. And I still am published in India. Am truly a borderless writer, Mitali!
So, your writing spans continents and the Pacific. Isn’t that wonderful! Your stories are based mainly in India. And yet you have been away for many years. How does that add up?
I think I answered this above. It’s that these stories were written over a decade. And I guess one can never really leave one’s country of origin. The more borders one crosses, memories of homes left behind seep in, and these change in texture over time. I found this while reliving my stories. I am still finding this out.
What are your future plans?
To be a better writer, a better person. Oh, and a better cook!
Thank you Anuradha for sharing your fabulous journey with us.
This has been an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.
Click here to read an excerpt from The Sense of Time and Other Stories.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
She spoke for too long on her cell phone. That was the first thing Malati noticed about the foreign lady seated in front of her in the bus. She had brown hair fading at the corners and she spoke English. She sounded American to her ears. All this Malati noticed in degrees, having been too hassled to really look when she’d boarded the bus. There were last minute instructions she had to message her husband, even if she was leaving him and never coming back. Having sent off her last message, she sat disoriented for a while. Her eyes strayed ever so often to the glass fronted dial of her cell phone hoping it would light up. But of course, it didn’t. He really didn’t care. Even now, when he should rightfully have been worried about her, whether she’d boarded the bus all right, what with the heavy rains all along the Konkan till Goa, he was with that harlot. Malati felt certain that they were at the temple in Mahalaxmi, necking on the steps, offering prayers, all in the vain hope that the gods would not consider them shameless. The hair on Malati’s arms stood up in anger and indignation.
Images rushed through her mind, a savage anger that made her long to jump off the bus, hail a rickshaw and rush straight home. But she wouldn’t do that, not yet. Let Ashok miss her. He would know how difficult it was to run things in the house without her. Soon he’d be calling her up, begging her to return. Malati smiled at the thought, the anger disappearing into the sunny silver of her changing thoughts. How many days should she stay away, she wondered. Should she wait for him to fetch her?
She sat up straight, adjusting her sari around herself. It was then she gave herself time to take in her surroundings. Was everything as it should be? Perhaps the air conditioner was on too high. When the conductor came around, she would ask for it to be lowered. She paid 500 rupees extra for an air-conditioned seat and she was determined to get her money’s worth. She looked around at her neighbors. Some students on her left and an old lady on her right, who was perhaps being shunted off to yet another set of relatives. Would that be her fate too? Malati wondered. And just in front, though she could not see her face yet, was that American. Everyone who moved down the aisle, to their seats behind, bottles of mineral water, groundnut or chikki packets, even bananas, in hand, turned to look at her. It made Malati curious too. But she didn’t want to crane her neck or peer over her seat because that might feed the other woman’s vanity, make her think she was special. Women were the same everywhere that way, even Malati knew that. In any case from the back of her head visible over the seat Malati could tell she dyed her hair. A golden brown shade that was, as she’d already seen with some gladness, already fading.
She would wait for her to get up. Passengers usually did that, most of them in the minutes just before the bus started. It was an inevitable and uniform act, that after sitting for so long patiently, in the silence that prevailed after the driver had slammed the door to his cabin shut, before the conductor began his sedate traipse down the aisle, to click away at the tickets extended to him, people always remembered some last chore. Minutes before departure, the stench emanating from the public toilets rose unbearably high forcing people to send prayers of relief up to the heavens once they heard the engine revving up. The woman in front though didn’t get up and in the silence broken only by the steadily advancing click of the conductor’s stapler, Malati heard her voice too. It had to be American, she was sure now. The accent Malati could easily place thanks to the serials she watched.
But then the woman sounded distressed as well. She was on her phone again. Malati tried her best to follow the conversation, but it was short, and she could only make out the bye-bye at the end. Malati did not miss the last sob in her voice. Languages could be diverse, but nothing could hide expression. The American was crying to this person on the other end. Possibly her husband. These Americans were free in their feelings that way. The serials showed them kissing and hugging each other, openly, and always for too long. It really embarrassed Malati, even when she was by herself.
From the gap between the two chairs, she saw the woman move her hands over her face. She wiped her tears away. Poor thing, Malati thought. Such a long way from home, she was. Malati wondered whether she should ask to exchange seats with the woman who sat next to the American woman. But next to her sat someone who looked to be one of those students from the engineering college. They always traveled in groups over the weekend and did not deign to speak to anyone. Just because they were more educated, so fluent in English and rich. Malati sniffed.
About the book: The stories in A Sense of Time and Other Stories offer a range of themes and emotions. They speak of the challenges of being human, the unpredictability of the mundane, the strange attractiveness of the unfamiliar, and the constant quest to make connections and find love, even with an alien from another world. In ‘An Entomologist at the Trial,’ a small town lawyer’s ambition turns on his attempt to resolve a thorny case that falls amusingly flat. ‘Pandemic 2121: A Love Story’ and ‘Missing’ are stories, varied in theme, that yet speak of the loneliness of keeping love. How does one save a love when everything is conspiring against it, these stories ask. ‘All The Way to the Twelfth Floor,’ ‘The Bus and the Minister,’ ‘Big Fish, and the title story, ‘A Sense of Time,’ speak of the alienation and helplessness of the common person when confronted with a faceless, stony-eyed system. A world with rules set in time, where conventions matter more, leaves little room for those at the very bottom who have little choice but to wait endlessly for succour. ‘Rekha Crosses the Line’ on the other hand, is a more subversive account of a woman who gives in to her desire for some fleeting moments, only to wonder if it was really worth it. ‘Alterations’ casts a satirical eye on a wannabe scientist’s experiments as he craves world recognition. And finally, ‘Comfort Food’ and ‘The Man Who Played Gandhi’ speak of our quest to make sense of those long gone, those whom we have lost. Written in the span of a decade and more, these stories will hopefully stay on, linger in the mind, long after being read. These stories might make you see yourself and even others in a different way. It takes only a little empathy to allow the hidden to surface.
About the Author: Anuradha Kumar is a prolific and established writer. A Sense of Time and Other Storiesis collection of short stories after The Girl Who Ran Away in a Washing Machine and Other Stories (Kitaab 2016). She has written several novels, including three works of historical fiction as Adity Kay. Anu also writes pieces on history for Scroll.in. Her stories have received awards from the Commonwealth Foundation, and The Little Magazine India. She was born in Odisha, lived in various parts of India, Singapore, before moving to the US more than a decade ago. She now lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter.