Categories
Editorial

The Caged Birds Sing

...Don't you know
They're talkin''bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper...
-- Tracy Chapman,'Talkin 'Bout a Revolution
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 
— Bible 

We are living in strange times that seem to be filled with events to challenge the innovativeness of man. As if the pandemic were not enough, concepts that had come out of the best in our civilisation to unite mankind have been convoluted by a minority to manipulate and hurt the majority into submission. Life is not about surviving with faint-hearted compliance but about having the courage to live it as you want, facing it full up front, to voice out in unison against injustices, wrongs, and most of all to loan strength to help and care for each other. Often to understand this, we need to hinge on to our past, to learn from our heritage. But do we do that? In the hectic drive to be successful, we tend to ignore important lessons that could have been imbibed from the past. Like, did you know that the tribes in the Andaman can save themselves from a tsunami?

Padma Shri Anvita Abbi tells us all about the Andamanese and her attempts to revive their moribund language in her interview and book, Voices from the Lost Horizon, reviewed by Rakhi Dalal. While the review focusses on the uniqueness of Abbi’s work and the publication with its embedded recordings of the tribe fast dissolving into the morass of mainstream civilisation, her interview highlights the need to revive their lores that evolved out of a 70,000-year-old culture. On the other hand, Jessica Mudditt, interviewed by Keith Lyons, dwells on the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, which has been clearly the focus of her book, Our Home in Yangon. This interview focusses on the here and now of the crisis. But most crises have their roots deep and perhaps an exploration of these could help. There are 135 ethnicities in Myanmar but how many are actually integrated into the mainstream? Are they in the process of getting ‘lost’ like the voices of the speakers of Greater Andamanese?

That is why we tried to showcase a few such strains that are going unheard in the loudness of the ‘civilised’ mainstream. We have translations in poetry from Santhali and Adivasi, touching on the concerns of those who are often considered underdeveloped. And, perhaps, as Abbi said in her interview about the Andamanese, we can say much the same for these tribes too.

“These tribes are neither poor, nor uneducated (their knowledge of environment comprising birds, fishes, medicinal plants and their … weather predictions, and the Earth they walk on is amazing) …”

Distinctions have been created by a ‘civilisation’ entrenched in mono-cognitive enforcements leading to the loss of trust, confidence, languages, cultures and valuable knowledge about basic survival. Perhaps we can attempt to heal such wounds by imbibing the openness, love, devotion and compassion shown by the Buddhist monk, Upagupta (who is still revered in Myanmar as Shin Upagutta), in the translation of Tagore’s story poem, ‘Abhisar’ or ‘The Tryst’.  Somdatta Mandal’s translation of Tagore’s letters introduce similar humanitarian concerns when the maestro mentions a German anthropologist and his wife who for the betterment of mankind were journeying to study tribals in India. Tagore remarks, “The people for whom they are willingly prepared to undergo hardship and to overlook all sorts of danger are not their relatives, nor are they civilised.” And yet even a century ago to fathom more about mankind, attempts were being made to integrate with our ancient lore. The concept of being ‘civilised’ is of course now much under the microscope. What is being ‘civilised’?

 Is it about having power? We have Akbar Barakzai’s poem translated by Fazal Baloch on creation looking at the divide between a ‘civilised’ God and man. The theme stresses the two sides of the divide. More translations from Odiya, Dutch and Korean further mingle different flavours of the world into our journal — each questioning the accepted norm in different ways.

In an edition focussed on myths and stories from which we evolved, Rhys Hughes has created an unusual legend around elephants. His poetry also deals with animals — cats. One wonders if the T S Eliot’s famed ‘Macavity, the Mystery Cat’ could have to do something with his choices?  We were fortunate to have Arundhathi Subramaniam share her poetry on myths around Indian figures like Shakuntala and Avvaiyar and the titular poem from When God is a Traveller that won her the 2020 Sahitya Akademi Award. Michael R Burch continues on the theme dwelling on Circe, Mary Magdalene and Helen. Sekhar Banerjee has a more iconoclastic approach to myths in his poetry. Jared Carter talks of modern myths perpetuated through art and cultural studies as does Mike Smith in his musings with his glance back at the last century through a photograph.

We have poetry by a Filipino writer Gigi Baldovino Gosnell from South Africa, looking for a new world, a new legend, perhaps a world without borders. Tohm Bakelas has given us a few lines of powerful poetry. Could these poems be a reaction to world events? Smitha Vishwanath has responded to the situation in Afghanistan with a poem. In this edition, photographs and verses in Penny Wilkes’ ‘Nature’s Musings‘ draw from the universe. She writes, “The sun never asks for applause” — a powerful thought and perhaps one mankind can learn from.

Ghost stories by Niles Reddick and Sunil Sharma perpetuate the theme, especially the latter has a ghost that questions myths of ‘isms’ created in the modern-day world. We also have a writer from Malaysia, P Ravi Shankar, with a futuristic legend set in a far-off time where man has embraced the reality of climate change and artificial intelligence. An interesting and fun read as is Devraj Singh Kalsi’s professions about why he did not become a professor, Geetha Ravichandran’s light musing on word play and a young writer Saurabh Nagpal’s musing, ‘Leo Messi’s Magic Realism‘ — a footballer viewed from a literary perspective!

While our musings make us laugh, our essays this time take us around the world with the myth of happiness deconstructed by Candice Louisa Daquin, to Burma and deep into Kolkata’s iconic history of the detective department started in the nineteenth century. There is an essay by Bhaskar Parichha that explores politics and media and mentions ‘gatekeepers’ of the media who need to be responsible for influencing public opinion. Guess who would be the gatekeepers?

Bhaskar Parichha’s review of Wendy Donniger’s non-fiction exploring myths around horses, Winged Stallion and Wicked Mares, and Basudhara Roy’s review of Bina Sarkar Ellias’ Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems perpetuate the theme of the importance of the past on the one hand and question it on the other. But that is what Borderless is about — exploring the dialectics of opposing streams to re-invent myths towards a better future.

We have a bumper issue again this time with nearly fifty posts. I invite our wonderful readers on a magical journey to unfold the hidden, unmentioned gems scattered on the pages of the September Issue of Borderless. Thank you again to an outstanding team, all our global contributors who make every edition an adventure and a reality and our wonderful readers. Thank you all.

Have a beautiful month!

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

Categories
Stories

Captain Andi is in love

By Dr. P Ravi Shankar

The bubbly lyrics of Bobby McFerrin’s song ‘Don’t worry be happy’ filled the room. Andi was awakened from his slumber and slowly opened his eyes. He glanced at the clock by the bedside. Five a.m. Still dark outside. He had a virtual clinical exam later that morning. Early to bed and early to rise in the good old armed forces tradition was always mentioned by his mentor. Though with the heavy course workload and multiple assignments on most days he did not hit the bed before 11 pm.

His artificial intelligence (AI) mentor carefully monitored his academic progress. He was a straight A student and had done very well through the duration of the course, which was partially done. He was doing an accelerated curriculum and was expected to graduate in about two years. After his morning ablutions, his home robot came with a steaming hot cup of coffee. Dark and strong just the way he liked it. The robot checked his physical parameters. There were several sensors implanted in his body monitoring in real-time his physical parameters. Everything seemed normal and there was no cause for alarm.

He was one of the twenty students who had joined the undergraduate medical program at the Armed Forces medical school a year ago. He was inducted at the rank of Captain. Now the army and other organisations did not require many doctors. AI systems did most of the work of diagnosing and treating patients. AI was ubiquitous and omnipresent. Systems drove trucks, public transportation, private transportation, flew planes, did all menial jobs, carried out all secretarial and clerical jobs and took care of and educated human children. He had a special interest in human history and recalled the history lessons he had taken at school. During the mid-twenty-first century AI began to dominate life and most humans had slowly but steadily lost their jobs. Some were able to retrain and readapt and started helping in building and educating AI systems. The wars and the heating of the planet had reduced the liveable land. Human population steadily decreased for the first time in several centuries.

Frequent pandemics had become a regular part of life. Or rather was it the same pandemic which never really went away? A certain degree of control and protection was afforded by vaccines, but the virus had become endemic. Humans were resilient and had adapted to the new normal. New strains were isolated regularly, and these required a new set of vaccines to be developed and another round of vaccination. Luckily vaccines were edible these days and incorporated in tasty fruits like bananas.

Maya was his classmate. A perky and slender dark-haired girl, she never failed to cheer him up. He would be meeting her in about an hour. He read through his notes and prepared for the day ahead. He had a special interest in cyborgs and in enhancement of human function. Medicine had developed so much since the Middle Ages. He would be having a class on the ethics of incorporating AI systems in medicine in the morning by Prof Kim. He enjoyed Prof Kim’s sessions. All sessions these days were virtual except the ones on clinical skills. Most patients interacted with their doctors virtually. The sensors implanted on each human meant changes could be identified early and diseases addressed at the incipient stage. He and his fellow students and the teacher interacted virtually using a mix of extended reality and holographic images. The world had shifted online.

The world was a huge web. The internet of things. Devices and persons communicated constantly. Life was good, was it not? Why did he get the creepy feeling that he was being monitored all the time? Was he ever really alone? His father had made a fortune building sea walls and protecting coastal cities from the rising seas. The sea level had risen by over two feet and sea walls were a necessity. The Dutch were the masters and had made a huge fortune keeping the world from drowning. Human germ cell DNA editing was routine — both to eliminate deadly genetic diseases and to enhance human capabilities.  

Nearly everyone had some sort of enhancements done to their body to improve their hearing, vision, physical endurance, and immunity among other things. Surviving in the hostile world without an enhanced immune system was impossible. Occasionally he got together physically with his batchmates in the informal learning spaces the college provided. They were an even split. Ten humans with enhancements and ten living AI machines. Life had taken on a whole new meaning with the advent of machine life.

Machine life had several advantages. They were stronger, had almost superhuman powers and were immune to the viruses and other microbes in the air. Occasionally some parts needed to be replaced or some enhancements carried out. They did not need to sleep, and neither were they ever bored and unfocused. In medicine the machines had anthropomorphic features. They looked like humans and from their external appearance only it had become difficult to know if someone was a machine or a human.

Humankind was pursuing immortality. Most lived nearly three hundred years. Rich individuals could download their memories into AI systems and become immortal. The memories could be slowly downloaded at intervals into a developing human and a person could live life both in the virtual and the real worlds. Dr Cerson was a famous surgeon of the twentieth century, and his memories were being slowly downloaded into Captain Andi. Cerson’s ‘soul’ had passed through several human bodies during the ensuing centuries learning and adapting to the brave new world in the process. Surgery today was fully robotic and used an army of micro and nano-bots to carry out the procedure precisely and with nearly no tissue damage.

Maya was a humanoid — machine life. He recalled the day she had told him about herself in the college cafeteria. She knew he was developing tender feelings for her. Machines were built to detect and respond to human emotions. Human-machine intimate relationships were not expressly forbidden but neither were they encouraged by the government. There were a host of problems though the machines were built to be empathetic and kind to humans. The machines did not require sleep, no babies resulted from the relationship and one of the partners was immortal. He had given a lot of thought to these issues but eventually decided to go ahead with his relationship with Maya. He would be moving into her house in a week so that they could sync forces and optimise performance. He started humming the opening lyrics of the classic love song sung by George Benson ‘Nothing’s gonna change my love for you’ as he got dressed for his trip to the college cafeteria and coffee with Maya.

.

Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer.

.

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