Categories
Editorial

Catch a Falling Star…

Art by Sohana Manzoor
For when your troubles starting multiplying
And they just might
It's easy to forget them without trying
With just a pocketful of starlight

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Never let it fade away (never let it fade away)
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day

'Catch a Falling Star' by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss

Perhaps, it is time to find that fallen star popularised by pop singer Perry Como is 1957. Optimism glimmers faintly, sometimes even conceals itself, in a world passing through a dark phase in history. For instance, few of us would know that we might find more answers to tackle  climate change as dinosaur fossils (from the time an asteroid hit the planet) have been unearthed recently. That sounds like solutions can be had to what was perceived as inevitable doom.

Another bit of news that perhaps will cheer some is the first anthology of Borderless Journal will soon be available in market. It has been accepted by a publisher, an old, trusted and reputed name from India, Om Books International. They have bookshops splattered all over — should make it easy for buyers to access the book. Hopefully, you can target the anthology for your Diwali or Christmas gift hampers. Om Books has one of the most iconic editors-in chief, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri. A multiple award-winning editor, he has worked in Penguin and Harper Collins and is currently churning out wonderful books from Om with a fabulous production team, working with whom has been a pleasure. Ray Chaudhuri is an outstanding film writer and poet. He is part of a group that is creating a film archive online. To know more about him or his views on publishing, you can read our online conversation with him.

The energy one gets from optimism like starlight from a fallen star, lightens the darker shadows that create gloom with the war leading to rise in prices and threats of recession in a post pandemic scenario. Lesya Bakun, the refugee from Ukraine whose story we carried last month, finds her starlight by sharing updates of her story.  She added to her narrative with the news that her cousin has been taken as a prisoner of war by Russia from the besieged factory in Ukraine. Though sharing does not alleviate suffering, Bakun’s ability to cling to hope and imagine a future where she gets her dream highlights the strength of her convictions. The other thing that is revealed by her narrative and media coverage is exclusivity and boxes of ideology split humankind, erase families, cities, countries, lives and sanity. The war can appease only the lust of warlords. Against this desolation caused by the devastation, what could be the starlight that would lead to a happier future?

Laughter. Unleashing the ability to laugh at oneself is as potent as laughter that generates relief and lightens our mood, so that we can view differences as whimsical, treat them with tolerance and compassion and not destroy the diversities that add colours to the world. Perhaps, that is why Tagore took to humour too. Somdatta Mandal has translated a series of humorous skits by Tagore. We are featuring one of these called the ‘Ordeal of Fame’. Yet another translation or transcreation of a poem called ‘Lukochuri’ or ‘Hide and Seek’ reflects the playful in Tagore’s oeuvre. These, along with Rhys Hughes humour on the pandemic in poetry and prose, bring good cheer into our journal. Hughes has also used his column to tell us why he curated a new humorous anthology of verses by seventeen poets called Wuxing Lyrical. I wonder if he is serious or joking!

We were fortunate to have a tongue-in-cheek online discussion with an academic with a witty sense of humour who started a book based on his PhD research with a limerick, Amit Ranjan, author of John Lang the Wanderer of Hindoostan, Slanderer in Hindoostan, Lawyer for the Ranee. While Ranjan brought to us a narrative of an Australian who challenged the colonial mindset, went to court representing the Rani of Jhansi, wrote for Charles Dickens in Household Words and moved around the world just like one of us, hopping jobs and looking for a life, we have diverse cultural streams woven into the journal with translations of a Balochi folktale from Fazal Baloch, a Korean poem by Ihlwha Choi and Professor Fakrul Alam’s translation of Jibananda’s poetry, an ongoing project in Borderless.

The Nithari column has yielded us a story that was written in a mix of Hindi and English by Yogesh Uniyal and translated fully to English by Nirbhay Bhogal. We have strange stories this time. Nileena Sunil’s short narrative and Paul Mirabile’s longer one set in Madrid explore the unusual. More stories delve into the intricacies of the human mind.

As we trot around the globe, Suzanne Kamata tells us about a Monet museum in Japan where she ate madeleines made with the artist’s recipe! Meredith Stephens sails to Tasmania with her camera and gives us a glimpse of nature’s plenty. Ravi Shankar relates his trekking adventures among the Himalayas in Nepal, with awesome photographs of these mountains, while Kenny Peavy who lives in Indonesia dwells on the value of falling down and getting up in a light humorous vein against the backdrop of nature – though metaphorically perhaps the world needs to do that. We have G Venkatesh’s story about his stay in Johannesburg where he discovers that skin tones do not matter.

Ratnottama Sengupta makes the whole world look like a home with the story of a legendary screenwriter, Jean Claude Carriere, who wrote the script of Mahabharata for Peter Brook’s play (1985) of the same name and the subsequent film (1989) — with characters drawn from all over the world. Candice gives us an overview of the pandemic, with more focus on US where she lives.

Mike Smith travels back to another time when an ailment called World War II raged and has revived a writer from the past, HE Bates (1905-1974). We have another essay by Dan Meloche on a legendary book which turned 100 this year — Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. Rakhi Dalal revisits more than a century old translation by Devabrata Mukherjee of Tagore’s The Post Office which bears relevance to the present day as it shows how the human spirit endures over even the darkness of death.

Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Radhika Gupta’s Limitless: The Power of Unlocking Your True Potential, by his assessment a book that inspires youngsters to take charge of their future. On the other hand, there are books that explore the darkest in humans. Basudhara Roy has reviewed a collection short stories by Sunil Sharma called Burn the Library & Other Fiction. Indrashish Banerjee reviews Upamanyu Chatterjee’s latest novel based on modern day crimes, Villainy, from which we are carrying a book excerpt too. The other excerpt is from a narrative written from a refugee’s perspective, Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die, translated by Isis Nusair from Arabic. Born in a refugee camp in Damascus, this Syrian-Palestinian poet defies all genres to touch hearts with brutal honesty. No less sincere is Michael Burch’s poetry on summer that ushers in the season as much as Sohana’s beautiful painting that we are using as our cover photo. We have poetry from not just Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri but also by George Freek, S. Srinivas, Tohm Bakelas, Abin Chakraborty, Marianne Tefft and many more. As usual, I have not mentioned all the treats in store for you. Delve into our contents page and browse to find out more.

Before winding up, I would want to extend my thanks not only to our team and contributors, but also to our publisher who is willing to republish our content with some tweaking. Thanks to our readers who, I hope, will be excited to have selected content between their palms as a hardcopy anthology with 49 of our most iconic pieces. We have more than a thousand published works. This anthology will be an iconic sample that you can carry anywhere with you even if there is no internet – that would include Mars and Moon!

I wish you happy reading, happy dreaming and hope… plenty of it.

Best wishes,

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

Categories
Stories

Ants

By Paul Mirabile

My flat is very small and unhealthy: a roach-infested kitchen and bath, a stuffy dining room and bedroom. And I must admit that I made no particular effort to remedy this unhealthiness. Because there is no heating system, in the winters I board up the tiny windows that are found above my bedroom and those in the dining room. This may appear primitive, but I do live on the fifth floor where cold winds blast frosty air through flimsy boards. It goes without saying that I freeze during the winter. With the arrival of spring, though, I remove the boards and replace them with wax curtains so as to keep the insects out. They build their nests on top of the roof. In the kitchen there is a skylight, square and tiny, the brittle glass of which I had the misfortune of breaking some time ago. I haven’t either the skill or the pecuniary means to repair it. This broken skylight had been constantly on my mind because of those huge nests atop the roof. I indeed could have mustered up the money, but … you know how people get when their existence is reduced to tiny cubicles and thoughts ?

Not long ago I left town for a short stay near the sea. The weather had been exceedingly hot, and my flat was like an oven. The square below was filled with sultry, polluted air, with noisy gypsies hawking and haggling. My pleasant little holiday terminated horribly as soon as I stepped into my flat : the kitchen, stifling, was crawling thick with black ants ! I was beside myself. There were streams of them forming enormous black, billowing pools on the unclean white-tiled walls. I puked on them for I have detested these ever since I had buried live ants as a child, relishing the sensation of their tomb in the midst of hard-packed humus, suffused with dampness and pervaded by silence. I often wondered whether this sentiment was mine or theirs ?

The mere sight, now, of one or two made me break into a cold sweat; and here, before me scampered millions, fat and juicy. I ran to the bath grabbing a mop and bucket. Pouring alcohol into the soapy water, I set to work crushing them on the white-tiled floor, knocking them off the white-tiled walls and ceiling. The toil seemed endless, yet, as time went by, the mass slaughter gave me a sort of perverted delight ; an abnormal sensation of power, divine and unholy at the same time. Toppling the darting beasts from the walls, I sent them hurtling to a watery death. The strong smelling alcohol caused them to shrivel up into tiny black balls. I finished off many by simply crushing them between my fingers or under my bloody heels. Two hours later there were none left on the wall to tell their disheartening tale …

Exhausted, I owed their hideous trespassing to the broken skylight, and vowed to replace it in the morning. And still I hadn’t unpacked … That would be left for the morning ; for now, I needed a good, sound sleep. Yet the heat that evening was unbearable. I threw myself onto the bed, trying to forget the images and those disgusting ants. No use, I couldn’t drive them out of my strung-up mind. The sheets were soaked in perspiration. I tossed them off, wiping the sweat from my face and arms with them. The bedroom stank of sweat so I got up and staggered into the kitchen to splash some water on my body. When I switched on the light a terrible sight made me fall back into the kitchen table : the walls heaved and throbbed with myriads of black and red ants which were making their way through the skylight. Many of them were huge. They swarmed round my feet, naked and exposed to their scrabbling, biting and scratching. Involuntarily I let out a scream and ran back to fetch my trusty mop. I would have to begin the whole gory operation again …

Returning to the amok beasts, I took up the mop, smashing the filthy creatures against the walls and floor, picking them out of the fissures and cracks, wrenching them out of corner and nook. It seemed as if I were fighting for my life ! Alas the battling brutes out-numbered me ; little by little my strength wanned as the colonies gained the cracks throughout the kitchen walls, filling them until the plaster broke and crumbled down. They dived into my hair, swiftly seeking the orbits of my eyes. Falling to my knees … I awoke …

It had been an evil nightmare ! Were the black beasts coming back to torment me after so many years of burials and extermination ? The wall-clock chimed three ; My mind raced and body ached. And the darkness of my chamber offered no consolation, nor the oppressiveness of the heat. I dared not walk into the kitchen although my throat, parched and swollen, yearned for a glass of cool water. The nightmare had turned the beads of sweat into icy droplets : would this bed-chamber be my tomb ? And yet … yet, the temptation gnawed at me. Yes, enter the kitchen, see whether it had all been a nasty nightmare, or reality, or something in between. Yes, my little coffin in which I had passed much of my existence. I laughed aloud, then louder. Speedy thoughts formed icicles in and round my soul. For I did believe in the soul : wasn’t that the very reason I had buried those ants alive ? 

However, the clammy heat kept me riveted to the bed. Laying back, I suddenly detected slight noises coming from the door which led into the narrow, yellowed peeling wall-papered hallway. I listened … and listened with greater intensity, steadily growing conscious that something was alive in the room. Frozen to the bed, I listened even more attentively, carefully, so as not to disturb this pulsating thing.

Finally, plucking up courage, I flung myself out of bed and darted to the door. I noted a foul smell reeking from the hallway ; the scent of the dead ? Flicking on the light a jolt threw me back in horror : millions … no billions of ants were smothering two half-dead mice, dragging the screeching rodents across the threshold of my room. And there inside it, I had nothing to kill them with ! The screeching of the half-gnawed mice drove me mad ; strange, too, were the indescribable crunching sounds that elicited from the open-mouthed rodents. I soon realised that this was no nightmare. However, I couldn’t be sure whether the mice were dead or still fighting off the floods of ants with the last flickers of their unfortunate lives.

I grabbed a chair and squashed them at my feet, attempting to clear a path to the kitchen. The mop was my only salvation, since that of the mice could no longer be redeemed. But what would the kitchen look like ? I was trapped. Nonetheless, I put on my shoes that were still stained with the blood of the black beasts, and made a bee-line towards the sacred door. Those ant nests must have been immense ; the walls, floor and ceiling had been blackened by them, caked, dense and throbbing …

The door loomed in sight, albeit it swelled in a tidal wave movement of heaving, pulsating ants : clinging, swirling, skirling, raging … They fell upon me like wrathful wasps whose nests had been discovered and disrupted.

They fell upon me I say, hordes of them racing up my naked legs. Yet, I couldn’t budge; I tried to inch forward but my feet wouldn’t move. They were attacking my face and hair now as I crawled closer and closer to the oscillating door. I started to scream for help; yet, who would have come to my succour ? Thoughts of the half-eaten mice suddenly flooded my mind ; they were probably dead by now, buried beneath a layer of ants, like the ants I had buried, beneath layers of dun soil ! I imagined an ant-hill at a time when pirates would bury their sad prisoners up to their necks in them, waiting until the disturbed red killers chewed through the eyes of their screaming interlopers. I reached for the door-knob ; something held me back, an evil, insalubrious odour that stealthily began to suffocate me. My breath became shorter and shorter, and when I managed to gasp for breath a billow of soft, mushy, black flooded into my open mouth … I sat up screaming in bed …

Like a lunatic I paced back and forth in that death chamber. All I asked for was to sleep. But the ants … I placed my ear to the moist floor boards … there was no sound. Cautiously I moved through the narrow hallway, my fingers touching ever so tenaciously the viscous, soiled paper, probing each and every crevice and crack. I couldn’t, however, bring myself to switch on the light, thus there I remained in the dark, a man afraid to exit from his own shelter. Would they bury me alive in this earthy niche ? Into the kitchen I ventured still in absolute darkness. I stooped down to touch the floor : nothing, absolutely nothing. I laughed a rather hysterical laugh. The floor was somewhat wet from my mopping. I did indeed mop then ! I slipped and slid about, so happy about this nothing … this absolutely nothing. So thrilled about this … that …

Suddenly the phone rang. At this hour of the night ? I sat up listening … listening … it suddenly stopped, as abruptly as that ! Then there was a knock at the door … I sat up listening … listening … It too stopped, as abruptly as that ! As I lay back, the flat echoed with various breathing sounds : they would come and go, like the ringing and the knocking. The phone rang … no one. A knock drilled … no one. Gradually an inky blackness crept over my still, stiffened body until the rim of a faint light allowed me to peer into the hallway where billions of soldier ants were busy bearing the burden of their dead …

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

Categories
Contents

Borderless April, 2022

Art by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

For the People, Of the People, By the People Click here to read.

Ukrainian Refrains

In A Voice from Kharkiv: A Refugee in her Own Country, Lesya Bukan relates her journey out of Ukraine as a refugee and the need for the resistance. Click here to read.

Refugee in my Own Country/ I am Ukraine Poetry by Lesya Bukan of Ukraine. Click here to read.

Translations

Ananto Prem (Endless Love) by Tagore, translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Playlets by Rabindranath Tagore reveal the lighter side of the poet. They have been translated from Bengali by Somdatta Mandal. Click here to read.

The Faithful Wife, a folktale translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Leafless Trees, poetry and translation from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Ebar Phirao More (Take me Back) by Tagore, translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Pandies’ Corner

These narratives are written by youngsters from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. Will to be Human is based on a real life story by Sachin Sharma, translated from Hindustani by Diksha Lamba. Click here to read.

Interviews

In When a Hobo in a Fedora Hat Breathes Tolkien…, Strider Marcus Jones, a poet and the editor of Lothlorien Journal, talks of poetry, pacifism and his utopia or Lothlorien. Click here to read.

In Why We Need Stories, Keith Lyons converses with Ivy Ngeow, author and editor of a recent anthology of Asian writing. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Michael R Burch, Mini Babu, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozabal, Anjali V Raj, George Freek, Ashok Suri, Ron Pickett, Sutputra Radheye, Dr Kisholoy Roy, David Francis, J.D. Koikoibo, Sybil Pretious, Apphia Ruth D’souza, Rhys Hughes

Nature’s Musings

In Studies in Blue and White, Penny Wilkes gives us a feast of bird and ocean photography along with poetry. Click here to read and savour the photographs.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In My Favourite Poem, Rhys Hughes discloses a secret. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Getting My Nemesis

Erwin Coombs laces his cat’s story with humour. Click here to read.

A Writer’s Pickle

Adnan Zaidi has analysed his poetic abilities with tongue-in-cheek comments. Click here to write.

Great Work…Keep Going!

G. Venkatesh looks at the ability to find silver linings in dark clouds through the medium of his experiences as a cricketeer and more. Click here to write.

Cycling for my Life

What can be more scary and life-threatening than the risk of getting Covid-19? Keith Lyons finds how his daily joy has menacing dangers. Click here to read.

Musings of the Copywriter

In When Books have Wings, Devraj Singh Kalsi talks of books that disappear from one book shelf to reappear in someone’s else’s shelf. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Owls in Ginza, Suzanne Kamata takes us to visit an Owl Cafe. Click here to read.

Mission Earth

In No Adults Allowed!, Kenny Peavy gives a light hearted rendition in praise boredom and interaction with nature. Click here to read.

Stories

Chameleon Boy

Kieran Martin gives a short fiction woven with shades of nature. Click here to read.

The Circle

Sutputra Radheye narrates a poignant story about love and loss. Click here to read.

Before the Sun Goes Down

Amjad Ali Malik gives us a strange tale of flatmates. Click here to read.

The Agent

Paul Mirabile takes us to Nisa, Portugal, with his narrative. Click here to read.

The Rebel Sardar

Devraj Singh Kalsi has written of how one man’s protest impacts a whole community. Click here to read.

Essays

Beg Your Pardon

Ratnottama Sengupta explores beggary in fact, films and fiction. Click here to read.

A Tasmanian Adventure: Bushwhacking in East Pillinger

A photo-essay set in Tasmania by Meredith Stephens. Click here to read.

The Call of the Himalayas

P Ravi Shankar takes us on a trek to the Himalayas in Nepal and a viewing of Annapurna peak with a narrative dipped in history and photographs of his lived experience. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In A Bouquet of Retorts, Candice Louisa Daquin discusses the impact of changes in linguistic expressions. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from a fast-paced novel set in Mumbai, Half-Blood by Pronoti Datta. Click here to read.

An excerpt from a Malaysian anthology, The Year of the Rat and Other Poems edited by Malachi Edwin Vethamani. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Rakhi Dalal reviews Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die, translated by Isis Nusair, edited by Levi Thompson. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews Iskendar Pala’s Tulip of Istanbul, translated from Turkish by Ruth Whitehouse. Click here to read.

Candice Louisa Daquin reviews Marjorie Maddox’s poetry collection, Begin with a Question. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Kiran Manral’s Rising: 30 Women Who Changed India. Click here to read.

Tagore Anniversary Special

Click here to read.

Categories
Editorial

For the People, Of the People, By the People

Painting by Gita Viswanath
"I wish you survival, 
Health
And the closed sky above you."

— Refugee in my own Country/I am Ukraine, Lesya Bakun

Despite this being the season of multiple new years around Asia, we cannot close our eyes to the skies that connect all the world like a blue dome. Though celebrations and humour continue to lighten the darkness of war, while Ukraine is being wrecked, can we turn our faces towards only festivities?

I had an interesting anecdote about how before the onset of the Gregorian calendar, new years in the world were celebrated around March and in some places in September. The Earth would turn fecund and green with spring, a beautiful season sprinkled with love and nostalgia as Michael R Burch tells us in his poetry. However, despite all the opulence of nature, it is hard to watch a country being bombed and families splintered to man a war that supposedly guards a human construct called ideology and blocs. Ukranian refugee, Lesya Bakun, in an interview says: “It is not a clash of ideologies. It is a fight for our country and nation to exist.” Listening to Lesya’s stories makes one amazed at the bravery of the Ukrainians battling what seems to be cultural hegemony. It reminds of the war in Bangladesh in 1971. Though incredibly courageous in voicing her experiences, Lesya is traumatised and has a psychosomatic cough as she sends her voice and text messages from her mobile through Telegram. There were times when she was just weeping or angry for the questions asked, and justifiably so, as her home in Kharkiv, where she lived was under attack, and the town of Mariupol, where she was born, has been wrecked by the war.

The refrain of the pain of a refugee continues to reverberate in a book reviewed by Rakhi Dalal, Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die, written originally in Arabic and translated by Isis Nusair. The Syrian-Palestinian poet refused to clarify whether his writing was prose or poetry — perhaps these borders and boxes drawn by humankind are breaking down in reality. Perhaps, this new year, the time is ripe to look forward to a new world that transcends these borders. This is also the first time we have had the privilege of carrying reviews of translations from Arabic and also from Turkish. Gracy Samjetsabam has reviewed a translation of a Turkish novel by Iskendar Pala called The Tulip of Istanbul, translated by Ruth Whitehouse. Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed a book by Kiran Manral, Rising: 30 Women Who Changed India while Candice Louisa Daquin has drawn our focus on a poetry collection by Marjorie Maddox, Begin with a Question, where the perceived divisions do not matter while the poet questions the larger issue of faith in quest of answers.

Is it the same kind of quest that has led Strider Marcus Jones to create the Lothlorien Journal, named reminiscently after Tolkien’s elvish ‘Lothlorien’ in Lord of the Rings? Find out Jones’s views and flow with his fluid poetry in the featured interview. Keith Lyons has been in conversation with Ivy Ngeow, an upcoming writer and the editor of a recent anthology of Asian writing where she has retained different styles of English across the world in a single book. While this could be beneficial to writers, would readers be comfortable reading stories with different styles or dialects of English without a glossary?

Our book excerpts are from more Asian books.  The Year of the Rat and Other Poems edited by Malachi Edwin Vethamani has an interesting title poem which has been shared in the excerpt. The other excerpt is from a fast-paced novel, Half-Blood, by Pronoti Datta. We also have a fast-paced story by a writer from France called Paul Mirabile set in Portugal; two that verge on the bizarre from Keiran Martin and Amjad Ali Malik; a poignant story from Sutputra Radheye and another that shows the positive side of voicing a protest against wrongs by Devraj Singh Kalsi. Kalsi has also given us a tongue in cheek musing called When Books have Wings.

On the lighter vein are travel essays by Ravi Shankar and Meredith Stephens. They take us to the Himalayas in Nepal and to Tasmania! Suzanne Kamata has taken us to an owl cafe in Japan! At the end of her column, one feels sad for the owls as opposed to Erwin Coombs’ narrative that evokes laughter with his much-loved pet cat’s antics.

Humour is evoked by G. Venkatesh who with an ability to find silver linings in dark clouds talks of cricket and lessons learnt from missing his school bus. Adnan Zaidi has also analysed his poetic abilities with tongue-in-cheek comments. Kenny Peavy gives a lighthearted rendition in praise of boredom and interactions with nature. It is good to have laughter to combat the darkness of the current times, to give us energy to transcend our grief. Keith Lyons hovers on the track between humour and non-humour with his cycling adventures. Rhys Hughes seems to talk of both his favourite poem and the war in a lighter shades, in no way insensitive but his observations make us wonder at the sanity of war. We have much of war poetry by a number of writers, poetry on varied issues by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozabal, George Freek, Sybil Pretious, Kisholoy Roy, J.D. Koikoibo and many more.

Candice Louisa Daquin has taken on the onus of bringing to our notice how language can impact us in the long run while Ratnottama Sengupta has explored beggary in films, fiction and fact. The Nithari column runs a real-life story of a young boy narrated by his brother, Sachin Sharma. It has been translated from Hindustani by Diksha Lamba. The trauma faced in 2006 is strangely not discussed in the story though it hovers in the backdrop between the lines. We also have a translation of a Balochi folk story by Fazal Baloch and a Korean poem by Ihlwha Choi. Translations from Tagore by Fakrul Alam and Somdatta Mandal have honoured our pages again. Mandal has sent us fun-filled skits by Tagore. But are they just fun or is there something more? We also have a translation of a long poem that explores a different aspect of Tagore, his empathy for the downtrodden which led him to create Sriniketan and regard it as his ‘life work’.

We have a bumper issue this time again — especially for the Asian new years; Thai, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, multiple Indian and more…

We would like to thank Sohana Manzoor for our cover painting and Gita Viswanath for her artwork. I would like to thank our wonderful team who with their contributions make this journal a reality. All the contributors deserve a huge thanks as do our loyal readers.

I wish you all a wonderful start to a non-Gregorian new year and hope that peace prevails over parts torn by wars and dissensions.

Thank you all!

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

Categories
Stories

The Agent

By Paul Mirabile

Nisa, Portugal. Courtesy: Creative Commons

  “ … And do you think our present government is meeting the demands of its people ?” spouted the Spokesman Doctor, chairman of the Portuguese Communist Party Delegation in Nisa. Seated in a squalid, fly-laden café, he directed his poignant words towards a group of glassy-eyed villagers, seemingly rather perplexed at such a display of political pathos. He had been at it now for at least two hours.

A dusty gust of wind and shuffling of feet directed the villagers’ languid attention to the doorway. Long strips of coloured plastic peevishly scraped against one another. Someone stepped in : a young man, well-to-do, by his appearance, obviously not from Nisa. He side-stepped a dozing dwarf, making his way to the counter. All glassy eyes fell on the stranger.

 “You never answer questions,” the Spokesman Doctor said, turning on the villagers coldly, although keeping a watchful eye on the stranger at the counter. “All of you, how long are you going to sit here swallowing insult and humiliation ? You can’t live on olives and bread alone. Look at our land … where are the tractors ? Where’s the money from America ?” There was no reply to those beseeching questions, only the slight chuckling of the stranger, who leaned gingerly at the bar sipping a coffee.

 “You’d rather live then without running water and electricity ?” the Doctor spat out, staring hard at the stranger, who stared back at the Doctor even harder. “And still you don’t understand my questions.” One skinny, toothless fellow made some effort to amuse the Spokesman Doctor, but only succeeded in ordering another cup of coffee. The stranger broke into a wide grin. All eyes peered at him from yellow, sunken sockets. He broke the frosty silence by asking in the most delicious courtesy, but in the most atrocious Portuguese, for a glass of iced lemonade.

The unexpected appearance of this stranger brought whispered comments from the villagers. The Spokesman Doctor’s wiry face eyed the stranger with suspicion. He set aside his cup of coffee. A fly aimlessly found itself inside the sugar-coated rim of the cup where it remained until the Spokesman Doctor swished it disdainfully away.

“Are you Portuguese ?” he asked, rhetorically, with a slight accent of irony. The young man turned to him and answered in his choppy Portuguese that he was not, adding a few instants later that he was an American on visit to a friend whom he works with in France. This last phrase was declared in excellent French, something which surprised many of the villagers, most of whom had worked in France for years. The most astounded, however, was the Spokesman Doctor.

“So you have a friend in Nisa ?”

 “Yes I do,” returned the American, catching a note of doubt in the Doctor’s authoritative tone.

 “Who is this friend of yours ?”

“Domingo Flaco, but he’s still in France just now. I think he’s on his way, or at least he should be. I’m not certain ; he wrote me some time ago.”

“Do you still have the letter ?”

The American searched the Doctor’s tiny, black eyes, twitching nervously in their sockets.“No, am I supposed to have it ?”  the other retorted dully.

The lanky American’s easy flow of speech and command of French relieved some of the villagers’ mistrustful thoughts, thoughts put there by the Doctor’s obsessional fear of alien spies in the mountain villages. Domingo’s name set the villagers at ease, but the Doctor remained on his guard, shifting irritably about the table, playing mindlessly with his empty cup of coffee. Another fly, finding itself helplessly stuck in the grounds of the coffee, the Doctor savagely crushed it with his thumb. He seemed to sense something foul ; something amiss, even insalubrious in this clean-cut American who spoke excellent French. Domingo indeed did live in Nisa, that was an undeniable fact. But what would an American be doing with Domingo … a poor mountain peasant who had immigrated to France, and there was presently working on a wine farm ? This relation had no logical link to it, or if it did, it completely escaped his wits. A well-to-do American visiting a peasant in the poverty of Portugal concealed a reason that his imagination could not fathom.

The Spokesman Doctor fell on his prey like a lion : “Does anyone know him ?” he asked the villagers in Portuguese. There followed a long pause. During that pause the American ordered another lemonade, quite unaware that he had become the topic of discussion. Nonchalantly he drained his glass, eyeing the assembly curiously. Again a jumble of words struck him oddly. The cold lemonade contrasted sharply with the heat that had been accumulating around him.

“Do you know this American ?” asked the Spokesman Doctor again, but this time addressing the veiny-face villager behind the counter.

 “I think he does work with Domi,” he responded, wiping the counter for about the hundredth time which scattered the vexatious flies.

 “No, I don’t think he does work with Domingo,” rallied the Doctor hurriedly. “I saw him handing out Jesus Christ leaflets yesterday. He was haranguing people for money. Then he went from bar to bar asking questions. Where’s your papers, American ?” The Doctor shot a fiery glance at the young man, who for one, was relieved that this man had finally spoken to him directly, and in French.

“What papers ?” he inquired. The Spokesman Doctor laughed haughtily. The others followed, but with more restraint. The Doctor now felt he had hit the nail on the head. His ‘people’ were with him, as always. “Come on, we want to see your papers. I saw you yesterday handing out Jesus Christ leaflets to people in the streets.”

The American wiped the sweat off his forehead, intrigued more by the use of ‘we’ than by the accusation. “What the hell are you talking about ?” replied the American, crimsoning under the glow of a dozen eyes.

“Are you a Communist ?” rifled the Doctor. The American nodded in the negative, taken aback by the bluntness of the question.

“Are you then a Capitalist ?” Again the same negative nod.

 “Then you are nothing but an evangelizing parasite !” A pasty smile flitted across his lips. The American breathed deeply, moving a trembling finger across the counter. He couldn’t think of anything to say to defend himself ; all this seemed utter nonsense.

“Where are your papers ?” asked the Spokesman Doctor cloyingly.

 “What in God’s name are you raving about, man ?” fired the American, stepping back, the enraged flies skirling about his red, sweaty face.

Again the Doctor smiled, slowly pushing his way towards the circle of villagers round the counter.

“Do you know about the CIA here in Portugal ?”

This question frightened the stranger. He brushed his flaky blond hair from his forehead, then threw the villagers a bewildering look. “Should l know about it ?” he retorted, involuntarily shifting his right foot towards the swaying, plastic strips of the doorway.

Suddenly a man shouted out coarsely : “No Doctor, he does work with Domi in France. I saw him there six months ago when I visited my cousin in Beaune.”

“No !” brayed the Spokesman Doctor vehemently. “I tell you I saw him yesterday handing out  Jesus Christ leaflets. You know, there’s lots of those people in Portugal today, mostly Americans, too … you know, with the elections coming up … Look what happened before the last elections … the same thing, American agents running about the countryside posing as people of the Jesus Christ Movement.” This last statement was met by incredulous glances from the villagers. They all acknowledged the Doctor as a grand man, politically astute and well-read, but a doubt reigned over their blurry, uneducated minds. And yet, it was true: an American in Nisa posed a problem, and raised a mystery that none, at least in that hot and illiterate café, could unravel.

“You know a lot about many things, don’t you ?”enquired the Spokesman Doctor, ingratiatingly. This time the subject of conversation did not deign to reply. The Doctor scoffed at this show of pretense. “I don’t know American, but I saw you yesterday going from café to café with those dirty leaflets in your hands. There’s something about you I can’t understand. I know you speak excellent Portuguese, too.” With this ‘compliment’, if it may be considered as one, the American lifted an enigmatic eyebrow.

“There’s a lot of CIA activity in this area round election time,” continued the Doctor with his pasty smile. “Communism is very strong in our villages. Look around you … everything is falling apart in our villages. Americans are to blame for the poverty of our country.”

 “Not Americans,” blared out the young man beside himself. “The …”

 “No !” screamed the other louder than his rival. “I don’t want to listen to your sweet, poisoned words. Laughing, he turned away to speak quietly to his people.”

Many words darted in and round the savage, swirling flies, words which the American was at a loss to comprehend. He could have left, the way was clear to the door. But he remained adamant in his right to be in that café and drink coffee with the villagers. No proxy lout of a Communist courtier would eject him from that public place. Then a strange sensation crept up on him : everyone appeared to have come to some sort of resolution … verdict would be a better word … As if he had been accused of some crime. He saw the jury to his right … then the judge, to his left, a dark man, sporting a moustache with a horrible pasty smile.

“We have found the accused guilty,” came a hushed, indescribable voice. A wave of panic seized the accused.

“Guilty … guilty of what ?” The sad, sunken eyes of the jury hung suspended in the air. The flies, too, seemed to have adjourned their monotonous gyrating. The eyes of the judge were laughing at him, as a sickly moustache inched its black way into the left corner of his mouth.

— Has everyone gone crazy ? the American thought. –An innocent man has been falsely accused. Yes, something is very wrong here. How could this have happened ? I only came in for a cup of coffee ! Really I did … — These inner pleadings hammered at his temples, hot and pulsating. Was it real ? –To the doorway– were his next whispered words. –Must escape before they trap me in here.– The American rushed towards the doorway but scraping feet forced him to swing his shoulder to the left. –It’s not true … they’re on me. For what ? — A knotty fist shot out. He blocked it with his forearm. Then another which again he easily countered. –They’re all crazy … really crazy, — a tiny voice within him admonished.

He wanted to speak aloud but his voice found no chamber to echo his confused thoughts. Something cracked in his mouth; blood filled the spaces between his teeth. He stumbled back, catching hold of the counter. Turning, he faced his judge, and in an instant of crystal clarity he caught sight of a dull, metal object in his hairy hand. A flame tore through his belly. He grabbed at it … fingered it … found clots of blood smeared on it.

“What have you done ?” he managed to spit out in a flow of blood, his eyesight gradually fading into an empty space behind his head.

The American crumbled to his side, still conscious of his surroundings. A face slid across his sight, that of a moustached man, smiling a very pasty, wicked smile. A glibly voice nettled what remained of his pride. “That will be all for you,” said the pasty, wicked smile.

And it was true what that smile said. For the young man moaned aloud, then lay still. Everyone rose and left the café …

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.