Categories
Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

The Chopsy Moggy*

Courtesy: Creative Commons

I sat down to write a new story and as I did so, I thought aloud: “I want it to be about a talking cat,” and much to my surprise my own cat, who happened to be crouching on my desk, shook her head.

Then she said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?” I wanted to know.

“It’s corny and a cliché. It has been done too many times before. It’s twee and awfully sentimental. Childish too.”

“I feel rather discouraged now,” I admitted.

“Oh, don’t take it so badly. You can write my story, if you like. Just don’t say I’m a talking cat when you do.”

“And what is your story? I knew you when you were a kitten. You haven’t done much since then, to be honest.”

“You are wrong. My life has been dramatic.”

“I don’t call sleeping most of the day and sitting in boxes very exciting. In fact, your ability to talk is by far the most interesting thing about you. If I can’t mention that, why should I bother?”

“You don’t know what I get up to at night. But I will tell you. Pick up your pen and get ready to make notes.”

I did as I was bid and my cat began…

You are generally fast asleep (she said) when I go off on my adventures. There’s a rug in the lounge that is a magic carpet. You don’t know this because you have never tried to activate it. Scratching it in a certain way, pulling out threads here and there, makes it fly. I discovered all this by accident, of course. It was a night last spring and you had left the window open for a cool breeze. The rug rose in the air and carried me out into the garden.

Then it climbed higher and higher and soon the town was tiny beneath me. I didn’t know how to control the thing and I padded it with my paws in various places. Eventually I learned how to steer it by moving my weight from one side to the other. I used my tail as a rudder to make steering even more precise. And when I wanted to go faster, I just opened my mouth wide and mewled. I flew off and enjoyed exploring distant countries.

Where did you get the rug from? Magic carpets are far more common than people think. You assumed it was just an ordinary floor covering when you went into a shop to buy it. The threads woven into it might originally have come from India or Persia. I wondered how fast it could fly and so I decided to find out. I mewled and mewled as loud as I could and the rug accelerated until the ground beneath me became a blur. That was fun!

The wind stroked my fur and it was a pleasant sensation but it occurred to me that I might crash into a mountain if I couldn’t see where I was going. I shut my mouth and immediately started to slow down. It was night and the stars were big and bright above me and then I saw stars below me too, and I was baffled by this, because the lower stars seemed cleaner, as if they had been washed. Maybe some giant cosmic cat had licked them?

It took me a long time to understand that the lower stars were reflections in the sea and not real stars at all. I was over an ocean. I can’t say I was pleased by this, because water has always seemed a suspicious substance to me, something not to be trusted, avoided even, though I concede that it’s often necessary to life, which is why I sometimes stoop to drinking it. But all this is irrelevant. No land was in sight in any direction. I had flown halfway round the world and was now cruising above the Pacific. How risky!

My calculations were instinctive rather than mathematical, but cats have an aptitude for sensing where they are and as a navigator I’m reliable, but my exact latitude and longitude was impossible to specify. I was still travelling forward at a reduced velocity and I noticed other objects flying to my left and right, smaller than aeroplanes and soundless, and after a while it became clear they were much nearer to me than before, converging at an unseen point ahead, some destination beyond the horizon, and I was intrigued.

Soon enough, I was able to discern the details of these mysterious craft and I saw they were rugs of many different colours, magic carpets just like mine, an armada of levitating floor coverings, a flotilla if you prefer, all piloted by sundry animals: dogs, rabbits, snakes, squirrels, wombats. And the rug on my starboard side was so close that its occupant, a monkey of some kind, was able to shout at me and be understood. He yelled:

“You are the cat representative, I take it?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“You must be. You are a cat sitting on a magic carpet and you are flying to the assigned rendezvous. Therefore–”

“But what is waiting at that rendezvous?”

“An urgent meeting.”

“But a meeting with whom?”

“With us!” he cried, astonished at my ignorance. “One talking animal from every species on the planet.”

“The point of this meeting is what?”

“The conferring of special powers on attendees, as promised in the oracles of ancient days. Surely you haven’t forgotten the words of the oracles? They are unambiguous about this event.”

He continued to talk, despite the shaking of my head. He said, “We talk but that’s the only way we exceed our limitations. After the meeting we will be able to do everything that humans can.”

“Already we may do more than men.”

“True, but we can also do less. It depends on the task, and they are superior when it comes to power. After the meeting, this imbalance will change. We will be better than them in every way.”

“I never received an invitation,” I protested.

“Yes, you did, or you wouldn’t be here now, on a magic carpet, heading in the right direction. Do you expect me to believe that you are here by accident, a rogue feline who flies to the island thanks to coincidence alone? Do you wish to imply that the genuine cat representative is elsewhere, perhaps having overslept in a basket, as your kind often do?”

“I can’t say,” I said.

“The oracles have given us the sacred date. The day that humans call May Day and shortly those tyrants will be calling ‘mayday’ when we dislodge them from their undeserved thrones.”

“May Day,” I repeated, still puzzled.

“Yes,” he said, pleased.

“I never know the names of days.”

“The island is not far now. Soon it will be visible. I know your ignorance is a pretence. Now let us focus on flying. We are converging from every direction and the sky will be thick with magic carpets. Accidents will happen if we aren’t very careful with our steering.”

I nodded, for I knew not what else to do.

And then I saw it.

A mountain rising out of the sea.

It was an enormous peak, shaped like a pyramid, with smooth sides and a truncated summit, so that instead of a sharp apex it had a flat space at the top, an area the size of a square dinner table. But that flat space was utterly black and I realised it wasn’t solid. It was an entrance into the hollow mountain. This was a place where animals could meet secretly in considerable safety. The only danger was the chance of midair collisions as all the magic carpets tried to dive down into that small opening. I grew nervous.

I decided to drop behind a little, to give the others a chance to enter before me and clear the airways for my own approach and descent. I still wasn’t sure I was supposed to be going to the meeting or not. Maybe I had been invited ages ago and had forgotten. It was possible. I thought that if I went I would find out for sure, and I doubted I would be deeply in trouble if it turned out I wasn’t the official delegate. I applied the air brake.

In other words, I raised my tail and increased the drag coefficient. Soon my speed was only half of the other flying carpets and they flew ahead. One by one they reached the mountain and zoomed through the narrow entrance and to my astonishment there were no accidents. The sky cleared and at last it was my turn and I felt more confident about a safe landing. The mountain was just ahead of me now and so I began a smooth descent.

But I am a cat and my essential feline nature took over. How could I settle down to rest on an island without circling it first? I was filled with an irresistible urge to fly around that island a few times before dipping into the opening on the top of the mountain. And that’s what I did. Clockwise around the island flew my rug as I gracefully steered it. I circled the mountain four and a half times and the number seemed right to me. Then I dropped into the hole and landed on a basalt platform far below in a very dim light.

I thought that the interior of the mountain would be crowded with the other animals that had preceded me, but it was empty. No creatures and no carpets. At first I supposed they had gone off into an adjacent chamber for their meeting but it soon became obvious that the chamber I was in was the only room down here. Just this immense space inside a hollow mountain and nothing else. It was the greatest mystery I had encountered in my life. The animals had vanished! What could be the reason for this? And how?

I pondered the matter for a long time, an hour or more, and then the answer occurred to me. The island was located in the Pacific and so is the International Date Line. I surmised that the line itself passed right through the middle of this peculiar mountain. I circled the island four and a half times, which means that I entered the hollow mass of rock from the opposite side to the one from which I had approached it. In other words, I had crossed the Date Lane and was one day early for the meeting. Instead of it being May Day it was the day before. What a curious situation to be in! So I waited.

I sat patiently on my rug for an entire day and when midnight passed and it was tomorrow again, I was ready to receive the other animals, who were due to arrive on May Day. But none of them showed up. Then I examined what I knew about geography and I realised my terrible mistake. I had crossed the Date Line in a westerly direction, ending up in the eastern hemisphere, which meant that I had arrived a day late rather than a day early. May Day had been and gone. The meeting was over and I had missed it.

This made me feel despondent and I scratched my rug to cause it to ascend through the hole and hover above the mountain. I now saw I wasn’t the only one to have made a mistake. The dog delegate was still circling the island, having an even stronger desire to go round and round before settling down than I did. We called out to each other and I told him the meeting was over. At first he doubted my words and thought I was just a cat trying to trick him, as cats often do, but I eventually convinced him of the facts.

With his tail between his legs, he zoomed away, howling forlornly, his ears flapping in the breeze as he accelerated. I also turned my carpet in the direction of home. I wondered if the real cat delegate had turned up or not. I asked myself if all other species of animal would now have special powers with the exception of cats and dogs. It was sobering. Dogs would definitely miss out, but cats still had a chance. It depended, as I have said, on the official cat guest. Even to this day I don’t know if he or she successfully attended the meeting. I don’t feel an increase in my powers, but who knows?

I returned home and glided in through the open window while you were in the garage tinkering with something or other. You came into the house and were delighted to see me. I had been missing for a full day and more and you thought I might have become lost or stuck up a tree. You hadn’t noticed that the rug was gone too. You aren’t very observant really. But that works to my advantage, so I don’t mind. You made a fuss of me and that was the right thing for you to do. It is my longest journey on the magic carpet to date, but I might go even further in the future. It all depends on how I feel.

“And that’s your story?” I cried.

“Yes,” said my cat.

“And you want me to write it down?”

“You can, if you like.”

“But without mentioning the fact you can talk?”

She nodded. “Indeed.”

I was exasperated and shouted, “How can I leave out that detail? The entire point of your story hinges on the fact you can talk. It is about speaking animals. If I’m not allowed to mention your vocal abilities, I might as well not bother to write the story at all. You have set me an impossible task. To omit the one thing that makes the tale worth telling!”

She shrugged. “You are the human, not I.”

“What do you mean?”

“Humans are the ones who think they are so clever and capable. They give the impression that they can achieve anything, that we are just dumb beasts and they are the supreme intellectuals.”

I was unable to find an appropriate reply.

She continued, “So if you can’t think of a way to square the circle and tell my story without telling it, that’s not my concern. But I strongly advise you not to tell any other story about a talking cat, because it’s a theme that is worn out. It should be my story or nothing.”

She curled up and purred and closed her eyes.

My desk was no longer a desk.

I laid down my pen.

Courtesy: Creative Commons

*British slang for “The Talkative Cat”

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.

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

Categories
Editorial

The Stars were Shining There for You & Me, for Liberty…

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

“It just so happens that their[1] universes were different from ours: because why would their imaginations be constrained by a nation-state that would not exist for another thousand years?”

Anirudh Kansetti, the print.in

These lines from a recent article on conquests carried out by the Indian subcontinent in ancient times brings to focus that earlier countries or nation-states as we know of them today did not exist till the industrial revolution set the concept in motion. In the month many countries in Asia celebrate their independent existence or rather the drawing of borders based on colonial mapmakers’ whims, we should perhaps relook at the way the world stands divided.

Is this what we want as humans? Where are we headed? While conquerors write the history, we tend to gloss over what is left unsaid. The millions who died crossing borders, in race riots and of hunger, starvation and disease in refugee camps is overlooked, or worse, used to justify the divisions that still hurt the residents of the sub-continent and try to destroy any sense of oneness among the human species. We tend not to forget the atrocities of the colonials but we overlook the violence of the mobs that incensed with hatred instilled by politics annihilated and murdered. Their story is reduced to “us” and “them”. In our mood of jubilation, the recent bombings in the Middle East and the Ukraine-Russia war have already been delegated to the newsreels. But these are all people who are killed and displaced without any justification for the need to do so. One of the things that George Orwell had depicted in 1984 was an acceptance of a constant state of war. Are we stepping into that frame of mind with our cold acceptance of the situation worldwide?

In the last century, many united against the atrocities of the empire builders. They wanted to rise above the divides. At least greats like Nazrul vociferously objected to the basis of divides that were used to draw the borders. Translations brought to us by Professor Fakrul Alam showcase such poetry as does much of Tagore’s own writing and actions. Tagore organised a protest march against the colonial proposal of Partition of Bengal in 1905 by taking a procession in which he encouraged Hindu and Muslim women to tie rakhis[2] on men from the other community and make them their brothers. Tagore put the welfare of humanity above nationalism as can be seen in his writings and speeches. Reflecting on humanity, we have Munshi Premchand’s powerful story, Pus Ki Raat or A Frigid Winter’s Night, translated from Hindi by C Christine Fair, dwelling on the sad state of peasantry under the Raj. In a bid to rouse people like the protagonist of Premchand’s story, Tagore wrote inspirational songs, one of which, Hobe Joye (Victory will be Ours) has been translated on our pages. We also continue sharing Rabindranath’s humour with a skit translated by Somdatta Mandal from Bengali.

Humour is also stirred into Borderless by Rhys Hughes with a series of mini sagas in his column and a trip around the world in eighty couplets. These couplets actually are more in number — I tried counting them — and are guaranteed to make you laugh. We have travel stories in plenty too. Ravi Shankar again treks to the Himalayas and brings us wonderful photographs of his journey and G Venkatesh stops over at Istanbul airport to find a friend from across the border. Meredith Stephens travels to a French colony called Lifou Island — sounds unbelievable as in the month we celebrate the independence of so many countries across Asia, there is still a country in the Pacific that owes allegiance to a democratic European power! But other than writing about the beaches, Stephens talks of a temporary pet dog while Suzanne Kamata gives us cat talk in her notes from Japan in a lighter vein — a very pleasant glimpse of life. Devraj Singh Kalsi brings a grin when he talks of his stint at trying to run a restaurant.

Interesting non-fictions from a book lover, Sindhu Shivprasad, and from PG Thomas who talks of King Lear performed a la classical Indian dance mode, Kathakali, by an international caste add to narratives that focus on bringing the pleasanter side of life to our readers. Such stories are a welcome relief in dark times when people find themselves caught between price hikes due to the pandemic and wars. An essay by Candice Louisa Daquin looks for a way out of the stresses of these times. Erwin Coombs gives us a funny, poignant and tragic classroom encounter which reminds me of the 1967 Sidney Poiter movie, To Sir, with Love. We have darker tones brought into our journal also with Aysha Baqir’s story on child exploitation, a sad but hopeful narrative from Nepal by Santosh Kalwar about the rejection of a girl-child by her mother and a horrific murder brought to us by Paul Mirabile.

Our poetry section this time flows over with poems from Michael R Burch, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, George Freek, Mike Smith, Gigi Baldvino Gosnell and even Ratnottama Sengupta, who has also given us a powerful essay on an acclaimed dancer called Zohra Sehgal whose life was changed by the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, basing her essay on Ritu Menon’s Zohra: A Biography in Four Acts and her own personal encounters with the irrepressible artiste. Michael Burch has also shared an excerpt of his book dedicated to his wife, O, Terrible Angel.

An excerpt from B. M. Zuhara’s The Dreams of a Mappila Girl: A Memoir, translated from Malayalam by Fehmida Zakeer, brings us close to a community we know very less about in the Southern part of India. Meenakshi Malhotra has reviewed Tagore’s Four Chapters translated from Bengali and introduced by Radha Chakravarty, a book that is a powerful voice against violence in the name of nationalism touching on the independence of women, a theme that is reiterated in another book that has been visited by Rakhi Dalal. While exploring Neelum Saran Gour’s Requiem in Raga Janki, Dalal contends that the book familiarises us with a singer “who carved her own destiny and lived life on her own terms, in times when women were generally subjugated and confined to roles given by society”. Gracy Samjetsabam has visited Mamang Dai’s Escaping the Land, a novel that tries to weave issues faced in the Northeast of India and integrate it with the mainstream by stirring human emotions.  Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Rakesh Batabyal’s Building a Free India, a collection of powerful speeches from the past.

Within the confines of the Raj, there was a long court case where a prince who had been declared dead resurfaced as a Naga sadhu[3], a claimant to the throne, this time not to abuse his power as of past but to be a sympathiser of the people in their tryst to fight the Raj. Aruna Chakravarti has woven a historical fiction around this controversy centring around the prince of Bhawal. In an exclusive interview, she tells us the story behind the making of The Mendicant Prince — her novel that was published just last month. Her responses could well teach us how to write a historical novel.

We have much more than the fare that has been mentioned here. Pause by on our contents page to take a look. My heartfelt thanks to the whole team at Borderless for helping with this issue, which we managed to get out in a shorter time than usual and Sohana Manzoor for her wonderful artwork. I am grateful to all our contributors as well as our readers. We could not have made it this far without all of you.

In the spirit of uniting under a borderless sky, let us look forward to cooler climes and happier times.

Cheers!

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com


[1] Guptas (4-6 century CE), Cholas (300 BCE -1279 CE) and other ancient rulers in the Indian sub-continent

[2] A festival held in August where sisters of all ages tie a talisman or amulet called the rakhi around the wrists of their brothers, who promise to protect them.

[3] Mendicant

Categories
Story Poem

Around the World in Eighty Couplets

By Rhys Hughes

We set sail south from Dublin town
with forty-five sailors and one clown.

But before we reached the wide Atlantic
the frantic antics of the clown dismayed us.

Should we therefore throw him overboard?
we asked ourselves in urgent conference.

It would give us a chance to proceed
in peace and harmony, free from jokes.

Ah, to continue our voyage without fuss!
That was the issue we yearned to discuss.

And eventually we came to an agreement
that dunking was no cure for torment.

And murder was too extreme a measure
to improve the leisure of our journey.

The clown was a man, his painted smile
could be easily smudged with a frown.

There was no need to send his soul down
to the circus hell where clown ghosts go.

No! Let us find some alternative method
to restrain the fool and hobble his tricks!

We therefore employed him as a topsail
whenever the breeze turned into a gale.

And as his Pierrot costume billowed out
he would wail and occasionally shout.

Especially if he spied a distant whale
in a white dinner jacket, obviously male.

But that didn’t happen on a daily basis
for most of the whales had female faces.

Anyway, I have gone off on a tangent,
the sound of hornpipes is quite plangent.

And they call me back to my nautical duty
which is to lace up all the crew’s booties.

Not much else happened for several days
until mountains loomed through the haze.

We had reached Sierra Leone on our own,
just forty-five sailors and a lofty buffoon.

What an excellent marker of our progress!
It cheered us up and reduced our stress.

There was room in the hold for tropic fruits
and so we went ashore for an afternoon.

We bought bananas, mangoes and guavas
without anyone causing a hell of a palaver.

And then we set sail again, or should I say
we set clown again, and went on our way.

Shortly we passed the island of São Tomé
engorged on fruit with rather sore tummies.

It was at this point that symmetry suffered
a relatively modest but disturbing calamity.

For we had reached a latitude
where the second line of any couplet has an unbalanced longitude.

But we soon passed to happier frothy waters
full of strong mermen and their daughters.

A little later it was with squids we played
and afterwards with octopuses we prayed.

We safely rounded the Cape of Good Hope
and raised and lowered the clown on a rope.
 
By now he was fully reconciled to his position
and in fact embraced the ideals of our mission.

And those ideals were to circumnavigate Earth
and at the same time, to increase our girth.

Thus we devoured the fruit stored below deck
until juice ran out of our noses, flipping heck!

In the Indian Ocean we played deck test cricket
using the first mate’s wooden legs for a wicket.

Because there wasn’t much else for us to do
apart from stirring big barrels of strong glue.

Why the captain needed adhesive, I can’t say
but sticky wickets were the order of the day.

And that’s why we continued to bowl and bat
using avocado pears for balls that went splat.

But take care, shipmates! That was my shout
when beneath our hull erupted a waterspout.

It was so powerful that it lifted us up high
and then we were sailing through the sky.

Clouds filled the shrouds with damp fleece
and gulls in flight honked at us like geese.

Our altitude increased and we were chilled
and soon I supposed we would all be killed.

But when the waterspout turned itself off
we didn’t drop back into a terminal trough.

No! The clown on a mast extended his arms
and span on his axis to save us from harm.

Like a helicopter he was, but not a good one,
and for him, it can’t have been too much fun.

Yet his rotary action was certainly well-meant
and provided enough lift for our safe descent.

We landed in waters on the far side of Borneo
but jumbled up was our carefully stored cargo.

The clown was quite dizzy, but what of that?
So are rooms in which you might swing a cat.

Or is it the cat that is giddy thereafter? I can
never remember the exact categorical order.

The fruit in the hold had transformed into juice
and some nails in the planks had worked loose.

But we were still seaworthy and shipshape
and would remain so while on the seascape.

So we sloshed along like a wooden breakfast
with the clown, our saviour, sick on the mast.

But he would recover, he needed no physician,
for dizziness is merely a temporary condition.

And now we concentrated instead on the terrific
news that already our vessel was in the Pacific.

Leagues and leagues of unislanded blue water, see!
But is ‘unislanded’ a word that if used, oughta be?

I don’t know about that, I’m not a lexicographer,
and in fact I’m not even a competent geographer.

No matter! Onwards! We are circling the globe
and it doesn’t matter how quickly we are going.

Slow or fast, start and stop, and if the mate bellows:
“Avast!” we all know such a pause will hardly last.

And now we are sailing steadily east with no fruit
to feast on, but plenty of juice to swim in, undilute.

Solid food is what we require, growled the captain!
Though there’s no cellophane for it to be wrapped in.

Thus we stopped off at an island just beyond Fiji
to buy some cream fudge from a Heebie-Jeebie.

In nautical lingo a Heebie-Jeebie is a shrewd adventurer
marooned long ago who now has a commercial venture.

The fudge was copious and also coconut-flavoured
and he gave us extra portions as some sort of favour.

I think it was because he was originally from Dublin
and we reminded him of the things he was missing.

But there was sadly no room on board to take him along
so we departed while singing him a fudge-mangled song.

“Don’t worry too much and don’t make too big a fuss,
keep making your fudge and all will be fine, trust us!”

The lyrics of that song were probably a cruel deception
but when he heard them he gave them a good reception.

Anyway! Enough of that. Without wishing to fudge
the issue, we have other things to trouble our minds.

I’m a little bit concerned about how the lines of each couplet
seem to be getting longer and longer as this poem progresses.

They are almost twice the length of the opening lines
which, if you remember, formed the following rhyme:

“We set sail south from Dublin town
with forty-five sailors and one clown.”

So let us endeavour to sail closer to a shorter length
for the sake of the reader’s mental and poetic health!

And now we are nearing stormy Cape Horn,
as good a place as any for mariners to mourn.

Tossed on the waves for two and a half days
we were lucky to emerge wholly unscathed.

Back into the Atlantic we plunged in alarm
while the clown vibrated from the yardarm.

But finally in calmer waters we settled down,
the odds reduced that any of us might drown.

As for myself, I looked forward to docking
yet again in the harbour of old Dublin town.

Weary of travel and the fathomless blue deep,
tired of this poem and exhausted with sleep.

Lacing booties to furious hornpipe melodies
no longer fills me with joy but only self-pity.

But only a score of leagues or so left to go
and with this wind there is no need to row.

The night was dark like a pint of stout beer
and then I knew that home really was near.

How glad was I to spy right in our midst
the Emerald Isle looming out of the mist!

Mission accomplished, let’s all dance a jig
and finally discard our stale seaweed wigs!




Explanatory Notes

Why take a clown aboard a ship?
Because we were so very bored.

Yes, whales may go to formal dinners.
If they don’t, they will be much thinner

Hornpipes are musical unicorns,
piercing ears like mythical thorns.

Cricket on deck is such an odd sport,
umpires snort when a ball is caught.

Waterspouts are fountains malign,
always of brine and never of wine.

The South Pacific is a very nice place
unless your booties need to be laced.

Cape Horn is loud and rather sharp,
the diametric opposite of Cape Harp.

Ireland, my Ireland, how I love thee!
Two shots of whisky please in my tea.

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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.

.

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