Back home in Madrid, having abandoned Adamov Plut to his posthumous fate, I was a bit surprised that neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post reported anything about the murder, not even a paragraph, or as the French so imagitively put it, an entre-filet ! I soon realised, due to this journalistic silence, that the time had come for me to give a full account of my relation to Mr Plut ; that the time had come for me to expose, publicly, by way of this revelation, his ‘mysterious murder’.
My information is of the surest sources for the simple reason that it was I who had Mr Plut murdered ! Yes, I ! And for reasons that shall be shortly disclosed. A mysterious man he might have been; however, his methods of acquiring priceless books and other inestimable valuables can hardly be called mysterious: Mr Plut was a vulgar thief, a scoundrel, an ingenious trickster whose singular flair caused much grief to many individuals, enraged those whose trust had been flouted.
It was in Istanbul, where I was invited to sojourn with an Armenian merchant, that I witnessed Mr Plut’s dupery. And if my naive friend fell for his crooked smile, I certainly didn’t swallow his high tale of returning to pay him for the two illuminated manuscripts my friend had graciously offered the blighter on condition that he be held accountable for them. His thick, coarse lips translated a smile that held contempt and disdain towards those who trusted him. So infuriated and insulted did I feel on behalf of my friend that that I reacted on a lightning urge and decided to follow him. I said nothing of this to my disbelieving companion, but left immediately in pursuit of my game — and game it was — for I, to tell the truth, had nothing more substantial to do at the moment and felt disposed for a good hunt.
I said that Mr Plut was a genius. Yes, in his own way. However, genius has its limitations. His arrogance and haughtiness knew no bounds, although he knew that his foul doings had attracted the attention of police and Interpol. Some may surmise that a certain paranoia drove him to invent individuals tracking him down like a wild boar or moose. No, no one was tracking him down except me, and that as subtlety as possible. In Uzbekistan, I actually chatted with him over a cup of coffee on two occasions disguised as a professor of Slavic philology, dressed in a quilted chapan robe and silk embroidered tubeteyka cap. There we sat in Samarkand, sipping our thick beverages in the vaulted bazaar at one of the storied cafés that dot the town. He was all smiles, obsequious and gold-toothed. I had the impression that I was dealing with a child or a mentally-dwarfed man whose sense of reality lacked all discernment or sagacity. I concluded that he had come into quite a bit of money, and never having had to work for a livelihood, traipsed about the world at his leisure, buying or stealing books, cheating people out of their invaluable collections. So self-indulgent and confident was he that he never saw through my masquerade as we conversed in broken Russian.
It was at that café where I learned about his fabulous treasure, as he called his book hoard. Only an idiot would have divulged this information to a perfect stranger, but as I said, Mr Plut’s contemptible demeanour caused him to fall into the most infantile traps. Traps that I began laying out for him, and that would lead to his downfall. For I had begun to design my own plan to relieve the rogue of his fabulous possessions, all the more so since he also let slip that his parents had passed away, and he had inherited the house. How I would make his treasure mine and ‘disinherit’ the owner still remained vague in my mind.
We departed as ‘friends’, as two strangers seeking an answer to the mystery of their existence. Or so I made him believe. Mr Plut appeared to me a dying species, a worldly aesthete, in spite of his extreme vulgarity and ponderous gait, whose debonair demeanour masked a loathing for his victims, a bent for the lowest duplicity, a gratification in spinning the most treacherous stratagems in order to allay his desire to prevail.
Mr Plut slipped out of Uzbekistan without my knowing it. He probably used his Russian passport, one of the four of five in his possession. I felt a twinge of misgiving. Had the fat fellow got on to me? After many enquiries, I finally discovered that he had crossed into China at the Xinjiang border, and was hastening towards the Yunnan. Why ? I hadn’t the faintest idea …
His brief sojourn in the town of Lijiang enabled me to catch up with him. My Chinese was fluent enough not only to query his whereabouts in that lovely town, but more important still, to learn of his new ‘purchases’, once I had questioned the director of the Dongba Museum of Culture. Mr Plut had planned to gone there to acquire several Naxi pictographic sacred books, which he did from a rather corrupt priest with whom he had been corresponding for some time, using a special code so as not to be unmasked by the Chinese authorities of the Centre. The director only learned of this a week after the unlawful negotiations had occurred, and three or four very valuable Dongba liturgical books had been stolen. It goes without saying that the rapacious priest was severely punished.
I immediately left Lijiang much to my displeasure for it was indeed a quiet, pleasant place, and set out in hot pursuit of the marauder. I followed his all too familiar scent through Nepal into North-western India to the Zanskar region where he put up for a while at the Phuktal Gompa, a strange spot to make a halt. But a perfect hideout to gain time in order for planning his next move, whilst at the same time inveigling in the most repulsive manner his generous hosts.
The monastery is nestled in the most remotest of valleys, ensconced within a cliff of tuft of fairy chimneys, crags and honey-combed spires which bulge black and red against the background of sandy, dazzling ash and cinerous tones of hemp. I had trekked there from Lamayuru in twenty days, and as I was to learn, Mr Plut had arrived there three days ahead of me, but by way of Padum. To gain the main entrance of the gompa, the pilgrim had to climb a steep path, keeping his or her right shoulder to the seventeen chortens that mark the steep climb towards the vaulted entrance. I had shaved my head, grown a long beard and donned a woollen chuba tightened around my waist with a long colourful sash. It kept me warm, for in spite of it being Summer, the nights were very cold, and my cell had only a small wood-burning stove to keep me warm.
I spent three weeks at the monastery, sleeping on a ratten matting, eating skieu, tsampa and chappatti, drinking steaming salt-buttered tea off a chopsey — a low, small table — reading or gazing out of the little window that offered me a full view of the dusty, treeless courtyard below, where monks would mutter their mantras, and beyond into soundless nights whose stars were generally veiled.
Without Mr Plut’s slightest suspicions, I assisted at all the ceremonies, mornings and evenings, even vigils, while in the afternoon, I would venture out into the monastic complex, twisting and turning in the warren of lanes, under the low archways and high ladders, at times pursuing my promenades upon the rather precipitous mountain paths. As to Mr Plut, he hardly left his cell, and when we did cross paths, he most probably took me for a Buddhist pilgrim. Once or twice I sat near him in the prayer hall in the meditation grotto, but he never attempted to communicate with me, albeit he did not seem very deep in prayer or contemplation. He was probably scheming his next miserable move. His face had become terribly pale and flabby. His darting, black eyes seemed to have sunk deeper into their sockets. Unable to sit cross-legged on the low benches at the back of the prayer hall, he sat ‘western style’, staring off into the clusters of chanting monks, tilting his huge, bobbing head every so often to the banging drums, blowing ox-horns and tinkling triangles. Observing him from afar, I sought to sound his soul, to wring out his innermost thoughts, to extract from his evident lassitude and apathy his flight from both his victims and himself. But Mr Plut was a sphinx. Would he rise out of his own ashes when his hour came ?
I left the good monks three days after his departure, a hasty one indeed. And they were furious! The scoundrel had stolen several pustuks and thangkas, and failed to pay for the prayer masks that he ‘purchased’. They implored me to find the culprit, inform the police and recover their stolen property. It was perhaps the beseeching words of the infuriated monks, after having received such incomparable hospitality from them, that my plans to have the thief killed began to germinate ! The theft was not only gratuitous, it exposed the very ugliness of the man’s heart, blackened by greed, cynicism and remorselessness. It would only be a matter of time before he tasted a soupçon of his own medicine.
Meanwhile the cat would play with the mouse, a rather fat mouse at that ! I boarded the cargo ship that took the fugitive from Karachi to Oakland via Japan. On the long, monotonous voyage across the Pacific, my ominous shadow crossed his at the most unsuspecting moments. Attired as a Pashtun merchant, bearded, long-haired and turbaned, Mr Plut sensed an onerous presence whenever he laboriously carried his huge body across the decks. How many times had my eyes penetrated his anguish, his torment, his pangs, not of compunction, but of incomprehension. He scented a sleepless menace pressing him. Fear inflamed his dark, beady, mirthless eyes like the burning incision of the trenchant knife.
Oakland … Sacramento … Reno … Tombstone … Boulder … Santa Fe … Saint Louis … Chicago … New Orleans … Birmingham … Miami … Atlanta and finally New York. Yes, New York, where the curtains would finally fall on this tragic fat figure. Where upon the stage of 8 million walk-ons, and against the backdrop of the grottiest of hotels, the last act of Mr Plut’s abominable performance would be played out.
His infatuation with Louis Wolfson amused me, as well as his grandiose project to write twelve stories in twelve different languages signed by twelve different authors. I found all this quite pompous and pathetic. A real exercise in self-indulgence to say the least. All this information I culled when I ‘accidentally’ met him in the ill-lit corridor of that hotel on Water street in downtown Manhattan. In New York, I played the role of a French researcher in mediaeval literature, a field that he completely ignored, in spite of possessing several manuscripts of Anglo-Norman stamp, apparently purchased (so he said ?) from a London book-seller. I pretended to be interested, taking the opportunity to study him closely. Besides, he was such an inveterate liar how could one believe anything he said ? He lied to curry favour and win confidence, only to swindle and steal from the naive and simple-hearted. Better to observe his eyes, his gestures, his bouncing from one tongue to another. These were all genuine signs of his distorted psychological make-up. To play my part well, I sported an immaculate white suit, orange tie, a pair of silver-rimmed glasses and spanking new alligator shoes. I had shaved my beard and moustache and had my hair cut very short, leaving a few gossamer wisps which touched the tips of my ears and fell bouncily on my forehead.
Every day I followed his Humpty Dumpty gait as he waddled to and from the public library, in and out of Central Park. And it was there, in Central Park, that I noted two blond-haired rough fellows slouching on a bench, eating the remains of fried chips or chicken sandwiches, cursing and making gross signs at the passers-by, drinking beer and spitting. They were seated at the same bench daily — the bench that Mr Plut walked by every day. They seemed to know him because they would hoot at him, call him names and ask for money. Fatso passed by without even a glance at them.
One Saturday, I decided to approach the two ruffians. They sized me up with obvious contempt, and made it perfectly clear that I was intruding on their ‘territory’. I sat down none the less, and exposed my scheme to be rid of Mr Plut once and for all, explaining how the culprit had cheated and robbed so many people. The two burly blokes, former marines in the Green Beret (or so they vaunted!) listened attentively as I unfolded my plan: Three thousand dollars for each if they would simply walk up to his room in the early morning hours, the night porter always being asleep, knock at his door and kill him, however, without any blood shed or theft of his belongings. It must be a murder without reason, without any sign of bestial violence. One of them suggested strangulation. Yes, excellent idea. It would thus be a ‘clean’ murder.
And so it was, very professional at that I must say. They were paid off, as agreed. And I left New York two days later, as planned, a very satisfied man indeed …
This all happened five years ago. Now … well, here is where my account ends and my confession begins. For you see, Mr Plut was never really murdered ! Those two ‘ruffians’ were in fact F.B.I. agents who had been trailing me since disembarking in California. To tell the truth, Interpol and local police had been following me since the Istanbul affair. How and why they began doing so I cannot say. During my trial neither the judge nor the prosecuting attorney afforded any information as how the F.B.I. learnt of my scheme, nor why they had decided, at one point in time, to cooperate with Plut. What was I convicted of ? What was my indictment ? As to my appointed lawyer, a young short-sighted clerk more than a seasoned lawyer, who could be easily cajoled by the ‘evidence’ against me, pliantly manipulated by the prosecutor, after he had taken the floor and had made an absolute fool of himself. He let out a sigh of relief when the judge pronounced a sentence of fifteen years instead of twenty-five! The wigged judge, a grotesque figure studded with huge warts, yawned throughout my lawyer’s deplorable speech for the defense, as well as during my feeble plea. There was no jury either to lament or to applaud his verdict. It was a trial held at ‘huis clos’, military style. I buried my face in my hands. As expected, my lawyer made no effort to appeal.
Had Plut sensed my innermost aversion towards him ? Or seen through my many disguises ? He was a clever man, and probably had hired detectives to learn why I was following him. The hotel room murder was staged. Plut lay recumbent on the floor, waiting for me to steal his papers so that I would be indicted for premeditated murder (although there was no murder!), of paying off hoodlums to commit this murder (although they were F.B.I. agents!) and the theft, which indeed it was (but fifteen years for that?) of his household papers, keys, and other official documents concerning his inheritance … and that vile short story of his.
So here I sit in my rancid smelling cell in Madrid, having been arrested at the aeroport on my arrival some five years ago, writing out this confession. I do not to repent mind you, I have no intention of atoning for my doings, nor avowing my sins. These words wrenched from my pen seek to vent the animosity and hatred I harbour towards that fat impostor who had the cheek to write me a letter from the Seychelles revealing how he had got on to me since Uzbekistan, and how our little cat and mouse game had amused him greatly : “You thought me a fool, deary, but I sawthrough your pusillanimous scheme in Samarkand ; that was some outfit, but you forgot the galoshes ! Not to mention your pilgrim weeds at Phuktal which truly charmed me, and your blazing orange tie in New York. Come, come, what French professor would ever sport an orange tie with a badly tailored, cheap white suit ?” The vicious irony underlining these sentences, along with a soupçon of cynicism caused me to gag. The blighter added in a post-script that he had sold all his books for a fabulous sum of money, and had retired from the world’s wearisome fair. In the envelope I found a photo of him sipping coconut juice, lying on the golden sands of a crescent-shaped beach under groves of swaying palm trees and an indigo blue sky. I laughed bitterly, and yet, in spite of my nettled nerves, pinned up the blasted photo in my lonely cell, a sort of souvenir of our enshrouded relationship …
One day at the prison library, browsing idly through a dull, detective story, I thought of Plut’s or Hilarius Eremita’s story The Enchanted Garden, which I had taken and read to amuse myself on the aeroplane to Buenos Aires. Had anyone ever published such ridiculous trash? To my horror, the answer came three days later whilst I rummaged through a new batch of literary magazines, some of which contained short stories in English, French and German. And there it was — The Enchanted Garden, by Hilarius Eremita, Plut’s pen name. I couldn’t believe my eyes — someone had published that rubbish ! Plut indeed had the last laugh, adding insult to injury, salt to my festering wounds.
I savagely tore out the pages of his story from the magazine, went to the toilet, ripped them into tiny pieces and flushed the filth down the bowl. So much for hiss ‘first of the twelve’ ! I shan’t be punished for it, no inmate in this prison reads any language besides Spanish, and that with a dictionary … I’m sure it was Plut who sent me that magazine to drive the knife deeper into my wounded pride. The miserable rat !
So here I sit at my iron table, staring at Plut’s photo as he sips his coconut drink under the blue skies and swaying palm trees whilst I sip my wretched thin noodle soup with strips of hard, nervy beef under a cracked, peeling, dirty grey prison ceiling …
 The Tibetan word for stûpa, a Buddist shrine which initially housed the relics of the Buddha.
 Books used for Buddhist ceremonies written in Tibetan.
 Behind closed door without any public participation or observers. It is a French legal term.
Paul Mirabile is a retired professor of philology now living in France. He has published mostly academic works centred on philology, history, pedagogy and religion. He has also published stories of his travels throughout Asia, where he spent thirty years.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
like great trees
but the roots of
deep into the earth
that waits for the
of our dreams
to sprout some
a tear runs down
the earth’s eye
a sandpiper tethers along
these sandy dunes of
a prolonged absence
here a half sunk boat
dilapidated by broken dreams
stinks of dead fish
birds winter again
and the silence of desire
worms the blood
before the soul’s last flight
to the bleeding Sun
Those bruises -- time’s ashes
beneath these aging feet
will bring home a love
beyond all our meanings;
but not yet, since the
ash flakes of these dreams
still blur the way.
Sreekanth Kopuri is an Indian poet, Current poetry editor for The AutoEthnographer Journal Florida, Alumni Writer in Residence, and a Professor of English from Machilipatnam, India.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
April 13, 1948. It was on this day that the first Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru laid the Odisha capital city’s foundation stone. Since then, Bhubaneswar has remained a celebrated model of modern architecture and city planning with its prehistoric past as a temple city. Along with Jamshedpur and Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar is one of modern India’s first planned cities.
While laying the foundation-stone, Nehru observed: ‘Bhubaneswar would not be a city of high-rise buildings for officers and rich men without relation to the common masses. It would be consistent with the idea of reducing differences between the rich and the poor. The New Capital would embody the beautiful art of Odisha, and it would be a place for beauty…so that life might become an adjunct to beauty.’
Bhubaneswar is a temple town with a series of ancient sandstone temples varying in size from the towering eleventh century Lingaraja Temple. It was a city of temples. Once upon a time, there were more than 7,000 temples in and around Bhubaneswar. Today, there are only a few.
From a religious standpoint, the Lingaraj temple is the most popular. Other temples include the 7th century Vaital temple, the impressive 10th century Mukteshwar temple, and the 11th century Raja Rani temple with its fine carvings. There are many other temples of exquisite architecture.
Several Grade-I temples of national importance have been protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Old Bhubaneswar, such as Ananta Basudeva, Mukteswara, Persurameswara, and Rajarani Temples, which are just a few examples. Bhubaneswar’s modern capital is shaped by Old Bhubaneswar’s ancient temples.
The state capital city planning began near the old temple town. The Master Plan for the upcoming city of Bhubaneswar was prepared by Dr Otto H Koenigsberger on the concept of neighbourhood unit planning. The original plan envisaged horizontal development rather than vertical growth for a population of 40,000 with administration as the primary function. Koenigsberger designed a linear pattern for the city, with administrative units on the main artery, and neighborhood units attached to them. Neighborhood units offer residents the most sophisticated amenities in a city. They were placed at short distances to give people easy access to schools, hospitals and other facilities.
Six units were developed. Unit-V served as the site for the administrative complex, while other units were planned according to neighborhoods. As part of the town center, there was a market building, a weekly market, a day-to-day market, and a bus station. There was a central vista with views of the Raj Bhawan. There was also a commercial zone along Janpath and Bapuji Nagar up to the railway station. Koenigsberger’s planning zone provided characteristic weather control and a salubrious climate throughout the year. This area — the heart of the city — maintains the lushest green cover in the city with open space and a well-organized transportation system.
A neighborhood unit required that each child live within a quarter of a mile or a third of a mile of their school. Housewives were required to live within a half mile of the civic center to shop there and have access to medical facilities within the town. Distances between a person’s home and place of employment could conveniently be covered by a bicycle or a cycle rickshaw. Koenigsberger suggested 7 different types of roads for 7 different groups of users and 7 different functions. Those are footpaths, parkways, cycle paths, minor housing streets, major housing streets, main roads and main arteries.
Bhubaneswar was planned to be the state capital, but it is primarily a city for government officials. Residential quarters were designed to meet the needs of officials from various income groups. Planning was made to meet the ideal urban family’s requirements. This was done by providing them with single-storey independent houses with a front yard and kitchen and garden space in the back yard. Government bungalows have extensive open spaces around them and abundant space between one house and another. Those with high incomes occupy bungalows near the main employment complex.
Low income housing consists of mostly one and two bedrooms comprised of more than one unit broken into rows. Early in the planning process, residential quarters in different neighborhoods were mostly standardized. Small scale industries and manufacturing activities were added after 1980. Much of the original plan has changed in twenty years.
Bhubaneswar has been declared a special heritage zone as Ekamra Kshetra, which consists of several significant structures. Various socio-cultural and religious heritages of Odisha are represented in the monuments, which represent different periods in Odisha’s history. In recent years, several of these significant elements have steadily lost their significance due to modern construction activities.
An integrated regional development plan has been prepared to meet the growing demand for services in the region. This plan has been declared as the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) of the Bhubaneswar Development Plan Area (BDPA). The BDPA comprises Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation, Khurda Municipality, Jatani Municipality and adjoining 122 Mouzas. The Long Term Perspective Plan for Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Urban Complex (BCUC) provides a vision for the development of the whole region by 2030. Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Urban Complex being the hub of commercial, political, administrative and socio-cultural activities in Odisha, it has rich potential for development.
A lot of resentment was felt — and it still exists — when Bhubaneswar replaced Cuttack as the capital on 19 August 1949, two years after India gained independence from Britain. In recent times, Bhubaneswar and Cuttack have been called the ‘twin cities of Odisha’ – one with a modern look and another with a millennium-old history. Bhubaneswar and Cuttack have become closer since the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Bridge, also known as the Trisulia Bridge, opened on 19 July 2017.
There are a few Tier-2 cities in the country that host the top five IT companies in the country. Bhubaneswar is one of them. These companies include Infosys, Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services, Tech Mahindra, and Mindtree. It is considered one of the three most attractive places in the world to do business, according to the World Bank. Bhubaneswar has been selected as one of the first twenty cities in India to be developed as a smart city. This is part of his flagship ‘Smart Cities Mission’ which seeks to develop 100 smart cities in India.
Bhubaneswar was added to the World Heritage List (WHL) as part of the application process. The WHL requires that the site be of outstanding value, as well as having at least one of the ten selection criteria met. This is required for inclusion on this list. Bhubaneswar meets four of them. Over 100 cities have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Nations that nominate heritage sites and cities to UNESCO, and submit data, maps, and photographs, are given heritage status by the organization. World Heritage Status is the highest honor and most prestigious title given to heritage monuments, sites, and cities in recognition of their universal value.
Bhubaneswar, one of the two Indian capitals planned after independence, alongside Chandigarh, is today one of the most prominent cities in Odisha. It has a culture as vibrant as the city itself. With a population of one and a half million, Bhubaneswar has become known as one of the most happening cities in Eastern India. India’s evolving urban landscape places the city among its upcoming metropolises.
This book contains twenty-seven essays written by learned scholars on different aspects of Bhubaneswar. From temples to town planning, from becoming India’s sports capital to urban living, from culture to literature, and from business to education, the book says it all. It represents everything that has happened since the foundation stone was laid. It is a throwback to what we have witnessed.
It is hoped that by the time Bhubaneswar celebrates its centennial twenty-five years from now, the city’s signature identity and impeccable heritage will have been preserved and passed on to future generations in a more intact form.
About the Book:
The capital of Odisha and a city that is still in the process of being shaped, Bhubaneswar is many things to many people. The Temple City, as it was once called, was home to thousands of temples at one time.
The foundation stone of ‘modern’ Bhubaneswar was laid in 1948 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. It became the administrative capital of Odisha in the learly 1950s. Bhubaneswar was declared a ‘smart city’ under the urban initiative by the government of India in 2014.
Bhubaneswar, one of the two capitals planned after independence, is today a vibrant city in Odisha with an equally vibrant culture. With a population of one and a half million, Bhubaneswar has become known as one of the most happening cities in Eastern India. India’s evolving urban landscape places the city among its upcoming metropolises.
The book has 25 essays on different aspects of Bhubaneswar written by scholars of standing. From temples to town planning, from becoming India’s sports capital to urban living, from culture to literature, and from business to education, the book says it all. It is a compilation of all that has happened over the past 75 years.
A ‘portrait’ of the city is presented in the book.
About the Editors
Bhaskar Parichha (1957) is a senior journalist and author of five books Unbiased: Writings on India, No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha, Madhubabau – The Global Indian, and BijuPatnaik – A Biography. He has edited an anthology of essays entitled Naveen @25 -Perspectives. He is a bilingual writer and lives in Bhubaneswar.
Charudutta Panigrahi (1968) is a social advocate and practicing intellectual. He has set upthink tanks in India and abroad. A TED Speaker and an author, he is a polymath whose work takes him everywhere. This is from the last mile in indigenous communities to the high table of global policy making. He lives between Gurgaon, Bhubaneswar, and Panjim with his family. His recent release, The Scent of Odisha, has been received well by readers all over and is acclaimed as an exceptional Odisha chronicle of current times. He is engaged in climate change work and has set up a global platform called Climatists in Berlin.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
Author: K.R. Meera, translated from Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and K. S. Bijukumar)
Publisher: PenguinRandom House India
In a multicultural and multilingual country like India, it is very difficult to ascertain the progress of literary creativity in all the regions because of language barriers. Translation is one of the means through which this deficiency can be met. Recently even big publishing houses are paying a lot of attention to translate texts from different bhasha literatures into English so that they can cater to a pan-Indian readership. K.R. Meera’s original Malayalam novel Jezebel is one such recent addition. It has the eponymous protagonist Jezebel, a young doctor in Kerala, struggling against the cruel realities of a patriarchal world –realities that not even her education, resolve or professional brilliance can shield her from. Trapped in an abusive and claustrophobic marriage that had been arranged by one of her relatives for some ulterior motive, the novel begins with a powerful metaphor of suffering and endurance:
“As she stood in the family court, pelted with the blame of having paid a contract killer to murder her husband, Jezebel had this revelation: To endure extreme torture, imagine yourself as Christ on the cross.”
In this novel, which takes the form of a courtroom drama to show us the rich inner worlds of its characters, we see Jezebel reflect on her life and its pivotal points as she takes the stand. Through her memories, we see her grow from a reticent, serious young woman to a rebel who refuses to bend to the conventions of society. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Jezebel was a prophet and she was the only one to challenge prophet Elijah. She was at the same time a strong woman and an accursed one. Like the Biblical story of Queen Jezebel, who was much maligned as a scheming harlot and infamously thrown to her death from her palace window, Jezebel is a novel that asks if independent women can ever live lives that are free of judgement. The marriage between Jezebel and Ahab was an agreement between two communities that worshipped two different gods. Poor King Ahab was a good king who ruled for twenty-two years. His only mistake was to marry the Sidonian princess Jezebel. And that too to improve relations between the two kingdoms and to trade with them. When they got married, Queen Jezebel brought her gods along with her to Samaria. In our protagonist’s case, her already contentious divorce proceedings go suddenly awry, and her unhappy marriage holds complex secrets. Throughout the novel, K.R. Meera’s powerful prose makes resonant allusions to the Bible in different ways that elucidate the correlations between legend and the protagonist’s life while also exploring how sexuality and gender roles are manipulated by the dictates of society.
In the novel we are shown how Jezebel’s arranged marriage with Doctor Jerome George Marakkaran ended in disaster from day one, and in the two and a half years they lived together as husband and wife, their marriage was never consummated. Her father-in-law, George Jerome Marakkaran is a brute straight from TV serials, and starts cursing Jezebel right from the first day believing in his god-ordained mission to punish her in any form whatsoever. The court hearings frame the narrative, with the (very filmy) lawyer’s dramatic queries triggering flashbacks, each a tale of tremendous misery, shocking injustice or unbearable trauma – a veritable catalogue of the woes of a half of the world even in this day and age. The mother-in-law, Lilly George Marakkaran, however, is kind-hearted even if meek, and she too secretly supports her daughter-in-law to break the shackles of patriarchy and go out into the world – something she was unable to do. This inability leads to her suicide in the end. Jezebel’s parents, too, are characters who refuse to come out of clichés. The result is a series of unfortunate events, and they all end up in a family court for divorce. In order to narrate the plight of her protagonist from the very beginning, Meera creates the canvas with plenty of characters, who like Chaucer’s ‘God’s plenty’ fill the pages of the novel from the beginning to the end. Most of these characters are stereotypes and yet they manage to make the story convincing, though melodramatic at times. Jezebel has a difficult childhood growing up with her mother Ammachi who explains every move in Biblical terms and who argues that “a good woman will not ever speak a word” against her husband, however worthless he is; her maternal grandmother Valiyammachi is the one who understands her and asks her to discontinue her marriage immediately and live life on her own terms. Throughout the novel she offers her shoulders for Jezebel to weep upon.
In between, a lot of melodrama is thrown in. The novel itself confesses the soap opera part:
“John’s wedding was a frugal affair. George Jerome Marakkaran stood ramrod stiff, hands clasped behind his back, chin tilted up at a hundred-and-twenty degrees. In his sandalwood-coloured silk jibba and gold-bordered mundu, he looked every bit the father in television serials.”
The rigid patriarch that he is, George Jerome Marakkaran is no exception; almost all characters and situations befit TV serials. There are no surprises, no nuances, no gray between black and white. To give an entire cross-section of society, we have sympathetic characters like Father Ilanjikkal from the nearby church, Jezebel’s uncle Abraham Chammanatt, who was a party to the injustice inflicted upon her and to whom she begs, “Please give me back my life. That’s all. My happiness …my ability to laugh.” We also have sexually abused children, references to other broken marriages, gay relationships, the story of Advait, who had undergone a sex-change surgery to become a man, and who tells Jezebel, “To prove that a man is a man and a woman is a woman, you need a certificate.” On another occasion explains it thus:
“‘Society is a great playwright, Jezebel. Our job is to act out our cliched roles again and again in the ancient play that it has scripted. Every role has its prescribed dress code, make-up, hairstyle, and dialogue. Our job is to play those roles, no matter how ill-fitting the costume, without changing the course of the script. If I decide to change my costume midway through the play, then what will happen to the play? What will the audience, eager to hear a story that they like, do?’ he sighed.”
Amidst the struggle of Jezebel to come to terms with society, Meera also mentions the flitting relationships that Jezebel undergoes with different men and all of which fizzle out due to different reasons. When her lawyer informs her that the verdict for her divorce suit would come out soon, this is how Jezebel reacts:
“Verdict? What verdict? Verdict against whom? In an instant, Jezebel was flung from heaven to the netherworld. She despaired about the she-who-was, and the she-who-had-been. She felt emboldened thinking about the she-who-would-be, though. Just then, she saw four creatures in the centre of and around the throne under the sea. They had many eyes in the front and the back. The first creature looked like Ranjith, the second had Jerome’s face, the third resembled Nandagopan, the fourth had Kabir’s looks. The four creatures had six wings each, many eyes all around and within. They proclaimed day and night. In their midst, she saw a lamb that looked like it had been slain.”
Each ordeal leads the reader to the next in a highly skilfully woven narrative that becomes unputdownable after the opening. That, arguably, is what Meera is aiming for, getting every reader to care for the fate of the characters no matter how stereotypical they might be. Indeed, their being stereotypes helps in making the story universal, whereas nuances and specifics might have made it different. While Meera’s story-telling abilities are way above average, the simplistic treatment of many subplots may mar the reading experience for a few readers. Paradoxically, that is what at the same time may compel the kind of readers who don’t bother about ‘feminism’ and ‘patriarchy’ to keep reading this novel till the end, and even think through it.
Jezebel reflects on her life and its pivotal points as she takes the stand. Through her memories, we see her grow from a reticent, serious young woman to a rebel who refuses to bend to the conventions of society. Jezebel is a novel that asks if independent women can ever live lives that are free of judgement. K.R. Meera’s prose, in this elegant translation from the Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and K.S. Bijukumar, makes resonant allusions to the Bible in powerful ways that elucidate the correlations between legend and the protagonist’s life while also exploring how sexuality and gender roles are manipulated by the dictates of society.
The beginning of the novel is set seven years after that day the Marakkaran family arrives at Jerusalem, Jezebel’s home, to “appraise” her. A broken Jezebel is facing a barrage of questions from Jerome’s lawyer in a family court which is hearing her divorce petition. She feels like Jesus Christ on the cross, enduring extreme torture. There is yet another round of accusations, all built around an alleged attempt to murder her husband. A courtroom saga begins as Jezebel looks back and remembers scenes from her marriage that brought her exciting life and career to a screeching halt.
Jezebel’s is not the only story of suffering in the novel. There is Sneha, a schoolgirl traumatised by the sexual abuse at the hands of her math teacher, and Angel, a four-year-old girl, who survived a mass suicide by her family because of debts, only to be sexually assaulted by her sixty-year-old neighbour. Jezebel is also a story of the will to survive physical and mental wounds and standing up to force the change of a medieval mindset. Anitha, one of the novel’s characters, picks up the brushes to become an artist after both her husband and lover abandon her. And Jezebel stands tall above everybody else while she fights a system rigged in favour of men. The novel is a serious attempt to end the silent suffering of gender injustices in homes and outside, especially when women find themselves always constrained by the limits that patriarchy imposed upon them. Indeed, the work is a testament to the fact that even in this modern age, in India at least, patriarchal social norms wield an inordinate power over women and restrict their ability to exercise their agency and achieve self-determination.
Reading through the 390 pages of a novel is not an easy task but the way K.R. Meera manages to retain the reader’s interest is praiseworthy. Despite having so many stereotypical characters strewn throughout the narrative, Meera’s manner of storytelling is unique and like a detective novel one often goes on guessing what happened next.
The book drags a little towards the end and would have read much better if some sort of precision was adopted in the narrative technique. To remain politically correct and elaborate on the reasons and ramifications of the story line sometimes, such details may have been unnecessary.
In the author’s acknowledgements section Meera states that she shadowed Dr. Dhanya Lakshmi in her professional life and for verifying the medical facts and interpretations in the novel. In some places these details seem superfluous and could have been avoided. The author also thanks the advocates who accompanied her to Kottayam’s family courts and observed the court proceedings. The way the interjections of the lawyer and the judge are narrated in the novel sometimes seems rather contrived as the author seems to rely on sensationalism as found in films. The translators use informal expressions in Malayalam for the retention of the local idiom and unlike several other translated texts where the reader is often confused because different relationships are addressed in the local lingo, in this novel it does not seem so. Finally, the way issues of ‘feminism’ and ‘patriarchy’ – the two main thrust areas of the novel – that plague contemporary society in Kerala even today, are wonderfully resolved by the author must be mentioned. K.R. Meera tried to break free from Malayalam literary traditions. Jezebel’s reluctance to take a stand for herself in the novel and the consequent adversities in her life tell a tale of epistemic marginalization. According to the author, “I have seen bold, patient women take their time to stand up for themselves. What we often forget is that to sprout wings, one must go through the stages of being a cocoon and a pupa.” The last sentence of the novel therefore speaks of the resilience of Jezebel when she turned her face up to the sun. The old Jezebel was no more. The new Jezebel is one who received the revelation — “And so, the woman adorned with the sun will weep and wail no more.” The novel is recommended to all readers who will find interest in reading about contemporary Christian society in Kerala and realise that societies in other parts of India are also not free from accepting a powerful educated woman who wants to live her life without paying heed to the shackles imposed at every step through patriarchal domination.
Title: Song of the Golden Sparrow – A Novel History of Free India
Author: Nilanjan P. Choudhary
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
Song of the Golden Sparrow by Nilanjan P.Choudhary is a defiant and gripping novel set in independent India, of its many successes and failures, and of its spirit – often battered by its own people. Choudhury is a new voice from the Northeast. His most recent book, Shillong Times, has been widely acclaimed. His debut novel, a mythological thriller entitled Bali and the Ocean of Milk, was a best-seller.
Placed within the period 1947 to 2022, the Song of the Golden Sparrow sets out to chronicle the history of India as witnessed by a sparrow named Prem Chandra Guha, who is actually a yaksha banished from the kingdom of Alaka by Lord Kubera and punished with the task of writing the history of India. The yaksha, a shape-shifter, finds it convenient to take the form a sparrow, a little bird for the task. Exactly when India enters its tryst with destiny, this sparrow reaches the small town of Netrahat near the forests of Chhota Nagpur and meets Manhoos and Mary. As the fates of Manhoos and Mary take them to various places across India, the sparrow follows too, covering in its wake the important events from their lives; events intertwined with the fate of independent India itself.
Manhoos is an illiterate and orphaned boy, working at a garage. Mary is a spirited tribal girl from a nearby Santhal village. Both are good friends and almost meet every day until they are separated by circumstances. Taken in by a Prince, Manhoos, later Manu, moves to the city of Calcutta from Netrahat, where he learns to read and write and takes on enterprises with the motive to earn money. Mary’s village, on the other hand, is destroyed by the government to make way for land mines. Time brings them together again and they make efforts to stay together. Their lives, however, knotted by various events taking place in the country, diverge to different paths.
The yakhsha or sparrow, who is their constant companion, observes the turns in their lives brought about and affected by larger events like industrialisation, liberation of Bangladesh, rise of Naxal movement, imposition of emergency, birth of Jana Sangh, chipko andolan, fall of a mosque, liberalisation of economy, IT boom, development of Silicon Valley of India, 2002 Gujrat, upheaval of 2014 and pandemic of 2020.
Choudhary employs the tools of magical realism to blend the historical facts with mythology and satire, creating a narrative that not only lets us imagine the lives of ordinary people, carving their own way after independence but also to visualise the many complexities and contradictions which were not only inherited but also turned inevitable as India marched on to the path of progress after attaining freedom from colonial rule.
Figuratively, Manu and Mary represent two distinct facets of independent India which has co-existed amid the incongruities brought about by the political and economic events and has largely shaped the realities of everyday life of common people. Whereas Manu symbolises the progressive, liberal and democratic spirit of the country which desires to advance, to progress and become wealthier by taking every opportunity that arises, Mary is the voice of oppressed people. Manu belongs to the India which made advancement through industrialisation, IT or real estate and cashed on the economic boom brought about by liberalisation of economy. Mary belongs to the India which keeps fighting the system that continues exploiting them whether by displacing them from their homes, their forests, their lands or by not giving them due share in the profits of development whose wheels are turned by them. Their final separation signifies the divide which overtime became even more difficult to address and heal.
The progressive Manu becomes disenchanted with wealth after his wife Sayoni is brutally killed during 2002 Gujrat riots. He returns to his roots and tries to make a meaningful life by devoting himself to the preservation of forests of his homeland. He adopts Ismail, an orphan like him, who is a brilliant young boy and has dreams of pursuing higher education. In 2016, Ismail is heckled to death on the suspicions of cow smuggling. This leaves Manu shattered. And he dies soon afterward.
Through the portrayal of disenchantment and despair of Manu, the author sketches the gloom which has shrouded the country in the last decade. Towards the end, the yaksha sparrow also experience anguish on having to observe and chronicle events which have bloodied the land and the spirit of the country over and over again. As a historian, despite all this, his task is far from over. For he has to keep recording all the incidents for the posterity. It is a tale that asks to be read.
The wound of exile refuses to get healed.
The ghost of one’s nostalgic past;
the fairy of glorious future, designed
a division that refuses to get sealed.
I think of wanderers sometimes,
who went far and wide in search
of a mirage called “home” --
a piece of land that one calls one’s own.
Irony is that no true “home” exists
anywhere in the bounds of mind.
It is built, demolished and abandoned
to the storms of vagabond passion.
Isolation, inner or outer, will coexist,
No matter how far you go. She knows no border;
no human is foreign to her, the enchantress
of alienation will bewitch you,
haunt you and embrace your heart.
I think of those who wander in exile,
Perhaps they had to run for sanity,
Perhaps they had to choose between
death and life, and they chose life in exile.
Their owned world turned hostile,
That insane world didn’t spare their smiles;
didn’t house their self-esteem;
chased their aspirations and dreams.
Being exiled from a place was better
For them than exile in life.
Vipanjeet Kaur resides in India. Her poems have been published in Tangled Locks Journal, Hidden in Childhood anthology, White Enso, Cajun Mutt Press, Lothlorien Poetry Journal and Fevers of the Mind Poetry and Art Group.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
“Two birds balance on the top branches of a tree. Together they fly into the sky”
--Snow flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Friendship is a perennial river of comfort where we can dive and swim throughout our life. Growing up, I was a silent student at school with not many friends and definitely no close companions. I was neither amicable nor bright and made little effort to change this attitude. I spent my teenage years trying to be inconspicuous to my classmates like they were some predatory animals. I didn’t own a personal phone until my undergrad years hence even if I made friends I couldn’t keep in touch with them, which I rarely did even after acquiring a phone. Communication technology especially mobile phones and social media plays a vital role in connecting people and maintaining friendships. At some point in one’s life, everyone finds someone who knows them better than the rest of the world, with whom they share a bit of everything from their life.
I remember the first time I met her; she was sitting across from me — two seats ahead in the institutional shuttle. I could only see a part of her little face, but I could make out the charming smile she wore. It was the second day at my first job. I was still intimidated by the new place and faces. Later that day, she came into our lab, a short affable girl and had the same charming smile. Apparently, she was also working on the same project as me but in a different team. She spoke to my colleague in English. However, I noticed the Malayalamaccent lingering in her words. I wondered why they spoke in English when they were both Malayalis; given that Malayalis have an inherent tendency to communicate with each other in Malayalam wherever they go. I observed her a little longer; definitely bold and smart, I concluded. Who knew then that this smart young woman was to be my north star?
With few joint project meetings, our acquaintance grew from colleagueship to friendship. She often visited our lab. Whenever she came, the gloomy chemical mood of our lab would transform into a jovial garden of fragrant flowers. She would laugh at almost anything and believe me her laughter was very contagious. The silent lab except for the perfunctorily grumbling instruments would suddenly mimic a rackety town hall. Her laughter made me wonder if it was hidden for a long time and finally finding its freedom made up for the lost time. I could see my stoic and altruistic friend find solace in the smile and laughter of others. After a few field trips together, I found a close companion in her. I didn’t know all of her. One can never know the whole of a person however close they are but I felt proud that I knew more of her each day. She was a popular smart friendly face at our institution and now, my friend. There was a sense of happiness and pride in finally finding someone who could bring warmth to your heart and to whom you were more than just a random person.
We had our differences and similarities, arguments and opinions, mischief and complaint — all as the part and parcel of our friendship. We never shared our deep secrets or fears, yet we knew the existence of such buried inside us. Importantly, we knew, if need be, we had each other’s shoulders to lean on and could confide in each other. She made a continuous effort to make me smile by sharing pictures of beautiful flowers, landscapes, hilarious memes, cute animal videos and such. She had inspired the scared timid mind inside me to come into the light. She encouraged me to discover the unmolded writer in me, inspired me to write and share my silly poems. Moreover, she educated me on certain domains of knowledge I lacked and she continued to inspire me every day. She encouraged me to fly with her into the unfathomable spread of the sky. I owe it to her for all my accomplishments in the past three years while all I could be was a listener. She was and is my laotong, the sister of my heart.
We are not perfect people in the perfect world and yet sometimes, our shortcomings drew us closer together. We are two overthinkers with our disconcerting opinions, who can never put a firm foot on the ground. Sometimes when she consults me for my opinion on certain matter,s all I provide her is obscure suggestions making the matter more ambiguous. But my dear friend is always pleased and content with whatever outlook I provide. Even with the continents separating us now we are still the ‘old sames’ close within our hearts.
I have only countable friends, of which there are very few that I still maintain communication. A strange sense of detachment grows in me when the common grounds of friendship alter and are separated by large physical distance. The connection through electronic devices usually wouldn’t suffice to regain my earlier attachment. Hence, I avoid any communication at all. However, I hold them, dear, within my heart even if I constantly fail to express this in person. Strangely with her, I have been able to communicate freely with no detachment as if no distance separated us, mostly due to her persistent efforts rather than mine. And still, she continues to inspire me, spread joy and bring laughter to my face. Like the two birds that return to the same tree branch to share the stories of their daily adventure, we share our daily bits through the electronic branch connecting us. I hope our friendship grows and travels beyond the grasp of time.
Anjali V Raj is a natural science researcher from Kerala, India. She currently works as a researcher at Azim Premji University. Her poems and short essays based on thoughts cultivated from observation of surrounding, lifestyle and society. She has published few of her works in the Down to Earth, The Wire, Café Dissensus Everyday, Borderless Journal and Times of India Reader’s Blog.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
I thought that I didn’t like India Pale Ale until I came to India. I wasn’t pale at the time but I was certainly ale (and arty) because I had just spent three months in Sri Lanka and had acquired something of a tan. Maithreyi, my companion, took me to a place that sold ‘craft’ beers and I changed my mind about the merits of India Pale Ale and my mind has been changed ever since.
The notion of a ‘craft’ beer is one that intrigues and baffles me. I think of a craft as something involving working with wood, chiselling it, shaving it like an orthogonal chin with a plane, drilling it, fitting it together into a chair, table, ark for animals, or something beautiful but useless that looks like furniture but also might conceivably be a petrified tree stump.
Therefore, how can one ‘craft’ a beer? The foam on the surface of the brew once it has been poured into a glass can be removed with a flat tool, the blade of a knife or a metre long ruler or even a credit card. Yes, that is plausible and once or twice I have seen it done. But what other crafty actions remain to be taken in regard to the beer in order that it should be regarded as ‘crafted’? Drilling a beer is a futile exercise. We have all done that with our noses and understand the lack of permanent effect. Who among us has never surrendered to the temptation to dip our noses into the meniscus of our beers?
Let me adjust that hasty statement. Many or at least some of us have done that with our noses, at one time or another, probably long ago when we were the callowest of youths, students at some college or other and fairly new to the rite of drinking beer. The dipping of the nose might even have been accidental. Who can be a harsh judge in such circumstances?
So, it is settled that beer can’t be drilled, nor can it be sawn in half. We have all heard the wise saying that the optimist regards the glass as ‘half full’ and the pessimist regards it as ‘half empty’ and we instinctively know that the liquid in those philosophical glasses is beer. What kind of beer is less clear. If it is totally unclear then it must be a dark beer, but I suspect it is only unclear with a foggy opaqueness, which tends to lead me to conclude it is India Pale Ale. It becomes easier now to picture the scene in the drinking den, whether that den is posh and plush or crude and rude. We see the optimist and the pessimist, good friends but mismatched, holding up their depleted glasses.
Both are drinking India Pale Ale and have consumed exactly fifty percent of the contents of what once were brimming vessels. The optimist looks down at his glass with a large smile, “Ah, it is still half full. What excellent luck!” while the pessimist looks at his own glass with a deep frown, “It’s half empty already, what a blasted nuisance the world is!” But something strange has happened, and we have only just noticed it. We suppose that a ‘half empty’ glass contains beer in the bottom half and air in the top half.
Because this is a vision we are having, and visions aren’t subject to all the laws of physics, especially not gravity, we are amazed to peer closer and see the beer in the pessimist’s glass is confounding our (unreasonable) expectations. It contains the air at the bottom and the beer at the top. The optimist is impressed and cries, “What marvellous luck! You don’t need to tilt your glass at a steeper angle anymore in order to receive the India Pale Ale into your mouth. You can slurp it up from the summit of the glass.”
I am sure the pessimist will object to this positive interpretation of a beery situation and find some convoluted reason why this defiance of gravity is a bad outcome. But I am weary of these two fellows now. Let us leave them in peace to get drunk together, the optimist thinking that being drunk is good, his friend concluding that it’s not as good as he was led to believe it is, and head to a quite different location for a drink of our own.
The place Maithreyi took me to that sells ‘craft’ beers, including the India Pale Ale that is the subject of this small essay, was somewhere in Bangalore not far from Blossom Book House. We had bought books in that house, as we often do, a decent haul, and went to celebrate with beer and nibbles, and later, when we were just a little tipsy, we hurried back to Blossom Book House and bought more books. But this isn’t an article about books. It’s an article, or what passes in my mind for an article, about beer, specifically about the type of beer that is known as India Pale Ale. Where was I?
Oh yes, I was in that place that sold craft beers, and I have decided at this point to stop writing the word ‘craft’ in inverted commas. There were too many craft beers on offer for an easy selection to be made, so we ordered a sampler of many kinds, and they came on a big tray. They were in small glasses, dark beers and golden, reddish beers and greenish, fizzy beers and still beers, and perched on the end of the rectangular tray, two glasses of the mythic India Pale Ale. My reluctance to try these hangers-on is comprehensible when one considers how dreadful a non-craft India Pale Ale can be.
Back in Britain, decades ago, when first I allowed beer to pass the gates of my lips without turning it back, IPA was fairly popular among those unfortunate drinkers who lacked taste buds. Why they lacked taste buds was never explained to anyone’s satisfaction. Presumably they had lost them overboard while sailing from the Far East on packet steamers. It was a long time before I knew that IPA was an acronym for India Pale Ale. I assumed it was a word in its own right and that its own right was wrong. I would say that most beers sold in pubs in Britain in the 1970s were abominable, but this suggests that the Abominable Snowman would like them, and I doubt that he would.
I have done a little research (a very little, almost too little to be regarded as anything other than mildly faffing around) and I learn that India Pale Ales were once a noble style of beer, invented in the 18th Century for export by the sneaky imperialists of the East India Company. It was flavoured with hops, lots and lots of hops, more hops than a kangaroo would do, if it had a chance, and the adding of these extra hops had some effect that meant the ale would mature or whatever the word is during the difficult sea voyage.
I don’t really understand the chemistry of it, and I don’t really want to, I am merely repeating what I found out just now. IPA was an EIC product, proving to my own satisfaction that acronyms aren’t relatively modern inventions but have been around for a very long time. The decline in the quality of IPA, and all beers for that matter, during the 20th Century, is perhaps a mysterious one or maybe it has something to do with the big breweries rapaciously wanting to increase their profits by using less lovely ingredients and processes. I don’t especially like the taste of hops at the best of times. At the worst of times hops make me wince and frown like some kind of wincing frowner, a very lazy comparison, true, but my powers of simile and metaphor are temporarily on hold, for I haven’t recovered from a rather severe bout of acutely remembering the IPA and other beers of my early days on this gracious planet of ours.
A strongly hopped beer tastes, to me, like mouldy bread. The IPA of those long-gone days tasted like a sack of mouldy loaves swung around the head of a gorilla and used to bash one on the bonce. My powers of simile and metaphor, such as they are, seem to have returned. And yet when I took a cautious gulp of the IPA in the place that Maithreyi had guided me to, my preconceptions and established prejudices melted with the delightfulness of the taste that confronted me. What a magnificent India Pale Ale! I tried the other IPA on offer. Golly, this was even more wondrous! Let’s order more!
I say, my dear, we have bought books in our favourite bookshop. Isn’t it an astonishingly beneficial way to pass the time, obtaining books? And it’s not as if we buy them but never read them. We read them! Wouldn’t it be a jolly romp to return to the bookshop, once we have consumed more beers here, and engage in the act of purchasing more books? Indeed!
A final observation from an unobservant chap (myself). Any British fellow who guzzles IPA with gusto and ends up with a sodden moustache and beard as a consequence can be regarded as a ‘Pale Ale Face’ which is what ‘Indians’ in old Westerns almost called cowboys on occasion. Anyway, this essay appears to be over now, and the page on which this final paragraph has been written is an empty glass at last, the brew of its words fully consumed by your eyes, leaving only the dregs of a footnote at the bottom.
 Hale and hearty, a description used frequently in my youth, but which seems to have fallen out of favour. Falling out of favour is easily done if the speeding favour brakes to a sudden halt and the thing that was in favour isn’t strapped in properly. When it falls out of favour it often lands with a painful bump and favour drives off with a monstrous laugh. Even flavours can fall out of favour or back into it.
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.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.
At a time when India is celebrating its 75th anniversary of independence, it is only fitting that Maulana Azad’s contributions to the country should be remembered. He was one of the most prominent Muslim leaders in India’s freedom movement, whose contribution to the establishment of the education foundation in India is recognised by observing his birthday across the country as “National Education Day”.
Azad became the youngest member of Congress to hold a presidential post. Using his position to work to re-unite the Swarajists and the Khilafat leaders under the common banner of the Congress. He opposed the Partition of India because he thought Muslims would be more powerful and dominant in a united India. After independence, he became the first Minister of Education in the Indian government. In 1992, he was posthumously awarded India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna.
Maulana Azad – A Life by S. Irfan Habib is “the biography of an independent thinker who fought for an inclusive India”. In this in-depth chronicle, historian Habib takes the reader through some of the most decisive moments in Azad’s life.
A widely published historian of science and modern political history, Habib was the Maulana Azad Chair at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi. He has authored To Make the Deaf Hear: The Ideology and Programme of Bhagat Singh and His Comrades and is the editor of Indian Nationalism: The Essential Writings.
Says the blurb: “Born into an orthodox family of famed Islamic scholars, Azad was deeply influenced by the pan-Islamic philosophies of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Jamaluddin Afghani. Azad had no formal education, but he was an autodidact who taught himself about culture, philosophy, languages, and literature. As a teenager, he successfully published several magazines and newspapers and went on to publish the immensely popular Urdu weekly Al-Hilal through which he tried to persuade Indian Muslims to shake off the shackles of British rule. He became inspired by Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement and was extremely critical of the Muslim League’s communal politics.”
Azad’s unusual upbringing, his illustrious family, upheavals in the Islamic world, and the initial inklings of Azad’s freethinking outlook on life. ‘Maulana Azad and Critical Thinking in Islam’ examines the various schools of thought, ethical questions, and pan-Islamic debates that shaped Azad’s religious attitudes and his approach to the idea of nationalism. ‘Azad, Islam, and Nationalism’ looks at Azad’s political career and his unwavering belief in composite nationalism and staunch opposition to the Muslim League’s sectarian politics. ‘Ghubar-i-Khatir Beyond Faith and Politics’ lays bare Azad’s philosophical moorings and personal likes and dislikes through a collection of epistolary essays written during his imprisonment in the Ahmednagar Fort prison in the 1940s. And, finally, ‘Building a New India’ charts Azad’s efforts to strengthen the country’s weak education system through initiatives aimed at primary and adult education, his efforts towards the scientific and cultural advancement of the country, and his contribution to the arts and culture of a newly independent nation.”
As Habib writes, “justice is all the more relevant to education as a process of harmonious nurture. Indeed, social justice commands a pivotal place in Azad’s general perspective, which influenced his educational outlook quite profoundly. He was conscious of the fact that a class or caste-ridden education system needed to be replaced by a more inclusive and just educational order. In 1948, while addressing the educational conference, Azad again reiterated that education, at any rate, must be pushed forward as rapidly as possible. We must not, for a moment, forget that it is the birthright of every individual to receive at least the basic education, without which he cannot discharge his duties as a citizen.”
Writes Habib : “With a view to gearing education towards the cause of democracy, he, in his very first official statement, referred to Disraeli’s verdict: ‘A democracy has no future unless it educates its masters.’” In independent and democratic India, with universal franchise as the key principle, the voter was truly the master of democracy, and Azad wanted this voter to be educated and aware. He was conscious of the sad inheritance of colonial inequalities, where 85 per cent of the country’s population was illiterate on the eve of Independence. Several classes and caste discriminations were discussed for the first time, and it was necessary to eliminate them immediately.
Azad was convinced, according to the biography, that the state had to play a key role in combating such social afflictions and provide everyone with the means to “the acquisition of knowledge and self-betterment”; however, the most disconcerting factor was the lack of necessary funds to carry forward the state’s responsibilities. Azad conceded with a sense of guilt as minister of education that the central government had allotted only 1 per cent of the funds in the budget for education. He therefore urged the Constituent Assembly to raise expenditure to 10 per cent.
Maulana Azad pursued the issue with passion and was able to raise the allocation from Rs 20 million to around Rs 350 million during his tenure as minister of education. On September 30, 1953, Azad addressed the nation on All India Radio, reiterating that “every individual has a right to an education that will enable him to develop his faculties and live a full human life.”
In about three hundred pages of inexorable text, Habib reconstructs the life of the remarkable man while arguing that Azad is more relevant now than ever before. An essential read for understanding India’s pre-independence history and the significance of a dedicated life.
Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of Unbiased, No 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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