Ratnottama Sengupta translates from Bengali the excerpts recorded by Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), who witnessed an upsurge in the wake of the Quit India Movement, part of India’s struggle against colonial rule. Click here to read.
On August 8th 2021, the chief of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, pointed out during the closing ceremony that these games were “unprecedented” and brought messages of “hope, solidarity and peace” into a world torn with the desolation generated by the pandemic. It was a victory of the human spirit again, a precursor of what is to come. That the Japanese could get over their pandemic wrought hurdles, just as they did post the nuclear disasters wrought by the Second World War and by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami at Fukushimaya, to host something as spectacular and inspiring as these international games reflects, as the commentators contended, a spirit of ‘harmony and humility’. The last song performed by many youngsters seemed to dwell on stars in the sky — not only were the athletes and organisers the stars but this also reminded of unexplored frontiers that beckon mankind, the space.What a wonderful thing it was to see people give their best and unite under the banner of sports to bring messages of survival and glimpses of a future we can all share as human beings! Our way of doing things might have to evolve but we will always move forward as a species to thrive and expand beyond the known frontiers.
One such explorer of yet unknown frontiers who mingles the historic with the contemporary, Goutam Ghose, an award-winning filmmaker and writer, has honoured our pages with an extensive interview showing us how art and harmony can weave lores that can help mankind survive. This is reinforced by the other interview with Singaporean academic, Dr Kirpal Singh, whose poetry reflects his convictions of a better world. With our intelligence, we can redefine processes that hold us back and grind our spirits to dust — be it the conventional ‘isms’ or norms that restrict our movement forward – just as Tagore says in the poem, we have translated this time, ‘Deliverance’.
…On this auspicious dawn,
Let us hold our heads high in the infinite sky
Amidst the light of bounteousness and the heady breeze of freedom.
As the Kobiguru mentioned earlier in the poem, the factors that oppress could be societal, political, or economic. Could they perhaps even be the fetters put on us by the prescribed preconceived definition of manmade concepts like ‘freedom’ itself? Freedom can be interpreted differently by multiple voices.
This month, on our pages, ‘freedom’ has found multiple interpretations in myriad of ways — each voice visualising a different dream; each dream adding value to the idea of human progress. We have discussions and stories on freedom from Nigeria, Argentina, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia and more. Strangely enough, August holds multiple independence/ national days that are always for some reason seen as days of being ‘freed’ by many — at least from oppression. But is that true?
Indo-Pak independence, celebrated now on 14th (Pakistan) and 15th August (India), reflects not only the violence of the Partition which dislocated and killed millions historically but also the trauma caused by the event. Capturing this trauma is a short story based on memories of Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by his daughter, Amna Ali. Ratnottama Sengupta translates from the diary of Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), a woman’s voice from the past that empathises with the subjugated who were subdued yet again after an upsurge of violence during the Quit India Movement (1942) against the colonials. Sinha contends that though the movement frittered away, the colonials were left with an after-taste of people hankering for self-rule. A thought-provoking short story by Sunil Sharma explores the results of self-rule in independent India.
Alluding to Jinnah’s vision for women, Aysha Baqir muses emotionally about the goals that remain yet to be fulfilled 74 years after independence. Moazzam Sheikh’s story of immigrants explores dementia, giving us a glimpse of the lives of Asian immigrants in America, immigrants who had to find a new home despite independence. Was this the freedom they dreamt of — all those who fought against various oppressive regimes or colonialism?
Tagore’s lyrics might procure a few ideas on freedom, especially in the song that India calls its National Anthem. Anasuya Bhar assays around the history that surrounds the National Anthem of India, composed by Tagore in Bengali and translated to English by the poet himself and more recently, only by Aruna Chakravarti. We also carry Dr Chakravarti’s translation of the National Anthem in the essay. Reflecting on the politics of Partition and romance is a lighter piece by Devraj Singh Kalsi which says much. ‘Dinos in France’ by Rhys Hughes and Neil Reddick’s ‘The Coupon’ have tongue-in-cheek humour from two sides of the Atlantic.
A coming-of-age story has been translated from Nepali by Mahesh Paudyal – a story by a popular author, Dev Kumari Thapa – our first Nepali prose piece. We start a four-part travelogue by John Herlihy, a travel writer, on Myanmar, a country which has recently been much in the news with its fight for surviving with democracy taking ascendency over the pandemic and leaving the people bereft of what we take for granted.
Candice Louisa Daquin discusses a life well-lived in a thought provoking essay, in which she draws lessons from her mother as do Korean poet, Ihlwha Choi, and Argentinian writer, Marcelo Medone. Maybe, mothers and freedom draw similar emotions, of blind love and adulation. They seem to be connected in some strange way with terms like motherland and mother tongue used in common parlance.
We have two book excerpts this time: one from Beyond the Himalayas by the multi-faceted, feted and awarded filmmaker we have interviewed, Goutam Ghose, reflecting on how much effort went in to make a trip beyond boundaries drawn by what Tagore called “narrow domestic walls”. We carry a second book excerpt this time, from Jessica Muddit’s Our Home in Myanmar – Four years in Yangon. Keith Lyons has reviewed this book too. If you are interested in freedom and democracy, this sounds like a must read.
Maithreyi Karnoor’sSylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends,is a fiction that seems to redefine norms by what Rakhi Dalal suggests in her review. Bhaskar Parichha has picked a book that many of us have been curious about, Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves. Parichha is of the opinion, “Elevated or chastised, exonerated or condemned, the perturbation unworldly women in India face is that they have never been treated as equal to men as spiritual leaders. This lack of equality finds its roots not only in sociological and cultural systems, but more particularly at the levels of consciousness upon which spirituality and attitudes are finally based.”One wonders if this is conclusive for all ‘unworldly women’ in India only or is it a worldwide phenomenon or is it true only for those who are tied to a particular ethos within the geographical concept of India? The book reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, Somdatta Mandal’s The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs, dwells on the fierce independence of the early twentieth century women caregivers of the maestro from Bengal. These women did not look for approval or acceptance but made their own rules as did Jnadanandini, Tagore’s sister-in-law. Bhaskar Parichha has also added to our Tagore lore with his essay on Tagore in Odisha.
As usual, we have given you a peek into some of our content. There is more, which we leave for our wonderful readers to uncover. We thank all the readers, our fantastic contributors and the outstanding Borderless team that helps the journal thrive drawing in the best of writers.
I wish you all a happy August as many of the countries try to move towards a new normal.
A short story by Dev Kumari Thapa, translated from Nepali by Mahesh Paudyal
What a hen-pecked man! Not even aware of his wife wrapping him around her little finger, though he was a college teacher.
Mother was commenting with someone in the kitchen. Shyam thought, the gossip was about himself. Before that day too, his mother had counseled him many a time. Rupa cared for no one. She was beautiful and well-educated, having brought up in an atmosphere of freedom. Whenever Shyam remembered Rupa, he could not help a smile. It’s true that he had loved and married Rupa, in spite of knowing everything about her. On her part too, she loved and chose him from among numerous other youths and married him with her own will. Her character too was blotless; only that, she was quite liberal in her thoughts. It would have been better, if Rupa restrained herself in a little more. She was not just a woman now; she also was a daughter-in-law. But then, how much should anyone counsel her! She could not change her ways or did not even want to change them. In that case, what could Shyam do? Leave Shyam alone; every man in his position would be helpless.
Even the French warrior, Napoleon Bonaparte, who dreamt of conquering the whole world, could not keep his consort Josephine under control. Why so? Because, like Shyam, he also loved his wife very much. She was four years older to him, and a widow of a soldier in his own army. She was a spendthrift. Expenses for her clothes and cosmetics had rendered Napoleon’s coffers empty. When he was busy in the battlefield, she indulged herself in the lap of luxury. But then, Napoleon always gave in to her, and fulfilled each of her demands. He died alone at St. Helena, far away. Before breathing his last, he took the names of his motherland and his beloved Josephine. Some women are born merely to amuse their men.
Shyam smiled again, as if he was remembering a thrilling experience. His mother entered his room carrying a cup of tea for him. Beset by ill-feelings, Shyam could not raise his hood and talk with his mother. Instead, he kept himself busy flipping through the pages of a newspaper that lay nearby. Raising the issue of Rupa once again, Mother had said, “Good that you have got a wife, my child. But then, if your old mother has to do all the chores, what use is her presence here?”
He said nothing. Taking a deep sigh, his mother walked out of the room.
When it was fairly dark in the evening, Rupa entered the house. Seeing Shyam look dejected, she said with a smile, “Hello Professor!”
He giggled, but said with a grim face, “Why had you been so late?”
Rupa said lightly, “Am I your student that I have to give clarification?”
He shouted, “It’s not about clarification. I want to see that people do not critique you. That’s all.”
Rupa said in her natural tone, “Why should anyone critique me? I have not guilty of anything wrong. I cannot chang my inborn nature, no matter how much I want. Nor can you force me to change, Mister Professor! What are good and bad characters, after all? They are effects of the hormones one has. The pituitary gland in my head is more active; I am therefore more nimble, active and shrewd than others. Kamala nextdoor has less amount of thyroid, so she looks dull and people call her a good woman. That’s all you ought to understand.”
Rupa’s words made Shyam laugh. He was also rendered speechless. A lecturer by profession, he was a man of grave nature, a visionary, a lonely son of his mother. He loved his mother very much. He loved Rupa equally deeply. How wonderful it would be, if he could work a balance between the two people he loved! He could neither counsel Rupa, nor could Rupa appease her mother-in-law.
Shyam was spending his days amidst such dilemma, when his aunt — his father’s sister — and her young daughter, Shyama, paid them a visit. His aunt had come to town from the village to arrange for her daughter’s college education here. Shyam’s mother was meeting her after a long gap, and their meeting made both of them very happy. His mother requested her sister-in-law to stay with them at least for a month before returning to her home in the village. She advised her to admit daughter Shyama to her son’s college. Accordingly, Shyam got her admitted to his own college, and this made the mother’s quite contented.
After having lived with them for a month, the aunt returned to her home. Shyama started living under her aunt’s care, and studying.
Shyama from a wealthy and cultured background was of a serious nature and had a sharp mind. In no time, she had become everyone’s favourite at the college. Shyam was extremely delighted to see her progress. The brother and sister went to college together and returned home together.
With such a turn of events, the suffocating atmosphere at Shyam’s home improved to some extent, and there was some light now. Shyam’s mother started loving Shyama like her own daughter. Shyama also started helping her in household chores. Shayma established a friendly relationship with sister-in-law Rupa.
One day, Rupa asked Shyama to accompany her to the cinema. With all modesty, Shyama pleaded that she could only go after her examinations were over. Rupa went alone. By then, Shyama had come to know that her aunt had to do most chores in her own family, but she kept quiet, thinking it unwise to make a comment on someone else’s family.
After a short conversation with his aunt, Shyama went to her study. She could not focus for long; so, she went to the kitchen and started making tea. She gave a cup to her aunt, poured two for herself and for Shyam. She walked into Shyam’s room with the tea. Shyam was delighted on seeing her, and in a jocular way, said, “So you happen to be the cook of this family, isn’t it?”
With a smile, Shyama said, “Does it make one a cook if one does her own housework?”
Shyam said in a fond voice, “Sister, how happy mother is ever since you arrived here? I could not serve her as a son must. You serve her on both of our behalves. I congratulate you, and you have all my blessings.”
Shyama said, “Brother, you have me a place in your family. Else, I would be languishing in a hostel. You have also helped me with my lessons. I am obliged to you and can never pay for your favour. It’s my privilege to get this opportunity to serve you both.”
This way, brother and sister conversed for a long time. Shyam forgot the lack of a sister in his life.
Rupa returned home from the movies. Seeing Shyama inside her room, she said, “Shyama, the movie was wonderful. You didn’t agree to go with me.” Expressing his support for Shyama, Shyam said, “Can a student afford to go to the movies?”
Rupa didn’t like Shyam’s intervention. She gave a strange look and rushed out of the room. After Shyama was gone, Rupa returned and said to Shyam in a voice of dissent, “Two of you are together, both at the college and at home. I can see closeness growing between teacher and student.”
Shyam said in a light-hearted manner, “Are you jealous?”
Rupa said, “Go. Take the girl and leave her at a hostel.”
Shyam was astounded, seeing such a narrow outlook surface in Rupa. Counseling her, he said, “Pooh, what a mean thing you said! I thought you were educated and liberal.”
In the meantime, Mother came to ask Shyam to join dinner. The issue was dismissed.
That night, Shyam was restless for a long time. He could not manage even a nap. It occurred to him that Rupa, whom he considered an educated and magnanimous person, could also be envious. She had overlooked that jealousy was making her mean. Fie! Her thoughts were as mean as the froth on the surface of the sea. Where was the depth expected of an educated heart like hers? Shyama? Sister Shyama was a goddess born and brought up with ideals.
That night, he could not sleep.
After a few days, Rupa gave Shyam a new bit of information. She was pregnant. The news made Shyam extremely happy. Taking her into his arms, he said, “Congratulations! I think our baby will now make your pituitary gland smaller. Won’t it?”
Rupa blushed with embarrassment. Shyam was deeply moved by her newfound shyness — a novelty from Rupa.
Dev Kumari Thapa (1928-2011) is a story writer. She wrote stories both for adults and children. Though she was born and educated in Darjeeling, India, she later moved to Nepal and settled in Biratnagar. A nurse by training, she wrote form her schooldays. Her published story collections are Ekadashi, Jhajhalko, Seto Biralo, Tapari, Bhok Tripti, Pralaya-Pratiksha and Dev Kumari Thapaka Pratinidhi Katha. She also wrote some biographies and essays.
Mahesh Paudyal is a lecturer of English at the Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University. He is also a poet, fiction writer, translator and critic. He has the permission from the family to translate this story.
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