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Contents

Borderless, January 2023

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

Will Monalisa Smile Again? … Click here to read.

Translations

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

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

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

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

Poetry

Click on the names to read

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

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

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

Conversation

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

Musings/Slices from Life

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

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

Ghosh & Company

Ratnottama Sengupta relives the past. Click here to read.

Sails, Whales, and Whimsical Winds

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

Tsunami 2004: After 18 years

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

‘I am in a New York state of mind’

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

Half a World Away from Home

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

Musings of a Copywriter

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

Notes from Japan

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

Essays

A Solitary Pursuit: The Art of Suhas Roy

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

New Perspectives on Cinema & Mental Health

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

The Observant Immigrant

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

Stories

The Book Truck

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

The Scholar

Chaturvedi Divi explores academia. Click here to read.

Little Billy

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

Book Excerpts

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

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

Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Editorial

Will Monalisa Smile Again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitali Chakravarty,

borderlessjournal.com

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

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

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

Categories
Essay

A Solitary Pursuit: The Art of Suhas Roy

Ratnottama Sengupta journeys with the signature art of Suhas Roy as it transformed in theme, style, and medium

Suhas Roy = Radha.

Correct.

Suhas Roy = Crows.

Right. 

Suhas Roy = Jesus.

So true.

Suhas Roy = Sensuality.

Yes. Witness the Mistress of the Moon.

For each of these Suhas Roy (1936-2016) was chased by galleries and collectors. His works have been widely exhibited and are well documented. Many of them on view at Mumbai’s prestigious Jehangir Art Galley (January 17 to 23, 2023) are not on sale. The intention is to train viewers on the diversity and skilfulness of the much loved artist from Bengal. In short, to hold up the totality of the artist who enriched Contemporary Indian Art with sketches in Western Academic style, graphics, landscapes; with his series on Crow, Jesus, Radha, The Seductress of Khajuraho; with aluminium paint on glass, acrylic on paper, egg tempera on canvas…

So where do we start? Where did he? There’s a story at every turn in the journey, so let’s start at the very beginning.

A little boy in Tejgaon, now in Bangladesh, had lost his father when he was not even two. One Kaji Saheb, who taught geography in the village school and doubled as the art teacher, took the child under his wings. If the boy learnt to outline India on the blackboard, he could also draw papayas and brinjals. And everything he drew scored 10 on 10. His teacher would say, “It seems you’ll grow up to be an artist!”

The boy loved to spend all his hours drawing and fishing. “How will these pleasures serve you in life?” the family elders would admonish him. The youth would smile in reply and go on, eventually to join the Indian Art College, study new methods of printmaking under Somenath Hore and S W Hayter, visit Paris and Florence to study Michelangelo’s David and Pieta…

Suhas Roy

However, Paris post WWII was an eye-opener for artists like Suhas Roy and, a decade before him, for Krishna Reddy, who had graduated from Santiniketan. Both India and Europe had come out of prolonged periods of turmoil. But, poised on the threshold of an independent existence as a sovereign nation, India was looking back to its roots for defining its identity, whereas England and France and Germany – which were eager to get over the bitterness left by their recent history – were looking for a complete break with the past. For Suhas Roy, returning home meant returning to his cultural roots. And Venus emerging from the Water became kin of the image of goddess Lakshmi emerging from the lotus-laden pond closer home.

*

This Indian-ness was reinforced when he joined Santiniketan as a painting teacher. The lush green environs, the ponds and rivulets, the chirping birds and rustic villagers took him back to the childhood haven snatched away by the politics of religion that had culminated in the Partition of the Subcontinent. Suhas Roy, raised in the British Academic mood, with undying admiration for the values of the Italian Renaissance and the visions of the French Classicists, riding the high tide of Modernism, debating whether to go Abstract or Semi-Abstract, started painting landscapes!

Yes, landscapes. Regardless of what the critics said – just as they did for the Bengal Masters – Suhas Roy was not being ‘regressive’. For, he did not paint any particular spot with fidelity to topography – as John Constable did. Instead, his landscapes were an expression of his yearning for a paradise lost: his place of birth. When he moved from Kolkata to Santiniketan, in a reflection of spatial reality the neighbourhood palm trees started putting their heads up in his paintings. His sensitive foliage, the birds and animals and ponds were all in answer to his quest for the luxuriant green he had left behind, across the Radcliffe Line.

“Santiniketan gave me back the opportunity to go fishing as I used to in East Bengal, and I rediscovered the beauty and calming effect of Nature,” he had said to me when I curated the Living Santiniketan exhibition in Delhi of late 1990s. “It came as a relief to me, burdened as I was with the constant thought of ‘What to paint?’ For, Nature constantly changes.” Additionally, he realised that appreciation of beauty is not confined to a class or profession. “Doctors and poets alike love flowers. So, I decided to go back to landscape, taking no note of whether it was in fashion or out of it.”

*

The crow, very much a part of the Bengal landscape, then became his signature in the 1970s. The scavenger was an attraction because of its black feathers. Japanese water-colourist Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958) — notable for his role in creating the painting technique of Nihonga — had come to Bengal in early 20th century with scholar Okakura Kakuzo (1863-1913) and helped Abanindranath Tagore master the medium. He had done a series of Mount Fuji in black-n-white. Chancing upon that in the Santiniketan library, Suhas was so impressed as to reach for the austere palette. The crow readily lent itself to the scheme. Spraying the canvas with acrylic paint before construing the image in watercolour, Suhas would use a Japanese colour stick to create tones and dimensions. The Far Eastern concept of an object in a wide open space came to be highly appreciated and widely collected – including by philanthropist politician, Karan Singh.

In Indian philosophy and literature, Nature is the Eternal Feminine. That could be why, after ten years of doing landscape, Suhas Roy’s imagination sought out the allied image of tribal girls. It was a natural progression, for women – especially tribal women – have a symbolic if not symbiotic link with trees. Often, he would counterpoise a tree with a woman. Taru[1], he titled one done in an art workshop.

From a woman in a landscape to Radha was just one step away. For an exhibition on Krishna organised by Gallery 88 of Kolkata, Suhas Roy played with the concept of the Blue God being the Ultimate Being. Melding Purush and Prakriti – the Male and the Female forces of the Universe – his canvas sported a nude woman against a dark blue background. The painting, titled ‘Radha’, not only sold for an enviable sum, but it also set in motion an astonishing demand for the image that shows no sign of abating.

Truly he basked in the adulation of resolved collectors, one of whom said, “When I am tossed and tired of problems, I look at your paintings. They act like balms.” Yet, for painting these very ‘balms’ the artist had to hear the criticism that he was feeding the appetite for calendar art. His Radha was a concept no better than the ‘mass produced’ icons ubiquitous in Indian spaces.  But the master was far from apologetic. “It is the very definition of icons,” he had pointed out to me one afternoon. “Images of personalities deified by popular imagination, be they mythical, historical or social, are repeated again and again, generation after generation, in different styles and contexts.” If one age worshipped them as bronze figurines and gold paintings, another flaunted them in oleographs and calendars. It has been so with Radha-Krishna, Ram-Sita, Buddha-Jesus, and even with Gandhi-Tagore-Teresa, I realised.

*

Jesus, though, had entered Suhas Roy’s world long before Radha. Sometime in 1969 he had visited Florence to see David. He found the sculpture epitomising masculine beauty “too proportionate”, and wandered into the church next door preserving Dante’s Divine Comedy in parchment. There, in one corner, he saw the last work of Michelangelo – an unfinished Pieta. Such infinite pathos! The artist could not brush it off his memory even after he returned to Calcutta and one day its picture postcard inspired him to paint a Jesus. When he stopped, the canvas was sporting a contemporary pieta – Jesus without the head, his body descending from the heavens.

As a persona, Suhas Roy had deep regards for Jesus. He was, to the Bengali artist, a symbol of forbearance. Perhaps he also saw the serene visage of the Prophet sporting a Crown of Thorns as a reflection of his own self – or was it of his country, that had been crowned with an Independence bloodied by Partition? Somewhere Suhas, a father who in his own lifetime lost both his children to Eternal Sleep, saw Jesus as a redeemer who showed mankind how to bear every suffering and pain that was a mortal’s lot. That is why such palpable love, even when tinged with sorrow, pain or sadness, flows out of His veins. This must have prompted even Vatican to acquire his Jesus in 2006.

Suhas Roy arrived at ‘Khajuraho’ in the mature years of his well lived life. He was intrigued by the carvings on the walls of the temples in central India that have embarrassed some and outraged some. Considered the descendants of the celestial Moon, the Chandela rulers had celebrated love in every expressed formation. Love, the invincible bonding between man and woman, man and man, indeed between man and all living beings, is made explicit here. Surely Suhas Roy was not equating love with lust. Was there a spiritual pursuit layering the physicality of the actions immortalised in stone?

No doubt there was. For Moon has always been equated with romance, love, passion. The artist was exploring the mysticism that wraps the ascetic deity inside the temple. Much like the sculptors of yore, his ‘Seductress’ is a quest for the sublime. If the ancients believed that you must leave all your worldly longings outside the temple door if you seek moksha, deliverance, the contemporary artist continually sought nirvana, redemption from conflict, in the beauty of peace.

*

Rigidity was unknown to Suhas Roy. The changes in his art came spontaneously, and every good result goaded him to go on. He dwelt on a theme only until another creative urge besieged him, be it Khajuraho, the series he titled Mistress of the Moon, or Cappadocia in Turkey. Never shy of experimenting, his foremost concern – always – was meticulous quality. His temperas would have egg yolk with oil and Japanese porcelain, gelatin with resin and tamarind seed. If it held the promise of a finer texture for details, he would use a watercolour brush for oil paintings. For, he would repeat, “Good art will never lose its demand just as diamond will never lose its market.”

For Suhas Roy, the aesthetic and the spiritual were one and the same. And even the hurly-burly of political turmoil had to adhere to his norms of aesthetics. Did Suhas Roy, then, live in an ivory tower away from social realities? No, he insisted, he “never ran away…” Once, on a fishing trip outside Santiniketan, he witnessed dead bodies being fished out of water following a flash flood in Ilam Bazar. Haunted by that image he had painted the Disaster series, depicting landscapes with shrouded bodies. Indeed, when the Naxalite period gave rise to despondency, he was tossed by the political reality of his land. But he prophesized that “every turmoil, be it social or political – including the ongoing one at Singur – would be short-lived.” So, if contemporary art became mere documentation, then that too would be short-lived!

“Only when it transcends the here-and-now can art have lasting value,” maintained the artist even when disturbed by the dark side of humanity. So, though distressed by cruelty, he chose to decry war by showing not blood-spill but the meditative power of peace and sublimity of love. “I focused on what has lasting appeal. Flowers blossom in the same fields that are crushed by battling soldiers. I speak of the war through the Buddha who transcended war.”

This sublime pursuit of Suhas Roy explains the unending appeal of his Seductress, his Radha, his Jesus.

Bonophul

[1] Translates to tree

*All the photographs have been sourced by Ratnottama Sengupta

Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. Ratnottama Sengupta has the rights to translate her father, Nabendu Ghosh.

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

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

Categories
Nostalgia

Ghosh & Company

 

Ratnottama Sengupta travels down the path of nostalgia with her ancestors, her parents, eminent writer,  Nabendu Ghosh and his wife, Kanaklata

Nabendu with his children. From right to left: Ratnottama Sengupta, Nabendu Ghosh & Shubhankar Ghosh. Photo provided by Ratnottama Sengupta

Nabadwip Chandra Ghosh of Dhaka was an advocate who had mastered in both, Sanskrit and History. And he was a kirtan[1] singer par excellence. Both these traits have familial roots: His father was a court clerk, his cousin a doctor of those times. And all the males in the Vaishnav family — devotees of Prabhu Jagadbandhu Sundar of Faridpur — were good singers, a talent that was to continue with his sons and grandsons. 

It was for his kirtans in particular that P R Das, brother of freedom fighter Chittaranjan Das (1870-1925), asked Nabadwip Chandra to join him as his junior in Patna High Court. The year was 1920. Bihar which was a part of the Bengal Presidency, was steeped in casteism. The Ahirs — Yadavs who tended cattle and sold milk — were exploited by the Bhoomihars, who were Brahmins, and if they retaliated, they were arrested and put in jails. By 1920s, the freedom movement too had gained steam but the  political prisoners were also clubbed with the ‘hooligan’ Yadavs. Nabadwip Chandra fought courtroom battles to win this deprived section their political right, and came to be highly respected – a father figure for a large section of people in Bihar. 

In fighting those battles Nabadwip realised one thing: the acute need for education among the so called Backward Classes. “Unless a person has education, he or she is not respected and remains vulnerable to exploitation, economic or otherwise,” he maintained. And education is best spread through mothers. Consequently he sought marriage alliances for his sons with daughters of teachers, sisters of lawyers and doctors, and — later — with undergraduates and graduates. 

His elder son was married to Kalyani, the daughter of a school teacher. His third son’s wife, IA passed Sundara, was the daughter of a BA-BL – a lawyer in Bhagalpur. His fourth son’s wife, Namita was again the daughter of a teacher from Ranchi — and she was a graduate who was already teaching before she married, and did her MA after her wedding. So had Nabadwip Chandra’s daughter Rani who, after her tying the knot with Mahesh Chandra of Jorhat, completed her schooling and mastered in Economics. Further she taught in JB College, Jorhat and went on to become the vice principal whose students included Tarun Gogoi who rose to hold the high office of the Chief Minister of Assam.

In fact, Nabadwip Chandra’s own wife, Suniti Bala, was the daughter of a minister in the minor royalty of Jessore — a man who won a gold medal as one of the first matriculates of British India. His entire family was keen on education — and Suniti was not only literate, she received formal education at home before she was married at the age of 15 — which was pretty advanced for the first decade of 1900s. All her life, after child bearing, rearing kids, attending to household chores in the kitchen, she would spend her ration of leisure hours reading books and in her  later years, telling stories to her grandchildren.

*

Nabadwip and Suniti’s second son Nabendu inherited his parents’ love for letters. And he took it to a much higher level as a writer who carved a place for himself in the history of Bengali literature and of Hindi Cinema. He started writing early, when still in middle school, as he wrote for and co-edited a handwritten magazine. Even as a teenager he would attend Sahitya Sammelans and while in College he got published in sought-after literary magazines. 

But Nabendu did not stop with words alone. Along with singing kirtans, a talent he inherited from his father, he trained himself to dance in the mould of Uday Shankar. He would regularly dance and act on stage, in Patna and elsewhere in the state, and subsequently played memorable cameos in Bombay films too. Before he passed away at the full age of 91, he had penned 16 novels, 28 collections of stories, and nearly a hundred screenplays for Bollywood classics.

On January 31, 1944 he married Kanaklata. Sister of advocate Bhupendranath Ghosh from Malda. She turned out to be an architect of human lives. Kanak was born to Chandrakanta Ghosh, a landed gentry who was forward looking enough to will large tracts of agricultural land to his daughters at a time when all they were entitled to was Streedhan — jewellery given at the time of marriage. Still, his wife Dakshayani, who was ‘Karta’ — head of the Hindu joint family — after his death, decided to live a part of her sunset years in Vrindavan, the holy land of Vaishnavs.

Kanaklata had not completed her school years when she was married to Nabendu. But being a doughty soul, the 16-year-old not only read Nayak O Lekhak — Nabendu’s first published novel; she got it critiqued by an academic cousin (who later became a professor) before she consented to the marriage with a man older to her by ten years.

Kanaklata’s own education had to be shelved as she became a mother twice over; lost her first born; faced an uncertain future as Nabendu lost two successive government jobs because of his ‘seditious’ – anti-imperialist — writings; and then Partition uprooted the family that had to leave Bengal and seek livelihood in Bombay’s tinsel town. But, despite her young years, it was she who instilled in her husband the spirit to soldier on with his pen and not succumb to any compromise in his literary efforts. 

Kanaklata: Photo Courtesy: Monobina Roy

She herself did not surrender her appetite for formal education to circumstances. Years after her sons and daughter had graduated from universities and she had become a grandmother thrice over, she enrolled in Open Classrooms and got her Master’s certificate in Bengali language. 

In the intervening years? Her home provided a platform to umpteen writers, country cousins, sisters, nephews, nieces, even to nobodies. She was there at 2 Pushpa Colony when they wanted to pursue higher education in Bombay, or make a career in the country’s financial capital,  or shine in the tinsel town. She helped to negotiate marriage proposals, and she supported in every way she could, those who sought medical intervention by specialists. Simultaneously she secured the financial future of her nuclear family by judiciously building houses and investing in government bonds. 

Most of all, Kanaklata was the architect of the lives of her three offspring. Her eldest son Dipankar who, as a child, was legendary in family gatherings for his mischiefs and pranks, was groomed in Shivaji Military Preparatory School. Thereafter she ensured that he trained in Medicine at the Nil Ratan Sarkar Medical College in Kolkata. Once he became a doctor he served with Oxfam during the Bangladesh Liberation War. 

This education stood him in good stead when he went to UK and joined the Royal Army Medical Corp that swung into action during skirmishes in Belize, the Carribian country in Central American land, in 1986, and again in Desert Storm, the first Gulf War of 1991. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1990, he was serving in Belsen, where the Nazis had set up a concentration camp sometime in 1943. He went to the minefields of Bosnia, which Princess Diana visited in 1997. In mid-1990s he was stationed in Brunei, where the British Military protects the Sultan; at the turn of the millennium, he was in Cyprus, which the British forces use as base for both military and humanitarian operations in the region that often saw dissonance. What a rich life of experiences in helping the injured and ailing! 

At her insistence, Kanaklata’s second son Subhankar was trained in direction at the Film and Television Institute of India. He came out to be Associate Director of Damul (1984). He rose to  partner his father in the making of the classic, Trishagni (1989), to direct the National award winning Woh Chhokri (1993). With teleserials like YugantarNishkriti and Dances of India showing on Doordarshan he was a name to reckon with on the National network in its heyday. Then he went on to teach filmmaking in Mumbai’s Whistling Woods and to set up the wing of Filmmaking Studies in the National University of distant Fiji. 

*

And Kanaklata raised the youngest of her brood, their only daughter Ratnottama, to cultivate the inheritance from her father, in literature, cinema and the arts. Even before the word global environment gained currency, by demonstrating how not to chuck everything in the bin, she drove home to her daughter the concepts of ‘re-use and re-cycle’. Blessed with green fingers, she shared with neighbours and friends the fruits of her ‘farming’ in the patch of green surrounding their Goan-style bungalow in the Mumbai suburb of Malad – and inculcated in her children the importance of green environs. Cooking, she taught me, was as significant in our everyday life as banking or management of money. And she drilled into me when I was still in school, that “you must earn, even if it’s only a hundred rupees every month. Else, even your own children will not respect you.”

I am always delighted to give this one example of her practical thinking. Soon as her daughter joined college, the home-maker booked a Life Insurance policy for her and directed her to pay the annual premiums. And how could she do it without compromising on her studies? “Simple. Clean the house, sell the waste to the raddiwala; put the ‘income’ in the bank.” At the end of the year, she had the money for the insurance premium and also the experience of banking. This, at a time, when majority of account holders in the bank were men.

Through all this, long before the world started celebrating International Women’s Day, Kanaklata had taught her daughter to be “no less than a son.” For, she ingrained in her, “there is nothing you cannot do if it spells well-being for people in your care…”

Nabendu and his wife, Kanaklata. Photo provided by Ratnottama Sengupta

[1] Religious songs

Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. 

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

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Categories
Tribute

Celebrating Freedom

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

The right to exist with freedom to choose is threatened when dictatorial regimes try to erase a culture or linguistic group as we can see in the current conflict that rages between Russia and Ukraine. In 1971, Bangladesh came into existence over a similar issue. The colonials had divided the Indian subcontinent on the basis of religion — not culture. Before this division, Bengal was a whole. In 1905, Tagore had marched against the British directive to divide Bengal and Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India. In 1911, Bengal was reunited to be slashed again in 1947 and made a part of Pakistan with Urdu as its national language. Bangladesh fought a war to find the right to exist as an entity outside of Pakistan — adopting their favoured language Bangla. Throwing off the yoke of Urdu, Bangladesh came to its own. On 16th December, the battle against cultural hegemony was won with warplanes drawing to a halt.

Celebrating freedom from oppression, we have an article by Fakrul Alam giving the historical background of the struggle. A musing from across the border about the 1971 refugee exodus into India has been written by Ratnottama Sengupta. Asad Latif muses on the need to identify with a culture. We have translations of poetry by Nazrul to add a dash of seasoning.

Poetry

Translations of Nazrul Islam, the rebel poet of Bangladesh… Click here to read.

Prose

The Birth of Bangladesh & the University of Dhaka: Professor Fakrul Alam takes us through the Partitions of Bengal which ultimately led to the creation of Bangladesh, with focus on the role of Dhaka University. Click here to read.

Joy Bangla: Memories of 1971: Ratnottama Sengupta recaptures a time when as a teenager she witnessed a war that was fought to retain a culture. Click here to read.

Epaar Bangla, Opaar Bangla:  Bengals of the Mind: Asad Latif explores the need of a person to exist as belonging to a particular cultural group, in this case Bengal. Click here to read. 

Categories
A Wonderful World

Where “Divides of Class, Religion & Ethnicities Collapse”

Painting of Durga Puja. Courtesy: Creative Commons
Wherever I look, a golden light 
Suffuses a vision of holidays,
The festive sun rises in the woods
Of puja* blossoms drenched in gold rays. 
             -- Tagore, Eshechhe Sarat

This has been a favourite poem of many who grew up reading Tagore, lines that capture the joy and abandon of the spirit that embodies the celebration of Durga Puja, a festival that many Bengalis deem as important as Christmas, Chinese New Year, Diwali or Eid. It is a major celebration in Bengal and large parts of the sub-continent, though not in all parts.

The reason that reviving the lore associated with this fiesta has become very important is that it centres around women. Given the situation in Iran, where the battle over how to wear headscarves has turned bloody, murderous and violent, celebrating an empowered woman, even if mythical, takes precedence over all else. Mythology has it that Durga was empowered by weapons given to her by various deities, all of who were men, and then, she did what all the male Gods failed to do — destroyed a demon called Mahisasur. Rama too prayed to Durga for victory around this time. And on Bijoya Doushami, the last day of the Durga Puja, some celebrate Rama’s victory over Ravana and call it Dusshera or Dashain.

Taking up this theme of the narratives around Durga Puja and how it has been made into an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO is Meenakshi Malhotra’s essay on the festival. Part of the citation reads: “During the event [Durga Puja], the divides of class, religion and ethnicities collapse….” 

To bring to you a flavour of the Puja, we have translations of poetry by Tagore describing the season and of a poet who was writing before Rabindranath, Michael Madhusdan Dutt, by Ratnottama Sengupta, verses exploring the grief of parting Durga’s mother expresses as her daughter returns to her husband’s home. This is also a festival of homecoming for, like Durga, those living far from their homes return to the heart of their families. Rituparna Mukherjee has woven a story specially around this aspect of the festival. Journals in Bengal, traditionally, brought out special editions with writings of eminent persons, like Satyajit Ray. We have an interview with a writer who wrote a book on Satyajit Ray, an actor called Barun Chanda, to bring a flavour of that tradition along with the translation of a celebrated contemporary Bengali writer, Prafulla Roy, by Aruna Chakravarti. We hope you enjoy savouring our Durga Puja Special.

Poetry

Eshechhe Sarat (Autumn) , describing the season of Durga Puja, by Tagore has been translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read. 

Bijoya Doushumi, a poem on the last day of Durga Puja, by the famous poet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, has been translated from Bengali by Ratnottama Sengupta. Click here to read.

Prose

A Mother, a Daughter & a Demon Slayer?, an essay by Meenakshi Malhotra, checks out the festival of Durga Puja against the concept of women empowerment. Click here to read.

Homecoming by Rituparna Mukherjee is a poignant story about homecoming during Durga Puja. Click here to read.

Nagmati by Prafulla Roy has been translated from Bengali as Snake Maiden by Aruna Chakravarti. Click here to read. 

Interview

Meet Barun Chanda, an actor who started his career as the lead protagonist of a Satyajit Ray film and now is a bi-lingual writer of fiction and more recently, a non-fiction published by Om Books International, Satyajit Ray:The Man Who Knew Too Much in conversation Click here to read.

Categories
Independence Day

“Imagine All the People Livin’ Life in Peace…”

Since 1991, Ukraine has been celebrating its Independence Day on August 24th. As another year of its independent existence starts, it is unfortunately embroiled in a state of war for the last six months where large parts of its territory have been forcefully conquered by the invading Russian army and cities have faced erasure — razed to the ground by incessant, unceasing, ruthless violence. Many human lives have been lost, more refugees generated and thousands have been wounded or taken prisoners. Families have been torn and natural resources depleted.

This year of all years, it’s most important to commemorate Ukraine’s Independence Day — to reaffirm the recognition given to a region and a culture that binds the residents together into an independent entity. One wonders if dreams as Lennon’s of “all the people/ Livin’ life in peace” could ever come true and have us create a beautiful haven on Earth where wars would be a narrative from the past…

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky

Imagine all the people
Livin' for today
Ah

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Livin' life in peace
You....

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You

{Excerpted from "Imagine"(1971) by John Lennon (1940-1980)}

Voicing out in unison against the violence and violations faced by our fellow humans in war zones, we bring to you poetry and prose by fourteen writers from nine different countries, including one who had to flee Ukraine as the shelling shattered Kharkiv.

Poetry

Poetry from across the world in support of peace and voicing concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, we have Ukranian Lesya Bakun give us poetry as a war victim, a refugee. Rhys HughesRon PickettMichael R BurchKirpal SinghMalachi Edwin VethamaniSuzanne KamataMini BabuSybil Pretious and Mitali Chakravarty have contributed poetry written for the Ukraine crisis. Click here to read How Many Times Must the Cannonballs Fly…?”

Cry the Sunflower by Ihlwha Choi, who wrote the poem in Korean and translated it for our readers. Click here to read.

Utopia by Supatra Sen. Click here to read.

This Grey Morning by Marianne Tefft. Click here to read.

Prose

A Voice from Kharkiv: An interview with a Ukrainian refugee, Lesya Bakun. Click here to read.

When will we ever learn? Oh, will we ever learn?: Ratnottama Sengupta, comments on the situation in Ukraine while dwelling on her memorable meeting with folk legend Pete Seeger, a pacifist, who wrote ‘Where have all the Flowers gone’, based on a folk song from Ukraine. Click here to read.

Categories
Contents

Borderless, August 2022

Art by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

The Stars were Shining There for You & Me, for Liberty… Click here to read.

Conversation

The Making of Historical Fiction: A Conversation with Aruna Chakravarti unfolds the creation of her latest novel, The Mendicant Prince, based on the prince of Bhawal controversy in the first part of the last century. Click here to read.

Translations

Tagore’s humorous skit, The Treatment of an Ailment, has been translated by Somdatta Mandal. Click here to read.

Arise, Arise O Patriot! and Helmsman Attention! by Kazi Nazrul Islam have been translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Pus Ki Raat or A Frigid Winter Night by Munshi Premchand has been translated from Hindi by C Christine Fair. Click here to read.

Tagore’s Song of Hope or ‘Hobe Joye‘ has been translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Rhys Hughes, Ratnottama Sengupta, Mike Smith, Rituparna Mukherjee, Tony Brewer, Ahmed Rayees, Ron Pickett, Ramesh Dohan, Sister Lou Ella Hickman, Sambhu Nath Banerjee, Candice Louisa Daquin, Oindri Sengupta, Gigi Baldovino Gosnell, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Tanvi Jeph, George Freek, Michael R Burch

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In Mini-Sagas: A Dozen Examples, Rhys Hughes talks of a new genre with dollops of humour. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Istanbul

G Venkatesh has a stopover in the airport to make a discovery. Click here to read.

The Loyal Dog in Loyalty Island

Meredith Stephens makes friends with a dog in the township of Wé on the Lifou island, an ‘overseas territory’ of France. Click here to read.

The ‘New Kid on the Block’ Celebrates…

Dr Kirpal Singh ruminates over what led to the making of an island state, Singapore. Click here to read.

Remnants of Time Once Spent Together

Sayali Korgaonkar ruminates over loss and grieving. Click here to read.

Moonland

Rupali Gupta Mukherjee journeys through the moonlike landscape housing a monastery with her camera and a narrative. Click here to read.

King Lear & Kathakali?

PG Thomas revisits a performance that mesmerised him in a pre-covid world. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In A Bone in My Platter, Devraj Singh Kalsi shares a taste of running a restaurant. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

Suzanne Kamata writes a light slice from life in The Boy & The Cats: A Love Story. Click here to read.

Stories

Does this Make Me a Psychic?

Erwin Coombs tells a suspenseful, funny, poignant and sad story, based on his real life experiences. Click here to read.

Hard Choices

Santosh Kalwar gives a glimpse of hope for an abandoned girl-child in Nepal. Click here to read.

No Rain on the Parade

Tan Kaiyi goes on a hunt for the National Day Killer. Click here to read.

Until We Meet Again

Shivani Shrivastav transports us to Manali for a misty union. Click here to read.

The Hatchet Man

Paul Mirabile tells a story of murder and horror. Click here to read.

I am Not the End

Aysha Baqir takes on the persona of a computer to unleash a poignant and chilling story. Click here to read.

Essays

How Many Ways To Love a Book

Sindhu Shivprasad describes passion for books. Click here to read.

Hiking in the Himalayas with Nabinji

Ravi Shankar explores more of Himalayas in Nepal. Click here to read.

Freedom is another word for… Zohra Sehgal

Ratnottama Sengupta gives a glimpse of the life of Zohra Sehgal, based on the book Zohra: A Biography in Four Acts by Ritu Menon, and her own personal interactions with the aging Zohra Sehgal. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In Can We Create a Better World by Just Wishing for it, Candice Louisa Daquin dwells on the question to locate answers. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from The Dreams of a Mappila Girl: A Memoir by B. M. Zuhara translated by Fehmida Zakeer. Click here to read.

An excerpt from Michael R Burch’s poetry book, O, Terrible Angel. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Meenakshi Malhotra reviews Tagore’s Four Chapters translated and introduced by Radha Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjatsabam visits Mamang Dai’s Escaping the Land. Click here to read.

Aditi Yadav reviews Pallavi Aiyar’s Orienting : An Indian in Japan. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal visits Neelum Saran Gour’s Requiem in Raga Janki. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Rakesh Batabyal’s Building a Free India. Click here to read.

Categories
Editorial

The Stars were Shining There for You & Me, for Liberty…

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

“It just so happens that their[1] universes were different from ours: because why would their imaginations be constrained by a nation-state that would not exist for another thousand years?”

Anirudh Kansetti, the print.in

These lines from a recent article on conquests carried out by the Indian subcontinent in ancient times brings to focus that earlier countries or nation-states as we know of them today did not exist till the industrial revolution set the concept in motion. In the month many countries in Asia celebrate their independent existence or rather the drawing of borders based on colonial mapmakers’ whims, we should perhaps relook at the way the world stands divided.

Is this what we want as humans? Where are we headed? While conquerors write the history, we tend to gloss over what is left unsaid. The millions who died crossing borders, in race riots and of hunger, starvation and disease in refugee camps is overlooked, or worse, used to justify the divisions that still hurt the residents of the sub-continent and try to destroy any sense of oneness among the human species. We tend not to forget the atrocities of the colonials but we overlook the violence of the mobs that incensed with hatred instilled by politics annihilated and murdered. Their story is reduced to “us” and “them”. In our mood of jubilation, the recent bombings in the Middle East and the Ukraine-Russia war have already been delegated to the newsreels. But these are all people who are killed and displaced without any justification for the need to do so. One of the things that George Orwell had depicted in 1984 was an acceptance of a constant state of war. Are we stepping into that frame of mind with our cold acceptance of the situation worldwide?

In the last century, many united against the atrocities of the empire builders. They wanted to rise above the divides. At least greats like Nazrul vociferously objected to the basis of divides that were used to draw the borders. Translations brought to us by Professor Fakrul Alam showcase such poetry as does much of Tagore’s own writing and actions. Tagore organised a protest march against the colonial proposal of Partition of Bengal in 1905 by taking a procession in which he encouraged Hindu and Muslim women to tie rakhis[2] on men from the other community and make them their brothers. Tagore put the welfare of humanity above nationalism as can be seen in his writings and speeches. Reflecting on humanity, we have Munshi Premchand’s powerful story, Pus Ki Raat or A Frigid Winter’s Night, translated from Hindi by C Christine Fair, dwelling on the sad state of peasantry under the Raj. In a bid to rouse people like the protagonist of Premchand’s story, Tagore wrote inspirational songs, one of which, Hobe Joye (Victory will be Ours) has been translated on our pages. We also continue sharing Rabindranath’s humour with a skit translated by Somdatta Mandal from Bengali.

Humour is also stirred into Borderless by Rhys Hughes with a series of mini sagas in his column and a trip around the world in eighty couplets. These couplets actually are more in number — I tried counting them — and are guaranteed to make you laugh. We have travel stories in plenty too. Ravi Shankar again treks to the Himalayas and brings us wonderful photographs of his journey and G Venkatesh stops over at Istanbul airport to find a friend from across the border. Meredith Stephens travels to a French colony called Lifou Island — sounds unbelievable as in the month we celebrate the independence of so many countries across Asia, there is still a country in the Pacific that owes allegiance to a democratic European power! But other than writing about the beaches, Stephens talks of a temporary pet dog while Suzanne Kamata gives us cat talk in her notes from Japan in a lighter vein — a very pleasant glimpse of life. Devraj Singh Kalsi brings a grin when he talks of his stint at trying to run a restaurant.

Interesting non-fictions from a book lover, Sindhu Shivprasad, and from PG Thomas who talks of King Lear performed a la classical Indian dance mode, Kathakali, by an international caste add to narratives that focus on bringing the pleasanter side of life to our readers. Such stories are a welcome relief in dark times when people find themselves caught between price hikes due to the pandemic and wars. An essay by Candice Louisa Daquin looks for a way out of the stresses of these times. Erwin Coombs gives us a funny, poignant and tragic classroom encounter which reminds me of the 1967 Sidney Poiter movie, To Sir, with Love. We have darker tones brought into our journal also with Aysha Baqir’s story on child exploitation, a sad but hopeful narrative from Nepal by Santosh Kalwar about the rejection of a girl-child by her mother and a horrific murder brought to us by Paul Mirabile.

Our poetry section this time flows over with poems from Michael R Burch, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, George Freek, Mike Smith, Gigi Baldvino Gosnell and even Ratnottama Sengupta, who has also given us a powerful essay on an acclaimed dancer called Zohra Sehgal whose life was changed by the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, basing her essay on Ritu Menon’s Zohra: A Biography in Four Acts and her own personal encounters with the irrepressible artiste. Michael Burch has also shared an excerpt of his book dedicated to his wife, O, Terrible Angel.

An excerpt from B. M. Zuhara’s The Dreams of a Mappila Girl: A Memoir, translated from Malayalam by Fehmida Zakeer, brings us close to a community we know very less about in the Southern part of India. Meenakshi Malhotra has reviewed Tagore’s Four Chapters translated from Bengali and introduced by Radha Chakravarty, a book that is a powerful voice against violence in the name of nationalism touching on the independence of women, a theme that is reiterated in another book that has been visited by Rakhi Dalal. While exploring Neelum Saran Gour’s Requiem in Raga Janki, Dalal contends that the book familiarises us with a singer “who carved her own destiny and lived life on her own terms, in times when women were generally subjugated and confined to roles given by society”. Gracy Samjetsabam has visited Mamang Dai’s Escaping the Land, a novel that tries to weave issues faced in the Northeast of India and integrate it with the mainstream by stirring human emotions.  Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Rakesh Batabyal’s Building a Free India, a collection of powerful speeches from the past.

Within the confines of the Raj, there was a long court case where a prince who had been declared dead resurfaced as a Naga sadhu[3], a claimant to the throne, this time not to abuse his power as of past but to be a sympathiser of the people in their tryst to fight the Raj. Aruna Chakravarti has woven a historical fiction around this controversy centring around the prince of Bhawal. In an exclusive interview, she tells us the story behind the making of The Mendicant Prince — her novel that was published just last month. Her responses could well teach us how to write a historical novel.

We have much more than the fare that has been mentioned here. Pause by on our contents page to take a look. My heartfelt thanks to the whole team at Borderless for helping with this issue, which we managed to get out in a shorter time than usual and Sohana Manzoor for her wonderful artwork. I am grateful to all our contributors as well as our readers. We could not have made it this far without all of you.

In the spirit of uniting under a borderless sky, let us look forward to cooler climes and happier times.

Cheers!

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com


[1] Guptas (4-6 century CE), Cholas (300 BCE -1279 CE) and other ancient rulers in the Indian sub-continent

[2] A festival held in August where sisters of all ages tie a talisman or amulet called the rakhi around the wrists of their brothers, who promise to protect them.

[3] Mendicant

Categories
Poetry

Poetry by Ratnottama Sengupta

SUN DAY

I gifted myself a
Sunday morning
Today.
When I opened my eyes
The sun was racing
To get a hold
Of the sky.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,
I hold up that sky
For my world.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday,
I outrun the sun.
I outshine the lamp,
I stay up
Half the night,
There's a story to send.
I wake up and jump
To my feet,
There's tiffin to be made,
A wedding -- or a funeral
To attend;
Dents on the car 
Clogged drains
Flickering lights
CESC, KMC, TataSky*,
Landline, WiFi
Bills to be paid,
Fines to be avoided...
Today I will give a miss
To all that.
Today I will not answer calls,
Today I will not be
At any seminar.
Today I will stay in bed
And look out of the window
Today I will gift the sun
The whole run
Of the sky.

*CESC: Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation
KMC: Kolkata Municipal Council
TataSky:  An Indian direct broadcast satellite service provider

Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. 

.

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