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Editorial

We Did It!

That good things happen despite darkness, despite prognostications of doom, that light glimmers hope if you strive to focus on your strength in hard times is borne true both in fiction and in life. Perhaps, we cannot get back the old ways (but is that what we want?) but new paths emerge. Old gives way to new. And while trying to gather pearls of human excellence — borne not of awards or degrees but of bringing out the best, the kindest, the most loving in human hearts — we managed to create with a team an outstanding anthology. Woven with the writings of old and new — we created a tapestry together that the editor in chief of our publishing house said was “classy, literary, engaging and international”. That one of the oldest and most reputed publishing houses in India with bookshops countrywide took it on was also an unusual event! We are truly grateful to Om Books International, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri and Jyotsna Mehta along with all our writers and readers who made our anthology a reality, and to Radha Chakravarty and Fakrul Alam for the kind words they bestowed on our effort.

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

Please greet our first anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles, with love and friendship. It could be the perfect Christmas gift in the spirit of the season! And as the blurb says, “it will definitely bring a smile to your face because it is a celebration of the human spirit.”

The anthology is different from our journal in as much as it has a sample of an eclectic collection that has been honed with further editing and has some new features. Most of the writing is from our first year and showcases our ethos, except for Lesya’s poetry and interview. Lesya Bakun from Ukraine is still on the run, looking for a refuge — she cannot return home like you or I can. Her family is scattered across number of countries. Her cousin, who was guarding the factory at Azovstal, was taken prisoner. We included her story in the anthology hoping to create global empathy for refugees as the numbers will increase not only due to war but also due to climate change.

The reason we felt a hardcopy anthology was a good idea was because nothing beats the joy of having a bunch of interesting reads in the warmth of your hands (especially where internet cannot reach or is unavailable). In any case, books with the feel of paper, the rustling whispers which carry voices of leaves can never be replaced as Goutam Ghose had also said in his interview which is now part of our anthology.

And that is why we celebrate more books… this time we feature Singaporean prima donna of literature, Suchen Christine Lim, with her new book Dearest Intimate, a novel that spans more than hundred years including the harrowing Japanese invasion during World War II. She shared sound advice with writers: “Suffering is good for the writer. It will deepen lived experience and expand the heart’s empathy.” And perhaps that is what is echoed through the experiences of the other writer interviewed on our pages by Keith Lyons. This is a writer who not only brought out his own books but was a regular contributor of travel pieces for Frommer’s and National Geographic traveling to unexplored destinations — Christopher Winnan. Another writer Lyon had interviewed recently, Steve Carr, has passed on. We would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

We have a number of books that have been reviewed. Reba Som reviewed Aruna Chakravarti’s Through the Looking Glass: Stories that span eras spread across time. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Birth Lottery and Other Surprises and Bhaskar Parichha, Rahul Ramagundam’s The Life and Times of George Fernandes. Basudhara Roy has written of Afsar Mohammad’s Evening with a Sufi: Selected Poems, translated from Telugu by the poet and Shamala Gallagher, verses that again transcend borders and divides. We have an excerpt from the same book and another from Manoranjan Byapari’s How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit, translated from Bengali by Anurima Chanda.

More translations from Bengali, Balochi and Korean enrich our November edition. Fazal Baloch has translated a story by Haneef Shareef and Rituparna Mukherjee by Shankhadeep Bhattacharya. We have the translation of an inspirational Tagore poem helping us find courage (Shonkho Dhulaye Pore or ‘the conch lies in the dust’). Another such poem by Nazrul has been rendered in English from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. He has also shared an autobiographical musing on how he started translating Tagore’s Gitabitan, which also happens to be his favourite book. More discussion on the literary persona of TS Eliot and the relevance of his hundred year old poem — ‘The Waste Land’ by Dan Meloche adds variety to our essay section.

Evoking the genius of another outstanding artiste, Kishore Kumar, who happened to pen thought provoking dialogues in some films, is Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri’s essay, review of a recent book on the legendary actor-singer and an interview with the authors. Infringing the boundaries of literary with popular culture and art and integrating all forms into a wholistic bundle has been part of our ethos. In that spirit we have a musing by Prithvijeet Sinha on Edvard Munch’s famous painting called Scream. We have non-fiction from Australia spanning Meredith Stephens’s recent brush with Covid, Mike Smith visits a Scottish beach in the footsteps of a novelist, Ravi Shankar has given us a poignant piece for a late friend and Candice Lousia Daquin talks of the existence of bi-racial biases. In contrast, Suzanne Kamata sent a narrative that bridges divides showcasing a German wife of a Japanese scientist that draws us to conclude that biases erode over time to create an acceptance of bi-racial people. Devraj Singh Kalsi brings in humour with his funny narrative about a guitarist. Rhys Hughes writes in a lighter vein on Indian cuisine in his column and spouts more funny poetry bordering on the absurd.

Jared Carter has shared beautiful poetry on murmuration in birds and we have touching verses from Asad Latif for a little girl he met on a train — reminiscent of Tagore’s poem Hide and Seek (Lukochuri). Michael R Burch has given us poems setting sombre but beautiful notes for the season. We host more poetry by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Quratulain Qureshi, Jim Bellamy, Gayatri Majumdar, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Alpana, Jonathan Chan, Saranyan BV, George Freek and many more. We have stories from around the world: India, France and Bangladesh.

Gathering all of your thoughts in strings of words from all corners of the world, we present to you the bumper November issue of Borderless Journal . Thank you all for sharing your thoughts with us. Thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her fantastic painting and more thanks to the whole Borderless team for seeing this issue through. We would not have been able to do the anthology or these issues without each one of you — writers and readers.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

There is always hope for a new tomorrow!

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

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

Categories
Stories

A Letter I Can Never Post

By Monisha Raman

My most precious Gran,

I have a confession to make; I opened the suitcase you asked me not to. Well, it was a good two weeks after you were buried. While sorting a million things in your room with aunt and mom, I found it, a small, grey one stacked under the pile of boxes in the corner.

For as long as I remember, it had been there in the east corner of your wooden floored room and was out of bounds for adults and children alike. When I pulled it out, there were a few moments of silence in the room. I held the forbidden grey box and the three of us looked helplessly at each other, caught in between the right and wrong as Rumi would say.

When the burden of silence grew unendurable, we opened the suitcase. You may feel betrayed for the three women you trusted the most had the audacity to intrude your private space. 

That night, while in bed, my body turned heavy as I sunk deep into the darkness and chaos of guilt. I gasped for air and the mountain wind heavy with moisture, did little to help. I ran helter-skelter through the chasm of my memory. Your ringing laughter guided my way and your stories echoed like strange noises that reverberate while you walk into a deep cave. The familiar name you had often uttered resounded as I traversed the dark channels. When did I first hear it? I don’t remember.

I do remember some instances of you mentioning the name. It was a random conversation of good-looking men in our vicinity and you did say, a certain someone’s son. On one evening while we were discussing the achievements of men and women in our neighbourhood, you mentioned that name again — a man in your neighbourhood, a certain someone’s son. You told us he was your playmate.

One summer evening, when the winds of the hills touched our skins gently as they basked in the last traces of light from the setting sun, you mentioned that name again. You said that my friend, seated next to me, dressed in a white shirt and beige trousers, reminded you of that man. “Majestic demeanour,” you looked into my friend’s eyes and said, “Yet spirit as gentle as the wind outside.” You smiled as you held his hands. Then, as you uttered the familiar name for the last time in my presence, your eyes turned moist — “You remind me of a certain someone’s son.”

Still wriggling in bed, as images and voices from the past haunted me, I thought of your prized possession, the suitcase. Aunt and mom watched that evening as I flipped opened the case. My hands failed to steady themselves. The three of us gasped as your precious box lay bare, revealing what it had steadfastly concealed all these years — a bunch of safety pins, bundles of ribbon, a crocheted purse with a tie-up opening, some old coins that carry no value, a few pebbles, a bizarrely shaped quartz stone with what looked like columns and faces on it and another crocheted purse with tie-up strings concealed underneath all this.

The quartz that has paled from its years in hiding fit perfectly in my palms. Amid the chaos of sharp edges on it was a central pillar, standing tall.  There were odd figurines on either side.  I left it on the table facing the window.

Finally, aunt laid her hands on the last item– a crocheted purse in a medley of colours. The pouch had the hues of the rainbow, held together intricately with a string in white. Aunt gave it to me to untie the white knot atop the small bag. We all knew that if there was one person who would be forgiven for trespassing, that would be me.

As I put my hands into the pouch, a palm-sized photograph in black and white print emerged. I held it between my fingers. A man dressed formally in a suit and tie with curls spilling over his forehead looked straight into my eyes. He was seated on a stool. The years between us melted as I gazed at his big, bold eyes, which were probably coffee brown, just like yours.

In an instant, I was transported into the room where the photograph was being taken. I asked him about the young girl I did not know– the girl who saw certain magic in him and carried it concealed deep within her even when her octogenarian memory failed her at times. He spoke of your smile and your innocence.

He told me stories about the blue Kurinji that blooms once every twelve years in the mountains and the anticipatory excitement that lingered in the air when the buds appeared, and then gradually how the stretches of the mountains turned an enchanting blue as the flower bloomed — a vision that no combination of words can do justice to.  To him, the memory of appeasing blue was visceral and he elaborated how it pacified him during the dark moments when his strength had nothing to grasp.  The Kurinji may blossom and spread its vigour just once in a decade, but he saw its unfurled radiance all the time; behind his closed eyelids, and that was his elixir, a perpetual force his life depended on. He believed that the bewitching plant was your totem, and your spirit lived in it.

Behind the photograph was a name written in blue fountain pen, the name from my distant memory that you had mentioned on a few occasions and beneath it, ‘son of  ………………….’

As I left the room, a strange shadow reflected from the quartz stone on the table. A boy and a girl (with flowing hair) held each other’s hands from around the pillar. They could not see each other but both of them felt the other, all the time.

                                                                                                                       Love,

Your Doll

Kurinji blooms that flower in the Neelgiri hills of India. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Monisha Raman’s essays and short stories have been published by various magazines in Asia and internationally. Her first collection of short stories is being represented by Zuna Literary Agency, India. Her work can be found at https://linktr.ee/Monisharaman.

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

Categories
Poetry

Lines Written at Nalanda

By Sourav Sengupta

LINES WRITTEN AT NALANDA 

The fanatics of every day and age
Are known to fear the inquisitive mind. 
One such was Bakhtiyar who came to wage
A campaign of a very savage kind.
Here, witnessed by these time-encrusted walls,
A thousand helpless monks he set ablaze; 
While o'er these hills a cloud of smoke so tall
Engulfed the skies that darkness reigned for days.
The knowledge of eight hundred years contained
In countless parchment scrolls, in flames was tossed;
And when the fires died all that remained
Was human ash and ash of wisdom lost.
     Today, a tale survives in these relics:
     Of mankind’s folly told in blackened bricks.

Sourav Sengupta is an architect by training and a human resource manager by profession. His poetry has been published in literary journals like Revue {R}évolution, Society of Classical Poets and Better Than Starbucks. He lives and works in Kolkata, India.

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

Categories
Editorial

When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall…

                     “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
                      Think not of them, thou hast thy music too…”

                                 — John Keats (1795-1851), To Autumn
Art by Sybil Pretious

For long writers have associated autumn with “mellow wistfulness”. That loss of spring, or loss of youth is not bleak or regretful has been captured not just by Keats but also been borne out by historical facts. Anthropocene existence only get better as the human race evolves … If we view our world as moving towards an autumn, we perhaps, as Keats suggests, need to find the new “music” for it. A music that is ripe and matures with the passage of time to the point that it moves more towards perfection. Though sometimes lives fade away after autumn gives way to winter as did those of  Queen Elizabeth II (April 21st 1926 – September 8th 2022) after a reign of seventy historic years and Mikhail Gorbachev (2nd March 1931 – 30thAugust 2022) with his admirable efforts to bridge divides. Both of them have left footprints that could be eternalised if voices echo in harmony. Thoughts which create bonds never die – they live on in your hearts and mine.

Imagine… ten thousand years ago, were we better off? Recorded history shows that the first war had already been fought 13,000 years ago. And they have continued to rage – but, at least, unlike the indomitable Gauls in Asterix[1] comics – not all jumped into the fray. They did during the last World Wars — which also led to attempts towards institutionalising humanitarian concerns and non-alignment. Yes, we have not had a perfect world as yet but as we age, the earth matures and we will, hopefully, move towards better times as we evolve. Climate change had happened earlier too. At a point, Sahara was green. Continental shifts split Pangaea  into seven continents – that was even earlier. That might have driven the dinosaurs to extinction. But I am sure mankind will find a way out of the terror of climate change and wars over a period of time, as long as we believe in deciphering the sounds of autumn as did Keats in his poem.

Tagore had also sung of the joys of autumn which happens to be a time for festivities. Professor Fakrul Alam has translated three such songs, reflecting the  joie de vivre of the season, The translation of a small poem, Eshecche Sarat[2], brings the beauty of the season in Bengal to the fore. We have a celebration of youth and romance in a Balochi folksong, an anti-thesis to autumn and aging, translated for us by Fazal Baloch and also, poetic prose in quest of God and justice by Haneef Sharif, translated from Balochi by Mashreen Hameed. Lost romance recapitulated makes interesting poetry is borne out by Ihlwha Choi’s translation of his own poem from Korean. But the topping in our translation section is a story called ‘Nagmati[3]’ by eminent Bengali writer, Prafulla Roy, translated by no less than a Sahitya Akademi winning translator – Aruna Chakravarti. This story illustrates how terrifying youthful follies can lead to the end of many young lives, a powerful narrative about the snake worshipping community of Bedeynis that highlights destruction due to youthful lusts and an inability to accept diverse cultures.  

When this cultural acceptance becomes a part of our being, it creates bonds which transcend manmade borders as did the films of Satyajit Ray. His mingling was so effective that his work made it to the zenith of an international cinematic scenario so much so that Audrey Hepburn, while receiving the Oscar on his behalf, said: “Dear Satyajit Ray. I am proud and privileged to have been allowed to represent our industry in paying tribute to you as an artist and as a man. For everything you represent I send you my gratitude and love.”

This and more has been revealed to us in a book, Satyajit Ray: The Man Who Knew Too Much, authored by a protagonist from Ray’s film, Barun Chanda. This book brought out by Om Books International reflects not just Ray as a person but also how he knitted the world together with his films and took the Indian film industry to an international level. Barun Chanda has been interviewed with a focus on Satyajit Ray. Keith Lyons has also interviewed a man who has defied all norms and, in the autumn of his life, continues his journey while weaving together cultures across, China, India and Thailand by his ethnographic studies on tribes, Jim Goodman. Goodman says he left America when speaking for a war-free world became a cause for censorship. This makes one wonder if war is a game played for supporting a small minority of people who rule the roost?  Or are these ramblings of a Coleridge writing ‘Kubla Khan’ under the influence of narcotics?

Poetry also brings the season into our pages with an autumnal interpretation of life from Michael Burch. More poetry from Sunil Sharma, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Gayatri Majumdar, George Freek, Ron Pickett, Sutputra Radheye, Marianne Tefft brings a wide range of concerns to our pages – from climate to the vagaries of human nature. Poetry by an Albanian writer, Irma Kurti, and photographs by her Italian spouse, Biagio Fortini, blend together the colours of humanity. Rhys Hughes as usual, makes it to the realm of absurd – perhaps voicing much in his poetry, especially about the environment and human nature, though he talks of woodpeckers on Noah’s ark (were there any?) and of cows, yetis, monkeys and cakes… He has also given us a hilarious cat narrative for his column. Can that be called magic realism too? Or are the edges too abstract?

A book excerpt from Hughes’ Comfy Rascals Short Fiction and a review of it by Rakhi Dalal makes us wonder with the reviewer if he is a fan of Kafka or Baudelaire and is his creation a tongue-in-cheek comment on conventions? A book review by Hema Ravi of Mrutyunjay Sarangi’s A Train to Kolkata and Other Stories and another by Bhaskar Parichha of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Life, Struggle and Politics, authored by Netaji’s nephew’s wife, Krishna Bose, translated and edited by her son, Sumantra Bose, unveils the narratives around his life and death.

A leader who quested for freedom and roamed the world after being passed over by the Congress in favour of Nehru, Netaji raised an army of women who were trained in Singapore – not a small feat in the first half of the twentieth century anywhere in the world. His death in an air crash remained an unsolved mystery — another one of those controversies which raged through the century like the Bhawal case. In his review, Parichha spells out: “Aiming to bring an end to the controversies and conspiracy theories surrounding the freedom fighter, the over 300-page book gives a detailed and evidence-based account of his death in one of its chapters.”

Our book excerpts in this edition both feature writers of humour with the other being the inimitable Ruskin Bond. We have an excerpt of Bond’s nostalgia from Between Heaven and Earth: Writings on the Indian Hillsedited by Ruskin Bond and Bulbul Sharma.

Our non-fiction also hosts humour from Devraj Singh Kalsi about his interactions with birds and, on the other hand, a very poignant poetic-prose by Mike Smith reflecting on the vagaries of autumn. From Japan, Suzanne Kamata takes us to the Rabbit Island – and murmurings of war and weapons. We have the strangest story about a set of people who are happy to be ruled by foreign settlers – we would term them colonials – from Meredith Stephens. G Venkatesh delights with a story of love and discovery in Korea, where he had gone in pre-pandemic times. Paul Mirabile travels to Turkey to rediscover a writer, Sait Faik Abasiyanik (1906-1954). And Ravi Shankar gives us an emotional story about his trek in the Himalayas in Nepal with a friend who has passed on. Candice Louisa Daquin has written of the possibilities towards integrating those who are seen as minorities and marginalised into the mainstream.

The edition this time is like Autumn – multi-coloured. Though I am not able to do justice to all our contributors by mentioning them here, my heartfelt thanks to each as every piece only enriches our journal. I urge you to take a look at the September edition.

I would like to give huge thanks to our readers and our team too, especially Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious for their artwork. We could not have come this far without support from all of you.

Thank you.

Happy Reading!

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com


[1] The men in the indomitable Gaulish village (which the Romans failed to conquer) in times of Julius Caesar loved to jump into a fight for no reason…Asterix was the protagonist of the comics along with his fat friend Obelix

[2] Arrival of Autumn

[3] Snake Maiden

Categories
Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

The Chopsy Moggy*

Courtesy: Creative Commons

I sat down to write a new story and as I did so, I thought aloud: “I want it to be about a talking cat,” and much to my surprise my own cat, who happened to be crouching on my desk, shook her head.

Then she said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?” I wanted to know.

“It’s corny and a cliché. It has been done too many times before. It’s twee and awfully sentimental. Childish too.”

“I feel rather discouraged now,” I admitted.

“Oh, don’t take it so badly. You can write my story, if you like. Just don’t say I’m a talking cat when you do.”

“And what is your story? I knew you when you were a kitten. You haven’t done much since then, to be honest.”

“You are wrong. My life has been dramatic.”

“I don’t call sleeping most of the day and sitting in boxes very exciting. In fact, your ability to talk is by far the most interesting thing about you. If I can’t mention that, why should I bother?”

“You don’t know what I get up to at night. But I will tell you. Pick up your pen and get ready to make notes.”

I did as I was bid and my cat began…

You are generally fast asleep (she said) when I go off on my adventures. There’s a rug in the lounge that is a magic carpet. You don’t know this because you have never tried to activate it. Scratching it in a certain way, pulling out threads here and there, makes it fly. I discovered all this by accident, of course. It was a night last spring and you had left the window open for a cool breeze. The rug rose in the air and carried me out into the garden.

Then it climbed higher and higher and soon the town was tiny beneath me. I didn’t know how to control the thing and I padded it with my paws in various places. Eventually I learned how to steer it by moving my weight from one side to the other. I used my tail as a rudder to make steering even more precise. And when I wanted to go faster, I just opened my mouth wide and mewled. I flew off and enjoyed exploring distant countries.

Where did you get the rug from? Magic carpets are far more common than people think. You assumed it was just an ordinary floor covering when you went into a shop to buy it. The threads woven into it might originally have come from India or Persia. I wondered how fast it could fly and so I decided to find out. I mewled and mewled as loud as I could and the rug accelerated until the ground beneath me became a blur. That was fun!

The wind stroked my fur and it was a pleasant sensation but it occurred to me that I might crash into a mountain if I couldn’t see where I was going. I shut my mouth and immediately started to slow down. It was night and the stars were big and bright above me and then I saw stars below me too, and I was baffled by this, because the lower stars seemed cleaner, as if they had been washed. Maybe some giant cosmic cat had licked them?

It took me a long time to understand that the lower stars were reflections in the sea and not real stars at all. I was over an ocean. I can’t say I was pleased by this, because water has always seemed a suspicious substance to me, something not to be trusted, avoided even, though I concede that it’s often necessary to life, which is why I sometimes stoop to drinking it. But all this is irrelevant. No land was in sight in any direction. I had flown halfway round the world and was now cruising above the Pacific. How risky!

My calculations were instinctive rather than mathematical, but cats have an aptitude for sensing where they are and as a navigator I’m reliable, but my exact latitude and longitude was impossible to specify. I was still travelling forward at a reduced velocity and I noticed other objects flying to my left and right, smaller than aeroplanes and soundless, and after a while it became clear they were much nearer to me than before, converging at an unseen point ahead, some destination beyond the horizon, and I was intrigued.

Soon enough, I was able to discern the details of these mysterious craft and I saw they were rugs of many different colours, magic carpets just like mine, an armada of levitating floor coverings, a flotilla if you prefer, all piloted by sundry animals: dogs, rabbits, snakes, squirrels, wombats. And the rug on my starboard side was so close that its occupant, a monkey of some kind, was able to shout at me and be understood. He yelled:

“You are the cat representative, I take it?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“You must be. You are a cat sitting on a magic carpet and you are flying to the assigned rendezvous. Therefore–”

“But what is waiting at that rendezvous?”

“An urgent meeting.”

“But a meeting with whom?”

“With us!” he cried, astonished at my ignorance. “One talking animal from every species on the planet.”

“The point of this meeting is what?”

“The conferring of special powers on attendees, as promised in the oracles of ancient days. Surely you haven’t forgotten the words of the oracles? They are unambiguous about this event.”

He continued to talk, despite the shaking of my head. He said, “We talk but that’s the only way we exceed our limitations. After the meeting we will be able to do everything that humans can.”

“Already we may do more than men.”

“True, but we can also do less. It depends on the task, and they are superior when it comes to power. After the meeting, this imbalance will change. We will be better than them in every way.”

“I never received an invitation,” I protested.

“Yes, you did, or you wouldn’t be here now, on a magic carpet, heading in the right direction. Do you expect me to believe that you are here by accident, a rogue feline who flies to the island thanks to coincidence alone? Do you wish to imply that the genuine cat representative is elsewhere, perhaps having overslept in a basket, as your kind often do?”

“I can’t say,” I said.

“The oracles have given us the sacred date. The day that humans call May Day and shortly those tyrants will be calling ‘mayday’ when we dislodge them from their undeserved thrones.”

“May Day,” I repeated, still puzzled.

“Yes,” he said, pleased.

“I never know the names of days.”

“The island is not far now. Soon it will be visible. I know your ignorance is a pretence. Now let us focus on flying. We are converging from every direction and the sky will be thick with magic carpets. Accidents will happen if we aren’t very careful with our steering.”

I nodded, for I knew not what else to do.

And then I saw it.

A mountain rising out of the sea.

It was an enormous peak, shaped like a pyramid, with smooth sides and a truncated summit, so that instead of a sharp apex it had a flat space at the top, an area the size of a square dinner table. But that flat space was utterly black and I realised it wasn’t solid. It was an entrance into the hollow mountain. This was a place where animals could meet secretly in considerable safety. The only danger was the chance of midair collisions as all the magic carpets tried to dive down into that small opening. I grew nervous.

I decided to drop behind a little, to give the others a chance to enter before me and clear the airways for my own approach and descent. I still wasn’t sure I was supposed to be going to the meeting or not. Maybe I had been invited ages ago and had forgotten. It was possible. I thought that if I went I would find out for sure, and I doubted I would be deeply in trouble if it turned out I wasn’t the official delegate. I applied the air brake.

In other words, I raised my tail and increased the drag coefficient. Soon my speed was only half of the other flying carpets and they flew ahead. One by one they reached the mountain and zoomed through the narrow entrance and to my astonishment there were no accidents. The sky cleared and at last it was my turn and I felt more confident about a safe landing. The mountain was just ahead of me now and so I began a smooth descent.

But I am a cat and my essential feline nature took over. How could I settle down to rest on an island without circling it first? I was filled with an irresistible urge to fly around that island a few times before dipping into the opening on the top of the mountain. And that’s what I did. Clockwise around the island flew my rug as I gracefully steered it. I circled the mountain four and a half times and the number seemed right to me. Then I dropped into the hole and landed on a basalt platform far below in a very dim light.

I thought that the interior of the mountain would be crowded with the other animals that had preceded me, but it was empty. No creatures and no carpets. At first I supposed they had gone off into an adjacent chamber for their meeting but it soon became obvious that the chamber I was in was the only room down here. Just this immense space inside a hollow mountain and nothing else. It was the greatest mystery I had encountered in my life. The animals had vanished! What could be the reason for this? And how?

I pondered the matter for a long time, an hour or more, and then the answer occurred to me. The island was located in the Pacific and so is the International Date Line. I surmised that the line itself passed right through the middle of this peculiar mountain. I circled the island four and a half times, which means that I entered the hollow mass of rock from the opposite side to the one from which I had approached it. In other words, I had crossed the Date Lane and was one day early for the meeting. Instead of it being May Day it was the day before. What a curious situation to be in! So I waited.

I sat patiently on my rug for an entire day and when midnight passed and it was tomorrow again, I was ready to receive the other animals, who were due to arrive on May Day. But none of them showed up. Then I examined what I knew about geography and I realised my terrible mistake. I had crossed the Date Line in a westerly direction, ending up in the eastern hemisphere, which meant that I had arrived a day late rather than a day early. May Day had been and gone. The meeting was over and I had missed it.

This made me feel despondent and I scratched my rug to cause it to ascend through the hole and hover above the mountain. I now saw I wasn’t the only one to have made a mistake. The dog delegate was still circling the island, having an even stronger desire to go round and round before settling down than I did. We called out to each other and I told him the meeting was over. At first he doubted my words and thought I was just a cat trying to trick him, as cats often do, but I eventually convinced him of the facts.

With his tail between his legs, he zoomed away, howling forlornly, his ears flapping in the breeze as he accelerated. I also turned my carpet in the direction of home. I wondered if the real cat delegate had turned up or not. I asked myself if all other species of animal would now have special powers with the exception of cats and dogs. It was sobering. Dogs would definitely miss out, but cats still had a chance. It depended, as I have said, on the official cat guest. Even to this day I don’t know if he or she successfully attended the meeting. I don’t feel an increase in my powers, but who knows?

I returned home and glided in through the open window while you were in the garage tinkering with something or other. You came into the house and were delighted to see me. I had been missing for a full day and more and you thought I might have become lost or stuck up a tree. You hadn’t noticed that the rug was gone too. You aren’t very observant really. But that works to my advantage, so I don’t mind. You made a fuss of me and that was the right thing for you to do. It is my longest journey on the magic carpet to date, but I might go even further in the future. It all depends on how I feel.

“And that’s your story?” I cried.

“Yes,” said my cat.

“And you want me to write it down?”

“You can, if you like.”

“But without mentioning the fact you can talk?”

She nodded. “Indeed.”

I was exasperated and shouted, “How can I leave out that detail? The entire point of your story hinges on the fact you can talk. It is about speaking animals. If I’m not allowed to mention your vocal abilities, I might as well not bother to write the story at all. You have set me an impossible task. To omit the one thing that makes the tale worth telling!”

She shrugged. “You are the human, not I.”

“What do you mean?”

“Humans are the ones who think they are so clever and capable. They give the impression that they can achieve anything, that we are just dumb beasts and they are the supreme intellectuals.”

I was unable to find an appropriate reply.

She continued, “So if you can’t think of a way to square the circle and tell my story without telling it, that’s not my concern. But I strongly advise you not to tell any other story about a talking cat, because it’s a theme that is worn out. It should be my story or nothing.”

She curled up and purred and closed her eyes.

My desk was no longer a desk.

I laid down my pen.

Courtesy: Creative Commons

*British slang for “The Talkative Cat”

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

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Categories
Poetry

The Invisible Man

By Sutputra Radheye

Courtesy: Creative Commons
THE MAN

he stands like shield as the bullets hit
his body, he jumps inside the house
to save the children stuck in the fire
he climbs the pole to fix the wires
for the bulbs to glow at night
he cleans the drains for the cities
to prevent flooding, he carries the bricks
and builds the house, he farms the land
and commits suicide when he can’t repay
the loan, he drives your motors around
the world, he who is not a millionaire
or a minister, he who struggles everyday
to feed his family, to provide
he is the man no one talks about.


16 AUGUST, 2022

on the request of the government
indians bought flags 
to celebrate seventy-five years
of independence

they put it on their gates
bikes, cars, buses and trucks
some wore tricolour pagris*
while some badges

the next day was different
as those flags were being dumped
on the streets, on the banks
and beaches, polluting the india
they worshiped a day before

*Turbans in Hindi

Sutputra Radheye is a young poet from India. He has published two poetry collections — Worshipping Bodies(Notion Press) and Inqalaab on the Walls (Delhi Poetry Slam)His works are reflective of the society he lives in and tries to capture the marginalised side of the story.

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Categories
Poetry

I Gather Words…

By Ms. Shareefa Beegam PP

WORDS

I gather words, 
As a forest gathers sunlight through the interstices,
As a hut collects light through the crevices of a thatched roof.
The book I open is the sun that is ready
To beam into the depths of the earth in full swing,
But is impeded by the dough made in between
Neighbours ringing the doorbell.

I read a sentence,
And someone pops up from nowhere
Demanding a chit-chat I can’t shake off.
I read the next line --
It stumbles on twigs and leaves,
Orders of tea and snacks,
Demands for meals to be cooked and served,
To water plants,
Relentless demands of the household.

I read one more line and I am held up by offshoots.
My boy comes asking me to join him,
If not in play, to nap with him,
 “Please don’t read Mama, simply look at me.”

Dropping on these leaves and limbs,
The light in its fullness forms rays and showers.
Still, I get glimpses to gather,
The filtered vignettes of lights and beams
 I convert into,
Lightning and thunder.

Shareefa Beegam PP is an academic and a writer from India. She is an Assistant Professor at PSMO College, Tirurangadi, Kerala. She is also a researcher at Farook College, Calicut. She has translated contemporary Malayalam stories into English.

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Categories
Musings

Istanbul

By G Venkatesh

Istanbul Airport. Courtesy: Creative Commons

The Schengen visa did not help much, being as it was on one of the pages of an Indian passport. I was told I could not get an on-the-spot transit visa to walk out of the airport and see the city of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, which was one upon a time Byzantium, which in turn was known as Nova Roma when the Romans ruled it. Well, that meant spending 24 hours at the Kemal Ataturk airport – waiting for the Turkish Airlines flight to Oslo the next day in the morning. Memories of Tom Hanks in Terminal flashed past the mind’s inner eye.

Coffee and vegetable burger later, I sat down to test if a free wireless connection was available in the precincts of the airport. It was, and I could check my e-mail; not just that, I could also thereby shoot across some crosswords’ designs that I do for a magazine. Great way to spend time, I thought. Time was, is and will always be money!  My focus on the laptop screen was disturbed when a man walked past on my left, proferred his right hand and asked “Indian?”

“Yes,” said I, accepting the handshake.

“Pakistani, Shakeel,” he responded and sat down on the chair next to mine and immediately asked me if he could use my laptop for 5 minutes. I had heard about instances of threat mails being sent from cyber cafes or from laptops or desktops of totally-innocent, unsuspecting friends or acquaintances. Wariness did creep in instantly, but then I decided that I would not leap before looking… looking at the screen as he was accessing his mail. I did not wish to play into the hands of the ‘enemy’ as a noble do-gooder. There would have been nothing more disconcerting than that!

He spent more than 5 minutes and an edgy yours sincerely had to butt in with, ‘Boss, I have some urgent work to do; if you have finished.’ When I got back ‘possession’, I vowed to work on till the battery ran out, designed a crossword in the process, and then on the pretext of my fear of using unsecured wireless networks for too long, strapped the laptop back in my backpack.

After a long silence, I devised a means of dissociating myself from his company. “Okay then, I think I will just take a walk around the airport. It was nice meeting you.” I held out my hand.

He looked up and said, “I guess I shall also join you. What will I do sitting here all alone?”

I wanted to say, “That is none of my concern.” I did not. I would be saddled with Shakeel for the next 24 hours!

From my side, the ice was not broken. Hence, when he quizzed in Punjabi about what I did for a living, where I worked and how much I earned, I was a bit startled. I recalled being in the situation of the protagonist (played by amnesiac Aamir Khan) in the film Ghajini and wanted to say exactly what he says when a woman tries to get very informal with him – “I do not think I have known you so well as to be obliged to answer those questions.”

I brushed aside the questions however and decided to be as wary as wary could be. Shakeel, it turned out, had been living in Austria for seven years, managing a restaurant with his uncle. He had missed his Austrian flight in the morning, as the Emirates flight which got him into Istanbul from Dubai was delayed by 15 minutes. He had now asked his agent to rebook a seat for him on the flight to Austria next morning.

Shakeel talked of Indo-Pak business partnerships in Europe and lamented at the tension that has gripped the relations between these two neighbouring countries. I had the book, Wings of Fire with me. He pointed at Dr APJ Abdul Kalaam’s picture on the cover and commented that he is a very competent individual and wondered why he could not continue for a second term as President. During the conversation, mostly one-sided, he also said that people in India and Pakistan are more engrossed in producing babies while the rest of the world is pulling up its bootstraps and progressing fast. This statement, coming from a Muslim, took me aback a bit.

I treated him to Turkish coffee, after which he excused himself to go to the in-airport mosque, requesting me to mind his bags. “Risky undertaking,” I thought. What if…

He returned after a while though, and I scolded myself for having succumbed to paranoia and subsequent suspicion.

At around 6.30 pm, Shakeel insisted it was time for dinner and wanted to repay me for the coffee I had treated him to, by buying me dinner. I told him to carry on and said that it would be too early for me to dine. He looked at me and said, “Okay then, we will dine whenever you want to.” This was surprisingly very heartwarming and as we had known each other for just about 12 hours or so, seemed a bit too unreal. Such acts are the prerogatives of brothers and good friends.

As the day petered to a close, we decided not to sleep-starve ourselves anymore. Shakeel, still unsure of whether or not his agent would be able to confirm his booking on the next morning to Austria, dozed off and slept soundly. They say that anyone who can sleep without burdens or worries on his mind, has a clean and pure conscience. I, with a confirmed ticket, could not sleep for more than four hours – unclean and impure conscience?  I was up at 5.00 am, and at 7.30 am when I headed to board my Turkish Airlines flight to Oslo, Shakeel was still sleeping! I did not want to wake him.

Once in Norway, I sent him an e-mail. At the time of writing, it has been quite a while since I did that, and there has been no response, Maybe, he will not respond. Maybe, he is a good person who was upset with my not having the courtesy to bid him a proper ‘Khuda Hafeez’. I would never know.

Strange lessons learnt at the Kemal Ataturk Airport.

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G Venkatesh (50) is a Chennai-born, Mumbai-bred ‘global citizen’ who currently serves as Associate Professor at Karlstad University in Sweden. He has published 4 volumes of poetry and 4 e-textbooks, inter alia. 

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Categories
Poetry

Coloured Roofs

By Sutputra Radheye

COLOURED ROOFS

a storm visited the area yesterday


all the houses were roofless

as the tins were blown away

to the fields 


the people

hid under anything they could find

in their moment of desperation


the next day, the officials came

for inspection of the area



they marked the houses

by the colour of the roof

saffron-- fifty nine

green-- forty


one month later

all the saffron roofed houses

got a message on their phones


“Your bank account xxyyzzzz have been credited 

with 50,000 only”


whereas the green roofs

just imagined what it would be like

to live in a saffron roofed house.

Sutputra Radheye is a young poet from India. He has published two poetry collections — Worshipping Bodies (Notion Press) and Inqalaab on the Walls (Delhi Poetry Slam)His works are reflective of the society he lives in and tries to capture the marginalised side of the story.

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Categories
pandies' corner

Children of Nithari: Lockdown

Written by Jishan in Hindustani, translated by Grace M Sukanya

Jishan is a 23-year-old final year student of B.A Political Science, working as a receptionist at a dental clinic to support himself and his family. A curious person, he likes travelling, and football. He is a fan of the Liverpool Football Club. He has been associated with pandies’ for 12 years. Having participated in Nithari productions, he seeks pandies’ to further train himself as an actor and a facilitator of workshop theatre.

Lockdown

I was a 24-year-old happy-go-lucky guy, always searching for the silver lining. Because of the poor financial condition of my family and admittedly, also a lack of interest, I could not finish school. A lot of people from my village were working in the city. I decided to join them and try my luck. One of my uncles found me a job in an export factory.

Everyone at the factory was quite friendly, so I did not miss my family too much. The salary was okay too; I was able to rent a small room, and even after spending on food, I managed to save a little money to send home. My daily routine was fixed: I woke up early, made rotis to pack for lunch, and then got ready quickly to reach the factory on time.

That day, the sun felt a bit harsh in the sky. It was Holi[1] a few days ago and people say the weather does get a little warmer after that.

I packed my lunch, got ready and left for work as usual. Many people had started wearing masks. There are some masked people in the bus too. Apparently, there is some new disease called ‘corona’ and this mask helped defend us from it.

When I reached work, everyone was talking about corona. I didn’t know much about it, so I asked my friend Rohit, “Brother, what is this corona everyone keeps talking about?”

“Haven’t you seen the news on your phone? In China, people walking down the street are suddenly just dropping dead from it. It’s very dangerous, and now they are saying that it may have entered our country too,” he told me.

“You know I only use my phone to listen to songs and watch films, I don’t use it to keep up with the news,” I responded. 

“Okay but be careful from now on. To protect yourself from this disease, don’t go to crowded places, wash your hands frequently and well, and generally keep yourself and your surroundings clean,” he said.

I found this disconcerting, but I got back to my work quietly.

*

Talk about the disease had been increasing daily.

I had never before been as scared as I was by the thought of this new disease.

One evening, while still at work, I found out that the government could announce a lockdown to deal with this illness. Rohit said that in case of lockdown, we would not be able to leave our houses or even come to work.

The company informed us that since it would have to close and work would get stalled, our salaries would also be reduced.

I told myself it would soon be fine. It would only last a few days, and everything would go back to normal. And I would have enough money saved to afford food for a few days without work.

After work that day, I returned home and quickly went to the grocery to get rations. I didn’t know if the shops would be open during lockdown in case it happened. While making dinner that night, I started thinking: “If the lockdown happens, how will I survive alone in this tiny room all by myself, for 8 – 10 days?”

That night, the government ordered a complete lockdown for three weeks.

It’s the first morning of the lockdown. I woke up late because I don’t have to go work. The weather was pleasant – not too hot, not too cold. But everything felt deserted and empty. There was no one to be seen outside, none of the usual sounds.

I had tea and biscuits for breakfast, washed my clothes and did some chores around the house.

It had been 7-8 days since the lockdown was announced, but they were saying in the news that the number of infections were still increasing. I heard that even the lockdown may be extended by a few more days.

On top of that, my landlord and neighbours thought I was part of a religious sect that was being held responsible for the spread of the disease. My landlord told me the other day, “It’s because of people like you that this disease has taken root in our country. Clear out of this room as soon as you can and leave!”

My neighbours also looked at me with suspicion. But I had never been a part of any religious sect. If this lockdown went on for a few more days, where would I stay, how would I eat?

The ration I had would last only another 3-4 days. The government said they would be providing ration for everyone but when I went to the government run ration shop, they asked for my ration card, which I didn’t have.

I was feeling very alone. I want to return home. But how would I go? Train, bus — all transportation had shut down.

Some people had started off for their villages on foot. But my village was so far, how would I walk to it? And I saw on the news that many people who were walking couldn’t even make it to their homes – they died of hunger on the way or were crushed to death by the overloaded trucks.

I could not walk back home.

*

I had spoken to a few people from my village on the phone. They too were in the city. They said they were planning to cycle back home, and I could accompany them. But I didn’t have a cycle.

There was a tailor who lived nearby, I used to go to his place quite often. He was a kind person. Maybe I could ask if I could borrow his cycle…

The tailor gave me his cycle for half its price, and I told him I wold pay him the other half when I returned.

Now that I had figured out how to go home, I bought snacks for the road, and gave my leftover ration to someone else. I had only three or four hundred rupees left and a couple days of ration. I might or might not have died of this disease, but I would definitely have died of hunger if I had to stay on in this city. 

I was leaving with Ali, one of the other men from my village who worked in the city. He told me to be ready by 7 pm.

It was almost evening. My bags were packed. I was feeling much better now that I knew I was going back to my village and would soon be meeting my parents.

At 7 pm, all of us had gathered at the meeting point on the main road. Including Ali and me, there were four of us leaving together, and each had his own cycle. Night was looming, and all the roads looked abandoned as we started off.

We had been riding for some 20-25 km, slowly going towards the highway, when a police car approached us and asked us to stop.

We show them our IDs. They too started accusing us of being part of the religious sect that everyone was blaming for the spread of the disease.

You know the reputation of the police in India; you give a little money and they let you off… So, we said to him, “Brother, tell us what we can do for you, and let us go?”

He said, “No way, brother, I don’t want any part of your corona.”

We plead with him to let us go, because we had no more ration left to survive in the city but he said, “If I let you go, you will spread corona in your villages too. You’re going there to spread this disease only, no? Hunger may or may not kill you, but we definitely will.”

*

You can imagine what else happened to that poor boy. This was not my story — this was the story of all of us from challenged backgrounds who suffered during the lockdown.

Thank you.

Grace M Sukanya is a 28-year-old filmmaker based in Delhi, India. She is interested in creating arts-based educational interventions for children that respond to socio-political issues. She has been associated with pandies’ theatre since 2020. This is her second translation in the series.


[1] Indian festival of colours

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