Categories
Story Poem

Around the World in Eighty Couplets

By Rhys Hughes

We set sail south from Dublin town
with forty-five sailors and one clown.

But before we reached the wide Atlantic
the frantic antics of the clown dismayed us.

Should we therefore throw him overboard?
we asked ourselves in urgent conference.

It would give us a chance to proceed
in peace and harmony, free from jokes.

Ah, to continue our voyage without fuss!
That was the issue we yearned to discuss.

And eventually we came to an agreement
that dunking was no cure for torment.

And murder was too extreme a measure
to improve the leisure of our journey.

The clown was a man, his painted smile
could be easily smudged with a frown.

There was no need to send his soul down
to the circus hell where clown ghosts go.

No! Let us find some alternative method
to restrain the fool and hobble his tricks!

We therefore employed him as a topsail
whenever the breeze turned into a gale.

And as his Pierrot costume billowed out
he would wail and occasionally shout.

Especially if he spied a distant whale
in a white dinner jacket, obviously male.

But that didn’t happen on a daily basis
for most of the whales had female faces.

Anyway, I have gone off on a tangent,
the sound of hornpipes is quite plangent.

And they call me back to my nautical duty
which is to lace up all the crew’s booties.

Not much else happened for several days
until mountains loomed through the haze.

We had reached Sierra Leone on our own,
just forty-five sailors and a lofty buffoon.

What an excellent marker of our progress!
It cheered us up and reduced our stress.

There was room in the hold for tropic fruits
and so we went ashore for an afternoon.

We bought bananas, mangoes and guavas
without anyone causing a hell of a palaver.

And then we set sail again, or should I say
we set clown again, and went on our way.

Shortly we passed the island of São Tomé
engorged on fruit with rather sore tummies.

It was at this point that symmetry suffered
a relatively modest but disturbing calamity.

For we had reached a latitude
where the second line of any couplet has an unbalanced longitude.

But we soon passed to happier frothy waters
full of strong mermen and their daughters.

A little later it was with squids we played
and afterwards with octopuses we prayed.

We safely rounded the Cape of Good Hope
and raised and lowered the clown on a rope.
 
By now he was fully reconciled to his position
and in fact embraced the ideals of our mission.

And those ideals were to circumnavigate Earth
and at the same time, to increase our girth.

Thus we devoured the fruit stored below deck
until juice ran out of our noses, flipping heck!

In the Indian Ocean we played deck test cricket
using the first mate’s wooden legs for a wicket.

Because there wasn’t much else for us to do
apart from stirring big barrels of strong glue.

Why the captain needed adhesive, I can’t say
but sticky wickets were the order of the day.

And that’s why we continued to bowl and bat
using avocado pears for balls that went splat.

But take care, shipmates! That was my shout
when beneath our hull erupted a waterspout.

It was so powerful that it lifted us up high
and then we were sailing through the sky.

Clouds filled the shrouds with damp fleece
and gulls in flight honked at us like geese.

Our altitude increased and we were chilled
and soon I supposed we would all be killed.

But when the waterspout turned itself off
we didn’t drop back into a terminal trough.

No! The clown on a mast extended his arms
and span on his axis to save us from harm.

Like a helicopter he was, but not a good one,
and for him, it can’t have been too much fun.

Yet his rotary action was certainly well-meant
and provided enough lift for our safe descent.

We landed in waters on the far side of Borneo
but jumbled up was our carefully stored cargo.

The clown was quite dizzy, but what of that?
So are rooms in which you might swing a cat.

Or is it the cat that is giddy thereafter? I can
never remember the exact categorical order.

The fruit in the hold had transformed into juice
and some nails in the planks had worked loose.

But we were still seaworthy and shipshape
and would remain so while on the seascape.

So we sloshed along like a wooden breakfast
with the clown, our saviour, sick on the mast.

But he would recover, he needed no physician,
for dizziness is merely a temporary condition.

And now we concentrated instead on the terrific
news that already our vessel was in the Pacific.

Leagues and leagues of unislanded blue water, see!
But is ‘unislanded’ a word that if used, oughta be?

I don’t know about that, I’m not a lexicographer,
and in fact I’m not even a competent geographer.

No matter! Onwards! We are circling the globe
and it doesn’t matter how quickly we are going.

Slow or fast, start and stop, and if the mate bellows:
“Avast!” we all know such a pause will hardly last.

And now we are sailing steadily east with no fruit
to feast on, but plenty of juice to swim in, undilute.

Solid food is what we require, growled the captain!
Though there’s no cellophane for it to be wrapped in.

Thus we stopped off at an island just beyond Fiji
to buy some cream fudge from a Heebie-Jeebie.

In nautical lingo a Heebie-Jeebie is a shrewd adventurer
marooned long ago who now has a commercial venture.

The fudge was copious and also coconut-flavoured
and he gave us extra portions as some sort of favour.

I think it was because he was originally from Dublin
and we reminded him of the things he was missing.

But there was sadly no room on board to take him along
so we departed while singing him a fudge-mangled song.

“Don’t worry too much and don’t make too big a fuss,
keep making your fudge and all will be fine, trust us!”

The lyrics of that song were probably a cruel deception
but when he heard them he gave them a good reception.

Anyway! Enough of that. Without wishing to fudge
the issue, we have other things to trouble our minds.

I’m a little bit concerned about how the lines of each couplet
seem to be getting longer and longer as this poem progresses.

They are almost twice the length of the opening lines
which, if you remember, formed the following rhyme:

“We set sail south from Dublin town
with forty-five sailors and one clown.”

So let us endeavour to sail closer to a shorter length
for the sake of the reader’s mental and poetic health!

And now we are nearing stormy Cape Horn,
as good a place as any for mariners to mourn.

Tossed on the waves for two and a half days
we were lucky to emerge wholly unscathed.

Back into the Atlantic we plunged in alarm
while the clown vibrated from the yardarm.

But finally in calmer waters we settled down,
the odds reduced that any of us might drown.

As for myself, I looked forward to docking
yet again in the harbour of old Dublin town.

Weary of travel and the fathomless blue deep,
tired of this poem and exhausted with sleep.

Lacing booties to furious hornpipe melodies
no longer fills me with joy but only self-pity.

But only a score of leagues or so left to go
and with this wind there is no need to row.

The night was dark like a pint of stout beer
and then I knew that home really was near.

How glad was I to spy right in our midst
the Emerald Isle looming out of the mist!

Mission accomplished, let’s all dance a jig
and finally discard our stale seaweed wigs!




Explanatory Notes

Why take a clown aboard a ship?
Because we were so very bored.

Yes, whales may go to formal dinners.
If they don’t, they will be much thinner

Hornpipes are musical unicorns,
piercing ears like mythical thorns.

Cricket on deck is such an odd sport,
umpires snort when a ball is caught.

Waterspouts are fountains malign,
always of brine and never of wine.

The South Pacific is a very nice place
unless your booties need to be laced.

Cape Horn is loud and rather sharp,
the diametric opposite of Cape Harp.

Ireland, my Ireland, how I love thee!
Two shots of whisky please in my tea.

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Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.

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

Categories
Review

Explaining Life Through Evolution 

Book Review by Bhaskar  Parichha

Title: Explaining Life Through Evolution 

Author: Prosanta Chakrabarty

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Evolutionary biology is a branch of biology that deals with the processes responsible for the evolution and diversity of life on earth. From the very first ancestor to all life on earth to the very first modern human ancestor, a lot of questions remain answered. The emergence of related fields like genetics and specialised tools like radiocarbon dating has enabled scientists and evolutionary biologists to put together a clearer picture of how life would have probably evolved.

Explaining Life Through Evolution by Prosanta Chakrabarty opens a window to four billion years of eight million species that we see on this planet. It not only adds to existing literature but also gives straight answers to straight questions on the evolution of life on earth. Indeed, it is an unputdownable book that explains life. 

Chakrabarty is an evolutionary biologist at Louisiana State University where he is a professor and curator. A Senior Fellow at TED, a Fulbright Distinguished Chair, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, this is his first and indeed a great work. 

The schema of the book is clear: it does not simply narrate the story of evolution; it is more than about where we came from. It brings to light who we are. As humans, we logically focus more on identifying differences between us; no matter how small they are. Chakrabarty demystifies the notion to emphasise our similarities with each other than many of us are willing to believe.

As more and more people take ancestry tests, sending their DNA samples and money to genealogy testing centres, Chakrabarty says, we need to be educated on what the results actually mean, scientifically; and we all have to decide together what it means socially. We should be celebrating the fact that this diversity comes from the same little drops of water and sunlight, each just shining a little differently. Like all species, we are defined by our differences as much as by our similarities.

He begins the book by saying: “There is a beautiful Sanskrit word, ‘ayurveda’ that translates in English to the science of life. Although generally relating to human health or homeopathic medicine, I’d like to see the shift of the usage of ayurveda to its literal translation as perhaps an enlightened synonym of biology, élan vital or perhaps of evolution. It is a term that makes me think of how words and phrases can have different meanings for different people and how words too can evolve. Even the word evolution’ evolved in Charles Darwin’s time from a meaning closer to development (in the sense of a developing embryo) to its current definition, essentially the accumulation of heritable changes in organisms that can lead to the formation of new species from ancestral forms.” 

He goes on: “Interestingly, Darwin and others instead used the now obsolete word transmutation, which then meant something closer to our current definition of ‘evolution. Over time, the meanings of words can change, but previous usages remain part of their history, just like species can retain the historical features of their ancestors. Except in biology, modifications often lead to entirely new species, so perhaps if we changed ‘ayurveda’ to ‘ayurvedology’ we’d have a better fit with the evolution analogy.”

Through this intelligent and aptly illustrated book, Chakrabarty encourages us to think of life which is always in the making.  If we look at the eight million species with who  we share this planet, we have to imagine them all as having evolved over four billion years. They’re all the product of that fruition. Visualise all as young leaves on this ancient and gigantic tree of life and we will appreciate that all of us are connected by invisible branches not just to each other, but to our extinct relatives and our evolutionary ancestors.

Divided into four parts (‘A Personal Prologue’, ‘The Evolution Revolution’, ‘Questions and Misconceptions’ and ‘Why Understanding Evolution Matters’), this book — all of the 230 pages– is a reader’s delight. Chakrabarty weaves his lived experiences into this poignant discussion on evolution, covering key concepts that are vital to the understanding of current conditions like change and natural selection. 

If it is important for any book on evolutionary biology to discuss how the discipline has been misused to puff up socially constructed categories like gender, Chakrabarty does that with precision. 

The glowing analysis sheds light on the problems with historical and present-day interpretations of evolution while enlightening us about those who work at the cutting edges of the field. Another important feature of the book is that it guides us through viral pandemics and social change, and provides the three R’s[1] to enable us to work together toward a thriving future.

Somewhere in the book Chakrabarty differentiates between science and religion. “Science is about observing and testing natural phenomena in order to give a reasoned, evidence-based explanation for those events. Religion, on the other hand, can provide answers to questions science doesn’t cover (e.g., what is the meaning of life?) but it can also provide answers that can’t always be tested. For instance, let’s say your answer to why apples drop to the ground when they fall out of a tree is ‘God made it happen’; that isn’t something I can prove false, because I can’t test it. There isn’t room for questioning things or scientific inquiry if you believe flatly that ‘God controls everything that happens’.” 

He further points out the pitfalls of deep-seated religious conviction in the present-day world: “The other problem with teaching religion in a science class is that there are many religions with a variety of beliefs. Faith-based beliefs about creation differ by your religious persuasion. In one version of the Hindu creation myth, the Earth was part of the lotus flower that grew from the navel of Vishnu, and then the world was populated by Brahma and will be destroyed by Shiva. If l taught that version of creation as the truth in my science class, [I] wouldn’t last very long as a teacher. However, maybe this religious take would do well in the so-called ‘Indian Science Congress’, especially among participants pushing fringe Hindutva ideas that take some religious ideas literally (e.g. Brahma discovered dinosaurs).” 

Chakrabarty presents one of the most accessible texts about evolution. It is a handy volume for an educator, scientist, or curious reader because the presentation of the theory of evolution provides a charmed balance between solid scientific research and hilarity that teaches, advises, and entertains.

Meaningful, wide-ranging and argumentative, this is a must-read book. It will propel us to imagine and reimagine life around us.


[1] Guiding principles like reading, writing Arithmetic

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Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of UnbiasedNo Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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

Categories
Mission Earth

Tuning in to Nature

By Kenny Peavy

With the exodus of throngs of kids running wildly in fields, climbing trees in the forests and roaming freely through neighbourhoods to the air conditioned, sterile comfort of malls and safe spaces free from the necessary challenges, risky play and scraped knees that used to define growing up has come another hurdle and barrier to the free range childhood of the days of yore.

That hurdle is an addictive and damaging wolf standing in plain sight. Disguised in the sheep’s clothing of endless fun, free games and the promised land of more social connection that ever we welcome the predator of our free time into our homes with swiping thumbs and addicted stares. The wolf is the ever pervasive hand phone and the deceptively innocuous sheep it is clothed in is endless connectivity to mindless entertainment and social media.

In many parts of the world children now spend a few minutes a day, measured in single digits, playing outside, while they spend upwards of 8, 10 and even 12 hours a day glued to their screens. Not only is this having numerous impacts on their physical health it also disconnects them from the natural world they would otherwise be exploring and discovering on a daily basis.

How do we leap over this hurdle and send the wolf back to its den?

How do we allow kids to reconnect with a wild childhood playing, discovering and learning outside?

As is with most things, the answer is deceptively simple yet seemingly difficult to do.

A few suggestions may help:

Take your kids for a Nature walk with no purpose, no objective, no particular aim. Just ramble around and see what you can see. Practice active observation and engage the sense. Ten minutes a day will suffice. More if you can! You’ll be amazed at the benefits to mind, body and spirit!

Find a stump, a shade tree, a stream bank or park bench. Write non-sensical lyrics, explore rhymes and rhythms you hear in the fields, sketch the nearest flower, capture the image of an intriguing insect. Take time to notice the small things. Do it often enough and you’ll start to notice things you never saw or heard before!

Make a list of things you might see in your local ecosystem. Go for a walk and check off how many you see in an afternoon. Even in the most seemingly barren neighbourhoods you’ll be amazed at what you find if you look close enough!

Climb a tree and just sit there for a while looking and listening. Feel the wind. Look at the world from a different perspective. What do you notice?

Flip over a log discover the microcosm of the soil ecosystem. Observe the ants, termites, spiders, worms and other organisms living on the decomposing tree fiber and imagine how they are all working in symphonic symbiosis to covert that log into soil that will sustain yet another generation of trees. And so the cycle goes on and on ad infinitum!

Plant a fruit tree or flower in your yard or in your home. Check it daily. Watch it grow. Record the lifecycle. Measure its growth. See how connected you feel to a plant you have helped bring to life!

And most importantly unplug, tune in, get out!

Unplug from your devices. Turn off your phone and leave it at home

Tune in to Nature. Engage the senses. Take notice of the small things. Smell the earthy soil, feel the cold water of muddy puddles, get caught in aesthetic arrest by a deep azure sky and it’s wispy cumulus companions lofty and floating around the heavens. Get carried away and intoxicated by Nature!

Get outside and play!

Play with no particular schedule, no purpose and welcome boredom to teach you for a while.

You’ll remember how you used to play unfettered, unrestricted and carefree and why that’s how it is supposed to be.

For more ideas on how to connect with Nature join us at https://web.facebook.com/groups/boxpeopleunboxed/.

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Kenny Peavy is an environmentalist who has a memoir called Young Homeless Professional. He has co-authored a pioneering environmental education handbook, As if the Earth Matters, and recently, an illustrated book, The Box People , was re-released digitally to enable children, young people and their parents and educators anywhere in the world to use the book. He also created Waffle House Prophets: Poems Inspired by Sacred People and Places

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

Categories
Contents

Borderless, March 2022

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

Where Have All the Sunflowers Gone?… Click here to read.

Ukranian Refrains

In When will we ever learn? Oh, will we ever learn?, Ratnottama Sengupta, comments on the current situation in Ukraine while dwelling on her memorable meeting with folk legend Pete Seeger, a pacifist, who wrote ‘Where have all the Flowers gone’, based on a folk song from Ukraine. Click here to read.

In Can Peace come Dropping by,Candice Louisa Daquin explores war and peace pausing over the attack on Ukraine. Click here to read.

Three Poems from Ukraine by Leslya Bakun. Click here to read.

Translations

Manush: Nazrul’s Lines for Humankind: Translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Jibananda Das’s Where have all these Birds Gone & On the Pathways for Longtranslated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Munir Momin’s You & I translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Down the stairs by Nabendu Ghosh, a gripping story exploring the greyer areas of ethical dilemmas, has been translated by Sarmishta Mukhopadhyay with editorial input from Ratnottama Sengupta. Click here to read.

Autumn is Long, a poem written in Korean and translated to English by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Tagore’s Anondodhara Bohichche Bhubone (The Universe reverberates with celestial ecstasy)…translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Pandies’ Corner

These narratives are written by youngsters from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. A letter to God by Tanveer Hussain  uses the epistolary technique to asks questions that would be relevant for all humankind. It has been translated from Hindustani by Vritika Thareja. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Kirpal Singh, Rhys Hughes, Sutputra Radheye, Jay Nicholls, Uma Gowrishankar, Mike Smith, Anasuya Bhar, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Supatra Sen, George Freek, Pramod Rastogi, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Ananta Kumar Singh, Michael R Burch, Shaza Khan

Nature’s Musings

In Storms & Seas, Penny Wilkes explores birds and the ocean during rough weather. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry or Rhys Hughes

In Tall or Short Tales, Rhys Hughes explores the absurd. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Eva Zu Beck & Marco Polo

San Lin Tun writes of how, in Yangon, he spends the lockdown watching a travel blog by Eva Zu Beck. Click here to read.

Messages through Space and Time

Meredith Stephens explores how the art of letter writing creates links across borders of time and place. Click here to read.

It’s Amazing the Things We can Do

Erwin Coombs takes us through his life in Egypt and has a relook at Nazi occupied Europe with a dollop of humour to come to an amazing conclusion. Click here to read.

An Existential Dilemma

G Venkatesh uses the laws of thermodynamics to try to interpret the laws that define life. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

Devraj Singh Kalsi ponders on his Visit to a Book Fair. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Imagining a Possible Future: Filmmaker Felicity Tillack, Suzanne Kamata introduces us to an Australian film maker who is making films in Japan now and some are in Japanese. Click here to read.

Mission Earth

Kenny Peavy starts his column with Mama Calling, a cry to go back to living with nature. Click here to read.

Interviews

From the Himalayas to the Banks of Thames: In Conversation with Sangita Swechcha, a writer shuttles between England and Nepal and writes of her homeland. Click here to read.

At Home Across Continents : In Conversation with Neeman Sobhan, a Bangladeshi-born writer who writes of her experiences as an expat in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Italy and America. Click here to read.

Stories

The Man Who got Eaten

 Kieran Martin tells a tall tale or is it short? Click here to read.

Death Will Come

Munaj Gul Muhammed captures the wafting sadness of grieving in this short poetic narrative. Click here to read.

SofieMol

Sharika Nair paints a vignette of the past merging with the present in her narrative. Click here to read.

Faith & Fortune

Devraj Singh Kalsi shows how the twists of faith are aligned to wealth and fame. Click here to read.

Henrik’s Journey

Farah Ghuznavi follows a conglomerate of people on board a flight to address issues ranging from Rohingyas to race bias. Click here to read.

Essays

The Kaleidoscopic World of Satyajit Ray

Anasuya Bhar takes us into the literary world of Satyajit Ray, the world famous film director. Click here to read.

Are Some of Us More Human than Others ?

Meenakshi Malhotra ponders at the exclusivity that reinforces divisions, margins and borders that continue to plague humankind, against the backdrop of the Women’s Month, March. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In The Paradox of Modern Communication, Candice Louisa Daquin takes us through the absurdities that haunt modern verbal communication. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from Friends in Wild Places: Birds, Beasts and Other Companions by Ruskin Bond. Click here to read.

An excerpt of a short story by Yang Ming from Asian Anthology, edited by Ivy Ngeow. Click here to read an excerpt.

Book Reviews

Meenakshi Malhotra reviews Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan translated by Radha Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Indrashish Banerjee reviews The Tombstone in My Garden: Stories From Nagaland by Temsula  Ao. Click here to read.

Keith Lyons reviews Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1: Stories by Writers from Around the World, edited by Ivy Ngeow. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Why They Killed Gandhi; Unmasking the Ideology and the Conspiracy by Ashok Kumar Pandey. Click here to read.

Special Issues

Imagine… Click here to read our World Poetry Day Special.

Categories
Mission Earth

Mama Calling

By Kenny Peavy

The streetlights would dim. The magic hour when the sun sets over the horizon was settling in. Everything bathed in golden light.

It was the time of day that always beckoned for one last toss of the ball, one last kick, one last run.

Soon I would hear, “Keeeeeeeennnnnyyyyyyy! Keeeeeennnnnyyyyyy!!”

My mama would be shouting from the porch calling me home.

Time to scoot home before dark.

Whatever we happened to be doing that day was coming to its finale.

If we were playing some sort of ball, we’d have one last run. Screaming wildly as we knew it would be the last epic play of the day.

If we were in the woods, we’d scramble down the trail giggling the whole way. Stumbling over tree roots and errant rocks we’d make our way home before it got too dark to follow the path out into the clearing where it would still be bright enough to get home before it was pitch black out.

That was our life as kids. We had no idea it could be any different.

If you had this lifestyle, you were most likely born before the late 1980’s or early 1990’s. Most folks born in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s had a childhood growing up outdoors playing with other children.

Youngsters went to school until about 3 o’clock. After school, you changed clothes as fast as you could standing on one leg without falling over. You would gulp down some cookies and water and scamper out of the door not to be seen until the sun slid below the horizon.

That’s how it was.

We played all sorts of games. Half of them we just made up ourselves like stick ball, jump rope using a water hose, and plenty of variations of a ball game with the core theme to throw a ball up in the air and then pounce fiercely and tackle whoever caught it.

Gangs of youngsters voraciously roamed the neighborhood looking for fun and diversion. Boys and girls alike. Mostly from about age 8 to 12 years old. 

If I recall correctly, the teens were just a bit too cool for our childish games. They had their own club.

If we weren’t playing ball games, we were fishing, exploring trails or building tree huts and forts of all size and manner.

I particularly liked fishing and exploring the pond and nearby creeks. 

I was drawn to anything outdoors in the woods, really. A fascination for learning how nature works grew out of a natural curiosity to discover what might lie under half-decomposed logs, below the leaf litter or straddled on the creek banks.

Those days of endless outdoor play. Searching. Looking. Finding. With boredom as a major component of what spurred us into creating our own games and entertainment.

Those memories are burned in my soul like the Georgia sun on a sweltering August day. 

We were always hot and sweaty. Perpetually looking for adventure. Seeking new ways to play and ultimately connect with each other and the earthy soil where we’d lie down in the shade of a massive oak tree collapsed from exhaustion. 

I’m afraid children don’t get that sort of freedom anymore. Free to explore and roam and play with their peers unfettered, unsupervised and unafraid.

I am hoping we can recapture that. A time for kids to play and explore. 

I wish we could see that it is necessary. We all need to get outside and connect with Nature.

I invite you to listen. Listen carefully and you will hear.

Our mama is calling. Shouting our names, she is calling us home.

She needs us to play in her forests and streams. 

She beckons us to roam around seeking, searching and exploring the natural world.

The magic hour is once again upon us and it’s time to bathe in golden light.

Courtesy: Kenny Peavy

Kenny Peavy is an environmentalist who has a memoir called Young Homeless Professional. He has co-authored a pioneering environmental education handbook, As if the Earth Matters, and recently, an illustrated book, The Box People , was re-released digitally to enable children, young people and their parents and educators anywhere in the world to use the book. He also created Waffle House Prophets: Poems Inspired by Sacred People and Places

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

Categories
Poetry

A Poem for the Earth

By Ms. Mathangi Sunderrajan

A NEW BEGINNING

The dry, cracked lake bed hurts my eyes.
I shade them with my hand and squint 
Against the blinding glare of the fiery incandescence.
I look up to the azure canopy strewn sparsely,
With bright white cotton candies -- wispy, fluffy
Pretty too, but without a hint of a promise.

Mother Earth, not patient nor forbearing, 
But angry and thirsting, has drawn every of drop
Of the elixir, into her withered womb, shrivelled
From the constant sucking of insatiable Greed.
The gnarled tentacles of Her sole Saviours who escaped
The axe have probed the underground feverishly for survival.  
 
Not long ago, the surfeit basin had glistened 
In the soft sunshine of the kinder months.
Now cattle and human stroll the parched, sun-baked bed.
All has run dry akin to my poetic flourish.
Where are the words and the emotions they thrived on?
Has the thirst for the mundane or the roots of apathy taken hold?  

Shouts of laughter break my reverie. Village urchins --
Their dark chocolate skin blending with the bare Earth.
Freed from the confines of dreary, sultry classrooms- 
The arid bed a perfect pitch for 
a game of cricket--
Crude sticks for stumps, a coarse log for a bat,
And a joyous spirit untouched by the dry land and the harsh sun.

I look up again at the bright white cotton candies.
Charming cumulus! A hint of darkening edges?
A promise of an evening thunderstorm.
I picture the urchins frolic in the downpour
And splash in the muddy brown slush.
I hurry home with new insight and hope.

Mrs. Mathangi Sunderrajan has been teaching English for nearly 15 years across various boards- state, central and international. Having been an avid reader all her life, writing poetry has became a hobby , as well as  a means of expression about the things  that touch her, besides being therapeutic.

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

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

Categories
Musings

To Infinity & Beyond!

By Candice Louisa Daquin

Inclusiveness seeks to bridge gaps between peoples and places. Too often our parochial approach in life, leaves us alienated and estranged. But speaking of aliens … in the 2000’s it seems we are at last coming to the point in time where humans will begin to, if not live off world, then visit in greater numbers. Space travel? That’s truly borderless. How exciting to imagine traveling the universe and having our eyes opened to the immense possibilities of space!

Though the elites enjoy space travel, the question remains, will the human race en mass ever truly reach the stars and expand beyond Earth? With this in mind, I posit the following questions;

Is it viable?

Back in the 1950s there was a contagious worldwide fervour to go to space, fuelled by the fantasy of sci-fi writers and films that made this achievement seem imminent. Maybe after the two world wars and the fatigue of poverty contrasted with the hopefulness of better days ahead, we were finally able to dream. In a way, space travel has always been the purview of the dreamer. The Soviets launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik I, in October 1957. The competition and fear between America and the Soviet Union no doubt accelerated the development of space exploration during this time. Additionally, the cessation of world wars made this logistically more possible, and the knowledge gained from those wars was utilised to create space worthy ships. The race to get to space was a Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to develop their respective aerospace abilities and send satellites, space probes, and humans up into space. But the whole world was involved, with astronauts, scientists and researchers working together as much as they competed with each other.

In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin entered Earth’s orbit, in Vostok I, a space craft for one person, becoming the first man ‘in space’. In the 1960s, the US reached the moon (unless you believe that this was faked, in which case, film maker Stanley Kubrick made a faux film of reaching the moon, information on this can be found in the revealing documentary Room 237, by Rodney Ascher made in 2012!). If indeed the moon was reached, it seemed back then, this was just the beginning. There was a palpable obsession with the future. Technology that would get us to space gripped the United States and deeply influenced the cultural artefacts of the time. In 1955, Walt Disney paid consultants who worked on space-related projects to help him design the rocket ship rides of Disney’s Tomorrowland. Songs about space, art and fashion relating to space were all fascinations that beget the drive forward. Stanley Kubrick‘s film The Shining (1980) is supposed to have secret references to the faking of the lunar landing. Whether faked or real, the world believed humans landed on the moon and in a way that’s what counts most — perception.

Then wham! Our predictions of where we’d be by the 2000’s seemed vastly optimistic. For a plethora of reasons, not least, the sheer magnitude and cost of space travel. We were not riding on space elevators or darting around the universe by the 2000’s – so all those old shows predicting we’d be there by now, seemed to be just fantasy. Some people point to the Challenger explosion as the beginning of the end of American at least, space adventure. Cost, danger, the environment, many reasons can be ascribed but do not explain the extreme and total diminishment of interest. Once upon a time people pressed themselves to store fronts to watch old TV’s displaying live rocket takeoffs and now nobody seemed to care if America has abandoned her search for the stars. Was the interest just an epoch in time that has been replaced with other technologies and obsessions? How does this explain other countries who continue to fund and grow their space programmes? How can something as crucial as endeavouring to reach another world, be shelved in favour of the latest iPhone?

Astronauts have spoken out claiming the reason humans have only just returned to the lunar surface since 1973 (China just landed in 2020) isn’t based on science or technical challenges, but budget and political hurdles. This is easy to believe if you consider the American technology that landed them on the moon had less ‘tech’ than a modern-day scientific calculator. I remember going to Houston and seeing the original ‘space control’ and how tiny everything was and wondering how on earth they landed men on the moon and returned them safely. To advance that technology for further space exploration is both expensive, daunting and involves consistent agreement among politicians. Makes you wonder how it was ever made possible! The reason America funded the space race initially was because it was a point of pride (beating the Soviet Union) which as pathetic as that seems, seemed to gear up enough people to make it happen. Without that impetus, politics drowns the scientist and astronauts wish to advance space exploration.

The mother of invention isn’t just necessity, it’s also fantasy. Artists have long influenced inventors – think Star Trek and the low-tech ideas they had, which have been replicated more recently in flip-phones and video-chat. Sci-Fi writers and thinkers have influenced those who seek to go to space as much as anyone else. It could be argued there is no real delineation between fiction and reality in this case, owing to their mutual influence. If we could create a lunar base, scientists believe this base could evolve into a fuelling point for future further-flung missions into deep space. It could also lead to the creation of improved space telescopes and eventually enable us to live on Mars. We need to push ourselves to the next level of exploration – having relied upon ageing technologies that we have not funded sufficiently to advance. Now, billionaires like Elon Musk push for space tourism, rather than chronically underfunded agencies.

One of the biggest impediments, is how to pay and guarantee safety. NASA is under-funded and receives a tiny percentage of the overall US budget. Priorities go to the military and other immediate programs that are deemed more essential. Since this is political, it’s up to the public to generate an interest in space travel. Sadly, even when the Apollo program was at its greatest; after Aldrin and Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, only 53% of Americans said they thought the programme was worth the cost, according to a report in the Insider.With politicians changing too frequently to see through long-term investment space projects, this stymies those who believe space exploration should be prioritised. Buzz Aldrin has been strategising to get to Mars for over 30 years, as he lamented the lack of support space exploration receives. Aldrin and other experts agreed it must involve international cooperation: “A US-led coalition would include Europe, Russia, India, Japan and China, as well as emerging space nations the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and Saudi Arabia,” Aldrin said in an article in The Gaurdian. “We can afford to go to Mars but we must have fiscal discipline. We must focus our limited resources on only those things that are really necessary to get to Mars. In my view, we are currently spending over $6bn on programs we do not need to get to Mars. We need reusability, every element of the system.”

It’s nearly 2022 and we’re still not there en mass or reaching further. We’re told it’s possible but technologically there are hurdles to overcome, not least the effect of long-term space travel on the human body, or the effects of uncontrolled radiation from the (belt) or the methods by which we fuel vessels for such long-haul trips. Space radiation is one of the greatest risks for astronauts. “Determining astronaut health consequences following radiation exposure involve very complex processes,” stated Tony Slaba, Ph.D., NASA research physicist in a government website. “It’s difficult to quantify exactly how radiation is interacting with tissues and cells – and more complicated to quantify and determine what long-term outcomes are going to be in terms of the potential diseases and biological system effects.”

And that’s without touching on putting people into statis or some kind of sleep. We have great ideas and history tells us great ideas eventually become reality, but it’s taken us longer than we anticipated back then. Technologies like magnetic and water shielding have only gone so far and need to be prioritised if we’re to live off-planet. Another real threat, alien microorganisms, prions or diseases humans have zero exposure or immunity to. If we imagine what Covid-19 has wrought, it’s easy to see why bringing ‘space-bugs’ back to earth or exposing astronauts to unknown elements, could be fatal. Finding unbreakable ways of protecting everyone will prevent the science fiction horror stories from coming true. But what’s more likely? Thinking about potential dangers being brought back to Earth, or the excitement of exploration?

What does it bring us if we achieve it?

The people who will benefit from space travel won’t be you and I. It will be the trillionaires who can fund projects and much like early explorers they will exploit natural resources and profit from them. Whether they find planets made of diamonds or copper or other expensive minerals it will be they with their reach, who like plantation and slave owners will come out on top. One can argue this is a replication of the exploitation of the Earth, and those people working for the giant industries. I would agree. Does this mean all space exploration is without value? There is always value to reaching further, but it generally comes at a cost and requires exploiting the masses by the few. Pluses could include sending people off world to ease the burden on the planet as we become overpopulated. We might be able to terra form, and create liveable planets that can sustain life, although predictions suggest this would take lifetimes. One idea has been generation ships; where ships are able to manufacture a way to self-generate power and travel for long distances and time. Those in the ship may live their entire lives onboard and it may be their children or grandchildren who reach the final destination. The idea of sacrifice always exists when considering far-flung exploration, and this was often the case when people got into little wooden boats centuries ago in quest of unknown continents.

Can we learn from the mistakes made by early explorers? Or will we repeat history because it’s our nature? If we cannot create planets that are self-sustaining then we rely upon earth to supply those planets with food and water etc. and that’s less sustainable than not going off world. Potentially if we could make this work, it would be years in the future, but might give the human race the opportunity to significantly grow due to increased resources. Without this, we are stymied by the resources of one planet, which we are using up rapidly. Whether it’s a good thing to increase the human race throughout a galaxy or universe, remains unknown. We could be viewed as cockroaches or explorers, that’s up to the interpreter and our choices should we become a race of space farers.

A 2018 Pew Research Center poll showed the tide is turning, with the majority of voters saying NASA space exploration is necessary but majority want the skies scanned for killer asteroids. Maybe the way we get to space will change, in that we have to think of modern day, pragmatic methods of funding space travel, even if its in the guise of space tourism or tagging on the back of projects to protect the planet against killer asteroids. Maybe it will take another tragedy like an asteroid hitting the Earth to advance our current knowledge, as this seems to be the only way humans operate. We are less inclined to prevent disaster as to respond to it. Sadly, if the environment continues to be eroded, we may have no choice but to seek off-world options, and we don’t want to leave that option till it is too late to act. With dramatic weather pattern changes throughout the world, it’s never been more essential to protect Earth but we’ve not doing a very good job if the oceans and air pollution are anything to go by.

What are the potential down-sides?

It isn’t possible to talk about this without considering the many side-effects of space travel. Many I’ve already touched on but it’s worth really to reconsider history which has shown the penchant of humans to dominate and disrespect other cultures. Humans often consider themselves the ultimate alpha, the top dog, but in truth they could be replaced tomorrow depending on weather and climate and natural disasters, just as the dinosaurs were. We shouldn’t let our hubris make us forget our responsibility to our planet. Some argue space travel is a waste of resources and money because it’s looking beyond us rather than at what we already have. Shouldn’t we be fixing our home-grown problems before we focus on the skies? Others say we should look at the ocean before we consider space. Home grown issues include the devastation human beings have wrought on Earth, which most of us are familiar with.

Given we are reckless with our inventions. They benefit us but not necessarily the natural world around us. Is it any wonder to guess why expanding the human race can be a matter of concern? I’m not one who believes humans are the apex and that we are entitled to be. I predict one day we’ll give up our throne. But there’s the other side of me filled with the wonder of imagining what is out there. I mean, if space is infinite, which they have agreed upon, that means it never ends, a concept few of us can even understand or relate to. Imagine? Infinity. What does that even mean? When we humans begin-middle-end and everything around us does the same. It’s the true sense of forever, something larger than we will ever be. I’m filled with a fascination for a universe that doesn’t end, how do I wrap my head around that and comprehend the myriad possibilities this entails!

What I do know is if something never ends there literally are eternal possibilities meaning every possible eventuality must occur, because of the law of replication. There are only a certain number of creations that come from a universe containing certain components and those creations if given affinity, will reproduce in varied forms, but also replicate. I think this is where the concept of parallel universes comes from. Rather than a literal slice in time dividing one notion of reality from another similar but not the same version of reality. A universe that has no end, will eventually ‘play out’ every scenario, a little like you could crack any code if you had long enough to go through the permeations – but we don’t have time, so we don’t do that. The universe, however, does have time, infinite, so all that can be created will be, and all that has been created (including us) will be created (again) in shades of similarity. This I believe is where we get the concept of a parallel universe, although that’s not quite what it is.

If we add to this the concept of space and time, how time is not a set notion but rather, a perception based on humanity, the same goes for our understanding of the material world. In other words, we’re limited by our own physical presence and lifespan in our understanding of what is beyond us. For those like Steven Hawkins or Ashwin Vasavada (Project Scientist for NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity, in charge of a team of 500 researchers), they can see beyond what is literal and imagine like any great thinker, beyond what we know and assume, and extrapolate. This extrapolation includes quantum physics and the breaking away from normal modes of thinking to include things we’re only beginning to understand.

If time is not mutable, if concepts of reality really don’t exist as we assumed they did, then it throws everything into question. Is what we perceive as reality even remotely real? Or just a flawed, human-centric bias? And if the latter, the universe’s secrets are closed to the limitations of our minds? This is why some who have taken psychedelic drugs have said, sometimes the doorways of perception (Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, written about his experiences with mescaline in May 1953) must be opened differently. Huxley was in turn influenced by the poet William Blake who wrote: “If the doors of perception were cleansed then everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.”

Science, logic, mathematics, will probably provide us with many answers but in order for us, as sentient but limited-sentient beings, to evolve perceptively, we may need a further key to elucidate things beyond subjective perception. Some evaluation of psychedelic drugs as facilitators of mystical insight with great potential benefits for science could be that missing link.

Having read a great deal of science fiction, I wonder if I would think like this had the ideas not been implanted by some of those great science fiction tomes and operas. I suspect we build on what we learn, so nothing is entirely original, but in building on others, we may come closer to answers than if we operated in a vacuum. This is also true with making science fiction a reality. But just as our urge is to explore, we should be mindful of past mistakes as a race (human) and not repeat the colonialist model that only caused pain. Otherwise, life could be no more than a petri dish with us experimenter or experimented upon. There is more to life than conquer or absolute knowledge. There is the humility of experience and growing from it, which is something we often diminish. Perhaps spirituality and hard science are not after all, so incompatible.

Will it actually happen?

The development of nuclear-thermic powered propulsion systems to enable long-haul space-flight is essential to reduce crews journey time and make travel to Mars and beyond realistic. Heat shields to ensure landing is safer on unknown planets, would cut down on landing fatalities. Next generation space suits that are flexible and livable would allow explorers to spend more time in their suits than the suits of old that were not invented for long term use. There would also need to be a nuclear fusion style power system that enabled those landing on planets, to tap into power whilst on planet, and not fear running out. Radio systems used currently, can take up to nine years to send transmissions from say, Mars to Earth, so the development of technology like lasers to send information and communications rapidly would be essential. Scientists like Sharmila Bhattacharya (Director of Research in the Biomodel Performance Laboratory of the Space Bio-sciences Division, NASA) are spending decades researching the effects of the human body in space to understand how to survive, even thrive in space.

I’d love to think our progeny will reach space in a way we have yet to. Why? Because there is something fantastic about imagining us getting off-world and exploring. I think human beings are innately curious but like cats, their curiosity can be destructive. I would like a more utopian future, where we learn from prior mistakes and if we do reach space, we do so ethically. I don’t know if that’s possible, but anything less will be just another belching coal mine, suffocating those who work in it and those who live around it and that is not a dream I share.

Why is going to space so bewitching when we have unexplored oceans that we’re contaminating rather than exploring (Eight million metric tons: That’s how much plastic we dump into the oceans each year. That’s about 17.6 billion pounds — or the equivalent of nearly 57,000 blue whales — every single year. By 2050, ocean plastic will outweigh all of the ocean’s fish.). Without the ocean, the planet dies Is space travel selfish when starving people here on Earth need immediate help rather than pouring money into space flights that are at this time, only for the privileged? I think we all share a bigger dream of being ‘more’ than simply Earthlings. If a God exists maybe they don’t want us to go beyond these confines, or maybe they do. If a God doesn’t exist, then it seems obvious we’d want to go as far as we could, because again, this is our nature. It’s how we do it. And if we do it because we’ve ruined this planet, that’s a pretty good determinant that we’re going to make the same mistakes in space.  

Finally, is it necessary?

This is perhaps the most important question because we do a lot of things that are not strictly speaking necessary. Ever noticed how when someone gets money, they spend a lot of it on ‘unnecessary’ things? Why don’t some of these uber-rich people put money into worthy causes with the same intensity as frivolous? Why do those with money often need more? Why is the accumulation of material gain, so addictive? All this relates to a bigger question, a moral question. What is necessary versus what is not? For a rich person they go well beyond what is necessary in an ordinary sense because their wealth gives them more opportunity. Interestingly those who win the lottery are often said to be less happy after winning than before. Perhaps money is a double-edged sword. There is something to be said for adversity and earning our own way in the world, and a realistic measure. A bit like when you spoil and ruin a child because you indulged them and they no longer have a sense of the true worth of things.

We are very entitled when we get into those vaunted positions and perhaps things we think are necessary, are not. So how do we decide? Is it right for us to be a moral judge and tell others their dreams and excesses are not allowed? Realistically we could never control excess, so it’s not an option. There will always be people who live on different levels and have excesses the ordinary person cannot imagine. Those people may use up the resources we have to share, in greater quantity, which is bad. Or they may inadvertently propel our collective aspirations further. By having some of us who are capable of making dreams come true, the rest of us are swept along by the excess and the dream. In this sense, dreams are necessary, as they give us all something to aspire to, even if we may not literally be the one possessing the outcome of the dream.

I think it is necessary to have aspiration and fanciful dreams that aren’t strictly speaking practical or entirely pragmatic. Sometimes we just want to dream bigger than we are, because we know we are all going to die eventually, and we want something astounding. For some of us this may be God, for others it may be space (or it may be both). Without this, we revert back to the star gazers of the past, who probably also hoped their progeny would reach those stars but didn’t have the means to make it come true themselves. If you have the means, maybe you should use them, just as if you have the ability to invent and conceptualise, you do so. Maybe it’s an intrinsic collective wish that we should not neglect, by being entirely sensible. Maybe we won’t save the planet by aiming for the stars, but we might find a little magic.

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
Essay

Corporations are Human Creations. We Can’t Let Them Threaten our Survival

By David Korten

We live in a world in extreme crisis. By the estimates of the Global Footprint Network, the human species currently consumes at a rate 1.7 times what Earth’s regenerative systems can sustain. Yet billions of people face a daily struggle for survival that strips them of happiness and fulfillment of their human potential.

A growing concentration of financial wealth puts ever more political power in the hands of fewer and fewer people. According to Oxfam, twenty-six billionaires now hold personal financial assets greater than those of the poorest half of humanity (3.9 billion people).

This rapidly accelerating environmental and social crisis is a direct and predictable consequence of global rules that facilitate a concentration of economic and political power in corporations — rules that provide minimum accountability for the consequences of how they use that power to monopolize markets, evade taxes, and operate in whatever place offers the cheapest labor and least environmental protections.

As Allen White has correctly noted, appeals to corporations to exercise conscientious self-regulation do not work. The reason is simple. Mentally healthy living humans have a conscience. Corporations are constructs of law. They have no conscience beyond whatever responsibilities the law may require of them — backed by strict enforcement.

Corporations that are under the control of individual humans — rather than the financial markets — may act responsibly when those individuals possess a deep concern for the common good. Such corporations, however, are rare — at least among those of any consequential size.

Most large corporations are captives of financial markets that drive the pursuit of short-term financial gain with no concern for the social or environmental consequences. Not only do they fail to serve the common good, but they are also driving us all toward civilizational collapse. Indeed, they are driving us toward human self-extinction.

These conditions create an imperative for urgent structural change. Fortunately, corporations are entirely human creations. Indeed, there is no equivalent in nature. If they do not serve our needs, humans have both the right and the means to change — even eliminate — them.

Corporate purpose

Allen White notes there was a time in the early United States when corporations were chartered only for a specific length of time to fulfill a designated public purpose, such as to build a bridge or a canal. The former colonies had fought a brutal war to gain their freedom from the abuses of imperial rule, including the state-sanctioned monopoly power of the British East India Company. They were acutely aware of the potentials for abuse of corporate power, and they wanted none of it.

Despite that early public awareness, corporate interests have been able to mount a relentless drive for power that has, over time, reduced US democracy to little more than an aspiration. Indeed, the United States has become a global driver of the processes by which global corporations pursue with impunity the destruction of Earth’s capacity to support life. And ironically, they do so for the primary purpose of growing the fortunes of billionaires.

It is worth remembering that a corporation exists only when a government has issued a charter. There is no legitimate reason for any democratically accountable government to issue a corporate charter other than to serve a public purpose. Similarly, there is no legitimate reason why a corporation chartered by one government jurisdiction has any inherent right thereby to do business in any other jurisdiction unless granted that privilege by the people of that jurisdiction through their government.

That current law contradicts these simple truths is a consequence of corporate interests’ ability to manipulate the legal system.

Current rules governing corporate conduct encourage and reward what should be treated as criminal behavior. Consider the following examples:

1. They allow corporations to reap the rewards of their decisions without bearing the full costs. For example, when they evade paying taxes, they evade paying their fair share of the costs of infrastructure, education, or other essentials of doing business.

2. They allow the corporation to assess value only in terms of financial costs and returns, thus ignoring the need to secure the health of Earth’s regenerative systems on which all life depends.

3. They allow corporations to use their enormous financial resources and centralized decision-making to shape public opinion and pressure politicians to assure that laws favor corporate interests instead of public interests.

Calls for corporate responsibility generally assume that those who work for corporations, especially top management, are free to exercise moral responsibility on behalf of the corporation should they choose to do so. This ignores an important reality. Unless they own the corporation, those who lead a corporation only appear to be in charge. They serve only at the pleasure of financiers who compete for control of any corporation that is not taking full advantage of opportunities to maximize profits – which often means externalizing costs.

Business in service to community

Science is coming to recognize what many indigenous people have long understood: life exists – can only exist – in diverse communities of living beings that self-organize to create and maintain the conditions of their own existence. The concept is captured by the South African term ubuntu, which translates to “I am because we are.”

This basic frame of how life organizes is demonstrated in a very personal way by the human body. For each of us, our body consists of tens of trillions of cells and micro-organisms that self-organize beyond our conscious awareness to create and maintain the vessel of our consciousness and the vehicle of our agency. On a far grander scale, the countless living organisms that comprise Earth’s community of life similarly self-organize to create the conditions on this planet essential to life’s existence.

The purpose of all human institutions—including corporations—must be to serve human well-being and the health of the planet on which we all depend.

Trying to set and enforce rules at a global level to force transnational corporations to serve the people and planet they were created and designed to exploit would be an exercise as futile as a call for voluntary responsibility. Any global institution created to implement such rules will be subject to nearly instant co-option by the very corporations it is created to control.

A better solution is to break up transnational corporations and restructure them in ways that assure community accountability. How this might be done to best serve the well-being of people and Earth is a topic worthy of serious discussion, with implications well beyond the corporation.

With few exceptions, humans have fallen into a pattern of organizing around hierarchical institutions that centralize power. Capitalism vs. socialism is a false choice specifically because both, as currently understood and practiced, centralize rather than distribute power. Thus, they diminish local control and responsibility and suppress essential local adaptation to changing local conditions. Electing the leaders who head those institutions is only a partial corrective.

Our challenge in learning to function as a global society dependent on the health of a living Earth is to learn to organize as life organizes – within holonic structures that self-organize from the bottom up in response to constantly changing local conditions, with the support of higher system levels. It is a frame for which we barely have the language needed for a coherent discussion. Yet it is the way that life has organized since life first emerged. And it is the way we must now learn to organize.

The closest human approximations would probably be the organizational forms common to most indigenous societies. In the business sector of contemporary societies, they might be the varied forms of cooperative organization based on cooperative ownership.

The work of developing creative options would be a fitting challenge for schools of management interested in creating organizational models for the new human civilization we must now create together.

Dr. David Korten is the author of Agenda for a New EconomyThe Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World. He is board chair of YES! Magazine, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, a founding board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, president of the Living Economies Forum, and a member of the Club of Rome. He holds MBA and PhD degrees from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and served on the faculty of the Harvard Business School.

First Published in Countercurrent.org