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Contents

Borderless February 2022

Winter in Africa. Painting by Sybil Pretious.

Editorial

What’s Love Got to Do with it’ … Click here to read.

Interviews

Sriniketan: Tagore’s “Life Work”: In Conversation with Professor Uma Das Gupta, Tagore scholar, author of A History of Sriniketan, where can be glimpsed what Tagore considered his ‘life’s work’ as an NGO smoothening divides between villagers and the educated. Click here to read.

Akbar: The Man who was King: In conversation with eminent journalist and author, Shazi Zaman, author of Akbar, A Novel of History. Click here to read.

Translations

One Day in the Fog, written by Jibananda Das and translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Mahnu, a poem by Atta Shad, translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

A Superpower in the Pandemic, written and translated from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Eyes of the Python, a short story by S.Ramakrishnan, translated from Tamil by Dr.B.Chandramouli. Click here to read.

Raatri Eshe Jethay Meshe by Tagore has been translated from Bengali as Where the Night comes to Mingle by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Pandies’ Corner

These stories are written by youngsters from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. The column starts with a story, Stranger than Fiction from Sharad Kumar in Hindustani, translated to English by Grace M Sukanya. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Rhys Hughes, A Jessie Michael, Jay Nicholls, Moonmoon Chowdhury, Mike Smith, David Francis, Ananya Sarkar, Matthew James Friday, Ashok Suri, John Grey, Saptarshi Bhattacharya, Candice Louisa Daquin, Emalisa Rose, Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Nature’s Musings

Penny Wilkes explores dewdrops and sunrise in A Dewdrop World. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

Rhys Hughes explores the paranormal with his usual wit in Three Ghosts in a Boat. Promise not to laugh or smile as you shiver… Click here to read.

Musings/ Slices from Life

Requiem for the Melody Queen

Ratnottama Sengupta sings her own paean in which a chorus of voices across the world join her to pay a tribute to a legend called Lata Mangeshkar. Click here to read.

Forsaking Distant Hemispheres for the Immediate Locale

Meredith Stephens introduces us to the varied fauna found in South Australia with vivid photographs clicked by her. Click here to read.

Breaking the fast

P Ravi Shankar takes us through a breakfast feast around the world. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Life without a Pet, Devraj Singh Kalsi gives a humorous take on why he does not keep a pet. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Bridging Cultures through Music, author Suzanne Kamata introduces us to Masaki Nakagawa, a YouTuber who loves Lativia and has made it big, playing for the President of Lativia at the Japanese coronation. Click here to read.

Essays

Farewell Keri Hulme

A tribute by Keith Lyons to the first New Zealand Booker Prize winner, Keri Hulme, recalling his non-literary encounters with the sequestered author. Click here to read.

Satyajit Ray’s Cinematic Universe: Can Isolation Lead to a New World?

Rebanta Gupta explores two films of Satyajit Ray, Kanchenjunga & Charulata to see what a sense of isolation can do for humans? Click here to read.

‘What remains is darkness and facing me – Banalata Sen!’

Rakibul Hasan Khan explores death and darkness in Fakrul Alam’s translation of Jibanananda Das’s poetry. Click here to read.

Dhaka Book Fair: A Mansion and a Movement

Ratnottama Sengupta writes of a time a palace called Bardhaman House became the centre of a unique tryst against cultural hegemony. The Language Movement of 1952 that started in Dhaka led to the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. In 1999, UNESCO recognised February 21 as the Mother Language Day. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

 In To Be or Not to Be, Candice Louisa Daquin takes a close look at death and suicide. Click here to read.

Stories

Navigational Error

Luke P.G. Draper explores the impact of pollution with a short compelling narrative. Click here to read.

The Art of Sleeping

Atreyo Chowdhury spins an absurd tale or could it be true? Click here to read.

Dear Dr Chilli…

Maliha Iqbal writes of life as a young girl in a competitive world. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In MissingSunil Sharma gives us a long literary yarn. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

Two Banalata Sen poems excerpted from Jibanananda Das: Selected Poems with an Introduction, Chronology and Glossary, translated from Bengali by Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

An excerpt from Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan. Translated from the Bengali by Radha Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Indrashish Banerjee reviews The Best of Travel Writing of Dom Moraes: Under Something of a Cloud. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews Masala and Murder by Patrick Lyons. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Kavery Nambisan’s A Luxury called Health. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Growing up Jewish in India: Synagogues, Customs, and Communities from the Bene Israel to the Art of Siona Benjamin, edited by Ori Z. Soltes. Click here to read.

Special Issues

Cry, Our Beloved… Click here to read (For Peace)

Born to be Wild …Click here to read (World Wild Life Day)

Categories
Editorial

‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’

Art by Sohana Manzoor
‘Why does education in love not feature in today’s curriculum?’
— Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan (Translated by Radha Chakravarty, 2022, Seagull Books)

As the world celebrates Valentine’s Day, one pauses to think how far commercialisation has seeped in over time that the very concept of a tender emotion was questioned by Tina Turner in a song called, “What’s love got to do with it” nearly four decades ago. 

This was written even before Mahasweta Devi (1926-2016) published a nostalgic memoir of 1930’s Santiniketan in Bengali in 2001. She raised her pen to ask the very pertinent question that is quoted above. Why is education in love not a part of our curriculum anymore? She was reminiscing about her days in Santiniketan where children were brought up with rigorous academics while discipline was coloured with love and affection. They nurtured a love for nature in students too. This has become a rarity for many and perhaps needs to be revived as the Earth struggles to continue habitable for humankind. In the process of educating students to love and give, Santiniketan threw up many greats like the writer herself. We are delighted to host an excerpt from the start of Our Santiniketan translated beautifully by Radha Chakravarty.

Santiniketan was only the very visible part of a huge project taken on by Tagore (1861-1941). The other part now united with Santiniketan under the banner of Visva Bharati University is Sriniketan, a group of villages where Tagore experimented with raising consciousness and standards of villagers to integrate them into a larger world. He brought in new techniques in agriculture and crafts into the villages under this programme involving many prominent scientists, artists and humanists. And the project has blossomed. Did you know Tagore thought of himself as an NGO and his ‘life work’ he felt was developing villages (Sriniketan) and educating young minds to build a world where borders of knowledge, poverty and ignorance could be smoothened?

He wrote: “I alone cannot take responsibility for the whole of India. But even if two or three villages can be freed from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance, an ideal for the whole of India would be established.

“Fulfill this ideal in a few villages only, and I will say that these few villages are my India. And only if that is done, will India be truly ours.”

All this can be found in a book called A History of Sriniketan (Niyogi Books), written by Uma Das Gupta, a major authority on Tagore who moved from Oxford to Santiniketan and made Tagore’s work in these two institutions her own life’s work. We have featured her and her book in our interview/review section.

Raised out of such ashes of poverty that Tagore sought to dispel, are youngsters from the village of Nithari, where ceaseless efforts by volunteers of organisations like Saksham and pandies’ has given a new lease for life to those who have been exposed to violations, violence, divides, poverty and deprivation. One of them, Sharad Kumar, now studying to be an engineer, kicks off our new section called Pandies’ Corner with his story in Hindustani translated by a volunteer, Grace M Sukanya. His story learns from history and shows rather than tells.

A similar approach to view the present through lenses focussed on the past at a much grander scale has been taken by Shazi Zaman, an author and journalist, who has stepped into the Anglophone world with the transcreation of his own novel from Hindi to English, Akbar, A Novel of History (Speaking Tiger Books). He has brought to the fore how in days when sectarian violence based on religions killed, Akbar (1542-1605) tried to create a new path that would lead to peace so that he could rule over an empire united by administration and not broken by contentious religious animosities which often led to wars. In his interview, he tells us of the relevance of the Great Mughal in a period of history that was torn by divides, divisions so deep that they continue to smoulder to this day and date. That history repeats itself is evident though our living standards seem to improve over time. Bhaskar Parichha’s review of Growing up Jewish in India: Synagogues, Customs, and Communities from the Bene Israel to the Art of Siona Benjamin, edited by Ori Z. Soltes, also reinforces these divides and amalgamations in the modern context. The other books that have been reviewed include The Best of Travel Writing of Dom Moraes: Under Something of a Cloud by Indrashish Banerjee, and Gracy Samjetsabam has introduced us to an intriguing murder mystery in Masala and Murder by Patrick Lyons.

Translations have thrown up interesting colours this time with a Tamil story by a Sahitya Akademi winning writer, S Ramakrishnan, translated on our pages by B Chandramouli, one from Korean by Ihlwha Choi and of course a transcreation of Tagore’s songs where he sings of the meeting of horizons. A beautiful poem by eminent Balochi poet Atta Shad (1939-1997) has been translated by Fazal Baloch. We are again privileged to host an original translation of Jibananda Das(1899-1954) by Professor Fakrul Alam. We also managed to get permission to share some of Professor Alam’s fabulous translations of Jibananada Das from UPL (United Press Limited) and are starting it out by excerpting two of his poems on Banalata Sen, which were till now restricted to readership who only had access to the hardcopy. Rakibul Hasan Khan has given us an essay on these translations. An interesting essay on Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) by Rebanata Gupta and personalised tribute to the first Booker Prize winner from New Zealand, Keri Hulme (1947-2021), by Keith Lyons, who had many non-literary encounters with the sequestered author, add to the richness of our oeuvre.

Ratnottama Sengupta has also paid a moving tribute to the music legend, Lata Mangeshkar, who died at the age of 92 on 6th February, 2022. The choral symphony of multiple voices that hums through the paean recreating the larger than life presence of Lata reinforces that her lilting voice will stay embedded in many hearts and lives forever. Her perfect honing of musical skills delivered with the right emotions make her an epitome of human excellence. She gave the best of herself to the world.

Brooding on death and suicide is Candice Louisa Daquin essay. This is a topic under discussion as Switzerland might start a resort for abetting suicides. It is rather frightening that while people value life and as technology and humans work in consonance to preserve it, the rich can think of squandering away this unique process that has till now not been replicated. The other strange long literary yarn that is dark in colours is woven by Sunil Sharma as he explores the futility and self-pity experienced by retirees in their existentialist quest to find a meaning to live. It has bits of poetry too. Penny Wilkes has also introduced verses into her photographic tour of dewdrops. Candice’s vibrant poetry this time has joined that of Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Mike Smith, A Jessie Michael, Ananya Sarkar, Jay Nicholls, Saptarshi Bhattacharya, Rhys Hughes and many more I leave you to unfold. Rhys Hughes has also given us a spooky piece which says ghosts might be genies — check it out. Do you agree or is he just being bizarre and funny?

Wrapped in more dry humour is Devraj Singh Kalsi narrative on why he does not want pets. Meredith Stephens, on the contrary loves pets and sails the seas of West Australia with her camera, words, seals and dolphins. Luke PG Draper also speaks for animals — for the intrusion of pollutants that harm creatures like whales in his short story. Hop all over the world with Ravi Shankar breaking nightly fasts with food from different cultures. More colour is brought in by Suzanne Kamata who starts a new column, Notes from Japan — introducing us to Japanese sensation, Masaki Nakagawa, who has sung his way to hearts with Lativian songs that he loves, so much so that he got to perform at the Japanese coronation and has pictures with the Latvian President.

The time has come to let you discover the mysterious pieces that have not been mentioned here in the February edition — and there are many.  

Before I wind up till the next month, I would like to thank our fabulous team who make this journal possible. Keith Lyons has now become part of that team and has graciously joined our editorial board. Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious deserve a special kudos for their fabulous artwork. Our grateful, heartfelt thanks to all our wonderful contributors and readers who keep the journal alive.

Wish you all a lovely month.

Best wishes,

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

Categories
Essay

Satyajit Ray’s Cinematic Universe: Can Isolation Create a New World?

 By Rebanta Gupta

The Hungarian Marxist philosopher György Lukács coined the term “transcendental homelessness” in his essay The Theory of the Novel, to explore the feeling of homesickness prevalent in the arena of modern philosophy. The ecosystem of the epic was governed by the cosmic laws of fate, the transcendental signified was ever-present to protect mankind, and the human soul found a transcendental home in that cosmic destiny. The celebrated Postcolonial scholar Edward Said, in his essay, ‘Reflections on Exile’ observes, “Classical epics, Lukács wrote, emanate from settled cultures in which the values are clear, identities stable, life unchanging.” Novel, the brainchild of modernity, is the site where this “transcendental homelessness” functions. The European novel emerged out of a changing society, where the omnipotent figure of God had been effaced, with the invasion of skepticism and rationality. Novels germinate from a societal structure, Said writes, “in which an itinerant and disinterested middle-class hero or heroine seeks to construct a new world, that somewhat resembles an old world left behind forever.” A sense of retrogression, an insatiable urge to return to that erstwhile home haunts the modern world, which suffers from an ontological homelessness. The shadow of this sense of homelessness and estrangement also haunts cinema, which has a novelistic structure. Cinema, which is engraved on celluloid, is written by an auteur, the director, who is analogous to the author of a novel. The characters of the celebrated Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s films suffer from a sense of perpetual homelessness; pangs of isolation and estrangement haunt their sinews and nerves, in the midst of a kaleidoscopic world. This essay would focus on two of Ray’s films: Kanchenjungha (1962) and Charulata (1964) and try to analyze how they create an atmosphere of isolation and estrangement.

Satyajit Ray. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Kanchenjungha (1962) narrates the saga of a wealthy aristocratic family, during the final lap of their vacation at Darjeeling. Inclement weather has shrouded the peak of Mount Kanchenjungha with mist, and a parallel mist of confusion, contradictions, unrequited desire, and unspoken words has enveloped the characters. The film describes the primacy of the father figure in the family ecosystem through the character of Indranath (played by Chhabi Biswas), who is a snooty, pompous, and authoritarian figure, who wants his daughter Manisha (played by Alokananda Roy), to marry a wealthy man whom he has hand-picked for her, but she seems to be reluctant to accept this unilateral decision of her father. William Wordsworth, in the poem Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey (1798), had instructed his sister Dorothy to believe in the ways of nature, which fills the mind “with quietness and beauty” and “lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues, rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men” can demotivate her. But Indranath, it seems, stands vertically opposite to the arena of Wordsworthian exhortations; he is completely alienated from nature, his materialistic drive has effaced his capacity to appreciate the beauteous aspects of Darjeeling and the Himalayan wildness. When the ornitho-enthusiast Jagadish, his brother-in-law (played by Pahari Sanyal) talks about his search for a bird, Indranath nonchalantly asks, “Roast hoy? (Could it be roasted?”). He is marooned in his sequestered island of materialism, and his desire to catch a glimpse of the snow-clad Kanchenjungha is basically a competitive desire to acquire a coveted product, real love of nature is not associated with that. He has high opinions about Banerjee (played by N. Viswanathan), the potential groom for Manisha, because he has a starting salary of twelve hundred rupees, which was indeed a handsome amount in the postcolonial context of the film. Indranath’s wife Labanya (played by Karuna Banerjee) is a subjugated woman, who has a feeble presence before the domineering existence of her husband, and her subjectivity finds no outlet. She, therefore, sits on a bench by the abyss, and at the hour of descending fog, sings the Tagore song E Parabase Rabe Ke Hay (“Alas, who will live in this forlorn and alien land”), set in the Hindustani Classical Raga Kafi, which uses the notes komal gandhar (E-Flat) and komal nishad (B-Flat). The raga creates a melancholic mood, as the song touches the somberness of gandhar and the solitary bohemianism of nishad (which is widely used in the mercurial and melancholic Bengali folk music), and it reflects the alienated state of a woman, who has not had her share of love from her husband. Fog dilutes the outlines of the horizon, as her hopes slowly get extinguished and desperation reigns supreme, and the last line, “Temon apon keho nahi e prantare hay re (There is no one dear and near in this alien world)” mingles with the fog to create an atmosphere of perennial loneliness. Jagadish’s comment, “You have sung after such a long time,” indicates that Labanya’s daily hectic life and Indranath’s iron fist have isolated her from her artistic persona. Rabindranath Tagore talks about the importance of aesthetics in his seminal work Japan Jatri (Travels through Japan, 1919) if humans become too much obsessed with the utilitarian domain, they become machine-like entities, whereas the domain of aesthetics is the area where they can actually realise the true nature of their existence, leading to the experience of the Lebenswelt (life-force)described by Edmund Husserl. The song not only translates Labanya’s melancholia into musical notes, but it also signifies her urge to rediscover her real self, as she expresses concern over the possibility of the smothering of Manisha’s artistic qualities and urges after the marriage. The golden Kanchenjunga, which appears in the last few frames of the film, signifies that cosmic home, the abode of hope, which has hitherto remained elusive to the characters. But in this journey to the cosmic abode, the rogue Indranath is left behind, as he frantically searches for his compatriots, and a terrifying wave of isolation hits him, along with a mocking, derisive tune of a hilly song.

Charulata (1964) is widely regarded as one of the premier achievements of Ray. The film, which is based on the 1901 novella Nashtaneer (The Broken Nest), written by Rabindranath Tagore, narrates the heart-wrenching saga of the eponymous heroine (played by Madhabi Mukherjee), who walks down the solitary passages of an aristocratic house like a spectre. Her husband, Bhupati (played by Shailen Mukherjee), the editor of a political newspaper, nurtures the dream of expanding his business, while Charu suffers from lovelessness; sexual and intellectual dissatisfaction simmers within her. The much-lauded opening scene sets the melancholic tone of the film. The scene where Charu is seen knitting the initials of Bhupati’s name on a handkerchief might remind the audience of Alfred Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, who is imprisoned in an island castle. She weaves a colorful web in her solitary chamber under the shadow of an unknown curse, which will befall her, if she looks down at the city of Camelot. She can only catch glimpses of the “shadows of the world” in the mirror that hangs before her. Charu, like the Lady of Shalott, is imprisoned in an urban mansion, where household chores are managed by a fleet of servants. She watches the activities of the outside world through binoculars, in an effort to reconcile the differences between the home and the world. The images of the palanquin bearers, a man with monkeys, a fat man with an umbrella crossing the road- all these are reminiscent of the “shadows of the world” in Tennyson’s poem written in 1842, which have now appeared on the glasses of Charu’s binocular. But the Lady of Shalott had to pay the price for abandoning her loom and looking down at the blooming water lilies and the “helmet and the plume” of the gallant knight, as Tennyson writes,

Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
      The Lady of Shalott.

Similarly, the curse of infidelity and adultery hits Charu, with the arrival of Amal, her attractive brother-in-law (played by Soumitra Chatterjee). He enters her life in a tempestuous way, which echoes the knight’s entry into the lady’s life. Charu’s isolated state makes her desperate to efface the boundaries separating the home and the world, and the entry of Amal signifies the eruption of the outside world in Charu’s domestic discourse. Ray portrays the psychological gulf between Bhupati and Charu by making Charu stare at the fleeting image of Bhupati through the binocular. He is engrossed in his world of political journalism with no time to accompany his wife, while the latter tries to find solace in literature and other artistic works. But the binocular episode underscores the irreconcilable differences between them. The camera unprecedentedly backtracks, as she lowers the device and stares at her husband with a note of derision in her eyes. This derision anticipates the arrival of Amal, who will occupy the void left by Bhupati will emerge as his sexual and intellectual rival.

The last scene, which incorporates the freeze-frame technique, is reminiscent of the final scene of François Truffaut’s film The 400 Blows (1959) where the teenage protagonist Antoine Doinel stares at the audience by rupturing the fourth wall, and the camera zooms in on his face and refrigerates time, to show the signs of discontentment on his face. Charu and Bhupati face each-other, and the latter’s heart is exploding because of his wife’s supposed infidelity. Though a note of reconciliation is hinted at, when Charu invites Bhupati inside, the frame eventually freezes, the music halts, and Bhupati cannot hold Charu’s extended arm, underlining the impossibility of their conjugal bond. Antoine’s discontentment, along with a sense of guilt, now appears on the couple’s faces, as the word Nashtaneer or “Broken Nest” appears on the screen.

Tagore had celebrated the grandeur of a peaceful abode when he wrote the song “Ohe sundar mama griha aji paramatsaba rati, rekhechhi kanaka mandire kamalasana pati (Beauty, I have laid down the bed of lotus in the golden pagoda for you, on this auspicious night of festivity)”. But Charu and Bhupati fail to construct that resplendent home, since they are separated by circumstances. They could be inhabiting the same house, but with an abysmal gulf between them, they would be suffering from a sense of metaphorical homelessness. In this regard, Charu, Bhupati, and Amal anticipate the ménage à trois between Bimala, Nikhilesh, and Sandip in Ray’s Ghare Baire (1984). Bimala (played by Swatilekha Sengupta) too becomes a victim of the broken nest syndrome, as her nationalistic aspirations are at loggerheads with her conjugal fidelity.

These two films illustrate the urge to reach a cosmic abode of love, unity, and security, which is throttled by the constraints of worldly relationships and circumstances. Charu is searching for that elusive home, where she can find her true self, and fine-tune her soul with the ethereal harmony of the universe, but her failure to touch the perimeters of that utopian abode fills her hearts with pangs of isolation and estrangement. Labanya’s personal moments of discovery through the song by the abyss marks the intersection of solitude and loneliness; solitude has a personal dimension, when an individual can explore the hidden self away from the worldly bustles, but loneliness has an excruciating and universal dimension, that unravels her marooned condition, when materialist forces have encroached and decimated her subjectivity. Kanchenjungha and Charulata underscore the desire of these characters to travel from the world of loneliness and estrangement to the world of solitude, where they can re-explore and rediscover themselves to understand the divine mechanisms of the universe. It is an inward spiritual journey, which intersects with the journey of Christian, the protagonist of John Bunyan’s magnum opus The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678,1684) who had embarked on a quest for the Heavenly City.

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Rebanta Gupta has completed his Postgraduate studies in English Literature from Presidency University, Kolkata. He is interested in Literary Theory, Hindustani Classical Music, Hermeneutics of Film, Narrative of Bengal, and Cultural Studies.

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