Meet Barun Chanda, an actor who started his career as the lead protagonist of a Satyajit Ray film and now is a bi-lingual writer of fiction and more recently, a non-fiction published by Om Books International,Satyajit Ray:The Man Who Knew Too Much in conversation Click here to read.
Jim Goodman, an American traveler, author, ethnologist and photographer who has spent the last half-century in Asia, converses with Keith Lyons. Click here to read.
“Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too…”
— John Keats (1795-1851), To Autumn
For long writers have associated autumn with “mellow wistfulness”. That loss of spring, or loss of youth is not bleak or regretful has been captured not just by Keats but also been borne out by historical facts. Anthropocene existence only get better as the human race evolves … If we view our world as moving towards an autumn, we perhaps, as Keats suggests, need to find the new “music” for it. A music that is ripe and matures with the passage of time to the point that it moves more towards perfection. Though sometimes lives fade away after autumn gives way to winter as did those of Queen Elizabeth II (April 21st 1926 – September 8th 2022) after a reign of seventy historic years and Mikhail Gorbachev (2nd March 1931 – 30thAugust 2022) with his admirable efforts to bridge divides. Both of them have left footprints that could be eternalised if voices echo in harmony. Thoughts which create bonds never die – they live on in your hearts and mine.
Imagine… ten thousand years ago, were we better off? Recorded history shows that the first war had already been fought 13,000 years ago. And they have continued to rage – but, at least, unlike the indomitable Gauls in Asterix comics – not all jumped into the fray. They did during the last World Wars — which also led to attempts towards institutionalising humanitarian concerns and non-alignment. Yes, we have not had a perfect world as yet but as we age, the earth matures and we will, hopefully, move towards better times as we evolve. Climate change had happened earlier too. At a point, Sahara was green. Continental shifts split Pangaea into seven continents – that was even earlier. That might have driven the dinosaurs to extinction. But I am sure mankind will find a way out of the terror of climate change and wars over a period of time, as long as we believe in deciphering the sounds of autumn as did Keats in his poem.
Tagore had also sung of the joys of autumn which happens to be a time for festivities. Professor Fakrul Alam has translated three such songs, reflecting the joie de vivre of the season, The translation of a small poem, Eshecche Sarat, brings the beauty of the season in Bengal to the fore. We have a celebration of youth and romance in a Balochi folksong, an anti-thesis to autumn and aging, translated for us by Fazal Baloch and also, poetic prose in quest of God and justice by Haneef Sharif, translated from Balochi by Mashreen Hameed. Lost romance recapitulated makes interesting poetry is borne out by Ihlwha Choi’s translation of his own poem from Korean. But the topping in our translation section is a story called ‘Nagmati’ by eminent Bengali writer, Prafulla Roy, translated by no less than a Sahitya Akademi winning translator – Aruna Chakravarti. This story illustrates how terrifying youthful follies can lead to the end of many young lives, a powerful narrative about the snake worshipping community of Bedeynis that highlights destruction due to youthful lusts and an inability to accept diverse cultures.
When this cultural acceptance becomes a part of our being, it creates bonds which transcend manmade borders as did the films of Satyajit Ray. His mingling was so effective that his work made it to the zenith of an international cinematic scenario so much so that Audrey Hepburn, while receiving the Oscar on his behalf, said: “Dear Satyajit Ray. I am proud and privileged to have been allowed to represent our industry in paying tribute to you as an artist and as a man. For everything you represent I send you my gratitude and love.”
This and more has been revealed to us in a book,Satyajit Ray: The Man Who Knew Too Much, authored by a protagonist from Ray’s film, Barun Chanda. This book brought out by Om Books International reflects not just Ray as a person but also how he knitted the world together with his films and took the Indian film industry to an international level. Barun Chanda has been interviewed with a focus on Satyajit Ray. Keith Lyons has also interviewed a man who has defied all norms and, in the autumn of his life, continues his journey while weaving together cultures across, China, India and Thailand by his ethnographic studies on tribes, Jim Goodman. Goodman says he left America when speaking for a war-free world became a cause for censorship. This makes one wonder if war is a game played for supporting a small minority of people who rule the roost? Or are these ramblings of a Coleridge writing ‘Kubla Khan’ under the influence of narcotics?
Poetry also brings the season into our pages with an autumnal interpretation of life from Michael Burch. More poetry from Sunil Sharma, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Gayatri Majumdar, George Freek, Ron Pickett, Sutputra Radheye, Marianne Tefft brings a wide range of concerns to our pages – from climate to the vagaries of human nature. Poetry by an Albanian writer, Irma Kurti, and photographs by her Italian spouse, Biagio Fortini, blend together the colours of humanity. Rhys Hughes as usual, makes it to the realm of absurd – perhaps voicing much in his poetry, especially about the environment and human nature, though he talks of woodpeckers on Noah’s ark (were there any?) and of cows, yetis, monkeys and cakes… He has also given us a hilarious cat narrative for his column. Can that be called magic realism too? Or are the edges too abstract?
A leader who quested for freedom and roamed the world after being passed over by the Congress in favour of Nehru, Netaji raised an army of women who were trained in Singapore – not a small feat in the first half of the twentieth century anywhere in the world. His death in an air crash remained an unsolved mystery — another one of those controversies which raged through the century like the Bhawal case. In his review, Parichha spells out: “Aiming to bring an end to the controversies and conspiracy theories surrounding the freedom fighter, the over 300-page book gives a detailed and evidence-based account of his death in one of its chapters.”
Our non-fiction also hosts humour from Devraj Singh Kalsi about his interactions with birds and, on the other hand, a very poignant poetic-prose by Mike Smith reflecting on the vagaries of autumn. From Japan, Suzanne Kamata takes us to the Rabbit Island – and murmurings of war and weapons. We have the strangest story about a set of people who are happy to be ruled by foreign settlers – we would term them colonials – from Meredith Stephens. G Venkatesh delights with a story of love and discovery in Korea, where he had gone in pre-pandemic times. Paul Mirabile travels to Turkey to rediscover a writer, Sait Faik Abasiyanik (1906-1954). And Ravi Shankar gives us an emotional story about his trek in the Himalayas in Nepal with a friend who has passed on. Candice Louisa Daquin has written of the possibilities towards integrating those who are seen as minorities and marginalised into the mainstream.
The edition this time is like Autumn – multi-coloured. Though I am not able to do justice to all our contributors by mentioning them here, my heartfelt thanks to each as every piece only enriches our journal. I urge you to take a look at the September edition.
I would like to give huge thanks to our readers and our team too, especially Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious for their artwork. We could not have come this far without support from all of you.
 The men in the indomitable Gaulish village (which the Romans failed to conquer) in times of Julius Caesar loved to jump into a fight for no reason…Asterix was the protagonist of the comics along with his fat friend Obelix
Narrative by Paul Mirabile with photographs by Françoise Mirabile.
To have sojourned on Burgaz Island was such a marvellous experience. This experience resulted from the fact that I worked twelve years in Istanbul and had rented a small flat on the island from an Armenian woman whose daughter had been a student of mine at University.
I rented the small, rooftop flat for about five or six years. Then I met one of the protagonists of my story, Abi Din Bey, a Turkish Alevite who had been living on Burgaz since the 1940s in his two room wooden dwelling on the beach, opposite Yassi (Flat) Island and Sivri ( Pointed ) Island in the Marmara Sea, which he and his brother had built. He sold coffee or tea with little cakes or grilled cheese sandwiches to infrequent visitors, hikers or swimmers who happened to stumble across his home on the beachhead. That was in fact how he made his living. We got to know one another well, and soon he offered to rent me the smaller room of his lodgings whenever I arrived on the island for week-ends or for the longer holidays at a much more advantageous price than my flat in the village. I took him up on it without a second thought …
Abi Din Bey’s front gardens, peppered with shady fruit trees, under which he had placed long or square tables with benches or chairs for the occasional visitors, touched the stony beach. From those gardens one had a wide open view of the Sea of Marmara. It was truly a place of magic ! In the mornings we would take our coffee or tea in the gardens and contemplate those placid waters lapping the pebbly strand, a slight breeze coming in from the North, the sky and the sea, enamel blue. Hikers or visitors would stop in after eleven, and he would serve them cold beverages and grilled cheese toast, which he prepared in his kitchenette. I would help him on the week-ends when students arrived with their tents to stay on for a day or two on in the wooded areas.
Burgaz, the second of the four Princes’ Islands of the Sea of Marmara, known to the Greeks as Antigone, was as popular if not more than the first island Kınalada (Prōtē), the third, Heybeliada (Halki) and the largest Büyükada (Prinkēpos). Their Greek names fell out of use after the Greek-Turkish War in 1921, and following the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Burgaz was a world of poetry, in rhythm wth the movements of steamers coming and going, lapping waves and rough winds … screaming seagulls, the long solitary walks up into the hilly woods and along the sandless beaches, by the evening strolls amongst the white-washed nineteenth century wooden Ottoman-era mansions of Burgaz village, whose fretted pitches mounted from the cornice to the high gabled roofs of the façade. Bougainvillaea and wisteria of bright blues, purples and whites overflowed from the cast-iron balconied façades. Neatly kept gardens hugged the quiet lanes and streets fringed with mimosas and pomegranate trees, pricked here and there with aging trees, one of which near the House of the Alevites, was said to be over six-hundred years of age.
Indeed, life on Burgaz contrasts so starkly with that of Istanbul : no vehicles, no mass movements of people rushing to and from work, no tram, metro or train ; a world of enchantment and marvels, of monasteries, churches and cathedrals, of dancing boats at the piers, of leather-faced fisherman casting nets or having tea ; of forested hills, rocky cliffs, of bougainvillea sagging in great clusters and copses of cypress … of crimson sunsets dipping into the Marmara. Truly, Burgaz is ideal for the painter’s palette …
How I inhaled and exhaled those wonderful visions as I made my way down upon the winding path towards Abidin Bey’s home — splashes of roses, honeysuckles and oleanders blazing orange and crimson through the deep forest greens. And as I did, the voice of my foremost protagonist, the hero of this story, Sait Faik Abasıyanık, would implore me to reanimate his presence on this island paradise, to hearken to and bring forth, as if snatched up in some dreamy reminiscence of poetic éclat, that forlorn, melancholic voice :
Yes, that Sait Faik voice, elliptic, forlorn and melancholic, as if he solicited an unaffected sincere souvenir of his masterful art : the Art of Poetics … of the short-story, a palatable keepsake of his short-lived grandeur :
The wind that bears the salt to the shore,
I hear the swimming of the fish
I listen to the seaweed talking amongst themselves,
So many journeys into the past borne by that doleful voice of the solitary poet and story-teller of fishermen, wood-choppers, street vendors, birds, steamers, cafés ; of motley dressed street children, long, starry nights meditating the brushing waves of the Marmara Sea along the indented coasts of Burgaz … of insular Freedom …
What exactly is insular Freedom ? A land free of noisome noise; the islanders hear only the laughing seagull in flight, the chants of fishermen repairing their nets, the brays of donkeys, the wheedling of jays and the coarse hawking of merchants on market days, the neighs and snorts of work-horses, the cock-a’doodle doos of roosters at the break of dawn.
A land where the naked eye embraces gold-gilded sunrises and dragon-red sunsets at the not so distant point where the azures of the sky touch those of the briny sea.
A land of a myriad flowery perfumed fragrances, free from the toxic fumes of vehicle emission, from chemical discharge and human waste. A land of powerful telluric forces where the islanders’ footfalls tread dirt tracks, sandy or stony beachheads, soft, leafy trails ; where he or she communes with the trees, the sea, tastes the salty air free of pollution. Even the taste of Burgaz coffee smacks of that island brew, a nice commingling of robust richness and timeless tincture ! Freedom which releases all the senses from their ensnared urban uniformity, their artificial, conventional urbanity of foot-shuffling routine and tiresome ennui …
So I descended and descended towards Abi Din Bey’s strand home, winding steeply in zig-zag fashion, alive to that distant but clear, impelling voice :
When reading or listening to these verses I experienced a veil of despondency, a dash of fury that underscores a struggle of consciousness, of surpassing vanity as the principal motivation of solitude within an island envelope. The consciousness may be called nostalgia ; that is, suffering of and from a past, familiar lieu, a stead-sickness of some remote time within the fantastic unfolding of a man’s former existences. And yet, these former existences may not be as remote as I believed. So I continued to lend an ear as I approached the beachcomber’s humble abode :
Ah, Sait, you have been my faithful road companion ; the herald of the short story, of the furtive glimpse, of the snap-shot of possible realities which have been the ardent desire of our existential Way … the Flame of Life …
Here, at long last, Abi Din Bey has come to greet me at his welcoming gate — a hearty greeting indeed. Abi Din Bey towers over me in all his nobleness ; he is a descendent of the great Ali, fourth Caliph of the Sunna, first Imam of the Shia. He took great pleasure and pride in showing me his genealogical tree finely printed out on vellum in triptych form as he had done in the past every time I visited him. He had it done by specialists at the Vatican for a meagre fee. He never fully explained why he had it done at the Vatican.
Noble, humble, ascetic and combative like his distant descendant, he stands erect for his advanced age (perhaps eighty ?), and remarkably lucid when discussing religious matters and Sufi poets. He was well versed in Ali’s conquests as well as Sait Faik Abasıyanık’s life and personality, whom he knew personally in his younger days. How many nights under a speckless sky did my friend and host narrate Saik’s life to me, abridged of course, and oftentimes modified to enfold the atmosphere of that night’s solicitude, the turbulence of the waves pounding the jutting rocks, the scrapings of the pines against the rising cliffs that arched over his diminutive home.
It was the month of May in the year 2006. The mimosas were in full bloom as we sat in his front gardens, breathing in the fresh balmy air of the calm, morning sea. The fragrance of rose attar mounted from the morning dew which clung to the garden trees like hoarfrost. The tea, too, had a fresh taste to it. Abi Din Bey looked out upon the cool blues of the late morning sky and waters :
“Sait was a rebel !” he began abruptly in his deep, coarse voice. “You know, he didn’t look to transform the world like some revolutionary, he wanted to be as useless as possible to the whims and caprices of our political and economic decision-makers, to the ideological escapades of social redeemers or misfits so as to accomplish his own destiny for the benefit of all Humanity.”
“Is that why he wrote ‘The Useless Man’ ?” I ventured, a lovely short story that I had translated several years back.
“Yes, for the whole of Humanity,” he continued excitedly as if not hearing my rhetorical question. “That may sound strange because he lived such a hermit’s life, a socially useless life, especially here on Burgaz. However, if you’ve noticed, and I’m sure you have noticed, he always wrote ‘on the road’ : at the docks waiting for the steamers, on the steamers, in cafés, whilst strolling about the island plunged in his world of creative imagination … even when fishing or rowing. He loved to stroll up the dirt tracks into the forested hills and visit the Greek priest on Hristo’s Hill in his chapel.
“Nothing revolutionary. No message to peddle or to plead, only the solemn and sober cheerfulness of his flamboyant and oftentimes eccentric character which he consciously or unconsciously weaved into his short stories and poetry. His voice was not the authoritative, pompous voice booming from above, but the unfettered voice of pure simplicity, describing simple gestures, simple acts, simple conversations, freed from conventional social and literary shackles. A rebel is neither serf nor master : he is absolutely free from social rank and class …”
Abi Din Bey paused to take a sip of tea. This man, too, lived an unfettered, unconventional life in his two-room cabin on the pebbly strand of Burgaz, alone, besides the occasional visitor. But he was no rebel ; his parents had long since been deceased, and since he had never married had no children. His only brother died many years ago of alcohol in middle age. And so there we sat, alone, the sun rising high on the wooded hills of the Kalpazankaya peninsula bay, Abi Din Bey spinning his own tale of Sait, a timeless reminiscence where story-telling reveals not only the pleasures of listening, of sharing, but more important still, the essence of identification with the Other of that story …
“You know, he hadn’t always lived on Burgaz ; he had his schooling in Bursa, where he lodged at a boarding school for boys. His father wished him to be a merchant or a diplomat, but this lifestyle suited him not. Deep in his heart, Sait yearned to be a wandering, carefree writer who observes the details of life that wheel and whirl around him. It was in High School where he wrote his first story ‘The Silken Handkerchief‘ (Ipekli Mendil). It aroused much interest from his literature teacher who encouraged him to work harder to flesh out his ideas, rear in his galloping imagination. His father, on the other hand, disliked the route his son was taking, so he promptly sent him to Switzerland in 1931, I think, to study economics. Unstable as he was, the agitated student dropped his studies and left for France, exploring its towns and literature, especially those short stories of Maupassant, the finest of the French short-story writers, which he read in the original, as he developed a solid base in that language. Finally in 1935, he returned to Istanbul via Marseilles by ship, and there took up different employments, ignoring his father’s growing obsessions about lumber merchant opportunities. He even taught Turkish at an Armenian School for orphans …He translated, too. Since he excelled in French, he translated André Gide’s books for the literary journal Varlık (Existence). Translation served as an exercise in style and intellectual perspicacity for his own writings, which by the way, were gaining more and more attention within the small literary cliques of Istanbul.”
Abi Din Bey stopped for a moment to gather his thoughts. This was not the first time he was narrating Sait Faik’s story to me (and assuredly to others!), with of course the usual modifications. I noted, however, that his memory seemed to wane and to compensate for its loses and lapses, he filled in the gaps with judgemental remarks. Oddly enough, his attitude towards Sait became more and more distant, almost academic, as if Sait’s person, long since passed, betrayed Abi Din Bey’s own anguish of passing … His relation to Sait had been casual, not intimate ; yet, there were moments when recounting the events of Sait’s life that Abi Din Bey gave the impression that he was reliving his own past, concomitantly with Sait’s ! This might have explained the urgency in his voice, often broken, the lapses and chronological errors. Did he already know that he would be expropriated in the not so distant future ? I cannot say …
“He never earned a great deal of money from his stories, although they were quickly catching the eye of important literary critics and publishing firms. It was his father’s money that provided his bread, tea … and alcohol. More and more collections of his narratives poured out from his energetic pen, written in every possible place on every possible situation that he experienced. How many I cannot say or remember … I haven’t read them all …”
I interrupted to refresh his memory, “Semaver (The Sarmovar), Lüzsüz Adam (The Useless Man), Alemdağ’da Var Bir Yılan (There’s a Snake on Alemdağ), Son Kuşlar (The Last Birds), Az Şekerli (A Wee bit of Sugar), Havuz Başı (At the Poolside), Mahalle Kahvesi (The Neighbourhood Café), Şahmedan (The Pile Driver).”
“Yes ! Yes, so many stories in those collections !”
“There are twenty or so in each collection,” I added quickly.
“Have you read them all ?”
The question posed so bluntly caught me off guard. I shook my head : “No, perhaps twenty or thirty. I’ve only translated seven or eight of them.”
“Yes, seven or eight,” he echoed in a flat voice, gazing dreamily out to sea beyond his front garden fence. A few young people were strolling amongst the smooth rocks jutting into the sea.
“You know, Abi Din Bey, his stories are not easy to translate,” I rejoined, observing that my loquacious host remained unusually silent. “His vocabulary jumps from Ottoman word-hoards to Burgaz jargon ; from street talk to poetic solipsism. His syntax, so elliptic at times, coils like a snake on the branch of a tree on others ; to follow this coiling I had to slither like a snake.” Abi Din Bey broke into a wide grin : he enjoyed simile and metaphor. “Saik Fait’s reasoning defies Cartesian logic with his uncanny sounding rhythms and odd visual associations ; he had such an eye for details.” I pursued after Abi Din Bey had withdrawn into his cabin to procure a few cakes and returned to our table. “I’m sure I have done violence to the English language with my translations. Then again, my approach to translation has always been a Poetics one ; that is, a unique adventure by which Sait’s enonciations and utterances, his ‘style’ of writing if you like, are ‘transferred’ to my poetic expression in English. Poetics in translation is not one of language to language, but discourse to discourse …” Abi Din Bey nodded kindly in my direction. He knew nothing about translation, but had been grateful to me for having translated his deceased brother’s poems, a marginal poet amongst the plethora of Turkish poetic writers. Yet, Abi Din Bey refused that I seek out a publisher for them; his brother’s tragic death would not be flaunted and besmirched publicly by the blood-thirsty horde of scandalmongers who called themselves literary critics. His poetry, whatever its worth, translated or not, would remain a ‘family affair’ … which it did … Abi Din Bey poured out some more tea, then resumed his reminiscing. He was drifting into his favourite souvenirs, those to which, I am sure, he identified himself : “Many so-called critics despised Sait. Not his stories but his way of living ! They trumped up intrigues against him, accused him of political incorrectness, of social disorder. But this man never advocated any political ideology, nor did he mingle with criminals, as some imbeciles claimed. How the mediocre can conjure up calamitous falsehoods through jealousy, malice and hate. He reacted badly to these accusations and insinuations, withdrawing from the world’s fair ; it was also then that he began to drink very heavily and lead a very unproductive life.
“His father died, and Sait, fed up with all that puerile scandal-mongering, left for Burgaz, where he inherited his mother’s lovely two-storey house near the Greek Cathedral of Saint John. A whole new existential vista opened up for him on his island retreat, far from vanity and pseudo-intellectualism. On Burgaz, he regained that the freedom of the beachcomber, that artful notion of being humane to all living creatures, confronting Nature’s formidable forces, interlacing his childhood dreams and fantasies with natural surroundings. He explored the psychic of individuals of meagre living and of strenuous trades. Sait Faik’s daily existence transpired on the pages of his stories : modest or tragic family events, streets filled with vendors or motley children, fishing expeditions, prawn catching at midnight, flocks of seagulls on the wing and shoals of fish frolicking in gay abandon. He recorded the voices that echoed off the walls of cafés filled with fisherman, spoons tinkling in their glasses, the crisp sounds of cards shuffled or dominoes tumbling. His was an unaffected world of banal circumstances acted out in harmony or disharmony with roaming wildlife, teeming vegetation or simple, working people.
“Sometimes I met him at his favourite café, which no longer exists. There we chatted and chatted for hours ; I know he was using me as his first reader, narrating details of his day’s activities, and those of the islanders.
“You know at that time very little Turkish was spoken on Burgaz ; many of the inhabitants spoke Greek, Armenian or Jewish-Spanish. Sait savoured these foreign sounds, so exotic to his ears since he none of these languages. But he listened as if he understood them perfectly. Anyway, we would meet every now and then, stroll about or just have tea or coffee in the village. He led a simple, hermit’s life.”
“Like yours ?” I put in slyly.
He turned a bit red, the limpidity of his eyes losing their usual sunset softness. He rubbed his arching nose : “Perhaps. But I never wrote a sentence or verse in my life ; that was my brother’s destiny. And please, don’t publish those poems of his that you translated,” he admonished me in a colourless voice.
I promised not to do so for the hundredth time. Abi Din Bey, relieved for the hundredth time, resumed rather pedantically : “Sait rubbed shoulders with people of whom he had ignored the very existence, whether in Bursa or in Istanbul, and by all this rubbing, however awkward or uncouth, he came to realise that his Destiny was one of Freedom, a philosophy of Life, an Art of Existence that he gradually cultivated here on Burgaz, and which blossomed out into the most beautiful bouquet of literary flowers.”
“Yes, Abi Din Bey,” I began slowly, pleased at my host’s sudden poetic élan. “A Destiny of a sovereign being who regards each and every being as equal in value. An equality of value that can be gauged not particularly by choice of theme, but rather in the glimpses of detail that strikes the ear and eye: a miaowing cat, a reduplicated adjective or noun, the howling wind or soft breeze, a bright scarf on a darkening day, a bird hopping among the trees or on the wing ; details that play not a major role in the setting of his stories but should not be regarded as mere rhetorical artifice. They produce not a ‘local atmosphere’ but generate an intensity to his oftentimes plotless narratives or actionless plots. In fact, they rhythm the levels of narrative threads that weave the dramaless narrations no matter how insignificant or banal. I have never experienced a climax or a ‘dénouement‘ in any of his stories.”
Abi Din Bey agreed, then added : “Unlike most Turkish writing, Saik’s stories are written in plain language, they carry no overweening pomposity.” (Here I refrained from objecting : Orhan Pamuk does not write in any overweening, bombastic language !). “They are unburdened by bloated images. His choice of vocabulary captures the accents of Greek, Armenian, Jew and Turk of Burgaz and Istanbul at that time. You noticed, of course, that there are no proverbs in his writings, so salient in Turkish literature ?” I of course had noted. And it is true that Sait shied away from the Persian and Arabic influences in Turkish literature, still read in modern or contemporary Turkish writers. “You know why ?” I did, but shrugged my shoulders ; I preferred to hear his opinion on the subject. “Because proverbs are associated now with the Ottoman aristocratic literati, the çelebi we call them, now with the folk sayings of the Anatolian Turkish villagers. Sait created a new form of writing in Turkish …”
“On the road writing or insular writing ?” I chanced. He took out a handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his large forehead. I wasn’t sure whether he subscribed to my viewpoint or simply ignored it. “Sait was not a writer who sought desperately to compose a great œuvre, but one who arranged movement by movement the myriad glimpses of human reality. There lies his universality !”
There followed a profound silence between us. The waves broke against the rocks. The pines scraped against the flat roof of his abode. The seagulls screamed. Abi Din Bey scratched the remaining white bristles on his round head then spoke in a half whisper :“He was such a mild-mannered man, so gentle, so attentive to others, never intrusive, only curious of life’s gifts to mankind.” He shook his big head sadly : “Can you imagine, the literati of Istanbul dared call him a tramp and a vagrant !”
“They were devoured by jealousy, Abi Din Bey. The majority of those critics hardly ever wrote one sentence that could rival with Sait’s whimsical seizing of gestures and conversations, his alacrity and precision in story-plot and transition. Had any one of them ever traced a vision of the world where animals commingle with humans, children with adults, elders with youngsters ? Ostriches and seagulls are compared to human beings; he even compares himself to an ostrich ! Had any one of them ever composed homespun characters who express their inner world of trials and tribulations without the narrator meddling in their affairs, however tragic or exuberant ? Had any one of them ever experienced the insular life as a source of narrative inspiration, then externalise it, touching the sensitive notes on the scale of universality ? His was the open, horizonless, borderless life, in spite of an existence as a ‘recluse’. Instead of sentences written at a desk and smelling of the oil lamp, his literary creations exude the aroma of cypress and spruce, the fragrance of the salty sea, of the fisherman’s catch and the common man’s labouring moils. The rusticity of his new life on Burgaz was in no way condescending, nor the parenthetical plunge of a dilettante.” I concluded.
“Sait never caroused with the literary lackeys and scribblers during his short life.” Abi Din Bey stated emphatically with a bit of harshness in his tone. “He told me that he had found comfort and inspiration here on Burgaz, and that we were all children of a timeless present … of a past fallen into oblivion.”
“So true,” I rejoined immediately. “The writer explores the many levels of reality which diverge and converge as silently and indiscreetly as dreams, phantasies and musings cohere with daily mundane events. Does this not mark the novelty of the modern short story, of which Sait was one of the initiators, artisans and masters ?”
“I shall not object to that !” he laughed. “He even won a prize for his stories, but I have forgotten the name.”
“The Mark Twain Prize,” I reminded him. “In 1953. I remember it because it was the year of my birth.”
“Mark Twain … an American short-story writer, I think ? Yes. How tragic, he died a year later of cirrohis, like my brother … They both drank too much rakı… Horrible stuff ! It has killed off many excellent Turkish poets. His doctor, the good Selahatin Hanın, warned him about his heavy drinking, but the doctor, too, would indulge in bouts of boozing with Sait ! What a shame … You know, we would sometimes meet. He would chat about the events of the island, his writing, or this or that. Then he would just get up and leave, stroll slowly along the beach, stop to converse with a visitor or an islander. He was not a man who impressed you by his stature or knowledge or personality ; he would just carry on a conversation whilst dreamily looking out to sea, or follow the flight of the seagulls. He never invited me to his home, although I visited it when it became a museum. What a shame …”
With those words said in a broken voice lacking in resonance, Abi Din Bey stood and with a half smile trudged languidly into his lodging to retire for an afternoon nap ; the heat was becoming unbearable. I observed him disappear into his room. I noted that his footfalls had lost that former blithe spring to them, and his hunched back seemed more and more enshrouded in a halo of solitude … of quiet resignation. I turned my attention to the sheen of the sea growing bluer and bluer, the seagulls plunging downwards to fetch their silvery prey. Tonight would be my last night on Burgaz. The next afternoon I had classes at the university …
In fact, it would be my last night spent with Abi Din Bey. For little did I know that in a few months I would begin a three-year teaching sojourn in Siberia. And when I did return to Istanbul, take the boat to Burgaz and amble down that old and winding path to my friend’s humble home nothing appeared to have changed : the steep path, the dense, leafy vegetation, the briny fragrance of the sea, the laughing seagulls. Yet upon reaching the welcoming gate it had been sealed shut by order of the municipality ! The shutters of his home were closed. The tables and chairs in his garden overturned and strewn about. The plants and trees unattended … lifeless. The barefoot islander who, for some unknown reason, would pile up the stones on the beachhead every day into huge cairns here and there, strolled over and informed me that the authorities had expropriated the ‘old man’s’ property, which forced him to leave Burgaz. Apparently he died of loneliness and of a broken heart. So said the bare-footed stone cairn piler of Burgaz …
Abi Din Bey was the last descendant of the great Ali ibn Abi Talib, and the last person to have personally known Sait Faik Abasıyanık, one of the finest short story writers of the twentieth century …
 Alevites are a branch of Muslim Shias who settled in Anatolia Turkey during the Middle Ages.
 Turkish writer, 18 November 1906 – 11 May 1954
 Ali ibn Abi Talib was Mohammad’s son-in-law, having married Fatima, the Prophet’s only daughter.
 Ali Ekbar Aksu, and his collection of poems ‘Bir Göz Orda Bir Göz Burda‘ (A Glance There A Glance Here) and ‘YaArif Kul Ya BoşÇul‘ ( Ether a Wise Servant Or an Empty Moneybags).
 Turkish novel writer who won the Nobel Price for literature in 2006.
 A strong alcoholic beverage commonly referred to as arrack in English.
Paul Mirabile is a retired professor of philology now living in France. He has published mostly academic works centred on philology, history, pedagogy and religion. He has also published stories of his travels throughout Asia, where he spent thirty years.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
Ratnottama Senguptagives a glimpse of the life of Zohra Sehgal, based on the book Zohra: A Biography in Four ActsbyRitu Menon, and her own personal interactions with the aging Zohra Sehgal. Click here to read.
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 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.
An excerpt from B. M. Zuhara’sThe 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, 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.
Tonight, in accordance with what I generally find necessary to record, I have mustered the courage to give full account of the singular events that have befallen friends and neighbours. These nightly entries have drained me of energy and patience, produced unusual sounds in my home, like those caused by nests of bees or wasps. Unusual too, the grotesque belief that loneliness and long periods of silence and speaking to one’s self, will give rise to hallucinations or other such aural phenomena. Be that as it may.
In the edition of the May ninth 1973 Daily Mirror, I came across an article which reported a most daring escape made from the Mental Hospital not far from our quiet neighbourhood. In 1968, the escapee had been accused of excoriating the flesh of a sixty-year old widow, so it read. What inflamed the imagination of the good people of our village was the way in which he had let himself in. Knocking at the door he introduced himself as a salesman for an encyclopaedia publishing house. The unsuspecting woman let the killer in and even offered him a cup of coffee. Her husband had died a very long ago, so it was supposed that she must have had an urgent longing to speak to someone. After conversing with her at some length, he casually revealed his hideous companion, an axe, and buried it deep within her brain, so the autopsy showed. He then proceeded to excoriate the poor woman. This odious account he willingly, and I add here, with over-excessive enthusiasm, declared to the authorities shortly after his capture. Owing to the savage and cynical nature of the crime, the monster was committed to the mental institution, and there interred for life …
Quite understandably his flight created a disturbance in our village neighbourhood. The twisted-minded beast was no doubt lurking about the wood surrounding our tranquil homes. The police stated that they had discovered fresh footprints leading from pockets of underbrush in our general direction. They have identified these footprints as his ! He had found an asylum during the hunt, and now was in search for new prey. His bloody doings would not stop at one …
Some time passed before the police gave up hope of locating the mad murderer. No one had seen him nor had my neighbours made any attempt to form a squad of vigilantes to ferret him out of his lair. I, as usual, sat behind my desk as I am doing at present, gazing half dreamily upon my scribbled notes, regarding the affair rather apathetically.
Five nights ago whilst lethargically reading through my writings as was my wont, a scream tore through the stillness of an unusually still night. Looking up from my writings, I imagined a sulking figure dragging itself over a rooftop just opposite my home through the parted serge curtains of my bay window. I state emphatically that the hour was late, and that perhaps my eyes had grown weary. Thinking it was merely my imagination, I returned to my work at hand.
The following morning to my astonishment, the papers reported a grotesque killing during the late hours of the night only six houses from that of my own ! In fact, it was someone with whom I was acquainted. My blood ran cold. He had been found beheaded. Chunks of flesh had been hacked out of his neck and torso. A hatchet undoubtedly was used for this gruesome purpose. What proved singularly frightful was that the unfortunate victim had been having coffee with his killer. Two cups of half-drunk coffee were discovered unmolested on a small, sitting-room settee. As to how the murderer entered, it can only be assumed that his victim let him in. The state of the house was in ruin. Nothing, however, had been stolen. A clear case of premeditated murder, so the police concluded.
This of course brought myriads of police to our quiet street where investigations were carried out with much fanfare and discomfiture. I was visited several times, the police sniffing about my home like a pack of retrievers. The chief inspector questioned me as if I were the criminal.
Did he think I was deflecting his attention from something important to their investigation ? Did he suspect me of foul play ? Of complicity ? He had those shifty pink rabbit’s eyes of a police inspector ! In spite of this ferreting and harassment, I said nothing. He casually flickered the ashes of his pipe in a seashell which I kept on my writing-table, thinking it, no doubt, an ash-tray, then left without a word, a master mustering his hounds. You may ask why I divulged not a word about that phantom on the rooftop. This I have asked myself, and even now at my desk writing this entry, I have no rational answer …
That evening (of the murder), I uneasily noted that my mind had been wandering from its normal systematic chain of thoughts. I was continually straining my eyes to envisage that evil phantom dancing on the roof opposite my home. Suddenly, and I assert my eyes did not deceive me, there it pranced again, sweeping haphazardly from shingle to shingle … from chimney to chimney, brandishing something metallic which glittered in the blue moonlight high overhead. And in one emblazoned second, I believe he gaped at me, mouth open, eyes ablaze! Yes, I am sure of it! And in that one terrible moment I noted that he possessed the same facial features as me: flattened head, black, beady eyes, pug nosed, curled lips. He vanished, darting out of the moonbeams … Throwing down my pen, I clutched at my hair ; my head churned out a series of chilling, bizarre scenes. The uncanny resemblance unsettled me, even alarmed me. I finally lay on my canopy falling into a troubled, dreamless sleep.
How stunned I was the next morning when I read in the morning papers that my next door neighbour had been brutally butchered, ostensibly by the workings of the same maniac. The killing was identical, as was the means by which the killer entered the house. The police searched frantically. House to house inspections had been ordered and carried out. Again the hounds rummaged through my household belongings in the most disrespectful manner; had they snickered at the scones and boiled eggs I failed to remove from the kitchen table, crushing the shells that lay scattered on the floor under their muddy boots ? They had some cheek. And as they went about their sordid ‘duty’, the chief inspector eyed me with a strange mixture of pomposity and wariness, twitching his pipe inside his mouth from left to right and right to left, his nostrils quivering.
I felt my knees stiffen under that glare. Yet, I dared not return his pinkish rabbit stare, nor divulge my visions of the fleeing phantom. They finally left, then scoured the wooded area with dogs. I heard the howls and barks and yells of the chase. If I’m not mistaken they searched the surrounding woods and glens for days ; alas, the escapee was nowhere to be found. Many of my neighbours began to leave. To tell the truth, I felt no immediate danger, although I was quite naturally disturbed. Dull depictions flooded my thoughts of a hatchet-wielding man breaking down my door. And evening after evening, as darkness mantled the clusters of woods and lonely streets and lanes, icy droplets of fear gripped my heart ; I had seen this maniac, yet said nothing. Knocks rattled my door. Upon answering it, there was no one. Hornet-like droning and bee-like buzzing rattled the drums of my ears. Was it my imagination ? Could fear stir the mind to such heights of fancy ?
And so it was as four or five more nights passed. Two more murders had been reported in an adjacent neighbourhood, notched on the helve of the maniac’s gory weapon. I was in a quandary. Why did this evanescent shadow haunt my nocturnal solitude ? Why did he pertinaciously dance before my window ? Why hadn’t he knocked casually at my front door ? God if I knew. And why hadn’t I been to the police to notify them of this moonlit macabre rite ? Did the killer mock my terror … my timid reluctance to act ? Did he embrace me as his tacit witness … his accomplice ?
Yes, why hadn’t I gone to the police ? The words are so difficult to express ; they wretch themselves from my pen. How then would they sound, sputtered to the police, or to that pipe-wielding inspector ? Oddly enough, though, I always remained calm. And even as his crazed figure sauntered under the silver moonlight, I sat stoic, placid, squeezing my pen until my fingers and knuckles turned pale white …
The night of the double murder occurred a week ago. Since then the killer appears to have ceased his bloody onslaught. Perhaps he has been apprehended, or cornered in some distant wooded recluse like a wild animal. I haven’t seen him, and I must confess, on several occasions I’ve actually stepped out my door on to the porch to listen more attentively ; to see him more clearly ; to call out to him, discharging my savage, commingled phantasies and fears …
That night, as I toyed pointlessly with my writing tool, I fixed my bloodshot eyes to that hellish cornice of the roof opposite my house, a roof long since abandoned by its two or three occupants. Nothing. No one. I’ve wondered from time to time if the lunatic had really caught sight of me glaring at him in his frantic flights, my eyes pinned on his as he glided from rooftop to rooftop as if floating puppet-like in mid-air. All this had me chilled. It was unusually damp. My study felt damp and mildewy from insufficient heating. I hear footsteps coming up the street, hollow in the thick night. They halted.
I detect a slight rustling sound outside on my porch, like crispy leaves cracking under a booted foot. Why I write all this down just now is indeed troubling. A faint dizziness has sharpened my aural perceptions. And as I continue to write, in spite of myself, the porch door was opening, slowly … patiently as if the creaking wished not to intrude upon those sleeping at this late hour. And still I scribbled line after line.
There was someone knocking at my front door. I was chuckling as only a deranged man would when sensing foul play afoot, yet patiently waiting for it to strike ! And again, my pen continued to dictate to me. I was completely taken up by my writing. Is it because it mirrored the indelible mark of my solitude … my banal existence ?
There it was again that knocking. Should I answer it ? Perhaps it’s the old codger wanting a cup of hot coffee ! What a shuddering, stupid thought. No, probably some drunkard who noticed my light … or a neighbour in distress, no, better yet, the pipe-twitching inspector hoping to catch me off guard. Yes, I’m sure it’s that snooping blighter. God how my nerves were at an edge! And that tapping and rapping at my chamber door … Some late visitor entreating an entry? Ha ! Who could it be for Heaven’s sake ? Him ? Yes, him ? Rotten luck mate, I hadn’t a grain of coffee to offer him. That blasted door … If only I had a pistol … No, in the kitchen … the cleaver ! I fetched it and decided to see who fared better ! Hatchet against cleaver … I was sorry for the old sod — no coffee that night but a taste of my cleaver. To the kitchen. That hammering was driving me daft ; he’d wake up the whole damn neighbourhood … or what was left of it … First my cleaver, then the door … then to the rooftops … to the rooftops …
Paul Mirabile is a retired professor of philology now living in France. He has published mostly academic works centred on philology, history, pedagogy and religion. He has also published stories of his travels throughout Asia, where he spent thirty years.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
This narrative is written by a youngster from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. Lockdown had been written in Hindustani by Jishan and translated to English by Grace M Sukanya. Click here to read.
And as the world came to be, there was war — war that seems to rage in some part of the world or other. The British Museum has an exhibit which states the first battle was staged 13,000 years ago… in what is now Sudan, long before the advent of written history. This was even before the advent of people who built the ancient Stonehenge which was constructed around 3000-2000 BCE. And battles still continue to rage. The Jebel Sahaba casualties in Sudan 13000 years ago were less than 100. But the current conflicts claim in terms of tens of thousands which prolonged could stretch to millions. The last world war (1939-1945) which lasted for six years had a total of 75-80 million persons who perished. Ukraine-Russia conflict has within five months had a casualty count of more than 14000. And yet weapons and nuclear arms continue to proliferate decimating humanity, nature and towns, destroying homes, erasing ruthlessly and creating more refugees. The only need for such battles seem to be to satiate the hunger of the warlords secure in their impenetrable fortresses while tens of thousands are annihilated and natural or nurtured landscapes lie emaciated, mutilated and polluted.
What would be a good way of ending such wars?
Tagore sought the development of better instincts in humankind as an antidote. He wrote in the last century: “Any teaching concerning man must have human nature for its chief element. How far it will harmonise with human nature is a matter of time.”
With wars getting deadlier and more horrific, we can only try to awaken, as Tagore suggests, the better nature in man to move towards a peaceful world. What would be a more effective way of doing it than writing with the hope of a kinder and accepting future?
For that let us start with translations of the maestro Tagore himself. We have a song about the season — monsoon, ‘Monomor Megher Songi (My Friends, the Clouds)’, translated by Professor Fakrul Alam, a painting by Sohana Manzoor interpreting the lyrics and a transcreation of ‘Nababarsha or New Rains’ was shrunken into a popular Rabindra Sangeet and reduced to twenty lines in English by Tagore himself. The connect with nature is an important aspect that enables humans to transcend petty concerns leading to dissensions of different kinds as evidenced in the maestro’s humorous feline skit, translated by Somdatta Mandal. A translation of Dalip Kaur Tiwana’s ‘The Bus Conductor’ from Punjabi by C. Christine Fair adds zest to this section. Fazal Baloch has translated a folktale from Balochistan involving the supernatural and Ihlwha Choi has taken on the cry for peace on behalf of Ukraine while translating his own poem in Korean. The Nithari column has a story by Jishan in Hindustani, translated to English by Grace M Sukanya, showcasing the struggle of a youngster during the pandemic – rather a sad narrative, which though fictitious has its roots in reality.
Our short story section has echoes of humour around felines by Manzoor, somewhat in tune with the mind frame seen in Tagore’s skit on this issue. Humour rings tinged with an apparition in Erwin Coombs’s narrative – should one call it dark humour or is it just his style? Paul Mirabile goes for gothic darkness in his meanderings around Italy.
Strangely, we seem to have a focus on short stories this time. Keith Lyons has interviewed Steve Carr, a journalist, a publisher and writer of 500 short stories who is questing to create a ‘perfect short story’. Reading out excerpts from her short story at a literary festival in Simla, Bollywood celebrity, Deepti Naval, was in conversation with eminent film journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta. She spoke of her literary aspirations while unveiling her autobiography in verse, A Country Called Childhood. This conversation has been shared by Sengupta with Borderless. It is interesting to see how Naval’s reactions to social malaise contrasts with that of the film director, cinematographer and actor, Goutam Ghose, who was present during the unveiling of her book. He had responded to communal violence by making a film on Lalan Fakir extolling virtues of love and kindness, called Moner Manush (2010) and then made a book on the film called, The Quest (2013) which has beautiful translations of Lalan Fakir’s lyrics by Sankar Sen.
Our non-fiction sections seem to be hosting multiple travel stories across UK by Mike Smith, along the Australian coastline by Meredith Stephens, on the Himalayas with Ravi Shankar and an unusual visit by Hema Ravi to a farm in US where animals that had been used in Disney films in the past are homed. Our environmental columnist, Kenny Peavy, actually wrote about his cycling trip from Thailand to Indonesia on a bamboo cycle made by a Singaporean! And from Japan, Suzanne Kamata explored a museum in the neighbouring town of Mure. The museum on a hill hosts the art of American Japanese Artists, Isamu Noguchi.
We do have non-fiction that moves away from travel: noir humour by Devraj Singh Kalsi and an essay by Candice Louisa Daquin on a very interesting subject – ‘Is it Okay to be Ordinary?’ Is it? Dan Meloche has written a literary essay on Canadian novelist Andre Alexis’s award-winning novel, Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue(2015). While Meloche spoke of how the novel departed from Orwell’s Animal Farm, his narrative brought to my mind a novel closer to our times set in England by Jasper Fforde called Constant Rabbit (2020) – this a science fiction while Alexis’s was an apologue or an animal fable. Fforde did use the rabbits rather well to highlight the current times.
We have book excerpts of two recent books that I would call really outstanding. One of them is Aruna Chakravarti’s The Mendicant Prince, which is being released this week, and is based on the evergreen contentious case of the prince of Bhawal that has even been explored even in cinema. The other, Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumarby Nabendu Ghosh, has been published posthumously and is not a translation from Bengali but written in English originally by this trilingual writer.
Called ‘Dadamoni’ affectionately, iconic actor Ashok Kumar is regarded as “the one personality who symbolises Indian cinema’s journey from Bombay Talkies to Bollywood”. This book has been reviewed by Indrashish Banerjee, who calls it ‘a reflection on the Hindi film industry’ as well as a biography. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Booker winner Geetanjali Shree’s Mai, Silently Mother, a Sahitya Akademi winning translation of her Hindi novel by Nita Kumar, reiterating the dialogue that had been kindled on motherhood last month by Rinki Roy Bhattacharya and Maithili Rao’s The Oldest Love Story (2022). Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Prosanta Chakrabarty’s Explaining Life Through Evolutionplotting how life evolved on earth. Parichha tells us: “Meaningful, wide-ranging and argumentative, this is a must-read book. It will propel us to imagine and reimagine life around us.” Another book that sounds like a must-read has been reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, Tagore’s Gleanings of the Road, translated by Mandal. She tells us: “ ‘Gleanings’ represents the quintessential Tagore…Ably introduced and translated by Somdatta Mandal, a renowned Tagore scholar, the translation captures the iridescent and luminous quality of Tagore’s prose and its chiaroscuro effects.”
There is more to tempt. Please stop by on our contents page and take a look.
We would like to hugely thank all our contributors and readers for being with us and helping us grow. I would like to thank my team, who despite hurdles they face, always lend a helping hand and wonderful words from their pens or computers to get Borderless on its feet. I apologise for the delay and thank you all for your patience. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her fabulous artwork.
I wish you all a wonderful July and peace in a war-torn world. We are all affected by the ongoing conflicts. Let us hope for peaceful and just resolutions.
Paul Mirabile travels to 1970s Italy to a crime inside a sixteenth century well
A visit to Italy would certainly do me wonders; I hoped my migraines and other aches and pains would disappear, and my academic life regain its habitual vitality and éclat. Yet, in spite of my joyous resolution, I couldn’t see myself going alone to a country so different from my own. I thus decided to bring along a girlfriend of mine, a colleague from the university who had been working with me on various projects both at the university and at my summer home. She would be an excellent companion for such an excursion; the long distances by bus and train would be spent in ardent conversation, the sites and experiences could be discussed with a sympathetic companion. Also, if my health would fail at any given moment, she could surely offer her fine qualities as a physical and spiritual healer.
We left at the end of June, taking a night train through sunny France then directly to Rome. After spending a stimulating week there, bathing in the glory and debauchery of the Roman Empire, exalting the works of the great Renaissance artists, strolling through the still present Pasolinian streets of proletarian squalor, we took a bus to Orvieto, a mediaeval town located in the lush green hills of Umbria, noted especially for its white wine. I like a good white wine, and I was sure this ancient Etruscan town would revive and rejuvenate my spirits. Rome had plunged me in a numbing, cultural lethargy ; it was much too theatrical for my tastes, too saturated in enormous works of art for me to assimilate. I needed a stimulus less exacting, less pompous, more submissive. Orvieto was just that submissiveness …
The cathedral drew me towards her like a lascivious hussy. The queenly black and white columns and the lightly faded frescoes depicting scenes from the ‘Apocalypse’ painted at both ends of the transept heightened my appetite for the imaginative and the unknown. The ceiling towered ever so high above me. At times the long and lofty naves appeared like soaring prehistoric animals, zebra-coloured, ready to devour their squealing prey below. At these awesome moments, I forgot that my colleague was close at hand, a hand so tender, fresh. Her presence became unreal, fading away beyond the muslin ramparts of my intimate sanctuary.
When I returned to the real world, I took my girlfriend by the hand and pressed it firmly. She appreciated those penetrating instances, although I will confess they were few and far between.
After our visit to the Duomo, we stopped for lunch, and had some lovely Orvieto wine. I ate and drank like I never had before, gobbling down plates of pasta that I never dared touch at home. I felt like I was in a reverie, drinking, eating, laughing … even joking ! I had never joked in my life: Was I possessed by some spirit, or simply by the trellis of polychromatic vines creeping up the trattoriawalls that emitted the most sensuous perfumes?
We stopped off at our hotel to change after lunch. I threw around my neck my favourite silk scarf stained a violent red. As to my companion, she too dressed very smartly for the occasion, draped in a long, milky white muslin skirt, a resplendent black satin blouse and sporting a large hat with crape rose. Yes, it would to be a most rewarding plunge into the underworld, I thought cheerfully.
We left the hotel. Arm in arm we strolled like two young lovers towards the famous Pozzo di San Patrizio, a curiosity that attracted me for its absolute banality: a well dug out of volcanic tuft, hellishly profound, spiralling down and down into the bowels of the earth, where the coolness of its universe preserves and petrifies all that stumble into and within its dark, dank apertures. Are all wells similar ?
We descended the cool, glistening, humid steps, smoothed over by moss. Oddly enough, we were the only visitors. My colleague, startled by our chilly surroundings, grasped my arm tightly in an almost man-like grip. She slipped, nearly sliding over the low stone wall that separated the steps from the brackish waters far below. I peered down into them ; a diminutive bridge connected the two spiralling stairways on each side of the darkened waters. The bridge seemed so far away, so distant from our weary lives spent on the surface of the earth, working like slaves to earn a meagre living. I had been toiling so much, trying to gather new ideas for a book or short-story. But nothing emerged, no matter how deep I sounded ; only a spittle of words drooled on paper without meaning, and oftentimes, without form.
My mind wandered nervously from the moist walls to the lightless, stagnant waters … A story would surely form out of those dank elements, a murder committed on the spur of the moment as the killer descended ever deeper into the bowels of Hell … Yes, Saint Theresa’s Hell as she so vividly depicted it in her autobiographical writings; a depiction that I had memorised to comfort me during long sleepless nights, twisting and turning in moist, smelly sheets :
“…Whilst she knelt in prayer, she suddenly found herself amongst demons in a place which appeared to her like the entrance of a long, narrow small street, a sort of low furnace, obscure and anguishing. The floor seemed to be of a very foul-smelling muddy water, swarming with terrible vermin or worms. At the end of this road appeared a cavity with a sort of closet, cabinet or store-room where the saintly nun felt cramped. Here she felt as if she were imprisoned. Hence, I reiterate that the descent into Hell was one of the greatest boons that the Lord granted me because I gained greatly from it, losing thus my fears of the trials and contradictions of this life, so as to strengthen myself to endure them ; and I thank the Lord who delivered me from what appears to me to be such terrible and perpetual evils …”
How comforting did those words ring in my tortured ears under the weighty silence of starless nights. A murder, yes a murder … without premeditation, without vindictiveness … without meaning ! A murder pure in act, taintless of any scrupulous criminality to which mankind has been accustomed. A murder to be executed in this very well, in its unholy, hellish, malodorous enveloping coil. Its slimy aureole would indeed produce a horror-filled effect.
As I turned to my colleague to expound my budding thoughts, a hard, clanking noise disturbed us from above. It sounded like a rotating, iron machine, grinding, pounding, droning … droning like a million wasps or hornets. A torturing engine, perhaps, twisting and tearing the limbs of its hysterical victims. The weird cranking sounds made my head spin. I felt a pang of involuntary emotion for its victims, his or her sorrows and misfortunes, trials and tribulations. My girlfriend stared at me out of empty orbits. Above the cranking din, the droning wasps and hornets, now receded now grew louder. I poured out my soul to her about the imagined murder. My animation caused her to laugh meekly, albeit I sensed in her voice an anguish that if magnified would have echoed off the well walls. She noted my need to expurgate this relevant project, the desire to couch it on paper, the need to fulfil its account. She realised this tale could only be discussed in whispers, here in the bowels of Hell. Yet, how delighted, how encouraged, how spellbound even was I to enlist her sympathy.
Our footfalls were endless. The sun’s rays had long since left us to grope our way along the smooth, rounded walls. The clanking and droning had ceased for an instant, but again took up its place amongst the horrors of my imagination, in rhythm with the melodious words of Saint Theresa, still drumming inside my temples. And my tale thickened with obsolete details amongst those uncanny rhythms. The cranking lent it beauty and balance, the drake-like light, ruddy and rutilant, form and volume. But the tiny bridge still appeared so remote, so aloof, far below us. Would we ever reach the damn thing ? Its razor-sharp crossing? The descent … the razor-sharp bridge : “ ..it was the bridge over cold water … it was strong and stiff like a sword … and it had the length of two lances..…” murmured creepily into my ear a fey voice from some remote, unearthly Time and Space; one that I could not fathom for the life of me. I shook my head, ridding it of that vexing nuisance …
The story that poured out from my entrails would surely please my future readers. But did it have to occur at the bridge ? Could it not, for example, happen elsewhere, along the slimy passage downwards, high above the stinking waters ? Could the killer, anxious to carry out his crime, impatient of the countless steps, not throw his victim to a watery death from the smooth, slimy, low, protecting, stone wall ?
I submitted these new image-filled details to my colleague who merrily agreed to the novel developments. She deemed it amusing, and even cautioned a detail or two, apropos the way in which the murder was to be effected. Was the victim to be strangled or merely thrown over the stone wall ? I shook my head fiercely, no violence would be condoned, a simple push over the side. The killer would observe the frightened face of his defenceless prey as she plunged over the stone wall. Yes ! It had to be a woman ! One who was easily terrified, especially of well deaths ! I laughed so loud that its echo clanged above the clanging, iron clamour … the droning hordes of wasps and hornets. My girlfriend stepped back against the low wall, noticing that the laugh resounded far greater than the gyrating engines. She turned a ghastly white, her eyes frozen in their sockets. Her sudden soft smile eased my inner tensions, soothed my painful need to perform a physical achievement. Yet, I had to do something to alleviate the mounting tension in my chest and temples : that spiralling Theresian plummet into Hell …
I touched her arm, absorbed by the intensity of her presence. She suddenly slapped me away as if the torturous pounding had been impounded in the palm of my hand. Her face transformed into a mutilated horror, her lips stretched bloodlessly across her already livid, pallid face. Those lips curled into a snarl and sneered at me. Those hollow eyes tunnelled out two fiery rays in the inky darkness. Her slow and steady transformation, along with the droning machines drove me back a few steps. The well seemed so much deeper ; and where was that bridge ? The iron clanking and wasp-like droning came to a sudden halt … The silence grew unworldly, and as it did, all the terrors of the subterranean world began to jump at me in tainted colours. Indeed, the Luciferian world would soon gain on my own. I wanted to run back up those long steps, back to light and hope.
She caught my shoulder. I lashed out to protect myself. Who’s side would she be on ? There would be no turning back now, my mind was running amok. My story was not evolving any further, and there I was trapped within the entrails of Hell in company not with Saint Theresa but with a witch-like demon. A strong impulse grew terribly painful and seized my heart, a killer’s impulse that shot adrenalin through my arm as it involuntarily stretched out to grasp the witch’s leathery neck … to wring it to death. But ever so gently, as not to leave any ungainly marks on that creamy, pasty, ashen skin. Those marks never attracted me in the least ; they were done in the most barbaric fashion, passionately and without reflexion.
We are not savages, are we not ? We are children of mild words and sober acts. And here I was forced to perform such undistinguished rituals … I deemed it repugnant to prostrate before these base and besmirching deeds. Her lips touched mine. They were dry, wilting like the dying petals of a black tulip, no longer tempting, but welcoming infectious lust. My strength, however, did not yield, and lifting up this mindless, mirthless creature, I threw it over the wall, its screams in perfect harmony with the churning machines, the droning hornets. The screams vanished with a distant thud … and splash … I peered over the low stone wall : the body floated listlessly upon the calm, clammy waters. Suddenly it disappeared, and only the large hat with crape rose lay stiff on the oily surface waters like some dead gelatinous marine creature …
I continued to peer into those waters, so still, so tranquil, like my nerves, still and tranquil. A decomposing odour soon filled the air. Already ? It made me think of a slaughter-house on the edge of a polluted river-bank. Perhaps even of a burial vault. I searched for my colleague but she was nowhere to be found. Had she returned to the surface? She did seem so distraught at the stillness and profoundness of that Hell-hole. Someone did caution me about her oftentimes awkward, even odd, unpredictable behaviour.
Apparently she was capable of standing you up at any time for any given reason. I now believed it. She had left me to wane alone in Saint Theresa’s realm. But I was undaunted, unafraid of what others would say if they should find me amongst the dead. Their words could never pierce my brazen heart. I had been there before and knew how to handle poisonous platitudes. And besides, I could at last write my story… my beloved story that would earn me a grand reputation amongst my so called peers, they who, to tell the truth, were no more than the lackeys of market-targeting editors and courtiers of government officials. Perhaps they would all laugh at my naivety, at my indefatigable efforts. But I feared not their calloused mockery. I would not lock myself up like some raving maniac and let them tear me to pieces. Let them come ! The dark walls of Hell had welcomed Saint Theresa … They shall welcome me ! They shall be my lichened ramparts, my spiralling stairway to fame and fortune ! Hell will transform the cranking machine and droning nests of wasps and hornets into a deadly weapon of defence … cranking and droning my enemies to atoning tears. Had the goodly saint not whispered to me the bitter but bountiful benefits of Lucifer’s diabolical gardens ?
There on the diminutive bridge, razor-sharp (I finally gained the bridge), I waited for them, my indistinguishable peers, cranking my neck high up to the creamy waxing rays of a lunar light ; waited at that precipitous bridge for the great Crossing. Ô Theresa ! Ô Theresa ! Will my story rise to the dawn of rosy day, expurgated of its entombed overweening bondage ?
 Either of the two sides of a cross-shaped church that are at a perpendicular angle to the main part
Paul Mirabile is a retired professor of philology now living in France. He has published mostly academic works centred on philology, history, pedagogy and religion. He has also published stories of his travels throughout Asia, where he spent thirty years.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
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