The Traveller in Time: An interview with Sybil Pretious who has lived through history in six countries and travelled to forty — she has participated in the first democratic elections in an apartheid-worn South Africa and is from a time when Rhodesia was the name for Zimbabwe. Click here to read.
Ratnottama Sengupta, who has edited an encyclopaedia on culture and is a renowned arts journalist, gives us the role ‘kanthas’ (hand-embroidered mats, made of old rags) played in India’s freedom struggle. Click here to read.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
John Keats (1795-1821), Ode to a Grecian Urn
What makes for great literature? To me, great literature states the truth — the truth that touches your heart with its poignancy, preciseness, sadness, gentleness, vibrancy, or humour. If Khayyam, Rumi, Keats, Tagore, Frost or Whitman had no truths to state, their poetry would have failed to mesmerise time and woo readers across ages. Their truths – which can be seen as eternal ones — touch all human hearts with empathetic beauty. Lalon Fakir rose from an uneducated illiterate mendicant to a poet because he had the courage to sing the truth about mankind — to put social norms and barriers aside and versify his truth, which was ours and still is. This can be applied to all genres. Short stories by Saki, O’ Henry or plays and essays by Bernard Shaw — what typifies them? The truth they speak with perhaps a sprinkle of humour. Alan Paton spoke the truth about violence and its arbitrariness while writing of South Africa — made the characters so empathetic that Cry, My Beloved Country(1948) is to me one of the best fictions describing divides in the world, and the same divides persist today. The truth is eternal as in George Orwell’s 1984 (1949) or Suskind’s Perfume(1985). We love laughter from Gerald Durrell or PG Wodehouse too because they reflect larger truths that touch mankind as does the sentimentality of Dickens or the poignancy of Hardy or the societal questioning of the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, and Jane Austen. The list of greats in this tradition would be a very long one.
Our focus this time is on a fearless essayist in a similar tradition, one who unveiled truths rising above the mundane, lacing them with humour to make them easily digestible for laymen – a writer and a polyglot who knew fourteen languages by the name of Syed Mujtaba Ali (1904-1974). He was Tagore’s student, a Humboldt scholar who lived across six countries, including Afghanistan and spoke of the things he saw around him. Cherished as a celebrated writer among Bengali readers, he wrote for journals and published more than two dozen books that remained untranslated because his witticisms were so entrenched by cultural traditions that no translator dared pick up their pen. Many decades down the line, while in Afghanistan, a BBC editor for South and Central Asia, Nazes Afroz, translated bits of Mujtaba Ali’s non-fiction for his curious friends till he had completed the whole of the travelogue.
The translation named In a Land Far from Home: A Bengali in Afghanistan was published and nominated for the Crossword Awards. This month, we not only run an excerpt from the translated essays but also have an interview with the former BBC journalist, Afroz, who tells us not only about the book but also of the current situation in ravaged Afghanistan based on his own first-hand experiences. Nazes himself has travelled to forty countries, much like our other interviewee, Sybil Pretious, who has travelled to forty and lived in six. She had been writing for us till she left to complete her memoirs — which would cover much of history from currently non-existent country Rhodesia to apartheid and the first democratic election in South Africa. These would be valuable records shared with the world from a personal account of a pacifist who loves humanity.
We have more on travel — an essay by Tagore describing with wry humour vacations in company of his niece and nephew and letters written by the maestro during his trips, some laced with hilarity and the more serious ones excerpted from Kobi and Rani, all translated by Somdatta Mandal. We have also indulged our taste for Tagore’s poetry by translating a song heralding the start of the Durga Puja season. Durga Puja is an autumnal festival celebrated in India. An essay by Meenakshi Malhotra explains the songs of homecoming during this festival. It is interesting that the songs express the mother’s views as highlighted by Malhotra, but one notices, never that of the Goddess, who, mythology has it, gave up her life when the husband of her own choosing, Shiva, was perceived by her family as ‘uncouth’ and was insulted in her parent’s home.
In spirit of this festival highlighting women power and on the other hand her role in society, we have a review by Somdatta of T. Janakiraman’s Wooden Cow, translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Kannan, where the protagonist upends all traditional values ascribed to women. Another book which is flavourful with food and would be a real fit on every festive occasion is Mohana Kanjilal’s A Taste of Time: A Food History of Calcutta. Bhaskar Parichha tells us in his review, “In the thriving universe of Indian food books, this clearly stands out.”
As Kamata’s book travels across two continents in a pre-covid world, Sunil Sharma in reality moved home from one continent to another crossing multiple national borders during the pandemic. He has written an eye-opening account of his move along with his amazing short story on Gandhi. Another unusual story creating a new legend with wonderful photographs and the narrative woven around them can be relished in Nature’s Musings by Penny Wilkes. This time we have fiction from India, Malaysia, Bangladesh and America. Steve Davidson has given a story based partly on Tibetan lore and has said much in a light-hearted fashion, especially as the Llama resumes his travels at the end of the story. Keeping in step with light humour and travel is Devraj Singh Kalsi’s account of a pony ride up a hill, except it made me laugh more.
Former Arts Editor of Times of India, Ratnottama Sengupta, has shared an essay on how kantha (hand embroidered rug) became a tool to pass on information during the struggle against colonial occupation. The piece reminded me of the narrative of passing messages through mooncakes among Chinese. During the fourteenth century, the filling was of messages to organise a rebellion which replaced the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) with the Ming (1368-1644). Now the filling is delicious lotus paste, chocolates or other edible delicacies. Women were heavily involved in all these movements. Sameer Arshad Khatlani has highlighted how women writers of the early twentieth century writing in Urdu, like Ismat Chughtai, created revolutionary literature and inspired even legendary writers, like Simone de Beauvoir. There is much more in our content — not all of which has been discussed here for again this time we have spilled over to near fifty pieces.
We have another delightful surprise for our readers – a cover photo of a painting by Sohana Manzoor depicting the season titled ‘Ode to Autumn’. Do pause by and take a look at this month’s issue. We thank our writers and readers for their continued support. And I would personally like to give a huge thanks to the team which makes it possible for me to put these delectable offerings before the world. Thank you all.
A daily commute or a long-distance one, humans undertake movements that affirm the principle of belief. Belief in certain ideals.
The pull of a dream!
Kinesis is the fundamental science of change; it is the force behind the evolution of species.
You want to grow wings — and soar!
Birds and animals do the challenging migrations across geographies and climates –for survival.
JoF involves love. For the dear ones!
Embark on the journey of LOVE. It takes you from yourself to yourself.
Indeed! It is a similar terrain with similar topography yet varied.
And when love calls, nothing stopping the voyager.
Faith becomes the compass.
Similarly, we began a travel across continents, deserts and sea, mountains and plains, stalked by an invisible and silent killer.
Homer could be heard in a recess of the mind:
The roaring seas and many a dark range of mountains lie between us.
Travel in the Time of Covid!
From Mumbai to Toronto via Maldives — a journey of five days.
And Love and Faith are our guiding angels.
September 8, 2021
It is raining hard. Suitcases are all piled up. The taxi is waiting. Few friends have come to bid us a quick goodbye.
Brief but final.
We spent months together to dismantle a secure life for the “unfamiliar”. You feel nothing. Just a quick bye — a last lingering glance.
It is over– 30 years come unstuck in a gliding instant. Joys, disappointments; tragedies and triumphs; losses-n-gains. Personal narratives unravel and evaporate, simultaneously, in that single gesture.
The anticipated moment arrives as an anti-climax.
No surge of emotions. No sense of loss.
And the ride begins.
We arrive at the Hilton in the afternoon. The sky is overcast. Hotels around the airport are not fully occupied. Covid-19 is real. Third wave is expected.
Mumbai is unlocked yet locked up. There is pervasive fear.
Hotels are badly hit. We retire early. Next morning the expedition, our JoF, begins.
We are sleepless in Mumbai.
A new home calls from Toronto.
One home traded for another — and a long arduous journey involved in the transition.
Certain things end.
Fresh things begin.
Hope. Fear. In equal measure.
Travel, real time.
No looking back now.
Foreign shores call.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
― Lao Tzu
September 9, 2021
CSM International Airport, Mumbai
We are in the early-morning queue at the counter which is closed. After half-an-hour, a young female executive sits at the counter of the airline, rest are still closed. In fifteen minutes, the queue gets long, and people wait for their turn. Slow. She takes time to check every document. Finally, another staff comes to open the second counter. Nobody complains.
The jostling passengers in the serpentine queue hardly have the mandatory two meters for practicing social distancing. There are official checks but the global safety protocols cannot be implemented due to the crowds and general apathy.
Nobody minds the non-compliance.
It is India, dear!
After a long wait, we get the boarding passes.
Next, we queue for security and immigration checks. They ask some routine questions. Finally, we are cleared. We move to board the airbus. No social distancing is maintained while boarding.
Time: 1.15 pm
The small airport is full of tourists.
Maldives is suddenly full of Bollywood celebrities and hapless students on their long and tortured way to Canada.
For the former, it is a luxury getaway — beaches, sun-bathing, the over-the-water cottages; perfect Instagrammable moments, fodder for the paparazzi.
For the latter, middle-class, wide-eyed young adults separated from their small or big-city cages, it is a pricey gateway to Canada, some kind of a Promised Land, a utopia — the western Shangri-La!
Two different sets of travelers in the Corona period.
At this moment, no stars are to be seen in the airport.
Only large number of Indian students, some parents, and workers, all bunched up, bit tense, ready for the official interrogation.
It is smooth sailing for the Indians and few other nationalities, mostly Asians, at that particular hour.
People move and get directed to various counters.
The documents are scrutinized. Faces, uncovered, and covered.
The long lines are quickly cleared. Officers are polite.
Female officers, covered up, are monosyllabic but overall helpful.
There are more female officers visible here than in Mumbai or Delhi airports!
We are relieved.
The immigration officers can be tough. They might ask you reason for transiting via Maldives. Give them the truth. They may detain a passenger but normally will allow the entry.
— Our had agent informed us prior to our departure.
The WhatsApp group discussions had been confusing. Hostile officers! Some claimed. Friendly! Others countered.
That did not help.
The almost two-hour-and-half flight was spent on worrying about which 50 per cent would fall our way!
To be detained in a foreign city can be daunting. Linguistic and cultural differences, poor internet connection, a roaming number that does not work — all these factors add up to the complications in an unknown location buzzing with people from many countries. Anything can go wrong and you are in a modern limbo; incommunicado with the outside world, on your own.
These fears played on our minds, as we land on a sunny and humid afternoon.
Once we embarked on the adventure, there could be no turning back, Covid or no Covid.
Ready for worst, praying for the best!
Breathing easy, we headed for the exit.
Then, the bump!
Our baggage is held up for additional checks. A female officer asks, “Are there idols inside your suitcase?”
“No,” we say. She nods and asks us to leave. Idols and liquor are prohibited items.
“If any other country does this, prohibiting the sacred objects of a given faith, that government will be dubbed as anti-Islamic. Media will call them spreading Islamophobia. What is this? Liberal governance?’’ asks an Indian co-passenger sotto voce.
The hotel is a large property and full of the Indian students. Few whites also. The view of the ocean and sky is terrific!
A picture-perfect venue.
Chain of atolls stretches in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The sky and the ocean mirror each other, twinning in blue that electrifies the senses.
Here we saw a green ecosystem curated by the travel industry for the wealthy. The resort packs up natural beauty into a commercial package — spas; massages; food; liquors; boating and fishing; surfing and snorkeling.
Other side of Male is poor where workers and other classes live in bleak condition. Covid-19 ruined the economy, but things hope to improve now.
The barriers had been lowered. Vaccinated tourists were returning.
The hotel was on the edge of the ocean. Young Indian and foreign women swim and relax under umbrellas. Indian couples unwind. Women in swimsuits roam uninhibitedly, feeling emancipated, free, under an alien sky.
Outside, along the narrow strip leading to the airport– small stretch — women of any age get that malevolent male gaze!
We spent the night and the next day enjoying the breeze, ocean and the short walks.
And get revived.
Time: 2.30 pm
The batch of new arrivals is largely from the north of India—Delhi and Punjab. They are sitting in the lobby, bags unpacked, ears plugged in. Some are talking to parents via video calls and reporting their minor discoveries about Male. Eyes are tired but dreams, burning.
“Headed for Toronto?” I asked a strapping bearded man in early twenties.
“Yeah,” he said. “We have to come here for our RT-PCR report. It has cost us a mini fortune!”
“Same here.” I responded.
“They should have set up a lab at the airport in Delhi.”
“The Canadians. They know we will come, the students, via a third country.”
“Yes. No options.”
“Bizarre! We bring skills and money and that is how Canada is treating us! Making us do additional travel for entering the country.”
I nod. “It is a regular brain drain but our country does not care.”
“Yes,” he observed. “1.3 billion! Deaths or migrations, even on a large-scale basis – it matters not. The youth have to re-write their destinies there.’
He was an engineer going to do the data analytics course from Canada.
“Why you want to leave?”
“Well, for better quality of living. What else?”
“It is tough there.”
“Not for the weak, any foreign country. One thing is sure. Merit is recognised in North America. India lags behind. We do not get what we deserve. Hence, the recent exodus.”
He has a valid point.
Same grit is seen on the faces of the young women. They left the security of homes for a dream.
These are the Young Pioneers doing the Journey of Faith. For a dream of equitable society, merit driven.
The young are obsessed to find better versions of a civilization — humane, well-policed and well-regulated.
To escape the grind of a country mired in extreme corruption, casteism, communalism, regionalism, linguistic chauvinism — and subtle racism.
Each one of the group is in search of a Brave New World, mythical or real.
The Talented are exiting.
No policy maker is bothered.
The hotel has got staff from India, Nepal and Malaysia. The food is good. Service, impeccable.
We do the PCR tests in the evening and wait.
Next morning, reports come — negative.
We are ready to leave Male for Toronto via Doha.
Time: 4.50—7.45 pm
The counter at the business class had a long queue. When our turn came, the female staffer went ballistic. She asked for all the documents related to our son based in Canada. Other documents — RT-PCR reports and vaccine certificates, passports and tickets — were ready but not the papers like sponsorship letter, address, and proof of kinship. She was stern, asked us to leave the counter and return with the soft copies of the documents. It was most harrowing! We pleaded. Told her the embassy had given us visas, but she did not relent.
She was more of a controlling clerk than a sympathetic customer-care staff willing to help tourists.
We had a mild shock.
Never expected this treatment from a customer-care agent of an airlines.
No relief was in sight. She was deaf to our requests.
The internet link was unstable in the airport. There was a language barrier. No other senior officials were around to help. The time zones were different. We were stuck.
Boarding would commence soon.
We were almost detained. If denied passage, our schedule would go haywire. We would be spending night in the airport till alternative plans could be made.
Uncertainty can be crippling!
We made frantic calls. Somehow, things worked out. Papers were shown. Boarding passes issued.
We rushed, exhausted but happy.
Bye-bye Male, a city of contrasts. Leaves a bad taste.
We tried to rest in the Lounge. It was a crowded airport and all the lounges full for the business class passengers. It was chilly. I stretch out my legs and try to grab sleep but give up in that lit-up space. The big airport is buzzing with passengers. Few passengers managed to sleep bent over the chairs.
Middle of the journey, near dawn, I heard Odysseus singing:
I long for home, long for the sight of home.
It was 8.50 am.
We had boarded the long-haul flight to Toronto — finally. The bunks were narrow in the business class. The entire flight was full. Families. Young students. Everybody in a hurry to reach their destination. About 14 hours to spend on board. It is a demanding job to remain fully masked in those tiny but pricey cubicles.
The economy class is packed.
We are slightly better in that limited area. Bit secluded and safe.
I watched two movies. Lay down. Sat propped up. The food was not very appealing. The crew was a mix of ethnicities. Polite but bored. Most passengers were sleeping. I was unable to take a nap…instead I dreamt of the spires of the city of Toronto beckoning from afar under a bright sun in a clean blue sky, the latter a heavenly sight for the sore eyes.
I waited for that site as a conclusion to the long journey.
Like every journey, this would end soon.
And that was the award.
Almost on time.
It is sunny outside.
And a magical city springs into a startled view!
It is Sunday afternoon. And we have arrived in a single piece!
We walk briskly across the less-crowded Pearson airport. Minds relaxed. Luckily, the queues were not long. We were cleared fast by friendly officers, collected our bags, came out, tired but delighted…and united with our family, after a long gap.
It was intoxicating!
PS: The ban on the India-Canada direct flight got lifted on September 27th onwards. But we do not mind. It was a long odyssey of love and faith on choppy waters and variegated landscapes.
We enjoyed the thrill of becoming mobile again during the endemic curfews imposed by a monarch called Corona and understood the benefits of a science termed kinesis.
…Third day, morning, I have this gnawing emptiness typical of a traveler: Now what?
— Next morning, the epiphany: The end of a formal journey signals the beginning of the other journey.
— Endings. New beginnings.
–That life is a series of journeys only, some within and some, without– constant flux, transformations.
— Every journey delivers this enduring message: Embrace the change, otherwise die by stasis, stagnation…you are already dead inside, if stuck up inside a black hole!
Adventures! We all need them.
Ask Alice. Or listen to Ibn Battuta:
Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.
Or, to this shout out by Jack Kerouac for the ones restless for another expedition of body-mind-spirit:
There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.
Gandhi with his call to combat violence and hatred with non- violence and truth is perhaps a voice that needs to be recalled out of history books on dusty shelves. His ideals cry out to be retrieved beyond the reach of currency notes, statues, buildings, names of parks and roads. Like Tagore, we may not agree with all his ideas but he put together an ideology which, perhaps, could be realised and implemented to make a better world across borders. If peace is forced by nuclear warheads and the ruthless are allowed a field day to govern any country because they have the might, perhaps it is time to question the efficacy of manmade constructs created through history, especially after the Second World War. Do we want bloodshed, chaos and the pandemic to be part of our daily news? Or, can we explore the philosophy of a man who mingled the best from the East and the West to create a system which has impacted many across the world? Leaders and great statesmen learnt from him — Martin Luther King Junior, Nelson Mandela, Al Gore, Barack Obama, John Lennon and Albert Einstein to name a few — just as he had learnt from greats across the world.
Today, in an attempt to recall the best in Gandhi’s philosophy, we wanted to present to you a selection that tries to connect us with his ideals — give a glimpse of his dreams that might have led to a better world if we only had listened and acted. Of the pieces we are showcasing here, some have painted a world that needs a Gandhi while others have written what they imbibed from his ideals into their own lives. Can we ride on the crescendo with these voices to achieve a better future for our children by embedding and internalising his values?
Santosh Bakaya interviews Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. Click here to read.
Michael R Burch wrote this poem under the spell of the famed “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Junior, an ardent practitioner of Gandhi’s ideology, a student and disciple of the Mahatma. Click here to read.
In Bapu, Denied, Sunil Sharma pulls Gandhi down from a pedestal and explores his ideals in the current world. Clickhere to read.
The City of Concrete (CC) was all excited and discussing the new viral video of a man claiming to be the “Real Gandhi”.
The middle class hardly cared for surnames but anything viral got them talking. And this real vs. fake debate always made them social– quick WhatsApp exchanges of videos and messages, that is all of it, then moved on for other limited conversations, mainly digital.
In fact, the City did not care about history and heritage and trifles got them interested– who is eating what, how and where? Or wearing what and where? Or dating whom or where?
The CC grew inward-looking and obsessed with tech gadgets.
Smart phones were their portals to instant nirvana.
And viral videos, their mainstay of an urban narrow existence cramped in few hundreds of square meters in the vertical cages!
So, on a crisp morning of a holiday, the City got jolted by the new sensation of a man claiming to be authentic Gandhi left them intrigued.
But who is Gandhi, dude?
Here was this video of a somber old man with a magnetic persona– yes, you could feel the electrifying currents across the small mobile-phone- screens that affected you directly– the high-energy field, halo around the man that left you in thrall.
Within an hour, it was the top trending topic.
As per the recording, the man in round glasses and loin cloth, told some slum children that he was India’s Bapu.
The folks were initially dismissive and some die-hard skeptics openly cynical of this grandfatherly, scantily clad man, and told him rudely to go some other place and let them enjoy the off day.
The man was quite understanding and patient and asked them, “What day is this?”
An out-of-job guy replied gruffly, “October 2nd.”
The visitor persisted, “Why is it declared a national holiday?”
The folks, gathered under the bronze statue of a man with round glasses and walking stick, had no answer.
Then a child finally replied, “Wait! It is the birthday of the ‘Father of the Nation’.”
The stranger smiled, “Yes, son, you are right! It is my birthday.”
Thereupon, the wide-eyed child asked, “Are you that iconic Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who delivered us from slavery to the wily British through your philosophy of non-violence and satyagrah ?”
The old man smiled and said, “Yes, I am that Mohandas, an ordinary son of motherland, who was lucky enough to serve my country in most humble manner, with the loving support of my country.”
The child beamed and shouted, “Lucky me! Meeting the Apostle in person! My dream has come true!”
The child raised voice: “Mahatma Gandhi zindabad !”
Children of the poor neighbourhood repeated it as a feisty slogan.
The old man smiled and kept on walking fast across the broken city.
The children followed — and soon others joined the long procession.
It was huge!
People clicked the man who seemed to be walking on another fresh mission.
Soon the news spread.
Citizens came out of their customary slumber and started following the kind old man who, a bit pale, still retained a strange luminosity and a hypnotic pull over his simple beholders. The moment he had stepped into their middle from nowhere, the whole space was lit in a strange way. There was a certain spring in his gait and his walking stick shone like some royal emblem. His watch had an unearthly chime—mesmerizing!
His voice was strong, eyes steady, gait firm.
This dimension collapsing into the other dimension; this reality fused into that reality– that kind of thing!
History was coming alive — in an unpredictable way! A professor wrote.
A sole surviving freedom fighter remarked, the visitor reminded them of the aura of Mahatma Gandhi, in an odd way.
This Gandhi looked other worldly, ethereal but inspired confidence—and faith!
Bapu’s smile was pure and eyes and tone, gentle.
The CC got enthralled by the heavenly presence of Gandhi and the residents went wherever this person went.
The fever spread further.
The WhatsApp exchanges galvanized the sleepy city, and it turned into a mass event.
There were the loud and regular chants of “Bapu! Bapu! Bapu is back for his country—again! We love you, Bapu!”
People got hysterical at the sight of the frail man. Many openly wept and said, “We need you Bapu, in our empty lives as mere consumers. You have made us whole!”
The freedom fighter cried, “Bapu! Nobody cares for us here!”
Bapu smiled: “They will. Follow the moral compass. The world will listen.”
The freedom fighter said, “Yes, Bapu. I will teach students your philosophy.”
The City of Concrete was on fire.
A real hero had emerged from the darkness.
Everybody talked of Mahatma Gandhi only.
An antidote to the global doctrine of hate.
The municipal corporation was busy celebrating the birthday of the ‘Father of the Nation’ via sterile speeches and garlanding.
Initially the corporators thought that he was another look-alike walking the narrow streets this morning, an annual practice for few models but when apprised of his increasing popularity, the bunch of the city fathers grew apprehensive of a new threat to their base.
By mid-morning, the national media grew aware of a new sensation. A man who called himself the original Gandhi and was visiting the CC for a reality check.
Of course, the new-millennial young crowd had never bothered about history or India, and they were least interested in searching for a name and legacy that no longer resonated within a geography being redone for the malls and foreign outlets of food, clothes and entertainment. Plugged into their iPhones, the cool set ate burgers and pizza and sang Western songs, wearing baseball caps turned around, dressed up in sneakers and cotton-Ts and cargo pants, tattooed up and ears, pierced.
What hooked them was the unusual sight of a bare-chested man radiating terrific energy and calmness, kind of raw star power unseen so far in a media culture and thinking of the possibility of the 5-second fame in the clutter, the teens and young adults raced to the spot where Bapu was talking to the masses. They wanted to join the trending hash tag: #Seen with our Beloved Bapu! The crowds from outside CC kept on joining that famous historical frail figure full of steely resolve and power.
Meanwhile, media arrived in big numbers and the circus started. The loud reporters asked questions about this phenomenon, without a match. One teen said he saw the statue of Gandhi in the garden coming alive; another claimed he saw the statue walking down the street in animated condition, while other versions spoke of witnessing Gandhi floating on a cloud or descending from the air! The viral videos flooded the cyber space, and the world began reacting to another trend: #Bapu, Alive!
#New Messiah of Love! Another trended.
Love Triumphs Finally! Wrote another on her blog: Young Nation.
The local leaders got unduly alarmed: Who is this pop figure? His minute-by-minute-increasing fandom and heavenly persona posed a problem. The cops were dispatched.
Bapu was brought before the Wise Council.
One of the senior leaders asked: “How can you be Bapu?”
Bapu asked calmly: “And why can’t be I?”
Leader: “Because you died many years ago…”
Bapu: “When did I die? I never did. Hatred can never win. I live on…”
The leader fumbled: “But, we are told you died, years ago. How can you be re-born?”
“Ideas never die. They live on. Faith revived me.”
The leader nodded.
Bapu smiled: “Do you really know me?”
“Any idea about the incident at Pietermaritzburg station? The year 1893? June 7?”
The leader did not know anything. He looked like an idiot.
Bapu said calmly: “A leader must know the history of their nation. Lead by example. By honesty. Simplicity. Ethically. Remain connected to the fellow citizens. Create a legacy of love and ahimsa! Understand?”
The leader nodded again, crestfallen before this luminous being, beyond the pale of death.
Bapu left smiling. Huge crowds waited outside.
“Gandhi is alive!” They shouted. “He has come back for his children!”
The Great Leader was woken up.
The media in-charge, a seasoned man handling information technology cell of the party, reported the developments that could cast a shadow on the Tall Leader.
The Great Leader replied: “Do not worry!”
“But Saab!” croaked the sycophant.
“Listen!” commanded the Tall Leader.
“The surest way to neutralize is to institutionalize them.”
“Ritualize their memory!”
“And re-write history.”
“The best way is to erase history by making it ugly, unreadable and unproductive!”
The Tall Leader chuckled and disconnected.
Glossary: Satyagrah — Using truth to non-violently resist abuse
Zindabad — Long live
Ahimsa — Non-violence
Sunil Sharma is an academic and writer with 22 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.
We are living in strange times that seem to be filled with events to challenge the innovativeness of man. As if the pandemic were not enough, concepts that had come out of the best in our civilisation to unite mankind have been convoluted by a minority to manipulate and hurt the majority into submission. Life is not about surviving with faint-hearted compliance but about having the courage to live it as you want, facing it full up front, to voice out in unison against injustices, wrongs, and most of all to loan strength to help and care for each other. Often to understand this, we need to hinge on to our past, to learn from our heritage. But do we do that? In the hectic drive to be successful, we tend to ignore important lessons that could have been imbibed from the past. Like, did you know that the tribes in the Andaman can save themselves from a tsunami?
Padma Shri Anvita Abbi tells us all about the Andamanese and her attempts to revive their moribund language in her interview and book, Voices from the Lost Horizon, reviewed by Rakhi Dalal. While the review focusses on the uniqueness of Abbi’s work and the publication with its embedded recordings of the tribe fast dissolving into the morass of mainstream civilisation, her interview highlights the need to revive their lores that evolved out of a 70,000-year-old culture. On the other hand, Jessica Mudditt, interviewed by Keith Lyons, dwells on the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, which has been clearly the focus of her book, Our Home in Yangon. This interview focusses on the here and now of the crisis. But most crises have their roots deep and perhaps an exploration of these could help. There are 135 ethnicities in Myanmar but how many are actually integrated into the mainstream? Are they in the process of getting ‘lost’ like the voices of the speakers of Greater Andamanese?
That is why we tried to showcase a few such strains that are going unheard in the loudness of the ‘civilised’ mainstream. We have translations in poetry from Santhali and Adivasi, touching on the concerns of those who are often considered underdeveloped. And, perhaps, as Abbi said in her interview about the Andamanese, we can say much the same for these tribes too.
“These tribes are neither poor, nor uneducated (their knowledge of environment comprising birds, fishes, medicinal plants and their … weather predictions, and the Earth they walk on is amazing) …”
Distinctions have been created by a ‘civilisation’ entrenched in mono-cognitive enforcements leading to the loss of trust, confidence, languages, cultures and valuable knowledge about basic survival. Perhaps we can attempt to heal such wounds by imbibing the openness, love, devotion and compassion shown by the Buddhist monk, Upagupta (who is still revered in Myanmar as Shin Upagutta), in the translation of Tagore’s story poem, ‘Abhisar’ or ‘The Tryst’. Somdatta Mandal’s translation of Tagore’s letters introduce similar humanitarian concerns when the maestro mentions a German anthropologist and his wife who for the betterment of mankind were journeying to study tribals in India. Tagore remarks, “The people for whom they are willingly prepared to undergo hardship and to overlook all sorts of danger are not their relatives, nor are they civilised.” And yet even a century ago to fathom more about mankind, attempts were being made to integrate with our ancient lore. The concept of being ‘civilised’ is of course now much under the microscope. What is being ‘civilised’?
Is it about having power? We have Akbar Barakzai’s poem translated by Fazal Baloch on creation looking at the divide between a ‘civilised’ God and man. The theme stresses the two sides of the divide. More translations from Odiya, Dutch and Korean further mingle different flavours of the world into our journal — each questioning the accepted norm in different ways.
In an edition focussed on myths and stories from which we evolved, Rhys Hughes has created an unusual legend around elephants. His poetry also deals with animals — cats. One wonders if the T S Eliot’s famed ‘Macavity, the Mystery Cat’ could have to do something with his choices? We were fortunate to have Arundhathi Subramaniam share her poetry on myths around Indian figures like Shakuntala and Avvaiyar and the titular poem from When God is a Traveller that won her the 2020 Sahitya Akademi Award. Michael R Burch continues on the theme dwelling on Circe, Mary Magdalene and Helen. Sekhar Banerjee has a more iconoclastic approach to myths in his poetry. Jared Carter talks of modern myths perpetuated through art and cultural studies as does Mike Smith in his musings with his glance back at the last century through a photograph.
We have poetry by a Filipino writer Gigi Baldovino Gosnell from South Africa, looking for a new world, a new legend, perhaps a world without borders. Tohm Bakelas has given us a few lines of powerful poetry. Could these poems be a reaction to world events? Smitha Vishwanath has responded to the situation in Afghanistan with a poem. In this edition, photographs and verses in Penny Wilkes’ ‘Nature’s Musings‘ draw from the universe. She writes, “The sun never asks for applause” — a powerful thought and perhaps one mankind can learn from.
Ghost stories by Niles Reddick and Sunil Sharma perpetuate the theme, especially the latter has a ghost that questions myths of ‘isms’ created in the modern-day world. We also have a writer from Malaysia, P Ravi Shankar, with a futuristic legend set in a far-off time where man has embraced the reality of climate change and artificial intelligence. An interesting and fun read as is Devraj Singh Kalsi’s professions about why he did not become a professor, Geetha Ravichandran’s light musing on word play and a young writer Saurabh Nagpal’s musing, ‘Leo Messi’s Magic Realism‘ — a footballer viewed from a literary perspective!
While our musings make us laugh, our essays this time take us around the world with the myth of happiness deconstructed by Candice Louisa Daquin, to Burma and deep into Kolkata’s iconic history of the detective department started in the nineteenth century. There is an essay by Bhaskar Parichha that explores politics and media and mentions ‘gatekeepers’ of the media who need to be responsible for influencing public opinion. Guess who would be the gatekeepers?
Bhaskar Parichha’s review of Wendy Donniger’s non-fiction exploring myths around horses, Winged Stallion and Wicked Mares,and Basudhara Roy’s review of Bina Sarkar Ellias’ Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems perpetuate the theme of the importance of the past on the one hand and question it on the other. But that is what Borderless is about — exploring the dialectics of opposing streams to re-invent myths towards a better future.
We have a bumper issue again this time with nearly fifty posts. I invite our wonderful readers on a magical journey to unfold the hidden, unmentioned gems scattered on the pages of the September Issue of Borderless. Thank you again to an outstanding team, all our global contributors who make every edition an adventure and a reality and our wonderful readers. Thank you all.
“Ghosts are required for the post-industrial society!”
“Like the spectres of art, philosophy and heritage. Great artists continue to survive mortality. In ideas. Via ideas. Clothed in them.”
“I am a born skeptical.”
“Well, in that case, I can tell you about the return of a ghost.”
“Return of a ghost! That must be the province of Hollywood!”
“No, not at all!”
“It happened in India. In my own town.”
They were sitting in a corner of a popular dhaba called New Delhi Café, off the national highway NH 24. The golden fields of ripe wheat lay stretched before them on this lazy afternoon, other side of the road.
A thin boy served them thick-milk tea in kulhads, along with fried pakodas.
“When will the van arrive?” the female asked.
“In an hour,” the male said.
“What should I do here?”
“Enjoy the scenery,” the male said. “The ambience. Feel of the country.”
“Hmm. OK. Tell me the tale.”
“Of the return of the ghost…”
“Well, I will tell you about the spectre of Surendra.”
“Who was he?” she asked, watching the heavy traffic.
“I will give you the back story first. Here it goes like this. Surendra was a man who had come to claim in the evening of his life that he represented democracy, nation and the republic.”
“Yes. You heard right.”
“How is it possible, yaar! Preposterous!” she exclaimed, while munching the pakodas.
The male smiled. Sipping the tea, he replied, “Indeed! The people were shocked initially. The cops came and took him away, the well-read man from his village to some place, considering the old man as a threat…”
“Oh! So common!”
“What happened then?”
“He was not to be seen afterwards. His family vanished from their ancestral home.”
“Sad! Is it not?”
“Yes, it is. Entire family suddenly uprooted. Honest lives disrupted.”
“Well. After a few months, Surendra’s ghost was seen…”
“Yes. Seen by some. The ghost quoted Gogol!”
“Must be a learned man.”
“He was a good reader and aware of his rights. He wanted to make fellow villagers aware that they, too, were like him – representatives of a democracy and the republic but the majority scorned this idea, while others supported the prophet of a dumb age!”
“After few sightings, the cops said these were rumours.”
“They might be right.”
“No. They were not.”
“Because I met the ghost of Surendra.”
“What?!” Her kulhad slipped down her dainty hand, eyes wide in shock.
He smiled. Lit up his cigar. Drew in the smoke, rolled it in his mouth and then expelled the rich smoke.
The duo, sitting on the cots, watched the highway. Overloaded trucks were moving in a slow line. There was chill in the breeze.
After a long silence, the male resumed, “Here, it goes…the encounter with the spirit on that memorable early evening, few miles down this highway, near the river; an unusual event in a liminal space, experienced by few mortals…”
The man had materialised suddenly and stood beside the man with the camera taking pictures of the quiet countryside, and a shrunken river meandering down, as a thin strip of dull silver, towards the railway bridge in the distance. He stood near the photographer and watched the sun set from the motor bridge, like an old companion. The photographer paid no attention to the stranger who looked a bit pale and odd in appearance. A dog barked somewhere in a field nearby, as the vehicles passed over the long bridge. But the latter was used to such silent visitors—country folks being outgoing and friendly, even chatty. He took shots of a passing train; the rising fires from the crude camp of nomads, near the right bank.
It was a bleak scene.
But sun sets and rivers fascinated him. He often got down from his bike for taking pictures. Preserving some Instagram moments!
“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” The stranger said, talking in general.
“That is Seneca!” the photographer exclaimed, now looking closely at this rustic man of indeterminate age and hollow voice.
“How do you know the Stoic?” the photographer asked. “Seneca in this rural area?”
The stranger coughed. A muffled voice came out, “Not every villager is illiterate. You will find fools in educated cities.”
His voice came as hollow, something metallic that echoed on the stale air.
“I did not mean to offend you, sir. Just curious.”
The stranger nodded. “Sharing thoughts with a man who carries his Seneca in the backpack. I, too, loved On the Shortness of Life.”
The photographer was floored. “Great! Nice meeting you, Mr…?”
“Surendra Kumar.” “Hi! I am Daniel.” He offered his hand but Surendra did a Namaste.
They stood there watching the sun plunge down into the waters of a choked river. A song wafted forth from the camp of the gypsies—a rich male voice lamenting the passing of youth and a love unrequited. The dholak, bansuri and dhak could be clearly heard in the open-air mehfil there–fascinating concert! The riverside. Gathering dusk. Cool breeze of early November. Pungent smells of food being cooked on earthen stoves there and a tribe of nomads, taunting the civilization and its materialistic possessions, by its unsettled ways of living on the outskirts of cities for centuries.
“Simple folks, often demonized by the urban imagination.” Surendra remarked in a raspy voice.
Daniel nodded. “You are right! We try to demonize everyone that does not fit into our limited and relative ways of looking at the wider things.”
“Woes of civilization!” Surendra said. “A faulty civilization that outlaws those who are defaulters. The ones that prefer to be non-compliant with its codes.”
Daniel was surprised. “Amazing! Where do you live? Nearby?”
Surendra smiled. The yellow face cracked a bit. “In a village, some fifty miles away from this place.”
The frail figure croaked, “Often I haunt the highway.” “Oh! Poetic!” Daniel remarked. “How do you travel from your village?”
“Astral paths are many and open for spirits!”
Daniel laughed. “You write poetry?”
“No but I know the provinces travelled by the poetic minds, my friend.”
“Impressed! I am impressed.” Daniel replied.
“Come, let us sit on the bank for some time.” Surendra spoke in his hollow voice.
Must be a terrible smoker, thought Daniel. They went down the bridge and sat on the bench, few feet away from the river. The promenade was deserted at this hour.
Across the turgid waters, a pyre crackled ferociously. Few mourners there, some leaving slowly the burning ghat.
“Death! What a grim reality!” Daniel exclaimed. “Total cessation. Nothing left. Except some bones and dust!”
Surendra seemed not to agree, “There are realms beyond the reach of the yellow fingers of death, my friend!”
“Now you sound a true philosopher, sir! I am enjoying.”
Surendra was silent. Then: “Death is not final destination! Ask Orpheus. Or Lazarus!”
“Then what happens? Where do we go from here?”
“Well…there are spaces where this and that world meet to cohabit.” “Is it so?”
“Yes.” “How do you know for sure?” “Because, my friend, I am a denizen of such realms.”
“Is it? Daniel laughed. “Funny man!” “I speak the truth. There are few takers for truth these days!” “Right. Absolutely right. Nice talking to somebody bright, after such a long time!”
“Certain encounters are destined.” “Oh! Yeah. Absolutely.” “Like Hamlet the King meeting Hamlet, the Prince.” “Oh, my God! You are full of cultural references and profundity.”
Surendra replied, “Friends are chosen by fate. You are one of the chosen.” “How?” “To listen to the message from the other side of reality…”
“And what is that message?” Daniel played along. “All ears!”
“Certain dimensions lie beyond the physical. Once shed the mortal coil, the other dimensions come into the play…” “What are these dimensions?” “When you are dead, yet alive.”
“No. Not possible!”
“Mere transformation of energy. From one form to another. You continue to live beyond the daily prison of your body…” “How can it be?”
“It is like ideas. Ideas continue to operate beyond their originators. Seneca dies yet lives!” “A paradox!” “Yes. The paradox of a civilisation obsessed with the real, the tangible, the objective,” continued Surendra. “As said by the Bard: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Remember the famous lines?”
“Sure! Your high-school Shakespeare! Well, I will say, it is getting curiouser and curiouser!”
“There are things that an eye cannot see. Transcendental things. Truths that reside in the non-physical states. Only artists, mystics and philosophers can comprehend.”
“It is heavy-duty stuff for me.” Daniel chuckled.
“Not at all, Daniel,” the man observed, while strays barked a mile down the embankment, as the shadows thickened. The gypsy singer broke into another throaty song, the snatches heard over the wind:
The hungry skies have
Devoured the full moon.
Go back to the camp early!
The dark harbours dangers
On the way, maiden fair
Dead may visit tonight!
“We tend to live on forever in our words and legacies, dear Daniel. When I hear a Ghalib being recited with a full heart, on a full moon night, in a corner room, the poet comes alive for me. Yes, get resurrected in a shadowy form. Real presence evoked through words or visuals or film! That is the power of the cultural things to summon the dead and make them re-born, for few minutes, for you!”
Daniel nodded, distracted by the song:
Beware, innocent girl!
The ghosts are around
The night is dark.
Do not trust the shadows,
O, pure one!
The dead want to talk to a fair maiden
And steal her gypsy heart!
The music increased in tempo and other singers joined, a few males danced, while some women clapped and also sang—a happy group. Daniel smiled…
“What happened afterwards?” asked the female. They were travelling in the van. The highway was crawling with cars headed towards Delhi. Soft music played on in the interiors smelling of new holster and tobacco. The young driver was humming along.
“The end was equally fascinating!” the male said.
“Tell me…a long journey ahead!” insisted the female.
“Yes. The gypsies there…”
“They are the Original People.”
“What is that?” asked Daniel. “Come, let us see their dance.”
Surendra walked along lightly. “These are the wanderers who could see the other worlds.” “Like?”
“The ghosts, the gods, the realms intangible discussed in arts but now lost.”
“Absolutely!” “These tribes straddle an innocent age and the post-industrial age as a bridge.” “Excellent!” Daniel remarked.
“As certain peoples can still see the elves, these diminishing tribes can see the fairies and spirits–the other universe.”
“Right. I agree.”
As the duo approached the camp on a rising ground, off the dirt road, facing the river, their dogs barked furiously and then became quiet. The dancers kept on dancing before the rude bonfires.
“Daniel, remember, certain ghosts are necessary. The unredeemed souls, ideas. They continue to guide the present. If exorcised and finally forgotten by collective amnesia, then that civilization is doomed to die soon…”
As Daniel entered the outer ring of the camp, an elder beckoned him inside the circle. The gypsies welcomed him as one of their home. He sat down on the cot and watched them sing and dance.
Then he remembered his companion. “Where is my friend?”
The elder said, “There was nobody with you, Babu!”
Daniel just stared around.
No trace of Surendra. A mild mist swirling around…
“So how did you know that he was Surendra?” the female asked.
“Because, next day I came across a news item on an online site about Surendra and his haunting in that area. It was titled: The Ghost of a Democrat Citizen!”
“Ha, ha-ha!” the female laughed. “You must be fictionalising again Daniel.”
“No, darling! I am not a writer.”
“That is precisely the point. A writer can be dismissed for using fiction. However — not those who do not write but produce fantastic tales!”
Daniel smiled but did not reply…
Sunil Sharma is an Indian academic and writer with 22 books published—some solo and joint. Edits the online monthly journal Setu. Currently based in MMR (Mumbai Metropolitan Region).
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.
As free as the wind blows
As free as the grass grows
Born free to follow your heart
-- Born Free by Andy Williams
These are lines from a song by Andy Williams, a pop icon whose song was the theme song in Born Free, a film made in 1966 about a lion cub bred in captivity, who had to be trained to live free even though she was born free. Does that apply to all living creatures, including humans? What is freedom? And who is free? Does political independence mean ultimate freedom?
We celebrate political ‘freedom’ of countries as national or independence days. Sometimes, as in the case of India and Pakistan, independent nationhood can be laced with bloodshed and grief . Two new countries were born of a single colonial India in the August of 1947. Pakistan awoke as a country on the midnight of 14th August and India called the late hour 15th August. Nehru’s speech has become an iconic one: “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge… At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom…”
Common people while crossing the boundary line between the two new nations lost their lives, homes and lands over the mob violence. The resentment still simmers in a few hearts. In an attempt to find peace and amity, we have put forward a combined selection of writing from across borders, words devoid of angst or hate, words that look for commonality and harmony.
In Conversation with Goutam Ghose, multiple award-winning filmmaker, writer, actor discusses his films, film-books and journey as a humanitarian artiste who makes cross cultural films across all boundaries. Click here to read.
In The Idea of India: Bharata Bhagya Bidhata – The Making of a MotherlandAnasuya Bhar explores the history around the National Anthem of India which started as a song, composed by Tagore. Only the first paragraph of the whole song in Bengali was adapted as the National Anthem. We include the translations of the complete song both by Tagore and by Aruna Chakravarti. Click here to read.
Ratnottama Sengupta translates from Bengali the excerpts recorded by Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), who witnessed an upsurge in the wake of the Quit India Movement, part of India’s struggle against colonial rule. Click here to read.