Categories
Editorial

Triumph of the Human Spirit

On August 8th 2021, the chief of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, pointed out during the closing ceremony that these games were “unprecedented” and brought messages of “hope, solidarity and peace” into a world torn with the desolation generated by the pandemic. It was a victory of the human spirit again, a precursor of what is to come. That the Japanese could get over their pandemic wrought hurdles, just as they did post the nuclear disasters wrought by the Second World War and by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami at Fukushimaya, to host something as spectacular and inspiring as these international games reflects, as the commentators contended, a spirit of ‘harmony and humility’. The last song performed by many youngsters seemed to dwell on stars in the sky — not only were the athletes and organisers the stars but this also reminded of unexplored frontiers that beckon mankind, the space.What a wonderful thing it was to see people give their best and unite under the banner of sports to bring messages of survival and glimpses of a future we can all share as human beings! Our way of doing things might have to evolve but we will always move forward as a species to thrive and expand beyond the known frontiers.

One such explorer of yet unknown frontiers who mingles the historic with the contemporary, Goutam Ghose, an award-winning filmmaker and writer, has honoured our pages with an extensive interview showing us how art and harmony can weave lores that can help mankind survive. This is reinforced by the other interview with Singaporean academic, Dr Kirpal Singh, whose poetry reflects his convictions of a better world. With our intelligence, we can redefine processes that hold us back and grind our spirits to dust — be it the conventional ‘isms’ or norms that restrict our movement forward – just as Tagore says in the poem, we have translated this time, ‘Deliverance’.

…On this auspicious dawn,
Let us hold our heads high in the infinite sky 
Amidst the light of bounteousness and the heady breeze of freedom.

As the Kobiguru mentioned earlier in the poem, the factors that oppress could be societal, political, or economic. Could they perhaps even be the fetters put on us by the prescribed preconceived definition of manmade concepts like ‘freedom’ itself? Freedom can be interpreted differently by multiple voices.

This month, on our pages, ‘freedom’ has found multiple interpretations in myriad of ways — each voice visualising a different dream; each dream adding value to the idea of human progress. We have discussions and stories on freedom from Nigeria, Argentina, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia and more. Strangely enough, August holds multiple independence/ national days that are always for some reason seen as days of being ‘freed’ by many — at least from oppression. But is that true?

From Malaysia, Julian Matthews and Malachi Edwin Vethamani cry out against societal, religious and political bindings – quite a powerful outcry at that with a story and poems. Akbar Barakzai continues his quest with three poems around ideas of freedom translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Jaydeep Sarangi and Joan Mcnerny pick up these reverberations of freedom, each defining it in different ways through poetry.

Jared Carter takes us back to his childhood with nostalgic verses. Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Michael Lee Johnson, Vandana Sharma and many more sing to us with their lines. Rhys Hughes has of course humour in verse that makes us smile as does Jay Nicholls who continues with her story-poems on Pirate Blacktarn – fabulous pieces all of them. The sport of hummingbirds and cats among jacaranda trees is caught in words and photographs by Penny Wilkes in her Nature’s Musings. A poetic tribute to Danish Siddiqui by young Sutputra Radheye rings with admiration for the Pulitzer prize-winning photographer who met his untimely end last month on 16th while at work in Afghanistan, covering a skirmish between Taliban and Afghanistan security forces. John Linwood Grant takes up interesting issues in his poetry which brings me back to ‘freedom’ from colonial regimes, perhaps one of the most popular themes for writers.

Indo-Pak independence, celebrated now on 14th (Pakistan) and 15th August (India), reflects not only the violence of the Partition which dislocated and killed millions historically but also the trauma caused by the event. Capturing this trauma is a short story based on memories of Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by his daughter, Amna Ali. Ratnottama Sengupta translates from the diary of Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), a woman’s voice from the past that empathises with the subjugated who were subdued yet again after an upsurge of violence during the Quit India Movement (1942) against the colonials. Sinha contends that though the movement frittered away, the colonials were left with an after-taste of people hankering for self-rule. A thought-provoking short story by Sunil Sharma explores the results of self-rule in independent India.

Alluding to Jinnah’s vision for women, Aysha Baqir muses emotionally about the goals that remain yet to be fulfilled 74 years after independence. Moazzam Sheikh’s story of immigrants explores dementia, giving us a glimpse of the lives of Asian immigrants in America, immigrants who had to find a new home despite independence. Was this the freedom they dreamt of — all those who fought against various oppressive regimes or colonialism?

Tagore’s lyrics might procure a few ideas on freedom, especially in the song that India calls its National Anthem. Anasuya Bhar assays around the history that surrounds the National Anthem of India, composed by Tagore in Bengali and translated to English by the poet himself and more recently, only by Aruna Chakravarti. We also carry Dr Chakravarti’s translation of the National Anthem in the essay. Reflecting on the politics of Partition and romance is a lighter piece by Devraj Singh Kalsi which says much. ‘Dinos in France’ by Rhys Hughes and Neil Reddick’s ‘The Coupon’ have tongue-in-cheek humour from two sides of the Atlantic.

A coming-of-age story has been translated from Nepali by Mahesh Paudyal – a story by a popular author, Dev Kumari Thapa – our first Nepali prose piece.  We start a four-part travelogue by John Herlihy, a travel writer, on Myanmar, a country which has recently been much in the news with its fight for surviving with democracy taking ascendency over the pandemic and leaving the people bereft of what we take for granted.

Candice Louisa Daquin discusses a life well-lived in a thought provoking essay, in which she draws lessons from her mother as do Korean poet, Ihlwha Choi, and Argentinian writer, Marcelo Medone. Maybe, mothers and freedom draw similar emotions, of blind love and adulation. They seem to be connected in some strange way with terms like motherland and mother tongue used in common parlance.

We have two book excerpts this time: one from Beyond the Himalayas by the multi-faceted, feted and awarded filmmaker we have interviewed, Goutam Ghose, reflecting on how much effort went in to make a trip beyond boundaries drawn by what Tagore called “narrow domestic walls”. We carry a second book excerpt this time, from Jessica Muddit’s Our Home in Myanmar – Four years in Yangon. Keith Lyons has reviewed this book too. If you are interested in freedom and democracy, this sounds like a must read.

Maithreyi Karnoor’s Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends, is a fiction that seems to redefine norms by what Rakhi Dalal suggests in her review. Bhaskar Parichha has picked a book that many of us have been curious about, Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves. Parichha is of the opinion,Elevated or chastised, exonerated or condemned, the perturbation unworldly women in India face is that they have never been treated as equal to men as spiritual leaders. This lack of equality finds its roots not only in sociological and cultural systems, but more particularly at the levels of consciousness upon which spirituality and attitudes are finally based.”One wonders if this is conclusive for all ‘unworldly women’ in India only or is it a worldwide phenomenon or is it true only for those who are tied to a particular ethos within the geographical concept of India? The book reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra,  Somdatta Mandal’s The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs, dwells on the fierce independence of the early twentieth century women caregivers of the maestro from Bengal. These women did not look for approval or acceptance but made their own rules as did Jnadanandini, Tagore’s sister-in-law. Bhaskar Parichha has also added to our Tagore lore with his essay on Tagore in Odisha.

As usual, we have given you a peek into some of our content. There is more, which we leave for our wonderful readers to uncover. We thank all the readers, our fantastic contributors and the outstanding Borderless team that helps the journal thrive drawing in the best of writers.

I wish you all a happy August as many of the countries try to move towards a new normal.

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal, August 2021

Categories
Review

Sylvia: A Genre-Bending Book

Book Review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends

Author: Maithreyi Karnoor

Publisher: Tranquebar, 2021

Maithreyi Karnoor’s Sylvia is a genre-bending book which appreciates the immensity of life while treading insouciantly.

Maithreyi Karnoor has won the Kuvempu Bhasha Bharti Prize for translation from Kannada to English. She was shortlisted for the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, and twice for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. Her essays, poetry, translations and reviews have been published in most mainstream and literary journals in India. She is currently putting together her poetry collection Skinny Dipping in Tiger Country, and collaborating with Rhys Hughes on Rainbow Territory. Sylvia is her debut novel. 

We live life linearly. Growing, ageing and experiencing, we pass through events which stop us by to assert the primacy of time. Still, too often, we tend to dwell much upon the emotions we happen to go through – focusing hugely on our own desires and despairs. So much so that we lose sight of the only event which is bound to be certain – death. We overlook the fact that our lives, though lived in a linear manner, are also tangentially connected to lives of others, to all those people we come across. And taken together, the web that it creates, affirms our nothingness in the immensity of this design. Wouldn’t it be then wise to live the life in the constant knowledge of it. And not to take our own emotions too seriously, to make the journey bit easier for us.

Maithreyi Karnoor’s experimental novel appears to be an exploration of this idea. She gives us a character, Sylvia, and then proceeds to create a tapestry of life which includes warps of lives of the people she either meets or stumbles by, where her own life runs as an underlying nap, at times palpable while at others, invisible.

The novel is divided into two parts. Part I tells us the story of Bhaubaab, Sylvia’s uncle whom she happens to meet accidently, and of Lakshmi, Bhaubaab’s neighbour in a sleepy Goan village. Part II consists of nine distinct stories, telling the tales of its characters who may or may not be acquainted with Sylvia. At times, one wonders whether it is the same Sylvia in each story but the author doesn’t make it apparent. She weaves these stories with a confident hand, like a weaver who knows the design instinctively and doesn’t have to necessarily abide by the set patterns of construct.

Spanning sixty pages, Bhaubaab is also the longest story in the book. Cajetan Pereira or Bhaubaab returns and settles down in a village in native Goa from Africa where his forefathers had migrated. Karnoor’s research into the practices of living in both the places comes through her deft narrative. She touches upon the notions of familial conflict, ambitiousness of impressionable youngsters, smugness of educated elite and homosexuality as she intertwines the three characters of Bhaubaab, Lakshmi and Sylvia in the first part.

In Bhagirati, Karnoor probes mental illness of a character who dies by suicide. In Venison, she looks at the superstitious beliefs of people of a village where a young couple, Shaila and Sujeeth, make a home far away from conventional city life. In Blue Barrel, Karnoor tells us the story of Reshma, from an underprivileged background, who has to steal water even to bathe. Eighteen Spoons, presents a snippet of Sylvia’s life as a well-established writer through the lens of another character with whom she exchanges messages. The title draws its name from a poem included in the narrative which exemplifies Karnoor’s craft as a poet.        

The story A Cat named Insomnia seems to render a closure to the stories of characters from previous stories in the sense that it suggests an ending whereas the other stories give the impression of seeping into each other. We meet Bhaubaab from Part I again in The Afterlife of Trees and RIP but not Lakshmi. The last story, RIP of Part II, also appears to suggest a closure as we witness Sylvia getting ready to go back to her home after what looks like some years of travelling.  

All rest and peace is for the living

Know peace while you can

What if what lies beyond is more of the same thing

Get some sleep tonight

Appearing at the beginning of last story, these lines are a remarkable expression of the underlying idea of the genre-bending book – that of appreciating life for its vastness, of accepting, to borrow from the author, that love, loss, success, disappointments, shouldn’t be taken as seriously as we do. That if all these are taken in our stride perhaps they would hurt less. That we must know peace and cling to it. The pen which so assertively forges to interpret and portray this imperative view towards life is a pen worth watching for.

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Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ .

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

Categories
Poetry

A Burden of Beasts

By Maithreyi Karnoor

The climb is steep and the water deputed to cool

The heaving body orgasming to the cold outside.

Ration your tears for the out-of-breath

Achievement of each breath-taking summit.

The Himalaya is a rock and a hard place

Treacherously beautiful like unrequited love.

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The mountains that do not care for your burdens — personal, political—

And are unmoved by the selfie-flashes stacked as high as the peaks

Offer lessons in humility in a thousand shades

Peeking out of cracks and crevices — sometimes entire valleys —

Only to be refused with loud whoops for group poses.

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The gush of the muddy glacial melt hurrying on purposefully to Pakistan

Since long before it was tickety boo*,

The unamused tinkle of the bells on the necks of mules

Carrying civilization on their backs — toilet bowls, gas cylinders,

Celebratory beverages, wet-wipes, instant noodles

And hand sanitizers — for the connoisseurs of the wilderness,

The dry coldness of Spiti’s winds like the gaze of outlived love,

The amusement in the muted breath of the accompanying porters

At your victory signs, do not outdo the racket of bollywood

Ricocheting off the rocks with Himalayan dignity.

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The Beas in not wanting to be the same river twice

Flows on as an aphorism.

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*tickety boo:  Term used by British colonials  to convey all is fine.

Maithreyi Karnoor is the winner of the Kuvempu Bhasha Bharati prize for translation. She was shortlisted for the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, and twice for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. Her novel Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends will be published in early 2021.  

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