Chief Editor’s Note
“The average human lifespan,” writes Oliver Burkeman, in his book on time management, “is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short.” An eighty-year-old has merely lived for 4,000 weeks. Had a nice weekend? That’s one week removed from the store. The two years of COVID? That’s 104 weeks. Years spent picking up an education? Let’s say 23 years. That’s about 1,200 weeks. And to think you spent much of it on mastering multiplication tables!
Which made me think. We have 17 weeks to get a new issue of The Bombay Literary Magazine ready. Since we publish three issues a year, that means we spend 51 weeks in a rather strange pursuit: finding the best possible words and helping to re-arrange them in the best possible way for maximum effect. But is this the best possible expenditure of 51 weeks?
During the siege of Sarajevo, the cellist Vedran Smailović played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor for 22 days in a ruined town square, under threat of snipers and bombs, in memory of the 22 people who had been killed there with a mortar round. 22 days is just 3 weeks, but we’ll be forever grateful to the cellist. We are moved by his courage, the sincerity of his elegy, and the simplicity of his demonstration. We feel all is not lost. Not yet, not ever perhaps. Not while a few have the courage–and perhaps in all of us, the desire– to spend time in the pursuit of the beautiful, the noble and the meaningful. For such a cause, we wouldn’t begrudge spending 1 week or 51 weeks or all our weeks on this pale blue dot.
The cover art for this issue is the result of one such pursuit. It is derived from a painting by Jangarh Singh Shyam. He was born into an impoverished family in an impoverished village in a relatively impoverished region of India. He wasn’t trained formally. His circumstances were, and are, shared by millions of other young Indian men and women. Except, he could paint. As in the fabled story of the Indian mathematical genius Ramanujan, Jangarh’s talent was noticed by a gifted upper-class and very well-connected professional artist, Jagdish Swaminathan. Like Ramanujan, Jangarh finally received some formal training and a kind of second birth. He went on to create a series of works of stunning complexity and beauty. Government officials in safari suits shook his hand. Glittering women in traditional wear smiled at him. His work was sold in Sotheby’s. He was exported to Japan. And then he committed suicide. He was 39 years old. He had spent 2034 weeks on this planet. The exemplar will last longer.
I thought of Jangarh while reading the translated poems of the Telugu poet Chitrakonda Gangadhar, published for the very first time in our current issue. Chitrakonda was almost erased by time. But he found his reader and that reader turned translator and that translator brought him to our editor and our editor decided to ensure he would not be erased. Did they misspend their weeks?
We don’t need poverty and tragedy and neglect to justify our playing in the market square. Each and every one of the contributions to this issue are by brave human beings who chose peace over violence, creativity over destruction, and voice over self-censorship. It is our pleasure and privilege to share their efforts with the larger world. If this be counted as an expenditure, then here’s to more red in the P&L sheet.
Welcome to Issue 56 of The Bombay Literary Magazine. Have a great week.