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Review

Decoding Foreign Dreams

Book Review of A Dictionary Of Foreign Dreams by Slovakian Poet Pavol Janik by Sarita Jenamani

Fall of Berlin Wall thirty years ago had marked the end of an era in the European history: the division between capitalist West and the satellite states of Russia, that is, the East Europe. The cold war and the iron curtain had pushed the entire East Europe into obscurity. On both sides of this divided world narratives of East vs West were quite black and white, however, still a number of writers from East Europe like Milan Kundera, Bruno Schulz, Bohumil Hrabal, Danilo Kiš, Ismail Kadaré, Nobel Lauret Herta Müller, Ágota Kristóf, László Krasznahorkai, Czesław Miłosz, Zbigniew Herbert had secured their place in the world literature, but unfortunately voices of many poets and their work still remain hidden from Anglophone readership.

Apart from its marvelous creative innovations, literature of this period is significant also because it provides a parallel and more insightful perspective on the politico-cultural landscape of the twentieth-century Europe.  This part of the world, the so-called East-European region, is, however, more of a psycho-geographical concept and an imagined construct of the cold war. It represents a peculiar constellation of micro-regions, an amazing amalgamation of cultures, languages and tradition that are highly different from each other.  

Slovakia, among the West Slavic group of nations, is the least-known country and this holds also true of its poetry. The reasons are mainly historical. The Slovak nation dates its establishment to the ninth-century Moravian Empire that included the territory of the former Czechoslovakia, southern Poland, parts of Austria, and parts of Hungary. In tenth century, the Moravian Empire was defeated by the Magyars (the Hungarians), and Slovakia became a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, afterwards it was a part of the Austrian Empire and in the wake of the Second World War it went under the influence of USSR.

The Modern Period of Slovakian literature has been shaped on one hand by the increasing influence of foreign literary trends, well as by the ideological influence of the former Soviet Union. However, you can find here, as in many parts of the East Europe, a place of unexpected cosmopolitanism that lies buried away from the view of Anglophone readership.

Slovakian poet, dramatist, prose writer, translator, publicist Pavol Janik is a typical example of this phenomenon, a wonderful voice from the little country Slovakia who seems to find its place beyond its border.

His book The Dictionary of Foreign Dreams is a collection of his poems in English translation. This poetry speaks of ordinary and mundane with an extraordinary poetic twist. It has a strong sense of regionalism yet at the same time it appeals to the readers who are not familiar to it. The opening poem of the book: ‘I am carrying you, morning’ written in 1975 paints a perfect landscape of desperation and hope.

Behind the horizon the light is spraying.

The sky trembles like a tear.

The winged summer wilts.

Through the algae’s lonesome dew slides.

.

Trees hold empty nests in their hands.

I quietly sing birds psalms.

In the empty night, empty star is falling.

Empty gaze of water is still cloudy.

.

I read an exclamation of silence

and drink the morning blood stream aloud.

The morning is taking deep breaths.

The peculiar phenomenon of the East European confusion of identities that somehow binds these countries is also reflected in the lines of his poem, ‘The report from the end of the cold war’.

How much is the Czechoslovak crown worth here

in the capital of the ugliest women in the world

where the only chance for survivor

is your photograph?

.

An English poet,

who thinks that Bratislava is in Yugoslavia,

but knows that Dubcek lives there,

is only interested if Havel is free.

His rhymes, inspired by London and by other such European cities written about the size and dimensions of his desk could as well stayed on his noble table. He seems to be a poet who is gifted with the talent of or propensity to getting extraordinary poetic experience from ordinary things. Putting in other words, his is poetry concerned with enlivening the ordinary. Existential notions of nothingness and authenticity are explored here as they pertain to a poetics of the mundane. His poem ‘Bad Habit’ provides a telling proof of this tendency.

Every day

I go to work

for my wife, Olga,

so she has enough for shopping.

.

I must make an effort.

The weekend approaches

and the children would like to eat on Sunday.

We still have not succeeded

in breaking this bad habit.

.

The poem ‘At the table’ portrays this phenomenon in a different way.

.

An infirmary of flowers of the field

in a vase.

So many of the white

that the blood inside our veins stiffens.

.

Thus we wither together

torn away from

life.

Some of Pavol’s poems are written with the acumen and approach of a cinematographer. Pavol, a dramatist, a keen observer, purposefully juxtaposes images and here a combination of theater language and specialized reading experience is made accessible in an adroit fashion that takes his poetry to new level of specificity and concentration; the subject fades away, allowing the poetic record to speak on its behalf. As the poem “summer” shows us:

The sun smashes our windows.

An urgent song reaches us from the street.

.

On the cellophane sky

steam condenses.

Unconfirmed reports are reproduced

about the wind.

.

The trees are the first to begin to talk

about the two of us.

At times the poet appears to be offering life in a way that is combined with humor and the self-irony: humorously, his poetry asks questions about the dark unspoken conditions that rule our world – a world where we knowingly or unknowingly follow the set rules without asking their relevance and this is a juncture where a writer should make his/her readers aware of this uncanny game. In his poem “New York” he writes:

Where does the empire of glass and marble reach?

Where do the slim rackets of the skyscrapers aim?

.

God buys a hot dog

at the bottom of a sixty-storey street.

.

God is a black

and loves the grey colour of concrete.

.

His son was born from himself

in a paper box

from the newest sort of slave.

Pavol Janik is a widely published poet whose literary works have been published not only in home country, Slovakia, but also in a number of other countries, and it is indeed solacing to know that such powerful voices are not getting lost behind an imagined iron curtain but finding their due space in global literary field.  

The poem that gives the books its title ‘A Dictionary Of Foreign Dreams’ opens up with a dream as well as with a little sense of confusion over the vastness of this globe.

At the beginning it was like a dream.

She said:

“Have at least one dream with me.

You’ll see – it’ll be a dream

which you’ve never dreamt about before.”

.

Descend deeper with me,

dream from the back,

dream retrospectively

in a labyrinth of mirrors

which leads nowhere.

 A Dictionary Of Foreign Dreams is a wonderful poetry collection that not only provides you a sneek peek of Pavol Janik’s poetry in particular and Slovakian poetry in general but also leaves you craving for more such poetry.

Sarita Jenamani is a poet of Indian origin based in Austria, a literary translator, anthologist, and editor of a bilingual magazine for migrant literature – Words & Worlds – a human rights activist, a feminist and general secretary of PEN International’s Austrian chapter. She has three collections of poetry. She writes in English, Odia and translates to and from German. Sarita translated Rose Ausländer, a leading Austrian poet, and an anthology of contemporary Austrian Poetry from German into Hindi and Odia. She has received many literary fellowships in Germany and in Austria including those of the prestigious organizations of ‘Heinrich Böll Foundation’ and ‘Künstlerdorf Schöppingen’.  She studied Economics and Management Studies in India and Austria where she works as a marketing manager.

Categories
Poetry

Corona nights, This Spring & Quarantines

By Sarita Jenamani

Corona Nights

When our nocturnal solitude

makes us mourn the moment given

we should think of the images

of those handwritten notes,

family heirlooms

and poems sent in the hope

they would get buried

alongside those who die

in hospitals alone

.

We should not forget

contours of those who could not caress

cheeks of their dear departed

one last time holding their hands

and seeing them dying gracefully

.

We should be alive

to what happens

before the breadth diffuses

in the shadow of night

and the dream dissolves

.

We should be aware

a little harbour lies in the sand

of our grief-stricken survival

that builds a boat

out of this temporal wrack

enabling us sail

towards a new dawn

.

This Spring

This spring

a dark sign looms

in the far-east horizon

Silk route brings us

neither softness of silk

nor aphrodisia of spices

myriad of dawns

the vermilion silhouette of night

rises to mark the mirror of death.

.

This spring

denies dignity

to the dead

turn prayers into torture

as the honeycomb of memory

stacks the images of dead ones

This spring

When I write I write

only silence and solitude

by a flickering of hope

while attempting to overcome the dark

.

Quarantines

In isolation

you understand

how isolated you are

from yourself

.

Walking through the eerily quiet streets

of your inner ruins

you discover

a virus-plagued world whispers

that you have forgotten

you exist

in relation to others

.

Sarita Jenamani is a poet of Indian origin based in Austria, a literary translator, anthologist, and editor of a bilingual magazine for migrant literature – Words & Worlds – a human rights activist, a feminist and general secretary of PEN International’s Austrian chapter. She has three collections of poetry. She writes in English, Odia and translates to and from German. Sarita translated Rose Ausländer, a leading Austrian poet, and an anthology of contemporary Austrian Poetry from German into Hindi and Odia. She has received many literary fellowships in Germany and in Austria including those of the prestigious organizations of ‘Heinrich Böll Foundation’ and ‘Künstlerdorf Schöppingen’.  She studied Economics and Management Studies in India and Austria where she works as a marketing manager.

Categories
Poetry

Winter in Vienna and more…

By Sarita Jenamani

Winter in Vienna 

Winter is usually foggy here 

It blurs the reflection of your dream 

in the mirror of your imagination 

Night does not sojourn here 

but when the snowy night 

passes through the city 

a violet glow envelopes everything 

A certain passion erupts in me 

and jumps back to its own caldera 

Conversation is a sin here 

Voice darkens and submerges in the sorcery of silence

Snow trickles into the stillness

Exile 

All through life 

an unending journey 

accompanies you 

And in the absence of 

a destination 

much of what’s inside gets lost 

And the warp and weft of being 

keeps on breaking

Beyond 

Stillness spreads its wings 

like the desert 

beneath a dawning sky 

The paraplegic pyramids glitter 

in a mixture of azure and gold 

There is still a lot to say 

beyond civilization

Viennese Coffee-houses 

No sooner does dusk fall 

than the city’s cafés come to life 

with the tinkling clang of indifference 

Gradually the crowd of solitude gathers 

around the tables

Sankt Marx Friedhof*

Silence is magnificent 

particularly when it connects 

the monumental music of lives 

that sleep peacefully 

with the absolute space 

Flowers and graves shoot up 

rupturing earth’s breast 

They exist side by side in stillness 

I wonder what they think 

of volatile souls that travel to the sky 

with the chanting 

of mysterious mantras 

or of those who wait 

for an undefined time to resurrect 

Beyond cemetery’s wall 

a swarm of sound passes through 

slicing the essence of existence 

in our trivial time

*Mozart was buried in St. Marx Communal Cemetery, Vienna.

(These poems are excerpted from her latest collection, Till the Next Wave Comes)

Sarita Jenamani is a poet of Indian origin based in Austria, a literary translator, anthologist, and editor of a bilingual magazine for migrant literature – Words & Worlds – a human rights activist, a feminist and general secretary of PEN International’s Austrian chapter. She has three collections of poetry. She writes in English, Odia and translates to and from German. Sarita translated Rose Ausländer, a leading Austrian poet, and an anthology of contemporary Austrian Poetry from German into Hindi and Odia. She has received many literary fellowships in Germany and in Austria including those of the prestigious organizations of ‘Heinrich Böll Foundation’ and ‘Künstlerdorf Schöppingen’.  She studied Economics and Management Studies in India and Austria where she works as a marketing manager.

Categories
Review

Silence between the Notes

Title: Silence between the Notes – Anthology of Partition Poetry

Selected, edited and introduced by Aftab Husain and Sarita Jenamani

Book Review by Namrata

Despite being more than seven decades old, Partition continues to be raw and unflinching. Endless books and movies have tried to capture its pain and enigma and yet there seems to be so much more that needs to be told about that one incident that changed so many lives, forever.

Silence between the Notes is an anthology of Partition poetry which includes contributions from Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, English, Hindi, Bengali and Kashmiri languages. It is a unique collection as this is the first book which is extensive, representative and inclusive of it all. Selected, edited and introduced by Aftab Husain and Sarita Jenamani, this anthology promises to bring forward the voices which had perhaps got lost somewhere in all the noise that followed Partition.

Sarita Jenamani is a poet based in Vienna who writes in English, Hindi and Odia, her mother tongue. A general secretary of the Austrian chapter of PEN international, she is also the co-editor and publisher of the bilingual literary magazine Words and Worlds.

An eminent name on modern Ghazal poetry from South Asia, Aftab Husain writes in Urdu, English and German. His poems have been translated into many languages. Apart from being a member of the Austrian chapter of PEN international, he is also the co-editor of the bilingual literary magazine, Words and Worlds.

When India was declared independent, the joyous news was also followed by the sad news of Partition of India into two countries, India and Pakistan. What followed was mass migration of lakhs of people as Muslims in India migrated to Pakistan while Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan migrated to India, all in a hope for better tomorrow. Nobody knew how this supposed call for betterment led to so much blood shed on both the sides that till date, the cries and blood stains can be heard and seen.  Was it religion or was it politics, no one can say! All one can say is that the wound is too deep for even time to heal it.

My soul quivered at the sight of human blood, spilled here and there

Like beasts, men madly roamed at city’s every thoroughfare.

(‘The Partition’, Maikash Ambalvi)

Picking up gems from different languages ranging from Urdu and Kashmiri to Bengali and Sindhi, this collection of ninety-one poems is a heart-wrenching read. One cannot read this collection without feeling that pinch in their heart and sensing a lump in their throat on this poignant portrayal of the incidents that happened before, on and after Partition. The beauty, irrespective of the language they were written in and despite being translated, leaves one unnerved.

With works of stalwarts like Sahir Ludhianvi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Amrita Pritam, Agha Shahid Ali, Taslima Nasreen, Keki Daruwalla and many others featured therein, these poems are strung together with the thread of hope binding them. Taking us through the conflict they witnessed, heard or experienced, the poems in this collection make you witness the trauma inflicted upon through Partition. One can almost hear the sobs and feel that fear undergone through these pages.

Even in some of the darkest stanzas it is difficult to miss the tiny glimmer of hope in the hearts of the poets. Like that ladies who tied pillows on their waists and stomachs to protect themselves, or the one where they talk about how trains arrived at stations but the names of the places had been changed, leaving them unidentifiable. These poems talk endlessly about kind neighbours who took them in and protected them or that random stranger who had offered them food. There might be pain in their words and through ink, they might be giving form to their blood and tears shed at that time. However, their voices are trying hard to hold onto hope.  As Sarita Jenamani’s poem, ’70 years later’ begins,

‘August is the cruelest month

It drags us

To a butchery

Plastered with mirrors-

Mirrors of the ancestral rage’

And ends with,

‘August in a month of monsoon

And monsoon brings

A maze of hope’

If someone were to ask, whom did the Partition benefit, there would be pin-drop silence in response. This is the same eerie silence that reflects out in the title of the book ‘Silence between the notes’. Each poem, each stanza, every word is followed by a pause which is reverberating with questions but sadly, has no answers. This silence is also reminiscent within the moments when the reader pauses reading the book briefly after finishing one poem, just to regain composure and start reading it again.

Today, almost seventy years later, we are still at a point where the harsh memories of this incident have chained us and sadly, there are times, when we see the signs of it reoccurring around us clearly pushing us further down the abyss. The only thing that helps us stay afloat is that we have hope, for a better tomorrow, for a kinder world and for humanity to prevail above it all.

Namrata is a lost wanderer who loves travelling the length and breadth of the world. She lives amidst sepia toned walls, fuchsia curtains, fairy lights and shelves full of books. When not buried between the pages of a book, she loves blowing soap bubbles. A published author she enjoys capturing the magic of life in her words and is always in pursuit of a new country and a new story. She can be reached at privytrifles@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

Categories
Editorial

Hello World!

Welcome to Borderless — a journal that hopes to role out an invitation to all those who are willing to venture into the vastness of wonders, ideas and creativity. It seeks out thoughts that can soar above borders not just like birds but also like clouds. Clouds waft without pausing at differences, join together and bring water to the parched lands across all terrains as do writers and readers who look beyond differences. The writing will be like raindrops that create a downpour of love, tolerance, kindness, wit and humour. With a little soupçon of such values, we hope to unite into a world that can override differences, hatred, angst, violence and COVID-19. 

In these pages, we welcome hope for a future that makes us happy; we welcome all writers of all ages to come and revel in words and ideas and we invite readers to come and read and give us comments and write to us about what they would like to read at editor@borderlessjournal.com.  They are also welcome to try their hands at writing. In a world forced to segregate for the sake of survival, this is a way to connect with ideas. 

We start the journal with some input from the team from the editorial board, constituting a few writers who are outstanding and eminent in their own areas. You can read about the team in ‘About Us’ and savour some of their work under the different subheads: essays, reviews, stories and poetry. 

Dustin Pickering, somewhat of a rebel poet, a Pushcart nominee and a brilliant essayist, columnist and publisher, has contributed a scholarly essay on ‘Poets as Warriors’ — I love the idea even though I differ with some of his surmises. Maybe a war of words can convince people eventually that war with weapons is not the best way to maintain peace. Meenakshi Malhotra, a specialist in gender studies, bring us an essay on whether solidarity between women is possible. What do you think?

Namrata, a writer who hides behind fuchsia curtains and spills out lovely reviews, has a tempting review on a book edited by Sarita Jenamani and Aftab Husian — Silences between the Notes. Curious? Read and find out.

Sarita Jenamani, the PEN Austria general secretary, herself has contributed poetry — like the tinkling of crystal chandeliers evoking an evening in Vienna where she lives. Sohana Manzoor, the literature page editor in Daily Star, Bangladesh, has contributed a story, the title of which brings a smile — ‘Parul and The Potato Prince’ — reminded me a little of an O’ Henry in a Bangladeshi setting! 

Nidhi Mishra, a successful publisher of children’s stories, rolled out a fabulous piece on corona that hovers between an essay and a slice of life. It is in a grey zone — and that is why there is a new name for it — Musings. In Musings, you will also find Debraj, a popular columnist and an associate professor in Delhi University, with an unusual piece — again hovering between multiple genres. That is partly also what we hope do in Borderless, we explore genres and non-genre based writing to create new trends. 

Read it all and tell us what you think.

I look forward to Borderless as ‘your’ journal — a site that hosts contributions and looks for readership from all of you! 

Thank you all for your goodwill and friendship. 

Welcome again to a world without borders!

Mitali Chakravarty