Borderless, May 2023

Art by Sohana Manzoor


Dancing in May? … Click here to read.


Aparichita by Tagore has been translated from Bengali as The Stranger by Aruna Chakravarti. Click here to read.

The Kabbadi Player, a short story by the late Nadir Ali, has been translated from Punjabi by Amna Ali. Click here to read.

Carnival Time by Masud Khan has been translated from the Bengali poem by Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Desolation, a poem by Munir Momin, has been translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Loneliness, a poem, has been translated from Korean to English by the poet himself, Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read

Jonmodiner Gaan or Birthday Song by Tagore has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.


A conversation with Mitra Phukan about her latest novel, What Will People Say? A Novel along with a brief introduction to the book. Click here to read.

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri converses with Prerna Gill on her poetry and her new book of poetry, Meanwhile. Click here to read.


Click on the names to read the poems

Michael Burch, Lakshmi Kannan, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Shahriyer Hossain Shetu, Peter Cashorali, K.V. Raghupathi, Wilda Morris, Ashok Suri, William Miller, Khayma Balakrishnan, Md Mujib Ullah, Urmi Chakravorty, Sreekanth Kopuri, Rhys Hughes

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In What I Thought I Knew About India When I was Young, Rhys Hughes travels back to his childhood with a soupçon of humour. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

A Towering Inferno, A Girl-next-door & the Big City

Ratnottama Sengupta writes of actress Jaya Bachchan recounting her first day on the sets of Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar. Click here to read.

Kissed on Kangaroo Island

Meredith Stephens travels with her camera and her narrative to capture the flora and fauna of the island. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In The Reader, Devraj Singh Kalsi revisits his experiences at school. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Making Chop Suey in South Carolina, Suzanne Kamata recaptures a flavour from her past. Click here to read.


Rabindranath’s Monsoonal Music

Professor Fakrul Alam brings to us Tagore songs in translation and in discussion on the season that follows the scorching heat of summer months. Click here to read.

A Night Hike in Nepal

Ravi Shankar hikes uphill in Nepal on a wet and rainy night along with leeches and water buffaloes. Click here to read.

Moving Images of Tagore

Ratnottama Sengupta talks of Tagore and cinema. Click here to read.



Julian Gallo explores addiction. Click here to read.

The Whirlpool

Abdullah Rayhan takes us back to a village in Bangladesh to give a poignant story about a young boy who dreamt of hunting. Click here to read.

Look but with Love

Sreelekha Chatterjee writes a story set in the world of media. Click here to read.

The Mysterious Murder of Adamov Plut

A globe-trotting murder mystery by Paul Mirabile, a sequel to his last month’s story, ‘The Book Hunter’. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from Aruna Chakravarti’s Daughter’s of Jorasanko describing the last birthday celebration of Tagore. Click here to read.

An excerpt from Bhubaneswar@75 – Perspectives, edited by Bhaskar Parichha/ Charudutta Panigrahi. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Meenakshi Malhotra revisits Tagore’s Farewell Song, translated from Bengali by Radha Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Somdatta Mandal reviews KR Meera’s Jezebel translated from Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and K. S. Bijukumar. Click here to read.

Lakshmi Kannan has reviewed Jaydeep Sarangi’s collection of poems, letters in lower case. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Journey After Midnight – A Punjabi Life: From India to Canada by Ujjal Dosanjh. Click here to read.


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

Click here to access Monalisa No Longer Smiles on Kindle Amazon International


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



Book Review by Somdatta Mandal

Title:     Jezebel

Author: K.R. Meera, translated from Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and K. S. Bijukumar)

Publisher: Penguin Random House India

In a multicultural and multilingual country like India, it is very difficult to ascertain the progress of literary creativity in all the regions because of language barriers. Translation is one of the means through which this deficiency can be met. Recently even big publishing houses are paying a lot of attention to translate texts from different bhasha[1] literatures into English so that they can cater to a pan-Indian readership. K.R. Meera’s original Malayalam novel Jezebel is one such recent addition. It has the eponymous protagonist Jezebel, a young doctor in Kerala, struggling against the cruel realities of a patriarchal world –realities that not even her education, resolve or professional brilliance can shield her from. Trapped in an abusive and claustrophobic marriage that had been arranged by one of her relatives for some ulterior motive, the novel begins with a powerful metaphor of suffering and endurance:

“As she stood in the family court, pelted with the blame of having paid a contract killer to murder her husband, Jezebel had this revelation: To endure extreme torture, imagine yourself as Christ on the cross.”

In this novel, which takes the form of a courtroom drama to show us the rich inner worlds of its characters, we see Jezebel reflect on her life and its pivotal points as she takes the stand. Through her memories, we see her grow from a reticent, serious young woman to a rebel who refuses to bend to the conventions of society. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Jezebel was a prophet and she was the only one to challenge prophet Elijah. She was at the same time a strong woman and an accursed one. Like the Biblical story of Queen Jezebel, who was much maligned as a scheming harlot and infamously thrown to her death from her palace window, Jezebel is a novel that asks if independent women can ever live lives that are free of judgement. The marriage between Jezebel and Ahab was an agreement between two communities that worshipped two different gods. Poor King Ahab was a good king who ruled for twenty-two years. His only mistake was to marry the Sidonian princess Jezebel. And that too to improve relations between the two kingdoms and to trade with them. When they got married, Queen Jezebel brought her gods along with her to Samaria. In our protagonist’s case, her already contentious divorce proceedings go suddenly awry, and her unhappy marriage holds complex secrets. Throughout the novel, K.R. Meera’s powerful prose makes resonant allusions to the Bible in different ways that elucidate the correlations between legend and the protagonist’s life while also exploring how sexuality and gender roles are manipulated by the dictates of society.

In the novel we are shown how Jezebel’s arranged marriage with Doctor Jerome George Marakkaran ended in disaster from day one, and in the two and a half years they lived together as husband and wife, their marriage was never consummated. Her father-in-law, George Jerome Marakkaran is a brute straight from TV serials, and starts cursing Jezebel right from the first day believing in his god-ordained mission to punish her in any form whatsoever. The court hearings frame the narrative, with the (very filmy) lawyer’s dramatic queries triggering flashbacks, each a tale of tremendous misery, shocking injustice or unbearable trauma – a veritable catalogue of the woes of a half of the world even in this day and age. The mother-in-law, Lilly George Marakkaran, however, is kind-hearted even if meek, and she too secretly supports her daughter-in-law to break the shackles of patriarchy and go out into the world – something she was unable to do. This inability leads to her suicide in the end. Jezebel’s parents, too, are characters who refuse to come out of clichés. The result is a series of unfortunate events, and they all end up in a family court for divorce. In order to narrate the plight of her protagonist from the very beginning, Meera creates the canvas with plenty of characters, who like Chaucer’s ‘God’s plenty’ fill the pages of the novel from the beginning to the end. Most of these characters are stereotypes and yet they manage to make the story convincing, though melodramatic at times. Jezebel has a difficult childhood growing up with her mother Ammachi who explains every move in Biblical terms and who argues that “a good woman will not ever speak a word” against her husband, however worthless he is; her maternal grandmother Valiyammachi is the one who understands her and asks her to discontinue her marriage immediately and live life on her own terms. Throughout the novel she offers her shoulders for Jezebel to weep upon.

In between, a lot of melodrama is thrown in. The novel itself confesses the soap opera part:

“John’s wedding was a frugal affair. George Jerome Marakkaran stood ramrod stiff, hands clasped behind his back, chin tilted up at a hundred-and-twenty degrees. In his sandalwood-coloured silk jibba and gold-bordered mundu, he looked every bit the father in television serials.”

The rigid patriarch that he is, George Jerome Marakkaran is no exception; almost all characters and situations befit TV serials. There are no surprises, no nuances, no gray between black and white. To give an entire cross-section of society, we have sympathetic characters like Father Ilanjikkal from the nearby church, Jezebel’s uncle Abraham Chammanatt, who was a party to the injustice inflicted upon her and to whom she begs, “Please give me back my life. That’s all. My happiness …my ability to laugh.” We also have sexually abused children, references to other broken marriages, gay relationships, the story of Advait, who had undergone a sex-change surgery to become a man, and who tells Jezebel, “To prove that a man is a man and a woman is a woman, you need a certificate.” On another occasion explains it thus:

“‘Society is a great playwright, Jezebel. Our job is to act out our cliched roles again and again in the ancient play that it has scripted. Every role has its prescribed dress code, make-up, hairstyle, and dialogue. Our job is to play those roles, no matter how ill-fitting the costume, without changing the course of the script. If I decide to change my costume midway through the play, then what will happen to the play? What will the audience, eager to hear a story that they like, do?’ he sighed.”

 Amidst the struggle of Jezebel to come to terms with society, Meera also mentions the flitting relationships that Jezebel undergoes with different men and all of which fizzle out due to different reasons. When her lawyer informs her that the verdict for her divorce suit would come out soon, this is how Jezebel reacts:

“Verdict? What verdict? Verdict against whom? In an instant, Jezebel was flung from heaven to the netherworld. She despaired about the she-who-was, and the she-who-had-been. She felt emboldened thinking about the she-who-would-be, though. Just then, she saw four creatures in the centre of and around the throne under the sea. They had many eyes in the front and the back. The first creature looked like Ranjith, the second had Jerome’s face, the third resembled Nandagopan, the fourth had Kabir’s looks. The four creatures had six wings each, many eyes all around and within. They proclaimed day and night. In their midst, she saw a lamb that looked like it had been slain.”

Each ordeal leads the reader to the next in a highly skilfully woven narrative that becomes unputdownable after the opening. That, arguably, is what Meera is aiming for, getting every reader to care for the fate of the characters no matter how stereotypical they might be. Indeed, their being stereotypes helps in making the story universal, whereas nuances and specifics might have made it different. While Meera’s story-telling abilities are way above average, the simplistic treatment of many subplots may mar the reading experience for a few readers. Paradoxically, that is what at the same time may compel the kind of readers who don’t bother about ‘feminism’ and ‘patriarchy’ to keep reading this novel till the end, and even think through it.

 Jezebel reflects on her life and its pivotal points as she takes the stand. Through her memories, we see her grow from a reticent, serious young woman to a rebel who refuses to bend to the conventions of society. Jezebel is a novel that asks if independent women can ever live lives that are free of judgement. K.R. Meera’s prose, in this elegant translation from the Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and K.S. Bijukumar, makes resonant allusions to the Bible in powerful ways that elucidate the correlations between legend and the protagonist’s life while also exploring how sexuality and gender roles are manipulated by the dictates of society.

The beginning of the novel is set seven years after that day the Marakkaran family arrives at Jerusalem, Jezebel’s home, to “appraise” her. A broken Jezebel is facing a barrage of questions from Jerome’s lawyer in a family court which is hearing her divorce petition. She feels like Jesus Christ on the cross, enduring extreme torture. There is yet another round of accusations, all built around an alleged attempt to murder her husband. A courtroom saga begins as Jezebel looks back and remembers scenes from her marriage that brought her exciting life and career to a screeching halt.

Jezebel’s is not the only story of suffering in the novel. There is Sneha, a schoolgirl traumatised by the sexual abuse at the hands of her math teacher, and Angel, a four-year-old girl, who survived a mass suicide by her family because of debts, only to be sexually assaulted by her sixty-year-old neighbour. Jezebel is also a story of the will to survive physical and mental wounds and standing up to force the change of a medieval mindset. Anitha, one of the novel’s characters, picks up the brushes to become an artist after both her husband and lover abandon her. And Jezebel stands tall above everybody else while she fights a system rigged in favour of men. The novel is a serious attempt to end the silent suffering of gender injustices in homes and outside, especially when women find themselves always constrained by the limits that patriarchy imposed upon them. Indeed, the work is a testament to the fact that even in this modern age, in India at least, patriarchal social norms wield an inordinate power over women and restrict their ability to exercise their agency and achieve self-determination.

Reading through the 390 pages of a novel is not an easy task but the way K.R. Meera manages to retain the reader’s interest is praiseworthy. Despite having so many stereotypical characters strewn throughout the narrative, Meera’s manner of storytelling is unique and like a detective novel one often goes on guessing what happened next.

The book drags a little towards the end and would have read much better if some sort of precision was adopted in the narrative technique. To remain politically correct and elaborate on the reasons and ramifications of the story line sometimes, such details may have been unnecessary.  

In the author’s acknowledgements section Meera states that she shadowed Dr. Dhanya Lakshmi in her professional life and for verifying the medical facts and interpretations in the novel. In some places these details seem superfluous and could have been avoided. The author also thanks the advocates who accompanied her to Kottayam’s family courts and observed the court proceedings. The way the interjections of the lawyer and the judge are narrated in the novel sometimes seems rather contrived as the author seems to rely on sensationalism as found in films. The translators use informal expressions in Malayalam for the retention of the local idiom and unlike several other translated texts where the reader is often confused because different relationships are addressed in the local lingo, in this novel it does not seem so. Finally, the way issues of ‘feminism’ and ‘patriarchy’ – the two main thrust areas of the novel – that plague contemporary society in Kerala even today, are wonderfully resolved by the author must be mentioned. K.R. Meera tried to break free from Malayalam literary traditions. Jezebel’s reluctance to take a stand for herself in the novel and the consequent adversities in her life tell a tale of epistemic marginalization. According to the author, “I have seen bold, patient women take their time to stand up for themselves. What we often forget is that to sprout wings, one must go through the stages of being a cocoon and a pupa.” The last sentence of the novel therefore speaks of the resilience of Jezebel when she turned her face up to the sun. The old Jezebel was no more. The new Jezebel is one who received the revelation — “And so, the woman adorned with the sun will weep and wail no more.” The novel is recommended to all readers who will find interest in reading about contemporary Christian society in Kerala and realise that societies in other parts of India are also not free from accepting a powerful educated woman who wants to live her life without paying heed to the shackles imposed at every step through patriarchal domination.

[1] Language

Somdatta Mandal, academic, critic and translator, is a former Professor of English at Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, India.



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

Click here to access Monalisa No Longer Smiles on Kindle Amazon International