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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
Nostalgia Slices from Life

Yesterday Once More?

Renowned film analyst Ratnottama Sengupta revisits a page from her past, weaving history and films into an eyewitness account of events that had occurred as chaos reigned on the streets of Cairo, Egypt. 

Cairo Film Festival, November 27 – December 6, 2012

Cairo.

“This one week will change everything,” Amir told Farah in The Winter of Discontent. Ibrahim El Batout’s recapitulation of the Arab Spring had inaugurated the 35th Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) on November 27 of 2012. “It will take them one week to find out who uploaded the protest on the net,” the activist tells the journalist, “but one week later this government may not be there.”  These words were borne true in January of 2011. They had sounded ironic when the festival was flagged off on the sixth day of Tahrir Square 2 — by Egypt’s Minister for Culture, Mohamed Saber Arab. He had hugged festival director Ezzat Abu Ouf who was in tears as he said, “In difficult times, it is important to protect one’s freedom of expression.”

It surely must have been difficult to host the festival that was paused following the Revolution. “I am Positive” was the slogan of CIFF that urged ‘positive thinking’ on revolution and freedom. Besides the inaugural film by Ibrahim El Batout, who mastered shooting in war zones for international channels, there was an entire section devoted to cinema of revolution. These documentaries included Good Morning Egypt that displayed people’s mixed emotions on the eve of dismantling Mubarak’s regime. The Road to Tahrir Square searched for the roots of the Egyptian revolution in the country’s labour movement. Eyes of Freedom and Street of Death documented the demand to speed up Presidential elections and handing over of authority from the Military Council to a Civilian government. By the end of the day in January 2011, the police and army had attacked the demonstrators and forced them to evacuate Tahrir Square, outraging the world by the human rights violation.    

All this would have been perfect material “to express the heritage of the past, the reality of the present and the dreams of the future” – to quote the city’s Governor, Osama Kamal. For, “cinema records and relays to the world stories of our lives, our thoughts, feelings, social issues, principles…” And “meaningful art is one of the basic pillars of struggle and progress of a people,” he declared. That is why the logo of the revived CIFF depicted the hawk, a symbol of the pharaohs, perched on the metal arm of the revolutionaries in the precious metal of gold.

But it had turned ironic as the awards were cancelled due to the reality outside the Opera, close to the Square and venue of the festival that seeks to empower the youth by providing a platform for their talents. On Thursday, Qasir el Niel bridge leading to Tahrir Square had been blocked off. The museum housing the treasures of Tutankhamen was closed as it was on the turbulent Square. People — reportedly paid by the Brotherhood — were being trucked in for Saturday’s show of strength. Deaths were being reported from outlying areas where the Opposition was more restive as the channels were agog with news that the draft of the Constitution was ready and “any hour now” President Mohamed Morsi would sign it, pre-empting the opposition by the judiciary, intelligentsia, and the liberals who would lose much of their freedom if the Shariat laws would be enforced in Cairo’s open society.

The “action replay” on Tahrir Square was protesting the President’s move to arrogate himself extraordinary powers “until the new Constitution is in place.” Their objection was that he had pushed out the Christians and liberals from the Constituent Assembly, in order to ensure a smooth passage of the Constitution and present it as fait accompli before its expected date.

Yes, that one week in November 2012 had once more changed the course of history on Tahrir Square.

Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. 

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