Categories
Index

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
Review

Songs of a Rebel

Book Review by Basudhara Roy

Title: Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems

Author: Bina Sarkar Ellias

Publisher: Red River, 2020

With what word to reach into the future,
With what word to defend human happiness --
It has the smell of freshly baked bread --
If the language of poets cannot search out
Standards of use to later generations?
	Czeslaw Milosz

For centuries, poets have vested ardent faith in the ability of poetry to not just effectively describe the world but also to contour, transfigure and transform it by its disruptive power, its clairvoyance and its messianic faith. In light and dark, hope and despair, and accomplishment and loss, poetry has stood firmly beside life as a pathfinder and witness, leading it to refinement and wisdom. Questioning the world’s logic, battling its ideas and speaking truth to power, poets continue to be its “unacknowledged legislators”, speaking eloquently and memorably on behalf of its disillusionment, rage and suffering, and leading the way for constructive social action. Bina Sarkar Ellias’ Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems is a fine collection of fifty-one poems that engages with the injustices of the world in this fiery spirit of moral questioning.

Poet, writer and art curator, Bina Sarkar Ellias is the founder, editor, designer and publisher of International Gallerie, an award-winning global arts and ideas publication from India. Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems is her fourth collection of poems, her earlier collections being The Room, Fuse and When Seeing is Believing . An experienced art-critic, her poetic voice draws richly from her committed engagement with art and her poems have found a home in many languages of the world through translation.

“It happens that we live in a world fraught with fragility,” writes Ellias. “There are certain forces that prefer to divide and disrupt humanity and there are certain forces that feed our souls with peace and serenity. Through time, the poems in this book arrived unannounced as all poems do; each time, it was an outrage or a helplessness that compelled a response to assaults on humankind by scheming minds.”

In putting forth a narrative of megalomania and oppression, the book, indeed, documents the keen angst of a sensitive and thinking mind in a callous, unprincipled world. Here are poems that emerge, wave-like, from the depths of fury and despair to speak out against the looming issues of our times – cultures of dictatorship, suppression of the forces of democracy, stifling of plurality, erasure of rights, jingoism, colonisation of nature, blatant capitalism, identity-conflicts and violence against women, amongst others. Ranging from the sufferings of Syria, Zimbabwe, Kashmir, Bangladesh, Istanbul, Baghdad, Lahore, Manchester, the Indian farmers, the Rohingyas, Nirbhaya, our imprisoned student activists and so much more, Ellias poignantly conjures before our eyes a global collage of infringement, discrimination and injury.

In Ellias’ poetic narrative, the only division that exists in the world is between the callous and the compassionate. The former dwell in an unending wilderness – “these minds/ that cannot/ decipher/ the essence/ of humanity/ these minds/ that are mowed/ and manicured/ to erase all/ reason;/ that believe/ a gun or grenade/ can complete/ the circle/ of life; can part/ the sea/ of reason so the/ bludgeoned brain/ and sterile heart/ may cross.” (‘If it’s Not Me, it Will Be You’)

In ‘Cement in Our Souls’, the poet laments the world’s stark sterility – “the dignity/ of life drowned/ in a desire so distant/ from Van Gogh’s/ lust for life/ or Monet’s tranquil pond/ so far from/ Hiroshige’s pastorals,/ so distant/ from Tagore’s/ Song of the Road/ so removed from Lennon’s/ Imagine./ must we celebrate/ concrete?/ must we be robots/ and cement/ our souls?”

For the committed activist that Ellias is, a poem is no leisurely arrival into the world but an urgent statement of its status, “an invasion of clean air.” (‘This is Not a Poem’) Her language, in its fidelity to the colloquial rhythm and its determined, energetic flow across difficult sentiments does away with all impediments of punctuation so that the overall impression that the book offers the reader is one of a tremendous, roaring waterfall intending to sweep all in its restless questioning. Note the primal power of ‘Assault’, for instance, a poem worth quoting in its entirety:

assaulted by malls and high rises
that tower like beasts on the streets
suffocating your breath assaulted
by robotic yearnings for more and
more assaulted by neons that wink
and beckon like lecherous pimps
on the wayside I navigate the city
walking warily through mine fields
of consumption that suck the
energies out of every cell, every pore
of my untrained body that craves to
curl into a cave of nothingness.

The beat of the poem fills one with a sense of desperation, exhaustion and collapse – the exact emotive signification of the idea of ‘assault’. And yet, in the midst of this roaring disquiet, the poet does not fail to remind the reader that her chosen genre of protest is poetry and not prose. Every now and then, she lets fall a rhyme for the perceptive ear and as her lines flow relentlessly, often unforgivingly like rain, the chaos of the world is watermarked by the poetic faith of hope’s resurrection. Mark the following lines in ‘Manufactured Fear’:

manufactured fear
i do not dread
fear that is force-fed
into my flesh
fear of who i am
and who i cannot be
fear of flags
that dictate my identity
fear of food
that betrays my religion
or my lack of one
is seen as blasphemy.

Ellias’ images are assiduously wrought as she consistently attempts to summon both shock and tenderness to her verse. In ‘Intangible Knowing’, conformity is the myopia of those who live “barren linear lives” with “mathematical/ precision,/ and weigh/ life’s moments/ with the entitlement/ of acquisition.” In ‘This Skin of Freedom’, freedom is the fragile skin that all have the right to lay claim to. Rivers become arteries in ‘Ode to Bangladesh’. ‘Call of Resistance’ visualizes the hammering of the coppersmith barbet as a ceaseless call of resistance. In ‘It Was Then’, Shaheen Bagh and Mumbai Bagh are “sister fields – fertile/ with bloodied wounds” that blossom “when the fires of hate/ had burnt them.” The poet selects her allusions from a sprawling cosmopolitan canvas of art and life as she steadily links minds and agonies across the cultures and conflicts of continents in a seamless whole. In ‘Ode to Utopia’, utopia assumes the form of a diffuse oneness of mind – “it was as if raag bhairav/ was in dialogue with/ Mozart’s Nocturne/ and a shamisen strummed/ to the tinkle/ of the African kalimba -/ it was as if/ spring had migrated/ into our lives/ for permanent/ residency.”

Making way into the world of Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems is to be receptive to the poet’s testimony of the acute disjointedness of our times and the imperative for healing through acknowledgement of the need for dissent. In ‘Rebel’, the poet compares the rebel to “a tired/ moth-eaten/ leaf/ that once/ knew/ its green/ shield/ could battle/ arrogant winds/ that swept/ over its/ tree abode.” It is easy and legitimate, perhaps, to bow down and give in to helplessness and dismay in the face of the rampancy and ruthlessness of our times. However, as Ellias reminds us, the act of resistance is a duty both civic and humane:

life can be bitter –
but you can dwell
with love and courage
if you repel.

life can be better
if you repel-

life can be better
if you rebel.

In ‘books’, the poet writes, “a book is a river; a voyage into the unknown/ on a paper boat.” Bina Sarkar Ellias invites her readers to make this voyage with conviction and faith in the possibility of a better world. To rebel, as her poems point out, is no more a philosophical choice but a compelling necessity given the depravity of our times. We are living through an important moment in history dominated by tales of “tattered democracy” and “new age fascists” (‘I Hear’). The choice is no longer between whether to rebel or hold on to silence but overwhelmingly now, a question of life and death.

Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems is a wake-up call to humanity worldwide to adopt defiance as a mode of life if being is to chosen over annihilation.

Basudhara Roy teaches English at Karim City College affiliated to Kolhan University, Chaibasa. Her recent (second) collection of poems is Stitching a Home (New Delhi: Red River, 2021). She loves, rebels, writes and reviews from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, India.

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