Dancing in May?

Courtesy: Creative Commons
“May is pretty, May is mild,
Dances like a happy child…”

Annette Wynne (Early twentieth century)

Each month is expressed in a different form by nature in various parts of the world. In the tropics, May is sweltering and hot — peak summer. In the Southern hemisphere, it is cold. However, with climate change setting in, the patterns are changing, and the temperatures are swinging to extremes. Sometimes, one wonders if this is a reflection of human minds, which seem to swing like pendulums to create dissensions and conflicts in the current world. Nothing seems constant and the winds of change have taken on a menacing appearance. If we go by Nazrul’s outlook, destruction is a part of creating a new way of life as he contends in his poem, ‘Ring Bells of Victory’ — “Why fear destruction? It’s the gateway to creation!” Is this how we will move towards ‘dancing like a happy child’?

Mitra Phukan addresses this need for change in her novel, What Will People Say — not with intensity of Nazrul nor in poetry but with a light feathery wand, more in the tradition of Jane Austen. Her narrative reflects on change at various levels to explore the destruction of old customs giving way to new that are more accepting and kinder to inclusivity, addressing issues like widow remarriage in conservative Hindu frameworks, female fellowship and ageing as Phukan tells us in her interview. Upcoming voice, Prerna Gill, lauded by names like Arundhathi Subramaniam and Chitra Divakaruni, has also been in conversation with Shantanu Ray Choudhuri on her book of verses, Meanwhile. She has refreshing perspectives on life and literature.

Poetry in Borderless means variety and diaspora. Peter Cashorali’s poem addresses changes that quite literally upend the sky and the Earth! Michael Burch reflects on a change that continues to evolve – climate change. Ryan Quinn Flanagan explores societal irritants with irony. Seasons are explored by KV Raghupathi and Ashok Suri. Wilda Morris brings in humour with universal truths. William Miller explores crime and punishment. Lakshmi Kannan and Shahriyer Hossain Shetu weave words around mythical lore. We have passionate poetry from Md Mujib Ullah and Urmi Chakravorty. It is difficult to go into each poem with their diverse colours but Rhys Hughes has brought in wry humour with his long poem on eighteen goblins… or is the count nineteen? In his column, Hughes has dwelt on tall tales he heard about India during his childhood in a light tone, stories that sound truly fantastic…

Devraj Singh Kalsi has written a nostalgic piece that hovers between irony and perhaps, a reformatory urge… I am not quite sure, but it is as enjoyable and compelling as Meredith Stephen’s narrative on her conservation efforts in Kangaroo Island in the Southern hemisphere and fantastic animals she meets, livened further by her photography. Ravi Shankar talks of his night hikes in the Northern hemisphere, more accurately, in the Himalayas. While trekking at night seems a risky task, trying to recreate dishes from the past is no less daunting, as Suzanne Kamata tells us in her Notes from Japan.

May hosts the birthday of a number of greats, including Tagore and Satyajit Ray. Ratnottama Sengupta’s piece on Ray’s birth anniversary celebrations with actress Jaya Bachchan recounting her experience while working for Ray in Mahanagar (Big City), a film that has been restored and was part of celebrations for the filmmaker’s 102nd Birth anniversary captures the nostalgia of a famous actress on the greatest filmmakers of our times. She has also given us an essay on Tagore and cinema in memory of the great soul, who was just sixty years older to Ray and impacted the filmmaker too. Ray had a year-long sojourn in Santiniketan during his youth.

Eulogising Rabindrasangeet and its lyrics is an essay by Professor Fakrul Alam on Tagore. Professor Alam has translated number of his songs for the essay as he has, a powerful poem from Bengali by Masud Khan. A transcreation of Tagore’s first birthday poem , a wonderful translation of Balochi poetry by Fazal Baloch of Munir Momin’s verses, another one from Korean by Ihlwha Choi rounds up the translated poetry in this edition. Stories that reach out with their poignant telling include Nadir Ali’s narrative, translated from Punjabi by his daughter, Amna Ali, and Aruna Chakravarti’s translation of a short story by Tagore. We have more stories from around the world with Julian Gallo exploring addiction, Abdullah Rayhan with a poignant narrative from Bangladesh, Sreelekha Chatterjee with a short funny tale and Paul Mirabile exploring the supernatural and horror, a sequel to ‘The Book Hunter‘, published in the April issue.

All the genres we host seem to be topped with a sprinkling of pieces on Tagore as this is his birth month. A book excerpt from Chakravarti’s Daughters of Jorasanko narrates her well-researched version of Tagore’s last birthday celebration and carries her translation of the last birthday song by the giant of Bengali literature. The other book excerpt is from Bhubaneswar@75 – Perspectives, edited by Bhaskar Parichha/ Charudutta Panigrahi. Parichha has also reviewed Journey After Midnight – A Punjabi Life: From India to Canada by Ujjal Dosanjh, a book that starts in pre-independent India and travels with the writer to Canada via UK. Again to commemorate the maestro’s birth anniversary, Meenakshi Malhotra has revisited Radha Chakravarty’s translation of Tagore’s Farewell Song. Somdatta Mandal has critiqued KR Meera’s Jezebeltranslated from Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and K. S. Bijukuma. Lakshmi Kannan has introduced to us Jaydeep Sarangi’s collection of poems, letters in lower case.

There are pieces that still reach out to be mentioned. Do visit our content page for May. I would like to thank Sohana Manzoor for her fantastic artwork and continued editorial support for the Tagore translations and the whole team for helping me put together this issue. Thank you. A huge thanks to our loyal readers and contributors who continue to bring in vibrant content, photography and artwork. Without you all, we would not be where we are today.

Wish you a lovely month.

Mitali Chakravarty



By Julian Gallo

Dorothy’s summer dress and hair are soaked. She combs her hair back with her fingers and tugs on her dress in an attempt to dry it. The heat and humidity is just too much, and she’s a bit unsteady on her feet, sometimes wandering a bit too close to the edge of the platform. She’s had one too many drinks, though she doesn’t define herself as drunk. A night out with the girls. A reprieve from her husband. She keeps wandering a little too close to the platform edge but manages to steer herself away, stumbling a bit, then pauses to fan herself with her hand but it offers little relief. She removes her cellphone from her pocketbook and places a call to her husband, stumbling forward and back as she presses the phone to her ear. She takes the phone away from her ear and looks at the screen with a puzzled expression. She’s not getting a signal. She drops the phone back into her bag and stumbles towards a young man who is standing at the rear of the platform, pacing and fanning himself with his hand, and occasionally peering into the tunnel for an arriving train. She pauses just a few feet away from him, then peers into the tunnel herself. She feels safer being close to a man at that time of the evening, for she doesn’t like taking the subway at that hour, but all the taxis were busy rescuing others from the sudden downpour. She eyes the young man, who repeatedly checks his watch and peers into the tunnel. He seems harmless enough, but you just never know, so she keeps a respectable distance, just in case.

“Been waiting long?” Dorothy asks, a bit of an accent evident in her slurred voice.

“There hasn’t been a train for nearly a half hour,” the young man says.

Dorothy observes the other soaked passengers standing at the edge of the platform, craning their necks to see if a train is coming. She paces the platform, watches the water cascade down through the street grate into the station and onto the tracks, the track-bed now a miniature underground river carrying bits of garbage in the current. She wonders if this was the reason for the delay. She also sees it as a strange kind of metaphor of her life. She can hear the rumble of thunder above, hear the rain on the sidewalk, and the squeals of young women on the street above as they scramble to get out of the rain. She wanders down the platform, still unsteady, looking for the timetable, and when she finds it, she discovers it isn’t working.

It’s hot, humid, and uncomfortable.

Most of those in the station huddle near the turnstile, soaked to the bone, and only a few of them had the sense to bring an umbrella, shaking off the rain onto the already wet platform. She peers down the track again. Still no sign of a train, no announcements, nothing. Just an ever-increasing cascade of water from the street above. She begins to question the choices in her life. What is she doing? Is this all she has to show for it?

She staggers back towards the rear of the platform, having a little difficulty walking in her high heels. She wants to board the train, if it ever arrives, on the last car since it will leave her more or less directly in front of the exit at her station. She looks into the tunnel again and there’s still no sign of a train. She removes her cellphone from her pocketbook again, tries to check the status on the MTA’s website, but she’s still unable to get a signal. She puts the phone away and looks into the tunnel again, as if by repeatedly looking for the train will make it arrive quicker.

She begins pacing again, but the heat and the humidity are starting to get to her. She wipes the sweat from her forehead and neck with the palm of her hand, tells herself once she gets home, she’s going to take a long, cold shower, turn on the air conditioner, and have a glass of wine. Hopefully Jacek is asleep. She’s in no mood to deal with him. He’s in one of his moods. He’s always in one of his moods.

The rain continues to cascade down onto the tracks. A rat scurries across the track-bed, leaping over the city’s new river, and disappears under the platform on the downtown side.

The young man peers into the tunnel, sees the distant headlights.

“Finally,” he says, giving Dorothy a thumbs up. 

He takes two steps back but Dorothy remains near the platform edge, swaying on her feet. She shuts her eyes, tilts her head back, as if waiting for the water cascading down from the street to reach her, cool her off, submerge and drown her. The young man watches her, gets the feeling she’s going to tumble onto the track-bed. He isn’t sure but he thinks she’s crying, but it could just be the remnants of the rain trickling down her face. She must feel terrible — hot and drunk and just wanting to get home. He can hear the train now and she’s still a little too close to the edge of the platform. She doesn’t look in the direction of the oncoming train, but down into the track-bed, her eyes still shut, her body swaying to and fro, back and forth. She raises her head and watches the waterfall at the center of the trackbed again, her body pitching forward as the train speeds towards the station. She’s not going to move, that much the young man knows, so he races over to her and grabs her by the arm, pulls her back away from the platform edge just as the train speeds into the station, blaring its horn. Dorothy collapses into the young man’s arms and he holds her up, tries to get her on her feet. She’s passed out. The train comes to a stop and the doors open. He helps her onto the half-empty car, just to get out of the oppressive heat. The air conditioning feels good. He helps her sit down and leans her back against the seat, shakes her lightly by the shoulder.

“Are you all right?”

Dorothy’s eyes flicker open and she’s momentarily confused.

“You passed out,” he says. “Are you all right?”

She looks at the stranger sitting beside her, her eyes searching his face, still confused.

“You almost fell onto the tracks,” he says. “Thank God I was there. Another moment and…”

“I’m okay,” she says. “Just a little hot.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“A little,” she says, “but I’m not drunk. It’s the heat and the humidity. I don’t handle it well.”

“Just sit back,” the young man says. “Let the air conditioning cool you off.”

She rests her head on the back of the seat, shuts her eyes. He glances down at her hands. A wedding ring, a little too tight around her short, pudgy finger.

“Thank you,” she says, her eyes still closed.

“Don’t mention it,” he says. “What stop do you get off?”

“110th Street,” she says.

“Would you like me to take you home?”

“I’ll be all right, thank you.”

He just sits there and watches her, droplets of rain and sweat on her face, and a crooked rivulet creeping from the corner of her eye.

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

She nods, doesn’t say anything, wipes the sweat from her forehead with the palm of her hand.

“I think I should see you home,” he says.

“No, you don’t have to,” she whispers. “I’ll be all right.”

“I’d feel better if I did.”

She doesn’t say anything, drops her hands in her lap. She’s given up. It is only then he realises his hands are trembling.

. . . . . .

Jacek peers into the bedroom and sees Dorothy is still asleep. She was an utter mess when she came home last night, half out of her mind on pills and drink, babbling on about how she nearly fell into the subway tracks and how a young man saved her. The young man took her home, she said, but she didn’t get his name nor remember much about him. He had his doubts. After she took off her wet dress and collapsed on the bed, he went through her pocketbook and found the folded tin foil packet with only one pill in it. He thought he had gotten rid of them all, but she could have easily gotten them from one of her so-called friends. She hasn’t moved since falling asleep the night before and multiple times he had checked on her to make sure she was still breathing. This wouldn’t be the first time she tried something stupid. Almost fell onto the tracks, indeed.

He carefully closes the bedroom door and retrieves his cellphone from the kitchen table, sends a text message to Lisa, tells her he’ll meet her at their usual spot in a half hour. He then takes a quick shower, shaves, and dresses. He suspects Dorothy knows all about Lisa, hence her behavior last night. She probably told all her girlfriends about it, what a pig he is, how he treats her like dog shit, how cruel he is. He’s heard it all before. He takes his keys and peers one more time into the bedroom, watches for movement, and when Dorothy turns under the sheets, and is satisfied she’s still alive, he quietly closes the door.

It’s still overcast and there’s a misty rain in the air. The storm that came through last night was something else, like a monsoon. He wondered if Dorothy had got caught up in it. He was supposed to meet Lisa last night, but the sudden storm cancelled their plans. Now she’ll be waiting for him, and she’ll want to know what happened last night. His text message to her didn’t get into the details.

He has a moment where he wishes Dorothy would have succeeded. That would have solved all his problems once and for all. It would have set him free but thanks to that man, whoever he was, the ties that bind them remain. How easy it would have been. In some ways, he’d like to beat that man for saving her. Just one second difference, one moment where he had his head turned, or perhaps checked his cellphone for messages, or had gotten on the previous train, or decided to walk home instead of taking the subway, any one of those variables would have changed everything.

He lights a cigarette, takes a moment and looks back towards the direction of his apartment. He wonders if Dorothy is still asleep. He wonders how long it will be before she tries it again.


Julian Gallo is the author of Existential Labyrinths, Last Tondero in Paris, The Penguin and The Bird and other novels. His short fiction has appeared in The Sultan’s Seal (Cairo), Exit Strata, Budget Press Review, Indie Ink, Short Fiction UK, P.S. I Love You, The Dope Fiend Daily, The Rye Whiskey Review, Angles, and Verdad.  



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