This narrative is written by a youngster from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. Lockdown had been written in Hindustani by Jishan and translated to English by Grace M Sukanya. Click here to read.
And as the world came to be, there was war — war that seems to rage in some part of the world or other. The British Museum has an exhibit which states the first battle was staged 13,000 years ago… in what is now Sudan, long before the advent of written history. This was even before the advent of people who built the ancient Stonehenge which was constructed around 3000-2000 BCE. And battles still continue to rage. The Jebel Sahaba casualties in Sudan 13000 years ago were less than 100. But the current conflicts claim in terms of tens of thousands which prolonged could stretch to millions. The last world war (1939-1945) which lasted for six years had a total of 75-80 million persons who perished. Ukraine-Russia conflict has within five months had a casualty count of more than 14000. And yet weapons and nuclear arms continue to proliferate decimating humanity, nature and towns, destroying homes, erasing ruthlessly and creating more refugees. The only need for such battles seem to be to satiate the hunger of the warlords secure in their impenetrable fortresses while tens of thousands are annihilated and natural or nurtured landscapes lie emaciated, mutilated and polluted.
What would be a good way of ending such wars?
Tagore sought the development of better instincts in humankind as an antidote. He wrote in the last century: “Any teaching concerning man must have human nature for its chief element. How far it will harmonise with human nature is a matter of time.”
With wars getting deadlier and more horrific, we can only try to awaken, as Tagore suggests, the better nature in man to move towards a peaceful world. What would be a more effective way of doing it than writing with the hope of a kinder and accepting future?
For that let us start with translations of the maestro Tagore himself. We have a song about the season — monsoon, ‘Monomor Megher Songi (My Friends, the Clouds)’, translated by Professor Fakrul Alam, a painting by Sohana Manzoor interpreting the lyrics and a transcreation of ‘Nababarsha or New Rains’ was shrunken into a popular Rabindra Sangeet and reduced to twenty lines in English by Tagore himself. The connect with nature is an important aspect that enables humans to transcend petty concerns leading to dissensions of different kinds as evidenced in the maestro’s humorous feline skit, translated by Somdatta Mandal. A translation of Dalip Kaur Tiwana’s ‘The Bus Conductor’ from Punjabi by C. Christine Fair adds zest to this section. Fazal Baloch has translated a folktale from Balochistan involving the supernatural and Ihlwha Choi has taken on the cry for peace on behalf of Ukraine while translating his own poem in Korean. The Nithari column has a story by Jishan in Hindustani, translated to English by Grace M Sukanya, showcasing the struggle of a youngster during the pandemic – rather a sad narrative, which though fictitious has its roots in reality.
Our short story section has echoes of humour around felines by Manzoor, somewhat in tune with the mind frame seen in Tagore’s skit on this issue. Humour rings tinged with an apparition in Erwin Coombs’s narrative – should one call it dark humour or is it just his style? Paul Mirabile goes for gothic darkness in his meanderings around Italy.
Strangely, we seem to have a focus on short stories this time. Keith Lyons has interviewed Steve Carr, a journalist, a publisher and writer of 500 short stories who is questing to create a ‘perfect short story’. Reading out excerpts from her short story at a literary festival in Simla, Bollywood celebrity, Deepti Naval, was in conversation with eminent film journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta. She spoke of her literary aspirations while unveiling her autobiography in verse, A Country Called Childhood. This conversation has been shared by Sengupta with Borderless. It is interesting to see how Naval’s reactions to social malaise contrasts with that of the film director, cinematographer and actor, Goutam Ghose, who was present during the unveiling of her book. He had responded to communal violence by making a film on Lalan Fakir extolling virtues of love and kindness, called Moner Manush (2010) and then made a book on the film called, The Quest (2013) which has beautiful translations of Lalan Fakir’s lyrics by Sankar Sen.
Our non-fiction sections seem to be hosting multiple travel stories across UK by Mike Smith, along the Australian coastline by Meredith Stephens, on the Himalayas with Ravi Shankar and an unusual visit by Hema Ravi to a farm in US where animals that had been used in Disney films in the past are homed. Our environmental columnist, Kenny Peavy, actually wrote about his cycling trip from Thailand to Indonesia on a bamboo cycle made by a Singaporean! And from Japan, Suzanne Kamata explored a museum in the neighbouring town of Mure. The museum on a hill hosts the art of American Japanese Artists, Isamu Noguchi.
We do have non-fiction that moves away from travel: noir humour by Devraj Singh Kalsi and an essay by Candice Louisa Daquin on a very interesting subject – ‘Is it Okay to be Ordinary?’ Is it? Dan Meloche has written a literary essay on Canadian novelist Andre Alexis’s award-winning novel, Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue(2015). While Meloche spoke of how the novel departed from Orwell’s Animal Farm, his narrative brought to my mind a novel closer to our times set in England by Jasper Fforde called Constant Rabbit (2020) – this a science fiction while Alexis’s was an apologue or an animal fable. Fforde did use the rabbits rather well to highlight the current times.
We have book excerpts of two recent books that I would call really outstanding. One of them is Aruna Chakravarti’s The Mendicant Prince, which is being released this week, and is based on the evergreen contentious case of the prince of Bhawal that has even been explored even in cinema. The other, Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumarby Nabendu Ghosh, has been published posthumously and is not a translation from Bengali but written in English originally by this trilingual writer.
Called ‘Dadamoni’ affectionately, iconic actor Ashok Kumar is regarded as “the one personality who symbolises Indian cinema’s journey from Bombay Talkies to Bollywood”. This book has been reviewed by Indrashish Banerjee, who calls it ‘a reflection on the Hindi film industry’ as well as a biography. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Booker winner Geetanjali Shree’s Mai, Silently Mother, a Sahitya Akademi winning translation of her Hindi novel by Nita Kumar, reiterating the dialogue that had been kindled on motherhood last month by Rinki Roy Bhattacharya and Maithili Rao’s The Oldest Love Story (2022). Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Prosanta Chakrabarty’s Explaining Life Through Evolutionplotting how life evolved on earth. Parichha tells us: “Meaningful, wide-ranging and argumentative, this is a must-read book. It will propel us to imagine and reimagine life around us.” Another book that sounds like a must-read has been reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, Tagore’s Gleanings of the Road, translated by Mandal. She tells us: “ ‘Gleanings’ represents the quintessential Tagore…Ably introduced and translated by Somdatta Mandal, a renowned Tagore scholar, the translation captures the iridescent and luminous quality of Tagore’s prose and its chiaroscuro effects.”
There is more to tempt. Please stop by on our contents page and take a look.
We would like to hugely thank all our contributors and readers for being with us and helping us grow. I would like to thank my team, who despite hurdles they face, always lend a helping hand and wonderful words from their pens or computers to get Borderless on its feet. I apologise for the delay and thank you all for your patience. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her fabulous artwork.
I wish you all a wonderful July and peace in a war-torn world. We are all affected by the ongoing conflicts. Let us hope for peaceful and just resolutions.
Visiting a museum is serious business in Japan. Suzanne Kamatavisits a Museum dedicated to an American Japanese artist
The famous American sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) lived in the town of Mure, just fifty minutes by car from my house. Now it’s the site of an outdoor museum featuring his work. Although I was interested in seeing his stone sculptures, I had never been to the museum. I’d had just read Listening to Stone, Hayden Herrera’s fabulous new biography of the artist, which had reignited my interest in his life and his work. I knew that his mother, Leonie Gilmour, was American. His father, the poet Yone Noguchi, was Japanese.
I learned that he had once posed as the Confederate General Sherman for the sculptor originally commissioned to create the Civil War monument on Stone Mountain in Georgia. Also, I read that Noguchi volunteered to teach Japanese Americans interned during World War II. He was so handsome and charming that married women in the camp fought over him. I read about how he created his famous paper lanterns. I read of his tribute to Benjamin Franklin. I also learned of his affinity for the blue stones of Shikoku.
I decided that it was finally time to go to the museum. I invited my friend Wendy to go with me. She’s a college professor and a writer. Like me, she’s from the Midwest. She has also lived in Shikoku for over twenty years. Like me, she’s married to a Japanese man and has Japanese/American children. We often get together to discuss our writing, her pet goats, and other things. Wendy grew up in the town of Rolling Prairie, Indiana, which has a population of about 500 people. Coincidentally, when Isamu Noguchi was a boy, his mother sent him to an experimental boarding school in that very town. Wendy is also a fan of Noguchi. She had been to the Museum a few times before.
“I’ll ask Cathy to go with us,” she said.
Cathy is a Canadian translator who sometimes does work for the museum. She had translated a best-selling Japanese book about tidying up. This book was always popping up in my Facebook feed. The sight of this title always makes me feel as if I should be cleaning my house instead of writing books or reading Facebook updates. Housework is not my favorite thing. I had never met Cathy, but I’d heard of her. I worried that Cathy might be an extremely tidy person. She might not approve of me.
“That sounds great,” I said. “I’d love to meet Cathy.”
It takes some planning to visit the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum Japan. For one thing, the village of Mure is not exactly a well-trodden spot. For another, the museum is only open three days a week — Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Tours are held three times a day by appointment only. In order to make an appointment, potential visitors must write their preferred dates and times on a postcard and mail it. Email is not allowed, at least not for those living in Japan. Finally, the admission fee for adults is 2,160 yen (about $25), which is a bit pricey, as museums go. The barriers are intentional. They are meant to weed out people who are not serious about Noguchi’s art.
We made a reservation to visit on a Thursday at one p.m. Cathy suggested that we go out for udon beforehand. The area is famous for its fat, doughy noodles served in broth. Cathy knew of a restaurant on a mountainside that we could reach by ropeway. I imagined slurping noodles while watching wild monkeys in the trees. We would have a leisurely lunch. Afterwards, we would admire the sculptures in the garden museum. How lovely!
The morning of our outing, a light rain was falling. I entered my destination in my cell phone’s navigation app and started the car’s engine.
“Turn right,” a woman’s calm voice said.
“Okay,” I replied, turning right.
The voice directed me onto the highway.
I drove and drove. I went past pine-covered mountains. I passed small villages nestled in valleys. The rain pattered against my windshield. A sign warned me to beware of wild boar which sometimes wandered onto the road. Off to the left, I glimpsed the Inland Sea, the tiny islands that seemed to be floating just offshore.
Although I knew that the village of Mure was only fifty minutes from my house, the voice on my app convinced me to keep going. When I was in the middle of a tunnel, far from any city, the woman’s voice said, “You have arrived at your destination.” Clearly, I was now lost.
I tried to send Wendy a message. She didn’t reply. After backtracking and driving around for another hour, I pulled over. I checked my phone. Foolishly, I had not given Cathy my phone number. Even so, she had managed to call me and gave me directions.
Time was ticking by. We wouldn’t be able to have lunch on the mountainside restaurant. We might even miss our long-awaited appointment at the museum. Why hadn’t I taken the bus? I scolded myself. Why hadn’t I studied a map? Why had I relied upon my stupid cell phone?
I got back on the road. As it turned out I was going in the wrong direction again. After another phone call, I turned around. I paid the man in the toll booth again, and drove on, finally arriving at our meeting place, a convenience store parking lot.
Wendy motioned me over to Cathy’s car. “Hurry.” She wasn’t smiling. Her voice was stern. “We are quite late.”
I climbed in the car, apologising profusely. Wendy seemed a bit angry. Who could blame her? She had arranged for me to meet the famous translator, who was probably an excellent housekeeper. Cathy had made a reservation at the exclusive museum. I was making a terrible impression.
“We’re just glad you made it,” Cathy said kindly.
“We bought these for you,” Wendy said. She tossed a couple of rice balls and a sandwich into the back seat. They had already eaten lunch while waiting in the car. Once again, I regretted missing out on our ladies’ lunch in the restaurant on the side of the mountain.
Cathy called the museum and asked if it was okay to join the tour a bit late. She was on the board of the museum. She had even interpreted at the memorial service for Noguchi when he died in 1988. If she hadn’t been with us, I’m sure I would have been denied entrance.
“I’m so sorry,” I said again.
We pulled up in front of the building which housed the reception desk and gift shop. The rain had abated. Cathy parked the car. She went to buy our tickets. Our scheduled tour had already begun. We hurried to join the others who had made a reservation in the garden. As I followed Cathy, I noticed that there were piles of rocks everywhere. Somehow the grey sky and the wet stones made the scene all the more poignantly beautiful.
First, we entered the Stone Circle sculpture space. There were many stone sculptures. Some were finished at the time of Noguchi’s death and signed with his initials, some were not. Although the sculptures had been named, they were not labeled.
We asked the guide about some of them. She told us that one tall sleek stack of blocks was made partly of stones imported from Brazil. The area has a history as a quarry. Noguchi sometimes used stones from the nearby island Shodoshima. He also sourced his materials in Italy and other far-off places. Imagine the shipping costs!
We peeked into his workspace, housed in a weathered wooden shed.
“He was very particular about his tools,” I said. I had read that in the book. Yes, here were his carving tools, carefully aligned. They were just as they had been when Noguchi was alive.
“Yes, he was,” Cathy agreed, raising her eyebrow.
“Oh, and here is the model for his slide!” I recognised an image from the book I had just read. It was a white spiral, resembling a seashell. Noguchi believed that art should be part of daily life. He thought that art was for everyone, including children. He designed several playgrounds. Not all were constructed. This slide had been exhibited at the Whitney Biennial, one of the most prestigious art shows in the world.
We took a meditative stroll among the arranged rocks. Next, we climbed stone slab steps to a sculpted garden enclosed by a grove of bamboo trees. The space featured small grassy hills and a moon-viewing platform.
“I read that his ashes are in one of the stones here,” I said.
“Yes,” Cathy said, surprised at my font of Noguchi knowledge. “Up at the top of the hill. Shall we go pay our respects?”
As we climbed, Cathy explained how this space had been sculpted. Stones had been arranged to mimic the islands visible in the distance. Noguchi had been furious when someone had built a house higher up the mountain. Although it wasn’t on Noguchi’s property, it spoiled the view. Thus, it spoiled the work of art which was the garden. Traditional Japanese gardens often make use of “borrowed scenery.” Eventually, the house was bought by the museum’s caretaker and destroyed. Now, the view is as Noguchi intended it to be.
We paused for a moment before the giant egg-shaped rock at the top of the hill which had been cut in half. After Noguchi was cremated, some of his ashes were encased in the stone, and the stone was reassembled.
Next, we had a look at the house where he lived in the last years of his life. Inside, a paper lantern which resembled a jellyfish hung from the ceiling. The floors were made of straw mats. I knew from reading his biography that he had lived here with a Japanese woman who was married to a friend of his. Noguchi couldn’t speak much Japanese, and the woman couldn’t speak English. Even so, they were lovers. I imagined them sitting on the verandah, gazing out at the sculptures. Maybe they sat there sipping tea in silence. I thought of mentioning the lover to my companions, but I decided that it was too gossipy. I didn’t want them to think that I wasn’t serious about his art.
Afterwards, we decided to go to a café near Cathy’s house. We drank coffee and ate mango cheesecake. It occurred to me that my frustration from earlier that morning had disappeared. Wendy no longer seemed stressed and angry with me. Being in that beautiful, natural garden had made us all feel calm.
I was sure that I would be able to find my way back home.
Suzanne Kamatawas born and raised in Grand Haven, Michigan. She now lives in Japan with her husband and two children. Her short stories, essays, articles and book reviews have appeared in over 100 publications. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times, and received a Special Mention in 2006. She is also a two-time winner of the All Nippon Airways/Wingspan Fiction Contest, winner of the Paris Book Festival, and winner of a SCBWI Magazine Merit Award.
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