Grass for My Pillow – Saiichi Maruya

Grass for My Pillow

What has your country offered you? What has it done for you?…… What have you accomplished for your country? What have you given back to your birth land? The notion of ‘patriotism’ charred in the rebuttals and accusatory insinuations; the double-edged sword seeped in the ironies of free will conflicting patriotic legitimacy probing the sovereignty of allegiance v/s rebellion. The devout ready to defend his or her country, does it signify blind devotion without having to question the socio-political dogma? The status of Patriotism positioned on shaky grounds during war-time. Is it criminal to raise scepticism over the transgressions of one’s motherland, the land on which freedom must breathe? Are we, the honouree of domicile identities become vulnerable pall bearers of humanity clashing into the stoic walls of fragmented patriotism? Where do the institutions of human rights survive in this pandemonium; the major causality of the war? Is being anti-war the sign of a deserter? Is the rebellion against the nationalistic doctrine of a total entity, an act of cowardice? The nationalistic ideologies favourably tipping the war-time scales. The societal product (individual) disseminating in it very own organic design; the man being the eventual scapegoat of history.

“Scattered like blossoms, down the soldiers fall.” Had he been a coward? Had he been afraid? Was he still afraid, even now it was over? No, nothing was ever over.

Saiichi Maruya’s sublime, conscientious contention travel beyond the socio-political assumption and implications of war , looking deeper into the multifaceted coherent societal constitution shifting in time, grasping the reality of a pre- and post-war Japanese society , the history of a nation state and the repercussions on its populace flowing in continuity dissolving dual societal disparities. The validity of free will v/s patriotic obligations enclosed in a foreseeable rebellion negating the virtues of social mores. The truth of a country’s war, the dissension society v/s man, the flotsam and jetsam of human rights v/s annihilation and the impenetrability of war v/s anti-war jingoistic ethos during war-time tumbling into disconcerting nostalgic restraints of human demeanour and compensated beliefs.

But how could one die in a meaningless war? How could one go about killing people for no reason? Regret was useless. Regret was a bottomless swamp, a quicksand……

To those trapped amid a neurotic wheel of recovery and revaluation, the analysis of the past becomes the worst punishment sentenced by the howls of time. Nothing is ever over. Death of the past elements slowly unlocks the shackled melancholia of the present, the ghastly anguish of panic unleashed through a single black-bordered postcard. The quagmire of regret festering in gritty waters of ignominy, self-inflicted torment and alienation dragged the 45 yr old registry clerk- Shokichi Hamada, the past clinging onto the pervasiveness of his guilt , the feeling of relief a far-fetched dream, the puppetry of Hamada’s clandestine past manipulating his pugnacious present; suffering had become his entire being.

A draft-resister, Hamada successfully evaded the Japanese military conscription at the height of the Pacific War ( WWII), the act of resistance and rebellion had bestowed upon Hamada , a life of a vagrant perpetually on run for five long years ( Oct’ 1940-Aug’1945). The consequences of the clandestine lifestyle Hamada inhabited in his 20s nagged the resisting conscious two decades later in a society that in spite of adopting anti-militaristic regime as a diplomatic post-war approach, perceived the act of rejection to enlist during war-time, a dishonourable conduct. Maruya accentuates the martial atmosphere predominant in Japan under the Meiji constitution and the nationalistic vehemence intensifying the war-time attitudes in the Japanese society. Contradictory to numerous other esteemed Japanese literary conjectures of Japan being two segregated entities(pre- and post-war) , Maruya explicates the continuity of Japanese society as a whole ,flowing from militaristic to anti-militaristic era and then later to booming socio-economic prosperity , the peripheral objective war long ended but the influential war still operational within the terrains of civilization. An analogy glimpsed in Osamu Dazai’s erudite literature.

He must never forget that he’d broken the most powerful of all the commandments our society imposes, stronger than the commandment not to steal, stronger even than the commandment not to kill. He was a man who had gone against the stream………..

Two worlds, two divergent individualities assimilating in an illusion of a unified existence, the mirror-image polarized in dual identities grappling to find a niche in the desperation of resistance. Twenty-six year old Kenji Sugiura, the vagabond sand artist chose freedom from the authoritative nation state sacrificing his civil liberties. The rebellion against the highest societal establishment; the decisive farewell instigated the daunting dispute over citizen and its civil duty. Kenji Sugiura, the war-time alter-ego of Shokichi Hamada became a social prisoner of pledged virtues and time. The uncertainties of Sugiura contemplating over life and death coagulated within Hamada’s aspiration for a tranquil survival. The disbelieve in the workings of the Japanese society , the victor being the life-long prisoner, the free renegade will of a renegade , the remnant of a man haunted by the remnants of war , of his past.

……..There is no other path for him. There is no way back. All he can do, forever and ever, is continue on his perilous voyage, continue his restless journey, and lie down each night with only bamboo grass for a pillow…

Hamada/Sugiura was unable to recover from the illusion of being attuned to the changing world, a much evolved Japan, now feted for anti-war ideological propagandas. The existence of Shokichi Hamada trembling in self-pity and alienation, the guilt of being a draft resister rendering him to a life of vagrancy irrespective to the prosperous social environments. Maruya exemplifies philosophical scrutiny of the crude temperament of a society rooted in its history and succeeding social conduct, the problematical dogma inimitable in the virtue of chronic nostalgia dissipating in passage of time, irrevocably pushing the pigeonholed rebel into carrying the sins of the society along with his own sense of guilt. The divine clemency pleaded by the “mere remnants of a man”.

A country, its middling populace and a few fated ones, the hero of an anti-war and a war-time scoundrel, evolving from a treacherous past, perceiving a calm and untainted future by rectifying the afflicted sentient of the present , sharing the swaying bamboo grass for a pillow ,the conventional nomad resting the homeless head, a pictogram of transience . The doctrine of man and the society intertwined amongst the changing tides of time, embarking on an eternal restless journey.

…in this fitful
slumber bamboo
grass for my pillow
one night of dreams
alone to bind us


4/5 ****


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