Categories
Editorial

For the People, Of the People, By the People

Painting by Gita Viswanath
"I wish you survival, 
Health
And the closed sky above you."

— Refugee in my own Country/I am Ukraine, Lesya Bakun

Despite this being the season of multiple new years around Asia, we cannot close our eyes to the skies that connect all the world like a blue dome. Though celebrations and humour continue to lighten the darkness of war, while Ukraine is being wrecked, can we turn our faces towards only festivities?

I had an interesting anecdote about how before the onset of the Gregorian calendar, new years in the world were celebrated around March and in some places in September. The Earth would turn fecund and green with spring, a beautiful season sprinkled with love and nostalgia as Michael R Burch tells us in his poetry. However, despite all the opulence of nature, it is hard to watch a country being bombed and families splintered to man a war that supposedly guards a human construct called ideology and blocs. Ukranian refugee, Lesya Bakun, in an interview says: “It is not a clash of ideologies. It is a fight for our country and nation to exist.” Listening to Lesya’s stories makes one amazed at the bravery of the Ukrainians battling what seems to be cultural hegemony. It reminds of the war in Bangladesh in 1971. Though incredibly courageous in voicing her experiences, Lesya is traumatised and has a psychosomatic cough as she sends her voice and text messages from her mobile through Telegram. There were times when she was just weeping or angry for the questions asked, and justifiably so, as her home in Kharkiv, where she lived was under attack, and the town of Mariupol, where she was born, has been wrecked by the war.

The refrain of the pain of a refugee continues to reverberate in a book reviewed by Rakhi Dalal, Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die, written originally in Arabic and translated by Isis Nusair. The Syrian-Palestinian poet refused to clarify whether his writing was prose or poetry — perhaps these borders and boxes drawn by humankind are breaking down in reality. Perhaps, this new year, the time is ripe to look forward to a new world that transcends these borders. This is also the first time we have had the privilege of carrying reviews of translations from Arabic and also from Turkish. Gracy Samjetsabam has reviewed a translation of a Turkish novel by Iskendar Pala called The Tulip of Istanbul, translated by Ruth Whitehouse. Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed a book by Kiran Manral, Rising: 30 Women Who Changed India while Candice Louisa Daquin has drawn our focus on a poetry collection by Marjorie Maddox, Begin with a Question, where the perceived divisions do not matter while the poet questions the larger issue of faith in quest of answers.

Is it the same kind of quest that has led Strider Marcus Jones to create the Lothlorien Journal, named reminiscently after Tolkien’s elvish ‘Lothlorien’ in Lord of the Rings? Find out Jones’s views and flow with his fluid poetry in the featured interview. Keith Lyons has been in conversation with Ivy Ngeow, an upcoming writer and the editor of a recent anthology of Asian writing where she has retained different styles of English across the world in a single book. While this could be beneficial to writers, would readers be comfortable reading stories with different styles or dialects of English without a glossary?

Our book excerpts are from more Asian books.  The Year of the Rat and Other Poems edited by Malachi Edwin Vethamani has an interesting title poem which has been shared in the excerpt. The other excerpt is from a fast-paced novel, Half-Blood, by Pronoti Datta. We also have a fast-paced story by a writer from France called Paul Mirabile set in Portugal; two that verge on the bizarre from Keiran Martin and Amjad Ali Malik; a poignant story from Sutputra Radheye and another that shows the positive side of voicing a protest against wrongs by Devraj Singh Kalsi. Kalsi has also given us a tongue in cheek musing called When Books have Wings.

On the lighter vein are travel essays by Ravi Shankar and Meredith Stephens. They take us to the Himalayas in Nepal and to Tasmania! Suzanne Kamata has taken us to an owl cafe in Japan! At the end of her column, one feels sad for the owls as opposed to Erwin Coombs’ narrative that evokes laughter with his much-loved pet cat’s antics.

Humour is evoked by G. Venkatesh who with an ability to find silver linings in dark clouds talks of cricket and lessons learnt from missing his school bus. Adnan Zaidi has also analysed his poetic abilities with tongue-in-cheek comments. Kenny Peavy gives a lighthearted rendition in praise of boredom and interactions with nature. It is good to have laughter to combat the darkness of the current times, to give us energy to transcend our grief. Keith Lyons hovers on the track between humour and non-humour with his cycling adventures. Rhys Hughes seems to talk of both his favourite poem and the war in a lighter shades, in no way insensitive but his observations make us wonder at the sanity of war. We have much of war poetry by a number of writers, poetry on varied issues by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozabal, George Freek, Sybil Pretious, Kisholoy Roy, J.D. Koikoibo and many more.

Candice Louisa Daquin has taken on the onus of bringing to our notice how language can impact us in the long run while Ratnottama Sengupta has explored beggary in films, fiction and fact. The Nithari column runs a real-life story of a young boy narrated by his brother, Sachin Sharma. It has been translated from Hindustani by Diksha Lamba. The trauma faced in 2006 is strangely not discussed in the story though it hovers in the backdrop between the lines. We also have a translation of a Balochi folk story by Fazal Baloch and a Korean poem by Ihlwha Choi. Translations from Tagore by Fakrul Alam and Somdatta Mandal have honoured our pages again. Mandal has sent us fun-filled skits by Tagore. But are they just fun or is there something more? We also have a translation of a long poem that explores a different aspect of Tagore, his empathy for the downtrodden which led him to create Sriniketan and regard it as his ‘life work’.

We have a bumper issue this time again — especially for the Asian new years; Thai, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, multiple Indian and more…

We would like to thank Sohana Manzoor for our cover painting and Gita Viswanath for her artwork. I would like to thank our wonderful team who with their contributions make this journal a reality. All the contributors deserve a huge thanks as do our loyal readers.

I wish you all a wonderful start to a non-Gregorian new year and hope that peace prevails over parts torn by wars and dissensions.

Thank you all!

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

Categories
Review

Tulip of Istanbul by Iskendar Pala

Book Review by Gracy Samjetsabam

Title: Tulip of Istanbul

Author: Iskender Pala

Translator: Ruth Whitehouse

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Tulip of Istanbul was originally written in Turkish in 2009, is a historical novel by Iskender Pala. The translation to English by Ruth Whitehouse and its publication by Niyogi Books in December 2021 has put it within the reach of the larger community of Anglophone readers.

Iskender Pala is a professor of Turkish (Ottoman) Divan Literature, an author, and a columnist. He is a recipient of the Turkish Writer’s Association Prize (1989), The Turkish Language Foundation (1990), The Turkish Writer’s Association Essay Prize (1996), and was honoured with The Presidential Culture and Arts Grand Award in literature in 2013. He has been conferred the title of “The People’s Poet” by popular vote in Usak, Turkey. Ruth Whitehouse is a scholar of Modern Turkish Literature and translator with multiple translations from Turkish.

Tulip of Istanbul , a fictionalised historical romance, is a murder mystery that is woven to highlight the period that followed the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718. The story spans 1729 to 1730. Also known as the Tulip Age, this was a time when the glory of the peaceful period since the 1718 treaty was interrupted by an outbreak of a public revolt that showed resentment to over-indulgence and wastage, leading to social and economic downfall. The book has 66 brief chapters that seek to answer a question that is set as the title of each chapter. In the ‘Preface’, the author claims he wrote the book under the influence of a handwritten anthology of Turkish poetry by an anonymous compiler from an “Auction of Stamp Collections and Old Books” outside Istanbul’s Marmara Hotel. Impressed by the book, he wanted to showcase part of the Ottoman history as a storyteller. Thus was born the One Murder, Sixty-six Questions in Turkish translated as the Tulip of Istanbul.

The ‘Prologue’ reveals that “truth must not remain concealed” and so, the story is told two weeks after the October Revolution that deposed Sultan Ahmet III and slayed his son-in-law Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha of Nevsehir. The book opens with the question, “Is There No Limit to Self-Sacrifice?” The mysterious murder of Naksigul, the bride with heavenly beauty on the first night of the wedding, left the husband, Falco, distraught and deranged. The death of his wife had him thrown to prison as the prime suspect. Naksigul was holding a rare and beautiful purple twin bud tulip when she died. Two lovers were brought together by fate when Falco escaped the jailors. They jointly set out to solve the mystery.

In the story, Pala beautifully alludes to the rich culture and history of Istanbul. He manages to introduce the readers to the ninth-century music therapy called “Farabi”; historical figures who visited the empire of the time, the poet Nedim, the painter Van Mour and dignitary Lady Wortley Montagu; and to the Empire’s culture of maintaining insane asylums, prisons, lodges, and coffee houses. The narrative is interestingly infused with plots that are a story-within-a-story about the social life of the Ottoman Empire, the accounts behind the architectural beauties of the walled city of Istanbul, the picturesque sunsets of the Turkish straits be it by the Bosporus or sea of Marmara, the magnificent domed mosques, and palaces with fashionable gardens.

The action peaks to an important juncture at the house and garden of the most coveted tulip cultivator Hafiz Celebi. In the story, Pala includes mesmerising tales on the nomenclature, symbols, and meanings of the “Tulip” flower, which metaphorically and literally relate to the flourishing business, architectural beauty, and exchange of politics, art, and aesthetics of the Empire with the countries like Iran, Austria, Holland or Crimea. Through the story, Pala aptly accommodates how the Horticulturist community indirectly played a role in the policies and well-being of the state. Tulips are strewn through the story binding it into a poetic whole. Pala mentions the upgrade in information sharing with the coming of the first printing press in Turkey and succeeds in connecting it to the ongoing social unrest and the gruesome revolt that ensued in the Tulip Era. The mystery livens up till the end of the story where love guides and transforms, its own meaning and the seeker.

The language used by the translator in the story aids in understanding the appreciation for elegance and perfection in the art and aesthetics of the Ottoman Empire. Tulip of Istanbul is a potent read with a capacity to broaden the perspective about a culture one knows less about, a perfect springtime read. Changing seasons and social change serve as the backdrop to the dreamlike story filled with intrigues of royal secrets and suspense wreaths with those that pursued power alongside those that pursued love.

.

Gracy Samjetsabam teaches English Literature and Communication Skills at Manipal Institute of Technology, MAHE, Manipal. She is also a freelance writer and copy editor. Her interest is in Indian English Writings, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, and World Literature. 

.

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