Categories
Editorial

Whispers of Stones

When the mountains and grass
had life, stones whispered
how the world came to be…

'Stonehenge', Daily Star

And as the world came to be, there was war — war that seems to rage in some part of the world or other. The British Museum has an exhibit which states the first battle was staged 13,000 years ago… in what is now Sudan, long before the advent of written history. This was even before the advent of people who built the ancient Stonehenge which was constructed around 3000-2000 BCE. And battles still continue to rage. The Jebel Sahaba casualties in Sudan 13000 years ago were less than 100. But the current conflicts claim in terms of tens of thousands which prolonged could stretch to millions. The last world war (1939-1945) which lasted for six years had a total of  75-80 million persons who perished. Ukraine-Russia conflict has within five months had a casualty count of more than 14000. And yet weapons and nuclear arms continue to proliferate decimating humanity, nature and towns, destroying homes, erasing ruthlessly and creating more refugees. The only need for such battles seem to be to satiate the hunger of the warlords secure in their impenetrable fortresses while tens of thousands are annihilated and natural or nurtured landscapes lie emaciated, mutilated and polluted.

What would be a good way of ending such wars?

Tagore sought the development of better instincts in humankind as an antidote. He wrote in the last century: “Any teaching concerning man must have human nature for its chief element. How far it will harmonise with human nature is a matter of time.”

With wars getting deadlier and more horrific, we can only try to awaken, as Tagore suggests, the better nature in man to move towards a peaceful world. What would be a more effective way of doing it than writing with the hope of a kinder and accepting future?

For that let us start with translations of the maestro Tagore himself. We have a song about the season — monsoon, ‘Monomor Megher Songi (My Friends, the Clouds)’, translated by Professor Fakrul Alam, a painting by Sohana Manzoor interpreting the lyrics and a transcreation of Nababarsha or New Rains’ was shrunken into a popular Rabindra Sangeet and reduced to twenty lines in English by Tagore himself. The connect with nature is an important aspect that enables humans to transcend petty concerns leading to dissensions of different kinds as evidenced in the maestro’s humorous feline skit, translated by Somdatta Mandal. A translation of Dalip Kaur Tiwana’s ‘The Bus Conductor’ from Punjabi by C. Christine Fair adds zest to this section. Fazal Baloch has translated a folktale from Balochistan involving the supernatural and Ihlwha Choi has taken on the cry for peace on behalf of Ukraine while translating his own poem in Korean. The Nithari column has a story by Jishan in Hindustani, translated to English by Grace M Sukanya, showcasing the struggle of a youngster during the pandemic – rather a sad narrative, which though fictitious has its roots in reality. 

Our poetry section touches upon the timelessness of dissensions and darkness with Michael R Burch’s poem on Stonehenge and Supatra Sen’s poem on Ukraine. This has been allayed by love poetry by Maid Corbic from Bosnia. George Freek’s poem ruffles with its reflective lines. And in the midst of it all, is poetry by Ryan Quinn Flanagan reflecting on the seven stages of man. Will the process of aging or human nature ever change? I wonder if Rhys Hughes can find an answer for that in humorous verses as he has shared in this issue. In his column, Hughes has written about an imagined anthology of short stories.

Our short story section has echoes of humour around felines by Manzoor, somewhat in tune with the mind frame seen in Tagore’s skit on this issue. Humour rings tinged with an apparition in Erwin Coombs’s narrative – should one call it dark humour or is it just his style? Paul Mirabile goes for gothic darkness in his meanderings around Italy.

Strangely, we seem to have a focus on short stories this time. Keith Lyons has interviewed Steve Carr, a journalist, a publisher and writer of 500 short stories who is questing to create a ‘perfect short story’. Reading out excerpts from her short story at a literary festival in Simla, Bollywood celebrity, Deepti Naval, was in conversation with eminent film journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta. She spoke of her literary aspirations while unveiling her autobiography in verse, A Country Called Childhood. This conversation has been shared by Sengupta with Borderless. It is interesting to see how Naval’s reactions to social malaise contrasts with that of the film director, cinematographer and actor, Goutam Ghose, who was present during the unveiling of her book. He had responded to communal violence by making a film on Lalan Fakir extolling virtues of love and kindness, called Moner Manush (2010) and then made a book on the film called, The Quest (2013) which has beautiful translations of Lalan Fakir’s lyrics by Sankar Sen.  

Our non-fiction sections seem to be hosting multiple travel stories across UK by Mike Smith, along the Australian coastline by Meredith Stephens, on the Himalayas with Ravi Shankar and an unusual visit by Hema Ravi to a farm in US where animals that had been used in Disney films in the past are homed. Our environmental columnist, Kenny Peavy, actually wrote about his cycling trip from Thailand to Indonesia on a bamboo cycle made by a Singaporean! And from Japan, Suzanne Kamata explored a museum in the neighbouring town of Mure. The museum on a hill hosts the art of American Japanese Artists, Isamu Noguchi.

We do have non-fiction that moves away from travel: noir humour by Devraj Singh Kalsi and an essay by Candice Louisa Daquin on a very interesting subject – ‘Is it Okay to be Ordinary?’ Is it?  Dan Meloche has written a literary essay on Canadian novelist Andre Alexis’s award-winning novel, Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue (2015). While Meloche spoke of how the novel departed from Orwell’s Animal Farm, his narrative brought to my mind a novel closer to our times set in England by Jasper Fforde called Constant Rabbit (2020) – this a science fiction while Alexis’s was an apologue or an animal fable. Fforde did use the rabbits rather well to highlight the current times.

We have book excerpts of two recent books that I would call really outstanding. One of them is Aruna Chakravarti’s The Mendicant Prince, which is being released this week, and is based on the evergreen contentious case of the prince of Bhawal that has even been explored even in cinema. The other, Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumar by Nabendu Ghosh, has been published posthumously and is not a translation from Bengali but written in English originally by this trilingual writer.  

Called ‘Dadamoni’ affectionately, iconic actor Ashok Kumar is regarded as “the one personality who symbolises Indian cinema’s journey from Bombay Talkies to Bollywood”.  This book has been reviewed by Indrashish Banerjee, who calls it ‘a reflection on the Hindi film industry’ as well as a biography. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Booker winner Geetanjali Shree’s Mai, Silently Mother, a Sahitya Akademi winning translation of her Hindi novel by Nita Kumar, reiterating the dialogue that had been kindled on motherhood last month by Rinki Roy Bhattacharya and Maithili Rao’s The Oldest Love Story (2022). Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Prosanta Chakrabarty’s Explaining Life Through Evolution plotting how life evolved on earth. Parichha tells us: “Meaningful, wide-ranging and argumentative, this is a must-read book. It will propel us to imagine and reimagine life around us.” Another book that sounds like a must-read has been reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, Tagore’s Gleanings of the Road, translated by Mandal. She tells us: “ ‘Gleanings’ represents the quintessential Tagore…Ably introduced and translated by Somdatta Mandal, a renowned Tagore scholar, the translation captures the iridescent and luminous quality of Tagore’s prose and its chiaroscuro effects.”

There is more to tempt. Please stop by on our contents page and take a look.

We would like to hugely thank all our contributors and readers for being with us and helping us grow. I would like to thank my team, who despite hurdles they face, always lend a helping hand and wonderful words from their pens or computers to get Borderless on its feet. I apologise for the delay and thank you all for your patience. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her fabulous artwork.

I wish you all a wonderful July and peace in a war-torn world. We are all affected by the ongoing conflicts. Let us hope for peaceful and just resolutions.

Thanks.

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

Categories
Stories

In Search of a New Home

By Marzia Rahman

Refugees: Courtesy: Creative Commons

Migration is tough, littered with blank memories and a bleak future. It’s not something you ever hope to do.

Yet, you find yourself standing in a long queue, with a tiny bundle in hand, despairing to do or not to do? Fleeing a country that you naively thought yours. Stepping on a country that you know nothing about. That would never accept you as her own. Non-belonging is not a breezy concept, a topical topic in a critical theory. It’s an unnerving parable of human condition that no human ever yearns for.

You shudder, clasping the tiny bundle, containing your entire household, your sixteen years of life. Behind you, in a burnt house of a burnt village, your parents, your old grandmother and your two young siblings buried under the ideological beliefs of the state. Too complicated to grasp. Too easy to elude. “They don’t want you”— a clear and loud message the government sent to your people through army, arson, and atrocity.

Where is God? Your silly query swirls in the smoky air of a plundered village where dead people shrouded beneath dead humanity.

Tears fall on the tiny bundle, too small to carry so much misery. How can you leave your home where every dusty road is filled with memories, stories and songs? Where once a young man presented you a handwritten poem and a lotus flower. Where is he now? Dead or alive? Will he search for you?

The long queue gets smaller, some move forward, a few cries looking back at the village while boarding the boat.

Your turn.

They ask for money.

A gold chain, a few coins, a nose pin?

You have none.

Yet, the duo, one boatman and a middleman let you in. They have other means to usurp the debt. 

You are crammed between a family with five children, an old woman with acne and a little boy with a broken toy. There are others, men, women, children—your people—hunched and twisted in a small, shabby boat in silence.

Hours after hours, you travel in an opaque night under a livid moon. The endless sea stretches endlessly. What is the name of the sea? No one knows. Your people are poor farmers, illiterate housewives. None of you have ever read history, geography or geology. Ever stood in front of the Taj Mahal or saw any of the seven wonders. You have no idea of its existence. How would you know the glow of the sea is called sea sparkle? How would you grasp that it’s not magic but the phosphorescent waves lighting up the night?

Soon, you and your people would reach a new place. A new country with fresh troubles. Maybe, a new hell. Yet, each of you pray earnestly to reach there safely and soundly. You have no desire to be part of the global headlines. To be found lying face-down on some unknown beach. 

All you want is a new home. To build new dreams.

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Marzia Rahman
 is a Bangladeshi writer. Her writings have appeared in several print and online journals. She is currently working on a novella. She is also a painter.
This story was first featured in the Writing Places Anthology.

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

Categories
Essay

Strangers in Our Midst

By Dustin Pickering

( dedicated to President Donald Trump)

In the uncertain and unsettling time of the COVID-19 crisis, we may be wise to consider our good fortune and family. We are fortunate, in fact, that our family bonds exist and we have loved ones at all. This testifies to God’s ever shining mercy. However, in the current crisis we should also consider those who are distant from us and less fortunate. A variety of faiths teach mercy to the needy.

The word family originally referred to domestic servants under one roof. It only emerged in its current meaning in the 1600’s. Strangely, the word familiar also has a unique history:

mid-14c., “intimate, very friendly, on a family footing,” from Old French famelier “related; friendly,” from Latin familiaris “domestic, private, belonging to a family, of a household;” also “familiar, intimate, friendly,” a dissimilation of *familialis, from familia (see family).

From late 14c. as “of or pertaining to one’s family.” Of things, “known from long association,” from late 15c. Meaning “ordinary, usual” is from 1590s.

The noun meaning “demon, evil spirit that answers one’s call” is from 1580s (familiar spirit is attested from 1560s); earlier as a noun it meant “a familiar friend” (late 14c.). The Latin plural, used as a noun, meant “the slaves,” also “a friend, intimate acquaintance, companion.”

— Online Etymology Dictionary

Family and familiar share a common background apparently. Suspected witches, burned in numerous witch trials, had their familiar spirits. Some speculate that the European psyche was traumatised by the Black Death that depopulated the land, and such widespread trauma led to the historic witch hunts. Fear has a way of unraveling the human psyche and creating an atmosphere of unrest. We are facing similar conditions now.

When our social ties loosen, we turn on one another. Strangers are seen in every human face. Yet what is a stranger? What makes a person a stranger? Are strangers only those who cross borders? Is it the distance separating him or her? Is it a transformation of self that makes another person strange?

Recent foreign policy blunders have shaken the world and created a refugee crisis that only time or God could sort through. From Arab Spring and Mubarak, to Assad and Syrian protests, horrific deaths and destabilizing events shook the Middle East as well as Europe. Refugees fled and were welcomed by Germany, Canada, and the United States, but to the dismay of much of those countries’ populace. Quite possibly, these events brought by the Obama administration are a cause for Brexit as well as tightened immigration policies. France, as recently as 2018, imposed tougher immigration policies and included assimilation and learning French in their priorities for accepted refugees.

The question of nationalism is a heated one. However, even the founder of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, once opposed lax immigration policy though she is an immigrant herself. The debate concerning immigration policy revolves around culture, law, human trafficking, employment, and human rights. Why do nations safeguard  a certain identity for themselves? Why is “the Other” to be feared, misunderstood, deported?

Is there something integral to nation states that they desire to protect themselves from those outside them?

All across the world we are asked to practice “social distancing”, to quarantine ourselves to protect against the spread of COVID-19. To “flatten the curve”, experts say, we must work at home and venture out only for essential tasks, and then we must keep our distance from others. As can be expected, people are lonely and restless. The virus has generated conspiracy theories, shut down events and outdoor activities, and emptied stores of wares, especially toilet paper.

 According to Rene Girard, an anthropological philosopher, the plague was often blamed on those of the Jewish faith. Many Jews practiced medicine, and their ability to heal also made them suspect. They were believed to cause the illness they could treat. They were accused of poisoning community wells. It turns out the plague was actually carried by fleas on rats. Hysteria distorts our perceptions of one another. Where there is no perceived explanation, we invent one from our fears and suspicions.

Does a quality of strangeness arouse suspicion? If so, what defines the quality? Is strangeness something within us, not so much outside? When facing inner transformations, do our surroundings alienate us? In what sense are we even masters of our environment, so heated by political strife?

One thing is certain: President Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto that his border wall was at the bottom of the priority list. However, couldn’t he tone down the divisive rhetoric? Or is this the way he befuddles a hostile press?    

American Historian Howard Zinn wrote, “Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals the fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.”

 Recall the etymology of family and familiar. The strangeness of the Other is the strangeness of our haunted psyche. We project our fears and naked ambitions onto the Other, or the outsider, who we construe secretly to harbour those same things within. Does the Other become our double? Considering our eusocial nature, Othering may be the psychological stumbling block we put our heads on before the executioner arrives.

President Trump insisted on calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” during this crucial period of trade negotiations with the Chinese government. In his briefing, he informs the press and public that his negotiations are going well. In what sense is he, as President, Othering China? Do we Other him in our recoil against his rhetoric? Perhaps he is the doppelgänger of our country’s hideous history coming to bite us back. Perhaps he is the voice of the forgotten, as his adviser Stephen Miller told CNN.  In being the voice of the forgotten working class, has he saved the working class at all or only confused things more?

One thing is certain: we are strangers to ourselves if we cannot answer these questions.

Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author and not of Borderless Journal.