The third day of the third month, which in the long ago was set apart as the big birthday of all little girls born in the lovely island, and was celebrated by the Festival of Dolls.
Hinamatsuri (hina means dolls and matsuri means festival) or the Doll’s Festival is celebrated on March 3rd throughout Japan for the well being of young girls , praying for their prosperous health.Isn’t it magnificent? Here is this country (Japan) who graciously honors a girl child through an ancient festival for their safety expunging the bad spirits from the dolls. For someone who grew up in the ‘Republic of XY Chromosome’ such rituals bring immense happiness, even if it is through reading a couple prose verses. And, then sadness looms when reflected over the surviving probabilities of a female foetus in my own country. Fortunately, lightning seems to have struck those ruthless bastards and nowadays January 24th is celebrated as ‘National Girls Day’ to prevent female foeticide and harassment against girls in India. But, that’s an entirely different controversial arena. This book does not veers towards political propagandas , but sometimes words take a whole new turn in one’s mind submerging in plethora of buried emotions. As I moved on to the next chapter, my heart dearly hoped the possibility of invalidating the UN inference of India being the deadliest country for a girl child. Arrgghhh!! See what a book does to me? It makes me go numb with painful memories. Let’s speak about petite Yuki Chan. Such a beautiful child; twirling underneath the pine tree, singing to baby Robin and hoping of not meeting the awful ‘fox spirit’ for being a rebellious kid and marveling at the peculiar demeanor of an American lad who prevents her from throwing the cat in the ditch.
It was as if for the first time the great book of life opened before her and, though unconscious of its meaning; the first word she saw spelled Duty.
Duty seems to be compelled word in a world prioritizing individualism concepts of familial infrastructures. It is seen as an honorable deed for a child to be dutiful and yet when the question looms over sacrificing one’s inhibitions for the welfare of the family, it becomes burdensome at times. Loneliness crawls in the darkest corner encumbering the heart with enveloped secrets and only a smile for the sunny horizon over troubled waters. Poverty undoubtedly plays a pivotal factor in deciding one’s actions and loyalties. Yuki San ( the honorific San is used for young adult women) was unaware of impoverished conditions and afterwards, ever since she knew that her marrying into a wealthy officer – Saito san would exonerate all the miseries, duty to withhold her family’s honor became her sole religion. Even today, irrespective to a family’s economical position, the thought of putting one’s parents in an old age home is inexcusable because a dutiful child will always look after the elderly parents, come what may.
Each day as the burden grew heavier she fought her battle with the bravery and courage of youth. With jests and chatter she served her parents’ simple meals, constantly urging them to further indulgence of what she pretended was a great feast, but which in reality she had secretly sacrificed some household treasure to obtain. She deftly turned the rice-bucket as she served, that they might not see the scant supply. With great ceremony she poured the hot water into the bowls, insisting that no other sake was made such as this. Her determination to keep them happy and ignorant of the true conditions taxed her every resource, but it was her duty, and duty to Yuki San was the only religion of which she was sure. But one day a great event happened in the little home. Yuki San was called before her father and told, in ceremonious language, that a marriage had been arranged for her with Saito San, a wealthy officer in the Emperor’s household. She laid her head upon the mats and gave thanks to the gods. Now her father and mother would live in luxury for the rest of their lives! Saito San was to her only a far-away, shadowy being, whom she was to obey for the rest of her life and whose house she was to keep in order. He was a means to an end, and entered into her thoughts merely as one to whom she was deeply grateful. Youth and all its joys were strong within her, and the pressure of poverty gone, her whole nature rebounded with delight. Many times had marriage been proposed for her, for the story of her beauty and obedience had spread, but her father guarded his treasure zealously, and it was not until an offer came, suiting his former rank and condition, that he gave his consent.
Duty as a religion. For richer or for poorer; till death do us apart. Isn’t it what all those sanctimonious vows are all about? Do not even get me started with certain vows recited during a Hindu marriage ceremony. With divorce being the common word among my friends and the most detested word to my mother, the idea of “being a dutiful wife, mind, body and soul” seems archaic for that matter of fact a verse to a funny limerick, but it means a lifelong commitment to my mother and several other Indian women. The close knit familial infrastructure where the wife does not wash her husband’s dirty laundry in public is still very much preserved in almost all marriages.
Each year the struggle of obsolete methods of business and the intricacies of progress plowed the furrows a little deeper in the man’s face, and when his eyes that in youth had blazed with ambition grew wistful and troubled, he dropped them that his wife might not see. But what silence could hide from this frail woman any mood of the man she had served with mind and body and soul these many years? When she came to him as a shy bride on trial, she knew no such word as love. Duty was her entire vocabulary, and she asked nothing and gave all.
I reckon the very principle that Yuki’s mother adheres when she meant duty was her entire vocabulary. Not once did she let her daughter know about their extreme poverty or the pain that she endure during several still births to her husband fearing that her childless prospects would make her husband find another wife. Her happiness knew no bounds when Yuki was born as her fears of an abandoned future vanished.
Oh! My mother would have loved Yuki San for her unquestioned acceptance of an arranged marriage. Even with all those theatricals melodramas that my mother played every week, I personally still find the concept of arranged marriage rather annoying. Explain my grievances to my mother and she proclaims that I’m a lost case. However, it is still a huge part of our culture and proudly looked upon. Where does that put the idea of finding love? Do you stumble on love and then marry OR marry and then eventually find love in your husband? My mother would assume I just inhaled an empty paint can. Although Dick Merritt called Yuki his “little sister snow” for having a pure heart, she fell in love with this blue- eyed American and his homebound voyage made her a “love recluse” trying to find appeasing shelter in the heartening verses penned in a small morocco book. Yuki’s was one-sided love and many would say a ‘teenage puppy love’, yet the dilemma to pursue love or the religion of duty never gets old in an ethnically rich moralistic culture.
Ah, what funny little thing that heart is! In one half live the joyful. Other side have all the painful of life, and when the love come sometimes he knock at wrong door and give the hurtful ache to life.
Many a time, readers do get an exploratory sense of diving into a book and agglomerating the secreted essence of its text. This is one of those numerous plots that rise above a naive tale of a young Japanese girl falling in love with an American boy, assembling the cultural pillars of Japanese society.
For an author whose prose speaks volumes of cultural nuances, her biography is rather a modest paragraph. Born in 1863 in Kentucky, Ms. Little delineated an intricate cultural aspects broadening a canvas of a mystical Japan known for its pompous samurai and ghostly tales. Frances Little magnified the beauty of Japanese life for an ardent audience. It is an apt timing for me to re-read The Lady of the Decoration. A noble proposal indeed!