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Editorial

Where Have All the Sunflowers Gone?

Only when the cries of the wretched of the earth will stop renting the skies,
Only when the oppressor’s bloody sword will cease smearing battlefields,
			A rebel, weary of war,
			Only then I won’t stir.
…
I’m the ever-rebellious hero--
	Soaring over the world, all alone, head forever held high!

--  Rebel or 'Bidrohi' (1922) by Nazrul, translated by Fakrul Alam
Borderless: Digital Art by Ayaan Ghoshal
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
…
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.         
 Shantih shantih shantih

-- Wasteland (1922) by TS Eliot

These lines reiterate values we would do well to live by in a war-torn, dissension-worn world where the need for a rebel to recreate a humane society that lives with values such as peace, generosity, acceptance, tolerance, compassion and restraint — is a felt need. The two great poems made history by remaining as popular a hundred years after they were written — ‘The Rebel’ by Nazrul and TS Eliot’s ‘Wasteland’. Nazrul defined a rebel as an iconoclast who breaks norms to find peace, justice and love for all, to move towards the creation of an ideal world. TS Eliot quoted from the Upanishads and ended with redemption coming with giving (giver perhaps denoted generosity), compassion and restraint. Despite the wisdom of these great poets and seers, war still continues a reality. The values remain neglected not just in as we see in conflicts, like the one in Ukraine that destroys lives, property and nature with intolerance towards differences, but also in our personal lives. Tagore also reiterated the same need for stepping out of personal, social, economic and political insularity. We carry a translation of a song that echoed this need while inviting participation in his ecstasy. He wrote:

Why do you sit in isolation,
Dwelling on self-centred issues? 

Tagore had not only written of the negative impact of isolation from the world but he led by example, building institutions that could lead the world towards pacifism with acceptance of diversity and inclusiveness. Sriniketan and Santiniketan were created to move towards these ideals. Many of the people he influenced or who studied in Santiniketan made history, like Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Satyajit Ray; many added to the sense of inclusiveness, like Mahasweta Devi, who other than her enormous work to integrate different cultures, also wrote a memoir about Santiniketan in Bengali. Radha Chakravarty, nominated for the Crossword Translation Award (2004) for In the Name of the Mother by Mahasweta Devi, has translated this memoir, a narrative which brings us close to Tagore’s ideals of the whole world being a family. How wonderful it would be if the world were open to such ideals and would behave like a global family and not go to war!  Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan, which has been reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, reiterates Tagore’s vision of a planet living in harmony with the flora and fauna.

Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed another non-fiction by Ashok Kumar Pandey, Why They Killed Gandhi; Unmasking the Ideology and the Conspiracy. Parichha writes: “The finest point about this book is its storytelling…” The book review brings to mind in the midst of a war and violence that Gandhi had tried to erase this mindless destruction of lives, nature and cities with Ahimsa or non-violence. Will we ever rise up to it? Perhaps… We see strains of recognising the negative impact of insular outlook in writings like that of Temsula Ao, a Sahitya Akademi Award winner, according to Indrashish Banerjee who has reviewed her new book, The Tombstone in My Garden: Stories from Nagaland. Keith Lyons has reviewed Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1: Stories by Writers from Around the World, edited by Ivy Ngeow, an exotic medley of Asian stories, one of which has been excerpted as well.

We are privileged to carry another excerpt from Ruskin Bond’s Friends in Wild Places: Birds, Beasts and Other Companions, a hilarious story about a pet tiger adopted by the legendary writer’s grandfather. What is amazing about Ruskin Bond’s writing is the love and compassions for all creatures great and small that colours the tongue-in-cheek humour he rolls out to his readers. If only we could think like Bond, there would be no wars. His writing, I feel, transcends political borders or ‘isms’, and laces with love and compassion tales of menageries of monkeys, snakes, mongoose, humans of different denominations. This excerpt is a treat we are giving Borderless Journal as the journal completes two years of its existence. We are truly grateful to Speaking Tiger for sharing this excerpt with us. But our celebrations this time are sombre as the war rages with incoherence accompanied by heart-breaking ravages.

The refrain from Ukraine has been taken up by Ratnottama Sengupta as she takes us through the past and present experiences of the devastated country, bringing in the views of the legendary folk singer and pacifist, Pete Seeger (1919-2014), who she had interviewed over a span of four days. The writer of ‘Where have all the Flowers Gone?’, a song based on an Ukrainian folk song, Seeger said, “The point is not to ask for yourself alone — one has to ask for everybody: Either we all are going to make it over the rainbow or nobody is going to make it.” Candice Louisa Daquin has also pondered on the justification of war, contextualising it with the current one along with her essay on the paradox of modern linguistic communication.

We have an exhaustive essay on the legendary Satyajit Ray’s creations by Anasuya Bhar. Malhotra has pondered at exclusivity reinforcing divisions, margins and borders to plague humankind, against the backdrop of the Women’s Month, March. Highlighting women in writing, we have interviewed two female writers, one from Nepal and another from Bangladesh. Sangita Swechcha lives in UK but her writing, till now largely in Nepali, often pines for her home embedded in the Himalayas whereas, an expat, Neeman Sobhan, shuttles between Bangladesh and Italy with the affluence and assurance of a privileged background.

Finding a way to override lack of privileges, deprivation and violence, are the youngsters of Nithari on the outskirts of Delhi where less than two decades ago other than poverty, savage criminality devastated the local populace. These youngsters transcended the suffering over time with help from volunteering NGOs to create narratives that amaze with their inventiveness and confidence. Tanveer Hussain from Nithari, self-motivated and self-made from a young age, asks questions that would be relevant for all humankind in a letter to God. It has been translated from Hindustani by Vritika Thareja of pandies’. This edition’s translations include Professor Fakrul Alam’s mellifluous rendition of Jibanananda Das’s poetry from Bengali to English, Ihlwha Choi’s Korean poetry and a Balochi poem by Munir Momin rendered in English by Fazal Baloch. Baloch had earlier translated poems by Akbar Barakzai, a great poet who departed on 7th March, depriving the world of yet another powerful writer who imbibed hope of a better future in his poetry. We are privileged to have hosted the translations of some of his poems and his last interview.

Another well-known poetic voice from Singapore, Kirpal Singh, has given us poignant poetry that can be applied to the situation that is leading to the wreck of Ukraine. Anasuya Bhar has  poetry, one of which despite being in the ilk of Nazrul’s great poem, ‘Rebel or Bidrohi’, questions gently mainly social constructs that obstruct the flow of harmony. Ryan Quinn Flanagan has pondered on the acceptance of a changed world. We have humour from Rhys Hughes in poetry and wonderful poems by Michael R Burch on spring. Jay Nicholls shares the last of her dozen Pirate poems as Blacktarn sails the lemon seas to fight pollution. Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, George Freek, Sutputra Radheye, Mike Smith, Shaza Khan and many more have contributed a wealth of beautiful lines. Penny Wilkes has captured storms and seas with photographs and text and Rhys has surprised us with some strange, bizarre tales in his column.

We have musings from around the world. San Lin Tun, Meredith Stephens, Erwin Coombs, G Venkatesh have all brought in flavours of multiple cultures. Devraj Singh Kalsi has spoken of a book fair he visited in a semi-sardonic tone. He has also given us a short story as has Farah Ghuznavi – a truly borderless story which takes place in an aeroplane, in the sky where all borders collapse. We have more stories from Balochistan, US and India.

Suzanne Kamata continues writing on Japan as she  introduces us to an Australian film maker who is making films in Japan and in Japanese, called Felicity Tillack. Cultures are perhaps truly crossing borders as we can see Kenny Peavy, an environmentalist who moved from US to Indonesia start a new column with us called ‘Mission Earth’. We hope, like Tagore or Rousseau, he will help to revive our felt need to live with nature, acknowledge the nurture that we get from the planet to live in harmony with it and on it.

At the end of twenty-four months of existence – that sounds better than a mere two years— we are happy to host a melange of writers from across the borders and be the meeting grounds of writers and readers from across continents. I am truly thankful to all of you for helping concretise an ideal. Huge thanks to all the writers, artists, photographers and the readers for the contribution of their time, effort and love. And thanks to our fabulous team who continue to support the journal unwaveringly. I would also like to thank Sohana for the lovely visuals she generously shares with us. A special thanks also to young Ayaan Ghoshal for his digital art where hands reach out to support a truly borderless world.

As usual, all the content has not been covered here, I invite you all to enjoy our March edition of Borderless Journal.

At the start of the third year of our existence, let us march onwards towards renewed hope – maybe the Ukraine experience will take us closer to a war-free world with an awakening of a felt need for peace and compassion in a planet without borders.

In quest of a peaceful, humane world, I invite you all to continue being part of this journey.  

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

Categories
pandies' corner

Children of Nithari: A Letter to God

Narrative by Tanveer Hussain & translated from Hindustani by Vritika Thareja

Tanveer Hussain decided to not be a burden on his family at a very young age and worked while pursuing his schooling. Now 27 years old, he has worked at many places and worn many hats.  From being a polio awareness volunteer to a teacher at the Saksham NGO (where he attended the charity school and met pandies volunteers), to a typist and an electrician, he is employed as a driver today. He joined pandies’ workshops (as he started visiting the Saksham school) in 2008 and is remembered as a quiet boy who would unleash a fury of talent when asked to perform in workshops or onstage. He first appeared on the American Center stage in 2011 and has since been a consistent performer. He writes short stories and wants to  learn to write fluently in English before he gets married.

A Letter to God

Dear God,

I hope all is well with you. I wonder where your abode is these days. Are you in the hearts of billions of believers or are you residing somewhere in the beautifully carved and crafted buildings made specially in your name? Everyone I meet, claims to be an expert on you and your location, but no one really seems to know. 

Honestly, I did try looking for you under the peepul tree where many residents of my society go to pray every morning, but I had to make do with blissfully smiling photos of you. I even travelled far and wide into the mountains, thinking maybe just maybe I was misdirected. Well, there too, I was met with a bunch of people reciting your stories. Asked around, searched on the internet. Still couldn’t reach you.

Hey, don’t you think this will break my spirit, God? After all, I am devout and finding you is my mission now — even if I have to wage a war against humanity. There are one too many taking place anyway. Not that one more is going to make a difference, right?

Okay, let’s say I do find you and prove your existence. Let’s say I ensure that every last human being living on the face of the Earth bows down to you. Would I be content? Hell, no! I wouldn’t trust their word for it. Faith doesn’t come easy these days, God. Generations need to feel the impact. It’s not a fool’s game.

Well, God, I heard you can see all of us from where you are. How’s the view? Did you see how bribes have travelled from bureaucratic offices to the temples in your name? Asking favours from you has become a fancy affair? So much in the name of ‘faith’! It’s such a cute little word that means nothing to those who preach it these days, I tell you.

But the smart move was just leasing out your name to the religious preachers. Had you given them a real part of your power, I don’t know what all they would have done. I’m sure you have heard the famous saying, “You offer them a hand, they grab your arm.”

Tell me something, under your watch, after the world has been practically forced to offer bounties to you for peace and prosperity, offer you more than the taxes (or sometimes to just evade taxes), why are people getting murdered, raped, assaulted, looted? I run out of words to describe the horrors, really. I have seen people’s lives turning into living hell.

Are you okay with this? Don’t you think it’s outright unfair? People say you are watching everything and that whatever you do is for our good. I mean, we can’t see what’s in their future but apparently you do, right? So, I assume then you knew how horrible would be the future of any rape victim? But I am conflicted. In a rape case in my village, both the victim and the perpetrator suffered.  The girl committed suicide out of living with the ‘shame’ of facing the extremely moral society we live in. And the rapist, the only earning member of his family, was hanged to death. His family is now crippled for money. The government will provide monetary aid to both the families for some time. But, after that? Then how are they supposed to manage? How are the parents of that unfortunate girl supposed to ever find happiness? What about the wife and daughter of the man who was hanged? What did they do to suffer the shame and poverty that they will now? Who will take their responsibility? I thought you kept all of this in mind before you let things happen here on Earth.

Am I mistaken? Are these just stories woven too deep and wide? Maybe you can’t foresee the future. If you could, I am sure you’d put a stop to this madness.

I am convinced now, that it is we who propagate and spice up the wrongs in this society and then criticise others, assuming a moral high ground ourselves. We don’t stop and introspect for once, the impact our words and actions will have on our children, the generation that will grow up to imitate the very same deeds. A generation that can be moulded towards a more inclusive and positive future is executing the hatred we are sowing with our very own hands. Aren’t I right? After all, a knife is a knife – you can either look at it as a weapon of murder or a tool for slicing fruits – it’s a game of perspectives.

Honestly, God, I feel that we have mastered the art of twisting tales to please ourselves. And it’s not like the entire human race is incapable of being up to any good. As long as people like Kailash Satyarthi and Maanjhi the Mountain Man continue to make a difference, there is still hope. From time to time, we have witnessed people who have risen above and against the common belief to prove that walking against the wind and reading against the grain is a possibility. I refuse to believe those who affirm that destiny will always overpower a man’s free will.

God, I have poured my heart out to you. You are so patient, and I, ever so grateful for you. There’s immense power in believing that you are up there, ensuring all of us are safe and sailing smoothly, especially in times like these where covid has wreaked havoc on the entire planet.

You, the taskmaster of it all, have got it all under control.

Or at least I hope so.

Your child,

Tanveer Hussain

Kailash Satyarthi: An internationally acclaimed child rights activist who fights to put an end to child slavery and exploitation

Maanjhi the Mountain Man: Dashrath Manjhi, a labourer from Gehlaur village in Bihar who carved a path 110m long, 9.1m wide and 7.7m deep through a mountain, single handedly using just a hammer and a chisel, to create a route to give his fellow villagers easier access route to hospitals in the city.

Vritika Thareja is an advertising professional who believes that power lies in the hands of those who dare to tell a story. She has been associated with pandies’ theatre since 2015 and facilitates workshops held with other organisations including Shaktishalini Women’s Shelter Home and Saksham, Nithari.