Categories
Editorial

Will Monalisa Smile Again?

The first month of 2023 has been one of the most exciting! Our first book, Monalisa No Longer Smiles: An Anthology of Writings from across the World, is now in multiple bookstores in India (including Midlands and Om Bookstores). It has also had multiple launches in Delhi and been part of a festival.

We, Meenakshi Malhotra and I, were privileged to be together at the physical book events. We met the editor in chief of Om Books International, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, the editor of our anthology, Jyotsna Mehta, along with two translators and writers I most admire, Aruna Chakravarti and Radha Chakravarty, who also graced a panel discussion on the anthology during our physical book launch. The earlier e-book launch had been in November 2022. My heartfelt thanks to the two eminent translators and Chaudhuri for being part of the discussions at both these launches. Chaudhuri was also in the panel along with Debraj Mookerjee at a launch organised by Malhotra and the English Literary Society steered by Nabaneeta Choudhury at Hans Raj College, Delhi University. An energising, interactive session with students and faculty where we discussed traditional and online publishing, we are immensely grateful to Malhotra for actively organising the event and to the Pandies’ founder, Sanjay Kumar, for joining us for the discussion. It was wonderful to interact with young minds. On the same day, an online discussion on the poetry in Monalisa No Longer Smiles was released by the Pragati Vichar Literary Festival (PVLF) in Delhi.

At the PVLF session, I met an interesting contemporary diplomat cum poet, Abhay K. He has translated Kalidasa’s Meghaduta and the Ritusamhara from Sanskrit and then written a long poem based on these, called Monsoon. We are hosting a conversation with him and are carrying book excerpts from Monsoon, a poem that is part of the curriculum in Harvard. The other book excerpt is from Sanjay Kumar’s Performing, Teaching and Writing Theatre: Exploring Play, a book that has just been published by the Cambridge University Press.

Perhaps because it is nearing the Republic Day of India, we seem to have a flurry of book reviews that reflect the Sub-continental struggle for Independence from the colonials. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed Priya Hajela’s Ladies Tailor: A novel, a book that takes us back to the trauma of the Partition that killed nearly 200,000 to 2 million people – the counts are uncertain. Bhaskar Parichha has discussed MA Sreenivasan’s Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me, a biography of a long serving official in the Raj era — two different perspectives of the same period. Rakhi Dalal has shared her views on Shrinivas Vaidya’s A Handful of Sesame, translated from Kannada by Maithreyi Karnoor, a book that dwells on an immigrant to the Southern part of India in the same time period. The legendary film writer K.A. Abbas’s Sone Chandi Ke Buth: Writings on Cinema, translated and edited by Syeda Hameed and Sukhpreet Kahlon, has been praised by Gracy Samjetsabam.

We have a piece on mental health in cinema by Chaudhuri, an excellent essay written after interviewing specialists in the field. Ratnottama Sengupta has given us a vibrant piece on Suhas Roy, an artist who overrides the bounds of East and West to create art that touches the heart. Candice Louisa Daquin has written on border controls and migrants in America. High profile immigrants have also been the subject of Farouk Gulsara’s ‘What do Freddy Mercury, Rishi Sunak & Mississipi Masala have in Common?’ Sengupta also writes of her immigrant family, including her father, eminent writer, Nabendu Ghosh, who moved from Bengal during the Partition. There are a number of travel pieces across the world by Ravi Shankar, Meredith Stephens and Mike Smith — each written in distinctively different styles and exploring different areas on our beautiful Earth. Sarpreet Kaur has revisited the devastation of the 2004 tsunami and wonders if it is a backlash from nature. Could it be really that?

Suzanne Kamata gives us a glimpse of the education system in Japan in her column with a humorous overtone. Devraj Singh Kalsi dwells on the need for nostalgia with a tongue-in-cheek approach. Rhys Hughes makes us rollick with laughter when he talks of his trip to Kerala and yet there is no derision, perhaps, even a sense of admiration in the tone. Hughes poetry also revels in humour. We have wonderful poetry from Jared Carter, Ranu Uniyal, Asad Latif, Anaya Sarkar, Michael R Burch, Scott Thomas Outlar, Priyanka Panwar, George Freek and many more.

The flavours of cultures is enhanced by the translation of Nazrul’s inspirational poetry by Professor Fakrul Alam, Korean poetry written and translated by Ihlwha Choi and a transcreation of Tagore’s poem Banshi (or flute) which explores the theme of inspiration and the muse. We have a story by S Ramakrishnan translated from Tamil by R Sathish. The short stories featured at the start of this year startle with their content. Salini Vineeth writes a story set in the future and Paul Mirabile tells the gripping poignant tale of a strange child.

With these and more, we welcome you to savour the January 2023 edition of Borderless, which has been delayed a bit as we were busy with the book events for our first anthology. I am truly grateful to all those who arranged the discussions and hosted us, especially Ruchika Khanna, Om Books International, the English Literary Society of Hans Raj College and to the attendees of the event. My heartfelt thanks to the indefatigable team and our wonderful writers, artists and readers, without who this journey would have remained incomplete. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her artwork. Many thanks to the readers of Borderless Journal and Monalisa No Longer Smiles. I hope you will find the book to your liking. We have made a special page for all comments and reviews.

I wish you a wonderful 2023. Let us make a New Year’s wish —

May all wars and conflicts end so that our iconic Monalisa can start smiling again!

Mitali Chakravarty,

borderlessjournal.com

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Photographs of events around Monalisa No Longer Smiles: An Anthology of Writings from across the World. Click here to access the Book.

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Insta Link to an excerpt of the launch at Om Bookstore. Click here to view.

E-Launch of the first anthology of Borderless Journal, November 14th 2022. Click here to view.

Categories
Conversation

Spanning Continental Narratives

He has translated Kalidasa’s Meghaduta and Ritusamhara from Sanskrit to English and then imbibed them to create Monsoon: A Poem of Love & Longing in a similar vein. Meet the poet, Abhay K, who also juggles multiple hats of diplomat, editor and translator. He tells us how he tries to raise awareness and create bonds through poetry. He is the author of a dozen poetry books and the editor of The Book of Bihari Literature (Harper Collins India). He has received the SAARC Literature Award for 2013. His ‘Earth Anthem’ has been translated into more than 150 languages and performed by Kavita Krishnamurthy, a well-known Indian voice.

Monsoon: A Poem of Love & Longing has 150 quartrains and is split into chapters. A passionate poem that yearns and sends love through the salubrious journey of the monsoon from its point of origin, Madagascar, to Kashmir, the verses caress various fauna, among them some endangered like indri indri, sifaka and more. Spanning the oceans, lands, nature and a large part of India, it reaches his beloved with his message from Madagascar.

Is it eco-poetry? Academia might be moving towards that decision. Monsoon: A Poem of Love & Longing has been chosen by a Harvard University’s assistant professor, Sarah Dimick, for a book project on Climate and Literature. In this exclusive, Abhay K describes not only how his passion for beauty, turned him, a diplomat, into an award-winning poet and translator but his subsequent journey.

Abhay K

What made you opt to translate Kalidasa’s poetry?

It was during the Covid-19 pandemic that I read a poem by the British poet laureate, Simon Armitage, titled ‘Lockdown’ which made a reference to Meghaduta. At that time, I was posted as India’s 21st Ambassador to Madagascar and Comoros and I thought of writing a poem on the lines of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta. This is when I decided to closely read Meghaduta and in the process I got inspired to translate it. However, later, I did write a book length poem titled Monsoon which was published by Sahitya Akademi in 2021. 

Did you translate both, Meghaduta and Ritusamhara, one after another? These are both books that have been translated before. Did you draw from those? Or is it your own original transcreation of the texts?

Yes, first I translated Meghaduta and after its publication, I decided to translate Ritusamhara. There are over 100 translations of Meghaduta available, I have read some of them, but none had been translated by a poet. Therefore, I decided to translate Meghaduta myself to give it a poetic rendition in contemporary English. I had studied Sanskrit in my high school, and it came handy while translating both Meghaduta and Ritusamhara

Your book, Monsoon, is based on Meghduta. Can you tell us a bit about it? Is it part autobiographical?

Monsoon is inspired from both Meghaduta and Ritusamhara. It begins near Madagascar where monsoon originates and travels along its path to Reunion, Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Andaman, and the Indian subcontinent. It carries a message of love and longing from Madagascar to Kashmir valley. It is purely work of imagination. 

Tell us a bit about Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara, which is supposed to be especially relevant in the current context of climate change.

I have not come across any other poet who describes the lives of diverse plants and animals in such detail and with such empathy. In Ritusamhara, Kalidasa delights us with these vivid descriptions of plants, insects and flowers in the rainy season.

Like jade fragments, the green grass rises
spreading its blades to catch raindrops,
red Indragopaka insects perch on fresh
leaf-buds bursting forth from the Kandali plants
the earth smiles like an elegant lady
draped in nature’s colourful jewels. 2-5

Aroused by the sunrays at sunrise,
Pankaja opens up like glowing face
of a young woman, while the moon
turns pale, smile vanishes from Kumuda
like that of the young women,
after their lovers are gone far away.  3-23

The fields covered with ripened paddy
as far as eyes can see, their boundaries
full of herd of does, midlands filled with
sweet cries of graceful demoiselle cranes.
Ah! What passion they arouse in the heart!   4-8

Kalidasa’s genius lies in bringing together ecological and sensual to create sensual eco-poetry of everlasting relevance. Ritusamhara highlights this fundamental connection between seasons and sensuality. As we face the triple threat of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental pollution owing to our ever-growing greed and culture of consumerism, we face the challenge of losing what makes us human. It is in these unprecedented times, reading and re-reading Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara becomes essential.

True. Closer to our times Tagore also has written of the trends of which you speak. But there is a controversy about the authorship of Ritusamhara— it is supposed to have been written earlier. What is your opinion?

It is an early work of Kalidasa. There are many words from Ritusamhara that are used in Meghaduta

What were the challenges you faced translating Kalidasa’s poetry, especially in mapping the gaps created by the time span that has passed and their culture and ethos to modern times.

I think Kalidasa’s works bear strong relevance to the modern times. He can easily be our contemporary eco-poet. In fact, Ritusamhara is a fine work of eco-poetry because of the sensitivity shown by Kalidasa in handling the plight of animals in scorching summer, treating rivers, mountains and clouds as personas among other things. 

You have also translated Brazilian poets? Are these contemporary voices? Did these come before Kalidasa’s translation?

I translated poems of 60 contemporary Brazilian poets and compiled them in a poetry collection named New Brazilian Poems which was published in 2018 by Ibis Libris, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. My translation of Meghaduta and Ritusamhara was published in 2022. 

Your range of translations is wide. How many languages have you translated from? What has been the impact of translating both Kalidasa and other poets from various languages on your poetry?

I have mainly translated from Magahi, Hindi, Sanskrit, Russian, Portuguese, and Nepali. Translating the work of Kalidasa and other poets has enriched my own poetry writing. Translating poets whose works I love and admire, offers me the opportunity to read their work very closely and provided rich insights which in turn inspires my own poetic works. 

How as a diplomat did you get into poetry? Or has this been a passion?

I started writing poetry in Moscow where I started my career as a diplomat. It was the beauty and grandeur of Moscow that turned me into a poet. 

You are a polyglot. What made you pick up this many languages? Do you read poetry in all of them? You have already translated from Portuguese and Sanskrit. Do you want to translate from all these languages? What makes you pick a book for translation?

As a diplomat, I get posted to a new continent every three years and I have to pick up the local language to communicate more effectively. I try to translate from as many languages as possible as it helps in building literary bridges across continents. I translate books I truly love and admire. 

Do you have any more translations or your own work in the offing? What are your future plans as a poet?

I have translated the first Magahi novel Foolbahadur and Magahi short stories, which is likely to come out in the near future.

My new love poem of 100 rhyming couplets titled Celestial, which takes one on a roller coaster ride to all the 88 constellations visible from the Earth, will be published by Mapin India in 2023. My new poetry collection, In Light of Africa, a book of light and learning and unlearning the myths and stereotypes about Africa. The narrative spans the continent of humanity’s birth through time and space—from the ancient Egyptian pharaohs to modern bustling cities…introducing you to Africa’s rich history, culture, cuisine, philosophy, monuments, personalities—and its remarkable contribution in shaping our modern world. This collection is likely to be published this year or in 2024. 

Thank you for giving us your time.

(The interview has been conducted online by emails by Mitali Chakravarty)

Click here to read an excerpt from Monsoon

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

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

Categories
Excerpt

Poetry of Love & Longing by Abhay K

Title: Monsoon: A Poem of Love and Longing

Author: Abhay K

Publisher: Sahitya Akademi

1

I wake up with your thoughts

your fragrance reaching me                           1

all the way from the Himalayas

to the island of Madagascar

.

brought by monsoon

from the blessed Himalayan valley                 2

to the hills of Antananarivo[1]

on its return journey

.

I dream of you every night, the shimmering dawn

snatches my dreams but the morning breeze comes  3

whispering your name, permeating my being

with your thoughts, only your thoughts, my love

.

I’m far away in this Indian Ocean island

yearning for your touch, gazing at the Moon,         4

Venus and myriad star constellations,

hoping you’re gazing at them too

.

I wait for the monsoon to be born[2]

to send you sights, sounds and aroma                   5

of this island, redolent of vanilla, cloves,     

Ylang-ylang[3] and herbs of various kinds

.

O’ Monsoon, wave-like mass of air,

the primeval traveller from the sea                    6

to the land in summer, go to my love

in the paradisiacal Himalayan valley

.

for eons you’ve ferried traders across the Indian Ocean,

guided the legendary Sinbad and Vasco da Gama    7

and brought wealth and joy to millions,

your absence, alas, brings famine and death

.

the bounty of Indra[4] offered through rains

at times just a spell of scattered showers,       8

at times unceasing torrents for days at a stretch

whetting passion of lovers with your thunder-drums

.

lovesick and far away from my beloved,

I beseech you to take my message to her                9

along with amorous squeals of Vasa parrots[5],

reverberating songs of Indri Indri[6]

.

the sound of sea waves crashing on coral beaches

mating calls of the Golden Mantellas[7]              10

mellifluous chirps of the Red fody

sonorous songs of the Malagasy Coucal

.

the sight of ayes-ayes[8] conjoined blissfully

at midnight in Masoala rainforests             11

fierce fossas[9] mating boisterously at Kirindy

colourful turtles frolicking in the Emerald Sea

.

yellow comet moths swarming Ranomafana[10]

Radiated tortoises carrying galactic maps        12

Soumanga sunbirds sipping nectar

white Sifakas[11] dancing in herd

.

ring-tailed lemurs feasting on Baobab[12] flowers

Vasa parrots courting their mates                  13

painted butterflies fluttering over fresh blossoms

blooming jacarandas painting the sky purple

.

Traveller’s palms[13] stretching their arms in prayer

Baobabs meditating like ascetics turned upside down  14

Giraffe-necked red weevils[14]  necking their mates

fragrant Champa flowers—galaxies on the earth

.

colourful Mahafaly tombs[15] dotting the countryside

erotic Sakalava sculptures[16] arousing longings in mind,   15

innumerable sculpted rock-temples at Isalo[17]

each one a homage to Lord Pashupatinath[18]

.

the rich dialect of the old Gujarati

still spoken here with great zeal,             16

O’ Monsoon, I urge you to carry these

to my love in the pristine Himalayan valley

.

as you glide over the Indian Ocean gently

caressing her curvaceous body,              17

the humpback whales will amuse you

with their mating songs

About the Book

Monsoon is a poem of love and longing that follows the path of monsoon which originates near Madagascar and traverses the Indian Ocean to reach the Himalavas and back to Madagascar. As monsoon travels, the rich sights and sounds, languages and traditions, costumes and cuisine, flora and fauna, festivals and monuments, and the beauty and splendour of the Indian Ocean islands and the Western Ghats, East and North India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet are invoked. The poem weaves the Indian Ocean Islands and the Indian Subcontinent into one poetic thread connected by monsoon, offering an umparalleled sensuous experience through strikingly fresh verses which have the immense power to transport the readers to a magical world.

About the Author

Abhay K is the author of nine postry colfections including The Magic of Madagascar (1’Harmattan Paris, 202 I), The Alphabets of Latin America (Bloomsbury India, 2020), and the editor of The Book of Bihari Literature (Harper Collins, 2022), The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems, CAPITALS, New Brazilian Rems and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems. His poems have appeared in over 100 literary journals. His “Earth Anthem” has been translated into over 150 languages. He received SAARC Literary Award 2013 and was invited to record his poems at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. in 2018. His translations of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta (Bloomsbury India, 2021) and Ritusamhara (Bloomsbury India, 2021) from Sanskrit have won KLF Poetry Book of the Year Award 2020-21.


[1] Antananarivo is the capital of Madagascar

[2] Monsoon is born in the Mascarene High near Madagascar.

[3] Ylang-ylang is a tropical tree valued for perfume extracted from its

flowers

[4] Indra is the rain god in Hindu mythology.

[5] Vasa parrots are grey-black parrots endemic to Madagascar notable for

their peculiar appearance and highly evolved mating life.

[6] Indri Indri is the largest species of surviving lemur. It is critically

endangered.

[7] Mantellas are Madagascar’s golden or multi-coloured poison frogs.

[8] Aye-aye is a long-fingered species of lemur active at night.

[9] Fossas are the largest predators endemic to Madagascar.

[10] Ranomafana is a rainforest located to the southeast of Antananarivo in

Madagascar.

[11] Sifaka is a critically endangered species of lemurs also known as the

dancing lemurs.

[12] Baobab is a deciduous tree that grows in the arid regions of Madagascar.

Out of eight species of Baobab, six are endemic to Madagascar. They live

for thousands of years and are also known as the tree of life.

[13] Native to Madagascar, the Traveller’s Palm has enormous leaves which are

fan shaped.

[14] Giraffe-necked red weevil is a bright-red-winged, long-necked rainforest

beetle that uses its extended neck to battle for a mate.

[15] The Mahafaly people of Madagascar honour their dead by creating

imposing tombs.

[16] Sakalava sculptures, usually wooden nude female and male figures, adorn

the tombs of Sakalava Chiefs.

[17] Isalo is a national park in south Madagascar known for its natural rock

massif.

[18] Pashupatinath is another name of Lord Shiva.

Click here to read Abhay K’s interview

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

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