Categories
Contents

Borderless, January 2023

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

Will Monalisa Smile Again? … Click here to read.

Translations

Nazrul’s Ring Bells of Victory has been translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Nobody in the Sky by S Ramarishnan, has translated from Tamil by R Sathish. Click here to read.

The Bike Thief by Ihlwha Choi has been translated from Korean by the poet himself. Click here to read.

Tagore’s Banshi or Flute has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty from Bengali.Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Jared Carter, Ranu Uniyal, Rhys Hughes, Saranyan BV, Scott Thomas Outlar, Priyanka Panwar, Ron Pickett, Ananya Sarkar, K.S. Subramaniam, George Freek, Snigdha Agrawal, Jenny Middleton, Asad Latif, Michael R Burch

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In I Went to Kerala, Rhys Hughes treads a humorous path. Click here to read.

Conversation

In Conversation with Abhay K, a poet turned diplomat, translator and a polyglot, converses of how beauty inspired him to turn poet and translating Kalidasa and other poets taught him technique. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

What do Freddy Mercury, Rishi Sunak & Mississipi Masala have in Common?

Farouk Gulsara muses on the human race. Click here to read.

Ghosh & Company

Ratnottama Sengupta relives the past. Click here to read.

Sails, Whales, and Whimsical Winds

Meredith Stephens continues on her sailing adventures in New South Wales and spots some sporting whales. Click here to read.

Tsunami 2004: After 18 years

Sarpreet Kaur travels back to take a relook at the tsunami in 2004 from Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Click here to read.

‘I am in a New York state of mind’

Ravi Shankar shares his travel adventures in the city. Click here to read.

Half a World Away from Home

Mike Smith introspects on his travels to New Zealand. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Back to the Past, Devraj Singh Kalsi muses on the need to relive nostalgia. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In The Year of the Tiger Papa, Suzanne Kamata gives us a glimpse of Japan’s education system with a touch of humour. Click here to read.

Essays

A Solitary Pursuit: The Art of Suhas Roy

Ratnottama Sengupta journeys with the signature art of Suhas Roy as it transformed in theme, style, and medium. Click here to read.

New Perspectives on Cinema & Mental Health

Between 1990 and 2017 one in seven people in India suffered from mental illness. However, the depiction of this in cinema has been poor and sensationalist contends Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In The Immigrant’s Dilemma, Candice Louisa Daquin explores immigrants and the great American Dream. Click here to read.

Stories

The Book Truck

Salini Vineeth writes a story set in the future. Click here to read.

The Scholar

Chaturvedi Divi explores academia. Click here to read.

Little Billy

Paul Mirabile renders the poignant tale of a little boy. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from Sanjay Kumar’s Performing, Teaching and Writing Theatre: Exploring Play. Click here to read.

An excerpt from Abhay K’s Monsoon: A Poem of Love & Longing. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Somdatta Mandal reviews Priya Hajela’s Ladies Tailor: A novel. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Shrinivas Vaidya’s A Handful of Sesame, translated from Kannada by Maithreyi Karnoor. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews K.A. Abbas’s Sone Chandi Ke Buth: Writings on Cinema, translated and edited by Syeda Hameed and Sukhpreet Kahlon. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews MA Sreenivasan’s Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me. Click here to read.

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

Categories
Editorial

Will Monalisa Smile Again?

The first month of 2023 has been one of the most exciting! Our first book, Monalisa No Longer Smiles: An Anthology of Writings from across the World, is now in multiple bookstores in India (including Midlands and Om Bookstores). It has also had multiple launches in Delhi and been part of a festival.

We, Meenakshi Malhotra and I, were privileged to be together at the physical book events. We met the editor in chief of Om Books International, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, the editor of our anthology, Jyotsna Mehta, along with two translators and writers I most admire, Aruna Chakravarti and Radha Chakravarty, who also graced a panel discussion on the anthology during our physical book launch. The earlier e-book launch had been in November 2022. My heartfelt thanks to the two eminent translators and Chaudhuri for being part of the discussions at both these launches. Chaudhuri was also in the panel along with Debraj Mookerjee at a launch organised by Malhotra and the English Literary Society steered by Nabaneeta Choudhury at Hans Raj College, Delhi University. An energising, interactive session with students and faculty where we discussed traditional and online publishing, we are immensely grateful to Malhotra for actively organising the event and to the Pandies’ founder, Sanjay Kumar, for joining us for the discussion. It was wonderful to interact with young minds. On the same day, an online discussion on the poetry in Monalisa No Longer Smiles was released by the Pragati Vichar Literary Festival (PVLF) in Delhi.

At the PVLF session, I met an interesting contemporary diplomat cum poet, Abhay K. He has translated Kalidasa’s Meghaduta and the Ritusamhara from Sanskrit and then written a long poem based on these, called Monsoon. We are hosting a conversation with him and are carrying book excerpts from Monsoon, a poem that is part of the curriculum in Harvard. The other book excerpt is from Sanjay Kumar’s Performing, Teaching and Writing Theatre: Exploring Play, a book that has just been published by the Cambridge University Press.

Perhaps because it is nearing the Republic Day of India, we seem to have a flurry of book reviews that reflect the Sub-continental struggle for Independence from the colonials. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed Priya Hajela’s Ladies Tailor: A novel, a book that takes us back to the trauma of the Partition that killed nearly 200,000 to 2 million people – the counts are uncertain. Bhaskar Parichha has discussed MA Sreenivasan’s Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me, a biography of a long serving official in the Raj era — two different perspectives of the same period. Rakhi Dalal has shared her views on Shrinivas Vaidya’s A Handful of Sesame, translated from Kannada by Maithreyi Karnoor, a book that dwells on an immigrant to the Southern part of India in the same time period. The legendary film writer K.A. Abbas’s Sone Chandi Ke Buth: Writings on Cinema, translated and edited by Syeda Hameed and Sukhpreet Kahlon, has been praised by Gracy Samjetsabam.

We have a piece on mental health in cinema by Chaudhuri, an excellent essay written after interviewing specialists in the field. Ratnottama Sengupta has given us a vibrant piece on Suhas Roy, an artist who overrides the bounds of East and West to create art that touches the heart. Candice Louisa Daquin has written on border controls and migrants in America. High profile immigrants have also been the subject of Farouk Gulsara’s ‘What do Freddy Mercury, Rishi Sunak & Mississipi Masala have in Common?’ Sengupta also writes of her immigrant family, including her father, eminent writer, Nabendu Ghosh, who moved from Bengal during the Partition. There are a number of travel pieces across the world by Ravi Shankar, Meredith Stephens and Mike Smith — each written in distinctively different styles and exploring different areas on our beautiful Earth. Sarpreet Kaur has revisited the devastation of the 2004 tsunami and wonders if it is a backlash from nature. Could it be really that?

Suzanne Kamata gives us a glimpse of the education system in Japan in her column with a humorous overtone. Devraj Singh Kalsi dwells on the need for nostalgia with a tongue-in-cheek approach. Rhys Hughes makes us rollick with laughter when he talks of his trip to Kerala and yet there is no derision, perhaps, even a sense of admiration in the tone. Hughes poetry also revels in humour. We have wonderful poetry from Jared Carter, Ranu Uniyal, Asad Latif, Anaya Sarkar, Michael R Burch, Scott Thomas Outlar, Priyanka Panwar, George Freek and many more.

The flavours of cultures is enhanced by the translation of Nazrul’s inspirational poetry by Professor Fakrul Alam, Korean poetry written and translated by Ihlwha Choi and a transcreation of Tagore’s poem Banshi (or flute) which explores the theme of inspiration and the muse. We have a story by S Ramakrishnan translated from Tamil by R Sathish. The short stories featured at the start of this year startle with their content. Salini Vineeth writes a story set in the future and Paul Mirabile tells the gripping poignant tale of a strange child.

With these and more, we welcome you to savour the January 2023 edition of Borderless, which has been delayed a bit as we were busy with the book events for our first anthology. I am truly grateful to all those who arranged the discussions and hosted us, especially Ruchika Khanna, Om Books International, the English Literary Society of Hans Raj College and to the attendees of the event. My heartfelt thanks to the indefatigable team and our wonderful writers, artists and readers, without who this journey would have remained incomplete. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her artwork. Many thanks to the readers of Borderless Journal and Monalisa No Longer Smiles. I hope you will find the book to your liking. We have made a special page for all comments and reviews.

I wish you a wonderful 2023. Let us make a New Year’s wish —

May all wars and conflicts end so that our iconic Monalisa can start smiling again!

Mitali Chakravarty,

borderlessjournal.com

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Photographs of events around Monalisa No Longer Smiles: An Anthology of Writings from across the World. Click here to access the Book.

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Insta Link to an excerpt of the launch at Om Bookstore. Click here to view.

E-Launch of the first anthology of Borderless Journal, November 14th 2022. Click here to view.

Categories
Stories

Little Billy

By Paul Mirabile

Little Billy was a timid, quiet boy of thirteen going on fourteen. He kept to himself both at home and at school. Because he was the only child, little Billy’s mother, unemployed, pampered him to such an extent that he sought refuge in outdoor activities such as tree-fort and cabin constructions in the back garden, chemical experiments with dead animals conducted in his hand-built cabins, tunnel-burrowing under trees or fences, this last activity much to the dismay of his parents. As to his father, well, his work kept him long hours away from home, so the boy hardly ever saw him besides at their late evening dinners, or on the week-ends when he wasn’t busy ‘on the road’.

Little Billy loved to read. Not those ‘childish’ stories imposed by the school programme and taught unenthusiastically by his teachers, which he never read in spite of the spot tests that his teacher would surprise the pupils with, and which he would invariably fail. No, not those boring scrawls. He indulged in true literature: the adventures and exploits of explorers in the wilds of Africa or in the depths of Asia, especially the marvellously written tales by Jules Verne, his literary hero …

Billy’s schoolmates despised his taciturn attitude in class. The more rambunctious boys indulged in creating the usual chaos during recreation when he would sit under a tree and listen to the birds or meditate on his future chemical experiments whilst his schoolmates fought, spat or cursed. Yet he was no snob; he just had nothing to share with his classmates; his adventurous dreams only bored the boys who preferred wrestling and football, and the girls who preferred wrestlers and footballers.

Little Billy filled his time and soul with adventure and constructive projects to escape his mother’s irksome babying and his father’s coerced absence. Twice his imagination materialised into daring escapes from home. The first took him about thirty kilometres or so from his neighbourhood, peddling on his little bicycle as fast as his little legs could, growing more excited as he traversed unknown territories where woods, villages and hamlets passed before his giddy eyes like a magical phantasmagoria. The police, having been phoned by Billy’s hysterical mother because he hadn’t come home for lunch or dinner, finally caught up with him late at night, seated on a grassy hillock, munching apples that he had pinched from a nearby orchard. Everyone believed that Billy simply had lost his way. Little Billy, however, felt he had been on an adventure, and to have absconded for the first time, conferred upon him a powerful and secret aura …

His second escapade was more daring: the absconder hitch-hiked and walked into regions where the folk spoke in accents very much distinct than his own. They even addressed him in strange dialects, using words he had never heard, neither at home nor at school. And how exciting it was neither to understand nor to communicate with the individuals whom he met ! Three days later, dirty, hungry and clothes be-spotted with mud and rainwater, little Billy stood before his tall frowning father, who, although never having raised a hand to the child, scolded him with uproarious words and frenzied gestures. As to his distraught mother, there is no need to go into detail : her sobs and sighs, albeit somewhat theatrical, rose higher to in crescendo than the father’s uproaring.

Henceforth, little Billy decided to limit his adolescent élan to constructing a duplex tree-fort in the large oak tree at the back of his spacious garden. As to the wood required for such a project, the ingenious boy strolled into the many construction sites that surrounded their neighbourhood, negotiated with the workers for spare wood, nails and screws. They liked this little bugger, combative and imaginative, so they plied him, without cost, with large boards of plywood for flooring and roofing and cut, oaken beams for the supporting frames. As to the tools, these the he procured from his father’s garden tool-shed.

Little Billy set to work immediately, choosing four sturdy branches of that leafy oak tree, one branch slightly higher than the other, which allowed him to build one level at a time. Once the lower level had been finished (it took him a mere three days), the energetic builder went on to build the second level of his duplex, connected by a three-rung ladder made from the oak beams that he sawed to measure between the thick limbs with his father’s electric saw. His fort proved to be rather high off the ground, and although he shimmied up the branches like a monkey, Billy preferred a more elaborate ascent : he found two long pieces of rope, made six knots in them at half metre intervals and used the legs of chairs as rungs, which he pushed through the loops of the knots and tightened; chairs that he found thrown out as rubbish in the streets of his neighbourhood. Little Billy took pride in his tree-fort, and spent much time there reading, writing or meditating …

With the arrival of winter, however, he had to abandon his fort, open to strong, glacial winds, and began to devise a plan to build a cabin. It would be a sturdy cabin with a floor, a roof (flat of course), three windows and a door. Again the kind workers provided him the material for his project and his father, the tools. He built it in less than a month in spite of the cold and frost, which obliged him to make a floor several centimetres off the frozen earth. The door proved a bit dodgy : he bought three hinges with his pocket money, screwed them into the oaken frame of his entrance and into a large piece of plywood which he cut to fit the rectangular entrance. The fit was far from perfect; that is, the door could not be closed correctly. But that didn’t matter, he was only a little boy! Billy dispensed with a door-knob and simply sawed a hole in the plywood big enough to put two fingers through. He did the same for the three square windows, the first sawed out next to the door and the other two on the opposing sides of the cabin. He did not fit them out with sheets of pane as they were expensive and his father refused to give him money for those. Finally, to complete his happy home, he laid out several spare rolls of rug to keep his feet warm during the winter months that his father had stored away in the tool-shed. His cabin became cozy and comfortable, out of bounds to his parents; after all, it was Billy’s own private universe, his intimate recluse from the world. His father only asked him not to dig any more tunnels !

Inside, on the rickety table he had also made by himself, he conducted all sorts of experiments : dissecting frogs and fish, concocting chemical potions made his clothes stink (much to the consternation of his mother) and into which he threw frogs’ legs or fish eyes, or any other animal parts that he happened to come across on his daily late afternoon or evening jaunts.

Alas, during that very harsh winter, a terrible snow storm flattened his cabin completely ; it lay wrecked, buried under tons of dirty grey snow until the early Spring rains exposed the tragic ruins.

But Billy was not a boy to be put out by such unforeseen discomfitures. The undaunted Billy, when the snows of winter had completely melted, set out to build a boat ! Yes, a real boat, made of wood, big enough for three or four adults, with a real bow and deck and cabin, on top of which he would lay or sit on the ‘bridge’, bathing in the sun, reading Jules Verne or writing his memoirs.

So he again pleaded with the workers to supply him with oaken beams for the hull, large planks of plywood for the siding, bottom, deck and bridge to bridge securely the sides of the boat. The workers, amused by this boy’s inventiveness, even furnished him with a special putty to caulk the seams of his boat to make her perfectly watertight. Billy was all agog … So too were the workers!

Little Billy threw his heart and soul into his boat-building under the back deck of the house; he felt at the height of his creative powers, and by early Spring he had completed it: his dream boat. He painted the hull a bright marine blue and christened the boat ‘Captain Nemo’ painted in bold green letters, after the hero of his favourite Jules Verne adventure. He relinquished the task of providing a helm, tiller and rudder which would have required engineering skills beyond his ability; after all, Billy’s boat was a simple boat. However, with a long pole or paddle it could always been poled or paddled if he so desired. On the other hand, he carpeted the cabin located under the ‘bridge’ with the rolls that remained of his father’s thick, blue carpet. Since he had managed to secure his rickety table under the collapsed wreckage of what was once his back garden cabin, he placed that in the cabin of his boat and even built a little chair for it, a bit wobbly, but none the less, sittable, for what would a table be without its chair, and a boat-cabin without both ? Finally he bought a notebook which served as a logbook.

Now the reader at this point may ask him or herself in what waters would this boat be floated, and how would it be hauled into those, up till now, undisclosed waters? It goes without saying that the ingenious Billy had answers to both those questions, for if he didn’t, why would he have built a boat in the first place ? The answer to the first question is quite simple. Many years ago next to Billy’s house had been dug a huge sump, surrounded by a high, wire fence, and whose waters rose very high during the winter and spring. As to the second question, the

And it floated! Yes, Billy’s marvellously made boat really floated! He tugged, hauled and pulled it down the slope of his garden, through the rent in the high wire fence, then down again to the dirty brown sump waters. There he tied it to a stake in the soft soil and stepped back to admire his work. He especially appraised the little ladder he had made that led from the fore-deck to the ‘bridge’ (Billy did not have the engineering know-how to make a stairway), and gloated over the two curves of the bow, joined so perfectly to a nice pointy fit, a bow whose nice fit was thoroughly achieved thanks to his father’s timely and skilful assistance  …

Tiny ripples spun round the beautifully painted hull caused by a soft wind. They lapped against the bold green letters of ‘Captain Nemo‘. Billy frowned: he had painted the name a bit too low on the hull! Ah well, he could afford himself a bit of self-indulgence, he hadn’t taken into consideration the weight of the boat and her submersion level. His face, however, lightened up as the rays of the sun grew stronger and stronger. The weeping willows that lined the high wire fence swooned to the gentle breezes and to little Billy’s face beaming with joy. How he revelled in several instants of self-vanity! Who could blame him ?

He took a cursory glance up at his house ; his parents who had gone out to shop had not as yet returned. So much the better! Smiling a mischievous smile, he untied the rope, jumped aboard and let the warm zephyrs of early springtide guide his lovely boat further and further from the sloping shore of the sump. It was her maiden voyage… He went below into the cabin and peeked out of the two portholes (without glass), picked up his logbook and chair, then climbed the make-shift ladder to the ‘bridge’. There he sat in the sun, listening to the silence of the sump, sizing up its largeness.

The branches of the weeping willows brushed lazily against the high wire fence, the birds chirped merrily here and there, some pecking at the dirt around the tree-roots. Billy’s boat, and this goes without saying, had neither outboard motor nor masts for sails: she just drifted on her own, erring aimlessly, like his thoughts, like his lively imagination had always drifted and erred from adventure to adventure … book to book … page to page … word to word … Adventures upon the high seas, atop the highest of mountains, across the hottest of deserts. Fabulous tales of a thousand and one days and nights that no one, neither parents nor teachers, could ever deprive him of, divest him of, dispossess him of …

The sun warmed his cheery, glowing cheeks as he read and wrote to the rhythm of his wanderings. His mind slipped from the scummy waters of the sump to the high swells of some very distant sea … The swells rose to titanic heights, then crashed into a myriad ripples upon some remote sandy island strand. Just then Billy’s drifting mind was brusquely interrupted by cries and shouts. They were coming from inside the sump, near the rent in the fence.

There stood Mr. and Mrs. Wimbly, his next-door neighbours, waving their chubby arms frantically, crying out to him. Mr. Wimbly had even begun to descend precariously the steep slope of the sump to the waters. He stood at the edge, hands now cupped around his mouth, hollering words that he could not understand. Mrs. Wimbly raced recklessly back and forth on the grassy walk-way between the high wire fence and the slopes of the sump. Little Billy shook his head: Was all this real or just an hallucination?

At first he ignored their cries and wild gestures, concentrating on his reading and writing ; after all the Wimblys weren’t his parents! But soon other neighbours began to pour into the sump, or materialise on the other side of the high wire fence, under the weeping willows, their twisted, purple faces swelled in torment, their piercing shrills drowning the musical chirping of the birds. There was fat Mrs. Holly shaking her pudgy fist, chiding him with names that he was taught never to pronounce either in public or at home. How dare the old cow address him with such ugly words. And there, Mr. Rogers, red-faced, his jowls bouncing up and down from so much hooting and hallooing!

Other neighbours, too, came running, all upset, jumping about like puppets on strings, waving at him, scolding him. He stood up and frowned …

Then a sudden strange sensation chilled him to the bone and which made him forget all the ongoing bedlam: He felt that his boat had stopped moving, in spite of the wind that had suddenly picked up, and that the sloping sides of the sump appeared to rise higher and higher, slowly, very slowly, whilst the clouds, too, were rising higher and higher in the deep blue of the sky … rising slowly away from him. Something was terribly wrong. He climbed down from the ‘bridge’ and was about to step down into the cabin when he fell back in horror: black waters were streaming over his lovely carpet, tossing his little table from side to side. The starboard side of his boat had burst from the seams of its framework. Billy froze in utter incomprehension: How could this be ? The boat had been properly caulked ! His beautiful boat …  Months of love and labour …

Coming to himself quickly, little Billy climbed back up to the ‘bridge’. There he stood, half baffled, half defiant! From his sinking position he glimpsed through tear-stained eyes the stamping of feet and the pointing of fingers of so many neighbours, known or unknown. Their cries and shouts rose to incredible crescendos. He had no idea how to overcome this predicament, and it suddenly struck him that he had never learned to swim … The sump waters were very deep after the winter months. He prayed that they wouldn’t be so deep where his boat was irretrievably disappearing, for there was nothing else to be done, no one came to his succour, everyone just jumped and ran about like a pack of wild animals.

Then little Billy heard a familiar cry: It was his mother’s ! She had come home, noted all the fuss round the sump and had found the rent in the fence. Now there, at the edge of the slanting slope, she was tearing at her hair, writhing in agony, her hysterical screams drowned out all the others that were drumming through his tiny head without respite. His father suddenly came into view, there, at the foot of the slope, he was descending towards the waters and appeared to jump in and swim towards the now stricken boat … swimming and swimming towards his only child with long and powerful breast-strokes … But no … this was an hallucination: Billy’s father did not know how to swim, and in any case it was too late; little Billy’s beautiful dream boat sank rapidly below the scummy dark waters, dragged down by its weighty load. The last vision that his father and mother had of this hallucinating scene was their son’s outstretched hands clutching his logbook … A few seconds later, out from the suction of the whirlpool, Billy’s little red captain’s cap popped up and floated there, aimlessly, a flotsam of engulfed dreams and sunken aspirations …

His mother collapsed. His father howled with outstretched hands, then fell lamely to his knees …

Sometime afterwards the police arrived on the scene equipped with rubber rafts. They spent hours scouring the waters, mainly because the benumbed neighbours could not decide exactly where the boat had gone under; Billy’s cap having since waded to the other side of the sump. Finally, however, a frogman brought up little Billy’s limp, lifeless body to the surface. As to his boat, it remained at the bottom of those dirty brown waters, a memorial to the boy’s ardent dreams, like the Titanic, never to be disturbed in its final resting place. And although the waters do subside during the hot summer months, there it remains to this day, laying upon its cracked and scorched, lunar-like bed, rotting yet recognisable, a ghostly vision that no hand should ever touch besides that of its hapless creator and captain.

Soon, the ill-fated ghost-boat drew many mourners from the region and beyond. They gathered round the sump to pray or look on in sorrow. Some threw flowers over the fence. (The rent had been repaired.) The sump appeared to have become some sort of pilgrimage site, attracting hundreds and hundreds of people, even foreigners came to vent their curiosity ! The mayor of the town, a rather unscrupulous blighter, brought up in one of the town meetings that perhaps the municipality should charge a small fee for entry into the ‘pilgrimage site’ ! This proposal was over-ruled as bad taste and cynical.

As to little Billy, he was buried at the town cemetery on the bright, warm day of his fourteenth birthday, a funeral without clamour or commotion. Only his parents and close relatives attended the church service and the walk to his final burial plot.

Little Billy’s parents, due to all the fanfare that their son’s cadaverous hulk had aroused, have since moved to another region without leaving their new address to any one …

Courtesy: Creative Commons

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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.

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

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

Categories
Contents

Borderless, December 2022

Art by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

It’s Only Hope… Click here to read.

Conversations

Shantanu Ray Chaudhari converses with writer Gajra Kottary, a well-known writer of Indian TV series, novels and stories. Click here to read.

A discussion on Samaresh Bose’s In Search of the Pitcher of Nectar, a book that takes us to the heart of the Kumbh Mela, a festival recognised by the UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, with the translator, Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee. Click here to read.

Translations

Nazrul’s Why Provide Thorns has been translated by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Mercy, a story be P. F. Mathews, has been translated from Malayalam by Ram Anantharaman. Click here to read.

Even A Simurgh Cannot Change Destiny, a Balochi folktale translated and retold by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Confessions, a poem written by and translated from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

The Sun on the First Day, a translation of Tagore’s Prothom Diner Shurjo by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Pandies’ Corner

Songs of Freedom: Vikalangta or Disability is an autobiographical narrative by Kajal, translated from Hindustani by Janees. These narrations highlight the ongoing struggle against debilitating rigid boundaries drawn by societal norms, with the support from organisations like Shaktishalini and Pandies. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Jared Carter, Sukrita Paul Kumar, Rhys Hughes, Asad Latif, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Santosh Bakaya, Phil Wood, Sharanya B, George Freek, Saibal Chatterjee, Jonathan Chan, Sutputra Radheye, Shambhu Nath Banerjee, Michael Burch

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In Some Differences Between Wales and India, Rhys Hughes makes some hilarious comparisons. Click here to read.

Musings/ Slices from Life

Near-Life Experiences: Hiking in New Zealand

Keith Lyons escapes city life to find his happy place while hiking in New Zealand. Click here to read.

The Seven Grandfather Teachings

Saeed Ibrahim introduces us to Native Indian lore from Canada and shows its relevance in the current times. Click here to read.

Dismasted in Bass Strait

Meredith Stephens takes us for a sailing adventure with photographs in the Southern Hemisphere. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Of Mice & Men, Devraj Singh Kalsi talks of his encounters with rats. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In A Clean Start, Suzanne Kamata tells us how the Japanese usher in a new year. Click here to read.

Stories

Annapurna Bhavan

Lakshmi Kannan closes class divides in Chennai over a meal. Click here to read.

Two Faces of a Mirror

Tulip Chowdhury gives us a story set in a Bangladeshi village. Click here to read.

The Slip

Sushma R Doshi takes a look at the pandemic against an Indian middle-class set up. Click here to read.

Till Life Do Us Part

Devraj Singh Kalsi explores a strange new trend. Click here to read.

Essays

Orangutans & a School at Sarawak

Christina Yin, a conservationist, travels to Borneo in an attempt to create awareness for conserving the Orangutan. Click here to read.

Taiping of the Raj Era

Ravi Shankar explores Taiping in Malaysia with a camera and words. Click here to read.

Ivory Ivy & Stephen Dedalus

Paul Mirabile explores James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus and his passion for words keeping in mind the hundred year old Ulysees & the even older, A Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from Radha Chakravarty’s translation of Tagore’s Farewell Song. Click here to read.

An excerpt or two short narratives from Rhys Hughes’ Yule Do Nicley. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Somdatta Mandal reviews The Shaping of Modern Calcutta: The Lottery Committee Years, 1817 – 1830 by Ranabir Ray Chaudhury. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Freny Manecksha’s Flaming Forest, Wounded Valley: Stories from Bastar and Kashmir. Click here to read.

Basudhara Roy reviews Manoranjan Byapari’s How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews In Search of the Divine: Living Histories of Sufism in India by Rana Safvi. Click here to read.

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

You are all welcome to the book talks of our first anthology

Categories
Editorial

Its Only Hope…

Painting by Sybil Pretious

New year, like a newborn, starts with hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We wish you all a wonderful festive season.

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

Cheers!

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

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

Categories
Essay

Ivory Ivy & Stephen Dedalus

Reflections by Paul Mirabile on James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus who found fruition in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) & a key role in the 1922 classic, Ulysees

You have a queer name, Dedalus,” says Brother Michael to Stephen Dedalus, the hero of A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man in the first chapter. Strange perhaps, but quite significant for this tale : Daidalos in Greek means ‘architect, wiseman, artist, craftsman’[1]. He was the universal artist in Greek mythology, the ingenious Athenian architect, who exiled to Crete, designed the labyrinth within which the terrible Minotaur was kept, a complex formation which analogues Dedalus’ intricate or labyrinth-like thinking patterns. A formidable name, thus, for Joyce’s protagonist, one in fact that evokes many of the author’s own traits.

James Joyce (1882-1941) once remarked that a male artist (writer, painter, musician) generally inherits many effeminate attributes from his mother (or from other female figures of the family), and as he matures and grows conscious of them, exploits them to create. Effeminate characteristics in a male engenders a sensitivity that overshadows the ‘virility’ of the father. This is certainly the case with Stephen Dedalus in our story, and perhaps too with James Joyce.

In chapter one, Stephen’s leanings towards his mother appear to be projections of Joyce’s, although the reader should be aware that A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916, is not an autobiography per se. However, Stephen’s word-associations and flashbacks dissociate, and concomitantly link the ‘masculinity’ of his boarding school surroundings with happy memories which depict his mother and her daily gestures and occupations. There is little doubt that these depictions were drawn from Joyce’s own experiences during his boarding school years.

Stephen felt lonely at the boarding school, studying and playing with boys who were tough, hardened by their fathers’ stern discipline and rough language, many of whom were footballers, pranksters or schemers. He had been brought up by his mother. She never taught him to play football, be a prankster or a schemer. Should that have been his father’s task ? His mother would never have taught him to rub rosin in his hands to harden them against flogging. Fleming, a school comrade, did, and you can be sure that his father had counselled him on that point. When Stephen was flogged along with Fleming, we are witness to the differences in their domestic upbringing : Stephen describes his flogger Father Dolan with great vividness ”looking through his glasses”, those same glasses that were seen through by his father in the first passage at the beginning of chapter one. Had Father Dolan — his ‘brotherly’ father– a ‘tough’ man indeed, misunderstood the scorn that young Stephen’s artistic propensities led him to experience?

Perhaps it is the lack of sympathy and understanding on the part of the father-figures he encounters throughout life that transports Stephen into a lonely, private world dominated by the mother-figure. When he is ill in the infirmary he is quick to address a letter to his mother ; his mother who smells ”nicer” than his father. Joyce, the narrator, also informs us that she played the piano, whereas the father did not …

The boys at the school teased him because he would kiss his mother every night before going to bed, something quite normal for him, yet ”girlish” for the boys. And even if they did kiss their mothers they would never have admitted it in front of the other boys, a habit that their fathers probably told them not to disclose when at school. Stephen had no ‘official training’ in these delicate matters by his father.

He discovered this lack of ‘manliness’ in him through his sensitive, perceptive insight into all that he felt, heard, smelt and observed. His mother’s sensitive world was an innate attribute, one that he consciously cultivated in a creative fashion, examining all that took place, criticising what he felt had been unjust or false. In fact, the opening chapter draws a suggestive parallel of Stephen’s (Joyce’s?) life as an artist and his inner relationship with his mother (and his father to a certain extent) as if she were an inseparable ally on his path to artistic glory.

”He longed to be home and lay on his mother’s lap,” grieves the narrator, defending the downcast Stephen, for indeed the boarding school proved terribly trying for him, violent in many ways, even physically violent by the flogging administered by the brothers and the fights against his comrades. Stephen would reminisce : ”She was a nice mother but she was not so nice when she cried.” Did this prevent him from crying when flogged by the brothers or humiliated by the boys ?

Stephen opens chapter one by recounting what his father had told him when he was a baby. But his father’s language is a child’s, spoken exactly as a child would. On the contrary, Stephen’s childish attempts at communication : too many pronouns, the repetition of a song sung by Betty Byrne : “O, the green wothe botheth … ,” his insight into the ages of his immediate family : “[T]hey were older than his father and mother but Uncle Charles was older than Dante,” and his eventual intellectual developments and abandonment of a Jesuit education due to a very severe and masculine environment, all bespeak a precociousness of character inherited from his mother, which did not prevent him, however, from showing great respect for his father.

At the end of chapter two, he stumbles across a prostitute. Stephen is greatly distressed. He is drawn towards this female but, ”His lips would not end to kiss her. He wanted to be held firmly in her arms, to be caressed slowly, slowly.‘ Like his mother would do ? This being said, the poor, lonely Stephen yielded to the prostitute’s charms …

Stephen’s love for his mother is deep: when he ‘exiles’ himself to Paris to study medicine in the first chapter of Ulysses (1922) he receives a letter that his mother has taken to bed very ill. He returns quickly, but refuses to kneel at her bedside and pray for her : ” ‘You could have knelt down, damn it, Kinch, when your dying mother asked you,’ Buck Mulligan said.”[2] Buck even accuses him of killing his mother: “He kills his mother but he can’t wear grey trousers.”[3] It goes without saying that Stephen did not kill his mother ; he deeply regretted her death. However, this disgraceful act towards her pleadings is explained by the fact that to kneel down on both knees represents a Church rite, ”the Jesuit strain in him”[4]. The tortured Stephen disavows this ‘ecclesiastical’ gesture, this gesture of absolute obedience before authority. It were as if at that difficult moment his confused state of mind confounded the love of a mother and the hate of a Jesuit institution that Stephen (and Joyce) bore. It is true that the severity and pain of his seminary years had all but deadened the youth’s love for his mother. However, if he did feel a disliking at his mother’s bedside for those few moments, they should not be interpreted as hate for her, but rather as a transient absence of love. He will be redeemed of this absence of love by the love of languages, especially his ‘mother’ tongue, in spite of the sorrow he bore within him like some original sin.

Born from the mother, the mother breathes into her child the force and the will to live. Wrought from the womb, the child bathes in the sounds, accents and musical rhythms of his or her mother: the lullabies and nursery songs, the praises and reproaches. And a day will come when he or she must be weaned, and although the umbilical cord is cut the cultural cord continues to nourish the child, of which language is the most vital nourishment.

It is the mother tongue that motivates Dedalus/Joyce to desire his language … and the Others’ languages ! The desire to possess or master English, Italian, French, German, Norwegian, Latin and Greek. A polyglot’s desire to penetrate the womb of the Other out of which all languages have been wrought.

Throughout A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man Joyce is very methodical in developing Stephen’s acumen in word usage. The hero’s pursuit of intellectual ‘purity’ oftentimes turns him into a pedantic perfectionist correcting a word used outside its proper context with the person whom he is addressing. This preoccupation with perfection in proper word usage is only natural for someone who studies languages and realises that verbal force can be a veritable weapon. A word, above all other linguistic features, can be an instrument of puissance and persuasion when wielded with accuracy and precision. Stephen’s effort to instrumentalise English and use it to overpower his ‘opponent’ is manifest in his attempts to seek the word which best fits the circumstances of his daily human intercourse.

In chapter one, even at an early age, Stephen is asking himself ethnico-linguistic questions, making word comparisons when used in idiomatic expressions. For example, ”that was a belt round his pocket. And belt was also to give a fellow a belt.” (page 9) Stephen’s extraordinary memory focuses in and captures the moment the word or expression is used from which he could then make his point :”Go and fight your match. Give Cecil Thunder a belt.”

He knew this was not a ‘nice’ word, as his mother had told him, but one which belonged to a certain class of people. The youngster would soon come to accept these ‘not nice words’ however, comprise the very beauty of language, their social realism and above all their power to persuade! These idiomatic expressions were surely not learnt from his mother; they were acquired from his daily brushes with the many folds of social commerce.

In the same chapter he utters to himself the word ‘wine’ ; it immediately gives him the image of ”… dark purple because the grapes were dark purple that grow in Greece…” (page 43). Uttering a word and conjuring up its ‘topographic image’ also developed his intricate word-image analogies.

Stephen Dedalus hears: ” You are McGlade’s suck. Suck was a queer word,” reports the narrator. Stephen learns the meaning of this word by observing dirty water going down the drain in a wash-bowl; it made a sound like a suck, and he resumes : “The sound was ugly.” Here he devises an ‘aural relationship’ to word signification which one may define as an ‘onomatopoeic analogy’.

Similar word-image associations emerge in the boy’s mind with expressions such as ‘Tower of Ivory’ and ‘House of Gold’ spoken by his father, and whose precise significance escaped his young mind. It would take some time before he understood their semantic impact. The occasion occurred when he stole a glance at the cool, soft ‘ivory-like’ hands of a girl, and at ”her fair hair streaking behind her like gold in the sun.” And he concluded : “By thinking things you could understand them.” In other words by ‘visual analogical’ efforts Stephen could relate to and grasp the meaning of words.

The first chapter of the book represents a young boy beginning his intellectual-linguisitc voyage, and as the story unfolds and Stephen’s mental capacities become more and more meticulous and keener, his discernment into word usage becomes more demanding when speaking to his peers or to elders.

The second chapter deals with his mental and physical vicissitudes : his father sells the house. The family moves to Dublin. Stephen goes to college. These changes affect his way of thinking, for he is a boy who is already conscious of his detachment from the rest of his schoolmates. He excelled in essay writing and was good in Latin. Stephen’s remark concerning his friend Heron is worthy of mention. Stephen ruminated over the fact that Heron, like the bird, had the same bird-like features. The name Heron suited the boy’s features quite nicely : ‘Vincent Heron had a bird’s face as well as a bird’s name. A shock of pale hair lay on his forehead like a ruffled crest.His forehead too was ”narrow and bony” and he possessed ”a hooked nose.” (page 70) Again, Stephen’s capacity to ‘see’ and associate, analogically, words, or as he says their ”logical parallel”, marks a perspicacious penchant for conjoining the signifier with the signified. In the case of Heron: the name fitted the face. For Heron indeed was the perfect heron.

On page 83, again, whilst attending a seminar in the anatomy theatre, Stephen found the word foetus carved into a desk. This made him suddenly concentrate deeply on the meaning of this odd word. Did it portray reality, a raw and life-like reality, beyond all formal study and ‘higher’ education ? Did this word represent mankind in both its primitive and highest stages ? Did it not evoke the image of the mother … his mother ? Indeed fœtus remained in Stephen’s thoughts for the entire day. He wrestled with it, coming to the conclusion that a word is what man is : ” in the outer world a trace of what he had deemed till then a brutish and individual malady of his own mind.” The words brutish and malady are significant inasmuch as they actually do go far beyond the formal education that Stephen was pursuing. In fact, fœtus provoked yet another urge in the need for reality in language, which his studies in Latin certainly strengthened by discovering the origins of words and their semantic impact on human communication ; they taught him to train his mind to think in terms of precision, brevity and beauty. However, Stephen’s plunge into reality was more often forged outside the sacred walls of that ‘manly’ institution, amongst his myriad frequenting with the world of words uttered by the ‘womanly’ creatures of the whore-filled Dublin streets. This remarkable double-life, in chapter three, manifests itself sharply when Stephen is torn from those ‘womanly’ streets and is plunged into a ‘manly’ Jesuit retreat, where by the force of many well-delivered Hell-fire sermons a multitude of salacious temptations put his semantic perspicacity to trial.

In the Jesuit homilies or sermons during mass, the power of word usage is fully revealed to our heroic hero. So powerful is this usage that he confesses his previous dealings with prostitutes to a father confessor after listening to the ravings of a Jesuit concerning Judgement Day, death, hell, brimstone, fire and other Catholic-contrived image-filled words. The barrage of religiously-orientated words left him reeling in disbelief, which in turn obliged him to ‘believe’ the meanings of all the words which resonated clearly in his mind: judgement, death, soul and heaven. Yet, where were their true meanings? Were they what Stephen really thought them to be, or were they the Jesuit brothers’ invention, forcing themselves upon his young mind? Indeed, the answer becomes clear at the end of the book: Stephen sought his own definitions, his own knowledge, not the knowledge delivered from the books or the sermons of erudite Jesuit priests and brothers. Every word preached were weighed carefully to suit the disposition of the students, to create an ambiance of need, of weakness; a weakness to be satisfied in the pure thought and ‘word’ of God. Every ‘priestly’ word declaimed during mass weighed heavy upon Stephen’s mind. It only lightened when our hero was able to ‘think it through’ and not fall into an abominable, guilt-riddled contempt of himself.

A decisive step in Stephen’s life occurs in chapter four. Instead of accepting a career as a novice, then as a Jesuit priest, he strides out into the world on his own, knowing well his method of attaining knowledge would never have found favour in the eyes of the Jesuit brothers. To give an example, during a long conversation with a Jesuit priest, Stephen again scrutinises word usage. The priest mentions his journey to Brussels. He remarks that the people there wear ‘jupes[5]‘, and when they ride bicycles, it makes them look ridiculous. The mention of this foreign word causes Stephen to smile : ”The vowel was so modified as to be indistinct”. Stephen’s thought was obviously an attack against the priest’s pronunciation of the French word, an attack that went far beyond this one priest to humiliate the Jesuit institution as a whole. The word ‘jupe’ also emitted an olfactory sensation ; a perfumed fragrance. Stephen says that when articles of clothing were mentioned he could actually smell perfume. Here again we read another indication of a word’s power upon Stephen’s mind, whether it be aural, visual or olfactory ; that is, the ‘femininity’ of the image-sensation overrides the ‘masculine’ pronunciation of the word.  The loquacious priest’s voice faded into the background as Stephen’s innate linguistic conscious rose to the surface : ”As the priest spoke, Stephen’s mind erred : ‘The echoes of certain expressions used in Clongrowes[6] (his boarding school) sounded in remote caves of his mind. At this point he was interrupted …”’ Stephen’s linguistic prowess acts like an etymological Time Machine, now straining back in intellectual pleasure, now fixed in the present which creates a spiral movement to his thought patterns. Chapter four ends with this beautiful passage which depicts the young artist’s sagacious ability to put into motion that spiral rhythm. I shall quote the passage in full.

”He drew forth a phrase from his treasure and spoke it softly to himself.

 “-A day of dappled seaborne clouds-

“The phrase and the day and the scene harmonised in a chord. Words. Was it their colours ? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue ; sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the grey fringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours ; it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their association of legend and colour ? Or was it that being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language many coloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose ?”

Here the past has been contracted into Stephen’s present circumstances: And no doubt, Joyce’s, too.

“Bous Stephaneforos!” mock his comrades. Yet, Stephen took great pleasure in the distorted orality of his name: did not ‘Bous’ in Greek mean ‘cow’ or ‘bull’ and his first name ‘Stephen’, ‘crown’? He was indeed the ‘crowned bull’! The ‘engarlanded bull’! ”His strange name seemed to him a prophecy. […] He would forge a legend, his name a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring imperishable being?” Was Stephen not the sacred bull of distant mythological or legendary heroes? Could he also be the victorious bull in the Irish epic tale the Tain Bo Cuailngy ? Whatever bull it be, Stephen knew his Destiny would be a glorious one, bathed in golden aura. Did his comrades know it?

Chapter five opens with Stephen’s acute criticism when reading poetry; certain verses arrest his attention: “Whoever heard of ivy whining on a wall ? And what about ivory ivy ? […] The word now shone bright in his brain, clearer and brighter than any ivory sawn from the mottled tusks of elephants’. Perhaps this poetic oddity of ‘ivy’ reminded him of the ‘Tower of Ivory’ that his father had mentioned, and recalled, too, those of the girl’s soft hands. Could analogical processes elicit such linguistic associations ? In Stephen’s case they certainly did.

Chapter five also initiates the beginning of Stephen’s literary career, his life as an artist, dedicated to ”putting words on paper”. Although the spiral rhythm of his mind abets him in his linguistic and poetic quests, he realises, too, that words belong to the epochs in which they were couched. Whilst reading Ben Jonson: ”He thought : ‘The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master on his lips and mine ! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.’”

How perspicacious Stephen has become at the end of his formal education : He understands that words of past literature, however potent or poetic, are acquired speech, whereas his present tongue, his ‘mother’ tongue, is innate. It would seem that once again he refutes the authoritative voice of the past, its literary ‘fixedness’, its stringent rules which must be acquired — as if these usages were quite artificial, dead — museum pieces for show and admiration. Stephen strains towards the future … towards horizonless linguistic freedom: His own invented Discourse because now innate (his mother’s), now acquired in the daily social practice of language production or creation.  

Indeed his comments on word usage reflect a growing intellectual acumen, and permits us to comprehend fully his overpowering knowledge of ‘innate’ language. Stephen defines beauty and art in this chapter, surpassing Artistotle and Thomas d’Aquinas (or so he believes!). He rebukes his father’s ”curious idea of gender‘ ; Mr. Dedulas calls his son ”a lazy bitch”. Stephen muses mockingly: ”he has a curious idea of gender if he thinks a bitch is masculine” (page 259). A snippy remark aimed at his father’s linguistic ignorance, which in fact represents a critique of authority : the church … the father-image … the Jesuit priest. Only art will triumph. Art as a spiral cadence of an alternating succession of static and kinetic energies that leads us ”to action, to do”. Static energy holds or arrests our attention, as do words said by others that arrest Stephen’s attention. Kinetic energy thrusts words into our present circumstances which in turn sends them hurtling into the future. For example, further on in the chapter, Stephen is speaking with a Jesuit priest about his decision to take leave of the school ; the word ‘funnel’ is brought up in their conversation pertaining to the pouring of oil into a lamp. Stephen is quick to point out that funnel is out of place here, and that the word ‘tundish’ should be employed in this function. The priest confessed that he had no idea that the word existed and promised Stephen that he would look it up. Stephen insisted on its semantic veracity as if the priest did not take him ‘on his word’.

It is at this moment in the book where Stephen’s expanding linguistic knowledge runs parallel to his diminishing reverence towards those who had educated him.

Again on page 227 we read the word tundish, only this time written in Stephen’s diary : ”… that tundish has been on my mind for a long time. I looked it up and find it English and good old blunt English too. Damn the dean of studies and his funnel! What did he come here for to teach us his own language or to learn it from us? Damn him one way or the other!”

This plain-spoken critique and rejection of authority, and Stephen’s meticulous manner, had made him a better man than even his mentors. Is our hero then a self-sufficient snob ? An overweening upstart ? A pompous prig ? No doubt he can be characterised by all three … Yet, his passion for language spurred him on to become the artist he longed to be after experimenting with the tools of empiricism, since language, being both innate (the mother) and acquired (schooling/social intercourse), can only be learnt with the tools with which it had been forged. Language is human ; it is an integral part of humanity and not the sole property of an authoritative elite.

Stephen plunged into the complex world of word usage at all levels, a sort of socio-linguistic adventure and scrutiny, and like his narrator, James Joyce, emerged from it in all his ‘graphic’ self : The young writer-artist who rebelled against ‘good grammar’, refusing to put hyphens between nouns, or nouns and qualifying adjectives to create compound words ; it was his way of rebelling against prescribed grammar ; that is, against authority. Here is a short list of the ‘rebels’ taken at random : “moocow, hornpipe, terrorstricken, softhue, priestridden, seventyseven, seventysix, whitegrey, granduncle, strangelooking, deathwound, ironingroom, slateblue, rainladen, priestlike, darkplumaged, carriagelamps, suddenwoven (anger), freshfaced, hollowsounding, curtainrings, etc.” The long ligatured or hyphen-less words contrast greatly with Joyce’s use of short, choppy, racy, sentences; sentences devoid of detail. The characters are description less. ‘Literary’ or Dickension-type interpolated clauses are rare (he ejaculated, she ruminated, etc.). Joyce oftentimes has recourse to the simple ”he/she said”.

The rhythm of writing is a flux of Stephen’s verbal consciousness or series of dialogues with brief, curt responses or questions. We are no longer reading ‘classical’ literature but not exactly something that Joyce will experiment in Ulysses or in Finnegans Wake (1939). Something perhaps unfamiliar, estranged from the reading habits of the early twentieth century reader, not the story-plot, but the form in which the story-plot has been cast. It were as if Joyce turned to the languages of the Other in order to express both his own mother tongue and a discourse of his own, embedded within that mother tongue. As if the mature writer-artist in trespassing the rules of ‘good’ English grammar, not only trespassed the authority of the ‘father-figure’, be it his father, Father Dolan or any Jesuit priest, but also instituted an invented discourse which distanced him from the mother tongue (the mother?) only to come back to it in a creative attempt to strike out on his own.

There is no doubt that Stephen Dedalus/ James Joyce is indeed the ”prince of words” …[7]

James Joyce. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Bibliography

Joyce, James, A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (Penguin Modern Classics, London, England) 1931.

Joyce, James, Ulysses (Yilin Press, Nanjing, China) 1996.

Burgess, Anthony, Re Joyce Here comes Everyone, (W.W. Norton Company, London England) 1965.

[1]    The verbal form in Greek of the proper name is ‘daidallo’ ‘to work, adorn’, the nominal form ‘daidalon‘ ‘a work of art’ and the adjectival form ‘daidalos’ ‘cunning’. These forms have given the French noun ‘dédale‘ ‘maze, labyrinth’.

[2]    Ulysses, Yilin Press, Nanjing, 1996, page 4.

[3]    Ulysses, page 5.

[4]    Ulysses, page 8.

[5] A short coat in English, skirt in French

[6]    Located thirty kilometres from Dublin.

[7]    Anthony Burgess, Re Joyce. Here comes Everybody. Faber and Faber, 1963.

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.

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

Categories
Contents

Borderless, November 2022

Art by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

We did it! … Announcing our first anthology … Monalisa No Longer Smiles… Click here to read.

Conversations

Suchen Christine Lim, an iconic writer from Singapore in conversation about her latest book, Dearest Intimate. Click here to read.

Blazing trails, as well as retracing the footsteps of great explorers, Christopher Winnan, a travel writer, delves into the past, and gazes into the future while conversing with Keith Lyons. Click here to read.

Translations

Rows of Betelnut Trees by My Window by Nazrul has been translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

A Day in the Life of the Pink Man is a story by Shankhadeep Bhattacharya, translated from Bengali by Rituparna Mukherjee. Click here to read.

The Clay Toys and The Two Boys is a story by Haneef Shareef, translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Saturday Afternoon is a poem by Ihlwha Choi, translated from Korean by the poet himself. Click here to read.

Tagore’s poem, Tomar Shonkho Dhulay Porey (your conch lies in the dust), has been translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty as The Conch Calls. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Jared Carter, Asad Latif, Rhys Hughes, Alpana, Mimi Bordeaux, Saranyan BV, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Quratulain Qureshi, Jim Bellamy, Sourav Sengupta, Ron Pickett, Davis Varghese, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Jonathan Chan, Terry Trowbridge, Amrita Sharma, George Freek, Gayatri Majumdar, Michael R Burch

Poets, Poetry and Rhys Hughes

In Infinite Tiffin, Rhys Hughes gives an unusual short story centring around food and hunger. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

The Scream & Me

Prithvijeet Sinha writes of how Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream, impacts him. Click here to read.

A Fine Sunset

Mike Smith travels with a book to a Scottish beach and walks in the footsteps of a well-know novelist. Click here to read.

The Death of a Doctor

Ravi Shankar mourns the loss of a friend and muses on mortality in his experience. Click here to read.

My Contagious Birthday Party

Meredith Stephens writes of her experience of Covid. Click here to read.

Dim Memories of the Festival of Lights

Farouk Gulsara takes a nostalgic trip to Deepavali celebrations in Malaysia. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Strumming Me Softly with His Guitar…, Devraj Singh Kalsi talks of his friends’s adventure with the guitar. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Therese Schumacher and Nagayoshi Nagai: A Love Story, Suzanne Kamata introduces us to one of the first German women married to a Japanese scientist and their love story. Click here to read.

Essays

My Favourite Book by Fakrul Alam

The essay is a journey into Fakrul Alam’s evolution as a translator. Click here to read.

The Ultimate Genius of Kishore Kumar

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, an eminent film critic, writes on the legend of Kishore Kumar. Click here to read.

T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land: Finding Hope in Darkness

Dan Meloche muses on the century-old poem and its current relevance. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In Piano Board Keys, Candice Louisa Daquin talks of biracial issues. Click here to read.

Stories

The Funeral Attendee

Ravi Prakash shares the story of the life of a migrant in rural India. Click here to read.

A Letter I can Never Post

Monisha Raman unravels the past in a short narrative using the epistolary technique. Click here to read.

Red Moss at the Abbey of Saint Pons

Paul Mirabile takes us to St Pons Abbey in France in the fifteenth century. Click here to read.

You have lost your son!

Farhanaz Rabbani gives a light story with a twist that shuttles between Dhaka and Noakhali. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An Excerpt from Manoranjan Byapari’s How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit, translated from Bengali by Anurima Chanda. Click here to read.

An excerpt from Evening with a Sufi: Selected Poems by Afsar Mohammad, translated from Telugu by Afsar Mohammad & Shamala Gallagher. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Reba Som has reviewed Aruna Chakravarti’s Through the Looking Glass: Stories. Click here to read.

Somdatta Mandal has reviewed Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Birth Lottery and Other Surprises. Click here to read.

Basudhara Roy has reviewed Afsar Mohammad’s Evening with a Sufi: Selected Poems, translated from Telugu by Afsar Mohammad and Shamala Gallagher. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Rahul Ramagundam’s The Life and Times of George Fernandes. Click here to read.

Borderless Journal Anthology

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

Categories
Stories

Red Moss at the Abbey of Saint Pons

The good sister slid out of her cell into the dank obscurity of the long and hollow corridor of the abbey which led to the august wooden front doors. She lifted the heavy latch then penetrated the cold layers of thick night, carefully closing the doors behind her. A moonless and starless night it was : greyish clouds fringed with undulating black hung low in the cold air, an air filled with the scent of jonquils. The good sister crossed the tussock grass of the meadow, glistening with moisture, swiftly to the rhythm of the howling wolves, whose ululations seemed to make quiver the cloudlets, driving them galloping across the sullen skies, grazing ever so lightly the pinnacles of the friendless, fretted cliffs of Saint Martin. Those precipices stole furtive glances down at the hastening young sister, their hanging pines, minatory fingers pointing to the nocturnal interloper. And as the wind wailed like the melancholic notes of an organ, the fingers quietly lamented, shedding needles and cones of utter sorrow …

The holy sister, sandal-less, dressed only in a bleached white nightdress, seemed to waft on strings of mist like a phantom as she glided alongside the mighty abbey walls, rising high. She stole a glance at the soundless immured fountain of the abbey and the holy niche next to it housing the Virgin Mary. She lowered her eyes, crossed herself then sped on. Noiselessly she made her way upon the path which serpentined to the source of the Paillon streamlets. The exuding fragrance of jonquils caused her a moment of vertigo as she hied higher and higher towards the sacred source. Once she reached the source, she halted before the little cascade, silvery in the ill-lit sky, tinkling an odd tinkle amidst the whimpering of the groves of weeping willows that enshrined it. She took a furtive glance behind her … no one …

The good sister stepped into the rushing icy waters. Lifting her nightdress in a rather girlish manner, she let it drop, and there it spread in cadence to the precipitating flow like the opening of a lotus. The freezing waters seized her slender thighs in a vice-like grip. At that moment the wolves renewed their howl after a ritornello[1]. She raised her head to the tune, such soothing music to her ears, and slowly opened her fist: a shard of glass lay in her tiny palm. Her hand trembled from the coldness at the source ; her body gradually became rigid like a marble statue, the turbulent waters sweeping round her. 

The holy sister murmured several prayers then gazed alternatively at the deepening violet tinge of the sky and the deep blue of the veins of her wrists. In one rapid stroke she slid the shard of glass across those deep blue veins : as quickly as that ! Two sharp painless incisions and it was over, all accomplished in such cold-blooded precision. There she remained standing, her rich, red blood dripping down over her now steady hands, then into the pure waters of the source : drop, drop, drop …

Some time passed. The howling of the wolves had abated, the wind, too. The dreary clouds hung lower and lower over the paling sister, who wavered not once, adamantly erect, watching in the most unperturbable manner the blood desert her frail body into the moving waters. Her face, lovely like the fourteenth day of the moon, turned an ashen white.

Soon, however, her knees began to buckle, her slender body to sway, emptied of its life-giving fluid. She appeared to be lost in some dreamy plane of consciousness, her face, blank, expressionless. At length, like a icicle fallen from a frost-bitten tree, she tumbled gently into the churning white foam, and there floated listlessly down the streamlet, the traces of blood trailing behind her, until here and there they settled upon the smooth mossy stones and pebbles that lay at the bed. Her nightdress swelled with water and resembled a hoisted sail, yet mast-less, a vessel adrift, driven from one bank to the other.

Finally, the bloodless body got snagged onto several smooth, flat-surfaced mossy rocks, and there undulated to the rhythm of the current, eyes wide open, mouth agape, basking in the blackness of Eternal Night …

With the coming of dawn, the call to Matins[2] brought the holy sisters of the Saint Pons Abbey scurrying to the chapel. All were accounted besides one : Where was Sister Theresa ? Had she not heard the tolling bell? The Abbess, somewhat worried by her absence (Theresa was never absent for service), rushed out to see whether the young girl had fallen ill and taken to bed. But her cell was empty ; her bed lay unmade, not a crease in the bedsheets. More startling still, her cornet[3] and habit[4] lay neatly placed and folded on the chair next to her writing-table. Had she left a note ? None …

The Abbess interrupted Matins and commanded that the sisters go in search for the young girl both in the cloister and outside in the meadow and wooded areas. Taking four or five sisters with her, the old Abbess hurried down the corridor to the great wooden doors : the latch had been displaced ! Seized with an emotional foreboding, she led the troop of sisters through the cold air of early morning, an air saturated with icy dew and a scent of spruce. They avoided the meadow for now, choosing to hug the great stone walls glistening with creeping and climbing plants, and search behind the abbey in the woods now painted in aurora freshness. “Theresa ! Theresa !” They all called, the name resounding sullenly in the lifting mist, its echo growing fainter and fainter only to disappear without a response. “Here ! Here !” cried a sister who had been searching near the sacred source. To her frantic cries the good sisters scrambled up the path, alive to the shouts and cries near the source ; they ran as fast as their aged legs could carry them, tucking up their habits under their hempen cords, clinging to the wings of their cornets as they flapped in the crisp, cold air.

Hieing ever higher up the path, they followed the cries near the source, dipping into the hollows of the dingle, rushing as rapidly as their sandalled feet would carry them along the streamlet fringed with high reeds, tiny poppies and those pendent weeping willows. The old Abbess noted that the smooth mossy stones in the streamlet bed had been besprinkled with long streaks or large splotches of crimson red. Her emotion reached frightful peaks as she hurried onwards towards the cries …

And there, at the bank of the streamlet, the sister who had been calling and clamouring so wildly pointed a trembling finger at the lifeless, undulating body of their consœur[5], floating like a lotus amongst the sun-dappled babbling morning waters, her waxen cheeks bloodless, her limbs stiff, her stony eyes staring off into void. There arose from her watery presence an eerie peacefulness, serenity, quiescence, a presence far beyond that undulating corpse upon the sun-dappled waters of the Paillon.

All the holy sisters dropped to their knees at the banks of the streamlet and prayed. Then they dragged the water-logged body out of the stream and lay it upon the grassy bank. To their bewilderment, the moss which clung to the smooth stones and pebbles of the stream-bed, always a dull green or a rusty ochre-yellow, had become lacquer red ! Large patches of this red moss lay at the bottom of the shallow, foamy waters. The Abbess touched, pulled and scraped at the woolly crimson ; the satiny colour remained impressed in the moss. She hadn’t the faintest idea how the rusty red had not been washed away or dispersed by her fiddling with it. Was it Theresa’s blood ?

The very thought made her shudder … Daunted by this dreadful phenomena and by the death of their consœur, the Abbess ordered the holy sisters to kneel and lift their eyes to Heaven again.

The days that followed the tragic event throngs of priests, led by the Bishop of the region, inspected the place of death and the red moss. The Abbess was at a loss to explain Theresa’s act to them, but she truly believed that it was the innocent blood of the poor young sister that had ‘dyed’ the green moss red, this colour being the ‘consubstantial proof’ of the consummation of her marriage to Christ. And for this very ‘theological’ reason, her act, albeit a sinful one, the moss disavowed any attempt to be ‘washed off’ and become green again. The Abbess went on to expound that upon taking the veil, the girl had seemed so loyal to her vows, so happy to spend her life at the abbey in company with her consœurs, all the more so since her parents had died, and the aunt that had taken her in was too old to provide the orphan with a correct upbringing and education. No other enquiry followed after the Abbess’ account and the Bishop’s report …

Thus the suicide and the colouring of the moss remained a Mystery to the clergy and to the laymen of the region of Geminos[6] until the closing of the abbey in 1427.

Centuries have gone by since the mysterious event, and the great walls and halls of the Saint Pons Abbey presently lay in quiet dormancy. However, little by little, hikers, nature-lovers, botanists, geologists and the curious-minded who reside in the area of Geminos began noticing this unusual moss, even snatching little pieces of it out of the water for scientific scrutiny. The scientists were indeed at loggerheads about this chromatic colouring, and obviously scoffed at the mediaeval clergy’s ridiculous ‘dark age’ inferences of suicide and consummation, although it must be said here that after months of examination in several laboratories, those scoffing rationally-minded scientists could make neither heads nor tails of how ‘normal green’ moss could ‘become’ satine crimson red overnight …

And so the Mystery still stands today as hikers, nature-lovers, scientists and members of the clergy come to inspect, admire or simply stare in wonder at the red moss of the Abbey of Saint Pons, undulating in stoic silence beneath the crystal clear waters of the Paillon streamlet. Many indeed believe in the tragic tale of Theresa, and in the good Abbess’ hypothesis, whilst others gibe and mock, believing the isolated sisters to have been possessed by some mediaeval demon, or taken to religious zealotry after so many fastings and privations.

I for one believe in the tale as told by the good Abbess, however steeped in ‘dark age superstition’ it may appear to the scientific-minded, modern layman. Indeed, according to the regional archives, a certain sister Theresa did take the veil and did live at the abbey in the XVth century, and after several years her bloodless body was found lifeless, floating in those rolling waters of the Paillon. This being said, several historians claim that Theresa had been abducted by bandits, whose presence in the dark wooded mountains had always caused great fright to the sisters. When Theresa attempted to escape from captivity, she was killed. Just as a matter of interest, it was because of those bands of roaming bandits that the holy sisters were obliged to leave the abbey by order and mandate of the constable of the region. The Abbey, thus, was closed down never to reopen …

Whatever the ‘rational’ or ‘romantic’ reason may be, the red moss at Saint Pons Abbey attracts a growing number of the curious-minded, and has become so ‘famous’ that the Forest Rangers have given strict orders to all and sundry not to pick it out of its hallow bed. I shall not attempt to debate whether this interdiction be due to any ‘scientific’ or ‘superstitious’ prompting …

[1] A short refrain or interlude in a musical performance

[2]  The first prayer of the day in a monastery or convent.

[3]   Bonnets worn by religious sisters until the 1960s.

[4]  Dress worn by religious orders.

[5]  A community of Catholic sisters living in a convent or in a monastery. The word is of French origin.

[6]  A small village twenty or thirty kilometres from Marseilles. The abbey is located about five or six kilometres from Geminos.

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.

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Categories
Editorial

The Sky

The sky is, was and will be.

It stretches without borders, without interruptions, without contentions, unifying all under its life-giving ambience. We live nurtured by the sky, the water and the Earth. If we think back to times before humans made constructs and built walls to guard their own, to times when their ancestors roamed the Earth and moved to meet their needs, the population was not huge, and resources were abundant. Our species lived in consonance with nature. People revered natural forces and found trends that evolved into traditions and constructs which eventually made their progeny forget that the sky, water and Earth did not belong to them. These belong or perhaps exist for some reason that we do not comprehend despite the explanations given by science and religions. Being merely transient passers-by through these, humanity, unlike dinosaurs, has an urge to survive and be like the sky — with a past, present and future and a sense of the eternal. Though we all have short lives compared to the sky, Earth or universe, we continue to find ourselves in a homo centric world that considers all else to be made to meet their aspirations. But there was a time, when humans lacked this arrogance. They just tried to survive. And move with shifting rivers in an unbordered world.

Exploring such times, is Anthony Sattin’s profound book, Nomads: The Wanderers Who Shaped our World. He converses to reinforce reviving the concept of asabiyya or bonding between humans so that they find it in their hearts to move forward with necessary changes to avoid following in the footsteps of mammoths. A change maker who redefined constructs for humankind, a devdasi’s[1] daughter who rose to become a pioneering doctor and activist a hundred years ago, is Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy. We have an interview with her recent biographer, R Devika, who authored Muthulakshmi Reddy: A Trailblazer in Surgery and Women’s Rights.

The books reviewed this time include one featuring the writings by the greatest change maker in cinema — Satyajit Ray. Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Satyajit Ray Miscellany: On Life, Cinema, People & Much More while Professor Somdatta Mandal has given us a candid opinion on BM Zuhara’s The Dreams of a Mappila Girl: A Memoir, translated from Malayalam by Fehmida Zakir. Taranath Tantrik and Other Tales from the  Supernatural by Bibhutibhushan, translated from Bengali by Devalina Mookerjee brings unexplored dark mysterious forces into play and has been reviewed by Basudhara Roy. We have an excerpt from the titular stories of Tarantath Tantrik. Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay(1894-1950) was a legendary writer from Bengal. He wrote stories and novels, some of which were immortalised in cinema, such as the Apu triology by Satyajit Ray. The other book excerpt is from a translation from Kannada by an upcoming voice that needs to be heard, Maithreyi Karnoor. She has brought to the anglophone world Shrinivas Vaidya’s Handful of Sesame.

In our section on translations, we are privileged to carry voices that remain relevant to date, Tagore and Nazrul. Nazrul’s poem on poverty, Daridro, has been translated by Professor Fakrul Alam and we have a transcreation of Tagore’s inspiring lyrics (Aalo Amar Aalo) to energise one’s life with the refulgence of light. Rosy Gallace’s poetry has been translated from Italian by Albanian writer, Irma Kurti. Korean poet, Ihlwha Choi, has translated his own poem on peace for us. And a Tamil short story by S Ramakrishnan, has been rendered into English by B Chandramouli. It is an interesting potpourri as is our poetry section, which even features poetry from Iraq by Ahmad Al-Khatat. We also feature poems by Michael Burch, Kirpal Singh, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Jonathan Chan, Ron Pickett, George Freek, Gayatri Majumdar, Vandana Kumar, Mike Smith and many more along with the inimitable witty ditties of Rhys Hughes which not only make us laugh but also wonder…

Evoking humour is not easy, but we do have a few such writers who manage it very well. Hughes has given us a tongue-in-cheek piece on the dateline, which has more than humour. And Devraj Singh Kalsi has shared his discovery that laughter is the best medicine to shrug off a dentist’s drill. He has also visited the colours of Durga Puja which, with its spirit of inclusivity, transported visitors in one marquee near Kolkata to the iconic Malaysian Twin Towers. Thus, bringing festivals in October into our purview. Candice Lousia Daquin has actually explored why we celebrate festivals and the God gene… Did you know we have a biological need for spirituality?

Suzanne Kamata has introduced us to Mount Bizan, which houses a writer by the surname of Moraes – Wenceslau José de Souza de Moraes, an expat writer who lived in Japan at the turn of the twentieth century. Wonder if he could have been related to the Anglo Indian writer, Dom Moraes? Aditi Yadav has also given us an essay on the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi with its world view centred on imperfections and transience. Ravi Shankar has suggested walks for all of us, sharing his experiences in the Himalayas, the Caribbean island of Aruba and in many more places. Meredith Stephens has written of sailing to Tasmania.

The essay that brought back a flavour of home for me is one by Asad Latif, now a journalist in Singapore but long ago, he was an icon in India. We are very privileged to have his writing on what borders do for us… a piece exploring the idea on which we base our journal, also perhaps with a touch of Anthony Sattin’ s asabiyya. ‘Pandies’ Corner‘ starts another run, showcasing women’s tryst for freedom. Amreen’s ‘Moh-Reen’, her own story, translated from Hindustani by Janees, is a brave start to the series. The voices ring out asking for a change, to heal social norms to accommodate love and kindness with the backing of Shaktishalini and Pandies as does the unsupported solo voice of an older woman from Balochistan, Ganji Baloch, brought to our notice by Ali Jaan Maqsood.

We have fiction from Sohana Manzoor – again bringing to fore strange stories of women rebelling against social norms. Paul Mirabile explores death and the sea in a horrific story. Sunil Sharma’s fiction explores madness and ideators, making a social comment on recent happenings. As the sky stretches out to accommodate all kinds of writings, all creatures great and small, we try our best to give voice to a fair cross section from around the world as we have done this time too.

There are as usual pieces that we have not mentioned in this note but they are all worth a read. Do drop in to check out our contents in this October issue. We are truly grateful to our contributors who continue to connect with words and thoughts that waft along with clouds. We would like to thank Sohana Manzoor especially for her wonderful artwork. The journal would not be a possibility without the support of the whole team and our valuable readers who make writing worth the effort. It is lovely to be read and remembered for the words we write.

Wish you all a wonderful October.

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com


[1] A woman ‘married’ to Gods and forced to live as a mistress to mortal men.

Categories
Stories

The Phosphorescent Sea

By Paul Mirabile

The ship hauled anchor then glid smoothly over the placid, thick black waters. Overhead, thousands of stars studded the midnight sky. Most of the passengers chose to sleep but not Reuven, who at starboard, leaning heavily on the railing, inhaled and exhaled that nocturnal air of sea lust he nurtured, yearned and desired. Reuven had walked the decks of so many ships at night. He slept restlessly during the day. For it was at night that the treasures of the sea beckoned him with their illuminating allure, whose phosphorescent radiance touched and tugged at his heart as he attempted to pry open the lid of that still undiscovered treasure hidden unfathomed within him.

The ship rocked ever so gently as he peered into the inky depths. Deeper and deeper Reuven sought to probe, to sound, to err amongst the phantoms. But as night advanced, and the air grew cooler and he had to stop. His lungs were at the point of bursting. He gasped for air. He had failed once again, panting breathlessly. It was only the first white ray of the morning that he returned to the surface, throbbing with anguish, shivering with cold, smelling of brine.

He would have to exercise himself more strenuously, discipline his breathing rhythms, purify his heart further in order to attain … to attain what ? The un-pried trove ? The entrance to the azure cave whose lithic cavities and chambers would deliver him to the heart of his ‘Quest’ ? “But all three are One !” he murmured to the morning light. “All three are decidedly One, I’m sure of it.” He concluded.

But was he absolutely sure ? Since the nineteen-seventies how many years, how many vessels, how many dives into the oceans and seas of the world had he waited, ridden out, taken in in search of the seemingly unattainable? How many nights aboard the rocking and rolling bridges, under the brilliant or luminous less skies had he held his breath and made the vital plunge ? At times, he felt that he had ‘touched’ something : shoals of darting fish, a school of breaching dolphins, curious at this interloper, a lone blue or white whale ready to swallow him up like Jonas, yet hesitant due to the urgency of the diver’s dive downwards, and perhaps also to the oddity of such a ‘mouthful’. Once a soft, silken squid touched him with its suction-cupped tentacles. This touch sent icy chills through his body. Other odd phantoms that wiggled through the depths eyed him with their bulging, bulbous eyes rolling in their protruding orbits as they rubbed noses with him. Alas, this was the furthest he had sounded: the crushing coldness of the sea enveloped his body, and his lungs, aching, failed him once again. His lungs and his will ! This lack of intestinal fortitude and energy in overcoming the frigid deep would bring tears to his red, fatigued eyes …

“How many plunges would it then take ? How many crossings and trials ? Confrontations with the phantoms of the deep ? Were these uncanny and oftentimes terrifying creatures the guardians of the cherished trove ? Were they responsible for my lack of will … my shortage of breath … my fear of limits ? But is not the tracing of a limit a means of surmounting it ?

“I class these plunges as voyages. They are extraordinary. Extraordinary because beyond what I may call ordinary reality. For this extraordinary reason I believe my will retracts, my lungs fail, my fear reaches an acme of indescribable terror. Yet, I persevere. No treasure chest is easily discovered and its lid pried open. This knowledge I acknowledge, and in doing so, have hurried half the way by overcoming the consensus of a sole vision of reality. For I have come to understand that the treasure I have so desperately sought lies not in an ordinary vision of things, but within them, through them, over and under them. There lies the treasure I am speaking about. There in a land or space of the ‘Other Reality’,” wrote the dauntless diver in his logbook.

“And this space exists ! I have plunged into it, but have been thwarted in my attempts to reach ‘the bottom’, if that is all possible. The ‘bottom’ where lies the treasure …”

And so many years passed. Many decks paced. Many plunges plunged. Many expectancies sunk …

“It was on this particular cargo vessel as we left Southhampton for Cape Town that my efforts would prevail …or I believed would prevail. At the equator, one very still and humid night, the waters of the Atlantic were as thick as molasses, as calm as a pond in a wooded glen, as black as pitch. I leaned at the railing, quite alone at  late hours of the night. I peered down into this uncanny oceanic instant and a sentiment of great excitement crept up upon me …

“It was the instant expected : I plunged anew …

“As I slowly descended the stillness of the cool waters, the titillating sensation of my kindling blood awakened a contrast that my mind found difficult to organise. It were as if my subjective make-up, my ‘personal space’ lay exposed to the various living entities that either obstructed my way, obliging me to circumvent them, or rushed towards me as if to scrutinise this alien interloper that had trespassed their ‘personal space’. It was not an uncomfortable feeling at all, but the collision of the two ‘personal spaces’ seemed to meld into an ‘impersonal one’, drawing me now out of my self now drawing them into me. Beautiful crimson corals provided the backdrop of this alternating movement, aglow with bulbous branch tips that undulated at my approach ; its branches were aswarm with sponges, molluscs, star fish, sea urchins and sea spiders. The coral quivered and quaked under their continual agitation, a silent and stunning quavering as I passed them by, several detaching themselves to examine the diver! Yet, they kept at a reasonable distance, hardly inhospitable, even friendly, my ‘human aura’ perhaps attracting them as they slid through the myriad incandescent branches …

“I felt so relieved that these fellow creatures welcomed my presence amongst them, and I thanked them for not upsetting my rhythmic breathing as I descended. I broke through layers of soft, silent, swishy beds of seagrass of the most viridian green. Nothing stirred within them; only the strong current of waters tossed them to and fro — like the sea vessel that I had long since abandoned — or so it seemed. Here at these depths ,Time had lost its tick-tock humdrum. It had become Space.

“Gradually the waters became terribly cold. My heart was palpitating. At these inky depths, no ray of the sun penetrated. No sound, human or other, pervaded. Now the queerest of creatures swam in the wake of my vertical drop, glaring at me either through tubular eyes that swivelled or through telescopic ones with lenses. They appeared amiable, in spite of the fact that I had disturbed their environment. They meant me no harm, even a giant squid, terrifying creature, who had made a bee-line towards me, stopped a short distance away. The creature began to feel my body with the many suction cups that padded its lengthy tentacles. I imagine it was verifying whether I were friend or foe. After several minutes, it let me pass, its beady eyes encrusted in its bulbous mantle fixed on me as I drifted deeper into colder waters, waters that were compressing my body and soul more and more.

“The darkness became truly frightening. My drop slowed down as if the waters were solidifying, gripping me in some viscid, glutinous substance. An image from the past darted through my mind : it was in the Pacific, I had encountered the terrible phantom of the abyss and had skirted that danger, miraculously. All of a sudden I was shaken out of my reminiscence by many spots of soft ochre-yellow light that sluggishly trudged their way towards me : I believe they were lantern fish flashing upon their prey. They swarmed around me, training their luminous photophore organs into my face. What an unusual prey they had stumbled upon! So huge. So unappetising. So unlike their daily diet. I think I was dealing with a viperfish, whose enormous dagger-like teeth shone under the softness of its lantern organ. And there, to the left, swimming as speedily as the thickness would allow it, a humpback angelfish, an ugly beast indeed with its deadly spiked teeth ready to devour me. Both of them eyed me, until at length turned against themselves. The turbulence of the waters blurred my vision, thousands and thousands of bubbles jolted and jostled me from left to right, dragged me downwards, helplessly caught in the vortex of this bellicose maelstrom. When the tempest had abated, peace and darkness reigned once again. Regaining my composure, I ventured a peek upwards: nothing …

“Heavier and heavier my body weighed, lighter and lighter my head as I plummeted to deeper depths, quite unknown to me. I became estranged from my Self … from my human identity. I had never experienced such uncanny emotions in my former marine voyages. It were as if my body had blended into the environment, had become one with it, whereas my mind, quite lucid, refused to yield to this inhuman ‘It’. Was my body detaching itself away from my mind ? How could that be ? They are inextricably connected … or so I thought … How many hours now beneath the ocean ? How many days ? Would I have both the physical and mental strength to weather the fathomless Deep … the soundless ‘It’ ? To overcome the abyss ? To reach the treasured Depth ? Yes, I must advance wither : Had I any other chance ? It was too late to turn back … Yet I had to surface at some time …

“Ah ! Now what is this ? I’ve seen that bugger before in picture-books – the black swallower. This phantom of the deep can be a deadly adversary with its bloated, distensible belly that even swallows small whales. It’s coming straight at me and I have nothing to defend myself, only prayers, only a thought of the Absolute One whom I seek with firm resolution. And there, a blazing light burns through the thickness. Either it too is headed for me or for the charging black swallower. It’s the pelican eel that was going into battle against the other, brandishing a large photophore at the end of its tail to attract the terrible black swallower away from me. Its enormous mouth has dropped open and in a jiffy the unprepared black swallower existed no longer, gobbled up within the grinding cavity. The spot lights of the eel flashed on and off as it struggled to digest such a crude repast. All this emotion caused my heart to beat faster and faster … my chest ached and swelled. My breathing became more and more erratic, almost uncontrollable. As I witnessed these turbulent events a rather metaphysical thought crossed my mind : Are all these creatures not traces, imprints, vestiges of His Presence ? Are they not, in the chilliest depths of the deep, enigmatic signs, obscure indeed, even frightening, of my communication … no, of my communion with Him, however ugly, gruesome or hostile their appearance be to me ? They are the true signs that I am on the right road : the Royal Road …

“My eyelids no longer obeyed their nerve commands to remain on the alert. I wished to sleep. To lay down and doze off for a while … a long while. I’ve had enough. I’ve come too far and my quest has come to nothing. I long to see the light of day, to savour earthly creatures, to breathe an unsalty air.  I yearned to return to humankind. To the colours and sounds of life … Yet, I’m still alive, or at least I believe I am alive, albeit everything I touch has no feeling. A numbness has settled into my drifting body ; so light, so weary, so empty … a floating debris from an embattled, erring vessel …

“The debris floats into the crevice of a sponge-like lithic palisade. I am penetrating some sort of  grotto, drifting in an airless, soundless world, tugged along horizontally as if a strong current were tossing and rocking me gently from one wall to the other. The haze that had veiled my eyes slowly lifts, and I discern a phosphorescent glow of myriad colours. The colours played upon my sensations without disturbing the numbness that had seized my body. At last, the ‘Separate Reality’? The twilight of gleams and glimpses ? Of undulating figures or phantoms that emerge in my mind when I feel myself entwined within the fumes of sleep ?

“But I am fully awake to my novel surroundings: A purple haze has crept into this grotto, chandelier-like stalactites hang in series of threes, all perfectly symmetric in their sponge-like textures and forms. I reach out to touch them but I felt nothing, my arm balancing heavily in some sort airless vacuum. Gigantic stalagmites studded with bulging, knotty boles and prominent tumours soared high into empty chambers like frothy fairy chimneys, dripping colours of blue and green, fading fast as they penetrate the darkened upper cavities. And away I drift, billows of silken lithic walls roll by. I serpentine like a snake through this intestinal gallery, chamber to chamber, passageway to passageway, the air or water current conducting me deeper into intermittent contrasts of sapphire flush, ultramarine malachite and pall blackness. Air or water current ? My body breathes ‘normally’, although I cannot ‘feel’ the air through my nostrils or throat. Have I transcended the conditioned reality ? Have I identified myself with this unknown alienness … reached the ‘Separate Reality of the Divine One’? The Absolute One is indeed known to us naturally, but will I be able to recognise him ?

“Nothing moves: no fish, no reptiles. I myself cannot move, yet beyond the inertness of my corporality something enlightens me upon the marvels of this cavernous world. All beauty does have a sense of the physical. Alas, I am quite unable to participate ‘corporally’ in that sensation, for I possess at these very moments none. A tulle-like curtain is drawn before my eyes; but on each side of me what an enchanting view of so many enfiladed pillars, like ossified soldiers on guard duty. Are they real ? Am I dreaming them ? I must say, however, that in spite of my benumbed state, I do feel this polychromic beauty. A sort of conscious feeling of a penetration of colours and configurations that leaves trails and traces as I sail by them, or better put, as they engulf me then expel me further into the never-ending warren of passageways and chambers.

“Ah ! Wonders of wonders ! Here and there I discern mural drawings of the most exquisite artistic stamp : aurochs, bisons, horses, hands with thick thumbs, tiny ochre-coloured men shooting arrows … Perhaps these regions were inhabited by creatures like myself. Prehistoric or primitive artists carving out their visions of reality, real or imagined.

“Am I then dead to this forlorn world ? To mine ? Am I passing into the Other World ? Is this where the quest has brought me … to the end … or to the beginning ? The phosphorescence glows of melding colours: blues slipping into turquoise, greens into shades of violent. Slashing amber yellows drip into rushes of rusty reds, which in turn suddenly explode into large patches of black shutting out all until bursts of dulcet rose and bright orange bring tears to my half-closed eyes. This I sense but without a sense of being separate from it all.

“Yes, there is something eerie about this voyage, something uncommon. From one of the arched, vaulted chambers a shower of arrow-like sparks falls upon me ; yet I feel nothing. I speed through a maze of silver and gold. I circumvent a sulphurous gauze of stalagmites of the most confounding shapes: pillars whose capitals overflow with spongy tendrils and drooping pistils, sprouting mushrooms, swollen menhirs, frozen standing stones and other awesome monoliths coated with red damask, crustacean Moorish arches, spiky gold steeples and then the passage cleaves into opaque chambers, odourless, soundless, fraught with the feeling of hopelessness. From one of the greenish Moorish arches, I see a stone mouse hanging by its tail, or so it appeared, and from another, silken silvery threads of  weird waning, waxing waterfalls.

“Here, afloat, I am spinning through a wondrous world quite impervious to its smells and touches, yet moved by it as if it were sheltered within me. Sheltered by the commotion of colours and the seductive shapes, the endless erring of the same patches of pitch black, exposed to the sudden bursts of iridescent colours, I turn and turn and turn in circles ever wider.

“The momentous moment has it arrived? The Great Encounter — I mean between myself and the Absolute. No, impossible, why all this turning and turning ? Why the intermittent snatches of blackness that smother the chromatic bursts of phosphorescent hope ? Why am I not able to voice or move within the vortex of the revelation ? And the sacred trove ? Am I not worthy of it ?

“My heart bursts with melancholic joy. Pangs of glee spill out … I sense the midst of mellow musings rising like a curtain; the lid has opened, and the image of the Invisible One has come upon me … I gasp in awesome delight:  No more angry, reddening suns will henceforth set upon me…”

*

After several hours of searching the sailors finally found Reuven’s bloated body floating in the ocean. The crew and passengers had been searching for him since his disappearance on deck after midnight. The doctor aboard concluded that his lungs had burst. His body was filled with water and microscopic sea creatures.

When the cargo ship ported at Cape Town, the captain reported the incident to the police. A certain Reuven Whaler had apparently fallen overboard during their route, and not having been seen by either crew or passenger, had drowned. When the police enquired whether he might have committed suicide, the captain shrugged his shoulders. When asked about a possible murder, the good captain turned red and vehemently denied any possible attempt of murder, premeditated or not!

In spite of the captain’s affirmative disposition against any sort of mischief aboard his vessel, all the crew members and passengers were subject to long interrogations: No one was permitted to disembark for two or three days until the coroner’s inquest had been completed and delivered to the police aboard the ship. The inquest stated that the aforementioned passenger, Reuven Whaler, forty-nine years of age, had drowned by accident off the coast of Gabon. As he had no family or close relatives, no further enquiries were made.

Reuven’s death thus remained somewhat veiled in mystery. Whether his body was buried or thrown back into the sea is anyone’s guess …

Now the readers may be curious to know how is it that I have come to relate these incidents given the fact that Reuven vanished one balmy night off the coast of Africa quite alone. How is it that I can account with such precision and emotion his ‘plunge’. Fortunately I was Reuven’s cabin mate aboard that cargo vessel, and when his body was discovered, before the captain arrived to check his cabin belongings, I quickly recuperated the logbook that he had been keeping and hid it in my belongings. I do not consider it as a theft, but as a keepsake … a testimony to Reuven’s ardent quest for the Absolute.

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.

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