Categories
Essay

A Mother, a Daughter & a Demon Slayer?

By Meenakshi Malhotra

Durga Puja is an annual festival that marks a time of joyous celebration among the Bengali community worldwide. The UNESCO declared this festival as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’. A festival that has become the most looked forward to cultural event in the year, among the communities celebrating them, it is the biggest event in the festive calendar of Bengalis. Durga Puja in certain ways has transcended its religious context to assume mammoth proportions as can be seen in the UNESCO citation: “Durga Puja is seen as the best instance of the public performance of religion and art, and as a thriving ground for collaborative artists and designers. The festival is characterized by large-scale installations and pavilions in urban areas, as well as by traditional Bengali drumming and veneration of the Goddess. During the event, the divides of class, religion and ethnicities collapse as crowds of spectators walk around to admire the installations.” 

The idol of Durga, drowned at the end of the festival, is made by local craftsmen and is at the fulcrum of all the festivities as people come to worship her and celebrate her homecoming.The goddess is said to have descended from her husband’s home to visit her parents. According to art historians, the UNESCO tag will give a boost to the crafts around the festival — from the idol-making at Kumartuli to the designing and making of elaborate sets to house the idol. What is worth noting, moreover, is that no effort is spared when it comes to embellishing or decorating the goddess, in spite of its transient and impermanent nature. For, on the last day of the festival, the idol is immersed in the river, signifying the evanescence and temporality that marks human life and all its endeavours.         

Her descent on earth with her four children (Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity; Saraswati, goddess of learning; Ganesh, god of wisdom, and Kartik, god of war) for the five days of the festival, is also perceived as the advent of a daughter to the house of the mother, a moment which overflows with affection and emotions. The event happens at a certain time in the Hindu calendar and participates in linear time, as well as part of a larger ongoing  cycle of temporality. In the Hindu pantheon, Durga or Parvati is a prominent mother goddess, the consort of Shiva. Her names refer to split roles of the feminine imaginary. As Durga she is the fiery slayer of demons, as Kali she has to be appeased through blood and slaughter. Interestingly, in the cultural imaginary and imagery of the Durga Puja, she is also mother as well as the daughter, whose visit to the paternal home is brief and fleeting and therefore, provides the occasion for a joyous celebration.

Significantly, the Shaktik or the empowered feminine goddess, Durga, signifies the triumph of good over evil. The divine is represented both in terms of mythic abstractions and the material every day, as power and poetry, as divine and human, as mother and daughter. Thus she is the resplendent and refulgent goddess but also the all-powerful who eliminates all suffering and is thus referred to as “durgati-nashini”(destroyer of troubles). The goddess is shown as ten-armed, mounted on a lion, the king of the animals, ready to go into battle against the demonic strength of the demon king, Mahisasura. She is fully geared to destroy the demon king as her ten hands hold weapons.

The weapons tell a tale, which is intricately linked to the narrative and symbolism of Durga. They were given to her by male Gods who had failed to defeat Mahisasur to empower her to kill the evil demon. The trident was said to be given by her spouse, Shiva, and its three sharp points symbolised the three qualities (called ‘gunas’) of ‘sattva’(signifying wisdom and purity), ‘rajas’(signifying activity and material gain  ) and ‘tamas’(signifying darkness and destruction). The snake, a part of the iconography of Shiva who is depicted with a snake wound around his neck, was also gifted by him. The conch signifying the primordial sound called “aum”, the seed word for all creation, was gifted by Varuna, the god of water bodies. The sword was given by Yama, the god of death and Justice. The lotus, which represents the emergence of spiritual consciousness even under trying circumstances, was gifted by the creator of the universe, Brahma. The discus-also known as the “Sudarshan chakra” was given by the preserver of the universe, Vishnu, and spins on Durga’s index figure to symbolise how the energy provided by the goddess sets the universe in motion. The chakra represents the cosmic cycle of life and death in continuum, emphasising that though time destroys everything, inner awakening can help transcend the transience of time.

The thunderbolt or ‘vajra’ given by the king of gods, Indra, symbolises firmness of character, determination, and supreme power. The divinity empowers her devotee with unshaken confidence and implacable will. The bow and infinite arrows, gifted by Vayu, the air god, is a weapon whose combination of potential and kinetic powers symbolises energy.  The spear is a  gift from Agni or the fire god; it represents pure, fiery power. It also represents the power to judge and act with fairness and wisdom, differentiating the right from the wrong. The club or axe, gifted by Vishwakarma (a deity mentioned in the Rig veda and considered the architect or the engineer of the universe)  represents the power to defeat evil and embodies fearlessness while fighting against the wicked. Solar radiance is gifted to her by Surya, the sun god, to banish darkness and evil around her.

Finally, the goddess  is depicted  as mounted on a lion, the king of all animals and the most powerful.  Her mount signifies the need to keep strength and power within one’s control and use it only when required. The weapons of Durga are depictive of qualities we need to possess to empower ourselves to achieve our dreams.

Her fight with  Mahisasur was not just to eradicate evil from the universe at a particular  conjuncture, but also to set an example for generations to come. Yet the iconography and the narrative symbolism of the Goddess begs a question: Does she become more than a site or ground where masculine power is on display? Does her iconography also  highlight the gap between the sexes and the fact that the source of her power lies in the weapons she is given by the male gods and is, therefore, ultimately controlled by them?  Or can it be seen as a joint effort of the male and the female to find a world free of hatred, violence and evil?

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Dr Meenakshi Malhotra is Associate Professor of English Literature at Hansraj College, University of Delhi, and has been involved in teaching and curriculum development in several universities. She has edited two books on Women and Lifewriting, Representing the Self and Claiming the I, in addition  to numerous published articles on gender, literature and feminist theory.       

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Categories
Contents

Borderless May 2022

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

Catch a Falling StarClick here to read

Interviews

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri: In Search of Serendipity: Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, an iconic editor and film writer from India, converses on his own journey and traditional publishing. Click here to read.

A Wonderer Who Wanders Between Waves and Graveyards and Digs Up Ancient Tales: In Conversation with Amit Ranjan, a writer-academic, who is trying to redefine academic writing, starting with his book, John Lang the Wanderer of Hindoostan, Slanderer in Hindoostan, Lawyer for the Ranee. Click here to read.

Translations

Jibananda Das’s All Afternoon Long, translated from Bengali by Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

The Colour of Time, Korean poetry composed and translated by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

The Ordeal of Fame, a humorous skit by Rabindranath, translated by Somdatta Mandal. Click here to read.

Fazal Baloch translates a retold folktale from Balochi, The Precious Pearl. Click here to read.

Tagores’ Lukochuri has been translated from Bengali as Hide and Seek by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Pandies’ Corner

These narratives are written by youngsters from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. The Story of Rajesh has been written by Yogesh Uniyal in a mix of English and Hindi, and translated fully to Hindi by Nirbhay Bhogal. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Michael R Burch, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, Ron Pickett, Abin Chakraborty, Tohm Bakelas, Mini Babu, Sudakshina Kashyap, George Freek, Shailja Sharma, Allison Grayhurst, Amritendu Ghosal, Marianne Tefft, S Srinivas, Rhys Hughes

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

Rhys Hughes shares why he put together an anthology of humorous poetry with seventeen writers, Wuxing Lyrical. Is his logic funny or sane? Click here to find out.

Stories

Intersleep

Nileena Sunil gives us a flash fiction. Click here to read.

Ants

Paul Mirabile tells a strange tale set in Madrid. Click here to read.

Mausoleum

Hridi gives us a poignant story on the banks of the river Seine. Click here to read.

The Persistence of Memory

Vedant Srinivas reflects on a childhood lost and a career found. Click here to read.

Viral Wisdom

Rhys Hughes finds humour within pandemic sagas. Is it dark or light? Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Sea Days, Sea Flowers

Mike Smith uncovers the wonders of British writer, H.E Bates. Click here to read.

Ruleman Ngwenya and Johannesburg

G Venkatesh shares the experience of his first trip out of India long, long ago. Click here to read.

“You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live”

Shubha Apte muses on a book that taught her life lessons. Click here to read.

Mission Earth

In Falling Down and Getting Up, Kenny Peavy explores how to raise resilient children. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In An Encounter with the Monet on Naoshima, Suzanne Kamata writes of snacking on Claude Monet’s hundred year old recipes while savouring his art and that of the famed artist who makes bold art with polka-dots, Yayoi Kusama. Click here to read.

A Special Tribute

In Jean Claude Carriere: A Writer for all Directors, Ratnottama Sengupta pays homage to Jean Claude Carriere (1931-2021), the legendary screenwriter of Peter Brook’s Mahabharata. Click here to read.

Essays

Hesse’s Siddhartha: Towards a Shadowless Present

Dan Meloche revisits a hundred-year-old classic by Herman Hesse that is based on Buddhist lore. Click here to read.

Himalayan Stories: Evenings with Nuru at Pheriche

P Ravi Shankar takes us to a trekkers’ life in the Himalayas. Click here to read.

Living up to my Seafaring Name in Tasmania

Meredith Stephens explores Tasmania on a boat and with hikes with a gripping narrative and her camera.Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In A Post Pandemic Future …?, Candice Louisa Daquin takes a look at our future. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from Upamanyu Chatterjee’s Villainy. Click here to read.

An excerpt from Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die, translated from Arabic by Isis Nusair, edited by Levi Thompson. The author was born in a refugee camp. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Rakhi Dalal revisits Tagore’s The Post Office, translated from Bengali in 1912 by Devabrata Mukherjee. Click here to read.

Indrashish Banerjee reviews Upamanyu Chatterjee’s Villainy. Click here to read.

Basudhara Roy reviews Sunil Sharma’s Burn The Library & Other Fiction. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Radhika Gupta’s Limitless: The Power of Unlocking Your True Potential. Click here to read.

Categories
Contents

Borderless February 2022

Winter in Africa. Painting by Sybil Pretious.

Editorial

What’s Love Got to Do with it’ … Click here to read.

Interviews

Sriniketan: Tagore’s “Life Work”: In Conversation with Professor Uma Das Gupta, Tagore scholar, author of A History of Sriniketan, where can be glimpsed what Tagore considered his ‘life’s work’ as an NGO smoothening divides between villagers and the educated. Click here to read.

Akbar: The Man who was King: In conversation with eminent journalist and author, Shazi Zaman, author of Akbar, A Novel of History. Click here to read.

Translations

One Day in the Fog, written by Jibananda Das and translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Mahnu, a poem by Atta Shad, translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

A Superpower in the Pandemic, written and translated from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Eyes of the Python, a short story by S.Ramakrishnan, translated from Tamil by Dr.B.Chandramouli. Click here to read.

Raatri Eshe Jethay Meshe by Tagore has been translated from Bengali as Where the Night comes to Mingle by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Pandies’ Corner

These stories are written by youngsters from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. The column starts with a story, Stranger than Fiction from Sharad Kumar in Hindustani, translated to English by Grace M Sukanya. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Rhys Hughes, A Jessie Michael, Jay Nicholls, Moonmoon Chowdhury, Mike Smith, David Francis, Ananya Sarkar, Matthew James Friday, Ashok Suri, John Grey, Saptarshi Bhattacharya, Candice Louisa Daquin, Emalisa Rose, Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Nature’s Musings

Penny Wilkes explores dewdrops and sunrise in A Dewdrop World. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

Rhys Hughes explores the paranormal with his usual wit in Three Ghosts in a Boat. Promise not to laugh or smile as you shiver… Click here to read.

Musings/ Slices from Life

Requiem for the Melody Queen

Ratnottama Sengupta sings her own paean in which a chorus of voices across the world join her to pay a tribute to a legend called Lata Mangeshkar. Click here to read.

Forsaking Distant Hemispheres for the Immediate Locale

Meredith Stephens introduces us to the varied fauna found in South Australia with vivid photographs clicked by her. Click here to read.

Breaking the fast

P Ravi Shankar takes us through a breakfast feast around the world. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Life without a Pet, Devraj Singh Kalsi gives a humorous take on why he does not keep a pet. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Bridging Cultures through Music, author Suzanne Kamata introduces us to Masaki Nakagawa, a YouTuber who loves Lativia and has made it big, playing for the President of Lativia at the Japanese coronation. Click here to read.

Essays

Farewell Keri Hulme

A tribute by Keith Lyons to the first New Zealand Booker Prize winner, Keri Hulme, recalling his non-literary encounters with the sequestered author. Click here to read.

Satyajit Ray’s Cinematic Universe: Can Isolation Lead to a New World?

Rebanta Gupta explores two films of Satyajit Ray, Kanchenjunga & Charulata to see what a sense of isolation can do for humans? Click here to read.

‘What remains is darkness and facing me – Banalata Sen!’

Rakibul Hasan Khan explores death and darkness in Fakrul Alam’s translation of Jibanananda Das’s poetry. Click here to read.

Dhaka Book Fair: A Mansion and a Movement

Ratnottama Sengupta writes of a time a palace called Bardhaman House became the centre of a unique tryst against cultural hegemony. The Language Movement of 1952 that started in Dhaka led to the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. In 1999, UNESCO recognised February 21 as the Mother Language Day. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

 In To Be or Not to Be, Candice Louisa Daquin takes a close look at death and suicide. Click here to read.

Stories

Navigational Error

Luke P.G. Draper explores the impact of pollution with a short compelling narrative. Click here to read.

The Art of Sleeping

Atreyo Chowdhury spins an absurd tale or could it be true? Click here to read.

Dear Dr Chilli…

Maliha Iqbal writes of life as a young girl in a competitive world. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In MissingSunil Sharma gives us a long literary yarn. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

Two Banalata Sen poems excerpted from Jibanananda Das: Selected Poems with an Introduction, Chronology and Glossary, translated from Bengali by Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

An excerpt from Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan. Translated from the Bengali by Radha Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Indrashish Banerjee reviews The Best of Travel Writing of Dom Moraes: Under Something of a Cloud. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews Masala and Murder by Patrick Lyons. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Kavery Nambisan’s A Luxury called Health. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Growing up Jewish in India: Synagogues, Customs, and Communities from the Bene Israel to the Art of Siona Benjamin, edited by Ori Z. Soltes. Click here to read.

Special Issues

Cry, Our Beloved… Click here to read (For Peace)

Born to be Wild …Click here to read (World Wild Life Day)

Categories
Essay

The Birth of Bangladesh & the University of Dhaka

Professor Fakrul Alam takes us through the Partitions of Bengal which ultimately led to the creation of Bangladesh, with focus on the role of Dhaka University.

In Dhaka University: the Convocation Speeches, a volume compiled with an introduction by Serajul Islam Choudhury in 1988, we read that the university was established by the British as a “splendid imperial compensation” for the Muslims of East Bengal (Choudhury, 26). They had wanted the current rulers of India to make up through it for the loss, they felt, they had suffered because of the reunion of Bengal in 1911. Delivering his inaugural speech as the Chancellor of Dhaka University (DU) in 1923, Lord Lytton had not only made this point but had also expressed the hope that it would soon become “the chief center of Muhammadan learning” in India and would “devote special attention to higher Islamic studies” (26). However, Lytton had ended his speech by urging graduands to conceive of the institution “as an Alma Mater in whose service the Muhammadan and the Hindu can find a common bond of unity” (Choudhury, 29). The subsequent history of the university reveals that while some of its future students would viewed it as a site for cultivating Islamic values and consolidating the Islamic heritage of the part of Bengal in which it was located, others would claimed it as a space where a democratic and secular notion of being Bengalis could be disseminated.

DU started playing a decisive role in Bangladeshi national identity formation almost as soon as the Islamic state of Pakistan was born. It became the center of the movement that would lead to the creation of the country born out of the ashes of East Pakistan in 1971. The key issue here was language and the catalyst was the insistence by the central government of Pakistan that Urdu should be the lingua franca of the country, regardless of the fact that only three percent of Pakistanis actually used it in their everyday lives. For two successive days on 5 and 6 December 1947, teachers and students of the university demonstrated on campus and the streets of Dhaka against the government decision and in favour of Bengali.

The Pakistani government, however, paid no heed to the protests and went ahead with its decision to impose Urdu as the sole official language of the country. In response to this ruling DU students mobilised on 26 February, 1948 to form an “All Party Language Committee of Action.” Not daunted, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Governor General of Pakistan, and identified as the “Father of the Country” by the official media, reiterated publicly while on a visit to Dhaka on the 21st of March that “the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language” (Islam, 224). When he made the same point in addressing the DU Special Convocation on the 22nd of March, Bengali students present at the convocation protested. On March 11, 1950 the Dhaka University Language Action Committee was formed. In essence, the movement that was being spearheaded by university students and that soon spread across East Pakistan, ultimately led to the break-up of Pakistan, a state built entirely on Islamist nationalism.

A direct outcome of the language movement was that the government that had been held responsible for bruising the Bengali consciousness was voted out of power in East Pakistan in 1954. Instead, a short-lived but popular coalition government that was viewed to be pro-Bengali took over up the administration of the province. Students had played a major part in the election and the tradition of student activism in the cause of Bangladeshi nationalism became very noteworthy in national politics from this point onwards.        

In retrospect, we can see the Pakistani period was one which had witnessed a continuous tussle between successive Pakistani regimes wielding state power to curb Bengali rights and impose an Islamist state at the expense of Bengali language and culture and Bengali nationalism. DU teachers and students played a crucial part in the confrontation. It was mostly because of them that the Pakistani state apparatus failed to suppress Bengalis and prevent them from expressing themselves. The campus was at the heart of activity that promoted an awareness of secularism and brandished democracy as a goal to be achieved in national life.

It was to be expected, then, that when the Pakistani state made one last desperate attempt to suppress Bengalis clamouring for full autonomy and democracy on March 26, 1971 they would do so by targeting DU and attempting to mow down Dhaka university faculty members and students ruthlessly. When the Pakistani government decided to postpone the National Assembly meet, where the Awami League had got an absolute majority and where they were in a position to claim self-rule for East Pakistan and dominate Pakistani politics for the first time in that nation’s history, the campus broke out once again in loud protest. On the 7th of March, when the Awami League’s chief, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, gave his historic speech claiming full autonomy and threatening to launch an armed movement that would drive away the Pakistanis from East Pakistan forever, DU student leaders were at his side as he spoke in Ramna Park, which borders the university.

What happened on 26 March was nothing less than a calculated bid to blast DU to smithereens, murder student leaders and selected faculty members, and drive out all students from the campus for playing leading roles in the movement against the Pakistani state. The Pakistani Army was nothing short of murderous in attempting to neutralize dissent. Inevitably, DU bore the brunt of their initial fury. Anybody found in the university that night was mowed down and dorms, faculty residences and the DU Teacher’s Club were shot at indiscriminately. The Shaheed Minar was razed to the ground and Bangla Academy was subject to artillery fire. Even university non-teaching staff and cafeteria officials were not spared. Madhu’s canteen – the favorite haunt of student politicians throughout the sixties – was attacked and Madhu – the benign owner of the cafeteria – was murdered. The huge bot tree (banyan) which provided shade under which student leaders delivered speeches and from which they had given the declaration of independence on one of the turbulent March days – was blasted out of existence.

It was clear that the Army had decided that DU was the ultimate symbol of the unacceptable form Bangladeshi national identity formation was assuming. As Professor Serajul Islam Chowdhury observes in “Ekattor O Dhaka Visva-Bidyalaya (1971 & DU),” the university ambience encouraged people to not merely dream about freedom and equality but to create an environment where the dream seemed to come close to reality. Also, the University had been consistently a site of resistance in its efforts to impose a theocratic or monolingual state on Bengalis, as on-campus happenings from the time of Jinnah’s 1948 declaration about making Urdu the only state language and the protest movements of the fifties and sixties that culminated in the month-long protests of March 1971 demonstrated. The six-point program proposed by the Awami League for financial and political autonomy had been drafted by DU professors.

In the nine-month liberation war that followed the Pakistani army crackdown on DU and the rest of Bangladesh, the university once again became a microcosm of the country in that almost all of its entire faculty and students fled it. Academic activities came to a standstill and it became a campus bereft of students who had deserted it along with most of their teachers since they were unwilling to kowtow to the Pakistani design to create a quiescent institution run by quislings and were not inclined to impart or acquire education in line with proto-Islamist and/or totalitarian concepts of nationalism. Many students died in the course of the next nine months fighting for liberation or suspected of doing so. When the birth of Bangladesh seemed imminent at the end of the year, the Pakistani Amy and its local collaborators carried out a systematic search of faculty members on, and outside, the campus to murder the ones still around, holding them largely responsible for the breakup of the country they had not been able to prevent from cracking up.

When independence finally came to Bangladesh on December 16, it was fitting that the Pakistani Army would surrender in the open space adjacent to the university known as Ramna Park. The many teachers and students who had been murdered since March 26 as well as the resistance put up by them were later commemorated with structures erected all over the campus, the most prominent of them being the “Aporajeyo Bangla” or “Invincible Bengal” sculpture in front of Kala Bhabhan or the Arts faculty building, the martyrs plaque put up opposite the central mall, and the sculpted figures of the freedom fighters erected in front of the Teachers-Students Centre. December 14 became from then on the day when the DU Liberation War martyrs were to be ceremonially remembered and December 16 the day when DU faculty and staff joined the rest of the country in celebrating Victory Day.

Aporajeyo Bangla” or “Invincible Bengal” sculpture. Courtesy: Creative Commons

(First published in Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibonananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

Categories
Tribute

In Memory of Peace

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori*.
-- Dulce et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

*Translated: "It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland."

On 11th November, we remember the men who gave up their lives to win wars for those in power. Remembrance Day started as an annual event after the First World War (28th July, 1914- 11the November, 1918) more than a hundred years ago, in memory of soldiers — some of who were lost in the battle grounds, whose remains never got back to their families. Some of these men who fought were from countries that were subservient to colonial powers who started the war and some, like the soldier-poet, Wilfred Owen, were from conquering nations.

This was much before atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eventually, a nuclear armistice was declared. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), an internationally acknowledged apostle of peace, had an opinion on this: “‘The very frightfulness of the atom bomb will not force non-violence on the world? If all nations are armed with the atom bomb, they will refrain from using it as it will mean absolute destruction for all concerned?’ I am of the opinion that it will not.” Has this nuclear armistice made the world more peaceful? And if so, what is the quality of peace that has been wrought by drumming fears of annihilation in human hearts? Could the ‘fakir…striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace’ be right after all?

Here we have collected a few stories and poems around ongoing conflicts and wars which stretch to the present day, some old and some new… some even written by men who faced battle…

Poetry

A poem and art by Sybil Pretious in memory of soldiers who died in the World War I.

Soldiers & Missives by Prithvijeet Sinha … Click here to read.

Our Children by Bijan Najdi, translated from Persian by Davood Jalili. Click here to read.

Prose

Line of Control by Paresh Tiwari, a story about the life of soldiers set in the Indo-Pak border… Click here to read.

I am a Coward with Priorities by Tejaswinee Roychowdhury, a story from a soldier’s perspective. Click here to read.

From the Pages of a Soldier’s Diary… by Mike Smith takes you on a journey through the pages of a colonial diary and muses on choices he has made. Click here to read.

Bundu, Consoler of the Rich is a story based on memories of the Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by Amna Ali. Click here to read.

In a Land Far From Home: A Bengali in Afghanistan, an excerpt from an account by Syed Mujataba Ali, translated from Bengali by Nazes Afroz. Click here to read.

Categories
Stories

Yet, Forget Me Not…

Short story by actress film-maker Aparajita Ghosh translated from Bengali by Ratnottama Sengupta

Aparajita Ghosh

Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Rishi…

Today Rishi turned five. The slicing of the cake is celebrating that. This is to be followed by dinner.  Pulao*, mutton curry  and sweets. The four-five guests present all know each other. They are people who frequent this household. Snigdha kaki*, Pranab kaka*, and the young man Friday of this building. 

“Ananya, here’s your share of the cake, ” Bharati mashima* stretched her hand to offer it to me. How adorable she looks, this young lady of 70 summers! Red bordered white sari, a large bindi on her forehead, that endearing smile playing on her lips.  I took the cake from her and glanced at Rishi’s photograph. A chubby little boy, a headful of raven hair, happiness in his smile and sharpness in his eyes. He is in Hyderabad. In all likelihood, he is cutting a fancy cake in a bustling party. Probably he is not even aware that he has a Grandmother and a Grandfather. 

Holding on to the cake, I walked across the room to sit next to meshomoshai*. Long flowing snow white beard. A curious lack of guile marks  the face of this 84-year-old man. “Do you know dear,” he was telling  me, “Bharati has called so many times, to simply hear the kid’s voice. No one answered the phone. Not once…” 

That no one will pick up the phone is clear to everyone by now — save mashima and meshomoshai. After Kinkar da*‘s death, the day Kanchana left with Rishi, she had expressly said that no one should attempt to contact her in any way. She wanted to retain no link with this household in any manner whatsoever. 

Kinkar da was only forty then. It was the midnight of a sweltering July day. The call from the Police Station had come to our house. Later we got to know that ours was the last dialled number in Kinkar da‘s phone. Around 10 pm he had called to tell Maa that he had picked up a quality Hilsa, so we should lunch together the next day. Kinkar da‘s car was spotted on EM Bypass, crumpled like a tin toy car. Even before he could be taken to a hospital he had…

The post mortem report held the excess of alcohol in his blood to be the cause of death. Kanchana held Mashima and  Meshomoshai responsible for his death. “They not only put up with his bohemian ways, they even boasted about it.” And that was partly if not wholly the truth. They never objected to anything their son did. On the contrary, they took pride in their son. 

But, then, there was sufficient ground for that. Kinkar da was a renowned linguist. He was good at painting. His byline was a regular feature of many newspapers. Almost every week he was giving a talk on diverse platforms. All in all he was nothing short of a celebrity. In actuality he was a down to earth person. He would always dress in khadi kurta* and lose pajama. And always, he sported thick framed glasses. 

Kinkar da often took me out in his car. We would chat endlessly over puchkas*. Yes, he was senior to me by many years but he was more like a friend. He was my Confession Box. I looked up to him like my own elder brother, my dada. Even now I remember him on Raakhi* and Bhai Phonta*

“What’s the matter Anu? Why are you sitting still with the cake in your hand? You’re all right?” I was startled by Snigdha kaki‘s voice. “N-no no, I am fine,” I hastily replied. “Here, I’m having…” I was born in this very Suman Apartment, so all the elders in this building complex have a sense of belonging about me. And I love that. But this day is so very different that I am unable to enjoy anything. Haltingly I headed for the bedroom. A baba suit was resting on the bed — along with it, a Teddy bear and a pink coloured envelope. Rishi’s birthday gifts. 

Just like the four previous years, this year too these will be sent. I will myself courier them, and they will come back to me. Unlike the first time, that year it had been returned to the sender — mashima. Consequently, for three days and three nights, she did not utter a single word. Only, from time to time, she sat staring fixedly at Rishi’s photograph. The next time onward, I have been putting my flat number in the sender’s column. Like the last three years in all likelihood  this year, too, the gifts will lie hidden in my almirah.

I took out the letter from the envelope. mashima‘s handwriting. 

     Dear Dadubhai*,

Today you turn five. You must have grown in these years and learnt to speak full sentences. I hope you are learning Bengali too, dear child? Do master the language — your Grandpa has tons of books, you will read them all — some day. I have baked a cake for you today and cooked mutton-pulao for everyone. Don’t you be sad — when you come down here I will cook them again for you. We will also go out to visit all the attractions of this city. You have barely seen Kolkata. You just grow up fast and come visit us…

Much love and blessings to you shona*.

Lovingly – yours Thammi*

Just think! After all this I must lick the mutton pulao off my fingers. This day is to me no less than a punishment. So many times I have thought of going away somewhere to avoid the celebration. I don’t, only because of these two oldies. Take a look — they have put up balloons everywhere and done alpana* on  the floor at the entrance. Poor Rishi! He will never even hear about this. 

I did call Kanchana once. I had suggested that she come on a visit with Rishi. She had cut me short with her terse retort: “I will not let the dark shadows of that house spoil my child’s life. Spare me this request Ananya. If you do, I will be forced to sever all connections with you too.” I’m not sure what connection I have with Rishi and Kanchana. Still, I must admit, she does take my calls. But that is about all. 

“Ananya, don’t forget to courier the gifts tomorrow. ” I had not realised that mashima was standing by my side. I nodded in assent. “I had saved Rs 500 in my piggy bank, you know!” mashima continued to speak, “That’s why I could buy the Teddy. And don’t you like the dress? dadubhai is v-e-r-y fond of red!”

“How do you know that? You have not set your eyes on him since he crawled.” But the moment I had spoken, I bit my tongue in remorse. What’s this? What have I done! But mashima was offering an explanation: “Kinkar was very fond of red. Don’t you remember how many of his kurtas were in red? Rishi also…” the words trailed off as her voice choked with emotion. 

I held her in a tight hug. I couldn’t control myself either — I let my tears flow freely down my cheeks. 

It was well past midnight when I returned to my flat, after lending a hand in serving dinner and cleaning up afterwards. My parents are away at Santiniketan. So I permit myself this bit of ‘late night’ outing. Besides, I was having a tough time going off to sleep. Kinkar da, Kanchana, Rishi, mashima, meshomoshai — they kept crowding before my eyes…

Trinnng! Tring tring… T-r-i-n-ggg…. The constant ring of the calling bell woke me up. Is it for real or am I still dreaming in sleep? No, the bell is still ringing — and someone is also banging on the door. Must be Kamla. How many times I have told her not to wake me up early on Sundays? What is the tearing rush about? “Kamla come back later,” I was on the verge of telling the person on the other side of the door. I stopped mid-sentence as it wasn’t Kamla at the door, it was the young caretaker. Fear was writ over the face that was glistening with sweat. Before I could speak he said,  “Didi* please come up to the terrace right now!”

Before he had finished an unknown fear compelled me to race up the stairs. As I reached the landing I saw the two oldies, flopped on the terrace, crying away ceaselessly. I went across and sat down next to mashima. “See?” mashima turned towards me, “See how happy Rishi is?”

I could not make head or tail of what mashima was saying. I have yet to courier the gifts. So, did Kanchana make that elusive call?? mashima’s pallu* was all over the floor. Her hair was dishevelled. I can’t remember ever seeing meshomoshai so worked up over anything, not even on the day Kinkar da passed away! With her left hand mashima held me in a tight grip — and with her right hand she was caressing the red Rangan that stood in a pot at one end of the terrace. “See how it is bursting with flowers! This plant has never blossomed before, and today?!”

Three years ago, when this Rangan was planted, mashima had christened it ‘Rishi’. That sapling was smiling at the world today, with flowers on every leaf. Is it actually Rishi saying, “I am doing fine Thammi and Dadu. You too stay well!”

*Pulao — Indian fried rice

*Kaki — paternal aunt

*Kaku — paternal uncle

*Mashima — maternal aunt

*Meshomoshai — maternal uncle

*Da/dada — elder brother

*Khadi Kurta — a long Indian shirt made of homespun popularised by Gandhi

*Puchkas — savoury snack

*Rakhi — Indian festival to jubilate brother-sister ties

*Bhai Phonta — Indian festival to jubilate brother-sister ties

*Dadubhai/Dadu — grandfather

*Shona — darling (Gold)

*Thammi — grandmother

*Alpana — designs made on the floor with ground paste of uncooked rice, traditional folk art

*Didi — elder sister

*Pallu — loose end of the sari that drapes over the shoulder

*Rangan — ixora

Published originally in Bengali in December 2017 issue of Batayan, a Magazine of West Bengal Motion Picture Artists’ Forum.

Aparajita Ghosh, an actor and television anchor has done her Master’s in Mass Comm. She writes stories, has written plays including #Life, which was staged at multiple venues in Kolkata. She has directed Dance of Joy, a documentary on Rabindra Nritya, screened in Dhaka and Singapore, besides India, and the feature film Mystic Memoirs, screened in Kolkata International Film Festival 2019. Dance of Joy been to 7 international festivals and won 2 awards. Mystic Memoir as of now has been selected for 5 International festivals and won one award.

Ratnottama Sengupta turned director with And They Made Classics, on the unique bonding between screenwriter Nabendu Ghosh and director Bimal Roy. A very senior journalist, she has been writing for newspapers and journals, participating in discussions on the electronic media; teaching mass communication students, writing books on cinema and art, programming film festivals and curating art exhibitions. She has written on Hindi films for the Encyclopaedia Britannica; been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. The former Arts Editor of The Times of India is also a member of the NFDC’s script committee. Author of Krishna’s Cosmos and several other volumes, she has recently edited That Bird Called Happiness (2018/ Speaking Tiger), Me And I (2017/ Hachette India), Kadam Kadam (2016/ Bhashalipi), Chuninda Kahaniyaan: Nabendu Ghosh (2009/ Roshnai Prakashan).

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

Categories
Poetry

Lockdown Blues

By Gopal Lahiri

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Sometimes there is a night you just want

to get so far away from,

fire burns out in life’s long years,

memories are plucked, timid words wipe the window

long after the moon reaches its climax.

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A strange world of quarantine is slowly

strumming with silence,

there is no paper, no blue ink —

envelopes never arrive, the inbox isn’t loaded with emails

it’s time to live with the lonely shadows.

.

The archipelago of hospitals empties sad memories,

patients fighting for life with short breaths

trip letters in social distancing,

no flowers, no relatives or friends

a virus attacks inside in a different trajectory.

.

The first layer of darkness hides the melody of stars

in alleys, in streets, in subways,

rewind the scene of weaning the ventilators.

many dead mothers have left their smiles over the corridor

on the margins of the white washed wall.

.

Form the undulations of courage and fear

eyes stare at the distant light,

the whispers are carrying alphabets of the dead planets

lying beneath the disposable trough.

there will be another universe to live for.

.

Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata- based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 20 books published 13 in English and 7 in Bengali, including three joint books. His poetry is also published in various anthologies and in eminent journals of India and abroad. His poems have been published in 12 countries and translated in 10 languages. He has been invited in several poetry festivals across India.