Categories
Musings of a Copywriter

The New Year’s Boon

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

After several waves of the pandemic, the merciful Lord showers good news on the Eve of New Year. It is certainly not going to be a ‘knew’ year because in this year we are going to learn things we never knew, some cosmic droppings that take us through pleasant surprises to restore the dwindling faith of mankind in the Creator of the Universe. He proposes to roll out a slew of packages without appearing on any television channel during prime time. The boom of boons for humanity – to live the truth of fantasies.

Our efforts to create a better world have not found meaty success as we are still engrossed in this model or that model, trying hard to adjust accordingly and find an ideal one fit for prescription the world over. No unanimous choice has emerged over the centuries of experimentation but God has been at the receiving end for creating an unequal world, often blamed for creating various categories in the world like first and third. 

While the doomsday club says the end is drawing near and the world is likely to get decimated, with several cities going underwater to create new mythologies and epics, there is big, breaking news coming in: God has decided to give another chance to live by introducing radical changes in the cycle of life and death.

The best phase of life is childhood and poets and writers have celebrated this stage. The seven stages of mankind remain so but the time allotted to each stands revised. The biggest bonanza comes in the form of extension of age. From now on, human beings will live up to 200 years. The doubling of life span is a huge joy for all. Instead of the usual one hundred years of solitude for us, we get another one hundred years of bonhomie and celebration.   

To explain it in detail, God has increased the childhood span of the newborn. Henceforth, every child gets blooming childhood years up to 25 years before turning teenager and then adulthood wades in at the young, callow age of 50. For one hundred years he remains young and virile to enjoy the worldly, sensual pleasures, to multiply without restrictions. The painful period of old age and decay gets shortened. Old age kicks in after 150 years of his existence in this beautiful, big world with continents and countries where most people die in discontent, without seeing even half of their own country. With more time at their disposal, they get to travel a lot and stay young and healthy to carry on with their duties in a relaxed manner. 

Such a long phase of youth ensures no hurry, no stress, and no tension. Carry on at your lumbering pace and enjoy life the way you like without submitting to any pressure. Lovers have more time to stroll in the landscaped gardens and there is no time-bound compulsion of career building, of getting hitched and having kids soon after. As people remain virile for longer and enjoy love and romance for hundred years in a full bloom stage, it is the best gift for people who often crib they cannot enjoy love and romance for long. Platonic love life give way to real, sensual relationships and people will have a gala time to enjoy sans limits. 

God also does not like people turning unhealthy too soon, becoming prone to diseases, and losing the will to live early in life so He has been compelled to bring in structural changes in the biological patterns. With new slabs for various stages of life, a frenzy of excitement, a frisson of delight in mankind is quite expected. 

As a bonus, God has also approved a minimum life span for all. Which means nobody is going to die before attaining that particular age. Since man has created too many resources on his own beyond God’s calculation and imagination, the Lord feels Man should be able to feed more population for longer periods, without starvation deaths, or drought-like situations. Earlier, the Lord kept it deliberately low because he preferred recycling all around, to keep the planet balanced and healthy. Since man has adopted recycling and renewal and has researched a lot to advance age miracle creams and lotions, God has been benevolent to grant a new lease of life to all without discrimination, to outsmart human moves. ‘Live long’ ceases to be a blessing now.

The world battling the current crises is going to get a panacea. The greed factor prevails because there is so much to do and so little time. Henceforth, man can afford to slow down and enjoy the fruits of labour instead of being obsessed and disturbed. He will be able to experience bliss, finally. With the slowing down of everything that is speed-driven, with man realising he is going to be here for long, there is no tearing hurry to tear this world apart for selfish gains.

Thankfully, death will also not remain unpredictable as the time of its arrival in the life of a person happens only after a fixed number of years. Imagine nobody in the family dying before the age of 150 and they can all love each other and not feel hurt. The wheels of life will not get derailed. Families will not suffer due to the premature demise of the head of the family. Removing uncertainty from life about death is surely a precious gift. Parents will not be in a hurry to complete their duties towards their children in the fear of leaving this world with an incomplete schedule.

God will not make a grand announcement, but he will begin its global implementation in all communities to prove that God is one everywhere. The same Creator controls this universe and we should see this miracle and spectacle at the same time to realise that God is one in all religions and gifts the same benefits without discrimination. As the world seems to be prepared for some drastic changes on the horizon, the Lord thinks this is just the right time to deliver a relief package.

2022 is indeed a phenomenal year that is going to change human lives in a big way. People will return to enjoying life in its organic form and remain close to nature, as their materialistic instincts get tamed. The creative folks will produce more literature, music, and the arts will prosper. Science will be used for benefit alone and the nations will become non-competitive. Traditional farming stages a comeback and people lead simpler lives. After centuries of evolution, the human body gets the secret of staying fit for longer. This global change happens to all living human beings and the world synchronizes to this new reality. The mad rush to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries will also stop as people know they are here for sure. The uncertainty factor getting edged out of human lives marks the beginning of a new era. 

It is going to be so thrilling to see nonagenarian men and women with spotless beauty and youthfulness, beaming smiles, and wearing no dentures at all. While this will destroy cosmetic brands and tonic brands, the positive takeaway will be much greater. Of course, humans will have a new set of challenges. They thrive and survive on challenges but not the same set of challenges for centuries, with the same compulsions. As the New Year rings in something new, this will mean a lot new in human lives. So let us all engage to make ourselves comfortable with the new normal that comes as a blessing from God and no other source. For once, even atheists will have to thank the Lord and admit He is indeed the Master of the Universe, who can shape, reshape, renew and extend everything for human beings and discount the need for resolutions, for stopping the race against time, for reversing the wheels of time. 

While I am still in the dreamy state that gives a lot to feel good about the New Year during the wee hours, the alarm clock beeps. If the content of this dream gets realised, all of us who have ended the childhood phase will live with partial regret but the fact that the virile phase gets an extension means we can have an amazing phase of love and romance for more decades to come and also look forward to a curtailed retirement phase, with no hurry to turn senior citizens seeking higher interest credits every quarter and submitting life certificate for pension plans. This deferral means a big relief to those who do not belong to the millennial generation. For God too, it is a huge relief because the unmanageable crowds of materialistic-minded folks frequenting religious places to seek undue favours will stop, and only the genuine devotees who love God will visit Him.

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


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

Categories
Musings of a Copywriter

Crematoriums for the Rich

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Courtesy: Creative Commons

It is useless to make an effort to remind a dead person that there is actually no travelling class on the last journey. One who has always maintained class, travelled first class, and classified himself as an ultra-rich person should not lie next to a beggar waiting for his turn to be cremated. Driven by the noble thought to enable his departure from a premium crematorium, I have started preparing a feasibility report before approaching a venture capitalist to fund what looks at the moment like an ambitious adventure of sorts.  

It is such a pitiable sight to witness a rich family jostle in the crowd of mourners from poor families. Those working-class people who may not have broken class barriers in life but in death they seem to have triumphed in establishing the non-discriminatory approach by juxtaposing the rich dead with the poor dead. When the sizeable, privileged class has the resources to afford something ostentatious, a visionary entrepreneur like me should grab the opportunity to create a viable business model that converts funerals into a lavish and luxurious affair.

Just like resorts built in the outskirts of the city, a vast open space would need to be identified and grabbed cheap from farmers to construct an upscale crematorium. There would be a parking lot for buses on hire arriving with mourners, hearse vans, and personal cars. Gun-toting security guards manning the parking zone, with hourly parking rates would be applicable. Once the family of mourners approaches the entrance, they will have three types of schemes – Gold, Diamond and Silver. Depending on their budget and choice, they can pick what suits them best. There will be a discount offer during the festive season. You would be able to consider yourself fortunate if someone in the family expires during the festival time around Diwali or Dussehra. Besides, there would be an EMI (Enterprise Management Incentive) scheme included to bring in the aspirational upper middle class keen to emulate the rich. Yes, the salaried folks should also get to enjoy the enriching experience. When they travel the world using credit cards, they should get the exclusive facility during the last journey.

At the moment, I am thinking of hiring the advertising agency I work with – to look after the branding exercise and build a nice teaser campaign.  I have some ideas to share but I know they will get killed for being too creative. So, I would prefer to let the creative head take charge and make this campaign go viral.

Once the family has booked the option of lighting a pyre or the electric option, they get a card to flash at the entrance. They are led in by a team of young girls and boys in flowing white dress. There are provisions for four funerals at the same time inside this facility. The dead body is taken in by the authorised staff and the family has nothing to do in this regard – notice the element of comfort and convenience packed in. They are led into a room with LED lights, with soft devotional music in the background. As they would  have already specified the religion at the time of booking, they would find devotional music related to their religion. For example, a Sikh would get get Shabad Kirtan related to death. Some sombre instrumental music will play in the background.

The Diamond scheme would be pegged at three lakh rupees, the Gold scheme would be worth two lakh rupees, and the Silver scheme would be up for grabs for just one lakh rupees. The facilities will vary depending on the selected scheme. There will be a theatre that shows how the soul travels after death. There will be some celebrity Gurus offering live discourses and a case-specific analysis of the soul reaching God. The audio-visual experience from the voice of a priest will be calming and comforting for the bereaved family at the hour of grief. There will be a dining room for lunch and dinner facility and the menu truly five-star but purely vegetarian. Leading chefs will prepare favourite dishes and the families with trains of mourners can avail of the meal served in silver utensils. 

Once the cremation starts, the address system will inform the family to get inside and witness the cremation process beamed live. There is a provision to hire Rudaalis (professional mourners) if the family so desires. There will be arrangements to serve tea, coffee, cold drinks and other refreshments like burgers, pastries while they wait and watch the cremation. There will be steam and sauna rooms, massage sections and salons to get back in shape refreshed after several hours inside. There will be counselling sessions for the nearest of the dead, to manage their grief. Such healing sessions are important so that they can carry on living without feeling sad all the time. The Grief Minimization Therapy should make them go back and feel lively and energetic within hours. Trained international experts with specialisation in death-related sorrow will be hired to administer this line of treatment.

Once the cremation is complete, the family will be taken to the ‘Immersion’ section where they will be handed over the urn with ashes. There will be a lake behind. The family will have the option of immersing it there or taking a chopper ride to hover over  the nearest river to sprinkle the ashes and flower petals from above. After the ritual is over, the family will  return to the crematorium to join the rest of the mourners. There will be some gift bags for all containing prayer books, CDS on spirituality, a personalised CD on the entire burning process, handkerchiefs, photo-frames, prayer mats, incense sticks, and other religion-related paraphernalia apart from the photographs of the dead body and the mourners.  More details will have to be fleshed out to make it attractive.

The personalised experience for the grief-stricken family is the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) here and adding luxurious dignity to the dead makes it more desirable. The class he belonged to is the class he will travel in when he leaves the world. This should generate the big idea for the success of this innovative venture. To leverage its strength, we can begin a chain of luxury crematoriums in the metro cities first and then proceed to Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities depending on the response generated. Presently, we need to think of a suitable name – not Yatra (journey), Safar (trip), Manzil (tier) types – for this start-up and make a shortlist of potential investors to approach for its funding.  Given the huge number of cremations every year, within three years it should recover the investment and bring in tons of profit.

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


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

Categories
Interview

Where the Whole World Meets in a Single Nest

In Conversation with Somdatta Mandal

Professor Somdatta Mandal

Somdatta Mandal, an eminent academic, has translated so many books and writers that it is difficult to pin her down as a doyen of one great. Her extensive work amazes with its variety intercepted with humour. Reading through her translations, Nirmalakumari’s account of how Tagore was manipulated by Mussolini, is like comprehending and living through history. It adheres and makes an impact to lead to the realisation that history is often repeated, only the cast of characters and locations change. That Tagore could put that behind him and rise above this incident (hyped by the media then) to connect with his vision reflected not just in his writings but also in the institution (Santiniketan) he created and which he reached out for help to keep intact. All this is brought home to us through just one of Mandal’s many translations, Kobi and Rani.

She talks more of her extensive findings while translating and experiencing the world from writings across the ages. She reflects on how Tagore’s vision for Santiniketan remains to be yet realised. Her answers showcase a scholar who shines in any setting not just with reflected light of others she translates but with her own inner convictions laced with a rare sense of humour. She has much to say and share in this extensive interview. We are happy to project her voice to you.

You were teaching in Santiniketan. Tell us a bit about the legendary university. How is it different from others? Has it lived up to what the Kobiguru visualised?

I retired from Visva-Bharati two years ago after teaching in the English Department there for about eighteen years. My area of specialization has been American Literature, Film and Culture Studies and Diaspora Literature. I started teaching in Santiniketan initially thinking of it as a new job at a university, but soon realised that away from the cacophony of life in Kolkata where I was born and bred, working and living all that while, the place would gradually exert its own idyllic charm upon me. Now in my retirement I want to live there in peace and use the place as a writer’s retreat. In spite of being in the news at present for all the wrong reasons, Santiniketan has its own charm, lifestyle and culture that grows within you and cannot be imposed from outside.

I think most people know, but nevertheless let me reiterate a few facts about Santiniketan. Kobiguru had visualized the institution to be different from other standard ones so that away from rote learning methods, students could imbibe the fresh ambience of studying in the lap of nature. As publicity pictures still project it, the classes in the school section are still held open air under the trees, but the university section is similar to other standard institutions.

In fact, ever since Visva-Bharati was established in 1921, it was considered to be a special place of learning inviting teachers and students from all over the world. The poet selected for its motto an ancient Sanskrit verse, Yatra visvam bhavatieka nidam, which means, ‘where the whole world meets in a single nest’.“Visva-Bharati,” he declared, ” represents India where she has her wealth of mind which is for all. Visva-Bharati acknowledges India’s obligation to offer to others the hospitality of her best culture and India’s right to accept from others their best.” The institution has excelled in areas of fine arts, singing, painting, dance, different Indian and foreign languages, and especially in the idea of rural reconstruction.

Tagore laid great emphasis on universal humanism, internationalism and trans-culturalism. He sought a positive outcome from the East-West encounters. This syncretic culture imbues the vast oeuvre of his work: it has propelled his activism and lives in his pragmatic projects today. His vision was to ultimately strengthen the fundamental conditions of world peace through the establishment of free communication of ideas between the two hemispheres.

Since 1951, when Visva-Bharati was considered as an institution of special eminence by an act of Parliament and was turned into a Central University, problems started creeping out gradually from Pandora’s box. On the one hand, it had to abide by the rules laid down by the University Grants Commission (UGC), follow its basic dictates of syllabi formulation etc. and on the other, the old ashramites and others consistently worried about the institution losing its special character to become like any other run-of-the-mill university. This dichotomy has not been resolved till date and sometimes the conflict between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ takes an ugly shape. Apparently, Tagore had made a special rule that in order to generate local employment people residing within the radius of twenty kilometres of the university should be given jobs but according to Central Government dictates, it should have a pan-Indian profile and recruit people from all over the country. This turmoil has resulted in a sort of stalemate for the past few years.

I mention all this to emphasise that the glory of erstwhile Santiniketan and Visva-Bharati has diminished greatly in the process, and it is no longer the experimental school that Tagore had initially wanted it to be. Even during his lifetime, he went from country to country delivering lectures to generate funds for his dream project and had realised how difficult it was becoming to sustain the institution financially. There is the famous saying that he had even requested Mahatma Gandhi to help and run the institution in his absence. In 1940 a year before he died, he put a letter in Gandhi’s hand,

“Visva-Bharati is like a vessel which is carrying the cargo of my life’s best treasure, and I hope it may claim special care from my countrymen for its preservation.”

Anyhow, after joining Visva-Bharati, I realised that apart from some cursory reading, I hardly knew anything about this great man, this polymath, someone who queried some interpretations of his life and work through a holistic perspective. Also, interdisciplinary seminars and interactions with faculty members of other departments made me aware of many new areas that I was oblivious of. It was quite unconsciously that little by little the spirit of Tagore, his work, his culture, seeped into my veins as it did into that of many of my city-bred colleagues.

My impetus to read and translate Tagore also gained momentum when we had to work for the academic excellence of our department by working for the UGC SAP (Special Assistance Programme). The thrust area of this Departmental Research Scheme was “Tagoreana” – we started visiting libraries and academic institutions all over India and began compiling all available material on Tagore in English. It gave us a clear picture that in reality very few critical books had been written on him in English and the plight of translated volumes was even worse. It seemed as if the work done till date was equal to a few pebbles lying on the vast seashore of knowledge. Along with this comprehensive checklist, at the end of each year, we organised a seminar on different perspectives related to Tagore and his work. Also, in order to justify the seriousness of the project, we started bringing out a book publication every year, with each teacher contributing to it. This was when I got interested in reading and translating Tagore’s non-fiction, his selected letters, his humorous pieces of dramatic skits known as Hasyakoutuk, and different essays and travel narratives. It was a vast gold mine in front of me just waiting to be explored. Here was a man of all seasons and gradually by default, being in Visva-Bharati, all of us gradually veered away from our initial area of expertise and got seeped into reading, writing and translating him. I remembered how in a light vein a professor of the Hindi department saw our first publication on ‘Tagoreana’ and told me, “Even you English professors have now got stuck in the old man’s beard!!”

You have translated lot of Tagore. What got you interested in translation — and as tough a writer as the maestro in English?

Before coming to my translation work on Tagore and how it began, I need to mention here that my role as a translator began in a strange way with a commissioned piece of work many years ago. Professor Sukumari Bhattacharya had an interesting Bengali book entitled Ramayan O Mahabarater Anupratik Jonopriyota (The Comparative Popularity of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata) and she wanted it to be translated into English. Her daughter Tanika Sarkar had begun doing the first few chapters but could not complete it. So, she was looking for a competent translator whose style would not clash with the earlier section already translated. I was given a sample chapter to work on and had to literally go and face her in a serious interview before being assigned the job. She went through my translation meticulously, pencilled a few changes, and gave me the green signal to go on. Translating very difficult Sanskritised Bengali was a real challenge in my life which very often had to be combatted armed with a thesaurus and dictionary. Sometimes, I found that after a whole afternoon’s labour I had proceed only two sentences. Anyhow, after I eventually submitted the entire work, the file somehow got lost. In a bed-ridden state Professor Bhattacharya went through the entire manuscript and approved it, often suggesting a few changes in the use of words. A few months later she passed away and nothing was heard of that translation anymore. For almost five years I would brood over the fate of my unborn first child. Fortunately, when her house was being cleaned and vacated, the lost file was recovered, and the book was published by Anustoop under the joint names of Tanika Sarkar and me.

That difficult initiation as a translator gave me tremendous moral boost and confirmed my capability as a serious translator. Tagore was no longer a problem. The only fear that I had was being too close to the original text as taking liberties with such a canonical writer was unthinkable for me. But times changed. I realised that readability of a translated text was a very important criterion than mere literal translation. So gradually I started becoming even more colloquial with Tagore’s texts. It should read as if it was written in English itself and not in the convoluted style of late 19th century or early 20th century. Contributing to The Essential Tagore volume brought out by Harvard University Press and Visva-Bharati in 2011, to commemorate the sesquicentennial anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, was also an eye-opener for me. The extremely meticulous editors Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty made me revise my entries several times in order to make the text read not like a vintage piece but a living vibrant text. Translating some of the skits from Hasyakoutuk was challenging and fun at the same time, as we could come across a different Rabindranath, full of pun, wit and satire, and quite different from the serious philosophical poet he is usually considered to be.

Again, teaching the very poor quality of translation of Tagore’s Home and the World done by Surendranath Tagore during the poet’s lifetime to graduate and undergraduate students at the university made me realise why so many of my non-Bengali professor friends spoke so badly about the text.  Gradually I found myself translating many more different areas of Tagore’s writing. The essays of Pother Sonchoy (Gleanings of the Road) that Tagore wrote during his 1912 visit to England were not travel pieces per se and often ventured into philosophical musings. Niyogi Books readily brought out the volume and it was released in Kolkata at the Oxford Book Store with a lot of fanfare by Sankhya Ghosh and many others.

In the meantime, along with many lesser-known letters, early essays on travel by Rabindranath, Visva-Bharati Publications Department brought out the book Wanderlust: Travels of the Tagore Family that contains entries of travel essays written by nineteen members of the Tagore family beginning from Dwarkanath Tagore to Sumitendranath Tagore. Incidentally, among these nineteen entries, nine were by women of the Tagore family. So you see, translating travel writing and Tagore somehow overlapped without any conscious effort on my part.

Again, translating two travel narratives by Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis (aka Rani) is equally important because they are memoirs based on her travels with Tagore. Kobir Shonge Europey (With the Poet in Europe) and Kobir Shonge Dakshinnatey (With the Poet in the South) narrate the incidents of the poet’s tour to Europe in 1926 and to South India and Sri Lanka in 1928 respectively. Incidentally, though written many years later, the first narrative is the only account of the important seven-month trip that Rabindranath undertook to Europe where he met Mussolini and many important political and social stalwarts of the day. Both these travelogues are included in my present volume of translation entitled Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore.

Other than Tagore, you have translated more writers from colonial times to English. Why do you translate mainly travel-related writing from the past? What got you interested in this period and in travel-writing?

My interest in travel writing began many years earlier when it was not even recognised as a canonical enough genre. In a seminar on ‘Travel Writing’ that I had organized in our department, I received a great impetus when Mushirul Hasan, the famous historian and then Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, attended as the chief-guest and delivered the keynote address. He had already worked and edited several volumes of travel narratives especially in Urdu and made it clear that this area of study upheld immense possibilities.

Now let me mention how apart from the writings of Tagore and his family members, my interest in travel literature grew. After work hours, I started spending the late afternoons in our university library and found immense treasure of travel books in Bengali among the unkept dusty stacks, books which had not been issued for as long as fifty years. No one gave me any computerised list of what texts were available and this manual hunting revealed many unheard names of writers. I just picked them up, issued them and dumped them in my car. Some of the books were brittle, some never issued at all. In this way I had picked up Paschimjatriki by a lady called Durgabati Ghose who went for a tour to Europe with her husband in 1932. I liked the text very much and translated it and Orient Blackswan published it as The Westward Traveller with a foreword by Ashis Nandy. Anyhow, in due course of time, I had developed a handsome collection of travel texts and my interest increased with time. In the meantime, to digress a little, I have edited three volumes on Indian Travel Writing, and one special issue of an online journal, the first one in 2010 and the last one in November 2020. The number of abstracts that flooded my mailbox everyday was unusual and in spite of strict deadlines, I had to reject many good papers due to lack of space. I remember the publisher of the first volume returned 90 copies of the book as he said that since travel writing was not included in any university syllabi or course, they were not selling, and he lacked space in his warehouse. Within a span of a decade, the genre has gained a lot of popularity and many scholars are now keenly pursuing their research in this area. 

Speaking about translating writers from the past I find it safer as in most cases the copyright period is over and seeking permission is easier. Also, I must confess how I underwent a personal trauma after translating a living writer. Let me be a bit more specific. Nabaneeta Deb Sen’s Koruna Tomar Kone Path Diye is an excellent narrative about her visit to a seminar in Hyderabad and her sudden decision to travel to the Kumbh Mela. This book interested me a lot and I went through a publisher seeking her permission to translate the text. She asked me to submit two sample chapters and then gave the green signal to go ahead. I completed the entire translation within the stipulated time and sent it to her. Now began the difficult part. She did not like certain sections (“I don’t see myself in it as I should”, she explained) and the manuscript went through innumerable revisions and alterations, often with the consultation of family members and other editors. The cheeky, colloquial tone of the original Bangla text was lost – one perennial problem of translation for sure. Anyhow, the publisher introduced two more editors and in the end the book did come out under a different translator’s name with a due acknowledgement in the foreword for all my effort! So, it was a wise decision on my part henceforth to stick to older writers from the past.

Also, though for a long time, travel writing had been relegated as an inferior form of literature, I found in many texts what I call little nuggets of history. For example, in Durgabati Ghose’s text there is a hilarious incident about her going to meet Sigmund Freud in Vienna. As the daughter of the famous psychoanalyst Girindra Sekhar Bose, she went to meet Professor Freud who was her father’s friend, and what emerged in that meeting is something unusual when Durgabati felt that Freud himself should be psychoanalyzed for his excessive love of dogs. When I mentioned that incident, Ashis Nandy regretted that if he knew about this incident earlier, he would have definitely included it in his book, The Savage Freud. Again, in Crossing Many Seas, Chitrita Devi tells us how she went to visit the British Parliament in 1947 and on that very day saw the white paper of independence being granted to India. Many other such interesting historical events and significant people are often found in very ordinary travel narratives.

What are the challenges you face while translating Bengali to English? How do you solve them?

Basically, I still consider mine as literal translations and do not venture out into bringing in radical changes. The basic challenge I face is maintaining a readable sentence structure as the English and Bengali have different methods of composition. I don’t translate directly into the computer, rather I prefer to do it in long hand. Though it entails more work, I find that I end up usually reversing the order of the sentence when I am correcting and keying it in the computer. If possible, I then ask any friend of mine to read the translation and offer any necessary suggestions for change. This system works well for me. Also, now I usually try and translate everything in the past tense and that makes it more readable. Breaking up long, convoluted sentences into shorter readable ones is another method I tend to adopt. With time and experience, I feel more confident in making such alterations.

Why do you think translating is important? What is the role of translations in a world with 6500 languages?

In spite of all its drawbacks, translation is the only way in which we can open out to other people, whether in regional languages in India or in other languages across the world. Let me give you an interesting example. Recently I reviewed a book called Rebati: Speaking in Tongues. ‘Rebati’ is a famous short story written in 1898 by the famous Odia writer Fakir Mohan Senapati. It is a tragic tale in which the dream of self-actualisation of a young girl through education comes crashing down as much due to a rampaging epidemic as due to a mindset deeply hostile to change. In this particular book, the editor, Manu Dash, has managed to bring in 36 different incarnations of the story. Arranged alphabetically, ‘Rebati’ is presented in twenty-four Indian and twelve foreign languages in all. As the editor informs us, most of the writers commissioned to translate it in different languages have taken the English or the Hindi version as their source text. For the lay reader therefore, it is not possible to vouch for the quality of the translated text. But that we are able to understand the significance of this late nineteenth century story across so many countries and cultures across the globe is what is more significant than the actual quality of the translation.

Is it possible to have cultural exchanges among languages without losing out nuances in translation?

Translation and its problems, especially when the translated pieces are twice or thrice removed from the original source text, is nothing unique and hence even labelled by terms like ‘transliteration’ and ‘transcreation’. In one of his earlier semiotic investigations, ‘The Search for the Perfect Language’, Umberto Eco argued that the Book of Genesis charts the decline of humanity into the chaos of Babel. The poly-linguistic world we live in is one more punishment from God for our baseness and general nastiness. In ‘Mouse or Rat?: Translation As Negotiation’, Eco is back on the subject of this post-lapsarian movement between different tongues, the perilous attempt to express concepts from one language into another. He suggests that translation is a negotiation’ not just between words but between cultures – “Translation is always a shift, not between two languages but between two cultures. A translator must take into account rules that are not strictly linguistic but, broadly speaking, cultural.”

As a translator I am very conscious about this kind of cultural exchange. Maintaining culture-specific words within the translated version, but at the same time making its meaning clear for the reader to understand, is probably one way of retaining this culture specificity. The lesser the use of glossary the better. Jhumpa Lahiri in her latest novel Whereabouts which she self-translated from Italian into English attests to the fact: “Translation shows me how to work with new words, how to experiment with new styles and forms, how to take greater risks, how to structure and layer my sentences in different ways.”

Which is your favourite writer to translate? And why?

None in particular. I just sometimes happen to like a piece of work and feel it should be translated for a greater pan-Indian readership. Sometimes the reverse is also true. In the summer of 2004, I was residing at Bellagio in Italy on a Rockefeller Fellowship when the latest issue of the New Yorker magazine published a new short story by Jhumpa Lahiri called ‘Heaven-Hell’. Upon reading the story about the protagonist called Pranab-Kaku, I was so taken aback by its Bengaliness, I felt that every Bengalis who usually do not read English fiction and yet basked in the glory that a Bengali girl had recently won the Pulitzer prize should immediately read it.  Without a second thought or even seeking any permission from anyone, I instantly sat down and translated the story into Bangla. Later when I returned to Kolkata and gave it to a senior professor to read. he was so impressed that without even informing me he sent it to the magazine Kali O Kolom which published it. I am lucky that no one sued me for copyright violation.

Recently I read a short story called ‘Barnabaad’ (Casteism) by Manoranjan Byapari in the Sunday supplement of Pratidin newspaper called Robbar and felt the urge to translate into English immediately. Dalit writing in Bengali is slowly gaining academic attention and I immediately asked someone to seek permission from the writer to allow me to translate it into English. Byapari, busy with his own electioneering campaign at that time, was thrilled and immediately gave me the permission. The translated story has been accepted by the international journal Transnational Literature and will see the light of day soon. So, you see there is no special or favourite writer for me to translate. Way back in the nineties, I remember I had voluntarily translated some essays on cinema that Satyajit Ray published in Bishoy Challachitra, but I was too naïve to know then that you needed his wife’s permission to do so. The translated pages therefore travelled to the wastepaper basket in due course.

Was it different translating Bengali women from translating Tagore? How did the experience differ?

Usually, the tone of Bengali women’s writing that I have translated to date is much more colloquial and homely, but we cannot always make generalisations. Many women wrote their travelogues at the request of family and friends and not for public consumption. But some women like Krishnabhabini Das took her job of imparting knowledge rather seriously. Also, we should not make the mistake of assuming that all Tagore’s works are of high philosophical and moral content. There are many pieces of Tagore’s writing which are also simple, homely, easy to translate and again there are places where he often quotes from the Upanishads and one needs the help of Sanskrit scholars to understand the real meaning of those quotations. So, there is no such hard and fast rule, and it all depends on what particular work and by which writer we are translating.

Were the Bengali women, like Krishnabhabini Das, you translated any different from the women associated with Tagore? How and why?

This question is more or less a repetition of the last question. Each woman’s writing has a different aim and purpose and so they cannot be clubbed together under some general definitions. The reason for the travel and the target readership is different in each individual case. Published in 1885, Krishnabhabini Das’s England-e-Bongomohila (A Bengali Lady in England) was published in Calcutta originally without her name in the title. Her identity was just that of a Bengali woman who chanced to go to England along with her husband. Her book was not a travelogue in the true sense of the term, but her aim was to seriously convey the social conditions of England at that time and to educate her sisters back home who were still in fetters and did not know much about female emancipation. Her writing is serious in nature, and she took the help of other sources and books to authenticate and explain everything in detail.

For Hariprabha Takeda, a Bengali Brahmo woman, who went to Japan in 1912 for four months along with her husband to meet her Japanese in-laws there, it was a totally personal affair.  Thus, even though language was a big bar, Bongomohilar Japanjatra [The Journey of A Bengali Woman to Japan] is more intimate in tone and narration where she tries to define the idea of ‘home’ to her readers. For Chitrita Devi, sister of Maitreyi Devi, Onek Sagor Periye (Crossing many Seas) narrates travels to different places in the world in seven different segments. As a member of the P.E. N. network, her outlook and narration is much more erudite and polished than others.

I can go on citing more examples but the basic point I want to make is that the social class and status of the woman narrator is different in each case. For women associated with Tagore, this becomes even more clearly marked. Rabindranath’s daughter-in-law, Protima Devi, wrote Nirbaan (Nirvana) immediately after the poet’s death. This text is very different from the four other women who narrated the last days of their association with Rabindranath. Though the incidents are the same, each woman’s narration comes in different styles. Thus, Rani Chanda or Maitreyi Devi or Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis’s narration have to be read side by side to understand what I mean as to the relationship of the subject to the narrator. My book The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs does exactly that. Translating each woman’s narration separately was a challenge no doubt but when they are juxtaposed together, the point-of-view of each narrator becomes clearer.

Why do you stick to women and Tagore only? Have you ever thought of exploring translations of other writers like Nazrul or Jibonanondo?

As I have already mentioned, this was not a deliberate choice. I am not a feminist as such but somehow at the end of the day I find that I have translated the works of more women than men. Since none of the translations that I have done till date have been commissioned projects by publishers or authors themselves, I just translate what and when I fancy reading and feel inspired to translate. You know translation has often been called ‘transcreation’ and this creative process is something that interests me very much. Though not a creative writer per se, the translating process also gives me liberty in selecting words, style and that grants me a lot of freedom which is no less important than creative writing. About translating Nazrul or Jibonanando, I must admit that I am not very comfortable with translating poetry. I prefer to stick to prose, whether fiction or non-fiction. The more difficult the prose style, the more challenging the translating process becomes. Also, in hindsight I feel since women were marginalised in the creative process and often not taken seriously at all, as a woman myself, it is my duty to explore and translate the writings of women even more.

Have you ever thought of writing yourself?

I have written a lot of critical essays and articles but when it comes to creative writing, my contribution is negligible. However, for a long period of time I wrote small features for the ‘Now and Again’ column published in the Op-ed section of The Statesman. These pieces made me quite popular as often when introduced to strangers for the first time, I would be asked whether I was the same person who wrote that column. Occasionally, I wrote several short entries about any and everything in life that interested me or I experienced first-hand without any false attributes in them. They were written primarily to divert myself from boring academic schedules and I called them ‘Vignettes of Life’when it was first published. Later it expanded into another edition called ‘More Vignettes of Life’ and the last one being called ‘Vignettes of Life Once More’. They contain any and everything that happened to me and in places around me, I am the narrator and the protagonist, and the result is that I have been able to make people laugh. In this troublesome and problem-ridden world, pure laughter and fun are vanishing so fast that I consider these short entries to be really cathartic. As for serious creative writing like writing short stories or poems, I never attempted to do that. Perhaps I am too prosaic a person you might say with very little imagination. 

What is your next project? Tell us a bit about it.

I am at present involved in a voluminous project which I began at least five years ago about different Bengalis from colonial times travelling to Vilayet or England and narrating their experiences in different genres of writing. Though I had to be selective in choosing the travellers over their two-hundred-year time span, sometimes unavailability of the primary texts made things more difficult. I am at present working on approximately forty such travellers, some of whom had written their memoirs in English. For those who wrote in Bengali, I am translating selected portions of their work for the purpose. So it is a quite laborious and time-consuming work but at the same time, very interesting because the multifarious reasons for each person’s travel to the coloniser’s land is mind-boggling. The structure of the book includes a brief bio-note of each traveller along with several sample pages from the actual narrative so that the reader can savour their experiences first-hand. I hope it sees the light of day soon.

(This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty)

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Musings of a Copywriter

Surviving to tell a Pony-tale

Devraj Singh Kalsi writes of a hilly (or hilarious?) ride

Photo Courtesy: Devraj Singh Kalsi

I began to think about insurance after riding a pony on my way to a hill station some years ago. Those scary minutes worked better than the life insurance commercials that generate fear of untimely death and disaster.

 As the pony gathered speed while moving along the edge, the danger of tripping and falling into the gorge became palpable. But the man holding its rein assured me that it was highly experienced in such climbs and never made any mistake if the person seated atop did not spoil its mood. I displayed no such intention and maintained dignified behaviour to deserve a safe transit. The pony owner assured me that his pony enjoyed every bit of the muddy ride after the early morning downpour. He advised me not to touch its shampooed mane or any other sensitive part of its body because a tickling sensation could make the poor chap misinterpret and take a wrong step that would spell the untimely end of the rider. When it came to a close shave, I closed my eyes and thought of hugging it like a nervous child embraces the mother. The words of the pony owner rang alarm bells. Throughout the steep climb to reach the snow-capped heights of Kufri, I was firmly in the saddle, but I felt like a coalition government that could be toppled anytime by the withdrawal of support.

All kinds of thoughts entered my mind. I thought the poor animal suffered from suicidal tendencies after demonetisation but, then, it became clear that freedom meant everything to the pony who was finding its path in the treacherous terrain. It was safe not to imagine myself as one of those pillaging dacoits shown in mainstream Hindi films or fancy myself as a gallant king on horseback, galloping forth to counter the cabal of invaders, marauders, and plunderers.

The panoramic scenes of the valley did not grab my attention to click a single photograph as the pony seized all my attention with its stroll conducted in the zigzag style of a drunkard. From the unfenced edges, the pine trees and dense forest cover looked intimidating. One slip and gone forever, making this my last journey on planet earth. I felt so close to death that I regretted leaving behind my incomplete novel, realising the colossal waste of time very late. I fervently prayed for the pony to stop flirting with danger.   

I sought from the pony owner an estimate of the time left to reach the destination. But he was clueless. All he said was the pony appeared to be faster than on other days. I wondered how the pony got to know I loved fast cars and speed. I had paid an exorbitant fee without the faintest idea of the terror-stricken expedition to rejuvenate my senses. It was now a test of nerves and faith in the Divine. To ensure I did not do anything stupid to disturb its gay abandon. I did not even swat a fly near my nose nor scratch my itching neck. The pony’s upward climb continued at an accelerated pace. When in a contemplative frame of mind, it slowed down to collect the string of thoughts. The pony owner smacked his long, slim stick on the shiny brown wobbly posterior when the pony came to a grinding halt without any compulsion of obeying the traffic rules.

The pony owner boasted of the clean track record of zero casualties and no injuries either. He said the pony performed twenty trips in a single day and had been doing this stressful job without any break for four years. After going through the impressive CV ( curriculum vitae) of the pony, I felt it was fit for corporate life. He explained that the pony was comfortable with snow rather than sludge. The sudden rainfall had made the entire path muddy. It was difficult for the pony to maintain a steady gait. We engaged in a freewheeling chat about animal behaviour, how they lose cool, get provoked, collide against tree trunks, or kick them in the frustration of leading a celibate life. This diversion calmed my frayed nerves. He claimed to have the best pony in town and, though it was impossible to corroborate that, it was a relief to be safe in trained hands or legs.

While peace was returning to life, a charged pony from the opposite direction with a portly lady came running down at top speed. The angry pony was ready to collide against anything that came in its way, and the lady on its back looked prepared to be tossed in the air, with her sari pallu flying high to reveal her hefty bosom. For a moment, I felt she was going to land up in my lap as a beautiful gift from the skies above, but then it was a narrow escape as her pony applied brakes when it gradually came to senses after facing a human chain of tourist guides blocking its way. The worst appeared to be behind us now, but my pony stood and watched the thrilling show. The pony owner pulled it ahead, but it refused to budge an inch. Maybe it was keen to have a word with the other pony. Their communication was beyond my comprehension, but the pony kept looking in that direction while making a strange sound that was Greek to its owner. Probably it had no meaning of the kind I was imagining, and the poor fellow stood there to breathe easy before resuming the long walk. 

 While I was forbidden not to touch any part of the animal, the pony owner petted it and set it in motion. God knows what was so sensuous or seductive in the constant rubbing of the belly that the pony began to accelerate, and this last stretch was anything but sober. I lowered myself and almost buried my head in its back, resigned to fate, waiting for this exercise to end.  

Respite came within a short while. Once at the peak, I did not revel in the natural vistas of beauty. Rather, celebrating the fact that I was up and alive was more fulfilling. I dismounted with the pony owner’s mild assistance and felt like thanking him for the safe journey that the railways do not provide. I felt the pony deserved a round of applause and a grand salute.

The pony, parked in a corner, was given a plate of grams to munch as a healthy snack. It was busy keeping a close watch on me when its owner was sipping tea at a food stall. I looked the other way, at the orchards with melting snow. I took pictures of the mountain range and shot a portfolio of the photogenic pony from a distance – to go back and share with the world the harrowing experience of the pony ride.

It appeared the pony was in an apologetic mood and, during the return journey, it would take parental care of the rider. But the descent contravened my expectations as the pony rushed along at great speed. This time the pony owner also lost control, and the reckless pony hurtled down the slippery path. My only fear was whether it would take me on a blind date somewhere in those verdant valleys and gorges. Finally, I must thank the pony for exercising restraint and giving up the fascination for the thrills of walking along the edge. The fact that I am alive to tell this pony tale is nothing less than a miraculous escape. When the pony owner finally caught up with us, he apologised and patted the pony for taking good care of me. Perhaps good care meant depositing me safely at the ground level from  the heights where I had started this journey.

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


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

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Musings of a Copywriter

2147 without Borders

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Almost five years ago, I wrote a short story about India-Pakistan ties. Since then, I wanted to expand it to a full-length novel set in the future – as far as 2147. With two hundred years being sufficient time to regret the misdeeds, to provide the required distance to view things dispassionately.   

Since future gives the freedom to create a destiny of one’s choice, without offending the sentiments of those living in the present times, I chose a different timeline away from the reach of divisive politics, hoping that the readers belonging to the unborn generations will be blessed with the maturity to realise the blunders of the past and support the amicable rectification of what went wrong, without resorting to any blame-game, without repeating the horrors of the Partition.

The strain of thought came from an oral narrative I heard from my mother years ago. My maternal grandfather, an employee with the railways, quit his job and sought refuge in music after the Partition, devoting his remaining years to the playing of musical instruments and singing of devotional songs, to calm his mind, to forget the scenes of bloodshed he had witnessed all around. It was easy to visualise its dreadful impact even on those who did not suffer physical injuries or lose their loved ones.  

Two lovers from ruling political dynasties on both sides of the border begin their campus romance at a foreign university located in a country that split their homeland centuries ago. Two leading characters who pledge to rewrite history and make their love win hearts of the nations at loggerheads. In the creative process, I drew strength from the fact that a hateful phase of five years led to the division of the two countries so it was possible to reverse that with a similar period of sublime love. A brief outline of their intense love story mapped their marital union and the reunification of the two countries happening on the same day. A grand climax heralding a new dawn – a new tryst with destiny.

Instead of divulging the plot, I let readers imagine the trajectory of events. The changes they undergo to bring about the change of heart, the hardships their love story has to face. After 200 years of separation, hatred and bitterness lose the game. The vicious cycle ends. Love triumphs. Honestly speaking, the imaginary world is no less difficult to construct.

Shaping the real world is a humongous task. The military establishment poses hurdles and the powerful nations with vested interests oppose the coming together. There are conspiracies, assassination bids, and foul attempts to stoke communal fires. But this time, the masses are wiser and the political classes cannot divide and rule. The young lovers persuade their belligerent families to make it a bilateral issue and seek public opinion through voting on this issue in their respective countries, with an overwhelming majority on both sides voting in favour of a borderless world, allowing free movement of people and the restoration of full democratic rights without any discrimination. Mutual love and respect bring lovers together and their grand union is celebrated across the borders with pomp and festivity. The spontaneous outburst of emotions sets a global example of how love can conquer hearts of millions, making it appear as if bitterness and enmity never existed. 

Sharing the rubric with some friends who also dream of a new world without borders elicited positive response, a go-ahead to spend years in isolation writing this magnum opus. The support from people indicates this should happen but they do not know how this is going to happen. The idea of love and lovers doing it sounds impossible and they find it pretty immature to expect so much from love. Well, they have seen the power of hatred and violence in wars but the power of love has not been tested on such a big scale. They think big changes happen through bloodshed and not because of love.

I cannot convincingly explain in detail that the people after another century will have to nothing worse to imagine, no solution to expect from war and bloodshed. With such a bloody past behind, they will be aware that it cannot get any worse. They will be fully prepared to reject all forms of hatred. The living folks still have reserves of bitterness and hatred lying in the core. The next hundred years will deplete it further, leaving faint traces. It will be learning through self-realisation that the present generation does not have. It is the reason why they cannot imagine a different world. The future generations – who record more suffering than us over the century – will be dead against enmity and war. They will be naturally inclined to give love and a peace a chance to restore sanity.  

If I write this today, the educated classes will love it. But the masses are perhaps going to find it funny. Writing a book with unborn readers in mind – a target audience that does not exist today – is a risky proposition. Agreed, it is a concept driven work that imagines an ideal world where the old order gets restored. If people do not like to read it, make an offbeat film on this subject. Viewers will find the sheer impossibility very exciting. Raising this issue and bringing it in the public domain is a good beginning. People will think of it from a fresh angle. Lovers from both sides of Punjab will be enamoured and they will crave for its realisation during their lifetime. The power blocks on both sides of the border will also think of lovers ending their hatred.  

Some friends have read the opening chapter and they all suggest I should advance the date. Make it 2047 instead of 2147. I said this is an embryonic idea and it is impossible even for a writer to imagine a drastic change so quickly. A distant era makes me more comfortable to visualise cycling all the way from Amritsar to Lahore.   

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


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

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Musings of a Copywriter

Managing Bookshelves

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

I have a habit of deep cleaning bookshelves. I mean I take all the books out of their cages and pile them up on the floor. I shuffle their pages pretty fast, to let them get a quick whiff of fresh air. The feather duster – used for the car – goes gently over the book covers.

I decided to alter their positions last time for more pleasure, but I did not have any memory of what had been positioned in the front. So, I picked up the ones with attractive covers and kept them behind, thinking that the attractive ones must have hogged the limelight.

Having finished the dusting, I threw in some naphthalene balls to keep silverfish and other bookworms away. Almost the entire packet was emptied, with the hope of zero damage to the precious books in my collection including the smutty reads. When the books were finally placed on the shelves, the new arrangement did not appeal aesthetically. The colour combination of the covers looked odd or the font did not go well.

The authors who do not gel in real life are certainly going to find it impossible to live harmoniously in that restricted space. I changed it again just like that, without any sense of discrimination. The random new look appeared better than the previous one, so I chose to let it prevail until I was faced with a negative feedback from an objective source. I decide to click pictures of the revamped bookshelf and post it on my social media handles as a display or profile photo. Agreed, this was not the ideal way to publicize the makeover for a bookshelf. With fake likes and comments pouring in, I concluded I was not going to be miserably bad in my choices.   

I was suddenly hit by the novel idea of keeping half the bookshelf empty. Did that make the space look better? A crammed bookshelf is scary, gives the feeling of excess of reading stuff, suffocating to the core. I thought I was getting it right. A neighbour who noticed every single minute change was sure to be quick to appreciate by commenting that my bookshelf looked spacious, unlike the messy clutter it had been in the past. Excess of everything is bad, right?

By removing half the load, the bookshelf looked clean and attractive. But it added to my woes. I had to find a place for the other half lying scattered in the open. I had to separate the ones that I had read and did not want to keep, isolate them, sell them or donate them to any local library. It made me think of getting another bookshelf for another room. I began to look for a suitable corner for a new piece of furniture. Would the new bookshelf clutter the room?  

I chose to get a small one, to control my impulsive book-buying habit. Before placing an order, I would have to think about where to keep them. I tried to change my mindset but whenever those attractive book deals would appear, it was impossible to stay away from ordering the new stuff. I thought of using a kindle to read books I do not feel like collecting. This was certain to reduce the incoming load. But when the paperback was almost priced the same as the kindle version, I couldnot resist the temptation of having the physical book in my possession.

I decided to start ordering slim books and stick to genres I like to read. But this was not an effective solution to my persistent problem. My favourite books were mostly thick and genre-bending. I decided none of this was going to work so I finally chose to distribute books I had finished reading.

Being the kind of a reader who never returns to the same book again for solace, I thought this would be fairly good solution. But the problem is that the unread books looked menacing unlike the comforting, friendly presence of the titles I already read. Just a look and I could say I had read this with pride. It gave a big boost to my confidence and encouraged me to read more.

I decided I would keep the read ones there instead of discarding them. Honestly speaking, an entire bookshelf of unread books is very insulting and depressing. Restore an ideal balance between the two. For two unread books, there should be one read book. It is a personal way of looking at it and calculating, to find a proper solution.  

The idea of hiding books in the attic or the loft instead of displaying them made no sense. I found no merit in doing so. Besides, I had to place a ladder and put my life and limbs at risk to reach them for the occasional clean-up and access. The possibility of suffering a spinal injury after a bad fall scares me so I dropped the idea of making the bookshelf almost ceiling high.  

Then how do I maintain a cordial relationship with my books and ensure their health and fitness? Yes, the pages are turning yellow, and I am desperately looking for an age-miracle cream to hide their autumnal years. Perhaps I should take out the ones with delicate pages from the bookshelf and send them to a library. They would find more and more readers in the shortest possible time because their life spans look limited. Well, this made sense to me, and I finally decide to take the seniors off from the bookshelves, to make it a youthful collection again. Instead of keeping the aged ones trapped on the shelves, I should get them more readers. But their appearances were likely not attractive enough to entice young readers. Maybe, the elderly readers or the mature, who believe in the healing power of words and not on the quality of the printed page, would get the chance to go through these treasures before tears set in and the pages simply go missing from the damaged spine, which would have lost its ability to keep the flock together. Sounded like a good idea and I was eager to share the big pile with the world. The best possible use of the books would be made before their end was near. The task of enlightening more minds should be carried out without delay. The act of cleaning the bookshelves brought in a rush of thoughts I that brought me happiness.  It was like saying live your life so long as you have the time to live. The books from my collection still had time to live and spread happiness so I put them in front of more eyes.

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


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

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Musings of a Copywriter

Creative on Campus

By Devraj Singh Kalsi  

Picking up a second-hand classic from a College Street bookshop before entering the Coffee House made you feel like a literary icon in the making even if your secret mission was to clear the national or state level entrance test and join any college as a lecturer. Having a girlfriend who saw in you the potential to become the next big novelist or a poet par excellence with utmost sensitivity – just because you took unusually long to gently push back a curl of hair from her face – was fine to stay motivated but you knew full well that she was creating a romantic rebel for a torrid fling before marrying a businessman or a secure job holder. So when she insisted you should write and write and write, she was pushing you into a dark pit from where you would never emerge again to give her a chase and disrupt her marital harmony by sending across your self-published volumes of poetry in India or in obscure journals abroad to prove her right.

If you are a professor who wanted to be a writer or a poet, you have probably saved yourself from imagining the peak of literary success too early. If you have become a writer or poet because of a girlfriend who wanted to love a literary guy, you have done the worst by following her advice. You stand ruined because of love, love, and love alone – love that not only made you lose her but also your career. 

It is not a tough task to find tutors and trainers who were once upon a time literary dreamers. Once they lost the plot and the pressure of survival took a toll, they had to take up odd jobs. In their possession, you found a trove of poems written as an ode to the lost love, the burden of amateurish stories that are amusing to read today but were once considered classic material by a bevy of garrulous girls in the canteen. You read out those to her sitting in the park and she fiddled with her locks and admired your stuff with an orgasmic wow. You were inspired to write love poems and you wrote dozens and read them all to her. She was thrilled she was creating a poet for the world to applaud – a poet who made her the muse. If you were a campus poet or a lyrical bloke of such intensity for years, console yourself for the inevitable self-destruction you have brought home. If you have been able to salvage your life from the ruins she left you in, consider yourself a lucky fellow. Because most of such types seldom recover later: some go mad trying to prove the correctness of their muse and spend their life in an asylum, some end their lives by committing suicide and some die in abject poverty.  

Those young guys who became poets and writers in their college and university days to win the love of the girlfriend or to woo the most beautiful girl around and impress her were the ones who belonged to a sad club of jilted lovers. These guys eulogised their lovers to the skies and they were rewarded with hugs and kisses. They continued to prove an artist was throbbing, lurking, or blooming somewhere inside while the beauties mapped out their future well. One fine day they would come to inform about their marriage that was part-arranged part-love, to deliver a formal invitation to come and shower red roses and marigolds for their happy married life or play on the grand piano a mushy song topped with best wishes for the future.       

You did not realise she had no dream of struggling with an artist and dumped you at the earliest, expecting that this heartbreak would just be the right blow to make you write a masterpiece. Unable to bear the rejection you went to a bar, gulped down several pegs to drain out the last dregs of sorrow, and spent the dark, treacherous night comforted by a matronly courtesan who understood your heartbreak and shared her saga of betrayals in love that continued till the wee hours of the morning.

The vivid memories of lost love remained and you channelised the passion to write an ambitious novel that consumed three critical years and you spent another three to get it published. By this time you were well past the age to be eligible for competitive exams. If there is a survey done to gauge the extent of damage done to spurned lovers in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, you will find many middle-aged and senior citizens now regretting fulsome praise from lissome campus beauties who spotted talent where editors found nothing literary.   .

If you meet any such writer or poet who destroyed his life for the sake of unrequited love, please show him some sympathy. If there is any romantic fool in the family or the neighbourhood who still adores lost love and feels her true love will make things turnaround soon, there is nothing more illusory for the eternal optimist who refuses to see the reality around and still thinks she was right not to waste her life for him. Although this misfortune was a creation of his choice, it is sad he was made to overestimate himself, like an overvalued stock in the market that would crash anytime. Was it right for the guy to think he was a literary sensation just because a girl or her cabal of friends told him so? For a sound reality check, he should have approached the head of the department and got his creative writing skills assessed with objectivity or tried sending his output to magazines and newspapers – to experience rejection in love and rejection by editors simultaneously.  

And yes, had the girl wanted to choose him, she would have certainly taken him away from creativity or urged him to try these things later. How could she commit such a crime? It would have led to a sacrifice of another kind – separation from art for love’s sake.  

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


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

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Musings of a Copywriter

Nations Without the Nobel

Devraj Singh Kalsi takes a fresh look at national pride with a soupçon of sarcasm and humour

Many nations have not produced a single Nobel Laureate. Many have not produced a Nobel Winner in all the categories. Many have a solitary winner in over a century. Many keep winning the prize year after year in some category or the other. Such countries appear blessed with prodigious people who are rare to find like platinum and gold.  

The sorrow of not winning a single medal goes deep for a country as it cannot do anything about it – only a citizen can make the nation proud with his powerhouse talent. A nation can only encourage talented citizens to keep their intellectual pursuits alive. Two categories – literature and peace – hold promise and raise big hopes as these are related to creativity and noble deeds to make the world a better place.  

Imagine what happens to a country or a community if there is no Nobel Winner in literature from its soil. The sentiments of a nation that won a Nobel once in a century deserve to be felt. Such nations and communities end up deifying the solitary winners. This poses a formidable challenge to other people who feel threatened under their aura and remain insecure about the potential to repeat such a feat.  

Where winning becomes a habit, the nations feel proud to have the best minds. The common people surge with collective pride in their genetic superiority and celebrate the presence of the Nobel winners as a divine gift. When great talent is ignored, there is a groundswell of suspicion that these global honours are discriminatory. It opens debates and people start scrutinising their work in great detail. Perhaps there is merit in the contention that the winner did not deserve it, but the choice is a reality to be accepted with a heavy heart. The intellectual fraternity finds the time to run a complete scan and critical write-ups appear in the newspapers for some days after the big announcement is made. 

Just one Nobel Laureate for Literature in more than a century is not an impressive score for a nation that boasts of a rich cultural heritage much before the Nobel came into existence. Once there is a winner, there should be a crop of successive winners to keep alive the tradition of winning. Otherwise, the collective respect for the single winner becomes so overwhelming that the community and the nation edify the achiever and criticism becomes unacceptable. If the stream of Nobel winners keeps flowing, with at least half a dozen winners in a century, there are more claimants for veneration. The respect accumulated for the winners gets divided and the process of deification of a solitary winner gets derailed. 

You become aware that with so many Nobel laureates, you have to respect them all, read them all, and assess them all. The judgment of the Nobel panel has placed them at par, but the judgment of readers is supreme. The people from the North join in to celebrate the winner from their region while the people from the South start worshipping the winner from their region. Since the winner hails from the same region, they feel closer to his identity than his work. There is a sense of appropriation as they want to have a winner from their community to be lauded more.  

With multiple winners, there are more claimants to excellence and devoted readers with their strong biases critique them or compare them the way they like. If there is a single winner, the status of the sole winner gets further uplifted. If there are no repeat winners with time, it makes the people of the country feel what they are currently producing is not worth any award. They revisit the past and try to emulate the winner. If a nature poet who won, they try to become clones and find success in the same category to prove they are not bad nature poets. 

Nations erupt in joy to feel elated. But the intellectual talent is global. Art created in a country is a global asset. Perhaps we are still immature as we are less enthusiastic about the work and more focused on the Nobel winner and his race, nationality, and identity.  

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


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

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Bhaskar's Corner

Manoj Das – The Master Storyteller

Bhaskar Parichha pays a tribute to one of the greatest storytellers from the state of Odisha, India, Manoj Das( 1934-2021), who lived to be 87 and passed on from normal causes this April

“I have now read the stories of Manoj Das, with very great pleasure. He will certainly take a place on my shelves beside the stories of Narayan (R K Narayan). I imagine Odisha is far from Malgudi but there is the same quality in his stories with perhaps an added mystery.”

Graham Greene.

“Whenever people praise Paulo Coelho and the like, I always think of Manoj Das. What a great prolific writer we have. He could have easily reached the heights and beyond of the one Coelho reached. But he preferred the silence, simplicity and serenity to fame and glory. In this, he has lived the very values he gave us through his stories.”

— Aravindan Neelakandan, Indian Journalist

With the passing away of Manoj Das, Indian literature has lost a master storyteller who wrote bilingually — in English and his mother tongue Odia — with equal affluence. Novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist, editor, columnist and a sadhaka, Manoj Das will be remembered by generations of Odias for his literary outpouring for over half a century. Odisha-born (in a village called Sankhari in Balasore district bordering West Bengal), his fame went far beyond terrestrial limits.

Manoj Das began   writing quite early. His first work — a book of poetry in Odia — Satavdira Artanada (Cries of a Time) was published in 1949 when he was barely in high school. In 1950, he launched a literary magazine, Diganta (Horizon). His first collection of short stories Samudrara Kshudha (Hungry Sea) was published the following year. Manoj Das often cited Vyasa, and Valmiki and Fakir Mohan Senapati, as his early influences.  

He took active interest in student politics while studying for his bachelor’s degree in Cuttack’s prestigious Ravenshaw College. A youth leader with radical views, he even spent a year in jail for his revolutionary undertakings. After graduating from Puri’s SCS (Samanta Chandra Sekhara)

College, he received a postgraduate degree in English literature from Ravenshaw College. He was also a delegate to the Afro-Asian students’ conference at Bandung, Indonesia in 1959.

After a short stint as a lecturer in Cuttack’s Christ College, Manoj Das came away to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry in 1963, where he had been professor of English Literature at the Ashram’s International Center of Education. Pondicherry (modern Puducherry) became his ‘Karma Bhoomi’ and his abode of sadhana. His quest for devoutness motivated him to become an inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram of which he was an integral part till his end.

Manoj Das wrote expansively and in various genres. Poetry, novel, short story   travelogue and books on India’s history and culture dominated his works. Shesha Basantara Chithi (Spring’s Last Epistle ),Tuma Gam o Anyanya Kabita (Your Village and Other Poems) Dhumabha Diganta ( Dusky Horizon), Manojpancabimsati (Twenty-five short stories) and the most recent one, Shesha Tantrikara Sandhanare (In Quest of  the Last Tantric), are among the Odia works he is best known for. His writings in Odia have mesmerized readers for decades. 

Manoj Das has often been known as the Vishnu Sharma of modern Odia literature —   for his magnificent style and effective use of words. His   oeuvre displayed many dimensions of human nature. He was a truth-seeker, a thinker-writer whose works are defined ‘as a quest for finding the eternal truth in everyday circumstances’.

He began his English writing in 1967 with the publication of the short story collection A Song for Sunday and Other Stories. It was followed by Short Stories of Manoj Das. Both attracted commendation from literary doyens like Mulk Raj Anand, K P S Menon and K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar. Some of his other notable works in English are ‘ The Escapist’, ‘A Tiger at Twilight’, ‘The submerged Valley and Other Stories’, ‘The Bridge in the moonlit Night’, ‘Cyclones’, ‘Mystery of the Missing Cap’, ‘Myths’, ‘Legends’, ‘Concepts and Literary Antiquities of India’. He wrote his memoir ‘Chasing the Rainbow: Growing up in an Indian Village (2004.) 

After the publication of ‘The Submerged Valley’, Graham Greene, whose appreciation of contemporary Indian fiction was limited to R K Narayan, wrote to Dick Batstone, publisher of the book, expressing happiness at his discovery of Das. “I imagine Odisha is far from Malgudi, but there is the same quality in his stories with perhaps an added mystery.” 

Manoj Das is best known for his dramatic expression as well as satire. His writings dealt with various social and psychological issues: displacement, natural calamities such as floods, people’s belief in ghosts and spirits, duplicitous politicians, et cetera. While his writings were social commentaries on post-Independence times, the short stories, novels, essays and poems blended physical experiences with fantasy and left an indelible impression on Indian literature.

An exponent of the philosophy of ‘Sri Aurobindo and The Mother’, Manoj Das wrote weekly columns in almost all national dailies: The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Statesman. A whole generation of readers grew up reading his columns, which were contemporaneous and dealt with emergent issues. His newspaper writings — revealing the subterranean truth — are treasured by many.

He wrote for academic journals and periodicals too; and his international appeal grew most in the 1970s and 1980s when The Illustrated Weekly of India and The Imprint published his numerous stories. He also edited a cultural magazine, The Heritage, published by Chennai’s Chandamama group.

Awards came to Manoj Das effortlessly:  the topmost being the Saraswati Samman, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan for his lasting contribution in the field of Literature and Education. Kendriya Sahitya Akademi conferred its highest award on Manoj Das. He was Member, General Council of Sahitya Akademi, and the Author-consultant, Ministry of Education, Government of Singapore in the early eighties besides leading an Indian delegation of writers to China.

In 1971, his research in the archives of London and Edinburgh brought to light some of the little-known facts of India’s freedom struggle in the first decade of the twentieth century led by Sri Aurobindo for which he received the first Sri Aurobindo Puraskar (Kolkata).

Being a bilingual writer, when someone asked about the language he envisaged before writing a piece, he answer back:  “In the language of silence — if I do not sound presumptuous, the creative process ought to be allowed some mystery. Inspiration surely precedes articulation through any language. This is absolutely true in regard to good poetry and substantially true in regard to good fiction. Without this element of inspiration, which is beyond language to begin with, literature can hardly have a throbbing soul.”

From a disenchanted Marxist to an ardent humanist, Manoj Das was an ingenious author. His creative works – running into a thousand and more — dealt with the Indian psyche and were so spontaneous that it impressed both the Indian and the Western reader — for the authenticity and the diversity.

Manoj Das had an uncanny capacity for presenting the serious and the serene in a way that was amusing, often arousing a lasting humor. Elements of fantasy as metaphor have a domineering presence in his fictions.

 P Raja, author of Many Worlds of Manoj Das, has a deeper insight into his works: ‘Mystery in a wide and subtle sense, mystery of life, indeed, is the core of Manoj Das’s appeal. Born before Independence, he has thoroughly used in his fiction. His experiences, gathered at an impressionable age, of the epoch-making transitions through which the country was passing. Thus we meet in his works lively characters caught up in the vortex of India’s passage from the colonial era to freedom, the impact of the end of the princely states and the feudal system, and the mutation of several patches of rural India into clumsy bazaars.’

For thousands of men, women, and children of the past three generations, Manoj Das has been the very synonym of courtesy and bliss. His words have inspired countless readers and have instilled a faith in the purpose of life.

Glossary

Sadhaka – Someone who pursues a certain discipline with devotion.

Sadhana — Meditation

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Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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Musings of a Copywriter

Tribute and attributes

Devraj Singh Kalsi pays a poignant tribute to his late mother

There was no glint of pride, but a sparkle of joy lit up her eyes whenever she uttered the sentence: ‘My son stays with me’. Although many of her friends poked her to know why an overgrown kid was still living with his widowed mother instead of venturing out in the big, bad world in search of a lucrative future like their ambitious sons did, it gives me deep satisfaction that in the last thirty years we stayed away from each other for not more than thirty days. She surely deserved this privilege for nurturing a son with creative tendencies – even if the scale of his personal achievements was small.

Some of her friends wondered why I chose to remain a frog in the well. Some of her friends concluded it was my lack of potential to make it big in life. They expressed concern that the hopeless son should wake up and join the mainstream. Some of her close friends tried to find out whether the son was earning his bread and butter or not. The job profile as a copywriter working from home was something they could not understand a decade ago. Sometimes my mother mentioned advertising and writing but their clever minds read this as a mother’s cover-up attempt in defence of her incompetent son as all loving mothers try their best to hide the flaws of their children.

The pursuit of creative work to earn livelihood secured my mother’s approval and appreciation. She was glad I did not have to enter into compromises or indulge in unethical practices for career development. She was happy I did not need to degenerate into an opportunist or flatter people to realise my goals. She believed every single sentence or idea was a divine blessing meant to take care of the material needs. She loved the purity of this earning and always encouraged me to write with purity – never lower the quality of the output to earn more. My homage to her would remain insincere if the charming world of advertising blinds me with greed and I deviate from the path I have followed as long as she was alive. Was it my choice or her blessing? Something within makes me feel nervous.

Writing does not require relocation to a distant city. The dream of a writer is realised inside a room located anywhere – even if the writing space is found in a jungle. Driven by this conviction, I began to write and deliver good work so that there is no dearth of clients. Yes, the writing job made it possible to spend more time with mother. Besides, I did not have to undergo the hassles of commuting to work every day.

My mother was happy with this working model and quite surprised to find it real. She called it a royal business. Yes, with royalty indeed! However, when my first attempt at full-fledged creative writing did not fetch commercial success, my mother was disappointed. Perhaps she felt I was less qualified to aim so big. In hindsight, I wish I had written something better. This failure haunts me after her death. That she left this world with the feeling of failure. No success is going to reverse this reality. Even if I manage to write better now, my mother is not going to see it. When you realise the most important person in your life is not around, your urge to prove your worth dies young. But it does not mean I should quit creative writing. Whatever I write now will be a tribute to her – so keep writing with honesty and purity.

Her separation led to another separation. My mother wanted me to strengthen my attachment with God and religion and she often reminded me of the shortcoming. Since she was a very pious lady, I thought her prayers would take care of me for life. Moreover, since God had taken away one parent in my childhood, I always thought God was not going to deprive me of her presence. I always felt there was time for learning the Gurmukhi script from her. I regret not finding time to learn reading the Punjabi language. The Holy Granth Sahib had to be donated to the Gurudwara (Sikh temple) as I could not read the Gurmukhi script and daily readings are a must. The holy book could have remained at home had I been fluent. I hope to be fluent someday, and get it back home and conduct daily readings. My tribute to her includes this exercise in self-improvement.   

Her humorous streak is something I have loved — her ability to laugh breathes into my work. I wish to acquire the strength to laugh during tough times, during health challenges. Few years ago, when a senior doctor referred her to a specific medical college, she made him break into a hearty laugh with her straight-faced query: ‘But why do you want college students to operate me? They will do experiments.’  

Just before the pandemic began last year, she consulted an ophthalmologist who suggested cataract surgery would yield negligible improvement in her low vision (high myopia all her life). When he asked her to read the board, she said she could not read it. Then the doctor made some signs and she read those correctly. The doctor was confused and she could not suppress her laughter. The doctor admired her joviality despite her low vision.

After returning home, I asked her if she could read something on the board. She said she could read with some strain. Since her mood was bad after the doctor said the surgery would not lead to proper restoration of her vision, she was not interested in getting herself examined again. So, she preferred to end the exercise by saying she could not read at all.    

A couple of years ago, she had hearing problems. When I took her to the ENT, she was asked to undergo audiometry tests. The result suggested she should get a hearing aid.  When I told her to get one for the right ear, she said she does not need the device.  It would obstruct the beauty of her earrings. She was always unwilling to wear the signs of old age. She disliked using a walking stick. She asked me to talk softly and she would hear distinctly. She lowered the volume of the TV and repeated the dialogues in the serial — to suggest her hearing was fairly good. One day she claimed to have overheard the gossip of the housemaids in the kitchen — she gave hints of revision in wages. A week later, they demanded a raise. She was surely hearing things right.    

Over the years, gulab jamun was her favourite sweet but her diabetic status prevented her from having it. Everytime her sugar level was normal in a medical test report, she celebrated it by having one gulab jamun. It was her inimitable style.

When she fell down and hurt her head, she refused to call it a fall. Relatives called up to find out her condition. She called it a jump and broke into a laugh, making the other person feel lighter and less worried. This choice of words indicated her spirits were always high. When I am sick and dying, I hope I am able to keep my suffering to myself, to remain cheerful and positive and say that I am going to be fine with the change of seasons even if there is no spring in my life.  

My mother always said Nanak Dukhiya Subh Sansar — other people should not be made sad — do not offload your grief on others. She urged me to bear it all alone. She had tremendous strength to bear her sorrows all her life. I am not sure whether I was also a source of adding sadness to her life. Maybe, I was also a big contributor because I chose a difficult life and deprived her of what her friends and relatives got so easily in life. People say she deserved a better life, a better home to live, a better son, a better future, a better old age. My tribute includes this regret and confession that she truly deserved a successful son.   

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


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