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Contents

Borderless, January 2023

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

Will Monalisa Smile Again? … Click here to read.

Translations

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

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

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

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

Poetry

Click on the names to read

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

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

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

Conversation

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

Musings/Slices from Life

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

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

Ghosh & Company

Ratnottama Sengupta relives the past. Click here to read.

Sails, Whales, and Whimsical Winds

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

Tsunami 2004: After 18 years

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

‘I am in a New York state of mind’

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

Half a World Away from Home

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

Musings of a Copywriter

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

Notes from Japan

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

Essays

A Solitary Pursuit: The Art of Suhas Roy

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

New Perspectives on Cinema & Mental Health

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

The Observant Immigrant

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

Stories

The Book Truck

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

The Scholar

Chaturvedi Divi explores academia. Click here to read.

Little Billy

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

Book Excerpts

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

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

Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Editorial

Will Monalisa Smile Again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitali Chakravarty,

borderlessjournal.com

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

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

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

Categories
Stories

Nobody in the Sky

Story by S Ramakrishnan, translated from Tamil by R. Sathish

Courtesy: Creative Commons

Midway through the movie, Chitra felt very hungry. But she did not fuss over it.

Like clockwork by 8pm, the stomach rang its hunger alarm. She always finished her dinner before 9. But on movie-going days, she couldn’t do much, though.


She was munching on popcorn. But that barely satiated her hunger. She couldn’t focus on the movie. She badly wanted to go home.

Karthick, sitting next to her, was fully immersed in the movie. She softly asked Priya, her eight-year old daughter seated to her right, “Are you hungry?” She nodded. On most days, Priya would be in bed by nine.

Chitra wondered if at least the two of them could step out for some quick bites. But Karthick wouldn’t like it. How long for the movie to finish, she didn’t know.

She sat tight and bore with it. No more interested in the movie, she browsed through the Whatsapp messages on her phone.

That day was their wedding anniversary.

They were celebrating their tenth.

Chitra had taken a day off from office. But not Karthick who promised to come early in the evening. Well, quite strangely, they didn’t know how to celebrate their anniversary. Year after year, they routinely put on new clothes, visited a temple, watched a movie, and ended their special day with a non-vegetarian meal at a hotel. Chitra found this utterly boring.

If we unable to make ourselves happy, we cannot have anyone bring that unexpected joy for into our lives. Be it a wedding day or a birthday, we celebrate pretty much in the same way. Hardly any difference.

For a few years, they invited some friends home for birthdays. But those interactions were anything but real. Fake smiles and pretensions. Complaints about how a certain person was not invited on purpose and a critique of the dinner fare. Such needless problems made them stop hosting parties. 

As for the anniversary, whether it was the ninth or the tenth, the milestone made no difference. On that day, we had to look happy and cheerful.

She had given Priya a day off from school, and kept her home for company. Karthick scolded her for this.

“What is she going to do by not attending school?”

“What am I going to do, by the way! Never mind, let her be with me “.

“That’s indeed what I am also asking you. We are not kids, Chitra. In fact, even you should be going to the office. We are going out only in the evening. Aren’t we?”

“I don’t feel like going today. And I have informed my office.

“That’s your choice. But, let her go”.

“Nothing will be lost in a day, pa”.

“Your choice”, grumbled Karthick with a tight face. Wedding day… so, Chitra did not want to quarrel.

As he got on to his bike, ready to leave, she gently asked, “You will be home for lunch, right?”

“Will see. Have a lot of work.”

“Shall we…. come over to your office? We can all head to ECR for lunch from there.”

“No need, I will try to come early.”

“I am cooking many items: Aviyal, Curry, Koottu, Pachadi, Payasam,…

“Okay, I will come. But can be a little delayed.”

“Will wait for you.”

Karthick, dapper in his new clothes, rode off to his office. Chitra and Priya hung around in the house. Chitra pulled out her wedding album, flipped through the photographs. Have put on a little more weight now. Wedding makeup doesn’t look good. Hair is dishevelled near the ear. Didn’t notice at all.

Many of the jewels she wore at the wedding belonged to her aunt. She had loaned them for a day. Chitra wished to buy them all by herself one day. After all these years, that day had yet to come.

When young, Chitra dreamt that angels would descend from above and lavish her with lovely gifts. After the wedding, she realised that one must create one’s own moments of joy. There was nobody high up in the sky to delight her.

It was already 10:30 when she and Priya boarded the “share auto” to go to the supermarket. They got down at the main road. Beyond the signal and to the left was the supermarket. Along the way, when they crossed Shivani Readymade Store, Chitra asked, “Priya, would you like a new dress?”

“For what?”

“Should only Amma and Appa wear new clothes for the wedding day?”

“So, I also get a new dress?” Priya asked eagerly.

They entered the store. As she was choosing the dress for Priya, Chitra looked around for any new sarees for her too. She found one. In her favourite ‘peacock neck” colour. But she hesitated.

“Buy it, ma. Appa[1] won’t scold”.

Chitra considered checking with Karthick. She had already set aside a silk saree for the anniversary. But this would look better on her, she felt.

Priya chose an ethnic party wear in white with floral patterns. Chitra wanted to wear this sort of dress when she was young. But her father never bought them.

“No white dress for girls,” her father would say sternly.

The ethnic dress looked so pretty. She checked the price tag. It revealed 8300 rupees! Karthick would definitely scold her. But Priya likes it! She looked pleadingly at her mom.

“Okay, take it,” said Chitra.

They both looked thrilled when they left the store with one new dress for each of them. She wished there could be someone who would take her out and allow her to buy what she wanted.

At the supermarket, Priya bought a chocolate bar and hid it to give them later as her gift. On their way back, with handfuls of bags, they stopped by an ice cream parlour next to a tailor shop. They treated themselves to an almond ice cream. Priya had never felt happier.

Once home, almost instinctively, Chitra started humming her favourite song from some Tamil movie — “A pleasant mind embraces music (oru iniya mandhu isaiyai anaiththu chellum)”. While enjoying the song, Priya asked, “Did anyone sing at your wedding, ma?”

“No, not really”.

“But I see people sing and dance around the couple in movies”.

“Oh! That is a film wedding. This is a real wedding”.

“Why don’t they sing at the real weddings?”

“Yeah… why shouldn’t they? But anyway who knows to sing?”

It was getting late for lunch. Chitra got down to cook. Meanwhile, Priya put on her new dress and stood before Chitra. How beautiful she looked! Chitra recalled how she must have also looked pretty like Priya when young. Pulling Priya towards her, Chitra hugged her tightly and stroked her hair.

“Do I look beautiful, ma?”

“You look pretty”.

“Reema is the most beautiful girl in our class. You know, how her skin shines!”

“That is not natural, my baby. Only your skin is natural”. After all, she could but only console herself.

Excited about her new dress, Priya took a selfie with Chitra’s phone, and doubtfully asked, 

“Amma[2], can I send this photo to daddy?”

“No, let it be a surprise”.

Songs kept springing forth as she cooked. Only sometimes was she able to cook with such joy. On most days, it was a chore. An unavoidable work.

It was a big spread she made that day. She and Priya relished a glass of payasam[3] each as soon as it was ready. After arranging the dishes on the dining table, they waited for Karthick.

Chitra came out of the bedroom dressed in her “peacock neck” blue saree. She so wanted to try it out.

“It looks super, ma”, said Priya adoringly looking at her mother.

Does amma look beautiful?”

“Very beautiful,” said Priya as she went to her and tenderly moved her hands over the saree.

They both waited, dressed in all their fineries, for Karthick. It was 2pm, and he had not come home yet. Chitra phoned him. He did not answer the call. They were famished. She really wanted to eat. When he came at last at 2:30, she did not show any anger.

“Sorry, Chitra. Colleagues demanded a treat. Went to Buhari.”

“That’s okay, but you could have told me that”.

“I ate very less biryani. Wanted to eat with you at home, you know,” Karthick replied with a fake smile.

They ate together. He made no comment about the many dishes she had whipped up. She had lost her appetite waiting for him, so couldn’t quite relish her meal. Karthick helped himself to a glass cup of payasam, sat before the TV and asked,

“The baby is in a new dress. When did we buy this?”

“Today morning. Amma and I bought it. Even the saree she wears is new,” chimed in Priya.

“Why a white-coloured dress, dear? It will get dirty soon.”

His words sounded exactly like her father’s. Suppressing her anger, she responded, “We can wash it if it gets dirty.”

“But why a new saree for you? You do have a new silk saree. Don’t you?”

“I don’t have this colour.”

Good heavens! He did not ask the price of Priya’s dress.

“I need to go back to the office. You both come over directly to the mall at 6pm.”

“What about to the temple?”

“We can do it another day. No time today.”

Karthick left as soon as he got a call from the office. Chitra and Priya changed over to their regular clothes. Priya switched to TV. Chitra withdrew to her bedroom and dozed off. Woke up only at 5pm.   

Strangely, she had a dream in an afternoon nap! She wore a new saree even in her dream! With a nice hairdo and the new silk saree, Chitra was now ready for the evening. Priya was already waiting for her, all dressed up. They hired an autorickshaw[4] and reached the mall.

It was not bustling with shoppers. Chitra and Priya leisurely window-shopped. Took the escalator, landed at the multiplex on the fourth floor, and sat waiting for Karthick. Chitra wondered if there would be any more “anniversary couples” in the mall. Many young men were streaming out of the cinema after the English movie.

She called Karthick to find out if he had left. No answer. They spent their time watching the various ads on the big, wide screen.

“We should also have a car like this, ma,” Priya expressed her desire.

“It costs forty lakh rupees.”

“Then, let us buy some other car.”

“First, house; then, a car.”

“You have been saying this for a long time… nothing has happened.”

“Need at least sixty to seventy lakhs to buy a house,” said Chitra with a sigh.

Chitra realised that a man, in a light red linen shirt, had been staring at her. She felt he was only admiring her. Luckily, Priya didn’t notice it. Soon, a girl in jeans and black top joined him. Holding hands, they proceeded to Screen no 4. She had never walked hand-in-hand with Karthick in a public place. Was this also something to wish for… She chided herself.

When Karthick turned up, it was 6:40pm.

“Movie starts at seven.”

“We could have come late, after all.”

“Didn’t notice. Saw it only after coming here.”

They got into the cinema hall. Karthick walked along but was busy talking to someone on the phone.

It was 10 when the film ended.

“There is a restaurant on the second floor. Let us eat there,” proposed Chitra.

“That is a costly place. Chicken soup… 400 bucks. Not worth it. Food is also crap.
Let us eat at the newly-opened Red Chillies.”

“Where is it?”

“Will check the map.”

“It is already 10pm.”

“It is close by. We will be there soon.”

They rode off on his motorbike. There was no restaurant at the place indicated by the online map. After some roundabouts, they spotted it beyond a couple of streets. It was a small joint. Crowded. They got a table after waiting for some time.

Tired-faced, in a dragged voice, Priya said, “Feeling sleepy, ma.”

“Eat your favourite veechu parotta[5],”suggested Karthick.

Priya nodded her head. It took half an hour for the food to be served. It was very spicy. She couldn’t eat. Karthick ate his kothu parotta 5with relish. Priya nibbled on her parotta drowsily. When they left the place with their leftovers packed, it was past 11.

They lived in Jafferkhanpet. There were many stray dogs around. Karthick didn’t like to live in a multi-storey apartment. Though the house was far inside from the main road, he could get an independent house there. The street leading up to the house ran parallel to Cooum, a polluted river infested with mosquitoes. Theirs was a two-bedroom house.

They did not quite interact with neighbours. They had a motorbike. So they could do their shopping at the main road easily. The place also had many “share autos”. Chitra used them to go to her office and come back home.

Sensing that they might come late, Chitra had switched on the corridor lamp before leaving the house. It shone distinctly to be spotted from the beginning of the lane.

“Keys?” Karthick asked for them as he parked his bike and closed the gate.

She shuffled through her handbag. The keys couldn’t be found.

“Where is the key?” Karthick asked irritably.

She opened her handbag and searched all over. She undid the zipper of the pocket outside and the zipper of the pocket inside. She couldn’t find it.

“The key is missing,” said Chitra with trepidation.

“Didn’t you buy popcorn during the intermission? And taken out the money from the bag.”

“But I unzipped the pocket on the side to take out the cash.”

“So, where did it go?”

“No idea.” said Chitra, worried.

“Could it have fallen down in the cinema?” asked Karthick, filled with anger.

“Possible,” said Chitra nodding her head.

“Let me go and check. You both wait here,” said Karthick frowning at her.

“You didn’t take the keys, ma. I saw them on the key holder.” Priya reminded her.

“Why couldn’t you tell me then?” Chitra scolded her.

“I thought you would be taking it while leaving.”

Chitra realised she had locked the door by shutting it but had forgotten to take the key.
The door lock came with a small key. A modern type lock which locked itself when one shut the door. If it had been a key of the older model, no one could forget it. Amma had it tucked to her waist always.

Now, there was no spare key for this either. Karthick had lost his in his office.

“The key is inside the house,” said Chitra.

“So, how are we to get in?” asked Karthick with anger intact.

“Shall we ask someone for help?”

“Do you know what time it is now? 11:30. Whom can we ask at this unearthly hour?”

“Shall I talk to Nithu?”

“Do whatever you want. Let me see if I can get any help at the main road”

Karthick left on his motorbike.

Standing outside her locked house, Chitra phoned Nithya, her friend. Half asleep, “What happened di[6]. Is someone not well?” she enquired.

“The key is stuck inside the house. I don’t know what to do.”

“Come over to my house. We will figure out in the morning”.

“Can we find any locksmith now?”

“Not at this hour.”

“If you have any contact number, give me.”

“Nothing now. Just come over to my place.”

“Okay, will think about it.” Chitra hung up.

How much more longer could they wait outside like this! Not one house in the street had a bench on the veranda or even a staircase step to sit on. Only iron gates. Couldn’t someone have at least left a plastic chair outside? Could have been helpful in such times, she felt.

Priya, overcome with sleep, asked, “What should we do now, ma?”

No place for little Priya to rest. The street suddenly looked scary to Chitra.

Who could they seek help from? What could anyone do? Head to Nithya’s place without further delay and spend the night there? 

Karthick returned, keeping a tight face.

“The locksmith is on the way. Wants thousand rupees”.

They waited outside the house. The street lamp at the end of the street shone brightly. Clueless, Chitra walked towards the lamp. A dog opened its eyes and lifted its head towards her. It did not bark.

A fifty-something man came on a bike, with a bag full of keys. He asked Karthick to point the flashlight from his phone at the keyhole.

He couldn’t open the lock even after trying with different types of keys.

“Only an original key can open this lock, sir. This is an expensive lock. The company alone has a duplicate key for this”.

“What am I to do now?”

“Take the help of some carpenter. He will break open the door.”

“It is a rented house. Can’t break the door, you know.”

“No other way. None of my keys is pairing with the lock.”

“Please do something. We have only you to depend on now.”

“Poor thing, your wife! Your kid also looks lost. Let me see if I have any more keys at home.”

“Shall I come along?”

“Not necessary, sir. How could you leave the womenfolk alone in the dark?”
The locksmith went away on his bike. Chitra felt guilty at having been so forgetful.

“Shall we spend the night at Nithu’s house?” Chitra asked very hesitantly.

“If that chap can’t open the door, then we can,” replied Karthick.

No woman has ever not worried about losing the keys. Yet she bears the brunt even
if others lose theirs. If only Karthick had come home in the evening, this wouldn’t have happened. But could she risk telling him that? He would turn livid.

A movie she didn’t like, food she didn’t relish — and to be standing outside your own house at this hour. All this irritated her. Such a situation would never have arisen in an apartment. Even if it did, the watchman would be around to help.

The three of them kept standing outside their house. Priya was leaning against the bike. Nithya called to ask if they were coming.

“I don’t know. The locksmith is yet to come with a new set of keys”.

“Shall I speak to Karthick?”

“No. He is seething with anger. He might even bark at you.”

“Come anytime,” said Nithya and disconnected the call.

Chitra felt like speaking to her mother. But she would panic on receiving a phone call at this odd hour. A situation like this would also leave her confused. But wait! Wasn’t she the one to force me to marry Karthick? Why shouldn’t I call her?

The locksmith hadn’t turned up yet. Karthick kept calling him. No answer. Not a soul to help them in this big metropolitan city. The house looked like a cave without an entrance. Irritated, Karthick also began walking towards the street corner.

The locksmith returned with another man. Together, they tried. The locksmith’s partner scraped the key continually and slid it inside the keyhole. Keeping his ear closer to the door, he studied the sound. After a long battle, the door opened.

Priya rushed to the bathroom. Karthick paid them off and thanked them.

As soon as Chitra entered the house, she looked for the key on its holder. It was dangling there, attached to a tiny elephant. She showed it to the locksmith.

“Who doesn’t forget, ma? If it was daytime, this wouldn’t have taken so long. I travelled all the way to Saidapet to bring this guy for your work. I am not familiar with these new types of lock; but he is an ace.”

Chitra gave the young man five hundred rupees.

“It is okay, akka[7]. Sir has already paid us.”

“This is for the trouble you took to come at this time.”

“Keep this key as a spare.” He handed her a key he had made.

After they left, she stood there staring blankly, not knowing if she should close the door or leave it open. Tears welled up. As it was their wedding anniversary, she consoled herself. Karthick had gone to bed after changing his clothes.

Chitra stepped out of the now-open house onto the street. It was past 2am. She had never seen the street at this hour. The warm street lights and the silence of the houses in the street — to her it was like a painting that had come to life.

She felt hungry. She did not eat well at the restaurant. There was some batter in the fridge. She thought of helping herself with a dosa[8]. But no, she felt she must punish herself by starving.

Putting away all the memories of the just-concluded chaos, she shut the door. In four hours, it would be another morning. To cook. To get Priya ready for school. To rush to office. She was already gasping for breath.

While dosing off to sleep, she realised that they had not even taken an anniversary photo.

As if all I miss is only that, she muttered.

[1] Father

[2] Mother

[3] A dessert

[4] Motorised version of a rickshaw

{5} Different types of paratha or pan fried flatbread.

[6] Elder sister

[7] Sister

[8] A crispy crepe made of rice and lentil

S Ramakrishnan is one of the most prolific and celebrated writers of modern Tamil literature. His vast body of work spans fiction, plays, screenplays and essays. He has written and published 11 novels, 55 collections of essays on world cinema, world literature, Indian history and painting; 20 anthologies of short stories, three plays and
21 books for children. He has received many major awards for his literary works, including the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2018, Tagore Literary Award and Maxim Gorky Award. Sancharam, the novel which won him the Sahitya Akademi award,is a poignant portrayal of the lives of Nadaswaram (a wind instrument) artists — an instrument that is a part of all celebrations but the artist who plays it is not part of the celebrations. His short stories and essays have been translated and published in English, Malayalam, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Kannada and French.

R Sathish is a translator from Tamil to English. He is an advertising professional, and lives in Hyderabad.

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

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

Categories
Editorial

The Sky

The sky is, was and will be.

It stretches without borders, without interruptions, without contentions, unifying all under its life-giving ambience. We live nurtured by the sky, the water and the Earth. If we think back to times before humans made constructs and built walls to guard their own, to times when their ancestors roamed the Earth and moved to meet their needs, the population was not huge, and resources were abundant. Our species lived in consonance with nature. People revered natural forces and found trends that evolved into traditions and constructs which eventually made their progeny forget that the sky, water and Earth did not belong to them. These belong or perhaps exist for some reason that we do not comprehend despite the explanations given by science and religions. Being merely transient passers-by through these, humanity, unlike dinosaurs, has an urge to survive and be like the sky — with a past, present and future and a sense of the eternal. Though we all have short lives compared to the sky, Earth or universe, we continue to find ourselves in a homo centric world that considers all else to be made to meet their aspirations. But there was a time, when humans lacked this arrogance. They just tried to survive. And move with shifting rivers in an unbordered world.

Exploring such times, is Anthony Sattin’s profound book, Nomads: The Wanderers Who Shaped our World. He converses to reinforce reviving the concept of asabiyya or bonding between humans so that they find it in their hearts to move forward with necessary changes to avoid following in the footsteps of mammoths. A change maker who redefined constructs for humankind, a devdasi’s[1] daughter who rose to become a pioneering doctor and activist a hundred years ago, is Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy. We have an interview with her recent biographer, R Devika, who authored Muthulakshmi Reddy: A Trailblazer in Surgery and Women’s Rights.

The books reviewed this time include one featuring the writings by the greatest change maker in cinema — Satyajit Ray. Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Satyajit Ray Miscellany: On Life, Cinema, People & Much More while Professor Somdatta Mandal has given us a candid opinion on BM Zuhara’s The Dreams of a Mappila Girl: A Memoir, translated from Malayalam by Fehmida Zakir. Taranath Tantrik and Other Tales from the  Supernatural by Bibhutibhushan, translated from Bengali by Devalina Mookerjee brings unexplored dark mysterious forces into play and has been reviewed by Basudhara Roy. We have an excerpt from the titular stories of Tarantath Tantrik. Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay(1894-1950) was a legendary writer from Bengal. He wrote stories and novels, some of which were immortalised in cinema, such as the Apu triology by Satyajit Ray. The other book excerpt is from a translation from Kannada by an upcoming voice that needs to be heard, Maithreyi Karnoor. She has brought to the anglophone world Shrinivas Vaidya’s Handful of Sesame.

In our section on translations, we are privileged to carry voices that remain relevant to date, Tagore and Nazrul. Nazrul’s poem on poverty, Daridro, has been translated by Professor Fakrul Alam and we have a transcreation of Tagore’s inspiring lyrics (Aalo Amar Aalo) to energise one’s life with the refulgence of light. Rosy Gallace’s poetry has been translated from Italian by Albanian writer, Irma Kurti. Korean poet, Ihlwha Choi, has translated his own poem on peace for us. And a Tamil short story by S Ramakrishnan, has been rendered into English by B Chandramouli. It is an interesting potpourri as is our poetry section, which even features poetry from Iraq by Ahmad Al-Khatat. We also feature poems by Michael Burch, Kirpal Singh, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Jonathan Chan, Ron Pickett, George Freek, Gayatri Majumdar, Vandana Kumar, Mike Smith and many more along with the inimitable witty ditties of Rhys Hughes which not only make us laugh but also wonder…

Evoking humour is not easy, but we do have a few such writers who manage it very well. Hughes has given us a tongue-in-cheek piece on the dateline, which has more than humour. And Devraj Singh Kalsi has shared his discovery that laughter is the best medicine to shrug off a dentist’s drill. He has also visited the colours of Durga Puja which, with its spirit of inclusivity, transported visitors in one marquee near Kolkata to the iconic Malaysian Twin Towers. Thus, bringing festivals in October into our purview. Candice Lousia Daquin has actually explored why we celebrate festivals and the God gene… Did you know we have a biological need for spirituality?

Suzanne Kamata has introduced us to Mount Bizan, which houses a writer by the surname of Moraes – Wenceslau José de Souza de Moraes, an expat writer who lived in Japan at the turn of the twentieth century. Wonder if he could have been related to the Anglo Indian writer, Dom Moraes? Aditi Yadav has also given us an essay on the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi with its world view centred on imperfections and transience. Ravi Shankar has suggested walks for all of us, sharing his experiences in the Himalayas, the Caribbean island of Aruba and in many more places. Meredith Stephens has written of sailing to Tasmania.

The essay that brought back a flavour of home for me is one by Asad Latif, now a journalist in Singapore but long ago, he was an icon in India. We are very privileged to have his writing on what borders do for us… a piece exploring the idea on which we base our journal, also perhaps with a touch of Anthony Sattin’ s asabiyya. ‘Pandies’ Corner‘ starts another run, showcasing women’s tryst for freedom. Amreen’s ‘Moh-Reen’, her own story, translated from Hindustani by Janees, is a brave start to the series. The voices ring out asking for a change, to heal social norms to accommodate love and kindness with the backing of Shaktishalini and Pandies as does the unsupported solo voice of an older woman from Balochistan, Ganji Baloch, brought to our notice by Ali Jaan Maqsood.

We have fiction from Sohana Manzoor – again bringing to fore strange stories of women rebelling against social norms. Paul Mirabile explores death and the sea in a horrific story. Sunil Sharma’s fiction explores madness and ideators, making a social comment on recent happenings. As the sky stretches out to accommodate all kinds of writings, all creatures great and small, we try our best to give voice to a fair cross section from around the world as we have done this time too.

There are as usual pieces that we have not mentioned in this note but they are all worth a read. Do drop in to check out our contents in this October issue. We are truly grateful to our contributors who continue to connect with words and thoughts that waft along with clouds. We would like to thank Sohana Manzoor especially for her wonderful artwork. The journal would not be a possibility without the support of the whole team and our valuable readers who make writing worth the effort. It is lovely to be read and remembered for the words we write.

Wish you all a wonderful October.

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com


[1] A woman ‘married’ to Gods and forced to live as a mistress to mortal men.

Categories
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
Stories

Eyes of the Python


Written in Tamil by S.Ramakrishnan, translated by Dr.B.Chandramouli

Raghav dreamed of a python again. He had never dreamed of a snake till he was thirty. But ever since he married seven months ago, the python had recurred several times in his dreams. Mirudhula was to blame.

She was fond of pythons. When she admired one, her eyes would widen as if she were swishing her tongue at a delicious gulab jamun. In confusion, he used to wonder: “What kind of woman is she?”

In the city zoo, there was a cage with an artificial tree containing a twelve-foot python. They did not know where they got it; it was the first thing they went to see as newlyweds.

“Ragav, look at its eyes. They flash with a secret. Its texture, the style of its coils, the small movements, all of it are amazing. I like it; I want to hold it in my lap,” said Mirudhula.

Ragav hid his fear and asked, “Should we go?”

“We just arrived. Why are you rushing?” she said, standing near the barrier, watching it with interest.

He could not understand what interested her.

“You know it is non-poisonous. Even at school, I got a prize for drawing a python,” said Mirudhula.

“It is still a snake,” said Ragav. She was snapping pictures with her mobile. A boy who came there hid behind his mother with closed eyes. His mother was pulling him forward, urging him to look.

Ragav left her alone and went to see the white tiger. When he returned, she was still admiring the python. He felt irritated to see her slowly licking an ice cream cone and watching the motionless python.

Young newlyweds go to the movies only. Mirudhula was not interested in the movies; in all of her 26 years, she had seen only less than ten.

“I fall asleep at the cinema,” she said. He could never fall asleep in a movie theater.

In his college days, he would watch all three new releases for Diwali and Pongal non-stop. The three movie theatres in his town changed movies twice a week. In a week he saw six movies, mostly second shows. If it was too late to go home, he would sleep on friend’s open terrace and in the morning, go to the college from straight from there.

Why did he marry a girl who disliked movies – he wondered.

 Mirudhula was a salesperson for a multinational company. She was the single daughter of a dentist. She graduated from Manipal University after attending an Ooty convent. Having worked in Italy for two years, she was fluent in four or five languages. She made 1.5 lakhs per month.

They connected on a matrimonial site. When they first met in Amethyst’s coffee shop, her perfume intoxicated him. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her black and yellow salwar-kameez.

She spoke fluently and naturally with a fake smile on her face, as if speaking to a customer. She ordered an orange ice-tea, which Ragav had never tasted.

Twice, she repeated the same question: “Are you the only offspring?”

“Yes. My father is a college professor and my mom a schoolteacher,” he replied.

“Thank God you aren’t a teacher too,” she said. He didn’t get what was funny about it but laughed politely. Her charming beauty seduced him, as one might desire decorated pineapple pieces in a five-star hotel.

She seemed to be purposefully using a seductive voice.

“May I know how much you weigh?” she asked.

No girl has ever asked him that. Feeling shy, he said, “Sixty-eight”.

“You must lose 5kg, ” she said, smiling.

While opposite her, he felt as if it was drizzling on his face.

She winked, “Do you have any other questions?”

“You are very beautiful,” said Ragav. 

“I am aware of it.”

“I am lucky,” he laughed lightly.

“I’m still deciding – have to think more. I rush nothing.” Mirudhula said, “I am different and difficult to understand.”

“Different how?”

“I don’t want to scare you off yet, but I am like that only.”

She licked her small lips as she spoke. Her lips were sexy; the upper one was slightly smaller.

‘I think I am an inch taller than you,” she said.

“Is that so?” he exclaimed. “It is not a problem.” 

“It would be a problem for me. You should wear platform shoes,” she said.

“Sure. I can do that.”

“Do you drive?” she asked.

“No, I only ride a bike.”

“I got a car as soon as I got the job and drive to work daily. I love driving.”

“That is really cool. We don’t have to use ola then,” he said.

She disliked that comment. Slowly combing her distressed hair, she munched on the orange wedge.

“Aren’t you curious about my car?”

“Sorry. I know nothing about cars.”

She teased him, “Do you walk on the road with your eyes closed?”

“I wear a helmet. I hardly notice anything else.”

While she ate a sugar cube, she regarded him quietly. Her eyes seemed to seek something in him. What was she looking for? He could not stand her scrutiny.  

She smiled. “We will meet again.”

 Her perfume lingered long after she left. Ragav picked up and tasted a sugar cube just like her.

It was the first of their three dates. After that, their families got together and arranged the wedding. Unlike traditional marriage hall weddings, theirs was a lavish affair at a beach resort. Mirudhula’s father spared no expense. They honeymooned in Hawaii. She enjoyed varied foods, including fish. Raghav craved rice.

Even when she was kissing him in bed, Mirudhula was slow and deliberate. Her kiss was emphatic. Her embrace was slow and long. Their lovemaking was urgent and refreshing, like eating ice cream in the summer.

They temporarily stayed at Mirudhula’s apartment upon returning to Chennai. Mirudhula was serious about renting a new home. She rented a flat on the top floor of a newly built apartment building with 34 floors.

Ragav said, “A first-floor flat would have been nice.”

“One must live in the highest location possible. It is nice to see the city beneath my feet,” she said.

He felt uncomfortable living so far up.  What if the lift failed? What if the balcony glass barrier cracked? Why was there so much glare in the morning? His mind bubbled with doubts, questions, and fears. But her morning routine was to stand on the balcony with the morning brew in the hand and admire the sprawling city below. The fast wind blew her hair in waves. He disliked standing on the balcony.

Mirudhula was a great cook, but she only cooked when she liked it. The other times, they catered from the hotel only. She was never late for work. Even at home, she never seemed to rest and kept moving. Ragav, however, liked to relax on the sofa after work. On Sundays, he slept until noon. Not her.  She exercised every morning. She took great care of her figure and health.

Leaving together by car, she dropped him off at the metro station and proceeded to her workplace. She never drove him to work. She often got home by 9 p.m., whereas he was back by 6 p.m.

While waiting for her, he watched television. Occasionally, he cooked for himself. All his dreams of married life were dashed in a few weeks. He felt that his life was like a book read and finished in a hurry.

One day Mirudhula fought, saying he lacked toilet etiquette. He yelled at her another day for storing Chinese food in the fridge that smelled foul. Despite the petty fights, she often surprised him with gifts. He too took her shopping every week without fail. To appease her, he ate in some restaurants that he disliked. Her poise was evident in her every action.

She had the habit of buying strange things online. She bought wall mounted blue lights for the bedroom. The rotating blue light made the room look like a pool. When she moved around in the room, it was as if in a dream.

Another time, he was busy at work when she sent him a video and texted him to watch it right away. It was a revolting scene that showed a python swallowing a baby monkey.

Angrily, he called her and demanded to know why she sent him that video.

“Did you see? The python swallows the monkey and turns, looking eerily silent…something strange…”

“Isn’t the baby monkey unfortunate?”

“Snakes eat when they’re hungry–anything wrong in that?”

“Don’t send such videos anymore. Why would I look at them?”

“I liked the video so much I watched it 30 times today. You are my better half, so I shared it with you.”

 He cut the call with “Stupid”

It was two days before they spoke again. He became more enraged when she ignored his anger.

That Sunday, she made many of his favorite dishes. She deliberately wore a silk sari. Showered him with kisses; his anger melted away.

A few days later, she told him while leaving for work, “I’ll get a package; accept it but don’t open it. I’ll open it.”

“What package?” he asked.

“Surprise” she laughed.

A guy delivered a big box, just as she said. It came from Taiwan.

Despite being curious, he did not open it, not wanting to anger her.

Unusually, she called before coming home that day: “Did the package arrive?””

“They delivered it in the afternoon itself,” he said.

“Can I get you something from McDonalds?” she asked.

Knowing she wasn’t planning to cook, he replied, “Pick it up yourself.”

She asked, “What sweet would you like?”.

“I’ve given up sweets,” he said flatly.

She cut the line by saying, “Well, we’re eating today.”

Mirudhula came home carrying two bags. One package contained food and the other sweets. Was it her birthday today? He wondered. Then he remembered her birthday was on May 8th. He could not figure out what was special about that day.

 The package she carefully unwrapped contained a rubber python folded six times. She caressed it lovingly.

“Touch it and see how soft it is”

“What is this for, Mirudhula?” he asked.

“They have included a hand pump to inflate it; please help me,” she said

He took the hand pump and inflated the rubber python through a port. He watched it slowly expand. The snake unraveled to over ten feet of smooth coils. She wore it on her shoulders and smiled.

“Come close… let us wear it together,” she said.

As he grudgingly consented, she wrapped the inflated python around his shoulder as well.

“How is it? Can you feel the silky touch?” she asked.

“It feels strangely slimy, “he said as he tried shaking it off.

“I searched online and ordered it from Taiwan for 300 dollars,” she said.

“It’s not worth it. What made you buy it? I don’t like it,” said Ragav.

“I will spend my money as I wish. You like nothing.” She said, reclining on the sofa, hugging the python. He was a bit scared to look at her. As she stroked the python’s head, she stroked it with her cheek; only its tail was dangling outside the sofa.

“Ragav, I am thrilled today. Let us celebrate.”

“What is there to celebrate?”

“You won’t understand. Even before we were married, I said I was different. You even nodded your head.”

“That doesn’t mean you should have a Python at home… who would do that?”

“This is not a true snake, just a toy.”

“Why do you need a toy?”

“Then why do you have a fish tank? You like watching fish, right? Did I question it?”

“It is not the same.”

“It is all the same. Look Ragav. Whether you like it or not — us living together means compromising on some things I like.”

“There is no such rule.”

“No problem.  I don’t need your permission, anyway.” She laughed and sat down on the couch to watch an Italian channel. When she was angry, she would speak in a foreign language and watch foreign language channels.

Ragav locked himself in his room. His anger took a long time to subside. She might even bring the rubber python to the bedroom, he thought. Luckily, she left it on the sofa. She ate alone and came to bed as if nothing had happened.

She took the python to the bathroom the next day. She rubbed soap suds on it as she played with it in the shower. The wet python dried on the balcony.

He suppressed his rage and left for the office.

In the car, Mirudhula said, “You are overreacting, it’s just a toy.” This is like you playing video games; try to understand.”

He did not reply. That day, she drove him to his office on purpose. He came home to find the dried python in the hall, left there by the maid. He was furious.

When he touched its body, it felt like a snake but with motionless eyes. The plastic tongue twitched when he pressed its head. In the mirror, his visage looked strange as he wore the snake, like she did. It was such an expensive costume. What would someone from his hometown think? What is so special about this python?

 He deflated the python. Folding the rubber shell, he cast it in the kitchen corner. It was the first thing she looked for when Mirudhula got home at 9.30 pm. Not finding it, she shouted, “What did you do with the python?”

“It is in the kitchen”

“You would have deflated it, I know.” She said, walking to the kitchen.

“Yes. It is disgusting to look at.”

“The problem is yours. What you did is inevitable; you’re a pervert.”

“I’m not perverted. Does anyone else keep a python at home?”

“I don’t care if others keep it or not. I’m not like others.”

“You are adamant.”

“Yes. I am like that only.” She said, deliberately inflating the python with the hand pump. It grew much larger than its usual size. She walked to the bedroom, lovingly hugging the python. Loud music blared. Maybe she was dancing with the python.

Ragav slept on the sofa that night. The python accompanied her to work in the morning. In the lift, an old man asked her, “Is that a rubber toy? Where do they sell it?”

“Taiwan” she said, laughing.

“I’ve seen a python in the Assamese forests,” said the old man.

She put the python in the back seat. She did not drive him to work that day. He rode to work on his bike. He could not concentrate at work. When he spoke to his mother, he told her what had transpired.  His mother asked incredulously, “A rubber snake? Why did she buy it?”

“Who knows? She is a strange type.”

His mother was shocked. “Thank goodness she did not buy a live snake”

“She might even do that. I don’t know what to do.”

He heard his mother cursing in anger. Perhaps she spoke to Mirudhula’s father. Mirudhula’s mom called her the next day.

“Why did you talk to others about our problems?” Mirudhula demanded.

“I told my mother only.”

“Are you a schoolboy to run to your mother? What do you have in your mind? Am I crazy?”

“Yes.”

“I can’t live up to your expectations, Ragav.”

“I understood it very well long ago.”

“Then you better close your eyes and ears.  If you complain again like this to my folks, I do not know what I will do.”

“Why do you torture me? You can leave if you don’t like to live with me.”

“Why should I leave? I will stay here.”

“Well, I will leave then.”

Walking to the balcony with the python, she said, “It’s your choice.”. Leaning on the barrier, she held the snake up, and it wave in the air. To express his anger, he left for work early in the morning.

He arrived home late that night. The home was empty. He didn’t bother to look for her. She did not return the next day as well. He rang her father, but his father did not pick up the phone. After three days, Mirudhula called him one afternoon. “I have decided Ragav. I am leaving”              

“It is your choice.”

“The house cost me over two lakhs. You must return it. I have informed the owner that I will vacate the home, since I have paid for the advance. You better find a new place. Our marriage was a bad dream. That is all I can say.” She hung up.

Ragav thought she’d return after her anger subsided. He couldn’t stand her stubborn behavior. He wanted to call her back and give a piece of his mind. When he called again, she did not pick up the phone.

Upon returning home that night, he discovered she had emptied the house of her clothes and belongings. But she had left behind the rubber python, which lay alone in the middle of the hall.

Why did she leave it behind? It was the root of all their problems. What was she seeking? Her wants were so weird.

He kicked the rubber snake with his foot, but even then, his rage did not fade.

To vent his anger, he trampled the snake with his feet. After deflating it, he took it to the balcony and cast it into the wind.

 Flying in the air, the snake looked beautiful indeed. 

Glossary

Gulab jamun: Indian sweets

Diwali, Pongal: Festivals

S. Ramakrishnan is an eminent Tamil writer who has won the Sahitya Akademi Award in the Tamil Language category in 2018. He has published 10 novels, 20 collections of short stories, 75 collections of essays, 15 books for children, 3 books of translation and 9 plays. He also has a collection of interviews to his credit. His short stories are noted for their modern story-telling style in Tamil and have been translated and published in English, Malayalam, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Kannada and French.  

Dr.Chandramouli is a retired physician.. He is fluent in English and Tamil. He has done several English to Tamil, and Tami to English. He has published some of them.

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