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Contents

Borderless, January 2023

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

Will Monalisa Smile Again? … Click here to read.

Translations

Nazrul’s Ring Bells of Victory has been translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Nobody in the Sky by S Ramarishnan, has translated from Tamil by R Sathish. Click here to read.

The Bike Thief by Ihlwha Choi has been translated from Korean by the poet himself. Click here to read.

Tagore’s Banshi or Flute has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty from Bengali.Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Jared Carter, Ranu Uniyal, Rhys Hughes, Saranyan BV, Scott Thomas Outlar, Priyanka Panwar, Ron Pickett, Ananya Sarkar, K.S. Subramaniam, George Freek, Snigdha Agrawal, Jenny Middleton, Asad Latif, Michael R Burch

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In I Went to Kerala, Rhys Hughes treads a humorous path. Click here to read.

Conversation

In Conversation with Abhay K, a poet turned diplomat, translator and a polyglot, converses of how beauty inspired him to turn poet and translating Kalidasa and other poets taught him technique. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

What do Freddy Mercury, Rishi Sunak & Mississipi Masala have in Common?

Farouk Gulsara muses on the human race. Click here to read.

Ghosh & Company

Ratnottama Sengupta relives the past. Click here to read.

Sails, Whales, and Whimsical Winds

Meredith Stephens continues on her sailing adventures in New South Wales and spots some sporting whales. Click here to read.

Tsunami 2004: After 18 years

Sarpreet Kaur travels back to take a relook at the tsunami in 2004 from Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Click here to read.

‘I am in a New York state of mind’

Ravi Shankar shares his travel adventures in the city. Click here to read.

Half a World Away from Home

Mike Smith introspects on his travels to New Zealand. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Back to the Past, Devraj Singh Kalsi muses on the need to relive nostalgia. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In The Year of the Tiger Papa, Suzanne Kamata gives us a glimpse of Japan’s education system with a touch of humour. Click here to read.

Essays

A Solitary Pursuit: The Art of Suhas Roy

Ratnottama Sengupta journeys with the signature art of Suhas Roy as it transformed in theme, style, and medium. Click here to read.

New Perspectives on Cinema & Mental Health

Between 1990 and 2017 one in seven people in India suffered from mental illness. However, the depiction of this in cinema has been poor and sensationalist contends Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In The Immigrant’s Dilemma, Candice Louisa Daquin explores immigrants and the great American Dream. Click here to read.

Stories

The Book Truck

Salini Vineeth writes a story set in the future. Click here to read.

The Scholar

Chaturvedi Divi explores academia. Click here to read.

Little Billy

Paul Mirabile renders the poignant tale of a little boy. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from Sanjay Kumar’s Performing, Teaching and Writing Theatre: Exploring Play. Click here to read.

An excerpt from Abhay K’s Monsoon: A Poem of Love & Longing. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Somdatta Mandal reviews Priya Hajela’s Ladies Tailor: A novel. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Shrinivas Vaidya’s A Handful of Sesame, translated from Kannada by Maithreyi Karnoor. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews K.A. Abbas’s Sone Chandi Ke Buth: Writings on Cinema, translated and edited by Syeda Hameed and Sukhpreet Kahlon. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews MA Sreenivasan’s Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me. Click here to read.

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

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
Review

Ladies Tailor

Book Review by Somdatta Mandal

Title: Ladies Tailor: A Novel

Author: Priya Hajela

 Publisher: HarperCollins

Seventy-five years after the Partition of India took place, the cataclysmic event on both sides of the country — in Bengal in the East and in Punjab in the West — has fuelled research on the trauma of migration, loss, and resettlement, and the interest in the theme is still proliferating today. It is interesting to note that apart from documentation through innumerable non-fiction and memoirs, stories of grim reality of the Partition as documented in stories by earlier writers like Sadat Hasan Manto or Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan, the interest on the theme remains unabated even today. The only difference now is that with the passage of time, writers are often relying on memory of the Partition as narrated by their ancestors firsthand, or through books, films and documentaries in a new sort of writing that blends fact and fiction and try to use the background events of migration and displacement into stories of resilience, grit, and people rebuilding their lives anew after crossing borders as refugees with even more stamina.

Priya Hajela’s debut novel Ladies’ Tailor is an attempt to recreate the story of the actual Sikh migration of her paternal grandparents Bakshi Pritam Singh (Papaji) and Beant Kaur (Biji) who left their home in Harial Gujarkhan (Pakistan) and made a new life in Ludhiana, Punjab. Dedicating the book to them, she mentions in the foreword how the places she has written about in the novel – Delhi, (Nizamuddin, Patel Nagar, Khan Market, Shahdara, Kingsway Camp), Lahore, Amritsar and Sukho are all real, but many elements are fictional. All these places provide the setting needed to tell the story, many details imagined and manipulated based on the needs of her characters. Ladies’ Tailor is a story that captures a setting and a group of characters that represent the immigrant and the refugee spirit, the optimistic spirit of never giving up on what you want and a spirit of adventure and entrepreneurship that to this day is the driving force in Delhi and Punjab.

The novel begins primarily with the protagonist Gurdev, a Sikh farmer who had deliberately moved from his parent’s house in Lahore to settle and work in a remote village called Sukho for ten years where all the religious communities lived in harmony and led peaceful lives. It took a lot of time for people to realize the Muslim-Sikh violence in the village that began around 1946 and that resulted in fear, hatred, insecurities as real and when large-scale massacres, butcheries, annihilation of entire clans, that was beyond Gurdev’s imagination happened, and he participated like everyone else. He made a brief visit to Delhi where he judiciously deposited cash with different people so that he could use it later. When he finally decided to migrate to India along with his wife Simrat and their two children, he could not convince his parents in Lahore to join them as they were determined never to leave Pakistan, the birthplace of their gurus.

After braving the horrific massacres and ordeals along the way, Gurdev landed up at Kingsway Camp in Delhi only to reach safety and find new problems ahead of him. Not only is he determined to make a fresh start for himself, his wife and sons, but he proves to be quite a meticulous, strategic planner and motivator for fellow refugees in the camp. Simran, the all-enduring and never complaining type of wife, turns sick and is admitted to the hospital and by the end of the ninth chapter, she silently disappears after that when Gurdev hands her some ornaments that his mother had given her. We don’t hear from her again as well as the two sons who accompany their mother.

Though taken aback, the indomitable Gurdev takes it all in his stride and tries to concentrate on his business and survival instincts. He befriends two sardars, Nirmal Singh, a Ladies’ Tailor, and Sangat Singh, and convinces them to start a business venture for readymade and customised garments of Khadi, an affordable hand-woven fabric preferred by women in the refugee camp and for those who wouldn’t like to wear British fabrics and wanted only ‘Made in India’ clothing. He sets up shop in the upcoming Khan Market, provided by the government in lieu of his land in Pakistan, forms a partnership with a trader in Shahadra to supply superior quality Khadi exclusively to them, and together the four of them start attracting a steady clientele, with Noor, a Muslim war widow from nearby Nizamuddin, as their brand ambassador. Hajela focuses on interfaith camaraderie with intricate details about how survival strategies result in Hindu-Muslim marriages and how names are changed to remain safe in the community.

The next move in the plot comes when Nirmal, the tailor, is somehow dissatisfied with the output because his clothes lack ornate embroidery work, a very important embellishment that used to make his outfits stand out across the border in Lahore. He wants a special sort of embroidery on their garments that was the kind crafted by two orphaned boys in Lahore, who he had nurtured like his own sons. Gurdev, the mastermind, plans a daring trip to Pakistan with Noor as his partner, to bring the two boys to Delhi for Nirmal and for their business to succeed. A complicated procedure begins with Gurdev cutting off his hair and shaving his beard to take on a new Muslim identity, and procuring a false passport, plans to visit Lahore along with Noor posing as his wife. This is where Hajela finds ample opportunity to implant a sort of interfaith romance and love relationship between the two of them. Once they arrive in Lahore, they take shelter in a Hindu man’s house and both of them feel trapped because Shakeela Begum, the mistress, seemed suspicious of their visit and itch to see them in jail. More complications arise with the driver Akbar and actual agents who keep on shadowing them.  

Hajela’s narrative is full of intricate details, be it in the furniture, clothing, food, social mores, and other material objects that prevailed in the Indian subcontinent in the 1940’s and 1950s. She fills the novel with little details like how the cut of the ladies’ salwar could determine which side of the border you belonged to, differences between the taste of the same food in Delhi and Lahore, and how people on both sides believed that one day, when things settled down, they could go back to their homes. Noor’s shopping for glass bangles, jootis, and dupattas with Phulkari[1]work in the tiny stalls of Liberty Market and Anarkali acts as a camouflage for their real mission to trace the two young boys who excel in embroidery. The novelist describes things here in great details, especially with new problems arising each day. But with his survival instincts, Gurdev takes each stride adapting to the situation and his determination to overcome all odds and thrive with new beginnings remains praiseworthy.

Despite crowding the plot towards the end with too many ramifications, like suspicion, counter espionage, breach of trust, car chases, bribing people with American dollars, the protagonists are constantly shadowed by unknown people. Strange twists to the story occur where Gurdev manages to locate his aged parents forcibly living in the outhouse of their grand home in Lahore when they were assumed to have been burnt alive during the riots. The way Gurdev plans to cross over to India once again through a remote and lesser-known spot along the border by bribing people left and right with dollars sounds a bit contrived no doubt and it seems that Hajela wanted to put in too many imagined situations to make her book a page-turner till the end with ample amount of suspense like a mystery thriller. It celebrates the unvanquished spirit of the Punjabi refugees, who, using their skills and energy, made a success of their business. Fairly linear in narration, a lot is left to the imagination at the end and therefore the novel is a feel-good read that celebrates the human spirit’s victory in the face of terrible odds. Apart from narrating the lingering afterlife of the Partition, Hajela’s statement clarifies the mission of her writing quite clear — “It’s not what sets us apart but what brings us together that’s important. How we resist the forces that are intent on separating us is what defines us. How we recover from past transgressions is what carries us forward. Ladies’ Tailor takes a resolute look at stumbling and making amends, at holding close and letting go and at turning back in order to move on.”

[1] A type of folk embroidery of Punjab

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

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