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
Musings

What Ramayan taught me about my parents

By Smitha R

Who knew a repeat telecast of a mythological series based on the life of a man/God would set me on the road to new discovery about my own parents. When Ramayan began to be re-telecast on the national television, I had no intention of being glued to it. I am not a big fan of men who abandon their wives, even if they are the Supreme Being/Leader. So, it was a surprise that I ended up watching a whole episode of the series with my family.

Now, you need to understand that the drawing room, where we have our TV, is the war room of my home. It is where all the wars in the family are fought so as to ensure those passing by our house know every minute details of the bombs being dropped. A stranger can walk into our house and determine how the hierarchy works by looking at who has the remote.

It is also the place everyone in my family rushes to while talking loudly on their mobile. They then proceed to glare at the occupants until the television is meekly muted. It is where we have our breakfast, lunch and dinner and where we perform acrobatics sitting on the sofa to avoid getting up when the maid comes to clean the room. It is where my mother finds it necessary to place a chair bang in front of the television so that 80% of the occupants get to watch her back and not what is on the screen.

Since my parents won’t let us have a slice of television time, I have, like a true scavenger, taken to stealing bits and pieces of their fun time. I do it by pestering my parents with intelligent queries about the dumb soap operas that they like to watch.

So, when I sat down together to watch Ramayan, after losing yet another remote war to my parents, I had every intention of ruining their fun. The over- the-top acting, the poor production and the almost hilarious expressions the actors had in the name of emotions gave me enough ammunition. I began a running commentary that could rival that of Navjot Sidhu, the cricket player turned commentator. But my mom was not pleased and she soon sent me to shell some peas. Yes, my mother, the innovator that she is, has over the years devised better punishment-cum-chores for her adult children when they outgrew their ‘face the wall’ disciplining.

As I sat with the peas, I could not but help notice the delight with which my mom watched the series. Her face mirrored every expression that the characters had. I felt bad for trying to ruin it for her and could not help but ask, “Why are you so excited about watching the re-run of a series you watched three decades ago?”

“I never watched it. We did not have a TV at home then,” she replied, still glued to the television.

“What, then how do I remember watching it?” I asked.

“You kids would go with your dad to the neighbour’s house to watch it on a Sunday. I had to cook for everyone, so I never came,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.

 Suddenly it occurred to me that watching Ramayan on television was not the only thing my mother had given up. I remember going on trips with my dad on his scooter leaving my mom behind as the vehicle could not ferry all five of us. Everytime we went to do all the fun things, my mom voluntarily stayed back because a taxi was a luxury we could hardly afford. Three decades of living with my mom and there were chapters of her life I was never privy to. I decided to shut up and vowed to ask her more about her life as a young career woman with three kids once the episode came to an end.

Since multi-tasking was never my strength, I ended up ignoring the peas and actually watched Ramayan with my parents. While my parents seemed to follow the series, I felt like I had skipped several important chapters in the story.

So, when the episode came to an end, I had several queries. What forced King Dashrath to grant a boon to his third wife Kayekayi? What is Parsuram’s background? How come two avatars of Vishnu happened to inhabit the earth at the same time during Ramayan?

My dad seemed to know the answer to all the questions I had and that is when I discovered what an amazing story teller he is. As a kid, I don’t remember him ever reading us a bedtime story. A voracious reader himself, he bought us a lot of books but never read to us, maybe because he preferred Malyalam and we deviated towards English. I think it was also because both my parents were caught in the struggle to provide the three of us a decent living and at the end of the day, they did not have much energy to do anything other than order us to go to sleep, bedtime stories be damned.

I soon found out that he had extensive knowledge of Indian mythology and could weave a story that could put the best bards to shame. He had read the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible and could quote couplets from them with ease. When had he learned this? How is it that living in the same house I had missed so much about my own father? Why is it that despite having no pressure, I had not taken out the time to interact with my own parents? How had I taken them for granted to such an extent that so many aspects of their life had remained hidden from me?

As I interacted more with my parents over Ramayan I realised that they had earned the right to hog the remote. It was their attempt at ‘having fun’ at an age where their health limited the avenues for entertainment. For them, it was not mindless television watching. It was their way of relaxing after a life spent giving up on things. The way they saw it, it was time for the kids to return the favour.

Smitha R is a former journalist with a passion for travel that often fails to take into consideration her poor financial health. When she is not whipping up a disaster in the kitchen, she is busy distributing ‘an honest opinion’, unmindful of the perils..