Categories
Contents

Borderless, September 2022

Art by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall Click here to read.

Conversations

Meet Barun Chanda, an actor who started his career as the lead protagonist of a Satyajit Ray film and now is a bi-lingual writer of fiction and more recently, a non-fiction published by Om Books International, Satyajit Ray: The Man Who Knew Too Much in conversation Click here to read.

Jim Goodman, an American traveler, author, ethnologist and photographer who has spent the last half-century in Asia, converses with Keith Lyons. Click here to read.

Translations

Professor Fakrul Alam has translated three Tagore songs around autumn from Bengali. Click here to read.

Nagmati by Prafulla Roy has been translated from Bengali as Snake Maiden by Aruna Chakravarti. Click here to read.

A Balochi Folksong that is rather flirtatious has been translated by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

A Letter Adrift in the Breeze by Haneef Sharif has been translated from Balochi by Mashreen Hameed. Click here to read.

Jajangmyeon Love, a poem has been written in Korean and translated by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Eshechhe Sarat (Autumn) by Tagore has been translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Michael R Burch, Sunil Sharma, George Freek, Sutputra Radheye, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Arshi Mortuza, Ron Pickett, Prasant Kumar B K, David Francis, Shivani Srivastav, Marianne Tefft, Saranyan BV, Jim Bellamy, Shareefa BeegamPP, Irma Kurti, Gayatri Majumdar, Rhys Hughes

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In The Chopsy Moggy, Rhys Hughes gives us a feline adventure. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

A Tale of Two Flags in the South Pacific

Meredith Stephens visits an island that opted to adopt the ways of foreign settlers with her camera and narrates her experiences. Click here to read.

A Taste of Bibimbap & More…

G Venkatesh revisits his Korean experience in a pre-pandemic world. Click here to read.

September Nights

Mike Smith in a short poetic monologue evokes what the season means for him. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In El Condor Pasa or I’d Rather be a Sparrow…, Devraj Singh Kalsi explores his interactions with birds with a splatter of humour. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Rabbit Island, Suzanne Kamata visits the island of Okunoshima, where among innocence of rabbits lurk historic horrors. Click here to read.

Essays

A Turkish Adventure with Sait Faik

Paul Mirabile takes us on a journey to Burgaz with his late Turkish friend to explore the writings of Sait Faik Abasiyanik. Click here to read.

A Salute to Ashutosh Bodhe

Ravi Shankar pays a tribute to a fellow trekker and gives a recap of their trekking adventures together near Mt Everest base camp. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In Sometimes Less is More, Candice Louisa Daquin explores whether smaller communities can be assimilated into the mainstream. Click here to read.

Stories

Where Eagles Dare…

Munaj Gul Muhammad takes on the persona of a woman to voice about their rights in Balochistan. Click here to read.

My Eyes Don’t Speak

Chaturvedi Divi explores blindness and its outcome. Click here to read.

The Royal Retreat

Sangeetha G gives a brief view of intrigue at court. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

Ruskin Bond, excerpted from Between Heaven and Earth: Writings on the Indian Hills, edited by Ruskin Bond and Bulbul Sharma. Click here to read.

Excerpts from Rhys Hughes’ Comfy Rascals: Short Fictions. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Rakhi Dalal reviews Rhys Hughes’ Comfy Rascals: Short Fictions. Click here to read.

Hema Ravi reviews Mrutyunjay Sarangi’s A Train to Kolkata and Other Stories. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Krishna Bose’s Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Life, Struggle and Politics, translated and edited by Sumantra Bose. Click here to read.

Categories
Editorial

When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall…

                     “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
                      Think not of them, thou hast thy music too…”

                                 — John Keats (1795-1851), To Autumn
Art by Sybil Pretious

For long writers have associated autumn with “mellow wistfulness”. That loss of spring, or loss of youth is not bleak or regretful has been captured not just by Keats but also been borne out by historical facts. Anthropocene existence only get better as the human race evolves … If we view our world as moving towards an autumn, we perhaps, as Keats suggests, need to find the new “music” for it. A music that is ripe and matures with the passage of time to the point that it moves more towards perfection. Though sometimes lives fade away after autumn gives way to winter as did those of  Queen Elizabeth II (April 21st 1926 – September 8th 2022) after a reign of seventy historic years and Mikhail Gorbachev (2nd March 1931 – 30thAugust 2022) with his admirable efforts to bridge divides. Both of them have left footprints that could be eternalised if voices echo in harmony. Thoughts which create bonds never die – they live on in your hearts and mine.

Imagine… ten thousand years ago, were we better off? Recorded history shows that the first war had already been fought 13,000 years ago. And they have continued to rage – but, at least, unlike the indomitable Gauls in Asterix[1] comics – not all jumped into the fray. They did during the last World Wars — which also led to attempts towards institutionalising humanitarian concerns and non-alignment. Yes, we have not had a perfect world as yet but as we age, the earth matures and we will, hopefully, move towards better times as we evolve. Climate change had happened earlier too. At a point, Sahara was green. Continental shifts split Pangaea  into seven continents – that was even earlier. That might have driven the dinosaurs to extinction. But I am sure mankind will find a way out of the terror of climate change and wars over a period of time, as long as we believe in deciphering the sounds of autumn as did Keats in his poem.

Tagore had also sung of the joys of autumn which happens to be a time for festivities. Professor Fakrul Alam has translated three such songs, reflecting the  joie de vivre of the season, The translation of a small poem, Eshecche Sarat[2], brings the beauty of the season in Bengal to the fore. We have a celebration of youth and romance in a Balochi folksong, an anti-thesis to autumn and aging, translated for us by Fazal Baloch and also, poetic prose in quest of God and justice by Haneef Sharif, translated from Balochi by Mashreen Hameed. Lost romance recapitulated makes interesting poetry is borne out by Ihlwha Choi’s translation of his own poem from Korean. But the topping in our translation section is a story called ‘Nagmati[3]’ by eminent Bengali writer, Prafulla Roy, translated by no less than a Sahitya Akademi winning translator – Aruna Chakravarti. This story illustrates how terrifying youthful follies can lead to the end of many young lives, a powerful narrative about the snake worshipping community of Bedeynis that highlights destruction due to youthful lusts and an inability to accept diverse cultures.  

When this cultural acceptance becomes a part of our being, it creates bonds which transcend manmade borders as did the films of Satyajit Ray. His mingling was so effective that his work made it to the zenith of an international cinematic scenario so much so that Audrey Hepburn, while receiving the Oscar on his behalf, said: “Dear Satyajit Ray. I am proud and privileged to have been allowed to represent our industry in paying tribute to you as an artist and as a man. For everything you represent I send you my gratitude and love.”

This and more has been revealed to us in a book, Satyajit Ray: The Man Who Knew Too Much, authored by a protagonist from Ray’s film, Barun Chanda. This book brought out by Om Books International reflects not just Ray as a person but also how he knitted the world together with his films and took the Indian film industry to an international level. Barun Chanda has been interviewed with a focus on Satyajit Ray. Keith Lyons has also interviewed a man who has defied all norms and, in the autumn of his life, continues his journey while weaving together cultures across, China, India and Thailand by his ethnographic studies on tribes, Jim Goodman. Goodman says he left America when speaking for a war-free world became a cause for censorship. This makes one wonder if war is a game played for supporting a small minority of people who rule the roost?  Or are these ramblings of a Coleridge writing ‘Kubla Khan’ under the influence of narcotics?

Poetry also brings the season into our pages with an autumnal interpretation of life from Michael Burch. More poetry from Sunil Sharma, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Gayatri Majumdar, George Freek, Ron Pickett, Sutputra Radheye, Marianne Tefft brings a wide range of concerns to our pages – from climate to the vagaries of human nature. Poetry by an Albanian writer, Irma Kurti, and photographs by her Italian spouse, Biagio Fortini, blend together the colours of humanity. Rhys Hughes as usual, makes it to the realm of absurd – perhaps voicing much in his poetry, especially about the environment and human nature, though he talks of woodpeckers on Noah’s ark (were there any?) and of cows, yetis, monkeys and cakes… He has also given us a hilarious cat narrative for his column. Can that be called magic realism too? Or are the edges too abstract?

A book excerpt from Hughes’ Comfy Rascals Short Fiction and a review of it by Rakhi Dalal makes us wonder with the reviewer if he is a fan of Kafka or Baudelaire and is his creation a tongue-in-cheek comment on conventions? A book review by Hema Ravi of Mrutyunjay Sarangi’s A Train to Kolkata and Other Stories and another by Bhaskar Parichha of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Life, Struggle and Politics, authored by Netaji’s nephew’s wife, Krishna Bose, translated and edited by her son, Sumantra Bose, unveils the narratives around his life and death.

A leader who quested for freedom and roamed the world after being passed over by the Congress in favour of Nehru, Netaji raised an army of women who were trained in Singapore – not a small feat in the first half of the twentieth century anywhere in the world. His death in an air crash remained an unsolved mystery — another one of those controversies which raged through the century like the Bhawal case. In his review, Parichha spells out: “Aiming to bring an end to the controversies and conspiracy theories surrounding the freedom fighter, the over 300-page book gives a detailed and evidence-based account of his death in one of its chapters.”

Our book excerpts in this edition both feature writers of humour with the other being the inimitable Ruskin Bond. We have an excerpt of Bond’s nostalgia from Between Heaven and Earth: Writings on the Indian Hillsedited by Ruskin Bond and Bulbul Sharma.

Our non-fiction also hosts humour from Devraj Singh Kalsi about his interactions with birds and, on the other hand, a very poignant poetic-prose by Mike Smith reflecting on the vagaries of autumn. From Japan, Suzanne Kamata takes us to the Rabbit Island – and murmurings of war and weapons. We have the strangest story about a set of people who are happy to be ruled by foreign settlers – we would term them colonials – from Meredith Stephens. G Venkatesh delights with a story of love and discovery in Korea, where he had gone in pre-pandemic times. Paul Mirabile travels to Turkey to rediscover a writer, Sait Faik Abasiyanik (1906-1954). And Ravi Shankar gives us an emotional story about his trek in the Himalayas in Nepal with a friend who has passed on. Candice Louisa Daquin has written of the possibilities towards integrating those who are seen as minorities and marginalised into the mainstream.

The edition this time is like Autumn – multi-coloured. Though I am not able to do justice to all our contributors by mentioning them here, my heartfelt thanks to each as every piece only enriches our journal. I urge you to take a look at the September edition.

I would like to give huge thanks to our readers and our team too, especially Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious for their artwork. We could not have come this far without support from all of you.

Thank you.

Happy Reading!

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com


[1] The men in the indomitable Gaulish village (which the Romans failed to conquer) in times of Julius Caesar loved to jump into a fight for no reason…Asterix was the protagonist of the comics along with his fat friend Obelix

[2] Arrival of Autumn

[3] Snake Maiden

Categories
Poetry

Poetry by Sunil Sharma

Courtesy: Creative Commons
IDEAS ARE WINGLESS FLIERS

In the dark times 
Will there also be singing? 
Yes, there will also be singing. 
About the dark times.
 
-- Bertolt Brecht
 
 
A knife slices
organs
 
a bullet
maims
kills.
 
Physicality
can be contained
within the dark dungeons
but barbed walls
cannot imprison
the mind.
 
Assaults
mar the body.
 
Torture, murders,
disappearances
cannot break
the human spirit.
 
Words escape
censors
the SS, Gestapo,
religious zealots
book burnings
book bans
decrees

knife/bomb attacks
and, escaped words
sprout in the wastelands,
 
each word further
cross-pollinates
 
a rich harvest
delivered!
 
Words
can never be decimated
lost
archived
forgotten
 
always come back
as spectral beings
for fresh haunting
of the
totalitarian states.


.

Sunil Sharma is an academic and writer with 23 books published—some solo and joint. Edits the online monthly journal Setu. 

.

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

Categories
Seasonal Outpourings

Dancing in the Rain…

Sometimes, after a downpour, there is a rainbow. Though finding a real leprechaun with a pot of gold at the end of the shimmering diaphanous arch seems unlikely, rains  inspire another type  of treasure — a trove of poetry written around clouds, showers, thunder from across continents. We would like to share with you some of our gatherings from the Borderless treasury, starting with translations of Tagore to modern day poetry — all conversing around seasonal outpourings from the sky in their own way…

Tagore Translations

Monomor Megher Songi (My Friends, The Clouds), a song translated by Professor Fakrul Alam.

My mind keeps company with clouds
And soars with them in all directions.
To the pitter patter pitter patter of sravan showers,
My mind swerves towards infinite space....

Click here to read the full poem.

Noboborsha or New Rains. Poetry,, translated by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read the full poem.

Who has covered her bosom
In blue, who has come
Back to play with slivers of lightning?
Oh, who has untied her hair in abandon on the palace's roof?

Click here to read the full poem.

Contemporary Poetry

Cicadas in the Rain by Jared Carter.

Only when it began to rain could I hear it,
in late summer, after they had all risen high
in the saucer magnolia tree – a soft, slow rain
at first, while the light still held in the west.

Click here to read the full poem.

Passing Clouds by Devangshu Dutta

Cloud after cloud
     day after day, burdened with feelings.
                    regrets
                            and hope...

Click here to read the full poem.

Black Clouds Drifted by Sybil Pretious

Black clouds claimed the light
Drifting, secretly drifting.
Wind grasped my hair,
tugged it across my eyes..

Click here to read the full poem.

The Rain-meditation by Sunil Sharma

 The clouds grey and pregnant
 With condensed water,
 Bend down and
 Kiss the parched earth...

Click here to read the full poem.

Rainfall by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal 

I take refuge in the falling rain.
It falls only for me.
The raindrops fall on my head.
I find comfort in rainfall.

Click here to read the full poem.

Art by Sohana Manzoor
Categories
Contents

Borderless May 2022

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

Catch a Falling StarClick here to read

Interviews

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri: In Search of Serendipity: Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, an iconic editor and film writer from India, converses on his own journey and traditional publishing. Click here to read.

A Wonderer Who Wanders Between Waves and Graveyards and Digs Up Ancient Tales: In Conversation with Amit Ranjan, a writer-academic, who is trying to redefine academic writing, starting with his book, John Lang the Wanderer of Hindoostan, Slanderer in Hindoostan, Lawyer for the Ranee. Click here to read.

Translations

Jibananda Das’s All Afternoon Long, translated from Bengali by Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

The Colour of Time, Korean poetry composed and translated by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

The Ordeal of Fame, a humorous skit by Rabindranath, translated by Somdatta Mandal. Click here to read.

Fazal Baloch translates a retold folktale from Balochi, The Precious Pearl. Click here to read.

Tagores’ Lukochuri has been translated from Bengali as Hide and Seek by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Pandies’ Corner

These narratives are written by youngsters from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. The Story of Rajesh has been written by Yogesh Uniyal in a mix of English and Hindi, and translated fully to Hindi by Nirbhay Bhogal. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Michael R Burch, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, Ron Pickett, Abin Chakraborty, Tohm Bakelas, Mini Babu, Sudakshina Kashyap, George Freek, Shailja Sharma, Allison Grayhurst, Amritendu Ghosal, Marianne Tefft, S Srinivas, Rhys Hughes

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

Rhys Hughes shares why he put together an anthology of humorous poetry with seventeen writers, Wuxing Lyrical. Is his logic funny or sane? Click here to find out.

Stories

Intersleep

Nileena Sunil gives us a flash fiction. Click here to read.

Ants

Paul Mirabile tells a strange tale set in Madrid. Click here to read.

Mausoleum

Hridi gives us a poignant story on the banks of the river Seine. Click here to read.

The Persistence of Memory

Vedant Srinivas reflects on a childhood lost and a career found. Click here to read.

Viral Wisdom

Rhys Hughes finds humour within pandemic sagas. Is it dark or light? Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Sea Days, Sea Flowers

Mike Smith uncovers the wonders of British writer, H.E Bates. Click here to read.

Ruleman Ngwenya and Johannesburg

G Venkatesh shares the experience of his first trip out of India long, long ago. Click here to read.

“You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live”

Shubha Apte muses on a book that taught her life lessons. Click here to read.

Mission Earth

In Falling Down and Getting Up, Kenny Peavy explores how to raise resilient children. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In An Encounter with the Monet on Naoshima, Suzanne Kamata writes of snacking on Claude Monet’s hundred year old recipes while savouring his art and that of the famed artist who makes bold art with polka-dots, Yayoi Kusama. Click here to read.

A Special Tribute

In Jean Claude Carriere: A Writer for all Directors, Ratnottama Sengupta pays homage to Jean Claude Carriere (1931-2021), the legendary screenwriter of Peter Brook’s Mahabharata. Click here to read.

Essays

Hesse’s Siddhartha: Towards a Shadowless Present

Dan Meloche revisits a hundred-year-old classic by Herman Hesse that is based on Buddhist lore. Click here to read.

Himalayan Stories: Evenings with Nuru at Pheriche

P Ravi Shankar takes us to a trekkers’ life in the Himalayas. Click here to read.

Living up to my Seafaring Name in Tasmania

Meredith Stephens explores Tasmania on a boat and with hikes with a gripping narrative and her camera.Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In A Post Pandemic Future …?, Candice Louisa Daquin takes a look at our future. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from Upamanyu Chatterjee’s Villainy. Click here to read.

An excerpt from Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die, translated from Arabic by Isis Nusair, edited by Levi Thompson. The author was born in a refugee camp. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Rakhi Dalal revisits Tagore’s The Post Office, translated from Bengali in 1912 by Devabrata Mukherjee. Click here to read.

Indrashish Banerjee reviews Upamanyu Chatterjee’s Villainy. Click here to read.

Basudhara Roy reviews Sunil Sharma’s Burn The Library & Other Fiction. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Radhika Gupta’s Limitless: The Power of Unlocking Your True Potential. Click here to read.

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
Review

Re-deciphering the Human

Book Review By Basudhara Roy

Title: Burn the Library and Other Fictions

Author: Sunil Sharma

To embark on a relationship with a meaningful collection of short fiction is to hone one’s awareness of the world that shapes us and is, in its turn, shaped by us. A well-conceived short story is a sharp ray of light that undertakes to illuminate a particular plane of the compound and poly-faceted experience that reality will always be. Urging us to concentrate on that angle alone,  the short story crucially assists in peeling off our familiarity with life at that point of being and invites us to locate new meaning in what we might have long known.

In the company of Sunil Sharma’s Burn the Library and Other Fictions, a collection of twenty dense pieces of short fiction, one is on a riveting journey into the physical and psychological entrails of a society that is blissfully absorbed in plotting the architecture of its own doom. Sunil Sharma is an academic from Mumbai who has relocated to Toronto post-retirement. Acutely conscious of the subtle but definite ways in which social life, interaction and communication are being endangered by stereotypes, prejudices, capitalist strategies, ICT, artificial intelligence, eroding faith, self-doubt and the surrender to myopia, Sunil Sharma attempts, in these tales, to not merely draw our attention to what ails us as a society but also offers valuable possibilities of grace and redemption.

Ranging in form from flash fiction to full-length short stories, the themes in this collection are eclectic. Dreams, conjugal relationships, diasporic intimacy, the plight of migrants, women and elderly people, the breakdown of the family, the disruption of social cohesiveness and harmony, the threat of being transformed from consumers to victims of hyper-functional gadgets, and the consistent search for meaning amidst life’s ruins contour this collection through angst, satire, tenderness and hope. 

What immediately draws one towards Sharma’s style is his capacity for intricate observation and his incisive, almost brutal honesty in his descriptions. Here is a writer who does not hesitate to call a spade a spade without resort to satire, irony or humour to dilute the effect of his statements. In fiction where it is easy to camouflage and refract ideas, Sharma impresses and inspires by keeping critique frank and unencumbered by location, ideology or craft.

In ‘Love: Beyond Words’, the reflective narrator-husband observes:

“Our worlds, exclusive, were held together by an arranged marriage and later on, by the kids only…like rest of the middleclass Indians. Two perfect strangers brought together by common practices who discovered each other in initial years of marriage and then lost by the pressures of work and antiromance conditions of our living in an Indian metro…like others of our ilk.”

In the poignant flash fiction ‘Skeleton in the Attic’, once the skeleton has been identified as that of the paternal grandmother whom the family forgot to unlock from the attic when it left for its vacation in a hurry, the omniscient narrator quietly points out, “Once the shock was over, food was ordered and video of the visit played out and they forgot the skeleton.” In ‘Beware! Migrants are Coming!’, the interrogator minces no words in establishing the migrant’s statistical invisibility and thereby his ontological dispensability:

“You are a scum. A bloody scum. You come first to our holy land. Then you bring your entire hungry village that sucks us dry. We will no longer tolerate this N-O-W. The thieves are disposable. None cries for a thief. You are not human. You are not us, your death will not affect us, or anybody here, or anywhere.”

Concern for the margins remains central to Sharma’s intellectual, emotional and moral vision of a sane and progressive society. In story after story, it is these interstices that he examines, emphasizing their structural importance to the well-being of the centre. The malady, as the writer establishes, is rampant and global. Whether it is women, the poor, the elderly, the disabled or the migrant, the health of the margins directly determines the health of the centre. In ‘Two Black Stones and an Old God’, for instance, faith in divine reward and punishment becomes a device of empowerment for the grandmother and granddaughter both of whom are victims of the family’s neglect. In ‘The Street’, the narrator maps the entire cultural change that has taken place in his native town of Ghaziabad by observing the difference in the metrics of spatial arrangement and communication. The transformation of the public space that once symbolised community, shared concern and active empathy into a space of inequality, indifference and social apathy marks, for the narrator, the apotheosis of postmodernist social fragmentation and alienation.

However, the most stringent and memorable critique of postmodern and posthuman culture is perhaps put forward through the eponymous story ‘Burn the Library’. Though the setting of the story is 2071, around fifty years into the future, the conflict that it explores between information and knowledge, between programmed intelligence and creative thinking and between human growth and entropy is vital to the fabric of contemporary intellectual debate. What is the future that we are enthusiastically chasing, the writer seems to ask. Does it promise an unfolding of our rational and emotive powers or does it seek to arrest and freeze them unconditionally? For Sharma, the possibility of resistance to the omnivorous challenges of technology usurping humanity lies only in and through the circulation of ideas via writing. Ideas alone, for Sharma, are indestructible and even if all libraries were to be burnt and all sources of information were to be destroyed or corrupted, new knowledge could be founded and resurrected in the world through the strength of individual creative thinking alone. The Advanced Homer (AH) virus that seeks to alter “consciousness about culture” says, “Wake up! Find out authenticity. Life. Real life beyond the wired universe. Think – alternatively. Subdue the dominant of technology. It is not our master anyway. Go human. Re-think culture.”

‘Go Human’ is a powerful slogan, lethal in its simplicity as it indicates how far we have strayed from what we were meant to be. For me, it richly encapsulates the vision of the entire collection since it is only by the reclamation of our own humanity and that of others around us that we can battle the evils of discrimination, prejudice, violence and self-destruction.

Basudhara Roy teaches English at Karim City College affiliated to Kolhan University, Chaibasa. Author of three collections of poems, her latest work has been featured in EPW, The Pine Cone Review, Live Wire, Lucy Writers Platform, Setu and The Aleph Review among others.

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

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
The Literary Fictionist

Missing

By Sunil Sharma

Man Crying Out, Rembrandt (1606-1669) Courtesy: Creative Commons

The December morning came with a shock.

Pa was not in his room. It was crisp morning and the air brittle in your numb figure. There were raindrops glistening on the windowpane and on the treetops and the telephone poles. The cold hit you hard and your exposed skin felt like a reptile was crawling on it. It was as if your insides were being sliced with a cold dagger.

A Russian landscape, almost, that is typical of a Chekhovian story!

Bright, yet dismal!

Or Hemingway. Maybe.

The tall eucalyptus trees rose majestically in the distance. A clump of white, slender-waisted eucalyptus, half-a-mile away, near the shallow strip of river, swaying in the wind.

The silvery face of the river threw off a white haze. A few mud houses stood here and there. Vegetable fields ran down to the river edge, all green and rich, in the brilliant sun.

This side of the house, it is urban sprawl. That side, at the back, the country. This, ugly. That one, enchanting. The house he was standing in stood on a rising ground, all three-storied, of red brick, part completed, part painted, dwarfing other one-roomed houses of the small colony, recently sprung up, like the twisted innards, in an area, where basic amenities are as foreign as hunger is to the rich.

He surveyed the illogically constructed and misshapen houses where dirty and ill-clad children, nose running and feet bare, were playing, in the dust and garbage, with great gusto and abandon.

This house could not house a gentle soul! The man who spent his hard earnings in turning this dream into reality!

But where would Pa go?

The room, as usual, was very clean. The bed was made, the sheets smooth, the pillows neatly laid, the quilts neatly piled up. The English papers were kept in a corner. The bed was not slept in, at least, by the looks of it. The bookcases were lined with books — majority on philosophy and language, criticism and fiction. In English.

The soul had deserted the room!

“The aim of literature, good literature, mind it my boy, is to give courage, moral courage, to give insights into the nature of reality, the world,” a faraway look so typical of such encounters, “the courage to come to terms with life. To sort out the mess… to straighten up the whole twisted-up thing-life. What religion could not do, good literature does. It tells you about persons, the world, time…. A good artist is the seer…. Mad for conventional society but sane for the followers. Van Gogh, for example, and his sunflowers…”

During such moments, Pa looked unearthly. A halo appeared behind his head, the face dark in the erupting blinding light, the voice coming from clouds. He belonged to a different realm.

Is Pa an angel in human form?

How articulate!

So calm!

Looking at someone invisible, having a dialogue with that force, a dialogue liberating!

Pa communes with the spirits!

“Yes”, says he, “the dead speak. Through the mist of centuries. They come to me in dreams.”

He, the listener, is mesmerized. He cannot figure out the why of it.

But he looks and listens. Pa is majestic. Regal. Tall, thin. Fine face.

A straight nose. Thin full lips. A pair of piercing brown eyes. A rich husky voice. An erect posture. Commanding attention. That is the sum total.

Pa.

Cogito ergo sum. That is my philosophy.” Pa declared.

When he decides, he can be vocal. Very articulate. Precise.

Otherwise, he can be an iceberg.

Brooding. Off limits.

They had many animated discussions. Prod him on his favourite topic and he would be all animation. Gesturing. Eyes rolling. Hands moving up, down. Voice rising and falling.

“Nobody writes good literature. A soul companion in hours of solitude. Where are the Tolstoys, Romain Rollands, Hemingways, Nerudas in the 80s and 90s of the world? Human spirits speak through them. Now it is exhaustion. Personal idiosyncrasies. Language experiments”. He was dismissive. Hurt. Bitter. Literature had abdicated the messianic role. The artist celebrates a personal hell. What a climb down!

A reversal shocking. Market has ruined everybody.

Could Pa, this man of steel, desert us like this? Disappear?

He could not make any sense out of this sudden exit of Pa.

He returned to the room. It reflected the neatness of its occupant. A cold blast came from the narrow corridor adding to the silence of the room. Chilling! The wind ruffled up a stock of papers. The hissing sound unnerved him. He went out and down to the living room on the ground floor. The family was gathered up there. When he entered, they became quiet. He looked at them. They were lost in their own worlds. He thought he was intruding upon a private moment. He got up gingerly, without being obvious.

“Where are you going, Rajesh?”

It was Uttam, his eldest son.

“Just for a smoke,” he said.

“Any clue? Letter?” Uttam said without any conviction.

“No.”

“Where can Pa go?”  asked Raman, the second son.

“Only God knows.” Uttam said dully.

Their wives and children stared blankly. Two more neighbours dropped in.

“What happened?” asked one old lady. “Nothing.” Uttam said with a note of finality.

“He ate his dinner. Watched the 10 P.M. news. Read a book till 11:30 pm and then retired,” said Raman, voice devoid of emotion.

“Very strange!” The lady exclaimed.

It was a quest for Rajesh now. He went to Amol Shrivastava. The retired man was alone in the flat, sipping tea and reading morning paper. He answered the bell on the third ring. They went out into the small balcony. The news surprised the old man.

“I met him yesterday,” said the old man. “He was cheerful. We went for our regular walk of three miles. He was pretty jovial. I cannot believe it.”

They were quiet for some time.

“I also cannot believe it,” Rajesh said. A healthy man suddenly disappeared without any clues. He was not depressed. Went for a morning walk. It was very confusing!

“When did they discover his absence?” Shrivastava asked, his lined forehead a furrow of crisscrossing lines.

“At about six. The youngest daughter-in-law went to his room with tea. He was not there. She left the tea there. An hour later, she returned. The cup was still there. Untouched.”

“Hmm!” grunted the retired accountant. “She raised the alarm,” Rajesh said. They had searched the house, the neighbourhood. Pa had left no trace.

“Maybe he went for a long walk!” Amol said, the voice drained of any feeling. “It is almost eleven now,” said Rajesh. “A man cannot walk that long!”

“Umm!” grunted Amol.

“A man cannot walk out like this, on a bitter winter morning, wearing a woolen sweater, a shawl, shoes, with little money and vanish just like that! It sounds ridiculous.”

‘Right.” agreed Amol. A man cannot!

‘Why did he do it then?” Rajesh asked.

“Was there any quarrel in the family?” Amol inquired.

“Not. as far as I know.”

“I cannot guess, either.” Amol said in a tired voice.

“Did he ever say anything about his family?” queried Rajesh.

“Never.” Amol answered. “He was very happy with his two sons, their wives. With his three daughters and their husbands. His wife, you know, expired ten years ago. He never complained.”

They fell quiet.

“I cannot figure it out,” Rajesh said, “a man suffering from nothing, apparently very happy, healthy, leaves his own house. And at the age of 63, to top it all. It is absurd!”

His next stop was the college. Some of his colleagues greeted the news with bewildered looks. A.N. Jha, a lecture in English, was unable to believe the fact.

“He is not that type!” exclaimed Jha. “He can never run away this way. I met him three days go in a literary function. We chatted for an hour. There was no sign of any stress or depression. And why should he? His sons were settled. Daughters married. He led an active life. He retired as a lecture in English. He was well known in the town. A great scholar. And a fighter. I mean I cannot believe it at all!”

“Jha Saab is right,” Trivedi from the department of Psychology spoke. “He was a healthy person. Social and outgoing. Affectionate. A hard worker. He can never do such a thing!”

Others also joined in.

The Pa that emerged from this group discussion was the Pa he had admired: strong, heady, realistic, with deep convictions, widely read, honest. A great intellect who was largely ignored in media and university circles of Delhi because of his roots in a small town that was a satellite of a hot, buzzing Delhi with its palace intrigues.

Apart from two books, he never published anything in a long and beautiful academic year. Since these two books were on Marxism, very scholarly and difficult for the pseudo, the Left also was miserly in its recognition of a small-town intellectual. Most of the Left travelled in cars, lived in big houses in south Delhi, worked in the university and had their books published by major publishing houses and went to London, Paris or Moscow. The town was still painfully feudal and backward where goons and the police and the rich ruled, where casteism, in the year 1999, was deeply entrenched in the social consciousness, despite the arrival of pizza huts, MacDonalds, Hondas.

Pa worked against all this with workers and peasants — worked for a dream in a world without Berlin Wall, U.S.S.R., for a unipolar world without boundaries; a world where a young student no longer read Capital but invested his small capital in an Archie card and gave it as a valentine to a demure lower-middle-class girl in the college corridors. In this world eating spring rolls or burgers and drinking Pepsi was more ‘happening thing’ than taking part in the student protests. Where the only ideology was myself and my world. “The whole world is getting Americanised. Third world, too quickly, I am afraid. The MacDonald culture is everywhere. The Walt Disney culture. The dollar culture. American businessmen should be congratulated. They have made all of us Yankees, without any force or coercion. We are Yankee with our brown, black and yellow skins. Is it not marvellous? Ha, Ha, Ha!”

Pa had laughed loudly in a wayside eatery, over cups of sugary tea, surrounded by a group of gaping followers and former and current students. A happy, star-struck group of lower middle-class young men, idealism running like a molten lava in their veins, dreams of conquering Everest, talking Brecht and Howard Fast and Miller, in that steamy, thatched, mud-plastered, small eatery near the highway, on charpoys, under the swaying eucalyptus trees, on a pleasant March evening when early spring was in the air and flowers were blooming and the scented air and the orange disk setting in the western sky lent an ethereal touch to the whole encounter there. Some of them were M.A. students and some, recent post-graduates in English, were unemployed. Majority wrote stories or poems or acted in plays. They wanted to be either famous authors or actors. They lived in a realm of young imagination and pure ideas with an enduring appeal, universal and eternal. They wanted to be artists in a market-driven era, and, in a town where there were hundreds of hotels and restaurant and one, very small shop that sold magazines in Hindi and English and a couple of popular English novels! With no reading culture or very little theatre there, they dreamed, like Pa, dreams that looked impossible for those who were not part of the camp.

“It is like discussing Shakespeare with a whore!” exclaimed a detractor once. Pa was unfazed, unruffled.

All of us have our dreams, some black and white, some Eastman colour, that is the only difference! Pa had remarked, face deadpan.

Remember, guys, the dead never dream! Pa had fascinated him. A hypnotic effect. Whatever he uttered became new gospel for him and souls kindred. Souls that found themselves misunderstood in family, home, society. They thrived on ideas and hopes. They became members of the clan and the Pa was the grand patriarch, a Moses, who was to guide them through the Egyptian wilderness to the promised land. A small band of warriors assaulting the monumental stone walls of the town. He thought Pa was a Von Gogh, painting sunflowers in an ugly urban sprawl which did not have a single potted plant constricted uncrushed by urban squalor and poverty. Only the human spirit thought of sunflowers, open meadows, wheat fields — of freedom, equality, of liberating world of imagination with frothy seas and magic casements and aching hearts. Only a genius could do that.

And suddenly this man disappears!

“Socrates, Tolstoy and Lincoln have one thing in common: a nagging wife,” Pa said once, while taking a long evening walk amid a cascading landscape of mustard flowers and a setting sun that had set the heavens on fire in deep crimson. Bird songs were sonorously punctuated by a scented, tranquil, ethereal air. The humble cottages of a fast-vanishing hamlet, off the main highway and on the outskirts of the town, loomed like far off phantoms in the gathering dusk and the invigorating country air, now seriously endangered because of the rapid encroachment of the town.

“But”, he had paused and stood there for a minute, appearing as a solitary figure in that solitary place, out of breath, “All wives are nagging, my boy. Ha, ha, ha.” The deep laughter unsettled a stork and made it fly. He looked imposing and formidable there, framed by a dark sky, the gentle wind ruffling his hair. He was giant, touching the sky, tall and erect, powerful and mesmerising, amid those undulating fields of mustard.

He resumed walking. The trance was over. “Somewhere at same point, you feel lonely. Terribly lonely. A perfect stranger. Look at Tolstoy. Driven out of his own home. Suffering from pneumonia. Homeless. Old man. King Lear minus the kingdom. Or Marx. Broken by the death of wife and daughter. Terribly lonely and isolated figure. Or Van Gogh. Or Dostoevsky. The list is long and impressive. Masters creating beautiful worlds, blessed with noble souls, yet lonely at a basic human level, suffering pain and humiliation, rejection. Ordinary life is like that. The difference is the artist transforms all this through art and becomes immortal. The ordinary man dies with this pain unsung. He cannot even share this pain with anyone.” He stopped momentarily.

“The thing is, boy, life does not favour art. This age is not favourable to it. It destroys your nobility, soul, person at the altar of money, commerce, vulgarity. You were born with divinity and end up dying as an animal.” He resumed walking again in the gathering gloom, “This age belongs not to Rembrandt or Leonardo but to the stockbroker, to DiCaprio, to Mario Puzzo,” a long pause. Then, “Look at the greats. Joyce becoming blind. Virginia Wolf and Sylvia Plath and Hemingway, committing suicide. Their spirits shining through their monumental works. But the same spirit is caving in, after a long battering. Joyce died poor. O’ Neil and Mayakovski, again embittered. They could never belong to this inhospitable place and cracked up. The most beautiful children, sensitive, highly intelligent and gifted, superior imagination, language — all these beautiful and innocent children of life, totally wasted by a cruel mother!” His voice had cracked up and choked.

A mournful silence descended, and the darkness suddenly appeared as eerie and gloomy. Lights were twinkling in the mud houses and seen through mellow enveloping darkness, looked magical and sweetly assuring and beckoning. A fire in an open hearth danced merrily and lit up a small surrounding area with hovering shadows and the mysterious black beyond frequented by the nightly visitors — the unseen spirits of the forest. The whole thing was unreal.

Finally, they emerged from the dark curtain on to the highway. Ear shattering cacophony of motor sounds and harsh sodium vapour lights invaded these two minstrels of a lost song. They went to a nearby tea stall. Rickshaw pullers were sipping tea.

“The thing is,” Pa said in an even voice, “the fact catches up with you sooner or later. In a grim fight between the fine spirit and the fact it is the vulgar fact that triumphs.” The air was putrid, heavy with charcoal smoke and dust. The tea was served by an ill-clad urchin with a swollen eye and of indeterminate age. The boy listlessly stared at the duo and then shifted his stare at the highway. “Imagination does not offer a permanent sanctuary to the alienated spirit,” Pa said, gazing at the passing motors, the characteristic far-off look in his liquid eyes, voice resonating, “Fancy cannot cheat us long. Facticity returns to claim us back. More viciously. More grimly. We wage a war against the desertification.  A losing war but worth fighting for.”

And then, “What can you write in a bustling Las Vegas? Or what New York can offer you except its dazzling skyline?” If the name of John Barth were to be added to these stray observations, he thought, critics would have already started quoting and anthologising them! That is what marketing can do. They can create icons out of anonymity, obscurity. He looked at pa in the mild darkness lit up by a lantern. “You are wonderful. A genius!”, he exclaimed, admiration oozing. Pa smiled. Said nothing. Finally, “These are your sentiments. For the world I am a retired teacher. No more than that. Anonymous. Ordinary like millions. My name does not sell.”

“But market success is not everything!”

“Yes, it is,” Pa replied, sipping tea, “without market success, in a market economy, you are nobody, howsoever brilliant you are! It is the way you market yourself, that counts. The way you sell yourself. Otherwise, you are a zero.”

“Then why did you not sell yourself?”

“Because I hated the whole process. I can never do that.”

“But you are a great for me, for all of us here.”

Pa looked at him and smiled. “This small recognition is enough for me. And, by the way, after death, all are equal…unto dust thou shalt return.” He winked at him.

Now, looking back at this conversation, he could sense something which he had missed out at that time. Pa was deeply troubled and was trying to communicate this through this pantheon of artists, in an oblique manner, to him the loneliness, anguish, anger of an old, retired person who had made the painful discovery: that he was now redundant to his family and society. How dumb of him to miss the larger picture! A fine example of breakdown of personal communication.

But why did Pa take recourse to such a play?

Why did he not tell the plain truth to an adoring disciple?

That he was adored by a small group of artists who made him feel wanted and the feeling of being superfluous in the family, maybe, this social contradiction he could not resolve meaningfully. He had seen it happen earlier with others also. In late fifties, many had felt useless, with no defined role to play. The kids had outgrown their fathers. Most of them had turned to religion and yoga. They suffered diabetes, elevated blood pressure, angina pin, ulcers, and what not. Their eyes were sunk, skin leathery, teeth caved in, eyesight failing. They went on creating fictions. Reinventing themselves. Deep down they waited for the curtain call. A date with their maker. Religion comforted; paltry pension brought some cheer, but the gloom did not lift. The fact remained. They were no longer wanted. Had no price. Were irrelevant in a fast-changing society.

The police inspector, huge and rude, looked at him with malevolent eyes. So, what, if an old man is missing? He bawled angrily, is he a king or P.M.?

“Our Saab does not care about big shots,” the fawning sub-inspector said in a mocking tone. “He is the PM. of this station.” The huge pot-bellied inspector smiled. The graying handlebar moustache moved up and down on a fat face of a hard drinker. His blood-shot eyes were menacing, teeth pan-stained, garlic on breath. He looked intimidating. “A trigger-happy bastard,” he thought, “who shoots first and then asks.”

“See, officer, we have been made to wait here for two hours and nobody has bothered to take down out complaint,” he said in a mild tone, controlling anger and revulsion.

The inspector turned his full gaze on the speaker. The cop eyes were hard and full of hatred of a common, powerless man.

“Oh!’ He exclaimed and laughed. He pressed a button. A hungry-looking constable burst in.

‘Idiot,” the inspector roared, “where were you? Do you not see we have the governor sir here with us?”

The constable was confused. The inspector laughed uproariously. Sub-inspector also added a few decibels to the racket. “Governor, ha, ha, ha.” Inspector was rocking.

“Now listen Mr. Inspector,” he spoke in a commanding voice. The laughter died down immediately.

“Yes, Excellency!” the inspector said, taking out his revolver and playing it.

“I am Ashok Suri, news editor, with the star TV,” he spoke, slowly, a snarl dilating nostril. “A very good friend of S.S.P. and D.M. very close to the governor. A man is missing. An old man to people like you, but a father to these sons, teacher to me, a precious person to all of us! He is not a figure. He is a man. Ex-president of teacher’ union. Active on many fronts of the communist party. Do you get me?”

The inspector underwent a dramatic change.

Suri got up, followed by the two sons. “And I am going straight to S.S.P.,” Suri said, eyes blazing. “See you there, Mr. Inspector, the doorway. Except a lot of trouble tomorrow. Dharnas (strikes) by teachers, students and communist party workers. Goodbye, Mr. Governor. I will be there to cover it for my T.V. channel!”

They exited in a hurry. The cops came out in a fast-forwarding motion. The trio was escorted back. Tea and biscuits were served. The F.I.R. was lodged promptly. Half-an-hour later, they came out of the station.

Uttam shook hands with Suri, “Ashok you were superb!”

“What if they had caught your lie?” asked Raman.

“Oh!” Suri said, “you know I am a very good actor.”

“I spoke to them in the only language they understand,” said Suri.

The night came early and silently. The lanes were deserted. Houses stood shivering in the cold. Suri looked out of the window. The fog was swirling about like a ballerina, painting everything with a white brush. Somewhere a street dog was weeping, adding to the macabre. He was feeling tired and sad, Shambu came and sat down in the opposite chair. He lit a cigarette and spoke in a musical voice. Pa had come to me last Sunday.

“Was it?” asked Suri.

“Yes.”

“Was he disturbed?”

“Nope, slightly distracted.”

“I see. Anything else?”

“Well, well…lemme think… it was Sunday afternoon, and it was pouring…”

Pa had come around three in the afternoon. The overcast grey skies were pouring rain that came battering the neighborhood in a furious manner. Pa stood in the doorway, dripping, the grey hair being whipped by the cruel blasts of wind. Shambuda lived three houses away and was a good friend. Shambu sprang to his feet and welcomed Pa with a towel.

“So, what brings Marx here?” Shambhu asked.

“To meet Beethoven,” said Pa.

That was the opening gambit. Pa was Marx to Shambhu and Shambhu, Beethoven to Pa.

“What would your majesty have? Tea? Rum?”

“No Thanks.”

“No problem.” Shambhu, known as Da, went and brought two pegs of rum. Some salted cashew nuts.

“This lousy weather…pouring…kills my mood …to the angry elements and to Majesty’s good health.”

They sipped the liquid.

“Good stuff!” Pa said. “Fires up an old guy.”

“And makes the world red and golden,” Da said.

The wind-driven rain came in a sudden gust and lashed the shuttered glass Windows. Families were huddled around T.V. sets. It was bleak place. Dark, rainy, cold, cheerless. Pa was silent. Da refilled the glasses.

“Shambhu?” Pa said.

“Yes, boss,” replied the fiftyish portly man.

“It is dismal. This bleeding rain, this winter.”

“No quarrelling with your judgment, boss!”

“Can I hear a song from you?”

Da looked at his senior friend.

“No problem. Music is my first love.”

Da called his youngest son. Harmonium and tabla were brought out. Da sang a folk song, his favourite, in a sweet voice, the voice of a music teacher and a classical singer, a voice that always drew admirers, like pins to a magnet, from all the corners of the town:

Where are you,

My beloved?

I miss you dear,

In this rain and

Scorching summer,

Come back,

Come back,

Before I die,

Pining for

Your

Beautiful

Hair.

The melody, the earthly song, the rain and the rum. When Da finished and came out of the trance, he saw Pa wiping his tears with his hanky. Music had washed the souls of the two solitary figures on that wind-swept Sunday afternoon.

“I also have a distinct memory of that Sunday,” said Ashok.

Ashok’s Narrative

The sky was overcast, dull grey — a wet early evening gloom spreading in the vast skies, a strong wind pregnant with pearl drops of rain buffeting town and country. The streets were deserted. Pa was there in the doorway, smelling of hard liquor, wet and dishevelled, umbrella dripping. But Pa was always a welcome guest.

“Let us go, Ashok,” Pa said. A simple order. I look my umbrella and we went out on wet, slippery, pebbly road. Trees were shedding rain drops as big as stones. Birds were shivering. We walked two kilometers and then came to an abandoned culvert across a deep drain.

Around us were long stretches of soggy plains and looming mills and chimneys. We sat down on the wet culvert. Pa was quiet.

“Perfect setting for a rum-soaked evening,” I said, “for paneer pakoras (cottage cheese fritters), fried green chilies and roasted grams…”

“And hard-boiled eggs,” Pa said and laughed, his lean body shaking.

“If life were such a royal banquet…”

We lit cigarettes and emitted rings. Pa took out a half-bottle, two plastic cups, disposable soda and a packet of fried black grams topped with onion rings, tomatoes sliced and chopped coriander leaves, from the shoulder bag of khadi.

“Your wish is fulfilled, master.” Pa said.

“No, you are master, my master.” I spoke.

We drank and ate the grams. Pa was silent but I was used to his mood and unpredictable ways.

“Why do you love me so much?” he asked

“Because life teaches me through you. A fine, noble, learned man…”

“Who bothers an’ le guy like me? Who bothers for learning? For a mental worker? They bother for money. Cars. Good houses…Not a writer, a teacher, no, they do not care.”

“It does not matter…to me.”

“You are different, Ashok.”

“You, too.”

“That is why…we interact. I see myself in you.”

We sipped the rum. Dark thickness thickened.

“Folks like us are unhappy. Get crucified. Marked. We cannot escape our lot.”

I clung on to each word. Epiphany, you know.

“Once, during my young days, I walked along with my pop along a country road, on a dark wintry night, for five kilometers, to reach our village home. The road never seemed to end.

Father told many stories to lessen my fright. Then he lifted me up and put me on his shoulders. He walked, carrying his nine- year-old on his heavy shoulders, telling wonderful tales, to relive monotony, to comfort me, to ease my fears. The fields were full of mischievous ghosts…the wind produced strange music.

Shadows threatened…lions roared.

We were two Red-Indians walking the forest in night, watched by the spirits. I forgot my terror and listened to his comforting voice…

He paused for long period.

“That image still haunts me…Two figures and an unending road…A dialogue in the wilderness. He was my father, so was safe. Nothing could harm me. Twelve years later I had to travel the same road, alone. I had missed my last bus. The country road was same. My fears came back…lions still roared in my ears. Ghosts whispered. Shadows danced about. I was awfully scared. Death lurked. I died every minute. The journey took ages…when I arrived home, safe, I realised I was missing my father. A father who had died many years ago…”

Pa looked pathetic. Bent. Gaunt.

Ranting. They stood up on the fringes.

Sympathetically. Boundaries collapsed.

The steel in Pa was cracking up.

“When your own family denies you, mocks you, it is time to bid goodbye. “Listen to the Bard:

“……The tempest in my mind,

Doth from my senses take all

Feeling else,

Save what beats there! Filial

Ingratitude!

No, I will weep no more…”

The rain was pouring. Gently dark veil had obscured everything. Pa was looking across centuries where another old man was holding forth his own private audience…

Sitting now, in Da’s room, I came to realise the import of that last encounter on that rainy lovely night.

.

“I must leave now,” Ashok said suddenly.

“Why?” Asked da, alarmed.

“I am tired,” Ashok said.

“O.K.!” Da said. “Do you think he would come back?”

Ashok stood up and reflected.

“No,” he said. “He won’t.”

“What do you mean?” Da was surprised.

“Well, he said his goodbye, on last Sunday,” Ashok said.

He came out and bent a last look at Pa’s house.

Goodbye, teacher!

Tears were running down the solitary man’s face.

.

Sunil Sharma is an academic and writer with 23 books published—some solo and joint. Edits the online monthly journal Setu. 

.

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

Categories
Greetings from Borderless

For Auld Lang Syne

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

What will the New Year bring? Will it connect us all like a tree that has its roots deep in the Earth but reaches out to the sky with its branches rearing high? Its blooms seem like stars on the planet, connecting all life and non-living in its embrace. We hope as global consciousness grows for living in harmony with nature and science, love and kindness, may we all move towards a better more connected world. We, at Borderless Journal, wish you all a happy start to a wonderful New Year!

Our oeuvre this time brings to you a selection from the year 2021 that showcases the change makers we met, and writing that with their values connect us or ring with goodwill and look forward to a better future.

Meet & Greet

These are people you can meet on our pages — people who impact the world in a way that touches lives.

Goutam Ghose, who finds colouring the world with syncretic lore as the best alternative to sectarian violence. Click here to read.

Anvita Abbi, an empathetic linguist who builds bridges to create a seamless world, accepting and co-existing with different ways of life as colours of a rainbow. Click here to read.

Nazes Afroz translated a book on Afghanistan by Tagore’s disciple, Syed Mujtaba Ali, a memoir that shows the roots of the current crises go deep. Also, a senior BBC editor of South Asia, Afroz takes us through the situation with compassion. Click here to read.

Jessica Mudditt travelled to Myanmar and wrote a book, which is an eye-opener about the current situation. She was brought to focus by Keith Lyons who interviewed her for us. Click here to read.

Sanjay Kumar founded Pandies, an activist theatre group that educates, bridging gaps between the divides of University educated and the less fortunate who people slums or terror zones. Click here to read.

 Sybil Pretious, a teacher who has taught in six countries to impact children, starting her career in Africa and living through and beyond Apartheid. Click here to read.

Poetry

Robert Burns & Tagore in Harmony : A transcreation of Tagore’s song, Purano Sei Diner Kotha, based on Robert Burn’s poem associated with new year’s revelries. Click here to read.

Snowball Earth: A long poem by Rhys Hughes in the spirit of a modern man’s Auld Lang Syne, touching on our climate debacle. Click here to read.

Gathering Blossoms: Poetry by Michael R Burch that lingers in the heart. Click here to read.

Humour

Travels & Holidays: Humour from Rabindranath: Translated from the original Bengali by Somdatta Mandal, these are Tagore’s essays and letters laced with humour. Click here to read.

Surviving to Tell a Pony-tale: Devraj Singh Kalsi journeys up a hill on a pony and gives a sedately hilarious account. Click here to read.

 Trouser Hermits: Rhys Hughes muses over men’s attire and the lack of them. Click here to read.

Prose

Temples and Mosques: Kazi Nazrul Islam’s fiery essay on the need for a syncretic lore translated by Sohana Manzoor. Click here to read.

To Infinity & Beyond!: Candice Louisa Daquin explores the magic of space travel. Click here to read.

Near the River Chenab and Under The trees: Sunil Sharma in a poignant telling takes us on a journey to the banks of a river where life, love and death sheathed in terrorism cumulate to a peak. Click here to read.

Richard Hughes: The Reporter Who Inspired Ian Fleming: Bhaskar Parichha showcases a journalist who wrote globally, spicing it up with humour. Click here to read.

The Lords of Lights: With photographs and a story, Penny Wilkes makes an interesting new legend. Click here to read.