Categories
Editorial

Catch a Falling Star…

Art by Sohana Manzoor
For when your troubles starting multiplying
And they just might
It's easy to forget them without trying
With just a pocketful of starlight

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Never let it fade away (never let it fade away)
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day

'Catch a Falling Star' by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss

Perhaps, it is time to find that fallen star popularised by pop singer Perry Como is 1957. Optimism glimmers faintly, sometimes even conceals itself, in a world passing through a dark phase in history. For instance, few of us would know that we might find more answers to tackle  climate change as dinosaur fossils (from the time an asteroid hit the planet) have been unearthed recently. That sounds like solutions can be had to what was perceived as inevitable doom.

Another bit of news that perhaps will cheer some is the first anthology of Borderless Journal will soon be available in market. It has been accepted by a publisher, an old, trusted and reputed name from India, Om Books International. They have bookshops splattered all over — should make it easy for buyers to access the book. Hopefully, you can target the anthology for your Diwali or Christmas gift hampers. Om Books has one of the most iconic editors-in chief, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri. A multiple award-winning editor, he has worked in Penguin and Harper Collins and is currently churning out wonderful books from Om with a fabulous production team, working with whom has been a pleasure. Ray Chaudhuri is an outstanding film writer and poet. He is part of a group that is creating a film archive online. To know more about him or his views on publishing, you can read our online conversation with him.

The energy one gets from optimism like starlight from a fallen star, lightens the darker shadows that create gloom with the war leading to rise in prices and threats of recession in a post pandemic scenario. Lesya Bakun, the refugee from Ukraine whose story we carried last month, finds her starlight by sharing updates of her story.  She added to her narrative with the news that her cousin has been taken as a prisoner of war by Russia from the besieged factory in Ukraine. Though sharing does not alleviate suffering, Bakun’s ability to cling to hope and imagine a future where she gets her dream highlights the strength of her convictions. The other thing that is revealed by her narrative and media coverage is exclusivity and boxes of ideology split humankind, erase families, cities, countries, lives and sanity. The war can appease only the lust of warlords. Against this desolation caused by the devastation, what could be the starlight that would lead to a happier future?

Laughter. Unleashing the ability to laugh at oneself is as potent as laughter that generates relief and lightens our mood, so that we can view differences as whimsical, treat them with tolerance and compassion and not destroy the diversities that add colours to the world. Perhaps, that is why Tagore took to humour too. Somdatta Mandal has translated a series of humorous skits by Tagore. We are featuring one of these called the ‘Ordeal of Fame’. Yet another translation or transcreation of a poem called ‘Lukochuri’ or ‘Hide and Seek’ reflects the playful in Tagore’s oeuvre. These, along with Rhys Hughes humour on the pandemic in poetry and prose, bring good cheer into our journal. Hughes has also used his column to tell us why he curated a new humorous anthology of verses by seventeen poets called Wuxing Lyrical. I wonder if he is serious or joking!

We were fortunate to have a tongue-in-cheek online discussion with an academic with a witty sense of humour who started a book based on his PhD research with a limerick, Amit Ranjan, author of John Lang the Wanderer of Hindoostan, Slanderer in Hindoostan, Lawyer for the Ranee. While Ranjan brought to us a narrative of an Australian who challenged the colonial mindset, went to court representing the Rani of Jhansi, wrote for Charles Dickens in Household Words and moved around the world just like one of us, hopping jobs and looking for a life, we have diverse cultural streams woven into the journal with translations of a Balochi folktale from Fazal Baloch, a Korean poem by Ihlwha Choi and Professor Fakrul Alam’s translation of Jibananda’s poetry, an ongoing project in Borderless.

The Nithari column has yielded us a story that was written in a mix of Hindi and English by Yogesh Uniyal and translated fully to English by Nirbhay Bhogal. We have strange stories this time. Nileena Sunil’s short narrative and Paul Mirabile’s longer one set in Madrid explore the unusual. More stories delve into the intricacies of the human mind.

As we trot around the globe, Suzanne Kamata tells us about a Monet museum in Japan where she ate madeleines made with the artist’s recipe! Meredith Stephens sails to Tasmania with her camera and gives us a glimpse of nature’s plenty. Ravi Shankar relates his trekking adventures among the Himalayas in Nepal, with awesome photographs of these mountains, while Kenny Peavy who lives in Indonesia dwells on the value of falling down and getting up in a light humorous vein against the backdrop of nature – though metaphorically perhaps the world needs to do that. We have G Venkatesh’s story about his stay in Johannesburg where he discovers that skin tones do not matter.

Ratnottama Sengupta makes the whole world look like a home with the story of a legendary screenwriter, Jean Claude Carriere, who wrote the script of Mahabharata for Peter Brook’s play (1985) of the same name and the subsequent film (1989) — with characters drawn from all over the world. Candice gives us an overview of the pandemic, with more focus on US where she lives.

Mike Smith travels back to another time when an ailment called World War II raged and has revived a writer from the past, HE Bates (1905-1974). We have another essay by Dan Meloche on a legendary book which turned 100 this year — Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. Rakhi Dalal revisits more than a century old translation by Devabrata Mukherjee of Tagore’s The Post Office which bears relevance to the present day as it shows how the human spirit endures over even the darkness of death.

Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Radhika Gupta’s Limitless: The Power of Unlocking Your True Potential, by his assessment a book that inspires youngsters to take charge of their future. On the other hand, there are books that explore the darkest in humans. Basudhara Roy has reviewed a collection short stories by Sunil Sharma called Burn the Library & Other Fiction. Indrashish Banerjee reviews Upamanyu Chatterjee’s latest novel based on modern day crimes, Villainy, from which we are carrying a book excerpt too. The other excerpt is from a narrative written from a refugee’s perspective, Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die, translated by Isis Nusair from Arabic. Born in a refugee camp in Damascus, this Syrian-Palestinian poet defies all genres to touch hearts with brutal honesty. No less sincere is Michael Burch’s poetry on summer that ushers in the season as much as Sohana’s beautiful painting that we are using as our cover photo. We have poetry from not just Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri but also by George Freek, S. Srinivas, Tohm Bakelas, Abin Chakraborty, Marianne Tefft and many more. As usual, I have not mentioned all the treats in store for you. Delve into our contents page and browse to find out more.

Before winding up, I would want to extend my thanks not only to our team and contributors, but also to our publisher who is willing to republish our content with some tweaking. Thanks to our readers who, I hope, will be excited to have selected content between their palms as a hardcopy anthology with 49 of our most iconic pieces. We have more than a thousand published works. This anthology will be an iconic sample that you can carry anywhere with you even if there is no internet – that would include Mars and Moon!

I wish you happy reading, happy dreaming and hope… plenty of it.

Best wishes,

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

Categories
The Observant Immigrant

A Post-Pandemic Future …?

By Candice Louisa Daquin

Courtesy: Creative Commons

Having been a reluctant fan of apocalyptic fiction since I read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), I had studied virology when the AIDS pandemic struck and read a great number of virus-related books on infectious diseases. Despite this preparedness and the knowledge that it was not a case of IF, but WHEN, the next virus would strike, I think I speak for most of us when I say we were still all unprepared for Covid-19.

What the pandemic has taught us thus far is immeasurable and I believe it will last several generations, or I hope so. That said, it’s our human nature to want to move on. Not because we don’t care, but part of being alive is putting trauma and suffering behind us and ensuring those who survive, truly survive, which means living. Is that insensitive or just the nature of the beast? It can be insensitive, especially to the millions who have lost loved ones, but it’s also how humans generally operate.

Is it possible to move on and live a full life irrespective of this global tragedy without losing our compassion and responsibility to stop this from ever happening again?

The reality is; it will happen again, and for many of us, in our lifetime. What we can do is be better prepared and all that this entails.

What are the steps being taken to move toward the new post pandemic future? What are we doing differently? And why?

The pandemic divided us, it physically kept us apart. Some who were well versed in social skills and true extroverts, struggled when they emerged from the worst of the pandemic. They found it hard to do the things they used to be so skilled at. From lack of practice. I recall sitting at lunch with a friend who used to be the life-and-soul of any social event. She struggled for, as she put it; ‘her words’. Having become so used to speaking less and not being face-to-face, she said it felt ‘overwhelming’, ‘strange’ and she looked forward to going home.

That is a habit we must break. The comfort of the living room and the immediate family is intoxicating. We can rapidly get used to living in a smaller-seemingly safer, changed world where we see less people, go out less, and become accustomed to an intimate circle. For some of us this was always our life, and maybe not as challenging — a shift as it was for those who previously socialised a great deal.

In a way the pandemic was harder on the extrovert than the introvert. Because while introverts aren’t averse to socialising, they can find it exhausting; whereas extroverts gain energy from it. When you put an extrovert in a forced setting without social opportunity, they may struggle more than someone used to their own company.

But it’s not as simple as extrovert and introverts. Many of us are a little of both, depending on the situation. I can go out with a big group one day. But on other days I want to be alone. Few of us are extremes. Most are like ‘ambiverts’ a combination of extroverts and introverts.

For those who do thrive on socialising, the pandemic was particularly challenging, but there are many ways to be affected, not least the tension and anxiety all of us picked up on or directly experienced.

Fortunately, technology became our best friend as we Zoomed more and met via video chats throughout the world. It opened up an international stage more than we’ve ever experienced and gave children a new normal in terms of how they learned online. Learning solely online had deleterious effects on underperformers. This ‘unfinished learning’ [1] particularly impacted youth who might have already been struggling in the educational system.

Having taught Critical Thinking online for years, I genuinely believe online learning cannot replace in-class learning. There are huge draws to learning from the comfort of home, especially for adult learners who do so after work [2]. “In comparisons of online and in-person classes, however, online classes aren’t as effective as in-person classes for most students. Only a little research has assessed the effects of online lessons for elementary and high school students, and even less has used the ‘gold standard’ method of comparing the results for students assigned randomly to online or in-person courses.” [3]The amount of information retained is drastically smaller and the social engagement of a classroom has benefits that are hard to quantify but necessary for social development. When you rob children of the opportunity to socialize with each other you isolate them at a crucial stage in their development.

Some kids with learning disabilities[4] are particularly affected by this, as are those who come from unsafe or impoverished backgrounds, where they may not have equal access to technology or reliable internet. They may not have parents who can help them if they are stuck or be able to work from home or have access to lunch. All those necessary elements to the education system were lost in our need to stay home and protect each other. A generation of children will always remember this time as a result.

On the other hand, they have mastered technology in a way that few older generations can boast of, and they are conversant in all the myriad ways of communicating with a wide range of technologies and devices. They are adaptable, versatile and fearless when it comes to tackling the rigors of online learning. For some who dislike social settings, it may also be a vast improvement[5].

Women left the workforce in droves [6]when the pandemic hit, with 2 million less in the work-force. The inverse of this was men began to return to work having been dropping in numbers whilst women rose. The Pew Research Center found “What accounts for the larger labor force withdrawals among less-educated women than men during the pandemic? It is complex but there seems to be a consensus that it partly reflects how women are overrepresented in certain health care, food preparation and personal service occupations that were sharply curtailed at the start of the pandemic. Although women overall are more likely than men to be able to work remotely, they are disproportionately employed in occupations that require them to work on-site and in close proximity to others.” Jobs men traditionally do like physical labor, were in high demand, whilst many jobs traditionally filled by women, were shut down, often not returning[7].

We can be glad our restaurants are open again; we’re opening borders, we’re flying abroad, we’re living again. But let’s also spare a moment to think of those who lost so much it’s almost impossible to conceive. Covid was the third leading cause of death in America during the height of the pandemic, how did this many deaths become normal? Covid killed an estimated 13% of people over 80. Aside the tragedy of a generation of elderly dying[8] and the loss of grandparents, and parents for so many, we’ve also seen younger people dying from a virus, which has shaken the belief younger people have that they are impervious to viruses similar to the flu, what effect with this have on their sense of safety going forward?

And what of the health consequences of those who technically survived bout of the pademic but developed ‘slow Covid’ or worse, the side-effects and lingering legacy of being seriously ill with the virus?[9] How many lung transplants will occur? How will ‘long haulers’ cope with lingering serious effects? What of those who live in countries where this isn’t an option? How many chronic illnesses will continue for decades as a result of this pandemic? It’s not enough to point to those who have died but also include those who survived but at such a high cost.

Financially we have collectively poured money into research, vaccines, countermeasures and prevention, but where has that money actually come from? And can we feasibly borrow that much money from our coffers without a reckoning? Economist Anton Korinek, an associate professor with a joint appointment in the University of Virginia’s Department of Economics and the Darden School of Business thinks: “People sometimes frame the policy response to COVID-19 as a trade-off between lives and livelihoods, and they ask whether it’s worth killing our economy to save people’s lives. But what they forget is that people won’t go back to a normal life and consumer demand won’t really recover if the virus is spreading through our country and killing people.” But the result of these hard choices and repeat closures, is they now predict an impending worldwide recession of global proportions, which had already been mounting prior to the pandemic, but promises to be far greater in its aftermath. I don’t think we’ve even begun to see the fall out; it begins with massive inflation but that’s just the start[10].

History tells us when we go through challenging times and survive, ‘the near miss experience’ as it’s known as, we want to live more than ever before[11], but economically this will not be possible for so many who are robbed of their financial security because of inflation, redundancy, underemployment and post-covid illness. We should be mindful that none of us are all right if many of us are still suffering and if we can support those who struggle, this battle with covid should have taught us all that we should care more about each other.

Perhaps these are the steps we can take to move toward a new post-pandemic future, where we consider ways, we may be better prepared for an invariable future of emerging viruses. We can try to find ways to avoid spilling into areas with high disease potential. “According to a group of UN biodiversity experts, around 1.7 million unidentified viruses circulate in animal populations, of which 540,000 to 850,000 have the capacity to infect humans.” So, we can avoid wet markets, and sloppy scientific research, both of which are vectors for the spread of viruses. We can pay more emerging virus hunters [12] to seek out those emerging viruses and begin work on treatments before they devastate countries. We can be borderless in our unanimous approach to equity for all, especially access to healthcare.

In America, we learned we were far from unassailable. In a New York Times article about Covid Deaths, the authors wrote: “For all the encouragement that American health leaders drew from other countries’ success in withstanding the Omicron surge, the outcomes in the U.S. have been markedly different. Hospital admissions in the U.S. swelled to much higher rates than in Western Europe, leaving some states struggling to provide care. Americans are now dying from Covid at nearly double the daily rate of Britons and four times the rate of Germans.” Nothing can diminish that fatal statistic or rectify the unnecessary deaths[13]. Our healthcare system, considered superior, proved to be full of holes. Without some type of socialised healthcare our costs and resources are too high and scarce. We don’t value the front-line workers like nurses, porters, assistants and care staff and we do not pay them for the risks they take, and whilst we do pay doctors good wages, we have severe shortages of knowledge and progress. Finding out we didn’t have enough ventilators, masks for medical staff, PCP equipment and beyond, exposed the shame of putting profit over people. [14]

It is no surprise then that the UK and USA were among the top offenders in the rise and spread of the pandemic and their death rates exposed this. No one ethnic group appears to be at greater risker of dying from the virus based on ethnicity alone, but Hispanic, Black, and native Americans or AIAN people are about twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their White counterparts and that Hispanic and AIAN people are at one and a half times greater risk of COVID-19 infection than White people[15]. This is caused by social reasons (inequality) not ethnicity, as can be proven by Africa and some AIAN countries having some of the lowest Covid mortality rates. In the article ‘Racism not Genetics’ in Scientific American, the authors point out “the genes that influence skin colour are distributed independently of genes that influence the risk for any particular disease. Given the heterogeneity of groups we call “black” or “white,” treating those categories as proxies for genetic variation almost always leads us astray.”[16]

Even if there are increased susceptibilities related to blood type[17] and age (More than 81% of COVID-19 deaths occur in people over age 65. The number of deaths among people over age 65 is 97 times higher than the number of deaths among people ages 18-29 years). The real risk is how healthy the population is and whether they have safe access to healthcare[18]. Both America and the UK failed because they put profit above people and have large populations of sickly people[19]. Going forward this needs to change, which means redesigning what we prioritise. People need to have access to healthcare and make lifestyle changes that will reduce their risks which they cannot do if they cannot afford to see a doctor or in the case of the UK find it hard to see a doctor because of long wait times and reduced staffing. It’s not as simple as socializing healthcare as the UK proved, this alone doesn’t save lives, what saves lives is considering the larger picture.

But politicians gain from older populations dying, consider what happened in Brazil when the President denied the danger of Covid and for a time Brazil had the highest Covid mortality[20]. This is the harsh truism rarely mentioned: It benefits those in control of a society to lose the most fragile members who will suck up precious resources, much like a form of eugenics, it behooves them to let it happen and there are many examples[21]. For a politician who is looking for ways to reduce healthcare costs, what is better than some of the potentially most expensive ‘customers’ dying? This happened in France where number of elderly people died one Summer, shockingly little was said at the time, but all signs pointed to a collective signal of relief from those in power who benefited from less older people making claim on an already taxed medical system[22].

When Italy [23]and Spain [24] and Brazil [25] became epicenters of Covid 19 deaths, they did so because of ill preparedness and it’s a cautionary tale to witness which countries succumbed to the ravages of covid 19 repeatedly, versus those who learned from them. What we have learned is more, not less, needs to be done and if a country keeps its borders open including air-travel and business-travel, then as much as they hope to save their economy, they do so at the expense of their most vulnerable. For some countries this was a conscious choice (economy over lives) whereas for others it was poor communication and slow response times. For some a lack of money, for others a desire to gain at any cost. All this speaks of the tapestry that is the pandemic’s aftermath (and truly, is it really vanquished?)[26].

I’d love to say a new post pandemic future looks rosy, but the only way that happens is if we learn from our mistakes, which history tells us, we rarely do. The most important thing is empathy, when we saw others take their masks off and simply not care if the vulnerable died, we saw how bad we as humans can fall. But we also saw how wonderful humans can be, including the infinite sacrifice and compassion of thousands who sought to help strangers. If there is a way, we can reward the good and not the bad, if we can get our priorities right and stop paying sports figures astronomical sums but perhaps emphasise on compassion, kindness, and diligence, we can all grow together.

I was particularly moved by youth who in the turmoil of the pandemic created inventions or systems to help others[27]. Believing youth are our future, and thus, our hope, it gives me great faith in the future when I see those too young to vote, care for strangers and seek to do their part. We should always encourage this as we should encourage a continued dialogue into how we can create an international rapid response to emerging diseases. It is not if, but when, and now all of us should know this and have no excuse for putting our heads in the sand again. Yes, it hurts to think of it, yes, we’d rather go off and have fun, but what fun is it if we are only postponing the inevitable return of a lethal virus? Part of being responsible for our planet and each other, is not avoiding the harsh truths; of environmental changes and devastation, global poverty, continued inequality and elitism, and of course, the increasing risk of deadly diseases.

We have within us all, the power to effect change. The steps we should take to move toward a post pandemic future must necessarily include keeping our eyes open and not taking the easy road. Sure, governments don’t want to spend the money on research, science, virus hunters, predictions. And preparedness, but I challenge anyone to say this isn’t exactly what they need to do. It is necessary we keep this in mind when we vote and protest. We should be marching about this as much as any other cause, because it affects us all and equally, brings us all together with one cause.

Thinking in terms of one world, we are less divided than ever before and whilst we were separated, I think we also found ways to come together if we choose to. I say, we should. Because, together globally, we learn more than we ever would divided. With the offensive by Russia on Ukraine, we see the lunacy of war, the futility, the devastation and waste. Instead of pouring millions into wars and keeping the rich, rich at the cost of the poor and overworked, we should consider how we can all rise out of the mire and evolve towards a better future. But in order to achieve this we cannot be complacent, and we cannot let our guard down.


[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/education/our-insights/covid-19-and-education-the-lingering-effects-of-unfinished-learning

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/dereknewton/2021/03/31/the-worst-of-times-for-online-education/?sh=401d57623a5a

[3] https://www.edweek.org/technology/opinion-how-effective-is-online-learning-what-the-research-does-and-doesnt-tell-us/2020/03

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/05/20/students-disabilities-virtual-learning-failure/

[5] https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/how-technology-making-education-more-accessible

[6] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/over-1-million-fewer-women-in-labor-force.aspx

[7] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/01/14/some-gender-disparities-widened-in-the-u-s-workforce-during-the-pandemic/

[8] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1191568/reported-deaths-from-covid-by-age-us/

[9] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/covid-long-haulers-long-term-effects-of-covid19

[10] https://news.virginia.edu/content/economist-societal-costs-covid-19-outweigh-individual-costs

[11] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-grief/201803/aftereffects-the-near-death-experience

[12] https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20201218-gabon-s-virus-hunters-in-search-of-the-next-covid-19

[13] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/02/01/science/covid-deaths-united-states.html

[14] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/feb/06/us-covid-death-rate-vaccines

[15] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html

[16] https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/racism-not-genetics-explains-why-black-americans-are-dying-of-covid-19/

[17] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8286549/

[18] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52245690

[19] https://theconversation.com/why-has-the-uks-covid-death-toll-been-so-high-inequality-may-have-played-a-role-156331

[20] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00529-8/fulltext

[21] https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/03/18/china-covid-19-killed-health-care-workers-worldwide/

[22] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/hong-kong-covid-outbreak-rcna20033

[23] https://www.france24.com/en/tv-shows/revisited/20210528-covid-19-in-europe-codogno-the-italian-town-where-it-all-began

[24] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/world/europe/spain-coronavirus-emergency.html

[25] https://www.scielo.br/j/rsbmt/a/8FzbQZY57WRTwYL9MnBKBQp/?lang=en

[26] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03003-6

[27] https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/deeply-affected-pandemic-youth-are-committed-helping-others

.

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

.

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

Categories
War & Peace

“How Many Times Must the Cannonballs Fly…?”

Featuring poetry by Lesya Bakun, Rhys Hughes, Ron Pickett, Michael R Burch, Kirpal Singh, Suzanne Kamata, Mini Babu, Malachi Edwin Vethamani, Sybil Pretious and Mitali Chakravarty

These fragments I have shored against my ruins
…
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.         
 Shantih shantih shantih

-- Wasteland (1922) by TS Eliot

These lines from a hundred year old poem by TS Eliot continue to cry out to be part of our civilisation’s ethos as do the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s pacifist song, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind‘ which wonders : “Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly/Before they’re forever banned?” The world continues to war destroying nature, lives and a common human’s need to exist in peace and go about his daily tasks, secure that the family will meet in their home for dinner and a good night’s rest. Cries of humanity in crisis from the battle grounds of Ukraine take precedence as Ukrainian Lesya Bakun writes about the plight of the people within the country stalked by violence and death.

REFUGEE IN MY OWN COUNTRY/ I AM UKRAINE
By Lesya Bakun (07.03.2022, Ukraine)


I am Kharkiv.
I am Volnovakha.
I am Kyiv.
I am the blocked Mariupol on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe.

I am the completely destroyed
City of Shchastia --
That is literally translated as "happiness" --
Where people have to sit in the bomb shelters,
Because nothing else is preserved.
The Russian troops are not letting them out.

I am Ukraine.
I am a fighter. 

I am a refugee
In my own country.

What's in the minds of Russians?

Nine years ago, I was in Strasbourg, France.
Seven years ago, I was in Dublin, Ireland.
Two years ago, I was in Istanbul, Turkey.

Today, I am 
In an internally displaced people’s centre --
In a city that I cannot even publicly disclose
For the security of too many families
Who are fleeing to remain safe.

"The Ukrainian IT company N has left the markets of Russia and Belarus forever".
We should have done it eight years ago.
We should have done it thirty-one years ago.

A lot of my friends are switching from Russian to Ukrainian.
We should have done that thirty-one years ago
So that no one comes to "protect us".

I am the gasoline 
that NATO sent us
Instead of closing the sky -- 
Apparently so that we can burn
The Budapest Memorandum

We have seen the real face of Russians
Again
They negotiated green corridors
And started shelling from the heavy weaponry.

Evacuation is cancelled.

"I wish you survival, 
Health
And the closed sky above you."

As the battle rages and razes, some react to what we have gleaned from media reports, some of which move hearts with stories of bravery and the spirit of the people battling the invaders who kill and destroy what they cannot possess… But can freedom of thought and resilience ever be destroyed?

THEY SHALL NOT PASS
By Rhys Hughes

They shall not pass
we cried as we held the pass
against the enemy.
And our sleepy student
days in sunlight
suddenly seemed long gone
and very far away
though it was only
a few weeks since war began.
Would such times
ever return? We had no idea.

Now the conflict is over
and the years pass
with increasing velocity
and right here
in the rebuilt city I am young
no longer. I am
the teacher: it is my turn.
And as I watch my students
dozing in sunlight
instead of revising for exams
an old refrain fills
my head: They shall not pass.

ADVANTAGE INTRUDER
By Ron Pickett

The sun edges over the cluttered horizon.
The cell towers, eucalyptus and large water tank are comforting.
The sun slowly fills the dark.
Life is safe and warm and good – for now.
The sun slides below the western horizon in Kyiv and darkness returns.
 
The dark brings its special unseen terrors.
The rumble and rattle of distant rockets and bombs.
The roar of jets and the throb of helicopters.
Flashes of light fill the night sky but there are no storms in the distance.
The earth trembles: the people quiver.
Daylight is ten long hours away, we who have been there remember, and shudder.
 
There are patches of dirty snow on the ground.
On trees and shrubs and the Peoples Friendship Arch.
And under the rubble of bombed buildings.
The snow is marked by the black stains of explosions and the red stains.
The snow will melt with the coming of spring, but the stains will remain.
The stains are physical and psychological and deep.
 
Dark is the province of the predator.
Dark is a comforting cover for the aggressor.
Dark is the source of fear and anguish for the weak.
This predator is man who can see in the dark.
To see at night is a huge advantage.
Advantage intruder.


FRAIL ENVELOPE OF FLESH
By Michael R Burch
 
for the mothers and children of Ukraine
 
Frail envelope of flesh,
lying cold on the surgeon’s table
with anguished eyes
like your mother’s eyes
and a heartbeat weak, unstable ...
 
Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this—
your tiny hand
in your mother’s hand
for a last bewildered kiss ...
 
Brief mayfly of a child,
to live two artless years!
Now your mother’s lips
seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears ...
 

FOR A UKRANIAN CHILD WITH BUTTERFLIES
By Michael R Burch
 
Where does the butterfly go ...
when lightning rails ...
when thunder howls ...
when hailstones scream ...
when winter scowls ...
when nights compound dark frosts with snow ...
where does the butterfly go?
 
Where does the rose hide its bloom
when night descends oblique and chill,
beyond the capacity of moonlight to fill?
When the only relief’s a banked fire’s glow,
where does the butterfly go?
 
And where shall the spirit flee
when life is harsh, too harsh to face,
and hope is lost without a trace?
Oh, when the light of life runs low,
where does the butterfly go?


THE TIMES, THE MORALS
By Kirpal Singh
(After Ee Tiang Hong)

Testy times
Tempers flake, bruise
Blood swells veins
As memories burn.

Times were
When reason prevailed
And men talked --
Eyes glittering.

Now it’s tit for tat
No relenting
Frayed nerves
Know no restraint.

We pray n plead
For sanity’s return
As pall bearers 
Carry another dead.

When will all this horror, violence and sorrow end? Will there be peace anytime soon… many voices across the globe join in quest of harmony.

Mt Fuji: Photo Courtesy: Suzanne Kamata
A VIEW OF MT. FUJI (March 3, 2022)
By Suzanne Kamata

On the third day 
of the third month 
of the fourth year of 
Beautiful Harmony (Reiwa)
which followed the era of
Heiwa (Peaceful Harmony)
my husband, son, and I traveled to Gotemba.
We checked into our mostly vacant hotel
wandered the grounds amongst
oaks and bamboo and volcanic rocks
gazed upon the majestic mountain
symbol of Japan.
Mt. Fuji stood
calm and dormant and frilled by cloud
spotlit by late afternoon sun.

As we stared in wonder and awe
   BOOM!
an explosion resounded.
A black helicopter
like the ones over Kyiv
flew into view.
I recalled the military vehicles 
we’d passed on the highway
those young men driving to 
practice for self-defence.

When will there be peace in Ukraine?
When will there be peace in the world?

RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
By Mini Babu

After the war,
the repose of the dead,
settles over the nations.
The leaders will smile,
shake hands and
interchange the bodies
of the dead, maimed,
captives and,
each will dust
that which belongs to 
the other, wash 
their hands and 
walk away.

Children hold on
expecting their fathers,
unknowing that
fathers never come back
after war.

And I, the ordinary,
instruct my children
how historic these names
are for examination.
Putin and Zelensky.

PEACE TALKS IN THE FOREST
By Sybil Pretious

I breathe
I sit on the hard cushion of root, foundation of growth
Peace talks to me  in the forest
Leaning against the rough trunk  bark,  feeling of strength
Peace talks to me in the forest
Above the leaves, cover me with a protective shade
Peace talks to me in the forest
Flowers flutter giving a splash of colour
Peace talks to me in the forest
Seeds heralding new life hang, dispersed on the wind
Peace talks to me in the forest
And I wonder
Why do warring nations not meet in forests
For peace talks
 where peace talks.


PRICE OF PEACE
By Malachi Edwin Vethamani

(I)

Peace is
a gentle brook,
natural and real. 

Peace is 
not things to come,
not imagined. 

We arrive as beings of peace.
One with all around us,
same flesh, same blood. 

Then labels are thrust upon us.
baptised into communities,
branded as nations. 

Essentialist labels 
bind us and blind us. 
We shed our individual beings,
stitched into communities. 

If you are not with us
You are against us, they say. 
Taking a stand 
comes with a price. 

The price is often peace. 


(II)

This is yet another call to stop a war.
A new plea for peace.
A shout out for prayers. 

The callers change 
with each new 
war cry. 

This too will pass.
How much will remain?
How much decimated?

Then these cries will be repeated. 
What is lost?
Is anything ever gained?

We will smell 
the stink of death 
and see the rubble of destruction.  

All the display of human unkindness 
we inflict on our fellow beings.


(III)

What new enterprise,
what profiteering,
has brought on this new war?
Surely, no noble cause 
can condone this waste of lives.

Whose monuments will we pull down now?
What new statues will we raise for self-proclaimed heroes?

What of the spouses who lost their partners? 
What of the parents who lost their children?
Children and citizenry 
casualties all.
Crushed and broken.


WASTELAND REVISITED AFTER A CENTURY                             
By Mitali Chakravarty

The river flowed with debris, with bodies
of the dead. When the waters reddened
with corpses crossing borders on a train,
nightmares haunted myriads of lives.

The undead cried till infecting more, the
anger, the hatred spread. That was more than
seven decades ago. History repeats itself. 
Will it ever stop? This hatred? This war?

Does killing, destroying ever help? Does 
it dissolve the buried hate, the anger, the 
deaths? Swigging blood like vodka, the madmen 
brew war with oil, weapons, the threat of nukes 
to annihilate all lives — make barren the Earth. 

Cosmic clouds gather to thunder,
‘Da, datta, dayadham, damyata’ till peace 
comes with love songs that echo through the 
Universe. A Brahmic vision of kalpas like waves 
ebb and flow, calming the cries of tortured souls. 

Oh God! Help us learn Mercy. When will the 
white horse ride to our rescue? Or was that all 
a myth? Kalki? Does the white horse ride out of each 
soul to form a lightening that dispels mushroom clouds? 

Peace be unto you.
Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih! 

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

Categories
Musings

Can Peace come Dropping by…

Candice Louisa Daquin explores war and peace pausing over the attack on Ukraine

Courtesy: Creative Commons

War is among the main stays in human history. Is anything more instinctive than to go to war? I’ve never been able to relate to this but perhaps that’s because I have the advantage of living in a society where we’re protected from the literalisms of war. Or perhaps it’s because I’m female, although I don’t think it is as simple as being a male prerogative (though we can never be sure until a history of women making decisions proves this). To the outsider, war always seems futile. But what we must always do in order to fully understand something is to understand the other side. Not our own opinions but those we do not comprehend. As French philosopher Albert Camus said: “We used to wonder where war lived, what it was that made it so vile. And now we realise that we know where it lives…inside ourselves.”

Why would anyone ever want to go to war?

Imagine the first reason war was enacted. Was it as simple as Cain and Abel? Or one village attacking another village? One child attacking another child?

War tends to be on a larger scale, but perhaps it begins on a smaller scale.

It is said murderers have ‘symptoms’ of evolving as killers as do rapists and predators. If this is true, then watching children and seeing them skinning a cat as a predictor to future violence, could also be applied to war-mongering behaviour. Or conversely, could we establish what experiences that child has that engenders him/her to favour war?

If children who become violent often witness violence, then it stands to reason children who support wars or encourage wars, may witness something that in their minds is pro-war. What could it be? If you grow up in a war-torn country, surely you are more likely to seek peace and an end to violence, than to crave it? The fifth century famed military strategist Sun Tzu is quoted as saying: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Is war about the appearance of bravery or perceptions of strength? Ironically, Sun Tzu also said: “The wise warrior avoids the battle.” But do we follow this wisdom?

Studies show wars are committed by groups who are cohesive and decide (on invasion) and groups who defend. In essence, there is an aggressor and a protector. Sometimes wars start with two aggressors, but rarely with two protectors (this would cancel the desire for war out). Therefore, the thing everyone has in common who enters a war, is they are either seeking to invade or protect.

If people did not seek to protect, the invader would arrive and receive no resistance, and thus there would be no war. Sadly, it wouldn’t stop the invaders from say, raping and pillaging, so laying down arms and hoping for fairness, may lead to slaughter and oppression.

If people did not seek to invade, there would be no need to go to war.

What are the main reasons historically people have warred? Over land. Religion is a close second. The historic wars were over disputes of land or religion or other reasons related to both of these. The seizure of assets is related to greed/wealth/power, same as seeking to enslave people or promote an agenda (social control – another form of power). Essentially then all invasions can be reduced to one sentence: Seeking power.

One group believes they should have (more) power over another group. They invade. The other group defends or capitulates. This is the essence of war.

If we assume then most wars are enacted over a need to gain power of one sort or another, the next question becomes; Are all humans as likely to war? Or do certain societies promote war more than others? Throughout history there have been wars, many times one group did not want to go to war but were forced to in order to defend themselves. It implies there are those who are (warmongers) and there are those who are not (peacemakers or pacifists) and possibly while the latter may not seek war, they get involved if there is no alternative.

War then is to some extent – a luxury. Odd that if this is so, it’s often during the hardest times in human experience that a war begins. Wouldn’t you think if war is a luxury (by being a choice, as no war is enacted because the invaders have no choice), they’d choose not to go to war during hard times? Yet, the reverse is true.

We’re still in the struggling with the pandemic, but instead of seeking reconciliation and safety, Vladimir Putin has started the invasion into Ukraine. On the face of things this makes no sense because Russia must be hurting economically post the pandemic. To go to war when you are struggling seems madness.

Yet if this is often the case, maybe it’s like when everything is hard, people are less balanced and considerate than when things are easier? People are more charitable when they feel they can be, versus when it’s an emergency. That’s when they start looting and trampling over others. There is an inherent selfishness to humanity where they feel. “If I am alright I might be charitable but if I’m not alright you’re on your own’. It takes a really truly charitable person to stay behind and help others. Most people flee.

If we use this ‘typical’ personality trait and then apply it to a megalomaniac leader, it becomes less surprising they would choose an inopportune moment to strike. Perhaps it’s as inconvenient for everyone else as it is for Putin, therefore they have the element of surprise and inconvenience. They strike when the iron is hot, so to speak. The other impact of war is misdirection. If everyone believes something won’t happen (the invasion of Poland by Germany 1939 in WW2) when it does happen, everyone’s so surprised that they have a delayed reaction (which adds to the invader’s strengthen).

War strategy aside, do some people actually relish war ‘games’ and enjoy the enactment and planning of war? Boys are taught culturally to play with guns, war-gaming, mock-battles etc. If they were not, I suspect they would be no more inclined to go to war than a woman. Then again since we cannot prove or disprove this, we can only guess what is nature and what is nurture. Without doubt, the machinations of the war ‘machine’ promote an ideology of war – not unlike the machinations of a religion to promote an ideology. It’s a form of brain washing. Perhaps, one can agree that “In war, truth is the first casualty.”

When countries encourage a percentage of their population to join the military and have a robust army, they tend to be primarily pro-war – in that – they may not wish to die fighting nor encourage a war, but if one happens, they’re ready and, perhaps, they want it to happen because that’s what they have trained for. If you spend billions on war machines, would you wish them never to be used? Or would you see them as more than deterrents? Would you want to manufacture all this impressive battalion equipment only to see it do nothing? The problem with the creation of tools of war is then someone wants to use them. It is much like the debate raging in America over whether the ownership of guns perpetuates violence. On the one hand some believe if we didn’t have (access to) guns we’d have less violence or gun-deaths. They point to countries with lower rates of gun-ownership to ratify their beliefs. On the other hand, people say it’s not the gun but the person who wields the gun; if they don’t use a gun, they will use something else. They point to the rates of stabbing deaths and other forms of violence endemic in countries with low gun-ownership and to countries with high gun ownership (Switzerland/Canada) who have low gun crime.

There is no easy answer here. Guns have caused countless futile deaths, and gun ownership is a hot topic not likely to be resolved. But if we had less machines of war, would we be less inclined to go to war? Critics point to this as a reason to scale back the US military, whilst others say without such deterrents there would be more attacks on America (or any country without a robust military) because peace is actually wrought by both sides having enough machines of war (and nuclear weapons) that neither side feels they can strike without the other side striking back – and this is what enables us to avoid war. It’s a pretty twisted scenario that makes sense until someone in power decides – I’m not going to play by those rules. In non-interventionist theory, there was a drive to establish international courts to adjudicate disputes between nations and an emphasis on war contributing to moral decline and brutalisation of society in general. Whether true or not, it hasn’t stopped millions signing up for war.

In considering whether being anti-war is realistic, we must analyse the history of war, why humans go to war, what war means to us and what provokes it, as well as whether we can realistically avoid it? It’s one thing to wish for no war, I think a great many of us would share that perspective. But there is an old joke about this: A woman meets a genii and she gets one wish, she wishes for world peace. The world grinds to a halt. Why would the world grind to a halt? Do we depend on war so much? Personally, I don’t think war keeps us ticking over but if we consider our history, much of what we have done revolved around war of some kind (or the prevention of) and thus, we’d have a very different planet earth today if we had world peace. Classics like  All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) by German writer Erich Maria Remarque, have become part of a canon of anti-war media, that enduringly influences the pacifist movement. Perhaps without knowing war, we cannot know why war is such a terrible price to pay.

I am utopian in that I would like to see world peace. Imagine a world where people received funding for healthcare and food rather than bullets and violence? But is that like wishing human nature should have been different? Can we ever hope to become enlightened enough to actually stop wars from occurring? In 2022 as with history thus far, humanity as a whole has not been enlightened sufficiently to stop war from occurring. America, as a developed nation, is the only country to have used nuclear bombs on another country in our entire history. A less developed country that has historically been a trigger for war, may have more growing pains and therefore more wars. But let us not believe in ‘developed’ versus ‘developing’ to judge the pacifist intent of one country over another. Historically, we’re all guilty.

“Just war theory has been converted into a form of apologetics for whatever atrocities your favoured state is carrying out,” says Noam Chomsky in his book What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World. It’s not ethnicity, income or development that causes war. It’s human beings. Within us is a penchant for going to war, that cannot easily be explained but clearly has existed since the beginning of (human) time. Until we can come up with alternatives to war, this destructive cycle shows no hope of ending. We can reason ourselves to death, but it only takes one unpredictable leader, the right speech, and we’re at war again. What we know if nothing else is, humans go to war. What we don’t yet know, is how to remove that impulse.

Is it an impulse like sexual attraction or hunger? Something as intrinsic and hard-wired or more of a defense mechanism for men? Again, I think without proof of this, it makes more sense to assume this is a human predilection and not a gender-driven one. Would women go to war as gladly as men? We may not have enough historical precedence to substantiate this issue. It could be argued they were working with a masculine model, but we have no proof either way. Rather than entering the ‘blame game’ what would be a way to avoid war altogether?

Negotiations only go so far. What one country may wish another country to do, doesn’t mean they will. If that country feels that is a deal breaker, then war is on. How can you ever alter that outcome when it’s as common place as two people disagreeing? This will always occur and if those two people are world leaders, then war may be the result. Is it unavoidable even if so many of us wish for peace? What are the ‘necessities’ of peace? German philosopher, Immanuel Kant was one of the earliest exponents of the idea that “perpetual peace could be secured through universal democracy and international cooperation.” Democracy isn’t a save-all and has severe down-sides, making ideas in reality, less like their philosophical ideal. Novelist Victor Hugo contended, “Peace is the virtue of civilisation. War is its crime.”

I feel fortunate I did not grow up in war-torn countries, but even in my lifetime, I have heard of so many wars. All wars are a huge waste of money. Even the World Wars, where nearly every country entered in order to fight off the invading fascists. Whether anti-imperialism, an end to totalitarianism or nuclear disarmament, are the answers for enduring peace, they’re complicated and don’t explain the enduring penchant for violence and war within humanity.

One thing I noticed when I immigrated to America was how many people believed being pro military meant being pro war. People would say things like; ‘they are defending our freedom’ and I would ask; ‘how are they defending our freedom if our freedom was never in jeopardy?’ I felt most of the wars in America since WW2 were completely unnecessary. Not a single one of them was really justified (in terms of it being necessary to defend America against a true threat). Most were born out of paranoia and a need for control (anti-communism) or greed and a need for control (Afghanistan and beyond). They were not ‘as advertised’ meaning the average American thought America invaded countries for one reason but it was often a completely different reason.

When 9/11 happened, the entire world was shocked. America did not have a history of being attacked on their soil since the Civil War (and that, by their own populous). The outrage with a staggering death toll of about 3000 was so stunning that a need for vengeance or rectitude was experienced. The result was the longest drawn war in American history which led to billions being spent and weapons getting into the hands of ‘the enemy’ which so often has been the case. How can this be a good thing? Anymore than creating a generation of young men who seek vengeance for what was done to their countries in the name of ‘freedom.’

The polarisation of religion, culture, politics and ethos seems more acute than ever before. There is no universal agreement and those who sue for peace, must realise that just wishing for it, isn’t going to resolve those long-standing fractions. Maybe it’s simply not in our nature to want to all get along, to avoid war and seek peace. Maybe humans are warmongers and we’ve replaced the hunt of big game with fighting each other. Maybe the veneer of our so-called civilisation is very thin and waiting for any excuse to implode. That said, I’m an optimist. As such I believe there are ways to gain peace and avoid war. I don’t think it’s as simple as putting our weapons down, because someone will always cheat. Trust must be earned and even then. But if we seek the same goal, that’s a start. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it is my hope with every generation we come closer to a rejection of war. There are quite simply, too many other needs and just imagine — if we poured our collective funds into helping those in need, we could live in a paradise instead of buying bullets that erase life. Ultimately every single one of us is responsible for what happens going forward, collectively.

Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.”

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely. She has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press is called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

.

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

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

Categories
Essay

Reflections on Nobel Laureate Bunin’s ‘Un Petit Accident’

Mike Smith reflects on a short fiction by Russia’s first Nobel Laureate, Ivan Bunin. Could it be a precursor to flash fiction?


Portrait of Ivan Bunin by Leonard Turzhansky, 1905. Courtesy: Wiki

Un Petit Accident‘ (A small Accident) is one of those tales which will need more words to discuss than will be found in it.

First published in the late 1940s as part of a trio of short pieces this little tale might be seen as a forerunner of our present-day flash fictions and micro fiction. Yet it is in a tradition that stretches back through the prose poem or Illumination to the anecdotes and exemplars of much earlier times. Only recently cast into English, this translation is attributed to Maria Bloshteyn and dated 2017.

Ivan Bunin (1870-1953) fled to France in 1920 in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution but unlike many émigrés he was already an established writer and his work is not solely related to the experience of exile.

‘Un Petit Accident’ in my paperback copy of Russian Émigré Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky (ed. Bryan Karetnyk, Penguin Classics), runs to a mere 29 lines, yet it packs a punch you might think would need a much wordier arm behind it. For me it’s both a master work and a master class in the short story, illustrating perfectly Hemingway’s ‘iceberg’, and his advice to ‘take everything out that isn’t the story’.

Like a slow camera pan, it traverses the cityscape of Paris. It takes in the sunset, the Palais Bourbon, the Seine, the Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower, before zooming in, near The Madelaine, on the rushing, choking traffic of a Parisian evening. The final shot, in what, to twist the metaphor slightly, might be thought of as a slideshow rather than a moving picture, focuses on a single detail, the significance of which we are left to consider.

There are no named characters, seemingly no protagonist and antagonist, no obvious cycles of increasing jeopardy. The ‘Inciting Incident’, if it is not that sunset, might be in our imaginations and for later. Or perhaps the ‘Obligatory Scene’, if it is that final image, must serve the function of both. It seems that everything that happens in this story has already happened by the time we see it. Yet there is no sequence of actions as such, only the sequence of images that we might mistake for mere setting.

As with much longer short stories, there is the vestige of that common structural oddity of placing the most striking event or revelation slightly ahead of the actual ending, making it part of the preparation and contextualisation of the true ending. And following that shock there is a little addition which poses the question, raises the issue, on which I believe the author wishes us to ponder; the view to which he has brought us.

The collection is furnished with a section of notes about both the writers and individual stories. What they say about this story reveals a lesson in the form. Bunin is quoted; “ ...even with the greatest writers, there are only isolated good passages, and between them – water…”

Karetnyk’s notes go on to say: “these miniatures are an attempt to distil prose into its purest form.” Presumably, that is by getting rid of all that water.

Earlier in the piece he has described Bunin’s tales as ‘terse’, but in this case I did not find it so. Rather the opposite. I’d want to use the word lush. That opening sunset, painted in a three and half line, verbless sentence – which a professor of English in the nineteen seventies categorized because of that lack as being a ‘label’ rather than a ‘message’– is rich with colour: “…the enormous panel of sky covered in strokes of murky colours, mellow and many hued…” The city too is awash with description: ‘Slim spikes of greenish gas flames are strewn throughout the pistachio haze of the city,’

It’s one of the most description packed little tales I’ve read. It brought to mind the startling contrast with an earlier and longer tale by Mary Mann, in which a bare half dozen words sprinkled throughout describe the rural Norfolk in which her story is set. It is sometimes averred that description kills story, disrupts the narrative, brings action to a halt, but here Bunin’s tale is almost all description, a colourful, noisy kaleidoscope of sights and sounds. “Now darkness falls, and the candelabra of the Place de la Concorde cast their reflective silvery glow, while up in the black summits the lugubriously flowing lights of the Eiffel Tower flicker like lightning.

The sequence is constructed of easily imaginable images, and when we have reached the ending and come to re-read the piece, we might pay more attention to the ambience of those sounds and sights. They are what make the context for our arrival at the final image. They are what prejudice our frame of mind for understanding and speculating about the deeper meaning of what we are being brought to encounter. The purpose of the story, and you might argue, the storyness of it, is in our reaction to what we ‘see’. Conrad is quoted as saying he wanted to “make us see” in his writing and Bunin here does just that. But it is up to us alone to grapple with the significance of what we have been told.

On closer inspection we might see that Bunin has given us more than just intense colour, form, and movement. That it is a single paragraph story is notable. In a story of thirty lines there is room for a handful of paragraphs, but the fact that Bunin uses one alone need be no ‘petit accident‘. It gives the story a structural unity, such as you might expect to find in a painting or photograph.

The painting has it for me, with those ‘murky’ and ‘many-hued’ colours, but a painting of what? Despite the lack of protagonist or antagonist, at first glance, there is the anonymous man on whom our gaze comes to rest at what might be called the ‘crisis’ of the action, and there is one other ‘character’, referred to rather than present, and whose ‘unseen hand is smoothly conducting’. At this change point in the story, as the traffic locks and our focus is narrowed down onto and into a single vehicle, it ‘seems as if the hand has flinched’.

Seems’ is one of those words that, in a short story especially, should set our radars tingling, because it usually denotes, or at least raises the possibility, that what seems is not what is. And whose hand might that be which might be doing something other than flinching? It certainly isn’t a human hand. Is it a hand that has acted decisively? And the ‘fiery Babylon’ that Bunin describes with its ‘spikes of greenish gas’, its ‘darkness’ blazing, might seem more Hellish than Heavenly. I was reminded of apocalyptic visions in John Martin’s paintings.

My last paragraph contains a ‘spoiler’, and those who read to find out what happens next might prefer to stop here!

When we reach the story’s end, we are told of a “fast little auto, vividly yet softly lit inside” where a man in evening dress is “slumped over his steering wheel“. The narrative thread is almost imperceptible. The movement, lights and sounds, have seemed random rather than directional. Bunin’s tale has been told in the present tense, yet here, at the sticking point of the end, we are seeing events not so much unfold as having already unfolded. The focus neatly closes in, with mention of ‘matte top hat’, then closer still: “His eyes are closed…” The final words pull back a little, as we have recoiled from what we have recognised: “his young, tritely classical face is already looking like a mask.”

It is a mask, we understand, from behind which the spirit of life has already withdrawn.

Russian commemorative coin issued on Bunin’s 125th birth anniversary. Courtesy: Wiki

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com 

.

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