Categories
The Observant Immigrant

We had Joy, We had Fun…

By Candice Louisa Daquin

Courtesy: Creative Commons

Heortology (the study of festivals) has expanded beyond its initial Christian focus to embrace all festivals and their enduring appeal and necessity in our human culture. Festivals remind us to celebrate, and celebration is a positive experience. The very idea of festivals is ancient. No existing history book is old enough to document when the first festival took place or what its origins were, but it’s a safe bet they had some kind of worship element attached. Modern festivals often also land on old pagan holidays, whilst others are more obvious in their origins. Many who attend festivals have no idea of their origins but go for entirely celebratory reasons. We have learned a lot about the history of varied festivals but another question to consider is: Why are humans drawn to festivals and what do they provide us?

Imagine the ancient world. As much as we think we know now, they knew a tremendous amount also, considering their lack of modern resources. This may well be down to the ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ paradigm. Or that we severely underestimate our ancient ancestors, in our egocentric belief the modern world knows best. Just as we underestimate the knowledge of animals and their abilities to survive. Perhaps we could even say, we have lost the art of survival and wouldn’t know how to, if our computers were offline and our cars did not work and the supermarkets were empty.

What we do know, is the ancients were able to amass a great deal of knowledge, despite seemingly not having easy access like we do today, with our modern telescopes and technology. They had to understand mathematics and science at the very core, to establish theorems on the universe and our place in it. Whilst many were later corrected, it is surprising how many ancient scientists, mathematicians and philosophers, got it right. Almost against all odds. It is fair then to say, we dismiss the richness of the ancient world, and imagine everyone lived ignorant lives, which was not the case. When ignorance did reign, it did so deliberately, with the quashing of knowledge by various religious groups, and resulting periods of ‘dark ages’.

The ancient world was in touch with what it means to be human. Being human isn’t knowing how to work your iPhone or microwave. It’s not having a huge house, with a swimming pool and driving a Lexus. Nor is it eternal youth, fame and glory. Being human is about surviving — just as it is with any animal. When we then add an awareness of our own being, which it is argued, not all animals understand, then we become the modern human we recognise today. A being who has the choice, the ability to reflect and learn, and a tendency to seek beyond themselves. In seeking beyond oneself, we find an innate or shaped desire for ‘more’ and that ‘more’ has often come in the guise of a God-head or spirituality of some kind.

Whether we believe humans are prone to worshipping gods or being spiritual, because Gods actually exists or we just have a propensity to create them, is immaterial. The outcome is the same. The God gene hypothesis proposes that human spirituality is influenced by heredity and that a specific gene, called vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2), predisposes humans towards spiritual or mystic experiences, perhaps that is what is at work? In essence a transmitter in our brain that makes it more likely we will believe in God (and could explain why some people do so fervently, whilst others do not). Or perhaps we may find meaning in believing in a spirituality beyond the temporal world. But what we do know is, as long as humans evolved from their primate ancestors, they have formed meaning around some kind of spiritual observance and festivals were tied to this worship.

Why do we do this? We are born part of something (a family) but are also separate (an individual). Perhaps festivals and what they represent, is the coming together of all things: Nature. The seasons. Marking time (birth and death). Marking passages (fertility, menstruation, maturity, marriage, children, dying). These are the cornerstones of meaning, with or without God. I say without God, because for many, their notions of God are tied to nature, so it’s more the world around them than specific deities. For others, it’s the manifold destinies of humanity, or history of deities. But whatever the reason there is a sense of coming together in celebration of being alive, and acknowledging that life. A festival in that sense, irrespective of its actual purpose (the harvest, pagan holidays, etc.) is a ‘fest’ of life. Maybe this is why we can have such a happy time being part of it.

Growing up, neither of my parents liked festivals. They thought they were silly. I remember a street festival I went to as a child, for Fête du Travail (Labour Day) in France. I dressed up as princess and the frog (taking my toy Kermit with me) and felt an excitement like I had never felt before. The throngs of people and other children, the food, the smells, the magicians, the shows and the things to see. It was like walking through a market of treasures. I couldn’t understand why neither of my parents liked this; to me, it felt like a jewel had opened. But for some, festivities are synonymous with rituals and a degree of adherence to religion, even when it’s not. And rather than entering into the spirit of it and enjoying it, they feel what it represents is part of social control.

In France, like many countries, festivals abound. The national Fête du Citron (Menton Lemon Festival) draws crowds from around the world, as does the film screening: Festival de Cannes –near where I grew up — and Fête des Lumières (festival of lights, in Lyon). More traditional festivals include Défilé du 14 Juillet (Bastille Day). In the Middle Ages in France, on Midsummer’s Day, at the end of June, people would celebrate one last party (fête de la Saint-Jean or St. John’s Day). Bonfires would mark this longest day and young men would jump over the flames. This also happened on the first Sunday of Lent (le Dimanche de la Quadragésime), where fires are lit to dance around before carrying lit torches. Religion dominated many of the Autumn/Winter festivals historically.

In France, Christmas, is marked over twelve days with the Feast of the Innocents, the Feast of the Fools, New Year’s Eve and culminates in the Feast of the Kings with its traditional galette des Rois. Events include Candlemas (Chandeleur) with its candlelight process. Likewise, many Christian societies have some celebration connected to Easter (Pâques, in French)) or its Pagan roots. In France (and New Orleans in America) these include Shrove Tuesday (typically Mardi-Gras in America), marking the last feast day before Lent, and many others until Pentecost Sunday. My favorite ‘fest’ was Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday or Pancake Day, in other countries) because my grandma would make pancakes, despite our being Jewish. The notion was to eat before Christian Lent and a period of fasting, which has much in common with Muslim beliefs too (unsurprisingly since God is one in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths). In America, they serve fish options every Friday for much the same reason.

Far more impressive and immersive festivals occur in India, with Hinduism celebrating among the highest number of festival days in the world. Over 50 festivals are celebrated throughout India by people of different cultures and religions. These Indian festivals form an integral part of the rich heritage of the country. The ancient Hindu festival of Spring, colors and love known as Holi is one. “Holi is considered as one of the most revered and celebrated festivals of India and it is celebrated in almost every part of the country. It is also sometimes called as the ‘festival of love’ as on this day people get to unite together forgetting all resentments and all types of bad feeling towards each other.” Holi is celebrated on the last full moon in the lunar month of Phalgun, the 12th month in the Hindu calendar (which corresponds to February or March in the Gregorian calendar).

With social media, more of the world have been granted access to the visual beauty of Holi – “This ancient tradition marks the end of winter and honors the triumph of good over evil. Celebrants’ light bonfires, throw colourful powder called gulal, eat sweets, and dance to traditional folk music.” One of the most popular legends in Hindu mythology says the Holi festival marks Lord Vishnu’s triumph over King Hiranyakashyapu, who killed anyone who disobeyed him or worshipped other gods. With coloured powder thrown on people as part of the celebration, many countries now celebrate Holi just as Indians may celebrate Halloween or Día de Muertos. The crossover effect may seem to dismiss the individualistic cultural value and smack of appropriation but, in reality, it’s more a sign of respecting other cultures, learning about them, and celebrating with them.

Mexico, which I live near to now, celebrates over 500 festivals yearly and consequently is one of the most festive cultures in the world. In San Antonio, TX, where I currently live, we celebrate many of these fiestas, alongside American ones. The most popular being Día de Muertos, Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Cinco de Mayo and Día de la Candelaria, (like the French Candlemas, celebrated after Three Kings Day, which is a bigger holiday than Christmas in Mexico). The variables in cultures are fascinating. In San Antonio, we get a huge influx of Mexican tourists over Christmas because they aren’t home celebrating as they do so a few days later. We have a fiesta in San Antonio that is much like those in Mexico, due to our large Mexican population and it’s heartening to see the merging of the two.

As a child I celebrated the Jewish Pilgrim Festivals—Pesaḥ (Passover), Shavuot (Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost), and Sukkoth (Tabernacles)—and the High Holidays—Rosh Hashana (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). But I attended a school that celebrated all faiths so we also celebrated Ramadan, the Muslim sacred month of fasting, akin to Christian Lent. Growing up, my friends of all faiths, celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr or simply Eid which is among the religious festivals for the Muslim community, marking the end of Ramadan. This festival is celebrated on the day after seeing the night crescent moon with devotees offering prayers at mosques and then feasting with their near and dear ones.

We would also celebrate Kwanzaa, which is a worldwide celebration of African culture, running from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a communal feast called Karamu. Its creator was a major figure in the black power movement in America, “Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 during the aftermath of the Watts riots as a specifically African-American holiday. Karenga said his goal was to ‘give black people an alternative to the existing holiday of Christmas, and give black people an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.’”

Are we socially controlled when we attend festivals? Given we have a choice, I would say no. Someone who chooses to be part of something, isn’t signing up for life, they’re passing through. Since my childhood I have been lucky enough to have attended many festivals in many countries. For me it is a reaffirming experience, seeing people from all walks of life come together in happiness. I like nothing better than dressing up and meeting with others and walking through streets thronged with people. Be they carnivals, even political events, there is an energy that you rarely feel anywhere else.

The May Pole festival, believed to have started in Roman Britain around 2,000 years ago, when soldiers celebrated the arrival of spring by dancing around decorated trees thanking their goddess Flora, is an especially interesting festival because it is still practiced almost as in ancient times. The ribbons and floral garlands that adorned it represent feminine energy and the beauty of the ritual is enduringly something to behold.

Likewise, another event ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ is steeped in ritual and British history, with much symbolism in the burning of straw dummies that are meant to represent Guy Fawkes thrown onto bonfires. However, the act of throwing a dummy on the fire to represent a person, has also been done since the 13th century to drive away evil spirits. What most people seem to take away from Guy Fawkes Night are the abundant fireworks in a beautiful night sky, alongside children and families holding sparklers and eating horse chestnuts in the cold, wrapped up in mittens. It’s a ritual that is beloved and a chance to ‘be festive’ even if it’s not a specific festival. As much as anything, it marks time, another year, another November, and gives wonderful memories. If we didn’t mark time or have those memories, we’d still have others, but there is an ease with festivals because they do it for us, unconsciously.

Young collegiates often attend festivals that involve dancing and sometimes drugs. Again, this is not a modern occurrence but has been going on for years, as rites of entering adulthood. The desire of the young to get out and meet others and dance and enjoy life, is primeval, and possibly a part of who we are as humans, marking a potent stage in our lives. Recently I went to a birthday party at a night club. I observed the diverse throngs of party goers and reveled in that abundant diversity. In just one night I saw: Pakistani women in saris, Japanese girls in anime costumes with ears, a pagan woman with huge, curled bull horns and floor length leather dress, Jamaican families in neon shorts and t-shirts, transgender wearing spandex dresses and big wigs, Hispanic Westsider’s filled with tattoos, and gold necklaces, Lesbian and gay couples holding hands. Old couples in sensible church clothes including one old black man with a pork pie hat and a waist coat.

I thought of all the diversity that had attended this club to dance the night away. All ages, all genders and backgrounds and ethnicities, and I thought how wonderful it was that one place could hold them all. In many ways this is the essence of a festival, especially nowadays where anyone can attend most festivals. Years previous, they were segregated by subject. Only those followers of that subject usually attended and you could be harmed if you tried to attend and were an outsider. The advantage we have today is we are more accepting of outsiders and when you attend festivals today, you see a wide range of people. Maybe this is the best opportunity we have to put down our differences and celebrate our similarities.

When I lived in Canada, I loved the homage paid to different seasons in varied outdoor festivals, where shaking off the lethargy of Winter, Canadians would celebrate with fairgrounds, amusements, shows and food among other things. It was like a period of renewal. Likewise, during my time in England, the Notting Hill Carnival, celebrated the Afro Caribbean culture, so essential and entrenched in English culture, with gorgeous street displays and floats, as well as some of the best music around. The idea of welcoming everyone into the fold, helps to remove any tensions between cultures and promote a feeling of unity, whilst not denying the unique properties of those cultures and ensuring they are promoted in their adopted countries. It may be idealistic and not entirely accurate, but it’s a better step than ignoring those myriad cultures exist.

As Halloween and Día de Muertos is fast approaching, I am thinking of how many of my neighbours attend these parties, despite some of them being from very conservative churches. Just last year, we all sat outside in the green spaces and had a mini fireworks display. I sat next to my little 4-year-old neighbour and watched her face as the older kids, dressed in all sorts of costumes, shrieked at the fireworks, and ran around with neon bangles, throwing glow powder at each other. I saw how inculcated we are, since childhood, but despite this I truly believe festivities are in our hearts, even if we weren’t introduced to them at an early age. Children mark their growing up by the events of their lives and it’s not just their birthday they celebrate but the touchstones of their respective culture and nowadays, many other cultures.

My Egyptian grandfather used to tell me about the Nile festival which celebrated the flooding of the river and the replenishing of life in Egypt. Without the Nile, Egypt couldn’t exist, and the ancients knew this. They employed methods to enhance the flooding and gave thanks for it. Gratitude like this can be found in many celebrations, including the American Thanksgiving (although this is a double-edged sword, given the history of genocide of the Native Americans by European pilgrims and invaders) and Harvest throughout the world. A celebration of life through food with music, is at the core of the human ability to endure and overcome hardship. More recently many of us celebrated healthcare workers by singing out of our windows and putting messages of thanks in our windows. We do this because it symbolizes essential parts of our lives, without which we would suffer.

Owing to its melting pot past, Egypt celebrates the Coptic Orthodox Christmas, the more ancient Abu Simbel Sun Festival that is akin to the Egyptian Sun God Ra (who in turn was one inspiration for the Christian God many years later), Sham Ennessim, the national festival marking the beginning of spring, as it originates from the ancient Egyptian Shemu festival, Ramadan and the Muslim Eid al-Adha (honoring the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ismail (Ishmael) as an act of obedience to Allah’s command). As a Jew, my grandfather’s family celebrated Passover, the festival celebrating the Jews Exodus from Egypt, despite our family still living there! Nowadays it is no longer safe to live in Egypt as a Jew but the memory of all people’s experiences is preserved through ancient festivals and events, marking our shared history.

Before the advent of mass-produced entertainment, festivals were also a highlight in any village or town, because they were entertainment. Traveling theatres and shows for children, even book sellers and traders of items not commonly found locally, could be bartered or purchased at such events and it was almost a spilling out from the market square economy that kept such villages alive. Perhaps evolving from our natural tendency to barter for things we want, we evolved to invite others from outside to come for specific events to gain greater reach. With this trading and bartering, came the accoutrements such as eating, drinking, dancing. Not only did this increase diversity and knowledge of foods and drinks from other locales, but brought people who may otherwise not meet, together into a camaraderie.

Sharing stories is also part of festivals, by way of theatre, or more improvised scenarios. It is at our heart to pass on oral knowledge and we haven’t lost that desire. We may do this now via YouTube more than face to face (which is a shame), but the desire to get out and talk directly, is innate, as evidenced by how many people have done just that since Covid 19 restrictions are eased. Religion, folklore, ritual and a desire for escapism, alongside our desire to celebrate things or others (saints, gods, seasons, harvest) are all reasons why festivals endure. Just like children will instinctively dance when music is played, maybe it is our innate nature to enjoy festivals because they foster inter-relationships we all crave to some degree. We may be diverse and believe different things, but we can also come together and respect the perspectives of others. Never more so than through our shared love of celebration.

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

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

Categories
A Wonderful World

Where “Divides of Class, Religion & Ethnicities Collapse”

Painting of Durga Puja. Courtesy: Creative Commons
Wherever I look, a golden light 
Suffuses a vision of holidays,
The festive sun rises in the woods
Of puja* blossoms drenched in gold rays. 
             -- Tagore, Eshechhe Sarat

This has been a favourite poem of many who grew up reading Tagore, lines that capture the joy and abandon of the spirit that embodies the celebration of Durga Puja, a festival that many Bengalis deem as important as Christmas, Chinese New Year, Diwali or Eid. It is a major celebration in Bengal and large parts of the sub-continent, though not in all parts.

The reason that reviving the lore associated with this fiesta has become very important is that it centres around women. Given the situation in Iran, where the battle over how to wear headscarves has turned bloody, murderous and violent, celebrating an empowered woman, even if mythical, takes precedence over all else. Mythology has it that Durga was empowered by weapons given to her by various deities, all of who were men, and then, she did what all the male Gods failed to do — destroyed a demon called Mahisasur. Rama too prayed to Durga for victory around this time. And on Bijoya Doushami, the last day of the Durga Puja, some celebrate Rama’s victory over Ravana and call it Dusshera or Dashain.

Taking up this theme of the narratives around Durga Puja and how it has been made into an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO is Meenakshi Malhotra’s essay on the festival. Part of the citation reads: “During the event [Durga Puja], the divides of class, religion and ethnicities collapse….” 

To bring to you a flavour of the Puja, we have translations of poetry by Tagore describing the season and of a poet who was writing before Rabindranath, Michael Madhusdan Dutt, by Ratnottama Sengupta, verses exploring the grief of parting Durga’s mother expresses as her daughter returns to her husband’s home. This is also a festival of homecoming for, like Durga, those living far from their homes return to the heart of their families. Rituparna Mukherjee has woven a story specially around this aspect of the festival. Journals in Bengal, traditionally, brought out special editions with writings of eminent persons, like Satyajit Ray. We have an interview with a writer who wrote a book on Satyajit Ray, an actor called Barun Chanda, to bring a flavour of that tradition along with the translation of a celebrated contemporary Bengali writer, Prafulla Roy, by Aruna Chakravarti. We hope you enjoy savouring our Durga Puja Special.

Poetry

Eshechhe Sarat (Autumn) , describing the season of Durga Puja, by Tagore has been translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read. 

Bijoya Doushumi, a poem on the last day of Durga Puja, by the famous poet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, has been translated from Bengali by Ratnottama Sengupta. Click here to read.

Prose

A Mother, a Daughter & a Demon Slayer?, an essay by Meenakshi Malhotra, checks out the festival of Durga Puja against the concept of women empowerment. Click here to read.

Homecoming by Rituparna Mukherjee is a poignant story about homecoming during Durga Puja. Click here to read.

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

Interview

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.

Categories
Musings

Great Work…Keep Going!

By G Venkatesh

It has been so since my boyhood days. Quite instinctively, I have had to learn to look for silver linings in dark clouds. By a mixture of choice and compulsion, more of the latter though. I missed the bus often. When this happened literally, the silver linings were the kilometres I aggregated on foot, and in retrospect, considered that a blessing in disguise – a predilection to walking became an obsession and stayed with me.

Metaphorically, the missed bus would make me think and convince myself that what passed me by was not destined for me…it forced me to think laterally and imagine a divine purpose in the delay, which often would fester into a denial and necessitate numbing introspection. I thought of myself as a batsman at the crease being peppered with bouncers and beamers all the time, and having to invent new ways of scoring runs off these…quite like someone once decided to move away and hook and nullify the potency of bouncers. Just when I thought I had fought away the worse, deadly toe-crushers were being hurled at me, and I had to learn not only to block them but also dexterously play them on the leg-side and score runs. Bouncers, beamers and toe-crushers kept coming and I had to counter them. I felt exhausted. Tired. Were the rewards just the runs I was scoring, during these testing times?

‘Great work, bro…keep going. You are an inspiration.’ Every non-striker who would come in to partner me would say. The same compliment. Repeatedly. ‘Okay, but I am tired of setting examples, which I really do not wish to,’ I would think to myself.

I would wait patiently for the calm after the storm. Perhaps, the captain of the fielding side would bring on a gentler seam-bowler who would just bowl a good length on or outside the off-stump and enable me to relax into my orthodoxy.

Perhaps, there would be slow spinners who would give me a little bit of respite…Perhaps…Perhaps… But what if I become so exhausted by having to deal with these bouncers and yorkers and beamers for the sake of my team, that I get out? Of course, my teammates coming in at the right time, and facing the right bowlers would reap the rewards. Good for the team, they say. Is that how it will always be?

‘No, bro. There will be other teams with bowlers who are not so hostile as these ones. And there, you will be able to bat without a care, in fact.’ A friend counselled me, and wanted me to pat myself on the back for doing what many others may not be able to. I wonder. Time is fleeting past. Where are these other teams?

If I am wont to just facing the metaphorical bouncers all the while, I may well end up forgetting everything else. And yes, most importantly, age catches up, while one waits and expects something well-deserved – rather richly deserved and long overdue sense of being divinely protected – to just appear out of thin air, you realise you have to bid adieu.

What is right, I think to myself? Is it just being at the right place at the right time interacting with the right person? But how do I make it happen? It happens, they say. If destined to, they add. It is this addition that I did not want to hear. ‘You have to trust and have faith, only then it will happen,’ a smart alec chips in. And then, I think, what if this faith is shaken momentarily, and the trust is eroded by merciless winds of ill-luck and misfortune? Do I then lose, and does all the faith I nursed in my heart till that moment of crisis, just evaporate into nothingness? Just as getting out on 99 is not equivalent to having scored a century?

The more bitter the struggle, much better is the reward, says a holy man. ‘Much better’. Now, that is a comparative form of the adjective ‘good’, right? Much better than what? What is the reference point? Much better than the reward obtained by one who did not have to go through as bitter a struggle as I did? And does God really know what would make me feel vindicated? For when I look around, ponder the past and introspect, nothing that comes to mind seems to have the ability to provide me with that vindication which will at once make all the pain and trauma, all the sleepless nights and nagging doubts go away. So, is there something which my mind is not in a position to imagine, that may be found in God’s Santa-sack of Christmas gifts?  

I make myself a cup of coffee, and pad up to face the bouncers of the day that has dawned. I am out there at the crease, waiting for my batting partner and the fielding side. The sun is smiling at me, sarcastically. There is a crow on the pitch…perhaps, a dear departed one has sent some message. It stays for a while, then flies away. 

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G Venkatesh (50) is a Chennai-born, Mumbai-bred ‘global citizen’ who currently serves as Associate Professor at Karlstad University in Sweden. He has published 4 volumes of poetry and 4 e-textbooks, inter alia. 

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

Categories
Slices from Life

Messages through Space and Time

Meredith Stephens explores letter writing as an art that can stretch beyond a person’s lifetime and across borders of all kinds

I walked out to the end of the driveway of my Adelaide house, unlocked the letter box, and among the flyers and political brochures, I found a New Year’s card from a Japanese student called Mutsumi. It had been two years since the beginning of the pandemic, and I have been teaching on Zoom ever since. I have never met Mutsumi in person but have taught her for the two years online. When I taught in person in Japan, students would sometimes send a New Year’s card to my local Japanese address, but I had never received one at my Australian address.

New Year is just as important in Japan as Christmas is in my home country of Australia. In the pre-digital age we would send Christmas cards to friends and family destined to arrive on December 24th at the latest. They never arrived on Christmas Day because it was a public holiday. In contrast, in Japan, New Year’s cards are delivered on New Year’s Day and never any earlier. They may arrive later though, as receivers scramble to reply to those from whom they had not anticipated receiving a card. Although I had often received cards as late as the end of the first week in January, I had never received one in February. During the pandemic, international deliveries were experiencing considerable delays and some were even returned to the sender. I was grateful the New Year’s card had traversed the seven thousand kilometres to reach me at the southern coast of the southern Australian continent.

I looked at Mutsumi’s card and realized that the presentation of calligraphy was just as important as the message. Written Japanese is not just a means of relaying a message but also an art form. Primary school children must purchase a calligraphy set and are issued a calligraphy textbook to be used in their weekly calligraphy lesson. Fifteen years ago, when my daughter was in primary school, her homework was to create a piece of calligraphy which read Yama nobori, or ‘Climbing a Mountain’. The image below shows her doing her homework on the kitchen table, carefully pressing the calligraphy brush into the ink before she writes the characters on the rice paper.

English handwriting was also elegant in the writing of our forebears, although it wasn’t written with a brush. Here is a postcard written by my great great grandfather to my grandmother when she was about five, around 1907 when they cost only one penny to send. It reads, “Dear Emilie, Hope you had a good sleep last week and that you are feeling fit for school again next week. Love to all, From Grandfather.”

Although the writing is ornate the content is quotidian. The affection for his granddaughter is revealed not just in the message but also in the handwriting style.

A handwritten postcard, whether it is written in Japanese in 2022 or in English in 1907, may be considered an aesthetic work. Handwriting conveys both the literal meaning of the words and the feelings for the recipient. As Kathleen Parker reminds us[1], the pleasure of receiving a letter is that both the sender and the receiver have touched the same piece of paper. The postcard above has been touched by both my great great grandfather and me, at an interval of 115 years. I am sure that when he was writing to his granddaughter asking after her health in 1907, he never imagined that his great great granddaughter would be touching and reading it in 2022.

I rarely have a chance to put pen to paper these days, other than when writing a shopping list. My fingers fly across the keyboards almost as quickly as I can think, in a qwerty fingertip language. That’s why I appreciate those who take the time to select and purchase a postcard, and choose a fine pen or brush to produce an elegant written message that I may fondly linger over for years to come.

[1] Kathleen Parker, 2010, as cited in Baron, S. (2015). Words onscreen: The fate of reading in a digital world. Oxford University Press.

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Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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

Categories
Editorial

Elephants & Laughter

Run, Painting by Sybil Pretious

Ideally, I would love to start the New Year with laughter and happiness! Then perhaps, the whole year would be dotted with humour …

Laughter clubs often practice laughing for health benefits. I know the pandemic makes both guffawing outdoors or in a group hard but think of the funniest possible thing and, perhaps, you will start laughing. For me what works other than children’s and monkeys’ antics, are my trips to the dentist, especially the trip where I wondered on the fringe benefits of ‘laughing gas’ (as given in the PG Wodehouse novel of the same name), only to be informed that it was used exclusively for young children. For me, an adult, there was only — you have guessed it — the jab that numbs your lip function to lubber. I discovered if I could make light of a dentist drilling by learning from Harry Potter (the spell to get rid of the terrifying boggart, who took the shape of the thing you feared most, was to imagine the funniest thing, focus on the humour in it, and shout ‘Riddikulus’ with a wand pointed at the creature in the form of your worst nightmare), then I could pretty much get rid of most fears.

The other thing I have been wondering for sometime is can one write an editorial that is humorous when the content is serious? I would have wanted to ask that question to many, including Ruskin Bond, who continues as one of my idols. I would love to touch hearts with the humour and the sensitivity that flavours his writing. It is tough to convey a complex thought with the simplicity and elegance of a writer who can be read and understood easily. I think we have a few of them around and I interviewed one. You all probably know him well— Rhys Hughes. I have given the reasons for the interview in lieu of Mr Bond, who continues a distant star beyond the horizon of online interviews. We discussed humour and its role in literature, leaving out completely in the cold, the fictional Mr Bond who answers to the names of James and 007 and has made entertaining films, which can be seen as serious or non-serious.

Hughes has of course, given some writerly advice not just in the interview but in ‘Making Something of Nothing’ – pretty much the advice that God had probably been given when he asked an unspecified friend on how to create the universe and multiple realities. Hughes has also added to our galaxy of poets where Michael Burch, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Anasuya Bhar, Vernon Daim, William Miller, Pramod Rastogi, Mike Smith, Jay Nicholls and many more continue to sparkle. Taking up the theme of God’s creations, Devraj Singh Kalsi has added to more humour with a dream of divine intervention to make the ‘New Normal’ in 2022 – a plan for this year. Will it ever be real?

Another major issue in this world currently is climate change. In keeping with the need for acceptance of this reality, Keith Lyons introduced us to a nature lover, author and adventurer Kenny Peavy, who loved the fictional adventurer called Indiana Jones and has been working towards living in harmony with nature. He moved to Indonesia from America and is trying to raise awareness. You can find much, though not elephants, in the interview that encompasses the story of a man who cycled across a continent on a bike made of bamboo. However, you can find some writing on a king who acquired the skill to ride and tame elephants in our book excerpt from Shazi Zaman’s Akbar: A Novel of History. The excerpt does not showcase his elephant taming skills as did the Bollywood blockbuster Jodha Akbar but is focussed on bringing out the syncretism in the Mughal monarch’s outlook which made him seek out exponents of other religions. Sangita Swechcha’s and Andrée Roby’s anthology, A Glimpse Into My Country, with excerpts of short stories from Nepal and Zimbabwe, like Kenny Peavy, cycle across multiple borders as does our fiction. We feature stories from within and without the continent with Fazal Baloch recombining a couple of folklores from Balochistan to a single tale. Fiction from young writers highlight compassion and a varied perspective. Steve Ogah has a story from Nigeria which almost rings with overtones of Alex Haley’s Roots. Sohana Manzoor has given us a poignant narrative with an inspiring twist at the end, an absolute antithesis of the humorous one she rolled out for us last month. Candice Louisa Daquin has also given us an exceptional short fiction along with her column where she discusses the changing face of families in the current context.

While Daquin’s focus is mainly towards the West, we have an essay from Sanjay Kumar on families that live in the greyer zones of big cities, children from an outcropping called Nithari in Delhi, where they or theirs suffered neglect, abuse, carnage and cannibalism in their formative years.  Introducing the impacted children, Kumar explains how they transcended the wounds that lacerated their lives. This piece is a precursor to a column called ‘Children of Nithari’. Starting February, the abuse victims will give us a story a month which will be translated by young volunteers from pandies’, an activist theatre group founded by Kumar, and published in Borderless. Another article from Balochistan reflects on the lack of literacy and efforts to bring children into the folds of schooling. Pakistan ranked 99th out of 132 countries on the literacy survey in 2021. We are privileged to be the voice of the unheard.

Two essays that ring of concerns raised in the Kenny Peavy interview are to do with climate crisis in the Sunderbans and waste disposal in Delhi. Both of these are written by researchers who are working on these issues.

We have travel pieces from Australia – one is a sailing adventure by Meredith Stephens and the other is about a trip to the Sand Dunes of Western Australia by Shernaz Wadia. Ravi Shankar has also taken us through winters from the Everest to New York with his globe-trotting non-fiction. Penny Wilkes takes us on a flight of creativity with beautiful photography.

We have a stellar layout of translations. Professor Fakrul Alam translated another poem by Jibananada Das and Borderless is honoured to publish it to the world for the first time. We have a translation from Korea and another of a Brahmo hymn, Aji Shubho Dine, by Tagore, which is sung often during festivals. The icing in our Tagore section in this issue is Ratnottama Sengupta’s translation of the Kobiguru’s ‘Two Birds’ (Khanchar Pakhi Chhilo) along with a musing which reflects on the perspectives of the two contemporaries, Tagore and Saratchandra. She has also translated a well-known Bengali poet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Dutt wrote just before the advent of Tagore and had an interesting past which has been vividly depicted by Sunil Gangopadhyay in Those Days (Sei Somoy in Bengali), a novel that has been translated by Aruna Chakravarti. Bhaskar Parichha has given us a tribute on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Fakir Mohan Senapati, who, he claims, has the same standing in Odia literature as Tagore in Bengali or Premchand in Hindi.

Parichha has also reviewed Amit Ranjan’s John Lang; Wanderer of Hindoostan; Slanderer in Hindoostanee; Lawyer for the Ranee. It looks like an interesting read where an immigrant Australian came supported Rani of Jhansi in India. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Selma Carvalho’s Sisterhood of Swans, again a story of migrants and their lives. The theme seems to echo among the books that have been reviewed this time, including Gracy Samjetsabam’s take on Anuradha Kumar’s The Hottest Summer in Years, a story about a German immigrant to India in the twentieth century. Meenakshi Malhotra’s review of Somdatta Mandal’s translation of A Bengali Lady in England by Krishnabhabini Das (1885) highlights the views of a traveller rather than an immigrant as the lady did return home after a ten-year sojourn in Britain. As Meenakshi contends, “The process of travel offers opportunities for emancipation where exposure to other cultures offers her a way of viewing and of gaining a perspective on her own experiences and that of her sisters in India. Krishnabhabini constantly refers to her Indian sisters and bemoans their sorry state and ignorance when she sees how active British women were in their families and societies…”

I was supposed to try my hand at a humorous editorial, but I realise that is tough when the ground is small. For humour, we need rolling acres where we can etch out each detail till it cannot be milked further for laughter. But I promise you I will keep trying to please the readers till one evolves to write like Ruskin Bond.

I would like to thank my fabulous team who even if not actively contributing to content are always at hand to advise and help. I would especially want to thank both Sohana Manzoor and Sybil for their fantastic artwork, which is as wonderful as their writings. I would like to give heartfelt thanks to all the contributors who have made this journal possible and each reader who comes back to our journal for more every month. Some of the pieces remain unmentioned adding to the mystery of the content, just like, Christmas gifts which need to be unwrapped and continue a reality even in January in some parts of the world – the Russians celebrate on January 7th and the Spaniards extend their festivities to January 6th.

Do take a look at this month’s edition for not just the stories mentioned here but for more.

I wish you all a wonderful New Year filled with laughter.

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

Categories
Greetings from Borderless

Merry Christmas

Christmas Candle: Painting by Sybil Pretious

Christmas brings not just the end of the year closer to us but also the spirit of loving and giving. The festival generates a feeling of hope in our hearts for a better New Year. The world links up together to celebrate this day which has a touch of beliefs from earlier times. Some connect to the festival with religious beliefs but others join in with the feeling of goodwill generated by the season, to celebrate in winter, summer or tropical weather with the same zest. In the same spirit, we at Borderless wish all of you fabulous Christmas holidays. 

For your entertainment, we have put together some pieces which not only showcases writings around the festival but the spirit that revives hope unfailingly each year. As a special Christmas bonanza to our readers, we would like to also present a selection of a few eminent authors who have added lustre to the gems in our treasure chest.

Enjoy our oeuvre & Merry Christmas!

Poetry

Christmas Poems by Rhys Hughes. Click here to read.

One Star by Ihlawha Choi. Click here to read.

Christmas Cheer by Malachi Edwin Vethamani. Click here to read.

Prose

Rakhamaninov’s Sonata

A short story by Sherzod Artikov, translated from Uzbeki by Nigora Mukhammad. Click here to read.

Hold the Roast Turkey Please Santa !

Celebrating the festive season off-season with Keith Lyons from New Zealand, where summer solstice and Christmas fall around the same time. Click here to read.

Authors from Around the World

We have an amalgam of writers from across borders who will bring the flavours of their part of the world right up to your doorstep.

Jared Carter: Click here to read.

Akbar Barakzai: Click here to read

Suzanne Kamata: Click here to read

Arundhathi Subramaniam: Click here to read

Aruna Chakravarti: Click here to read

Fakrul Alam: Click here to read

Ratnottama Sengupta: Click here to read

Somdatta Mandal: Click here to read

Categories
Editorial

Towards a Brave New World

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

With Christmas at our heels and the world waking up slowly from a pandemic that will hopefully become an endemic as the Omicron seems to fizzle towards a common cold, we look forward to a new year and a new world. Perhaps, our society will evolve to become one where differences are accepted as variety just as we are fine with the fact that December can be warm or cold depending on the geography of the place. People will be welcomed even if of different colours and creed. The commonality of belonging to the same species will override all other disparities…

While we have had exciting developments this year and civilians have moved beyond the Earth — we do have a piece on that by Candice Louisa Daquin — within the planet, we have become more aware of the inequalities that exist. We are aware of the politics that seems to surround even a simple thing like a vaccine for the pandemic. However, these two years dominated by the virus has shown us one thing — if we do not rise above petty greed and create a world where healthcare and basic needs are met for all, we will suffer. As my nearly eighty-year-old aunt confided, even if one person has Covid in a remote corner of the world, it will spread to all of us. The virus sees no boundaries. This pandemic was just a start. There might be more outbreaks like this in the future as the rapacious continue to exploit deeper into the wilderness to accommodate our growing greed, not need. With the onset of warmer climates — global warming and climate change are realities — what can we look forward to as our future?

Que sera sera — what will be, will be. Though a bit of that attitude is necessary, we have become more aware and connected. We can at least visualise changes towards a more egalitarian and just world, to prevent what happened in the past. It would be wonderful if we could act based on the truth learnt from history rather than to overlook or rewrite it from the perspective of the victor and use that experience to benefit our homes, planet and all living things, great and small.  In tune with our quest towards a better world, we have an interview with an academic, Sanjay Kumar, founder of a group called Pandies, who use theatre to connect the world of haves with have-nots. What impressed me most was that they have actually put refugees and migrant workers on stage with their stories. They even managed to land in Kashmir and work with children from war-torn zones. They have travelled and travelled into different dimensions in quest of a better world. Travelling is what our other interviewee did too — with a cat who holds three passports. CJ Fentiman, author of The Cat with Three Passports, has been interviewed by Keith Lyons, who has reviewed her book too.

This time we have the eminent Aruna Chakravarti review Devika Khanna Narula’s Beyond the Veils, a retelling of the author’s family history. Perhaps, history has been the common thread in our reviews this time. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Anirudh Kala’s Two and a Half Rivers, a fiction that focusses on the Sikh issues in 1980s India from a Dalit perspective. It brought to my mind a family saga I had been recently re-reading, Alex Haley’s Roots, which showcased the whole American Revolution from the perspective of slaves brought over from Africa. Did the new laws change the fates of the slaves or Dalits? To an extent, it did but the rest as fact and fiction showcase were in the hands that belonged to the newly freed people. To enable people to step out of the cycle of poverty, the right attitudes towards growth and the ability to accept the subsequent changes is a felt need. That is perhaps where organisations like Pandies step in.  Another non-fiction which highlights history around the same period and place as Kala’s novel is BP Pande’s In the Service of Free India –Memoirs of a Civil Servant. Reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha, the book explores the darker nuances of human history filled with violence and intolerance.

That violence is intricately linked to power politics has been showcased often. But, what would be really amazing to see would be how we could get out of the cycle as a society. With gun violence being an accepted norm in one of the largest democracies of the world, perhaps we need to listen to the voice of wisdom found in the fiction by Steve Davidson who meets perhaps a ghost in Hong Kong. Musing over the ghost’s words, the past catches up in Sunil Sharma’s story, ‘Walls’. Sharma has also given us a slice from his life in Canada with its colours, vibrancy and photographs of the fall. As he emigrated to Canada, we read of immigrants in Marzia Rahman’s touching narrative. She has opted to go with the less privileged just as Lakshmi Kannan has opted to go with the privileged in her story.

Sharma observes, while we find the opulence of nature thrive in places people inhabit in  Canada, it is not so in Asia. I wonder why? Why are Asian cities crowded and polluted? There was a time when Los Angeles and London suffered smogs. Has that shifted now as factories relocated to Asia, generating wealth in currency but taking away from nature’s opulence of fresh, clean air as more flock into crowded cities looking for sustenance?

Humour is introduced into the short story section with Sohana Manzoor’s hilarious rendering of her driving lessons in America, lessons given to foreigners by migrants. Rhys Hughes makes for  more humour with a really hilarious rendition of men in tea cosies missing their…I  think ‘Trouser Hermit’ will tell you the rest. He has perhaps more sober poetry which though imaginative does not make you laugh as much as his prose. Michael Burch has shared some beautiful poetry perpetuating the calmer nuances of a deeply felt love and affection. George Freek, Anasuya Bhar, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Dibyajyoti Sarma have all given us wonderful poetry along with many others. One could write an essay on each poem – but as we are short shrift for time, we move on to travel sagas from hiking in Australia and hobnobbing with kangaroos to renovated palaces in Bengal.

We have also travelled with our book excerpts this time. Suzanne Kamata’s The Baseball Widow shuttles between US and Japan and Somdatta Mandal’s translation of  A Bengali lady in England by Krishnabhabi Das, actually has the lady relocate to nineteenth century England and assume the dress and mannerisms of the West to write an eye-opener for her compatriots about the customs of the colonials in their own country.

While mostly we hear of sad stories related to marriages, we have a sunny one in which Alpana finds much in a marriage that runs well with wisdom learnt from Kung Fu Panda.  Devraj Singh Kalsi has given us a philosophical piece with his characteristic touch of irony laced with humour on statues. If you are wondering what he could have to say, have a read.

In Nature’s Musings, Penny Wilkes has offered us prose and wonderful photographs of the last vestiges of autumn. As the season hovers between summer and winter, geographical boundaries too can get blurred at times. A nostalgic recap given by Ratnottama Sengupta along the borders of Bengal, which though still crossed by elephants freely in jungles (wild elephants do not need visas, I guess), gained an independence from the harshness of cultural hegemony on December 16th, 1971. Candice Louisa Daquin has also looked at grey zones that lie between sanity and insanity in her column. An essay which links East and West has been given to us by Rakibul Hasan about a poet who mingles the two in his poetry. A Bengali song by Tagore, Purano shei diner kotha,  that is almost a perfect trans creation of Robert Burn’s Scottish Auld Lang Syne in the spirit of welcoming the New Year, has been transcreated to English. The similarity in the content of the two greats’ lyrics showcase the commonalities of love, friendship and warmth that unite all cultures into one humanity.

Our first translation from Uzbekistan – a story by Sherzod Artikov, translated from Uzbeki by Nigora Mukhammad — gives a glimpse of a culture that might be new to many of us. Akbar Barakzai’s shorter poems, translated by Fazal Baloch from Balochi and Ratnottama Sengupta’s transcreation of a Tagore song, Rangiye Die Jao, have added richness to our oeuvre along with  one from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Professor Fakrul Alam, who is well-known for his translation of poetry by Jibonanda Das, has started sharing his work on the Bengali poet with us. Pause by and take a look.

There is much more than what I can put down here as we have a bumper end of the year issue this December. There is a bit of something for all times, tastes and seasons.

I would like to thank my wonderful team for helping put together this issue. Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious need double thanks for their lovely artwork that is showcased in our magazine. We are privileged to have committed readers, some of who have started contributing to our content too. A huge thanks to all our contributors and readers for being with us through our journey.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful transition into the New Year! May we open up to a fantastic brave, new world!

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal