It has been exactly twelve days since the onset of monsoons. Not a single dry pair of clothes in the house and yet my enthusiasm is as jubilant as the freshly bathed leaves welcoming the cascading raindrops. After all I had waited for an entire month, my eyes widening at every passing water-laden cloud. The grey skies had fooled me and my despair had found its mate in the curled vermillion petals of the Gulmohar tree. The descendant of the Fabaceae heritage has a bittersweet legacy with the rain. When the tree blooms to its fullest, the rain fiercely thunders to the surreal red carpet as if the flowers were waiting for their watery salvation only to be wash down in earthly oblivion, its memories lasting in the drenched emerald leaves. The cold rainwater running down my face, as I see these lithe petals tumbling into the water puddle, subtle currents sweeping them away in the nearby gutters, I tenderly bid adieu to my flowery companions that made me smile at the flamboyant display on many windy afternoons. In a couple days all that will remain is a tree filled with dainty green leaves that will accompany me till winter and then once again make me anticipate its summer bloom. Resembling the deafening downpour hoping to catch the last dust particle, muddled thoughts gushed into my mind as I read the prophecy of Philip Hutton being born with the ‘gift of rain’. Gazing at the grey cloud hovering over the Gulmohar like a samurai equipped to slash the graceful flowers with every scrupulous stroke of clammy precipitation; I had an inkling of seeing Philip walk the treacherous path to find the fulfillment of his prophecy, the nirvana where love and memory soar like fireflies twinkling in the darkest night.
Who can look back and truly say all his memories are happy ones? To have memories, happy or sorrowful, is a blessing, for it shows we have lived our lives without reservation. Do you not agree?
The synchronized moves of a bokken balancing the symphony of the black and white garb, the dangers lurking on the edge of a katana, imparted the teachings of Zen to a bemused adolescent dangling between the aloofness of two alien worlds. The principles of aikijutsu, carving footprints of love and harmony in the translucent grains of sand disciplined the body and mind in the cyclic divinity of ‘Stillness in Movement; Movement in Stillness’. Along with its patrons, the art of harmonizing being victimized by the war of spirituality and patriotism. The evil appendages of a burgeoning war had crawled into the mysticism of the double-edge sword rebelling the harmonious notions of aikijutsu, the swordplay crossing the destined lines of comradeship and hostility ; of loyalty and betrayal. The blissful memories of a fertile pre-war Penang gradually worn out like the eroded river-bed; the fading hopes and dreams interwoven with idealistic games of human courage and savagery and love being the stimulating harbinger of a harrowing universe. The tears of a forgotten Chinese Emperor whispered through the historical vestiges, its memories tightly locked within the opulence of a jade pin. The Japanese invasion of Malaya had shattered the conviction of a vibrant enriching nation disintegrating its body with blood-shed and excruciating crimes while ravaging it mind with an eternal burden of tortuous memories. The war had long gone, the residual memories only to be found within a remaining few of its survivors, yet the whispers of a courageous nation along with his valiant people become louder with every emotional wave that brings the buried treacherous past ashore sketching the once forgotten footprints of an enduring love for family, country and the breathing humanity.
Tan Twan Eng’s minimalism in the written prose is passage through which travels the surrealism of a gleaming realistic imagery. The sounds of nostalgia running through the dense forests of Malaya, the touch of tangled life prevailing in turbulent times and the whiff of traditions amalgamating into epigraphs of mystical destinies made it difficult from resisting oneself to be consumed by the astonishing images illustrated in this allegorical maze of a thriller. There were times when I was left with nothing but intervals of vacant emotions gazing at the placid tree tapping my balcony. Storytelling, the steady stream of long-lost words liberates the burden of anguished memories buried deep within the core of survival. Philip found momentary emancipation from his tormenting memories through Michiko’s reminiscences of love and compassion. And, I found the release of my overpowering lunacy by scripting this appraisal; only to revive those sentiments the moment I shall open this book once again.
Next to a parent a teacher is the most powerful person in one’s life…..
Tan Twan Eng interlaces a commendable pattern of discovering poignant connections between strangers in the course of dream-like fated commonalities that cultivate into an everlasting union of humanity and approbation. The encounter of Philip Khoo-Hutton with the mystifying Japanese diplomat – Hayato Endo seemed to be a sort of paranormal path that both of these individuals were destined to walk on. The journey of Endo-san from being an aloof tenant on the island to becoming a mentor and later a figure of uncertainties, encapsulated Philip’s journey of self-acceptance and self-awareness in the desolated worlds of the Khoos and the Huttons and later on in the communal mêlée to recover his mislaid sense of belonging. The teacher-student relationship moved further from the peripheral enlightenment of the aikijutsu ,aikido and the three pillars of Japanese language, inching towards the grid of a mortal conflict where the highest level of jujitsu would burn within the societal taboos and segregation of Japanese incursions and the dominant racial dogmas, its ashes colouring the memories within the Nagamitsu sword. The love of a parent disciplines the tender heart and the love of a teacher disciplines the very human existence – the mind. The lessons learned through the scholarly association of a student and a sensei carried the credibility of refined wisdom through the philosophical threads knotting the bonds between Tanaka-san and Kon; Noel Hutton and Philip; Grandfather Khoo and Philip and Michiko in later years. Every memorable experience irrespective to it sentimental scale carried the obligations of being a teacher to the anonymous sphere of naivety. The land of Penang had become the most prudent educator of its time bestowing the proficient tutorial of absolute fidelity.
That love will find a way, no matter the obstacles. It tells us that love can transcend time and live on, long after you and I are gone.
When the last martyr find its deserving grave , when the last puddle of blood is dried to its blackened tomb , the remnants of a war are vanished from the land , its memories now deeply buried in forlorn hearts that feebly hold onto the sufferings shackled by time. The concepts of destiny and sovereignty reconciling within the ironies of life, its beauty skewered on the labyrinths of apologies and self-justification and in through the numerous consolation of the dead, there stands aloof on the bridge of burdensome memories the inviolability of love. It was love that had brought Michiko to Philip’s door, it was the reverence of love that had compelled Philip to orate the harrowing saga after fifty long years exhuming it from the cavernous furrows of his heart and when a boat sailed silently in the tender waters it brightened the gloomy sand crystallizing the traces of dutiful love that defined Endo-san’s fated existence. The arid earth nestled in the muggy drizzle animates through the wet soil, the alluring fragrance lingering its admiration for the glistening raindrops. The falling rain brings life into the inert earth only to conceal it several minutes later in a murky watery grave. Yet, the admiration for the ruthless rain prevails in the turbulent skies. Even though the rain brings melancholy and pain submerging the living in its vehemence, it cleans the filth, renews life and brings hope to infertile souls. The irony of rain interweaves into the surreal enchantment of life, where the sadness of the lifeless vermillion Gulmohar flowers floating in a muddy puddle fades in the blossoming happiness as tadpoles emerge through the flowery bed taking their first leaps. And, that is the crucial gift of rain. The shimmering blade of the Nagamitsu sword mirrors the conflict of love, family and country, the memory of warm blood and valiant allegiance within its steely interiors brings a plethora of perplexed emotions running through the lush harmony of Penang questioning the savagery of humankind and the conflict of mortal love. For in the end, when intoxicating butterflies soar from the frosty sepulchres, the genesis of abhorrence and treason become insignificant and all that matters is the credence of sufferings. The inexplicable ambiguity of life juxtaposing incongruity and paranormal peculiarities beautifying the existing anguish of paradoxical truth ascends in the symptomatic prose of human valour and enduring devotion. And that is the gift of Tan Twan Eng’s words.