In this Issue - Web Exclusives

ALR

 

To get a taste of what's in ALR34, start with our selection of free-to-view articles on the ALR34 contents page A good place to begin is From the Editors.

Much of this issue puts a spotlight on Myanmar (Burma), and we include an interview with Lucas Stewart, joint editor with Alfred Birnbaum of Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds, from which we include four stories. We also feature two stories from Korean rising star Kim Ae-ran, whose writing is the focus for our forthcoming essay competition in partnership with the Literature Translation Institiute of Korea. Finally, sample some of the issue's poetry with John Mateer and Ellen Zhangand there's more in Preview.

Subscribers can read the whole issue here on the website, through our online reader or by downloading eBooks from their accounts.  

 

 

Georgie Carroll

 

The nail-marks on Manmatha’s neck matched his shirt – Ferrari Red. The girl could’ve been thirteen or fourteen. Her dark cheek had shone in the half-light. Hair silky, blouse torn, teeth sharp, white as jasmine buds.

He lit the gas ring.

Blue and orange flames consumed the pan in long tongues. The pleasure of the memory filled him up...

 

Ae-ran Kim

 

The first thing I learned at piano school was how to find Do. It’s the first note, so you use the first finger to play Do. I pressed the key, and Do barely cried, ‘Do. . . .’ To remember the Do I’d just played, I pressed the key once more. Do, taken by surprise, made its ‘Do. . . .’ sound again and I watched the line its name drew as it travelled across the air. I sat frozen where a note had come and gone without a trace, stiff pinky raised. A dim afternoon light trickled in through the window covered over with sticky paper. Silence ran between the piano and me, a girl who had touched a piano for the first time....

 

Ae-ran Kim

She said I’d just be staying in her empty house, so it would be no trouble for her at all. I didn’t have to give her an answer right away because July was still two months away. She and Dan would be in Thailand; all I would have to do is get the door code from her. She asked after our relatives and how things were in Korea, and then finally got to the point moments before she hung up: ‘How are you? I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the funeral.’...

Ellen Zhang

 

My father recounts memories of swollen blossoms

hardening into surface, secret core, hills laced with

gold, assuring amber aroma feeding on the sun....

 

ALR

 

Myanmar has been very much in the news throughout 2017. Conflicting and contradictory narratives vie for authority, and the result is a good deal of confusion about an already poorly understood country. Lucas Stewart has been working for years in Myanmar with the British Council and with Burmese writers and translators. Through examining the work both of established authors and of little-heard writers from the country’s ethnic regions, the aim was to reveal some of the country’s complexities of culture and identity. This resulted in an anthology of stories, many written in scripts that, until recently, were outlawed. The voices presented are authentic and universally human. We spoke to him about the project that produced Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds.

 

Letyar Tun

 

The ceiling fans whirred a slow rhythm. Mould crept into the corners of the whitewashed walls; the wide windows looked out onto the barren prison yard. Nyo Maung was marched up to a low, wooden dock flanked by two long tables. His feet scraping across the broken floor tiles echoed angrily through the colonial hall. Before the Burma Socialist Programme Party emblem sat three court martial judges – two majors and a colonel – neat and robotic in their crisp green uniforms, with pomaded hair, wire-rimmed glasses and gold stars on their shoulders. Nyo Maung knew obedience had raised them in the ranks to where they could sentence any soldier to death.

 

Myint Win Hlaing

 

The horizon grows dark in all directions. Thick rain clouds, drifting in southerly winds, cover the sky as evening falls and the farmers head home. To the north of town is a small hill, green with giant banyans, tamarinds and parrot trees that boast clusters of red-beaked flowers in April. Under the trees hide dirt graves and whitewashed tombs overgrown with weeds. Through the surrounding bush a young man shoulders something rolled in a frayed palm-leaf mat. Ahead of him walk three other men carrying a mattock, a hoe and bottles of water and homebrew. Together the four men scout for a bare patch of ground amidst the dirty rags, charred bamboo and plastic rubbish....

 

Ah Phyu Yaung Shwe

 

I had been at the monastery for little more than a year when the foreign representatives from the United Nations Development Programme arrived with a project to improve water distribution in the village. They offered to donate for a new pond, but where to put it? The wide green fields out in front of the monastery belonged to you-the-donor, as did the banana groves to the west. The banana trees were up a rise overlooking the monastery, so it would make sense to put a pond there for drainage, but I needed to talk with the donor first....

 

Ahpor Rahmonya

 

No one knows what to call the flowers. There seems to be no word for them in Mon. Small leaves, perennial green and tough, fearing neither rain nor sun, the red clusters bloom like little fists. Every house in town grows them, trimmed nice and pretty. At my aunt and uncle’s house they run along the border with their neighbour’s property, so striking that passers-by often ask, ‘What’s that flower?’

And what do they say? ‘No idea. It’s a hedge-flower.’

Ninety-nine out of a hundred people would answer the same. A hedge-flower! Of course, everybody knows the Burmese name – a century hence, people will still call it ponneyeik. Or in English, wild geranium or even jungle flame. But if you told them the real name, the Mon name, they wouldn’t have a clue what you were talking about. Just another word from our language that has disappeared....

 

Francis Wade

 

Par Da Lek hadn’t seen any of this violence, but nonetheless there were strange rumblings in the village. Over the two days prior to 12 June 2012, men had been shuttled on buses to downtown Sittwe. Ko Myat would watch them go in wave after wave. They were goaded onto the buses and away, he said, by the village administrator, the chief authority there. For those two days, he had stood at the entrance to the village, where the road rises up on a bank above the busy marketplace. Buses would come and go; the men who stood there waiting empty handed would be given weapons – sticks and machetes – before climbing aboard....

 

Prabda Yoon

 

When, in my early years at primary school, I had just started learning to write, the teacher taught us to put our index fingers between sentences to ensure neat, even spaces throughout the composition.

Years later, after I’d mastered writing (or at least scrawling), the index-finger system was ignored and eventually abandoned. The spaces between sentences were liberated from their regulator and put in charge of their own arrangement. An up-to-me anarchy prevailed. Without checks and bounds, the letters became brash – they got loose, lax and liquidy, lumped together or leaning forwards and backwards in a carefree and shameless manner....

 

Michael Vatikiotis

 

‘It’s nothing to do with the Taliban or Al Qaeda. We just want to support our football club,’ one of the supporters told me with a broad marzipan smile. It was like visiting a film studio and wandering off a Southeast Asia set onto another recreating the deserts of Arabia. Over coffee in a restaurant overlooking Malioboro Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, a soft-spoken Muslim scholar, Muhammad Fajrul Fallah, tried to explain these puzzling changes to me....

 

Saleem Peeradina
 
 
It is Nature’s charcoal sketch of a bird.
Although it sports no colourful plumage,
has a raucous cry, dines on garbage and makes
a picnic out of a roadside carcass, the bold
intelligent, clever crow is worthy of great respect
for having flourished despite human efforts...

 

Vrinda Baliga

 

The newly painted frown on Zaman’s face is especially suited to his disposition. He’s none too pleased that he, who previously had an act to himself as a snake charmer, has been co-opted to play the secondary role of the wily smuggler sneaking goods and people across the Indo-Pak border. It doesn’t help his mood that the inconsequential camel rider, the ‘half-man’ fused at the waist to his camel, has somehow become the star of the show....

 

Sandip Roy

 

I was reporting on India’s 2014 general election, the one that would bring a tough-talking man named Narendra Modi to power. Sultanpur was a dingy, noisy town with narrow streets, filled with honking motorcycles and stray cows and donkeys eating garbage. Outside the congested lanes of the town, the country roads were potholed and meandered through villages with names like Teergaon and Isouli. Men here wore white turbans and women arranged their saris to veil their faces and buffalos dozed placidly in village ponds. This was what journalists always called the 'heartland of India'. It was my first time in the heart of the heartland. Born and raised in metropolitan Kolkata, I already felt like a fish out of water here.

 

Shanta Acharya

 

Slim, compact, slightly curved, carved
from the tapering end of a mammoth’s tusk –
a female reindeer decorated with incised lines,
the male with an imposing set of antlers
folded along the length of his back....

 

Alec Ash

 

'I met Mr Li one smoggy Beijing summer’s evening, outside a streetside noodle shop at the end of my hutong, in the city’s maze of narrow alleyways. I was eating a bowl of biangbiang noodles – a flat wide kind whose name is written with a fifty-eight-stroke character that is onomatopoeic for the slapping biang! sound they make when whacked against a kitchen counter to stretch them out...'

 

Neel Mukherjee

 

While trying to check the bill before settling – an old habit, inculcated by his father, of giving any bill the once-over to see that he had not been overcharged – he realised that he had lost the ability to perform the simple function of adding up the individual items and the tax that together made up the grand total. Standing at the reception desk, he tried again and again. Then he took out his wallet and tried to count the rupee and US dollar notes nestled inside; he failed. Something as fundamental to intelligence as counting was eluding him. In the peripheries of his vision he could see a small crowd gathering to look at him; discreetly, nonchalantly, they thought. The news had spread. It was then that he broke down and wept for his son....

 

John Mateer
 
 
 
On another day in Macau the poet was nearing A-Ma Temple.
Actually, he was stopped outside a Macanese restaurant,
was contemplating the menu, wondering if he had ample
time for lunch. One of the approaching passers-by can’t
be Weinberger of Manhattan. . . ? There’d been a poetry festival
in Hong Kong. Indeed, beside him: Gary Snyder, Bei Dao!

 

Barrie Sherwood

 

'He sat there as if it were some sort of offering. Was I meant to accept it? I guessed it was a starling. It was black and glossy and, something I’d never noticed before, faintly speckled up close. The red eyes were kind of eerie. It was dead. No saving it. Geoff meowed and walked past me, headed for his bowl. I picked up the starling with a piece of kitchen towel and buried it beneath the pomegranate.'

 

Wen Yourou

 

 

Ah, it’s a foreigner, I think immediately. Then I catch myself, and the ridiculousness of my own thoughts comes back round to strike me. After all, I remind myself, so am I.

It’s not something I go around thinking about much from day to day. In fact, it’s fair to so say that most of the time, I’m oblivious to the legal fact that in Japan, I am a foreigner.

I look down at my Alien Registration Card on the desk in front of me, with my name, my date of birth and my nationality printed on it. Just minutes before, I’d handed this card, issued to me by the district office in the area where I live, to the clerk behind the renewals desk. Glancing repeatedly between the card and her computer screen, she’d typed something into the computer. The procedure took less than a minute. Then she handed me a long, narrow slip of paper.

‘Could you please check this for any mistakes?’

 

Ritu Monjori

 

You were steadily climbing father’s ladder of hopes. What you were on your way of achieving through books, I sought to achieve through house-work. I cleared the cobwebs, washed the dishes, ironed the clothes, scratched at the rings left behind on the table after tea, and once made egg curry to surprise Ma. What a fool I made of myself! I'd made the curry without removing the egg shells. How it became a tale Ma narrated to everyone who visited us! But that didn’t stop me until one evening when Deepti Mahi, who often visited us in the evenings, made fun of me: ‘Now that you are an expert at keeping a house in order,’ she said, ‘we can marry you off. Shall I look for a groom for you?’ Furious, I ran inside, thinking if nobody would dare say such a thing to Nobi, then why me?

 

Yogesh Patel

 

there they blow
words as fountains
a chalk mountain
blown to pieces
night’s blackboard
stunned, speechless
like my language...

 

Joshua Ip

 

This twin cinema poem (which can be read either as two discrete columns vertically, or one unified column horizontally and then vertically) recalls the discovery of the Rafflesia flower by Sir Stamford Raffles and Joseph Arnold in Sumatra. Only the former’s name is remembered now.

 

Sundeep Keramalu

 

Our front and back covers are by Sundeep Keramalu and take at the Wat Pho temple complex in Bangkok, Thailand. The Temple of the Reclining Buddha is one of the oldest in Bangkok, and also happens to be the birthplace of Thai massage.

The stone carving of a guard resting his hands on a staff flank, or baton, is said to represent Marco Polo.