Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

Mini-Sagas: A Dozen Examples

I first became aware of the flash fiction form called the ‘mini-saga’ in the mid 1980s. They were invented by the author Brian Aldiss (1925-2017). The British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, held annual competitions for the public and the winners were published in the newspaper and also in a series of anthologies.

I submitted a few mini-sagas on a number of occasions but never won. I never even made it as a runner-up. All I can remember of those early pieces of mine was that one of them involved a submarine that somehow was turned upside down while it was diving and went the wrong way through the atmosphere and ended up in outer space.

A mini-saga consists of a story told in precisely fifty words. They aren’t easy to do well, but they get easier with practice (like everything else). The title should have an upper limit of fifteen characters, but this rule is not such a strict one. Because there are so few words to work with, the title is often an essential part of the story.

About twenty years ago I wrote a mini-saga that I was pleased with. It was translated into Portuguese and printed on a T-shirt. For many years I regarded this as my only successful mini-saga. Later I wrote another, not as good, and then forgot all about the form.

But when I was staying in Sri Lanka earlier this year, I read Brian Aldiss’ book, 50×50, fifty mini-sagas in total, a very short collection, and I wondered if I might do something similar. But I decided to write 500 instead of 50. This turned out to be perhaps too much to chew on, but I had already bitten it off, and so I persisted and intend to keep persisting.

My book of 500 mini-sagas will be published when it is finished. So far I have written 216. Some are obviously better than others. I am pleased to now present a short selection from this project in progress.

Plate Armour

The army is on the move, crossing borders and conquering new lands, and the key to their success is mobility. They never stop for meals but eat as they go along. They wear armour specially adapted to hold the curries, pickles, bread, cheese, rice and puddings they enjoy. Plate armour.

Ulysses offering wine to Polyphemus. Courtesy: Creative Commons

A Gift for the Cyclops

Odysseus: Here’s a birthday present for you.

Polyphemus: A strange object?

Odysseus: Binoculars is the name. They permit you to see further. Hold them to your face in this precise position.

Polyphemus: Like this? But I can’t see a thing!

Odysseus: Quick men, let’s escape while he is temporarily blinded.

Bytes, Not Scratches

You are typing on your computer when your cat reaches out a paw and deletes your work. That’s the end of the story. If your dog does the same thing, you can say “Fetch” and it will leap into oblivion, find the document and retrieve it for you, tail wagging.

Pinocchio’s Brother

Pinocchio has a brother whose nose grows shorter whenever he tells a lie. He is the opposite of his more famous sibling in this regard. If he tells enough lies his nose retreats into his face, leaving a deep crater. He is unfortunately too popular with the fraternity of golfers.

In Sheep’s Clothing

An eccentric shepherd in these parts has dressed his sheep in pink frocks. The wolf is reluctant to clothe himself the same way but remembers he is cunning and to fulfil the conditions of his reputation he has no choice. He takes care not to be seen by other wolves.

My Nose

My nose was in the Guinness Book of Records. It’s a volume that lists the most extreme instances of various things. There’s a chapter about the tallest person ever, the longest hair and so forth. My nose was in that book. Then the librarian told me to take it out.

Going for a Walk

She said she was going for a walk with a book. I imagined she wanted to sit and read somewhere, but when I went to the park later, I saw her with a Tolstoy novel on a lead. It was opening its back pages against a tree while she waited.

The Haiku Hiker

The haiku poet went hiking and somewhere along the route he lost count of his syllables, so he just kept going. After walking far, he found an isolated tavern in the enormous forest. He fell on the beer like a shooting star. The syllables could find their own way home.

Runny Honey

Runny honey: see the jar sprinting down the street. It grew legs secretly at night in the cupboard when no one was looking. When I opened the door, it jumped out and escaped! I chase it with a spoon. I will never buy runny honey again, only the solid kind.

He was Mighty

An early start was required. He rose from his bed in the castle and called for his squire, who carefully dressed him. A frown for his forehead, an increased pulse for his chest, perspiration for his skin. Now the mighty worrier was ready! Off he went to do anxious battle.

The Toothbrush Duel

There were no other weapons available, all the swords and pistols were missing or broken, so they decided to duel with toothbrushes. They met at dawn, saluted each other, then battled for an hour on the field of honour. Toothpaste squirted into the air. It was a good, clean fight.

Something More Comfortable

The woman took the man home. They had met only an hour before but had felt an instant attraction. “Allow me to change into something more comfortable,” she said. He nodded eagerly. In a flash she transformed into a big fluffy white dog that jumped up to lick his face.


Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.




Colours of the Sky

A riot of colours starts the day
with happiness, vibrancy and hope,
dispelling the winter of discontent
with whispers of new lores…
Courtesy: Sohana Manzoor

Devi (The Goddess) is a 1960 Satyajit Ray film, based on a story by a writer called Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, that showcases nineteenth century India, where the silence of a young girl who is deified, wreaks havoc in her home, village and life. In an interview, Satyajit Ray contended that the film was to make people rethink ‘messiahdom’. The exact words he used to state this was that the film was against ‘religious dogmatism’ as the film and story literally dealt with the deification of a young bride. Tagore had similarly questioned blind deification in a number of his poems and plays. These (as Ray spelt out in his interview) did not address religion per se but malpractices, among them, the tendency to worship an idol to a point where flaws are justified, accepted and emulated. Satyajit Ray and Tagore were both Brahmos — which can be seen as a reform movement. These two were not criticising religion but talking of rising above gawky hero worship to think logically and arrive at logical conclusions. When we talk of characters from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, other mythologies or substitute the adulated with stars, writers, politicians and businessmen who run huge concerns, we tend to idolise them. But these were and are all characters with flaws, whether fictitious or real. We can well learn from their mistakes, rather than deify and worship them to justify bad behaviour by quoting instances from lives of past legends or prominent persons in the current world.

Akbar Barakzai, a poet exiled from Balochistan, talks in a similar vein in his interview. You can see it in his poetry too — some of which can be found translated by Fazal Baloch in our pages. Barakzai talks of transcending barriers we draw for ourselves in the real world, of writing with honesty and sincerity. He has shared vignettes of his life as he changed countries to continue his work. Baloch has also brought to us another excellent poet in translation, Munir Momin. A major poem by Nazrul (the ‘bidrohi kobi’), ‘Bidrohi or Rebel’ has wound its way to our pages translated by Professor Fakrul Alam. We are honoured and grateful that Prof Alam chose to share this excellent translation with us. We have more translations: Jibonananda’s ‘Motorcar’(1934) by Rakibul Hasan Khan, a Korean translation by Ihlwha Choi, another short story from Nepal and Tagore’s powerful poem,Morichika or Mirage’, which is a wake-up call for the inert affluent who hold themselves aloof from common masses. We have also interviewed a major prose translator of Tagore, Professor Somdatta Mandal. With much to share on Santiniketan, Nabanita Deb Sen and many interesting anecdotes, Mandal talks of her extensive work with her translations spanning many more writers from the past.

We have a colourful ensemble this time almost as vibrant as the autumnal colours that have invaded nature in some parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Michael R Burch has given us beautiful poems on autumn, including the autumn of life. We have a poem in a similar vein by George Freek whose work continues influenced by Liu Yong (1719-1805), an influential minister and calligrapher in the Qing Dynasty. Ryan Quinn Flanagan touches on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in his poetry. Rhys Hughes has given us humour in both his poetry and his column. Our other humorist, Devraj Singh Kalsi has given us darker, more caustic black humour in his narrative. We have lovely photographs from Penny Wilkes with her verses in Nature’s Musings. It is amazing the way she photographs birds in flight. Stories from Malaysia, Bangladesh, India and America add to the richness of our oeuvre. Sunil Sharma has given us an avant-garde telling of Odysseus’s voyage in the modern world, transcending the borders of time and ethnicity.

A well-known senior journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta, has also travelled through time to give us a recall of her experience at the 35th Cairo Film Festival one November, nine years ago. Her narrative about the time that the Shariat law was adopted by Egypt reminds me of the way things moved in Afghanistan few months ago and what is even more stunning is the way in which organisations dubbed extremists earlier are allowed to run countries now. Is it really not yet time to get rid of messiahs and look for one world?

We conclude our travels in Burma with John Herlihy and his friend, Peter, this month. And start a column with Candice Louisa Daquin, The Observant Immigrant. Her essays always draw much discussion. An experienced psychotherapist, she has looked into our value systems. We have books excerpts from Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves and CJ Fentiman’s award winning book, The Cat with Three Passports. Himadri Lahiri has done an in-depth review of Somdatta Mandal’s ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore. It is amazing how much we can learn about a person from their letters. Suzanne Kamata has shared her review of Iain Maloney’s Life is Elsewhere/ Burn Your Flags. Reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, Shylashri Shankar’s Turmeric Nation: A Passage Through India’s Tastes, sounds like an erudite read that spans thousands of years of history. Anita Agnihotri’s Mahanadi –The Tale of a River, translated from Bengali by Nivedita Sen, has been reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha. The narrative sounds like a powerful voice weaving together the lores around the river.

Do pause by and find many more authors who dot our November edition. As usual, naming each one will keep you away from our delectable reads for longer. We thank all our readers for their continued patronage, and I would like to thank my fabulous team who are now even providing visuals to brighten our pages. A huge thanks to Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious, who write as well as they paint. Thanks to all our wonderful contributors for making Borderless a reality.

Wish you all sunshine and laughter!


Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

The Literary Fictionist

Fragments from a Strange Journey

By Sunil Sharma

Odysseus: Etruscan alabaster urn 3rd – 2nd century BCE. Courtesy: Creative Commons

The Modern Odysseus

While travelling in the vast, vertical country buried in a grey-bluish haze in the post-modern hi-tech jungle, he saw bizarre and illogical things and recorded strange happenings in his notebook for a later recall. Some of the amazing things he noted during the course of this journey across an unfamiliar landscape are listed below in his diary.

— An unusual place. Folks are crazy. Do things non-natives cannot understand. For example: Reading the novels backwards. It is the fad picked up fast. One guy in a subway began this, somebody caught it on Smartphone and the two-second clip went viral. Since then, every decent guy doing it, as an in-thing. No rationale behind this act of reading! Just caught the fancy of the public. The Epilogue is big thing, because it contains everything — that is the fuzzy logic here! Like, eating the dessert first — skipping the main course in a fancy joint.


— Or, strange enough: Men buying bulky novels and not reading them. Saw a man tearing the fine art paper from the novel and using it as a tissue paper to wipe his low receding forehead that reminded viewers of his ancestors — the Neanderthals. Contemporary kin in designer suits and designer beards — minus the clubs! Next bus, everybody tearing the same art paper and wiping faces, sweat or no sweat!

— Other odd things. I saw a band of stiff musicians playing before a deaf audience who sat through the public performance with blank faces. Looking like regimented soldiers. The notes were discordant. There was no melody or harmony. Yet, after regular intervals, the deaf would all clap, on cue from an invisible prompter, the kind found in TV studios. Neither music nor audience connected or made sense. Yet, both parties continued the charade perfectly well. And yes, the five-star ambience and food were standard but folks were busy binge-drinking and eating only — music was mere noise in the background.

— In another part of the vertical city, I found a painter showing his paintings to completely blind persons in the antiseptic art district. The canvases were all bare. No colours, nothing. Some people were bored. Others were praising the experimental painter. Some rich were buying those large bare canvases. Art was in the air. Art in the form of emptiness, void — not visible but as understood by a mad visitor babbling around the long museum, where they were discussing money as the new erotica.

— A poet recited his long poem to empty chairs in an air-conditioned auditorium in an upscale wire-free section. After every pause, a round of applause was heard from the empty auditorium. The blind poet assumed it was packed with his admirers. I peered around but saw nobody but distinctly heard the claps — loud and clear. Strange! Maybe, somebody playing a recording somewhere!

— Writers wrote fantastic accounts of exotic journeys and sharing with each other in groups that had no memory cells intact, as their memories were all of the immediate instances that were there and then, lapsed forever, swallowed up in the gurgling mists of Time. They read, nodded and immediately forgot what they had read. Nobody could recall a single line, yet they talked books with aplomb!

— Entertainment stars walked the city as the new royalty and behaved like kings and queens. Their song/ scriptwriters begged on the indifferent streets filled with the hopefuls trying to be like them. Nobody bothered about them. They were fixated on the stars and their doings in closets and hotels. Trivia was sacred. Paparazzi, serious occupation. Star gossip magazines, roaring business! I saw poverty walking the glitzy roads—invisible!

— Publishers published books with blank pages. Yes. Like unwritten notebooks! Only the covers carried the titles; no authors’ names. They sold these to the public and school libraries.

Crazy country!

— I saw awards ceremonies. They were giving awards to the ones who said they had not done anything. For example, the state award for literature to a lab attendant who never read anything literary except soft porn. Or, to an ageing illiterate porter for bringing new perspectives and voices. Nobody questioned. The crowds hardly checked. Busy buying things in the mall during the discount seasons there!

— A long line of desperate poets, along with their collections of poems, ready to commit suicide by jumping into the ocean. I saw a couple of nutty ones — bearded and thin and mumbling — jump into the choppy sea waters also. One of them shouted at the amused spectators with their camcorders ready to film the event for their entertainment, “Better to die than live in an airless society that has banned poetry.”

— I saw huge mansions, gleaming offices and gardens and buildings but no living breathing beings, only dim shadows flitting about. I could see no figures, only mere outlines passing by the windows and disappearing in a second. It was strange! Unnerving. No presences. Only the ghostly voices that were hardly heard or understood by the other fleeting shadows. Only the soft whispers heard in passages or corridors dim and gloomy.

— Outside the metro limits, I saw a vast undulating plain called ‘The Forest’. There I saw paper trees and flowers planted everywhere. The real ones were all missing! The cut-outs and fakes were everywhere, bearing the names of 2000 trees that once grew in that country. A little stream was called Amazon. The hills were also fake. Miniature models representing huge hills. It was all manufactured. The kind seen in Hollywood. A studio set at a gigantic scale to replace the real that was extinct. It was scary scenario. The verisimilitude. The simulated reality. Although created artistically and with high fidelity to truth, the gnarled trees and green boughs and red flowers or pink could not fool me, the one who has, in a previous birth, visited many places and encountered many real adventures and even met the Cyclops and other strange creatures. The simulated version was disgusting and un-real!

— In the cities and the country, I saw only marching armies of synchronized machines with set timers and automatic expressions. It was hyper-reality and I desperately wanted to exit this nightmare…

— And I see mourners not mourning the dead but laughing at a funeral. In fact, on closer inspection, I see them neither crying nor laughing but completely blanch and dull, a void, the sound of laughter is coming from a chip in a micro-gadget strapped to their coats. It is recorded sound given by an actor! Nobody delivers farewell. They sit as a well-coordinated pack of automatons in grey suits and black ties, listening to the sounds of violin being played outside the funeral parlour by an old musician.

— The most frightening moment: I do not know if I am awake or sleepy; living or dead; real or fake; in present or past; writing or listening; watching the reality or being watched; an image or copy or genuine being in this strange land.

Am I sane or mad?

Sunil Sharma is an academic and writer with 23 books published—some solo and joint. Edits the online monthly journal Setu. 




Odysseus & Me: A Quest for Home

 By Marzia Rahman

You once thought naively, oh no, not naively, but foolishly that the hardest thing to do was to sever the ties. To uproot. You did not know the true meaning of uproot back then. Or what it meant to sever the ties. You only wanted to leave your home. Your town. Your mother. Or maybe, you were just being a teenager with an insatiable thirst for freedom.


The mornings were the worst, gray and interminable, and you fought a lot with your mother. And at nights, you stayed awake. You imagined yourself as a princess, trapped in a palace waiting for a prince or maybe a demon to release you. You pretended to be a solitary prisoner some days, whose date of execution had been announced, but all she cared for was looking out of her cell window at a clear blue sky where a lone bird flied up, up, above until it turned into a dot. 


You thought you didn’t belong in that small town with half-finished buildings and mud houses that had faded and where people, too, had faded, and looked more like the forgotten characters of a history book. You wanted to run away from that godforsaken place. You knew there was a world out there, bright and shining, living and breathing, bursting with cafes and restaurants, salons and boutiques and with freedom sprinkled in the air.        


And then, one day you did walk out of your home and stepped into the new world. This new world—how much did you know about it? Was it a kind place? Sane and sympathetic? Or was it more crowded and chaotic than your old hometown? Could you read it the way you read the palms of your town? Did you know the name of the streets or the people of this city, the colour of its sky, the trees, the birds, the lyrics, the signs and the symbols?

No. You knew nothing.

You thought that you’d learn to navigate the roads, the twisting alleys and gullies, the hundreds of shops and days and nights. You thought you would slowly and gradually adopt to the new life of this new world. But it would take time, perhaps months and years. And in all those months and years, you’d peek into your old world sometimes just to see how things were! But you would not gaze at it for long, or you might miss it. Because you could never sever the ties forever. Forever is such a tricky adverb, an unsure word. But you did not know it back then.

You thought once you entered the city,  you would forget all about your past life, the white walls of your house, your mother’s sewing machine, the poems, the songs and the rainy nights. You thought it was fine to lose some memories, a few books of classics and the old school diaries. You wanted to build new memories, new friends.

You worked two jobs, one full time, one part-time. You cut your hair, painted your toenails, ate yogurts, made ginger tea and sang new songs. You thought you were content, and no memories of the past would ever come muttering after you in a soft November night when you were cooped up in your room, alone. You thought you would never wake up in the middle of the night to the pitter patter rain pouring outside and your heart would not ache for the starry night sky you used to watch, lying next to your grandmother on her cot in the open courtyard of your home. 

But you were wrong.


You were wrong to presume that you could erase the past. That you would never feel the urge to go back to your town. And you realised it when your little brother, a grown up now, showed up at your door one rainy morning. You never thought one single knock would usher so many memories of yesteryears; and made you ache for the home you left years ago.


When you decided to go back to your old town, you remembered how you’d once thought naively, oh not naively, but foolishly that the hardest thing to do was to cut the ties. When it was tying the cords that seemed to be much harder, a colossal task. Was it even possible to go back? You felt the pain that Odysseus must have felt. The quandary the great hero was in! You grasped why he though spent a lifetime at war, but found the biggest struggle was finding his way back home?


You were the new Odysseus, puzzled, lost. What if the house, where the bougainvillea bloomed on the roof in white, pink and yellow all the year round and a cat often came to sit, wagging its tail, in the wide courtyard failed to recognise you? What if your family had already filled the vacuum? They would be no longer willing to open an old wound.  

You boarded the bus, packed with people and your fears and a throbbing heart on a sunny morning in late June. And when the bus dropped you onto a dusty road of your old town in the afternoon, you were surprised to find yourself surrounded by a sea of green. The leaves of the trees on both sides of the road rustled and murmured, and the scent of some wildflowers wafted in the air and you wondered: Do you walk ahead? Or wait for a return bus? Go back to the city?

The dust beneath your feet twirled and swirled, and you bit your nails and looked at the sky, filled with clouds and your doubts. You stepped off the main road and walked down to a muddy field, flanked by bamboo and coconut trees. You suddenly remembered there was a short-cut path snaking through the bamboo groves and coconut trees. And you realised that you found your freedom, you needed to find your home now.


Marzia Rahman is a Bangladeshi writer. Her writings have appeared in several print and online journals. She is currently working on a novella. She is also a painter.