Categories
Editorial

Will Monalisa Smile Again?

The first month of 2023 has been one of the most exciting! Our first book, Monalisa No Longer Smiles: An Anthology of Writings from across the World, is now in multiple bookstores in India (including Midlands and Om Bookstores). It has also had multiple launches in Delhi and been part of a festival.

We, Meenakshi Malhotra and I, were privileged to be together at the physical book events. We met the editor in chief of Om Books International, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, the editor of our anthology, Jyotsna Mehta, along with two translators and writers I most admire, Aruna Chakravarti and Radha Chakravarty, who also graced a panel discussion on the anthology during our physical book launch. The earlier e-book launch had been in November 2022. My heartfelt thanks to the two eminent translators and Chaudhuri for being part of the discussions at both these launches. Chaudhuri was also in the panel along with Debraj Mookerjee at a launch organised by Malhotra and the English Literary Society steered by Nabaneeta Choudhury at Hans Raj College, Delhi University. An energising, interactive session with students and faculty where we discussed traditional and online publishing, we are immensely grateful to Malhotra for actively organising the event and to the Pandies’ founder, Sanjay Kumar, for joining us for the discussion. It was wonderful to interact with young minds. On the same day, an online discussion on the poetry in Monalisa No Longer Smiles was released by the Pragati Vichar Literary Festival (PVLF) in Delhi.

At the PVLF session, I met an interesting contemporary diplomat cum poet, Abhay K. He has translated Kalidasa’s Meghaduta and the Ritusamhara from Sanskrit and then written a long poem based on these, called Monsoon. We are hosting a conversation with him and are carrying book excerpts from Monsoon, a poem that is part of the curriculum in Harvard. The other book excerpt is from Sanjay Kumar’s Performing, Teaching and Writing Theatre: Exploring Play, a book that has just been published by the Cambridge University Press.

Perhaps because it is nearing the Republic Day of India, we seem to have a flurry of book reviews that reflect the Sub-continental struggle for Independence from the colonials. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed Priya Hajela’s Ladies Tailor: A novel, a book that takes us back to the trauma of the Partition that killed nearly 200,000 to 2 million people – the counts are uncertain. Bhaskar Parichha has discussed MA Sreenivasan’s Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me, a biography of a long serving official in the Raj era — two different perspectives of the same period. Rakhi Dalal has shared her views on Shrinivas Vaidya’s A Handful of Sesame, translated from Kannada by Maithreyi Karnoor, a book that dwells on an immigrant to the Southern part of India in the same time period. The legendary film writer K.A. Abbas’s Sone Chandi Ke Buth: Writings on Cinema, translated and edited by Syeda Hameed and Sukhpreet Kahlon, has been praised by Gracy Samjetsabam.

We have a piece on mental health in cinema by Chaudhuri, an excellent essay written after interviewing specialists in the field. Ratnottama Sengupta has given us a vibrant piece on Suhas Roy, an artist who overrides the bounds of East and West to create art that touches the heart. Candice Louisa Daquin has written on border controls and migrants in America. High profile immigrants have also been the subject of Farouk Gulsara’s ‘What do Freddy Mercury, Rishi Sunak & Mississipi Masala have in Common?’ Sengupta also writes of her immigrant family, including her father, eminent writer, Nabendu Ghosh, who moved from Bengal during the Partition. There are a number of travel pieces across the world by Ravi Shankar, Meredith Stephens and Mike Smith — each written in distinctively different styles and exploring different areas on our beautiful Earth. Sarpreet Kaur has revisited the devastation of the 2004 tsunami and wonders if it is a backlash from nature. Could it be really that?

Suzanne Kamata gives us a glimpse of the education system in Japan in her column with a humorous overtone. Devraj Singh Kalsi dwells on the need for nostalgia with a tongue-in-cheek approach. Rhys Hughes makes us rollick with laughter when he talks of his trip to Kerala and yet there is no derision, perhaps, even a sense of admiration in the tone. Hughes poetry also revels in humour. We have wonderful poetry from Jared Carter, Ranu Uniyal, Asad Latif, Anaya Sarkar, Michael R Burch, Scott Thomas Outlar, Priyanka Panwar, George Freek and many more.

The flavours of cultures is enhanced by the translation of Nazrul’s inspirational poetry by Professor Fakrul Alam, Korean poetry written and translated by Ihlwha Choi and a transcreation of Tagore’s poem Banshi (or flute) which explores the theme of inspiration and the muse. We have a story by S Ramakrishnan translated from Tamil by R Sathish. The short stories featured at the start of this year startle with their content. Salini Vineeth writes a story set in the future and Paul Mirabile tells the gripping poignant tale of a strange child.

With these and more, we welcome you to savour the January 2023 edition of Borderless, which has been delayed a bit as we were busy with the book events for our first anthology. I am truly grateful to all those who arranged the discussions and hosted us, especially Ruchika Khanna, Om Books International, the English Literary Society of Hans Raj College and to the attendees of the event. My heartfelt thanks to the indefatigable team and our wonderful writers, artists and readers, without who this journey would have remained incomplete. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her artwork. Many thanks to the readers of Borderless Journal and Monalisa No Longer Smiles. I hope you will find the book to your liking. We have made a special page for all comments and reviews.

I wish you a wonderful 2023. Let us make a New Year’s wish —

May all wars and conflicts end so that our iconic Monalisa can start smiling again!

Mitali Chakravarty,

borderlessjournal.com

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Photographs of events around Monalisa No Longer Smiles: An Anthology of Writings from across the World. Click here to access the Book.

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Insta Link to an excerpt of the launch at Om Bookstore. Click here to view.

E-Launch of the first anthology of Borderless Journal, November 14th 2022. Click here to view.

Categories
Stories

The Scholar

 

By Chaturvedi Divi

Courtesy: Creative Commons

Sathya was sitting under the banyan tree outside the English department of Seven Steps Balaji Maha Viswa Vidyalaya waiting for his research supervisor, Ratnavali. He pulled out from his backpack Ruzbeth N Bharucha’s book, The Fakir, and started reading it.

Sathya had an exposure to spiritual life at an early age. His father, Sachdev, despite his busy medical practice in Chennai, never hesitated to spare time for serving the patients at the free clinics he organised during weekends. Sathya’s mother. Bhuvana, started a publishing unit, devoted to spiritual books. Encouraged by his parents, Sathya did courses in writing, and he played different roles as a translator, book editor and marketing manager. At the recent youth festival in the city, he ran book promotional sessions, and happened to meet a Ph D scholar, Vinay. Impressed by Sathya, Vinay made it a point to interact with him every day during the week-long youth festival. When Sathya discussed with his parents the challenges young researchers face, his mother sensed his new-found interest, and asked him to enrol for a PhD programme.

“Research, yeah, that is a different kind of world. After all that exposure, you may find that the family business is more challenging and even fascinating, who knows,” his father said.

                                             ***

“Wearing white safari suit and sitting under a tree is not a good idea, sir. Sit in the Library…”  It was Raju, the junior assistant in the English office.

“In the library you find books on Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf and the like. Nothing relevant to my research work.”  Sathya consulted his watch. It was 11 am. He moved towards the English department. He saw Dheeraj in their supervisor’s chamber correcting MA exam answer sheets. As he was about to enter, he heard the sound of flip flops. He turned around and greeted Prof. Ratnavali.

 “Dheeraj, are you still correcting…?” 

“Mam, I need just two more days.”

He gently asked Sathya, “Look, is this the right answer?”

Even before Sathya opened his mouth, Ratnavali frowned. “Dheeraj, ask me.”

“Mam, the deconstruction theory…”

“Are you reading those answers? Don’t waste your time. You need not even turn the pages. Just allot some marks between 60 and 70. If everybody gets first class no one will complain.”

 “Ma’am…”

Cutting in, Ratnavali said, “Look, both of you. Don’t meet any other teacher in the department. They are all nebbish and maladroit.”

“Mam, I just greeted…”

 “Don’t argue, listen.” She paused. “The sinusitis is driving me crazy.”

“Try steam inhalation of basil leaves ma’am,” said Sathya.

“Will it work?”

“Yes ma’am, six times a day.”

Ratnavali scribbled on a piece of paper and dropped it into her handbag.  She waited for a few moments and then took out a strip of Benadryl capsules from her handbag. “Sathya, I am afraid that the capsules you brought are in bad shape. The pharmacist might have put a lot of weight on these strips.”

“Heavens above!”

“Any way, I’ll check again.” She removed one capsule and said, “This seems to be good. I’ll check other capsules too.” She went on removing one capsule after the other and emptied the pack. “Better you return. I don’t need them anymore. Get cash.”

Which pharmacist will accept them, Sathya wondered?  “Mam, did you go through my article?” 

“Oh, not yet. If I read for more than 15 minutes, I get a headache. Anyway, I’ll try to finish it shortly.” Ratnavali ran her hands over her head as if she were adjusting her hair style, took out dragon balm and a wad of bills from her handbag. Applying the balm to her forehead she said, “Dheeraj, can you pay the electricity bills? Today is the last date. I have a severe headache. I must go home.” She tried to contact someone on the phone. “No response from the cab service.’

“Usually, we find cabs at the main gate mam. I’ll try.” 

“Look, you have to bargain. I never paid more than Rs 50.”

Sathya thanked his lucky stars when he found a cab near the canteen. As the fare was Rs100, Sathya gave Rs 50 to the driver and asked him to accept Rs. 50 from Prof. Ratnavali. The driver immediately returned the amount and said that he had bad experiences with her. She would stop at all the three temples on the way and at a grocery shop.  It would take at least one hour for him to cover the three km distance and she never paid the waiting charges. He softened his stance only when Sathya offered one hundred and fifty rupees. Sathya had a sigh of relief as Prof. Ratnavali got into the cab and moved out of the premises. When he returned, he saw Dheeraj paying the electricity bills online. He checked the bills and said, “Dheeraj, you’re poorer by Rs 8000.”

Dheeraj looked at the bills disinterestedly. “I know you gave that article to her several months back.”  

“Yes, eight months back, on the teachers’ day. You brought roses and we both greeted her.”

“Then, imagine the time she takes to read my thesis!”

“It will take ages. No hope at all. She has to read in between headaches.”

“I feel tired, I feel exhausted.”

“Shall I arrange for a drink? Do you prefer boost, sir?” asked Raju, who had just entered the room.

Dheeraj was startled.  “When did you come here Raju?”  

“At least we have cleared our written exams,” Sathya said.

“We are only one step ahead. There are six more steps.”

“How do you mean?”

“This is Seven Steps Balaji Maha Viswa Vidyalaya.”

“We have successfully merged all the steps into one big step,” Raju said.

“Raju, are you still here? What is that one big step?” Dheeraj asked.

“I’ll tell you. First pay my consultation fee?”

“You mean tip?”

“No, it’s a consultation fee. I’ve been working in this dept. for more than 20 years. You should know that I can provide you with valuable information.”

Dheeraj offered Rs 200. Raju returned Rs 100 and said, “My fee is Rs. 100 only. Not one rupee more or not one rupee less. I’ve some ethics. I learnt this art of making extra bucks from your supervisor, Madam Prof Ratnavali. You meet Prof. Saskar. He will help you out,” Raju said and left.

Dheeraj said, “Maruti too mentioned Prof. Saskar’s name. Now Maruti is our neighbour. He bought an apartment just four blocks away from my house. The other day he met my father, and he mentioned your name. He said that he couldn’t have cleared the methodology paper without your guidance.”

“I explained to him literary theory and documentation. I prepared some notes too for him.”

“Oh! I too must thank you. My paper was accepted by the organizers of The Great Writing Conference, London. It was you who suggested the topic when I had no clue and you helped me in drafting it.” 

“Congrats. Is it the one on Amitav Ghosh?”

“Yes. Fragmentation in the Novels of Amitav Ghosh… but that is not going to make me happy at all. Can I ever submit my thesis? It is clear. She is not normal. She needs mood stabilizers.”

                                          ***

The next morning Dheeraj and Sathya had the shock of their life. Prof. Ratnavali called them to her house. She almost threw their theses on the centre table. “Sathya, why did you make it topic centric? It should have been author centric?”

“Ma’am, I followed your instructions.” He pulled out a notebook from his backpack and showed the suggestions written by her.

 She was taken aback. However, she gathered herself and said, “No. You have to rewrite the entire thesis. I’ll be busy with my overseas assignment for one full year. Research work is not time bound. It may even take 10 years or beyond.”

She then turned towards Dheeraj and said, “Your theoretical approach is incorrect. Apply psychoanalytical theory instead of postcolonial theory.”

“Ma’am, you told me…”

“Don’t argue, listen.”

Dheeraj became furious. “I’ll not allow you to play with my career. I can join some other university and get my degree within two years.” He picked up his thesis and almost ran out of the house.

There was an uneasy calmness for a couple of minutes. Sathya stood up. He thought he said bye ma’am, but words didn’t escape his lips.

When a two- wheeler zoomed past him, Sathya realised that he was on the wrong side of the road. He moved ahead unmindful of where he was going. After some time, he noticed that he was at the banyan tree outside the department of English of Seven Steps Balaji Maha Viswa Vidyalaya.     

“You are on the wrong side, sir.” It was Raju, near the university gate.

“Am I still on the road!” Sathya wondered. He looked around and turned towards Raju questioningly.   

“My consultation fees.” Slipping the Rs. 100 -note into his wallet Raju said, “I have learnt this art of making extra bucks from Madam Prof. Ratnavali but I’ve some ethics. I just sell ideas, not degrees like the teachers.”  Sathya wanted to cut in, but he waited patiently.

“Dheeraj won’t quit, sir. One of his relatives is an IPS officer. He must know when to offer a carrot and when to use the stick.”

“Don’t tell me that you knew what happened just one hour back….”

“Yes, of course, I knew. I am a member of the Campus Information Service. Every piece of information reaches the members within minutes. Our people are everywhere, even in the Chamber of the V C. Prof. Saskar is the head of the service.”

“Really?”

“You must realise that expressions like modifications, theoretical approach, and documentation are stock words used by the supervisors to create trouble for the scholars. The greater the trouble, the more the flow of money into their pockets. The entire show is run by Prof. Saskar. Neither the supervisor nor the external examiners make a serious reading of a thesis.  I see the same panel of examiners year after year at every viva.  He has hijacked the entire examination system. You can’t bank on the head of the department or the chairman. They will not come to your rescue. They are scared of Prof. Saskar and Prof. Ratnavali. They don’t hesitate even to harm you as they don’t want to strain their relationships with Prof. Saskar and Prof. Ratnavali. Avoid confrontation. Just buy your degree or quit.”

Sathya tightened his jaw. “Thanks a lot for your long speech. Do you think that I’ll buy my degree?”

Ignoring what Sathya said, Raju tried to convince him. “Even if you don’t have money it doesn’t matter. Prof. Saskar and Madam Prof. Ratnavali can arrange for bank loans. That was how Madhavan got his degree. He is now in Australia.”

“I am a spiritual person. I won’t meekly submit to anti-social elements, come what may.”

“I have told you sir you are on the wrong side.”

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Chaturvedi Divi’s short stories and poems have appeared in the anthology of Only Men Please, Reading Hour, America the Catholic magazine, Twist & TwainSpillwords  and elsewhere.

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

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Categories
Contents

Borderless, September 2022

Art by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall Click here to read.

Conversations

Meet Barun Chanda, an actor who started his career as the lead protagonist of a Satyajit Ray film and now is a bi-lingual writer of fiction and more recently, a non-fiction published by Om Books International, Satyajit Ray: The Man Who Knew Too Much in conversation Click here to read.

Jim Goodman, an American traveler, author, ethnologist and photographer who has spent the last half-century in Asia, converses with Keith Lyons. Click here to read.

Translations

Professor Fakrul Alam has translated three Tagore songs around autumn from Bengali. Click here to read.

Nagmati by Prafulla Roy has been translated from Bengali as Snake Maiden by Aruna Chakravarti. Click here to read.

A Balochi Folksong that is rather flirtatious has been translated by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

A Letter Adrift in the Breeze by Haneef Sharif has been translated from Balochi by Mashreen Hameed. Click here to read.

Jajangmyeon Love, a poem has been written in Korean and translated by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Eshechhe Sarat (Autumn) by Tagore has been translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Michael R Burch, Sunil Sharma, George Freek, Sutputra Radheye, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Arshi Mortuza, Ron Pickett, Prasant Kumar B K, David Francis, Shivani Srivastav, Marianne Tefft, Saranyan BV, Jim Bellamy, Shareefa BeegamPP, Irma Kurti, Gayatri Majumdar, Rhys Hughes

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In The Chopsy Moggy, Rhys Hughes gives us a feline adventure. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

A Tale of Two Flags in the South Pacific

Meredith Stephens visits an island that opted to adopt the ways of foreign settlers with her camera and narrates her experiences. Click here to read.

A Taste of Bibimbap & More…

G Venkatesh revisits his Korean experience in a pre-pandemic world. Click here to read.

September Nights

Mike Smith in a short poetic monologue evokes what the season means for him. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In El Condor Pasa or I’d Rather be a Sparrow…, Devraj Singh Kalsi explores his interactions with birds with a splatter of humour. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Rabbit Island, Suzanne Kamata visits the island of Okunoshima, where among innocence of rabbits lurk historic horrors. Click here to read.

Essays

A Turkish Adventure with Sait Faik

Paul Mirabile takes us on a journey to Burgaz with his late Turkish friend to explore the writings of Sait Faik Abasiyanik. Click here to read.

A Salute to Ashutosh Bodhe

Ravi Shankar pays a tribute to a fellow trekker and gives a recap of their trekking adventures together near Mt Everest base camp. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In Sometimes Less is More, Candice Louisa Daquin explores whether smaller communities can be assimilated into the mainstream. Click here to read.

Stories

Where Eagles Dare…

Munaj Gul Muhammad takes on the persona of a woman to voice about their rights in Balochistan. Click here to read.

My Eyes Don’t Speak

Chaturvedi Divi explores blindness and its outcome. Click here to read.

The Royal Retreat

Sangeetha G gives a brief view of intrigue at court. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

Ruskin Bond, excerpted from Between Heaven and Earth: Writings on the Indian Hills, edited by Ruskin Bond and Bulbul Sharma. Click here to read.

Excerpts from Rhys Hughes’ Comfy Rascals: Short Fictions. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Rakhi Dalal reviews Rhys Hughes’ Comfy Rascals: Short Fictions. Click here to read.

Hema Ravi reviews Mrutyunjay Sarangi’s A Train to Kolkata and Other Stories. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Krishna Bose’s Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Life, Struggle and Politics, translated and edited by Sumantra Bose. Click here to read.

Categories
Stories

       My Eyes Don’t Speak

By Chaturvedi Divi

                                             

The City Mall assistant walked behind Vikas up to the exit door and handed over a small pack of apples. Vikas climbed down the broad steps at a gingerly pace, walked through the parking area waiting for his cab to arrive. His cane vibrated and a cyclist brushed past him. The bag he was holding got entangled in the rear rack of the cycle, and Vikas loosened his grip and let it go. As he was regaining his balance, someone rushed towards him.

“Are you all right? It is a narrow escape.”

“No worries, I am fine, thank you.”

After five minutes, Vikas heard the same voice. “Wow, believe it or not. This is great. The cyclist, the poor boy, was frightened. He handed over your bag and rode off.”

Vikas thanked him and moved on.

At home, to beat loneliness, Vikas listened to the audio book, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. At 5 P.M he opened the bag, and took out one apple, and noticed that the apples were not the ones he bought. The stickers were intact. At the mall, every time he bought fruits, the mall assistants removed the stickers before packing. They knew that removing stickers would be a cumbersome affair to him. 

So, my bag was lost. Out of pity, the man gave the apples he bought. He lost control over his thoughts and he felt depressed and angry. He wanted to tell everyone that at 25, he was the most accomplished singer of theme songs on TV commercials and he made a fortune, and was not living on charity.

The doorbell rang. When Vikas opened the door, Suresh started humming a tune. It was always how he announced his visit. “Yesterday I worked late in the night…  Installed new music system in our studio.” 

“Did the company send its audio engineer to help you?”

“No, just their electrical engineer and his assistants. I was the only audio engineer responsible for checking the sound quality. It was hectic.” Suresh went into the dining hall and brought two glasses of water and plates. “I brought snacks from our favourite restaurant. Guess what.?” When he opened the pack, Vikas could smell samosas.

“Today, I want to try The Bird’s Opening.” Vikas nodded his head. After 20 moves, Suresh said, “BXE5.” He waited for a few seconds.  “I called out my move. It seems that you are not your usual self today. What happened?”

Vikas told him the trick played by a stranger at the City Mall, and societal categorisation made him feel humiliated.

 “Weird! He tried to play smart. He may even post the incident on social media. Question of attitude.  Don’t give it the colour of humiliation. That is nothing but your imagination. Cheer up boy.”

I shouldn’t blame him for ignoring my feelings. He didn’t face any serious challenge in life. I should never broach this subject again with Suresh. Vikas had a disturbed sleep that night.

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In the studio, while singing a theme song, Vikas missed a beat, for the first time in his career. The time signature was set to a slow waltz. In his second attempt, the sliding from one pitch to the other was not smooth. His third attempt too was not satisfactory. The creative director, Sankar had remained with the sole option of rescheduling the recording.

That evening while Vikas was pacing the patio up and down restlessly, Suresh called him. “Geetha and I will be at your house at 7.30.”

“Did she sing her lines this morning?”

“No, some re jigging.”

“Oh!” Vikas paused. “7.30 dinner time. I’ll order dinner for three.”

“Not this time, Geetha will bring home made food, just for a change.”

While dining, Vikas’ phone started singing. “It is from Educational Trust for the Blind,” Suresh handed over the phone to Vikas.

“Oh my god, I was supposed to address the students this afternoon.” Vikas apologised. His voice was shaky.

After they settled in the living room, Suresh said, “Sankar sir was a bit upset this morning.”

“But that was not because of you, Vikas,” Geetha quickly added. “Multiple takes…natural in the music world. There is lot of pressure from our customer, in-charge of the political campaign.”

“Yes, Vikas,” said Suresh. The fight between political parties resulted in a tough competition between ad agencies.”

“This morning you were a bit distracted,” Geetha smiled.

“Sankar sir gave me a good break in my career. I won’t trouble him. If it is required, I’ll opt out of the campaign.”

“Cheer up, boy. The same team will be retained for the entire campaign. I’m sure about it.” Suresh tapped on the centre table. “We all had a very long association with Bhavana Ad Agency.”

“Just relax, things will fall in line soon,” Geetha gently touched his hand.

After they left, Vikas sat in the patio switching from one audio book to another till midnight.

Two days later, Vikas received a call from Sankar. “Tomorrow evening there will be a small party at my house at 5.30.  My daughter’s birthday. please do come.”

Did he invite Suresh and Geetha too? Who else would be in the party other than his daughter’s friends? Would there be a music performance? Would he ask me to sing? Will he tell me I am out of the campaign?

On the way to Sankar’s house, Vikas bought a branded pen set. Sankar led him into his house. His wife Jyothi and their daughter Vani thanked him for sparing time and Vani introduced him to her friends. Vikas noticed that it was a small gathering and all the guests were Vani’s school mates. Sankar guided him to a corner table and said, “My childhood friend Dr. Pravin will join you soon.”

A couple of minutes later, Vikas heard footsteps. “I’m Dr Pravin.”

“Pleasure to meet you, doctor.”

“The pleasure is all mine. You know, I was caught in a traffic jam… a procession… some political party. Pravin lowered his voice and said, “I believe that the world will be a better place without most of these politicians.”

“Yeah, they whip up regional feelings simply to gain support from a section of the people.”

“Exactly, every day some kind of unrest somewhere. I feel that every morning before venturing out, we should check whether it is safe to go out or not,”

“The way people check in some regions whether it is snowing or not.” Vikas laughed.

“Snowing. It reminds me of beautiful places in Kashmir… You know there is a village in the eastern ghat of Andhra Pradesh, Lambasingi, the Kashmir of AP.”

“Lambasingi? I visited that place when I was in school. Those images are still fresh in my mind. Thajangi reservoir… Susan Garden….  Amber coloured flowers.”

“I understand you are not blind by birth.”

“How do you…”

Cutting in Dr Pravin said, “You told me just now.”

“Did I? …Yeah… I was normal till I finished my bachelor’s degree in music. One day I had some discomfort in my eyes. I was treated for macular degeneration but there was no improvement and after a few months I lost sight.”

“Visual impairment… Things changed. There were times when it was tough to handle even day to day activities like crossing busy roads or making a phone call. Those days have gone. Technology is of immense help now.”

“Yeah.  The phone I use is voice activated, it has programmed buttons in Braille. Routine activities are not at all challenging to me. My real challenge is…” Vikas crossed his legs, uncrossed them, and leaned back.

“Go ahead Vikas.”

“I mean… I believe there is a mismatch between my self-image and social identity. Except my colleagues in the agency, others often times, in the name of helping me, place me in embarrassing situations.” His voice choked. “They give a fancy name to their behaviour… social etiquette.”

“I understand the lowered expectations offend you.  You feel disturbed, agitated and you lost focus on your work. An issue, considered trivial sometime back, has grown into a serious problem now. Am I right?”

“I try to divert my thoughts but…” Vikas leaned forward. My colleague Suresh says it is in my head… cognitive dissonance. Is it not real?”

“There are several planes of consciousness. At one plane, it is real.”

“You mean?”

“Identity– psychological or social is a complex experience. It involves a host of things influenced by family values, beliefs, media and social interaction. The question, what is my identity, led many from physical to metaphysical…”

“Dr, I’m not bothered about…”

“Interact with people more and more. Socialise.”

“Will it solve my problem?”

“Certainly. Perceptions will change.”

 The next morning Vikas went to the neighbourhood park and sat on a bench. He heard noises- children playing, adults jogging, some discussing politics. No one came to share the bench with him. After one hour, he noticed that the park was almost deserted. While returning home, he could exchange greetings with his immediate neighbour, but there was no more interaction. After four days, he stopped his morning visits to the park.

The park was a nice place to meet people, but in his case, Vikas had to find better ways to socialise. He thought of  running chess classes for children… I could take Suresh’s help without disclosing the motive. Or, he will again come up with his imaginative theories…

On that Sunday, while playing chess, Vikas shared his idea with Suresh.

“Really!”

“Yeah, Sunday mornings.”

“Interesting. The patio is just enough for a small group. We’ll insist on nominal entry fee. You know, free coaching doesn’t carry any value.”

In the first session, Vikas explained to the boys the nuances of opening, middle and end games and about classical, rapid and blindfold formats. Suresh analysed the different strategies and tactics followed by world class chess players and asked them to start with foot soldiers. Despite their attempts to make the session interesting, none of the five boys turned up for the second session.

 “Street cricket is popular here. The boys don’t want to miss it. We should have thought of it,” Suresh said.

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Vikas woke up at 5.a. m to the devotional music that invaded his bed room from the new temple, about 100 feet to the north of the park.

 I should tell the priest to lower the noise.

He had a bath and then waited till he felt the warmth of the sun. Then he went to the temple. When he entered, he noticed it was crowded. He heard adults guiding children, breaking coconuts and ringing the temple bell. Some devotees were chanting Durga ashtottram[1]. Puja was going on.

While he was wondering which way he to go, one devotee approached him. “For darshan[2], turn to your right and move on.”

“I’d like to wait for some time.”

“Come with me. I’ll show you a place where you can sit comfortably.”

Vikas was in a dilemma whether to lodge a complaint with the priest or not. After half-an-hour, Vikas noticed that except for the footsteps of an occasional visitor, there was silence.

“Did you have darshan? Are you waiting for anyone?” Vikas was startled. The voice continued, “I am the temple priest.  Do you need any help in getting back home?”

“No, thank you. My house is close bye, the other side of the park.”

“Oh, you stay nearby.  There will be a veena recital this evening. Please do come, sir.”

Veena recital! I can think of giving a musical performance in the temple.  Festive season. Almost everyone in the neighbourhood visits the temple. Can there be a better place for socialising. Not the usual devotional songs? Must be different and fit into the festive theme and mood. How about folk songs?

When he shared his idea with Geetha and Suresh, they were not enthusiastic.  “Folk music. I am not sure that the trustees of the temple and the priest will encourage the idea,” Geetha said.

“It is not easy to convince the devotees too,” Suresh said.

“Don’t feel disappointed Vikas. We are not giving up the idea. You know my brother Ravi. He is in event management. I’ll speak to him,” Geetha assured.

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“It is possible if we can find a sponsor and a suitable venue. Temple premises are not ideal. Sponsors can’t erect banners and they don’t come forward if you tell them, you are invisible.” Ravi patted Vikas on the shoulder. “Any other venue? Not the expensive conference halls.”

“Park?”

“Park, yeah, brilliant idea. Now, I can look for a sponsor, and even cosponsors like ice cream stalls, coffee stalls. How about Bhavana Ad. Agency?”

Geetha laughed. “You are asking us about our own agency!”

“Why not? Your director will inaugurate. The local MLA[3] will be the chief guest. No doubt, we will get good media coverage.”

 When Ravi raised the subject with ad agency, Sankar said, “I’m not convinced that the agency gets lot of publicity by just placing a few banners. The finance Dept. will object. The agency must be able to show case its achievements…  an audio- visual show may be ideal. I’d like to involve local people by organising a slogan writing contest for the school children. Can we open a stall there?”

Ravi was taken aback. He asked for two days to look into the feasibilities. He and Vikas met the colony welfare association president and secretary and shared their idea with them. When Vikas and Ravi proposed to contribute generously to the association welfare fund, the president and secretary gave their consent.

“Now, we have to reschedule our plan. We should make the event more attractive to the business community. A few more stalls should come up. Otherwise, we just can’t organise it,” said Ravi.

Ravi contacted several business establishments and Vikas, Suresh and Geetha accompanied him for personal interaction with the heads of firms who showed some interest in the event. At the end of the third day, there was some clarity. Dealers of hand-loom sarees, handicrafts, children’s

books and confections agreed to open stalls. It turned out to be a mini exhibition that would run for three days with music performances in the evenings.

Suresh said, “Now I am confident. Yes, we can make it happen. I’ll take care of the sound system.”

“Ravi, please see that everyone gets due recognition,” Vikas said.

“Recognition… monetary benefit… we can discuss later.”

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Geetha and Vikas selected a few folk songs highlighting Sankranthi[4] theme and practised. They added commentary to every song  explaining the significance of the cultural traditions of India. One TV channel signed an agreement with Vikas and Geetha for telecasting one song a day for one month.

Though there were frequent references to his blindness in the media coverage, Vikas didn’t get irritated.

One morning, to gauge the mood of the people in the neighbourhood, Vikas went to the park and sat on a bench. Children surrounded him asking for autograph. Adults were eager to shake hands with him. One of them said, “I enjoyed the programme a lot. It was unique and memorable. Adding commentaries highlighting the profundity of the traditions is a wonderful idea. Most of us follow the traditions casually without paying attention to the message they carry.”

Vikas heard a faint and distant voice. “Do you know, he is blind. He lives around here; we didn’t even notice it. The other day, in the general body meeting, some questioned the colony welfare association president for granting permission for holding a commercial event like this. The president said he thought the residents would appreciate his decision for being sympathetic towards a blind man.”

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Vikas remained cool and confident. The doctor said perceptions would change… But…  but whose perception? Planes of consciousness…. Physical…. Metaphysical?   I should delve deep into my inner being to know my reality, my true identity. 


[1]  Chanting a God’s name 108 times

[2] Viewing a deity

[3] Member of Legislative Assembly

[4] An Indian festival to highlight different phases of solar transmigration

Chaturvedi Divi’s short stories and poems have appeared in the anthology of Only Men Please, Reading Hour, America the Catholic magazine, Twist & Twain, Spillwords  and elsewhere. He has an MA in creative writing from The University of Wales. His doctoral thesis is on diasporic literature.

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