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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
Stories

Dinner with Bo Stamford in Hong Kong

By Steve Davidson

Vew from Victoria`s Peak, HongKong. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Recently I happened to be in Hong Kong for a cognitive education conference, and at day’s end, like many people, I took the spectacular funicular Tram and click-clacked up to the top of Victoria’s Peak to have dinner.  The charming restaurant staff nicely seated me at a small table where I could gaze out over Victoria Harbour, which was slowly descending into indigo blue, as the multicolored lights of Hong Kong and Kowloon gently transformed the city into fields of jewels, linked by the diamond tracks of the much-loved ferries cruising back and forth across the dark water. 

As I sipped my cold San Miguel beer in the warm evening, the restaurant began to fill up, and a pleasant looking gentleman was seated at the table next to me.  He also soon was gazing out at what must be one of the most stunning views in the world, Victoria Harbour from Victoria Peak.  “Beautiful”, he remarked.  “Yes”, I replied.  And so began my conversation with Dr. Bo Stamford, one of the chief architects of what might be called the “Singapore System”, the principles underlying the globe’s most successful city-state.

Bo appears to be a clone of Buddha.  Warm, unpretentious, calm, respectful, broadly well-informed, shrewd and quick, and quietly amused.  Dressed de rigueur for the territory in pale yellow cotton polo shirt, pale blue cotton trousers, and Tod’s suede driving loafers.   His doctorate is in economics from a prestigious London university.  As we dined on shrimp dim sum, I had a chance to interview him about the amazing, numerous successes of his home, Singapore.

I:  Would anyone ever have predicted that a small British coaling station at the foot of the Malay Peninsula would morph into one of the world’s stellar communities, a model city-state?  How did it happen? 

Dr. S:  Naturally, there are the obvious sources.  An ideal location for international trade.  A convenient intersection of magnificent cultures—India, Britain, and China.  Vigorous, ambitious citizenry from Malaysia and Indonesia.  Water from river and rain, fields for planting, and copious sunshine. 

I:  But those elements are true for numerous neighbors of yours.  And many of those neighbors are struggling to build roads, schools, and hospitals, make money, and keep the peace.  How are you different?

Dr. S: (Bo looked at me with a gentle gleam in his eye, then looked about, as if checking to make sure no one were listening from Hello! Magazine, or the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, and finally whispered his answer.)  Causality . . .

I:  CAUSALITY?

Dr. S:  Not so loud!   

I:  Okay, okay.  So, what is this—thing?

Dr. S:  Academia . . . slides . . . over the concept of causality.  It’s there, but it isn’t.  It’s critical, but it’s neglected.  It’s a necessity, but it’s inconvenient.  It’s the holy grail of knowledge, then it’s Wednesday’s child. 

I:  Singapore, I take it, took a different tack.

Dr. S:  The very thing.  In every area of endeavour you can name, causality is the key

I:   I’d like to tell you that I completely agree with you, and that your insight is doubtless excellent.  However, a couple of examples, would . . . you know . . . clarify a little bit. 

Dr. S:  Naturally.  Regard, for a moment, these topics:

Leadership.  Leaders are supposed to control events in a desired direction.  That’s causality.

Government.  Administrations are supposed to manage society so that civic conduct falls within a highly admired range, so that all have jobs, medical care, housing, food and water in a beautiful, safe setting.  That’s causality.

Financiers.    Accountants and bankers are supposed to carefully analyze monetary systems, then invest in the ones likeliest to bring prosperous returns to the citizenry.    That’s causality.

Civic Designers.  Creative engineers are supposed to plan and build roads, buildings, parks, and breakwaters so the city continues to be dry, efficient, convenient, and attractive decade after decade.  That’s causality

Students.  Members of the educational community are supposed to acquire world class knowledge and skills, so they can provide world class service, resulting in world class incomes.    That’s causality.

I:  Yes . . . that’s what I thought you meant . . . 

However, how do you know if something is causal?   Isn’t there a lot of controversy around that issue?

Dr. S:  There’s confusion and, if I dare say, ignorance, about causality, but perhaps not so much true controversy.  The importance of causality is radically grasped all across Singaporean society, top to bottom. 

I:  How did that occur?  Why so?

Dr. S:  Nothing bearing such value was left to chance!   

I:  No, that doesn’t sound like that would be very Singaporean.  But, what did you do?

Dr. S:  First, our scientists provided us with a clear model of causality.  Then, that model was adopted by our educational establishment and taught to students from a young age, as well as continuously publicized by our media.

I:  Am I going to get confused here?

Dr. S:  Not necessarily.  It is, as a magician might say, tricky but simple.   

I:  I’m listening.  I think. 

Dr. S:  The key concept is comparison.

I:  I knew I was going to get lost.

Dr. S:  Look down below.  Ferries shuttle back and forth, from Hong Kong Island to the Kowloon Peninsula.  It costs money to buy the fuel to keep the engines running.  Hong Kong is in the tropics, where sunshine is copious.  It occurs to someone that if ferries were equipped with solar collectors the sun might provide enough power to run the ferries. 

I:  Ah, I possibly see where this is heading.

Dr. S:  Yes, yes.  Good.  Take ten average ferries.  Spit them in half.  Equip one half, five ferries, with solar collectors.  Leave the other five, the “control” half, just as it was.  At the end of a year, compare the fuel costs.  If the ferries with the solar collectors cost much less to run, that’s probably because of the solar collectors. 

I:  You know that because the solar collectors were the only difference between the two groups of ferries.

Dr. S:  Right.  That’s a controlled comparison.  A test group compared to a control group.  That’s how you test for causality

Not exactly obvious, but once you get it, you’ve got it.

I:  Okay, maybe I am starting to.  So, when Singapore has an idea, it puts the idea into a controlled comparison to find out if it works or not.  If it works, it becomes a part of the Singapore System.  If not, it’s put aside. 

That’s why everything in Singapore works so well.  It’s been causally tested! 

Dr. S:  There it is.  We pilot ideas—test them out.  If they work, then we implement across our city-state of Singapore.

For example, we’re piloting a new leadership training program in the financial sector.  We chose ten matched banks, and broke them into two groups of five each, five in the test group, and five in the control group.  We taught the new leadership style to the managers in the five test groups, and said nothing to the managers in the five control groups.  In one year, we’ll compare the two sets of banks, and see which is making more money.  If our idea works, the five banks in the test group should be doing better than the five banks in the control group.  If so, then we can think about implementing the new leadership style across the whole financial sector.

There’s some guesswork involved in all that, here and there, naturally.  But that’s our basic approach, our basic causal schema.

His espresso coffee all gone, Bo checked his Patek Philippe watch and announced, “I have a meeting scheduled this evening at the Peninsula Hotel, in Kowloon, therefore, unfortunately, I must depart.  It has been a pleasure speaking with you.  Please enjoy the conference.”

As we exited the restaurant to all the splendor of nighttime Hong Kong viewed from high above, a green Rolls Royce, piloted by a strikingly attractive woman, switched on its lights and rolled silently forward, stopping in front of Dr. Stamford.  As the car door opened, he turned and made a final comment. 

“Plutarch told the stories of numerous men who made Athens, and similar city-states, eternally eminent.  We draw those stories into our hearts, into our minds, into our culture.  If Athens can . . . make it happen, then, Singapore can . . . make it happen.  It’s all a process of . . . causality!”  Then he smiled, bowed, slipped onto the beige leather seats, the door quietly closed, and the good doctor ghosted, in his shiny green Wraith, away down the dark hill.   

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Steve Davidson is a psychologist from California, the author of the clinical textbook “An Introduction to Human Operations Psychotherapy”.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author and not of Borderless Journal.