Categories
Index

Borderless, April, 2021

Greetings from Borderless Journal for all Asian New Years! Click here to read our message along with the video and a translation of a Tagore song written to greet the new year, with lyrics that not only inspire but ask the fledgling to heal mankind from deadly diseases.

Editorial

New Beginnings

A walk through our content and our plans for the future. Click here to read.

Interviews

In Conversation with Arundhathi Subramaniam: An online interview with this year’s Sahitya Akademi winner, Arundhathi Subramaniam. Click here to read.

Sumana Roy & Trees: An online interview with Sumana Roy, a writer and academic. Click here to read.

Poetry

(Click on the names to read)

Arundhathi Subramaniam, Jared Carter, Matthew James Friday, Michael R Burch, Aparna Ajith, Jenny Middleton, Rhys Hughes, Jay Nicholls, Achingliu Kamei, Vatsala Radhakeesoon, Ihlwha Choi, Smitha Vishwanath, Sekhar Banerjee, Sumana Roy

Photo-poetry by Penny Wilkes

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

With an introduction to Blood and Water by Rebecca Lowe, Rhys Hughes debuts with his column on poets and poetry. Click here to read.

Translations

The Word by Akbar Barakzai

Fazal Baloch translates the eminent Balochi poet, Akbar Barakzai. Click here to read.

Malayalam poetry in Translation

Aditya Shankar translates a poem by Shylan from Malayalam to English. Click here to read.

Tagore Songs in Translation

To commemorate Tagore’s birth anniversary, we translated five of his songs from Bengali to English. Click here to read, listen and savour.

Tagore Translations: One Small Ancient Tale

Rabindranath Tagore’s Ekti Khudro Puraton Golpo (One Small Ancient Tale) from his collection Golpo Guchcho ( literally, a bunch of stories) has been translated by Nishat Atiya. Click here to read.

Musings/Slice of Life

Pohela Boisakh: A Cultural Fiesta

Sohana Manzoor shares the Bengali New Year celebrations in Bangladesh with colourful photographs and interesting history and traditions that mingle beyond the borders. Click here to read.

Gliding along the Silk Route

Ratnottama Sengupta, a well-known senior journalist and film critic lives through her past to make an interesting discovery at the end of recapping about the silk route. Click here to read and find out more.

The Source

Mike Smith drifts into nostalgia about mid-twentieth century while exploring a box of old postcards. What are the stories they tell? Click here to read.

Lost in the Forest

John Drew, a retired professor, cogitates over a tapestry of the Ras lila. Click here to read.

Tied to Technology

Naomi Nair reflects on life infiltrated by technology, by Siri and Alexa with a tinge of humour. Click here to read.

Adventures of a Backpacking Granny

In Inspiriting SiberiaSybil Pretious takes us with her to Lake Baikal and further. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Tributes & AttributesDevraj Singh Kalsi pays tribute to his late mother. Click here to read.

Essays

Reflecting the Madness and Chaos Within

Over 150 Authors and Artists from five continents have written on mental illness in an anthology called Through the Looking Glass. Candice Louisa Daquin, a psychotherapist and writer and editor, tells us why this is important for healing. Click here to read.

At Home in the World: Tagore, Gandhi and the Quest for Alternative Masculinities

Meenakshi Malhotra explores the role of masculinity in Nationalism prescribed by Tagore, his niece Sarala Debi, Gandhi and Colonials. Click here to read.

A Tale of Devotion and Sacrifice as Opposed to Jealousy and Tyranny

Sohana Manzoor explores the social relevance of a dance drama by Tagore, Natir puja. We carry this to commemorate Tagore’s birth anniversary. Click here to read

Photo Essay: In the Midst of Colours

Nishi Pulugurtha explores the campus of a famed university with her camera and words and shares with us her experiences. Click here to read.

Bhaskar’s Corner

Oh, That lovely Title: Politics

A short piece by Bhaskar Parichha that makes for a witty comment on the forthcoming Indian elections. Click here to read.

Stories

Pothos

Rakhi Pande gives us a story about a woman and her inner journey embroiled in the vines of money plant. Click here to read.

Elusive

A sensitive short story by Sohana Manzoor that makes one wonder if neglect and lack of love can be termed as an abuse? Click here to read

Ghumi Stories: Grandfather & the Rickshaw

Nabanita Sengupta takes us on an adventure on the rickshaw with Raya’s grandfather. Click here to read

Flash Fiction: The Husband on the Roof

Carl Scharwath gives us a story with a strange twist. Click here to read

Flash Fiction: Flight of the Falcon

Livneet Shergill gives us a story in empathy with man and nature. Click here to read

The Literary Fictionist

A playlet by Sunil Sharma set in Badaun, The Dryad and I: A Confession and a Forecast, is a short fiction about trees and humans. Click here to read.

Book reviews

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Reconciling Differences by Rudolf C Heredia, a book that explores hate and violence. Click here to read.

Nivedita Sen reviews Nomad’s Land by Paro Anand, a fiction set among migrant children of a culture borne of displaced Rohingyas, Syrian refugees, Tibetans and more. Click here to read

Candice Louisa Daquin reviews The First Cell and the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the last by Azra Raza. Click here to read.

Book Excerpt

Excerpted from Raising a Humanist: Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World by Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia, the focus is on media and its impact. Click here to read.

Sara’s Selection, April 2021

A selection of young person’s writings from Bookosmia. Click here to read.

Categories
Stories

Pothos

By Rakhi Pande

Money plant: Courtesy: Creative Commons

Shireen carefully placed the unwieldy pot on the dining table. She checked again to see if she had inadvertently damaged the lush green and tall money plant she had just bought on impulse. Her very first one, though, growing up she always had seen at least one if not more money plants at home, so, not technically her first however, her first very own money plant for her apartment. Company leased of course. 

She was fascinated and charmed by it. The plant naturally caught the eye as a new focal point in the room. Glossy emerald green leaves – darker than the emerald embedded in her ring, its marbled texture never repeated on any leaf; unique and different. The leaves looked like they had been coloured in with oil pastels.

She marvelled at the fact that a simple acquisition like that ensured that she did not immediately swipe on her phone screen to check her messages or indulge in the endless and somewhat mindless scrolling through social media posts, once home. She could stare at the plant for hours, seemingly, to observe the graceful curves of the stalks swirling upward around the moss stick.

Shireen had no idea a towering money plant with such gigantic leaves could grow out of a diminutive six-inch pot. It was possible because of the moss stick. That it could hold twenty times its weight in water, was a fact she had just learnt from the attendant at the plant shop. None of the leaves of the ubiquitous money plants she remembered from her childhood in every home been quite this size.

The little label stuck on the pot listed its scientific name – Epipremnum aureum, but the attendant at the store had called it Pothos. For a brief second, Shireen had misheard the name as Pathos. That very day she had made her high school students apply the persuasive technique of ethos, logos and pathos in their written assignments. She realised her error almost immediately. Both the scientific names didn’t sound right to her – she preferred calling it simply by its colloquially popular name — money plant.

This was purely an impulse purchase – having accompanied two of her colleagues, Min and Lena to the flower shop to select a bouquet to be sent to their dean who was hospitalised for a knee replacement surgery, she had spotted the large section containing various money plants under the enticing fifty percent off banner. That was a big deal in Singapore.

She had moved there two years ago on a work visa that included accommodation – a real coup. Her hectic work life ensured that the idea of getting a plant hadn’t even crossed her mind – until now. Min who was Singaporean Chinese, Lena from Russia  and she had struck up an easy friendship.

The informative leaflet displayed on a stand stated that the money plant would not require much watering or maintenance. It could be placed anywhere indoor, as long as it was exposed to some light. A balcony or windowsill was not a prerequisite.

“You need to steal it,” Min giggled, “for the money part of it to work.” Amused, Shireen imagined herself trying to attempt something like that in a city with probably the strictest penalties for crime. Good luck trying to explain the principles of feng shui* as a defence. Her expression made them all laugh, and Shireen spent a few careful minutes selecting one with the lushest foliage. 

Once home, she put some thought into where to place it. She decided to do some research about her new acquisition and read many interesting articles about the pothos. Some of them contradicted each other as was the norm with the internet. She had not even thought about her bedroom as an option – having absorbed the adage or warning that plants should not be kept there – a belief oft heard over the years.

However, one article strongly proclaimed that since the epipremnum emitted oxygen at night, it should be placed in the bedroom to improve sleep quality; that it was a myth that plants should not be placed there.

She tried to look for information supporting the Asian belief with some scientific reasons to back it up but couldn’t find anything online that forbade plants in the bedroom, not even on the myriad vastu shastra* sites that popped up in response to her search.

They all agreed in one aspect, that the plant should be placed in the South East direction. She decided to leave the money plant on the dining table for the time being and then, choose a spot the next day.

*

The next evening, having carried a lot of work home, she was too tired to do anything more than drop into bed early. However, remembering how the money plant’s presence had enlivened her sitting room, she forced herself to roll out of bed and bring it into the bedroom. She placed it on the dresser for the time being, vowing to figure out a better placement over the weekend.

She fell asleep almost immediately after and awoke refreshed, crediting the plant for this, even though she had no real scientific idea about the quantities of oxygen a plant that size gave out.

The weekend arrived soon enough and once Shireen had completed dusting, vacuuming and mopping her apartment, she looked around her bedroom for likely spots and found an ideal one — just below her window. It was designed to mimic a French window, with glass panels nearly all the way down to the floor. This would place the plant quite close to her bed as well, all the better to imbibe oxygen. The window was South facing, so it wouldn’t get direct sunlight but a lot of bright, indirect light.

She was determined to do all she could to ensure that the plant stayed healthy. She went to bed that night smiling over Lena’s comment that she was getting obsessive about the plant just like one does with a new pet. Just because she had bought a plant tonic for it despite its exorbitant cost.

*

She struggled awake from a deep sleep saying, “Do you need something…?” Fully awake moments later, she could have sworn it was Lena standing by her bedside to ask for a duvet.

Min and Lena occasionally slept over just like she did at theirs, especially on weekends they planned an early morning trek or outing.  Not this weekend though.

Feeling a bit uneasy, Shireen couldn’t fall asleep for quite a while.

It was probably the silhouette of the money plant that her subconscious had registered, she told herself. It was nearly four feet tall and she was not yet used to its new placement.

“I guess I did get some sleep,” she thought wryly as she awoke comfortably later than usual for a Sunday morning. In the bright light of day, she looked over at the money plant which was diagonally adjacent to her bed, not directly beside it.

She stood looking at it, thinking about that funny dream. Did the leaves look a darker green already? It had already grown, as one of the tips had curved even higher. The pointed leaf at the tip had unfurled itself, too. She couldn’t resist touching its shiny surface which resembled a plastic leaf.

She had sprayed the plant tonic just a couple of days ago – its recommended usage was once a week.

I’m just imagining this, she thought, but she secretly felt like a proud mother who’s noticed significant progress in their offspring.

*

Shireen tried to wake up, to move, to speak, but something was stopping her. She felt something flowing from the money plant – something glutinous, yet luminous, which was trying to envelop her. Some unconscious resistance that she managed did not allow that to fully occur, however.

She opened her mouth to call out, make some sound, but the words were lost in the ethereal white light that didn’t allow any sound to pass through. This sent her into a full-blown panic and she made one last concerted effort to resist whatever was happening.

Shireen awoke with a start, wide-eyed, stiff and scared. It took a few seconds for her brain to process that she had just had a bad dream.

One that seemed very real though.

In the dream, her room, her surroundings had been exactly the same. Must be from the MSG or food colouring in her takeout, she thought. She had often had vivid dreams after eating out, especially after anything which had orange food colour added to it. Like Schezwan or chicken tikka.

She found it difficult to fall sleep again – and stayed awake for what seemed like hours. Only when daylight dispersed the complete dark of the room, she fell into an exhausted sleep.

*

In the morning, for some reason, she could not bring herself to look at the money plant. “You are being ridiculous,” she admonished herself.

Had it always appeared this dark and forbidding? Weren’t most money plants a brighter green with more of a white marbled effect? Hers was mostly completely green. How had she not noticed it before? Only a few leaves had the white marble streak.

She caught herself avoiding walking by it too. The rational part of her brain mocked her for even entertaining a supposition that what she had ‘dreamt’ should impact her actions in broad daylight. “Shame on you, a supposed role model to students!” she scoffed at herself.

Shireen went online and put in a specific search request for why plants should not be placed in the bedroom. To her immense frustration, not one piece of content appeared. She couldn’t believe it. This was the internet. You could type literally anything and there were tons of articles or threads about it. Nothing in this case, though. Some posts that turned up as a result of her search warned against growing a peepal plant at home. These posts originated from Indian sites. She had some vague memories of hearing stories from her grandparents about spirits residing in the peepal tree. However, as was wont with the internet, most of the articles stated that this tree was sacred for many cultures. But this was a money plant, not even closely related to the peepal. She gave up the search.

*

Lena and Min trooped into Shireen’s place for dinner on Friday eve. They would stay the night, sleeping on the comfortable bed that appeared magically from the wall in her sitting room neatly settling itself over the couch – just by pulling on one lever.

It was only when they had all finished dessert that Min noticed. “Where’s your money plant?” Lena was astonished that she hadn’t noticed its absence. “Even you couldn’t kill a money plant!”

Shireen had already planned what to say when the topic was broached and smoothly replied that she had gifted it to her elderly neighbour downstairs, Mrs. Tan, as a gesture of goodwill when she had admired the plant. Mrs. Tan’s helper, Wei, often brought by a meal for her, sent by the kind, old lady.

Shireen didn’t want to delve into the reasons why she simply was not comfortable with the plant anymore. Not just in the bedroom; anywhere.

She had caught herself thinking about the unsettling and uncannily lucid dream and knew that she could not spend another night with the plant in the same room. She hated that she had hesitated to even touch the pot to lift it and bring it back into the sitting room in the morning. She would never ever admit the real reason for getting rid of it to anyone, not even Min and Lena, but she distinctly felt that she’d had a narrow escape.

She caught herself wondering if the reason plants should not be in the bedroom had something to do with what she had experienced in her dream. Could it be that some unknown and undiscovered interaction between plants and humans was possible? Was it a friendly, symbiotic exchange of energies she had mistaken for something sinister, a transference, or… a takeover?  

Shireen shivered and firmly blocked this line of thought.  It did, however, give her an idea for a written assignment for her students on traditional cultural beliefs impacting modern existence; ingrained spiritual beliefs or superstition, affecting day to day life – it would be interesting to read essays from over forty nationalities. She got to work on her laptop.

*

Mrs. Tan looked at her overcrowded but beautiful house. Though spacious, nearly every nook and cranny occupied with years of acquisitions.

She wondered where to put the money plant that young girl upstairs had gifted her. She was pleased as the money plant was a symbol of luck and prosperity. An auspicious gift. She called out to Wei to carry the plant.

No, her living room had no space at all.

That left only the bedroom.

As instructed, Wei placed the plant on Mrs. Tan’s broad, antique bedside table.

Glossary:

*Feng shui — A traditional practice originating from ancient China, which claims to use energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment

*Vastu shastra — An ancient Indian system of architecture integrated with nature, incorporating traditional Hindu and Buddhist beliefs

Rakhi Pande heads the English department at a British curriculum school in Dubai, UAE. She segued into this profession after quitting her erstwhile post as General Manager in the field of brand management in India. An avid reader and award-winning educator, while dabbling with blogging and other creative pursuits, she tries to write whenever time permits.

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

Categories
Stories

Ketchup

By Rakhi Pande

The Lucknow Residency

The month of May in 1984. Schools closed, scorching summer heat and best of all, the trip to Lucknow, where the family of five went every summer vacation, without question. Riha, all of seven years old, was ecstatic to have reached her grandparents’ house after the two-day long train journey. The house appeared to be as large as a palace to her. Much bigger than their two-bedroom house in Bombay.

That, however, paled in comparison to this –- the most perfect of all homes to Riha’s young eyes. The aangan* in the centre –- bigger than their private terrace –- with rooms all around, a green garden patch with the open water tank, dank, green water whose depth could not be fathomed by her and which, through an unerring child’s instinct, she kept at a safe distance. The steep, curving staircase with treacherous and oddly angled steps leading up to the roof which secretly scared her; which she was vaguely aware she took much longer to ascend than her cousins who lived here. But once conquered, you were on a long roof with a view of the neighbourhood – and the room on the roof. (This was the best of all houses!) Surely haunted, but only after dark as per her childish logic.

Many years later, when she visited the same house in her mid-twenties, in what was to be her last visit to it – she saw the house just as it was – crumbling and old, destined to be pulled down and replaced by a taller, sleeker rectangular block, having permanently divided the family over its sale proceeds. The staircase which had intimidated her as a child was just ordinary. Mixed feelings and some regret – perhaps she would have preferred those childhood memories to the reality of this crumbling, derelict version.

But this story is about one of the magical days from all the summers spent in that city and of only one of those many mornings. A morning from a riotous summer for Riha along with her two siblings, and five cousins that lived here in the hauntingly enchanted city of Lucknow of the eighties as viewed from the vinyl covered cycle rickshaw seat. The driver laboured over the pedals in a mesmeric rhythm, navigating impossibly narrow streets, cows, street dogs, people, the occasional cars, tempos and handcarts and the noise that was always a part of the city – the shouts, honking, bleating of goats, mingling with the call of the azaan*.

Riha was a happy, confident and an attractive child and though she would vehemently deny it later; citing ‘middle child’ as her defence; perhaps a little pampered by her aunts and uncles here. She woke early with anticipation for the promised outing – utterly excited that they were having an Enid Blyton style morning ‘picnic’, complete with a wicker basket full of buttered buns, the sweet milk bread which she loved and a rajai* and a bedsheet to spread on the grass. They had to go very early, to avoid the dreaded loo* and the heat, which didn’t bother her, but which was just a convenient excuse for her elder cousins and aunts to not play catch or hide and seek with her during the afternoon.

That morning they were approaching the gates of ‘The Residency’, in quite a grand procession of two cycle rickshaws hired in addition to the spotlessly clean and sparkling white Ambassador belonging to her ‘Advocate’ grandfather. Riha was sure they would be the very first visitors here as she had awoken at an impossibly early hour, so she was surprised to see a few people already there –- walking about with dogs on leashes.

They walked quite far from the entrance, on wide green rolling lawns, way past the museum and dungeon, quite close to another set of ruins –- just walls with no roofs bordering unkempt taller grasses. The bedsheet was rolled out, basket deployed and after a while as it got sunnier and sunnier, without quite knowing how, Riha had soon wandered into the semi-walled ruins to explore the ground for unusual stones and wild flowers, her younger brother Aahan trailing behind her as usual.

She smiled at the other girl she saw there, enchanted by her blonde hair – “Hi! Are you here for a picnic too?” she asked, arrested by the lovely crisp white lacy and ruffled “birthday dress” the other girl wore. Only birthday dresses were so beautiful! Riha looked down at her own blue cotton dress, which she had worn a lot many times.

“You’re so lucky your mother let you wear your party dress!” Riha said. The other girl looked down at her dress and that’s when Riha noticed the ketchup patch all down the front of the lovely white dress. Exactly where she had once stained her dress while eating pakodas* with ketchup when her impish younger brother had jolted her arm. She felt immediately concerned and sorry for her –- she knew her mother would be upset and if her mother was anything like hers, there would have been good chances of receiving a stinging slap for messing up her party dress like this.

“Is that your brother?” the girl asked.

Riha nodded. “My brother is here too.” Riha moved closer but could not spot the other boy –- hoping he could be a playmate for her brother. He must’ve wandered off.

“Who’re you talking to?” said Aahan. Riha rolled her eyes knowing her brother was annoying her as usual.

“How rude, Aahan!” She looked at the girl, sharing the – ‘younger brothers!’ look. “Sorry about him… I’m Riha, what’s your name and why don’t you come and play with us?” she invited, frowning at Aahan.

“I’m Mary. Look,” she pointed across the greens, “My mother is calling us –- I have to go.”

Riha could not quite spot which of the women in the far distance Mary was indicating, but she was not happy at the thought of losing a newfound playmate.

“I’ll walk with you till you find your mother and we could ask her permission to play with us – we are a big group here,” she confidently proclaimed.

“Okay, I’ll ask her, maybe we can meet near the museum after some time,” smiled Mary.

“Okay, bye!” shouted Riha, happily.

Riha looked around for Aahan but he must have run off earlier. As she left the ruins, she saw her aunt halfway there, calling her to come quickly away from the dangerous ruins.

“They’re not dangerous at all!” scoffed Riha.

“Who were you talking to?” her mother asked. “Aahan said you were trying to scare him by pretending to talk to someone.”

Riha plonked herself down on the sun-soaked sheet and glared at Aahan. Why were younger brothers such pests? Describing the encounter, she couldn’t resist remarking how the other girl had been allowed to wear such a nice dress to a park. “But didn’t you say she’d spilled ketchup on it?” retorted her mom.

With the elders finding it too hot, it was time to leave but Riha insisted on stopping by the museum to say goodbye to Mary and dragged the whole family there. After waiting for a while it was clear no one was coming there and Riha was reluctantly made to leave, with promises of one more picnic there for sure. 

Now, years later, sitting on the sagging charpai*, under the bright stars that evening in that old house, the moment triggered a memory of the picnic to the Residency. In her teens she had been quite intrigued by the history of the place and read about the slaughter of the British families including women, children and babies there during the siege of 1857. She remembered quite vividly that evening years ago, cuddling on her grandmother’s roomy lap on the same charpai. 

Naniji* had surprised her by asking for a detailed account of the girl she had met. In Riha’s world, that morning was already firmly in the past. Her grandmother was quite interested in the ketchup stain too. Later, she had noticed the elders having a discussion in whispers and looking at her.

Annoyingly, Aahan was allowed to hover around them or perhaps they hadn’t noticed. He had then galloped up to her and shouted in glee, “See, I told you, you met a ghost! That was not ketchup, it was blood!”

.

Glossary:

*Aangan = an inner open courtyard

*Aazan = Islamic call to prayer

*Rajai = block printed comforter/ duvet

*Loo = hot and dry summer wind

*Charpai = traditional Indian woven bed

*Nani – Maternal grandmother, ‘ji’ a respectful suffix

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Rakhi Pande heads the English department at a British curriculum school in Dubai, UAE. She segued into this profession after quitting her erstwhile post as General Manager in the field of brand management in India. Having spent her formative years in Mumbai she has spent a decade in each profession before exploring greener pastures abroad. An avid reader and award-winning educator, while dabbling with blogging and other creative pursuits, she tries to write whenever time permits. Hopefully, there’s a book in her.

www.linkedin.com/in/rakhi-pande-362a387

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