“May is pretty, May is mild,
Dances like a happy child…”
Annette Wynne (Early twentieth century)
Each month is expressed in a different form by nature in various parts of the world. In the tropics, May is sweltering and hot — peak summer. In the Southern hemisphere, it is cold. However, with climate change setting in, the patterns are changing, and the temperatures are swinging to extremes. Sometimes, one wonders if this is a reflection of human minds, which seem to swing like pendulums to create dissensions and conflicts in the current world. Nothing seems constant and the winds of change have taken on a menacing appearance. If we go by Nazrul’s outlook, destruction is a part of creating a new way of life as he contends in his poem, ‘Ring Bells of Victory’ — “Why fear destruction? It’s the gateway to creation!” Is this how we will move towards ‘dancing like a happy child’?
Mitra Phukan addresses this need for change in her novel, What Will People Say — not with intensity of Nazrul nor in poetry but with a light feathery wand, more in the tradition of Jane Austen. Her narrative reflects on change at various levels to explore the destruction of old customs giving way to new that are more accepting and kinder to inclusivity, addressing issues like widow remarriage in conservative Hindu frameworks, female fellowship and ageing as Phukan tells us in her interview. Upcoming voice, Prerna Gill, lauded by names like Arundhathi Subramaniam and Chitra Divakaruni, has also been in conversation with Shantanu Ray Choudhuri on her book of verses, Meanwhile. She has refreshing perspectives on life and literature.
Devraj Singh Kalsi has written a nostalgic piece that hovers between irony and perhaps, a reformatory urge… I am not quite sure, but it is as enjoyable and compelling as Meredith Stephen’s narrative on her conservation efforts in Kangaroo Island in the Southern hemisphere and fantastic animals she meets, livened further by her photography. Ravi Shankar talks of his night hikes in the Northern hemisphere, more accurately, in the Himalayas. While trekking at night seems a risky task, trying to recreate dishes from the past is no less daunting, as Suzanne Kamata tells us in her Notes from Japan.
May hosts the birthday of a number of greats, including Tagore and Satyajit Ray. Ratnottama Sengupta’s piece on Ray’s birth anniversary celebrations with actress Jaya Bachchan recounting her experience while working for Ray in Mahanagar(Big City), a film that has been restored and was part of celebrations for the filmmaker’s 102nd Birth anniversary captures the nostalgia of a famous actress on the greatest filmmakers of our times. She has also given us an essay on Tagore and cinema in memory of the great soul, who was just sixty years older to Ray and impacted the filmmaker too. Ray had a year-long sojourn in Santiniketan during his youth.
All the genres we host seem to be topped with a sprinkling of pieces on Tagore as this is his birth month. A book excerpt from Chakravarti’s Daughters of Jorasankonarrates her well-researched version of Tagore’s last birthday celebration and carries her translation of the last birthday song by the giant of Bengali literature. The other book excerpt is from Bhubaneswar@75 – Perspectives, edited by Bhaskar Parichha/ Charudutta Panigrahi. Parichha has also reviewed Journey After Midnight – A Punjabi Life: From India to Canadaby Ujjal Dosanjh, a book that starts in pre-independent India and travels with the writer to Canada via UK. Again to commemorate the maestro’s birth anniversary, Meenakshi Malhotra has revisited Radha Chakravarty’s translation of Tagore’s Farewell Song. Somdatta Mandal has critiqued KR Meera’sJezebel, translated from Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and K. S. Bijukuma. Lakshmi Kannan has introduced to us Jaydeep Sarangi’s collection of poems, letters in lower case.
There are pieces that still reach out to be mentioned. Do visit our content page for May. I would like to thank Sohana Manzoor for her fantastic artwork and continued editorial support for the Tagore translations and the whole team for helping me put together this issue. Thank you. A huge thanks to our loyal readers and contributors who continue to bring in vibrant content, photography and artwork. Without you all, we would not be where we are today.
Death do us part —
A day to celebrate the
Fertility and the
Rites of the passage of
-- Earth Day, Countercurrents,org
Earth Day is a celebration of our planet that has been our cradle and our home for the last 200,000 years, though the Earth itself is much, much older. It is more 4.5 billion years in age…Perhaps a number unimaginable in the small speck of our existence…
Our oeuvre for this occasion starts with non-fiction that celebrates the beauty, the fecundity of the planet along with its colours — travel stories from Himalayas to Antarctica. We meet whales and sail or climb mountains to see what we have done to Earth and its other residents. Through poetry and fiction, including translations of greats like Tagore, Jibanananda Das and Nazrul, we quest to understand the needs of our planet better… Do join us in celebrating our home — yours and mine…
In A view of Mt Everest, Ravi Shankar travels in the freezing cold of Himalayan splendour and shares magnificent photographs of Mt Everest. Click here to read.
Ratnottama Sengupta shows the impact of Gandhi and his call for non-violence on Nabendu Ghosh as she continues to emote over his message of Ahimsa and call for peace amidst rioting. Click here to read.
The night has nearly come to an end.
The old year is almost past.
Under this dust, it will lay down
Its worn-out life at last.
Whether friend or foe, wherever you go,
Old wrongs cast
Away. On this auspicious day,
Old grievances shed as the old year parts.
— Nobo Borshe or on New Year by Tagore
Mid-April, Thailand celebrates Songkran and Cambodia, Thingyan — water festivals like Holi. These coincide with the celebration of multiple New Years across Asia. Sikhs celebrate Baisakhi. Kerala celebrates Bishu and Tamil Nadu, Puthandu. Nepal celebrates Nava Varsha and Bengal Nobo Borsho or Poila Boisakh. A translation of Tagore’s poem on the Bengali New Year in spirit asks us to dispense with our past angst and open our hearts to the new day — perhaps an attitude that might bring in changes that are so needed in a world torn with conflicts, hatred and anger. The poet goes on to say, “I want to tie all lives with love” but do we do that in our lives? Can we? Masud Khan’s poems on love translated by Professor Fakrul Alam explore this from a modern context. From Korea, Ihlwha Choi tells us in his translation, “Loving birds is like loving stars”. But the translation that really dwells on love bringing in changes is Nabendu Ghosh’s ‘Gandhiji’, translated by Ratnottama Sengupta, his daughter. The short story by Ghosh highlights the transformation of a murderous villain to a defender of a victim of communal violence, towering above divides drawn by politics of religion.
Another daughter who has been translating her father’s works is Amna Ali, daughter of award-winning Punjabi writer, Nadir Ali. In ‘Khaira, the Blind‘, the father-daughter duo have brought to Anglophone readers a lighter narrative highlighting the erasure of divides and inclusivity. A folktale from Balochistan, translated by Fazal Baloch, echoes in the footsteps of ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ — a story that can found in the Andersen’s Fairy Tales published in the nineteenth century. I wonder which narrative had come first? And how did it cross cultures retaining the original ideas and yet giving it a local colour? Was it with traders or immigrants?
That such narratives or thoughts are a global phenomenon is brought to the fore by a conversation between Keith Lyons and Asian Australian poet Adam Aitken. Aitken has discussed his cross-cultural identity, the challenges of travel, writing, and belonging. Belonging is perhaps also associated with acceptance. How much do we accept a person, a writer or his works? How much do we empathise with it — is that what makes for popularity?
Cross cultural interactions are always interesting as Rhys Hughes tells us in his essay titled ‘My Love for RK Narayan’. He writes: “Narayan is able to do two contradictory things simultaneously, namely (1) show that we are all the same throughout the world, and (2) show how cultures and people around the world differ from each other.” The underlying emotions that tie us together in a bond of empathy and commonality are compassion and love, something that many great writers have found it necessary to emphasise.
Mitra Phukan’sWhat Will People say?: A Novel is built around such feelings of love, compassion and patience that can gently change narrow norms which draw terrifying borders of hate and unacceptance. We carry an excerpt this time from her ‘Prologue’. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed Chitra Banerjee Divakurni’s latest , Independence. Starting from around the time of the Indian Independence too is Song of the Golden Sparrow – A Novel History of Free India by Nilanjan P. Choudhary, which has been discussed by Rakhi Dalal. The Partition seems to colour narratives often as does the Holocaust. Sometimes, one wonders if humanity will ever get over the negative emotions set into play in the last century.
Closer to our times, when mingling of diverse cultures is becoming more acceptable in arts, Basudhara Roy introduces us to Bina Sarkar Ellias’s Ukiyo-e Days…Haiku Moments, a book that links poetry to a Japanese art-form. While a non-fiction that highlights the suffering of workers by enforcing unacceptable work ethics, Japanese Management, Indian Resistance: The Struggles of the Maruti Suzuki Workersby Anjali Deshpande and Nandita Haksar has been reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha. The narrative, he writes, “tells the story of the biggest car manufacturer in India through the voices of the workers, interviewed over three years. They give us an understanding that the Maruti Suzuki revolution wasn’t the unmitigated success it was touted to be when they tell us about their resistance to being turned into robots by uncompromising management.” That lack of human touch creates distress in people’s hearts, even if we have an efficient system of management and mass production is well elucidated in the review.
These changes are reflected in our musings too. Sengupta has written on how change is wrought on a murderous villain by the charisma of Gandhi in her father’s fiction, as well as this world leader’s impact on Ghosh and her. Devraj Singh Kalsi addresses food fads with a pinch of sarcasm. From Japan, Suzanne Kamata has written of a little island with Greek influences, a result of cultural ties brought in by the emperor Hirohito. Ravi Shankar takes us to Pokhara, Nepal, and Meredith Stephen expresses surprise on meeting a shipload of people from Colorado in the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere while on her sailing adventures with beautiful photographs. Stories by moderns reflect diverse nuances depicting change. While Brindley Hallam Dennis writes of the passing of an era, PG Thomas integrates the past into the present to reflect how they have a symbiotic structure in the scheme of creating or recreating natural movements through changes wrought over time in his story. Paul Mirabile explores the darker recesses of the human existence in his fiction. As if in continuation, the excerpt from Rhys Hughes’ The Wistful Wanderings of Perceval Pitthelmseems to step out of darker facets of humanity with a soupçon of wit at its best.
To create a world that endures, one looks for values that create inclusivity as reflected in these lines from Charles Chaplin’s My Autobiography, “Mother illuminated to me the kindliest light this world has ever known, which has endowed literature and the theatre with their greatest themes: love, pity and humanity.” This quote starts off a wonderful essay from film-buff Nirupama Kotru. Her narrative carries the tenor of Chaplin’s ‘themes’ to highlight not only her visit to the actor’s last home in Switzerland but also glances at his philosophy and his contributions to cinema across borders.
Our issue rotates around changes and the need for love and compassion to rise in a choral crescendo whirling with the voices of Tagore, Charles Chaplin as well as that of twenty-first century writers. Perhaps this new year, we can move towards a world – at least an imagined world — where love will wipe away weapons and war, where love will take us towards a future filled with the acceptance of myriad colours, where events like the Partition and the Holocaust will be history, just like dinosaurs.
Huge thanks to all our readers and contributors, some of whom may not have been mentioned here but are an integral and necessary part of the issue. Do pause by our April edition. I would also like to give my thanks to our indefatigable team whose efforts breathe life into our journal every month. Sohana Manzoor needs a special mention for her lovely artwork.
The view of the Himalayan ranges through the airplane window to the right was breath-taking. The February day was bright and sunny, and the Himalayan giants were clearly seen. I was flying on an ATR 72 aircraft from Kathmandu to Pokhara. The flight was short (around 20 minutes) and soon I could see the Pokhara valley and the town far below. The town is cut into deep gorges by rivers flowing down from the Himalayas. I could see the vast building of the Manipal Teaching Hospital at the base of a huge hill.
Pokhara is a magical city located in the western region of Nepal. Unfortunately, many confuse it with Pokhran, the site of India’s nuclear tests. I faced some difficulty explaining the location of these two places and their stark differences. The town is located about 250 km west of the capital, Kathmandu. The altitude is lower at around 900 m (Kathmandu is at 1300 m). Winters are less cold but there are violent hailstorms and thunderstorms during summer. The view of the Annapurna Himals (snow-covered mountains in Nepali) from Pokhara is spectacular. The Annapurnas have several peaks – Annapurna I, II, III, Hiunchuli, and Gangapurna. The fishtail mountain, Macchapucchare dominates the view from Pokhara. The fishtail aspect with twin peaks is only seen once you leave the Pokhara valley. The face of a tiger is said be discerned on the face of the peak. I spent a lot of time and effort trying to discern the tiger’s face. Then, one day, after a few years sustained effort suddenly my efforts paid off. I was able to see the tiger!
Dashain (called Dussehra in India) is Nepal’s most important festival and celebrations go on for over two weeks. During autumn and winter, the air is clear, the dust has settled and the mountain views are spectacular. In the morning the faculty gather for tea/coffee near the mess at the Deep campus of Manipal College of Medical Sciences and enjoy a spectacular view. Watching birds glide against the clear blue sky and the clouds slowly gathering on the Himals is a unique experience. You could spend hours sitting quietly drinking in the view in the warm winter sunshine.
There are several day hikes around Pokhara. You can walk down to Lakeside. This takes a good ninety minutes from Phulbari where the Manipal Teaching Hospital is located. You can continue walking past the lake passing through rapidly urbanising villages, tourist lodges and restaurants. Phewa Lake is the jewel of Pokhara though it may be becoming congested. A road has been constructed around the lake and the lakeside is full of tourist hotels. The Tal Bharahi temple situated in the middle of the lake can be accessed by boat. Dervla Murphy stayed in Pokhara during the 1960s and writes about the pristine Phewa lake without the tourist accoutrements in her book ‘The waiting land’.
Pokhara Thakali Kitchen located at Lakeside serves authentic Thakali food. Thakalis are an ethnic group from the Thak Khola valley north of Pokhara famous as innkeepers and restaurateurs. I enjoyed piping hot rice, green dhal (lentil curry), saag (green leafy vegetables), potatoes roasted in ghiu (clarified butter), tomato achar (pickle), and the wonderful chicken or mutton jhol (curry in Nepali). I am also partial to dhido — a paste made from either corn or buckwheat. Another favourite place was a restaurant located toward the end of the lake. The tables were placed in small, thatched huts and you could enjoy the view while food was being prepared. There were also a few cots to enjoy a siesta. Their daal-bhaat-tarkari (lentil curry, rice, vegetables) and chicken curry were exceptional. In Nepal, restaurants usually prepare orders fresh, and you can expect to wait up to an hour for your order to be prepared.
Sarangkot located at the height of around 1500 m offers spectacular views of the Dhaulagiri Himals to the west, the Annapurna range, and even the Manasulu peaks to the east. The area can get crowded during winter mornings and evenings as tourists and guides gather to watch the mountains turning golden, and different shades of red during spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The Annapurna Sherpa Resort is close by, and my friends and I had spent several New Years’ Eves there. From Sarangkot, you can descend to the lakeside. The trail is steep and passes through several villages. You can watch the hang gliders taking off, their colourful canopies staying suspended in the air and eventually landing at the far side of the lake.
Kahundada is the mountain immediately behind the hospital. A road has now been cut to the top but two decades ago you had to climb up through stone staircases. There is a view tower at the top and you can enjoy the view of the Himals without the crowds. However, there are no hotels near the top so reaching the tower in time for sunrise is challenging. Devi’s fall is another attraction. In Pokhara, the ground in most areas is made of soft limestone and this can get dissolved in the acidic rainwater. In the Deep campus of Manipal, there were sudden cave-ins caused by limestone erosion. Devi’s fall is said to be named after a Swiss lady, Devine who went swimming in the fall but was swept away by a sudden gust of water. The Nepali name is Patale ko chango (underground waterfall).
The Gupteshwar Mahadev cave dedicated to Lord Shiva is nearby. This bat cave (chamere gufa in Nepali) is the habitat of the horseshoe bats. The exit requires some climbing and is narrower than the entrance. There is a belief that only those who have not sinned would be able to exit the cave. One of my favourite walks was to the village of Mauja. The trail climbs up through green forests and waterfalls. Mauja is a typical hill village and a good weekend hike. Another excellent hike is from Naudanda to the lakeside. You can take a bus to Naudanda and then walk down to the lake. You pass through several villages. Kaskikot was the old capital of the kings of Kaski. There is a fort on the hilltop with a good view over the valley. There is also a Kashyap hill where the rishi Kashyap is said to have meditated. A few high-end tourist hotels have now been established here. The view of the blue waters of Phewa lake get bigger as you slowly approach the lakeside.
Begnas and Rupa lakes are two other lakes in the valley. Begnas lake is less crowded and is famous for its fish stalls. A small, forested hill, Panchabhaiya Dada, separates the two lakes. The waters of Begnas look darker and deeper. The International Mountain Museum was opened in Pokhara in 2004. The location offers spectacular views of the Annapurnas. The museum has three main exhibition halls: the Hall of Great Himalayas, the Hall of Fame, and the Hall of World Mountains. The cultures of the mountain people are also depicted. Bindhyabashini temple, the oldest temple in Pokhara was established in the 1760s. There is an interesting legend about the temple. The King of Kaski dreamt about establishing the temple. He had his men go to Bindhyachal Parbat and bring back an idol of the Goddess. While returning the men camped for the night in the current temple location. The next morning, they found they could not move the idol, and the king when informed ordered the temple to be set up at the current location.
I enjoyed reading the fascinating book by Jagannath Adhikari and David Seddon, Pokhara: Biography of a Town. Pokhara is today one of the fastest-growing towns in Nepal. Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese monk was an early explorer of Tibet which he approached through Pokhara and the Thak khola. He was deeply impressed by the beauty of Pokhara. He mentioned in his writings that during all his travels he had never seen a place that rivalled the beauty of Pokhara. Magical Pokhara weaves its charm on visitors and residents alike!
Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
Imagine a world without wars, without divisions, where art forms flow into each other and we live by the African concept of Ubuntu — I am because you are’ — sounds idyllic. But this is the month of March, of poetry, of getting in touch with the Dionysian elements in ourselves. And as we have said earlier in the introduction of Monalisa No Longer Smiles: An Anthology of Writings from across the World, what could be a better spot to let loose this insanity of utopian dreams than Borderless Journal!
Having completed three years of our Earthly existence on the 14th of March, we celebrate this month with poetry and writing that crosses boundaries — about films, literature and more. This month in the Festival of Letters or Sahityaotsav 2023, organised by the Sahitya Akademi, films were discussed in conjunction with literature. Ratnottama Sengupta, who attended and participated in a number of these sessions, has given us an essay to show how deep run the lyrics of Bollywood films, where her father, Nabendu Ghosh, scripted legends. It is Ghosh’s birth month too and we carry a translation from his Bengali autobiography which reflects how businessmen drew borders on what sells… After reading the excerpt from Nabendu’s narrative translated by Dipankar Ghosh and post-scripted by Sengupta, one wonders if such lines should ever have been drawn?
Questioning borders of a different kind, we have another piece of a real-life narrative on a Japanese Soldier, Uehara. Written by an Assamese writer called Kamaleswar Barua, it has been translated and introduced by Bikash K. Bhattacharya. The story focusses on a soldier’s narrative at his death bed in an alien land. We are left wondering how his need for love and a home is any different from that of any one of ours? Who are the enemies — the soldiers who die away from their homes? What are wars about? Can people live in peace? They seemed to do so in Kurigram, a land that has faded as suggests the poem by Masud Khan, brought to us in translation from Bangla by Professor Fakrul Alam, though in reality, the area exists. Perhaps, it has changed… as does wood exposed to a bonfire, which has been the subject of a self-translated Korean poem by Ihlwha Choi. Tagore’s poem, Borondalatranslated as ‘Basket of Offerings’, has the last say: “Just as the stars glimmer / With light in the dark night, / A spark awakens within/ My body. / This luminosity illuminates / All my work.” And perhaps, it is this luminosity that will also help us find our ideal world and move towards it, at least with words.
Our journey has been a short one — three years is a short span. But, with goodwill from all our readers and contributors, we are starting to crawl towards adulthood. I thank you all as caregivers of Borderless Journal as I do my fabulous team and the artists who leave me astounded at their ability to paint and write — Sohana Manzoor, Gita Vishwanath and Pragya Bajpai.
The plane was descending steadily. We were approaching an island. The sandy coastline and the hotels were now visible on the left. I was seated in the last row and luckily had the entire row to myself. The sand was white, and the waters of the Caribbean Sea were a deep turquoise blue. I was fascinated by the depth and translucence of the colours. A few boats and yachts were seen, cutting through the waters and we landed shortly.
Aruba, a small island located just off the coast of Venezuela is a part of the Netherlands. The island is a major destination for sun worshippers from North America. During the cold winter months, they do their surya namaskars (saluting the Sun exercise) in Aruba and other sunny places. The island is small at around 32 kilometres by 10 kilometres. The soil is sandy and there are no rivers. The island was considered useless by the Spaniards who termed it islas inutiles. The origin of the name Aruba is debated. The most accepted version is that the name may have been derived from Caquetio Indian, Oruba meaning well situated. The island is mostly flat and there are four main settlements. Oranjestad is the capital and the biggest city. San Nicholas is the entertainment hub, and Paradera and Santa Cruz are located more inland. Noord and Savaneta are the other settlements. The legal population is around 140, 000 though there may be several thousand undocumented immigrants.
Tourism has become a major source of revenue for the island like other islands and countries in the Caribbean. The island is well known in North America and the Netherlands and advertises itself as ‘One Happy Island’. During the pre-COVID days, the island used to receive nearly one million tourists yearly. Aruba is distant from South Asia; the most convenient connections are through Amsterdam and the United States (US). The island is well connected to the Eastern US and there is a US Immigration pre-clearance facility at the airport.
I was living in the capital, Oranjestad (orange city — named after the royal Dutch family, House of Orange),working at the Xavier University School of Medicine and my old friend from Nepal, Dr Dubey, was the Dean of Basic Sciences. I stayed near the school in a place called Paradijs.
Trade winds constantly blow across the island bringing down the temperature and keeping things tolerable. Walking in the housing colonies in Aruba can be a challenge. Most houses have aggressive dogs who seem to think their areas of influence extends right to the middle of the road. A house near mine had three dogs who always gave me a tough time.
Rains are not common in Aruba. Clouds gather but are blown away to the mainland of Latin America. Aruba is not built for rain. The streets flood and the college also used to get flooded after a downpour. I enjoyed walking along the seashore.
Once you leave the houses behind, the dogs are absent. A linear park runs from the airport to the cruise ship terminal. The path is paved with red stones and lined with divi-divi trees.
There is also exercise equipment installed at the surfside beach. The view of the sea is great and the sunsets on the island are spectacular. Divi-divi trees are common on the island and always point in a south-westerly direction due to the strong trade winds. Watching the planes land and take off at the airport is fascinating. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flies the Airbus A330 which is the largest plane flying to the island.
The carnival is a major celebration in Aruba and started as a series of street celebrations in 1954. The month of February is full of different carnival events. I attended a night parade one year and the event was spectacular. The sun can be hot and this needs to be factored in while watching the parades in the daytime.
San Nicolas has an oil refinery and is the fun side of the island. It also has a more Caribbean feel, and the cost of living is lower than Oranjestad. The oil refinery was once the largest in the Western hemisphere and was the target of German U-boats during WW II. There is a beautiful beach (Baby Beach) near the refinery.
Aruba has a Jekyll and Hyde personality. The Caribbean side facing Latin America has spectacular beaches and calm, turquoise waters. The Atlantic side is a different matter. The coast is rocky and splintered and the waters of the Atlantic Ocean crash with brute force.
There is a gold mine and a natural bridge on the north and a large windmill farm. Semi-domestic goats graze in the arid landscape. I liked going to the wild side and watching the brute force of nature. The Arikok National Park occupies nearly a third of the island and has the highest peak, Yamanota (about 250 m), and spectacular cacti. It also has a cunucu, a traditional Aruban house. A Cunucu has thick walls that are whitewashed with small windows to stay cool in the heat.
Rainwater is collected for daily use. Today the water needs are met by desalinating sea water. The plant is located near Savaneta on the highway to San Nicolas. Water and electricity supply is stable, and disruptions are rare.
Most people have cars while the blue Arubuses provide public transportation. The bus frequency is low. Hooiberg is a mountain that rises steeply from the surrounding plains and climbing to the top provides excellent views of Oranjestad, the harbour, and the surrounding countryside.
The area around Noord is the tourist heartland and the lemon-yellow California lighthouse is located here. The lighthouse is named after the steamship, California, which sank near these waters in 1891. The downtown area of Oranjestad has Wilhelmina Park, Fort Zoutman, and the Willem III tower. The fort was built in 1798 by African slaves. There is also a historical museum nearby providing an excellent overview of the island’s history and geology. The Alto Vista chapel has a spectacular view of the surroundings and was originally built in 1750 by the Spanish missionary, Domingo Antonio Silvestre.
Aruba may be the most Latinised of the Caribbean islands. There is also a strong Dutch influence. Dutch and Papiamento are widely spoken. Papiamento is a Portuguese-based creole language. English and Spanish are also widely understood.
Aruba grows high-quality aloe vera and Aruba Aloe founded in 1890 is the world’s oldest aloe factory. Aruba has plenty of beaches, Druif beach, Eagle beach, Palm beach, Malmok beach, and others. The island has invested in equipment to maintain the beaches. Turtles lay their eggs in the white sand and hatchlings clumsily move back to the ocean. The natural pool or conchi is located on the north side. Butterfly farm, Philips’s animal garden, and the Donkey sanctuary provide shelter to the fauna. You can volunteer at the donkey sanctuary. In Aruba, many families camp out on the beach during Easter. My landlord and his family used to camp on the surfside beach near the airport.
Aruba has high human development indicators. Healthcare is provided by the government through a corporation financed by taxes. Alcohol is widely consumed but I did not see drunken fights or disorderliness during my time on the island. Drivers need to be careful on Friday nights when parties get going. This arrow-shaped island with a variety of cultures and influences is geographically sheltered from the worst hurricanes with the balmy weather, caressing winds caressing, and inviting waters. The people are friendly. The moniker ‘One Happy Island’ may be well deserved!
“Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse -- and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.”
― Omar Khayyám (1048-1131); translation from Persian by Edward Fitzgerald (Rubaiyat, 1859)
I wonder why Khayyam wrote these lines — was it to redefine paradise or just to woo his beloved? I like to imagine it was a bit of both. The need not to look for a paradise after death but to create one on Earth might well make an impact on humankind. Maybe, they would stop warring over an invisible force that they call God or by some other given name, some ‘ism’. Other than tens of thousands dying in natural disasters like the recent earthquake at the border of Turkiye and Syria, many have been killed by wars that continue to perpetrate divides created by human constructs. This month houses the second anniversary of the military junta rule in Myanmar and the first anniversary of the Ukrainian-Russian war that continues to decimate people, towns, natural reserves, humanity, economics relentlessly, polluting the environment with weapons of mass destruction, be it bombs or missiles. The more weapons we use, the more we destroy the environment of our own home planet.
Sometimes, the world cries for a change. It asks to be upended.
We rethink, reinvent to move forward as a species or a single race. We relook at concepts like life and death and the way we run our lives. Redefining paradise or finding paradise on Earth, redefining ‘isms’ we have been living with for the past few hundred years — ‘isms’ that are being used to hurt others of our own species, to create exclusivity and divisions where none should exist — might well be a requisite for the continuance of our race.
Voices of change-pleaders rang out in the last century with visionaries like Tagore, Gandhi, Nazrul, Satyajit Ray urging for a more accepting and less war-bound world. This month, Ratnottama Sengupta has written on Ray’s legendary 1969 film, Goopy Gyne, Bagha Byne: “The message he sent out loud and with laughter: ‘When people have palatable food to fill their belly and music to fill their soul, the world will bid goodbye to wars.’” Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri has given an essay on one of the greatest pacifists, Gandhi, and his attitudes to films as well as his depiction in movies. What was amazing is Gandhi condemned films and never saw their worth as a mass media influencer! The other interesting thing is his repeated depiction as an ethereal spirit in recent movies which ask for changes in modern day perceptions and reforms. In fact, both these essays deal with ghosts who come back from the past to urge for changes towards a better future.
Delving deeper into the supernatural is our interviewee, Abhirup Dhar, an upcoming writer whose ghost stories are being adapted by Bollywood. While he does investigative stories linked to supernatural lore, our other interviewee, Andrew Quilty, a renowned journalist who has won encomiums for his coverage on Afghanistan where he spent eight years, shows in his book, August in Kabul:America’s Last Days in Afghanistan and the Return of the Taliban, what clinging to past lores can do to a people, especially women. Where does one strike the balance? We also have an excerpt from his book to give a flavour of his exclusive journalistic coverage on the plight of Afghans as an eyewitness who flew back to the country not only to report but to be with his friends — Afghans and foreigners — as others fled out of Kabul on August 14 th 2021. While culturally, Afghans should have been closer to Khayyam, does their repressive outlook really embrace the past, especially with the Taliban dating back to about only three decades?
This intermingling of life and death and the past is brought to life in our fiction section by Sreelekha Chatterjee and Anjana Krishnan. Aditi Yadav creates a link between the past and our need to travel in her musing, which is reminiscent of Anthony Sattin’s description of asabiyya, a concept of brotherhood that thrived in medieval times. In consonance with wanderlust expressed in Yadav’s essay, we have a number of stories that explore travel highlighting various issues. Meredith Stephens travels to explore the need to have nature undisturbed by external interferences in pockets like Kangaroo Island in a semi-humorous undertone. While Ravi Shankar travels to the land’s end of India to voice candid concerns on conditions within Kerala, a place that both Keith Lyons and Rhys Hughes had written on with love and a sense of fun. It is interesting to see the contrasting perspectives on Southern India.
Professor Fakrul Alam has also translated poetry where a contemporary Bengali writer, Masud Khan, cogitates on history while Ihlwha Choi has translated his own poem from Korean. A translation of Tagore’s poem on the ocean tries to capture the vastness and the eternal restlessness that can be interpreted as whispers carried through eons of history. Fazal Baloch has also shared a poem by one of the most revered modern Balochi voices, that of Atta Shad. Our pièce de resistance is a translation of Premchand’s Balak or the Child by Anurag Sharma.
This vibrant edition would not have been possible without all the wonderful translators, writers, photographers and artists who trust us with their work. My heartfelt thanks to all of you, especially, Srijani Dutta for her beautiful painting, ‘Hope in Winter’, and Sohana for her amazing artwork. My heartfelt thanks to the team at Borderless Journal, to our loyal readers some of whom have evolved into fabulous contributors. Thank you.
Do write in telling us what you think of the journal. We look forward to feedback from all of you as we head for the completion of our third year this March.