Categories
Editorial

Catch a Falling Star…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

Categories
Essay

Hesse’s Siddhartha: Towards a Shadowless Present

Dan Meloche revisits a hundred-year-old classic by Herman Hesse that is based on Buddhist lore

He who binds to himself a joy 
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies 
Lives in eternity's sunrise. 
– Eternity, William Blake(1757-1827)

Blake challenges his readers to move beyond everyday existence and delve “out of time” into the eternal presence of a moment. In Hermann Hesse’s novel published a hundred years ago, Siddhartha (1922), the titular character embarks on a similar quest to break the bonds of temporality and move towards eternity and spiritual awakening. The bonds that tie him to the temporal include relations with family, friends, a lover, a business associate, and holy men. The latter include Brahmins, Samanas, and the Buddha: all of whom provide unsatisfactory direction with knowledge that, ultimately, becomes useless and distorted by time’s passage. For Siddhartha, relying on temporally bound advice, from temporally bound humans serves no advantage when aspiring to the eternal.

Early in the novel, a dream suggests Siddhartha’s aspiration. Whereas Blake symbolises the eternal with a sunrise, Hesse uses the vast, ever-flowing permanency of a river: “Dreams and restless thoughts came flowing to him from the river.” Called by the river to the eternal, Siddhartha begins to detach from all relationships that bind him to history and time. To experience the eternal present, Siddhartha must unbind from both his father and son, suggestive, respectively, of past and future.  With these, and other detachments, Siddhartha untethers from the temporal attachments to produce the “readiness of soul” necessary to experience the eternal present.

In the opening chapter, Siddhartha’s spiritual restlessness evokes its most profound exhortation in his defiance of his father, a holy Brahmin. By leaving home, Siddhartha separates himself from his past and rejects a life pledged to holy books and learning. More than youthful rebellion, Siddhartha’s defiance represents a repudiation of book learning and the Brahmins as “they did not know the one important thing.”  As they anchor knowledge in the past, books and learning have no use to Siddhartha, who seeks to transcend the time continuum.  Unbound from the twin anchors of his past, his father and the Brahmins, Siddhartha joins a group of ascetics, the Samanas, with his friend Govinda.

Continuing his journey to the eternal, Siddhartha pores himself into the experiential exercises associated with asceticism: thinking, waiting, and fasting. With seeming ease, Siddhartha perfects his practice. Yet, he rejects practices that serve only as a “temporary palliative” that could be learned “more quickly and easily in every inn in a prostitute’s quarter, amongst the carriers and dice players.”

Produced and subsequently distorted in the temporal realm, the Samanas knowledge is insufficient to produce the awakening Siddhartha craves. Further, were he to heed the wisdom of holy men and ascetics, he would only further bind himself to the temporal realm from which he seeks escape.

Leaving the Samanas, Siddhartha fortifies his belief in the uselessness of knowledge. Not even Govinda’s enthusiasm to see a charismatic spiritual leader can dissuade Siddhartha from his well-formed belief. When the Buddha’s popularity grows, Govinda’s interest to hear the Illustrious One is met with Siddhartha’s resignation. Uninterested in learning from holy men, Siddhartha confronts the Buddha by stating that “nobody finds salvation through teachings.”  That is, the Buddha’s awakening is an incommunicable event experienced outside of time which cannot be taught or duplicated. Therefore, trying to explain “in time” that which occurred “out of time” is futile. In addition to rejecting the Buddha’s teachings, Siddhartha further unbinds himself from his past by leaving his friend, Govinda, as he bids him well: “May you travel this path to the end.”

Limited by temporal bonds, Govinda’s path to wisdom and knowledge has a reachable end. However, for Siddhartha, such confinements represent obstacles to moving outside of time. Parting from Govinda, Siddhartha further detaches from his personal history and associations to time. Only by releasing himself from the temporal can he prepare himself for communion with the eternal. Continuing alone, Siddhartha avails himself of a spiritual moment and is transfixed by the permanency of nature. This meditative glimpse of the eternal anticipates his goal: communion with the unity of all things.

However, the path to enlightenment is rarely straight as sexual desire stalls Siddhartha’s journey towards timelessness.  Powerless to the charms of the beautiful courtesan Kamala, Siddhartha loses all yearnings for spiritual ascendancy and returns to temporality and the material world. To pay for his tutelage in the sexual arts, Siddhartha masters commercial trade to generate income. Disdainful of the mastery and accrual of money, Siddhartha attaches no value to his gains as he squanders his wealth gambling. Burdened by temporality, Siddhartha wears a discontent wrought by unhealthy attachments: “the soul sickness of the rich crept over him.”

Mastery of the sexual arts leads to a comparable weariness as the limitation of his passion with Kamala is mutually understood: “People like us cannot love.” In their loveless union, Siddhartha and Kamala desperately try “to extract the last sweet drop of fleeting pleasure.” As pleasure evaporates, so does Siddhartha’s desire to remain committed to the temporally bound pursuit of love. Feeling spiritually deprived by the pursuits of sex, money, and possessions, Siddhartha clearly sees the absurdity of time-bound relationships. Just as his loveless romance withers, his possessions of a mango tree and a garden are also deflating. To Siddhartha, how can nature, the image of eternity, be possessed?

Spurred by a dream of a dead bird, Siddhartha leaves everything to sit by a river and evaluate his life’s worth and considers a permanent unbinding from the suffering associated with temporal existence: “He looked down and was completely filled with a desire to let himself go and be submerged in the water.” Unfulfilled by all temporal desires, Siddhartha gambles with higher stakes: the desire for death. Having tried, and even mastered, engagement in the temporal domain, Siddhartha found it to be “a troubled spring of deep water”. In his moment of crisis, Siddhartha finds no solace in holy words, but is restored by the wordless, echoed distillation of the eternal, the universe’s vibration, the Om. The troubled waters of temporality then become the life-giving force of an eternally flowing river. Siddhartha recognises the river as his portal to the eternal: a place he “would not leave it again so quickly”.

On his way to the permanent harbour by the river, Siddhartha finds the ferryman, Vasudeva. The humble, taciturn ferryman becomes Siddhartha’s spiritual guide. Although Siddhartha claimed after meeting the Buddha, “no other teachings will attract me,” he finds in Vasudeva a teacher who directs rather than preaches. Vasudeva’s singular precept: “Love this river, stay by it, learn from it.” Sharing ferrying duties, Siddhartha permanently settles at the river’s edge to receive Vasudeva’s help with unbinding from one final temporal link.

After the Kamala’s death, Vasudeva returns to the ferrymen’s hut with Siddhartha’s son, who reacts with tantrums and runs away. Unnaturally loquacious, Vasudeva recounts Siddhartha’s life and experience and points out that to find home, one must leave home. Unpursued, the boy leaves Siddhartha with a “burning wound”. To extinguish this fiery pain, Siddhartha needs direction from Vasudeva, who becomes less man and more deity: “that this motionless man was the river itself, that he was God himself, that he was the eternal itself.” Carrying on with his ferrying duties, Siddhartha witnesses the love between others and feels jealous. This vanity compels him “one day, when the wound burned violently”, to follow his desire to find and make up with his son. Before binding himself again to temporality, Vasudeva instructs Siddhartha to seek counsel with the river. Standing before the river, ready to be relieved of his suffering, Siddhartha receives the river’s unequivocal response: “It laughed! It laughed clearly.” From the river’s eternal perspective, individual desire and suffering have little consequence to the limitless expanse of experience that comprises the unity of all things.

Further instructed to look into the river, Siddhartha not only sees images of his father, his lover, and his friend, but hears the multitude of sorrows, yearning, and suffering of humankind that coalesce into the “song of a thousand voices.” This song, representing “all things” beyond the temporal blends into the eternal perfection that is Om. With the extinguishing of Siddhartha’s “burning wound,” his final bind to the temporal is broken. Emptying all his pain and history into the river, Siddhartha is fully unbound from temporal existence thereby liberating his soul to the eternal.

In the novel’s final chapter, Siddhartha reunites with his friend, the still questing Govinda, who has sought out the mysterious wise man by the river. Siddhartha convinces his old friend that time is not real. Inspired by Siddhartha’s peacefulness, Govinda solicits inspirational advice. Unwilling to limit explanation with mere words, Siddhartha offers to share with Govinda a glimpse into the eternal. As Govinda bows to kiss Siddhartha’s forehead, he witnesses the parade of humankind (babies, murderers, and lovers) in the thousand-fold permutations of love, hate, birth, and death.

Authenticated by the experience of sharing the eternal present with Govinda, Siddhartha represents a fully awakened being. Whereas Govinda had been confounded by seeking a specific end goal, Siddhartha focused on the readiness of soul that comes with unbinding from temporal relationships, riches, and knowledge. Released from the time-bound continuum, Siddhartha releases his suffering into the channel of eternity that the river represents. Only by experiencing the suffering associated with temporal existence can Siddhartha then unbind to move outside the shadows of both the past and future into the eternal shadowless present.

Dan Meloche is a full-time professor at Algonquin College in Ottawa. When he isn’t teaching English, social psychology, and economics, he reads widely and writes reviews and personal account essays

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