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Contents

Borderless December 2021

Editorial

Towards a Brave New World… Click here to read.

Interviews

In Bridge over Troubled Waters, academic Sanjay Kumar tells us about Pandies, an activist theatre group founded by him that educates, bridging gaps between the divides of University educated and the less fortunate who people slums or terror zones. Click here to read.

In Lessons Old and New from a Stray Japanese Cat, Keith Lyons talks with the author of The Cat with Three Passports, CJ Fentiman who likes the anonymity loaned by resettling in new places & enjoys creating a space for herself away from her birthplace. Click here to read.

Translations

Poetry by Jibananda

Translated from Bengali by Fakrul Alam, two poem by the late Jibananda Das. Click here to read.

Shorter Poems of Akbar Barakzai

Translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch, five shorter poems by Akbar Barakzai. Click here to read.

Long Continuous Battle

Written and translated from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Colour the World

Rangiye Diye Jao, a song by Tagore, transcreated by Ratnottama Sengupta. Click here to read.

Rakhamaninov’s Sonata

A short story by Sherzod Artikov, translated from Uzbeki by Nigora Mukhammad. Click here to read.

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 by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Michael R Burch, Dibyajyoti Sarma, Anasuya Bhar, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Sambhu Nath Banerjee, Michael Brockley, Malachi Edwin Vethamani, George Freek, Mitra Samal, William Miller, Harsimran Kaur, Jay Nicholls, Sangeeta Sharma, Rhys Hughes

Nature’s Musings

In Lewie, the Leaf, Penny Wilkes explores the last vestiges of autumn with her camera and a touching story. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

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

Musings/ Slices from Life

Kungfu Panda & Matrimony

Alpana gives a glimpse into her own marital experiences through the lockdown. Click here to read.

How I Transitioned from a Desk Worker to a Rugged Trail Hiker at Age Sixty

Meredith Stephens shares the impact of the pandemic on her life choices. Click here to read.

A Tale of Two Houses

P Ravi Shankar travels back to the Kerala of his childhood. Click here to read.

The Voice that Sings Hope through Suffering…

Rakibul Hasan Khan pays a tribute with a twist to a recently deceased Bangladeshi writer, Hasan Azizul Huq. Click here to read.

Canada: A Live Canvas

Sunil Sharma reflects on the colours of the fall in Canada. Click here to read.

To Infinity & Beyond!

Candice Louisa Daquin explores the magic of space travel. Click here to read.

Joy Bangla: Memories of 1971

Ratnottama Sengupta recaptures a time when as a teenager she witnessed a war that was fought to retain a language and culture. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Statue Without Stature, Devraj Singh Kalsi muses on erecting a bust with a dollop of humour. Click here to read.

Stories

Flash Fiction: In Search of a New Home

Marzia Rahman shares a short narrative about refugees. Click here to read.

Floating Free

Lakshmi Kannan travels with a humming bird to her past. Click here to read.

Driving with Murad

Sohana Manzoor unfolds her experiences while learning to drive with a dash of humour. Click here to read.

Dinner with Bo Stamford in Hong Kong

Steve Davidson has a ghostly encounter in Hong Kong. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In Walls, Sunil Sharma peers into fallacies and divides. Click here to read.

Essays

What’s Novel in a Genre?

Indrasish Banerjee explores why we need a genre in this novel-based essay. Click here to read.

Of Palaces and Restorations

Rupali Gupta Mukherjee visits a restored palace in the heartland of Bengal. Click here to read.

The Incongruity of “Perfect” Poems

Rakibul Hasan Khan discusses Bangladeshi poet Sofiul Azam’s poetry from a post colonial perspective. Click here to read.

The Birth of Bangladesh & the University of Dhaka

Professor Fakrul Alam takes us through the three Partitions of Bengal which ultimately led to the creation of Bangladesh, with focus on the role of Dhaka University. Click here to read.

The Observant Migrant

In When is a mental illness not a mental illness?, Candice Lousia Daquin provides us with a re-look into what is often judged as a psychiatric issue. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

Somdatta Mandal’s translation of A Bengali Lady in England by Krishnabhabini Das (1885). Click here to read.

Suzanne Kamata’s The Baseball Widow. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Aruna Chakravarti reviews Devika Khanna Narula’s Beyond the Veil. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Anirudh Kala’s Two and a Half Rivers. Click here to read.

Keith Lyons reviews CJ Fentiman’s The Cat with Three Passports: What a Japanese cat taught me about an old culture and new beginnings. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews BP Pande’s In the Service of Free India –Memoirs of a Civil Servant. Click here to read.

Categories
Editorial

Towards a Brave New World

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

With Christmas at our heels and the world waking up slowly from a pandemic that will hopefully become an endemic as the Omicron seems to fizzle towards a common cold, we look forward to a new year and a new world. Perhaps, our society will evolve to become one where differences are accepted as variety just as we are fine with the fact that December can be warm or cold depending on the geography of the place. People will be welcomed even if of different colours and creed. The commonality of belonging to the same species will override all other disparities…

While we have had exciting developments this year and civilians have moved beyond the Earth — we do have a piece on that by Candice Louisa Daquin — within the planet, we have become more aware of the inequalities that exist. We are aware of the politics that seems to surround even a simple thing like a vaccine for the pandemic. However, these two years dominated by the virus has shown us one thing — if we do not rise above petty greed and create a world where healthcare and basic needs are met for all, we will suffer. As my nearly eighty-year-old aunt confided, even if one person has Covid in a remote corner of the world, it will spread to all of us. The virus sees no boundaries. This pandemic was just a start. There might be more outbreaks like this in the future as the rapacious continue to exploit deeper into the wilderness to accommodate our growing greed, not need. With the onset of warmer climates — global warming and climate change are realities — what can we look forward to as our future?

Que sera sera — what will be, will be. Though a bit of that attitude is necessary, we have become more aware and connected. We can at least visualise changes towards a more egalitarian and just world, to prevent what happened in the past. It would be wonderful if we could act based on the truth learnt from history rather than to overlook or rewrite it from the perspective of the victor and use that experience to benefit our homes, planet and all living things, great and small.  In tune with our quest towards a better world, we have an interview with an academic, Sanjay Kumar, founder of a group called Pandies, who use theatre to connect the world of haves with have-nots. What impressed me most was that they have actually put refugees and migrant workers on stage with their stories. They even managed to land in Kashmir and work with children from war-torn zones. They have travelled and travelled into different dimensions in quest of a better world. Travelling is what our other interviewee did too — with a cat who holds three passports. CJ Fentiman, author of The Cat with Three Passports, has been interviewed by Keith Lyons, who has reviewed her book too.

This time we have the eminent Aruna Chakravarti review Devika Khanna Narula’s Beyond the Veils, a retelling of the author’s family history. Perhaps, history has been the common thread in our reviews this time. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Anirudh Kala’s Two and a Half Rivers, a fiction that focusses on the Sikh issues in 1980s India from a Dalit perspective. It brought to my mind a family saga I had been recently re-reading, Alex Haley’s Roots, which showcased the whole American Revolution from the perspective of slaves brought over from Africa. Did the new laws change the fates of the slaves or Dalits? To an extent, it did but the rest as fact and fiction showcase were in the hands that belonged to the newly freed people. To enable people to step out of the cycle of poverty, the right attitudes towards growth and the ability to accept the subsequent changes is a felt need. That is perhaps where organisations like Pandies step in.  Another non-fiction which highlights history around the same period and place as Kala’s novel is BP Pande’s In the Service of Free India –Memoirs of a Civil Servant. Reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha, the book explores the darker nuances of human history filled with violence and intolerance.

That violence is intricately linked to power politics has been showcased often. But, what would be really amazing to see would be how we could get out of the cycle as a society. With gun violence being an accepted norm in one of the largest democracies of the world, perhaps we need to listen to the voice of wisdom found in the fiction by Steve Davidson who meets perhaps a ghost in Hong Kong. Musing over the ghost’s words, the past catches up in Sunil Sharma’s story, ‘Walls’. Sharma has also given us a slice from his life in Canada with its colours, vibrancy and photographs of the fall. As he emigrated to Canada, we read of immigrants in Marzia Rahman’s touching narrative. She has opted to go with the less privileged just as Lakshmi Kannan has opted to go with the privileged in her story.

Sharma observes, while we find the opulence of nature thrive in places people inhabit in  Canada, it is not so in Asia. I wonder why? Why are Asian cities crowded and polluted? There was a time when Los Angeles and London suffered smogs. Has that shifted now as factories relocated to Asia, generating wealth in currency but taking away from nature’s opulence of fresh, clean air as more flock into crowded cities looking for sustenance?

Humour is introduced into the short story section with Sohana Manzoor’s hilarious rendering of her driving lessons in America, lessons given to foreigners by migrants. Rhys Hughes makes for  more humour with a really hilarious rendition of men in tea cosies missing their…I  think ‘Trouser Hermit’ will tell you the rest. He has perhaps more sober poetry which though imaginative does not make you laugh as much as his prose. Michael Burch has shared some beautiful poetry perpetuating the calmer nuances of a deeply felt love and affection. George Freek, Anasuya Bhar, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Dibyajyoti Sarma have all given us wonderful poetry along with many others. One could write an essay on each poem – but as we are short shrift for time, we move on to travel sagas from hiking in Australia and hobnobbing with kangaroos to renovated palaces in Bengal.

We have also travelled with our book excerpts this time. Suzanne Kamata’s The Baseball Widow shuttles between US and Japan and Somdatta Mandal’s translation of  A Bengali lady in England by Krishnabhabi Das, actually has the lady relocate to nineteenth century England and assume the dress and mannerisms of the West to write an eye-opener for her compatriots about the customs of the colonials in their own country.

While mostly we hear of sad stories related to marriages, we have a sunny one in which Alpana finds much in a marriage that runs well with wisdom learnt from Kung Fu Panda.  Devraj Singh Kalsi has given us a philosophical piece with his characteristic touch of irony laced with humour on statues. If you are wondering what he could have to say, have a read.

In Nature’s Musings, Penny Wilkes has offered us prose and wonderful photographs of the last vestiges of autumn. As the season hovers between summer and winter, geographical boundaries too can get blurred at times. A nostalgic recap given by Ratnottama Sengupta along the borders of Bengal, which though still crossed by elephants freely in jungles (wild elephants do not need visas, I guess), gained an independence from the harshness of cultural hegemony on December 16th, 1971. Candice Louisa Daquin has also looked at grey zones that lie between sanity and insanity in her column. An essay which links East and West has been given to us by Rakibul Hasan about a poet who mingles the two in his poetry. A Bengali song by Tagore, Purano shei diner kotha,  that is almost a perfect trans creation of Robert Burn’s Scottish Auld Lang Syne in the spirit of welcoming the New Year, has been transcreated to English. The similarity in the content of the two greats’ lyrics showcase the commonalities of love, friendship and warmth that unite all cultures into one humanity.

Our first translation from Uzbekistan – a story by Sherzod Artikov, translated from Uzbeki by Nigora Mukhammad — gives a glimpse of a culture that might be new to many of us. Akbar Barakzai’s shorter poems, translated by Fazal Baloch from Balochi and Ratnottama Sengupta’s transcreation of a Tagore song, Rangiye Die Jao, have added richness to our oeuvre along with  one from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Professor Fakrul Alam, who is well-known for his translation of poetry by Jibonanda Das, has started sharing his work on the Bengali poet with us. Pause by and take a look.

There is much more than what I can put down here as we have a bumper end of the year issue this December. There is a bit of something for all times, tastes and seasons.

I would like to thank my wonderful team for helping put together this issue. Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious need double thanks for their lovely artwork that is showcased in our magazine. We are privileged to have committed readers, some of who have started contributing to our content too. A huge thanks to all our contributors and readers for being with us through our journey.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful transition into the New Year! May we open up to a fantastic brave, new world!

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

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Author Page

Suzanne Kamata

Recipient of a number of prestigious awards, Suzanne Kamata represents the best in the mingling of the East and the West. Her writing flows well and is compelling — exploring areas that are often left untouched by more conventional writers. Kamata has lived in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan, for more than half of her life. She is the author or editor of 14 published books including, most recently, The Spy (Gemma Open Door, 2020), a novella for emerging readers; the middle grade novel Pop Flies, Robo-pets and Other Disasters (One Elm Books, 2020) which won an American Fiction Award and was recently released as an audiobook; and Indigo Girl (GemmaMedia, 2019), winner of an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and named a Freeman Book Awards Honor Book, as well as one of the Best Children’s Books of 2019 by Bank Street College. Suzanne has a poetry book called Waiting forthcoming in January 2022 from Kelsay Books.

Interview

In Conversation with Suzanne Kamata

Click here to read.

Poetry

Commemorating Hiroshima: Poetry by Suzanne Kamata

Click here to read.

Book reviews

Suzanne Kamata reviews Iain Maloney’s Life is Elsewhere/ Burn Your Flags. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews Suzanne Kamata’s The Baseball Widow. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews Suzanne Kamata’s Indigo Girl . Click here to read.

Book Excerpt

Suzanne Kamata’s The Baseball Widow. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

Suzanne Kamata’s column on Japanese culture and life. Click here to read.

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Excerpt

The Baseball Widow

Title: The Baseball Widow

Author: Suzanne Kamata

Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing (2021)

Christine loved Trina’s oak table. She loved this kitchen with its American-sized refrigerator decorated with animal magnets and children’s art, its scent of baked bread, and the cross-stitch samplers on the wall. She loved Trina’s dishes, painted with blue Chinese landscapes, like the ones that she ate from at her grandmother’s house when she was a child. She remembered that once her oyster casserole or Thanksgiving sweet potatoes were cleared away, she’d wondered about the pagoda on her plate, wondered what it would be like to visit such a place. And then finally she had. She’d been to China, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and of course, Japan, where she now lived. Ironically, although Christine had fled America in search of the exotic and adventurous, Trina’s Blue Willow patterned dishes, this room itself, now filled her with yearning for all that she had left behind.

“How was the send-off?” Elizabeth asked from across the table, snapping Christine out of her daydream. Elizabeth looked great, as usual. Even though she’d given birth just a little over a month ago, she managed to keep her bottle-blonde hair touched up, and her poplin blouses ironed and unstained. Right now the baby slept nestled in her arms.

Christine smiled. “It was fine. Nobody cried. Not even me.” She’d thought that sending her son off on his first day of elementary school – on foot no less, since the children were required to walk to school in groups — would have been more wrenching, but what she’d felt was mostly relief. For the first four years of her life, her daughter Emma had been in and out of hospitals, and then there was that one terrifying week when both kids were in the ICU at the same time with pneumonia. But now they were healthy and sturdy and ready to be out in the world. Plus, it was nice to finally have some time for herself.

Trina gently tapped a spoon against her “Support Our Troops” mug. “I hereby call this meeting of the American Wives’ Club to order,” she said.

Christine raised her coffee cup to Trina in a toast. “The American Wives’ Club” — AWC for short — wasn’t an official organization. There was no club secretary, no president. They got enough of protocol with the Japanese P.T.A. and Kodomo Kai and other Japanese mothers’ groups. In reality, the AWC was composed of the three of them – Christine, Elizabeth, and Trina, wife of a Japanese professor, whose two chestnut-haired children, not yet school-aged, were now under the table clawing at knees. Elizabeth’s eldest child, a daughter, was in the second grade at a private academy with an English immersion program.

Although coffee was enough of an excuse for a gathering, on this morning they’d gotten together to give Elizabeth a baby shower. According to Miss Manners, a baby shower was supposed to be held in the eighth month of pregnancy, but etiquette be damned; the members of the AWC put enough time and energy into keeping track of and adhering to Japanese customs (exactly how much to spend on a summer gift for one’s boss, where to stand in an elevator, which days were inauspicious for hospital visits, etc.). Sometimes a little anarchy was just the right thing. The belated celebration was also out of deference to Christine, whose daughter had been fourteen weeks ahead of schedule, during Christine’s seventh month of pregnancy. For days, weeks, months, Emma had struggled in an incubator at the university hospital, and they had all learned not to take a baby’s easy delivery and good health for granted.

The doorbell rang then, and Trina jumped up. “Oh, I forgot to tell you all. I met a woman at the library the other day. I thought she might like to join us. She’s Canadian, but I think we can make an exception. We can be the North American Wives.”

“Yes, of course,” Elizabeth said. “The more, the merrier.”

Trina went to open the door, and the others moved their chairs to make room for another guest. Their heads turned when a slender, pale woman with strawberry blonde hair stepped into the room. She held a little boy of about three by the hand. Christine could tell by his eyes and brownish hair that he was biracial (“hafu” as the Japanese said) just as all of their children were.

“Hi, I’m Sophia Lang,” she said. She extended her hand to Christine, and then to Elizabeth.

“Sophia has just signed on as an adjunct at Tokushima University,” Trina said. “Her husband is a scientist at Otsuka.” Christine nodded. They were all familiar with the pharmaceutical company, one of the area’s largest employers, and maker of that ubiquitous, ridiculously named sports drink, Pocari Sweat. Elizabeth’s husband worked there, too. “They just moved here from – where was it?”

“Maryland,” Sophia said. “My husband is originally from Tokushima. We thought it’d be nice for Kai, here, to get to know his father’s family better. And also, work on his Japanese language skills. My husband asked for a transfer, and here we are!”

She had that fresh-off-the-plane look about her. Christine had read somewhere about the stages of culture shock – she’d experienced them herself. First, was the euphoric falling-in-love stage, where everything was new and exciting. Pretty soon the shine would wear off, and irritation would set in. She’d get sick of having little kids point at her hair, and of people asking if she could use chopsticks. She’d discover that the bank machines closed early, at nine p.m., and that if she didn’t have her laundry out by eight in the morning (so late!), the neighbours would chat about her.

“Have a seat,” Trina said, ushering Sophia into a chair. “And Kai, maybe you’d like to go play with Misa and Kenta. Kids! Out from under the table! Show this nice little boy your toys!”

Trina’s two and three-year olds emerged, giggling and ran out of the room. Kai looked up at his mother for confirmation, before scrambling after them.

“Ah, peace at last,” Trina said, pouring coffee for Sophia into a University of Virginia mug.

They went around the table and introduced themselves.

“I’m Elizabeth Tanigawa, from Kentucky. I’m doing some research about expatriates in Tokushima,” she drawled. “I’m planning on writing a book or an essay or something.” She was always immersed in some project. For awhile, it had been indigo dyeing, and before that pottery, and even longer ago, she’d been obsessed with local folklore. During the latter phase, she’d compiled dozens of stories about trickster raccoon dogs, but she’d never tried to publish them. It was just something to keep her busy.

“Well, that sounds interesting,” Sophia said politely. “I didn’t know there were enough expats here for a book.”

It’s true that there were hardly any foreigners in Tokushima Prefecture. Christine had gone days without seeing another non-Japanese in the capital city, weeks, even. Although bridges now linked the island of Shikoku via sparsely populated Awaji Island with Honshu, there were no high speed bullet trains zipping across the island. There were few jobs for foreign women outside of teaching English or pouring drinks in hostess bars, and tourists from abroad rarely added the island to their agenda.

“Oh, but there have been lots,” Elizabeth said, and here, she nodded at Christine, “missionaries from South Carolina, an entire camp of German Prisoners of War, and there was also a Portuguese sailor who settled here and married the little Japanese girl that was his housemaid. Kinda like Madame Butterfly. There’s a museum about his life up on top of Mount Bizan.”

“A girl?”

“She was quite a bit younger,” Christine put in. “But she was an adult. I’m sure she knew what she was doing.” In truth, Christine thought the sailor, who appeared in photos with a long white beard, was way too old for his bride, but she suddenly felt perversely defensive of all things Tokushima. It was her home now, after all.

When it was her turn, she said, “I’m originally from Michigan, most recently from South Carolina. I’ve been living here for ten years. My husband is a high school baseball coach.”

“We call him the ‘imaginary husband,’” Trina said, “because no one has ever seen them together.”

Christine forced herself to join in the laughter, even though she was the one who’d first come up with the moniker. 

“She’s a baseball widow,” Elizabeth explained to the bemused Sophia, who hadn’t been in Japan long enough to understand how demanding high school sports could be. There was no such thing as a baseball season. Once students joined the club, they were busy practicing and playing all year round. The only days off were during the ten days of winter vacation. The rest of the time, even during the “off-season,” from the end of October till about the beginning of February, they had training sessions every day after school and on weekends. Hideki was almost never home.

“I saw your husband on television,” Elizabeth said. “Just a couple of weeks ago. His team made it to the quarter-finals, didn’t it?”

Christine nodded. “Yeah, I was there. Up in the bleachers.” Before the kids had come along, she’d gone to all of his games, but they were too young to enjoy baseball. The one time she’d brought Emma to the stadium, she was dismayed to find that there was no wheelchair access, even though the arena was relatively new. She’d had to ask a couple of high school boys to help carry Emma and her wheels up the concrete steps, into the stands. And then of course, after glimpsing Daddy at the sidelines and waving furiously with no response, both Emma and Koji had grown quickly bored. Now Christine mostly watched the games on TV. Once the number of teams was whittled down to eight, the games were broadcast on the local NHK station, or at least public access TV. It was hard to concentrate, though, when Koji and Emma were grabbing at the remote control, pushing for cartoons. The other day, Christine had asked her mother-in-law to babysit so that she could watch Hideki’s team live. Even though they’d lost, she’d felt emotionally involved in the game. Being there made her feel closer to Hideki, almost as if they were in it together.

“Do you have any children?” Sophia asked, bringing her cup to her lips. Christine saw that her fingernails had been manicured. A diamond glinted off her ring finger. In a couple of months, she won’t be wearing that, Christine thought. She’d figure out that it was way too gaudy for rural Japan.

“Yes, two. A boy and a girl.”

“Do they go to school?” Sophia asked.

“Koji’s at Aizumi West. He just started first grade today.”

“And your daughter? You said you have a little girl?”

Christine nodded. “Her name is Emma, after Queen Emma of Hawaii.” Christine and Hideki had gotten married at a plantation on Oahu. Afterwards, they’d done some sightseeing around the islands, and Christine had become captivated by the biography of Queen Emma, who was both Anglo and Hawaiian – a multicultural woman who did good deeds, a mixed race royal. The perfect role model and namesake, Christine thought. “My daughter goes to the kindergarten at the School for the Deaf.”

“Oh!” Surprise and pity flashed across Sophia’s face. By now, Christine was used to apologies and embarrassment at the revelation of her daughter’s disabilities. She forced a smile to show that it was no big deal, that there was no need to feel sorry for them. Everything was fine!

“Have you thought about taking her to the States?” Sophia asked. “My husband and I had a little scare after an ultrasound, and we decided that if our child had any handicap, we would stay in the U.S. Japan is a couple decades behind in that area, isn’t it?”

Christine felt the blood rush to her face. “We’re keeping our options open,” she murmured, though that wasn’t exactly true. Hideki was passionate about his job and she would never ask him to quit. He had become something of a local celebrity. People respected him, just as they seemed to respect her for being married to him. Whenever she dropped by the baseball field, say, to bring Hideki his forgotten cell phone, or drop off Koji to “help out” with Saturday afternoon practice sessions, the players doffed their caps and bowed to her, the coach’s wife. It made her feel like a First Lady. More importantly, as a public school teacher, Hideki was assured lifetime employment, and he also had good health insurance. With a kid like Emma, you had to have ample coverage. Christine suspected that with all of her pre-existing conditions, Emma was uninsurable in the States. And last, but not least, as the only and eldest son of his widowed mother, Hideki was expected to look after her and act, when necessary, as head of the family, representing the Yamada clan at weddings and funerals that his mother didn’t want to attend. He had responsibilities.

Not every family had the resources – or desire – to up and move across the world every time circumstances changed. And yet, Christine had often wondered if Japan was the best place for their daughter. Or for their son, for that matter. At times, she thought they’d be better off in Sweden, where parents were required by law to teach their deaf children sign language. (Here in Japan, Hideki was too busy to study anything but baseball stats, and Christine often had to interpret between father and daughter.) Other times she fantasized about moving to Hawaii, where multicultural was the norm.

 “Well, then, ladies,” Trina said, clapping her hands together. “I think it’s time for some games.”

About the book:

When Christine, an idealistic young American teacher, meets and marries Hideki Yamada, an aspiring Japanese high school baseball coach, she believes that their love with be enough to sustain them as they deal with cultural differences. However, Hideki’s duties, and the team of fit, obedient boys whom he begins to think of as a surrogate family, take up more and more of his time, just as Christine is struggling to manage the needs of their multiply-disabled daughter and their sensitive son. Things come to a head when their son is the victim of bullies. Christine begins to think that she and her children would be safer – and happier – in her native country. On a trip back to the States, she reconnects with a dangerously attractive friend from high school who, after serving and becoming wounded in Afghanistan, seems to understand her like no one else.

Meanwhile, Daisuke Uchida, a slugger with pro potential who has returned to Japan after living abroad, may be able to help propel Hideki’s team to the national baseball tournament at Koshien. Not only would this be a dream come true for Hideki, but also it would secure the futures of his players, some of whom come from precarious homes. While Daisuke looks to Hideki for guidance, he is also distracted by Nana, a talented but troubled girl, whom he is trying to rescue from a life as a bar hostess (or worse). Hideki must ultimately choose between his team and his family.

The Baseball Widow explores issues of duty, disability, discrimination, violence, and forgiveness through a cross-cultural lens. Although flawed, these characters strive to advocate for fairness, goodness, and safety, while considering how their decisions have been shaped by their backgrounds.

About the author:

American Suzanne Kamata has lived in Japan for over thirty years. She first arrived in Tokushima Prefecture as an Assistant Language Teacher in public schools. In her second year in Japan, she met her husband, a Japanese high school teacher (and later, high school baseball coach). While raising twins, she wrote and published Losing Kei (Leapfrog Press, 2008), her first novel for adults. Since then, she has published several more award-winning books including the novel Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible (GemmaMedia, 2013) which was awarded an Asian Pacific American Librarians Association  Honor Award for Young Adult Fiction; Indigo Girl (GemmaMedia, 2019), winner of a Gold Nautilus Award and an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award; and Squeaky Wheels: Travels with My Daughter by Train, Plane, Metro, Tuk-tuk and Wheelchair (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 2019) winner of a CIBA Hearten Award and a Next Generation Book Award.  She is an associate professor at Naruto University of Education.

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

Categories
Contents

Borderless, October 2021

An Ode to Autumn: Painting by Sohana Manzoor.

Editorial

Making a Grecian Urn… Click here to read.

Interviews

Unveiling Afghanistan: In Conversation with Nazes Afroz, former editor of BBC and translator of a book on Afghanistan which reflects on the present day crisis. Click here to read.

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.

Translations

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.

The Quest for Home

Nazrul’s Kon Kule Aaj Bhirlo Tori translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Mysteries of the Universe

Akbar Barakzai’s poetry in Balochi, translated by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Gandhi & Robot

A poem reflecting the state of Gandhi’s ideology written in Manipuri by Thangjam Ibopishak and translated from the Manipuri by Robin S Ngangom. Click here to read.

Sorrows Left Alone

A poem in Korean, written & translated by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

The Song of Advent by Tagore

Written by Tagore in 1908, Amaar Nayano Bhulano Ele describes early autumn when the festival of Durga Puja is celebrated. It has been translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Michael R Burch, A Jessie Michael, John Grey, Rupali Gupta Mukherjee, Mike Smith, Saranyan BV, Tony Brewer, Baisali Chatterjee Dutt, Jay Nicholls, Beni S Yanthan, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Pramod Rastogi, Jason Ryberg, Michael Lee Johnson, Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad, Rhys Hughes

Animal Limericks by Michael R Burch. Click here to read.

Nature’s Musings

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

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In Pessoa and Cavafy: What’s in a Name?, Rhys Hughes comically plays with the identity of these two poets. Click here to read.

Musings/ Slices From Life

At the Doctor’s

In this lighthearted narration, Farouk Gulsara uses humour to comment on darker themes. Click here to read.

Taking an unexpected turn

Nitya Pandey talks of a virtual friendship that bloomed across borders of countries during the pandemic. Click here to read.

Travel in the Time of Pandemics: Select Diary Entries of an Urban Nomad

Sunil Sharma gives us a slice from his travels with vibrant photographs, changing continents and homes during the pandemic. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

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

Essays

A Season of Magical Mellow Wistfulness

Meenakshi Malhotra through folk songs that are associated with Durga Puja explores the theme of homecoming. Click here to read.

What Gandhi Teaches Me

Candice Louisa Daquin applies Gandhiism to her own lived experiences. Click here to read.

How Women’s Education Flourished in Aligarh Muslim University

Sameer Arshad Khatlani dwells on the tradition of education among Muslim women from early twentieth century, naming notables like Ismat Chughtai and Rashid Jahan. Click here to read.

Once Upon a Time in Burma: Of Friendships & Farewells

John Herlihy takes us through more of Myanmar with his companion, Peter, in the third part of his travelogue through this land of mystic pagodas. Click here to read.

When Needles Became Canons…

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.

Stories

Lunch with Baba Rinpoche in Kathmandu

Steve Davidson takes us for a fictitious interview with a Tibetan guru in Nepal. Click here to read.

The Tree of Life

An unusual flash fiction by Parnil Yodha about a Tibetan monk. Click here to read.

Odysseus & Me: A Quest for Home

A short fiction from Bangladesh by Marzia Rahman on immigrants. Click here to read.

Dawn in Calicut

Krishna Sruthi Srivalsan writes of a past that created the present. Click here to read.

I am a Coward with Priorities

Tejaswinee Roychowdhury tells a story from a soldier’s perspective. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In Bapu, Denied, Sunil Sharma explores the fate of Gandhiism in a world where his values have been forgotten. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt of In a Land Far From Home: A Bengali in Afghanistan by Syed Mujtaba Ali, translated by Nazes Afroz. Click here to read.

An excerpt from letters written by Tagore from Kobi & Rani, translated by Somdatta Mandal. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Aruna Chakravarti reviews Golden Bangladesh at 50: Contemporary Stories & Poems edited by Shazia Omar. Click here to read.

Somdatta Mandal reviews Wooden Cow by T. Janakiraman, translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Kannan. Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews Suzanne Kamata’s The Baseball Widow. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Mohona Kanjilal’s A Taste of Time: A Food History of Calcutta. Click here to read.


Categories
Editorial

Making a Grecian Urn

“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
‘Beauty is Truth’ : The Potato Eaters(1885) by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Courtesy: Creative Commons

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.”

Aruna Chakravarti’s review of Shazia Omar’s Golden Bangladesh at Fifty also stands out embracing the colours of Bengal. It traces the title back to history and their national anthem — a Tagore song called ‘Amaar Sonar Bangla – My Golden Bengal’. Gracy Samjetsabam’s review of Suzanne Kamata’s The Baseball Widow, a cross cultural novel with an unusual ending that shuttles between America and Japan, winds up our review section this time.

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.

The tone of Rhys Hughes cogitations about the identity of two poets across borders in ‘Pessoa and Cavafy: What’s in a Name?’ reminds me of Puck  or Narada! Of course, he has given humour in verses with a funny story poem which again — I am not quite sure — has a Welsh king who resisted Roman invasion or is it someone else? Michael Burch has limericks on animals, along with his moving poem on Martin Luther King Junior. We have much poetry crossing borders, including a translation of Akbar Barakzai’s fabulous Balochi poetry by Fazal Baloch and Sahitya Akademi winning Manipuri poet, Thangjam Ibopishak, translated by Robin S Ngangom. A Nazrul song which quests for a spiritual home has been translated from Bengali by no less than Professor Fakrul Alam, a winner of both the SAARC award and Bangla Academy Literary Award.

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.

Wish you a wonderful month full of festivities!

Mitali Chakravarty,

Borderless Journal

Categories
Review

Crossing Borders with The Baseball Widow

Book review by Gracy Samjetsabam

Title: The Baseball Widow

Author: Suzanne Kamata

Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing (2021)

Suzanne Kamata is an American writer, academic, and a fiction editor, who resides in the Tokushima Prefecture, Japan. She has authored or edited 14 books including, memoirs and award-winning books. Her anthology The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan (1997) was nominated for the Kiriyama Prize. She is a winner in the best novel category of the Half the World Global Literati Award. The Baseball Widow (2021) is her latest book.  

The Baseball Widow (2021) is the tale of the life and aspirations of a passionate young American teacher Christine as she juggles through encounters in a multi-cultural setting and with having a child with special needs. Christine falls in love and marries Hideki Yamada, an aspiring Japanese high school baseball coach despite the complicacies that may arise due to cultural differences. She settles down with Hideki in Japan with dreams of teaching English and travelling to lower income Asian and African countries to help the underprivileged with English language skills.

Their daughter Emma has cerebral palsy. She is wheelchair bound and communicates through sign language. Emma is named with love after Queen Emma of Hawaii (1836-1885), who promoted a multicultural outlook. Their younger son Koji is sensitive and undergoes bullying in school because of having a specially abled sister. Stereotypes and societal judgments over their cross-cultural marriage, having a child that needs frequent hospital visits and extra care, and the other child getting harassed in school are a constant sources of anxiety for Christine and Hideki. Moreover, Hideki’s wholehearted dedication as a coach, who considers his baseball team as his first “family” and as someone who takes the demands of his job seriously, heightens Christine’s responsibility as a wife and a mother in the family.            

The story has a lot to offer for cross-cultural enthusiasts. Through a host of characters, one gets to look closely into some aspects of life in Japan and into a mish mash of cultures. Interestingly, Kamata also manages to juxtapose the perspectives of Japanese and Americans on baseball as a sport, schooling, varying rituals of birthday celebrations, ways of coping with old age, accent issues, food culture, mannerism, a father-daughter relationship that Kamata calls “skinship” and so on. The story takes a larger overtone as it gives a glimpse of experiences on the notion of the term “Hafu”, which means a Japanese biracial. Half-Japanese or half-American, both in Japan or in America, such persons seem to face more societal hurdles than advantages. Additionally, the main plot along with the other sub-plots has a lot more to speak about relatable experiences of cross-cultural encounters in terms of love, education, health, travel, companionship, and the expectations and realities of life and relationships in general.

Kamata gives a unique take on disabilities and disparities of life experiences through Christine and her family’s experience with their own family and society. As parents, Christine and Hideki tried to cater to the needs of both the children and stay strong. Even though, their family was often subjected to gossip and rumours born of Emma’s condition, they reconciled to her disability. As Koji was victimised, they struggled to change him to a private school. They struggled to make life better for their children and family.

The story runs in two parts. In the first part, Kamata takes the reader back and forth from present day to a flashback as she introduces us to the story and the myriad themes of the novel. The story starts with Christine and her views on Japan and her life in Japan. She sets off to Thailand on a mission to help Cambodian refugees. She walks through her dream of helping needy and disenfranchised kids exploring the bigger questions of dreams and reality, love and longing, and the purpose of life. Experiencing a sort of “compassion fatigue” and looking at the brighter side of life, she returns to Hideki and Japan with hopes for a better future. Hideki coaching the baseball team at the Tokushima Kita High School dreams big and works hard to secure a place for his team to the prestigious national baseball tournament at Koshien. Kamata beautifully portrays how life is complicated with love, dreams and responsibilities through the shorter stories within the framework of the main narrative.

Part two of the novel takes a new turn as Christine comes to her mother’s place in South Carolina for a vacation and she meets her old school friend Andrew, an American Iraq War vet, whom she got to reconnect through the Internet. A fatal attraction and an affair ensued to bring out the raw side of reality. Hideki speculates saying, “… there was no such thing as pure joy, that even the greatest happiness was tarnished somehow, temporary, but worth striving for all the same”. Christine motionlessly undergoes strong emotions as she sees Hideki in the hospital. He too reminisces over lost time with Christine that he over dedicated to his career and reaches out to Christine to start all over again saying, “… Please come home”.     

The Baseball Widow is a gripping novel that powerfully explores issues of responsibility, disability, discrimination, violence, dreams, love, longing, health, career, parenting, youth and old age through a cross-cultural spectacle. Hope and forgiveness overrule the human flaws in the story. Christine positively declares “everything is fine!” about Emma’s disabilities to rise about the surprise, pity, apologies and embarrassment of daily encounters. Beautifully embellished with an exquisite watercolour artwork cover by Giorgio Gosti, dark yet shaded in harmony, humour and positivity, The Baseball Widow will touch lives across ages, genders and cultures.  

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Gracy Samjetsabam is a research scholar at the Manipal Institute of Communication (MIC), MAHE, Manipal. She is also a freelance writer and copy editor. Her interest is in Indian English Writings, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, and World Literature. 

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