Keith Lyons introduces us to Kenny Peavy, an author, adventurer, educator and wilderness first-aider who has travelled far and wide and wishes everyone could connect with the natural world right outside their door. Click here to read.
Ideally, I would love to start the New Year with laughter and happiness! Then perhaps, the whole year would be dotted with humour …
Laughter clubs often practice laughing for health benefits. I know the pandemic makes both guffawing outdoors or in a group hard but think of the funniest possible thing and, perhaps, you will start laughing. For me what works other than children’s and monkeys’ antics, are my trips to the dentist, especially the trip where I wondered on the fringe benefits of ‘laughing gas’ (as given in the PG Wodehouse novel of the same name), only to be informed that it was used exclusively for young children. For me, an adult, there was only — you have guessed it — the jab that numbs your lip function to lubber. I discovered if I could make light of a dentist drilling by learning from Harry Potter (the spell to get rid of the terrifying boggart, who took the shape of the thing you feared most, was to imagine the funniest thing, focus on the humour in it, and shout ‘Riddikulus’ with a wand pointed at the creature in the form of your worst nightmare), then I could pretty much get rid of most fears.
The other thing I have been wondering for sometime is can one write an editorial that is humorous when the content is serious? I would have wanted to ask that question to many, including Ruskin Bond, who continues as one of my idols. I would love to touch hearts with the humour and the sensitivity that flavours his writing. It is tough to convey a complex thought with the simplicity and elegance of a writer who can be read and understood easily. I think we have a few of them around and I interviewed one. You all probably know him well— Rhys Hughes. I have given the reasons for the interview in lieu of Mr Bond, who continues a distant star beyond the horizon of online interviews. We discussed humour and its role in literature, leaving out completely in the cold, the fictional Mr Bond who answers to the names of James and 007 and has made entertaining films, which can be seen as serious or non-serious.
Another major issue in this world currently is climate change. In keeping with the need for acceptance of this reality, Keith Lyons introduced us to a nature lover, author and adventurer Kenny Peavy, who loved the fictional adventurer called Indiana Jones and has been working towards living in harmony with nature. He moved to Indonesia from America and is trying to raise awareness. You can find much, though not elephants, in the interview that encompasses the story of a man who cycled across a continent on a bike made of bamboo. However, you can find some writing on a king who acquired the skill to ride and tame elephants in our book excerpt from Shazi Zaman’sAkbar: A Novel of History. The excerpt does not showcase his elephant taming skills as did the Bollywood blockbuster Jodha Akbar but is focussed on bringing out the syncretism in the Mughal monarch’s outlook which made him seek out exponents of other religions. Sangita Swechcha’s and Andrée Roby’s anthology, A Glimpse Into My Country, with excerpts of short stories from Nepal and Zimbabwe, like Kenny Peavy, cycle across multiple borders as does our fiction. We feature stories from within and without the continent with Fazal Baloch recombining a couple of folklores from Balochistan to a single tale. Fiction from young writers highlight compassion and a varied perspective. Steve Ogah has a story from Nigeria which almost rings with overtones of Alex Haley’s Roots. Sohana Manzoor has given us a poignant narrative with an inspiring twist at the end, an absolute antithesis of the humorous one she rolled out for us last month. Candice Louisa Daquin has also given us an exceptional short fiction along with her column where she discusses the changing face of families in the current context.
While Daquin’s focus is mainly towards the West, we have an essay from Sanjay Kumar on families that live in the greyer zones of big cities, children from an outcropping called Nithari in Delhi, where they or theirs suffered neglect, abuse, carnage and cannibalism in their formative years. Introducing the impacted children, Kumar explains how they transcended the wounds that lacerated their lives. This piece is a precursor to a column called ‘Children of Nithari’. Starting February, the abuse victims will give us a story a month which will be translated by young volunteers from pandies’, an activist theatre group founded by Kumar, and published in Borderless. Another article from Balochistan reflects on the lack of literacy and efforts to bring children into the folds of schooling. Pakistan ranked 99th out of 132 countries on the literacy survey in 2021. We are privileged to be the voice of the unheard.
Two essays that ring of concerns raised in the Kenny Peavy interview are to do with climate crisis in the Sunderbans and waste disposal in Delhi. Both of these are written by researchers who are working on these issues.
We have travel pieces from Australia – one is a sailing adventure by Meredith Stephens and the other is about a trip to the Sand Dunes of Western Australia by Shernaz Wadia. Ravi Shankar has also taken us through winters from the Everest to New York with his globe-trotting non-fiction. Penny Wilkes takes us on a flight of creativity with beautiful photography.
We have a stellar layout of translations. Professor Fakrul Alam translated another poem by Jibananada Das and Borderless is honoured to publish it to the world for the first time. We have a translation from Korea and another of a Brahmo hymn, Aji Shubho Dine, by Tagore, which is sung often during festivals. The icing in our Tagore section in this issue is Ratnottama Sengupta’s translation of the Kobiguru’s ‘Two Birds’ (Khanchar Pakhi Chhilo) along with a musing which reflects on the perspectives of the two contemporaries, Tagore and Saratchandra. She has also translated a well-known Bengali poet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Dutt wrote just before the advent of Tagore and had an interesting past which has been vividly depicted by Sunil Gangopadhyay in Those Days (Sei Somoy in Bengali), a novel that has been translated by Aruna Chakravarti. Bhaskar Parichha has given us a tribute on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Fakir Mohan Senapati, who, he claims, has the same standing in Odia literature as Tagore in Bengali or Premchand in Hindi.
Parichha has also reviewed Amit Ranjan’sJohn Lang; Wanderer of Hindoostan; Slanderer in Hindoostanee; Lawyer for the Ranee. It looks like an interesting read where an immigrant Australian came supported Rani of Jhansi in India. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Selma Carvalho’s Sisterhood of Swans, again a story of migrants and their lives. The theme seems to echo among the books that have been reviewed this time, including Gracy Samjetsabam’s take on Anuradha Kumar’s The Hottest Summer in Years, a story about a German immigrant to India in the twentieth century. Meenakshi Malhotra’s review of Somdatta Mandal’s translation of A Bengali Lady in England by Krishnabhabini Das (1885) highlights the views of a traveller rather than an immigrant as the lady did return home after a ten-year sojourn in Britain. As Meenakshi contends, “The process of travel offers opportunities for emancipation where exposure to other cultures offers her a way of viewing and of gaining a perspective on her own experiences and that of her sisters in India. Krishnabhabini constantly refers to her Indian sisters and bemoans their sorry state and ignorance when she sees how active British women were in their families and societies…”
I was supposed to try my hand at a humorous editorial, but I realise that is tough when the ground is small. For humour, we need rolling acres where we can etch out each detail till it cannot be milked further for laughter. But I promise you I will keep trying to please the readers till one evolves to write like Ruskin Bond.
I would like to thank my fabulous team who even if not actively contributing to content are always at hand to advise and help. I would especially want to thank both Sohana Manzoor and Sybil for their fantastic artwork, which is as wonderful as their writings. I would like to give heartfelt thanks to all the contributors who have made this journal possible and each reader who comes back to our journal for more every month. Some of the pieces remain unmentioned adding to the mystery of the content, just like, Christmas gifts which need to be unwrapped and continue a reality even in January in some parts of the world – the Russians celebrate on January 7th and the Spaniards extend their festivities to January 6th.
Do take a look at this month’s edition for not just the stories mentioned here but for more.
I wish you all a wonderful New Year filled with laughter.
The aquamarine Indian Ocean shimmered to our left on this sunny day along the drive up north from Perth. There was vague comfort in the thought that it connected us to distant India. This picturesque drive would take us to Lancelin, a small town about 129 kms. north of Perth, approximately an hour and half away. Its biggest attractions are the sand dunes and the sand boarding. As we drew closer to the small town, we passed by many small dunes They were so far from the ocean with tracts of shrub-land on both sides and the highway running through the middle that they seemed like freaks of nature.
From here it was another 3-km drive to the dunes. There was a car park at the entrance but we risked our jeep through the flat, stony terrain to park closer to the dunes and went the next bit on foot. The path was narrow. Having left all footwear in the car our bare soles were chafed walking the few meters of pebbly, coarse path to our destination. But voila! We rounded a bend and it seemed that someone had waved a magic wand!
Snow white, wind-chiselled dunes rose up over silk soft sand that widened in an undulating carpet. The ocean glittered and foamed some distance away below an azure sky dotted with white clouds; and a wide, lush green strip acted as a barrier between the surf and the dunes. The snowy dunes stood lofty. Reaching the top could be quite a task with a sand board in hand as feet kept sinking into the cool sands! With effort, we managed the yielding surface as we climbed up a mound. Caps and hats blew off. Bare headed at the mercy of the cobalt sky, we lumbered up. But once on top, the panorama took our breath away more than the climb!
‘Have A Chat General Store’ on 104 Gingin Road in the town centre, hired out sand boards. Other than boards, there were buggies, quads, 4WD cars and motorcycles to zip up, down and around the dunes.
Sliding down appeared to be a lot of fun for adults and children alike but climbing back up the steep incline took the wind out of many. For those not quite physically fit, (which I wasn’t) this could be very daunting.
Much as we would have loved to spend more time on the dunes, a merciless wind forced us to pack and leave. It blew sand into our eyes (we had sunglasses on), nose, ears, hair and even inside our well protected cell phones. The battery later had to be removed to blow out the fine grains. It was worth it, nonetheless.
From the sand dunes we drove further north on this one day trip. Along the way, most of the vegetation was stunted. But flowering trees dotted the wayside to cheer us en route to the amazing desert of ancient limestone pillars, scattered across approximately 190 hectares, 60 meters above sea level and just a short distance away from the ocean. Coming upon this alien looking place, with its millennia old history, one’s reaction could only be of reverent awe. It was nature — raw and unrefined — a gateway into the unknown.
These limestone formations were within Nambung National Park, near the town of Cervantes. August to October was the best time to visit the Pinnacles. The weather was mild, wattles and wildflowers welcomed us. One could drive right into the desert, along a four-meter loop carefully demarcated with stones. There were delineated parking spaces where one could stop to roam among these pillars and enjoy a richer experience of the astounding landscape. They have been rightly nicknamed “The Rock Stars of the Outback”. These fragile structures demand to be treated with respect. The raw materials that went into forming these pillars were lime-rich sand and ancient sea-shells, but there are three theories regarding their formation and no consensus has been reached so far.
This millennia-old site, about 60 meters above sea level, evokes veneration. Thousands of the mystifying columns rise above a yellow shifting sand bed. Many of them daunt at 3.5 to 5 meters in height, some with jagged points and others mushroom-like with rounded, hard, calcrete caps that protect the frail formations. It is harder than the limestone below it and so takes longer to erode.
These Pinnacles and their surroundings are a very significant region for the traditional owners of the land, the aboriginal people. The aboriginals who inhabited this region were named the Nyoongar. A river called ‘Nambung’, meaning ‘crooked’, weaves through the region. The Pinnacles are sacred to the local tribe. During the wet season, the Nambung River made a chain of waterholes throughout the park, with the water flowing into the cave systems. These cave waterholes became essential for the survival of the tribe for hundreds of years.
There are many myths surrounding the region, with the local aboriginal people stating the large rock formations were the remains of fossilised ghosts. They were said to be young men who had wandered into the forbidden desert which was sacred and reserved for women. The gods punished them by burying them alive and leaving behind only their standing limestone figures.
It continues treated as a significant region for women, with many women groups gathering together in the desert to do traditional ceremonies, give birth, and camp beneath the stars.
The spectacular desert with its shrubbery is home to many native birds and animals like emus, black-shouldered kite, white-tailed black cockatoos, sand goannas, grey kangaroos, carpet pythons, bobtail lizards and more. Unfortunately we did not spot any of these. A visit to the Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre, at the edge of the yellow sands gave us an idea of some of these splendid creatures through photos and taxidermy mounts. It also explained the geology of the formations and the cultural and natural heritage values of the area with soundscapes, videos and objects.
Wandering among these ancient sage-like structures is to expand the margins of oneself and slide into a meditative trance; into a strange beyond. The ego slinks away; only deep awe fills the mind and spirit.
As we drove back towards Perth, we made one more stop for a tryst with ‘Living Fossils” the modern versions of our Earth’s most ancient life-forms: living marine stromatolites. The lake has a circumference of 1.2 metres, with an easy walking path looping around it. A walk down a gravel path and then up a boardwalk and one reaches the lookout platform which has good, informative and instructive sign posts, like this one.
Lake Thetis is one of the few places on earth where stromatolites or living fossils are to be found. They are built by microbes called cyanobacteria which are similar to the earliest organisms that produced oxygen for subsequent life forms. They have been growing here for about 3500 years. These rocklike formations teem with micro-organisms that are invisible to the human eye but these living communities of varied residents have population densities of 3000 per square metre! Stromatolites are layered, while their microbial cousins Thrombolites, which are also found here, are clotted structures.
The stromatolites are our only doorway into the emergence of life way, way, back in cavernous time. A small piece of stromatolite is encoded with biological activity that is thousands of years old. This community is threatened by nutrient enrichment and physical crushing, so visitors are requested to keep off these extraordinary forms.
Shernaz Wadia regards reading and writing as an inward journey. Her work has been published in various anthologies and e-journals. She sometimes dabbles in short Japanese forms of poetry too.
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