Something Strange Across the River – Kafū Nagai

Something Strange Across the River

 

When the night falls, the mosquitoes murmur
“There’s something strange across the river”
Musty bodies entwine melancholia of Sumida
“East of the river”, the Milky Way stammers,
Starry skies,perfumed tears,a bloody mosquito bite
Strum at the window, the cacophony of hearts,
Hungry eyes seeking a graceful chignon,
Autumn dreams disappearing in wooden clogs
Totters in the fog, shadows of a streetwalker,
The floating world blooms in heart of a reader.

Curiously, the night seemed darker, not a speck of breeze to aerate the tartness of the pond water, the disfigurement of the potholed street pronouncing solemnity to the solitary flickering of a street light. The languid smoke clouds cheer an ongoing festive commemoration amid the imminence of spring glancing from a drop of sweat. The dewy fragrance of the moonflowers lining the ditches intensifies rivalling with the ticking of the Matsuya clock. The tranquillity of the street merges into the solitude of the obscure back alleys of a forgotten Tamanoi district. The seductive world of red rouge and pale powder divorced by a humble window lingers through the smoky air as the moonlit watery currents imitating the moon floating on Sumida descend into the sparkling lights on the Kototoi Bridge; a man dressed in tattered Western suit compensating his futile endeavour in rattling of the Asaki brothels marred by torrential rains. The feel of ice dumpling desired on a muggy night, and as the mouldy whiff of second-hand books reeked, Kafū’s Tokyo shone brighter than those garish movie posters plastered at the Asakusa Park.


When composing a novel I find the time when the characters make choices that will affect their lives and lead to the development of events to be the most interesting. Those moments of development and their descriptions are fascinating.

The man at the crossroad speculating the revelation of a new turn, the treasured city grasping the past as it embraces the perils of evolution and the lowly window splicing the world into two, detaching tangential vulgarity from pretentious sincerity. The amicable synchronization between worldly antagonism and the chalky concealment of an energetic spirit produces a harmonious feeling from the other side of the mystifying window helping fleeting bystanders to shed their duplicitous inhibitions into the serene alleys of truthfulness reflecting in the enthralment of the floating world. Silently flapping away the mosquitoes, Ando Yukiko, redoing her chignon visibly acknowledged the underhandedness of the world fleeting across her window and the subdued feelings of men who peeked indoors hoping a reckless night within the bug infested quarters would fill the burdensome void like the falling rain eliminating the darkness of a murky puddle. The thunderous rain that obliged Oyuki to take refuge under Tadasu Oe’s umbrella, the deciding moment when a forlorn Junbei met Sumiko randomly on a train ride and the flash of lighting illuminating Oyuki’s ethereal face etching an everlasting memory, precipitates into refinement of Nagai’s textual charisma. The steady streaming of a twofold narration interweaves the multifaceted characterisation of diversified personalities focusing on attaining their individualism and misplaced beauty analogous to their residential city in the pursuit of amassing remnants of a time left behind.

Kafū Nagai or fairly speaking, Tadasu Oe aimlessly wonders in the pleasure district of Tamanoi, experiencing the newly constructed concrete jungle consuming the subtle archaic beauty of Tokyo. Kafū conceptualizes fine art in his prose by realistic selection of nature empathizing with the integrated civilization. Kafū elevates the artistic quotient by the laudable erudition portrayed in the execution of his scripted characters contrived through the vividness of pragmatism and the magnetism of simulated crucial sequences. The destined encounter of two strangers, the purely coincidental communicative progressions and immediacy of faithfully delineating the fragments of an obscure soul, elevates the quintessence of resourceful design in delineating the sketched persona from within, employing empathetic perceptions.


When the women who live in the shadows face the men who creep about in the darkness, there is no fear or malice in them, only kindness and love. There is no need for explanation; the innumerable acts speak for themselves, and nothing I put to paper can elaborate on them. There was the geisha from Kyoto who helped the man sought by the shoganate, the girl at the frigid train stop who emptied her pockets to help a gambler. Tosca fed the fugitive, Michitose gave all her love to the desperate man

Kafū’s infatuation with the world of geishas and prostitutes stemmed from his strong belief that the people existing on the fringe of the society embody the thorny truth of life and society. This carves a gratifying portrait of a world marred by hypocrisy and falsehood. The prostitute anxiously waiting for her nightly customer, the flamboyant pimp trying to make a wage depended meal, the waitresses tackling the drunk patrons in a bustling Ginza cafe, the old man at the bookstore and those numerous others who thrive at the underside of the society, insignificant to the larger civilization barely manage to cling to the obsolete ways of an altering life. Kafū felt inspired by the profundity of the floating world and those labelled ‘downtrodden’ for it was in these discomfited narrow passageways where life flourished without prejudices and superficiality. The underbelly of a burgeoning society where life was raw characterising the life-realities in valid flesh and blood, the prostitute who made an honest living yielding an intercourse with a customer prone to shamefulness as the sun rises; can it then legitimize the frivolous ridicule of one’s destiny? Isn’t it an act of idiocy to critic the perimeter of a mistreated social order imposing bigotry? The women of nightfall have nothing but benevolence and genuine love for they are accustomed to the harshness of the superficiality. The intimacy experienced by Junbei and Tadasu towards their female enchantresses expresses the candour in which Kafū was not repelled by the dingy surroundings infested with an army of mosquitoes and overflowing stench of dirty ditches and assiduously sketched the prevailing life rationally and casually devoid of any imposing biases. The term “harlot” or “flippant” disseminates into the virginal obscurity of a woman in live. In the depths of corruption, one may find the blossoms of human sympathy and perfumed tears. Gather them up. The haunting words of Tadasu Oe resonates the philosophical compassion nurtured for those who did not belong to ‘respectable society’ yet were the tempting source of unreserved pleasure for the elitist .


Even this backwater town, suddenly enlivened, was not able to escape the undulating and manic altercations of the times. And neither can any of us.

Oyuki symbolises the nostalgia of the past old way musing the pain and desperation of accommodating an unfamiliar milieu. The chignon standing elegantly on the slender neck, the ascetic mannerism of a woman blushing as if hopelessly in love binds the surfacing beauty of a city destructed by the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923) and concurrent thunderstorms reconstructing the lost individuality along with the much-beloved citizens. Similar to several of his literary colleagues, Nagai felt the nostalgic twinge, reluctant to let go of the past and the trepidations coupled with accepting an altering Tokyo. Kafū Nagai once said, “Empathy is not merely the basic principle of the artistic creation. It is also the only path by which one can reach the truth about life and society.”

The pigeon resting near my balcony is asleep undisturbed by the gleaming allure of Kafū’s Edo. What was it that had kept me awake in the deepest hours of the night? The clandestine life blithe in the gloom of the night. The bodies of the nightfall liberating the mendaciousness of the daylight. The peculiar writer who gave room to his art to breathe on the fringes of the society, empathetically Accompanied by the squealing of edgy bats, my nocturnal musing seizes my contemplating thoughts on the surreptitious functioning of brothels dwelling on the other side of the town .A slight buzzing of a bicycle bell awakens the bitter pond stench. Somewhere an adolescent bloke on his nightly rounds must be selling freshly brewed coffee to lingering peripheral hearts.

4/5****

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