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Wind and Stone – Masaaki Tachihara

Wind and Stone

 

 

“You are a stone”, said Kase, smoking a cigarette after they had made love.
“I think you are the stone”, replies Mizue without opening her eyes.
“No, I’m more like the wind. I could never be a stone.”

Rapt in wonder the stone deliberates the lightness of the wind. The subtle windy caress arouses a sense of vitality. The stone sewed up in permanence yearns for an escape from its prosaic settings, rousing at the existence of the wind. The imminent chaos blowing over the passage of the wind, gusts through the tranquil garden calling forth nature’s dualistic predicament – transience and permanence. What is it to feel ‘truly cleansed’? To feel alive – the very sentiment entranced by the proverbial elan vital, sprouts an iota of change in the dormant despair of mediocrity. The brevity of the nascent bud awakens the lush green foliage; the manifestation of change erupting a sense of vitality from the tree. The blossoming flower harmonizes the impression of liveliness in the perceptive observer trying to escape the mundane, its echoic gratification consoling the depths of desolation.

Gardens, they say, are the chief marker of time. The rhythmic seasonal cycles alter the landscapes replacing the new with the old. In the yearly cycle of change and continuity, the garden in some mysterious ways fleeting from its mediocrity, matches the rhythms of nature with the flow of time.

“For me”, he then said quietly, “building a garden is a struggle against mediocrity.”

Yusaku Kase’s meticulously crafted garden seeps in irony delineating the tranquil exterior and the internal chaos of both, its creator and its owners. The freedom of aesthetics colliding with burdens of morality forms a limitless extension of human emotions haunted by the kinks of change and consistency. The perpetual ‘struggle against mediocrity’ is the potential dilemma, prevalent in this Tachihara narration. The escape from the mundane animates an invisible force enabling the characters (of this book) to seek out their freedom hidden in a dark lonely place.

In every small, closed world, there is the same quality of complacency and exclusiveness.

Prolonged periods of peace often give rise to stagnation. Peace and Stagnation are not precisely opposites, but, one is desirable while the other is deplored. (The I Ching or Book of Changes ). The need to be loved, to feel desired, overrides the substance of ecstasy, the aspiration of self-indulgence stems from the psychological stagnation fixed in the fears of abandonment. The realization of inner desolation elevated the suffering within the defined portrayal of the four individuals tangled in perturbed relationships, each facing the obvious anxiety of being ‘detached from life’. The garden takes a life of its own demarcating each phase of turmoil and harmony of a man-made landscape scattered in a balanced histories and an imbalanced future of a heart’s non-conformists desires.

Again she had the fleeting feeling that the stones were Kase’s eyes watching her…………Still, Mizue could not help feeling they were composed of invisible colours and empty spaces. She did not know what to make of this feeling. What was this invisible colour?

Mizue , a daughter ,a wife, mother and a lover ; the life-roles confronted Mizue with the dilemma of moral conventions, abandonment and a ‘thirst for love’ ; seeking a sense of vitality to feel alive and “completely cleansed”. Similar to Kase, Mizue struggles against herself. Her significance in an evolving sphere called life. Tachihara puts forth a simmering question, whether we are detached from the universality of nature? The man-made garden meshing with the language of the wild, precisely marking metamorphosing milieu influencing the imbedded stones and yet the timelessness of the stone remain unchanged. An entity on its own, the ever transforming garden, becomes the pathway to ruination. In Tachihara’s subtle narrative symbolisms, Mizue resembles the immutable stone, wondering is a strong gust of wind could uproot her from the prosaic settings, and, Kase, the nomad wind pursuing for a sanctuary which could restrict its flow and purify the turmoil within.

Can ‘lust’ purify ‘lust’, if it takes one beyond the tussle of commonplace? Is ‘love’ an immutable factor among capricious lust or a mere matter of self-indulgence of inner thirst that needs to find self-fulfilment, a sense of wholesomeness? Change and consistency are not reciprocally absolute in the flow of time. Is then in the monochromatic array of transience and permanence, the struggle against mediocrity will seek the exact shade of the invisible colour, everlastingly? The hue that defines monotony.

 

4/5****

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Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers – Kang Sok-Kyong, Kim Chi-won, Oh Jung-hee

Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers

Women writers. Women penning the trials and tribulations of being a woman. The pen and ink bidding farewell to the prevailing apprehensions. The spoken language of an individual narrowed by gender hierarchy labouring in relative anonymity, women write, knocking down the heavily guarded patriarchal gates of a traditional society , the defining emergence diminishing the glaring divide of public from domestic life, where men reigned the former and women the latter. How does one designate the essence of being a woman? How does one quote a chapter and verse from the consequential book of womanhood? Women who have conventionally been beheld as someone’s daughter, someone’s wife and someone’s mother; their own individual identity lapsing into being a mere legal signature on few sheets of paper. How does one then define the constitution of Korean women? Or can you? Women who are as diverse as the land itself spanning through generations, cultural edifications and numerous personal and societal evolutions seeking an autonomy to their existence in an overwhelming patriarchal world. How does one ever answer the unwelcomed question of signifying the autonomy of womanhood? The patriarchal advocacy of literature, the very notion of belles- lettres being the prime avocation of cultural gentlemen, the adversities of gender discrepancies shadowing the laboured efforts of women writers derides the valid declaration of talent having no gender whatsoever. The contemporary Korean women writers (three of whom being mentioned in this book) bring forth an notable insight to the strenuous effort of their emergence from a society profoundly influenced by the Confucian precepts, finally breaking out from their obscurities. The undying spirit of their penned narrative, the meticulous characterization, accomplish a sophisticated sensory faculty of symbolism sketching the evolution of Korean women in a rapidly modernized world


“……to accept our own lives, and without such thoughts to make us feel good, how could we live? We women were facing up to life with our bodies as our only asset. We may now have smelled like roses, but we got to learn all about life and freedom in our way…..”

The picturesque forsythias blooming on a palace walls, the beauty of scenic spring stretching on a wall calendar in a clinic testing venereal diseases befits the stark revelation of a social world where days and dreams brim with the futility of a traumatic past and the aspirations of striving for a dignified existence. Kang Sŏk-kyŏng allegorizes the social status of prostitutes surviving on the U.S. military base in Korea, to a drifting isolated island, a temporary home destined to subsist in loneliness of abandonment. The slight flicker of hope within melancholia is the hallmark of their lives which struggle to find a haven of freedom and integrity. In the endless fight for human dignity, their bodies become the sole measure of self-defence, a path to their freedom however despicable. The marginal women thriving on the societal periphery seek comfort among their ilk, the labelling of “leftovers” a crude irony, in a world where men carry the burden and the badge of brutal enforcers. The rebellion and restraints to freedom, personal choices of women shackled by archaic ethos stretches afar from the Korean peninsula into the male-dominance of the Western world, applying universality factor to the predicament of women sexuality condemned to abhorrence. “But if two women see eye to eye, there’s no law that says they can’t live together,” said Toma.” So what if they’re lesbians? People live the way they want to. And so what if we’re whore? Except for worrying about money, it’s great living around the base. No husband to treat us rough, no kids to worry us, no one interfering with us.”

The controversial subject of a woman’s body becoming the weapon for her emancipation edges on the possibility of emotional vulnerabilities and inconspicuous rebellion. Kim Chi-wŏn dwells in to unchartered territories where the society as a whole becomes the source of shame for a woman. The collective chauvinism that safeguards the sanctimonious matrimonial institution rests upon the humiliation of women. The marital sacrosanctity ruthlessly abused under the assumed patriarchate prerogative. Kim Chi-wŏn is scrupulous in rendering the dual state of relationship between a man and a woman , raising a similar yet different issue concerning the life of a Korean woman immigrant in U.S. The quest for a resourceful independence gives Yun-ja a possibility of a certain beginning, a marriage based purely on monetary and legal convenience. The probability and improbability of a ‘real marriage’ immerses in reflections of a financial arrangement, age and divorce. The disconnect of a woman and the society is evident in the final libertine declaration.


“Longing for something to sustain and steady her, the woman nevertheless tended to to doubt the permanence of everything. Do flowers last more than ten day? And floods that look like they’ll sweep the world away are gone in a couple days, aren’t they? But her relief that the world was transitory was tempered by the painful realization that society expected marriage to be the most harmonious of human relationships.”

Transience becomes the most fitting lifeline to despondency. Kim Chi-wŏn is scrupulous in rendering the dual state of relationship between a man and a woman. The nightly mellow lullaby sung a mother is marred by domestic brutality, estrangement and resentment. A clandestine corner in the house tries the patience of a battered wife, the harmony of matrimony crumbling into ashes floating on the cold ghostly waters of a pond nearby. The central themes of hopelessness and self-restraint fade away, yet the predictability of self-reliance is still muddled in impermeable monocracy.


“Like a foolish girl you’re trying to find beyond the world. If you’d only given in a little, you wouldn’t have had to go around butting up against the world; you wouldn’t have had to spill your blood. You would have found that the springtime of life isn’t a chain; it’s a pair of wings.”

The self-restraint of rebellion originating from the conventional mores once again twirls the idea of freedom although being the sweet nectar in a claustrophobic milieu; it is the dawn of justice that brings the sweetest aroma in an acrid life. The fortunate franchise of youth caught amid Marxist ideas and democratic upheaval plunges into an abyss of alienation and confusion. The structural sanctity of filial piety bruised by blatant hypocrisy and customary subordination questions the cogency of an inherited male-dominated hierarchy. The pursuit for individuality resulting in either enforced submission or absolute abandonment; agony being the sole companion of nothingness. As a daughter, is trapped between familial obligations and self-exploration, the youthfulness of a sibling risking the madness of a powerless chaotic soul, the maze of confusion unable to find a sheltered room in the woods. Kang Sŏk-kyŏng once again underlines the crucial adherence factor of meritocracy that stamps its social legitimacy of becoming a societal shrine with its ignorance, narcissistic enforcements and submissive gender protocols.

Alienation is seen as one of the strongest denominator in lives of these female characters perpetually trapped in the polarities of modern and conformist worlds. O Chŏng-hŭi in her literary explorations reveals the torments of estrangement when engulfed with the bleakness of death and impermanence. The stories spun a convoluted web of conflict and acquiescence where choices are imaginary. An evening game is vacated for a pleasurable night with a young lover. The women preoccupied by the melodies of a young mother reminiscence her harried past detached from her present apathy. The daily father-daughter card game echoes the whispers of a mother losing her sanity over the loss of her child, a father waiting for his son and a possible infanticide. O Chŏng-hŭi adroitly frames a sequential persecution in an episodic narrative. The vagueness of death seeps into the comprehensibility of life. The grave stones symbolise the quandary of two women, the former seeking a grave plots for her and her husband and the latter contemplating the rationality of her husband’s dubious absence. The words of farewell scatter the memories of physical departure and vacuousness of physical existence.

Talent has no gender. Creativity does not go picking and choosing its master appropriated on the grammatical gender system dais. Literature has no single definition. The vexing question then arises as to why women are the only ones to be bestowed by such an endearing privilege of their entirety being abbreviated through the myopic primal gender regulations? Sarcasm or anxiety of the patriarchy? These stories of Korean women penned by three remarkable women writers encompassing multifaceted thematic nitty gritty of prostitution, youth, death, generational gap, bigotry, sexuality, love and much more, travel beyond the said geographical panorama depicting the notion of universality, broadening the thematic accessibilities of the female characters chronicling their own future detached from their status as someone’s mother, wife or daughter. In the current ongoing global scenario where women’s rights are easily bargained, a coming of an age story not cracking down on the deliberations of a quintessential teen male, but, a disquieting collage of a young girl matured beyond her naïve years, life impressions swirling around the nauseating chaos of sex, death and poverty in the war ravaged Seoul district bylanes of Chinatown ,call for a response of literary stimuli to view beyond the charcoal coated faces in the classic Bildungsroman ,an empathetic astute listener to the stories of women acutely ingrained in Korean culture ; the innocence of childhood stepping on the onset of womanhood culminating in the pragmatic…“My menstrual flow had begun.”

 

4/5 ♥♥♥♥

Quicksand – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

Quicksand

 

What is to be a fool? What is to play the fool, bewitched into becoming a mere cat’s paw used to draw amorous carnality from the flames of passion? What is to feel powerless, ridiculed in love when appreciation veils subtle humiliation, to be a clay pigeon in the game of love? What is the sine qua non of love? Wherein, the human universals of shame and humiliation circumvent the existent perplexity of self-justification. Dubious emotions casting shadows creating a vivid portrait of a hypersensitive inner-world sheathed in the depths by humility of love and arrogance of lust. The immoralities of an imagination seducing the moralities of human nature. What is it to sense an illicit love that has yet to take a definite form, looming in the heart of sheer lust?


….And even of if it was wrong to be secretly in love with another man, what was so bad about being in love with a woman, someone of my own sex?”….

 

Tanizaki brings forth an enticing work of fiction steeped in delirious pathology of eroticism and psychological obscurities in the quest for an obsessive longing. The lesbian affair mutually affecting Mitsuko and more so Sonoko, prevails with the conquest of sexual pleasures; supple bodies become a constructive and destructive force of subliminal mind, insatiable for sensuous stimuli.

The torrid liaison sexually and emotionally manipulates Sonoko and Mitsuko invading along the lives of Watanuki and Kotaro, distressing and disrupting the very inadequacies of individualistic disposition. Tanizaki explores the ambiguities of love and marriage delineating the fervid mystification of the sinister bend ingrained in the core of human nature. The sensual arc centring eroticism tainted by hysteria bypasses the aspects of perversion sketching out human frailty encompassing the aesthetics of Mitsuko’s virtuous beauty. The need to ‘cling onto love’ culminates in mortification with the ‘pretence to love’, bona fide revelations still lingering in a rigid state of denial. Watanuki’s sexual impotency masked within his embolden physical dishonesty stands in contrast to Kotaro’s sexually potent yet impassioned libido curdling tangible neurotic regression of complex relationships changing the entire course of basic psychosomatic make-up of human physicality. Profoundly intertwined in the web of envy, violence, adultery, malice, animosity and other ensuing emotional incitements, the four keyed up protagonists ravenously cling onto the vanity of love; Mitsuko becoming the core link in the catastrophic game of love and eroticism , the two men and Sonoko mere pawns of manipulation. Love, an intoxicating blend of lust and devotion, serene yet unstable when disturbed by surplus stress equates to the quicksand phenomenon, a static human fallibility sinking in the deep well of chaotic pith.


So I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand, and although I said to myself I had to escape, by this time, I was helpless. I knew I was being used by Mitsuko and that all the while she was calling me her dear sister she was actually making a fool of me.

 

Tanizaki’s exploration of women thriving in naturalistic societal milieu, women whose lives are confined to the workings of their inner-self, is subtle yet provocative. Tanizaki perceives the external human equation as an artistic portrait wherein the bare truth lies buried in its shadowy depths, abstracted from the customary kaleidoscopic visible exterior. The female characters be it Sonoko or Mitsuko are sexual aggressors; the unrestrained sexual needs clashing with the emotional displacement are emphasized by jaded manipulative passions stimulated by forlorn hearts. The brattish demeanour fading in the virginal splendour of supple chaste body; sex being the prime tangible deriving force of commotion. Being a frequent Tanizaki reader, the literary configuration is structured with a definite beginning and an end; the journey in between either fascinating or mundane transforms imagination into impending authenticity; the enabled truth which is not ethical but psychological. The masked flaws of a virtuous beauty self-contained in a manipulative world fixated on force rein. The Japanese titular connotation “Manji” symbolizing the four pronged Buddhist Swastika, epitomize four harmonious lovers immersed in the whirling force of passion, fantasizing the certitude of love.

…..I kept pretending to be confident of her love…..

 

 

3/5 ♥♥♥

Radish: (China Penguin Special) – Mo Yan

Radish: China Penguin Special

 

The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

The chorus of a bare back fills the barren land,
Dew laden leaves recite lore of a superhuman,
The blistered belly nestled near a dimly lit fire,
Bare-chested and barefooted, he was detached,
Crisp voice descending in silence, apathy his attire,
In waves of a lush reverie, a respite he seeks,
Nature’s feeble lullaby, in harshness of his life.

The auburn ducks snicker, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!
The auburn ducks snicker, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!

Witnesses the fertile soil, long miseries of a boy,
Bears the purple sweet potatoes, the pinch of hunger,
Crouched between tossed radishes, a fallen fingernail,
The guilt of theft, abandoned in the burning coals,
In tongues of fires, melancholic arias prevail,
The old blacksmith’s song pushing chords of joy,
Resting on the anvil, the golden radish, radiates,
Mysteries of life scattered in slivers of faith.

The vegetable patch whisper,” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The vegetable patch whisper,” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

Agriculture without its irrigation, a motherless child,
A mother’s breast with no milk, a deadly fright,
Hundreds of labourers toil, chisels hastens,
The allegorical mother claiming loyal lives,
In the obscure womb lie the Commune’s whims,
Opened floodgates dragging the human plight,

The cold white stones hum, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The cold white stones hum, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

In glory of socialism, the man eats,
In glory of socialism, the man marches,
In glory of socialism, the man barters,
Human virtue, an imperfect bastard child,
Immorality surges, in human sacrifices,
In glory of socialism, the graves reek,
In glory of socialism, mankind gets bartered.

Ardently Mo Yan pens, ” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
Ardently Mo Yan pens, ” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

A mason, a woman and a blacksmith,
Lust of love indebted to the fallen irises,
Hungered the red jacket, the scent of a crimson scarf
Youthful love, caressing kisses, hearts writhe,
In a meadowlark call, the secret alarms,
Bleeding love redeemed in a sunlit radish.

The two bloody gouges scream, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The two bloody gouges scream, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

Swan-like, he stretched his neck, standing,
The hem of his coat touching the wiry thighs,
Like a fat-headed catfish on feet, he strolled,
On the banks of the river, golden rainbow afloat,
Desires of a sunlit radish, sown in hazy sighs,
The falling rays of the autumn sun, verbalize,
A doleful tale of a fragile heart in a benumbed abode.

The golden radish chimes, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!
The golden radish chimes, “Hei-hai !! Hei-hai!!

Only if,
He had the warmth of a mother’s breast
Love had not perished in the black earth,
Had not the radish lie hid in the river mists
Had not the hammer been his inheritance,
Had not humanity sprout callous tentacles,
Had humanity sheltered his naked fears,
Had childhood walked the a euphoric path,
The rustling leaves wiping the trickling tears

The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai !! Hei-hai!!”
The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai !! Hei-hai!!”

4/5 ****

The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa – Yasunari Kawabata

The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa

 

Beggars are people too……Crazy people are women too……” Fallen women” were once naïve young girls……Men who indulge in ‘flesh trade’ aren’t called “fallen men”……As I scribble these words, my pen comes to a grinding halt. The notebook laid there crammed with the vestiges of my thoughts. The flux of my words was at the mercy of an inaccessible sheet of paper. No matter where landing stage of the wordy compositions deviates, words always appear to be imperfect when expressing the inexpressible. The voyeur within me now precedes Kawabata’s voyeuristic world attempting to comprehend human incidents through an impartial lens, the accomplices to my silence aiding to unearth the truth veiled in the allusive reflection of the transient beauty. The unassuming moon silently floating on the water mirrors the unreal within the real; the reflections on the windows ceasing to exist upon a whiff of wind, the window opening into a bargained emptiness. A tiny drop of water is competent to epitomize the reflection of the moon and the window oblivious to its crystalline pictorial pushes forward committing perjury. Life is a mingled yarn of all things echoic and nonechoic , pure and impure, sincerity and deceit ; the vitality of a perishable life holding onto the wispy filaments of pure longing. The world of nothingness steadily awakens with the melodious sound of the bells of the Senso Temple, the rhythmic choreographed long legs tapping to the blues of the jazz, the murmur of the piano from the dimly lit geisha house, the chatter of the rickshaw pullers, the tranquility of the Sumida River colliding with the exhilaration of the Casino Foiles ; the fragrance of the camellia oil soothing the incoherence of the streets of Asakusa.

“Asakusa is Asakusa is for everyone. In Asakusa, everything is flung out in the raw. Desires dance naked. All races, all classes, all jumbled together forming a bottomless, endless current, flowing day and night, no beginning, no end. Asakusa is alive…….”(Azenbō Soeda)

Akin to the many and various algae proliferating on a summer’s day stretching put a lush emerald carpet over the stagnant waters of the Gourd Pond, Asakusa comes alive with the vibrant hustle and bustle on the streets. The lyrical verses of Soeda resonates the wonders of Asakusa. A home for the homeless, a love for the loveless, a source of food for the famished; a world of leftovers of leftovers. Asakusa, a melting pot to amalgamating all races and classes equating to any thriving city on the face of this earth and yet, Asakusa finds distinctiveness in the allure of its design. How or rather who creates the infrastructure of a city? How are places resurrected from their own ruins? People nurture the land and the land in turns fashions the prevailing communities. Among the elderly delinquents of time, Asakusa was a “young punk”. It exudes an energetic charm seeking the genuine vitality of life, positivity through the purity of wild. Asakusa was a lost piece found through its very own people.

Kawabata generates a fascinating dais for Asakusa as a “human market”, attracting all and sundry from hobos , prostitutes, juvenile delinquents, geishas, shop girls, flappers, vagabonds, artists and the entire artistic shenanigans rough plays where the ornate dressings rooms of the “ero-queens” are as amusing as the man feeding wheat crackers to the carp in the pool while munching on few of from the pack.“But essentially Asakusa is like a specimen in the Bug House …… something completely different from today’s world, like a remote island or some African village led by a chief , a whole net of time-honored codes over it”

Originally published as a miscellaneous series in news dailies, the Asakusa chronicles finds it titular derivations in the wanderings of the Scarlet Gang. The self-christened theatrical group – The Scarlet Troupe publicized their hope of performing something spectacular in the kitschy votive stickers plastered all over the vacant walls in the city. Over the years, embarrassed by this modernist work of his, Kawabata once had said, “All I did was walk. I never became acquainted with any of the young delinquents. I never addressed a word to the vagrants either….. but I took notes…”. A young man with a baggage of just a pen and a notebook wayfaring through the heart of Tokyo in the aftermath of the 1923 The Great Kanto Earthquake investigated lonesome demimonde lives existing on the societal periphery. Kawabata being a silent flâneur preserves a certain sense of objectivity and distancing in his reportage, and yet ironically the acute perceptions are cryptic evaluation in their abstractions. The trajectory of the narrative rocks back and forth amid three distinct articulations accompanied by multifaceted active and passive vocalizations. Kawabata takes the reader along with him through the alleys of Asakusa. Kawabata devotedly address ….”Dear Reader….just take a walk along the alleys…”…..”Dear Reader…..as you knows”……” …..” what would you do if you were in their place……”……. The subtle prod eventually turns the reader into a loyal companion to the narrator. The “I” of the reader dissolving in the “I” of the narrator.

With its evenly matched pictorial illustrations denoting the aspects of materialistically cultural grandeur capturing one of Tokyo’s fascinating socio-cultural era of history and social relationships; this book registers a certain ‘pop-fic’ ambience . Nevertheless, Kawabata the literary master that he is stays true to his art, astutely conveying the philosophical totality of mono no aware allying the quintessence of transience beauty with the subsequent sadness. The melodrama budding within the printed pages leaps through the loops of subtle humour, economic recession, resistance to convention and the idea of love mingled with eroticism and vengeful crudity encumbered with the emptiness of longing. The dregs of Asakusa. But as long as she can still run, she’s still a woman. Because most of the bums are no longer human enough to run………… The weathered folks no longer talk. They live amid the hustle and bustle of the commercial district without saying a word. The malleable “taste of the backstreets” was sexy and absurd. The impish labyrinth of Asakusa is an inconclusive world of nothingness, but it is not nihilistic.

“When I’m with a man, I’m always sizing myself up- weighing the part of me that wants to become a woman against the part of me that is afraid to. Then I fell miserable and even more lonely” The yen for fulfilling the ideals of womanly dwells within the fragile beauty of Yumiko and Oharu. Yumiko’s desire to be viewed as a man pulsates through the memories of her being the fateful “daughter of the earthquake”; the vengeance of the kittenish arsenic kiss sailing on the Sumida River. Umekichi’s confessions of love residing the idea of love on the lips of a middle-aged woman. The radiance of red and purple sashes blending in the fated hues of the “fallen women”. The transparency of Ochiyo’s lunacy contrasting the rouge of the Okin on the bank. The emptiness offalseness of the varied protagonists is forged ahead surviving the customs of their incompleteness.

 
Asakusa had perhaps been for him (Kawabata) as it was for me – a place that allowed anonymity, freedom, where life flowed on no matter what, where you could pick up pleasure, and where small rooms with paper flowers were rented by the hour. ( Donald Richie , Afterword)

Wading through an interminable picturesque lattice of memories and dewy-eyed faces ; the rawness of dreams drifting though an endless ebb and flow of desires and pleasures strewn with snippets and snapshots floating in a stoic air , this chronicled narrative resembles a fragmented puzzle. And, you find yourself plucking these coquettishly naïve and seductively sinister wanderings, assembling it piece by piece into a significant portrait, an art illuminated in its own abstraction by its own peculiarities. Richie’s accuracy in his noteworthy inferences about Asakusa being a pathway of anonymity to an uninterrupted freedom resonates in the sensory perceptions captured amongst the echoes of “dear reader”. The human flow aggressive in survival and passionate in expression pulsates throughout my cerebral silence bringing Asakusa alive within the spiritless walls of my room; an absurd persuasion enticing me to seize the floating moon amid the nimble watery ripples. The yearning to obtain the unobtainable. The need to discover the sincerity and beauty in the depths of nothingness. Luminescent in the aureate sun, the urge to grab the ephemeral beauty of a piece of glass before it being engulfed by the shadows of the passing day; is how Kawabata’s Asakusa chronicles captivates me. And, I certainly do not need a new notebook for my words as my thoughts are no longer at the mercy of neither the pen nor the paper.

4/5 ****

Red Night – Duanmu Hongliang

Red Night


Their poor little hearts reached so high
After grapes, they gave peaches a try
After a dragon, the tiger was sought
Then the oriole and the vulture in the sky.

Shh-shh as they flew, their black wings soaring the stirring the winds in dominance. The ospreys oblivious of the humans below soared in the sky, the destiny of the osprey village reasserting the flight of the birds as they inspected the earth below. The mistreated soul possessed with a sense of his own destiny rebelled against the fated dogma. Was Shilong a foolish soul to challenge the birds or was the lazy, ignorant boy the only brave soul in the village? Who is more courageous, the man who swims to the harbor or the fisherman brings a sense of novelty by giving fated end a new beginning? When humans betray, spew hatred among their species, make lives too bitter, is it a sin to save an animal instead of a man? The eternal fidelity of a dog becoming the only beacon of life amid human abhorrence. Man has become a passive observer concealing his mind from his inner conflicts , the fate of thousand years unchallenged, traditions passing through generations unchallenged , orthodoxical norms endowed with shamanistic rituals, the spiritual chants slaughtering the humanity of innocent love. Human sacrifice to appease the Gods mulishly wraps a mountainous village into an inhumane tragedy on a red night. Despairs rings, no sight of salvation, bringing evil superstitions the nightly red moon fades over the sorrows of the egret lake, the sickle slashing the beanstalks steadily erasing the class barriers of human ugliness into a harmonious world enmeshed within the beauty of nature.


Life on this earth is like a wispy cloud in snowstorm. You see it clearly, but with a swipe of the hand, it vanishes into thin air. He was like a drop of froth, crystalline, round and moist and full of life one moment, and then obliterated the next.

We are the children of nature. Nature endows us with imagination; it urges us to rethink about our “self” in its bare form, to rethink our humanity. The malice of human submerged in the cruelty of the nature. Nature is the greatest equalizer, the ultimate victor, the crucial catharsis of human nature. Ask, Steward Li about the power of nature equalizing the inhumane society and class discrepancies when trapped in a severe snowstorm? Silently rebirthing the spirit of humanity on a snowy night. The Yellow river overwhelmed with Ma Laohan’s laughter swells in the torrential whirlpool of patriotism and an everlasting fighting spirit against the enemy. The legend of the Fengling ferry now floating on the nightly waters, under the hazy light of the lanterns. Patriotism seduces through the wordy supremacy of “I need you!” the simple hunger consumed by utmost passion. The people of the land encumbered by patriotic obligations , while the country forgetting the obligation towards its own people, empty stomachs pacifying the hunger through objectionable means The unassuming philanthropy at the charity bazaar creating an ardent patriot from a street hooligan. The romance of a pipe dream dissolving into harsh reality , a bombastic dream shattered as Huang Guiqui revealed her own hypocrisy through hypocrisy. The yearning to be loved bursting at the whispering of petulant lips, the lure of love preyed upon by dubious happiness. The wispy life bolstered by the ecstasy of being needed.


Just a moment before, this face had been suffused with power, solemnity and intimidation. The grand total of his feelings had been nothing less than the symbol of a monarch! But now it was as though it had all been smashed by this single act of revolt, and the magic powers had vanished from that swollen discoloured hole!

To know what is meant to breathe air of freedom. The radiance of the land lost in its invasion, the people of the land robbed by the conquerors. Homesick children yearning to return to their once lovable abode, the incessant questions of why doesn’t Yeye eat kaoliang gruel?, lingers in the eyes of his grandchildren as somewhere Qingdi’sdreams of becoming a war hero hand on the fate of a brass medal and a bayonet. A life-changing barter seizes Mr. Wei in a battle of supremacy. The power of ham shaking the core of a man’s sense of identity. The rebellion for liberation from the corrupt brutality of higher socio-political authorities, a country waiting to be saved along with its people. The hunters revolt against the local government, the hordes of fox pelts brightly shining alongside the torrential muddy river. The mask of solemnity and intimidation falling off through a single act of revolt, the peasants clearly seeing the bluff of a broken face, the magic declining in a mottled hole. The sole symbol of a monarch dissipating within the dreary prison walls; societal hierarchy collapsing into the streams of innocent blood descending from the sword. The forged metal crushing the life of poor for generations ultimately becomes the only path of escape. Zhu the knife, branding justice on the very sword that he created. The rebellion of the commoners against a ruthless society channels internal distress and emotional predicament of an imminent exile .As the hibernating snake awaits the dawn of the spring, the snake swallower explores new avenues for his survival ;both seeking to breathe the air of freedom.

Duanmu Hongliang(1912-1996) was one of the most gifted and graceful writers in the modern era of Chinese literature.. The Japanese invasion of North-eastern China (Manchuria) on Sept.8, 1931 impacted Duanmu to a great extent. Thus, the Mukden Incident became one of the crucial influences on Duanmu’s literary career. The stories penned in this volume link the oppression and melancholy of human life interconnecting dual themes of the controversial Japanese invasion and bleakness concerned with personal human relations and survival on the whole. The quality of Duanmu’s literary work is more than making fairy tales out of reality. The panoramic landscape of his stories travel from the poetic verses embellishing the vast beauty of the nature, the echoes of songs sung through the mountainous lands seeped in the visages of the written allegorical and surreal folk tales , the deep understanding of a society besieged with orthodoxy and prejudicial hierarchy circuitously mocking the realities of life, the trails of humanity lingering from the picturesque forlorn corner of rural scenery to the swarming prosperous streets of a metropolitan and in due course leading back to the wholesomeness of nature chiseled by the kaleidoscopic array of human emotions forming a congenial entity. Reading this book is akin to tracing Duanmu’s footprints enlightening a time and an era filled with patriotic passions , and nostalgia and above all comprehending the humility of a human life in a mere day.

4/5 ****

Sandalwood Death – Mo Yan

Sandalwood Death

Palpitation! The word itself brims with mystifying sounds. The flip-flopping of the heart muscle attuned to the ambience of the twelve tone symphony, fingers smoothly gliding over the chromatic keys of a piano, the steady tempo of the inherent music fluctuating within the irregularities of variable frequency of the cardiac rhythm, the fleeting pause descending into the pentatonic scales of a violin finding its way into the emptiness of a skipped heartbeat, synchronize the tingling of a body. The words of the heart coiled into the tremulous effect of rapid repetitions coursing through incessant throbbing. The forbearance of the heart melting away in the furnace of lawful decree. Yama, the King of Hell pacifying the cries of Little Insect. The bearded goat at the mercy of the white snake. The seduction of the white snake pitying the fool of the tiger. The pigs and dogs scrambling out of the fear of armed wolves. Amid snarling jackrabbits, the vicious panther pounces on the white tigers; the magical tiger’s whiskers drenched in the reverberations of an anxious heart. The black cat singing melodic, heartbreaking elegies, the feline cries swirling in bereaved hearts. The strings of mao hu(cat fiddle) birthing the opera of life and death, the stubborn ox designing the aesthetic antiquity of death; a rooster crowing at the sight of twin leather straps. The extravagant vocal arias of “….sandal—wood—death, a term with a rough exterior but an aesthetic core, displaying the patina and aura of antiquity”, overriding the myth of humans being reincarnated from animals, the animalistic demeanour of humans dishonourably indulgent than their primal rebirthing mammal souls. Man being worst than animals.


….what is known as “execution” is an art, one that a good man will not do and anyone who is not a good man cannot do. Executioner is an occupation that represents the heart and soul of the Imperial Court. When the calling flourishes, the Imperial Court prospers. But when it languishes, the Imperial Court nears its fated end.

Mo Yan’s graphically meticulous illustration of the execution acts signifies the central stance of the death penalty and the concurrent gory sentencing in China’s Imperial (1900s) political sphere. The piece of blood soaked human flesh quivering in the executioner’s malodorous palm acquaints the reader with the cruel method employed by the codes of criminal law to inflict maximum amount of suffering. Mo Yan’s embellished prose may at times be a graphical hyperbole yet; the elucidated display of harsh rule to install fear of retribution, certainly does not underplay the archives of reality. “The Plenipotentiary wants to know how long the condemned can live after he’s cut in half”. Executions being made more enjoyable than a stage play. ‘Loyalty’, the mocking sentiment only adhering to the bearing of the subordinates confirms the nauseating truth of the burden of law lying solely on the shoulders of a common man.

Is an executioner the dregs of the society? A man at the bottom of the heap? Mo Yan debates the societal hierarchy, grading human existence by classifying stereotypic standards of rank, academia and vocation. The reckless mind-set of the hierarchical superiors towards the lives of those thriving on the margins of the society mapping the foundation of savage reality of societal absurdity pertaining to obsolete-lowly profession at variance with the aristocracy of heritable titles. If there was no executioner to culminate the penalty, then who would carry out the dire job of decapitation? If there was no butcher, then who would put a perfectly cut slice of meat on a decorated plate? If there were no daily workforce, then who would construct the railroads? No job is menial; no job is disgraceful, for all jobs are done by humans meant for their utmost survival. And every trade has its master, its zhuangyuan.

….he was neither a laotaiye nor a yuanwailang—he was the preeminent executioner in the Board of Punishments, a magician with the knife, a peerless decapitator, a man capable of inflicting the cruelest punishments, including some of his own design, a true creative genius…

Zhao Jia was a survivor grabbing every opportune circumstance, the zhuangyuan of the executioners serving for more than four decades at the Board of Punishments. A debt of gratitude released from the humble butcher’s abode, the craft singing the soliloquy of the sandalwood death.


Maoqiang, otherwise known as Cat Opera, is an operatic genre created and developed in Northeast Gaomi Township. The arias are exquisite, the staging unique, the ambience magical; in short, it is the ideal portrayal of life in the township

Meow..Meow…Life’s last opera enthralling the audience with the pomposity of death. A nation in peril, the citizens of Northeast Gaomi forever in revolt, paying the price of being heroic. The commanding policy of Kaiser Wilhelm, the autocracy of Von Ketteler , the operatic songs of mutiny drenched in bloodbaths , Sun Bing , the inheritor of the Maoqiang Opera tradition, a man of prestige among his peers, chose vengeance over the overbeaten virtue of forbearance. Sun Bing, a master performer and a rebellious reformer, rebelled against the German supremacy in China ,the railroads swarmed with the mutinous Boxer Rebellion. Mo Yan depiction of Sun Bing amalgamates the vibrant grandeur of the Opera and the humility of a single erhu retelling the tales of societal subjugation and familial fidelity, chasing the sound and the image of perspicacity and crazed laughter, questioning the validity of the undertaken rebellion. Mo Yan opens each chapter with a sombre aria staging lyrical segments of villain and heroes caught in a lifelong revolutionary opera reciting a resplendent narrative to eager listeners. Sun Bing who acted on the operas stage for most of his life became the spectacular drama himself.

In his exquisite literary pieces, Mo Yan’s treatment to his women protagonist is commendable. Mo Yan’s women irrespective to their muddled sentimentalities and promiscuous play of feminine charm are a potent mixture of fearlessness and empathy.

Having lived up till then among a performing troupe, Meiniang knew all the acrobatic moves for the opera stage, and she had never been schooled in the traditional feminine imperatives of “three obediences”—first to father, then to husband, and finally to son—and the “four virtues” of fidelity, physical charm, propriety, and fine needlework.

Sun Meiniang‘s scheming ways of using her feminine beauty for personal gain, erases the proverbial notion of “happiness” as a spotless sentiment. In a savage land, the virtuous emotion of contentment is soiled by the specks of duplicity. Meiniang’s definition of happiness strikes a balance between physical promiscuity, her undying love for her dieh(father) and the desire to have had the beauty of “lotus feet”. A true gratification in fated circumstance with no moral strings attached.


“Suffering is the road to respectability; danger is the path to prominence onstage.”

In death, the sorrowful cry of the bird oscillates in the benevolence of a dying man. The ordinary citizen, the perennial ‘common man’ swallowing insults and humiliation grasping the vulnerable nonsensical pillars of forbearance and loyalty courts the disaster of annihilation when flouts the authoritative decree. Slowly but sternly, Mo Yan layers complexities of human emotion juxtaposing ironies of tangled relationship and passionate spirit for subsistence in a dramatically charged atmosphere bestowing a humane side to every penned character besieged by their incommodious circumstances and societal status. The magical surrealism of the opera overlapping the savage reality of corporeal punishments and the socio-political ambiguity steeped in the operatic act of immorality and probity. Mo Yan’s protagonists are distinctive role players vacillating in physical and emotional rhythm and rhyme of hunger, passion, desire and bravery. The intricacies of the characters are viewed through a bifocal lens mirroring within the person’s conscience, diminishing the myopic stance of ethics. Qian Ding’s drunken melancholic confession exemplifies the relevant quandary. The fierce melodic opus depicting the stimulus of life and the opulence of death swings in musicality of the modernization and traditionalism chronicles the past and the present. The sorghum rich land of Gaomi Township reeks of sweat, blood, urine, putrefying human flesh and abhorrence of humanity and yet, from these acrid stench emits the sweet fragrance of resilience, devotion, heroism and love for a dignified existence.


The dead are noble, the living worthless….

In the prophetic Maoqiang recitals, Mo Yan raises the imperative question –‘Who is the rightful owner of the titular sagacity of being a dignified individual?’ Those who let go of their virtue of forbearance to seek equitable vengeance or those who bravely accept death penalties entangled within the lawless discrepancies or those whose lives are trampled on the whims and fancies of political supremacy or then those who call themselves the benevolent righteous protectors of the law and the land. Mo Yan chronicles the historical acrobats through an operatic act like narrative configuration, highlighting crucial historical event and figures carving a political dais for an allegorical satire of life and death set during the 1900s China, coursing through the egocentric reign of Empress Dowager Cixi, the intense socio-institutional Wuxu Reform Movement and the influential anti-imperialist Boxer Rebellion. The political history forms a secondary stratum to this illusory musicality ; political satire infusing elements of dark humour to the problematic conundrum of corruption, Imperial tyranny and the vulnerability of individual lives. Each of the Gaomi residents misplaced a part of their identity in their will to survive. The ordinary lives that go unnoticed throughout the perfidious walks of life, find an eternal glory in the cannibalistic brutality of death. Sardonically, the mislaid beauteous solemnity of the living is ultimately found in the opulence of death.

Recounting this glorious work, Mo Yan articulates –“…it is all about the sound….it was the sound that planted the seed for the novel and drove its creation”. The historical romance of human resilience evoked in the rhythmical timbre through the inimitable chorus of Maoqiang opera; merging the mournful strains of nightly train whistles into the surrealism of enchanted fox fairies, the persistent semblance of sound perforating the consciousness amid the ocular pathways created as annotations of the sound. Subsequently, as Mo Yan plants the “seed of his sounds” in his heart, I lock my eyes onto the soaring sorghum stalks scattering the grains of a valiant Gaomi, my ears affixed on the enthralling prose, I unwearyingly immerse in the “kip..kip..kip” of the rat gnawing into the dark corner, the crackling of the tanned skin with the very first bloody incision , the sharpness of the knife puncturing the smoothness of the glistening flesh, the squeals of the pigs, the shrieks of humans, the melancholic arias piercing through societal ambiguity , the excruciating screams of the dying shuddering the bashful clatter of the living , the creaking of the Yama’s Hoop as it tightens around the chastised skull, the rustle of the blood red sandalwood flowers, the uninterrupted bubbling of the sesame oil soaking the five feet tall purple sandalwood stake, the shrill of the ripped beard, the snipping of queues, the murdering of the soul, the orgasmic happiness of Meiniang, the warm blood dripping onto death’s majestic palanquin, the plonking of the bloody knife after the 500th cut , the dramatic folk operas retelling tales of oppression , the thundering sound of gallantry and human fortitude, the galumphing of destined socio-cultural revolution and the resonance of life, as the Gaomi populace knew it. My palpitations strumming to the beat of Tan xiang xing.

4/5 ****