Its Only Hope…

Painting by Sybil Pretious

New year, like a newborn, starts with hope.

The next year will do the same – we will all celebrate with Auld Lang Syne and look forward to a resolution of conflicts that reared a frightening face in 2022 and 2021. Perhaps, this time, if we have learnt from history, there will not be any annihilation but only a movement towards resolution. We have more or less tackled the pandemic and are regaining health despite the setbacks and disputes. There could be more outbreaks but unlike in the past, this time we are geared for it. That a third World War did not break out despite provocation and varied opinions, makes me feel we have really learnt from history.

That sounds almost like the voice of hope. This year was a landmark for Borderless Journal. As an online journal, we found a footing in the hardcopy world with our own anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles: Writings from Across the World, which had a wonderful e-launch hosted by our very well-established and supportive publisher, Om Books International. And now, it is in Om Book Shops across all of India. It will soon be on Amazon International. We also look forward to more anthologies that will create a dialogue on our values through different themes and maybe, just maybe, some more will agree with the need for a world that unites in clouds of ideas to take us forward to a future filled with love, hope and tolerance.

One of the themes of our journal has been reaching out for voices that speak for people. The eminent film critic and editor, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri , has shared a conversation with such a person, the famed Gajra Kottary, a well-known writer of Indian TV series, novels and stories. The other conversation is with Nirmal Kanti Bhattajarchee, the translator of Samaresh Bose’s In Search of a Pitcher of Nectar, a book describing the Kumbh-mela, that in 2017 was declared to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Bhattacharjee tells us how the festival has grown and improved in organisation from the time the author described a stampede that concluded the festivities. Life only gets better moving forward in time, despite events that terrorise with darkness. Facing fear and overcoming it does give a great sense of achievement.

Perhaps, that is what Freny Manecksha felt when she came up with a non-fiction called Flaming Forest, Wounded Valley: Stories from Bastar and Kashmir, which has been reviewed by Rakhi Dalal. Basudhara Roy has also tuned in with a voice that struggled to be heard as she discusses Manoranjan Byapari’s How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed The Shaping of Modern Calcutta: The Lottery Committee Years, 1817 – 1830 by Ranabir Ray Chaudhury, a book that explores how a lottery was used by the colonials to develop the city. Bhaskar Parichha has poured a healing balm on dissensions with his exploration of Rana Safvi’s In Search of the Divine: Living Histories of Sufism in India as he concludes: “Weaving together facts and popular legends, ancient histories and living traditions, this unique treatise running into more than four hundred pages examines core Sufi beliefs and uncovers why they might offer hope for the future.”

In keeping with the festive season is our book excerpt from Rhys Hughes’ funny stories in his Christmas collection, Yule Do Nicely. Radha Chakravarty who brings many greats from Bengal to Anglophone readers shared an excerpt – a discussion on love — from her translation of Tagore’s novel, Farewell Song.

Love for words becomes the subject of Paul Mirabile’s essay on James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, where he touches on both A Portrait of the Artist as a young Man and  Ulysees, a novel that completed a century this year. Love for animals, especially orangutans, colours Christina Yin’s essay on conservation efforts in Borneo while Keith Lyons finds peace and an overwhelming sense of well-being during a hike in New Zealand. Ravi Shankar takes us to the historical town of Taiping in Malaysia as Meredith Stephens shares more sailing adventures in the Southern hemisphere, where it is summer. Saeed Ibrahim instils the seasonal goodwill with native Indian lores from Canada and Suzanne Kamata tells us how the Japanese usher in the New Year with a semi-humorous undertone.

Humour in non-fiction is brought in by Devraj Singh Kalsi’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ and in poetry by Santosh Bakaya. Laughter is stretched further by the inimitable Rhys Hughes in his poetry and column, where he reflects on his experiences in India and Wales. We have exquisite poetry by Jared Carter, Sukrita Paul Kumar, Asad Latif, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Michael R Burch, Sutputra Radheye, George Freek, Jonathan Chan and many more. Short stories by Lakshmi Kannan, Devraj Singh Kalsi, Tulip Chowdhury and Sushma R Doshi lace narratives with love, humour and a wry look at life as it is. The most amazing story comes from Kajal who pours out the story of her own battle in ‘Vikalangta or Disability‘ in Pandies’ Corner, translated from Hindustani by Janees.

Also touching and yet almost embracing the school of Absurd is PF Mathew’s story, ‘Mercy‘, translated from Malayalam by Ram Anantharaman. Fazal Baloch has brought us a Balochi folktale and Ihlwha Choi has translated his own poem from Korean to English. One of Tagore’s last poems, Prothom Diner Shurjo, translated as ‘The Sun on the First Day’ is short but philosophical and gives us a glimpse into his inner world. Professor Fakrul Alam shares with us the lyrics of a Nazrul song which is deeply spiritual by translating it into English from Bengali.

A huge thanks to all our contributors and readers, to the fabulous Borderless team without who the journal would be lost. Sohana Manzoor’s wonderful artwork continues to capture the mood of the season. Thanks to Sybil Pretious for her lovely painting. Please pause by our contents’ page to find what has not been covered in this note.

We wish you all a wonderful festive season.

Season’s Greetings from all of us at Borderless Journal.


Mitali Chakravarty


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


Orangutans & a School in Sarawak

By Christina Yin

Up up, SK Nanga Delok, up!

“Up up, SK Nanga Delok, up!” Clambering up the steep steps from the jetty and over a windy pathway, we reach the administrative office to be greeted by the school’s cheerful motto pasted outside the wooden door. Our small team is made of conservationists from the Wildlife Conservation Society Malaysia Programme, a local artist and myself, a writer and university lecturer of English academic and communication skills. It’s taken five hours on the road from Kuching to Lubok Antu and forty minutes with the sun beating down on us on a longboat navigating the lake created by the Batang Ai Dam and the River Ai’s tributaries that feed it. We’ve arrived at Sekolah Kebangsaan Nanga Delok, a government boarding school where 41 children ranging from seven to twelve years come from homes scattered around the national park.

We are deep in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo at the fringes of two contiguous protected areas, Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary and Batang Ai National Park, where the state’s largest known population of orangutans live untroubled by human activity. Encouraging messages about knowledge, virtue and wisdom are painted in English and Malay on the wooden walls of the school buildings constructed on slopes overlooking the river. Their water dispenser is a simple two-litre plastic capped bottle on a wooden shelf and three green plastic cups hanging from hooks outside different classrooms. A simple message in Malay with a picture of a smiling teacher in a baju kurung, the national dress, says: “Sila basuh cawan selepas minum, Terima kasih.” (Please wash the cup after drinking. Thank you.)The national flower, hibiscus, is painted on the wall right by the water dispenser with the 14-pointed yellow star against the blue as well as the red and white stripes of the Malaysian flag within its petals.

The children are curious and excited to see us: conservation through art and English after-school activities! They are wondering what these could be. But the most stunning message comes to me when I see the t-shirts these young boys and girls are wearing deep in the Bornean tropical rainforest. The names on their backs are bold — foreign and yet familiar: Hazard, Torres, Messi, De Bruyne, Messi[1].

The Dining Hall at SK Nanga Delok

In the dining hall, there are many colourful pictures and messages in Malay and English on the walls. “Welcome to Dewan Sri Nadala” in beautiful calligraphy is posted prominently on the green wall above the open counter that separates the kitchen from the dining area. It’s Tuesday, we’re told in Malay and English. Iban is the mother tongue of most of the student population, but at school, the medium of instruction is Malay and the second language is English. Coming to the boarding school from homes scattered on the banks of the Ai and its tributaries, the children are learning the national language, Malay, and English, the acknowledged lingua franca and the language of the White Rajahs and the former British colonists. Happy smiling cartoons of children urge the pupils to wash their hands before eating. Prayers are posted up on laminated paper framed with attractive borders and cartoon tiger cubs perched above the lettering. There are no tigers to be found in Borneo. The largest indigenous cat is the clouded leopard, but the children learn about tigers from schoolbooks, cartoons, television and the national crest of Malaysia.

The children stand and recite prayers, giving thanks for sustenance before every meal. When they have eaten, they stand and say an after-meal prayer of thanks as well. Indeed, there is much sustenance at the boarding school — so many meals! Breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper are served on the wooden tables covered with red and yellow flower patterned cloths protected by plastic for easy cleaning. Red and white checked cloths skirt the tables, matching the blue and white curtains that shade the glass louvres windows.

It is no wonder that many parents are happy that their children attend school, even if it means they have to be away from home at such a young age. At SK Nanga Delok, the government supplies the children with books, pencils and erasers, mattresses and pillows, and meals. Especially meals; six times a day: milky tea, bread, crackers, eggs, chicken or fish, rice, vegetables, fruit, Milo.

Talking about Orangutans

Art and English activities take place after the children’s regular school lessons. So, they are out of their dark blue and white school uniforms and in shorts or light track suit pants and t-shirts. Their hair is damp from baths and they are eager to find out what we’re all up to. The artist Angelina is teaching the older Primary 4-6 children to cut out shapes to make collages of orangutans and forests in one half of the dining hall.

In the other half, with the Primary 1-3 children, I have a plush orangutan on my lap. I give it to the child on my right and it is passed on from one child to another. We are sitting in a circle, telling a story together about Lucy, the orangutan. Each child continues the story with one sentence in English. This is how the story goes: Lucy is lost, but a big kind orangutan helps her find her way back to her mother. Of course, they have a nice meal of fresh fruits together on the way. A little boy named Rio Ferdinand is the one I remember the best. With a name like that, how could I not remember him?

Then it’s my turn with the older children. The story they tell is darker. It is about a “saviour” who takes the orangutan to a new home in a zoo. The orangutan escapes, taking his son with him, but is brought back to the zoo. One day, a scientist comes to the zoo and takes the orangutan and his son back to the forest where they eat durians and rambutans. Students come to the forest and take photographs. They go back to the city telling people that the orangutans are happier in the forest because it is their natural home. We see that some of the children really think that the animals belong in zoos. Our orangutan research team explains that wildlife belongs to the wild, in their natural habitats. We hope they understand that animals don’t belong in zoos.

At that point, the children ask to be excused because they must bring their foam mattresses in. It’s going to rain and their mattresses are airing in the sun. When they come back, we write Cinquain poetry[2] about wildlife. Their English is minimal, but they are happy, excited to learn new things and to talk to us. We talk about orangutans with the help of the Iban-speaking conservationists. The children know about orangutans. One 12-year-old tells us he saw an orangutan when he was five. He was with his father who told him he must never kill orangutans because they are protected animals. Another speaks of a traditional story she knows about orangutans becoming humans. Some of the children have seen orangutans near their homes at Mawang, Nanga Jambu, Sumpa and in the hills at Palak Taong. What, we ask, is the orangutan’s favourite food? The children shout happily: Durians!

Orangutan Stories and the Children of Nanga Delok

There is a group photograph of our team with the 41 children and their teachers at SK Nanga Delok. It was taken shortly after we had arrived and had signed the Visitor’s Book at the school’s office. The children and teachers were proud to have us visiting their school in this remote part of the state and we were honoured to be welcomed as guests. It was a happy moment for all of us.

It’s been four years since the photograph was taken. The children in the four oldest classes, Primary 3, 4, 5 and 6, would have moved on to one of the boarding schools for secondary school-aged children nearby at Lubok Antu or Engkilili. The tiny ones would be moving up the scale, now considered seniors to the new pupils. I wonder about the children and their stories and collages of the orangutans, their Cinquain poems and their shirts honouring their favourite European football players.

Dominic Helan Eric, the Park Warden at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre twenty minutes from the capital city, Kuching, tells me that his colleagues at the Forest Office at Lubok Antu reported that the number of orangutans at the Batang Ai National Park has grown. This is good news. I hope that the stories the children have heard about orangutan ancestors and lessons they have learned from their parents about protecting the red great ape will continue to be passed down to the future generations. And I hope that they will remember our stories about the orangutan belonging in the tropical rainforest and not in the enclosures of a zoo.

We know that the young people are leaving the rural towns, lured by jobs and the modern lifestyle in the cities. It is a natural consequence of development and progress. In a way, this will be good for the wildlife because there will be fewer people competing for the land and the food that can be found among the flora and fauna in the forests. But I wonder, like others do, what might be lost when the young people no longer return to their villages and longhouses. We ask ourselves, is it worth the gain of modern life, technology and progress? But it’s not a question we can answer, we who are city folk, the so-called educated and modern ones. For we live in urban areas and have access to that progress and development, so it’s not for us to say what’s best for those who live in the villages and longhouses far from modern amenities and the hubs of technology.

Although European football superstars may have reached far into the Bornean rainforest, all the way to Nanga Delok, and the lure of the modern connected city life beckons, not all of the young people have left Batang Ai. Some remain to be guides and porters, boatmen and cooks for research teams that seek to study the elusive red ape and conservation education teams that come to meet the longhouse folk. Eco-tourism brings adventurous travelers to the area as well, so there is an alternative livelihood for the villagers who choose to live on their ancestral land. Hopefully, our visit and the stories of conservation and the orangutans help to remind the children of their primate neighbours and how they can live peacefully and safely in the shared habitat.

As we push off from the jetty and the longboat putters out onto the open water created for the Batang Ai Dam, I look back at the boarding school high up on the hill hidden by the trees. I remember the school’s motto, “Up, up, SK Nanga Delok, up!”. I see the children passing Lucy, the plush orangutan to one another, adding to the story of the young red ape. I see them creating collages of orangutans and writing their Cinquain poems. But clearest in my mind is the memory of the children in their incongruous football t-shirts, imitations of the jerseys of European football stars. We are leaving this area where humans created a dam to provide electricity for the modern world; a place where some of the Iban still live the way their ancestors did, but where their children are given an education in two foreign languages, with a glimpse of a world beyond the River Ai and its tributaries.

We are heading for Lubok Antu and the long drive back to the capital. Somewhere in the forest on the far side of the river or behind us, there are orangutans. We hope that the national park and the neighbouring wildlife sanctuary will stay protected and untouched by human avarice. And we hope that the children of Nanga Delok will live happy useful lives wherever they eventually settle, whether it’s near or far from their birthplace where the orangutans still live freely in the wild.

[1] Football players

[2] A five-line poem popular among children

Christina Yin, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak Campus. Her fiction and nonfiction writing have been published in eTropicNew Writing, and TEXT, among others.


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


Vanilla Gorilla & More Mammals

Poetry from Rhys Hughes


I’m a gorilla

who likes the taste of vanilla

ice cream. You are a

tender orang-utan

who prefers the tang

of tangerine. I am rather glad

you aren’t a gibbon

infatuated with fig and

strawberry who feels

an inexplicable need

to devour the dairy dessert

in haste and render

the tub quite



I knew
a husky dog
      long ago.

     In the day
           he pulled
     sledges over snow.

                 But in the evenings
            he was a singer
                       in a jazz club.


I sometimes wonder
what we call a sea
in which a brave dog
swims desperately
through tempestuous
and perilous waves?

      Rough! Rough!


Sheep may safely graze their knees
when skating in the dark.
Although the park is closed at night
and trees in the breeze are sepulchral
the half-pipe is still accessible
to those who have the keys
and this bold woolly flock do, it’s true.

The rams and lambs are showing off,
pulling wheelies and flipping spins,
while the ewes prefer to slalom
around tall bollards wet with dew.

But no matter what tricks they play
they are safe until the break of day,
for this is a town that loves their kind,
a place where animals can lark around
and sheep may safely graze their knees.

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.