Categories
Contents

Borderless, November, 2021

Autumn: Painting in Acrylic by Sybil Pretious

Editorial

Colours of the Sky…Click here to read.

Interviews

In Conversation with Akbar Barakzai, a Balochi poet in exile who rejected an award from Pakistan Academy of Letters for his principles. Click here to read.

In Conversation with Somdatta Mandal, a translator, scholar and writer who has much to say on the state of Santiniketan, Tagore, women’s writing on travel and more. Click here to read.

Translations

Rebel or ‘Bidrohi’

Nazrul’s signature poem,Bidrohi, translated by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Motorcar

Jibonananda Das‘s poetry translated from Bengali by Rakibul Hasan Khan. Click here to read.

The Beloved City

Poetry of Munir Momin, translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Rebranding

A poem in Korean, written & translated by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Perhaps the Last Kiss

A short story by Bhupeen giving a vignette of life in Nepal, translated from Nepali by Ishwor Kandel. Click here to read.

Morichika or Mirage by Tagore

Tagore’s poetry translated by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Rhys Hughes, Sutputra Radheye, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Sheshu Babu, Michael Lee Johnson, Prithvijeet Sinha, George Freek, Sujash Purna,  Ashok Manikoth, Jay Nicholls, Pramod Rastogi, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Vijayalakshmi Harish, Mike Smith, Neetu Ralhan, Michael R Burch

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

A story poem about The Clock Tower of Sir Ticktock Bongg. Click here to read.

Nature’s Musings

Penny Wilkes takes us for a stroll into the avian lives with photographs and poetry in Of Moonshine & Birds. Click here to read.

Stories

Waking Up

Christina Yin takes us on a strange journey in Sarawak, Malaysia. Click here to read.

Rains

A pensive journey mingling rain and childhood memories by Garima Mishra. Click here to read.

Khatme Yunus

Jackie Kabir brings us a strange story from Bangladesh. Click here to read.

First International Conference on Conflict Continuation

Steve Davidson explores an imaginary conference. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In Fragments of a Strange Journey, Sunil Sharma sets out with Odysseus on a tour of the modern day world. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Yesterday Once More?

Ratnottama Sengupta recalls her experiences of the Egyptian unrest while covering the 35th Cairo International Film Festival in 2012. Click here to read.

Embroidering Hunger

An account of life of dochgirs (embroiderers) in Balochistan by Tilyan Aslam. Click here to read.

To Daddy — with Love

Gita Viswanath takes us into her father’s world of art and wonder. Click here to read.

Simon Says

Ishita Shukla, a young girl, explores patriarchal mindset. Click here to read.

Welcoming in the dark half of the year

Candice Louisa Daquin takes a relook at the evolution of Halloween historically. Click here to read.

Musings of the Copywriter

In Crematoriums for the Rich, Devraj Singh Kalsi regales his readers with a dark twist of the macabre. Click here to read.

Essays

Renewal

Jayat Joshi, a student of development studies, takes a dig at unplanned urban development. Click here to read.

Once Upon A Time in Burma: Leaving on a Jet Plane

John Herlihy’s last episode in his travels through Burma. Click here to read.

A Legacy of Prejudice, Persecution and Plight

Suvrat Arora muses on the impact of a classic that has been coloured with biases. Click here to read.

The Observant Migrant

In Is Sensitivity a Strength or a Weakness?, Candice Louisa Daquin explores our value systems. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves. Click here to read.

CJ Fentiman’s award winning book, The Cat with Three Passports. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Himadri Lahiri reviews Somdatta Mandal’s ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore. Click here to read.

Suzanne Kamata reviews Iain Maloney’s Life is Elsewhere/ Burn Your Flags. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Anita Agnihotri’s Mahanadi –The Tale of a River, translated from Bengali by Nivedita Sen. Click here to read.

Meenakshi Malhotra reviews Turmeric Nation: A Passage Through India’s Tastes, authored by Shylashri Shankar. Click here to read.

Categories
Editorial

Colours of the Sky

A riot of colours starts the day
with happiness, vibrancy and hope,
dispelling the winter of discontent
with whispers of new lores…
Courtesy: Sohana Manzoor

Devi (The Goddess) is a 1960 Satyajit Ray film, based on a story by a writer called Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, that showcases nineteenth century India, where the silence of a young girl who is deified, wreaks havoc in her home, village and life. In an interview, Satyajit Ray contended that the film was to make people rethink ‘messiahdom’. The exact words he used to state this was that the film was against ‘religious dogmatism’ as the film and story literally dealt with the deification of a young bride. Tagore had similarly questioned blind deification in a number of his poems and plays. These (as Ray spelt out in his interview) did not address religion per se but malpractices, among them, the tendency to worship an idol to a point where flaws are justified, accepted and emulated. Satyajit Ray and Tagore were both Brahmos — which can be seen as a reform movement. These two were not criticising religion but talking of rising above gawky hero worship to think logically and arrive at logical conclusions. When we talk of characters from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, other mythologies or substitute the adulated with stars, writers, politicians and businessmen who run huge concerns, we tend to idolise them. But these were and are all characters with flaws, whether fictitious or real. We can well learn from their mistakes, rather than deify and worship them to justify bad behaviour by quoting instances from lives of past legends or prominent persons in the current world.

Akbar Barakzai, a poet exiled from Balochistan, talks in a similar vein in his interview. You can see it in his poetry too — some of which can be found translated by Fazal Baloch in our pages. Barakzai talks of transcending barriers we draw for ourselves in the real world, of writing with honesty and sincerity. He has shared vignettes of his life as he changed countries to continue his work. Baloch has also brought to us another excellent poet in translation, Munir Momin. A major poem by Nazrul (the ‘bidrohi kobi’), ‘Bidrohi or Rebel’ has wound its way to our pages translated by Professor Fakrul Alam. We are honoured and grateful that Prof Alam chose to share this excellent translation with us. We have more translations: Jibonananda’s ‘Motorcar’(1934) by Rakibul Hasan Khan, a Korean translation by Ihlwha Choi, another short story from Nepal and Tagore’s powerful poem,Morichika or Mirage’, which is a wake-up call for the inert affluent who hold themselves aloof from common masses. We have also interviewed a major prose translator of Tagore, Professor Somdatta Mandal. With much to share on Santiniketan, Nabanita Deb Sen and many interesting anecdotes, Mandal talks of her extensive work with her translations spanning many more writers from the past.

We have a colourful ensemble this time almost as vibrant as the autumnal colours that have invaded nature in some parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Michael R Burch has given us beautiful poems on autumn, including the autumn of life. We have a poem in a similar vein by George Freek whose work continues influenced by Liu Yong (1719-1805), an influential minister and calligrapher in the Qing Dynasty. Ryan Quinn Flanagan touches on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in his poetry. Rhys Hughes has given us humour in both his poetry and his column. Our other humorist, Devraj Singh Kalsi has given us darker, more caustic black humour in his narrative. We have lovely photographs from Penny Wilkes with her verses in Nature’s Musings. It is amazing the way she photographs birds in flight. Stories from Malaysia, Bangladesh, India and America add to the richness of our oeuvre. Sunil Sharma has given us an avant-garde telling of Odysseus’s voyage in the modern world, transcending the borders of time and ethnicity.

A well-known senior journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta, has also travelled through time to give us a recall of her experience at the 35th Cairo Film Festival one November, nine years ago. Her narrative about the time that the Shariat law was adopted by Egypt reminds me of the way things moved in Afghanistan few months ago and what is even more stunning is the way in which organisations dubbed extremists earlier are allowed to run countries now. Is it really not yet time to get rid of messiahs and look for one world?

We conclude our travels in Burma with John Herlihy and his friend, Peter, this month. And start a column with Candice Louisa Daquin, The Observant Immigrant. Her essays always draw much discussion. An experienced psychotherapist, she has looked into our value systems. We have books excerpts from Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves and CJ Fentiman’s award winning book, The Cat with Three Passports. Himadri Lahiri has done an in-depth review of Somdatta Mandal’s ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore. It is amazing how much we can learn about a person from their letters. Suzanne Kamata has shared her review of Iain Maloney’s Life is Elsewhere/ Burn Your Flags. Reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, Shylashri Shankar’s Turmeric Nation: A Passage Through India’s Tastes, sounds like an erudite read that spans thousands of years of history. Anita Agnihotri’s Mahanadi –The Tale of a River, translated from Bengali by Nivedita Sen, has been reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha. The narrative sounds like a powerful voice weaving together the lores around the river.

Do pause by and find many more authors who dot our November edition. As usual, naming each one will keep you away from our delectable reads for longer. We thank all our readers for their continued patronage, and I would like to thank my fabulous team who are now even providing visuals to brighten our pages. A huge thanks to Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious, who write as well as they paint. Thanks to all our wonderful contributors for making Borderless a reality.

Wish you all sunshine and laughter!

Best,

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

Categories
Excerpt

What it Takes to be a Redwood Tree: Arundhathi Subramaniam

Title: Women Who Wear Only Themselves: Conversations with Four Travellers on Sacred Journeys

Author: Arundhathi Subramaniam

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books, 2021
                                                                           

What It Takes to Be a Redwood Tree

Lata Mani

When Lata Mani was driving to her office at the University of California, Davis, one morning in 1993, her life turned turtle. Quite literally. A stolen Pepsi Cola truck collided headlong with her on the freeway. As her car flew up into the air and spun several times before landing, much else plunged into a dizzying spin-cycle from which it would take years to emerge. Her career, her health, her worldview, her life as she knew it. 

It had to be one of the rudest and most catastrophic spiritual initiations in the book. A rebirth that turned things upside down, inside out. The most radical lesson in de-hierarchizing the world. The ground beneath her feet vanished, the mind was stunned into silence, the body shocked out of its illusion of solidity into a state of uncongealed pain and seismic uncertainty. And with that brain injury, everything changed. It has never quite been the same again.  

And so, sceptic turned spiritual apprentice. Marxist turned meditator. Scholar turned bhakta. 

I knew the old Lata Mani somewhat. She happens to be a second cousin. She also happened to live in Mumbai in her growing years. She was a remote figure, older by some years, inspiring as an articulate feminist of her generation, glamorous in the life of self-determination that she represented. She left for California to study, proceeding to author a major work of feminist scholarship on the debate around sati in colonial India. I lost touch with her after she left my city. 

But it is the new Lata Mani that I have got to know better. I had my first real conversation with her in 2010. Our connect was immediate, spontaneous, cutting through social natter and nicety with a directness and definitiveness that surprised me. I had known the ‘outer’ Lata somewhat sketchily. I now encountered what one might call the ‘inner’ Lata: contemplative writer, unabashed Devi devotee, a woman of clarity and unselfconscious poise. It was like meeting her for the very first time.  

And yet, there were connections with the Lata of old. The lucidity and incisiveness of mind was very much in evidence. The commitment to social justice remained, even if its textures were altered. And she was still blazing her own trail—interior, perhaps, but with no loss of self-reliance or intensity.  

‘“Falling upward” into the world of spirit is usually a metaphor. But in your case, it was absurdly literal!’ I tell her. 

‘I think some of us are hard nuts to crack, so it had to happen this way!’ Lata grins. 

My conversations with Lata have been largely telephonic, punctuated by fleeting meetings when I happen to be passing through her city. But I have a vivid recollection of a long evening I spent with her in her Bengaluru flat in 2011—an oasis of luminous quiet amidst the mayhem of metropolitan India. We talked a great deal that day, late into the evening, and again the next morning. We talked of family, books, the Goddess, love, as well as the spiritual ‘crash course’ that redefined her life. She had moved back to India in 2004—a major transition, but perhaps not as disruptive as the inner shift that had already occurred. 

I remember her saying her injury had dropped her into ‘a new neighbourhood’—a quietly laconic phrase with which she summed up this descent into horrifying and unrelenting pain. In her writing, she describes it even more vividly as a state of being ‘in pre-op for cosmic surgery’. The description reminded me of some calamitous rite of shamanic initiation. The experience compelled her to inhabit the body in a way she never had before. Was this a direct insight that happened as a consequence of the trauma, I ask her. 

‘Yes, it all changed when that desperate young man driving at hundred miles per hour sought to end his life by ploughing into my car. We both survived! But while I survived the collision, my brain was no longer intact. Gradually, I began to experience states of consciousness for which I had no language. I first began to sense the connectedness of everything. I had encountered the notion of a unifying substratum before, but only as an idea. Experiencing it was an altogether different matter.’  

The injury catapulted Lata into a land for which she had no name. When I think of the ways in which some saint poets have invoked it (Ravidas’ ‘Begumpura’, the utopian land without sorrows, taxes, travails and hierarchies, for instance, or Kabir’s ‘wondrous city’, the land where ‘fruit shines without a tree’), the descriptions are lyrical. They do not suggest the ordeal, the baptism by fire that can precede it. Lata’s term for the land in which she crash-landed is, by contrast, unsentimental. She describes it simply as abiding ‘isness’. She did not discover it as a lofty philosophical idea. There was no flight into the empyrean. No ‘top of the world looking down on creation’ brand of ecstatic high. No out-of-body experience. Instead, Lata Mani discovered isness in and through her body.  

‘As you know many spiritual experiences or insights are first experienced as spontaneous gifts for which we have no prior frame of reference,’ she says. ‘Isness was gradually revealed to me in the depths of a brain injury which had made thought and communication difficult. Everything was stripped to its bare essentials. And yet there was a certain vibrancy and richness that I was experiencing alongside the very real trauma of the injury. It was not a state in which I “transcended” my circumstances, but one in which I was breathed more deeply into it.’ 

And this is the most fascinating part about Lata’s journey: the upside-downness of it at every level. Her training thus far had prepared her to look at social structures ‘ground up’, but this was about a ‘ground up’ darshan of existence itself—orchestrated by a cellular intelligence rather than a cerebral one. The intellect was no longer in charge. As the reins were handed over to a more grassroots wisdom of marrow and viscera, the mind emerged, redefined—a democratic collaborator on the life journey, rather than dictator of it.  

I imagine this as the state of gob-smacked awe in which Yudhishtira might have found himself at the top of Mount Meru: a terrifying confrontation with reversal of every kind. But then other questions begin to surface. It is wonderful to think of some reversals, but not others. The Biblical image of lions eating with lambs, for instance, gives me consolation. But what of all our divisions of the world into good guys and bad, the forces of light and darkness, or even our political allegiances to left wing or right? What about our longing for poetic justice? How ready am I for a vision of utter and absolute equality, I ask myself? 

(Excerpted from Women Who Wear Only Themselves: Conversations with Four Travellers on Sacred Journeys by Arundhathi Subramaniam. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2021.)

ABOUT THE BOOK

 Sri Annapurani Amma left the safety of home and family to follow the summons of a long-dead saint. Like Akka Mahadevi and Lal Ded before her, she chooses to live naked, and sometimes delivers prophecies, but what shines through is her humour and crazily one-pointed devotion to her path.

Soon after her tenth birthday, Balarishi Vishwashirasini was predicting futures—in no time she was transformed into a guru. Now in her thirties, this gifted teacher of nada yoga admits to sometimes feeling she’s missed out on a real childhood.

Lata Mani, a respected academician in the US, was plunged into the path of tantra after a major accident left her with a brain injury. Today, she talks of how the spiritual life is deeply anchored in the wisdom of the body—not unlike the soaring yet rooted redwood trees of her adopted home.

Maa Karpoori, a feisty young woman, found her calling when she joined a local yoga class. Through a rollercoaster ride that catapulted her from marriage to monkhood, she retains her fierce independence and contagious joy of living.

In this extraordinary book, poet and seeker Arundhathi Subramaniam gives us a glimpse into the lives of four self-contained, unapologetic female spiritual travellers. Sensitive, insightful and spare, Women Who Wear Only Themselves is a revelation and a celebration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 Arundhathi Subramaniam is the award-winning author of twelve books of poetry and prose. As poet, her most recent book is Love Without a Story. As anthologist, her books include an anthology of bhakti poetry, Eating God, and a book of essays, Pilgrim’s India. As prose writer, her work includes The Book of Buddha and the bestselling biography of a contemporary mystic, Sadhguru: More Than a Life. She has worked over the years as poetry editor, curator and critic.

Her book, When God Is a Traveller, won the Sahitya Akademi Award 2020; was the Season Choice of the Poetry Book Society, UK; and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize in 2015. Her awards include the inaugural Khushwant Singh Poetry Prize, the Raza Award for Poetry, the Il Ceppo Prize in Italy, the Zee Indian Women’s Award for Literature, the Mystic Kalinga Award, among others.

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

.

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

Categories
Author Page

Arundhathi Subramaniam

Arundhathi Subramaniam is a poet who has recently won the Sahitya Akademi Award, 2020, for her book When God is A traveller (2014). She has authored a number of books and won multiple awards and fellowships. She has been part of numerous anthologies and journals.

Interview

In Conversation with Arundhathi Subramaniam: An online interview with the 2020 Sahitya Akademi winner, Arundhathi Subramaniam. Click here to read.

Poetry

Catabolic Woman by Arundhathi Subramaniam. Click here to read.

More Poems by Arundhathi Subramian houses three poems. Click here to read. The following poems from her collection can be found here.

  • When God is a Traveller
  • Eight Poems for Shankuntala
  • The Fine Art of Ageing

Book Review

A review by Bhaskar Parichha of Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves, published by Speaking Tiger Books. Click here to read.

Book Excerpt

Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves. 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
Poetry

More Poems from Arundhathi Subramaniam

When God is a Traveller
(wondering about Kartikeya, Muruga, Subramania, my namesake)

 
Trust the god
back from his travels,

his voice wholegrain 
       (and chamomile),
his wisdom neem,  
     his peacock, sweaty-plumed,
     drowsing in the shadows. 

Trust him 
who sits wordless on park benches
listening to the cries of children
fading into the dusk,
     his gaze emptied of vagrancy,
     his heart of ownership.

Trust him
who has seen enough --
revolutions, promises, the desperate light
of shopping malls, hospital rooms, 
manifestos, theologies, the iron taste 
of blood, the great craters in the middle 
                           of love.
                 
Trust him
who no longer begrudges 
his brother his prize,
his parents their partisanship.

Trust him
whose race is run,
whose journey remains,

who stands fluid-stemmed
knowing he is the tree
that bears fruit, festive 
     with sun.

Trust him
who recognizes you –
auspicious, abundant, battle-scarred, 
                     alive --
and knows from where you come.

Trust the god
ready to circle the world all over again
this time for no reason at all
     
other than to see it 
through your eyes. 



(Excerpted from When God is a Traveller, Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2014)

Eight Poems for Shakuntala


1


So here you are,
just another mixed-up kid,
daughter of a sage
and celestial sex worker,
clueless
like the rest of us
about your address  --
     hermitage or castle
     earth or sky
     here or hereafter.

What did you expect? 

What could you be 
but halfway,
forever interim?

What else 
but goddamn 
human?

 
2


The trick, Shakuntala,  
is not to see it
as betrayal 

when the sky collapses
and closes in
as four windowless walls

with a chipped Mickey Mouse magnet
on the refrigerator door

or as eviction

when the ceiling crumbles
and you walk 
into a night of stars.

 
3


Yes, there’s the grizzled sage Kanva
his clarity
      that creeps into your bones
      like warmth on a winter evening
as you watch
the milky jade
of the river Malini flow by,
serene, annotated 
by cloud

and there’s a home 
that will live evergreen
in the folklore of tourist brochures, 
      detonating 
with butterflies.

But what of those nights
when all you want 

is a lover’s breath, 

      regular, 
      regular,

starlight through a diaphanous curtain,
and a respite 
from too much wisdom?  

 
4


Besides, who hasn’t known Dushyanta’s charms?

The smell of perspiration, 
the sour sharp beginnings 
of decay

that never leave a man 
who’s breathed the air 
of courtrooms and battlefields.

A man with winedark eyes who knows
of the velvet liquors and hushed laughter
in curtained recesses.

A man whose smile is abstraction 
and crowsfeet, whose gaze 
is just a little shopsoiled,

whose hair, mussed 
by summer winds, still crackles 
with the verbal joust of distant worlds.

Who hasn’t known
a man cinnamon-tongued,
stubbled
with desire

and just the right smear
       of history?



 
5


The same hackneyed script.
The same old cast. 

Springtime
and the endless dress rehearsal --

a woman lustrous eyed,
a deer, two friends,
the lotus, the bee,
the inevitable man,
the heart’s sudden anapest.

Nothing original
but the hope 

of something new
between parted lips.

A kiss --
jasmine lapis moonshock.

And around the corner
with the old refrain, 
this chorus,
(Sanskrit, Greek, whatever):

It’s never close enough
It’s never long enough
It’s never enough
It’s never


 
6


As for his amnesia,
be fair.

He recognized the moment
when he saw it --

    sun    springtime    woman --  

and all around
thick, warm, motiveless 
green. 

Can we blame him 
for later erasing the snapshot
forgetting his lines
losing the plot?

We who still wander along alien shorelines
hoping one day to be stilled

    by the tidal gasp
    of recollection?

We whose fingers still trail the waters,
restless as seaweed,
hoping to snag
the ring in the belly of a deep river fish --

    round    starlit    uncompromised?

 
7


What you might say to the sage:    

It only makes sense
if you’re looking for me too

wild-eyed 
but never despairing,

certain
I’ll get through eventually

through palace and marketplace,
the smoky minarets of half-dreamed cities,

     and even if you know
     how it all ends

I need to know you’re wandering the forest 
     repeating the lines you cannot forget --

my conversations with the wind and the deer,
my songs to the creeper,

     our endless arguments
     about beginnings and endings.

Let’s hear it from you, big daddy
old man, keeper of the gates.

I need to know wise men
weep like little boys.

I need to hear your words,
     hoarse,
     parched,
     echoing

through the thickening air
and curdled fog 
of this endless city --
 
‘Come back, Shakuntala.’

 

8


And what you might say of the ending:  

Yes, it’s cosy --
family album in place, 
a kid with a name
to bequeath to a country,

perhaps even a chipped magnet 
on the refrigerator door.

I’m in favour of happy endings too
but not those born of bad bargains.

Next time
let there be a hermitage
in coconut green light,
     the sage and I in conversation,

two friends at the door, weaving
     garlands of fragrant dream
          through days long and riverine

and gazing at a waterfront
stunned by sun,
     my mother, on an indefinite sabbatical  
          from the skies.  

And let me never take for granted
this green into which I was born,

this green without ache,
this green without guile,

stippled with birdcall,
bruised with sun,

this clotted green,
this unpremeditated green.

And as wild jasmine blooms in courtrooms
and lotuses in battlefields

let warriors with winedark eyes
and hair rinsed in summer wind

gambol forever with knobble-kneed fawns
in the ancient forests of memory.



(Excerpted from When God is a Traveller, Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2014) 


The Fine Art of Ageing

1. 

It’s not that Avvaiyar* doesn’t admire
the green impertinence 
of sapling bodies

or the way a middle-aged woman
can smile 
at an ex-lover, an ex-rival,   
and effortlessly attain a kind 
of goddesshood.

She’s not against play-acting either. 
She enjoys the smell of fiction,
knows it’s fun to pretend
at immortality.

She knows centuries are separated
by historians, not poets,

that now and then
are divided by
the thinnest membranes
of belief,


that there’s not much difference
really

between lush shola grasslands 
stunned by a blue fusillade
of kurinji flowers

and urban jungles 
moistly evergreen 
with people on the make.

But she knows the journey
from goddess to gran,
sylph to hag, 
prom queen to queen mum,
is longer than most,
more tortuous.

She knows also
that folklore has its stories,
newspapers too,
of old kings 
dewrinkling 
into young men

(a man called Yayati, for instance,
conqueror of free radicals, victor of fine lines,
high on a son’s sacrifice, women, fine wines,

collagen, spirulina, vitamin E,
macadamia nuts, extracts of green tea, 

triclosan, selenium, proplylene glycol,
alpha hydroxy acids, bergamot, retinol).

Avvaiyar makes
another choice.

Spare me the desperation of the old, 
she says, 
and the puerility of the young.

Spare me the glamour 
of being youthful wife to five princes --
Draupadi, the fruit everyone wants to peel.

And spare me the sainthood
of mad women mystics 
who peel off their own rind
before others can get to them
          (vaporizing  
           into the white jasmine scent 
           of hagiography).

Avvaiyar makes
another choice --

fearless friend to gods,
ally of peasants,

counselor to kings,
traveler of the darkest streets,

she walks the world alone.

And on such a path, she says, 
it’s best to be 
a crone.



*Avvaiyar: legendary poet and wise woman of Tamil literature. The name (literally ‘respectable old woman’) was probably accorded to more than one poet in the canon.

Arundhathi Subramaniam is a poet who has recently won the Sahitya Akademi Award, 2020, for her book When God is a traveller (2014). She has authored a number of books and won multiple awards and fellowships. She has been part of numerous anthologies and journals.

.

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

Categories
Contents

Borderless August 2021

Editorial

Triumph of the Human Spirit… Click here to read.

Interviews

Goutam Ghose, multiple award-winning filmmaker, writer, actor discusses his films, film-books and journey as a humanitarian artiste. Click here to read.

Dr Kirpal Singh, a well-known poet and academic from Singapore, talks of his life and times through colonial rule, as part of independent Malaya, and the current Singapore. Click here to read.

Translations

Bundu, Consoler of the Rich

A story based on memories of Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by Amna Ali. Click here to read.

Akbar Barakzai’s Songs of Freedom

Akbar Barakzai’s poetry translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

An August Account of ‘Quit India’ Movement

Ratnottama Sengupta translates from Bengali the excerpts recorded by Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), who witnessed an upsurge in the wake of the Quit India Movement, part of India’s struggle against colonial rule. Click here to read.

Froth

A short story by Dev Kumari Thapa, translated from Nepali by Mahesh Paudyal. Click here to read.

Mother’s Birthday Dinner Table

Ihlwha Choi translates his own poem set in Santiniketan from Korean to English. Click here to read.

Deliverance by Tagore

Tran’ by Tagore translated from Bengali to English by Mitali Chakravarty, art and editing by Sohana Manzoor for Borderless Journal. Click here to read.

Essays

The Idea of India: Bharata Bhagya Bidhata – The Making of a Motherland

Anasuya Bhar explores the history of the National Anthem of India, composed by Tagore in Bengali and translated only by the poet himself and by Aruna Chakravarti. Click here to read.

A Life Well-Lived

Candice Louisa Daquin discusses the concepts of a life well-lived. Click here to read.

Once Upon a Time in Burma: Land of a Thousand Pagodas

John Herlihy explores the magnificent sites of Mandalay in company of a Slovenian friend in the first episode of his quartet on his Myanmar. Click here to read.

Bhaskar’s Corner

In Tagore & Odisha, Bhaskar Parichha explores Tagore’s interactions with Odisha, his impact on their culture and the impact of their culture on him. Click here to read

Poetry

Click on the names to read the poems

Jaydeep Sarangi, Joan McNerney, Vandana Sharma Michael Lee Johnson, Priyanka Panwar, Mihaela Melnic, Ryan Quinn FlanaganKirpal Singh, Sutputra Radheye, John Linwood Grant, Julian Matthews, Malachi Edwin Vethamani, Rhys Hughes, Rachel Jayan, Jay Nicholls, Jared Carter

Nature’s Musings

Becoming Marco Polo: Poetry and photography by Penny Wilkes

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Huges

In Dinosaurs in France, Rhys Hughes explores more than tall tales; perhaps, the passage of sense of humour in our lives. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Me and Mr Lowry’s Clown

Mike Smith’s nostalgia about artist Pat Cooke (1935-2000) takes us back to England in the last century. Click here to read.

Seventy-four Years After Independence…

“Mil ke rahe gi Azadi” (We will get our Freedom) by Aysha Baqir muses on Pakistani women’s role in the independence movement and their current state. Click here to read.

The Road to Freedom

Kanchan Dhar explores personal freedom. Click here to read.

The Coupon

Niles Reddick tells us how Covid and supermarkets combined into a discount coupon for him. Click here to read.

Musings of a copywriter

 In 2147 without Borders, Devraj Singh Kalsi meanders over Partitions, borders and love stories. Click here to read.

Stories

Rituals in the Garden

Marcelo Medone discusses motherhood, aging and loss in this poignant flash fiction from Argentina. Click here to read.

The Best Word

Maliha Iqbal explores the impact of wars in a spine chilling narrative, journeying through a range of emotions. Click here to read.

Do Not Go!

Moazzam Sheikh explores dementia, giving us a glimpse of the lives of Asian immigrants in America. Click here to read.

The Protests Outside

Steve Ogah talks of trauma faced by riot victims in Nigeria. Click here to read.

Brother Felix’s Ward

Malachi Edwin Vethamani takes us to an exploration of faiths and borders. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In The Chained Man Who Wished to be Free, Sunil Sharma explores freedom and democracy versus conventions. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

Beyond The Himalayas by Goutam Ghose, based on a five-part documentary taking us on a journey along the silk route exploring parts of Pakistan and China. Click here to read.

Our Home in Myanmar – Four years in Yangon by Jessica Muddit, a first hand account of a journalist in Burma. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

A review by Meenakshi Malhotra of Somdatta Mandal’s The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs, a translation from a conglomeration of writings from all the Maestro’s caregivers. Click here to read.

A review by Keith Lyons of Jessica Muddit’s Our Home in Myanmar – Four years in Yangon. Click here to read.

A review by Rakhi Dalal of Maithreyi Karnoor’s Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends. Click here to read.

A review by Bhaskar Parichha of Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves. Click here to read.

Categories
Editorial

Triumph of the Human Spirit

On August 8th 2021, the chief of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, pointed out during the closing ceremony that these games were “unprecedented” and brought messages of “hope, solidarity and peace” into a world torn with the desolation generated by the pandemic. It was a victory of the human spirit again, a precursor of what is to come. That the Japanese could get over their pandemic wrought hurdles, just as they did post the nuclear disasters wrought by the Second World War and by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami at Fukushimaya, to host something as spectacular and inspiring as these international games reflects, as the commentators contended, a spirit of ‘harmony and humility’. The last song performed by many youngsters seemed to dwell on stars in the sky — not only were the athletes and organisers the stars but this also reminded of unexplored frontiers that beckon mankind, the space.What a wonderful thing it was to see people give their best and unite under the banner of sports to bring messages of survival and glimpses of a future we can all share as human beings! Our way of doing things might have to evolve but we will always move forward as a species to thrive and expand beyond the known frontiers.

One such explorer of yet unknown frontiers who mingles the historic with the contemporary, Goutam Ghose, an award-winning filmmaker and writer, has honoured our pages with an extensive interview showing us how art and harmony can weave lores that can help mankind survive. This is reinforced by the other interview with Singaporean academic, Dr Kirpal Singh, whose poetry reflects his convictions of a better world. With our intelligence, we can redefine processes that hold us back and grind our spirits to dust — be it the conventional ‘isms’ or norms that restrict our movement forward – just as Tagore says in the poem, we have translated this time, ‘Deliverance’.

…On this auspicious dawn,
Let us hold our heads high in the infinite sky 
Amidst the light of bounteousness and the heady breeze of freedom.

As the Kobiguru mentioned earlier in the poem, the factors that oppress could be societal, political, or economic. Could they perhaps even be the fetters put on us by the prescribed preconceived definition of manmade concepts like ‘freedom’ itself? Freedom can be interpreted differently by multiple voices.

This month, on our pages, ‘freedom’ has found multiple interpretations in myriad of ways — each voice visualising a different dream; each dream adding value to the idea of human progress. We have discussions and stories on freedom from Nigeria, Argentina, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia and more. Strangely enough, August holds multiple independence/ national days that are always for some reason seen as days of being ‘freed’ by many — at least from oppression. But is that true?

From Malaysia, Julian Matthews and Malachi Edwin Vethamani cry out against societal, religious and political bindings – quite a powerful outcry at that with a story and poems. Akbar Barakzai continues his quest with three poems around ideas of freedom translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Jaydeep Sarangi and Joan Mcnerny pick up these reverberations of freedom, each defining it in different ways through poetry.

Jared Carter takes us back to his childhood with nostalgic verses. Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Michael Lee Johnson, Vandana Sharma and many more sing to us with their lines. Rhys Hughes has of course humour in verse that makes us smile as does Jay Nicholls who continues with her story-poems on Pirate Blacktarn – fabulous pieces all of them. The sport of hummingbirds and cats among jacaranda trees is caught in words and photographs by Penny Wilkes in her Nature’s Musings. A poetic tribute to Danish Siddiqui by young Sutputra Radheye rings with admiration for the Pulitzer prize-winning photographer who met his untimely end last month on 16th while at work in Afghanistan, covering a skirmish between Taliban and Afghanistan security forces. John Linwood Grant takes up interesting issues in his poetry which brings me back to ‘freedom’ from colonial regimes, perhaps one of the most popular themes for writers.

Indo-Pak independence, celebrated now on 14th (Pakistan) and 15th August (India), reflects not only the violence of the Partition which dislocated and killed millions historically but also the trauma caused by the event. Capturing this trauma is a short story based on memories of Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by his daughter, Amna Ali. Ratnottama Sengupta translates from the diary of Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), a woman’s voice from the past that empathises with the subjugated who were subdued yet again after an upsurge of violence during the Quit India Movement (1942) against the colonials. Sinha contends that though the movement frittered away, the colonials were left with an after-taste of people hankering for self-rule. A thought-provoking short story by Sunil Sharma explores the results of self-rule in independent India.

Alluding to Jinnah’s vision for women, Aysha Baqir muses emotionally about the goals that remain yet to be fulfilled 74 years after independence. Moazzam Sheikh’s story of immigrants explores dementia, giving us a glimpse of the lives of Asian immigrants in America, immigrants who had to find a new home despite independence. Was this the freedom they dreamt of — all those who fought against various oppressive regimes or colonialism?

Tagore’s lyrics might procure a few ideas on freedom, especially in the song that India calls its National Anthem. Anasuya Bhar assays around the history that surrounds the National Anthem of India, composed by Tagore in Bengali and translated to English by the poet himself and more recently, only by Aruna Chakravarti. We also carry Dr Chakravarti’s translation of the National Anthem in the essay. Reflecting on the politics of Partition and romance is a lighter piece by Devraj Singh Kalsi which says much. ‘Dinos in France’ by Rhys Hughes and Neil Reddick’s ‘The Coupon’ have tongue-in-cheek humour from two sides of the Atlantic.

A coming-of-age story has been translated from Nepali by Mahesh Paudyal – a story by a popular author, Dev Kumari Thapa – our first Nepali prose piece.  We start a four-part travelogue by John Herlihy, a travel writer, on Myanmar, a country which has recently been much in the news with its fight for surviving with democracy taking ascendency over the pandemic and leaving the people bereft of what we take for granted.

Candice Louisa Daquin discusses a life well-lived in a thought provoking essay, in which she draws lessons from her mother as do Korean poet, Ihlwha Choi, and Argentinian writer, Marcelo Medone. Maybe, mothers and freedom draw similar emotions, of blind love and adulation. They seem to be connected in some strange way with terms like motherland and mother tongue used in common parlance.

We have two book excerpts this time: one from Beyond the Himalayas by the multi-faceted, feted and awarded filmmaker we have interviewed, Goutam Ghose, reflecting on how much effort went in to make a trip beyond boundaries drawn by what Tagore called “narrow domestic walls”. We carry a second book excerpt this time, from Jessica Muddit’s Our Home in Myanmar – Four years in Yangon. Keith Lyons has reviewed this book too. If you are interested in freedom and democracy, this sounds like a must read.

Maithreyi Karnoor’s Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends, is a fiction that seems to redefine norms by what Rakhi Dalal suggests in her review. Bhaskar Parichha has picked a book that many of us have been curious about, Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves. Parichha is of the opinion,Elevated or chastised, exonerated or condemned, the perturbation unworldly women in India face is that they have never been treated as equal to men as spiritual leaders. This lack of equality finds its roots not only in sociological and cultural systems, but more particularly at the levels of consciousness upon which spirituality and attitudes are finally based.”One wonders if this is conclusive for all ‘unworldly women’ in India only or is it a worldwide phenomenon or is it true only for those who are tied to a particular ethos within the geographical concept of India? The book reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra,  Somdatta Mandal’s The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs, dwells on the fierce independence of the early twentieth century women caregivers of the maestro from Bengal. These women did not look for approval or acceptance but made their own rules as did Jnadanandini, Tagore’s sister-in-law. Bhaskar Parichha has also added to our Tagore lore with his essay on Tagore in Odisha.

As usual, we have given you a peek into some of our content. There is more, which we leave for our wonderful readers to uncover. We thank all the readers, our fantastic contributors and the outstanding Borderless team that helps the journal thrive drawing in the best of writers.

I wish you all a happy August as many of the countries try to move towards a new normal.

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal, August 2021

Categories
Review

Women Who Wear Only Themselves by Arundhathi Subramaniam

Book Review by Bhaskar Parichha   

 Title: Women Who Wear Only Themselves

Author: Arundhathi Subramaniam

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books, 2021
                                                                              

This is an unusual book–unusual because of the theme, approach and style. And when it comes from a skilled author, it ought to be still more engrossing. A tiny book of about two hundred pages but not so diminutive in its journey to profile four women — who are known little outside their small world of followers and who matter in the arena of spirituality. It is a melodious presentation.

Women Who Wear Only Themselves–Conversations with Four Travelers on Sacred Journeys’ by Arundhathi Subramaniam is prophetic, in-depth and counter-revolutionary.

Author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, Arundhathi is an award-winning author. Her most recent book is Love Without a Story. The Other books include an anthology of bhakti poetry, Eating God, and a book of essays, Pilgrim’s India. The Book of Buddha and the bestselling biography of a modern-day mystic, Sadguru: More Than a Life are also the talked about ones. Arundhati is widely known as a poetry editor, curator and critic. Her book, When God Is a Traveller, won the Sahitya Akademi Award 2020 besides being shortlisted for various other prizes.

Arundhathi’s book provides glimpses of four spiritual practitioners – Sri Annapurani Amma, Balarishi Vishwashirasini, Lata Mani, and Maa Karpoori — who unlike the chatty sadhus prominent on the social media, practice in isolation. Arundhati talks at length to these women of substance and in doing so, she gives some promise for the jaded souls. Besides, she looks for a gender-balancing act and tries to widen the circle of women spiritual leaders.

In a world where women have been seen traditionally as someone’s wife, mother, daughter, or sister, why would a woman choose to follow a spiritual path? Perhaps because, deep inside every woman has a longing to be someone in her own self, confident and in control.

In the last two thousand years, women have not fully used their spiritual power. Instead, aspects of the feminine have taken mainly symbolic forms from the Virgin Mary to the vestal virgins, from Earth Goddesses to the Shakti Devis. Women have been put on pedestals and worshiped on account of their purity or femininity; but have been excluded from religious activities and barred from entering places of worship.

In the present book, she talked to Annapurani Amma who left the safety of home and family to follow the summons of a long-dead saint (she lives naked but delivers prophecies.) Balarishi Vishwashirasini who was predicting futures ultimately transformed into a guru. Now in her thirties, she is a gifted teacher of nada yoga. Lata Mani, a respected academician in the US, was plunged into the path of tantra after a major accident left her with a brain injury. The fourth woman is Maa Karpoori, who had a rollercoaster ride that catapulted her from marriage to monkhood.

Writes Arundhathi in the Preface: “The primary motivation behind this book is simple. Thirst. Hopefully, a shared one. As a seeker, I have spent years thirsting for conversations. With spiritual teachers, with fellow travellers committed to the life of the spirit. I cannot complain. My life has been rich in conversations.

“I have had conversations with seekers of various persuasions. I have spent long hours listening to the yogi and mystic who later became my guru. I have eavesdropped on countless conversations with mystics in books — Shirdi Sai Baba, J. Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharishi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Osho. I’ve even imagined the lapping waters of the Hooghly quieting to listen to the extraordinary exchanges between Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his disciples. But another kind of thirst remained.”

So, what made her plan this book? “There was no crusading zeal that motivated this book. There was no schematic design. No spirit of advocacy. But there was a longing to listen to the voices of lesser-known women—women who choose to live in relative seclusion and shadow, and yet burn brightly. Women whom I met, accidentally, in the course of my own journey, and who generously allowed me a glimpse of their light. Something shifted within me after each of these chance encounters. I did not leave any of them unmoved.”

Arundhati doesn’t skip history: “The Indian spiritual landscape is not devoid of its women. We are routinely reminded of an illustrious litany: Maitreyi, Gargi, Andal, Karaikal Ammaiyar, Akka Mahadevi, Janabai, Muktabai, Bahinabai, Lal Ded, Rupa Bhavani, Gangasati, Meerabai. The list is long and varied. There are well-known figures in more recent times too, from the 20th-century mystics, Anandamayi Ma and The Mother of Pondicherry, to contemporary guru, Mata Amritanandamayi. Remarkable women. Beacons for many even today.”

 Says Arundhathi admittedly: “These women made no effort to impress. They were gracious enough to share their life journeys, without trying to flaunt their attainments, win recruits, or garner publicity. I am a seasoned listener, and instantly alert to subtle attempts to broker deals. There were no bargains being hatched here. I write about these conversations primarily because they were so remarkably free of agenda.

“My initial encounters with the women in this book were unplanned. I happened to have spent large swathes of time in southern India in the past decade, and so, not surprisingly, that is where these meetings happened. They are not meant to represent the religious plurality of the Indian subcontinent, although I do believe that they reveal the still-vanquished hospitality of vision that characterizes its spiritual ethos.”

While she is on the subject, her incredulity and concerns goes farther than the original remit: “The terror of uncertainty is more blazingly evident in our world than it ever has been. To carve a path between the certitudes of a frozen faith and the dogmas of arid materialism can be challenging. I marvelled at how these women held their own in a world so conceptually fragmented. A world that divides the material and the spiritual into such impermeable categories. How did these women tune into their own inner guidance? How did they come to terms with that simple but oddly elusive truth: that we are both flesh and spirit? That we do not have to masquerade as simply one or the other?”

Elevated or chastised, exonerated or condemned, the perturbation unworldly women in India face is that they have never been treated as equal to men as spiritual leaders. This lack of equality finds its roots not only in sociological and cultural systems, but more particularly at the levels of consciousness upon which spirituality and attitudes are finally based.

Interspersed with her own poems to uphold the content, the four conversations in the book are as fascinating as pathbreaking. Appropriate for an awakened reading!

.

Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

.

Click here to read Arundhathi Subramaniam’s interview and poetry.

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