Categories
Independence Day

Born Free

Born free
As free as the wind blows
As free as the grass grows
Born free to follow your heart
-- Born Free by Andy Williams

These are lines from a song by Andy Williams, a pop icon whose song was the theme song in Born Free, a film made in 1966 about a lion cub bred in captivity, who had to be trained to live free even though she was born free. Does that apply to all living creatures, including humans? What is freedom? And who is free? Does political independence mean ultimate freedom?

We celebrate political ‘freedom’ of countries as national or independence days. Sometimes, as in the case of India and Pakistan, independent nationhood can be laced with bloodshed and grief . Two new countries were born of a single colonial India in the August of 1947. Pakistan awoke as a country on the midnight of 14th August and India called the late hour 15th August. Nehru’s speech has become an iconic one: “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge… At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom…”

Common people while crossing the boundary line between the two new nations lost their lives, homes and lands over the mob violence. The resentment still simmers in a few hearts. In an attempt to find peace and amity, we have put forward a combined selection of writing from across borders, words devoid of angst or hate, words that look for commonality and harmony.

Interview

Goutam Ghose. Courtesy: Creative Commons

In Conversation with Goutam Ghose, multiple award-winning filmmaker, writer, actor discusses his films, film-books and journey as a humanitarian artiste who makes cross cultural films across all boundaries. Click here to read.

Poetry

Akbar Barkzai’s Songs of Freedom translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Poems by Jaydeep Sarangi: Click here to read

For Danish Siddiqui by Sutputra Radheye: Click here to read.

The Equalizer by Nazrul translated from Bengali to English by Shahriyer Hossain Shetu from Sammyabadi. Click here to read.

Deliverance by Tagore translated from Bengali to English from Tran (Sanchayita). Click here to read.

Non-Fiction

In The Idea of India: Bharata Bhagya Bidhata – The Making of a Motherland Anasuya Bhar explores the history around the National Anthem of India which started as a song, composed by Tagore. Only the first paragraph of the whole song in Bengali was adapted as the National Anthem. We include the translations of the complete song both by Tagore and by Aruna Chakravarti. Click here to read.

In An August Account of ‘Quit India’ Movement Ratnottama Sengupta,  translates from Bengali the excerpts recorded by Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), who witnessed an upsurge in the wake of the Quit India Movement. Click here to read.

Temples & Mosques by Nazrul has been translated by Sohana Manzoor. Click here to read.

In Seventy-four Years After Independence…“Mil ke rahe gi Azadi” (We will get our Freedom), Aysha Baqir muses on Pakistani women’s role in the independence movement and their current state. Click here to read.

 In 2147 without Borders, Devraj Singh Kalsi meanders over Partitions, borders and love stories and looks for an amicable solution in a happier future. Click here to read.

Fiction

Bundu, Consoler of the Rich is a story based on memories of Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by Amna Ali. Click here to read.

In The Best Word, Maliha Iqbal explores the impact of wars in a spine chilling narrative, journeying through a range of emotions. Click here to read.

In Do Not Go!, Moazzam Sheikh explores dementia, giving us a glimpse of the lives of Asian immigrants in America. Click here to read.

In The Chained Man Who Wished to be Free, Sunil Sharma explores freedom and democracy versus conventions. We are left wondering is this the freedom we fought for? Click here to read. 

Categories
Index

Borderless August 2021

Editorial

Triumph of the Human Spirit… Click here to read.

Interviews

Goutam Ghose, multiple award-winning filmmaker, writer, actor discusses his films, film-books and journey as a humanitarian artiste. Click here to read.

Dr Kirpal Singh, a well-known poet and academic from Singapore, talks of his life and times through colonial rule, as part of independent Malaya, and the current Singapore. Click here to read.

Translations

Bundu, Consoler of the Rich

A story based on memories of Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by Amna Ali. Click here to read.

Akbar Barakzai’s Songs of Freedom

Akbar Barakzai’s poetry translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

An August Account of ‘Quit India’ Movement

Ratnottama Sengupta translates from Bengali the excerpts recorded by Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), who witnessed an upsurge in the wake of the Quit India Movement, part of India’s struggle against colonial rule. Click here to read.

Froth

A short story by Dev Kumari Thapa, translated from Nepali by Mahesh Paudyal. Click here to read.

Mother’s Birthday Dinner Table

Ihlwha Choi translates his own poem set in Santiniketan from Korean to English. Click here to read.

Deliverance by Tagore

Tran’ by Tagore translated from Bengali to English by Mitali Chakravarty, art and editing by Sohana Manzoor for Borderless Journal. Click here to read.

Essays

The Idea of India: Bharata Bhagya Bidhata – The Making of a Motherland

Anasuya Bhar explores the history of the National Anthem of India, composed by Tagore in Bengali and translated only by the poet himself and by Aruna Chakravarti. Click here to read.

A Life Well-Lived

Candice Louisa Daquin discusses the concepts of a life well-lived. Click here to read.

Once Upon a Time in Burma: Land of a Thousand Pagodas

John Herlihy explores the magnificent sites of Mandalay in company of a Slovenian friend in the first episode of his quartet on his Myanmar. Click here to read.

Bhaskar’s Corner

In Tagore & Odisha, Bhaskar Parichha explores Tagore’s interactions with Odisha, his impact on their culture and the impact of their culture on him. Click here to read

Poetry

Click on the names to read the poems

Jaydeep Sarangi, Joan McNerney, Vandana Sharma Michael Lee Johnson, Priyanka Panwar, Mihaela Melnic, Ryan Quinn FlanaganKirpal Singh, Sutputra Radheye, John Linwood Grant, Julian Matthews, Malachi Edwin Vethamani, Rhys Hughes, Rachel Jayan, Jay Nicholls, Jared Carter

Nature’s Musings

Becoming Marco Polo: Poetry and photography by Penny Wilkes

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Huges

In Dinosaurs in France, Rhys Hughes explores more than tall tales; perhaps, the passage of sense of humour in our lives. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Me and Mr Lowry’s Clown

Mike Smith’s nostalgia about artist Pat Cooke (1935-2000) takes us back to England in the last century. Click here to read.

Seventy-four Years After Independence…

“Mil ke rahe gi Azadi” (We will get our Freedom) by Aysha Baqir muses on Pakistani women’s role in the independence movement and their current state. Click here to read.

The Road to Freedom

Kanchan Dhar explores personal freedom. Click here to read.

The Coupon

Niles Reddick tells us how Covid and supermarkets combined into a discount coupon for him. Click here to read.

Musings of a copywriter

 In 2147 without Borders, Devraj Singh Kalsi meanders over Partitions, borders and love stories. Click here to read.

Stories

Rituals in the Garden

Marcelo Medone discusses motherhood, aging and loss in this poignant flash fiction from Argentina. Click here to read.

The Best Word

Maliha Iqbal explores the impact of wars in a spine chilling narrative, journeying through a range of emotions. Click here to read.

Do Not Go!

Moazzam Sheikh explores dementia, giving us a glimpse of the lives of Asian immigrants in America. Click here to read.

The Protests Outside

Steve Ogah talks of trauma faced by riot victims in Nigeria. Click here to read.

Brother Felix’s Ward

Malachi Edwin Vethamani takes us to an exploration of faiths and borders. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In The Chained Man Who Wished to be Free, Sunil Sharma explores freedom and democracy versus conventions. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

Beyond The Himalayas by Goutam Ghose, based on a five-part documentary taking us on a journey along the silk route exploring parts of Pakistan and China. Click here to read.

Our Home in Myanmar – Four years in Yangon by Jessica Muddit, a first hand account of a journalist in Burma. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

A review by Meenakshi Malhotra of Somdatta Mandal’s The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs, a translation from a conglomeration of writings from all the Maestro’s caregivers. Click here to read.

A review by Keith Lyons of Jessica Muddit’s Our Home in Myanmar – Four years in Yangon. Click here to read.

A review by Rakhi Dalal of Maithreyi Karnoor’s Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends. Click here to read.

A review by Bhaskar Parichha of Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves. Click here to read.

Categories
Editorial

Triumph of the Human Spirit

On August 8th 2021, the chief of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, pointed out during the closing ceremony that these games were “unprecedented” and brought messages of “hope, solidarity and peace” into a world torn with the desolation generated by the pandemic. It was a victory of the human spirit again, a precursor of what is to come. That the Japanese could get over their pandemic wrought hurdles, just as they did post the nuclear disasters wrought by the Second World War and by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami at Fukushimaya, to host something as spectacular and inspiring as these international games reflects, as the commentators contended, a spirit of ‘harmony and humility’. The last song performed by many youngsters seemed to dwell on stars in the sky — not only were the athletes and organisers the stars but this also reminded of unexplored frontiers that beckon mankind, the space.What a wonderful thing it was to see people give their best and unite under the banner of sports to bring messages of survival and glimpses of a future we can all share as human beings! Our way of doing things might have to evolve but we will always move forward as a species to thrive and expand beyond the known frontiers.

One such explorer of yet unknown frontiers who mingles the historic with the contemporary, Goutam Ghose, an award-winning filmmaker and writer, has honoured our pages with an extensive interview showing us how art and harmony can weave lores that can help mankind survive. This is reinforced by the other interview with Singaporean academic, Dr Kirpal Singh, whose poetry reflects his convictions of a better world. With our intelligence, we can redefine processes that hold us back and grind our spirits to dust — be it the conventional ‘isms’ or norms that restrict our movement forward – just as Tagore says in the poem, we have translated this time, ‘Deliverance’.

…On this auspicious dawn,
Let us hold our heads high in the infinite sky 
Amidst the light of bounteousness and the heady breeze of freedom.

As the Kobiguru mentioned earlier in the poem, the factors that oppress could be societal, political, or economic. Could they perhaps even be the fetters put on us by the prescribed preconceived definition of manmade concepts like ‘freedom’ itself? Freedom can be interpreted differently by multiple voices.

This month, on our pages, ‘freedom’ has found multiple interpretations in myriad of ways — each voice visualising a different dream; each dream adding value to the idea of human progress. We have discussions and stories on freedom from Nigeria, Argentina, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia and more. Strangely enough, August holds multiple independence/ national days that are always for some reason seen as days of being ‘freed’ by many — at least from oppression. But is that true?

From Malaysia, Julian Matthews and Malachi Edwin Vethamani cry out against societal, religious and political bindings – quite a powerful outcry at that with a story and poems. Akbar Barakzai continues his quest with three poems around ideas of freedom translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Jaydeep Sarangi and Joan Mcnerny pick up these reverberations of freedom, each defining it in different ways through poetry.

Jared Carter takes us back to his childhood with nostalgic verses. Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Michael Lee Johnson, Vandana Sharma and many more sing to us with their lines. Rhys Hughes has of course humour in verse that makes us smile as does Jay Nicholls who continues with her story-poems on Pirate Blacktarn – fabulous pieces all of them. The sport of hummingbirds and cats among jacaranda trees is caught in words and photographs by Penny Wilkes in her Nature’s Musings. A poetic tribute to Danish Siddiqui by young Sutputra Radheye rings with admiration for the Pulitzer prize-winning photographer who met his untimely end last month on 16th while at work in Afghanistan, covering a skirmish between Taliban and Afghanistan security forces. John Linwood Grant takes up interesting issues in his poetry which brings me back to ‘freedom’ from colonial regimes, perhaps one of the most popular themes for writers.

Indo-Pak independence, celebrated now on 14th (Pakistan) and 15th August (India), reflects not only the violence of the Partition which dislocated and killed millions historically but also the trauma caused by the event. Capturing this trauma is a short story based on memories of Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by his daughter, Amna Ali. Ratnottama Sengupta translates from the diary of Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), a woman’s voice from the past that empathises with the subjugated who were subdued yet again after an upsurge of violence during the Quit India Movement (1942) against the colonials. Sinha contends that though the movement frittered away, the colonials were left with an after-taste of people hankering for self-rule. A thought-provoking short story by Sunil Sharma explores the results of self-rule in independent India.

Alluding to Jinnah’s vision for women, Aysha Baqir muses emotionally about the goals that remain yet to be fulfilled 74 years after independence. Moazzam Sheikh’s story of immigrants explores dementia, giving us a glimpse of the lives of Asian immigrants in America, immigrants who had to find a new home despite independence. Was this the freedom they dreamt of — all those who fought against various oppressive regimes or colonialism?

Tagore’s lyrics might procure a few ideas on freedom, especially in the song that India calls its National Anthem. Anasuya Bhar assays around the history that surrounds the National Anthem of India, composed by Tagore in Bengali and translated to English by the poet himself and more recently, only by Aruna Chakravarti. We also carry Dr Chakravarti’s translation of the National Anthem in the essay. Reflecting on the politics of Partition and romance is a lighter piece by Devraj Singh Kalsi which says much. ‘Dinos in France’ by Rhys Hughes and Neil Reddick’s ‘The Coupon’ have tongue-in-cheek humour from two sides of the Atlantic.

A coming-of-age story has been translated from Nepali by Mahesh Paudyal – a story by a popular author, Dev Kumari Thapa – our first Nepali prose piece.  We start a four-part travelogue by John Herlihy, a travel writer, on Myanmar, a country which has recently been much in the news with its fight for surviving with democracy taking ascendency over the pandemic and leaving the people bereft of what we take for granted.

Candice Louisa Daquin discusses a life well-lived in a thought provoking essay, in which she draws lessons from her mother as do Korean poet, Ihlwha Choi, and Argentinian writer, Marcelo Medone. Maybe, mothers and freedom draw similar emotions, of blind love and adulation. They seem to be connected in some strange way with terms like motherland and mother tongue used in common parlance.

We have two book excerpts this time: one from Beyond the Himalayas by the multi-faceted, feted and awarded filmmaker we have interviewed, Goutam Ghose, reflecting on how much effort went in to make a trip beyond boundaries drawn by what Tagore called “narrow domestic walls”. We carry a second book excerpt this time, from Jessica Muddit’s Our Home in Myanmar – Four years in Yangon. Keith Lyons has reviewed this book too. If you are interested in freedom and democracy, this sounds like a must read.

Maithreyi Karnoor’s Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends, is a fiction that seems to redefine norms by what Rakhi Dalal suggests in her review. Bhaskar Parichha has picked a book that many of us have been curious about, Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves. Parichha is of the opinion,Elevated or chastised, exonerated or condemned, the perturbation unworldly women in India face is that they have never been treated as equal to men as spiritual leaders. This lack of equality finds its roots not only in sociological and cultural systems, but more particularly at the levels of consciousness upon which spirituality and attitudes are finally based.”One wonders if this is conclusive for all ‘unworldly women’ in India only or is it a worldwide phenomenon or is it true only for those who are tied to a particular ethos within the geographical concept of India? The book reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra,  Somdatta Mandal’s The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs, dwells on the fierce independence of the early twentieth century women caregivers of the maestro from Bengal. These women did not look for approval or acceptance but made their own rules as did Jnadanandini, Tagore’s sister-in-law. Bhaskar Parichha has also added to our Tagore lore with his essay on Tagore in Odisha.

As usual, we have given you a peek into some of our content. There is more, which we leave for our wonderful readers to uncover. We thank all the readers, our fantastic contributors and the outstanding Borderless team that helps the journal thrive drawing in the best of writers.

I wish you all a happy August as many of the countries try to move towards a new normal.

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal, August 2021

Categories
Excerpt Independence Day

Beyond The Himalayas by Goutam Ghose

Title: Beyond the Himalayas: Journeying Through the Silk Route

Author: Goutam Ghose

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Major Hari Ahluwalia was a young officer in the Indian Army when he climbed Everest in 1965. He was a member of the first Indian expedition to successfully scale the mountain and one of the first to reach the summit. Our then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, awarded him India’s coveted Arjuna Award and India had a new national hero. But within two months of receiving the award, he was wounded in combat along the India-Pakistan border and permanently disabled. Despite the setback, Hari continued organizing mountaineering expeditions and writing books about his life and travels.

It was as the chairman of the Youth Exploring Society of India that he invited me to film an expedition he was planning along an ancient trade route connecting India with Central Asia and Tibet. But most of the route lay within modern China. This would be the first time any group was being allowed to make a journey with its own vehicles – a diplomatic breakthrough and a personal triumph for Hari.

In 1962, a border dispute between India and China had erupted into a brief war which left the two countries estranged  for the next thirty years. In the two most populous nations of the world, a generation of young people had grown up, knowing little or nothing about one another.

Hari’s idea was to encourage peaceful dialogue between India and her northern neighbour through new cultural exchanges. In Beijing, he met with the president of the Disabled Federation, who, like Hari, is confined to a wheelchair. As it happened, he is also the son of China’s leader, Chairman Deng Xiaoping, and is thus perfectly placed to help Hari fulfil his dream.

I live in Calcutta and I make films about India. My country was run by the British for 200 years, yet it preserves an ancient culture that conditions every aspect of its daily life. Because we live in a world of our own, separated from the north by politics and geography, I have always wanted to see what lay just a few hundred miles from me on the other side of the mountains. Excited about Hari’s proposal, I abandoned my new idea for a feature film and began to think about journeying along the ancient Silk Road.

The first place I decided to visit was The Asiatic Society. Founded by Sir William Jones in 1784, the society pioneered the rediscovery of Asia and its past. All the early expeditions were organized and monitored from here. I was suddenly filled with curiosity and an impetuous desire to delve into all the rare books and manuscripts on its shelves. The Travels of Marco Polo describe the wonders of the Silk Road – cities far greater than his own and a world more magnificent than anything imagined by the insular backward Europe of the thirteenth century. But he was a late traveller. The Silk Route was one of the greatest trade routes in history and men had already been travelling there for four thousand years. Before sea routes were discovered in the fifteenth century, this trans-Asian highway was the sole link between the east and the west. It ran from Xi’an in China all the way to the Mediterranean. There were, moreover, many tributaries to the mighty river, not least of which were caravan routes across the Himalayan mountain range between India and Central Asia.

A facsimile of Hari’s letter to me –

Dear Goutam,

You will be delighted to know that we now have all our permissions. Because of the current turmoil in Afghanistan, we cannot drive through the Khyber Pass into the Central Asia as planned. All the members of the expedition including the jeeps and equipment will be flown from Delhi to Uzbekistan on the 18th of May.

I believe I told you about my London-based friend Michael, who is a filmmaker with a longstanding interest in Buddhism. He has wanted to make this trip for a long time and I’m sure he will be immensely helpful to you. Do please get in touch with him.

As per Hari’s suggestion I met Michael Haggiag in his London home. Michael was preparing for the trip with great excitement. I filmed him and his wife there.

A conversation between Michael and his wife Katherine in London –

Katherine – ‘Want some tea?’

Michael thanks her. ‘This is what Marco Polo had to say about the women of Hami and their very nice customs.

‘I give you my word – when a stranger comes to a house here to seek hospitality, he receives a very warm welcome.

The host makes his wife do everything the guest wishes and he leaves the house and goes about his own business and stays away for two or three days. Meanwhile, the guest stays with his wife in the house and does what he will with her – lying with her in one bed, just as if she was his own wife, and they lead a gay life together. The women are beautiful and vivacious and always ready to oblige.

‘I am not sending you there.’

‘No? It’s also very hot. It’s 40˚C in the shade – that’s over 100˚F. They also have the largest cockroaches.’

‘Sounds like it’s terrible out there!’

‘Anyway, I’m preparing for the trip. Look at these wonderful books here … this is Bukhara and this, Samarkand … these are some really old pictures of the way it was in the 1890s!’

‘Beautiful places!’

‘Do you realize how long Hari had to wait for permission for this? He started organizing his expedition eight years ago and he just got confirmation now. And if we don’t go within the next three weeks, we can’t go at all.’

The Armada starts on its journey. Courtesy: Extracted with permission from Beyond The Himalayas: Journeying Through The Silk Route, by Goutam Ghose (published by Niyogi Books)
Guri Amir mausoleum, Samarkand.Courtesy: Extracted with permission from Beyond The Himalayas: Journeying Through The Silk Route, by Goutam Ghose (published by Niyogi Books)
Goutam Ghose with the two Chinese. Courtesy: Extracted with permission from Beyond The Himalayas: Journeying Through The Silk Route, by Goutam Ghose (published by Niyogi Books)

About the Book: Filmmaker Goutam Ghose was part of the Central Asian expedition organised by Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia in 1994, the first of its kind. They undertook an arduous 14,000 km journey through Central Asia, China and Tibet tracing the ancient trade route. Ghose captured this once-in-a-lifetime adventure as a five-part series in his film Beyond the Himalayas (1996). This film book is a pictorial chronicle of Ghose’s incredible experience on the Silk Route. Much of the text is the narration of the original soundtrack of the series which has been adapted for the benefit of book readers. His lens captures breathtaking visuals of a less travelled road. The tapestry of history, travel anecdotes, local legends and titanic characters lend a cinematic quality to the whole narrative. The fabled past and the present are intercut by cinematic jumps in this fascinating record of an enduring memory in the collective consciousness of the history of mankind.

Goutam Ghose launched into documentaries, group theatre and photo journalism in 1973. His documentary, Hungry Autumn won him the main award at the Oberhausen Film Festival. Since then Ghose has produced several documentaries on personalities like Ustad Bismillah Khan, Satyajit Ray and HH Dalai Lama, in addition to ten feature films and a number of advertisement, corporate and short films. He has won fifteen National Awards, besides Filmfare Awards and a number of international awards like Silver Balloon, Nantes Film Festival, UNESCO Award at Venice, Golden Semurg at Tashkent, Fipresci Award and Red Cross Award at Verna Film Festival. He is the only Indian to win the coveted Vittori Di Sica Award and was awarded the Knighthood of the Star of Italian Solidarity in 2008.

Click here to read Goutam Ghose’s interview.

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Categories
Independence Day Interview

In Conversation with Goutam Ghose

Goutam Ghose: Photo provided by Niyogy Books

Goutam Ghose is a well-known award-winning film director, scriptwriter and even actor. He has been the only Indian to have received the Vittorio Di Sica Award from Italy in 1997 and was awarded the Knighthood of the Star of the Italian Solidarity in July 2006. Ghose has won fifteen National Awards, besides Filmfare Awards and a number of international awards like Silver Balloon, Nantes Film Festival, UNESCO Award at Venice, Golden Semurg at Tashkent, Fipresci Award and Red Cross Award at Verna Film Festival.

But did you know he has also authored a number of books? Just as he bridges borders with his poetic films that touch the human heart with a range of emotions, he does the same with his books. He takes up burning issues with artistry, never inciting with rage or hatred but conveying by his skill with the camera and words. He has created a world without borders with his transcontinental outlook and approach.

His reaction to the Ram Janmabhoomi riots was Moner Manush (2010), a film based on Lalon Fakir’s life, knitting together the best in Muslim and Hindu traditions instead of filming the clashes and the violence. Published in English as The Quest (2013), the book is a powerful dramatisation with pictures from the film. The book, like the film, is also an emotional lesson in humanism. Based on Sunil Gangopadhyay’s novel on Lalon Fakir’s life, the film is beautiful. But the book allowed me to mull over the words, which have been translated by Sankar Sen. It is a book that needs to be read when casteism and religious divides take precedence over humanitarian values. By bringing these songs into translation to readers unfamiliar with Bengali, both Ghose and Sen have opened a world of love and tolerance to new readers, who will hopefully find the time to mull over the wisdom of these songs.

‘What was your caste when you came here,
What caste did you take on arrival, dear,
What would be your caste when it’s time to go -- 
Ponder and tell me if you know.’

-- Translated by Sankar Sen, from The Quest

 His other book that traverses the silk route and journeys through China, Beyond the Himalayas (2019), transcends boundaries and fills the reader with a sense of exhilaration. It is based on his documentary of the same name. Both these recordings of their journey along the silk route are worth viewing and reading. They show humans are the same across all borders. The book, interspersed with lovely pictures of the landscape and mature writing pauses on history at the right junctures. The narration is poetic in both the book and the documentary.

Though Ghose claims that these texts and photographs capture memories of the film, both his books transported me to a different time and space. I saw the films after reading the books, but both were energising, emotionally charged and entertaining. It takes one through different parts of the world and gives a new perspective to a 4000-year-old route. Initiated and organised by Major Hari Singh Ahluwalia and Deng Xiaoping’s son, the travels in Beyond the Himalayas took me across borders to areas I have never visited and now, I hope to visit post pandemic. It acquainted me with cultures that excite. And The Quest reinforced the belief, through the depiction of Lalon’s life, that humanism exists despite the degradations of history. That riots can be calmed with the soothing notes of Lalon’s lyrics, rich in wisdom, would be a win for the human spirit.

Like all great artistes, Ghose speaks in beautiful poetic sentences about concepts that touch the human heart and imagination. In this exclusive, he speaks not just about his film-books, but about the real journey and issues he is facing through the pandemic, including the delay of his film with an Italian male lead and his new short film on the current times, Covid-worn and waiting…

You are a very well-known film director, cinematographer, and music director. You have directed award winning Bollywood and Tollywood movies. Normally books come before films but from two of these films, you have made books. Why did you go in for making books of the films?

I have loved books since my childhood. The shape and form of it, the touch and smell of a book fascinate me. They will never die even if we read on the screen rather than by turning pages of a physical object. A certain sense of the sacred has surrounded books from civilisations’ inception. In cinema, be it fiction or non-fiction, we write a script at the pre-production stage. A film-book is all about times gone by — a book of memories, of both cyclic and linear time. My producer from Bangladesh, Habibur Rehman Khan, had liked the idea of film books and had published three wonderful books on Padma Nodir Majhi (Boatman of the Padma River, filmed in 1993), Moner Manush (filmed in 2010 ) and Shankhachil (Unbound, filmed in 2016) in Bengali. Niyogi books of India has published a beautiful pictorial English version of Moner Manush as The Quest and also Beyond the Himalayas, my journey along the Silk Road. Another lovely film book is Pratikshan’s bilingual centenary tribute to Bismillah Khan (Bismillah in Banaras the film Goutam Ghosh made, 2017).

Is dubbing or subtitling the film not an easier option than doing a film-book?

Well, dubbing or subtitling is for watching a language film, but a film book is meant for reading. It becomes a part of your book collections. I have some wonderful film books published from Europe and United States.

Moner Manush is based on Lalon Fakir’s life and on the novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay. Why did you feel there was a need for a separate book after you made a very powerful film on it?

Lalon Fakir is an eternal savant. Scholars have been doing research on Lalon’s life and philosophy since long. It is heard that Lalon was an illiterate man. But going through the words of his songs and the implied significance, it seems as if he was an erudite scholar tutored in an age-old system of education.  His faith was not guided by any particular religion, rather it could be said to be comprised of the mysticism of Sufi and the love and forgiveness of Vaishnavism and the liberalism of the tantric sect of Buddhism. My film on Lalon fakir is research on this great man aswell. The Bengali film book contains important articles by scholars besides the script, reviews and memoirs.

Do you feel that the message of Moner Manush is relevant in a world beset by not just divides but even a pandemic? Is there something we can learn from the story?

Yes, of course the message of Moner Manush is even more relevant in today’s intolerant world, a world of greed and opportunism. The pandemic has victimised the togetherness of the human race but how can we survive without empathy? I don’t know how good the film is, but Moner Manush will serve as a gospel to those who revere humanity.

Lalon says as his own introduction “I am a human.” How important is that for humankind to see themselves as humans over titles of caste, profession, and economics?

The baul (minstrels in Bengal) community had renounced all recognised institutions of religion and revolted against long established rites, customs and faiths. Breaking down the barriers of the narrow confines of communal faith, they had found a large expanse under the sky which had served as a bountiful meeting place of many religions. Under that open sky, Lalon had found the truth in Humanism.

Lalon dreamt of a borderless world. Do you think adopting his outlook can change the outlook of nations which draw borders between the species? Do you think it is implementable at a personal, national or international level?

I think all mystics believe in borderless space of Earth where all centennial beings live in peace and harmony. But the wheel of time had moved in the direction of Divide and Rule. John Lennon’s Imagine has become the iconic song on the dream of a borderless world. It may have been a failed dream, but I confess it might have been one I shared growing up in India and will cherish till the last breath of my life. Let it be a dream and a wonderful utopia.

Beyond The Himalayas was first a documentary film. How long was it and when was it screened? How many episodes is the film?

Beyond the Himalayas was made as a documentary film during our expedition through the Silk Road in 1994. The final edited version is four-and-a-half hour long. It was shown in Discovery Channel in five parts in the late nineties. A shorter version was screened in BBC as well. The Indian national TV had screened a Hindi version of all five episodes.

The book seems to cover lesser than the documentary. Is that true or do the visuals/ music just seem to impact us more? Why did you leave out Pakistan?

Well watching the film with arresting visuals and absorbing the soundtracks of the trail is a linear viewing of our journey along the fabled Silk Road. It is very, very exciting indeed. But the film is also a journey back in time with many references and anecdotes from history. For instance, while showing the travel through the deadly Taklamakan desert, I referred to Sven Hedin’s(1865-1952) expedition of the region. I quote: ‘The first European to map this desolate region was the Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin. His first expedition in 1895 was very nearly his last.  The local guide supplied enough water for four days in the desert instead of ten requested. When the caravan lost its way, the guide was the first to die. The others became insane with thirst, drinking anything — even Sheep’s blood and camel’s urine. By the fifth day, the men, camels and other livestocks were all dead except for Sven Hedin and one other man. Hedin writes in Through Asia, “If I was doomed to die in the sand, I wanted to be properly attired. I wanted my burial clothes to be both white and clean.” But fate was on its side. Spying the dark green side of an oasis, he dragged himself to safety. “I stood on the brink of a pool with fresh cool water, beautiful water. I drank, drank, drank time after time. Every blood vessel and tissue of my body sucked up the life-giving liquid like a sponge.”’

Here the film-book helps the readers. One can refer back to the time past and time present more deeply to understand time as a metaphor of history.

How many days were you on the road? What was the experience like?

We were out for almost ten weeks covering a distance of 14,000 kms. The journey was fascinating for the entire team. There can be no journey more enchanting than the route we took. The collective trove of memories has made the Silk Road so memorable. We had to negotiate extreme weather conditions in Central Asia and Tibet. In a single day, we experienced two extremes. While negotiating the desert, temperatures rose to 48 degrees Celsius, and by nightfall when we pitched camp at Tianshan mountains, the temperature fell to 2 degrees. The situation is almost like the scenes of Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne — desert to snow in the blink of an eye.

Did you travel through the part of the route Marco Polo used? Did you find it much different from what you had imagined?

Well, the travels of Marco Polo described the wonders of the silk road, cities far greater than his own and a world more significant than anything imagined by the insular backward Europe of the thirteenth century. But he was a late traveller. The silk road was one of the greatest trade routes in history and men had already been travelling along for 4,000 years. Before sea routes were discovered in the fifteenth century, this trans-Asian highway was the sole link between the East and the West. It ran from Xian in China to all the way to the Mediterranean. There were many tributaries to the mighty river, not least of which were caravan routes across the Himalayan mountain range between India and Central Asia.  We could not follow the planned route through Pakistan and Afghanistan to Central Asia via Khyber Pass because of the civil war. The government of India did not want us to take such risks. All the members of the expedition, including the jeeps and equipment, were flown from Delhi to Uzbekistan on 18th May, 1994.

With the silk route being revived, do you think this film has significance?

Xuanzang took back over 600 Sanskrit text. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Yes, the film is still significant because it carries the memories of time. We were the first group of travellers after many, many years to cross three new republics after the collapse of Soviet Union and a vast territory of China. Now, the route is open to tourists, and I was told that many travel packages are available all along the mighty river and its tributaries. I would like to revisit the cauldron once again to understand how those multi-ethnic republics have survived the onslaught of modern times with its regional rivalries, new mafias, and consumerist pressures. I wish the new silk route trade brings peace and harmony in this intolerant world. Travellers today can choose from many trails as we did during our expedition. My favourite was Xuanzang’s (602-664 AD) trail. I quote from my book. “At 27, he set out his pilgrimage until he was 43. Unconvinced by the translations available in China, he sought the true teachings of Buddha in the holy lands of India. He walked alone into the great unknown, crossing the world’s greatest deserts and its highest mountain ranges. He faced death many times and his courage and equanimity impressed kings, bandits and barbarians alike. He lectured at monasteries and debated with learned monks and by the time he reached his destination, his reputation as a great sage had already preceded him. Xuan Zhang was not the only Chinese pilgrim to visit the homeland of Buddhism, but he was the most important. Like a death star that keeps releasing energy for thousands of years, he continues to be a valuable source of knowledge and inspiration.”

You are making a new film I believe rooted in the present pandemic. What is it about? Will you be making that too into a book?

My 2019 film Rahagir or Wayfarer, starring Adil Hussain, Tillotama Som, Neeraj Kabir, had travelled to many festivals and received awards and appreciations but unfortunately, we could not release it in public theatres due to the pandemic. Another multilingual film is also stuck for obvious reasons. I could finish the Italian shoot in January 2020, but the Indian shoot did not happen till date. It is so frustrating.

Meanwhile, I have finished a short film Memories of Time on pandemic days. It is about a happy, cultured couple living in the heart of Kolkata. Like everyone else, they are caught in the claustrophobia of the pandemic and the consequent lockdown. The film travels back and forth in time as they try to navigate through these hard times and search for fresh air and sanity. The film is an exploration of their fears, realisation and going back to nature. It’s from my own experience — how I have navigated 2020 and moving through the course of this pandemic. I think one can really publish a film-book because it has so many elements, the fear of people and the inhuman approach of the human race and then the migrant labours — their terrible conditions, the psychological problem of people confined inside their home and the most importantly, the problem of the children. They are confined as if in a prison. They can’t go to school. They can’t really meet their friends. I think this could be a very, very interesting material for a film-book.

Thank you for giving us your time.

Click here to read an excerpt and see photographs from his book Beyond the Himalayas.

Goutam Ghose: Courtesy: Creative Commons

(This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty)

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Review

‘Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls’

A review of Shankhachil – 2016 Bengali film by Gautam Ghose By Abhinandan Bhattacharya

In the surging ripples of the meandering river one is most likely to hear the symphony of the universe. Does the river understand the definition of state or country borders? Can any force stop the flow of the river or refuse to accept the waters of the river because it flowed in from the other side of the border? The map of the biggest delta in the world has undergone a complete change with the water bodies gradually wiping out many differences set by human beings. The tigers and crocodiles have eaten their way into the geography of the region only to remind their human counterparts that there is more to life than engaging in conflicts on grounds of caste, gender and religion.

Shankhachil, one of the most brilliant Bengali films that I have watched in the recent times, is midwifed into existence from the Indo-Bangladesh dispute after the Partition touching upon the very fabric of the sensitive Hindu-Muslim religious bigotry. Dangling on the philosophy of ‘borderless border’, acclaimed Director Gautam Ghose has wonderfully echoed the appeal of ‘Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls’. Extremely well-spun montages have emphasised yet once again that we need to rise above our religious differences and start considering one another as human beings.

A poignant narrative of how a helpless father is compelled to cross border illegally just to get proper treatment for his twelve-year old daughter who is born with a congenital heart disorder. As a respectable school teacher, Muntasir Chaudhury Badol (Prosenjit Chatterjee) lives in his humble dwelling with his wife, Laila (Kusum Sikder) and daughter, Roopsha (Shajbati) in a little hut along the majestic Ichamati River that connects Bangladesh to India. Shankhachil (or Brahminy Kite in English) is a bird symbolizing freedom, a thought which, sadly, resides in a poet’s imagination only. Badol is a true Mussalman preaching about peace and silently sobbing in the face of communal violence that tends to tear the society apart.

A fine specimen of a crossover film and winner of the National Film award in the category of the Best Feature Film in Bengali, Shankhachil, talks painfully of the plight of the immigrants not because of the Partition but because of the prejudiced mindset of the so-called civilised and literate society who derive some sadistic pleasure in inciting communal hatred instead of finding ways to plant a proper pacemaker (read ‘peacemaker’). Muntasir and Laila lose their innocent Roopsha while navigating through this heart of darkness. But he is a proud father as he lost his daughter who had won in a different battle.

All countries look the same. Human beings respond to various stimuli in the same manner in all countries. Must we respond to communal hatred and indifference too in the same manner? Isn’t life too short to engage in such petty things? Does it cost a single penny to speak forth words of love without thinking about your and my religion? Isn’t everyone on earth ‘fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapon, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer’?

It’s time to introspect. It’s time to reflect. It’s time to be educated. Once again.

Abhinandan Bhattacharya is a Secondary school teacher of English Language and Literature training students at the CAIE and IBDP levels at JBCN International School, Oshiwara, Mumbai. He has been honoured with several professional merits in the form of Nation Builder Award by the Rotary Club of Mumbai and the Dedicated Teacher Award 2019 by Cambridge University Press in a campaign run by the University of Cambridge and CUP witnessing more than 40,000 nominations from across 150 countries worldwide. He is a published poet and writer winning the National level Poetry Writing Competition in 2019 organised by Story Mirror Schools Writing Competition. Today, he is a certified teacher trainer and mentor not only to his learners but to countless teachers as well.