CONTEMPORARY LITERARY REVIEW INDIA â€“ journal that brings articulate writings for articulate readers
CLRI Print Edition ISSN 2250-3366
A Song: Art by Durlabh Singh
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contents Poetry ...................................................................................... 5 1. AMEEN FAYAZ ................................................................................................................................ 6 In the Land of Apple Trees ............................................................................................................... 6 2. CARL SCHARWATH ....................................................................................................................... 8 Dream Vision .................................................................................................................................... 8 Black Starlight .................................................................................................................................. 9 3. CHRIS ROE ................................................................................................................................... 10 If Time Were Mine .......................................................................................................................... 10 Sanctuary ....................................................................................................................................... 10 In Search of Silence ....................................................................................................................... 12 4. DIBYENDU GHOSAL..................................................................................................................... 13 Hideous Dictates ............................................................................................................................ 13 We’re Good At It ............................................................................................................................. 14 5. HEMA RAVI ................................................................................................................................... 15 Walk the Talk ................................................................................................................................. 15 6. JIM CASY ....................................................................................................................................... 17 Trading Olives ................................................................................................................................ 17 7. KANCHAN CHATTERJEE ............................................................................................................. 19 The old fellow ................................................................................................................................. 19 there's nothing... ............................................................................................................................. 20 8. PRATAP DASH .............................................................................................................................. 21 On the Praise of Loneliness ........................................................................................................... 21 Human Eye .................................................................................................................................... 22 9. SEEMA GUPTA ............................................................................................................................. 23 Ever Lasting Glance ....................................................................................................................... 23 Wishing to Float ............................................................................................................................. 24 10. SHELBY STEPHENSON ............................................................................................................... 25 The Nurse Pauses with Morphine .................................................................................................. 25 11. TATJANA DEBELJACKI ................................................................................................................ 29 Kissing ............................................................................................................................................ 29 The Invention of Shadows ............................................................................................................. 30 12. WALTER SAFAR ........................................................................................................................... 31 Angel .............................................................................................................................................. 31 New Born Verse ............................................................................................................................. 33
Interview ............................................................................... 35 13. MITHUN DEY ................................................................................................................................. 36 Mithun Dey Interviews Maitreyee B Chowdhury ............................................................................ 36
Story ...................................................................................... 40 14. BALA SARANYAN ......................................................................................................................... 41 The Star Gazers ............................................................................................................................. 41 15. BARNALI SAHA ............................................................................................................................. 45 The Scarf ........................................................................................................................................ 45 16. CHANDRASHEKHAR SASTRY .................................................................................................... 54 The Gali Gali Man .......................................................................................................................... 54 17. KERSIE KHAMBATTA ................................................................................................................... 56 Flashing Police Lights Missing ....................................................................................................... 56 18. MERLIN FLOWER ......................................................................................................................... 68 An Indian in Indonesia.................................................................................................................... 68 19. RONNY NOOR .............................................................................................................................. 71 The Tombstone .............................................................................................................................. 71
Criticism................................................................................ 79 20. A. TEMJENWALA AO & DR NDR CHANDRA............................................................................... 80 Literature of Non-violence .............................................................................................................. 80 21. ARUN BERA .................................................................................................................................. 92 India and the Poetic Voice in Ezekiel's Poetry ............................................................................... 92 22. DR BABITHA JUSTIN & DR. SMRTI K. P. .................................................................................... 99 Before and After: A Look at the Writings of Travel by the British Women in India ........................ 99
Book Reviews..................................................................... 115 23. BOOK REVIEW BY GLEN JENNINGS ........................................................................................ 116 Glen Jennings Reviews Anoop Chandolaâ€™s In the Himalayan Nights ......................................... 116
Book Releases ................................................................... 120 24. BOOK RELEASES ....................................................................................................................... 121
Digital medium is not simply a medium, it is a space to our life. All its shortcomings stand tiny before its advantages. It is the best alternative to saving paper, thus to saving plants and forests. It is the fastest means of communication, you can fly your documents and files across the globe in no time and at no costs. You can share your heart and mind to the world without coming under any hammer. â€“ Khurshid Alam, Editor-in-Chief, Contemporary Literary Review India
Editorial Self-Publishing is the Future Vanity Publishing versus Self-Publishing Vanity publishing has been around us from a very long time and the publishing industry has rated it as a drab clichĂŠ. Books published by vanity publishers are bared from entering in most of the literary prizes and awards. Self-Publishing ostensibly had the same beginning and it was not far from now that it was regarded as a sad people's last resort. But there is a big difference between both vanity publishing and self-publishing. Vanity publishers are frenzied money making mongers, they demand money before they pick up your manuscripts, do not care what material your manuscript offers including poor or no editorial work and lackluster post publishing sales promotions etc. etc. etc. Self-publishing is different in more than one respect. That's why it is gradually gaining recognition. Self-publishing draws the same parallel as distance education mode has. Once distance education was regarded as education of no worth but soon gained recognition and is now a very sought after medium among the academia and almost every third professional may be found feathered with a degree or diploma gained through distance education mode. Post the Internet era, self-publishing through digitization has razed the intermediary boundary of distributors and has the potentiality to permeate into the remotest markets where the books need not be sent physically, or open book stores with large investment, or face any inherent copyright issues. All hindrances razed down! To go digital is easier and faster. If you have your document ready, create an account with a digital publisher, upload the file and your book goes wild on sale worldwide in a few hours. Self-Publishing authors can meet the demand of the readers who want the books at a reasonably low cost and everywhere they are on the go. The price factor in digital publishing is controlled by the authors, they can even offer their books for free. Thanks to Amazon and others' amazing services to the aspiring writers. Digital publishing is coupled with the offer of POD (print-on-demand) with many self-publishing companies which makes the market of book more attractive and cost effective for everyone â€“ publishers, authors, and readers.
Publishing and its Future From "the dawn of e-books" in 2010 amid mixed reactions, digital publishing registered a steady growth through 2011 and 2012 which means it has grounded its foothold and is poised to high growth in 2013 and ahead. According to a report on sales growth worldwide in print and e-formats published by Association of American Publishers, 3.4 million eBook units were sold in 2011, which is a growth up 303.3% from 2010 and will continue to fast growth in future. Factors for significant growth are manifold. More and more traditional publishers are converting their books in hard copies into soft copies and making them available in digital formats. Along with the books that appear solely in digital formats, the e-book repository is getting voluminous day by day. This has brought the selfpublished authors at parallel with those authors who are published with traditional publishers. A gain of self-esteem. New markets are opening up to digital publishing fast like Asia and Middle East. China, Japan, and India have already taken the leads. Hand-held Devices Growing According to Mary Meekerâ€™s report "Internet Trends" about 2.4 billion people or in other words one-third of the world population is integrated with mobile network. Also, 1.1 billion consumers are using smartphones which help the users access the internet on the phones. Added to the already wide use of smartphones, tablets and e-books reading devices integrated with SIM, is widening the possibility of online shopping on such devices. Kindle (Amazon), Kobo (Rakuten), and Reader (Sony), and tablet computers such as iPad (Apple), Nexus 7 (Google) are witnessing high sales in the US markets for reading of e-books. Self-publishing Authors Check Self-publishing is largely an affair of the authors so they need to learn certain skills in addition to writing a book. When manuscripts get rejected with a couple of traditional publishers think your manuscript may need revamp. I mean developmental editing in many cases. Get your manuscripts edited by some good editors, sometime by more than one editor. Hand-held Devices Growing According to Mary Meeker's report "Internet Trends" about 2.4 billion people or in other words one-third of the world population is integrated with mobile network. Also, 1.1 billion consumers are using smartphones which help the users access the internet on the phones. Added to the already wide use of smartphones, tablets and e-books reading devices integrated with SIM, is widening the possibility of online shopping on such devices. Kindle (Amazon), Kobo (Rakuten), and Reader (Sony), and tablet computers such as iPad (Apple), Nexus.
Get your book reviewed, whether you self-publish your book or it is published with a traditional publisher. Do not make it the head ache of the publishers only. Because hundreds of books are published daily, you should not be lost in the crowd. Publicize your book in various ways available to you. Create a website of your own, or at least a blog which comes for free. Post some of the writings, excerpts and create a group of writers.
Khurshid Alam Editor-in-Chief Contemporary Literary Review India
Subscribe to Contemporary Literary Review India â€” journal that brings articulate writings for articulate readers.
CLRI is published online per month, in digital versions occasionally, and in print edition (planned to be quarterly), its print edition has ISSN 2250-3366. Subscribe to our CLRI online edition. Our subscribers receive CLRI digital copies directly into their Inbox, get print copies free of cost whenever they come out during the subscription period, and are waived off any reading fee towards our print editions. You can become our subscribers any time you prefer. To become a subscriber, visit: Subscriber to CLRI
At one time poetry was a large part of mainstream readership. The public seemed to lose interest with the advent of gaming and the Internet, and now the Internet can be the avenue of restoration of this important genre of entertainment and enlightenment. â€“ Jack Huber, Poet & Author, http://www.jackhuber.com
In the Land of Apple Trees In the land of Apple trees And magnificent Chinar trees Of glorious Dal lake And the Wullar lake Where mountains touch the sky To defend the honor of man Why shadows should cause fear to man And suppress the freedom of man? In the land of Apples and Almonds I sometimes feel in a graveyard Buried long In the company of bones of the dead And those never ever mourned by their relatives As an eyewitness to what happens when one loses life One is liberated And free from all boundations and chains There is no arson and agony there One is at least oneself No torturers around No corruption in official dealings Those of us buried chat for hours together About the fate of men in the land of Apples How they suffer silently As there is no power to listen to their woes And agony in fact A young man who has seen only twenty summers outside On the land of Apples and Chinars Would tell us how he captured one day
Imprisoned in a dark chamber Tortured to death By the messengers of doom With an official seal on their guns and uniforms Yet another uncouth rustic would say He was following his Sheep one autumn day And all of a sudden he felt the most feared hands Clutching his neck to bedraggle him to an unknown place Only to leave him dead there to be eaten by jackals Among the rattling bones A sober and gentle voice would come To tell us that there was a day When his voice would shake the mountains of the valley And he was respected by one and all But one morning he woke up to see All his family being humiliated in the chill of Chillaikalan He dared to resist Only to get showers of bullets and was killed on spot All the Newspapers reported his death But there was no action against the Guilty officer One of the skeletons lying in the corner Would ask us all About the beauty of Kashmir after his death To him we would in voice say Chinars are still there Apples are also there Mountains of our valley have white carpets on them Meadows and pastures are the pride of Kashmir Zafran makes the Pampore the Jewel of Kashmir But Kashmir is no less than a graveyard Though it is still the land of apple trees And of course of Chinar trees. Ameen Fayaz is an Assistant Professor with North Campus University of Kasmir Delina Baramullla Kashmir.
Dream Vision Totally angry against this dream We condone dark holes beside the ground Crazy! The day is gone So luminous over the land I converse with arid bones before the wind The vision is hard Strangely yellow below the virgin I see glittering animals against the slime Tighten up your life! The vision was good penniless alive trying to recall nothing to lose for how long the lover makes her way not knowing why
Black Starlight In a dream I shall feel through splendid cities her sweet madness beautiful as snow that by starlight! star which is melting away! Droops her pale flowerlike cheek slipping - of worlds on a journey, down the long black river. To the evening breeze in each soft corner. - studded with black where heaven is sleeping. We shall travel in, streaked by the heavy waves embroidered with black moss her great veils rising mount in my soul yet endless and forgiving. I no longer feel myself, and distances from that time, devouring the green azures where realize in antique dramas delirious skies are, down into abysses.
The Orlando Sentinel, Lake Healthy Living, Think Healthy and Mature Lifestyles Magazines have all described Carl Scharwath as the "running poet." His interests include being a father/grandfather, competitive running, sprint triathlons and taekwondo (he's a 2nd degree black belt). His work appears worldwide with over forty published poems and five short stories. He was awarded â€œBest in Issueâ€? in Haiku Reality Magazine and was recently selected as a featured poet in Ambrielrev.
If Time Were Mine Your love is the space In which I exist. Your truth and inspiration Drive light Into the darkest corners Of my life. If time were mine to give, I would give it all to you.
Sanctuary Shafts of light Through cathedral windows. Dappled shade Upon the leaves Beneath my feet. Bird song In the branches above. In the distance Hind and fawn Cross the forest track. The sweet fragrance of autumn Fills the misty air.
A gentle breeze Moving colours To the forest floor. So precious Such beauty, So hard to find Such peaceful sanctuary.
In Search of Silence Beyond the storm, Where blue sky Still cradles The morning sun. In the clearing, Where shafts of light Hold back the shadows Of the ancient wood. Beyond conflict and pain And the inhumanity of man. Beyond duty And this journey That has seemed so long. Beyond the history That has brought me To this sacred place, This spiritual sanctuary. This peace, This silence, This love.
Chris Roe was born in the rural county of Norfolk, England in 1948, where he has lived and worked for much of his life. Most of his working career has been spent in the agricultural industry. His love of nature, the countryside and the time spent within the agricultural industry is very much reflected in much of his writing. These poems are from a self-published collection of poems titled In Search of Silence.
Hideous Dictates (satire on mis-governance) August pigeons are parroting worldly Wisdoms. Given their girth, circumference, and Shape, free repasts are Revisiting. Make no mistake about that! Imagination notwithstanding, They need space for clearing While airborne; Plussing with quietude not Available in the cattle class. Sons-out-laws are sucking up To mothers-in-law. Axes have been placed precisely. Worse! Then ban completely. Proverbial Last straw it may sound. Canâ€™t starve a pigeon? Then asceticism endears for them.
We’re Good At It Squawks, sure The mouths that foul and their mouthpieces As they spread others’ lies. Just going over the books And We’re good at it. Yea, though --No evil I fear, in this valley of the Shadow of death, populated by these Biggest bastards Enmeshing us in a tangle Of complex disputes, thus bamboozling Their own souls, too. Business-minded as these are so, persisting Even after anti-mortem, Bad-tempered price of an education Being masterminded. Everyman’s ethics is his own-like a war, As they say. Just choose your side early and From then on you’re being shot at. You’re Unethical to the peson you Beat at his own game. And, we’re good at it. Dibyendu Ghosal, Masters in Computer Science & Engineering, has interest in Literature, Arts and Cinema. His literary pieces depict universal values and structures. He has been widely published with The Sunday Statesman (India), IMPRESSIONS magazine (2000), Cyber Viber Ascent magazine (2001), Saving Face Ascent (2001), Match Fixer, The Daily Excelsior "EDITORIAL Page" (2003, New Delhi and Jammu editions (India), The New England Review (Winter, July, 2005). He is also a member of the Amnesty International and an associate member of the Afghan Women's Mission and the Kabul‐based Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, contributing a few articles against the torture on the people by the Afghan warlords.
Walk the Talk (The Granny Style) Truthâ€™s hand amid firm faith out of abyss with clear conscience. Walking along with values strength of higher being. Sheâ€Ś. Appearance as woman next doorNo academic genius or renowned personality Nor a painted beauty with plastic smile, extraordinary twinkling eyes her demeanor all smiles What is endearing about her? Self-confidence writ as she moves about with feminine grace determined gait amidst the humdrum exchanging pleasantries with acquaintances; Her character selfless, supporter of downtrodden regardless of personal constriction.
From the dying embers of a house filled with jealousy, treachery and deceit trampled beyond recognition a wreck from the rubble as Phoenix she had risen! ever ready with a helping hand putting personal sorrows behind soothing troubled hearts offer solace with positive expression the oppressed braces up and gets going Womanhood is a matter of pride, not shame she'd through action attest. One of a kind is sheThe Indian Woman!
Hema Ravi, has had a stint in the Central Government, then as a school teacher. Currently, she is working as English Language Trainer. Her write ups have won prizes in the Femina, Khaleej Times (Dubai) and International Indian, and her viewpoints been published in The Hindu's Voice Your Views including many others. Her writings have been published in various journals and anthologies such as Metverse Muse, Roots and Wings (An Anthology of Indian Women Writing in English), The Fancy Realm, The Poetic Bliss, Matruvani. Holistic Mediscan, Contemporary Literary Review, Indiaand etc.
Trading Olives He has shown his people the power of his works, giving them the lands of other nations. —Bible - Psalm 111: 6 … your Lord will destroy your enemy and make you rulers in the land… We overtook Firon's people with droughts and diminution of fruits … —Qur'an - S. 7:129-130
Who now owns the trees of Bshaale or the ancient twins of Arraba? The famous five of Deir Hanna or Gethsemane’s priests of the hill? Witnesses each to generations carted off in processional baskets, these yet virile trees whose drupes encase one stone of two seeds, disregard whose feet stirs the dust, causes the harvest of tears. If mere calendar dates determine heirloom’s lost, birthright’s forfeited at bloody cost,
who deserves the anointing oil of tomorrow’s fruit – or will the mounding pomace suffocate all?
Jim Casy lives in Ontario, Canada where he resists the urge to write about wet snow, biting insects and big neighbours. Jim is married, 33 years already (!), with two grown sons and a wilderness canoe hobby. Jim writes in a wide range of styles, from Haiku to streaming monlogues many poems reflect societal concerns but often with the individual’s voice in the forefront. He has been published around a bit; a few dozen poems in a handful of good presses. ART is the aim not casual acceptance. He feels particularly strongly that this poem, Trading Olives, should be published first in CLRI.
Subscribe to Contemporary Literary Review India — journal that brings articulate writings for articulate readers.
CLRI is published online per month, in digital versions occasionally, and in print edition (planned to be quarterly), its print edition has ISSN 2250-3366. Subscribe to our CLRI online edition. Our subscribers receive CLRI digital copies directly into their Inbox, get print copies free of cost whenever they come out during the subscription period, and are waived off any reading fee towards our print editions. You can become our subscribers any time you prefer. To become a subscriber, visit: Subscriber to CLRI
The old fellow I knock at the heavy Wooden door With a bit of weariness… It opens After sometime There he is Standing in the Dark, damp house Squinting at me… ‘Remember me?’ ‘Yeah’ He smiles... ‘You’ve put on a few kilos’ The words flow Through his bad, broken teeth… ‘Common in’ He says ‘Hasn’t changed much’ I tell myself As I enter His den…
there's nothing... look, things will change he starts... then looks at those dead faces and hollow eyes the lost years written all over them... he stops... looks out the window into the evening traffic there is nothing...
Kanchan Chatterjee is a 45 year old male executive, working in the ministry of finance, government of India. He is from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand India. Although he does not have any literary background, he loves poetry and scribbles as and when he feels the urge. His poems have appeared in various online and print journals, namely, 'Eclectic eel', 'Mad Swirl', 'Shot Glass Journal', 'Jellyfish Whisperer' , 'Bare Hands Poetry' , 'River Muse', 'Decanto' 'Ygradsil' etc. He is one of the nominees of the Pushcart Prize (U.K), 2012.
On the Praise of Loneliness Loneliness, the philosopher of time! Oh, how tightly holds my bosom? I’m undone like an ill and old ox. It questions: Who’re you? Why are you? Who’re they? Why are they? Questions remain unanswered; Questions can never be answered. The bridge between questions and answers is broken. I go dumb and feel like numb It is the loneliness’s tomb that I somehow I succumb. It lulls me into a strange reality beyond the sun and the moon. Befriend me as my human friends sometimes do. Loneliness and only loneliness! It makes me distinguished as one in all and all in one. Loneliness makes me feel like running short of life and time every day. When I touch it, I become the world; When I touch myself I becomes ‘I’, the tuneless suffocated lot. Thus, I play the game of this and that, every minute, every second, The game of life--- from meanness to broadness And from broadness to brightness.
Human Eye The reflection of heart that strides, Fashion the beauty of minds. Although fallen into life’s unkind ditch, It makes us witness the stars’ darkly, dazzling pitch. It measures things small and great; Or vast and infinite like the sea on spate. It does reflect Nature’s mystery, A live camera of human history. It enjoys the dance of trees in wind, From this side to that side like airy whirlwind. It is the audience for the drama of communion; Of grey and blue and green in union. The watch guard of ethereal mansion; Of rise and fall of human civilization. Human eye envisions the reel of life; Glow of fire, sprinkling water, and falling snipe. It sheds tears of joy and sorrow; unburdens heart; Wrests the wheels or pulls life’s cart. The judge of aestheticians, master of vet, So precious! So symmetric! So transparent! Only a piece of human flesh!
Dr. Pratap Kumar Dash was born and brought up in Odisha. After getting educated in Bhubaneswar, Berhampur and Hyderabad, he has been working as a teacher, researcher and writer of critical and creative matters related to language, literature and culture. Currently, he is teaching English at Sabha University, Libya.
Ever Lasting Glance In moments of grief, when my heart feels pangs with throbbing fear burning like wild fire I think where I am born without fate on bosom of the earth constantly drowning in sea of wrath It is only your everlasting glance on my passion ground which makes me remind surreptitious first stolen kiss i feel my soul trembling with the tender touch of the veiled beloved the fleeting effect wins my heart I often think in profundity I am alone but eternal with your everlasting Glance everlasting glance...........
Wishing to Float I wish to float rather than walk along with treasure of your lovable talk when I rest my head against your chest those moments seem heavenly and best my desires guarded with your existence my fantasies enriched with your presence you are a love lore engraved in my mind your soft touches and whispers I always find
you entered in my life like a mystery Unfold filled my life with joys, everlasting and untold. Since I wish to float…wish to sweep my feet dancing in your arms ,listening to your beat
Seema Gupta, a well-known poet, writes in Hindi, English and Urdu languages. She is published internationally in various magazines, newspaper, electronic media, and television. A passionate poet and engraver whose work is well appreciated globally for her incredible writings and soulful originality.
The Nurse Pauses with Morphine The head-nurse’s shoes polish the floor of the hospital. The carpenter in the hard hat holds his saw. The nurse’s assistant holds the Incentive Spirometer to the patient’s lips. The desk-clerk paints her lips for the morning. The hallway spins noises from trays on wheels. Earl will never sing “Wreck on the Highway” again. I will sing for him while the carpenters work in the hall And the nurses and doctors make their rounds. Anesthesia’s very strong stuff and makes one want to breathe freely. The patient walking the hall does not miss her gall-bladder. July is sold at auction in 1850 for $413.25. Greatgreatgrandpap George sells her to Seth Woodall. Pap George farms children, fifteen, plus four who came with widowed Pen. The roofer places the ladder against the side of the house and climbs the rungs. Halloweeners dream up tricks and treats for children. The banjoist lifts his banjo out of the case. The daughter takes photos of her newborn baby. The husband’s making money as fast as he can. The nurse pauses with morphine for the patient’s pain. The patient’s patient because she wants to edit the poet’s writing. The motorcyclists rev their engines for the street-walkers. The inmates pick up debris along the shoulders of the road. The orange bags shout incarceration. The intercom soars the doctor’s number. The surgeon makes his rounds.
Words come out of his mouth like tile receiving marbles. The patient’s intestines sleep on medication. The jet-ski rests on the trailer, the boat’s in its slip. The prostitute’s negligee does not fall below her knees. She hoists her hand in a wink. The moon lights Creek Stone. The bowling alley waits for strikes. The smoker waits for a Lucky. Lady waits to empt her utter. The milker pulls her tits. The milk pings the sides of the bucket. The children march to chapel single file. The pianist plays “Glowworm” and glances over her shoulder at her pupils − Her eyes on the toy-band on the stage. My triangle tingles. On the river the cat-fisherman sets his hooks. He must be lonesome for the season to turn. Raccoon hunters load their dogs in pickup trucks. The deer-hunter gets shot in his stomach. A bystander applies the tourniquet. The hedges spook October. The patient with the blockage in her small intestine gets better. The nurses take the tubes out of her body. She sucks on the Incentive Spirometer’s hose. The ball floats upward like a marble on New Year’s Eve. She exhales and the plastic rounds descend like puffs of cotton. The patient spits up pink-white phlegm. She breaks wind and her open hospital gown fluffs behind her. Propped up in bed she takes out her compact and powders her nose. She reads her get-well cards, including one from the son, a “Fart Mark Production.”
The patient sleeps in Rex, while her husband tends the house, not quite a home. I saw how the haw’s little lanterns were out around Cow Mire Branch. I made my light out of the white clay of the ravine. I dodged the tick-weeds and beggars on my pants-legs. Cricket sniffed doe-shit and possum croppings and raccoon vomit. Darkness quivered the fog over the pasture. Tongues of the Angus looked like thick wedges. I sang a ditty all the way home. Oh, I’ve always been a Tarheel from McGee’s Crossroads, A Ram of old Cleveland High, I married a Buffalonian, became a Pittsburgh Panther, And a Badger of Wisconsin. The drunkard shouts at the third-base line: “Hit that pill in the old tar barrel!” The worker weeds the sheep-burs from the corn. The clarinetist limbers her fingers. I become an Episcopal Primitive: bless the sheep’s fold and the shepherd with his staff. Bless preachers, teachers, thinkers, non-preachers, non-teachers, non-thinkers. The mountain biker rides by cattails. Air pushes downward and outward along the trail. Grandpa Manly walks home from Drury’s Bluff. He pauses for the soldiers in their graves. Have you succeeded in making more money than you need? It is grand to go into something else. Beat the drum; play the pipe. The table’s on the level. Natives kill hogs and chew jowls. History changes one chord at a time. Do you think I am up to something? Let’s go look at the moss surrounding the meadow and lie by the lichen on the oak.
On a Sunday morning I hear the drunkard’s plea. October promises me a toehold through the woods with a four-year old. The land’s posted: hunters get their supplies ready. Water’s flashing in Cow Mire. The gravel lifts when I walk along the bank. The pebbles look like webbed bubbles. Graveyards belong to one another. Black clouds roll featherbeds, bosoms, chickens: Buff Orpingtons! O how they roost at dusk. October empties limbs. The Coastal Plain puts “progress” in the mouths of developers.
Shelby Stephenson is a writer and has been a judge for a poetry prize. His Family Matters: Homage to July the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry, and his Maytle's World is forthcoming from Evening Street Press.
Kissing Die of beauty You devilâ€™s Emperor, From merciful sin Kiss these May cherries Green apples Pollen lips. You start kissing. Kiss white merry buttocks hips, navel, tip of the nose palms that clasp You start kissing. Kiss closed eyes Bitter tear Child of dawn, women of night, You start kissing. Kiss the moon of soul Kiss, emperor Kiss at the fifth side of the world.
The Invention of Shadows If love is just deception then it is really perfect. I am not able to describe that to someone who Has never tasted something like that. LOVE is the animal appetite. Now I have a different view on that. His cigarette was burning, ashes falling on the floor, his hands were trembling when he poured the tea. His eyes glimmered like the eyes of the stuffed bird. I laid my hand on his shoulder. He twitched. I can't make recollection of one single moment which lasted through eternity. You loved me once? You have good memory You do not want that I stop loving you. It is winter, the snow is constantly falling. All the words were in vain, I looked as if I desperately needed a hug. I was scared. The pain became trivial. Your counterpart now owns your soul. Who am I now? Both of things you are now.
Tatjana Debeljacki writes poetry, short stories, stories and haiku. She is a Member of Association of Writers of Serbia - UKS since 2004. She is Haiku Society of Serbia- Deputy editor of Diogen. She also is the editor of the magazine Poeta. She has four books of poetry published.
Angel I am standing on the old bridge, In the dark night I am waiting for my Angel, Like an orphan to horrible solitude. If I knew what heavenly paths the Angel is flying, I would let go of my tired soul To fly the heavenly paths, So that my name might be close to an Angel. I know all the old bridges In the dark streets of this world. Yes, destiny, you have revealed that secret to me When I first opened my eyes, When the big and clear eyes of the child looked so vivaciously Into the clear, big mother's tear. I have long since known how to find the face of a pauper in the dark, I know the dark paths of every dream, I know the name of every tear, I know the birthplace of every sorrow. In many a shadow I am looking for a savior, As if I was but a fly Trapped in the silky web of solitude. I have many a friend in the black shadows, In the dark faceless nights, In many-faced poverty. I am standing on the old bridge, Looking for the heavenly dome's reflection in the dark river,
To place my tired soul in the heavenly cradle. Many nights have shrouded the river in silence, Oh, powerful destiny, many unfortunates Have found their black hearse in the river, Many dark nights have carried away wonderful souls On a road of no return, But still I am not losing the hope That my tired soul shall touch the silver wings, That my Angel shall arrive before lonely fraternal eyes Recognize my face in the dark river; Yes, God, I know that coming twenty angels; Twenty beautiful little angel, Yes, came the hope, joy and love.
New Born Verse I could write a new verse today About two roses That we laid down onto the black soil When we parted, Perhaps even a poem About the warm tears that were mutely sliding Into the craddle of your wonderful soul. I could call you loudly, Without shame and boundaries, Like a bird calls another bird, But my throat is trapped by silence Born to powerful solitude. Yesterday, I loved you less than I do today, And the living memories are proof of that, Memories that are warmly flowing Through the dreamy summer air, Like blood is flowing through veins. In the silence of this summer day I could write a poem About our last dance below the old walnut tree, From which the beautiful memories still emanate, But the sun is still so cold without you, Shining like gold: Cold and deadly blinding. When solitude tends to my heart with sadness, All I have left are memories To give birth to a verse Like a wonderful child of hope.
While the present haunts me into the past, I haunt my spirit towards the sun's golden craddle, So it would become a blood brother to the newborn verse, Because I might see you tomorrow And read this poem to you.
Walter William Safar, born in Sherman-Texas, is the author of a number of a significant number of prose works and novels, including "Leaden fog", "Chastity on sale", "In the flames of passion", "The price of life", "Above the clouds", "The infernal circle", "The scream", "The Devil’s Architect”, "Queen Elizabeth II", as well as a book of poems.
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It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story. â€• Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
Mithun Dey Interviews Maitreyee B Chowdhury Maitreyee B Chowdhury was born in Assam and is now based in Bangalore. She is a poet, creative writer and columnist. She writes in different journals and works on cinema, social issues, art and environment besides poetry. She has co-authored a bi-lingual poetry anthology Ichhe Holo Tai (Bengali and English) and has been featured in an anthology of Indian writers Celebrating India. Her writings have been published in various forums including Contemporary Literary Review Brown Critique and others. Maitreyee has also been an educator in different capacities. Her latest book Reflections on my India, a book on Indian traditions and spirituality which was released in Germany and is being distributed in stores all over Europe. Mithun Dey interviews Maitreyee B Chowdhury and firmly believes that her thoughts and insights will inspire and benefit our readers and writers community immensely. Mithun Dey: Good to know facts about you. Tell us about your first job and the inspiration about your writings. Maitreyee Chowdhury: My first job was that of a web content writer in Calcutta. It was a good learning experience. MD: How did you start writing? MC: I was writing since college days, I became a part of college literary clubs and wrote for the college magazine and also for some local newspapers. MD: Can you tell us a bit about your latest book Reflections on my India a book on Indian traditions and spirituality?
MC: Reflections on My India is a book about Indian traditions and spirituality in parts, all put together in very easy language and with quirky examples. The aim of the book is to bring tradition and spirituality to the younger generations and make them understand that traditions and spirituality are not always boring. People have greatly appreciated instances where I compare a sofa set to the class barrier, a sort of divide in the minds of the Indians. MD: What have been your experiences as the member of environmental journalists? Do tell us more about this milieu? MC: The Environmentalist Journalist’s forum brings together like minded people who write about environment and have done so in different forums. Environment is a subject I am sensitive about and I have through my writings tried to show how there is much to learn from the environment and how we can tackle different problems by learning from environment. MD: Being a co-author of bi-lingual book of poems Ichhe Holo Tai can you tell us something about the book? MC: Ichhe Holo Tai is a book of poems in Bengali and English. It is a collaborative effort and also has paintings. Most forms of art complement each other and in today’s world any kind of creativity need not be seen in isolation. The paintings complement the verses and vice versa. It’s a very interesting project. MD: What was the book that most influenced your life and why, if any? MC: At different levels different books affect us in different ways and contribute to making us who we are, so it is with me, as such it is unfair probably to name any one book. But nevertheless, if one had to do that it would be ‘The little prince’ by French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. To me it will remain a classic always because its wisdom crosses all barriers of time and every time you read it you learn something new that you didn’t notice before. MD: You also write on cinema. Do you think that Bollywood encroaches on sensibilities of regional cinema? MC: Yes I think it does. Perhaps it is inevitable, since even some foreign films are affected by the Bollywood sensibilities. And yet in certain ways I wish regional cinema with its local flavor would flourish more. Cinema especially regional needs to go back to literature like it was in the 50 s and 60 s when film stories were based on good stories/novels and even had poetry from very good writers. I believe this will make regional people take more pride and interest in regional films too. MD: What advice do you have for the new writers? MC: If there is something I find lacking in today’s and especially contemporary Indian literature, it is the lack of thinkers. Writing is not only about picking a pen, one has to learn to be worthy of
it first. Write not because it will make you famous, (it doesn’t anyway, there are just too many writers in the scene), write for the love of literature and because it is your existence. MD: Are you currently working on any new book? If so, what book are you working on? MC: Yes I’m in the last stages of a new book on regional cinema and Bengali matinee idols Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen. It will be the first book in English on the duo. MD: How do you see the internet changing the way writing works? MC: Oh… it has changed so many things both for the good and the better. Today thanks to the Internet you have on the one hand a huge amount of information but there is of course a flip side to it too. Thanks to social media platforms you have an instant audience. So while anything anyone writes has an audience, which is good. It is also dangerous because praise can go to people’s head and make them stop the process of learning and improving on one’s technique, which is extremely necessary for any writer. MD: Which is better: Online, print and digital publishing? Tell us more about the publications. MC: There is no good, better and worse in this. Publishing is primarily a means to reach out to more readers and that can be done through any medium these days. Though Indians still prefer traditional publishing, there is a huge boom in online publishing through various mediums and many a times it works very well too. If the standard of publishing can be maintained to publishing good work, any medium works, in fact self-publishing is great for new writers. MD: What is the best feedback you received about your work? MC: I have been extremely lucky in my readers. It brings a smile to my face, all this generosity. Most of it has especially comes for poetry and the prose poetry (a form I write in very often). I remember a gentleman who once wrote to me saying that he was sitting all alone in a part of frozen Canada, away from home and family and my lines had given him comfort. Another time a mother wrote in to say that after a whole day of work and being tired, my lines gave her comfort to be herself and brought her realization. There have been so many more. I feel blessed with so much love. MD: It is seen that the biggest problems are faced by poets when trying to get their works published. Need your tips for budding poets to shun the most common pitfalls? MC: Poetry is indeed difficult to publish. Most poets still face that and I have been continuously fighting this notion that poetry does not sell. I wish that publishers would realize that if marketed well, poetry would definitely sell. Story writing can be cultivated but gifted poets have natural talent, which is like a miracle. It is my personal belief that poetry is like song, the very essence of man, you cannot ignore it. MD: Besides being a poet, you are also a columnist and creative writer for various niches Indian magazines. Any tips on how exactly does one go about bagging these assignments? MC: There is not straight cut formula for that really and competition is fierce. But first create a niche for yourself. You should be the expert in your area. Read different magazines, see how the
articles are written, their style and content. Once you have achieved that send in your write ups to different magazines. These days social media help, write for blogs. These are ways to get noticed.
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It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story. â€• Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
The Star Gazers If one were to view with a keen sense of acuity, the most unsuspecting and smallest of things, in life, are the most malevolent and the least one could overcome with ease. My eyes hurt a lot these days; the computer monitors are treacherous monsters which eat human eyes. The one on my desk at the work place is a great white shark, capable of silent, motiveless and naïve assault. Several correction and enhancements later, the power in my lenses continue to worsen; the disoriented deterioration, on the path of random acceleration. My one-eyed ophthalmologist differs with my views in that he says that monitors are more like Gorillas, which are primates with preference for vegetarianism, they don’t eat, they just pluck the ball out of the socket! I chose the one-eyed Doc for attending to the concerns of my vision, because I expect him to treat me with sympathy, if not with proficiency. He looks like the diaphanous pirate who appear in phantom cartoons! Due to the extent of concentration required in the nature of my work, the pitiless eyes tend to water like a tepid waterfalls; the perennial rivulets leave on my un-kissed checks, sore marks by the time I close for the day. The colleagues in my office think, (depending on the degree of the wickedness their creepy souls harbor) either I am mourning the death of my girl-friend or worse, lamenting over the treacherous one who’s ditched me. The reason they attribute my tears invariably to women is because, I am seldom found in the company of women. In the recent Literary festival in Mumbai, one of the topics discussed was about the present trend of youngsters who exhibit no aspirations beyond “the Naukri or the Chokri”. I am content with the ‘ Naukri’ and not concerned about Chokri, how would they know I am a celibate and a celibate by choice? I keep that a secret - from everyone including from the elusive lady from Borivali, who I think, loves my frostiness. In a nutshell, I am a loner- loner crowded by loneliness. I am fine by myself, not a bother; it’s the problem of tears which I worry about, which cannot be wiped off with a 6 inch by 6 inch handkerchief. Outside the ambit of office, I don’t do anything which bear stress on my eyes. I established an unpretentious hobby to occupy my spare time – have you heard of anyone taking to ‘Roaming’? Roaming, is an existentialist’s delight, but, it’s no easy preoccupation in the repressively populous Mumbai. Out here it’s like rafting in the inundation of odoriferous sweat. I choose a different spot each day to break the ennui, depending on my moods. Never the same place in the same week. Today, I decide to stroll down to the Mahim creek, instead of mutely changing the local from the Harbour line to the Western at Dadar and head home to my seedy dwelling of equally seedy
lodgers in Goregaon. My lodge is an old mansion, a disaster waiting to happen. The more I stay away, better the probability of staying alive. There are a number foot bridges over the tracks at Dadar. In undefined mayhem, the commuters surge like flash floods during the bund breaches - each time a train arrives or about to leave. They work on train timings of which they have precise knowledge. Once I exit from the flight of stairs on the western side, I amble through the conference of streethawkers, selling inconsequential things like sweat meats to Pyara laced with chilly-salt, from checkered hankies to perky brassieres. Thereafter I cut across three junctions and reach the fork in which a Irani Hotel serves Briyani, bun-butter-jam and tea. One of the lanes from here, gets me through, to the promenade facing the creek where a giant Stupa hails the Arabian. This secret place offers me relative tranquility - there is nothing called absolute tranquility. The roasted corns are pulpy splendid, the fire from the choolah sparks my appetite, the wedge of lime the vendor rubs on it is a charade, nothing sticks. In life nothing sticks. Not even Karma, which they say lasts beyond the seven births, if you’re familiar with the mythology. To me, all relationships give way eventually, like the crusted barks from the old Rain trees. The young, unmarried couples are regular here, they look into each other’s face with anguish of have to part at the end of the day. Love peels off with time, like the bark. That’s why I have chosen celibacy. The dusky rocks below the promenade, look Gothic. When the tide recede for a quick respite, an army of fiddler-crabs normally rise from the black sand - hardly any seen today. I feel, kind of, the purpose of my visit is defeated without the boisterous soldiers throwing hands in half salute. I think of an interesting poem: crimson warriors from insouciant regiment, enthuse and play us the symphony of raucous silence. I fear the darkness of the falling sunsets tedium of my untenanted nights; the one with biggest cheliped thumps the sucking dunes with amour, battling for the mate…
I imagine a scenario, where our human counter-parts, the couples really, instead of looking into each other’s face, the men thump hands on the railing, the women stays put on the wooden bench sticking the back for the victor! The sunset is subdued, uneventful and not like the collage of colors I have seen in the snowcapped Himalayas. The lights in the sea-link illuminates in a flash as the day wears off and
suddenly you are aware of the traffic plying on it. I’d witnessed a one act play in The Prithivi theatre, the protagonist is a lamp post in the Bandra-Worli sea-link, it oversees the goings-on, the monologist’s well executed diatribe, indeed a splash of humor. I wonder if I am like the lamp post, because I am not in any relationship. Questions arise within me whether I am inanimate. I am observant which sets me apart; the couples hold arms, seeing stars in each other’s eyes. Their eyes gleam, water, not the way mine does. Tears are primarily products of emotion. The creek is lined by a jungle of concrete, the crinkly structures, crowded clusters of ancient troglodytes. Adjacent to the Stupa is a park which has an impressive walking track. I finish four laps, over-taking and being over-taken. The effusive sodium lights are like gold globules. The Cabanas are gaudy, large and mush-room like. Around the cabanas children play noisily as the mothers chat noisily, the children think of next thing to do, mothers think of next thing to say. Children are infinite source of happiness and grow coarse only with time. I watch with amusement and think of childhood days. God has destined me this way. I want to sit and read “Old man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. I seek a place directly under the lamp where the light is adequate. I locate a bench, a family of fat Sindhis are preparing to leave. I rush to occupy, succeed in my quest, quite a few contestants, and feel I have accomplished something great for the day. The others are disappointed, taper off. The bench can seat comfortably three, but people prefer pockets of privacy. The lamp shines on the pages gingerly over my shoulders, I am keen to know what came of the old fisherman’s fish tied to the boat, attacked by sharks. Oddly, an old man comes towards me, tottering with the aid of a walking stick whose handle is carved like a dragon spewing fire. His hand must be warm holding the dragon by the neck. I fish out the book from the leather bag and behold the illustration on the cover with satisfaction. Without possession of a good read, ready at hand, I have always felt like a man without under garments. The old man analyses me with dispassion and takes seat at the far side of the wrought iron. I return his look with disdain. Despite being positioned in the center of Mumbai, the park is serenely, tucked away from the routine humdrum. I love my little grotto evenings, engaging solitude with my affection. From here, I view and convince myself that life is a game of trampoline. You go up and you go down, feel the elation, feel the gloominess and in the end, you know, it is only a game. Two stars hang in the sky, few feet above the crest of the bridge and seem to twinkle at and the kiss the coconut trees rising from the brim. One is bright and near, the other, though small is deep and gives the impression of being far. They look like stones lost in a pond full of pumice. At first I resent the invasion of the old man into my privacy; later we nod, smile and turn our attentions to the sky. And the old man and I, we watch the stars from the same bench, contemplating of what the stars tell us. We pay no heed to the play of lights on the sea-link, the vehicles plying ceaselessly. We admit the harsh sound of the automobiles though the bridge is a mile long away.
The stars shimmer, then fade, and reappear as if to give me hope, I am unable to fathom, how long God will give me the pleasure of seeing beautiful things. My eyes are not as good as it used to be. In between the star-gazing, I get back to Hemingway and inescapably wade into the realm of loneliness of the old man (Hemingway’s) and think about what’s led to present situation (of the old man seated next to me). I conclude, the old man is too old to be alone, by himself, at this time of the evening. But here he is. It would be a tragedy if he has been used to a normal life - devoted to wife, to the family, sired children and made them great with great efforts, built great dreams for them - and if he is alone at the far end of life span, lost in the wilderness of loneliness; the weight of the tragedy would be bulkier than what I would be facing. My position would be no better, if I consummate celibacy, I will be an old man with no one around, but it will be far less punitive , not having tasted the joy of domesticity– nevertheless old, a blind old man, in my case. I hear him belch. For some weird reason, I assume the old man has passed away. Fear grips me. I avoid looking his way, my eyes latched to the stars with steadfastness. By now, in the haze of Mumbai smoke, the small star has disappeared and I relate the strange occurrence as a quirk-some co-incidence. Have I become blind, or am I dead, my dead soul is seeking life in the distant stars? Will my life end like this, on an indistinct dusk on a flat green bench, whose seat men wait to occupy with impunity? For the time being I like to dissociate with a dead man, he died almost on my lap, dead, I am too dazed to think of doing anything. Then, the old man belches again, less unobtrusively this time, and I turn to him with relief, though angrily - belching is an obnoxious form of infringing graciousness. He rises to leave. I curse; but no words come through my larynx. He rises with no efforts; the old frog might have been practicing yoga. He bends towards me, tapping my shoulder gently with his walking stick and whispers into my ears – “The light from the stars take so much time to travel to earth that I am not sure if the stars are alive.”
Saranyan BV lives in Mumbai, who came into the realm of literature due to an error, but loves being there. He has written several short stories and poems many of which having been published with different journals including Asian Cha, Reading Hour, and CLRI.
The Scarf You are as light as a thin strand of white hair, as invisible as a common face. The back seat of the Honda where you rest is hardly perturbed by your weight. The wind smelling of rain-soaked frondescence sets you adrift in a procellous stone-strewn water body with perilous waves. You are lifted and then thrown back by the waves gushing into deep dark labyrinthine chambers, sometimes you touch the stony dead ceilings and sometimes you are under the water, rolling and turning in the mysterious whirlpool which emanates a nebulous haze. You are never wet, never soaked, never bedraggled. You are as dry as lips in winter, as land in desert. They sit in the two front seats, she in the driver’s cushion and he on her left. Her lips are painted red, her nails are painted black. His curly long hair tied in a braid reminds you of the swinging bony tails of the cows grazing in the valley. The car that has been swiftly moving downhill now moves away from the centerline of the narrow road and stops at the side to allow a honking red tourist bus to pass. After the bus had passed she reaches out and hugs him and then kisses him on the mouth. “Why do you talk about pain all the time,” she says stroking his hair, “it’s such a beautiful morning, and we are finally married, there won’t be any more pains…ever.” “You are silly, Rumia, there will always be pain” he says disembracing himself and fingercombing his disheveled hair. With a mischievous girly smile she moves back to her seat. I know there will be pain,” she says removing the smudged stains of passion around her mouth with a tissue, “but I refuse to be sullen anymore. I have got all I ever wanted; I have got you…honey. What’s pain to me?” She turns to him with a beaming smile. “Sokhi, bhabona kahare bole, sokhi, jatona kahare bole?” She quotes the two lines from her favorite Tagore song nodding her head and blinking childishly. He smiles. “Hey, you are blushing,” she says, “Oh, my god! I can’t believe I made you blush. Ha…ha.” “Come on, Rumia; don’t pull my leg, drive on. There might be another car behind us; I thought I heard the tyres screech,” He turns back. You gasp and move close to the window. But he doesn't see you. He inspects the narrow stony comma shaped curved track their vehicle has driven down and says “Be careful with the brakes, Rumia.” The car starts once more. 45
How unnatural it is to see him with her, you think. Yet why, you can never tell. Their faces come to you like faces in vintage sepia-tinted photographs partially dissolved in historical undercurrents staring at you blurred from some half-torn album. Sometimes you think it is all part of an extensive dream; a dream whose maze of metaphrastic mystery has engulfed you such that you can never walk out of its reverie-generated miasma. Who are you, why are you here drifting like some dead tree leaf in the air, caught in the net of communication between a newly married man and his wife, privy to their conversation, their lovemaking, their sorrows? Why, why, why? “It’s so awfully quiet,” she says, “what are you thinking about? Shall I play some music? The radio isn't catching any signal.” She rotates the knob of the audio-player but only spurts of broken songs accompanied by wistful mechanical burrs and hisses are heard. “Let me see,” he says. He rotates the knob slowly and after a little effort finally manages to catch a FM station. The morning show is on and a mushy Bollywood song is heard. The clichéd 70’s tune doesn't please her. She switches off the player. “Horrible! I can’t listen to such trash. Let’s talk,” she says shifting the gear, “hmm… let’s talk about something happy, something nice that happened to you.” “I can’t think of anything.” “Why? Aren't you happy that you married me?” A hint of displeasure resonates in her voice. “Of course I am, honey, but you must understand that I am not a very assertive person. Unlike you I cannot talk about my feelings.” “Never mind,” she says and turns away. “I think you ought to be a little more appreciative. There’s no good dwelling in the past. Sometimes you just make me feel that you didn’t want to marry me at all.” “You know it’s not like that,” he says stroking her hand, “I do love you, only I can’t mention it time and again like the others.” His clean-shaven intellectual Bengali face looks abashed. “Sing to me,” she says with a smile in her choked up voice that strikes you as a seven-hued rainbow on a rainy morn. He begins to sing a modern canticle to love. Like some faint childhood memory the tune strikes as familiar but forgotten. Somebody dedicated this song or some song very similar to this one to you with a pledge of forever love. Somebody said he could look at your face forever and sing it to you. The sky is an extensive stretch of flat-bread unevenly lathered with dollops of white cloud. No, you cannot remember the song, but you heard it, you did hear it, you know that. At noon the car stops at a gas station. The same red tourist bus seen in the morning is seen replenishing itself by one of the two fuel dispensers. The dark, mustachioed, pot-bellied driver in red and blue check shirt and dirty grey trousers is talking to the staff. One of them stands holding
the nozzle-mouthed long tube attached to the browser that is inserted into an opening on the side of the bus. She gets out of the car to talk to one of the men who tell her that the other browser is not working and that she must wait in line. “Whenever I think of vehicles filled with fuel I think of blood transfusion,” she says with a laugh leaning against the open window of her car. “Well, it is transfusion all right, not blood though but certainly liquid that propels the life of a machine,” he replies intelligently. She laughs and walks to the side of the browser to inspect the figures on the digital clocks. “Oh my god, you got to come down and see this!” “I can do with a bit of stretching. How long is it going to take?” “Come down and see for yourself.” She drags him by the hand as soon as he steps out. “Let’s bet how much the bus is gonna pay.” “I can’t say.” “Take a guess.” “Five thousand,” he says after a little thought. The actual amount on the rolling clock that stops with a click as they reach the browser is Rs. 13,000. “You lost, she says” “I need my gift.” “You are next, madam” one of the staff says to her. She hands him the key and says, “Do the car, will you. I need to use the restroom.” You find yourself in the little convenience store sandwiched between the office and the eatery which smells of ghee. You walk around with him; you stand behind him to inspect the tchotchkes he picks up: a cow figurine, a wooden key ring, tile coasters, and a cheap fridge magnet that says home is heaven. You wish he could listen to you, more than once you speak to him and tell him not to take such garbage for her. But he is like a figure in some fiction unmoved by your presence, unperturbed by your absence. Your amnesiac existence doesn't bother him; his life incidents aren't woven in due consideration to your wishes. After some more fiddling he sees in a corner-stand a few viscose scarves. He picks up one of them; a teal colored one which you hate. Eventually he puts it down and plunges his hand into the heap of hanging scarves: scarlet, yellow ochre, burgundy, fuchsia, vermilion and baby pink. Your eyes are glued. The baby pink, the baby pink, you say. He takes the baby pink scarf and seeing her approaching by the side window, rushes to the payment desk. “What are you buying?” she asks as she enters the store and sees the plastic bag the salesman behind the counter hands him. He folds the receipt and putting it in his pocket says, “I lost the bet, didn't I? Here” She tears away the Christmas-colored wrapping paper and brings out the scarf. As you see the scarf now you imagine it has a cigarette hole just to the left of the paisley that is printed in the center of the fabric. Like the several other things you think you know very 47
well, the scarf too strikes you as a familiar and dear object. You look up and see that her face has turned pale; her red lips seem to have in a second lost all their brilliance. She now looked like a mime artist with dramatically painted features. “I don’t feel very well, please let’s get back home,” she says. “What’s the matter? Didn't you like the gift?” “The gift is all right, it’s just that I don’t feel very well.” “Do you need some water?” She nods. He asks the man behind the desk to bring some water. She rapidly drinks from the stainless steel glass without checking the cleanliness of the utensil. “You seemed all right just a few moments back, what happened so soon?” he asks. “I can’t tell you,” she says. “I don’t want to drive anymore today.” She gets up from the wooden stool and rushes to the car. He picks up the scarf and the packet and goes after her. “Do you want me to get something else for you,” he asks. “I just want you to drive me home,” she says raising her voice. He gets into the car and throws the packet in the back seat. The viscose fabric hits you and you wish for once you were somewhere else. Why are you always, always with them? What invisible ropes chain you to these two human beings, why does their life drag the weightless weight of yours? You wish you could ask some divine entity, some supra-mundane agency, some otherworldly intellectual for what extraneous purpose are you here. Nevertheless, in the absence of such an oracle, you tether to the carriage, you gulp the salty sea water; you let yourself be drifted by the wind, splashed by the waves. The lush green scenery spreading underneath the coiling tracks is a Persian carpet with unusual thread-work. The cool air is soured with stagnation, nobody speaks. They lie on their bed with their backs to each other. The room is a chiaroscuro. Her face his hidden and he lies awake with closed eyes. “I did it for love, you know,” she whispered. He opens his eyes. “Did what for love?” he asks softly and turns and embraces her. Her eyes are burdened with tears which pour down her cheeks like stillicides from the eaves of a roof. “Everything,” she replied in a voice mingled in equal parts with adolescent silliness, futility and pain. “I did everything for love. I do love you, I love you a lot.” The downpour turns torrential. He smiles and says, “I know, but sometimes I don’t understand you. What happened in the gas station? Tell me, did you really hate the scarf?” “No.” she says. “She had one very similar.” “Did she?” he frowns. “Yes.”
He sits up, wipes his face and sighs. “Yes, I think she had one very similar.” He turns to her, “But I really didn't remember that when I got it for you, believe me I didn't want to hurt you. You are my future, Rumia, she is dead.” “And yet you have her picture in your wallet.” “I will remove it. I don’t see it, I promise,” he implores. “It has been there for a long time and I didn't realize…I will remove it and all the others tomorrow. I promise you.” She gets up and rubs her hand on his back. “Get back to sleep, it’s nothing. I was just, you know, a bit surprised to see the scarf. I didn't know what to think.” “It was a mistake. I really didn't intend on hurting you.” “It’s okay, get back to sleep.” His faint breathing gradually gives way to his usual stertor. You see him lying supine, his heaving torso relaxing under the peace of restful slumber. She is awake though, her eyes are focused at the baby pink scarf that rests on the settee close to the bed. You suddenly remember the cigarette hole. It seemed as if she listened to you for right after you had the thought you see her rising from the bed and grabbing the fabric. The hole is there, where you imagined it would be. A small cigarette hole it is, almost invisible but very much present like a scar hidden under make up, presently absent, absently present, like you. Her hands are cold; she stands immobile listening to the cardiac organ unleashing a dreadful lub-dub inside her machinery. Presently you are lifted, drifted, thrown back, and hurled. You think you are lifted high up in the air and then dropped. Your weightless speck of a body dancing to the will of some invisible conjurer is juggled back and forth in time. A small patch of mountainous terrain floats before your eyes, manifesting and vanishing like some photic illusion, and then sleep comes. Sleep comes as you enter the countries with vanishing aspect where in the darkness you notice deep below a flare-path which momentarily illuminate your vision. Gradually the somnolence solidifies and you lose track. You hear the strumming of a guitar, at first faint and indistinct and then loud enough to plunk you out of slumber. The musically generated vibrations pulsate down your somniferous system and you realize that once more you are an observer to a new movie, another telestically generated vision the likes of which so often come to you sometime in piecemeal and sometime in full. You sigh and decide to endure. You see a room that looks like a tiny hill-side café, more like a shanty tea-shop with a tin roof and a few benches strewn around a damp little chamber. The floor is cold and wet; it had rained. You see him sitting on a wobbly wooden stool, one foot on the crossbar of the stool and another on the floor. He is tapping his foot to the rhythm of his self-generated music. He nods his head, bites his lower-lip, opens and closes his eyes like somebody deeply sunk in music. The tune is fast-paced with certain slow segments thrown in to add variety. Before him a group of six young men all dressed in heavy winter jackets, pullovers and caps sit nodding their bodies and tapping
their fingers. A half-finished bottle of whiskey and another of brandy and several tumblers sit on a low wooden table next to them. Their eyes are droopy, their voice muffled. The middle-aged proprietor of the establishment having just informed them that the roads are blocked because of the landslide sits close to the lamp and hurriedly gulps a tumbler full of raw alcoholic beverage. The lamp-wick crepitate; the room is about to sink into darkness. At the back of the room, away from the crowd you see two women sitting on a bench positioned closed to the wall. One of them is she, and the other one is the one caged in picture frames sprinkled about the house. A black and white picture of her with a bright red vermilion bindi dwells in his wallet. For some reason the face of this woman is more familiar to you than the other faces you think you know by heart but can never fully recognize. Wrapped in ribbons of fond memory, this face like all the other undisclosed faces is hidden away under heaps of buried treasure never to be exhumed. “The smell, it’s stifling,” she says to her. “But you do drink, don’t you?” the other woman asks. “I do, but not every day. What a nasty weather this is; it seems we can’t get out until tomorrow,” she says. “But he seems to be enjoying himself,” the other woman smiles and says. “Is he always like this? I mean he is famous, doesn't he reserve his talent and entertain a chosen few?” “Shekhar, reserving talent, oh you make me laugh. Don’t you remember the story of him singing the whole night to a bunch of elderly ladies who were holidaying in that resort where we stayed for our honeymoon? He is always like this; music-mad is what I call him.” “Isn’t it hard to live with a husband who loves music more than his spouse?” she asks. “It’s exasperating at times, but thank god, I have my school and my chores to keep me from being depressed. And it’s not that he loves music more than he loves me; I didn’t tell him about taking this break. He just came up and said your doctor says you need a change of scenery to recuperate quicker; we are going to the hills.” “And you dragged me with you, best friend coming to service…I shall miss another day in office,” she sighed and said. “Anyway, how are you feeling now?” “Much better. Today is better than other days,” the other woman says. They sit in silence for some time listening to the music. She is feeling nostalgic. The crepitating flame makes her think how in life one needs to take appropriate action to guarantee the fulfillment of one’s own deepest desires. She looks at her and says, “Let’s go out for a bit, I am sure the smell isn't good for you.” They get up and the other woman brings out a light pink viscose scarf with paisley print out of her bag and tying it around her neck says, “Do you think I should tell him?”
She replies in the negative and says, “We’d be back before he notices that we’d left.” They stand on a patch of stony land that skirts the mountain. A smell of coolness, of ferns, of gloomy tress and soaked moss is wafted on the dusk-time breeze. The sky is a lady sullen with grief wearing a purplish gown trailing behind her. The sound of crickets is a constant drum-beat penetrating the sheer curtain of torpor that hangs in the still mountainous terrain in the evening hour. The guitar has struck a new tune, an impatient track. “Let’s climb up,” she says to the other woman. “Climb up?” She looks around and says, “I am sure the landscape will look more breathtaking from above; and it’s not a difficult climb. Come on!” “I am not sure if I should and I am scared of heights too,” the other woman says. “I will help you, come on. Don’t you trust me?” They climb up, she before the other woman, her rock climbing and trekking skills add to her agility. She grabs the other woman’s hand and pulls her up. The other woman is panting, her mouth is dry. Finally they stop. The landscape down has turned from green to brilliant black. Tall trees in the forest that clothe the hill stand like depressed sentinels guarding a derelict mansion. The patch of land where they stand is like a wooden stage held in the air. The surrounding peaks are about to be dyed with the evening’s moribund pastel colors. The day is on its last legs; the sun has set. The guitar strum is a faint tune from another world. The other woman has handed her the scarf when she was climbing up. She now stood behind her and kneaded the fabric in her closed fists. “The view is awesome; let’s climb down now,” the other woman says. She doesn't reply but awkwardly drops the scarf on the ground and press her sweaty palm against the other woman’s mouth and her nostrils. The other woman staggers, she tries to free herself. She moans and tries to breaths, but she presses on, harder and harder. All the energy of her body has concentrated on her muscular arm’s grip. The other woman is weak, but she fights to free herself. She can’t but finish the task she has long thought of completing. The thought emboldens the pressing palm. You want to supervene, but you have lost all your energy, the energy to speak, the energy to intervene, the energy of life. You watch with your lackluster gaze and like a patient under an attack of sleep apnea you feel your breathing too have become abnormal. You too feel stifled by a sweaty palm. Eventually you notice the other woman has freed herself and is running towards the slope. She runs after her and grabs her shirt. She lays her on the ground and stuffs the scarf into her mouth pressing the fabric deep into the open hole. Her hand once again obstructs her nostrils and her mouth. The other woman wriggles and moans. The struggle continues; a loud plunk is heard. The song has stopped. The other woman isn’t dead yet but she is close to her final unconsciousness. She hurriedly extracts the scarf from her mouth and rolls her body down the steep slope. There isn't any protest; the body disappears in the dark forest underneath. She fancies she hears a thud and starts. She walks back and hides under a tree like a child who has stolen something and is scared of her mother’s remonstration.
Presently she gets up and starts to pant. She is feeling warm; her body is soaked in sweat. She notices the scarf she is holding, the other woman’s scarf on which her cigarette had crafted a hole the night before. She pats on her trouser pockets for her cigarette lighter. She looks around and then lights the fabric; the viscose burns with unusual rage. You watch the flames; the warmth scorches your cheek. She kneels and collects a big stone and places it above the ash. Then she gets up still panting and rests for a second with her back against the tree trunk. She takes some deep breaths and listens. The strumming is still audible. The scene hasn't changed inside the tea-shop when she comes back. Nobody has noticed her departure or her arrival except the bench now shorn off its other occupant and the clumsy tinroofed room. The smell of alcohol is more intense. The episode is over. The invisible camera that is fitted to your eyes now zooms in and you see before you another illusion, another scene. A lean man in ill-fitted khaki colored police uniform sits behind a cheap wooden desk and writes something. He and she both tell him about the other woman and that they last saw her in the previous evening. She tells the officer that he has been playing his guitar all evening entertaining the crowd of young men and the tea-stalls proprietor and that she was with the crowd all the time. She too was inebriated and hadn't noticed the other woman’s whereabouts. They tell him that they have searched for her the whole night but hadn’t traced her. The officer tells them that the search party hasn't discovered anything either and that as soon as the weather clears up the head office in the town will be informed. You see him sagging under the weight of the other woman’s absence. You see his dark eyes welling up with tears. You see him drinking the foul tea-colored liquid. You see his house littered with empty cigarette cases; you see his guitar has a carpet of dust on its surface. You learn that a month has passed. You learn that a telegram has come followed by several telephone calls. You hear a man in dark grey suit and a striped royal blue tie tell him that the body is halfrotten, half-eaten and pawed by beasts. He tells him that she may have slipped from the top. His alibi is strong; she testifies he never left the room. The investigation is halted; the court dismisses the case for lack of evidence. The movie of the mind is interrupted. The room and its accessories and the voices start to melt slowly and nimbly and then finally disappear beyond a wavelike hill of cumulus clouds. The tessellating pieces of the puzzle are thrown in the air. They roll and then rest on a marble floor. You see yourself back to the couple’s bedchamber; you see him lying supine, you see her sitting on the bed with the scarf lying like a dead cat on her lap. Your mouth is filled with gall; a pungent liquid seems to be pouring down your throat. You feel giddy. You try to recall all that you've seen, but memory fails you like always. You feel like a refugee suddenly shorn off all the blessings life had given her and thrown into a sad country where death awaits her. The futility of your shadowy friendless existence makes you want to cry, only tears never come to your eyes; you are as dry as lips in winter, as land in desert. Next to you she sits holding the deep secret in her heart and wishing to apologize to you for stifling the life out of you. Her meta-voice remonstrates with her. She is scared, the scarf that she had burnt has returned to her with your memories strewn in every strand of the fabric and she
cannot even burn it this time. He didn't know that the other woman, that you, had that scarf with you on the day you died. He hadn't noticed the loss. He sleeps humbly, finally resting after a year and half of pain and misery thinking that this time may be the pain will surely diminish. The clock’s ticking continues to gently remind her of the dark hours of the night. She is frozen to her seat; you feel sleepy. Your eyelids her heavy, the caged photographs of the other woman stare at you ruefully. You know another illusion awaits you.
Barnali Saha writes short stories, travelogues and articles on social issues. Her works have been published by several newspapers and magazines in India and in various electronic magazines in the United States including The Tribune Chandigarh, Woman's Era, Muse India, Parabaas, Fresh! Literary Magazine, The Statesman, The Indian Express, Mused -Bella Online Literary Review, Pens on Fire, Long Story short, The Smoking Poet, Fiction at work, etc). She is currently pursuing Master’s degree in English and Communication Studies from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi.
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The Gali Gali Man The ship was at anchor outside the Suez Canal waiting its turn for a passage when a couple of country craft came alongside. Some hawkers carrying merchandise climbed up the rope ladders that were let down and with them was a Gali-Gali man. He was a large person with a bulging Arab robe over several layers of clothing. A shapely beard and a cap like a frustum of a red textured cone framed the soft Egyptian features. A black tassel, one end anchored at the top, was freely swinging to and fro. The red cap and black tassel lent his visage dignity and balance. It was quite different from the gaunt, hooked nose, stereotype Arab profile. The large compelling eyes under bushy eyebrows held my attention when they turned upon me. He looked like a man who could make things happen the way he wanted it. A few of the European and English passengers haggled with the merchants for the very pretty rugs and some superbly crafted wooden handicrafts. Queen Nefertiti in profile was the most popular image followed by the frontal view of Tutankhemen. The Asian passengers hardly cared to look at the wares presented and gathered around the Gali-Gali man. By the time the deck trading was over we were in the front row at the performance. The Gali-Gali man was several grades more accomplished than the street performers of Bombay that I remembered, and he had no assistants. He started off with a string of Arabic abracadabra and a repeated ‘Gali Gali’, which gave him his name. Waving a wand he transformed it into a bouquet of cellophane flowers in the most impossible colours; with another wave and repeated gobbledygook he restored the bouquet to its original form of a wand. Lifting his cap and revealing a balding head he turned it around and poured into it a stream of water, which emanated from the closely held fingers of one hand. ‘Water of the Nile,’ he said grinning wide. He was standing against a rail on the starboard under the lifeboats. With a swift glance overboard, he tossed the water out and replaced his cap bowing to our loud applause. He pulled out of his bag the standard accoutrement of the magician. A set of steel rings looped into one another was passed around for the front row to inspect. They formed a straight chain of five round links and he was asking us to pull it apart and test the integrity of each ring. All the while he was speaking in a mixture of good English interspersing it with what I supposed was the Arabic equivalents of mantras. He came nearer and lifting the rings and jingling them slowly with an imperceptible sleight of hand he separated them. Coming up to me he asked me check the rings, to pass them from one hand to the other, one by one. He was standing by my side and helping me along. Suddenly he took all five from my grasp and without a moment’s hesitation just jingle-jangled them together and, as they rang their metallic notes, they had linked together. He triumphantly displayed the joined hoops, each looped to the other, now in a circular chain of 54
five links. Holding them high above his head he marched around as again the whole assembly clapped in appreciation. ‘Someone doesn’t have the time,’ he suddenly said loudly, ‘Gentlemen please look at the time,’ and he let out a peal of echoing laughter. All looked at their wristwatches and as I turned my wrist I found that my watch was missing. He was looking at me piercingly when I met his eyes. With a smile pretending complicity, he beckoned me with one hand while the other held a closed fist. His face beaming he turned around, calling the attention of the audience, then opened his hand to reveal my wristwatch resting in his palm. ‘Ah, yes my dear Sir, I shall give you the time,’ and again applause. I knew that he had palmed my watch while I was inspecting the rings of steel with which he had juggled. Thanking him, I sheepishly walked back to my place. There followed several other feats of legerdemain, some very clever and astonishing card tricks and we were all left expecting, any moment, the proverbial rabbit out of the conjurer’s hat. By this time we had made way for some ladies in the rear to move over to the front and a beautiful Persian lady in an evening gown stood in front next to Ahmed. The Gali-Gali man came up to her and was waving his arms while speaking. He passed his hands over Ahmed’s head and pulled out a small white chick, maybe only a day old. After a quick display it was promptly put into a pocket of his voluminous robe. The next two chicks came out of the inner pockets of the jacket of a very surprised Ahmed and were quickly confiscated into the conjurer’s pocket. There were gasps of appreciation from the audience, which drew a wave, and a flourish from the magician. The Gali-Gali man then turned to the lady in the evening gown with a modest display of cleavage. Waving his hands in front he started picking out chicks from inside the top of the lady’s gown amidst shrieks and protests till Ahmed gallantly intervened and patted him on the shoulder asked him to desist. He was immediately apologetic and the red-faced lady waved him away. With that he ended his performance and with eyes downcast in a pose of contrition he passed his hat around.
Chandrashekhar Sastry is a widely travelled engineer-scientist, now retired and living in Bangalore. He has studied in Bombay, Germany and in the UK and worked in Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata and Bangalore. His first book The Non-Resident Indian published in 1991 was a pioneering work with an unorthodox treatment of a contemporary subject. He has been contributing to the Times of India, The Deccan Herald, The Statesman, Muse India, The Little Magazine and Reading Hour. Chandrashekhar Sastry has won a fist prize from Pan American Airlines for his travel writings. His short fiction has won a first prize at the contest conducted by the British Council in conjunction with Unisun Publications Pvt Ltd. Muse India, an e-journal, has awarded him a prize for writing. His stories have been selected for anthologies by The Indian Journal for PostColonial Literatures, Contemporary Indo-Anglian Literature, The Editors’ Choice - Contemporary Stories in Indian English.
Flashing Police Lights Missing He looked downright ugly. His chin had a heavy shapelessness, and the lines on his forehead were as if scored by a knife. His short, wiry black hair looked like barbed wire. He huddled in the narrow alley between the bakery and the bank. A delicate mist rose gently from the road, stirred only occasionally by a faint breath of breeze. “Hang on till he’s gone, mate” he hissed, “Then we strike!” Lawrence and Jacob heard him. They called him Bull. Lawrence’s muscular body tensed. He dreamt of money. Jacob was the planner. He had a hoarse voice and a sharp crooked mind. “We gonna wait here all night, man? Let’s go” said Lawrence impatiently. “Shut up!” growled Jacob, “I been watching this set-up for days.” His throat twitched with annoyance. Minutes dragged by like hours. A dirty, black, battered van pulled up. A uniformed man with a shotgun came slowly down the steps, got into the vehicle which then roared off. Revolvers ready, faces covered, they burst into the bank, shouting:- “Hands over your heads! Down! Down!” Bull pushed the few customers there into an interview room. A woman with a screaming child cowered in a corner. Lawrence leapt over the counter and grabbed the money, stuffing it hurriedly into cloth bags. The teller tumbled from his high stool. Then they backed up to the main door and exited. It was over in sixty seconds. “Freeze!” a deep voice suddenly barked, “We got you covered on the ground…now”. They were stunned! They obeyed. Who was it? A rush of heavy feet came up, kicked each one savagely, and then was gone. The wail of police sirens electrified them into sudden action. The bags had disappeared.
“Run..Run in different directions!” shouted Jacob. But the flashing lights came from all sides. There seemed no escape. Bull ran for his life, a police-car at his heels. He blundered into an alley with no way out. He flung himself onto a fence and scrambled over it. The cop slammed his brakes, burst out, and gave chase. Bull stumbled, fell and was caught. He was dragged, swearing, to the car, and pushed in. The engine was still on, and the lights swirled. Like a flash, Bull vaulted into the driver’s seat, pulled the gear into reverse and backed out of the lane, tyres spinning wildly, knocking the burly cop down. Traffic parted as he weaved in and out. He was enjoying this! “I’m a cop” he screamed, “Yoo….Yeah…hoo”. He narrowly missed a long truck-trailer which was slow in getting out of his path. He drove madly over footpaths and on the wrong side of the road. He speeded up as he entered the motorway and then pushed the pedal to the floor. The powerful vehicle shot forward. He felt a rush of blood to his head. He glanced in the rear mirror to see if he was being followed. No. Now he had time to think of a flight path. He decided to back-track to his own house through the lonely long route. He didn’t have a criminal record, so they wouldn’t be able to pin him. He’d lock the police-car in the garage. They won’t ever find it. The news flashed all over the country that a police-car had been stolen and was missing. A week went by. Bull finally ventured out on foot. He was safe now. He had to find his mates. They had to trace the money stolen from them, and take sweet revenge. He knew where Lawrence and Jacob lived. But they hadn’t been home, he discovered. He searched from pub to pub. No one had seen them. Were they in the cooler? He would get that information from one of his mates who knew someone who regularly bribed a corrupt cop. That way he learnt that Lawrence had been caught on the spot, and was serving a six-month jail sentence. Bull didn’t dare visit Lawrence in jail. He would have to look for Jacob himself. He went to every place he thought Jacob could have gone to. Day after day, night after night, the search went on. He spread the word in the underworld. He tried to join the Black Bandits’ gang. They ruled the streets. They were into drugs, smuggling, the works. The boss would check him out first, they said. They arranged it. The spot was deserted. He walked with measured steps down the stony path. Suddenly he was grabbed from behind, his hands bound, dragged backwards several metres and dumped into the back of a utility vehicle. His feet were tied and his mouth gagged. He bounced around till it stopped some time later. He was lifted up, dropped onto the ground and marched into a building, feet dragging.
It was pitch dark. His hands and legs felt numb. A beam of bright light came straight on him and completely blinded him. Tension flared through his every muscle. “What’s the game man? You a police pig? We kill you…now”. “No! No! ” pleaded Bull. “I’m not a cop. I want to join the gang”. “Why?” Bull couldn’t see the owner of the gruff voice. But he sensed that the threat was real, unless he came up with something convincing. “I hate cops. I’ll kill one if I have to”. “Why? Don’t lie to me!” “Cause they put my mate in the cooler. They nearly got me too. I escaped in the cop car. It’s in my garage” “Who the devil is your mate?” “Lawrence” “What does he look like? Where is he?” Bull quickly rehearsed the words before he spoke them. “We’ll check your story. We’ll be in touch”. They must have, because two days later, he was taken in the same way to the same voice. “Yep. You are okay. We’ll tell you what happens next”. Bull was initiated into the gang. He was first given light duties like robbing a liquor store, roughing up easy targets etc. He got to know the other gang-members and was allowed to accompany them on more tough sorties. The Headhunters were the rival gang and particularly known for visciousness. They dismembered their victims. The rivalry between the two gangs became more bitter as each sought more turf. Boundries were broken, and then came swift revenge. Bull was ordered to go to Danny Road to collect the usual weekly ‘protection money’ from the small businesses there. They always paid promptly. He had covered three shops and was about to step into the fourth. “Get lost, man! This is our turf”. A strong smell of alcohol in the crisp air. There was a moment of choking silence. Then more Headhunters came up menacingly. He swung at the nearest and fled. He reported this to his team-leader who relayed it to the boss. The order went out to prepare for a showdown.
Every Black Bandit was issued a handgun and a knife, and trained to use them effectively. They practised attack and defence. They had to work as a team. The plan was to break the Headhunter gang completely. Scouts went out all over the city to report back on the movements of the rival gang. The day, time and place were carefully selected. The attack was to be to the Headhunter headquarters. They would never expect that. At the stroke of midnight on a moonless night, they moved in silently and swiftly. But the Headhunters were obviously expecting them. There had been a leak. The response was fierce. Hand-to-hand fights erupted. Men fell on both sides. Bull found himself being cornered and outnumbered. He fought back and wounded some. He was already bleeding from the shoulder where a knife struck him as he moved away. There was yelling and cursing. He suddenly recognized a familiar hoarse voice. It was Jacob! He had found him! He was a Headhunter! Then someone shouted “Cops coming!” The fight broke up abruptly. They fled helter-skelter. Bull ran away from there, as fast as he could, his left hand clutching his shoulder, trying to stop the bleeding. He felt weak and dizzy by the time he reached a safe spot, and leaned on a wall, panting heavily. He tore his shirt, and tied up the wound. He then struggled on. He had to reach home before dawn. He had to find Jacob. Maybe Jacob knew who had snatched the money from them. He had to be very careful, for if his own gang found out what he had in mind, there would be big trouble. He didn’t get an opportunity for weeks, till one day he saw a Headhunter he recognized, and realized that he was alone. He followed him stealthily and then jumped him when the coast was clear. He drew his knife swiftly, and jabbed him in the throat, cutting the skin. The victim’s eyeballs rolled up in fear and pain. “Where’s Jacob? Tell me now…or I ram the knife in…” “I…I…I don’t know…who…” Bull pressed the knife in further. “I’m not playing games, man. Speak or you die.” He told Bull where Jacob lived. Bull didn’t really want to kill him. He let him go, with a severe warning as to what would happen if he spilled the beans. Bull entered the street where Jacob lived with mixed feelings. He was glad to have found him, but was uncertain as to what would happen, now that Jacob was a rival gang-member. He stood across the road from the house. The drapes were drawn and all was quiet. Should he just go up and knock on the door, or wait? He dreamt of the stolen bank-notes, thousands of them. He could see himself spending all that money. It had to be traced.
He knocked softly on the door. He had a funny feeling that he was being watched from inside. It was a while before the door opened and a large tall female, aggression on her round face, hands on her hips, growled:- “Yes?”. He said he was Jacob’s friend. She looked him up and down as if he was a worm worthy of being crushed underfoot. Then she moved quickly aside and gestured for him to come in. He put one foot in,…the crushing blow knocked him out cold! His head was spinning like a top when he regained consciousness. It hurt madly. He was bound and trussed in a dimly-lit room. At first he was lost as to where he was, or why he was there. Then it slowly came back. He was in Jacob’s house, lying helpless. Was that because he was a rival gang-member? “Aa…aah. You came looking for me, eh?” Bull recognized the voice. Jacob had a very distinctive voice. “Hullo mate, he said, “Why am I tied up?”. “Now, let’s see. Why did you come looking for me, eh? I knew you were coming. We are loyal Headhunters, you know.” “The money, Jacob. I came for my share. Do you know who stole it from us? Lawrence is in jail.” Jacob burst into laughter. Bull was taken aback. What was he laughing for? Jacob’s laugh shook the floorboards. “It’s with me, you fool. It’s where neither you nor Lawrence will ever find it. You’re not going to live long, anyway. Neither is Lawrence, once he serves his time”. He again burst into peals of laughter. His aching head prevented Bull from thinking clearly. But he did finally realize that Jacob had tricked him and Lawrence. Jacob was always the one with a crooked brain. He must have used others to help him, no doubt about that. He got the entire cash, nice and easy. Bull wasn’t going to die. He was sure of that. He had to escape. He lay there thinking hard. Many hours later, the large woman came in with some cooked meat on a plate, which she fed him like he was a dog. She didn’t untie him. He noticed that the plate was a glass one. That gave him the idea. The next time she came in with food, he let her come near, then suddenly lifted both his legs and kicked her hard in the jaw, knocking her down unconscious. The plate broke. He wriggled till he got hold of a sharp piece and worked frantically on the rope, hoping all the time that she wouldn’t recover. Eventually he loosened the rope and got one hand out. The rest was easy. He tied her up tight with the same rope, and gagged her. She was still unconscious when he left.
There was no one else in the house, so he just opened the door and walked into the street. He couldn’t obviously go home, and had to disappear into hiding. He had to contact the gang and let them know what had happened, but not about the money. He got into a public phone-booth and phoned a gang-member, who heard him patiently, and then directed him to a ‘safe’ house. He remained in the ‘safe’ house for a week till he felt okay to venture out. The gang was lying low, after the recent attack on the rivals. Now he was the hunter. He had to find Jacob and make him talk. He had to get the money. He had to be careful. He grew a beard and a moustache. He bought good clothes and sunglasses. He even bought himself a pair of shoes, whereas earlier he used to go barefoot. The mid-day sun blazed across the silver-plated water, sending the last of the fishermen into the welcome shade for their siesta. Bull stood still, a picture of indecision. Then he spotted the boy, shabby and tired-looking, his hands in his pockets. “Got a job for you, Joe”. “Yeah?” “Yep”. “How much you gonna pay, man?” The boy managed a sly grin when the gold coins cascaded into his palms. “There’s more for you when you get me the information. Here’s what you got to do…………”. Joe got onto Jacob’s tracks like a bloodhound. He watched the house day and night. No one came or went. It was deserted. But Joe knew someone would come there. The woman was tall and large. She looked around furtively before inserting a key in the door, and vanished inside. About a couple of hours later she slipped out with a bundle under one arm. He kept her in sight as she sped along the alley-ways, glancing over her shoulder every now and then, to check whether she was being followed. She entered a street where rough-looking men lounged, smoking cigarettes and swearing loudly. She didn’t even acknowledge their crude greetings, but pressed on. She stopped abruptly, and said something to someone with his back to her. He didn’t even turn. He didn’t answer. She pulled his sleeve to catch his attention. He wheeled round suddenly and slapped her hard cursing profusely. Joe recognized him from the description.
Jacob was furious with the woman. He snatched the bundle from her hands, and strode away, every step picturing his annoyance. He kicked a mangy dog out of his way. He disappeared into a dimly-lit, run-down pub, and Joe could see him drinking inside, sitting on the high stool, mumbling to himself. Joe sped to alert Bull. He knew that Jacob would most likely spend hours there drinking. Bull had just heard that there had been a riot at the prison, and that some prisoners had escaped by taking the guards as hostages. The cops had launched a massive man-hunt. They would probably search door-to-door. He suddenly remembered the police-car in his garage! That would give him away. He had to get rid of it before they found it. Joe crashed into Bull as he was hurrying round a corner. The impact knocked him to the ground. Bull hauled him up, and pulled him along, whispering:“Out with it! Found him?” Bull got the story, gave more coins to the boy, and sent him away. The lad took flight as fast as his spidery legs would take him. Bull was left with the hard choice of getting rid of the cop-car, or catching up with Jacob. He decided that the car had to come first. He made sure that the coast was clear before he backed it out of his garage in the dead of night. The neighbours were fast asleep. He drove confidently, knowing that no one would stop him. He headed out of town, along by-roads. He would take it deep into the forest on dirt-tracks and then either burn it or push it into the river. He braked and got out. He opened the gas-tank and was about to drop a live match into it, when a sharp voice rang out:- “Stop!” Shadows surrounded him, and held him captive. “A cop-car! It’s a cop-car, man! This here fella’s not a cop”. “What you doing with a cop-car, man?” “Hey, man, if you stole a cop-car, you must be cool”. They dragged him out of the shadows, and into the fringes of the forest. There were four of them, dressed in prison uniform. Bull recognised Lawrence. “You look different, man”, said Lawrence. Lawrence then explained to the others that he knew Bull, and that they could trust him. Lawrence was obviously the leader. They had a prolonged pow-pow, and it was unanimously decided that the first priority was to get rid of the police car. It went up in flames when the match caught the petrol. It also set the forest alight!
They ran as fast as they could as soon as the fire spread to the dry forest floor. It was a race for life. They crashed through the undergrowth like mad elephants. The flames were close behind them and spreading wider. The smoke made it hard to breathe. Just when escape seemed impossible, they came to a mud-bank, and slid and slipped into the clear water of a small river. They swam across and lay there panting, trying to recover their breath. The wind blew the fire to the north, away from them. “Right! …Now…where do we go… from here?” “We gotta get rid of these clothes, man. Get ordinary ones.” It was still quite dark when they came upon a lonely farmhouse with its smoking chimney. They stripped to their underclothes and bundled the prison garb into the deep hole in the trunk of a leafy tree. Three of them went to the rear of the house, to stand-by, while Lawrence and another strode up to the front-door and knocked loudly. A sleepy female voice called out:- “Who is it? Who? At this time?” “Our car fell in the river, ma’am. We are lucky to escape. We are soaking wet. We need to dry out.” She poked her head out the first-floor window, and said “Get lost!” She banged the window shut. It was easy getting into the house and capturing the woman. She was alone. She said her husband had gone away to buy some sheep. They helped themselves to his clothes and the food in the kitchen. Then they had to decide what to do with her. They asked her when her husband was expected to return. She said he would be back in a few hours. They didn’t want to kill her and have murder on their heads, so they just gagged and tied her to her bed, and left her there. Then they split, and Lawrence and Bull teamed up. Bull told him what he knew about Jacob and the money. They had to find him. They plodded on. The police would be searching with tracker dogs. They had to get a vehicle. Hours later they came up to a deserted road. They thought of a plan. The driver of the red saloon braked hard to avoid running over the man lying on the road. He jumped out to see if the man was hurt, but the man bounded up, leapt into the car, and the vehicle disappeared, leaving only a dirt cloud.
Lawrence was at the wheel going real fast, and Bull in the passenger’s seat felt uneasy. The road was unsealed and winding. They didn’t know where they were heading. But eventually they came to the highway and headed south. “Hey man” exclaimed Bull, “where we going?” “We gotta go somewhere, and get rid of this junk, man. The cops will get us”. Just then, a police siren sounded in the distance, coming fast from behind. The chase was on. The red car was distinctive. The owner must have reported it stolen. Lawrence pushed the pedal to the floor and the sudden surge of power left the cop-car trailing. But it came slowly near. “Go, man, go!” screamed Bull. “It won’t go any faster” grunted Lawrence in frustration. The cop was only metres away when Lawrence abruptly swerved…and lost control. The car leaned on two wheels, skid madly, grazed a power-pole by the side of the road, went on, turned turtle, righted itself, broke the side-barrier and took a spectacular leap into space moments after Bull opened the door and jumped into soft bush. He heard the explosion and saw the flames. He had lost a mate. He lay stunned for a moment or two. Miraculously he hadn’t suffered any major injury. He hadn’t been seen jumping out. He crawled on hands and knees further and further away. He managed to escape in the ensuing confusion. Now he was more determined than ever to get to Jacob. He walked, stumbled, dragged himself to town and the Casablanca Bar where Jacob was seen. The bar was practically empty. No Jacob. He waited in the street outside. He was hungry but penniless, his clothes torn and tattered. He swallowed his pride and stood at the corner, begging for coins. Most passers-by didn’t acknowledge his presence. However, a couple of hours later he had enough for a frugal meal. As he approached the Bar, the door opened and a drunk was flung outside and landed at his feet. He glanced down…and recognized Jacob! He grabbed him by the collar, and barked in his ear “Where’s the money? Where’s the money?” Jacob looked at his face blankly. “Who are…you, mate?” he asked, “What…what…do you want?” The headlights of a car fell full on Bull’s face, and that’s when Jacob snapped out of his drunken stupor and bounded up in terror. He broke free, and ran. He meandered into the path of a vehicle which braked and swerved. But it hit him and threw him away.
“An ambulance! Call an ambulance!” yelled a witness. An ambulance came in ten minutes and whisked Jacob away. Bull didn’t know whether Jacob was alive or dead. He went to the nearest hospital and found out that Jacob was in Emergency. He was critical. Bull went to the hospital every day. They said Jacob was unconscious. They wouldn’t let him see Jacob, even though he told them that he was a close friend. Jacob’s condition deteriorated. He was dying. There were only brief periods of consciousness. The doctors said that there was no hope. They had tried everything. Bull was desperate. He had to ask Jacob where the money was before he passed away. He got friendly with Moo, the day nurse. They met at a café across the road. “How long you been nursing?” he asked her, “Tired, eh?” “Yeah, man. Been too long. Need a break”. “A beer, the beach, and…relax. That’s it, eh” he grinned, looking into her brown eyes lovingly. She blushed, and pushed a curl off her forehead. Nobody had looked at her like that before! In fact, men didn’t give a second look. She was so plain. She rubbed her hands nervously. He cupped her chin and edged closer. “Maybe if we had a million, we could make it, eh Moo?” “Maybe…” she dreamed. “That fella Jacob, he’s dying isn’t he?” “Yes”. “He’s got my money! He’s hidden it somewhere”. “Well, today when I went to his bedside, I barely heard him mumbling something about money.” “What did he say? What,…Moo, my dear?” he asked eagerly. “I heard…bank…money…hidden”. “Where? Did he say where?” “He was mumbling something…like he was talking to someone…” “What did he say? What did he say?” “Seemed as if he was talking to a woman. He said something that sounded ‘Keep it’”. “She knows!” Bull almost shouted.
“Who knows? What?” “That big ugly woman. The one who fed me like I was a dog. I’ve got to find her”. He bounded up and was about to leave, when he suddenly realized that that stupid nurse could still help him. He let her pay the bill, then took her arm gently, and they walked back fast to the hospital. But, Jacob’s bed was empty. They found that he had died. Bull made his way out of the hospital, without even glancing back. The idiot nurse was of no use now. As he passed the room where they kept the dead, he suddenly saw her. The large ugly woman! He felt like choking her! But he watched her from a distance. She was crying. A hearse came up, and they took the body away. She didn’t follow it. She walked slowly out of the hospital grounds, and into the street. He kept her in sight. She walked without purpose, her head bent down, her hands hanging at her sides. She went through a maze of streets. Bull suddenly realized that she was actually heading towards the bank. The one they had held up. She stopped and turned to glance back. Bull hid swiftly. Then she went on. She came to an empty warehouse near the outskirts of town and slipped in after opening a side door with a key. She slammed the door behind her, but it didn’t click shut. It started raining. Bull felt the water slipping down his shirt. Then something bit him. He slapped at it but more came. When she came out, they were biting all over her. Over him also. Raised by the heavy rain from the ground where their eggs had remained dormant through the worst draught in ten years, the plague locusts spread swiftly over footpaths, buildings, vehicles, everything. She screamed in terror and dropped the cloth bags she was carrying. They landed on the bags in hundreds and sank their vicious little teeth into them. The paper money flew out and was scattered by the wind and the water. The bags were torn into shreds. His eyelids heavy with pain, Bull barely saw his dreams torn away. Then they were gone! Check it once.
Kersie Khambatta is a semi-retired lawyer practising in New Zealand. He is also a part-time writer of articles and short-stories. His writing is recognizable by his simple style, with short sentences and carefully-chosen words. He has a diploma of Associateship of the British Tutorial Institute, London, in English, Modern Journalism, and Journalism in India, and a Certificate in Comprehensive writing awarded in October 2005 by the Writing School (Australia and New Zealand). His pieces have appeared in Senior Living (B.C., Canada), Her Magazine (New Zealand), The Rusty Nail magazine (U.S.A.), and many other publications.
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An Indian in Indonesia We arrived at the beautiful village in Indonesia after a slow and nervous traditional boat ride with a skilled skipper who ought to have been at school. With the backdrop of green mountains and sprawling paddy fields, electricity is yet to extend its reach. When we entered one of the houses, running to escape the rain, I heard music. Oh, to hear a battery operated radio whistling out a Hindi song! And, when we were introduced, the hosts were animated to know that I was from India. Indonesians love Hindi cinema, of course. Somehow I can understand how a bule feels when travelling across Asia. India to Indonesians is Hindi movies, peppy songs, Shah Rukh Khan and Preeti Zinta. So, here I was in a sleepy pristine village listening to Hindi songs against the now heavy rain. That trip, though, turned into a nightmare. The urinal and the kitchen were just few feet apart. Since the men don’t come into the kitchen, the women can use it instead of running to the forest for a pee. Of course, it’s kept clean by lavish amount of water after every use. At first, all of us were alarmed at the location of the toilet. Would we use it? One by one my reluctant friends ventured forth. That’s the thing about nature’s forces, after a while, the urgency takes over. They recommended: “Use it Merlin, it isn’t as bad as it looks,” they said. When I shook my head to the contrary I got clearly annoyed looks. In fact, it’s very irritating when someone is as adamant as me. a. It makes the others look bad. b. Be a Roman when you are in Rome, otherwise stay at home. (Also, one has to remember the kindness of the host letting us, complete strangers, use the bathroom). Still, different culture or not, near the kitchen? No way. The men were sympathetic. ‘We know it’s difficult,’ they said. B said, ‘I respect you.’ With a belly full of water, the praise was lost on me. And, curious how things turn out, B did become a close friend, a friendship born that day. Around the house there were just the vast paddy fields and the near distant forest. Forest? Now, local custom deems, in the words of an Indonesian friend, “Gods of the forest should be respected so, no peeing in the forest.”
Apparently, people in the region are conveniently exempted by the Gods. I didn’t believe in that part of the folklore, also by then I was desperate. With the rain gone, the forest looked nearer. Rescued. Anyway, did I tell you? Any Indonesia can sing the popular song, “Kuch kuch hota hai.” I would repeatedly hear people singing it for me-taxi drivers, mutual friends, and strangers. The karaoke’s have Hindi songs. In Makassar where ten of us from ten different countries learnt dance, thanks to a generous scholarship from the foreign ministry, I could pass off as Indonesian (But not in Solo or Jakarta). I was also asked in Solo, “Are you from Pakistan?” Suspect, there was the triumph of a thrilled grin on my face. At times, the shopkeepers couldn’t understand my stony face to Bahasa Indonesia. Still, when I opened my mouth the English with the Indian accent spoilt the fun. I found if for the first time when I went riding in the local pte-pte (Like mini bus). The Indonesian friend who accompanied me, loved to take the drivers for a ride. In a verbal satellite image, he put me to Indonesia, the Naurian friend to India and himself to Thailand. At about this time, the girl near me, a fellow passenger, threw an empty soft drink can on the road. I started telling her not to do that, well aware that half of it never reached her-that wasn’t the point, was it? The driver turned and said, ‘That’s the asli Indian.” From then on if I wanted to pass off as an Indonesian, I managed to keep my mouth shut. Even when I started to speak in Indonesian, it still had the Indian accent for easy pick. Indian movies. If with a microphone you shout, ‘Tell us what you think of the country?” I’d say: Well, between the countries, though less chaotic, roads are crowded in Indonesia. But I have often wondered on the science behind the movement. It’s as if there’s a protective shield over each person- there are hardly any accidents. I think it has much to do with the genuine regard they have for each other. At the speed I crossed roads in Indonesia, I am pretty sure in India I’d be in heaven-or hell- by now. I know I am falling into the trap of generalisation. Yet, I enjoyed my time in Makassar because of the people. Gentle, friendly, kind and generous. (An equal share to the pleasant stay go to my friends too). I remember an official from the Indian embassy telling me, “They’ll try anything to avoid saying a ‘no’. He added,” They consider it disrespectful to be so blunt.” Otherwise, the Makassar is hot and not a touristy paradise like, say, Bali. And, with a little over a hundred dollars you can be millionaire in Indonesia. Hey, some things is life, however meaningless, feel good. The food? Same ingredients. After all, tropical countries, aren’t we? Except for the typical Indonesian houses, often it felt like travelling in India. On the plate, it’s the same vegetables, but once you put them in the mouth they taste different. In Indonesia you add in the flavours, while in India you just have to sit and eat. Of course, for a vegetarian like me, it was tough. Chicken
flavour is added to peanuts, chips, biscuits-you name it. But I absolutely adore the street food of Nasi Goreng, Nasi Kuning and Padang. In Solo, they were exceptionally pleased to welcome us in the roadside eateries. While we ate, they sat around smiling and asking us about Shah Rukh Khan. Of course, I had to tell them that he wasn’t my neighbour, that I had never met him. A fact: They know a lot about India, but we hardly know anything except Bali. On a personal front, all my previous failures didn’t matter. The life of an artist is never easy, I was reassured. I missed India but once. Indeed, I never met any Indian passport holder during my stay in Makassar. Some of my Indonesian friends did inform me of the Indian students in the local universities. “Would you like to meet them,” they asked, “We’ll take you there,” they volunteered. I have seen Indians my entire life. In fact, I was going back to them. “Thanks-I’ll pass,” I said. I could find the Indian influence in the music, dance and traditions. In the same way that I could find the abundant Indonesian influence in Malaysia. Culture enriches itself by interaction. When I hear of women being molested in my country in the name of ‘culture’ I feel the pain of ignorance. The men of India should be sent on a study tour to Indonesia. Ah, that sounds like a punishment for Indonesia, doesn’t it? Maybe anyone who thinks he has the right to molest a woman because she’s a wearing sleeveless top, should be sent non-stop to the Mars. I hear there is some evidence of water there. Hints: Bule - Caucasian Asli - Real
Merlin Flower, an Indian based in Indonesia, is an independent artist and writer.
The Tombstone Flows there a tear of Pity for the dead? – Byron 1 It’s a fascinating town, Chandpur, sticking out like a thirsty tongue into the rough waters of the mighty Meghna, gathering tons of fishermen’s fresh catch for which the wholesalers shell out pennies to send them far and wide for a healthy sum. Their crosstown confreres, meanwhile, roll out the welcome mat for the folksy planters pouring in with their wares down the highroad that draws them out of the fertile heartland of our golden delta. If you happen to exit the pulsating commercial bosom of this provincial town and its clangor and clamor taking the highroad, you will be greeted by rows of variety stores hugging its flanks, giving way to isolated shops and restaurants filled with diners before the elegant homes of merchants, set back a good distance, catch your attention with their clean façades and decorated verandas. Such a merchant’s bungalow with a tin roof and white-washed walls to the left of the highroad was occupied by General Niazi’s troops in 1971, where the Pakistani army had set up its camp claiming to protect the town’s traders and trading from the depravities of “bandits.” Farther ahead, the town disintegrates among scattered hamlets and shacks, a dirt trail heading from the highroad to the north of the camp as far as the eye can see, petering out into a myriad of border strips meandering like veins between rice and sugar cane fields to ultimately lead you to a mango grove in the middle of nowhere. Here I was one late afternoon, trekking right through the heart of this grove, when all of a sudden a vision of a sack tumbling from a tree sent a cold shiver through me. I froze in my tracks, glancing around that wilderness devoid of a soul or sound and there! A girl was hanging from a tree, neck caught in a tight noose. “Oh, no!” I cried, rushing to her and grabbing her by the legs. “What’s the matter with you?” I asked, lifting her up to set her feet on my shoulders. But not a peep from her. I threw my head back to see her eyelids half closed. “You aren’t dead yet, are you? Your feet are warm,” I said, urging fervently, “Loosen that noose. Loosen it!” After two more pleadings, she eased up the noose enough to say or rather mumble, “Leave me. Leave me alone. Let me die.” “Not before you tell me why,” I said.
“I can’t.” “Then I won’t let you die, not in this way.” I coaxed her to free her neck from the noose and she slid down my back, holding onto my shoulders. “I don’t want to live,” she shook her head without looking at me, involuntarily sitting at the root of the tree with her legs stretched out. Her feet were caked in mud, and the part of the sari she was wearing below the sky-blue blouse looked like a wraparound. She had ripped off the rest to devise the noose dangling from the branch above us. “Why don’t you want to live?” I asked, sitting next to her. “My honor’s in tatters.” “What do you mean, your honor’s in tatters?” “They robbed it.” “Who?” “Those monsters,” she sighed deeply, jerking her disheveled head to the right. I had come from that direction but hadn’t seen anyone on my way. “Who are you talking about?” “Those in the house of sin.” Then it became clear to me whom she meant, the soldiers in the army camp. Shocked, I told her that they were in our sights. My fellow fighters and I had been surveying their camp for a few days now. We had been going into town at different times every day, singly or in pairs, to observe their movements and gauge their routines for a suitable time to strike. She threw me a knowing look, for the first time glancing at my face. “They call us bandits,” I said. “Because you’re fighting for our freedom.” I nodded, observing, “One must stand up to criminals. Otherwise they’re emboldened to inflict more pain on the innocent.” After a pause: “How did you end up in their hands, Sister?” Thereupon she revealed, leaning against the tree, that she was a student at the local college, close to her parents’ home. She was going to a friend’s house a week and a half ago when three khakiclad soldiers on patrol in a jeep pulled up and asked her for the direction to a movie theater. She had some rudimentary knowledge of their Urdu, gained from movies and songs, like many Bengali speakers, but before she could open her mouth for a reply, two heavyset soldiers jumped out of the jeep and dragged her into it. They whisked her to their camp and there the brutes unleashed a hellish spree of assault around the clock. Her words were like embers flung in the furnace of my heart, and my anger fired up with new verve. I had heard about such indignities, but now it came straight from the horse’s mouth. I didn’t know what to say except sit there with clenched teeth and listen to her.
There had been a commotion that afternoon near one of the restaurants, she began after a pause. One of the soldiers went there to disperse the crowd, but his presence at the scene only seemed to have exacerbated the situation. To bring it under control he fired a shot in the air, but that shot brought out the rest of the high-strung soldiers from the house with their guns cocked, and as they dashed across the street toward the restaurant, she slipped out the door. Turning her head left and right, she saw no other way to escape but to hurry to the back of the house and crawl along the sloping side of the fishpond to enter the rice field. Then she ran as fast as she could hiking her sari, and quickly crossed into the sugar cane field to hide her head. When she felt she was far enough away from both the house and the highroad, she took the zigzagging border strips between the fields, finally ending up in the mango grove, wondering where she would go. A well-born girl, she didn’t want to return home with her honor sullied and her dignity trampled. She didn’t want to show her face to her widowed mother, who had already been mourning the demise of her dear husband for over six months, donning a white sari. “So you decided to end your life here,” I said in commiseration. “But you’re not the one who committed the crime. Others did. If they can continue with their lives, why can’t you?” I told her that I was a student like her, studying art in my hometown of Dhaka, and had traded machine guns for paint brushes after hearing of the enormities of those soldiers. “Why?” she asked, knitting her brows. Because I had realized, I said, if we failed to prevail upon them we would forever be subjected to them, or their stewards, and nothing great could ever be engendered by such a mind, for it could not see things properly as it could not think freely. “But art endeavors to reveal the truth,” I explained, “which can only be discovered if the mind is free. I can create freely only if I can think freely. There’s a good reason,” I added, “why the ancient sages had always stressed: ‘It is better to eat barley bread and sit on the ground than to wear the golden belt of servitude.’” She contemplated, looking full in my face. Then, all of a sudden: “Will you accept me, Brother?” “What do you mean?” “This Bilkis wants to be your comrade,” she declared, laying her hand on her chest. “I want to spare our sisters the hell I’ve lived through.” The dying rays of the sun above the western horizon were growing mellower by the minute, the rays that were splashing us with golden light coming through the tree branches. “Let’s go to our lodging,” I proposed, rising to my feet. “How far is that?” “Just a few hundred feet from here,” I said, climbing the tree to get the other half of her sari. She wound it around her shoulders like a shawl as we began to make our way out of that orchard in the last light of day.
2 Our lodging was a meager cottage tucked away in the nook of a village, embowered among sprawling mango, palm, and jackfruit trees. It belonged to a local businessman, a relative of one of our fellow fighters. “Friends from town,” the young businessman would tell those who inquired of us. Stepping over the threshold that evening with Bilkis, her feet wiped clean in a pool on the way, I found my three comrades having dinner in the light of a lantern. I introduced her to them, and sat down on the palm leaf mat for a bite, handing the newcomer a plate. After dinner I told my comrades Bilkis’s story. They were as much nettled as I had been, and their eyes kindled with the fervor of realizing our plan on the double. “She can help us with the task,” I suggested, pointing to Bilkis. But our leader, a student like me, was hesitant. “Can she shoot a gun?” he asked. “I can learn,” Bilkis said. “Not here,” he shook his head. “We have training camps. I can send you there.” “But I want to help you with this task first,” she rejoined. “If I could escape without being noticed once, I can do it again.” I caught the drift of her idea. She desired an active role in our mission. “But you have no training in explosives, I assume,” said a fellow fighter, a pony-tailed barber who had vowed not to have a haircut till we were liberated. “We don’t have either,” I put in. We were commandos, responsible for conducting and effecting attacks, not making explosives. That was the job of the “powder squad,” which delivered the devices. “If you show me,” Bilkis said, shifting her position on the mat, “I can learn how to use them.” “It’s very risky, you know,” said our straggle-bearded leader, a rangy but battle-hardened young man who had seen more deaths than he had ever wished to see. He was the only member of the original unit to survive that long, not without a bullet wound in the thigh though, which always reminded him about the danger of our assignments and made him more cautious than the rest of us. “I’m aware of it,” she nodded. Thereupon he revealed that he had lost seven members of his unit in the previous few months. “Every time I lose one,” he said musingly to dissuade her, “it seems I’m losing a family member.” But she was undeterred. “I’ve also suffered the worst pain, the worst anguish,” she met his eyes with a sigh. “In that house of sin, I wished a hundred times that I were dead. And I’d be hanging from that tree if not for this godsend,” she pointed to me. “Now if I die doing this, I’d be giving my life to eradicate the plague that has befallen us. But I don’t want to think of what might happen. I want to accomplish the task.”
Impressed by her disposition, he asked equably, “How many of them – I mean Tiger’s men – are there in that house of sin?” She knew whom he was referring to because General Niazi was popularly known as “Tiger” to friends and foes alike. “Ten,” she said. “Do they speak Bengali?” “No, they don’t understand our language. They’re all from the West.” She, of course, meant the Western wing of the country. He deliberated, casting a glance at us. “Please,” she pleaded. His eyes turned to her oval face flanked by shoulder-length hair. After a moment he ejected, “OK.” Then rising to his feet, and before heading for the door, he pointed to me, “Nafis will show you how to use explosives. And you’ll go with him for this assignment.” But the assignment was perilous, unbefitting someone in a sari. As my trousers were long and loose for her slender frame of barely five and a half feet, a fellow fighter gladly offered a pair she could use with a belt. I gave her a shirt. Now she needed footwear. Chandpur, however, had neither boots nor running shoes for girls her age. “Boys’ sneakers will do,” she suggested, reminding me that she could not travel into town to buy them herself, for the army camp was on the way. So I placed a white sheet of paper under her foot and outlined it with a pencil. Then I set out for the town, which I had known since my childhood because I had changed ferries there whenever I visited my grandparents. I knew the enormous merchants’ shops, the narrow bricklayered streets, and the restaurants redolent with the tangy aroma of fresh fish cooked with homegrown vegetables. I had enjoyed the semi-rustic ambience of this picturesque town and looked forward to the next visit. But now I felt increasingly as I walked the streets, it could be my very last walk; as I dined in a restaurant, it could be my very last meal. I was cautious not to wear my heart on my sleeve, straining my eyes for suspicious looks and ears for malicious whispers. I had already had my hair shorn within an inch of my scalp and my beard shaved clean for this assignment to pass myself off as a local college student. So far I had been successful but I wondered about the next moment, the next step, when a shoe store caught my attention. I walked into it and gave the sheet containing the outlines of Bilkis’s foot to a lymphatic salesman. He shuffled to a shelf, brought down a box of sneakers for boys, and, squatting on the floor, laid a sneaker on the sheet. “Perfect,” I said. He threw it back in the box, I paid for them at the cash register, and, before walking out to buy clothes for Bilkis and food for us, smiled at the gawking salesman over my shoulder, “For my kid brother.” Two days later one of my comrades went to the “powder squad” and fetched the improvised explosive. I showed Bilkis how to trigger the electrical charge to set it off. She grasped the mechanism fairly quickly, almost as quickly as she had learned to shoot a revolver, suggesting that we execute our plan in the wee hours of the next morning when the soldiers would most likely be asleep except for a sentry in front. Accordingly, I got up shortly after midnight and lit the lantern, then walked up to her corner where she occupied the lone bed in the cottage to wake
her, the rest of the members rising slowly from their mats one by one. The two of us entrusted with the task dressed up and walked into the fresh air of the early morning, waving good-bye to our comrades as I had always done before embarking on such a mission because there was no certainty of my return, or return in one piece. Above, the moon was shining like a sickle in a clear sky, girdled by a dozen crystalline stars; below, the fields were soaked in water from a downpour the previous day. I, of course, carried a flashlight to avoid stumbling into the notches of the border strips between the fields or getting lost in some crops. At that hour, not a door was open, nor a sound was heard. People had been locking their homes just after sunset since those Niazi’s men in the “house of sin” had set up camp claiming to protect them. The croaking of frogs was drifting in the air as we came to a halt at the far end of the fishpond behind that house, shrouded in darkness and silence like the others, some fifty feet from the street lights. We were making our final preparations when Bilkis urged sotto voce, “Let me do it.” “Oh, no,” I said. “You can’t do it alone.” “You stay here behind the incline and give me signals with that flashlight. Flash it once if you see the sentry.” “This is your first time,” I said. “You had your first time, too, didn’t you?” I fell silent. “It will mean the world to me,” she claimed. I could see the glow in her eyes and realized what was shimmering in those marbles: the desire for ultimate victory over villainy. “If it means all that much to you,” I said, handing her the bag containing the explosive, “I’ll not stand in your way.” Before she headed along the sloping side of the fishpond to complete the task, I asked taking my position, “You have your Ruger?” “Yes.” “Godspeed!” 3 “One, two, three,” I counted the seconds, nerve on edge. Suddenly an ear-rending explosion like a thunderclap, a dazzling flare of an inferno, and the “house of sin” went up in smoke, zillions of sparks soaring up like gas-jets to kiss the heavens and showering down like confetti, as if the New Year’s Eve celebration in Europe I had seen in pictures had come alive in front of my own eyes. God, I wondered, what a spectacle of exorcism! My heart exulting, I couldn’t help but burst into a hysterical laugh when a volley of gun-shots above the crackles of fire reached my ears, along with a throaty cry in Urdu, “Stop!” I craned my neck and saw Bilkis stumble and fall, her hair billowing like a flag. The khaki-clad sentry was approaching her frenetically with gun drawn
and I aimed my machine gun at his head, emptying a whole magazine. As he dropped to the ground like a ragdoll, I dashed to Bilkis. She was moaning in excruciating pain, hands clutching at the bosom. I tried to help her up on her feet but in vain. I lifted her on my back and ran as fast as I could till I hit the rice field and continued on my familiar track. I was so exhausted by the time we reached the mango grove that I was out of breath. She was bleeding profusely from her wounds, so I laid her on the ground, trying to stop the bleeding with my shirt wrapped around her chest. “Hold on,” I said. “Hold on till we get to the lodging.” “I don’t think I can make it that far,” she said. I kneeled down and lifted her head in my hands, cursing myself for not accompanying her to the camp. “Oh, why, why?” I lamented, breaking down. “Why did I let you do it alone?” As my tears fell on her face, she muttered, “I triggered it a little too early, Brother.” Then struggling to raise her voice triumphantly: “But I did it. I did it.” “Yes, you did, Bilkis. You did,” I said. “You wiped out the plague.” “Now let me go,” she managed to whisper before her head fell to the side, leaving me paralyzed. There I laid her to rest, fetching a shovel from our lodging later that morning, just as the first glow of the sun came pushing through the night to light up the eastern horizon, and joined the advancing comrades as the Pakistani troops, their morale broken, took to their heels, surrendering in a matter of days to the high command of the liberation forces and the Indian army, which had come to our aid. Bilkis was on my mind on that breezy late afternoon of the sixteenth of December, when I witnessed General Niazi’s capitulation at a jovial public ceremony at the Dhaka race course, a composed Tiger in his creased khakis signing the surrender document with a trembling hand, and immediately rushed back to Chandpur to search out her beloved mother, heartsick from losing her only daughter but proud to hear that she had died a martyr. And the master of that mango grove was only too grateful to grace his orchard with that martyr’s tombstone, where I inscribed a simple couplet for that Jeanne d′Arc of our own who was neither a general nor an admiral, neither a pir nor a dervish, but one just like you and me: Here lies our sister and comrade Bilkis, Let her brave soul rest in eternal peace. So now you know that tombstone’s story, that white tombstone with a modest epitaph gracing that mango grove in the middle of nowhere – where Bilkis gave her dear life for our liberty – neither for honor nor for a flower, but for a prayer.
Born in the Indian subcontinent, Ronny Noor is an English professor who lives in Brownsville, Texas. His essays, stories, and poems have appeared in numerous journals around the world, including Short Story, Palo Alto Review, The Toronto Review, and paper wasp. He is also the author of a novel titled Snake Dance in Berlin (Orient Blackswan, 2009).
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A. TEMJENWALA AO & DR NDR CHANDRA
Literature of Non-violence Co-authored by A. Temjenwala and Dr. N.D.R. Chandra Abstract Literature mirrors society. In this diverse world, literature acts as a web to hold different strands in a cohesive force. Violence is absence of peace and rationality. Nonviolence is abstinence from retaliation. It is passive and rational. Today we have all kinds of violence from physical and mental abuse to literary and verbal abuse. Literature can instigate or ignite minds. When we look at the history of nonviolence and its practise, it originates from B.C. But when we look at its application and influence it is through literature that nonviolence epitomes like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. triumphed in their struggle for freedom. Gandhiji got inspiration from the American writer Henry David Thoreau. His Walden gave him the courage to carry out his Civil Disobedience movement in India. And Gandhi’s life further influenced Mandela and Martin Luther. The present world has witnessed revolutions, violence and mass protests. Like the Marxists theory of cyclicity, the world is in a transition period looking for tranquillity and stability. It is on the look-out for recovery where people want to rebuild peace. During such times literature can contribute in building relationships through nonviolent approach. Keywords: ahimsa, ethical, pragmatic, satya, nonviolent resistant, Mahatma Gandhi, My Nonviolence, negotiations, creativity “Gandhi was fully committed to the belief that while nonviolence had an impressive power to protest and disrupt, its real power was to create and reconstruct.” — ( Nagler 1997: 4)
Nonviolence has two (closely related) meanings. First, it can refer to a general philosophy of abstention from violence because of moral or religious principle and second, it can refer to the behaviour of people using nonviolent action. ‘Nonviolence’ according to Oxford dictionary is “the use of peaceful means, not force, to bring about political or social change.” And nonviolent resistance (or nonviolent action) is the practice of achieving goals through symbolic protests, civil disobedience, economic or political noncooperation, and other methods, without using violence. It is largely synonymous with civil resistance. The basic principles of nonviolence encompass an abstention from using physical force to achieve an aim, but also a full engagement in resisting oppression, domination and any other forms of injustice. It can thus be applied to 80
oppose both direct (physical) violence and structural violence. Opposition to direct violence Gandhi, whose ideas and actions have most crucially influenced the development of nonviolence in the twentieth century, described his moral philosophy through the religious precept of ahimsa, which means in Sanskrit the complete renunciation of violence in thought and action. Nonviolence is indeed usually defined in opposition to physical violence, which could be described as “the use of physical force against another’s body, against that person’s will, and that is expected to inflict physical injury or death upon that person” (Bond 1994: 62). The forms of nonviolence draw inspiration from both religious or ethical beliefs and political analysis. Religious or ethically based nonviolence is sometimes referred to as principled, philosophical, or ethical nonviolence, while nonviolence based on political analysis is often referred to as tactical, strategic, or pragmatic nonviolence. Commonly, both of these dimensions may be present within the thinking of particular movements or individuals. Love of the enemy, or the realization of the humanity of all people, is a fundamental concept of philosophical nonviolence. The goal of this type of nonviolence is not to defeat the enemy, but to win them over and create love and understanding between all. Mark Kurlansky once said that all religions discuss the power of nonviolence and the evil of violence.” Such principles or tenets can be found in each of the major Indian religious traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism) as well as in the major Abrahamic religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity). The fundamental concept of pragmatic (or tactical or strategic) nonviolence is to create a social dynamic or political movement that can effect social change without necessarily winning over those who wish to maintain the status quo. In modern industrial democracies, nonviolence has been used extensively by political sectors without mainstream political power such as labour, peace, environment and women's movements. People have come to use nonviolent methods of struggle from a wide range of perspectives and traditions. A landless peasant in Brazil may nonviolently occupy a parcel of land for purely practical motivations. If they do not, the family will starve. A Buddhist monk in Thailand may “ordain” trees in a threatened forest, drawing on the teachings of Buddha to resist its destruction. A waterside worker in England may go on strike in socialist and union political traditions. All the above are using nonviolent methods but from different standpoints. Likewise, secular political movements have utilized nonviolence, either as a tactical tool or as a strategic program on purely pragmatic and strategic levels, relying on its political effectiveness rather than a claim to any religious, moral or ethical worthiness. Respect or love for opponents also has a pragmatic justification, in that the technique of separating the deeds from the doers allows for the possibility of the doers changing their behaviour, and perhaps their beliefs. Finally, the notion of Satya, or truth, is central to the Gandhian conception of nonviolence. Gandhi saw truth as something that is multifaceted and unable to be grasped in its entirety by any one individual. All carry pieces of the truth, he believed, but all need the pieces of others’ truths in order to pursue the greater truth. This led him to believe in the inherent worth of dialogue with opponents, in order to understand motivations. On a practical level, the willingness to listen to another’s point of view is largely dependent on reciprocity. In order to be heard by one’s opponents, one must also be prepared to listen. 81
Although the power of nonviolent resistance does seem weak and inefficient in the face of acute power asymmetries, it has proven to be a very strategic tool in the hand of marginalised communities to redress structural imbalance and claim rights to justice or self-determination. A question which has not been analysed extensively so far, which this article seeks to address, is in which context and under which conditions nonviolent resistance can contribute to successful and sustainable conflict transformation processes. Nonviolent resistance and conflict transformation1 strategies share a common commitment to “social change and increased justice through peaceful means” (Lederach 1995: 15). In fact, the discipline of conflict management/resolution originally arose from peace movements and social justice activism. However, one can argue that there has been since then a sharp divorce between the ‘revolutionary’ and ‘resolutionary’ camps, which seem to have grown in mutual ignorance – developing their own and distinct sets of activists and practitioners, theories and scholars, interpretative frames and ranges of techniques, research centres and education programmes, organisations and forums, constituencies and institutional allies. This research aims to project that nonviolence should instead be seen as an integral part of conflict transformation, offering one possible approach to achieving peace and justice, alongside other methods of conflict intervention focusing on dialogue, problem-solving and the restoration of cooperative relationships (e.g. mediation, negotiation, restorative justice, etc.). It is especially relevant for the early transitional stage of latent asymmetric conflicts, as a strategy for empowering grievance groups (oppressed minorities or disempowered majorities) looking for constructive and efficient ways to attain justice, human rights and democracy without recourse to violence. Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. The first condition of non-violence is ‘justice.’ Non-violence to be a potent force must begin with the mind. Non-violence of the mere body without the cooperation of the mind is non-violence of the weak or the cowardly and has therefore no potency. In his book My Non-Violence, Gandhi assembled his principles of life. It is worth studying the book which will give us deeper insight to the present discourse. Here, he talks of non-violence as a way of life. In the opening page he strongly advocates his stand for non-violence as “I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment” (MNV, 3). We understand therefore that to generate love, we need strength and humility of the most high. The solution to almost every conflict lies in forgiveness which requires a “mighty wave of strength in us.” During his struggle for India’s independence when three hundred million Indians were ruled by one hundred thousand Englishmen, Gandhi said that “non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute” (MNV 4). His dream was to attain independence through peaceful approach. One finds in him the embodiment of strength and character of the highest virtue. His words are repelled with wisdom which came from a distilled mind free of pollution. His words and deeds justified him. He lived his words. In his long struggle for freedom he came across many hurdles, at times when he was forced to switch his dogma he said, “If I take up the doctrine of the sword, she may gain momentary victory. Then India will cease to be the pride of my heart.... I believe absolutely that she has a mission for the world” (MNV 5). We cannot judge a whole country by judging the actions of a represented few. 82
Gandhi on commenting about neighbours said, “The Afgans have no quarrel with India. They are a God-fearing people. I warn non-co-operators against judging the Afgans by the few savage specimens we see in Bombay or Calcutta” (MNV 8). It was a time of upheaval when he made this statement. It shows the peaceful approach of Gandhi to nullify violence. His mission in life to bring peaceful solutions and create harmony is justified even in his simple speeches. He did not believe in quick ends as he said, “I do not believe in short-violent-cuts to success” (MNV 14). From his experience he said that permanent good can never be the outcome of untruth and violence. As we read further we find that Gandhi maintained a very cordial relationship with the Americans and the Europeans. He was very slow to react. He did not instigate people but rather he penned his thoughts and hoped that it will work in moving the entire nation. He believed in “thought-power” rather than in the “power of the word. He said, “I believe in thought-power more than in the power of the word, whether spoken or written. And if the movement that I seek to represent has vitality in it and has divine blessing upon it, it will permeate the whole world without my physical presence in its different parts” (MNV 18). Ira Saxena who is a child psychologist, critic and writer of children’s books specializing in realistic stories, novels and nonfiction about the nonviolent struggle for India’s independence said, “The saga of Indian freedom is full of heroism, recounting the story of the mobilization of the inner strength and will of the masses driven by truth and ahimsa (nonviolence) toward a common goal of freedom. This backdrop remains as the lives of the individuals who emerged as great martyrs, endowing writers like me with inspiring material for fiction, such as Kamala’s Story: The Saga of Our Freedom, or the stories of unsung heroes from different walks of life as in Together We Marched” (2009: 21). The acclaims of writers and thinkers prove the validity of Gandhi’s thoughts. The movement launched by him was alien to the world, many questioned the credibility of his works. When he started the non-co-operation movement and began to boycott foreign goods, he showed the people an alternative to produce local clothing. He began to spin cotton from raw products with his own hands. Instead of going about destroying goods he resorted to peaceful way of agitation. It paved the way for small scale cottage industry. When the Americans asked him about the productivity of the spinning wheel, Gandhi replied, “The message of the spinning wheel is much wider than its circumference. Its message is one of simplicity, service of mankind, living so as not to hurt others, creating an indissoluble bond between the rich and the poor, capital and labour, the prince and the peasant” (MNV 20). He believed that if an individual is free from violence, he will sacrifice himself for his family, the family for the village, the village for the nation and the nation for the whole world. His purpose of a free India was to “see India free and strong so that she may offer herself as a willing and pure sacrifice for the betterment of the world” (MNV 21). Many of his contemporaries perceived nonviolence as an act of cowardice. But to Gandhi, Nonviolence is not a cover for cowardice, but it is the supreme virtue of the brave. Exercise of non-violence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship. Cowardice is wholly inconsistent with non-violence. (MNV 34)
Gandhi very aptly brings the metaphor of a dog. He says that a dog bites when he fears. So, in the same manner he means to say that man resort to violence when they fear. And fear is a sign of insecurity. To him the advancement of the West was not awe-inspiring but rather he opines 83
that “the superficial glamour of the West dazzles us, and we mistake for progress the giddy dance which engages us from day to day. We refuse to see that it is surely leading us to death” (MNV 43). Gandhi was a visionary. His thoughts were beyond his era. He held to the understanding that moral strength holds and governs the universe and not material development alone. Albert Einstein made a call to the people not to take part in war. But Gandhi’s opinion on war was that not participating in the activities of war alone is not enough to stop the evils of war. It should go beyond non-participation; it should take up non-cooperation with the state of such affairs. On one occasion, when Dr. Tobias, a black American asked Gandhi: “Your doctrine of non-violence has profoundly influenced my life, do you believe in it as strongly as ever?” Gandhi replied “my faith in it is growing” (MNV 58). When Dr. Tobias said, “Negroes in U.S.A.—12 million—are struggling to obtain such fundamental rights as freedom from mobviolence, unrestricted use of the ballot, freedom from segregation, etc. Have you, out of your struggle in India, a word of advice and encouragement to give us?” Gandhi said, “All I can say is that there is no other way than the way of non-violence—a way, however not of the weak and ignorant but of the strong and wise” (MNV 59). A though may arise as Prof. Mays queried “Can non-violence be taught” (MNV 60). There are many doubts as how to bring out non-violence through literature. It seems an impossible task but when one delves deep into the core of nonviolence philosophy, it is tangible. It is in other words innovative literature for world peace. According to Gandhi non-violence can be taught by “outward symbols.” Outward actions of love, kind words, and deeds are key elements to teach people lessons on non-violence. So, it is the life of a person itself that will propagate this noble message. On being asked to comment on the issue between China and Japan, where Chinese were on the majority, Gandhi in support of his argument referred to P.B.Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy, “Ye are many, they are few”: Stand ye calm and resolute Like a forest close and mute, With folded arms and looks which are Weapons of unvanquished war. And if then the tyrants dare, Let them ride among them there, Slash, and stab, and maim and hew, What they like, that let them do. Then they will return with shame To the place from which they came, And the blood thus shed will speak — In hot blushes on their cheek. (MNV 79)
Gandhi was a visionary. He used appropriate quotes and references to project his philosophy. He implemented literature as a powerful weapon to drive his “truth-force.” Many people asked questions to Gandhi basing on their religious beliefs. One such person was Rev. Tema from
South Africa who asked, “Do you think Christianity can bring salvation to Africa?” to this Gandhi replied: Christianity, as it is known and practised today, cannot bring salvation to your people. It is my conviction that those who today call themselves Christians do not know the true message of Jesus. I witnessed some of the horrors that were perpetuated on the Zulus during the Zulu Rebellion. Because one man, Bambatta, their chief, had refused to pay his tax and the whole race was made to suffer. I was in charge of an ambulance corps. I shall never forget the lacerated backs of Zulus who had received stripes and were brought to us for nursing because no white nurse was prepared to look after them. And yet those who perpetrated all those cruelties called themselves Christians. They were ‘educated’, better dressed than the Zulus, but not their moral superiors. (MNV 96)
To Gandhi every religion must follow its creed. And every follower must show by his deed, his belief, in truth professing love. Gandhi even wrote a peace letter to Adolf Hitler of Germany, who was considered as the most tyrannical dictator. During the festive week of the Christians, on the Christmas of 1945, he wrote a letter to Hitler, the following are some lines from Gandhi’s letter: I hope you will have the time and desire to know how a good portion of humanity who have been living under the influence of that doctrine of universal friendship view your actions. We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents. But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in universal friendliness. During this season when the hearts of the peoples of Europe yearn for peace, we have suspended even our peaceful struggle. Is it too much to ask you to make an effort for peace during a time which may mean nothing to you personally, but must mean much to the millions of Europeans, whose dumb cry for peace I hear, for my ears are attuned to hearing the dumb millions? — (MNV 161)
From the above citations and discussions we learn that using proper words, taking right steps and proper instructions come from non-violence. Here we find respect for the other before correction. Humility and unconditional love are some of the main seeds to grow non-violence. Even after his death, Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence and his belief in simple living, making his own clothes, eating a vegetarian diet, and using fasts for self-purification as well as a means of protest has been a beacon of hope for oppressed and marginalized people throughout the world. Truth and Peace were Gandhi’s principles. To be at peace with oneself and with others Gandhiji said “Literally speaking, Ahimsa means non-killing.... To one who follows this doctrine there is no room for an enemy” (1984: 138). Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in the same spirit when he said about his white opponents: ‘‘Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and . . . leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you’’ (1958:256-57). It is worth studying the principles, influence and impact of Non-Violence. Its application in personal life and literary works is worth analyzing. Everyone needs a hero because heroes are people who make the news and are larger than life. They are the men and women of 85
action, who think great thoughts, have nerves of steel or who make personal sacrifices- who prompt generations upon generations to speak of them in that very special way. Mahatma Gandhi was neither the father of Indian nationalism nor particularly politically influential in the early days of the independence movement. On the contrary, he was well educated and a lawyer, he was very English in his Indian ways. And he used his in England, a country that he considered to be the centre of modern civilization at the time, to study more than the law. More as he experimented with English ways, he also became a citizen of the world. He was also motivated and inspired by the life and work of Henry David Thoreau, the great American writer and philosopher. Here is an excerpt of Webb Miller’s interview with Gandhi: when Miller saw Gandhi sitting on the floor spinning cotton, he detected similarities in Gandhi’s ideas and Thoreau’s philosophy. The first question he asked Gandhi was: Did you ever read an American named Henry D. Thoreau? His eyes brightened and he chuckled. “Why of course I read Thoreau. I read Walden first in Johannesburg in South Africa in 1906 and his ideas influenced me greatly. I adopted some of them and recommended the study of Thoreau to all my friends who were helping me in the cause of Indian independence. Why I actually took the name of my movement from Thoreau’s essay, ‘On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849), written about eighty years ago. Until I read that essay I never found a suitable English translation for my Indian word, Satyagraha. You remember that Thoreau invented and practiced the idea of civil disobedience in Concord, Massachusetts, by refusing to pay his poll tax as a protest against the United States government. He went to jail too. There is no doubt that Thoreau’s ideas greatly influenced my movement in India.” (2006:4)
Literature inspires moulds and encourages people for great changes both positive and negative. In the case of Thoreau, the gentle visionary of Walden Pond in Walden inspired a giant figure like Gandhi who turned the course of Indian history. Thoreau repeatedly mentions in his Walden the Vedas and other Hindu literature and says: “I… who loved so well the philosophy of India…” (2006:5). We find a philosophical web in this statement. In Africa Gandhiji tried to practice law amid the extremes of apartheid and white supremacy. Once he returned to India, he became an advocate of non-violence and non-cooperation, and almost immediately had the opportunity to implement those ideals when he began to play centre stage in the political and economic life of India and the Raj. In his autobiography, The Story of My Experiences with Truth, he clearly states his position on non-violence: “There are many causes I am prepared to die for but no causes I am prepared to kill for” (2008: 456). He says, “Satyagraha is essentially a weapon of the truthful. A Satyagrahi is pledged to non-violence and, unless peoples observe it in thought, word and deed, I cannot offer mass Satyagraha.” (ibid, 456) Gandhiji’s reputation spread throughout India, especially after the famous Amritsar massacre of civilians by British troops –his response was to call for non-violence in the face of violence and non-cooperation. Here, lies the truth of the matter that violence need not always be curbed by violent ways. Although his fights against racism, colonialism and violence established his reputation internationally, the underlying reason for his actions was often overlooked. Being a very religious man, he attributed his successes to the will of God. He was inspired by a desire to grow closer to god through the purity of his deeds –that is, his simple living, vegetarian diet, celibacy, 86
and ahimsa. His legacy is one of peace, cooperation, charity and piety. He is the model of human integrity amidst the chaos, violence and materialism of modern society. His life and works have influenced many. Amongst many, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela are worth mentioning. Their works and life reflects how non-violent way of approaching issues, bring about lasting, progressive and positive results. They brought great change through their peaceful approach. They both were influenced by the life of Gandhiji. At first reading, Mahatma Gandhi’s writings on nonviolence, peace, and education seem uncomfortably naive and simplistic. Those familiar with philosophical literature may be stunned by his seemingly oversimplified, uncritical, and inadequate treatments of difficult, complex, metaphysical, ethical, cultural, and other philosophical concerns relevant to Gandhi’s views on issues of life. A difficulty in interpreting and applying Gandhi’s writings to peace literature arises from complex relations between texts, contexts, and interpretations. Much of this challenge comes from the sheer volume of writings by and about Gandhi. Although he never wrote a lengthy book, the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi comes to one hundred volumes of very diverse and highly fragmented newspaper articles, correspondence, speeches, and other writings. One cannot understand Gandhi’s various concerns, specific use of language, and diverse formulations without understanding the specific economic, political, cultural, and ethical contexts within which he lived, read texts, and struggled with opponents and alternative approaches. Gandhi found that life persists in the midst of destruction and, therefore, there must be a higher law than that of destruction. Only under that law would a well-ordered society be intelligible and life worth living. And if that is the law of life, we have to work it out in daily life. He believed in the philosophy of confronting and conquering an opponent with love. He tried to work it out in his life. Thought it did not solve all the difficulties, he found, however, that this law of love has answered as the law of destruction has never done. India had witnessed the ocular demonstration of the operation of this law on the widest scale possible. One cannot say accurately how far nonviolence has necessarily penetrated the three hundred millions, but Gandhi claim that it has penetrated deeper than any other message, and in an incredibly short time. Indians have not been all uniformly nonviolent; and with the vast majority, nonviolence has been a matter of policy. Even so, one finds that the country has made phenomenal progress under the protecting power of nonviolence. According to Gandhi, it takes a fairly strenuous course of training to attain to a mental state of nonviolence. In daily life it has to be a course of discipline, though one may not like it-like, for instance, the life of a soldier. The perfect state is reached only when mind and body and speech are in proper coordination. But it is always a case of intense mental struggle. Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong. With the weak it might easily be hypocrisy. Fear and love are contradictory terms. Love is reckless in giving away, oblivious as to what it gets in return. Love wrestles with the world as with the self and ultimately gains a mastery over all other feelings. Gandhi said that to him “truth and nonviolence are, to me, faces of the same coin.”The law of love will work, just as the law of gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not. Just as a scientist will work wonders out of various applications of the law of nature, even so a man who applies the law of love with scientific precision can work greater wonders. For the force of nonviolence is infinitely more wonderful and subtle than the material forces of nature, like, for 87
instance, electricity. The men who discovered the law of love were greater scientists than any of our modern scientists. On the 25th April 1891, Gandhiji wrote in The Vegetarian, a magazine being published from London an article titled “Holi”. While narrating the significance of the festival and the customs followed during the festivities, his discerning eyes do not fail to see the bad customs even at that young age also. This quality of an impartial observer and narrator reached its peak in the latter years. The reader is invited to glance through the following passage from the Introduction of his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Only those matters of religion that can be comprehended as much by children as by older people, will be included in this story. If I can narrate them in a dispassionate and humble spirit, many other experimenters will find in them provision for their onward march. Far be it from me to claim any degree of perfection for these experiments. I claim for them nothing more than does a scientist who, though he conducts his experiments with the utmost accuracy, fore-thought and minuteness, never claims any finality about his conclusions, but keeps an open mind regarding them. I have gone through deep self-introspection, searched myself through and through, and examined and analyzed every psychological situation. Yet I am far from claiming any finality or infallibility about my conclusions. One claim I do indeed make and it is this. For me they appear to be absolutely correct, and seem for the time being to be final. For if they were not, I should base no action on them. But at every step I have carried out the process of acceptance or rejection and acted accordingly. And so long as my acts satisfy my reason and my heart, I must firmly adhere to my original conclusions. (2008: xii-xiii)
Much of the general philosophy of nonviolence has ‘active’ or ‘activist’ elements, in that they accept the need for a means of struggle to achieve political and social change. Thus, for example, the Gandhian ahimsa is a philosophy and strategy for social change that rejects the use of violence, but at the same time sees nonviolent action (also called civil resistance) as an alternative to passive acceptance of oppression or armed struggle against it. In general, advocates of an activist philosophy of nonviolence use diverse methods in their campaigns for social change, including critical forms of education and persuasion, mass noncooperation civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action and social, political, cultural and economic forms of intervention. Martin Luther in his freedom struggle wrote: “As the days unfolded, however, the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi began to exert its influence. I have come to see clearly that the Christian doctrine of love was operating through the Gandhian method of non-violence was one of the most potent weapons available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom.” (Sharma, 2000: 31) In the midst of his despair when the blacks were raising havoc with the police King said, “Now let us not become panicky…. If you have weapons take them home, if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with non-violence.” (Sharma, 2000: 46)
The boycott was a huge success, however, resulting in national recognition of the problems of segregation in the South and of King’s new prominence in the movement. Ideas rule the world. Raskolnikov, a noted Russian thinker said that “Thinking is a form of work, and the ideas that people have had through the ages have changed the way we live. Ideas are powerful tools” 88
(2003: 7). It is the thoughts that make an individual act. This paper does not propagate nonviolence as an ideology but it is a suggestion through findings that many coarse reactions among the people can be prevented through its implementation in literature. It will add to world peace and advocate love amongst the people from different nations. It will neutralise the elements of terror, violence, fear, hatred, and protest. Literature can be a tool to educate the masses on mutual respect for people hailing from different class, caste, tribe, creed, nation etc. It can bring out measures to settle problems peacefully without using brutal forces. Albert Einstein, the noted scientist gave the following comment on Gandhi in a United Nations radio interview “Taken on the whole, I would believe that Gandhi's views were the most enlightened of all the political men of our time. We should strive to do things in his spirit: not to use violence for fighting for our cause, but by non-participation of anything you believe is evil” (New Jersey, 1950). Throughout his writings on satyagraha and other methods for resisting and transforming violence, Gandhi proposes numerous ways for relating to short-term violence and moving toward a conflict resolution grounded in truth and nonviolence. “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth” (Einstein 1950:32). Today we need a Gandhian non-violent revolution in literature. The different aspects of our society can be effectively portrayed by avoiding instigating elements. One can present a constructive plot where developmental and affirmative consensus of varying issues can be projected. We know that the world in which we live is a diverse one. Nonviolence as discussed in our present discourse is not a recent invention. Martin Luther said that “Nonviolence is not a 20th century invention and there are some scholarly accounts of early uses of its techniques, starting with Jewish and Christian civil disobedience towards the Roman Empire.” (www.stanford.edu/group/King/liberation_curriculum) However, it only appeared as a strategic and conscious method of collective political action with Gandhi’s satyagraha campaigns in South Africa (1906-1914) and India (1919-1948). His methods have subsequently been emulated and adapted to various national contexts, and have achieved worldwide success through the productive demonstration of “people power” on all continents. In recent years, nonviolent struggles have reached global attention owing to the socalled “colour revolutions” in South Eastern/Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where massive street protests followed disputed or rigged elections and led to the resignation or overthrow of leaders considered by their opponents to be corrupt or authoritarian. These events closely followed each other, and were strongly influenced by a spill over or imitation effect, as the strategies employed in the peaceful revolution in Serbia in 1999 were emulated a few years later by activists in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Lebanon. Earlier, “Gandhian campaigns in South Africa and India had greatly inspired black American activists in the US Civil Rights movement, and pro-democracy protests in Chile were influenced by the 1983 film Gandhi and the Polish workers’ movement Solidarity” (Ackerman and and Christopher Kruegler 2000: 291). The development of new decentralised communication technologies has also accelerated these dynamics, “by facilitating the spread of information and permitting direct communication between activists within and between countries” (Schock 2005: 18). 89
No one can use force to bring the entire population into one umbrella be it religion, political or economic. But one can bring it through the art of writing by manifesting the good side of an individual or a place or an issue. Gandhi is revered by many around the world for his tolerance and peaceful approach that led millions of Indians to refuse to comply with colonial law, eventually forcing Britain to leave India after around 300 years of occupation. The unanimous adoption by the United Nations General assembly on 15th June 2007 to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on second October as “International Day of Non-Violence” in 2007 proves that non-violence is an antidote to all kinds of evil that prevails in our world. This resolution adopted by UN to honour and popularise Gandhi and his gospel of ‘non-violence’ will counter the ever-growing global terrorism and the increasing violence and violations of rights against nations and the marginalised sections of society. Nonviolence has capacity for simultaneously transforming power relationships and human relationships which makes it unique as a method of political action, literary discourse through its dual process of dialogue and resistance-dialogue with the people on the other side in order to persuade and inspire them and resistance to the structures in order to compel change. Although it involves activism and advocacy of a particular point of view, it is deemed highly consistent with literary efforts at conflict resolution and consensus building, by providing means of waging conflicts that would at the same time suppress direct and structural violence, and prepare the society for positive (behavioural, attitudinal, structural) peace. However, in practice, nonviolent struggles seldom lead by themselves to win-win solutions and post-settlement cooperative relationships across the conflict lines-the ideal conditions that would enable such a dialectic process are all too rarely present. Conflicts involve highly polarised communal groups opposing over non-negotiable issues, positive peace does not automatically emanate from the achievement of relative power balance, and nonviolent struggles are not always effective at preventing interparty misperceptions and hatred. In such situations, negotiations and process-oriented conflict resolution remain necessary so as to facilitate the articulation of legitimate needs and interests of all concerned into fair, practical, and mutually acceptable solutions. Here arises the need for literature to dispense peaceful means through writing. Therefore, nonviolence and literature should be seen as complementary and mutually supportive strategies which can be employed together, consecutively or simultaneously, to realise the twin goals of justice and peace in the world. Highly polarised conflicts whether physical, political or communal discrepancies can only be transformed through multiple forms of intervention, from negotiation, bridge-building (e.g. grassroots dialogue encounters), literature portraying elements of peaceful external mediation to nonviolent activism and cross-border advocacy. In the field of conflict transformation and securing world peace, the present discourse will encourage scholars, and visionaries to think more comparatively across the spectrum of conflict intervention strategies through literature. It will envisage new literary lovers to pay more attention to the phenomenon of nonviolent resistance through writing. Possible research questions include for instance: which conflicts are “unripe” for resolution by traditional negotiation or mediation approaches; and, conversely, at which stage of a nonviolent campaign does negotiation become possible and desirable? Can the same third-party actors combine the roles of impartial facilitator and projustice advocate? Although some conflict transformation trainers have started to recognise the 90
need to support constructive conflicts alongside trust-building and dialogue they have not yet given “enough credit to the whole range of methods available for waging conflicts creatively” (Clark 2005:17). Finally, researchers and practitioners alike should integrate the identification of structures of oppression and power asymmetry, legacies of nonviolent resistance and local selfempowerment strategies into their conflict mapping exercises and intervention scenarios, in order to design and support more sustainable and home-grown peacemaking and peace-building processes. References: 1.
Ackerman, Peter and Jack Du Vall. A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. New York: Palgrave, 2000.
Bond, Doug. “Nonviolent Direct Action and the Diffusion of Power,” in: Paul Wehr, Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess (eds). Justice Without Violence. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1994.
Gandhi, M.K. My Nonviolence. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1960.
Lederach, John Paul. Preparing For Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1995.
O’Donnell, Kevin. A History of Ideas. Oxford: Lion Publishing Plc, 2003.
Shock, Kurt. Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Non-democracies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
Saxena, Ira. “Peace and Peacemakers in Books for Children.” Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature, 47(2009):21-16.
King, Martin Luther Jr. “Justice Without Violence.” Speech delivered at Brandeis University on 13 April 1957. www.standford.edu/group/King/liberation_curiculum/pdfs/justice without violence (accessed 23 July 2008).
Nagler, Michael. Peacemaking through Nonviolence, in: Peace and Conflict Studies, 1997. http://www.gmu.edu/academic/pcs/nagler.html (accessed 23 July 2008).
Ms. A Temjenwala, a Ph.D. Scholar from Nagaland University, (Kohima) India. This article is part of her thesis titled "Literature of Revolution, Violence and Protest." She is currently working as an administrator in Straightway Christian Mission Centre, Mokokchung, Nagaland.
Dr. N.D.R. Chandra is a Professor, Dept of English, Nagaland University Kohima.
India and the Poetic Voice in Ezekiel's Poetry Nissim Ezekiel stands as a flagship in the stream Indian poetry in English which whenever is discussed always starts with him. A reader in American literature at the University of Bombay, Ezekiel is not only a poet but also a promoter and publisher of poetry. Born in 1924 and brought up in pre-independent Bombay, raised in a Bene-Jew family led by a secularist rationalist scientific father, schooled in western education at home as well as abroad Ezekiel with its root dipped physically in Indian soil yet he is not absorbed by so called Indianness. His western education, highly esteemed job at university bars him to be categorised as ‘aam admi’, and his Jewish family background makes him an outsider to the vast Hindu-Muslim cultural milieu of India. The poet himself is aware of his marginal identity in the country of his birth, as he says of himself as quoted by Parthasarathy, “I am not a Hindu, and my background makes me a natural outsider: circumstances and decisions relate me to India”. (p28)
In a culturally inclusive country like India, Ezekiel’s queer existence among the dominant Hindus and the Muslims makes him feel grounded in the soil, yet not a part of it wholeheartedly. He is a detached involver of the Indian life as Philip Larkin was of the British life. His existence in Indian scenario is brilliantly depicted in very Ezekelian style in `Background, Casually’ “I went to Roman Catholic school, A mugging Jew among the wolves. They told me I had killed the Christ, That year I won the scripture prize. A Muslim sportsman boxed my ears.
I grew in terror of strong But undernourished Hindu lads’
Their prepositions always wrong, Repelled me by passivity. One noisy day I used a knife”. — (Parthasarathy, Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets p35)
At 22 young Ezekiel went to England to pursue his dream and there `philosophy/ poverty and poetry’, were his constant faithful companions. A bitter thought that I had failed in everything’ 92
forced him to take a painful decision of returning home. No spontaneous will, but hurting circumstances generate a hurting reconciliation. So he `learned to laugh again at home’. In India he still could not feel home instantly; hence `how to feel home was the point.’ This in-between situation colours his mind, forges his outlook of home and abroad, characterises his poetry. A poet who cannot feel home at home, whose birth place does not naturally become his background rather he has to accept it with pain as his background, his voice cannot be full of sentiment and unbridled praise for it. He is a cynical observer, mentally at distance from it yet a `part of it, to be observed by foreigners’. This play of physical closeness yet mental and spiritual distance is quite prominent in Ezekiel’s poetry. The country’s outlook does not become the poet’s outlook, that’s why he has to find out his very own outlook – “I look about me and try To formulate a plainer view: The wise survive and serve- to play The fool, to cash in on The inner and the outer storms”.
Driven by unfortunate circumstances the poet neither gives himself up to sentimental melancholia, nor vents his severe apathy towards his uncomfortable surroundings, like a clown of comedy he mocks at background, laughs at his own compromising existence. Therefore irony, self-mockery, humour, satiric touches become his tools. His irony has no acidic-effect, it has a rationalistic critical sharpness. He displays the backwardness of the background, yet accepts it as an unavoidable reality as an inseparable part of him. My backward place is where I am.
There is conflict in the very heart of the poetic voice, but the poet never goes to showcase it, rather he tries to bury it in veneer of poetic craft. This play of rejection and acceptance is one of powerful forces in Ezekiel’s poetry particularly his poems exclusively about India and Indian life. Ezekiel is basically a poet of city life, to say in Bruce King’s words, `a representative voice of urbanised , western educated India’ he goes on depicting ordinary events of Indian life in a satiric tone to show the littleness of little events that get some extra-ordinary stature, or over-sentimentalised in farcical way and thus loss their original significance. In his most anthologised poem `Night of Scorpion’ he gives in an intellectualised emotion-free way, the slice of Indian life in critical emotional moment in which everyone is seen seriously concerned for other in their respective idiosyncratic way. The God-fearing, religious-minded villagers who come to see the mortal victim of the diabolic scorpion, instead of doing anything practical to mitigate the poison, they pray to God a thousand times, convey their anxiety for the imaginary sin of last life, misfortunate next birth, `the flesh of desire’. They appear more concerned with `the unreal world’ than the real pain of the poet’s mother. The very portrayal of the rustics in the light of `swarms of flies’, `scorpion shadows’, and the mechanical repetition of the phrase `they said’ convey the poet’s resentment to the ignorant villagers. The poisonous scorpion stung the poet’s mother the nocuous tongues of the villagers stung the heart of the little boy who only sees his mother rolling under pain93
August 2013 “My mother twisted through and through groaning on a mat.”
A deliberate contrast between a son’s feelings for mother and the neighbours’ concern for the mother’s unreal past and future birth and their silence on present suffering is presented. Yet the matured poet knows that the villagers are not as much callous as they are ignorant and superstitious. That’s he says, “More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours, More insect and the endless rain”
It is noticeable that the pheasants of line-8 now become `neighbours’ who are still pouring in on ignoring rain to see the poet’s mother. The poet recognises both the villagers’ merit of helpfulness as well as their solemn faulty habit of neglecting material world for a non-existing world. The depiction of the modern-minded father is also ironic. Though the rationalistic father himself tries `every curse and blessing/Powder, mixer, herb and hybrid’, even little paraffin, he lets his anguishing wife to be treated by a ritual performing Holy man. The final lines of the poem contain more sharp ironical twist – “My mother only said Thank god the scorpion picked on me and spared my children”.
The typical motherly concern for her children’s safety nullifies all the previous feverish activities of the villagers’ verbal babbling, father’s scientific effort and the holy man’s religious rite. In `The Visitor’ the `poet –rascal-clown’ presents himself as a fool caught in the decrepit tradition; by misguided its irrational worldview. With a crow cawing thrice the poet as `folk belief befits’ waits anxiously all day for a visitor . He struggles within to `cope with the visitor’ who may be `An angel in disguise, perhaps/ Or else temptation in unlike shape’. When the actual visitor comes `only to kill a little time’ all the previous concerns and thoughts appeared inflated, `miracle of mind’ mythicised in a culture. The poet realises his own blunder “I see how wrong I was. Not foresee precisely this: . . . The ordinariness of most events.”
`In India’, it is not age-old tradition with which the poet is at discomfort, but incongruous imitation of western culture is the butt of Ezekiel’s mockery, satire – “The men are quite at home Among the foreign styles. (What fun the flirting is) I myself, decorously, Press a thigh or two in sly innocence The party is a great success.
August 2013 Then someone says we cannot Enjoy it somehow, don’t you think? The atmosphere corrupt, And look at our wooden wives.’’
At parties foreign Indian wives `do not talk/ of course, they do not kiss’, some feel atmosphere so corrupt yet some enjoy flirting. A totally chaotic picture of Party-culture in India. In other poems of The Exact Name, `A Virginal, Progress’, `Beachescene’ he is equally balanced, crafty, witty and ironic.”Ezekiel takes a realistic and human view of love sex, stripped of sentimentalism and romantic illusions”. (Harish Raizada in the article `Nissim Ezekiel’s Poetry of Love and Sex’, Prasad p-74) He is never shy of talking of sex as in `Progress’ “The former, suffering Self declined the use Of woman who were Willing but unlovable: Love was high-minded stable. Now he wears a thicker Skin upgraded from the Goddess of virtue to mocking, sexual eyes whose hunger makes him wise.”
In `Love Poem’, the poet encounters a woman whose` sad and thoughtful love’ he hears` Above the tumult of despair’ “You bend your head, I touched your Hair, the sign was timed without a word” On further exploration, he discoversGreat woman-beast of sex you are I see you now as myth and dream Completed, more than what you seem.
The friendly-foe, the near and far”.
In poem of the separation (hymns in darkness1976) when lovers feel grown up, passion comes out spontaneously “One day you said, `Suddenly, I feel grown-up’. The price was only
August 2013 a thousand kisses.”
After separation when the male lover wants his ladylove back not out of romantic sentiment only and platonic love, he wants her back with the very physical pleasure she gives “I want you back With rough happiness you lightly wear Supported by your shoulders, Breasts and thighs”
In midnight’s children Salman Rushdie describes that, in a movie named `The Lovers of Kashmir’ directed by Hanif Aziz the leading, couple planted an indirect kiss on an apple as direct kiss on screen was a taboo in India. It was the year 1948 in which Gandhiji was assassinated. Two decades after in Ezekiel’s poems bodily passion, hunger for flesh, passion come out nakedly. Yet in backbone he feels to be confined unlike his great Sanskrit poetic maestros “How freely they mention breasts and buttocks. They are my poetic ancestors.
Why am I so inhibited?” (‘Passion poem3’,Hymns in Darkness)
Ezekiel’s some poems on India particularly `Goodbye Party for Miss Puspa T.S.’ and ‘Very Indian Poem in Indian English’ shed light on the funny side of Indian English and Indian mentality. Use of present progressive form in place of present indefinite form of verb, vain repetition for the sake of emphasis, abrupt digression from the main topic, wrong use of word lead to comic self revelation of the speaker’s confusion of mind . “Puspa Miss is never saying no Whatever I or anybody is asking She is always saying yes. And today she is going To improve her prospects And we are wishing her bon voyage.”
Use of saying, asking, growing, wishing instead of the present indefinite form of the verb is more funny in `A Very Indian Poem in Indian English’ “I am standing for peace and non-violence Why world is fighting and fighting Why all people of the world Are not following Mahatma Gandhi I am simply not understanding”.
Besides, the odd Indianised spoken English, other noticeable things are the vague sense of Indian brotherhood. Though the patriotic speaker admits the Gujratis, the Maharastrisans, the Hindiwallas are brothers yet he is strongly aware of their difference and behavioural peculiarity. It is clear that one does not love other rather tolerates other being located in a single geographical territory. That’s the stark Indian reality beneath the veneer of glorified Indian nationalism and communal harmony – the sentimental love of the one brotherhood is up to lips only, in the heart is only thin vulnerable layer of tolerance. The same picture we can find in `Cows’. The poet’s 70-year old school-mistress mother is aware that Hindus worship holy cows, she cannot but hate the earthly foolish animals for making pavements dirty “She knows that cows are holy Worshipped by the parents of children in her school. Even Gods ought not clutter up The pavement – that’s her view She is not against believe What you like, she says But get out of my way.”
The old lady does not hate the Hindus for their belief, she does not respect also their belief, and she is disgusted of them. In other poems such as `the Truth about the flood,’ `Rural Suite’ `Under trial Prisoners’ `Poverty Poems’ he turns his attention from ordinariness of ordinary events to littleness of big social issues. In `The Truth about the Flood’ the flood-victims got help neither from the Govt. Officials nor from the student -rescue party. The formers are busy in only supplying statistics and the latters are more interested in taking photos of rescue service than the real rescue operation. The poet knows the scenario will not change easily soon; he does not claim to revolutionise, bring a sea change in a day. That’s why he says – “We are used to it These people never learn”
The hesitant reception of a jaundiced background is always felt in the mind of the reader. Being an alienated part of the Indian life, the poet does not feel like Kamala Das the urge to brew up a revolution against the demonic society. Kamala Das has to alienate herself from her chocking background for survival, but Ezekiel has to compromise and adopt it for survival. In his poems we do not get inflated picture of India as we find in the19th century romantic poets the cynical dissection of Hindu rituals and myths as we get in the poems of Parthasarathy and Ramanujan and the local colour of Jayanta Mahapatra .Like other modern poets Ezekiel is also critical of Indian life, but position makes him distinguished. His poems are valuable to us because they show India from a different angel, from a privileged marginalised perspective.
Works Cited 1.
King, Bruce. Modern Indian Poetry in English, Delhi: OUP1987.92
Parthasarathy, R. Twentieth Century Indian Poets, Delhi: OUP2012 print
Prasad, Madhusudan. Living Indian-English poets: An Anthology of Critical Essays, Delhi: Sterling, 1989
Rushdie, Salman. Midnightâ€™s Children, London: Vintage, 2009
Arun Bera is a school teacher of English language and Literature. He has done M.A. from the University of Burdwan.
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DR BABITHA JUSTIN & DR. SMRTI K. P.
Before and After: A Look at the Writings of Travel by the British Women in India Co-authored by Dr Babitha Justin & Dr. Smrti K. P. Abstract Home, is a much debated idea in contemporary theory. It is imaged and imagined on many different levels. On the one hand, on the surface, home is known in terms of its intimacy with the dweller; in terms of its location, fabric, decoration, furnishing and amenity. On the other, at a deeper level, home is pertinent in terms of the relationships and the deeper level of psychological meanings of the locations. Deeper still, home is a representation of cultural identity and provides a collective sense of social permanency and security. Travel Writing is one such genre where the idea of home recurs in the most consistent fashion, in narration, in peregrinations and also in nostalgic recollections. In this paper, we would like to look into the idea of home in the colonial and the post-colonial travel writing of British women in India. Representative texts are taken from both before and after 1950s. This is a collaborative paper and the main objectives of our study are to analyze the changes in travel writing by British women before and after Indian independence. Here, we will be looking at the following: •
Changes in meaning for travel for women in changed histories.
Difference in perspectives of women travellers as well as about women travellers.
Changed significance of India for British women (travellers).
Our arguments, tentatively, work around the following ideas: 1. Place fixation in travel writing. We would like to start from the interrelationship of travel and home for women travellers. For British women who travelled in India, home was always the most important point of reference. Some travelled to setup homes for their husbands, some travelled in search of homes and/or roots. Travel, in the male sense of the term, did not offer them a sense of escapade as they travelled part and parcel of the colonial paraphernalia in the Raj era. Post 1950s saw the emergence of a “new” woman, in search of her own destiny. Lots of women travelled for pleasure, some even took it up as a profession, but even in this way of travelling ’abroad’ is closely connected with their 99
deep sense of stalking out of their territories. We can see them looking for their ‘homes’ or the essence of it, even ‘abroad’. This aspect in travel writing is termed as Place Fixation. 2. For British women of the Raj, this idea of home became part of establishing the empire. The resonances of the equation home=empire, became pronounced after Queen Victoria took over the empire. For British women after the Raj, home was a part of a nostalgia that they associated with the empire of yore. 3. The way the idea of home has changed through years, reflects the way femininity and the female concept of travel have changed. Whereas the colonial British women strove to establish the ideal English home in the empire, the post 50s women were critical of their English homes and the whole gamut of cultural baggage and significations that ‘home’ carried along with it. Curiously enough, their travel, in some sense, becomes a search for home elsewhere, primarily in the erstwhile empire. 4. The idea of Home was very much connected to who is in it and who is not. How they confront the other woman in India and their reactions to them that is comments, observations, etc. Their observations on Indian women are also important in the sense that they often spiced with a remarkable contrast of the ‘self’ with the ‘other’ This often ends up in the depiction of ‘us’ versus them, where the stark contrast of the privilege that women enjoy in the West and the disadvantages of the women in the East. In this scale of contrasts between the western and eastern women, the women of the west are more than often posited as privileged and liberal compared to the Indian women. There truckloads of stereotypes that are accorded to the woman of the east; they are a. Illiterate therefore ignorant, b. Religious therefore superstitious, attached to families, therefore orthodox. These presumptions are done systematically against an occasional buffer of seeing a different, modern Indian world, and this add as to the shock value of Indian women. 5. Relationships as well as interfaces with Indian men and women are very important, in the quest for home away from home. The relationship between the White woman and the Indian man follow the oft cited ways of fear or romance. 6. The paper will also try to arrive at a possible definition of British women travellers. During the Raj, they were middle class memsahibs accompanying husbands or fathers or even women looking out for husbands and women who were part of the missionary baggage. Their travel, in corollary, was a part of establishing the colony, not personal adventure. In the post-colonial times, there were escapades (personal and professional, romantic and tragic), ‘real’ adventure mongering and also digging for roots. 7. The women came to India during Raj as part of establishing the colony. Their primary role was not of explorers. They were brought as part of a ‘fishing fleet’, disparagingly termed so, to cut down on the soldiers’ native sexual escapades, and to prevent miscegenation to a considerable extent. Gradually they acquired the homemaker- mother roles in establishing English domesticity in the Raj.
8. During the Independent period, women came to travel as part of their new identity as capable of taking up a profession like travel, they also were terribly critical about the way in which West was progressing and in fact they drift into the stream of going East to find a spiritual and intellectual solace. The two wars that the West fought, as well as the breakdown of the Empire, etc. Here also one can see their idea of a perfect home getting ensnared in the nostalgia for a colonial past which they deemed to be idyllic and pristine. 9. The colonial women inhabited dual circles of colonial power and patriarchal vulnerability. The post independent women thought they were more mobile than their colonial counterparts. They definitely had the real and imaginary fears working on them while travelling, but what we can find out is that the conventional male /female dichotomy does not work out here. They have the power of their agency, that power is wielded even when they come to Indian homes as brides and lovers. The class and race are generally more emphatically stressed than their gender identity. For analyzing this we shall be looking at selected texts books in the pre and post 50s era. This study is relevant it is probably the first of its kind that brings together two diverse and different eras on a common platform for close analyses and inferences. It is a pertinent study also due to the fact that it does not look at historical continuities alone in the women’s positioning at various junctures in history, it rather investigates the disjunctures and differences that are posited in their writing. Section 1 Writings on travel can be seen as specimens of biographies, autobiographies, geographical etchings, historical narratives, pieces of ethnographical profiling, etc. Keeping these various discursive genres and frames in mind, this paper looks at travel ‘before and after’ Indian independence, attempting to read into the idea of Home and responses to Gaze in the colonial and the post-colonial [i] travel writings of British women in India. This paper shall look into two texts: An Englishwoman in India (1986), a volume of Harriet Tytler's travel reminiscences of 1857 [ii] and On a Shoestring to Coorg (1976) [iii], the travel experience of Dervla Murphy, who travelled to India in 1975. Both works were written at important historic junctures [iv]. Not many works have brought together two formally similar texts of two very different eras on a common platform for close analyses and inferences. The commonalities that bind these texts together include obviously the racial and gender connotations of British women in India and the aesthetics of travel writing. The paper does not look only at historical continuities in the women’s positioning at various junctures in history. It rather investigates the disjunctures and differences that are posited in their writings. Though we have selected two books for the immediate purpose of this paper, our arguments are informed by a set of representative texts of the period. The two texts discussed here are expressions of personal travels. At the same time, they are sites of different discourses and they also contribute to the theoretical discussions of the first section in a major fashion. 101
The paper is divided into two sections. The first section deals with the main themes and concepts, and then moves on to a short summary of the texts under discussion. Simultaneously, it attempts to understand the changing contours of travel writing by British women in India. The second section focuses on the themes; home and gaze. It has to be kept in mind that the hundred years between these texts, and more years between what is narrated in them, witnessed many changes in Anglo-Indian relations. We loosely term these periods for easy understanding as Raj and Post Raj; Raj is the period from when the Crown took over the governance of Indian provinces to when India got independence (1857-1947); postRaj is from 1947 to the present. These periods together make a chronological timeline which is stretched in between eras of dependence and independence. However, this time-gap is an important means to grasp the changing nature of travel and travel narratives. During this time, Britain had undergone a process of change in political policies with regard to her relations with India. From the status of the colonized, India became a free country and started evolving the binary and mutually inclusive processes of democratization and modernization. Subsequently, from 1975-77, India went through the acid test of democracy in the form of the Emergency. Britain, on the other hand, grew as an empire, went through two World Wars, witnessed many human rights’ movements –including ones for women’s rights—and by 1986, was ruled by the most powerful woman prime-minister. At the same time, the Anglo-Indian relationship went through many ranges of emotion –admiration, rebellion, guilt, partnership, etc. At this juncture, we cannot claim that the British women travel writers that we are dealing with, were in any sense, instrumental to any of these changes. They were never agencies of these political changes explicitly; but they were not silent witnesses either. It must surely be said to their credit that they were involved in documenting the changing nature of Anglo-Indian relations through their narratives. What is important to us in these narratives is the fact that they were written on the peripheries of the ambit of power that determined these changes. Nevertheless, during post-colonial times, we can see the change in the way women took up travel as a profession for pleasure, rather than as being passive pieces of the Raj baggage. “Memsahib writing [v]” (or Memsahib-travel writing as we would like to call it) is the broad term used in this paper to refer to the personal narratives by British women of the Raj. These writings consisted of diaries, letters, autobiographies or any fragmentary description that they wrote back home to describe their experiences in the new land. These writings were primarily remembrances of things past, where the writer partially discovered and "created" a comprehensible order that sought to replace the motley collection of perceptions that existed in her mind. In this process, we can see that memory played an important role as well. These retrospective autobiographical musings imply a spatial and temporal distance between the writing position and the ‘real’ experiences. In this fissure lies the flexible boundary line between ‘facts’ and remembered facts. The subject matter of memsahib writing covered a wide range of themes and leitmotifs. These women writers, who were involved in the empire-building as homemakers (and subsequently, empire-home makers), and not decision-makers, had an entirely new page to add to empire writing. This was a favourite past time with eighteenth century English women in general. "In 102
writing to themselves, eighteenth century women, in particular, could create a private place in which to speak the unthought, unsaid, and undervalued" (Nussenbaum 154) [vi] And again, "For...eighteenth century women, diaries and journals are a commonplace, a site to represent female experience, even those judged trivial by the hegemonic, and to assign them parity with representations valued by the culture" (ibid 166). Thus, what is usually considered ‘home-talk’ or ‘kitchen-talk’ enters empire writing, and details of routines, like for instance, getting bitten by Indian mosquitoes offer, albeit inadvertently, an extensive and intricate documentation of AngloIndian relations. It also has to be told if we look for different and opposing perspectives on India and Indians in these narrations by women, we may be left with not many choices. The female gaze in the memsahib writing, contrary to what we would hope, does not offer a fresh look at the empire; it mostly corroborates or substantiates the racial prejudices and colonial aspirations. We can see that women’s writing is often received and evaluated in terms of its female ‘otherness’, in opposition to male writing. However, there is a racial undertone that connects and relates the whole mass of memsahib writings with other colonial writings. We can also see that memsahib (travel) writing is already mediated through a flood of colonial writing, mostly by men. Many of the racial prejudices and stereotypes are perpetuated through these writings as well. We need to place them as individual articulations evolved out of a larger social environment, an environment that includes racial and gender circles. What is important thus in memsahib writing is not the varied perspective it offers on India, but the changing sensibility towards India and Anglo-Indian relations. However, there are significant instances where an individual criticism of the empire permeates through the veneer of the all-encompassing general sensibility of empire writing. These instances show us that British women were caught up in their gendered selves. Therefore, these writings thus have to be understood as sites of interaction between race and gender. These narratives about India are framed by the specific context of colonialism; at the same time, however, there is also a broader context of gender interlaced in them. This paper tries to focus on them by analyzing the metaphor of Home that is unmistakably woven into Raj and Post-Raj writing. In a broader sense, ‘home’ carries identities with it. The meaning of ‘home’ can be read into familiar spaces, climate, food habits, customs, racial features, etc. At the same time, home becomes a sensuous, emotional and familiar geographical space. Anything that is antithetical, new and strange to this familiarity is what is considered to be ‘outside’. Thus, alien lands and all their features, right from strange spatial terrains to the landscape, people, customs, etc., fall into the category of ‘outside’ or ‘abroad’. The concept of ‘home’ becomes the symbol of the ‘self’ or ‘inside’ and the ‘self’ has no meaning in its entirety, but in contrast to the ‘outside’. Travel Writing generally evolves through this complex mediation of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Also, the transition between the inside and the outside of home and coming to terms with it becomes a major concern of travel writing by women. As mentioned earlier, the English women of the Raj came to India as ‘home makers,’ in an entire system which based its ethos on colonial sensibilities. The ‘home makers’ had the dual responsibility of setting up a domestic system and buttressing the value systems of the Empire. 103
In a broader sense, they became cultural signifiers of a system where they had to simultaneously play out the dual role demanded from them—that of their race as well as their gender. They had to sustain and maintain the coziness and familiarity of British homes in India, and at the same time, struggle with the unfamiliar ‘otherness’ of a country which was territorially, climatically and culturally at complete loggerheads with their own. What is heroic about their being at ‘home-away-from-home’ is the fact that while buttressing the ‘values’ of home they also tend to be censorious of the very same values they hitherto supported. Concurrently, if we look closely into British women’s travel writing, the changing theme of home is also a way of understanding how British women perceived Anglo-Indian relations. During the Raj, the travellers were middle class memsahibs who accompanied their husbands or fathers. There were also missionaries and future wives to many British bureaucrats as well. Their travel was part of the numerous tasks that went into establishing the colony, and Margaret Macmillan describes them as being disparagingly called the ‘fishing fleet’. For the British women of the Raj, the idea of home was part of establishing the empire. The resonances of the equation between home and empire became all the more pronounced after Queen Victoria took over the empire. The Raj memsahibs took great pains to establish an “English home” for their husbands in the completely unfamiliar Indian terrain. Charles Allen provides us a brief sketch of Memsahib’s duties thus: The Memsahib was expected to make a home out of a rented building that she would probably be required to vacate within a year, use furniture and rugs that were hired or made by convicts at the local jail, make something of a garden that annually turned to dust, employ servants who stuck rigidly to the narrowest of demarcation lines, bring up children and nurse them through every possible kind of sickness, knowing that within a few years they would be taken from her [vii].
As we can easily gather from the above narration, the effort was one of unmitigated tedium, given that there was little in common between Indian and British cultures and topographies. Indian family structures were nothing comparable with a diversity of matriliny and polygamy. More incomprehensible were the exterior structures of Indian homes. Nevertheless, there was a psychological necessity to seek the familiar in the unfamiliar, and the memsahibs were successful in establishing their own versions of English Homes in India, which in turn became models for modern Indian homes themselves. During the modernization of India, when Indians looked up to many things British, Indian homes and families were redefined and reestablished along these ‘modern’ lines. Harriet Tytler, though she did not foresee such an impact, did her part to not only establish this English Home, but also spread it to Indians. One of her dreams was that; “When I grow up to be a woman I will save all the little starving children and bring them up as Christians” (Tytler 10). Ironically, post-Raj women travelers like Murphy, whom we will analyse later, were occupied with precisely that which was left out of this modernization project – the “unmodern”. If we take a closer look at the way the idea of home has changed over the years, reflects the way femininity and the female concept of travel have changed. On the one hand, colonial British women strove to establish the ideal English home –the locus of the nostalgia felt by the Imperium-at-large in the Empire. On the other, years later, the post ’50s women were critical of 104
their English homes and the whole gamut of cultural significations they carried. Ironically, making these critical thoughts rather peripheral, their travel, in a deeper sense, becomes a search for home elsewhere, primarily in the erstwhile empire, where they try recover a ‘home-awayfrom-home’. During the post-Raj Era, travel was more of a personal choice. For an author like Dervla Murphy, it was a professional choice as well, as she was one of those few daring women who emphasized her literary, professional and personal identity as a travel writer. For her, working in the ’60s, travel writing was a very challenging choice because there was already a male canon that had laid down the basic preambles, rules and regulations of such writing, based on notions of ‘male’ adventure and experience. Entering that domain was in itself a bold inroad into “male territory”. In addition to this, we see instances of her subverting male conventions. In post-Raj travel, we can also find lingering elements of nostalgia that pervade when the writer seeks out a home-away-from-home experience. Nostalgia for the Empire is all pervasive in almost all the post-Raj travel texts. To borrow Linda Hutcheon’s elaboration of this concept: Nostalgia, in fact, may depend precisely on the irrecoverable nature of the past for its emotional impact and appeal. It is the very pastness of the past, its inaccessibility, that likely account for a large part of nostalgia's power… it is the past as imagined, as idealized through memory and desire. …. Simultaneously distancing and proximating, nostalgia exiles us from the present as it brings the imagined past near. The simple, pure, ordered, easy, beautiful, or harmonious past is constructed (and then experienced emotionally) in conjunction with the present-which, in turn, is constructed as complicated, contaminated, anarchic, difficult, ugly, and confrontational [viii].
Taking this into account, for the contemporary British woman traveller, travel to India is simultaneously a get-away from home, as well as a renewed search for the selfsame home elsewhere, in this specific case, in the colonial vestiges and memories that India carried. If Raj women travelled to establish homes, post Raj women travelled to escape from their homes and in a sense, to seek the Raj homes of yore. During the Independent period, women came to travel as part of their new identity wherein they were capable of taking up a rigorous profession like travel. However, they were also very critical about the way in which the West was progressing. We can find them often drifting into the stream of going East to find spiritual and intellectual solace. England had gone through two World Wars and the breakdown of her Empire. The aftermath of these historical events brought with in its wake a hitherto unprecedented professional mobility for women. However, while women travel writers made use of this mobility to make brave inroads into a hitherto maledominated genre of writing, we also find that in the writing itself, their idea of a perfect home gets ensnared in the nostalgia for a colonial past which they, writing at this distance in time, can imagine to be idyllic and pristine. An Englishwoman in India is a recollection of Harriet Tytler's life in the northern part of India during the time of the 1857 uprising. Tytler was above seventy when she recollected her Indian experiences [ix]. Down the memory lane, Tytler recollects the "good old days". The recollection 105
sometimes suffers from full or partial forgetfulness. The story starts when she was two years old. Small parental punishments, quarrels with her brother, a scorpion bite, a small English doll, the tigers of Chittagong, tiresome journeys on water, etc, are reminisced with nostalgia. Tytler often refers to India as her "home", because she was brought up here. When she visits England, she was glad to see pineapples as these "huge hothouse pineapples...brought back the memory of my home in India" (Tytler 36). We do not see in Tytler’s writing the usual touristy attitude towards India. She spoke Hindustani and believed that an omelette is best cooked by an Indian. Like many other memsahibs, she belonged to the English lower class. This does not, however, diminish her rank as a memsahib in India. The fact that her father could not buy an expensive doll for her, or that she lived on cold mutton fat in England did not change her rank as a memsahib in India. On her return to India, she got married to Captain Tytler at the age of 20. Life went on with a mix of tears and laughter until May 10–11, 1857. A pregnant Tytler’s escape from a burning Delhi seized by Indian sepoys forms the second part of the book. She recollects her shock. "...as a survivor of the memorable 11th of May 1857 at Delhi, and as the only lady at the siege of that city, I am led to think a simple narrative by an eye witness of those thrilling events may interest others" (Tytler 109). Tytler and her children were caught up in the Flag Staff Tower in Delhi, "little Frank clinging on to me on one side and Edith the little girl in my arms"( Tytler 129). As soon as Captain Tytler could save them from there, they fled in a borrowed horse cab to Ambala and again to the Alipore camp. Women's safety was a major concern and all women were shifted to Meerut. Harriet was allowed to stay alone for the whole siege, as her pregnancy would not have allowed her to travel on an elephant to Meerut. She delivered her son, who lay "in the opening in the cart with only a small square piece of flannel thrown over him...with nothing but the sound of the alarm call and shot and shell for music to his ears..." (Tytler 147). But she narrates events of rape and loot with stories of a woman "lying dead in the compound, perfectly nude, with her unborn babe lying on her chest" (Tytler113). These were definitely not stories of an eye-witness, as she was always protected inside the safe walls of the camp. Tytler was carrying on the discourse of the Mutiny that gazed upon the female body for its sexual vulnerability. Female moral fortitude, like in any situations of riot, became important. This marks a shift in the status of memsahibs. The Cawnpore massacre (in which a number of English men, women and children were killed) spawned many more invented stories lamenting the loss of female chastity. These invented stories of rape and mutilation were posed as a challenge to British authority over not only British women, but the Company regime. It questioned the long-propagated myth of Hindu effeminacy. The sexual vulnerability of English women was reported over and over again making women of Raj inhabiting dual circles of colonial power and patriarchal vulnerability. On a Shoestring to Coorg is a travelogue by Dervla Murphy, who embarks on a journey with her 5-year old daughter, Rachel, after a travel-hiatus of five years. In the beginning, she lists the places from which she could easily choose and at length, with an air of exasperated finality, she zeroes in India, though she had already travelled to India once. From her Bombay-starter which offends all her five senses with its unsavory, smells, noise and sights of India, Murphy’s narrative takes us to Coorg, a hill region in South India, in the state of Karnataka. Her journey to Coorg leads her to the memories of her homeland in Ireland, as she lives in Coorg with the 106
perfect harmony of a traveller who meets the unknown ‘Other’ and reinvestigates it only to find herself mirrored in there. Apparently, it is after long meanderings that Murphy reaches Coorg, and the dramatic narration of her chancing upon Coorg is reckoned with the importance of a ‘discovery’ that should be ascribed to her. She begins with the description of the place and delineates the landscape as a very pleasant and colourful entity, thus satisfying the mind as well as the senses. She orchestrates her achievement thus “Why has nobody ever heard of Coorg? Or have I been alone in my ignorance of this most enchanting region?” (Murphy 54). In Coorg, she discovers an ideal setting for Place Fixation. She finds the landscape idyllic and colourful with a congenial climate: Mercara’s average temperature is 66o F and as we trotted downhill, the sun was warm, the breeze fresh and the sky intensely blue - an almost incredible colour…. At intervals, in the cool depths of the forest, we saw the sudden flourishes of colour… and once Rachel came within inches of treading on a small snake (Murphy 54).
At the same time, during her stay in Coorg, she elaborates the reasons why she is attached to the paradisiacal beauty of Coorg. Being far away from home compels Murphy to draw constant parallels and associations with home. “On the Mysore plateau, many solitary, spreading trees grow in the wide, red-brown fields, giving the landscape a slightly English look - accentuated today by the bulky white clouds drifting across…” (Murphy 67). She continues: I set out, after all, to tour South India, and my lingering seems suspiciously like escapism. Undeniably, Coorg is a place apart- clean, quiet, uncrowded, unmodern, not impoverished at any level of society, never too hot or too cold at any time of the day or night and populated by exceptionally congenial people. Add a truly magnificent landscape to all this and you have a perfect paradise. (Murphy 89)
In appreciating and fixing a place like Coorg, Murphy undergoes the elaborate ritual of trying to locate the ethnological origins of the Coorgis, trying to sketch their history, politics, etc. This exercise is also an inherent part of Place Fixation. Coorg’s uncanny resemblance to England/Ireland is one of the factors that are harped upon time and again in the book: …as we walked up a long drive I could for a moment have believed myself in some quite corner of England. On either side, green park land was dotted with handsome trees; nearby grazed a few fine horses and a herd of even finer cows, and in the distance, beyond the big house amidst its brilliant abundance of flowers and shrubs, lay the long uneven line of the Ghats. Their gentle blue is contrasted with the vivid, sharp, almost incredible blue of the Coorg sky…. Nor would one pass there a nursery of orange-tree saplings and baby-coffee bushes, each infant protected by a wicker shield… (Murphy 95).
We can read this in relation with Tytler’s sense of identifying pineapples with the memory of her home when she travels.
Section 2 We would like to start from the interrelationship of travel and home for women travellers. For the British women who travelled to India, home was always the most important point of reference. Some travelled to set up homes for their husbands, some travelled in search of homes, others in search of roots. In this context, one can very clearly observe the symbiotic, nevertheless, culturally construed relationship between women and home. During most of the Raj era, women figured as symbols of home and purity, and to consider them as active participants of any social change or cultural process could barely be conceived of. This deeply entrenched image underwent some change after the 1950s, but gender disparities still remained. Due to this, we can see that for the post-Raj women travellers, travelling ’abroad’ is closely knitted with their deep sense of stalking out of their territories. We can see them looking for their ‘home’ or the essence of it, even ‘abroad’. This aspect in travel writing is termed ‘Place Fixation’. It can be observed that women travel writers, especially Tytler and Murphy, write on the kind of travel that enhances the ‘place fixation’ phenomenon. At first level, this happens through the process of zeroing in on a particular country as a traveller. In the process of this zeroing in, the author invariably elaborates on the various processes through which she has passed to omit certain other places she has had access to. Characteristics of place fixation are: 1. Zeroing in on a particular country/ region. 2. The dramatic narration of the entry into the place, which, in most cases, is not too well known to Western readers. 3. Literary tropes such as landscaping, ‘‘bodyscaping’’- i.e. the photographic narration of events, narrating anecdotes, recounting the process of’ witnessing’ customs, rites, ceremonies, etc, of the country chosen for travel in order to propel them into our focus. All these types of narration are aided by “source books”, which replenish the author’s prior “knowledge” about the place. 4. The relentless search for the ‘safety and warmth of a home away from home’. The next feature which has to be looked into is the aspect of home in isolation, where home becomes a spatial construction in the minds of travel writers. Space becomes a complex phenomenon, as the entire psychological gamut of the author’s ‘self’ is deftly, yet unconsciously fleshed out within the twin spatial concepts of the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’. In travelling, we can see the uneasy merger of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ spaces. The inside space can be conveniently called ‘home’, the familiar environment the traveller associates herself with. It is here that her early identity formation takes place. The concept of ‘home’ does not merely have the restricted meaning of a human-made space that protects. It can be extended to denote the entire ethos and sum of institutions which help the ‘self’ to evolve within a given community. The idea of Home is also very much connected to who is in it and who is not. How the women travellers confront the ‘other’ women in India and their reactions to them, comments, observations, etc, are also very poignant aspects in this context. Observations on Indian women 108
are important in the sense that they are often spiced with illustrations of the remarkable contrast of the ‘self’ with the ‘other’. They often ends up in the depiction of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, where the stark contrast of the privilege that women enjoy in the West, with the disadvantages that women endure in the East, is highlighted. In this scale of contrasts between western and eastern women, the women of the west are more often than not posited as “privileged” and “liberal” compared to Indian women. There are truckloads of labels that are attached to the woman of the east. She’s illiterate, therefore ignorant, religious, therefore superstitious, attached to her family, therefore orthodox, and so on and on. These presumptions are systematically juxtaposed against an occasional buffer of seeing a different, modern Indian world, and this certainly adds shock value to the category called ‘Indian women’. Thus we see a change in the way Home is understood by the British women who travelled and wrote in different time frames. Along with individual differences, what contribute most to these changes, are the social and political transformations that Britain and India went through. More of this will be analyzed in the next section with specific reference to the two texts under study. To Murphy, home becomes the central metaphor indicating tradition and its endurance in the life of the Coorgis. One can also observe remnants of feudal nostalgia lurking in this uncritical admiration for tradition: …an imposing, two-storied, brown-tiled house, freshly painted white, with verdigris pillars, balcony-railings and window-surrounds. On the left, as one approaches, are two solidly built granaries, on the right is the well - some eighty feet deep- and beyond it stand three white washed huts where the Harijan [x] field labourers live. Moving around to the side entrance, opposite these huts, one sees roomy stone cattle sheds and two threshing-floors now overlooked by great growing ricks of ricestraw. And all around, at a little distance, stand majestic trees that must be centuries old - some bearing enormous, cream coloured waxen blossoms with a powerful scent which fills the air at dusk (Murphy 180).
Home is described as a sturdy establishment and it is described in many ‘solid’ metaphors. The plenitude at home is indicated through the description of granaries, wells, labourers and cattle, as well as the ancient, brawny trees that buttress the age-old traditions of home. In a graphic representation of a traditional Coorg house, Murphy projects the antiquity, sturdiness, plenitude, and the symbolic durability of tradition through its age-defying mechanism of survival. In these descriptions of home, we can see Murphy trying to manoeuvre her nostalgic recollections of the ‘home’ she had left behind into that the place she has fixed. Through chromatic images, metaphors of long lasting sturdiness and the dexterous visual display of light against darkness, she invokes ‘home’ images and simultaneously wallows in voyeuristic feast she has painted. By employing this device, Murphy also elaborates the process of the travellers becoming ‘temporary residents’, thus reinforcing the status of the ‘Place Fixed’ as one’s own ‘home’. This identification with home is brought to an intense level as the human characters also blend into the familiar landscape of ‘home’: At all events, the Coorgs have never heeded this prohibition [of liquor] and excessive drinking is undoubtedly their worst collective fault. Often men stagger home at lunch time unable to keep upright without assistance and the local
August 2013 reactions to this spectacle remind me very much of Ireland. People are mildly amused or affectionately chiding, or ribaldry-witty, or occasionally slightly impatient - but never critical (Murphy 194).
Ironically, what is projected in this uncritical admiration of tradition is precisely what British colonialism tried to modify. Post-colonial studies have brought out the implications of modernity that came to India through colonialism. What Murphy finds positive in the “uncrowded” and “unmodern” Coorg is what Tytler finds problematic in her writing. Tytler was convinced about the Englishman’s right to change the ways of Indian life, a conviction that was subsequently identified as being central to the modernization project of colonialism. From this identification, Murphy’s cultural peregrinations lead her to ‘feel at home away from home’. Murphy tells us of her own transition, of seeking a ‘temporary’ abode that leads to a feeling of settling down ‘permanently’: “Every day I fall more seriously in love with Coorg; it is the only place, outside my own little corner of Ireland, where I could imagine myself to live permanently’ (Murphy 210). Here, we can see the author’s final identification with the land or the Place Fixed. Her sojourn in time and place has in fact led her to herself, thus enabling her to discover herself through the land she explores. Gaze - the changing looks British women's writings do not offer a new gaze at the empire or colonial self. The British women, who wrote about India and Indians, saw India through the lenses of earlier narratives and travel reports. They worked in a booby trap of already established prejudices and predilections. As individuals who are not exposed to direct contact with India, they often saw India and Indians through the narratives of their male counterparts who travelled before them. However, there are some interesting descriptions about the gaze on them. The experience of the intimidating ‘otherness’ is manifest more in Murphy’s descriptions of the reversal of the gaze. Murphy posits instances of such reversal and her reaction to it as a problematic realm which emphatically underpins the socio-cultural differences between her and the ‘counter gazing’ object. On a few occasions, she elaborates on the ‘gazed’ subject as an active agent, who reciprocates the gaze with alacrity. For example, on her way to Mysore, she narrates the instance of a few toddlers fleeing with terror at the sight of a travelling white woman and her child. “We passed a few huts with shaggy straw thatches and glimpsed a few toddlers who fled from our strange white faces, howling with terror. Perhaps their mothers use Europeans as bogey-men.” (65) At this juncture, Murphy condones the stance that visuality is a matter of habit. As Murphy tours the whole of South India, she experiences the reversal of gaze, which lingers in her mind with a disturbing tenacity: The occupants were black-skinned, thick-lipped, curly-haired, bright-eyed and wellbuilt. Most of them greeted us cheerfully, when they had recovered from their incredulity on seeing a more or less a white woman and a child strolling down the road, but the toddlers were terrified and fled shrieking to the shelter of their mother’s skirts(Murphy 29).
Here the encounter is purely a racial one and Murphy is a bit taken aback by the instinctive rather crude implications of it. As she tries a string of adjectives to describe the colour and the race of the people, their reaction to seeing her is that of incredulity that verges on a kind of shock. Murphy and Rachel are subject to ‘collective’ gaze of men, women and children. Murphy concludes that the gaze is basically racial and converts the racial implications of the reversal of gaze into the ignorance of the lower middle class or the poor in India. She comes to the irate conclusion that the media is so ineffectual that the people are ignorant about what others look like: In countries as developed as India, one expects ‘the media’ to have by now given everybody an approximate idea of what everybody looks like… so obviously the poorest class cannot afford to take their children to the coast, where they might get a glimpse of foreign tourists or at least see pages from magazines, pasted on tea– house walls, which would give them some visual idea of white people. (Murphy 109)
Murphy definitely tries to hide her ire by taking a condescending stance on her being observed and looked at during different occasions. While we contrast this with how the Raj women felt, we get to read many instances where the memsahibs enjoyed the special status and gaze they acquired in India. They have also felt bad about abandoning that standing while returning to England. This is a difference that travellers to other parts of the globe were not entitled to. This was the fortune of being part of the Empire. We hear from another memsahib Isabella Fane that: “I shall feel my utter insignificance again on my return to my native land and act as before.” [xi] Tytler, however, was different. She is conscious of the others’ gaze, not in India, but in England: I was the centre of attraction …. It was all so wonderfully strange to me. No animal in the zoo could have been more appreciated. I was asked hundred questions about that far off country, and had to speak Hindustani. (Tytler 34)
Tytler was brought up, for the large part, in India, and hence felt the gaze only in England. However most other memsahibs came for shorter periods of stay and enjoyed the attention they got. This change of attitude in handling the gaze has historical reasons. As discussed earlier, the memsahibs were proud to be part of an empire, a position that empowered them and held them high in India. In the Raj, they also saw their status in their native society’s hierarchy change. They could scale the social ladders in India, which would have been virtually impossible for them in their own homeland. The Indian gaze was often understood as awe and reverence. Murphy is subject to ‘collective’ gaze from Indian men, women and children, though she tries to evade the gaze. Many a time, Murphy narrates how she was caricatured, as her body became a piece of exhibitionist spectacle. The gaze disturbs her to an extent of violating her physical needs to privacy, but by and by, she converts these instances into big jokes as she unselfconsciously becomes the basic raw material for it. In Coorg too, Murphy is subject to gaze; but she observes that White bodies are observed as visual spectacles, without any intrusion. The gaze is seen as more or less harmless and unobtrusive. The Murphys are being observed as curious spectacles, but there is a lot of reticence, if not restraint, on the part of the observers. One has to note that this gaze emanates from the lower middle classes who more or less belong to the periphery of Coorg life. The 111
distance the gazers maintain, as well as the self-effacing reserve they uphold, are really lauded by Murphy, who is of the cryptic opinion that the majority of Indians are otherwise: Because of the threshing our yard is more populated these days than it normally would be as we are a marvellous added attraction – something like a side-show at a circus. All hours people wander up to our apartment to observe the odd habits of the foreigners; but they never stay long or handle anything - just study us shyly from the top of the ladder. (189)
This paper was an attempt to locate and understand British women travel writing about India, before and after Indian independence. It analyzed the "mundane" narrations of women travellers as documentation of Anglo-Indian relations. The changes in the admiration of what constitutes the idea of home and the reception of gaze from Indians throw light upon the changing nature of travel and India for British women. In the Raj era, travel, in the male sense of the term, did not offer them a sense of escape, as they travelled as part and parcel of the colonial paraphernalia. On the other hand, the post 1950s era saw the emergence of the “new” woman, in search of her own destiny. During this period, lots of women travelled for pleasure, some even took up travel as a profession. During the Raj, British women travellers were middle class memsahibs accompanying husbands or fathers, or even women looking out for husbands, women who were part of the imperial baggage. Their travel, in corollary, was a part of establishing the colony, not personal adventure. In post colonial times, there were escapades (personal and professional, romantic and tragic), ‘real’ adventure mongering and also digging for roots. Whereas the colonial British women strove to establish the ideal English home in the empire, the post Raj women were critical of their own English homes and the whole gamut of cultural baggage and signification that ‘home’ carried with it. Curiously enough, their travel, in some sense, becomes a search for home elsewhere, primarily in the erstwhile empire. If the Raj memsahibs strove hard to establish English homes in India and uphold them as sites of modernity for Indians, the post-Raj memsahibs are fascinated with the "unmodern" that is seemingly left out of the colonial project. We can also see a change of attitude in understanding the gaze on British travellers. The Raj memsahibs enjoyed the gaze as a privilege. The post Raj memsahibs in their new found sense of privacy, are disturbed by the gaze, but are conscious enough not to show the disturbance. Underlying these changes are the huge historical changes in Anglo-Indian relations, but more so the post-colonial critiques or introspection of the empire and colony.
Works Cited [i] We are using these terms as chronological markers in the general context of as well as in the context of a country that gained its independence in 1947. [ii] Tytler, Harriet. An Englishwoman in India: The Memoirs of Harriet Tytler, 1828-58. New York: OUP. 1986. Print. (In 1900s Tytler wrote the recollected experiences of 1857, though the publication of the book came much later. That was in 1986.) [iii] Murphy, Dervla. On a Shoestring to Coorg. London: John Murray.1976. Print. [iv] 1857 has all the contradictions of colonialistic dogmatism as well as nationalistic patriotism written into it in the way the date is inferred to in both the colonial and nationalistic historiography. While the former refers to 1857 as the Sepoy Mutiny, the latter defines the same event as the First War of Independence. The Emergency in 1975, again had contradictory responses, when the ruling Prime Minister suspended elections and civil liberties in India. While some saw it as the the worst debacle for Indian democracy, others believed that was the most productive period in post Independent India. [v] Memsahib is a Hindi word for “Madam” and was often used to refer to foreign women or later, Indian women of the upper strata. [vi] Nussbaum, Felicity A. “Eighteenth Century Women’s Autobiographical Commonplaces”. The Private Self: Theory and Practice Of Women's Autobiographical Writings. Shari Benstock, University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC. 1988. Print. 147-171. [vii] Allen, Charles (1977). Raj: A Scrape Book of British India 1877-1947. Andre Dentisch: Indian Book. Co. p. 81. [viii] Hutcheon, Linda. “Irony, Nostalgia, and the Postmodern”. http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/criticism/hutchinp.html (1998): n. pag. Web. 19 January 2012. [x] Harijan is a term used by Gandhi to refer to the formerly untouchable caste in India, who in turn later resisted the glorification implied in the name. [xi] Fane, Isabella. Miss Fane in India. Ed. John Pemble. Gloucester: Alan Sutton. 1985. Print. p146.
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10. Keene, Donald. Travelers of a Hundred Ages: The Japanese as Revealed Through 1,000 Years of Diaries. 1989. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. Print. 11. Kowalewski, Michael, ed. Temperamental Journeys: Essays on the modern literature of travel. Athens : University of Georgia Press, 1992. Print. 12. Monin, Lydia. From the Writerâ€™s Notebook: Around New Zealand with 80 Authors. Auckland: Reed, 2006. Print. 13. Oâ€™Neil, L. Peat. Travel Writing. Cincinnati, Ohio : Writer's Digest Books, 1996. Print. 14. Porter, Dennis. Haunted Journeys: Desire and Transgression in European Travel Writing. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991. Print. 15. Pratt, Mary-Louis. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London & New York: Routledge, 1992. Print. 16. Russell, Alison. Crossing Boundaries: Postmodern travel literature. New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, 2000. Print.
The artist doesn’t
have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews. – William Faulkner
BOOK REVIEW BY GLEN JENNINGS
Glen Jennings Reviews Anoop Chandola’s In the Himalayan Nights Archi Rainwal, the first-person narrator of Anoop Chandola's novel In the Himalayan Nights, is a rationalist, a university professor of anthropology, a monogamist and an ethical (not a religious) vegetarian. Unlike his Brahmin father, he is comfortable eating with untouchables, and he does not believe in the literal truth of the Indian classic the Bhagavad Gita. Happily married to Tula, a fellow Indian-born academic, he has no prejudice against miscegenation. This puts Archi, a professor at the University of Washington, at odds with many fellow Indians living in America, who despise the idea of their children marrying blacks or Jews. He is from an educated elite—reinforced both through his caste status in India and his opportunities to study first in a Christian school in India and later a graduate school in America—but Archi wants education available to all. He admires people from scheduled castes who advance in Indian society through secular knowledge, and he is critical of fundamentalist "godists" who divide or oppress people according to religious faith. Archi's American graduate student Marla coins the term PUDI (person under devout influence), and for both of them, many of the world's major problems—historical and current—are clearly the responsibility of PUDIs who have used religion (and religious nationalism) to foment communal violence and divide people. To Archi, sectarian violence within India and the partition of the subcontinent into the mutually hostile nations of India and Pakistan, are cases in point. Archi tends to judge people according to their learning, agreeing with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living. He applies critical analysis, his deep knowledge of history and literature and his fluency in Sanskrit, Hindi and Garhwali to understand local culture, dispel misapprehensions and expose religious frauds. However, as a researcher into "the great subjective realities of human culture," he is aware that the observer-participant in the field "must watch carefully to ensure that in our thinking and in our behaviors, we don't alienate people on the basis of their superstitions." In the Himalayan Nights begins with a powerful scene of divine possession, as the untouchable woman Goda dances wildly, puts a red hot ladle to her tongue as proof of 116
possession and then flings the burning ladle at her bigamist husband. In her frenzy, Goda calls out in the name of Draupadi, common wife of the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the bloody battles against the Kauravas detailed in the Bhagavad Gita: "Five men took turns with me and other women! Why?! Tell me why! Tell me why the heroes of this war!" Her challenge resonates throughout the novel and history, as Archi, Tula and his students question the nature of heroism, the roles of polygamy and religion in society and issues of women's rights. Back in his home city of Dehradun in 1977 to undertake field research into the "Holy War" dance of the epic Mahabharata, Archi has to navigate many treacherous roads in the Himalayas. As an American citizen conducting academic investigations in the sensitive area near India's borders with Tibet and Nepal, he has to deflect suspicion that he is either a CIA agent or a communist insurgent. While staying with his devout father in his luxurious Himalayan home, he must show due respect to his Brahmin family while also remaining true to his anti-caste beliefs. He hires untouchable drummers to perform the 18-day dance cycle, and he sits, converses and eats with these admirably skilled men, but he knows not to expect his father ever to join them, nor for the dancers to sing the praises of all the local people Archi admires. They will praise Lord Krishna and the warrior Arjuna, whom Krishna relieved of his depression on the eve of battle and who served as Arjuna's charioteer in the repeated slaughters of the Bhagavad Gita; and they will praise myriad other lords and warriors from the same ancient epic, men of thesavarna or high castes who degraded women, caused war and who cheated, poisoned and murdered their political rivals; but they will not praise the living descendant of a man who oppressed their caste forebears, no matter how kind or prominent, nor a local Christian convert who provided education to children regardless of religion or caste. Mixing with the majority Hindus of the region, but also with Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, converts of various persuasions and a few atheists, Archi searches for truth and understanding without causing gratuitous offense or enflaming prejudice. He also works closely with his two American graduate students, Marla and Jennifer, and balances their feminism and advocacy of animal rights with a contextualised understanding of polygamy and the local religious practice of bali, animal sacrifice. "Anachronism" may be the term he applies to Marla and Jennifer's criticism of the polygamous heroes of the Bhagavad Gita as "male chauvinists," but Archi often paternalistically refers to Marla and Jennifer as "the girls." Polygamy is a declining phenomenon in this Himalayan region as Archi, Marla and Jennifer conduct their research among the local people, but the two western women and their lesbianism introduce a relationship which is confronting to some members of the community. The revelation of their truth coincides with the dramatic climax of the 18-day war dance. The core of Anoop Chandola's challenging novel of myth, politics, religion and culture is a complex interweaving of the Mahabharata war epic with local stories of people from Dehradun and its immediate surrounds. He relates the salient and sanguinary details of the 117
mythological battles, including vivid descriptions of the drummers, dancers and the antics of the divinely possessed, some of whom are exposed by Archi's team as fakes. In alternating chapters, he focuses on tales of Garhwali people: judges, bullies, adulterers, soldiers, farmers, teachers, refugees and the Rainwal family itself. Blurring the line between field research and gossip, with numerous digressions into the past or to places overseas (especially America), Chandola intersperses chapters on Kaurava and Pandava conflict with contemporary tales of polygamy, poverty and dowry deaths. He blends tales of Indian kings and the destruction of armies with stories about Marla's film-star father in California or reflections on the Vietnam War. Chapters on Krishna, the Bhagavad Gita and the oral transmission of culture sit alongside expositions of Indian gurus commercialising Transcendental Meditation in the West. Despite the informal manner in which he collects much of his field information, Archi Rainwal can never cease being an academic. His conversations with academic collaborators, government officials, local informants and his two graduate students often become minilectures, delivered or received during the intervals between the nightly performances of the war drama. Archi admires the skill of the local drummers, untouchable men from a caste of Das (slaves or devotees) who have fashioned and refashioned the story of the Bhagavad Gita over many generations, and he is determined to trace their role in the great oral epic and to highlight their ongoing relevance. They praise the epic heroes in time-honoured fashion, without ever gaining credit as authors or originators, but they also beat their own drums and interpolate contemporary messages: "Follow the path of peace: Swap your position with your opponent's and then speak to each other." Archi refutes the notion of natural separation of peoples and instead focuses on the unity of the human race. He even traces the despised "gypsies" of Europe, the Roma, back to the untouchable Doma of India. Archi knows that religious division and racial apartheid are as destructive today as the battles between the Kauravas and the Pandavas in the Bhagavad Gita. From the loss of reasoning, we are all destroyed. In a world of prejudice, superstition and oppression, the narrator's key insight is to "question everything and then develop change." The heroes of the Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita are famous kings and warriors, men with many wives and long lists of the slaughtered to their credit. To Archi Rainwal and to Anoop Chandola, however, the truly admirable people are the untouchable drummers who proclaim the path of peace, and the anonymous Garhwali women who hugged trees to stop deforestation. From their actions an international environmental movement was born. In the Himalayan Nights is a song to them, and a song for Tula, Marla and all those who love music and reason.
Glen Jennings was born in Melbourne and studied in Australia and China. His articles and reviews have appeared in a number of journals and magazines including Arena Magazine, Mattoid, Steep Stairs Review, The Australian Journal of Politics and History and The China Journal. He teaches Literature and is Associate Dean (Academic Operations) in foundation studies at Trinity College, the University of Melbourne. Reviewers Bio:
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