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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
Stories

Mercy

P.F.Mathews

Story by P. F. Mathews, translated from Malayalam by Ram Anantharaman

An appooppan thaadi[1] slowly swaying and dancing along in the wind, drifting gently up and down, entered the bedroom through the window and landed on the waterbed, and is lying flat and squeezed over there, as if it were trying to tell ‘I’m overfatigued’. Actually, it should not be called appooppan thaadi, it should be ammoomma thaadi[2] instead. The white chatta and mundu[3] worn in the ancient Syrian Christian style with fanfold pleats at the back and madisheela[4] at the front remained as is, without even getting wrinkled a bit. As the mekka mothiram[5] had been removed, the large holes in the ears have begun to close. Esther combed and tied the silver hair that lay spread over the pure white pillow. Now she has to bathe by softly wiping the entire body with scented cloth. When the younger son from Canada comes on video call at half past eleven, the ninety-two-year-old grandma has to appear as pretty as Our Lady of Lourdes. Neighbours and the parish people used to call her ‘pretty grandma’ always. Everything around grandma was beautiful and fragrant. Those days, at the end of qurbana, as she rose up from her seat wearing chatta and mundu and a scarf pinned with a butterfly-like brooch and walked towards altar to receive the sacramental bread, the entire church used to swoon over the fragrance of Eau de Cologne. Grandma retained that sense of beauty in every aspect even after getting bed ridden, until her speech was lost.

Grandma used to always celebrate her birthdays by preparing and serving payasam[6]. However, her ninety second birthday passed by without having even a speck of sugar. It was an order from Canada. That innocent son from Canada was afraid that the thought of how old she has become might blow away the ammoomma thaadi to death. Martha Mariam, the grandma, has been bedridden for six years; her tongue stopped functioning six months ago. Even her memory might have failed. The rest of her children and grandchildren who visited once in a while to please her younger son, after entering her room and closing the door, would recollect her lapses and flaws of olden times and deride her. During such occasions, Esther who had been employed to take care of grandma, would not have eyes, ears and tongue. Nevertheless, while listening to the cruel words those wicked gang spoke, she would tell herself: My dear Holy Mother, please open grandma’s ears just for a while so that she could hear all the filth these people are saying.

“What for, my dear?” Mother would ask.

“So that when ammoomma returns to life, she could take revenge on each and every one of them…”

“Oh… why my dear… my son wouldn’t like that…”

“Oh… so all these are games you mother and your son Jesus purposely play, is it? From now on I will never go to the novena church, nor would I light candles…” When Esther expresses her displeasure, Holy mother would smile mischievously. Esther would be reading it from grandma’s face.

When no relatives are there, there was no problem. It will be only grandma and Esther in the room. Even though it is a little village, expensive imported flowers which are meant to adorn huge apartments and offices in the nearby town would arrive every day. As soon as they reach, the old flowers with wilted petals would be removed from the vase and fresh new flowers as soft as babies’ cheeks would be placed there. When the son comes on video call at half past eleven, he has to see them first. Once, when he saw wilted petals around the vase on the table and the floor, he simply disconnected the call! That’s how he showed his anger. One day when Esther woke up in the morning and came in, she saw a withered petal on the white sheet covering grandma’s waterbed, lying near her feet. As she took it wondering how the petal from the flower vase kept on the table near grandma’s head came over here, a numbness spread through her fingers. It was not a petal from the flowers. It was a finger that had dropped off from grandma’s foot! It was her first experience in all these years of care giving. First, she thought of burying it somewhere in the thicket before any relatives or neighbours come. But when she remembered the video call at half past eleven, she realised it would be a big mistake. Then she decided to inform the old doctor from the church hospital who visits and does special check-ups.

“No need to ask or tell anyone… just bury it somewhere in the compound.” Doctor’s reply reminded her of some mischievous children talking. The remaining fingers also would wither away like this. Do the same every time. When she said that Doctor himself should take up the responsibility to explain it to the Canada son, he agreed with a gentle snicker. But Esther felt sad when she thought that she would have to watch the remaining fingers falling off one after the other. Poor grandma… she can’t imagine even one moment that is not beautiful… how will she ever bear this?

She remembered the grandma of eight or nine months ago.

“Esther… even if you don’t care for me, you should look after the man on the other room… OK?”

Appaappan is fine ammachi… why are you getting worried?”

“Who said he is fine…? He has a lot of problems… as soon as Jerrymon’s attention shifts a little he goes out of the house itself… isn’t that a bigger problem? Jerrymon has no free time at all after his kitchen work…”

Grandma would get very excited while talking about appaappan.

Seven or eight years ago, one of grandma’s front row teeth fell. She was very sad. The tooth had no damage at all. Afterwards she always kept her lips tightly sealed because she was hesitant to show her smile with a hole. She felt that her smile-less face is as good as being dead.

“Nowadays it is possible to fix a good tooth easily, that is why I told him that I want a new tooth… do you know what appaappan said then…?”

After remaining silent for a while, looking at Esther and changing her voice to that of the Fathers in the church, grandma said: “it’s already four o’clock Maria… it will become dark very soon…”

Esther was surprised to hear that: “Appaappan should have been a poet, isn’t it ammaamma?”

“Oh… nowadays if someone is not watching, the poet is busy climbing on top of the building and trees like mischievous kids…”

As she was certain that Esther would not say anything, a sentence descended from grandma’s tongue as if she had thought about it a lot and byhearted: “Once memories are lost, it is better to die… isn’t it dear?”

Don’t say such things… that was how she should have responded… but it was not possible to lie to grandma. Grandma wouldn’t like it at all. That day grandma was silent for a long time. Then she said: “In other countries, there are laws to kill someone who is suffering… isn’t it so?”

Esther didn’t say anything, and she cleverly walked out of the room. Grandma also did not talk for the next four or five days. She wondered what grandma would be thinking and felt sad for the next six days. Would grandma also have started to forget things? But Esther was wrong. On the seventh day, after her eldest daughter’s mischievous daughter who was studying in the twelfth grade came and went. Grandma gave a paper to Esther with a smile and asked her to read it. Grandma watched Esther reading through it silently. It was an agreement which said that when she, named Martha Mariam, got to a stage of extreme pain and suffering but not dying, someone could end her life on her behalf. Her thumb impression along with her signature verified the document.

“What have you done ammoomma… wouldn’t that girl go around singing this to everyone?”

“Not at all. I have promised to give her my gold ring with emerald embedded in it… Even though she is impish, she is greedy for gold, isn’t it so?”

“Whatever it is, this is not right.” Esther was actually a bit sad and she didn’t try to hide her tears.

Edi penne[7]… even if I die your income would not be stopped… I would make all arrangements for that… and you will get additional remuneration for finishing me off…”

Esther was terribly angry, and all the bad words she had learnt from childhood days came rushing to her tongue. Moving aside all those bad words, Esther said: “Look old lady, I don’t want any damn thing from you. Esther knows how to work hard and earn well. I cannot be your executioner. You can tell your eldest daughter and granddaughter… I am leaving now.”

She uttered those words in a single breath. Having said, she wanted to adhere to her threat. Esther sent a four-line message to the children, packed her belongings and went home. On the fourth day, three of the children came in a car to her home. The Canadian kept on calling. After Esther’s leaving, grandma hadn’t have had anything to eat or drink, she had even stopped talking. Her eldest granddaughter who had been the cause of everything voluntarily confessed her mistake. Thus, after a brief interval, Esther once again came back to grandma. On seeing her, even though the pretty grandma who was lying without much fragrance smiled once, Esther felt that the smile didn’t have soul in it. It was from that day grandma’s tongue slowly started to stop functioning. She would always be lying in a half-asleep state without responding to whatever Esther would say. She wasn’t certain whether grandma was pretending. As days passed, it became a habit for grandma. Her days and nights became devoid of sounds. Earlier, she used to listen to old songs with a smile, but now, even when playing one of her favourite songs she would start frowning. Gradually, her hands also stopped moving, like her tongue. It became impossible to even know whether she had any pain. It was then one day appaappan slipped down from the steps on the veranda and passed away. The fall wasn’t that serious. It was as if for everything else, there had to be a reason for saying goodbye also, that’s all.

Amma should never ever know about appan passing away…” voice message from Canada arrived to the siblings and Esther.

How can that be possible… they lived together for almost seventy years… how can we not let her even take one last look… before such thoughts could even reach their tongues, all of them wiped it away from the mind itself. Esther didn’t step out of grandma’s room until the funeral was over in the evening. They carefully kept all the wailings of the dead house outside the shut door. However, the scent of frankincense kept spreading across all rooms. In the evening, before the prayers and songs of the priests from the church who came for the funeral function went well out of their control, the elder daughter had sealed her mother’s ears with cotton rolls so that she wouldn’t be able to hear anything. After seeing appaappan off, when the children gathered in the family room and sat around sipping black coffee and chatting, there was a power outage. Apart from that, everything went well.

When Esther came into grandma’s room with a lighted candle to keep the darkness away, she saw something strange that surprised her. Tears had been flowing like streams from both the eyes of grandma who was until then lying like a dead piece of wood. Seeing that Esther became sad beyond words, and she felt a hot burning sensation in-between her neck and chest.

Realising that there was no other way to escape that feeling, she also sat near grandma and cried for some time. Esther considered it as her major lapse that she was unable to recognise grandma being aware of everything even though she was lying like dead body with all her organs shut. They didn’t sleep that night. For the next two weeks too, Esther wouldn’t sleep. As she closed her eyes, pretty grandma would appear in front of her and accusingly point finger at her. She would wake up from the half-sleep with a shudder and gently massage grandma’s twig-like legs with wilting fingers. Then she would sit like that until dawn breaks. She felt as though she did not show mercy to grandma, and moreover what she did was a severe injustice towards her.  

Two months after grandpa’s passing away, Esther video-called Canada and showed grandma’s wilting fingers, wax filled ears, abnormally open nose and throbbing veins on the forehead and said: “Looks like there is not much time left now… it would be better if you start today itself.”

The Canadian doesn’t question Esther who knows everything about grandma. He started the next day itself. The other children and grandchildren had already reached by the time he arrived. Without any dramatic incidents necessitating special descriptions, just like a ripened leaf slowly detaches itself in a gentle breeze, grandma passed away. Within hours, she was laid to rest in the same grave where grandpa was buried. There was no need to keep her body in an ice box. Soon after returning from the cemetery, when Esther collected her belongings and started to leave, though the residents magnanimously tried to stop her, she didn’t yield to their requests. The mischievous doctor from the church hospital also took her side. The doctor told them that he would drop her at the railway station in his car.

Even though the doctor was aged above sixty years, he was funny. On the way he stopped the car by the river side and told that he wanted to have a smoke.

Seeing him lighting a cigarette and exhaling the smoke Esther told: “Doctor, you are smoking like kids who have just been initiated into smoking.”

“Then show me how adults smoke…” said Doctor and offered her a cigarette. Looking at her lighting it and exhaling the smoke in a beautiful manner, Doctor laughed. After finishing the cigarette, Doctor asked her where she had kept grandma’s letter. She took it out from her bag and handed it over to him. Doctor read it one more time and lit it with a match. From that paper containing grandma’s signature and fingerprint, smoke as delicate as her soul emerged and drifted in the wind, and began to float up like an appooppan thaadi.

“Why did you burn it? I had kept it for my remembrance.”

“No need… it is better to abandon some remembrances at the same place where they originate…” Doctor threw the burnt sheet of paper into the river. It soaked and dissolved in the water and disappeared.

“Let’s go…” Doctor said. Esther nodded her head.

[1] grandfather’s beard or Indian milkweed

[2] grandmother’s beard

[3] traditional attire worn by the Syrian Christian women of Kerala

[4] waist pouch

[5] a long hoop that is normally worn on the ears by elderly Christian women

[6] classic south Indian sweet dish

[7] Hey girl

P. F. Mathews is an Indian author who writes in the Malayalam language. He is a recipient of multiple literary awards including the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award and a National Film Award for Best Screenplay.

Ram Anantharaman is an engineer by profession. He has done translations from English to Malayalam and Malayalam to English.