“It is not enough to try to remove wants; you can never remove them completely from outside; the far greater thing is to rouse the will of the people to remove their own wants.” — Rabindranath Tagore, A History of Sriniketan by Uma Das Gupta, published by Niyogi Books.
Does political freedom eulogised by masses ensure housing, clothing, food, love kindness, self respect and education to all the beneficiaries of a newly structured country? Centring around this theme, we bring together writing around India’s Republic Day, when the country adopted its new constitution and called itself an independent republic with its own self-defined preamble. This happened on 26th January, 1950. Here we carry writing that reflects on the then and now of the people who have lived by that constitution defined in 1950. Some of the issues had been voiced centuries ago, by Akbar, the grand Mughal, subsequently by greats like Tagore who died long before India became an independent entity and more recently by Nabendu Ghosh. These issues, ranging from the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, education, health have been variously taken up among people by NGOs and writers who have come forward to voice and act to awaken the majority to make a change. Are people then better off now than they were in the past?
An excerpt from Shazi Zaman’sAkbar: A Novel of Historydetailing his interactions with Surdas and Braj, showcasing syncretic elements in the past, where homage to power clashes with spiritual aspirations. Click here to read.
Give Me A Rag, Please:A short story by Nabendu Ghosh, translated by Ratnottama Sengupta, set in the 1943 Bengal Famine, which reflects on man’s basic needs. Click here to read
For the Want of a Cloth: Ratnottama Sengupta muses on an NGO who has won a Magsaysay Award for his work with cloth distribution in India contextualising it against the issues raised in Give Me a Rag, Please by Nabendu Ghosh. Click here to read.
Among Our People: Devraj Singh Kalsi gives a fictitious account of a common man’s quest for security in a country that is one of the world’s largest democracy. Click here to read.
Potable Water Crisis & the Sunderbans: Camellia Biswas, a visitor to Sunderbans during the cyclone Alia, turns environmentalist and writes about the potable water issue faced by locals. The support often comes from beyond the border lines and from people who live through the ordeal. Click here to read.
InBridge over Troubled Waters, academic Sanjay Kumar tells us about Pandies, an activist theatre group founded by him that educates, bridging gaps between the divides of University educated and the less fortunate who people slums or terror zones. Click here to read.
In Lessons Old and New from a Stray Japanese Cat, Keith Lyons talks with the author of The Cat with Three Passports, CJ Fentiman who likes the anonymity loaned by resettling in new places & enjoys creating a space for herself away from her birthplace. Click hereto read.
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’sBeyond 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’sTwo 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’sIn 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 ‘TrouserHermit’ 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.
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!
We consider faith
Of course, you believe in gods,
not your own, you have none,
but your mother’s, she has numerous.
You talk to them when you are in trouble,
or want something and know you cannot get it.
It’s easy to blame them, but the conversations,
always one-sided, seem pointless.
You want to know if they can hear you.
You like to think He or She, or They,
(there are so many, you tend to lose track)
listen to you, at least often, if not always.
They must — your mother’s devotion demands it.
All her life she had but one prayer —
‘Make my sons happy’.
Now, you demand,
‘Fulfil my mother’s wish, make me happy.’
This, of course, they cannot do, you know,
but at least, they should hear you out.
You talk to them under the sky,
not in front of an idol,
where they are distracted by their very beauty,
imagined by a poor sculptor in his filthy slum,
or in a temple, where they are disquieted by
the multitude of sycophants with their bribes
of sweets and cash and piteous prayers.
It’s easier in the open, though
you tend to forget who’s who.
There are so many of them,
with so many departments —
you are never sure if you are
talking to the right god
at the right time,
for the right obstacle,
in the right manner.
Of course, you believe in gods, and you know,
they are as helpless as you are.
With so many interpreters to relay their causes,
they must be as wary as you are.
They, the gods, nice fellows, they went
on an exile and now they cannot return.
The door is barred in this world of frigid science
and dazzling machines, where men took over
and became divine, and you know, it’s a selfish
nightmare, which now, we all must dream.
(First published in Book of Prayers for the Nonbeliever, Red River, 2018)
Dibyajyoti Sarma, is a writer, editor, poet and translator based in Delhi. His latest, a translation of Assamese author Indira Goswami, Five Novellas about Women, came out in July. He also runs the independent publishing venture, Red River.
A Poem for the Ol-Chiki
The Bengali script in Bengal
The Odia script in Odisha
I do not know the Bengali script
You do not know the Odia script
Let us agree to one script for Santhali
The Ol-Chiki is our script.
They write in the Roman somewhere
They write in the Devanagari at some places
I do not know the Roman script
You do not know the Devanagari script
One script will unite us all
The Ol-Chiki is our script.
Dear writer, for how long will you
Write your language using
Someone else’s script?
You are dividing our readers
You are making our publishers lose money
Let us all understand this
The Ol-Chiki is our script.
One language, one Script.
This is what will strengthen us Santhals
The talents of so many of us
Scattered for the want of one script
All of us Santhals, let us solve this script issue.
(First published in 100 Poems are Not Enough, Walking Book Fairs)
Sokhen Tudu is a Mayurbhanj, Odisha-based Santhali poet, haiku writer and Santhali script activist. He was involved in spreading the Santhali script, the Ol chiki, among Santhals in Bangladesh.
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar writes in English and occasionally translates from Santhali and Hindi to English.
When the sorrow of all the directions
gathers as a whirlwind
rising high as a pillar
as it reaches the roof of the earth
making the heart shiver,
there emerges Adivasi poetry.
When there is anguish
in jungle, mountain, grasslands
in the bowels of the earth, in the waters of the rivers,
when people leave their mud huts —
like mice escaping a flooded nest —
carrying their handlachaatva*
in the crooks of their waists
in search of land
what rises with the tears in their eyes
is Adivasi poetry.
After a few drops of rain
trucks from the sugar factory
arrive and stare at the empty huts.
We toil, naked, on the earth for months
in the burning sun
Do we crush the sugarcane
or does the sugarcane crush us?
It lies like animals
at the edge of the river
on the outskirts of the village.
Just like a dog,
As the day dawns, standing in queues,
noses lowered, at the crossroads in cities
like cattle in cattle markets
to sell our labour.
All day and night, lying curled up
invisible, with the hungry ones,
Like the one who carries the weight of the house
rising with the first cock crowing
going to the jungle with axe on her shoulder
walking to the city through five villages
with the wood on her head,
pregnant, but carrying back
one kilo of flour
oil worth Rs 2
Just like she cooks rotlo for two meals
a day, her blood turning to sweat
*handlachaatva: Earthen cooking pot and wooden spoon
Jitendra Vasava was born in Mahupada on the banks of the river Tapi in the Narmada district of Gujarat. He writes in Dehwali Bhili, one of the few poets in Gujarat writing in a tribal language. Vasava established the Adivasi Sahitya Academy in 2014. As the president of the Academy, he has also edited Lakhara, a poetry magazine dedicated to tribal voices published by Bhasha, Vadodara. Vasava has been awarded a PhD for his research on the cultural and mythological aspects of oral folk tales of the Bhils from the Narmada district.
Gopika Jadeja is a bilingual poet and translator, writing in English and Gujarati. Gopika publishes and edits the print journal and a series of pamphlets for a performance-publishing project called Five Issues. Her work has been published in Asymptote, Modern Poetry in Translation, Wasafiri, The Four Quarters Magazine, The Wolf, Cordite Poetry Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Indian Literature, Vahi, Etad, etc. She is currently working on a project of English translations of poetry from Gujarat.