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The Observant Immigrant

Sometimes Less is More…

By Candice Louisa Daquin

When you read sci-fi novels and they have most of the world living in small sections of the planet, in endless skyscrapers, the future can feel a little dystopian. As practical as living in close proximity is, some of us yearn to be away from the maddening crowd. As our world swells in number (7.753 billion as of 2020, projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100 according to UN statistics) is it feasible to live off the grid any more? Is it becoming more difficult not to be part of the mainstream?

During a time of illness, I watched a strange TV show Alaskan Bush People, I would not usually entertain. It was a wilderness show about a family who chose to live off-the-grid. I watched it the way we view any reality TV, with disbelief and morbid curiosity. However, with time, I began to get involved. I admired that these eccentric people — even if some of it was spoofed for the camera — could live in this way. They valued being able to live off the land. I began to wonder if we put too much onus on city-urban-dwelling to the detriment of other life-styles. If we judged those who lived more basically, assuming we were sophisticated. If the grid failed in some way, if electricity or the internet failed, or a giant EMP burst took everything out, we’d need those lost-skills, we’d value those kinds of people more. Maybe we should know that now, before it does, and not get caught up on judging people on how large their house is, or what car they drive. After all, we’re rapidly hurtling toward a future where ‘big’ is going to be problematic and finding alternatives will be prized.

When I moved from a large city to a smaller one, I felt completely cut off from what I termed the trappings of city living, such as the ballet, theatre, good book stores, interesting alternative restaurants. It took me some time to adjust and settle into a slower life with less options. Part of me never stopped missing the variety of a large city, its diverse heart. But I did appreciate the calm that came with a slower pace of life. Sometimes less is more. Moreover, when I met people from big cities, I noticed how their identities were hinged on their experiences of ‘culture’ and how judgmental they were about what counted and what did not. Even the use of words like ‘native’ or ‘naïve’ artist, seemed patronising and racist. Who said one culture or city had more value over another? When did we start respecting the business man over the farmer? When our very existence depends upon the latter? It’s a little like what happened during Covid-19. We realised the value of nurses and front-line-workers a little late in the day.

There are many reasons people crave moving from larger communities to smaller ones. The most obvious is retirement. You may live in a large city but it’s expensive and fast-paced and when you retire it is possible you need different things. You may swap the city for the beach, mountains or lakes. You may find a retirement community has more to offer at that juncture in your life, you may want to have a horse farm or live in another country with more sun. The retiring Baby Boomer generation has caused a massive uptick in house prices throughout desirable parts of America, as they take their affluence to other areas and bring their expectations with it. “Baby boomers held an average wealth of $629,683 in their 50s, equivalent to $704,158 in today’s value. Worse off is Generation X who, on average, owned $396,293 when they started reaching their 50s,” Boomers may be the last ‘affluent’ generation in America to have this mobility and generational wealth. It has changed the landscape of America in terms of house prices.

Take for example a town: New Braunfels was a sleepy little town with nothing to recommend it. Boring but by a river, with an outlet mall nearby. New Braunfels is currently growing at a rate of 5.96% annually and its population has increased by 76.03% since the most recent census, which recorded a population of 57,740 in 2010. It had nothing much to recommend it. Retirees began to move in because it was affordable, had year-round good weather, you could get a lot more for your money than if you chose the more traditional retiree communities in Florida and Arizona. This incoming wave perpetuated another; an exodus of large companies from expensive states like California, wishing to re-settle in cheaper ones. They brought jobs and housing. Before you knew it, this little town was one of the fastest growing towns in America, which is baffling given it has very little to recommend it. But like anything, exodus isn’t always based upon seeking the best, but seeking the most practical, which in some ways it was. More baffling; Texas is home to seven of the 15 fastest-growing cities, which when you compare the beauty of other states, seems non-sensical, but speaks to consumers need for less expensive, warmer states, seemingly at any cost.

However, some smaller communities exist by choice before retirement. Historically there have been reasons people have chosen to live separately. Not long ago, the majority of the world was rural and historically that historically the case. But in the last 100 years, this has drastically changed with more opting for urban living. Religious difference and cultural practice are among the most common reasons people have chosen to live apart. In the 1960s and 1970s ‘fringe’ groups and sub-culture became more familiar among the main-stream. Perhaps because in the 1950’s the idea of being a ‘teenager’ really took off and emancipated young people into being more diverse and following their own interests over their parents. This led to more sub-cultures popping up. That said, is it really such a recent phenomenon?

Alexander the Great was only eighteen when he ravaged a quarter of the planet with his conquests. Other famous historical conquests were at the hands of what we’d deem today, very young people. So younger people have always sought to strike out on their own and forge their identities. The suffragettes in the 1930s, the Zazou in France in WW2, Jazz Age of the 1920’s, the Fin de siècle amongst artists from 1880 onwards … the list is endless. Existentialists, LGBTQ, Nudists, Dadaists, counterculture in the 1960’s, there are so many explosions, one would be forgiven for thinking there is no mainstream, but in reality, these groups have always been the minority and often fleeting.

Youth and age aren’t the sole determinants for such sub-cultures to evolve. People seem divided into those who seek homogenisation and those who seek diversity. For some it may not be a choice, such as LGBTQ or those on the spectrum or isolated communities that were ‘discovered’. But for others, it’s a deliberate attempt to dislocate from the mainstream to express their individual perspectives.  Of those isolated communities and uncontacted people, it is hard to establish how many would have wished to become mainstream and how much choice they had in the matter. Some indigenous peoples are in voluntary isolation, and do not require ‘saving’ as per the modern cultural assumption. Some indigenous groups live on national grounds, such as the Brazilian Vale do Javariin and those who inhabit the North Sentinel Island in India.

I have visited Quaker, Shaker Mennonite and Amish communities as they have fascinating insights on how to live outside the mainstream. Some do without electricity, others have seemingly flexible prescriptions where their ‘young’ can leave the community once adult and spend time in the outside world before choosing whether to return or not, this is known as ‘rumspringa’. This seemed risky as many could seek the excitement of the unknown, but ironically more return to the community. It reinforces the idea that small communities have staying power, which large communities may dismiss.

There are groups of youth, doing one thing, middle-aged, doing another and a whole spectrum of interests in-between. I find this particularly interesting when you go to a fair or show, and suddenly thousands of people all interested in the same thing turn out. It makes you wonder, where have they been hiding? I have experienced this at rock concerts, medieval and renaissance fairs, comic con, tattoo exposes and vampire balls. I attended out of interest but as an outsider. Watching people who are committed to their passions, get together in fantastic outfits, is a fast insight into how many sub-groups exist. Perhaps all of us have within our main-group, sub-genre groups of interest.

Back in the day we called these cults, clans, cliques and (other) but most of those terms have become insulting to future generations, that saw the impact of labeling. After one of the first American mass murders committed at a school (Columbine), the two shooters were described as ‘Goths’ and consequently, many who dressed in Goth style, were attacked. Sadly the Goth movement had nothing to do with violence but this is what happens when we assume people different from us, must have negative attributes; “Qualitative results reveal that students themselves highlight the importance of exposure to diverse others, family upbringing, the media, and several other key factors as important considerations in how they treat other people; this suggests a multitude of ways that people create their beliefs.” The same happens in America with the church of Satan which does worship the fallen angel, Lucifer, as an alternative God-head, but does not condone or sanction many of the ‘evil’ practices associated with Satanism. It isn’t hard to understand why there would be misunderstanding with such extremes but what of less extreme smaller communities?

The Mormon church not only owns Utah but much of other states too. It is one of the richest religions based out of America and has a huge recruitment reach worldwide. When Mitt Romney, an elder in the Mormon church of America, ran for President, one of the reasons he lost was due to a fear of Mormonism. The ‘other’ aspect to their faith, set them apart from the more mainstream Christianity. However, this is shifting as more politicians of Muslim and Hindu faith are becoming key figures, the fear of ‘other’ is lessening. One could argue some fear of ‘other’ isn’t a bad thing, but it’s the extent to which we react to it, that matters. I may not approve of Mormonism, I may think it’s a phony made-up version of Christianity (The Book of Mormon talks of the history of two tribes of Israel—the fair-skinned, ‘virtuous’ Nephites and the dark-skinned, ‘conniving’ Lamanites. Much of its ‘story’ is a direct retelling of The Bible, unoriginally claiming the same events occurred in North America as in Israel. To me, it seemed like racism dressed up as scriptures). Mormonism has been said to act like a pyramid scheme, but should I be prejudiced against someone on the basis of their being Mormon alone? No. We can be cautious or disagree with a religion without being prejudiced against it. On the other hand, shouldn’t we be conscientious of trying to maintain truth, which means if something perturbs us, like the church of Satan or Mormonism, bringing that to light for others to make an informed choice? Perhaps with faith there is no room for choice, it is a matter of faith, and none of us can persuade another to change their perspective. This might be why wars are so often about faith.

Currently throughout America there are many sects and groups who thrive in relative obscurity and are untouched by the mainstream. Whilst group polarisation clearly exists, the famous stories of cults throughout the world committing mass suicide like the Branch Davidians, or fighting against authorities, isn’t as common place now, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there. Social media has made it easier to be underground and thrive but people always find ways. Whether those communities can come together, depends upon how incompatible they are. Near where I live there is a conservative Jewish community where only conservative Jews live. They chose to live separately because of a high number of hate crimes throughout America, where Jews continue to be the #1 most attacked group.

Other groups have become more comfortable co-existing. Twenty years ago, you would not have seen as much diversity as today. In my neighborhood, there are people of every culture and skin colour — Sikhs, Jews, LGBTQ, single parents, tattooed bikers, affluent conservatives, communists. It has been interesting to see how they are able to come together over a mutual interest and get along. When it’s a special event like Halloween, everyone let their children free to trick or treat. They do not avoid certain houses like they once did. There is an acceptance that we have more in common than we have differences and even if we vote differently, look differently, believe differently, we can put some of that aside for a common good.

Just recently I was asked how I could tolerate someone who was say, a Trumpster. It got me thinking that there must be a cut-off in terms of what we do tolerate. For example, if someone were a racist, a Nazi, a pedophile, I would not wish to be in touch with them or live next door to them. But both my neighbors voted for Trump, and I didn’t vote for Trump, but that isn’t enough of an ideological divide for us to not run in the same circle. Interesting they are both Hispanic and there was this idea Trumpsters were Anglo which isn’t always the case. It is those perpetuated stereotypes that cause the most harm. We can get past differences in ideology but most of us have sticking points such as extreme hate, prejudice or harm to children that would be unrecoverable differences. This is how society polices itself to some extent and legitimizes blame. If we didn’t then racism would be more acceptable, but the nuance is sometimes subtle.

The media has a powerful influence on people and can be responsible for promoting a stereotype of a particular group or enhancing scapegoating behavior. People let loose on social media and are uninhibited in their vitriol. This can create more divisions between us. It is difficult to police prejudice because it involves opinion, which may not always show itself in ways that are unlawful. But when we consider communities; communities can thrive with difference, without becoming contentious. Perhaps because our wish to be united is greater than our wish for division. Secularism is misrepresented often. Although when you drive through parts of the American South as a person of colour, you could be forgiven for thinking ‘secular people’ can be hateful, because there are towns where you will definitely not be welcome. Some groups may not outright say they don’t accept others (people of colour for example) but they will actively encourage segregation through their secularity. This may be unavoidable as much as it is racist, but how can we really change that? Would it work to demand racists accept people of colour as next door neighbours? Would it be good for the people of colour to be part of that experiment?

Another concern is a subject brought up by famed linguist, Professor Anvita Abbi, in relation to bringing distant or smaller cultures into the mainstream and their impact. Dr. Abbi received her Ph.D. from Cornell University, USA and began teaching Linguistics at Kansas State University, where she says, she “realised that a large number of Indian languages especially those spoken by the marginalized communities are under-researched.” This led to Abbi wishing to “unearth the vast knowledge base buried in the linguistic structure of Great Andamanese before it is lost to the world.” In the process, as she recorded in her book, Voices from the Lost Horizon, she realised this language was “a moribund language of the only surviving pre-Neolithic tribe, the remnants of the first migration out of Africa 70,000 years ago.” Awareness of the Great Andamanese, resulted in invariable negatives; “Outsider-contact has brought diseases, subjugation, sexual assault, and ultimately decimation of the tribal culture, tribal life, and tribal language.” But what has been learned from this outside culture, is invaluable. Sadly as Dr. Abbi says; “Jarawas maintained the isolation and now they regret the interaction with us.” Which if we consider other ‘first contact’ scenarios, seems a universal response.

‘Mainstreaming’ is a colonial model, which can suppress the indigenous dignity of people in favour of assimilation. But assimilation isn’t the same as ‘fitting in’ because often, the qualities of incoming cultures are derided by this colonial model, leaving those incoming, feeing disrespected and alienated. In America, Mexicans are considered ‘less than’ other immigrants (Asian predominantly) because they may have lower education rates. This breeds a division between immigrants that undermines those least appreciated by the host-country. With Asians set to overtake Hispanics in America, this has been at the forefront of race-relations and considerations lately, with some tensions building up as for a long time it was anticipated America would become Hispanic. When Donald Trump was President, he actively encouraged immigration from certain countries over others, because he believed those countries had more valuable people. This sounds an awful lot like the argument for eugenics and, at its core, it shares a lot with racists who believe certain groups have more potential than others.

When Abbi was asked what the ideal way for Great Andamanese integration to occur where language and cultures were not eroded but blended with the mainstream, she said in her experience,“[t]he idea of mainstreaming and merging these tribes into our civilisation is nothing but usurping their rights to their land, forest, water, and way of life. ‘Development’ may kill these tribes. These tribes have amalgamated their life with nature so well that they are aware of secrets of life.  Any kind of interference will disturb this harmony.” Perhaps we can learn from the poor, exploitative outcomes of assimilation between developed communities versus those they perceive as less developed. The fault of perceiving difference as ‘less than’ is not appreciating the dignity and abilities of those cultures. Linguistically, socially, they may have many advanced ideas over mainstream culture, but are relegated to ‘less than’ in xenophobic or colonialist thought.

Take the Native Americans of America as one example. They believed the earth was for everyone and no one group should own the earth. They are often considered one of the first cultures to be environmentalists because of their acute awareness of balance and the need to give back to the land rather than rape it. When colonialists came to America, they didn’t respect that and demanded ownership of shared lands, as well as working the land sometimes to death. Slavery and mistreatment of land have that in common, the need to conquer, own and a capitalist model of growth. Those under the yoke of such tyranny do not thrive, only the ruling minority do. In this sense, it is not far removed from fiefdoms and seems to be a penchant of humans given the opportunity. But what happens when we visit cultures where a more egalitarian approach is mainstream? Less oppression and greed in favour of sharing?

It could be argued this is why capitalist model countries like America still fear Communism and Socialism. They recognise this alternative model would undermine the oppressive aspects of Capitalism. Whilst no one ethos appears to work without serious flaws and hypocrisy, we’d probably do better to work together, blending aspects of all, than continue a ‘cold war’ about our differences. When you look at the recent antagonisms between countries, it become apparent, war solves nothing, and the wealth which could be poured into helping countries, are being squandered on military posturing and grandstanding. Until larger communities respect the dignities of smaller groups, we cannot expect this to change. On the other hand, can we afford to give up that military grandstanding if other large countries insist on becoming the conquerors we once were? How can we unite together without becoming vulnerable?

Studies have shown that integration helps overcome prejudice and racism. When people have LGBTQ children, they are more likely to become accepting of LGBTQ and racists become less racist, when people of colour move into their neighbourhoods. This suggests some of the hate is more ignorance and fear although that doesn’t justify it. But should the minority have to stomach that hate to find acceptance for their progeny? Maybe they always have. If we consider the years it has taken some minorities to become more mainstream, it has always been through personal sacrifices. Even Martin Luther King Jr’s murder galvanised more social and racial change in America. Such tragedies create martyrs, harbingers of change, but at what cost? Should it take such extremes as assassinations and mass shootings to wrought change? It seems human nature only understands things when they’re extreme. A case in point is the environment and the long duration where campaigners have warned we’re dooming future generations but business interests were put first.

How with so much division even on subjects that can be proven, such a climate change, can we hope to lay down our differences and come together? Perhaps the best we can hope for, is if enough of us try to embrace difference instead of letting our xenophobic tendencies frighten us, we will do a better job.

Immigration in America is considered a ‘problem’, but it can equally be a solution if we redefine things. Immigration is the bedrock of how America came into existence — from the Native Americans who came across the Barring Strait and made a deserted land, home, to the European conquerors who stole it but equally populated it from diverse cultures. As much as we have fought and hurt one another, we have needed each other.

Each epoch in people’s lives, shifts what matters to that particular generation, and perhaps it is the fear of being obsolete or an inability to get onboard with new ideas (or a fear that old ideas will be ignored) that causes inter-generational strife. But again, if we balance and appreciate the diverse perspective, we all have something to offer, we are stronger together than apart. If we humble ourselves and remember to learn from those cultures that may not have had as much attention given them, but held great wisdom, we may learn alternate ways of cooperating and thriving. If harmony is the goal for most of us, we need to vote and avoid dictators taking that freedom away.

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

Categories
Greetings from Borderless

For Auld Lang Syne

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

What will the New Year bring? Will it connect us all like a tree that has its roots deep in the Earth but reaches out to the sky with its branches rearing high? Its blooms seem like stars on the planet, connecting all life and non-living in its embrace. We hope as global consciousness grows for living in harmony with nature and science, love and kindness, may we all move towards a better more connected world. We, at Borderless Journal, wish you all a happy start to a wonderful New Year!

Our oeuvre this time brings to you a selection from the year 2021 that showcases the change makers we met, and writing that with their values connect us or ring with goodwill and look forward to a better future.

Meet & Greet

These are people you can meet on our pages — people who impact the world in a way that touches lives.

Goutam Ghose, who finds colouring the world with syncretic lore as the best alternative to sectarian violence. Click here to read.

Anvita Abbi, an empathetic linguist who builds bridges to create a seamless world, accepting and co-existing with different ways of life as colours of a rainbow. Click here to read.

Nazes Afroz translated a book on Afghanistan by Tagore’s disciple, Syed Mujtaba Ali, a memoir that shows the roots of the current crises go deep. Also, a senior BBC editor of South Asia, Afroz takes us through the situation with compassion. Click here to read.

Jessica Mudditt travelled to Myanmar and wrote a book, which is an eye-opener about the current situation. She was brought to focus by Keith Lyons who interviewed her for us. Click here to read.

Sanjay Kumar founded Pandies, an activist theatre group that educates, bridging gaps between the divides of University educated and the less fortunate who people slums or terror zones. Click here to read.

 Sybil Pretious, a teacher who has taught in six countries to impact children, starting her career in Africa and living through and beyond Apartheid. Click here to read.

Poetry

Robert Burns & Tagore in Harmony : A transcreation of Tagore’s song, Purano Sei Diner Kotha, based on Robert Burn’s poem associated with new year’s revelries. Click here to read.

Snowball Earth: A long poem by Rhys Hughes in the spirit of a modern man’s Auld Lang Syne, touching on our climate debacle. Click here to read.

Gathering Blossoms: Poetry by Michael R Burch that lingers in the heart. Click here to read.

Humour

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.

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

 Trouser Hermits: Rhys Hughes muses over men’s attire and the lack of them. Click here to read.

Prose

Temples and Mosques: Kazi Nazrul Islam’s fiery essay on the need for a syncretic lore translated by Sohana Manzoor. Click here to read.

To Infinity & Beyond!: Candice Louisa Daquin explores the magic of space travel. Click here to read.

Near the River Chenab and Under The trees: Sunil Sharma in a poignant telling takes us on a journey to the banks of a river where life, love and death sheathed in terrorism cumulate to a peak. Click here to read.

Richard Hughes: The Reporter Who Inspired Ian Fleming: Bhaskar Parichha showcases a journalist who wrote globally, spicing it up with humour. Click here to read.

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

Categories
Contents

Borderless, September 2021

Editorial

The Caged Birds Sing…Click here to read.

Interviews

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.

Translations

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.

Poetry

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.

Essays

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

Cyclists

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.

Stories

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.

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
Interview

In Conversation with Anvita Abbi

Unfolding a linguist’s tryst with the Great Andamanese tribe and lost languages

Anvita Abbi

Time moves fast and we move with it, partly carrying the past with us and partly shedding it. Languages evolve. Sometimes, they get left behind. People forget them and with that where they came from. Why would familiarity with our roots or a moribund language be so important? Perhaps, Professor Anvita Abbi, a Padma Shri from India who has done amazing work with the Andamanese uncovering their fast ebbing language and culture, has some answers. She is a linguist who stretches beyond universities to uncover the roots from which mankind evolved and to exhibit to us the need to be in touch with what our ancestors knew. She urges us to accept the varied colours of mankind for a more humane and tolerant outlook.

Abbi has written a number of books on her experiences in Andaman. Reading Voices from the Lost Horizon (2021, Niyogi Books), her recent publication with videos embedded in both the hardcopy and softcopy versions, has been an adventure that transports one back to a civilisation that has its roots in Neolithic times. Unique in form and content, her book not only talks of her trips to Andaman and meeting the indigenous people but also shows how the lores of this culture can teach the civilised a number of things including, basic survival skills. She has summed this up in a recent interview, “When the tsunami came on December 26, 2004, tribes of the Andaman, Jarawa, Onge and Great Andamanese saved themselves as their knowledge about the tsunami was intact in their language. They interpreted the patterns of waves and sea churning and ran to a safe place.” Shuttling between different continents and time zones, Abbi is as unconventional as is her book. She unfolds her journey towards integrating the past into the present.  

You are from a literary family. What made you opt to become a linguist? Did your environment impact you in some way? What kindled your interest in ancient and moribund languages?

Yes, my background exposed me to different writers of my time, and I started writing short stories in Hindi and earned a name for myself very early. My first book of collection of short stories Muthhi Bhar Pahachan (Hindi, A Handful of Recognition) was published on my 20th birthday.  I was pursuing my interest in literature along with my first love for Economics. However, my father, the famous poet of Hindi, Shri Bharat Bhushan Agrawal, thought that I was pursuing a wrong profession and forced me (yes, absolutely against my wishes) to join Linguistics at Delhi University at the cost of quitting Delhi School of Economics. Once I started studying Linguistics, I realised I was made for this subject and never looked back. Subsequently, after receiving Ph.D from Cornell University, USA I started teaching Linguistics at the Kansas State University, Manhattan. While there, I realised that a large number of Indian languages especially those spoken by the marginalised communities are under-researched. The question ‘how different or similar are these languages to the known languages of the country’ motivated me to take the major decision of quitting the regular job at the KSU and move to India. I joined the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1976 and was instrumental in designing and developing the course of Field Methods that took me and my students to remotest corners of India from the Himalayas to the Andaman and Nicobar. My experience in India has been very enriching as I have worked on more than 95 languages of India so far and experienced India at the grass roots. At present, I am working on two languages of the Nicobar Islands.

How long have you been researching on Andaman?

Since late 2000. I wish I was there earlier!

Tell us why you chose Andaman as your arena rather than any other?

There were several reasons that drew me towards working on this language intensively. The topography of the area, the unexplored terrain, its people, and their antiquity and above all scant availability of published material on their language coupled with the fact that my observation in 2003 after conducting a pilot survey of the languages of the Great and Little Andaman that this language seemed to be a class apart from the other two languages of the region — Onge and Jarawa. Unlike Jarawa and Onge, Great Andamanese is a moribund language and breathing its last. I was encouraged by my linguist friends at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany to study and document the language widely, to unearth the vast knowledge base buried in the linguistic structure of Great Andamanese before it is lost to the world. Not only were my results of 2003 later corroborated by geneticists in 2005, but it also gave me assurance and proof beyond doubt that this group of languages forms the sixth language family of India.  I was moved by the speedy process of erosion of scientific and cultural treasure that this ancient world had embedded into its language. I had to plunge myself into its structure come what may!

You said that this group of languages was almost pre-Neolithic in age — “a moribund language of the only surviving pre-Neolithic tribe, the remnants of the first migration out of Africa 70,000 years ago.” Does it have any similarity to the clipping Khosian languages spoken in Africa or any other African languages?

Not that I know of. We must understand that any similarity, if it existed, would have completely evaporated in so many years especially in a contactless situation. Anyway, we know very little of what human language sounded like 70,000 years ago.

Now a new language has evolved — Great Andamanese — from four languages (Jeru, Khora, Bo, and Sare). How long has Great Andamanese been in use? How did all these languages merge into one?

It is named Great Andamanese because it is spoken in the Great Andaman Island. The original name of the island in the heritage language is marakele and was habited by ten different tribes speaking ten distinct but mutually intelligible languages. I named this language Present-day Great Andamanese (PGA) so as not to empower any one of the four North Great Andadamanese languages of which it is a mixture. Present form of the language has been in use since all the four different tribes, Jeru, Khora, Sare and Bo were moved from the north and rehabited in the Strait Island, 56 nautical miles away from the capital city of Port Blair since early seventies by the government of India. However, the language is closest to Jeru in its grammatical structure.

Do people use Great Andamanese or Hindi? Which languages are commonly used by the local people and why? Is there a historic reason?

Most of them have forgotten their heritage language and speak only Andamanese Hindi. Some of them have a passive knowledge of Bangla. When I reached the island there were ten speakers of the PGA but now only three remain who can speak PGA but prefer not to. Colonisation by mainland Indians exposed the tribe to babu Hindi as well as to the lingua franca Andamanese Hindi existing in the Island. As of today, a few of them are hired by the government in Port Blair and some children go the local schools so that exposure to local Hindi is intensive. 

One of the interesting things I noticed in your book was there was a lot of use of ‘potato’ in the stories. Potato was brought into India by the Portuguese. So, how old could these stories be? Or have the colonial invasions altered their myths?

Potatoes that we eat were perhaps imported by Portuguese, but roots of yam and potatoes always grew in our land as all Adivasis have been using their indigenous varieties of potatoes called by different names. Great Andamanese also have more than five varieties of potatoes that they have been consuming since their establishment in the island. These potatoes appear and taste very different from ours. English word ‘potato’ may be considered a generic name for the tuber like products in the current work and bear no resemblance to the modern word ‘potato’.

The Andamanese sing: “O, God, Bilikhu! / We pray to you.” They have burial customs where they burn, bury, feed to the vultures, and throw into the sea. It is like an amalgamation of multiple religious customs. What is the religion the Andamanese actually follow?

This prayer that you quote seems to be a modern version created copying Hindu religious practices that the Andamanese see all around them. ‘Bilikhu’ means spider also and is considered sacred but not equivalent to our concept of ‘God’. They remember Bilikhu before going into the sea for any sea escapade like hunting for big animal such as turtle and dugong.  Andamanese do not follow any religion. They believe in their protectors jurwachom who protect them in the sea and in the jungle. They give respect to and remember their ancestors believing that the ancestor’s spirits surround them all the time. What more, the tales in the book convey an intimate relationship between people and birds as a ‘family’. One story, ‘Jiro Mithe’, depicts the origin of birds from the Andamanese people.

As far as the cremation of the dead bodies is concerned, you may have read that I have explained how one of the stories ‘The Tale of Juro the Head Hunter’ informed me that there were four different ways of cremation depending upon the way a person dies. Quoting from the book, these were:

“1. When a person dies of a natural death or in illness, s/he is buried in the earth (‘boa-phong’ meaning ‘hole in the earth’).

“2. When a person dies while hunting/killing, then s/he is put on a platform made on a tree (‘machaan’ in Hindi) and burnt.

“3. When a person dies because of choking on a fishbone, their body is taken to a particular place near Mayabandar in the northern part of the Andaman Islands and left for a month on a tree for vultures to eat. The bones are collected after a month.

“4. When children pass away, they are not buried initially; they are left untouched for a few days, then they are cremated.”

Often the villains and the demons depicted in their stories are cannibalistic. Was cannibalism an aberration for them? Was cannibalism ever accepted by them?

They are not villains or demons. They are people with supernatural powers. The practice of cannibalism existed — so it seems through these stories. However, it was always deplored as being against the survival of humanity. The story mentioned above depicts it very clearly. Nao Jr the key narrator of these stories compared Juro with Hindu goddess Kali saying that both were involved in similar activities. The story and my elicitation process involved in it explains the whole phenomenon of cannibalism that existed in the Great Andamanese community.

How did the colonials and the independence of India impact these people, their culture and language?

The history of present Great Andamanese is a tale of many tales. Outsider-contact has brought diseases, subjugation, sexual assault, and ultimately decimation of the tribal culture, tribal life, and tribal language. It is not new to witness as voice of the most powerful of the land…colonizers, makers of empires, and policy makers silence the voices of the vanquished and marginalized whether by annihilation or assimilation.

For years, Jarawas maintained the isolation and now they regret the interaction with us.

These tribes are neither poor, nor uneducated (their knowledge of environment comprising birds, fishes, medicinal plants and their uses, sea life, weather predictions, and the Earth they walk on is amazing), nor cowardly, nor violent (they safeguard their folks both women and children from outside intervention) nor fools. They have known the wonders of isolation and that is what they want to maintain. However, we have lost Great Andamanese culture, language and worldview as the process of mainstreaming them started with colonisation first by Britishers and later by Indians. With the result they are nowhere now, neither connected to their roots nor connected to the world that the government offers. Cultural amnesia and loss of their heritage language has affected their cognitive and perceptive powers adversely. The modern generation neither feels connected to the forest and sea life nor to the city life. It’s a lost civilisation bewildered of their present. In this scenario stories and songs of this book may serve as the only priceless heritage of an ancient civilisation of India.

Tell us of about some of your more unique experiences in Andaman.

There are plenty. You have to read the ‘Introduction’ of this book and log on to www.andamanese.net where I describe my experiences and many aspects of Great Andamanese culture. Great Andamanese is a culture that believes in sharing of everything that one has in life yet gives individual freedom to choose. We have misunderstood that this trait of theirs as ‘begging’ since they always demanded to share whatever we eat. Gender equality is worth admiration starting from the prenatal stage as the name of a child is assigned before birth, and both boys and girls are trained in hunting.

While it was sad to read that very few speak the language of the past now and yet a few more cultures are getting eroded, it is also a movement towards integration with the mainstream. What would be the ideal way for this integration so that the languages and cultures do not get eroded and yet they blend with the mainstream? What would be the best way of balancing languages and cultures so that we do not lose our past while embracing the present and moving to the future?

The idea of mainstreaming and merging these tribes into our civilisation is nothing but usurping their rights to their land, forest, water, and way of life. “Development” may kill these tribes. These tribes have amalgamated their life with nature so well that they are aware of secrets of life.  Any kind of interference will disturb this harmony. As I always say that Jarawa live a life of opulence where the supplies are in abundance in their forests — much more their demands. However, it is too late now in the context of the Great Andamanese. As I said earlier, they are a lost generation.

The best course to save their language and culture would be to introduce it in the primary schools in Port Blair so that the community feels motivated to retain this. Since the language has already been scripted by our team, reading and writing Great Andamanese is no problem. I have already produced the Grammar and the interactive pictorial talking Dictionary of the language that may make this task simple. One of the members of the tribe by the name of Noe who still remembers the language should be used as a resource before it is too late. Introducing these languages in the school will bring dignity and honour to our heritage language and will help the societies to overcome their inferiority complex.

(This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty)

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Click here to read the review of Voices from the Lost Horizon brought out by Niyogi Books, June 2021.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Review

Voices from the Lost Horizon

A Book review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: Voices from the Lost Horizon: Stories and Songs of the Great Andamanese

Author: Anvita Abbi

Publisher: Niyogi Books, 2021

Professor Anvita Abbi is a distinguished researcher on minority languages and perhaps the only one in the Indian subcontinent who has done first-hand field study on all the six language families from the Himalayas to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. She taught linguistics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University for 38 years, was the President of the Linguistic Society of India, and has been invited as a visiting professor and researcher at prestigious institutions in the USA, Europe, Canada, and Australia. She served long as an expert from the UNESCO on issues concerning languages.

During her studies in 2003–2004, she identified a new language family of India—the Great Andamanese, which was corroborated in 2005 by population geneticists. Her pioneering work was recognized by the Government of India and she was awarded the Padma Shri in 2013. In 2015, she received the Kenneth Hale Award, most prestigious in the field of linguistics, for her outstanding contribution to the documentation and description of Indian languages, from the Linguistic Society of America, where she was also elected as an honorary member. She has 22 books to her credit, including the Dictionary of the Great Andamanese Language. English-Great Andamanese-Hindi (2011) and A Grammar of the Great Andamanese Language: An Ethnolinguistic Study (2013).

A 2018 analysis of a census says that more than 19,500 languages or dialects are spoken in India as mother tongues whilst only 122 of them are major languages. After the 1971 census, Indian Government decided that any language spoken by less than 10,000 people in India need not be included in the official list of languages. According to UNESCO, any language that is spoken by less than 10,000 people is potentially endangered. When a language dies, it’s not only the history, beliefs, customs of people that wither but also a distinct worldview that vanishes forever; a view, that could possibly have added to a greater understanding of ways of living of a people. Disappearance of a language may come for many different reasons like migration, urbanization, threat from external sources or language domination and when that happens, unique livelihood patterns, knowledge and skills may also disappear. 

In the preface, Anvita Abbi writes that when she visited Andaman Islands in 2005, there were only eight surviving speakers of Great Andamanese, a moribund language of the only surviving pre-Neolithic tribe which had migrated out of Africa 70,000 years ago. The language was already on the brink of extinction. And none of the speakers were proficient enough to tell any tales, either in Great Andamanese or Andamanese Hindi. The fact that she still compiled 10 stories and 46 songs that make this unique collection is a testament of her will, hard work and dedication to the cause of retaining some remnants of a dying language and thereby preserving and contributing to the rich heritage of the Islands.

The Andaman Islands i.e. the Great Andaman, Little Andaman and North Sentinel Islands have been home to mainly four tribes – the Great Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa and Sentinelese whose languages are also named the same. The author tells us that the Great Andamanese is a generic term representing 10 languages, once spoken by ten tribes living in north, south and middle of Great Andaman Islands. And Present Day Great Andamanese (PGA), however, is a mixture of four northern varieties of Great Andamanese languages i.e. Jeru, Khora, Bo and Sare and the grammar of the language is based on Jeru.

While the task of collecting stories and songs in the language was difficult, Abbi was helped by two speakers of Great Andamanese. One was Boa Sr. whose ancestral language was Bo. She had not conversed with anyone in her language for 30-40 years prior to that. The other speaker, Nao Jr. was a male member of the society and the only one to remember the Great Andamanese language and names of various natural objects, birds and fishes. Of the 10 stories in the book, one is narrated by Boa Sr. while the rest are narrated by Nao Jr. and while four stories were narrated in bilingual mode i.e. Great Andamanese and Andamanese Hindi, six were narrated in Adamanese Hindi only. The original versions of the stories in Great Andamanese language with line-by-line translation in English is given in the Appendix of the book. What makes this book really unusual is that the readers can have an audio-visual experience at the end of each narrative. Each story carries with it a song towards the end in the form of a QR code which can be scanned for an audio-visual recording of the song, The songs are mostly sung by Boa Sr. from Bo tribe.

It is interesting to note that all 46 songs are only of one line or a phrase which is sung again and again. Their documentation in the book is done in all the three languages i.e. first in original (in Roman script), second in Devanagri Script (which was given to the language) and third an English translation.

The book also carries pictures of Great Andamanese birds, considered to be the ancestors of Andamaneses, along with their names. It is quite interesting to note that their names have some inherent meaning as the story Maya Jiro Mithe, a kind of creation myth, informs us of the evolution of birds and their distinct and varied names.

The folk tales and songs included in this book open the reader to the world of Great Andamanese tribes, their beliefs, ways of life, knowledge, culture and their relation with nature. The diligence with which Prof. Anvita Abbi has pursued the project of compiling stories and songs of a disappearing language is evident through her exceptional work. A reader can possibly only imagine how difficult it might have been for the author to document a language and its grammar, when she could only understand it through the eyes and words of its native speakers. She has done an outstanding job towards the revival of a vanishing language, towards preserving the voices which might have otherwise been lost to the rest of the world and with it a culture woven with their intrinsic knowledge of survival and living with nature.

Click here to read Anvita Abbi’s interview.

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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/ .

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.