We are living in strange times that seem to be filled with events to challenge the innovativeness of man. As if the pandemic were not enough, concepts that had come out of the best in our civilisation to unite mankind have been convoluted by a minority to manipulate and hurt the majority into submission. Life is not about surviving with faint-hearted compliance but about having the courage to live it as you want, facing it full up front, to voice out in unison against injustices, wrongs, and most of all to loan strength to help and care for each other. Often to understand this, we need to hinge on to our past, to learn from our heritage. But do we do that? In the hectic drive to be successful, we tend to ignore important lessons that could have been imbibed from the past. Like, did you know that the tribes in the Andaman can save themselves from a tsunami?
Padma Shri Anvita Abbi tells us all about the Andamanese and her attempts to revive their moribund language in her interview and book, Voices from the Lost Horizon, reviewed by Rakhi Dalal. While the review focusses on the uniqueness of Abbi’s work and the publication with its embedded recordings of the tribe fast dissolving into the morass of mainstream civilisation, her interview highlights the need to revive their lores that evolved out of a 70,000-year-old culture. On the other hand, Jessica Mudditt, interviewed by Keith Lyons, dwells on the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, which has been clearly the focus of her book, Our Home in Yangon. This interview focusses on the here and now of the crisis. But most crises have their roots deep and perhaps an exploration of these could help. There are 135 ethnicities in Myanmar but how many are actually integrated into the mainstream? Are they in the process of getting ‘lost’ like the voices of the speakers of Greater Andamanese?
That is why we tried to showcase a few such strains that are going unheard in the loudness of the ‘civilised’ mainstream. We have translations in poetry from Santhali and Adivasi, touching on the concerns of those who are often considered underdeveloped. And, perhaps, as Abbi said in her interview about the Andamanese, we can say much the same for these tribes too.
“These tribes are neither poor, nor uneducated (their knowledge of environment comprising birds, fishes, medicinal plants and their … weather predictions, and the Earth they walk on is amazing) …”
Distinctions have been created by a ‘civilisation’ entrenched in mono-cognitive enforcements leading to the loss of trust, confidence, languages, cultures and valuable knowledge about basic survival. Perhaps we can attempt to heal such wounds by imbibing the openness, love, devotion and compassion shown by the Buddhist monk, Upagupta (who is still revered in Myanmar as Shin Upagutta), in the translation of Tagore’s story poem, ‘Abhisar’ or ‘The Tryst’. Somdatta Mandal’s translation of Tagore’s letters introduce similar humanitarian concerns when the maestro mentions a German anthropologist and his wife who for the betterment of mankind were journeying to study tribals in India. Tagore remarks, “The people for whom they are willingly prepared to undergo hardship and to overlook all sorts of danger are not their relatives, nor are they civilised.” And yet even a century ago to fathom more about mankind, attempts were being made to integrate with our ancient lore. The concept of being ‘civilised’ is of course now much under the microscope. What is being ‘civilised’?
Is it about having power? We have Akbar Barakzai’s poem translated by Fazal Baloch on creation looking at the divide between a ‘civilised’ God and man. The theme stresses the two sides of the divide. More translations from Odiya, Dutch and Korean further mingle different flavours of the world into our journal — each questioning the accepted norm in different ways.
In an edition focussed on myths and stories from which we evolved, Rhys Hughes has created an unusual legend around elephants. His poetry also deals with animals — cats. One wonders if the T S Eliot’s famed ‘Macavity, the Mystery Cat’ could have to do something with his choices? We were fortunate to have Arundhathi Subramaniam share her poetry on myths around Indian figures like Shakuntala and Avvaiyar and the titular poem from When God is a Traveller that won her the 2020 Sahitya Akademi Award. Michael R Burch continues on the theme dwelling on Circe, Mary Magdalene and Helen. Sekhar Banerjee has a more iconoclastic approach to myths in his poetry. Jared Carter talks of modern myths perpetuated through art and cultural studies as does Mike Smith in his musings with his glance back at the last century through a photograph.
We have poetry by a Filipino writer Gigi Baldovino Gosnell from South Africa, looking for a new world, a new legend, perhaps a world without borders. Tohm Bakelas has given us a few lines of powerful poetry. Could these poems be a reaction to world events? Smitha Vishwanath has responded to the situation in Afghanistan with a poem. In this edition, photographs and verses in Penny Wilkes’ ‘Nature’s Musings‘ draw from the universe. She writes, “The sun never asks for applause” — a powerful thought and perhaps one mankind can learn from.
Ghost stories by Niles Reddick and Sunil Sharma perpetuate the theme, especially the latter has a ghost that questions myths of ‘isms’ created in the modern-day world. We also have a writer from Malaysia, P Ravi Shankar, with a futuristic legend set in a far-off time where man has embraced the reality of climate change and artificial intelligence. An interesting and fun read as is Devraj Singh Kalsi’s professions about why he did not become a professor, Geetha Ravichandran’s light musing on word play and a young writer Saurabh Nagpal’s musing, ‘Leo Messi’s Magic Realism‘ — a footballer viewed from a literary perspective!
While our musings make us laugh, our essays this time take us around the world with the myth of happiness deconstructed by Candice Louisa Daquin, to Burma and deep into Kolkata’s iconic history of the detective department started in the nineteenth century. There is an essay by Bhaskar Parichha that explores politics and media and mentions ‘gatekeepers’ of the media who need to be responsible for influencing public opinion. Guess who would be the gatekeepers?
Bhaskar Parichha’s review of Wendy Donniger’s non-fiction exploring myths around horses, Winged Stallion and Wicked Mares,and Basudhara Roy’s review of Bina Sarkar Ellias’ Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems perpetuate the theme of the importance of the past on the one hand and question it on the other. But that is what Borderless is about — exploring the dialectics of opposing streams to re-invent myths towards a better future.
We have a bumper issue again this time with nearly fifty posts. I invite our wonderful readers on a magical journey to unfold the hidden, unmentioned gems scattered on the pages of the September Issue of Borderless. Thank you again to an outstanding team, all our global contributors who make every edition an adventure and a reality and our wonderful readers. Thank you all.
Have you ever heard that happiness is much like a drug? This can be seen as a positive (euphoria) or a negative (addiction to) and like with most things, there are differing ways to consider the concept of happiness, which I will examine here, ultimately concluding, the value lies in reframing the concept of happiness, rather than abandoning it or over-emphasizing it.
The myth of happiness is simple. Our society pressures us to be happy all the time. Anything less is failure. Obviously if someone we love dies, we are ‘allowed’ a period of mourning and then we’re supposed to move on. We pay lip service to mental health and familial dysfunction and abuse and rape and other factors that can cause/worsen depression, but we mostly minimize them. The approach is — get on with it, be strong, anything less is weak.
This only builds up inside of us, a feeling of shame, and failure, even before we’re out of our teen years. Like a felt fulfilling prophecy, we lunge toward extremes as a way of coping when we cannot cope, and often this is why vulnerable at-risk teens get into risky behavior that leaves indelible scars. Again, many do not receive counseling or help, but are stigmatized as ‘bad kids’ and most of what has caused this behavior is ignored.
The dysfunction if it goes on, can wreck futures. Kids can grow up to be filled with shame and self-loathing, the health consequences are obvious, but the mental health consequences usually considered a ‘choice’ instead of being seen as the result of years of shaming and judging. What do we do with these then adults who cannot function in our society? We blame them for not being happy!
For the first five years of my life, I grew up with two parents. One happy. One deeply unhappy. My father had a brain injury from a road accident as a child that gave him a degree of brain damage that caused many life-long troubles. My mother grew up with trauma in her life but decided to be a positive person who would not let anything stop her and truly she lived up to that. As an only child I watched them closely and was deeply influenced by them. Perhaps because they were so busy with work I over compensated and had more vested interest in them than is normal.
I tried to take my cue from my mother. To be excellent at everything I did, to be unfailingly happy and sociable and forward thinking. I was afraid of inheriting depression. I thought childishly I was doing relatively well but looking back I can see how being an only child without siblings or extended family and at the age of six, living with a single parent (my father) I spent too much time alone and had too much time to go inside myself. Whilst I was outwardly happy, I think those years of isolation were internalized and not healthy. Also seeing my father’s depression whilst I was the perennial ‘fixer’ was hard.
In my teen years I developed depression, which is typically when it hits, if it’s going to. I began to have catastrophizing thinking and felt lost. This is when therapy would have been helpful, but nobody knew I was experiencing this, not even myself. You can hide things you are deeply ashamed of for years and people don’t know. Instead, I chose non prescribed means of coping, which weren’t of course, the best choices, but were instinctively a way to cope with what I wasn’t yet sharing with anyone. Only my closest friends knew I struggled, and many of them struggled too, in secret.
I was fortunate that the level of depression I had allowed me to continue functioning. This gave me the financial stability and confidence to keep trying to find ways to improve my life. In some ways, being less mentally ill than say, someone with Schizophrenia or Bipolar, I was able to function with depression and continue to keep it secret. Eventually though everything catches up with you and intermittently I struggled severely with it. I had no one to turn to, because I had kept it secret, but I explored therapy and found it did help me. More than medication, which only works on around 35 percent of people and doesn’t consider the causes of depression just how to change your brain chemicals. Along the way I saw a few of my friends commit suicide and end up as drug addicts or worse, because of undiagnosed or untreated mental illness. I became after that, an advocate for mental illness.
My mother believed not being happy was a weakness of character, a choice. My father opted out of life to a large extent and shut down and retreated. The levels of dysfunction in my small family were staggering and yet, after years of practicing as a psychotherapist I cannot say my story is unusual in any way, but really quite typical. Not only that, but we must also separate the idea that those who are not happy are always mentally ill. Sometimes they’re just unable to easily be happy. Equally, of my two parents, my father was the most compassionate and loving, because happiness does not guarantee someone will be kind and loving just as not being happy doesn’t mean someone is uncaring. Often those who suffer the most are the kindest. From this, I learned the value of compassion and to this day believe those who are kind, benefit this world more than the most popular happy person can.
I’m no success story, I have been held back by whatever it is that doesn’t work in my brain. I try to cope by helping others, as that gives my life a meaning I would not otherwise find. But happiness? Frequent happiness has been very elusive. I cannot say I have been happy very much in my life. At times I feel a massive ingrate because comparatively speaking I am fortunate. I may have had a bad childhood, and have no family to turn to, but I live in a Western country, I have a home, I can earn a wage, I can eat and clothe myself, I feel that I have a lot to be thankful for.
This may shock some, who subsist in relatively regular happy states, but studies show it’s not as uncommon as we think. Maybe admitting it just too hard. After all, who wants to admit they are not happy or that they do not live in a happy state? Most of us want to be happy and most of us do not want the vulnerability of admitting we are not. But maybe, just maybe, we put too much pressure on those of us who are not able to be easily happy, instead of shaming us for our inability to appreciate life and be as happy as is prescribed, we should revisit the notion of happiness.
For some happiness is simple. They find happiness in their gardens, their children’s faces, looking after their ageing parents, eating their favorite meals. But for others, happiness just isn’t a daily or even weekly occurrence. Is this a linguistic misinterpretation, a cultural one? Or just differences in people? I think the answer is multi-facetted, we’re all different, so our reason(s) vary.
Take Jane* a former client of mine. She is unhappy most of the time. Her parents died of dementia a decade ago. She lost her brother in her teens. Her grandparents are dead. She feels her life is empty of people, she tries to make friends but with her experiences, making deep friendships in adulthood is no easy task. Jane doesn’t have children because her husband divorced her and went off with another woman. Jane has a great job, she earns a lot of money, she works long hours, she has a great house and three dogs. But Jane is by her own account, rarely happy. She often questions ‘what’s the point?’ and chides herself for putting all her meaning into work and status, when she has no friends or family and feels very lonely and unfulfilled.
Take Luis* another former client, who lost his young wife to breast cancer, and cannot bear to re-marry. He felt she was ‘the one’ and doesn’t want to tarnish that faith in ‘one love’ by being with anyone else. He is only in his early 40s. He has a large family but does not feel he can relate to them. He describes them as ‘family focused and positive’ whilst he feels depressed most of the time. He was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and has been on medication and in counseling for five years. He says he doesn’t feel he will be happy again.
These two examples illustrate why some people do not experience regular happiness. The shame felt by such persons, is obvious in all clients I work with who struggle with unfulfillment. They feel guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, ungrateful. Most of all they feel they are the only people in the world who feel this way. Being in group therapy can be useful for this, as it shows individuals that they are not alone, that their suffering is not unique, which can take the focus off them and help them see many people experience this.
But our society here in America doesn’t really help with that. Our society shames and belittles those who don’t feel happy ‘enough’ and there is definitely a happiness cult, which might be a great idea, where it not for the statistics that show America is one of the least happy countries on earth. So, we have the dichotomy of a happiness cult, and drive to be happy, set against the outcomes, which speak for themselves, American’s are over worked, under paid, underappreciated (at work) in debt, without savings, without access to (affordable) reliable health care, and generally less happy than they are ‘told’ to be.
Despite this, or because of this, American’s perpetuate the myth that happiness will ‘cure everything’ and anything less than happiness is failure. It’s clear why things aren’t working but not so clear what can be done about it. Coming from Europe originally, I didn’t feel as much pressure in Europe to be ‘happy all the time’. In fact, you could say, the Europeans, on the whole, have a more realistic idea of life. They strive for happiness but do not expect it all the time. They don’t reject people who are unable to be happy as readily. In fact, if you watch European TV, it’s almost ‘a thing’ (the grumpy detective, the dysfunctional police officer, the maudlin mother, the mad scientist genres etc.).
This is changing, as social media homogenises the world, Europe has within a very short time, embraced so many of the American ideals that it’s hardly recognisable from when I lived there. Now England has ‘Prom’ which was exclusively an American ideal, and you see far more women getting plastic surgery than ever before. There are of course, good things about cross pollination, but it can be argued that changing a culture loses more than it gains. When we emulate someone who is different to us, and invariably don’t succeed because we are different, instead of accepting that difference, we can feel inferior or worthless, without understanding difference is normal and we’re not all going to respond the same way to the same thing. Hence the Prom Queen and the Emo.
In this case the cult of happiness has swept the world. For some, it works, being positive, focusing only on the good, ignoring any negativity etc. For others, it’s a way of being stifled, obviated, alienated. After all, mental illness isn’t going to go away. Neither are the other reasons for not feeling happy. For some, tragedy and abuse can inspire and cultivate a positive attitude despite everything, and they are considered ‘the winners’ whilst for others, those same things cause a loss of happiness that doesn’t come back easily. Are they really less than those who find ways seemingly easier? Or just different?
For those like myself who find happiness relatively illusive, therapists may have explanations, but not answers. Those with very difficult childhoods, often with abuse, can struggle to find happiness as adults. They often try harder than you can believe, but onlookers wouldn’t know it, and only comment on their apparent failure to be (happy). Psychiatrists believe an extreme lack of happiness, (known as Anhedonia, from the Greek, ‘Without Pleasure’) is actually quite complicated. It can be the result of a deficiency of brain chemicals or misfiring in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which can sometimes be corrected, but often not) it can be inherited (a trait, a learned behavior or just DNA) or it can be learned through epigenetic experiences. It’s not always persistent depressive disorder (or Dysthymia) but can often be a trait within an individual that doesn’t meet a mental health diagnosis. After all, why pathologize everything? In addition, Psychiatrists think some people are just unable to find joy in life, even if they try twice as hard as ‘normal’ people, or as some suggest, stop trying and try to embrace it. Even the labeling of ‘abnormal’ versus ‘normal’ has a shaming effect.
We don’t have exact figures on how many people don’t experience joy or happiness, and of course, like with anyone who has a chronic illness, there will be days of apparent normalcy or feelings of happiness, whether real or faked, giving the impression to others, that there are no such things as a lack of happiness. The degree to which you feel a lack of happiness is one measure of whether you fit a mental health criterion or not. This can be useful in knowing whether treatment is necessary. The average person does experience happiness and doesn’t have to endure a total absence of happiness, but they may still feel a pressure to be happy more than is realistic. After all, happiness is a modern term, it’s something you could almost say was privileged, if you consider how life was in the past, where happiness was less common, tragedy more common and survival and endurance, the norm.
Perhaps, herein we find the real answer. Let us sometimes strive less for total happiness and more for peace of mind, or contentment or being ‘okay’ and not feel that we have to be on cloud nine to be all right. Being all right is quieter than happiness, it’s less dramatic, and maybe by striving to be happy 24/7 the pressure we put on ourselves, causes us to feel it less, and feel more that we miss our target. By changing our target to being all right, we have a better chance of being content, which may not sound very sexy, but it’s a heck of an improvement on feeling you failed to be happy.
This is what I have learnt in my time on this planet thus far. I realise that I am capable of happiness but not usually if I seek it. I seek instead, contentment, peace, and to be all right. Being all right is actually very understated! As you get older and you have health concerns, and losses in your life, you realise that being all right is sometimes really hard because of all the pressures and unexpected things that can occur, and when you are all right it’s such a sense of relief!
For me, I have grown to accept my limitations, that’s not very American of me I know, because it sounds defeatist. However, it’s been anything but that. I am more realistic, less aspirant, which wasn’t working for me, and less focused on proving myself as being true to myself. Maybe I won’t win a prize for this relatively non-competitive approach to life, but I may find peace of mind and for me that’s invaluable. This is why I think happiness is more a myth than a daily occurrence and for some of us, the attainment of ‘all right’ status, is what gives us the energy to keep going, even when the going gets tough. And for what it’s worth I do feel happy, sometimes, and when I do it’s all the more a miracle, because it’s not the norm and this to me, seems a good balance.
In other words, happiness can be found, when we stop prescribing what it is, and allow ourselves to feel it in less obvious, socially constructed ways, by putting pressure on ourselves to be a certain way that’s inauthentic to us. Your happiness may not be like your neighbors or even seem like happiness, but maybe in its illusiveness, there is a whole new idea of what happiness actually means and how to locate it within our lived experience. Let’s shrug the label and the social pressure to conform to a narrow ideal and embrace authenticity and diversity of experience, whilst retaining what really matters most, compassion for others and ourselves.
(*names and pertinent details changed to protect anonymity and abide by the confidential client/patient agreement).
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
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.
Romanticised by writers and artists over time, freedom has been variously interpreted. There is the freedom of birds that fly, of the clouds that float across the connecting blue skies, of the grass that grows across manmade borders, of the blood that flows to protect the liberty of confines or constructs drawn by man, the river that gurgles into the ocean, of the breeze that blows.
The many-splendored interpretations of freedom and its antitheses in Borderless journal are presented here for you to ponder … tell us what you think. Can freedom come without responsibility or a tryst with circumstances?
Ratnottama Sengupta translates from Bengali the excerpts recorded by Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), who witnessed an upsurge in the wake of the Quit India Movement, part of India’s struggle against colonial rule. Click here to read.
On August 8th 2021, the chief of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, pointed out during the closing ceremony that these games were “unprecedented” and brought messages of “hope, solidarity and peace” into a world torn with the desolation generated by the pandemic. It was a victory of the human spirit again, a precursor of what is to come. That the Japanese could get over their pandemic wrought hurdles, just as they did post the nuclear disasters wrought by the Second World War and by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami at Fukushimaya, to host something as spectacular and inspiring as these international games reflects, as the commentators contended, a spirit of ‘harmony and humility’. The last song performed by many youngsters seemed to dwell on stars in the sky — not only were the athletes and organisers the stars but this also reminded of unexplored frontiers that beckon mankind, the space.What a wonderful thing it was to see people give their best and unite under the banner of sports to bring messages of survival and glimpses of a future we can all share as human beings! Our way of doing things might have to evolve but we will always move forward as a species to thrive and expand beyond the known frontiers.
One such explorer of yet unknown frontiers who mingles the historic with the contemporary, Goutam Ghose, an award-winning filmmaker and writer, has honoured our pages with an extensive interview showing us how art and harmony can weave lores that can help mankind survive. This is reinforced by the other interview with Singaporean academic, Dr Kirpal Singh, whose poetry reflects his convictions of a better world. With our intelligence, we can redefine processes that hold us back and grind our spirits to dust — be it the conventional ‘isms’ or norms that restrict our movement forward – just as Tagore says in the poem, we have translated this time, ‘Deliverance’.
…On this auspicious dawn,
Let us hold our heads high in the infinite sky
Amidst the light of bounteousness and the heady breeze of freedom.
As the Kobiguru mentioned earlier in the poem, the factors that oppress could be societal, political, or economic. Could they perhaps even be the fetters put on us by the prescribed preconceived definition of manmade concepts like ‘freedom’ itself? Freedom can be interpreted differently by multiple voices.
This month, on our pages, ‘freedom’ has found multiple interpretations in myriad of ways — each voice visualising a different dream; each dream adding value to the idea of human progress. We have discussions and stories on freedom from Nigeria, Argentina, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia and more. Strangely enough, August holds multiple independence/ national days that are always for some reason seen as days of being ‘freed’ by many — at least from oppression. But is that true?
Indo-Pak independence, celebrated now on 14th (Pakistan) and 15th August (India), reflects not only the violence of the Partition which dislocated and killed millions historically but also the trauma caused by the event. Capturing this trauma is a short story based on memories of Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by his daughter, Amna Ali. Ratnottama Sengupta translates from the diary of Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), a woman’s voice from the past that empathises with the subjugated who were subdued yet again after an upsurge of violence during the Quit India Movement (1942) against the colonials. Sinha contends that though the movement frittered away, the colonials were left with an after-taste of people hankering for self-rule. A thought-provoking short story by Sunil Sharma explores the results of self-rule in independent India.
Alluding to Jinnah’s vision for women, Aysha Baqir muses emotionally about the goals that remain yet to be fulfilled 74 years after independence. Moazzam Sheikh’s story of immigrants explores dementia, giving us a glimpse of the lives of Asian immigrants in America, immigrants who had to find a new home despite independence. Was this the freedom they dreamt of — all those who fought against various oppressive regimes or colonialism?
Tagore’s lyrics might procure a few ideas on freedom, especially in the song that India calls its National Anthem. Anasuya Bhar assays around the history that surrounds the National Anthem of India, composed by Tagore in Bengali and translated to English by the poet himself and more recently, only by Aruna Chakravarti. We also carry Dr Chakravarti’s translation of the National Anthem in the essay. Reflecting on the politics of Partition and romance is a lighter piece by Devraj Singh Kalsi which says much. ‘Dinos in France’ by Rhys Hughes and Neil Reddick’s ‘The Coupon’ have tongue-in-cheek humour from two sides of the Atlantic.
A coming-of-age story has been translated from Nepali by Mahesh Paudyal – a story by a popular author, Dev Kumari Thapa – our first Nepali prose piece. We start a four-part travelogue by John Herlihy, a travel writer, on Myanmar, a country which has recently been much in the news with its fight for surviving with democracy taking ascendency over the pandemic and leaving the people bereft of what we take for granted.
Candice Louisa Daquin discusses a life well-lived in a thought provoking essay, in which she draws lessons from her mother as do Korean poet, Ihlwha Choi, and Argentinian writer, Marcelo Medone. Maybe, mothers and freedom draw similar emotions, of blind love and adulation. They seem to be connected in some strange way with terms like motherland and mother tongue used in common parlance.
We have two book excerpts this time: one from Beyond the Himalayas by the multi-faceted, feted and awarded filmmaker we have interviewed, Goutam Ghose, reflecting on how much effort went in to make a trip beyond boundaries drawn by what Tagore called “narrow domestic walls”. We carry a second book excerpt this time, from Jessica Muddit’s Our Home in Myanmar – Four years in Yangon. Keith Lyons has reviewed this book too. If you are interested in freedom and democracy, this sounds like a must read.
Maithreyi Karnoor’sSylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends,is a fiction that seems to redefine norms by what Rakhi Dalal suggests in her review. Bhaskar Parichha has picked a book that many of us have been curious about, Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves. Parichha is of the opinion, “Elevated or chastised, exonerated or condemned, the perturbation unworldly women in India face is that they have never been treated as equal to men as spiritual leaders. This lack of equality finds its roots not only in sociological and cultural systems, but more particularly at the levels of consciousness upon which spirituality and attitudes are finally based.”One wonders if this is conclusive for all ‘unworldly women’ in India only or is it a worldwide phenomenon or is it true only for those who are tied to a particular ethos within the geographical concept of India? The book reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, Somdatta Mandal’s The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs, dwells on the fierce independence of the early twentieth century women caregivers of the maestro from Bengal. These women did not look for approval or acceptance but made their own rules as did Jnadanandini, Tagore’s sister-in-law. Bhaskar Parichha has also added to our Tagore lore with his essay on Tagore in Odisha.
As usual, we have given you a peek into some of our content. There is more, which we leave for our wonderful readers to uncover. We thank all the readers, our fantastic contributors and the outstanding Borderless team that helps the journal thrive drawing in the best of writers.
I wish you all a happy August as many of the countries try to move towards a new normal.
A life well-lived tends to be interpreted by cultural needs. In China, maybe it is portrayed as the accumulation of wealth and taking care of ones’ family; in Africa it may be about survival, integrity, and hard work; in Italy, possibly about how many friends you have, how often you laugh, if you feed stray animals. No one country shares a defined concept of what a well-lived life looks like, but as we are more homogenized than ever before we’re all cross-influenced by other cultures.
The other day I was watching a travel documentary about The Silk Road. The idea of so many foreign countries we’ve never visited, nor know very much about, can be incredibly humbling. We talk in international terms; we talk as if we alone have the right to proclaim for the rest of the world. Even the most avid traveler hasn’t been steeped in a culture long enough to make those assumptions, nor have they visited every shore, every mountain, every tribe. As that is impossible, no one culture or group should claim to speak for what is a universal truth, there is no such thing. How can meaning being separated from being human, thus subjective?
Growing up I was deeply influenced by my mother. She didn’t live with me, but she wrote me letters from all parts of the globe she visited with amazing letterheads and stamps. Eventually this became more than an expensive hobby, she opened a travel company that published newsletters and books on high end travel. In my teen years, I might not have appreciated what she did from afar because I felt ‘high end’ was exclusionary, and it is. But despite this, I have grown to respect what my mom did, because it wasn’t for a living, it was for passion, and in this, I felt she has always lived her life to the full.
True, who wouldn’t like traveling for a living? In high end hotels? Isn’t she just another example of privilege? But she wasn’t. She created this from scratch, having left a highly successful career in media that she attained on her own merit. I think if it were not for my mom, I would not understand how far people can go if they are determined and hard working. It’s definitely why I work hard. However, my own journey has been vastly different. I found it challenging enough at times, to get through life, let alone to thrive. I recall my mom saying love what you do, feel passion in what you do! I felt I was missing a magical ingredient.
Eventually, health issues seemed to close that door to a passion-driven dimension, and I began to be more pragmatic. My thoughts were more along the lines of: how can I support myself and ensure I will have enough to survive? What can I do to overcome or compensate for my shortcomings in health? I lost the advantage of just being able to dream, because I had to survive, and sometimes for many of us, we simply don’t have the luxury to dream. That led me to understand, a life worth living is necessarily subjective. Unequal life chances versus individual effort play a bigger role in the outcome.
Even so, the question of what a well lived life looks like, is one worthy of examination. In the world there are women who are essentially still indentured to their husbands. There are castes and groups who will never be able to rise above other castes and groups because of their birth. There are those so poor they couldn’t attend school if they wanted to. I think of how the girls of Afghanistan will fare with the UK and US leaving and the Taliban gaining their former foothold. Will girls be safe? It doesn’t seem likely nor permitted their former right to education. I envision a similar outcome to what happened to women in Iran. And then there are the fabulously wealthy and the comfortable middle class. We simply don’t all have the same access to a well-lived life to begin with!
Within all these groups lie many variables, not least, our physical and mental state, our chosen career(s), where we live and how expensive it is to survive there. Then there’s just the fickleness of luck, who gets to live, who does not. To boldly state a life worth living is any one of these options, belies the truth of our differences. A child born with HIV may have a different life than one born healthy; a child born blind might have different outcomes than a child born with athletic prowess. Even then, one advantage may be nothing, we may need more advantages. To proclaim as self-help books and life coaches do, that there is one way, seems redundant and missing out on the diversity of our experiences. You can do everything right and still not succeed.
We get older and we think back and wonder, did I make the right choices, was this the direction I intended? Am I satisfied or disappointed? When we’re very young, these considerations are rarely as important, as such we simply experience. Maybe in youthful hedonism, we miss the very moment we should be thinking of the future. Some cultures do a better job of forcing their young to consider the future, such as Germany, who asks the very young to pick a career before they are even in their teens, to help mold an often vocational direction rather than leaving them to decide many years later when it could be too late?
For example, if you had a child, would you wish for the child to take philosophy or neuroscience in university? Which would be more likely to land them a secure job? This surely is part of our role as parents, to ensure our children will be financially safe when growing up. At the same time, we know the potential value of philosophy, but how translatable is that value in today’s world?
I grew up very aspirant-minded because my mom was very successful. Even as I didn’t live with her, I saw her as a role model and believed naively I could follow in her footsteps. There were many reasons I did not. The locations and cultures had changed. The times had changed as in her day it was easier to walk into jobs. By the time I was looking for work, there were thousands clamouring for fewer positions. Often people cannot understand this change because they only have their experience to refer to, but things change a lot, including what was possible and what is no longer possible.
One might argue, then you just must be better, to do better. This is true in India, China (a Confucian principle) and many other Asian countries, where an excellent and high achieving work ethic coupled with a huge population, causes young people to be under more pressure than ever to attain those coveted positions. This causes one of the following two things as en masse more people do excellently, the bar gets pushed higher, and people from such countries can often cherry pick jobs in other countries because they excel; or a greater division between those who succeed (the minority) and those who traditionally speaking do not (the majority). It’s about sorting out the reality from the stereotype.
America, a country long thought to possess no caste or class system, perpetuates other countries’ histories by having a quiet class system that is denied by the mainstream but very alive. For many families with money, sending their kids to schools that will guarantee the best universities and thus, the best networking and jobs, there is an obvious bias. We talk of ‘The American Dream’, but for the majority, the advantages they are born into, play an equal if not larger role in determining their outcome.
This is partly why discussions about reparation exist, because if families that were traditionally exploited are now generationally paying the price by not having generational wealth and influence to hand down to their children, they come from a position of inequality and inequity even as the American dream continues to be touted. And if those families are mostly families of colour, even more so, as you must consider the racial injustice of the past, which has been carried into the future by this ongoing inequity. The same is true in other countries, the idea we’re born equal and thus, we all have the same chance at a dream is naïve at best.
But how much does this play into a life well-lived? Is it essential to be conventionally successful to achieve such a goal? I would argue it is not. Whilst there are basic essentials coined by Psychologist Abraham Maslow (Hierarchy of Needs) that must be met to even be in the running. In other words, if you cannot afford the basics such as healthcare, economic security, education etc, you’re still stuck on trying to survive. In that sense, it’s a luxury for most to even consider a life well lived, because they are too busy surviving.
Let’s assume however, some of us reach that position of being economically sound enough to consider beyond the mechanisms of survival. Then let us ask ourselves what is a life well lived? Should it be like that of my mother? Being somewhat hedonistic but, true to myself, by doing exactly what she wanted and traveling the world where she could expand. When she passes, will she have felt her life was well lived? I’m guessing she will.
That’s because of a process called reconciliation. One must reconcile one’s regrets or things we were judged for, and if we are able to do this (many of us fail), then we find inner peace. With peace comes a sense of no matter what, we did the best we could, we gave it all we could, we’re glad for the life we lived. In a sense, this summation of a life well lived, is rooted in our self-perception and then that perception projected into a larger context. It takes a lot to consider more than our immediate circle. Perhaps if we could, we would be less fractured as a planet. Less liable to turn the other cheek when atrocities occur, or put our head in the sand and not think of future generations.
By coming together, universally, thinking in terms of all of us, not just as an individual, as touted so long by the West, we consider wholeness. Can we be whole if others are not? Should we be? And at the same time, not going so far as to lose a sense of ourselves or be merged into a homogenised, possibly too socialised loss of self? In other words, balance.
As you age you realise what mattered then doesn’t matter as much now. Or maybe, you come to realise that what you have always cared about, still matters. For myself, I am very different from my 15-year-old self, where I lived relatively hedonistically, caring about animals and injustice, but not doing enough about it. I see that at 15 , I thought mostly of having fun and generally being a little unrealistic about life. Some 15-year-olds aren’t that way. Why do some children grow up responsible and mature before their time, whilst others can be 30 and still fail to launch?
We can blame parenting, modern society, all sorts of things, but it’s probably more complicated than that. In Japan, many young people are literally shut-ins, (known as hikikomori) living on the cud of their parents income, rarely leaving their room, immersed in an unrealistic life, mostly online. Why do so few Japanese marry or have relationships comparatively speaking? Did the parents mess up? Or is this a symptom of a bigger sense of futility and despair felt by the young because some do think of the future?
I recall as a child I was unrealistic in my expectations, I truly thought I could do anything, be anything and this just wasn’t an honest evaluation of my situation. For some children, they knew they would be dentists at fifteen. For others, they did drugs and lived lost lives, before reinventing themselves. That’s the luxury of youth. But it’s not a permanent state. When you are older you realise, there isn’t as much time to ‘do anything / be anything’ and maybe that’s why I find some self-help/life coaches a little jarring. How long can we ‘do anything’ for realistically? Especially now, where different types of jobs are less than ever before, we’re being asked to homogenise into ever decreasing employment options. Many graduate law schools, formerly considered the pinnacles for employment, find no openings in an already saturated market, but should we doom a child’s dream if that’s what they want to do? The labour market doesn’t have a skills gap, it has an opportunity gap.
Many young people want to be famous, emulate some truly scary people, be unrealistically rich and have celebrity status. Less people want to heal, they want to make big bucks. Maybe they have it right. After all, when we do altruistic things but remain poor, how good does that feel when we can’t afford a car? With price hikes, standard of living seems to be improving because people have technology, but actually, we’re more in debt, without savings and living on a razor’s edge. Which might work at 25, but at 45 with children ready for college?
Again, I hark back to ‘balance’ and the need to live within one’s means, to have dreams that are capable of being pursued, and to help our kids dream up realistic jobs. The younger generations do not have the inherited wealth of the older, and immigrants often come with nothing to a country, depending upon the charity of that country, which is shrinking as our social services are overwhelmed and underfunded, even as immigration is on the rise.
Is the answer to print money? As has been discussed among Democrats? Or tax the rich and risk them leaving? Or is that a myth? With Covid 19 recently closing everything down, many formerly low wage workers were given monetary Covid compensations due to extended unemployment, which ended up being more than they were making as a badly paid waitress or shop worker. With some of those jobs vanishing forever, those that do return, see no employees willing to work for those wages again, and rightly so. But can we sustain a country if we pay what economists would consider a living wage? When $15 is already too little for someone to live on once tax and benefits are removed.
Increasingly we’re seeing a rise in people who fall through the cracks, they are the invisible workers whom we don’t know about, the underemployed, the fragile self-employed. That micro economy might not even show up on official statistics but look around, it exists. How likely can those people consider retiring in 30 years’ time? Can we blame those generations who are trapped by a system that doesn’t make it very likely to find an American Dream and what of the rest of the world, where survival comes long before the luxury of dreaming?
Where in this do we find concepts of lives well-lived? I think no such thing exists fundamentally but individually as we age, we should consider are we congruent to our concept of what a life well-lived means to us? Can we do anything to get closer to it? If so, what?
Recently I thought about this a lot and realised struggling with my health was my tipping point. For some that’s not their tipping point. A friend of mine said hers was losing her home. For me it was being told I was developing premature Macular Degeneration and with no treatment for Dry MD would lose my sight whilst still young. Facing those kinds of things forces us to consider what matters, what does not, and really think about how we value existence.
When I talk to people today, I recognise the value of clarity of purpose. When we know how best to direct our lives, we can spend more time on being the kind of person we want to be, rather than picking up the pieces from a series of failed impulses. If we remember how lucky we are to even have choices, when so many do not, even reading this on a computer puts us in a position of privilege, so rather than lamenting about what you do not have, consider what you need to live a life worth living and then do your best. Even half-way there might be enough to one day say, I have lived a life well-lived.
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
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.
The mother of a soldier once told me she did not agree that winning a war was a solution to peaceful living. She said, “If our army kill the enemy, some other mothers lose their sons; some other wives are widowed; some other children lose their fathers…”
Her summation of the war seems like an accurate description of the current day scenario. While politically the bombs that killed 140,000 in Hiroshima and 74000 in Nagasaki on 6th and 9th August respectively(1945), destroyed two cities, ended the Second World War (1939-1945) which claimed a total of 70-85 million lives over six years and led to the celebration of VE Day (Victory Europe Day), can we afford such horrors of violence and annihilation again? This is a question that remains in the grey zone as nuclear non-proliferation looks like agreeing to peace because the terror of war frightens. Will we ever have a world where peace is loved for the sake of what it brings and not for the fear of annihilation?
Writers in this special commemorate the horrors of the atom bomb and write their plea for peace. While American-Japanese writer, Suzanne Kamata, and Manjul Miteri of Nepal explore victimhood, Michael Burch talks of the Enola Gay, the legendary bomber that dropped “Little Boy” and annihilated a whole city. He reflects on the testing that continued on Bikini Island and further to ‘maintain peace’. We also have the words of Kathleen Burkinshaw who continues impacted by this terror — though it was her mother who was the hibakusha or survivor of the bomb blast. We round up this section with Candice Louisa Daquin’s reflections on peace and the reality as it is.
Oh Orimen! A poem in Nepalese about a victim of the blast written by a sculptor, Manjul Miteri, who while working on the largest Asian statue of the Buddha in Japan visited the museum dedicated to the impact of the blast. The poem has been translated to English by Hem Bishwakarma. Click hereto read.
Kathleen Burkinshaw is the daughter of a woman who survived the Hiroshima blast. Burkinshaw suffers neural damage herself from the impact of the bomb that her parent faced. She has written a book called The Last Cherry Blossomrecounting her mother’s first hand experiences. Her novel has been taken up by the United Nations as a part of its peacekeeping effort. She has been actively participating in efforts to ban nuclear weapons, including presenting with Nobel Laureates. Click here to read the interview.
In conversation with an American poet,Jared Carter, who has received multiple encomiums like the Walt Whitman Award, the Poets’ Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship and much more. He tells us of his life and how he writes a poem. Click here to read.
Penny Wilkes takes us Down the Path of Nostalgia with a mix of old and new photography and prose and poetry on how a decade after the end of the Second World War, she started her love affair with photography and nature. Clickhere to read
In a tribute to Bollywood legend Dileep Kumar, Ratnottama Sengupta, one of India’s most iconic arts journalists, recollects the days the great actor sprinted about on the sets of Bombay’s studios …spiced up with fragments from the autobiography of Sengupta’s father, Nabendu Ghosh. Click here to read.
“Nothing can be unconditional: consequently, nothing can be free.”
“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
-- George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists, Man & Superman (1903)
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), a great writer and playwright, used these epigrammatic lines to bring focus on what people thought was liberty or freedom from oppression, from regimes that were dictatorial. While discussing concepts of freedom, one does wonder if political freedom solves all humane issues, occasions we celebrate with great aplomb, like the birth of a nation.
This month started with the observance of July 4th, the date of the American Revolution in 1776 and the publication date of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in 1855. In between these two years, in 1789, ten days down the line, on July 14th, another significant occurrence has been handed down by history to be celebrated as the Bastille Day— the day prisoners were freed from Bastille, a major event that led to the overthrow of the insensitive monarchy in France, a symbolic resurgence of the common, exploited man that has often been seen as an inspiration for later uprisings to reinforce the concept of democracy or liberté, égalité, fraternité.
As we move forward in time, towards August, one wonders if liberty attained by these means was good for all fellow humans? France was part of the Allied Forces that with America taking the lead dropped not one but two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945, to end the Second World War. Did the ends justify the means? Reflecting the cry and suffering of these victims, we have poetry from Suzanne Kamata, a well-known writer from Japan. Michael Burch on the other hand has shared poetry with us which shows how the nuclear programme continued unrepentant despite the devastation it caused. One must give kudos to the descendants of the victims of the nuclear blast that they have forgiven the perpetrators, admitted their own hand in the Second World War and moved ahead. In that spirit, we have an essay on peace by Candice Louisa Daquin, who joins the Borderless team as a writer-in-residence.
We have much happening in poetry this time with an interview of American poet Jared Carter, a recipient of number of awards and fellowships, including the Walt Whitman Award and the Guggenheim fellowship. He walks us through how he created the poem ‘Yeti’ (first published in the May edition of Borderless) and talks of the impact of artifacts from China and India on his own thought processes, the impact of Du Fu (712-770) and much more. We have a poem in Du Fu’s style this time by George Freek and an interesting poem with a Chinese title by Carter, a title that can have multiple connotations and yet each seems to fit the poem perfectly.
Rhys Hughes has brought humour into our pages with both his poetry and essay on William Mcgonagall, who bore the sobriquet of the worst writer in the world through his life and had things thrown at him when he read his poetry in Dundee. Yet, his work survived the beatings, and he lives on known as the ‘Scottish Homer’.
More poetry by Singaporean poet Marc Nair gives us a glimpse of the little island as viewed by someone who has grown up on it. Poetry is always multi-hued, and we have Lorraine Caputo transport us to a Garífuna village in Honduras. Penny Wilkes takes us ‘Down the Path of Nostalgia’ with a mix of old and new photography, prose and poetry on how almost a decade after the end of the Second World War, she started her love affair with photography and nature. It hovers between poetry and musings, and this time we have a rare musing by Jared Carter too. Devraj Singh Kalsi continues cogitating with wry humour while arranging bookshelves. We also have the backpacking granny visitingIndonesia. Post sharing this trip, our granny — Sybil Pretious — plans a little break from publishing to complete her memoirs.
A riveting flash fiction by Kaiyi Tan celebrates the spirit of conquest in these dark times, weaving into the pandemic lore the quest for personal freedom. Stories this time carry a real life one by Jean Kortum on adoption — her own struggle. But then, stories can be real or unreal – draw a bit from both to reflect bigger truths or create alternates that sink into the human mind as a perceived reality and leave an imprint deep inside the heart, like that of Niles Reddick. My conviction is that some lived experiences of writers seep into each story, whether it is from Bangladesh or India or by our literary fictionist, Sunil Sharma. His narrative continues infused by suspense.
We have a complete translated story of Tagore by Radha Chakravarty as our book excerpt this time. ‘The Parrot’s Tale’, ostensibly part of a children’s collection, reflects Tagore’s response to conventional schooling — a reason for him to start Shanti Niketan perhaps. She has also shared two of her translations of Rabindranath’s songs from Bhanusingher Padabali (1884, Bhanusingh’s verses). Chakravarty generously consented to an interview and has given us a glimpse of her journey as a translator and critic. We also have translated a long poem by Tagore on our pages, a poem that inspires hope, though it was named Dushomoy (1897, Bad Times) finally. The original name had been Swarga Patthe (On the Path to Heaven) as can be seen from a page in his diary. We have been fortunate in finding a recording of his voice reciting the poem in Bengali and the print of a sample page of the manuscript bearing his signature.
Keith Lyons from New Zealand in his very brief essay has quoted American novelist William Faulkner, “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” And perhaps we need to remember this if for no other reason, then, just to maintain our own sanity in these strange, almost unreal times as we attempt to unite as humankind to free ourselves from an unknown and unfathomable virus.
In a more sombre note, last week, untroubled by the virus, a victim of cancer, Bollywood legend Dileep Kumar, aged 98, breathed his last. Ratnottama Sengupta adds an unusual colour to the Borderless Journal with her tribute to this hugely acclaimed actor. In the process, she unfolds for us a brief history of the Indian cinema, and a glimpse of a world that transcends all man made constructs in quest of perfection.
We have an interesting set of reviews this July. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Anuradha Kumar’s riveting short story collection, A Sense of Time. A murder mystery for young readers, Murder at Daisy Apartments by Shabnam Minwalla, has been reviewed by Gracy Samjetsabam. The Third Eye of Governance–Rise of Populism, Decline in Social Research by Dr N Bhaskara Rao, reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha, seems to be a non-fiction that looks forward to bridging gaps between academia and the real world, a truly felt need. Parichha has also given us an essay on a man who inspired Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, to make him a part of his lore, a journalist who moved around all of Asia with equal aplomb and a sense of humour – a truly global citizen called Richard Hughes.
I want to thank all our wonderful contributors for making this edition a reality. And readers, we leave you to explore the unknown… like that place we call outer space. A huge thank you again to not only all our wonderful contributors, our faithful readers but also to the fabulous Borderless team scattered across the world.
Before I wind up, a little bird trills a song of hope in my ear. Business tycoons have started stepping into the mysterious void of space to eventually – let us hope — create affordable travel for common man, though it has started off as an expensive proposition. Will this be an industry that will generate more jobs on and off Earth and find new places for man to inhabit? After all, when George Bernard Shaw wrote his plays and essays, we had yet to cross the frontiers beyond Earth, had never even thought of flying across the world in budget airlines or mining moons!
Will we have a new world, a new outlook and a new set of hopes and aspirations as we stretch the frontiers of our home planet?
Wish you all a wonderful month of reading and thinking.
I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you...
(Excerpted from Song of Myself, Walt Whitman, 1881)
Fourth of July, was the date that Walt Whitman’s anthology, Leaves of Grass, was published for the first time. The year was 1855. This was a book with poetry that embraced all humanity. The writing did not look for philosophical labels but reached out to all mankind touching the hearts of millions beyond the poet’s own lifetime, rising above races, rituals, politics, economics and hatred.
On that same date, in the century preceding the publication of this book — on 4th July, 1776 — thirteen colonies that had been established by immigrants in the continent of North America signed Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, freeing themselves from the British yoke after they populated the landmass that had been occupied by American Indians for many thousands of years. The date continues to be celebrated as the American Independence Day with much fanfare. Borderless Journal presents to you writing that celebrates the occasion. Perhaps when at leisure, some of us will pause to wonder if independence and democracy bring freedom to all concerned.