Categories
Editorial

Restless Stirrings

As we stand on the threshold of a new normal that will eternally rewrite the history of social interactions, of movements across the globe, of new world orders that will have to be more inclusive and more transparent to world view, we will, perhaps, feel the need to redefine business laws so that even countries with lesser wealth are able to access vaccinations and peace. We are now looking  up to leaderships which seem to be in crises themselves. Sitting securely on a tiny island that is well governed, an island where affluence and well-being set it adrift from the turmoils of countries around it, I wonder thirty years from now, what will mankind be like…  Will we be forever marred by the current events of the world? Globalisation has ensured that none of us can be secure on any secret island. There can be no land of lotus eaters hidden from the rest of mankind and accessed by only a few anymore. Even if one region is affected by the virus in any corner of the world, can the rest of the world be pandemic free? Perhaps, a question that those who peddle in vaccines and human well-being can address.

These issues have not only been highlighted by the news media but have also found echoes in some of our content this time. Keith Lyons’s essay talks of his last stay in India, when a tourist carried the  the pandemic  unwittingly into Kerala in February 2020 and subsequent repercussions. More stories and poems that dwell on the spread of the virus this year cry out for compassion. One hopes young poet Ruchi Acharya’s verses are born true.

One day the roses of hope will grow
Meeting the horizon,
Roses that, even plucked, will not die
But will bloom and bloom
Every single day that passes by.

We have young writers on the virulence of the virus and mature pens like that of globe-trotting academic Wendy Jones Nakanishi, who maps the pandemic from UK. Perhaps, we will find a new direction eventually.

There have been calls for uniting above divides as a single unit called mankind earlier too, from greats like Tagore and Nazrul. This time we carry translations of both — Nazrul’s translated poem calls for uniting against artificial divides drawn by man-made constructs and Tagore’s translation talks of redefining through self-reflection. An essay on Tagore by academic Parineet Jaggi talks of the impact of the teachings of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, on Tagore.

We have essays on writers and icons from around the globe. A photo-essay on the bald eagle, heralding the American Independence Day on the 4th of July, gives a humorous anecdote on how the eagle was chosen above the turkey. We have more variety by Candice Louisa Daquin, an immigrant in US, who shows how important human movement across man-made borders is to the development of a country. Michael Burch has given us beautiful poetry reflecting the history of America and American dreams, one of them with the voice of the legendary Mohammed Ali. These verses add substance to the concerns raised by Daquin. Jared Carter brings to us the colours of life with his poetry.

We have humour in verses from Rhys Hughes and even from a young poet, Sutputra Radheye. Limericks from Michael Burch and Penny Wilkes photo-poetry on ‘Changing Seasons’ puts us in a more cheerful mood.  More poetry from multiple writers across the world, including Nepal, Macedonia and Korea, have found their way into our journal.

Hughes has also given us a comprehensive and interesting essay on a twentieth century poet called Ivor Cutler, who said much as he sang his poetry and was encouraged by Paul McCartney of the Beatles. The brilliant poetry of Akbar Barakzai continues translated on our pages by Fazal Baloch and one must give many thanks to the translator for his indefatigable energy and for bringing us wonderful fare from Balochistan. An excerpt translated by eminent journalist Ratnottama Sengupta from Nabendu Ghosh’s autobiography ends with Satyajit Ray’s starting his famed career with Apu’s triology (based on Pather Panchali, a novel by Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay). These three films have become iconic in cinema history.

We were fortunate to have Professor Fakrul Alam agree to an interview. An eminent translator, critic and academic who has lived through the inception of Bangladesh from East Bengal, Alam has translated not just the three greats of Bengal (Tagore, Nazrul, Jibanananda) but also multiple political leaders like Mujibur Rahman. In this exclusive, he has taken us through the annals of history, reflecting on less-known perspectives of the Partition. Also, in conversation with Borderless, is Arindam Roy, a journalist with forty years’ experience and the founder of Different Truths who started his writing career, much in the tradition of Cyrano de Bergerac on a humorous note.

This time our backpacking granny, Sybil Pretious, gives us a glimpse of her wisdom, wit and compassion while visiting Philippines and talks of an ancient death ritual, volcanoes and strange mud baths. Devraj Singh Kalsi explores young romance in his tongue-in-cheek fashion. We also have more semi-humorous musings from young writers across borders. While Sunil Sharma has explored facets of the impact of terrorism, the other stories are told in a lighter vein.

Our book excerpt from Feisal Alkazi’s Enter Stage Right has a picture of the young artiste in a discotheque dancing in abandon — check it out. It made me smile. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Jnanpith Award winner Shrilal Shukla’s Fragments of Happiness translated by Niyati Bafna. The book review by Meenakshi Malhotra of Neelima Dalmia Adhar’s The Secret Diary of Kasturba brings out an interesting facet on Gandhi and women in the Independence movement. It makes one notice the contrasts in the perspectives of Gandhi and Tagore, who created women like he saw around him in fiction. Kasturba’s life also contrasts with the independence found in the life of the avant-garde artist, Amrita Sher-Gil, who lived around the same time. In an essay, Bhaskar Parichha has shown how Sher-Gil lived out her dreams, blending the best of the East and West, while Malhotra writes, that though “Gandhi called women to join the national movement … he was not seeking to emancipate, but more to call forth their capacity for self-abnegation and self-sacrifice.”

Parichha has also introduced us to the need for changes in the banking sector in India while reviewing Transformational Leadership in Banking edited by Anil K. Khandelwal. Perhaps these will be part of the changes that will ultimately lead to a revision of old systems and the start of new ones. Changes, though not always welcomed or convenient, hopefully will lead to progress that can mould our future into a happier one. Restless stirrings transformed mankind from cave dwellers to an intelligent race that can assimilate nature and technology to survive and dream of a future, living among stars.

As Borderless reaches out to unite mankind transcending artificial constructs, its attempts can bear fruit only with support from each and every one of you. I would like to thank all our editorial team for their wonderful support, contributors for being the backbone of our content, and all our readers for continuing to patronise us.

Do take a look at our current issue for the writers who remain unmentioned here but create phenomenal bridges towards a borderless world.

Best wishes,

Mitali Chakravarty

Categories
Independence Day Musings

An Immigrant’s Story

By Candice Louisa Daquin

I have an English accent because I learned English in England. After nearly 20 years in the US this is an accent, I wish I could rid myself of, owing to the assumptions made. I’m neither English nor imperialistic and Independence Day has always been challenging with comments like: “Well your side lost!” shouted my way a few times. I want to say, we’re all universal now, we all come from a multitude of places, accents and skin color aren’t accurate reflections of anything so stop being small minded.

Despite this, Independence Day has grown on me. Why? If I didn’t grow up in America, why would it really relate to me? Neither English nor American, it was hard to relate to. But you know what helped? Getting naturalized. Granted. I didn’t grow up in American schools pledging allegiance to the flag. This does inculcate and cause a great deal of loyalty which has brought 50 states into relative harmony, which is more than the EU could ever achieve in Europe.

Binding together such a melting pot of differing cultures into one ‘American culture’ is what made America, American. This is no small thing. And when you are an immigrant, there is nothing more emotionally rewarding than gaining that foothold, that coveted opportunity, to be part of the American Dream. The only question is, does it still exist, the dream part?

I would argue it does. As much as economically I know we can’t go from cotton picking farmer to CEO quite as readily as once we did, and that there are striations and class divisions in this country, even as we deny them. Though racism and bigotry continues to deny swaths of society, and affirmative action, permits entry, it’s more complicated than a straight shot to success the way we might have once imagined it, in the 1950’s heyday.

As I wasn’t alive in those days, I can’t speak to whether they were mythologized but I can say, America was affluent after World War II in a way Europe couldn’t imagine, being decimated in every respect. As such, there were leaps and bounds made in America that weren’t mirrored in much of the rest of the world. Like anything, this didn’t last, and America is no longer the leader of the world, if ever it was. But the dream is still alive, maybe as much in our imaginations as reality. Maybe it’s the idea of it more than the actuality of it.

That said, people send their kids to American universities to help them succeed, almost against modern wisdom. There are better schools elsewhere but we are still somewhat spellbound by the lure of big recognizable names, just as Hollywood continues to thrive, despite larger industries like Bollywood. We are sentiment to the America of old, and as such, the modern America can benefit from this and it does.

Independence gave America more of her identity than she had when she was being bled dry by the English royalty. America exists because of immigration. Native Americans were slaughtered in droves in order to ‘make way’ for the hordes of then foreigners. Parts of Mexico (Texas, New Mexico, California) were essentially stolen (or rightfully won, if you read some history books) in unfair wars, the French stupidly sold Louisiana and the Russians sold Alaska. These pieces came slowly together, and when the British lost America, the idea of truly being unfettered came into being and painted the American psyche.

So aside the obvious connotations and a holiday for most American’s who might not consider the historical import of Independence Day, what else does it represent? For many immigrants such as myself, it represents a change from what was. I didn’t grow up patriotic to a country, that was a foreign concept, and yet, as I stood in the Naturalization ceremony and put my hand over my chest and sang the songs, and waved the flag, as absurd as it felt on one level, it also felt very meaningful. That surprised me and my friends ‘back home’ might laugh to read this, but that’s what happens when you immigrate, or what should happen, you become something new. To me that’s what Independence Day is all about, a way forward from who you were before. Most of us could learn something from that, as we tend to be stuck in our ways, unable to relate to change and new concepts. There still is something deeply alluring about America and it’s our ability to take in a great variety of different people from all around the world and still retain a sense of what being American is, including transmitting this feeling to those newcomers as they arrive.

For this reason alone, we should all be proud to be American. For all the negatives, such as continuing racism and oppression, poverty and sexism, there are so many positive things about being American and that’s why so many people try to immigrate to American every single year. It’s no coincidence we’re continue to be a highly sought country to live in, it’s not simply our perceived economic opportunities, it’s the whole enchilada and that includes this elusive concept of what ‘being’ American is.

Many of us even from other countries, grew up deeply influenced by Americana. That included the golden years and even what came afterward, because Americans are very self-confident and they really know how to put their best foot forward. Social media may have us believe all is negative because there are those who like to criticize and never say anything positive, but this doesn’t really change things as much as we think. People still envy our freedom throughout the world and it was a hard-won freedom that none of us should forget, no matter where we live and where we intend to live. Freedom is something to never take for granted, and in this sense, Independence Day is a universal theme, freedom from oppression and the right to self-expression.

I hope American’s remember how lucky they are and spend less time fighting and more time appreciating those things we tend to take for granted. I can have an opinion in this country that disagrees with everyone and nobody will come and arrest me and take me away. Even if people don’t like my differences, I am protected by law and allowed to be different. Those are liberties many people don’t have, and I am mindful of this when I think of traveling as a gay woman, or for that matter, as a woman!

That said, we should also be mindful that freedom can vanish almost overnight, unless we make the right decisions in how we vote, and be aware of plans to undermine freedoms. Those who believe immigration is wrong, often point to increased immigration leading to less jobs, more change and an erosion of The American Way. I don’t agree, because the American way is immigration, it always has been. Sometimes bad (killing Native Americans, taking African slaves). Sometimes good (growing a country from people from every part of the world). If it didn’t work to have immigrants, America as we know it, wouldn’t exist.

However, with population increases, come difficulties, not least a lack of jobs, economic opportunity. So, we cannot simply open the gates without due care to the realities of this. The answer lies in being merciful to those who need better lives, and realistic about what we can do versus what won’t work. Equally, we need to be mindful of those who live here now and meet their needs as much as we help others. I feel lucky I have had a chance for a better life but I also miss my culture and the nuances of where I came from. I want others to have the chance I had, and I believe if you work hard and you are an honest person, you should be given that chance. Where that may fall short is when a person from a different culture fails to realize part of immigration is accepting you are coming to a different country and you must respect that country. If say, you are a man who is used to disrespecting women because your home country condones that, you cannot bring those values to a new country and expect that to work. In this sense, immigrants must be as responsible as the host country in their success as an immigrant and respect the host countries values. I feel safer in America as a gay woman and as a woman than so many other countries throughout the world. I don’t want that to change, and I want women from countries that condone gender-based-abuse to feel they can come to America and be unmolested.

We all make America better, when we respect this delicate balance. I for one feel immigrants are the most likely to vote and be active in making change, because they are both grateful and excited to have the chance. When I was naturalized, I was asked if I would vote because it was part of my ‘duty’ as an immigrant to give my input. I have voted in every election and I try not to bury my head in the sand about anything that matters because I feel it’s my duty to have my eyes wide open, that’s how we keep our independence and our freedoms.

The Inscription reads as: GALVESTON WAS THE PORT OF ENTRY FOR THOUSANDS OF IMMIGRANTS WHO SETTLED IN TEXAS AND THE SOUTHWEST. FEDERAL LAYS ENACTED IN 1875 ENDED THE UNRESTRICTED ENTRY OF IMMIGRANTS INTO THE COUNTRY AND LED TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE AREA’S FIRST U.S. IMMIGRATION STATION AT GALVESTON’S PIER 29. THERE U.S. CUSTOMS OFFICIALS CONDUCTED MEDICAL EXAMS, BAGGAGE INSPECTIONS AND FORMAL PROCESSING OF IMMIGRANTS. THOSE FOUND TO BE DISEASED OR INCAPACITATED FACED DEPORTATION. THE U.S. CONGRESS CHOSE GLAVESTON OVER NEW ORLEANS AS THE SITE OF A MAJOR NEW FEDERAL IMMIGRATION STATION IN 1906. PLANS TO BUILD AN IMPRESSIVE IMMIGRANT LANDING STATION ON PELICAN ISLAND COMPARABLE TO NEW YORK’S ELLIS ISLAND FACILITY WERE NEVER FULLY REALIZED. THE SCALED DOWN STATION, FULLY OPERATIONAL BY 1913, WAS DAMAGED BY HURRICANE WINDS IN 1915 ABD CLOSED IN 1916. tHE IMMIGRATION OFFICES WERE SUBSEQUENTLY RELOCATED TO A BUILDING ON GALVESTONS’S 21ST STREET.
A NEW 3-STORY IMMIGRATION STATION CONTAINING IMMIGRATION OFFICES, DORMITORIES, MEDICAL FACILITIES, A KITCHEN, AND DINING AND RECREATIONAL AREAS WAS COMPLETED HERE AT 1700 STRAND IN 1933. IT WAS USED AS AN IMMIGRATION AND DEPORTEE-STAGING FACILITY UNTIL ABOUT 1940 WHEN IT WAS CONVERTED FOR USE AS A U.S. CUSTOMS OFFICE. Photo and inscription courtesy: Creative Commons

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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

Categories
Index

Borderless, May 2021

Editorial

And this too shall pass… Click here to read

Translations

Songs of Seasons: Translated by Fakrul Alam

Bangla Academy literary award winning translator, Dr Fakrul Alam, translates six seasonal songs of Tagore. Click here to read.

Temples and Mosques

Kazi Nazrul Islam’s fiery essay translated by Sohana Manzoor. Click here to read.

Purify My Life

Kazi Nazrul Islam’s poem, Purify my Life, translated by Shahriyer Hossain Shetu. Click here to read.

Waiting for Godot by Akbar Barakzai

Akbar Barakzai’s poem translated by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Solus

Aditya Shankar translates a poem by Sujith Kumar. Click here to read.

The Last Boat

Tagore’s Diner Sheshe Ghoomer Deshe translated by Mitali Chakravarty with an interpretation in pastels by Sohana Manzoor. Click here to read.

Poetry

Anasuya Bhar, Scott Thomas Outlar, Saranyan BV, Matthew James Friday, Nitya Mariam John, RJ Kaimal, Jay Nicholls, Tasneem Hossain, Rhys Hughes, Vatsala Radhakeesoon, Ihlwha Choi, Himadri Lahiri, Sunil Sharma, Mike Smith, Jared Carter

Nature’s Musings

Photo-Poetry by Penny & Michael Wilkes. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

Lear and Far

As a tribute to the 209th anniversary of Edward Lear, Rhys Hughes writes of his famous poem, ‘Owl and the Pussycat’, and writes a funny ending for it rooted in the modern day. Click here to read.

Stories

If at all

Shobha Nandavar, a physician in Bangalore, depicts the trauma of Covid 19 in India with compassion. Click here to read.

First Lady

Rituparna Khan gives us a brief vignette from the life of one of the first women doctors in India, Dr Kadambari Ganguly. Click here to read.

Mr Dutta’s Dream

Atreyo Chowdhury takes us into the world of unquenchable wanderlust. Click here to read.

Neemboo Ka Achaar or Maa’s Lemon Pickle

A compelling flash fiction by Suyasha Singh hovering around food and a mother’s love. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In A Lunch Hour Crisis, Sunil Sharma raises humanitarian concerns that though raised in a pandemic-free world, have become more relevant and concerning given our current predicament. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Serve the People

Danielle Legault Kurihara, a Quebecker in Japan, writes of differences in rituals. Click here to read.

Why I write?
Basudhara Roy tells us how writing lingers longer than oral communications. Click here to read more.

The Quiet Governance of Instinct

Candice Louisa Daquin, a psychotherapist, talks of the importance of trusting our instincts. Click here to read more.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Nations without NobelDevraj Singh Kalsi takes a fresh look at national pride with a soupçon of sarcasm and humour. Click here to read.

Adventures of the Backpacking Granny

In Visit to Rural BaoyingSybil Pretious travels to spend a night with a local family in rural China in a ‘hundred-year-old home’.Click here to read.

Essays

Four Seasons and an Indian Summer

Keith Lyons talks of his experiences of seasons in different places, including Antarctica. Click here to read.

Rabindranath and the Etchings of His Mind

Anasuya Bhar explores the various lives given to a publication through the different edited versions, translations and films, using Tagore as a case study and the work done to provide these online. Click here to read.

My Experiments with Identity

Tejas Yadav explores identity from the context Heraclitus, Rumi down to his own. Click here to read.

Can Songs be the Musical Conscience of a Film?

Prithvijeet Sinha uses Gaman (Departure), a Hindi movie around the pain of migrant workers, as a case study to highlight his contention that lyrics and songs convey much in Indian films. Click here to read.

Bhaskar’s Corner

In Manoj Das – The Master Storyteller, Bhaskar Parichha pays a tribute to one of the greatest storytellers from the state of Odisha, India, Manoj Das( 1934-2021). Click here to read.

Book Excerpt

Excerpted from A Bengali Lady in England (1885): Annotated Translation with Critical Introduction to Krishnabhabini Das’ Englandey Bangamahila by Nabanita Sengupta. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

A review of Feisal Alkazi‘s memoir, Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi Padamsee Family Memoir by Rakhi Dalal. Click here to read.

A review of Shakti Ghosal‘s The Chronicler of the Hooghly and Other Stories by Gracy Samjetsabam. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Raising a Humanist by Manisha Pathak-Shelat‘s and Kiran Vinod Bhatia. Click here to read.

Interviews

Communication scholars and authors, Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia, discuss how to bring up children in these troubled times, based on their book, Raising a Humanist, which has just been released. Click here to read.

Sonya J Nair of Samyukta Poetry talks about the Samyukta Research Foundation and its affiliates and its festival, Anantha. Click here to read.

Sara’s Selections, May 2021

A selection of young person’s writings from Bookosmia. Click here to read.

Categories
Musings

The Quiet Governance of Instinct

By Candice Louisa Daquin

I grew up in a rational household. With people who tried to be rational all the time and usually were not. Despite this, I cleaved to the notion, rationality above emotionality or any other kind of reasoning.

My grandmothers were ridiculed for their superstitions and their gut instincts and women whose hands flew to their chests as they felt deeply, were laughed at. The provable, science of reason was the raison d’etre that ruled the day.

In living this way, two things happened. Firstly, I neglected my other instincts entirely. Secondly, I was wrong many times.

Reason cannot explain everything. It merely presupposes itself to be objective and thus, empirical. But as with any man-made presumption, it’s only as good as its maker, who of course, is anything but rational. Furthermore, there’s value in instinct — that gut instinct, someone has walked over my grave feeling your grandmothers had and you laughed at. Looking back, I cannot tell you how many times my gut instinct about a person or a situation was right and I ignored it because it wasn’t rational. For those of us who are non-believers, it’s very hard to believe in something less tangible than reason. But when we realise we have only believed reason is tangible, we can see all is fallacy and begin over.

Beginning over means being open to all possibilities including those that are not easily explained.When I get a feeling about something, I cannot point to its cause and explain it. So many times, I ignored it. More fool me, given it was nearly always right. It’s hard to explain to someone why you don’t want to get to know them, because your instincts say it’s not a good idea, so you go ahead and you ignore that, tamp it down, and later on realise, when they reveal themselves to be the unbalanced person you thought they were initially, how you should have had the courage to be honest. But how do you honestly explain to someone you don’t trust them just based on a feeling?

Instead, we do the socially approved norms and we neglect our instincts because how can we honestly get away with basing everything on feelings?

It is then, a huge irony that feelings, those initial thoughts we have upon meeting someone, are so often right. It may be as simple as an instinct like other animals have, and the accuracy of it is based upon the same natural instincts all animals share, that has just been forgotten by humans. We should make room for the validity of gut instincts and ‘senses’ given how accurate they are. They may not fit well with modern society, we may not be able to tout them as we do science, math, provable things. But when we realise so much of math and statistics is created by us, and thus, is only as empirical as we’ve made it, we can see everything is subjective and there is room for other modes of thinking and feeling.

I’m continually astounded by how accurate my gut instinct is. I met a woman once who I ended up working with extensively on a project. By all accounts she was a professional and a boon to the project. However, my first impression of her was she raised the hairs on the back of my neck. There was just something ‘wrong’ but I ignored this, feeing absurd for my feelings, and proceeded to work with her and have a friendship through that work. With time she revealed herself to be mentally unbalanced and worse, nothing of what she purported, and I found myself wishing I had known, when in reality I always had.

Rather than kicking ourselves we should applaud ourselves when we do have the courage to stand by our instincts. They have always been with us, they are not artificially imposed, they don’t worry about what others think and they’re not subject to whim as much ironically, as ‘facts’ can be, in this day of mutable truisms.

When something feels wrong, it’s probably wrong. When someone doesn’t seem right, they’re probably not. Don’t let their faux-shaming of your instincts, or your own, stop you from doing what you need to do to ward off potential calamity. We have instincts for a reason, and just as your cat knows when a predator is watching it, you know when one is watching you.

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Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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

Categories
Index

Borderless, April, 2021

Greetings from Borderless Journal for all Asian New Years! Click here to read our message along with the video and a translation of a Tagore song written to greet the new year, with lyrics that not only inspire but ask the fledgling to heal mankind from deadly diseases.

Editorial

New Beginnings

A walk through our content and our plans for the future. Click here to read.

Interviews

In Conversation with Arundhathi Subramaniam: An online interview with this year’s Sahitya Akademi winner, Arundhathi Subramaniam. Click here to read.

Sumana Roy & Trees: An online interview with Sumana Roy, a writer and academic. Click here to read.

Poetry

(Click on the names to read)

Arundhathi Subramaniam, Jared Carter, Matthew James Friday, Michael R Burch, Aparna Ajith, Jenny Middleton, Rhys Hughes, Jay Nicholls, Achingliu Kamei, Vatsala Radhakeesoon, Ihlwha Choi, Smitha Vishwanath, Sekhar Banerjee, Sumana Roy

Photo-poetry by Penny Wilkes

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

With an introduction to Blood and Water by Rebecca Lowe, Rhys Hughes debuts with his column on poets and poetry. Click here to read.

Translations

The Word by Akbar Barakzai

Fazal Baloch translates the eminent Balochi poet, Akbar Barakzai. Click here to read.

Malayalam poetry in Translation

Aditya Shankar translates a poem by Shylan from Malayalam to English. Click here to read.

Tagore Songs in Translation

To commemorate Tagore’s birth anniversary, we translated five of his songs from Bengali to English. Click here to read, listen and savour.

Tagore Translations: One Small Ancient Tale

Rabindranath Tagore’s Ekti Khudro Puraton Golpo (One Small Ancient Tale) from his collection Golpo Guchcho ( literally, a bunch of stories) has been translated by Nishat Atiya. Click here to read.

Musings/Slice of Life

Pohela Boisakh: A Cultural Fiesta

Sohana Manzoor shares the Bengali New Year celebrations in Bangladesh with colourful photographs and interesting history and traditions that mingle beyond the borders. Click here to read.

Gliding along the Silk Route

Ratnottama Sengupta, a well-known senior journalist and film critic lives through her past to make an interesting discovery at the end of recapping about the silk route. Click here to read and find out more.

The Source

Mike Smith drifts into nostalgia about mid-twentieth century while exploring a box of old postcards. What are the stories they tell? Click here to read.

Lost in the Forest

John Drew, a retired professor, cogitates over a tapestry of the Ras lila. Click here to read.

Tied to Technology

Naomi Nair reflects on life infiltrated by technology, by Siri and Alexa with a tinge of humour. Click here to read.

Adventures of a Backpacking Granny

In Inspiriting SiberiaSybil Pretious takes us with her to Lake Baikal and further. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Tributes & AttributesDevraj Singh Kalsi pays tribute to his late mother. Click here to read.

Essays

Reflecting the Madness and Chaos Within

Over 150 Authors and Artists from five continents have written on mental illness in an anthology called Through the Looking Glass. Candice Louisa Daquin, a psychotherapist and writer and editor, tells us why this is important for healing. Click here to read.

At Home in the World: Tagore, Gandhi and the Quest for Alternative Masculinities

Meenakshi Malhotra explores the role of masculinity in Nationalism prescribed by Tagore, his niece Sarala Debi, Gandhi and Colonials. Click here to read.

A Tale of Devotion and Sacrifice as Opposed to Jealousy and Tyranny

Sohana Manzoor explores the social relevance of a dance drama by Tagore, Natir puja. We carry this to commemorate Tagore’s birth anniversary. Click here to read

Photo Essay: In the Midst of Colours

Nishi Pulugurtha explores the campus of a famed university with her camera and words and shares with us her experiences. Click here to read.

Bhaskar’s Corner

Oh, That lovely Title: Politics

A short piece by Bhaskar Parichha that makes for a witty comment on the forthcoming Indian elections. Click here to read.

Stories

Pothos

Rakhi Pande gives us a story about a woman and her inner journey embroiled in the vines of money plant. Click here to read.

Elusive

A sensitive short story by Sohana Manzoor that makes one wonder if neglect and lack of love can be termed as an abuse? Click here to read

Ghumi Stories: Grandfather & the Rickshaw

Nabanita Sengupta takes us on an adventure on the rickshaw with Raya’s grandfather. Click here to read

Flash Fiction: The Husband on the Roof

Carl Scharwath gives us a story with a strange twist. Click here to read

Flash Fiction: Flight of the Falcon

Livneet Shergill gives us a story in empathy with man and nature. Click here to read

The Literary Fictionist

A playlet by Sunil Sharma set in Badaun, The Dryad and I: A Confession and a Forecast, is a short fiction about trees and humans. Click here to read.

Book reviews

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Reconciling Differences by Rudolf C Heredia, a book that explores hate and violence. Click here to read.

Nivedita Sen reviews Nomad’s Land by Paro Anand, a fiction set among migrant children of a culture borne of displaced Rohingyas, Syrian refugees, Tibetans and more. Click here to read

Candice Louisa Daquin reviews The First Cell and the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the last by Azra Raza. Click here to read.

Book Excerpt

Excerpted from Raising a Humanist: Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World by Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia, the focus is on media and its impact. Click here to read.

Sara’s Selection, April 2021

A selection of young person’s writings from Bookosmia. Click here to read.

Categories
Review

Finding Hope in Despair

Book review by Candice Louisa Daquin

Title: The First Cell and the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the last

Author: Azra Raza

Unless you are an oncologist, what would possess you to read a book on cancer?

Azra Raza’s unexpectedly well written book gives you the only reason you’ll need. Because it’s necessary.

Why? We go through life without thinking of death very much. Maybe this is a good thing. However, all of us shall die. And many of us shall develop or die of cancer. Whilst we may not wish to think about this during life, that she tells us is precisely why the progression of cancer treatment has been stymied. It’s not the only reason of course. There is more money in treatment than cures. But as long as we are all too busy to read on these subjects, we can be assured nothing will change and it really does need to change.

If you read the news, you’d be forgiven for believing cancer treatments have progressed and improved. After all we want to believe that don’t, we? But like any statistic, it can be inaccurate and miss the larger picture. Unfortunately, much as we want to be positive, we need to be realistic. The truth is cancer deaths have only lessened because of social change (less smoking, healthier lifestyles) and early detection (screening programs) and not because of the actual treatment.

The actual treatment (cut, poison, burn — surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) remains the most popular of choice for battling majority forms of cancer. We can all point to the notable exceptions but they make up a relatively small percentage. The vast percentage of cancer patients are given these options in varying forms.

Those cancers that do not necessarily kill, may not terminate lives. But it isn’t because of the treatment so much as the cutting out of, or sheer luck, that the cancer was caught in time. The treatment itself, if you are unlucky enough to have an advanced cancer, hasn’t changed much (with the exception of gene therapies that have been advancing but are not applicable for all cancers) since the 1950’s. Yes, that’s right, the 1950’s.

So, while doctors want to offer hope, they do so more out of a stubborn desire to ‘try anything’ rather than because the six months they may give a dying person, is really beneficial when you consider the sheer backbreaking cost (bankruptcy from medical costs being the number one reason) and very small gains (six months more of life and you have spent all your money on a treatment which only benefits Big Pharma). The unwillingness of doctors to give up, is admirable and very human (who wants to tell someone there is no hope?) but it brings with it, a false promise.

What’s the solution? Azra Raza’s solution is very simple but mostly overlooked. She believes from her own experience of watching her husband die of cancer despite her being an oncologist and researcher that we have to stop looking for the ‘magic pill’ and go back to basics. Let’s find out what causes cancer. Let’s intervene before cancer gets a foothold. Why are we only looking at how to treat the incurable? Why aren’t we looking at how to prevent it in the first place?

Raza points to a Westernized, masculinized perspectives in the medical world that makes true research very prohibitive, that research being done is drowned out by the lack of people who will be willing to take it to the next step, and a lack of funding. Without this, we cannot hope to change a decades old ‘tradition’ and yet, this tradition is causes enormous suffering. Every time Raza sees a new advertisement on TV for a ‘platinum-based treatment’ or something that offers ‘real hope’ to cancer survivors, she is acutely aware of the enormous price tag and literal months or weeks these treatments really offer patients. She asks; ‘Is throwing up every day in agony really worth spending your life savings on for a scant six weeks more of life?’

Of course, there are miracles. But Raza says, rather than looking at the outliers, we need to be honest about how many people with cancer have horrible odds and suffer hideously at the hands of an unchanging system that doesn’t really address the problem at its root.

“We have seen that the current cancer landscape is worse than it was in the 1970s. Even today 95 percent of experimental trials continue to fail…. By law the FDA can only take safety and efficacy data into account when reviewing a drug for approval, not its price-tag.”

So, if we were to do that, what would it look like? When someone is treated for cancer, doctors reverse engineer the tumour to see if the cancer is returning in the body, that way they can ‘detect’ returning cancer and treat it. What if we could do this before cancer exists in the body, by looking at biomarkers and other evidence that pre-dates the actual development of cancer, so that along with improved screening measures, we can stop cancer before it starts?

Once a cancer has metastasized, we are chasing our tails in many ways and while this can give a patient many years of life, just as often it does not. And rather than slashing and burning and causing more cancers, if traced prior to the onset, the ‘first cell’ can be a less invasive and less catastrophic method of treating or avoiding cancer where no ‘work-up’ costs a million dollars. The concept of ‘prolonging survival’ needs to be re-examined against the invariable suffering of those who are terminal.  

As Raza says: “The very terms meant to empower end up detracting from the profound human experience of an individual facing mortality head-on in all its chaotic savagery, the physical suffering, anxiety, the grief…. The terminology of positive thinking also stigmatizes by indirectly blaming the victim.”

Additionally, we test on the wrong thing, by testing on animals we cannot hope to reproduce the effect a medication has on a human body. “I’m not saying all scientific research on animal models should be abandoned. What I am saying is that animal models are misleading and harmful for cancer drug development, because the disease cannot be reproduced in such simplistic, artificial systems.”

Using poetry from India and the Middle East, interspersed with recounting of real lives affected by cancer, Raza makes the unpalatable subject, readable. I cannot say this is easy reading, or that it will be a book many lay people read, but I’d hope more than cancer sufferers pick this up, because there is a real answer here, and it’s written with such compassion and intelligence, it’s as evocative and vital as the very treatments it considers.

I was so impressed with the bright star that is Azra Raza and her courage, compassion and bright mind. If more were like Raza, maybe we’d already be further along the road in offering long lives to those with cancer. We may instinctively wish to turn away from this subject and thus, this book. But if we do one thing for ourselves, we should read The First Cell and consider, if not for ourselves, for someone we love, if we are mindlessly ignoring the problem and thus, letting it perpetuate. We need to have this conversation and we have needed to have had it since the 1950s. Let’s be brave enough now. As Raza says:

“There is no activism without despair, no despair without hope. Despair can be as powerful an engine for change as hope.”

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Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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

Categories
Essay

Reflecting the Madness and Chaos Within

Over 150 Authors and Artists from five continents, wrote on mental illness. Candice Louisa Daquin, a psychotherapist and writer and editor, tells us why this is important for healing

A watercolor of King Lear and the Fool from Act III, Scene ii. Courtesy: Creative Commons

When Indie Blu(e) put feelers out about creating an anthology based on mental illness, the passionate reception galvanized our belief it was a necessary subject. However, a few expressed concerns that an anthology about mental illness, would be ‘depressing’ and they wondered ‘who would want to read about mental illness?’ It is this perspective, acting like a fog, that separates those inflicted with mental illness from those who are not.  

Such responses exacerbate feelings of isolation, unworthiness, and loneliness that many with mental illness already have. Through The Looking Glass, a metaphor from Alice in Wonderland, evokes this common feeling of separation, as poetry and prose has long had a tradition of doing. For many, this lack of understanding may be the tipping point leading to a premature death. If there is one reason to embrace mental illness in an anthology of art and poetry, it is to speak for, speak with and represent those who would be otherwise denied. To continue a tradition of poets and artists elucidating on the subject of suffering mentally: 

“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, 

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading – treading – till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through”

(I felt a Funeral in my Brain, Emily Dickinson)

If you Google ‘what causes depression?’ among the top ten searches will be ‘free yourself of depression’ and ‘depression is a choice’. As long as we blame the sufferer, the malady will become more entrenched. Mental illness is the only malady, aside from lung cancer caused by smoking, that we actively blame the sufferer for inflicting on himself.  We bandy around terms like ‘chemical imbalance’ and ‘deficit of proteins in the brain caused by trauma’ but nobody really knows what ‘causes’ depression because like most disease, depression is epigenetic, hereditary and mal-chance and so many things we do not understand.

Depression can be a learned behavior, it can be transmitted through a virus, be the result of a series of debilitating personal events, or because you have stomach problems, and the serotonin and other chemicals are not manufactured in sufficient quantity. Depression can be the result of faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, dementia, old-age, youth, hormones, drugs, eating disorders and sexual abuse. Or, depression can be caused by absolutely nothing! Usually it’s more than one thing, deeply complex and difficult to replicate in a laboratory setting.

As long as we as a society utilize words like ‘snap out of it’ and ‘be strong like …’ we will entirely miss the point. Not one person living chooses to be depressed, it is not a simple matter of one chemical being too low and another too high that can be ‘fixed’ with a pill or an adjusted attitude to life. We must distinguish between sadness, melancholy, situational sorrow, grieving, bouts of misery, feeling sorry for oneself, and medically defined depression.

The latter is a mental illness, it doesn’t mean you’re delusional or mad or unreliable, in fact depression strikes all but typically the more intelligent are more prone to it. One could argue, depression is a disease of insight and awareness of our ‘unbearable lightness of being.’ For some it manifests in childhood, others not until they’re elderly. All forms of depression are legitimate, and should not be shamed, rebuked, repulsed, diminished or ignored.

Whilst there is sense in saying we should not obsess over the subject, to the exclusion of efforts to brighten one’s life, by whatever means possible, we should equally not ignore those who are desperately struggling and usually without a single person to help them.

If your neighbor had cancer, you would not shame him for his ‘weaknesses tell him he was making a ‘bad choice’ and ask him to ‘get over it’ so why should you ever think it’s acceptable to do that for depression? Just as we are re-writing language for Trans Generations to be inclusive and supportive of insight and change, we should reconsider how we talk about depression. As long as we perceive depression to be a ‘bad attitude’ or ‘personality deficit’ or believe if Oprah could ‘get over it’ so could you, we condemn those who have obviously tried hard to do just that. They might feel it is their fault if they have not ‘succeeded’.

Encouraging someone to do things that help them when they are depressed, believing for some there is an end to their depression, those are all positive actions. We should take our depressed friends out for walks, to remind them there is joy in the world even when they are not able to see it, through no fault of their own. But we should also be careful that our well-intentioned prescriptivism does not become dogmatic and suggest the individual isn’t doing all they can. If they’re not (doing all they can), it may be that’s all they can do for now. Equally if you really believe someone isn’t doing enough, you can suggest things you feel might help without seeming accusatory.

From inception, we at Indie Blu(e) sought to offer a platform for those who might otherwise find no platform. Artists have historically endured mental illness in higher numbers than average. Reasons abound but there is no final analysis, it is thought whatever spurs creativity, may equally make certain illnesses more likely, just as left-handed-people are often more creative, perhaps it is about what parts of the brain are utilized and how. 

No one group of people, based on gender, ethnicity, culture, doesn’t suffer from mental illness. Varied cultures have sought to shame others.

Likewise, mental illness has long been thought to affect women more than men and is tied inexorably with ‘hysteria’ (hyster/womb, the once-thought seat of mental illness in women).  However, in The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, Andrew Solomon has said: “If one discounts depression triggered by anxiety about offspring, the rate of depression for men and women appears to equalize”, especially, with women seeking mental health counseling in higher numbers because of cultural approbation toward men owning any perceived vulnerability. This is further proven by the higher rate of completed suicide and ‘accidents’ among men, pointing to a social cause rather than one gender suffering more than the other. 

With the stigma of mental illness well entrenched in most societies, and not likely to be eliminated, despite best efforts, the only course of action must be in continued awareness. The more we are aware and exposed to diversity, the more accepting we ultimately become, or so sociologists tell us. If there is any truth to this idea of ‘acceptance by exposure’ then being a vehicle of awareness is how to eventually overcome prejudice and bigotry. Solomon tells us: “The insistence on normality, the belief in an inner logic in the face of unmistakable abnormality, is endemic to depression.” These kinds of ‘certitudes’ can be the triggers that push someone suffering from moderate mental illness, to a breakdown. It is the lack of support, empathy or compassion that acts as a sharp rebuke to those who need the very opposite. 

For those suffering from the myriad of mental illnesses that exist; stigma and shame are daily companions. While logically we know people never ‘choose’ mental illnesses, a societal prejudice can be deeply engrained, making it a greater challenge than ever not to blame oneself. How often have we heard the sayings: “If I could beat it, then I think anyone can and they’re not trying hard enough if they still suffer,” or something to that effect? How often do pronouncements like: “They don’t seem to be able to get themselves together,” or similar, indite people who are sick, when we would rarely use those same pronouncements on those with physical ailments?

In ‘The Will To Power’, Friedrich Nietzsche tells us: “(the mentally ill) represent the same ills. Health and sickness are not essentially different, as the ancient physicians and some practitioners even today suppose. I fact, there are only differences in degree between these two kinds of existence: the exaggeration, the disproportion, the nonharmony of the normal phenomena constitute the pathological state.”

Our penchant for judging, putting ourselves above others, ridiculing and labeling, seems boundless, and causes those who are already struggling to stay afloat, further grief. Why we feel the need to do these things, is too long a consideration for this foreword, but suffice to say, the more we put others down, the better we seem to feel about ourselves, if history is anything to go by. In many ways then, prejudice against the mentally ill, is not dissimilar to racism, homophobia or sexism. It shares that delight in rebuking someone else for who they are, and a relish in implying the accuser is of superior stock. When we look at it like that, it seems quite pathetic, and obvious, but when it’s subtly employed in modes of speech, everyday considerations and overall responses, it can be insidious and incredibly damaging. This could be a reaction from people who are unable to process the condition. They attack, as a form of unconscious self-defense. 

In Psychology and Freudian Theory, Paul Kline says: “When we speak of defenses, we actually mean whole ways of perceiving reality such that important attitudes, for example prejudices and sexual views, are affected.”

When I trained as a psychotherapist, I wanted to ensure children and adults who were depressed had someone to go talk to, rather than fall into despair. Sadly, I found in the profession, such a high rate of ‘burn out’ that I could understand why therapists seemed so disinterested, uninvested and fatigued. If you see 12 clients a day, each for an hour and then have to write long notes and take phone calls, you simply cannot give enough of yourself to be competent.  Psychotherapists have a duty through their profession to ‘nonmaleficence (do not harm) and beneficence (promote good) but psychotherapists are only human and possess human flaws, including their own prejudices and biases. When you combine those with an unrealistic workload, you may find psychotherapy doesn’t work as well in practice as it should, which is a pity, considering how necessary it remains. 

Even in countries where insurance companies do not dictate how we label people, in order to be reimbursed, there are too many sick people for too few therapists and the patients really suffer a lack of quality care. One could argue this is an improvement from the days of mass mental institutions or even, the ‘care in the community’ model, that fell flat on its face and led to mass homelessness. One could also argue, what other way realistically exists? But we seem to find the money for other things, just not mental health, so the real issue is priorities. Mental health, despite its terrible fallout, has never been a priority and it doesn’t matter how many mentally ill mass shooters there are, it never seems to significantly alter policy or be considered important enough to truly invest in. Easier to dose with pills that are supposed to be short-term and have long-term side-effects. 

Instead, stereotypes abound, and few people outwardly admit to being mentally ill for fear of condemnation or it is affecting their job or right to keep their children. Draconian as that might seem, without sufficient protections in place, mentally ill people have fewer rights than anyone else. This ‘going underground’ response means those in need, are even less likely to receive it and the sheer cost means those with serious mental disorders, are often unable to earn enough to pay for treatment. Whilst this echoes modern medicine and the health industry at large, mental illness has more in common with chronic illness, the kind that are invisible, or misunderstood, like Chronic Lyme and Fibromyalgia. The same brutal disregard for the suffering of these individuals is shared by those with chronic mental illnesses, they are an inconvenience at best, in societies that prize profit above all else. 

In Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the dark side of the psyche, Robert A. Johnson contends: “The balance of light and dark is ultimately possible – and bearable. All nature lives in polarity – light and dark, creation and destruction, up and down, male and female. It is not surprising that we find the same basic laws functioning in our psychological structure.”

When reading submissions, we realized, even among mental health professionals, there is so much disagreement, and implied judgement. When someone talks of ‘those who can fight their way out of it’ they imply, those who cannot, are weaker. I’m sure that is not what is meant but language is so crucial when considering impression. Just as with racism, how we speak, indicates our biases and level of empathy. If we want to be non-judging, we should start with reworking how we speak about mental illness and consider how many times those suffering have been humiliated and judged by our lack of care in how we refer to their problem.

This is no less true in poetry, and some of those poems not selected for the anthology, whilst good and raw, had components within them that could have been misconstrued. This means even those who suffer mental illness may inadvertently judge themselves and others, through learned behaviors and language. One of the most judging people I spoke to about this anthology was an acquaintance with Bipolar 1 disease. Ironic yes, but not entirely surprising when you consider how we often emulate what has been done to us, so if we were judged our entire lives, we do it in turn.

Others would argue, what’s the harm in holding an opinion? When dealing with vulnerable populations who are trying to be treated equally and not labeled or dismissed, we must consider the importance of how we express ourselves. Of course, we’re all entitled to hold an opinion, but hate and prejudice are different, and judging is a form of prejudice that can act like a slow cancer. We should ask ourselves instead, why we feel the need to judge others when they are not like us, rather than consider how they are like us, or what we can do to help them? Why is claiming to be stronger than someone else, such a ‘thing’ in our society? Why do we relish putting others down?

When we learn to stop doing that, we may reach Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s highest level in his Hierarchy Of Needs, that of self-actualization, where we no longer live based on basic needs (physiological, safety, self-esteem) and begin to consider what we can do for others. If we don’t wish to do this, at least we could do no harm. When considering harm, we should bear in mind, words do not seem as apparently harmful as actions, but putting someone who is already struggling down, could be the last straw. Would any of us want to push someone over the edge just because we can?

Indie Blu(e) has published anthologies in response to the #metoo movement, LGBTQ equality and other socially minded subjects and with 2021 emerging from a year of hell, we saw how those with chronic mental and physical illnesses suffered silently without recourse. The umbrella of ‘art’ is one means by which, we have as humans have always expressed ourselves best. Art has led to societal change, acceptance, tolerance, elucidation. Art can heal, art has power. 

It is our hope mental illness will one day be seen for what it is, an unavoidable malady that people try their entire lives to overcome. We have seen some of the best creative expression come from those suffering from mental illness and without mentally ill people, our world would be bland indeed. Mentally ill people are not typically mass shooters; they are creative, expressive, intelligent, and incredibly strong. A collection of work celebrating the talent of those who suffer from mental illness, seemed to be a necessary way to begin to shift old prejudices and shine light through the looking glass. 

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist, LPC/NBCC. She is a Senior Editor at Indie Blu(e) Publishing & Co-Editor of their anthology exploring madness, Through The Looking Glass.

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

Categories
Essay

The Kali Project: From Start to Finish

An exhaustive account of the inception and the fruition of the Kali Project by Co-Editor Candice Louisa Daquin

At the beginning of 2020

I had a conversation with Indian surrealist poet Devika Mathur about an anthology of Indian women poets. I had just edited Devika’s first poetry collection, Crimson Skins (Indie Blu(e) Publishing), and been reintroduced into the world’s love affair with Indian poets. Devika being so young and gifted, inspired me, along with Aakriti Kuntal, another trail-blazing Indian poet whom I have worked with many times, to approach successful Indian/American editor/poet/blogger Megha Sood about co-editing an anthology.

The purity of my appreciation for Indian poets writing in the English language, and their astounding ability to do this better than most native speakers, had struck deeply and fortunately. Megha Sood was as passionately interested in putting together a representative collection. We both agreed, given the current news reports of girls still being raped and molested in India, this would be our starting point and this gradually evolved into a fully-fledged project, with a book at its center.  As soon as we put a call out, we were literally flooded with interest, and this is still the case. Not a day goes by when I do not get someone asking if they can write for The Kali Project, though the submission deadline closed in October 2020. That’s a fierce testament to the level of interest and need.

When my colleagues at Indie Blu(e) Publishing agreed to publish us, Megha came up with the unforgettable and utterly perfect name The Kali Project, and Kali was reborn! I felt confident, working alongside someone of Megha’s caliber, we couldn’t fail, but it was nonetheless a daunting task for myself, a French/Egyptian immigrant to America, I needed to further educate myself on Kali and what the women of India experienced. I was very lucky to find and befriend a huge group of Indian women poets and artists who through their generosity and knowledge, more than filled my head with relevant information and ideas. They are literally a whirlwind, a force to be reckoned with, and it only left me aware of how hard Indian women work.

We wanted to ensure we had a true mix of talent. It is never sufficient to invite only famous, or notable poets, but to consider all; all kinds of voices, all levels. The Kali Project has authors and artists as young as nine and well into their eighth decade. Those just starting out, those who have been doing this a long time. Kali is not exclusive to women. It is imperative men access The Kali Project and the reception we have received from our male readers thus far, has also been very positive. What good would it ever do to alienate the entire male gender, just to get across the point, gender inequality has to end?

Inception: Indie Blu(e) Publishing gets involved

Christine Ray and Kindra Austin, the women who created Indie Blu(e) Publishing, have actively sought to publish marginalised and oppressed voices from the very inception of their company, and it has remained their primary focus. Combining incredible authors with edgy, raw writing is the core of their mission as publishers. When they saw some of their Indian sisters speaking out about another atrocity of rape and murder of a young woman in India, there was no question they had to be involved.

As Christine Ray, Editor-In-Chief of Indie Blu(e) said: “The Kali Project is another example of setting alight the inequality of women in India by sharing their talented voices with an English-speaking audience. We wanted to introduce to our Western readers, those talents within India who speak with the same fierce voice and share the same goal of equality and an end to oppression. Indian writing has gravitas and brutal honesty that has existed for millennia, influencing poets from around the world.”

Poetry lovers may be familiar with how gifted Indian writers are, but an entire collection of women writers from India, sharing their experiences is a powerful cohesion of all aspects of oppression and defiance. From the very young to experienced, renowned writers, The Kali Project brings together the voices of Indian women speaking their truths. Be it infanticide, family violence, the emerging LGBTQ community in India, or the marital inequity Indian women face, these struggles are penned in exquisite poetry to enlighten and further awareness.

The Kali Project was born from a deep appreciation for Indian authors who write so beautifully in English despite it often being their second or third language. The craft and ability of these incredible writers is furthered by their passionate, vocal understanding of caste systems, familial inequality, subjugation, sexual assault, and ultimately, survival. It is important to note, those women at the extreme end of marginalization are harder to locate for an anthology edited and published in the West in English and we wish we had been able to access their voices because they remain, the most subjugated and continue to not have enough direct attention.

India is set to become the largest populated subcontinent in the world and already influences the West enormously with their art and eloquence of feeling and expression.  Western readers can now appreciate an entire anthology devoted to Indian female poets, and their voices rising as one, for equality and respect. The Kali Project is an umbrella for all woman in India who have needed the strength of ‘Maa Kali’ during their life and speaks to every woman worldwide, who can tap into the fierce energies of The Kali and what she represents.

Indie Blu(e) Publishing continually offers the urgent subjects that matter most but are often overlooked by the mainstream. It has long been their mission to be that voice for indie authors and beyond, and they are delighted to offer The Kali Project a safe space to flourish. Having received over 1500 submissions, The Kali Project speaks to Indian women’s growing influence and power in the world, they are truly a force to be reckoned with, and Indie Blu(e) is extremely honoured to publish this collection. www.indieblu.net

Project Outcome

As The Kali Project is the most ambitious project Indie Blu(e) Publishing has published, in terms of size, we also had to address the elephant in the room; Is it appropriate for a Western press to publish Indian authors? Some had thought it wasn’t and didn’t submit for this reason, as is their right. This is how we saw it: Movements succeed when all groups of people support them. The original movements in the sixties here in America would not have succeeded as much, had people of all walks of life not joined them. Therefore, there is no exclusivity to the support of a movement. Where one has to be careful is in the handling of subjects beyond one’s experience. Hence why, even with the best intentions in the world, you would not publish a book about Black Lives Matter solely by Anglo authors, it just wouldn’t be representative or speak directly.

It felt publishing and editing a book of this magnitude required cultural knowledge and sensitivity, and we were lucky enough to have Megha Sood on board for The Kali Project. Born in India and of Indian heritage, Megha could speak directly to the experience of women in India. She also is a highly accomplished editor and writer in her own right. Additionally, we tried to be as receptive and responsive to concerns raised along the way. Of course, with any large project, it is impossible to please everyone and there were those who walked away from the project because Indie Blu(e) Publishing is an equal rights publisher, promoting feminism and LGBTQ themes.

The project was very positively received and the support and enthusiasm from the community we became a part of, has been a life-altering experience for us all. One must be particularly aware when working with a culture different from your own, but with the right team, and listening to the community, this can be achieved. The important thing is to put the people first and let their truths be heard. No wrong can come from that.

Another consideration was the graphic nature of some of the poetry received. Indie Blu(e) has not shied away from publishing graphic works. Be it in response to the #MeToo movement (We Will Not Be Silenced), the LGBTQ community (Smitten, This Is What Love Looks Like), or the recent #BLM, #Trump, #Covid-19 year of hell (As The World Burns). As a small press, we feel our social conscience is our touchstone.

Women of India have boldly addressed subjects of; rape, sexual inequality, racism, casteism, and femicide and despite some daunting obstacles, not least the threat of violence and retribution, Indian women’s courage has lent their voices an unparalleled power. The Kali Project identifies, acknowledges and emboldens that change, and aspires to act as a vehicle of social change. The graphic nature of say, a rape scene might be blatant, but it was decided that, as with most art and expression, this shouldn’t be dissuaded.

The balance of classical poetry, alongside more modern themed works, and art, lends the project a fluidity and relevance that fits the inauguration of the first female American Vice President, Kamala Devi Harris, of Indian and African heritage. We are experiencing a cultural and gender shift in how women and different races are perceived and what they are able to do in society. The poets and artists of The Kali Project are an expression of this galvanization toward complete expression and freedom of thought.

With a President in power for four years, who many women felt, didn’t speak for them, and many immigrants felt, didn’t support them, we now see the potential for change that could begin to open more ways to utilize art and language for social progress. As much as social media is invaluable, the true grit remains on the streets, with the people. Print books have gained a massive resurgence. Paper is still powerful. Maybe coming off 2020 the hardest year in a while, we’re primed for social action like never before.

All along our intention was to utilize The Kali Project as a tool for change, not simply a book. It was always our intention to effect change through increasing awareness in the West, as we had with, We Will Not Be Silenced, which was Indie Blu(e)’s inaugural publication. We were founded on the principle of equality and enlightenment. What we have personally learned from this experience has been momentous and the outcome of the project has only just begun. By opening up taboo subjects, we enable marginalised and frustrated voices to speak about continuing inequality. Indian women have done so much already but it cannot hurt to continue to highlight this in any way we’re able.

We wanted to contribute to a bigger picture. Start conversations. Shift thinking. We regret not being able to reach those most affected in India and were aware how difficult it would be to reach the most rural and poorest Indian women who do not have access to computers, who do not speak English, who cannot be easily reached on social media. As much as possible, we solicited contributions from women of diverse ages, gender identities, sexual identities, social class, oft-published writers as well as writers and artists who had never been published before.  Is Kali completely representative of ALL Indian women?  It cannot be. Can any anthology be completely representative? It’s a challenge.  We do our best, despite knowing we omit some of those who still desperately need to be heard. It doesn’t negate the value of the project, but it’s a regret.

It should be mentioned, The Kali Project doesn’t resonate as ‘negative’ and ‘bad news’ at all. Of course, there is the reality, and the reality can be very painful. It can also be joyful. This must not be forgotten. The love, enriching strength, and joy of Indian women is also borne out in The Kali Project. We were particularly moved by N. Meera Raghavendra Rao’s poem ‘My Mother-In-Law Surprises Me’, an account of the author as a young bride, and her positive experience “When two women understand each other / And feel at home with one another.

It is just as important to show all sides of being an Indian woman, for every atrocity, there is hope, and strength, and this is why Kali was the perfect Goddess to represent the project, she is multi-faceted and both nurturing and powerful. “Kali / embodies the / boundless freedom / epitome of Shakti / of strength and power / standing unbound from all / restrictions.” Mehak Varun, ‘The Kali in Me’.

Balance is everything. For every negative, there is a positive and we tried to reflect that balance throughout the collection, with hopeful poems, even on difficult subjects: “Do not call me Lakhi meye (good girl) / And tell me I’m an angel / When you only try to teach me wrongly that love lies camouflaged / within your dominant behavior” …“Stop saying I am not enough, not worthy, not great / Because I know I have conquered mountains and moons, flown / across the skies, over the waves / I have danced and taught and painted and calculated and done / everything you told me I could not.” Mandrita Bose, ‘Do not call me Durga’.

Other Influences

Just the other day I watched  Rama Rau’s fascinating documentary, The Daughter Tree (2019), and was struck again, as I have been throughout time, to the necessity of speaking up for women. In the region of Punjab, 1000 boys are born for every 750 girls.  The documentary is about a midwife in Punjab state challenging the tradition of aborting girl babies. There are other causes to care about, as a person of Sephardi Jewish descent, and LGBTQ I know this acutely. But we gravitate toward those who capture our hearts. In my case, equality.

I hear many times that equality for women is ‘complete’ and there is no need for feminism anymore. That simply isn’t true. There are countless examples of inequality persisting and those who say feminism is dead or should be dead, you wonder what the real motivation is behind that desire to shut it down? How can equality exist with statistics and realities saying otherwise? Take The Great Indian Kitchen, an Indian Malayalam–language film written and directed by Jeo Baby (2021). The experience of many Indian women and other women worldwide, is that of submissive, chained-to-the-kitchen wife, who is ‘unclean’ when she menstruates. With realities like this, women’s move for true equality cannot be diminished or ignored.

I’ve always wondered, if someone wants to shut feminism down so badly, what do they get out of that? Where is the benefit? And what is the harm in being a feminist, which only means, believing women and men can and should be equal. This is a lengthy subject, but I speak for many women in saying, as long as a woman is paid less than a man for doing the same job, as long as a woman’s reproductive rights are controlled by a system and not by herself, as long as she is told whom she can love and whom she cannot, as long as she is derided for her age, appearance, sexuality and gender, then feminism is relevant. And feminists are not man-haters. They are equality makers.

The Daughter Tree provoked a consideration I have had ever since we first talked about creating The Kali Project, which is; How do we speak directly to those most affected, and are their voices heard? I would have to say, no, the most affected voices were not heard either by The Kali Project or anything else, and that is the real problem. When you have mass poverty, illiteracy, control of female populations, then how can you speak directly to the women?

The poetry and art in The Kali Project is in part, an indirect observation of, rather than a direct experience of, for some of the authors. That’s because in India, those who are bilingual, with regular access to a computer and have the time to write, are invariably a higher income than those most affected. It is not to discount the suffering of all walks of life, but we did regret not having some way to engage with those whom we couldn’t even contact, because we are English speakers in a foreign country. Yes, that is a regret. But what do you do? Do nothing because you cannot do it completely? Or hope that by starting a dialogue you are making inroads? I would say the latter.

That said, it is our wish always to be inclusive, to show all sides of something, to give everyone a chance to speak. It was a frustration watching The Daughter Tree, not to have been able to reach those women and girls who cannot write, nor speak in a foreign language, nor have access to a computer. I would dearly have liked to have their stories and shared their views. Because until we do, we risk having a very selective approach to a multi-facetted, complicated subject. As The Daughter Tree points out, there are reasons for some of the traditions enduring, there are factors of consideration and outcomes borne from no better option, and until we address all of those, maybe nothing will really change.

But with awareness, comes progress, and whilst many girls are still sold into marriage or married very young and denied choices and education, the shift comes in all directions and we hope The Kali Project will contribute to this shift. As women, we all know there is work to be done in every country, India is not alone, and that was the point, to ensure Indian women knew, their sisters in other countries were watching, they heard them, they stood with them. Just as when Black Lives Matter movements occurred in the USA, they were taken up by people in all countries. It is that universalism bequeathed us by technology, we can harness and run with.

Finally, the financial considerations related to The Kali Project were long discussed. It has never been our goal to indiscriminately profit from authors, as anyone who works in publishing can attest, this is a lofty goal at the best of times. Indie Blu(e) has actively sought to promote affordable, worldwide publications that can be purchased by everyone, hence why we publish in Kindle and print. The Kali Project’s contributors are primarily based in India, as such we harnessed Pothi, who are based in India, to be another more affordable option for purchasing. In addition, we are set to produce a hardback version of the book for collectors.

For some, a poem’s title alone will stand as testimony: “Disrupting boundaries / Challenging the forecasts / Mocking at man-made wonders.” (Kaikasi V. S., ‘Why are Cyclones Named After Women?’) Others are simply universal in their gendered strength: “I have all the light I need; you’re here, stuck with me.” (Himangi Nair, ‘light & dark’). Some poems just resonate with rebellion and honed fortitude: “No one looked into our eyes with love. / If they had, they’d have heard our souls talk. / Instead, all they said was / She’s hysterical. Women are like that, / especially when they menstruate, / especially when they stop menstruating, / especially as they approach death.” (Anna Sujatha Mathai, ‘Hysteria’). It is truly rare to find a book at 600 pages where you keep going from one incredible read to another.

Kali as received by others

Of all the anthologies I have worked on, I have never seen such an enthusiastic outpouring and this included the terrific reviews we received. I share but a fraction with you:

Featuring poets from India and the diaspora, creating the bond of shared experiences across continents The Kali Project draws in the voices of women as women, and women as professionals – teachers, mental health workers, writers, doctors, lawyers, bankers, social workers – adding newer dimensions and a sharper understanding of the inner realities that are sought to be silenced by the patriarchal structures which society, religion, community, and class sanction and sanctify.”

— Charanjeet Kaur, Former Chief Editor and Features Editor of Muse India, and currently the Contributory Editor for Indian writing in English of MI. Consultant Editor of the SPARROW (Sound & Picture Archives for Research On Women)

From my love of history, I was acquainted with the basics of the Hindu faith and one of their goddesses, Kali/Devi. It was immediately apparent, reading The Kali Project, why Kali had been chosen to represent this poetry anthology. To many in India, irrespective of faith, the depiction of Kali is a sign of a woman’s strength. Whilst Kali is both death and goddess, she has a strong nurturing/mother-figure side with the possibility of compassion. In this, we can contrast her with the Christian Virgin Mary. Kali exceeds the potential power of any idol, because she has an active persona, her ‘shakti’ (feminine energy) is a reality and she has several expressive incantations that give her a wide range within the Hindu faith. Thus, it is no wonder Kail became the natural spearhead of The Kali Project.

— Dr. Belinda Román, Economist/Researcher/Historian

“Fierce feminine energy of Kali is rising today so that we can save ourselves from total annihilation. This volume is a sublime expression of that emergence.”

— Dr. Neela Bhattacharya Saxena, Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Nassau Community College, USA. An academic expert on Kali, Dr. Saxena wrote our detailed foreword and continually supported this project of women speaking their truth.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the writer.

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Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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

Categories
Musings

Core Values

A discussion by Candice Louisa Daquin based on reading Candace Owens’ book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation

According to the author, Candace Owens:

Hilaría Baldwin is NOT Spanish.
Rachel Dolezal will NEVER be black.
A biological man is NOT a woman.
A biological female will never be a man.

These people are just ‘playing pretend’ and as such, it’s not real. Obviously, her rhetoric has caused a mixed response. Many would agree with the first two examples, and be offended by the last two. Yet in some ways, the same argument is being used. Let’s pick this apart some.

Candace Owens in her book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation makes some points that really question what we assume. She’s not politically correct and maybe that’s not such a bad thing in some regards, although how far we can take this, is still up for debate.

When white people (identified as people with white skin) appropriate ‘white guilt’ they can be argued to be patronizing the experiences of the non-white on behalf of whom they experience guilt. It is worth pointing out, few of us come from one racial lineage, few, aside ironically the Nazis, have ever put a ‘number’ on the quota of DNA we need to possess to ‘belong’ to a single group (Native Americans and Jews define based on blood quota but they also accept people into their groups who do not possess this specific blood quota, through marriage and religious conversion). As much as we may want to quantify ‘belonging’ using race, it’s immediately challenging when we get clear exceptions to the stereotype of what we ‘perceive’ as solid racial identifiers, and that’s happening more and more as we become more homogenized and universal.

It used to be we argued a man’s propensity for violence, criminality, lunacy, based on his physiognomy and that perspective of ‘telling what someone is by how they look’ hasn’t left us as much as it should have. Whilst we may have stopped assuming men with big noses are Jewish, we continue to judge when we say someone is black because their skin is not white, or white, because their skin is not black. It leaves too many in-betweens out.

It can be argued that the guilt associated with past historic colonialism or racism is owning one’s ancestors’ ‘mistakes’ or, contextualizing based on the past culture and the time-period by stating that such practices are not longer socially acceptable and were never acceptable morally. Surely that is a very good thing?

The reverse argument looks unapologetically at things in their time period and context only. If a former President used a racist word, it may have been the usage in a racist society, and we are not in that context any longer. Nonetheless racism is racism. So, was it the President who was racist? Was the use of the word racist? Or was it par for the course and if so, is that acceptable in historical context? Should we eradicate any mention of that President, should we give reparation? What should we do to ensure we’re inclusive today about something we feel is intolerable?

For example, when we tear down ‘heroes’ of the past for being racist, we demolish role models who have been beloved for centuries. This causes very strong feelings from both sides. Winston Churchill was apparently quite the racist, but he also saved a continent in WW2, do we eliminate his statue and eliminate him or do we forgive him (and can we ever condone forgiveness for an atrocity, and what constitutes an atrocity versus ignorance) for his racism in context or do we put it in its social milieu? Those are all questions that have many aspects to them.

Take a President who has mixed-race children in a consensual relationship with a black woman, and who loves all his children, but still uses the ‘N-Word’ and has slaves? What about the black men who had black slaves? What of the child who is of mixed-race but passes as white? How about the woman who chooses to be with the President even though she’s at a disadvantage? Where do we quantify the level of disadvantage to understand the inequity and thus, discover the guilty party and misjustice committed? Why would we use this calculation for some scenarios but not others? Why do we pick and choose our outrages?

Imagine you are a woman who was raped, can you understand people like Steven Spielberg saying that Roman Polanski should be ‘forgiven’ because he’s paid his dues (by being exiled, which was really him on the run for decades, in relative luxury) for his child-abuse and other sexual assault charges (which he absconded to Europe from, instead of facing justice). Do you condemn Spielberg et al as being ‘male heterodoxy’ or patriarchy gone wild? Same with Woody Allen. Same with Bukowski. We pick and choose our villains. We could even argue, if we changed the colour of the villain would our response be different and if so, why?

The argument in the artworld, given how many ‘creatives’ commit atrocious acts, has always been ‘try to separate the artist from the act’ but when do you stop doing that? If you found out Woody Allen called black people the “N Word’ would you say that’s enough I can’t support him? What if he called gays, “fags and degenerates” — would that be enough? When David Bowie died and it came out, he wasn’t the paragon of virtue, people said; Oh, but he was so talented, he is my hero, I can’t give him up. When Michael Jackson was revealed to be a paedophile, people said; But he had a hard childhood it wasn’t his fault. When we excuse one and not the other, what message are we sending? Same with Bill Cosby and those ‘father’s we adored on TV growing up.

When Larry King died, the dialogue focused on his positive impact in society and little was said about the accusations of sexual misconduct that caused him to step down from his late-night show. Is that because ‘now is not the time to mention those things?’ When did that rule get applied? What if we changed the gender, would men be as forgiving of not mentioning it? Look at the discrepancies given in sentencing between those with money and influence versus those without and men versus women. Had Aileen Wuornos more money, maybe she wouldn’t have got the death penalty? How much of why she was punished that harshly was to do with not understanding the body politic and the survivor? Just as we dismiss those without celebrity attorneys. We know ‘justice’ isn’t blind or fair, but what about us? Do we analyze and judge fairly?

Is it right of us as a society and as an individual to ever pick and choose ‘what is enough’ and if we do, what are we saying about those things we decide are ‘not’ enough? In other words, if we argue that we like Bukowski because we divorce who he was in his personal life from his life as an incredibly talented writer, then we’re saying those acts were ‘not enough’ but if we find out he used the “N Word” how many of us would then agree it ‘was enough’ to condemn him and divorce him from his artistic-license?

In other words, is it ever acceptable to pick and choose without diminishing what we ‘choose’ not to condemn a person for?

I suspect, if any large name white artist of any kind were to go around saying the “N Word” and “fags and degenerates” many people would stop supporting them. But if that same artist were to go around saying “I’m anti-Muslim” or “I’m anti-Jewish” or we found out they were implicated in a #metoo outcry, we might say, “I’m going to separate the artist from the act.”

If the same artist were black, they would be socially permitted to use the “N-Word” because it’s acceptable in society to reappropriate a racial word and use it on your own race. We have some strange tolerances and rules as a society don’t, we? The same is true with friendships. How many people do we know say things like: “If you support Trump unfriend me now”, whereas if someone supported ‘Pro-Life’ even all their friends were ‘Pro-Choice’ they may not cut them off. Why do we have a notion of what is a breaking-point and what is not? Is it entirely our own breaking-point or deeply influenced by cultural perceptions of the moment?

Only fifteen years ago, people didn’t defend or talk of LGBTQX anywhere like they do now. Nobody thinks fifteen years is a long time. Social media makes ‘trends’ come and go; we change without realizing how much we are changing. What we applaud, stand for, condemn, all shift according to the whim of a mass which is greater than our singular sum. Fifteen years ago, when I told friends it ‘hurt’ me to see signs saying ‘marriage equals a man and a woman’ all over my town, they nodded and said nothing. Now it would be a march and a hash-tag. Then there’s the nuance behind the nuance, like ‘pretend acceptance’ but you’re still not invited over to their house, so it’s superficial at best. That’s rampant. Do we talk about that kind of pretense too?

Some of this is about what is perceived and what is the breaking point, or the socially perceived intolerance. Ask yourself, are you doing this because of inflamed momentum or are you being hypocritical? In theory, if you don’t have the same responses to all the things you believe are wrong, should you have any at all? Likewise, there are critical themes to most people’s personal sense of morality, that they rarely shift from. This explains why a Latino could vote for a politician who is blatantly being racist toward Latinos. They are not voting because of that; they are voting because that politician represents a party who is Pro-Life and Pro-guns and maybe that’s what their core values are.

It’s never as simple as we like to think it is. In an ideal world we’d all have a shared moral compass but we really don’t. For some, the freedom to bear arms far outweighs climate change, or women’s rights or immigrants’ rights, and we may condemn them for that, but we should consider for a moment if we are just as rigid. We may defend a Pro-Choice candidate who is against Israel even as we are Jewish. It’s never about one thing. It’s often not about what you think it is.

One might argue, this is black and white thinking and it is. But that’s where we get into trouble, by thinking dogmatically about complicated things. It’s simply not that simple and that’s part of Owens’ over-arching point in her book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation.

Some non-black people will be offended or angry that they are not being ‘included’ in the right to be outraged about racism. After all weren’t most of the protesters in Portland, Oregon white? And didn’t they protest for #BLM for weeks? Why doesn’t that count?

It does count. But every time a non-black person stands up for a black person, Owen says, it discounts the black person’s response by appropriation. And this well meaning ‘white guilt’ overlays the natural response of black people to oppression and prejudice and racism. It’s just another way of keeping (the black person) on the plantation, according to Owen.

Owen is brave to write this, because it’s poking the bear. Another example would be the women’s movement in the 60/70s and how ultimately the black women’s movement divorced from the white women’s movement for that exact reason. Appropriation. But is Owens’ right about all of it? Some cases are more easily dissected than others. Let’s look at her examples:

Hilaría Baldwin is NOT Spanish. Rachel Dolezal will NEVER be black. Those are accurate. Rachel Dolezal has gone on to ‘identify’ as Black, the argument being, whilst she knows she is not biologically black she identifies as black. Owen’s points out, whilst this may be the case, she cannot know what it is like to be prejudiced against for the color of her skin because she was born white and remains biologically white.

The argument is similarly applied to Baldwin. But there’s another side to this. Many of us know black people who don’t look black but are biologically black (take Wentworth Miller from Prison Break). We know people who look black but are not nearly as black as others who don’t, and we know people who are Spanish but don’t speak Spanish or relate to it. It’s simply not as easy as that … or is it?

Dolezal was born white, she inherited ‘white privilege’ and now identifies as black and has black biological kids. She may have had no more white privilege than some black women who do not look black and ‘pass’ as white just as she tried to ‘pass’ as black. The difference being, Dolezal was NOT black. Where do we draw the line? Are we angry at what she did more than the reality of her experience? Are we punishing her or really trying to define something that isn’t always as simple as it seems?

Just as much as there is a black and white set-in stone, there is not. Twins can be born one black and one white, does the white one says ‘I am white’ and the black one says ‘I am black’ and that’s all there is to it? They can say mixed-race but what do people see? Do we need disclaimers? Or are things based on snap-judgement of perception. I would say the later, and as such, we are all prejudiced because black people make snap judgements about black and white faces as much as white people do.

The difference here is the power in society and what you can do with it. Historically white oppression meant if a white person WAS prejudiced because of a person’s skin colour they would be racist; whereas if a black person was prejudiced because of a person’s skin colour, it would be seen as a response to the racism inherent in society.

But how do we know this?

Within all cultures there have been casteism and racism and prejudice among similar groups, based on skin colour and other aspects. If a black person says to a darker skinned black person, they are inferior, they are technically not being racist, they are thought to be appropriating racial bigotry. But isn’t that patronizing and assumptive?

In India because they were a colonial country, they inherited casteism that came with prizing fair skin over dark, and it is argued, the white man bequeathed this. But many Indians have since said, this predated the white man, just as slavery predated the white man in Africa. Whilst nobody is taking away the damage and harm done BY the white man, it’s never as cut and dry as it seems.

What we can use as an ultimate determinant is our biological status. I am biologically mixed-race; nobody can change that. But what of a biological gender?

Owen’s says; A biological man is NOT a woman. And a biological female will never be a man. So, all the arguments earlier, are moot. If your biology is NOT black you are not black. If your biology is not Spanish heritage you are NOT biologically Spanish, even if you identify as such, bad luck. How does this work when looking at transgender folk?

The very nature of being transgender is you are biologically born as one gender and you may wish to physically alter that gender, but you ‘identify’ as either no gender (androgynous) or another gender than your biological one. In recent years, identification has soared in terms of youth especially, identifying as non-binary or not wishing to label themselves with a gender. But ‘trans’ is different to someone who wishes not to identify as a gender, it also means they may wish to physically change their inherent biological gender.

If someone born female undergoes gender reassignment surgery, they are F2M. If they identify as male and do not undergo gender reassignment surgery, they will still call themselves male even if they continue to have the biology of a woman, because they ‘identify’ as male. Thus, it is ‘identity’ that is the key here, NOT the absolutism of biology which no matter what you do, you cannot completely alter.

Owens’ argues that using this logic, a woman who ‘identifies’ as black cannot be black because identity doesn’t trump biology. And therefore, transgenders are not what they ‘identify as,’ they continue to belong to the gender of their birth. She uses this as partial argument for why she does not believe transgender should be permitted into the military in the USA.

It’s quite a bold argument and she’s received a huge amount of backlash from it, although the LGBTQX community has been quieter than had Owens’ herself not been black because of course, if you are calling a black person out for calling you out, that’s another hornet’s nest. The cardinal rule book has been thrown out because it really depends whom you are accusing of what and when. One person will be forgiven if they apologise, because we like them, the next person will be vilified because we do not like them so much. Our double standards dictate our sense of truth as much as truth does.

Ultimately a liberal might say: Where is the HARM in identifying as anything as long as it doesn’t hurt someone? But Liberals were especially mortified at the two cases of women identifying as a different race/culture, because they thought it was offensive. Again, we have a group of people ‘defending’ another group by being offended on their behalf. Ironically most people of colour laughed it off and thought it was madness. Some pointed to the unfairness of Dolezal getting a job on the basis of being considered black as she was seen to benefit from a falsity. Some thought it smacked of white appropriation at its worst.

People who have an issue with trans, typically feel they are pretending to be another gender and they take issue with that because they don’t want them in the ‘wrong toilet’ or ‘peeing next to my son’ – the thought there being: there’s something dangerous or wrong or threatening.

Let’s look at that. Are trans more likely to commit a crime? No. Are they more likely to be paedophiles? No. So the ‘fear’ is more the fear of the unknown, something they do not understand. Can the same be said of white people appropriating the black culture, or a non-Spanish person pretending to be Spanish? Is it more a case of cultural/racial disrespect? In which case what is disrespectful about a man identifying as a woman or vice versa? Where is the harm?

It is about harm? A biological man can rape a biological woman. Harm and its myriad definitions, is as much about a deep-rooted sense of fear. What Roman Polanski did to kids was ‘harm’ but some say ‘let sleeping dogs lie, he’s paid for it.’ Does harm have an expiry date or a forgiveness quota? One thing I notice is, when it comes to women being sexually assaulted, it’s relatively diminished by society if you look at how many convictions occur. When it comes to famous people committing crimes, more people defend them. When it comes to talented people committing crimes, more people say, ‘separate the artist from the act’.

If brick layer Barry down the road, slept with a 12-year-old I’m not sure people would be saying ‘separate the art from the act’. So, are we giving talented people we admire, an out?

When we talk of harm, we can consider Economist Dierdre McClusky, who M2F claims she can understand the oppression of women now that she is one. Some Feminists argue a M2F is the ultimate appropriation of gender and men dictating the female. Just as it can be argued a man cannot truly understand a woman’s experience any more than a non-black can be black. Conversely, Theorist Kamla Bhasin believes: “Feminism is not biological. Feminism is an ideology.” Can being black be an ideology? No. So why can being female be an ideology?  Can you experience by proxy or is it the lack of ‘born into it’ experience that denies true understanding rather than chosen experience? What of those within a group who don’t understand their own racial or gendered experience?

Likewise, are we too quick to condemn say, someone we do not understand, just because it makes us feel uncomfortable? How much is influenced by those factors we don’t even consider, but colour our sense of how far we go on any given subject? How much is natural bias versus appropriated outrage, versus subject du jour? Owens’ points out that white protests were as much about whites as about blacks and as such, they defeated the purpose and were patronizing and insulting to blacks. She believes blacks need to do their own things, and not get re-appropriated by white groups seeking to ‘defend’ them. Is there any merit to that?

When I grew up it was de riguer to say things like: “Your mum’s a lezzie”. And no way was I going to come out during those days and admit to being queer. Nowadays we can come out to things far more easily, and some argue, it’s a slippery slope, what’s next? Where will it end?

As much as you want tolerance and acceptance and an end to prejudice, racism, bigotry, you are also opening a flood gate. Some think, next it will be polyamory, just as it went from marriage to divorce — living together unmarried — gays living together — gays marrying/adopting — more than two people living together in a sexual relationship. If we apply the ‘if it’s not hurting anyone’ rule, then so what? But what about possible next steps? Already organisations of paedophiles, including under-age children, have been lobbying for recognition.

Paedophiles believe, if it is consensual then there is no harm, and their kind of love should be accepted. BDSM groups are doing the same. Whilst in theory we should be able to deal with this by applying the ‘do no harm’ rule, it begins to get more cloudy, as more complicated elements are under consideration. After all, human beings are perverse folk at best.

One might argue, there is a black and white. A wrong and right. A good and bad. A woman and a man. And there is a comfort in reverting back to those old tropes because they’re immutable. Until they’re not. And what we say in polite company as we all know, is quite different to what we say behind closed doors. How often do my LGBTQX friendly neighbors call me ‘the next-door lezzie’ even now? What would they say if I had a non-binary child? How often do my friends roll their eyes at ‘another Jewish post’ and how many times do black people get sick of white people talking about black issues?

On the other hand, if we do nothing and are true armchair liberals/conservatives, then ‘nothing comes from nothing.’ How do we give people the respect they deserve in how they identify, as we continually evolve a sense of what is permanent, biological, social, emotional, psychological? Where does that end? When an eight-year-old decides they are trans and wants an operation at thirteen, do the parents respect their right? Or worry about if they’ll change their mind in adulthood? How can you accomplish both? None of these subjects are easy. Many believe they are overly pathologized, but there remains some value in seeking therapy if nothing else, to work through the myriad considerations of any life-altering change.

Questioning these things leaves most of us really perplexed and possibly frustrated. Not questioning them is worse. We should not condemn those who have the courage to question them, even if we disagree. We have often learnt more from contention than from agreement. Whilst I may not agree with Owens’ in many ways, I appreciate her willingness to engage.

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the writer.

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Essay

US Polls: What should We Celebrate?

By Candice Louisa Daquin, Senior Editor, Indie Blu(e) Publishing

Even the most stalwart historian among us, will attest, it takes living in a country, inhabiting its borders, to truly understand a country. It is no wonder we struggle to truly comprehend the lived experience of people in other countries. America must look very strange to the rest of the world, just as we who live in America may stereotype and miss the nuances of the political landscape of other countries.

But as strange as America may look, it is a strange country to live in too. As an immigrant to America, I have the advantage of knowing what it is like to have lived in three other countries and been resident or citizens of them. It helps in seeing why people hold the perspectives they do.

Obviously, it is a mine field if you say only one side is ‘right’ and everyone else is wrong. That is one of two main reasons Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, she called the other side stupid. Whether they are or not, is not the point. The point is nothing is won by calling names and condemning groups on either side. Those groups will rise and show their power. This happened when Donald Trump, against most predictions, won the US election in 2016.

Many were in disbelief that a man who was better known as a hotelier and reality TV show host, could be President. But interestingly it was less surprising for people outside of America, who remembered Reagan and were aware of similar casting among leaders, happening in other countries. Boris Johnson could be compared in many ways to Trump, and has been, and it is certainly not the first time, someone has won a large election, who was not the favorite.

I saw it as old-fashioned backlash. The party of the left wins, next time the party of the right fights to gain a foothold, it goes back and forth, and therefore so often, nothing is accomplished in politics. Many people believed the 2016 election was an extreme because America had just had its first President of colour, Barack Obama and this was a case of ‘white trumping black’. That is not how I saw it. Many of those who voted for Trump did not do so because of his skin colour or gender, they did so because they were Republican. They were responding to their fears of a socialist government under the Democrats and the rolling out of Obama Care.

What is often misunderstood, are the reasons behind why voters vote. They are not always voting based on racism, sexism, or what is in the news at the time. That explains why in 2020, a significant number of Hispanics and Black voters voted Republican. Had it been based upon the news, one would imagine with ‘Black Lives Matter’ dominating the headlines, that every person of colour would have voted Democrat. Neither can this be explained by people of colour NOT voting, aside when Barack Obama won, where more people of colour voted than ever before.

Ultimately then, there are many reasons why people vote what they vote, and to try to predict what those are, is not easy. It is my belief core values make up more of the reasons for votes than transient values. If a core value is ‘thou shalt not take a life’, chances are, you will vote Republican because you are Pro-Life, and this is a core value. Likewise, if your core value is the 2nd amendment, and you live on a farm and have guns, you may vote Republican even if you do not like Trump.

Of course, within that, there are independent voters and swing-voters who WILL be influenced by negative campaigning, smear-attack adverts, misleading accusations, or truisms. Those people will vote based on the emotion of the hour, and they are often the voters most targeted because of their susceptibility. Whether that justifies spending 11 billion dollars on any election is up for debate. My personal view is, it is shameful to spend the kind of money we do, when people need medical help and food. I would like to see this country take money out of politics as others have, but I find it unlikely this will ever happen.

Neither Biden nor Trump are utterly liked or respected by all members of their parties, but they win based on reaching those core values, and the corralling of as many voters as possible. When money and undue influence are powerful elements of any election, you will never know the full story, only the outcome. Whilst people may have been dismayed to have Trump as President, it galvanized many Democrats to come up with a strong viable counter-candidate who could get rid of him in 2020. Unfortunately, this was not proven to be as easy as it sounded. Too many candidates ran, and votes were siphoned off. Tokenism became more important than ever (to have a female President someday, and if not, to at least have a female Vice President, to have another person of colour as President, and if not, to at least have a person of colour Vice President).

It surprised few when Joe Biden, who had originally said he would not run for 2020 ended up doing so. This was borne from his parties’ fear Trump would sweep the election again without a proven Democratic contender to stand in his way. As Biden had been VP to Obama, he seemed the natural choice, albeit older than his years, and not entirely committed at first. Sadly, Kamala Harris and others, did not receive enough popular support to be considered able to beat Trump and maybe some of this was an assumption a woman could not beat a man at this juncture in American history.

Here is one difference between American politics thus far, and many other countries, where female leaders have had a tradition even in countries one might assume to be more sexist than American (India for example). Which begs the question, are our optics even accurate? I would say they could not be if India is able to elect Indira Gandhi as leader and America has yet to have a female President. Of course, there is far more to sexism than whether a female leads a country, but it is a good starting point.

Biden is not initially as popular as some of his precursors, one could even claim he is a candidate of compromise, meaning; Give me ‘anyone but Trump’ in the eyes of some voters. Whether popular or not, is irrelevant until he begins his term and inherits the troubled US economy, set to be the worst since the Great Depression (and statistically speaking, even worse, given our larger population) and the troubles of Covid-19. It is hard to envy him this inheritance because it will be an uphill battle with little reward.

We have a history here in America of blaming leaders for natural disasters, as if they wield the power to change them. Trump has been accused of causing America to have one of the consistently highest rates of transmission and deaths of Covid-19 since March 2020 and to some extent this is unfair, given that most other countries are not far behind and we are all on a steep learning curve. Not wearing a mask or asking others to, certainly could be called irresponsible by any leader, but it’s worthwhile considering that outright accusing a leader of a country of causing deaths, might be going too far, when we look at pre-existing health care infrastructures and how they have not withstood an illness of this magnitude.

One could argue it is the legacy of all Governments who are responsible, because they simply do not plan ahead, or put money into things that need financing, and instead they live for the moment, spending on the immediate. Maybe it is the very essence of politics that is corrupt and puts the immediate ‘reward’ ahead of long-term planning and infrastructure — this is the real issue here. In which case, I do not see things changing, because in a Capitalist country, economic reward tends to outweigh social support. That said, if you compare America’s healthcare system to others, whilst it isn’t socialised and does leave many poor without resources, it also has a lot of money pouring into it, whilst socialised healthcare systems in Europe are floundering. Begging the question, if both do not really work, what is the alternative?

Whatever your political view, if you are in India right now or of Indian heritage, you must be excited to see an Indian woman as Vice President of the US, even if she doesn’t represent your political views. Not only is Kamala Harris half Indian but she is a formidable woman of great accomplishment. Whether you voted for her or not, you may find the appointment of a brown skinned woman as Vice President, a very exciting first, given the history of American white men being Vice President up until now.

But perhaps it is not sufficient to be glad a woman is in this position simply because she is a woman, or that a person of colour is voted to power simply because they are a person of colour. More is surely required. That person must have earned their stripes and be capable of the job. I think few doubt Kamala Harris’s credentials and experience thus far, make her an outstanding mentor for any woman or person of colour wishing to go into politics, which in America at least, is still a very male and white arena. Only time will tell if she can prove herself. I suspect she will.

In some ways this has made me realise that tokenism is not always a negative. Of course I would rather a time where it did not exist, but if you earned the right to equality and the only way you get it is through tokenism then it’s preferable to having no way of getting it. Kamala Harris was given the Vice President’s job because the Democrats wanted a woman and wanted a person of colour, that part is undeniably tokenism, but she earned the role, and she deserves the role and nothing can mitigate that.

So how is America responding to the election results? Well of course, as predicted, it was messy. First it looked like Trump was going to win, then abruptly he lagged because of write-in-votes (by mail) and Biden surged. Understandably, many Republicans wondered how their candidate who was ahead in some states, could suddenly fall behind based on mail-in-ballots alone? The fear that those ballots were tampered with, was discussed at length and many still believe some dirty dealing was done to stuff ballots in favor of Biden.

Whilst this was done routinely in the past, and this is documented, without proof, there is no reason to believe cheating occurred and unless a witness comes forward or ballot boxes are proven to be stuffed. It is reasonable to assume, Biden surged ahead because yes, the majority of write-in ballots by mail were for him. This is not implausible, but it leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth because it was not a ‘clean win’ the way both sides had hoped for. On the one hand, Democrats believed they would win by a higher percentage, and on the other, Republicans had their hopes raised and then they fell.

As for the Trump campaign and Trump himself, we are still waiting on his perspectives, but unsurprisingly, he is seeking legal redress in the hope a recount will secure him another term as President. It was said that there would be riots throughout the US if Trump won again, and this may have happened, given recent tensions, but with Biden all but heir apparent, there have been few protests coming from the Republicans. I am personally glad for this period of calm, having had many months of riots throughout this country (often with good reason). Now, seems like it should be a time of reflection and planning for 2021.

Namely, how to rid America (and the rest of the world) of Covid-19 and its hold over us, economically and socially. People have reacted differently than ever before, due to the stressors of this unprecedented time. That said, it is not unprecedented, it has just not happened for a long time, and people forget their history. One thing we can say, is if we all knew our histories better (both politically and socially) we might be in better shape to handle what is coming.

Back to Kamala Harris. What can the first female Vice President do for women throughout America and the world? What can she represent, engender, inspire? And what will having the second person of colour in the second highest position of the land do to helping eliminate racism and racial tensions? In some ways I believe it will be like neighbourhoods. History shows us, when white neighborhoods had people of colour move in, their first response was racism and over time, the racism reduced. It is my hope by having people of colour (and women) in positions of political power in America, it will reduce racism and sexism. And implement more equality. Whether that happens or not, time will tell.

For all the faults his detractors will list, Trump is still a deeply popular man among his core bases. No he is not very well liked by Fox News, the only Republican run media channel in America, nor do some of his fellow Republicans respect or like him, but among the ‘regular Joe’ throughout America, you could see a vast number of people still rooting for him. Democrats would have us believe this is as simple as the divide between those who are racist and those who are not. Respectfully I disagree. I think that is too simplistic an analysis. People who vote for Trump are not always voting for the negative aspects, others may equate with Trump, such as racism, sexism, elitism. They may in fact be voting for Trump because they are afraid of change, they may be voting for Trump because he’s the Republican candidate and they have always voted Republican or they may be voting because they don’t feel they are represented by the other party.

If this is the reason, then it would not be fair to say those people were just ignorant racists. And this is what divides America. The beliefs we hold about each other. As a lesbian woman, as an immigrant, as a Jewish woman, as a mixed-heritage woman, as a female, I check a lot of minority boxes. But I know within those boxes there is are multiple considerations. Consider the situation of a Jew. Jews are dying out (literally) they are the most targeted minority in the US today, Muslim immigration increases throughout the world, it is possible a Jew will vote Republican because they perceive Republicans to be pro-Israel and thus pro-Jew, whilst it is possible they perceive Democrats to be anti-Jewish because of certain Democrats who are Muslim and have spoken strongly against Israel. If this one example can be expanded to fit all possible examples, we can see why it is not as simple as RACIST = VOTING FOR TRUMP.

I neither defend, justify, or condemn either side for mistakes made, because it only inflames people to read condemnation. Rather than criticise, let us look at what does work, and do more of that. It works to consider how to help people, it works to care about people. It works to value diversity because in diversity, we get variety, and that is a good thing. Despite the fact that America is a country built on immigrants, we seem to, once we reach the melting-pot, have forgotten our origins, and gone our own ways. Many immigrants do not ‘become’ conservative, they already hold traditional, conservative views that they continue to hold once they have immigrated. To expect them not to, is to disrespect their culture as much as telling them to change to fit ours. Equally, any immigrant, and I speak as one, should respect the basic tenets of a country they immigrate to. If you hate women and gays, do not live in a country that asks you to respect them. Simple things like that.

We need to learn this and not rely as heavily on obvious tokenism and short-term tactics to gain voters. By doing this, we learn more about what voters really want, what matters most to them and why. We can then have conversations about how to achieve this on both sides, and the polarity in both parties can begin to be reduced, which is a good thing for everyone. As the Republicans still hold the Senate, Biden’s hands will be somewhat tied, and this divide only exacerbates the going back and forth in politics that causes less to happen on both sides. Isn’t the ideal to do more? No matter what party is in office? We should never celebrate that we are so divided, we should seek ways to come closer together.

Nonetheless it is a cause of celebration for Kamala Harris to be Vice President of America and I hope this heralds a time of less friction. It is good to disagree and debate. It is not so good to have hate and erosion. It may seem clear cut. But think of it like this; both sides feel it is clear cut. Not just one. And with such diametric differences, we must find what we have in common again. I do not believe this is impossible. Discounting the true haters, most of us are not bad people, we are just varied, our beliefs, what motivates us, what we fear. A good leader will try to unify. In this Pandemic we have seen we are far from unified, with people refusing to wear masks, whilst others say; ‘let those who are going to die, die, so we don’t ruin our economy’ and this has really brought us to our knees. What better time to rebuild, and find what we can agree upon? I hope we never forget to value human life and each other, irrespective of our differences. Ultimately, we are far more alike than different.

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Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the writer.

.

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