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Contents

Borderless, April 2023

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

Can Love Change the World?… Click here to read.

Conversation

Keith Lyons interviews Asian Australian poet Adam Aitken about cross-cultural identity, and the challenges of travel, writing, and belonging. Click here to read.

Translations

Gandhiji, a short story by Nabendu Ghosh, has been translated from Bengali by Ratnottama Sengupta. Click here to read.

Khaira, the Blind, a story by Nadir Ali, has been translated from Punjabi by Amna Ali. Click here to read.

Clothes of Spirits, a folktale, has been translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Many Splendored Love, four poems by Masud Khan, have been translated from Bengali by Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Birds are Alive, has been written and translated from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Nobo Borshe or on New Year, Tagore’s poem on the Bengali New Year, has been translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty for the occasion this April. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read the poems

Michael R Burch, Vipanjeet Kaur, William Miller, Sutputra Radheye, Jim Landwehr, Namrata Varadharajan, Phil Wood, Akshada Shrotryia, Richard Stevenson, Abdul Jamil Urfi, Scott Thomas Outlar, Anasuya Bhar, George Freek, Malachi Edwin Vethamani, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Rhys Hughes

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In My Love for RK Narayan, Rhys Hughes discusses the novels by ths legendary writer from India. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Magic of the Mahatma & Nabendu

Ratnottama Sengupta shows the impact of Gandhi and his call for non-violence on Nabendu Ghosh as she continues to emote over his message of Ahimsa and call for peace amidst rioting. Click here to read.

Kindred Spirits

Anjali V Raj writes of an endearing friendship. Click here to read.

Colorado comes to Eden

Meredith Stephens sails to meet more people in Eden. Click here to read.

Us vs Them

Shivani Agarwal talks of sharing the planet with all creatures great and small. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In To Be or Not to Be, Devraj Singh Kalsi muses on food fads. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Olives and Art in the Inland Sea, Suzanne Kamata explores the island of Sodoshima. Click here to read.

Essays

Charlie and I: My Visit to Corsier-sur-Vevey

Nirupama Kotru talks of her trip to Charlie Chaplin’s home and writes about the legendary actor. Click here to read.

The Wonderland of Pokhara

Ravi Shankar explores, Pokhara, a scenic town in Nepal. Click here to read.

Stories

Sparks

Brindley Hallam Dennis captures the passing of an era. Click here to read.

The Moulting

PG Thomas brings us a glimpse of Kerala — the past merging to create a new present. Click here to read.

The Book Hunter

Paul Mirabile gives a tale about a strange obsession. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from What Will People Say?: A Novel by Mitra Phukan. Click here to read.

An excerpt from The Wistful Wanderings of Perceval Pitthelm by Rhys Hughes. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Somdatta Mandal reviews Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Independence. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Song of the Golden Sparrow – A Novel History of Free India by Nilanjan P. Choudhary. Click here to read.

Basudhara Roy reviews Ukiyo-e Days… Haiku Moments by Bina Sarkar Ellias. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Japanese Management, Indian Resistance: The Struggles of the Maruti Suzuki Workers by Anjali Deshpande and Nandita Haksar. Click here to read.

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Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Click here to access Monalisa No Longer Smiles on Kindle Amazon International

Click here to learn more about our first anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Categories
Review

Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

By Somdatta Mandal

Title: Independence

Author:  Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Publisher: Harper Collins 

Over the last two or three decades, the Indian American writer, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, has managed to carve a niche for herself by regaling in stories of cross-cultural issues prevalent in India and the United States with special emphasis on experiences of diasporic immigrant women. Though most of her stories are women-centric, with time one notices a gradual tectonic shift in her selection of themes. Initially she would write on problems of immigration and culture clash plaguing Indians in the New World. In Palace of Illusions, she went back to the Indian epic and narrated the story of the Mahabharata told from Draupadi’s point of view. In her novel The Forest of Enchantments, she brought Sita at the centre of the epic narrative The Ramayana and accorded her parity with Ram, revealing her innate strength. Then she took recourse to Indian history and rebuilt the story of Maharaja Ranjit’s Singh’s empire in Punjab narrating it from the viewpoint of Rani Jindan Kaur, his last wife as one of the most fearless women of the nineteenth century. Apart from the available historical data, she filled in The Last Queen by imagining many things Jindan would have said and done and thus painted a complete picture of a woman from all perspectives. A perfect blending of fact with fiction, the novel interested all categories of readers, serious and casual alike.

Now with Independence, Divakaruni widens her canvas to tell us the story of a doctor’s family and his three daughters against the freedom movement in India, particularly Bengal, beginning from August 1946 till the epilogue in 1954. The story of India’s independence is narrated through the eyes of three sisters, each of whom is uniquely different, with her own desires and flaws. They live in a rural village Ranipur and right at the beginning of the novel, which is divided into five parts and an epilogue, the author manages to give us the idyllic ambience of the place in very selective poetic language:

    “Here is a river like a slender silver chain, here is a village bordered by green gold rice-fields, here is a breeze smelling of sweet water-rushes, here is the marble balcony of a grand old mansion with guards at its iron gates and servants transporting trays of delicacies up the stairs, here are a man and a woman on carved teak chairs. Here is the country that contains them all.
     “The river is Sarasi, the village is Ranipur in Bengal, the mansion belongs to Somnath Chaudhury, zamindar. He is playing chess with Priya, daughter of his best friend, Nabakumar Ganguly. The country is India, the year is 1946, the month is August.
      “Everything is about to change."

Doctor Nabakumar Ganguly is an idealist and with his practice in their native village Ranipur, where the family resides, he also treats patients in a slum region in Calcutta. He is highly regarded but earns little as he refuses to charge patients without sufficient means. His wife Bina complains about this but supplements the family income by making exquisite quilts for sale and gifting them to those in need. Among the three daughters, Priya is intelligent and idealistic, and resolved to follow in her father’s footsteps she wants to become a doctor, though society frowns on it. She is fortunate to have the support of zamindar Somnath Chowdhury, her father’s best friend. The eldest daughter Deepa is very beautiful and is determined to make a marriage that will bring her family joy and status. The third daughter, Jamini, is devout, sharp-eyed, and a talented quiltmaker, with deeper passions than she reveals.

Theirs is a home of love and safety, a refuge from the violent events taking shape in the nation. This idyllic setting changes rapidly, as the violence of Direct Action Day in August 1946 takes Nabakumar’s life and introduces fear and a communal bitterness in the once largehearted Bina’s veins. Soon their neighbours turn against them, bringing the events of their country closer to home. Deepa is estranged from her mother and eventually isolated on the other side of the border in what becomes East Pakistan, when she falls in love with Raza, a Youth Leader at the Muslim League. As Priya is determined to pursue her career goal, her attempts to get into medical school in India are thwarted by a gender bias, and she finds herself at a college in America. But due to several reasons she cannot complete her degree there and comes back to India to run the clinic where her father worked. And Jamini attempts to hold her family together, even as she secretly longs for the handsome Amit, her sister’s fiancé. When India is partitioned, the sisters find themselves separated from one another, afraid of what will happen to not only themselves, but also each other. It is only then that they understand what it means to be independent, and the price one must pay for it.

After a lot of twists and turns to the story, including smuggling of arms and rescue mission on the Ichhamati River dividing the two Bengals, Amit shot to death, by the time we come to the Epilogue it is 1954 where we learn about Deepa’s daughter Sameera, Jamini’s son Tapan, Deepa managing the zamindari estate and Manorama and Somnath eager to find a suitable match for Priya when she tells them that she is happy as she is now. Feminism, communal amity, empathy, and self-growth are among the requisite qualities Divakaruni identifies for both a country and a human being to be truly independent. Though set in households more than seventy years ago, towards the end we still find some hope. The Postscript to the story is rather interesting as it comes even after the epilogue. It reads thus:

   “Here is a river. Here is a wind rising. Here is a village. Here is the year.
   “The river is time, ebbing, flooding. The wind is memory, it can carry flowers, it can carry flames. The village is the world, and you are at its centre. The year is now.
   “What will you do with it? What will you do?”

As a Professor of Creative Writing in an American university, Divakaruni has gained the expertise of playing her cards well – her narrative technique in each of her novels and short story anthologies preaches what she teaches – the saleability and marketability of a book in this electronic age should be of utmost concern. Like her earlier novel The Oleander Girl, which seemed to have been written as a sort of film script in mind, (incidentally two other novels are being made into motion pictures at the moment), Independence too seems to follow suit with the right amount of ingredients necessary for promoting the book to different kinds of readers and in different forms as well. One is therefore taken by surprise to find a QR code even before the Contents page which tells us to “Listen to the soundtrack for Independence. A playlist of songs that inspired the freedom movement.” For her Western readers, Divakaruni managed to blend history and fiction very well where along with the fictitious characters we get to read about Mahatma Gandhi and the Noakhali riots, Sarojini Naidu, Nehru and others as they played their parts in the freedom movement. Here we find Priya actively engaged in conversation with Sarojini who gives a letter of recommendation to Bidhan Chandra Roy to help Priya to run a clinic.

One praiseworthy aspect of the novel is how Divakaruni manages to give us details of the streets and sounds of Calcutta – the Calcutta of the 1950s with her double decker buses, the shops at New Market, the quaint little restaurants with curtained cubicles to maintain privacy in a public place – all brought back from memory of the city in which she was born and brought up. The novel is also full of translations of several patriotic songs in Bangla which the swadeshis sang during that period. Several lines from Tagore’s songs are also interspersed to express the moods of characters – a technique used by Divakaruni in some of her earlier fiction as well. The exoticism of India, especially rural Bengal of the time is deftly portrayed through many other incidents of killing and looting at different regions of undivided Bengal. As for her Indian readers we are given the story of Priya’s brief stay in America to study medicine at the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia where along with her homesickness, we have Arthur, a lovelorn American doctor, who lends her support and patiently waits for her to come back to him as “his heart has been empty” without her.

Despite such manipulations to the story to bring in as wide a canvas as possible, including sufficient examples of Hindu-Muslim amity and hatred as well, the novel remains a page-turner no doubt and can be recommended for its lucid and racy style of narration, something that Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni excels in.

Somdatta Mandal, author, critic, and translator, is former Professor of English at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, India.

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Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Click here to access Monalisa No Longer Smiles on Kindle Amazon International