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Editorial

Reach for the Stars

Courtesy: Creative Commons
“Nothing can be unconditional: consequently, nothing can be free.”


“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” 

-- George Bernard Shaw,  Maxims for Revolutionists, Man & Superman (1903) 

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), a great writer and playwright, used these epigrammatic lines to bring focus on what people thought was liberty or freedom from oppression, from regimes that were dictatorial. While discussing concepts of freedom, one does wonder if political freedom solves all humane issues, occasions we celebrate with great aplomb, like the birth of a nation.

This month started with the observance of July 4th, the date of the American Revolution in 1776 and the publication date of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in 1855. In between these two years, in 1789, ten days down the line, on July 14th, another significant occurrence has been handed down by history to be celebrated as the Bastille Day— the day prisoners were freed from Bastille, a major event that led to the overthrow of the insensitive monarchy in France, a symbolic resurgence of the common, exploited man that has often been seen as an inspiration for later uprisings to reinforce the concept of democracy or liberté, égalité, fraternité.

As we move forward in time, towards August, one wonders if liberty attained by these means was good for all fellow humans? France was part of the Allied Forces that with America taking the lead dropped not one but two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945, to end the Second World War. Did the ends justify the means? Reflecting the cry and suffering of these victims, we have poetry from Suzanne Kamata, a well-known writer from Japan. Michael Burch on the other hand has shared poetry with us which shows how the nuclear programme continued unrepentant despite the devastation it caused. One must give kudos to the descendants of the victims of the nuclear blast that they have forgiven the perpetrators, admitted their own hand in the Second World War and moved ahead. In that spirit, we have an essay on peace by Candice Louisa Daquin, who joins the Borderless team as a writer-in-residence.

We have much happening in poetry this time with an interview of American poet Jared Carter, a recipient of number of awards and fellowships, including the Walt Whitman Award and the Guggenheim fellowship. He walks us through how he created the poem ‘Yeti’ (first published in the May edition of Borderless) and talks of the impact of artifacts from China and India on his own thought processes, the impact of Du Fu (712-770) and much more. We have a poem in Du Fu’s style this time by George Freek and an interesting poem with a Chinese title by Carter, a title that can have multiple connotations and yet each seems to fit the poem perfectly.

Rhys Hughes has brought humour into our pages with both his poetry and essay on William Mcgonagall, who bore the sobriquet of the worst writer in the world through his life and had things thrown at him when he read his poetry in Dundee. Yet, his work survived the beatings, and he lives on known as the ‘Scottish Homer’.

More poetry by Singaporean poet Marc Nair gives us a glimpse of the little island as viewed by someone who has grown up on it. Poetry is always multi-hued, and we have Lorraine Caputo transport us to a Garífuna village in Honduras. Penny Wilkes takes us ‘Down the Path of Nostalgia’ with a mix of old and new photography, prose and poetry on how almost a decade after the end of the Second World War, she started her love affair with photography and nature. It hovers between poetry and musings, and this time we have a rare musing by Jared Carter too. Devraj Singh Kalsi continues cogitating with wry humour while arranging bookshelves. We also have the backpacking granny visiting Indonesia. Post sharing this trip, our granny — Sybil Pretious — plans a little break from publishing to complete her memoirs.

A riveting flash fiction by Kaiyi Tan celebrates the spirit of conquest in these dark times, weaving into the pandemic lore the quest for personal freedom. Stories this time carry a real life one by Jean Kortum on adoption — her own struggle. But then, stories can be real or unreal – draw a bit from both to reflect bigger truths or create alternates that sink into the human mind as a perceived reality and leave an imprint deep inside the heart, like that of Niles Reddick. My conviction is that some lived experiences of writers seep into each story, whether it is from Bangladesh or India or by our literary fictionist, Sunil Sharma. His narrative continues infused by suspense.

We have a complete translated story of Tagore by Radha Chakravarty as our book excerpt this time. ‘The Parrot’s Tale’, ostensibly part of a children’s collection, reflects Tagore’s response to conventional schooling — a reason for him to start Shanti Niketan perhaps. She has also shared two of her translations of Rabindranath’s songs from Bhanusingher Padabali (1884, Bhanusingh’s verses). Chakravarty generously consented to an interview and has given us a glimpse of her journey as a translator and critic.  We also have translated a long poem by Tagore on our pages, a poem that inspires hope, though it was named Dushomoy (1897, Bad Times) finally. The original name had been Swarga Patthe (On the Path to Heaven) as can be seen from a page in his diary. We have been fortunate in finding a recording of his voice reciting the poem in Bengali and the print of a sample page of the manuscript bearing his signature.

We continue with Akbar Barakzai’s poetry translated by Fazal Baloch from Balochi – this time addressed to his daughter reminding for some reason of Nehru’s Letters from a Father to his Daughter — a book I read as a child.  In addition, we have translations from Korea and Bosnia & Herzegovina, from where the young poet, Maid Corbic, has taken up the concept of freedom of the self and of the nation, both together.

Keith Lyons from New Zealand in his very brief essay has quoted American novelist William Faulkner, “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” And perhaps we need to remember this if for no other reason, then, just to maintain our own sanity in these strange, almost unreal times as we attempt to unite as humankind to free ourselves from an unknown and unfathomable virus.

In a more sombre note, last week, untroubled by the virus, a victim of cancer, Bollywood legend Dileep Kumar, aged 98, breathed his last. Ratnottama Sengupta adds an unusual colour to the Borderless Journal with her tribute to this hugely acclaimed actor. In the process, she unfolds for us a brief history of the Indian cinema, and a glimpse of a world that transcends all man made constructs in quest of perfection.

We have an interesting set of reviews this July. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Anuradha Kumar’s riveting short story collection, A Sense of Time. A murder mystery for young readers, Murder at Daisy Apartments by Shabnam Minwalla, has been reviewed by Gracy Samjetsabam. The Third Eye of Governance–Rise of Populism, Decline in Social Research by Dr N Bhaskara Rao, reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha, seems to be a non-fiction that looks forward to bridging gaps between academia and the real world, a truly felt need. Parichha has also given us an essay on a man who inspired Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, to make him a part of his lore, a journalist who moved around all of Asia with equal aplomb and a sense of humour – a truly global citizen called Richard Hughes.

I want to thank all our wonderful contributors for making this edition a reality. And readers, we leave you to explore the unknown… like that place we call outer space. A huge thank you again to not only all our wonderful contributors, our faithful readers but also to the fabulous Borderless team scattered across the world.  

Before I wind up, a little bird trills a song of hope in my ear. Business tycoons have started stepping into the mysterious void of space to eventually – let us hope — create affordable travel for common man, though it has started off as an expensive proposition. Will this be an industry that will generate more jobs on and off Earth and find new places for man to inhabit? After all, when George Bernard Shaw wrote his plays and essays, we had yet to cross the frontiers beyond Earth, had never even thought of flying across the world in budget airlines or mining moons!

Will we have a new world, a new outlook and a new set of hopes and aspirations as we stretch the frontiers of our home planet?

Wish you all a wonderful month of reading and thinking.

Best wishes,

Mitali Chakravarty

Categories
Adventures of a Backpacking Granny

Generous Indonesia

Sybil Pretious concludes her adventures this round with a fabulous trip to a country with islands and ancient volcanoes

Volcanic Lake Toba. Photo Courtesy: Sybil Pretious
A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. The way to do, is to BE.
~Lao Tzu

In 2011 (aged 69), I decided to challenge myself and travel alone to Indonesia. I also looked at alternative accommodation to backpacking so I joined Couch surfers. CouchSurfing is an organisation that connects people who wish to find accommodation in other countries while offering to host travellers in their own country. You offer just a couch where you live and can ‘surf’ to find a ‘couch’ with a resident of the country you want to visit. You do not pay for the ‘couch’ and you must supply your own meals and transport. The big advantage of this accommodation apart from no cost is that you get information from a person who is local and loves where they live plus it’s a base to travel from.

Indonesia is a country that spans the equator and consists of at least 17,000 islands. I would only touch on this extended land by visiting Java and Sumatra and yes, I was interested in the people, volcanoes, dance, puppets and woven fabric that I had heard so much about. My Couchsurfing host was Arianne who had written a couple of travel books about Indonesia – perfect.

I flew into Jakarta in the evening and wondered about how I would get to Arianne’s as I didn’t have her address. As so often happens when I leave events to unfold without trying too hard, they do so in a much better way than if I had been more diligent.  Without informing me my lovely hostess had sent a chauffeur driven car with refreshments. Her welcome and the help and caring throughout my stay were definitely not included in the description of CouchSurfing hosts.

Her home had wide open spaces with pillars and floors of red concrete so that air flow was optimal in this hot, steamy climate. My ‘couch’ turned out to be an ornate four-poster bed in a bedroom with my own ‘en suite’. The toilet was typically Asian with a bucket of water for flushing. The ‘bathroom’ held a large concrete cube open on top and filled with cold water. A very large scoop was provided. To ‘bath’ I stood naked on the concrete floor, soaped myself and scooped out the water, throwing it in the general direction of my body. It was a bit hit and miss but I did feel cool and refreshed for a short while. There was no hot water. It just wasn’t needed. Every morning, I was woken with the long loud call to prayer.

I mentioned to Arianne as we chatted that I wanted to make a trip to Sumatra and was busy looking for flights and that I wanted to stay on the island of Samosir in the centre of the volcanic lake Toba. The island and lake are the result of a super volcano eruption 75,000 years ago.

“Let me book the flights for you. I do this often and will get the best prices and I can also arrange for someone to meet you.”

I couldn’t refuse her kind offer so it seemed once more that I had a guardian angel at my side. She efficiently took over and booked flights, arranged for people to meet me and take me wherever I needed to go. I would explore Jakarta and possibly go to Bali when I returned.

On arrival in Medan, I was met by Argys, a young Indonesian man who had brought his friends along. They were so attentive and concerned that I wouldn’t like the accommodation they had arranged for that night in Parapat before we took the ferry from a small village called Tuk Tuk across to Samosir Island where we stayed at Samosir Cottages.

It was hard to believe that an angry volcano had created this stunningly tranquil Lake. I got up early for the sunrise, a perfect place to meditate and feel grateful. I was ready for the day ahead.

I wanted to see more of the island and was offered a motor bike tour by a local entrepreneur, Banyu. I didn’t give it a second thought, but Argys wasn’t too sure about this and gave Banyu a lecture before we set off. I promised him half the fee at the beginning of our ride and the other half when we returned and after a wonderful trip. He finally got more than he had asked for. It was a good feeling to be supporting local people rather than large touring companies. I have found that trust and acceptance is a must if you are to experience life through the local people’s eyes. Lack of knowledge of the local language is not necessarily a disadvantage.  

Travelling by motorbike gives an uninterrupted view of the lush vegetation and local scenery. My guide stopped at regular intervals delighting in showing off the wonderful textiles and weaving that local people were demonstrating. I couldn’t resist buying some of the colourful pieces after a demonstration by the weaver who looked delighted at the sale.

A museum displayed wonderful crafting on a ship, using minimum tools while creating intricate, colourful decoration. We laughed at black pigs foraging and then went to talk to a man who was looking after a ‘castle’. He was happy to demonstrate just how a prisoner would be beheaded. Many hand signals flew between us until he figured I had not understood and finally looking resigned, laid himself down on a specially shaped stone, leaning the massive sword towards his head and laughing when I got agitated.

Banyu was ever attentive but refused to share the fruit and water I had taken with me. He had not eaten during the tour. At the end I thanked him profusely. I slept well that night dreaming of battling to get through a gate. I woke feeling vaguely disturbed.

The following day was the one I enjoyed the most.

“We want to take you to the Sipiso Piso Waterfall.”

“That sounds wonderful. I could do with some cool water in this heat.”

Argys looked a little worried.

“It’s really high up. It is a waterfall that comes from very high in the side of the lake. We have to go over rivers and rocks and climb through a very muddy forest to get there.”

“I will be okay. I haven’t had the chance to climb any mountains here so this will be good.”

I later found out that the waterfall fell from a height of 120metres above the lake gushing from a cave in the Lake Toba caldera.

I packed the usual things in my small backpack – water, fruit, biscuits, a first aid pack and an extra blouse as I knew how hot and sweaty I got when climbing. I wore open sandals and the loose top and light slacks I had worn on Kilimanjaro. I was glad I didn’t have to cover my head as the two girls in our little party did. It looked very uncomfortable in that humid heat, but they assured me it wasn’t. The guy’s clothes looked cooler.

The way up was through a forest of giant trees with lush foliage, taking us over a river, rocks and through thick, slippery mud. Bright orchids flowers graced some trees, and a musty smell pervaded the air. Leaning against one of the trees when we stopped for a short while, I felt very small, so tiny. I closed my eyes and gave thanks for the beauty and gifts that trees give us. My back against the thick trunk felt supported and strong, so I harnessed the strength to continue. The going was steep, and I found myself slipping and slowing down. Argys had offered to take my camera so that I would have many pictures without having to stop so often. He literally leapt around snapping photos from every angle — yet another thoughtful gesture.

Finally, we could hear voices amid the sound of rushing water.  As we broke through the trees I was awestruck. A bright slither of water plunged in a narrow silver-white ribbon down the steep, rocky side of the caldera splashing into a shallow rocky pool below. The pool was filled with people, laughing and joyful as they cooled themselves in this beauty.

                                      

I was soon soaked and feeling thoroughly refreshed. Several local people came to ask Argys and the girls what I was doing there. I told them that I was living my life to the full and loving Indonesia and its peoples.

In the morning I downloaded all my photos onto my outside hard drive (no tiny memory sticks then) and promptly left it in the hotel computer. It was only at the airport that I remembered. I was devastated – my life was on that piece of equipment. True to form, Argys said he would go back for it and send it to Arianne’s. I was overcome with his selflessness.

I arrived back in Jakarta mid-morning and Arianne, knowing I would need it, after my exertions at the waterfall with the young people on Sumatra, had thoughtfully arranged a day of luxury and beauty. I could not have afforded that if I had been staying in paid accommodation. I languished with a scrub, massage and green tea soak, feeling thoroughly refreshed and pampered.

Arianne had arranged for a guide in Bali, and I was shepherded by Dewa. I explained my interest was not the beaches, but the culture and he obliged.

I was entranced with the story telling by dance and puppetry. I have used puppets so often in my teaching especially with young, shy children and children learning a new language. They might not want to respond to me, but they will willingly interact with the puppets. In that way, I gleaned many insights into feelings and thinking. I was determined to buy a Wayang Golek rod puppet. They were so beautifully made with spectacular clothing. At that time I had not known the story behind these puppets. They are always sold in pairs. I fell in love with a pair but felt I couldn’t afford two. The vendor did not want to sell one.

Dewar interpreted for me.

“They belong together. They cannot be parted.”

 But I stupidly insisted and eventually I bought a female one. A strange thing happened when I was at the airport. I accidently left the puppet and a painting on the seat as I rushed to catch the plane. Sitting on the plane I felt sad and knew that the puppet had not wanted to leave her partner and I had not listened to local lore and story telling. I hope she found him again and I hope that I will listen to those that know the ancient stories of their culture, more closely in future.           

My encounter with Barong and The Kris Dance was enthralling. The dancers in vibrant costumes seemed in a trance as the story unfolded and the dance became more hypnotic. I was drawn in as the Kris, a formidable sword was wielded. Precision and drama could not have been more pronounced.

Dewar couldn’t resist taking me to view some paintings and batik. I fell in love with a batik featuring fish swimming. It was extraordinarily intricate.

After a long day and feeling completely saturated with culture Dewar asked if I would like to meet his family the next day. I told him it would be my privilege and his face burst into a big grin.

His mother and three of his brother’s wives met me. How privileged I felt. They had been at their sewing machines making traditional ceremonial garments, an industry that his mother had started in 1976. There were four houses round a central place for worship and a small temple. Dewar’s parents lived with him and his wife as he is the eldest. There were 20 people living in this family complex. That family is so important was so evident here.

         

Having flown back to Jakarta Arianne arranged for me to stay with a writer friend of hers who also lives in a traditional home. Tita, like Arianne was a very busy lady. At forty two, she had written four books and ran an advertising agency and had a one year old daughter. The surroundings were tranquil, only the faint sound of insects floating on a zephyr breeze.

That afternoon I went out on my own to explore. The bus stops are lovely – there are at least two people manning each one to help with selling tickets and advice. On the bus the conductor helps passengers off at the correct stop ticking them off his list as they alight!

 Just wandering down the streets was special. I got to eat street food – Nasi Goreng which was quite delicious – rice, meat, and curry flavours. A group of young students asked if they could interview me, and I obliged. Tita knew of my interest in puppets and arranged for me to buy a pair of the Wayang Golek. This time I knew I had to buy the pair and very beautiful they were. They didn’t fit in my backpack, so I carried them under my arm all the way on the plane back to Suzhou.

Finally, back with Arianne and getting ready to leave she said she had arranged for me to wait in the Emerald Sky Lounge at the airport. I felt very self-conscious sitting on luxury chairs and able to select from a variety of delicious food and drink all for free.

My solo journey turned out to be a travel experience of trust and delight in Indonesia. I felt blessed to have encountered many Indonesian people and places at a local level. Most importantly I had been able to support ground level community in my travel experiences instead of relying on tourist companies.

Travel is not about the sights you see but the people you meet.

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Sybil Pretious writes mainly memoir pieces reflecting her varied life in many countries. Lessons in life are woven into her writing encouraging risk-taking and an appreciation of different cultures.

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