Categories
Review

The Dissent of Man –Asserting Humanity by Raising Voices

Book review by Debraj Mookerjee

Title: India Dissents — 3,000 Years of Difference, Doubt and Argument

Editor: Ashok Vajpeyi

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

Every man loves liberty and freedom.
Do not interfere with another’s freedom.

– Gautam Buddha

They say inside the heart of a black hole there is a point of singularity. A point of singularity is where no laws of nature exist, like in the instant before the big bang. That point is so powerful that it obliterates all the rules of the universe. It is a place where the laws of nature collapse. We cannot know what happens inside a black hole, because we do not have the tools with which to predict what might be happening inside. There is no physics. Essentially there are no bearings. There is a lesson in the analogy presented here. When power becomes absolute, it freezes everything within its domain. The only way to prevent power from becoming absolute is to check it. Edited, and with an introduction, by poet Ashok Vajpeyi, India Dissents (Revised and updated edition: 2017, 2020) is a critically important book at a time when many believe India might be hurtling towards its own tryst with ‘singularity’. This timely tome is an attempt to articulate the contrarian views inherent in the Indian tradition, spanning from times of yore, to the present. It is an attempt to chart the organic link between freedom and the courage to check power and its manifestations, whether spiritual, social or political.

The most effective way to check power, as demonstrated by this compendium of ‘3,000 years of difference, doubt and argument’, is to call it out. Dissent is at the heart of the human desire for freedom. And without freedom, we are not human. Lord Acton (who’s by and large more quoted than understood) defines liberty thus: “the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion” (The History of Freedom in Antiquity).

Critical moments in history have seen the suppression of freedoms. The progress of the human race has not been linear. Ancient India experienced great enlightenment in thought and philosophy. Those who have had to endure the attempt – by contemporary media platforms and concomitant experts – at manufacturing consent vis-à-vis a  narrow world with narrow identities, via appeals to visceral emotions and spurious theories of hurt and cultural assault,  might be surprised to read from the Brihaspati Sutra (foundational text of the Charavak school of Indian philosophy, composed in 600 BCE):

“There is no heaven, no final liberation, not any soul in another world,
Nor do the actions of the four castes, orders or priesthoods produce any real effect.
The Agnihotra, the three Vedas, the ascetic’s three staves, and smearing one’s self with ashes,
Were made by Nature as the livelihood of those destitute of knowledge and manliness …”

The Classical Age saw the birth of Democracy in ancient Greece. Absolute power was kept in check by the voice of the people within the Senate. In India, the counsel of wise voices ensured virtuous actions by Kings. When power heeded the voice of the people or the counsel of the wise, society remained enlightened. But there were intermittent periods of darkness, such as the 1,000 year long dark ages in Europe. The modern world had apparently understood this, which is why modern societies were founded on the principles of liberty, fraternity and equality, the call of the French Revolution against the singularity of power enjoyed under feudalism. But that world is at risk, not only in India but in so many other nations that are otherwise functioning democracies.

Vajpeyi’s book does weigh heavily on recent dissenters whose works are widely in circulation. There is no new ground broken here. And yet it is important for those who have not transcended the plethora of voices that are constantly articulating views smoke-screened by the cacophony of mainstream opinions, championed uncritically by the media, that has long forgotten its mandated role as the Fourth Estate. Some attention is also paid to the freedom struggle, and the thinkers and freedom fighters who left with us a rich legacy of dissent. Amartya Sen traces India’s argumentative nature to our ancient text. He observes how the national penchant for dharnas (strikes) and protests are seared into souls by the struggle against colonial oppression. These voices feature in the book. But the real meat of the book is in the voices of minor poets and dissenting voices (little voices if you like) from our past, unknown perhaps to most.

Here are some voices from the book for you to gauge the diversity of dissent articulated in it. Ghalib in his plaint against God, “Whenever I open my mouth you snap: And who are you? / Is it your culture that I must not speak, only listen to you?” Raja Rammohun Roy against social customs: “Men are in general able to read and write and manage public affairs by which means they easily promulgate such faults women occasionally commit but never consider as criminal the misconduct of men towards women.” And then there is Kazi Nazrul, who along with Tagore, is revered as Bengal’s poetic voice:

“Blow your horn of universal cataclysm!
Let the flag of destruction
Rise amidst the rubbles of prison walls
Of the East!
Who’s the master? Who’s the king?
Who is it that gives punishment
Having snatched away the truth of freedom?”

These words of Nazrul would speak to power, were they to be voiced today. Whether it is Gandhi’s articulation of dissent against colonial rule, or Tagore’s denunciation of the idolisation (literally the worship of the nation as Mother, venerated via the slogan: ‘Vande Mataram’) of the nation over humanity, or even Periyar’s cry against superstition and caste oppression, and of course Bhagat Singh’s sharp critique of the world of oppression around him, India Dissents reminds us of what lies at the core of who we are: a plural society shaped by myriad traditions and cultures bearing the influence of peoples from faraway places. No one ruler, no one rule, no one singular identity, can ever define ‘the wonder that is India’ (to misquote A L Basham slightly).

Particularly amusing is the inclusion of the ‘obscenity’ trial against Chugatai and Manto (who was a born dissenter), presented in Chugtai’s voice. The presiding judge being perceptive decided he needed to talk to the contestants in his chambers and had drawn them therein. Chugtai: “The judge called me into the anteroom attached to the court and said quite informally, ‘I’ve read most of your stories. They aren’t obscene. Neither is ‘Lihaf’. But Manto’s writings are littered with filth.’ ‘The world is also littered with filth,’ I said in a feeble voice. ‘Is it necessary to rake it up then?’ ‘If it is raked up it becomes visible and people feel the need to clean it up.’” The judge laughed. Today, no anchor on prime news TV would laugh if told someone needs to rake up what’s wrong with our system so that we could work together to fix it.  Such a person would be labelled ‘anti-national’. 

India is at the crossroads. Not because its politics is troubled. Politics is all about rotation, and every moment in history is contested by that which is to follow. The world so far has witnessed many ups and downs and so shall India. What is troubling is the anger throbbing inside the people who are ready to rake offense, at almost anything. This is particularly true of the entitled, the middle classes — those with a modicum of education and material wealth. The facile credulity of the great mass of people who can be led by fake news, ‘What’s App University’, misogyny and the willing suspension of disbelief is what is truly threatening I contemporary India. To dissent is to grow. To accent without questioning is to shrink. To read India Dissents is in a way therefore an attempt to try and rediscover India’s soul.

India’s strength lies in its diversity, best explained in the words of Maheswata Devi’s words, reproduced from the book: “Indian culture is a tapestry of many weaves, many threads. The weaving is endless as are the shades of the pattern. Somewhere dark, somewhere light, somewhere saffron, somewhere as green as the fields of new paddy, somewhere flecked with blood, somewhere washed cool by the waters of a Himalayan spring. Somewhere the red of a watermelon slice. Somewhere the blue of an autumn sky in Bengal. Somewhere the purple of a musk deer’s eye. Somewhere the red of a new bride’s sindoor. Somewhere the threads from words in Urdu, somewhere in Bengali, somewhere in Kannada, somewhere in Assamese, yet elsewhere in Marathi. Somewhere the clothes frays. Somewhere the threads tear. But still it holds. Still. It holds.”

Diversity and dissent go hand in hand. To be able to dissent is also to be able to accept the dissent of others. Dissent is not always angry. It is questioning and it is curious. It is at the heart of what it means to be human. It is what makes us modern and free of the prejudices that have often laid civilization low. It is Des Cartes’ great call ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ (I think therefore I am). The method of doubt foregrounded by the advent of reason, as it were, led not just to political emancipation, but also to the great scientific discoveries that define modern existence. Dissent is the source of discovery and research. Dissent is our door to adulthood, our way of finding ourselves. Any society that demonises dissent shuts the door to what it can become; it shuts the door to as yet unmapped possibilities. By crushing dissent, a society seals its tryst with negativity and slides into the prison-house of its worst fears and anxieties.

But then who is the most distinguished dissenter among them all? My choice is clear: It is none other than Mahatma Gandhi himself. To understand the nature of Gandhi’s dissent, one must first recognise the fact that perhaps along with Emperor Ashoka and the Prophet Muhammad, he was among those who believed in the imperitive of morality in politics, and in the politics of morality. Said he: “In my opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.” By imbuing a moral quality to political action, Gandhi brought to bear exacting standards to politics, unheard of in the modern era. His very politics dissents against the existing dictum of political action: That politics is the art of the possible.

But Gandhi’s is not merely a great dissenter in politics. He is, in the words of the author of the internationally recognised novel Samskara (1965), and litterateur, UR Ananthamurthy, a ‘critical insider’. Gandhi, avers Ananthamurthy, allowed himself to be absorbed by the traditions of India, and from within that position, articulated his critique of what he saw as wrong with that tradition. He was a devout Hindu who was secular to a fault, and against the evils inherent in Hindu society. It is precisely because of this that Gandhi was so successful in mobilising India both politically and socially.

Alas today, those who are critical are seen as outsiders: westernised, liberal, socialists, and so on. And those who are insiders are not critical: they are viewed as provincial, obsequious, bigoted and belligerent. India will have to find the will to shake itself free of the straight jacket it finds itself in at the moment. That can happen with only more, and not less, dissent.

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Debraj Mookerjee has taught literature at the University of Delhi for close to thirty years. He claims he never gets bored. Ever. And that is his highest skill in life. No moment for him is not worth the while. He embraces life and allows life to embrace him.

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

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

Categories
Musings Nostalgia

Vignettes of Life: Unhurried at Haripur

Debraj Mookerjee journeys into the heart of rural Bengal

The perpetually potholed National Highway (NH) 35 going onto NH 34 en route to Assam from Kolkata mercifully trots off on its own as we veer left towards Shantipur in Nadia district after an exasperating three-hour drive from the metropolis. Passing through Phulia where Bengal handloom saris and a prominent ‘red light’ stretch are distinctive, we drive into Shantipur, just short of Krisnanagar. This is ‘klisht’ (difficult) Bangla territory, the area from which Queen’s Bangla, as it were, inherits its diction and tone.

From Shantipur, our sturdy SUV, a TATA Sumo, laden with as much family as it can accommodate, and followed by many other Sumos with much more of the same (family), makes the final left turn to snake the final five kilometres along a narrow lane (well-paved though) towards Haripur, where my ancestors from my maternal stock sunk their roots.

They also started a Kali Puja (a tantric variant of annual prayers to the goddess Kali) some 400 years ago. Kali is perhaps the most well-known of Indian goddesses, having made her way into poetry and song, most notably perhaps by Allen Ginsberg in his Planet News collection of poems, where he compares the destructive powers of the divinity to America’s cruelty towards the world, ironically embodied in the Statue of Liberty! The family may have preserved the tradition since, but the greater truth is that it is the tradition that has held the family together. Traditionalists, believers, non-believers, NRIs, apartment owners in Singapore, hutment dwellers in Haripur, pujari (priests), Bengali middle-class small towners, all somehow connected to the family, gather at the commodious, albeit somewhat ramshackle, house annually to partly pay obeisance to Ma Kali, and partly to charge their souls from the sap that flows up those ancestral roots.

I visit when I can. The visit under the description year marked my third. The show remains more or less the same. What changes is the nature of the attendance. Some are regulars, like those settled in Kolkata or other parts of Bengal. Also regular is the unlikely patriarch, my uncle from overseas, a much travelled, successful and sushi-loving internationalist. He is the star of Haripur. His half-German kids prefer to call the place ‘horrorpur’, but that’s a story we won’t get into. He pours his everything into Haripur, including trying to gather grants from his internationally renowned automobile casting company for the local school. The sight around the house on the morning of Kali Puja is enchanting, with about 200 kids falling over each other to collect one of those famous ‘Garman’ (German) balls. Let me explain this Haripur legend.

Some fifteen years ago, my uncle decided the tennis balls discarded at his tennis club could be useful in Haripur. Thus, began a year of collecting balls of the best make – Slazenger, Dunlop, you name it. Unfit to be used in matches, these were nevertheless better than anything these kids of Haripur had ever used for their game of cricket. These balls are the stuff of many a legend, their fame having spread far and wide. They last a year or more, they have great grip, the woolly fluff layer never really wears off, the bounce is consistent, and they never really pick up too much dirt when used on clay, and so on and so forth. It takes five able-bodied and very committed (I included when I’m there) volunteers to manage the crowd of intrepid cricketers in the making who storm Sovakar Bari (the Sovakar home) — my maternal side goes by the name Sovakar — for these legendary balls. The cousins coo about the lovely lessons their Nike-sporting kids learn from the humbling experience of having to watch these scrawny kids battle with each other for a mere used tennis ball.

I slip away one evening astride of a ‘thela’ rickshaw (fully pulled by the rickshaw driver — the only type available in rural Bengal) in the company of a locally acquired sidekick to watch a football match some two km from the village.

The game is good, save that all the action is on one side, the other having been turned into a veritable lake thanks to an unseasonal downpour. Tickets sell at Rs 3, and there is a 400 strong crowd. But for the rains it would be a 1000 strong. There are snack trolleys lined up just behind the touch line. ‘Ghugni’ (boiled green gram), ‘phuchka’ (puffed hollow patties stuffed with masala infused mashed potatoes) and something I’d never seen before completed the menu.

Bael tree with the fruit

The last mentioned is a unique chutney, made by cracking the tough shell of the bael fruit, also called Bengal quince, Indian quince, holy fruit, stone apple, etc, and mixing the green innards with salt, sugar and green chillies (number to be specified by buyer). This is one great chutney and very good for the belly. If village water gives you the runs, the bael fruit guarantees a healthy stop to overenthusiastic bowels.

Then there is the waterfront. Actually, there are many. The Hooghly itself is narrower than the Bheel lake, some 500 yards behind our house. There a little fishing community lives along the embankment, with the waters washing into their homes on stormy nights. Tanku Halder is a mahajan (moneylender or simply put, the one with cash to invest) among the fisher folk.  He has a 800-feet long fine net (for still waters), which on a good day can fetch 500 kg of fish from this very lake. And when you consider that a 4 kg carp sells at close to Rs 180 per kilo ($2.5 per kilogram) even to the wholesaler who drops in to lift the catch, you realise these people are pretty well off.

Of course, the one ubiquitous feature of the village is the household loom, the famous rigs where the well-known ‘Shantipuri’ sarees (Bengal handloom sarees have a unique history and celebrated provenance among buyers across India) are woven. Thread spinners make Rs 50 per day, weavers about two fifty (two saris per day at Rs 125 per sari). Of course, the mahajans make the big bucks and live in fancy homes. One wonders why the government has so far not stepped into the business of supplying thread at concessional rates, besides providing design support (controlled by the wealthy mahajans).

The two days surrounding the actual puja are spent in food, festivities and fraternising. The food is good, the festivities enlightening since local stage talent is a revelation, with the stage presence of some simply outstanding, and the fraternising, well, welcome after the hiatus of many years (for those who visit once say in five years, or friends of family dropping in for their first visit; like this year there was this lady who flew in from Dubai to be in Haripur, and a couple, related to some cousin, who, along with their daughter, dropped in from Mumbai).

Forty-eight hours in unhurried Haripur slows your clock down to an almost meditative tick. In these COVID-induced times, time itself is the subject of intense reflection. The torpor of quarantine does the work of a yoga mat. It stretches your mind out flat, receptive to anything happening to drop onto it. Into mine dropped those ‘bael’ fruit from Haripur. And these thoughts sprang out!

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Debraj Mookerjee has taught literature at the University of Delhi for close to thirty years. He claims he never gets bored. Ever. And that is his highest skill in life. No moment for him is not worth the while. He embraces life and allows life to embrace him.

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

Categories
Review

In Quest for Peace: The Other Side of the Divide

Book Review by Debraj Mookerjee

Title: The Other Side of the Divide – A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan

Author: Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Publisher: Penguin Random House, 2020

Journalist Sameer Arshad Khatlani’s maiden book, The Other Side of the Divide – A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan, published end February 2020, seemed to, at the outset, suffer the fate that the India- Pakistan relationship has continually suffered – whatever could go wrong, did! COVID19 almost did the distribution of the book in. But like the legendary resilience of the people of the subcontinent, and because of the inherent quality of what his intrepid journey into Pakistan was able to produce, the book made it through alternative channels, and is sure to be talked about for many years to come.

Khatlani, a Kashmiri, is a Delhi based journalist. More than his bio, it is the dedication that caught my eye, “For my son, Orhan Ahmed Khatlani, and kids of his generation. May they grow up to live in a peaceful and prosperous South Asia free of bigotry and conflict.” Wonderful words! Also written with sincerity. As you read deeper into the book you understand one thing about the author: That he is a young journalist cut in the traditional mould, the type that is fast disappearing in an increasingly polarised world. The intrepidity of perusal and perusal, the cultivation of people across political and cultural divides, the search for objectivity and truth, the erasure of one’s own biases, and the courage and resilience of conviction that forces one to take positions when push comes to shove marks out an honest journalist. Khatlani ticks all these boxes. 

To be frank, the book suffers from many editorial glitches and unnecessary typos, like this line by way of example: “Not surprisingly, the country (Pakistan) comes across as a hopelessly dark land because to its (sic) portrayal in the news media …”. The word ‘due’ has been carelessly substituted by the word ‘because’, rendering the sentence nonsensical. Enough to put me off and set a wrong note to the reading experience. But as I entered the heart of the book, even as Khatlani dived deeper into the other side of the divide, I realised nothing, but nothing could take away from the richness of the information it was unearthing, the depth of its historical exploration, the breadth of the issues and the personalities it was reaching out to, and most importantly, the chord of personal reflection and poignancy it was touching. 

The last point is important. Pre-Partition, the author’s grandfather, of limited means, had fled the oppressive feudal rule of the Dogra king to seek a better life in Lahore. Ultimately, due to pressing circumstances the patriarch returned to Kashmir before 1947. Lahore always had a strong Kashmiri presence. These were people who abandoned the oppressive taxes and strong biases of the existing rulers in Kashmir to seek a better life elsewhere. This was a world when the Hindu rules of Kashmir were oppressing its Muslim citizens. Many ‘Punjabis’ settled in and around Lahore were of Kashmiri origin, though they now primarily spoke Punjabi or Urdu and had little of the Kashmiri left in them.

In fact, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s iconic politician traces his roots to Kashmir, though his family settled in Amritsar a long time back, and from there moved to West Punjab. The interlocking of the writer’s personal narrative with that of a general observation about a rather little known socio-cultural reality, and the search for those lanes where his grandfather might have roamed especially in the now drastically altered Anarkali  Bazaar, present a storyline that is extremely catchy. 

The conversational style (after all he is a journalist) comes off easily, as does the South Asian predilection for digressions when names and places are evoked. One name dropped becomes the point of departure to connect events and places from far away. One set of friends introduces him to another. Then the second set introduces new facets to his story, which essentially is to write deep pieces for the Times of India, datelined Lahore, as part of the ‘Aaman ki Aasha’ (the ‘hope for peace’ drive between India and Pakistan, during the last Congress Government) initiative. The excuse for the journey is to cover a Punjabi cultural event. Though to be honest there is enough mention of the Punjabi language and cultural predilections to justify the excuse!

As you read further into the book this particular aspect of the style quite catches you. What earlier might have appeared unnecessarily digressive, grows into you and you begin to realise this story could have been told no other way. The frenetic swamping of emotions, the bitter regret of missed opportunities, the cornucopia of details that mark the stories of both separation and oneness are as fervent as they are insistent – they can only be told breathlessly if they are to be shorn of artfulness. The writer must at times bow before the sentiments of the storyteller. The story is often so powerful that it almost takes over the storytelling. This is said by way of praise. When you have the book in your hands you’ll understand exactly what is meant herein. 

Khatlani’s book is modelled around his discovery of Lahore and its people. Each discovery follows the hub and spokes theory. Every discovery is the hub. And the stories that emanate from these hubs are the spokes. In this he touches all the right chords. There is the Bollywood connection, the history of the army and its ubiquity in Pakistani life, the cricket connection, the stories of shared miseries and standout acts of personal friendship, there is the story of alcohol and conservatism, the liberals of Pakistan and their sentimental pro-India politics, and the special story of minorities, especially the Sikhs.

These stories slip in and out of the ten chapters, and in no particular order. In each of these particulars, Khatlani shapes his narrative with great background stories, provides rich historical accounts, and at times manages searching insights into the intricate sentiments that guide the existing reality between the two nations.  

The Other Side of the Divide is an important intervention at a difficult time. The dateline is 2013 when things were better. Better despite the numerous setbacks, not in the least the attack on Mumbai in 2008 November, or the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers outside the Gaddafi Stadium in 2009.

In 2020 another world has overtaken us. We inhabit a world that is shriller than ever before, a world in which India is fast giving up its secular and liberal credentials, and instead turning sharply right. As some have observed, new Pakistan looks more like old India, and unfortunately, new India like old Pakistan. Bearing the cross of a fractured history we continue to inherit each other’s loss. Amidst this, Khatlani’s book is an invaluable source of solace and possibilities.

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Debraj Mookerjee has taught literature at the University of Delhi for close to thirty years. He claims he never gets bored. Ever. And that is his highest skill in life. No moment for him is not worth the while. He embraces life and allows life to embrace him.

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

Categories
Essay Musings Slices from Life

Stray Musings – ‘Love at the time of corona’, as it were!

By Debraj Mookerjee

Those familiar with the cult author Ayn Rand (she of The Fountainhead fame) will possibly remember her somewhat sobering thoughts on love: “After a point, YOUR LOVE for a person becomes more important than the object of love” (Capitalisation mine). What is love, or the easier poser: What do we make of the idea of love? That love is a compelling emotion, which is perfectly democratic and non-discriminating in affecting the bright and the otherwise, the poor and the rich, the old and the young and so on is an incontrovertible fact. Its universality does, ipso facto, predicate on some common streak that runs through humanity. Is it the innate desire, an almost mammalian need, to copulate and propagate that stirs us into “loving” another, as a prelude as it were to pairing, and therefore mating and procreating and so on? Or is it some deep insecurity within, of a feeling of incompleteness till we have loved or are loved? Or is it just a reflection of the great human propensity to possess; more precisely to call things our own, to be comfortable only when what we desire, that is what we consider of worth, is ours for keeps, like the valuables we stash in our bank lockers?

To begin with, we ought to take a look at the popular rhetoric encountered in our representational sphere of reference to understand how love, though imagined as something special, is as much a commodity as anything else. Why do we say, for example, things like “he (or she) belongs to me”, “I wish to belong to her”, “I could not belong to anyone”, “I want her bad”, “Gosh, I can’t live if I can’t have her”, and so on and so forth? If love were so noble, or even selfless as it is often made out to be, why should it make us want to own the object of love unless it be to serve as a perpetual reminder of the great feeling of love that we have experienced for that object? It is as though our love would crumble to dust should the one we love not be ours forever. And we thought love was an abstract idea!

So let’s test the proposition with a hypothetical (though perfectly credible) situation. You say you love somebody. Now that somebody loves you well, after a manner, you know; loves you but is not in love with you, whatever. Here the balance is delicate. You can’t stop loving that person because you know her (or his) love could grow with time. Unless you keep professing your love, how can you fuel whatever spark she (or he) has for you, right?

Over a period in time, she may not progress beyond her incipient leanings. At some critical juncture, you have to take the decision on whether to let go of your love for her (or him) or push just that little bit more. What is this game, ask yourself? If this is love, fine, so it is, but let’s not pretend and suggest it is some elevated concept that can only be experienced at a heightened level of consciousness. The processes that it goes through is no different from the ones you adopt before deciding to buy a pair of pyjamas – is it good, is it worth the price, how much can I beat the price down to, and of course, how long will it last?

Love therefore, is not an abstract idea. QED. It is an idea though because we don’t know what it is. Probably it is nothing really, at least nothing tangible. But that does not make it abstract. The only way to know it is to register all the things we build around it and what we do with it. It is somewhat like the honour pupils earn in a boy’s school for pissing highest against a wall. The honour means little. It does not guarantee against urinary problems in later life, no does it confirm sexual prowess, but the effort to earn that honour is tangible.

To return to Ayn Rand, and the big question: Is most of what has to do with love merely a role? An assertion of what we can or must or should do to express our love. And what do you think would remain imprinted on the mind – our efforts or the object of love? Come on be honest; of course, we’d value our love more than the loved one.

But all these theories pertain to love that has to do with the desire to own. Love that does not demand, love that is not fixated on one person, love that is not possessive or centred on one’s singular desires comprise another kettle of fish. This is the sort of love that you can shower on so many people at the same time. Where you remain a free agent, and so does the person you love. And each of these loves can have sanctity. Because there is no sense of possession tied to such love it seldom unwinds, unlike the other type that tends to come apart when the tangible grounds for its existence seem to come unstuck.

The Czechoslovak writer Milan Kundera once spoke of two types of love – lyrical and epical – with reference to men. In the former, you see all women in one woman, and in the latter, you see one woman in all women. One liked the concept when one was young (that’s why the quote is remembered). Not anymore. Real love is ‘topical’ love, as it were, where you see all women (or men really) in every woman (or man). Anyway, the more you love, the more love there is that goes around. Philosophically, that sounds better than ‘winning’ somebody in love, as though the person were some prize catch!

And no, this piece has nothing to do with the virus. Of course, it’s possible that thoughts of mortality urge the mind to come clean on vexed conundrums, none more twisted than the subject of love. It circles the context of the writer’s consciousness because everybody is thinking corona, but it does not (in his opinion) contaminate his thoughts. Except to the extent that he could not help adding it to the title, unapologetically, and admittedly gratuitously!

Debraj Mookerjee has taught in Ramjas College at the University of Delhi for close to three decades, with specialised interests in Literary Theory, cultural studies, and popular fiction, especially SF. He is also a columnist, writing on culture politics and society, apart from food history. Mookerjee likes to travel and curate life and its myriad complexities. He is deeply interested in  exploring alternative pedagogies, because he feels higher education should unleash academic creativity and not constrain scholarship through enforced regimentation.

Categories
Editorial

Hello World!

Welcome to Borderless — a journal that hopes to role out an invitation to all those who are willing to venture into the vastness of wonders, ideas and creativity. It seeks out thoughts that can soar above borders not just like birds but also like clouds. Clouds waft without pausing at differences, join together and bring water to the parched lands across all terrains as do writers and readers who look beyond differences. The writing will be like raindrops that create a downpour of love, tolerance, kindness, wit and humour. With a little soupçon of such values, we hope to unite into a world that can override differences, hatred, angst, violence and COVID-19. 

In these pages, we welcome hope for a future that makes us happy; we welcome all writers of all ages to come and revel in words and ideas and we invite readers to come and read and give us comments and write to us about what they would like to read at editor@borderlessjournal.com.  They are also welcome to try their hands at writing. In a world forced to segregate for the sake of survival, this is a way to connect with ideas. 

We start the journal with some input from the team from the editorial board, constituting a few writers who are outstanding and eminent in their own areas. You can read about the team in ‘About Us’ and savour some of their work under the different subheads: essays, reviews, stories and poetry. 

Dustin Pickering, somewhat of a rebel poet, a Pushcart nominee and a brilliant essayist, columnist and publisher, has contributed a scholarly essay on ‘Poets as Warriors’ — I love the idea even though I differ with some of his surmises. Maybe a war of words can convince people eventually that war with weapons is not the best way to maintain peace. Meenakshi Malhotra, a specialist in gender studies, bring us an essay on whether solidarity between women is possible. What do you think?

Namrata, a writer who hides behind fuchsia curtains and spills out lovely reviews, has a tempting review on a book edited by Sarita Jenamani and Aftab Husian — Silences between the Notes. Curious? Read and find out.

Sarita Jenamani, the PEN Austria general secretary, herself has contributed poetry — like the tinkling of crystal chandeliers evoking an evening in Vienna where she lives. Sohana Manzoor, the literature page editor in Daily Star, Bangladesh, has contributed a story, the title of which brings a smile — ‘Parul and The Potato Prince’ — reminded me a little of an O’ Henry in a Bangladeshi setting! 

Nidhi Mishra, a successful publisher of children’s stories, rolled out a fabulous piece on corona that hovers between an essay and a slice of life. It is in a grey zone — and that is why there is a new name for it — Musings. In Musings, you will also find Debraj, a popular columnist and an associate professor in Delhi University, with an unusual piece — again hovering between multiple genres. That is partly also what we hope do in Borderless, we explore genres and non-genre based writing to create new trends. 

Read it all and tell us what you think.

I look forward to Borderless as ‘your’ journal — a site that hosts contributions and looks for readership from all of you! 

Thank you all for your goodwill and friendship. 

Welcome again to a world without borders!

Mitali Chakravarty