Tag Archive | Yasunari Kawabata

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 ****

First Snow on Fuji – Yasunari Kawabata

First Snow on Fuji

 

The “I” in me seems to have disappeared. Or perhaps I ought to say that a different “I” has been living inside me.”

This book was supposed to be my very first Kawabata. But as fate or rather a clumsy and lethargic online courier service would have it, I had to somehow make peace with his full length novels. Nonetheless, I’m glad at these destined turn of events, for if it had not been Kawabata’s elaborate prose, I would have never found the mysticism of silence that subtly encompassed his literary characters. The empty spaces through which the author becomes an audience and the reader transforms into a writer while discovering ambiguous resolution to magnify the inhabitation of silence. The “I” dissolving in the vortex of time, the soul of its individuality lost in the responses of the past and an altered “I” labouring through a sea of words, the vulnerable emotions crippled by the veracity of the present and the chimerical future.

The mind is most powerful in the sanctuary of its silence; the still waters are the deepest and in the gloomy calmness of the chest, the vigorous thumping of the heart deafening the present voices with the sinister shadows of the past. The mystifying tales from this country, that country seeping through the shadows of waning love, speckled on the white flowers, the sweetness of Takako’s desire burdened by the lassitude of loneliness. The silence of an abandoned love travelled from the stony mounds in the Scottish Highlands into the empathetic “wife-swapping” humour. When love finally abandons its marital abode, the endless nothingness encumbering the sanity of marriage desires an impossible spontaneity to bypass beyond morality, seeking a respite in illusion of the “first man” being a mere clandestine strange “third man”. The agony of discovering another person residing within you, shackled by the reams of probity and silenced forever by the fear of perversion is everlasting. Is it immoral to emancipate the buried “other self” that thrives in obedience to the weariness of regret? “The discovery that two women existed within her- occurring as it did after she committed an immoral act – was strange and of course it caused Takako pain.” The beauty of a fleshy earlobe mislaid by silence of miscommunication and entrenched expectations between the moist strokes of a tongue and the desired reality of sex and love. Can the stillness of death validate a person’s happiness through the chaos of life? Or is it that the universal idiom of life decides whether the dead led a contented life or not? The element of perversion negating the allusions of a burdened mind, the frightening prospects of the quiet existence of the other woman within her, affirmed Kiriko with the changed portrait of herself, the sweet agony of guilt reaching unexplored depths of Kiriko’s life where her husband didn’t. Kawabata’s word swell with peculiar silence as yellow leaves flutter like butterflies on a row of trees. The mysteries of human mind amalgamate with the incongruous path of nature, the inattentiveness of the stolen purse vanishing in the sorrow of fallen leaves. Human passion and memories swept like the delicate leaves by the winter wind, slowly swirling in the vacant mind, erasing the cerebral chaos bit by bit by the clever strokes of silence eventually leaving it bare like the majestic ginkgo trees on the hilly path near Soeda’s house.”Do you think the trees at the bottom of the path always lose their leaves first?”

The past is a dream dwindling within the passage of time, the fragments of lacerated memories dispersed in the reality of the present. “Memories are something we should be grateful for, don’t you think? No matter what circumstances people end up in, they’re still able to remember things from the past.”The voices of poignant illusions searching the a piece of the fragmented memory steadily flow from the tales of Yumiura , the woman’s poignant words lingering between the nothingness of fantasy and sincerity. The egotistical past does not belong to anyone, only to the mind who has the courage to carry its burden into the youthfulness of the present and liberating it through spoken words of its own.


It isn’t only a matter of being pretty or ugly – there has to be a woman inside one…..I think that there was a girl inside me. If there hadn’t been a war that girl would probably have stayed clamped down inside, but we had a war and thanks to it she was able to push out into the world…’
While gaping into the face that was crawling towards a second childhood, the ghost of Momosuke ponders on the remarkable manner in which the nature bestows itself a gift of happiness. Can prolonged beauty of life expunge the ugliness of the past? When can a transformed nature go back to its natural state? Or can it ever?

Where in lies the beauty of a gravestone? Is it in the expensive embellishments carved onto its cold exterior? Or is true beauty of the gravestone found in the permanent remains of an impermanent life that is safeguarded in the tenderness beneath? When death engulfs me, I shall be cremated, my ashes floating on soft watery whirls, but if given a chance would I desire a nameless rock to be my grave, the remains of my diminished existence resting peacefully under the shadows of the rock. The anonymous rock becoming a symbol of a seamless life and in its stillness blossoms a romance of a lover’s promise in the sweetness of love’s agony. The fragrance of the white chrysanthemum in the rock scattered through the art of the gravestone and the memory its resident with every autumn bloom. I don’t think it is foolish to dream about one’s gravestone for it is the only permanent signature of transient life. “But then, do seamless gravestones really exist?”

The beauty of rain is what I have admired since the naivety of my childhood. “The sound of the rain and the sound of raindrops aren’t the same.” Human feelings fleet between active and passive participation overwhelmed by the concern for the loved one and relieved by its passivity when the adversities befall on strangers. That’s why, when the rain thunders, its drops falling in unison, the reverberation of raindrops deafens the chaos in its silence and that of the rain deafens the silence with its chaos. The falling rain cascading through its rippled melodies is indeed beautiful, but the silence of a snow fall is divine. Moments before it begins to snow, there is cautious stillness prevailing through the environment. The air becomes heavier as if it had been stubbornly clutching the rambunctious noisy wind and chastening the birds from chirping. And as the clouds serenely move, there comes from the emptiness of the sky, the very first snowflake, its frostiness daintily melting in the warmth of your palm. Beneath this pristine white blanket resides the ephemeral life in sheer silence consumed by the existence of nothingness budding within the sleepy splendour. The first snow on Fuji draped by wispy folds of clouds, the memories of first love blurred by the muddled blend of snow and clouds , the warmth of a lover’s body vaporized in the steam of the bathhouse bathing Jiro and Utako in the silence of a deficient reunion. The speckled images of a love vanished among the thunderous past of a war, crippling the efforts of stubborn mind to assemble lost pieces of its memories and reconcile the face of the person to the embryonic emotions. A heart that has mislaid its thoughts in the shadowy provinces of futile communication, the clarity of snow magnifies when forgotten words trek sentimental mountains where the trepidation of hateful responses are broken by the happiness of love. Similar to the divinity of Buddha that is present everywhere, but unseen; the salvation of a parental love dances fiercely in the falling snow, the music from the strings of a biwa capturing a woman’s happiness in this ephemeral world. The boat-women leading Murasaki to the sound of her father’s music as the oars cut through the preciousness of snowy waters. The path to Bodhisattva laid in the silence of a longing love.

Speaking about his own literature, Kawabata had once said that his literary works were an embodiment of ‘emptiness’. Kawabata perceives a spiritual union between humans and nature assembling under the umbrella of universality. The seeds of emptiness that Kawabata sows within the spaces of his prose, cultivating rows of human sentiments fleeting through the whispers of capricious universe magnifies as a compassionate mother bestows words to her son’s stories from blank pages fluttering with her thoughts. The grains of emptiness swell in Proustian atmospherics where the reader becomes the writer scripting the language of communication lessening the burden of silence. The accomplices of silence gesture Akifusa with a surreptitious language of their own. Is verbal starvation intolerable? If words do indeed violate the sanctuary of silence, then it is perverse to attain absolute silence. Where does the institution of language, the solidarity of voices reside within the unfathomable vacuum of a soul? Is silence a whore of circumstances or the pious salvation to attain the sanguinity of a virginal mind? Silence is ethereal. Similar to a ghost, the chill of the silence eerily asserts its fertile presence but its reflection shies away from human sensibilities.


A silent death in an endless word. ( A quoted obituary of Kawabata)

A man spends his life clarifying his thoughts, his actions and pacifying his buried sentiments with the obligation of a restrained survival. The language of words, the world of communication caught between the conflict of past and present, memories disseminating through the flirting powers of silence encumbering the fleeting beauty of life. And, thus it is only in the permanence of death that humans liberate themselves from obstinate prejudices and shackled sentiments. If life is forever carrying the burden of spoken words, why is death obliged to further carry this burden? May be that is the reason why Kawabata did not leave any written notes behind after his suicide. It is this very power of silence that I hold onto dearly for in its tranquil core I find the loudest voice for my perplexed thoughts.

4/5****

Palm of the Hand Stories – Yasunari Kawabata

Palm-of-the-Hand Stories

“There are not many bell crickets in the world. Probably you will find a girls like a grasshopper whom you think is a bell cricket……. To your clouded, wounded heart, even a true bell cricket will seem like a grasshopper….”

The birds scurry over to the lake, noisily pecking the earliest fish of the season. A fresh flower bud opens to the flutter of the hummingbird. The white flower that bloomed last night desired to be pink. Pink was the colour that would erase its transparency. Pink was the word needed to woo the girl whose cousin had died of a lung disease. Pink was all she sought after. The pleasant smell of the spring even makes the sunrise look alluring. The goldfish on the roof glowing in the morning sun were the key that would open a life of happiness and free Chiyoko from the shackles of her perfidious past. Who would know the taste of genuine freedom better than the toes who among the folds of soft linen cheerfully witnessed the pongy shower of morning nails descending from the graceful sways of the mosquito net emancipating the feet from the burden of overgrown nails and the woman’s heart from the burdensome memories of her childhood? The heron is busy this morning plucking stems to build a nest. On a branch below, the blue jay fervently chirps fleeting from trees. The mother seemed to have lost her child. Similar to Yoshiko, would the baby bird be a stranger to the warmth of a mother’s affection? Would Yoshiko be able to find the vanished love in the jay’s frantic search? Ah! The altruistic motherly love! Such wonders it bestows. Ask for its soundness from the woman who in the process of giving a compassionate haven for a pet dog’s safe birthing found love birthing itself once again in her barren womb. The heavenly fragrance of young plumeria permeates throughout the street, but it desists from entering my room. Maybe, it is bashful to mingle with the divinity of cherry blossoms and luscious persimmons that have seemed to occupy my room this morning. The dull walls illuminate through the glittering lights of colourful paper lanterns and the morning silence is interrupted by numerous chuckles of children whose quest of finding the grasshopper and the bell cricket has made the dragonflies take a break on my balcony wondering if Fujio would ever know Kiyoko’s illuminated name on his waist when he gave her the bell cricket. In the world of grasshopper would Fujio ever remember the beauty of a bell cricket? The beauty of love? The umbrella that had witnessed a budding love would certainly vouch for it. So would Yuriko who was consumed by the splendour of love and worship blinding her soul as it dissolved in its own muddled opulence. The lilies gorgeously bloomed with all their might. As the canaries rested, the bonds of strange loves disseminated in to the depths of the earth freeing a man from a vicious guilt and a woman who loved her husband even through the darkest hours. While the lotuses blushed to the gossip of the hat incident and the trickery of the water imp ; the words ‘sacrifice’ and ‘humanity’ reflected through the ripples in the lake as a man solemnly pledged to marry the girl to the insistence of the sparrow’s matchmaking skills. The serenity of floating bamboo-leaf boats was cracked by a sudden childish game of war; the humble boats transforming into battleships. Uncertainty and fear of a new world permeated through the bamboo-leafs sending worrisome shivers through Akiko’s heart wondering whether her marriage was just an act of pity; a war-time sentimentality towards the cripple. The pail of fresh, pure water brought forlorn nostalgia to the women who were far away from their homeland striving in the muddied waters of Manchuria. Loneliness brings a plethora of diminishing memories. The friendless heart cries pleading the ruthless mind for some affectionate nostalgia. The vibrancy of gaudy snakes slithering through the moist soil of the lake brought back memories of Ineko’s dream equating human ambitions to the scheming slithering movements of a snake just before catching its prey and fragility of human sentiments to the recurrent shedding of the snake’s skin. The industrious heron was back again picking up dried twigs off the ground. In the coming months the tamarind tree will be overflowing with the whiteness of the heron eggs. The sight of the virtuous eggs in which new life resides was somehow repulsive to the aging couple who dismissed a meal of eggs. No longer was it a sanctuary of new life, the eggs were messengers of death. How peculiar is human mind and how brittle the heart depositing its deep-rooted fears in a pulsating mirage that swings between life and death? Ask, Noguchi who saw Taeko riding a white horse, the virgin pink replaced by a deathly black. Or can the young girl who picked up the ceramic shards of a shattered Kannon figurine give the legitimacy of a weaker vessel equating the porcelain fragility to the elusiveness of her heart? Are dreams the spiritual heralds or are they harbingers of premonitions? The rooster and the dancing girl flippantly tap the surreal vision protecting public morals through the flurry of love letters. Fate, beliefs, shadows of the past, will it ever let go of its mortal ugliness? Ask the blind man and the girl standing on the threshold of love and fate. Will the son who never knew his mother be able to let go the frightful suspicions over his fate and for once witness his wife pleasantly breast-feeding the child of their love? Up in the tree, the coquettish chuckles of Keisuke and Michiko resonated through the rustling leaves while a clandestine world was created away from the ugliness of earth, its beauty residing on the wings of the birds. As the clouds cast a silhouette over the lake, the wind roared making a couple shudder to the thought of the ferocious thunder in autumn. The birds flew to a sunny place where even though the novelty of the face like the beauty of first love diminishes as time passes by; its memories are solidified into the heart blinded by the ugliness of time.

“Thank you. A dray…… “Thank you. A rickshaw…… “Thank you. A horse…….. “Thank you…”

The girl whose smile outside at the night stall saw the possibility of the nightly sky being lit by dazzling flowery fireworks bowed to the coquettish love. At the pawnshop where shame and reputation crumbled under the weight of survival, I pondered on how the older sister would have looked adorning her younger sister’s clothes. The elegant kimono that once had touched the younger sister’s supple skin soaking up every passion of her heart; could the cloth then truly transmit those sentiments into the taut dermis of the older sister. Could the younger sister’s life bring the long forgotten enthusiasm in the older sister through the clothes? Could the sliding rock make a barren womb fertile? While the young lady of Suruga, drenched in the pouring rain parted from the train station with a poignant good-bye, the dutiful wives daintily holding onto the umbrellas patiently waited for their husbands at the rainy station. Oh, dear husbands won’t you hurry back before it is too late. Love is fickle, it abhors stagnation. Can you ever hold an ocean in the core of your palm? How can love be shackled with ignorance? Can love be fastened with a knotted string? Ask, the bound husband who breathes a life of a stringer? Ranko would know too. The beauty of love is as delicate and transient like the sprinkling of cherry blossom. Yet, in an uncanny way love resides in the sinister corners of brooding nostalgia. Ask the woman with a silver coin who waited for the silverberry thief from the moment the sour berry touched her tongue. The grandeur of the silver berries that countermand the simplicity of the persimmons found beauty in its ephemeral form. Is it then the human soul so besotted by the chimera of magnificence that the radiance of the ring made a young maiden forget her nakedness in the bath tub? The glass that has been firmly stuck on the back of the lowly man, will it ever break releasing love from societal shackles of class distinction without his shards piercing the heart of love? Can an urchin’s love find refuge in the bourgeois prefecture? Does gradation of love magnify in the class war? Can inked words bring a world of fondness? Will a half-torn photograph find its way back to becoming one complete entity eradicating the ugliness of a heart-break by singing a love song? Love is iniquitous. In its glory will it graciously bring the beauty of passion and in its waning carry the squalor of disgust. Can then the brazen culpability rescue the final ruins of love through love suicides? Does loving too much signify slaughtering the essence of love with its own opulence? The broken rice bowl will no longer hold the beauty of cooked rice. The beauty of her mother’s eye flourished in the malice of theft. The aspiration of love vanished in the desolation of its past. A child’s viewpoint conferred the man an honour of a bleeding heart. The hair that sowed the first seedling of love with a slap of affection grew when the lovers slept. And on the day when the insomniac love went into a soundless slumber the hair no longer interrupted the lover’s sleeping habit. The wife of the autumn wind left traces of an overpowering possessive love as she scattered like a paulownia leaf. The winds of change blew towards the hometown enlightening Kinuko to view the happiness that encircled her through the optimism of her sister-in-law. Is love egoistic? It is possessive? Or is it that man has planted its bleeding soul in the establishment of love. The sting of sharing a lover’s warmth is uglier than the writing a letter to a man on behalf of a woman who has shared a bed. The women of the harbor town wrote as wives of the nightfall weaved the poetry of momentary love. The chewed pieces of newspapers in the child’s mouth recited a tale of an audacious girl of samurai descendant who was as fierce in her actions as the woman who stood between the supernatural trance battling a saw and childbirth. The beauty of the chestnut burrs glowing from atop a tree is shattered in a puddle of ugliness the moment it hits the earth. Underneath the streaming exquisiteness of a prostitute lies a menacing melancholic sea. The legendary beauty of the O-Shin Jizo sculpture, guardian of the children, fades in the wretchedness of reality. “Thank you”, he courteously said to the rickshaw that passed by him whilst he tenderly glanced at the girl next to him who was about to be sold by her mother. Mr. Thank you was his moniker, the only source of stability in the turbulent economical times; his heart brimming with compassion and chivalry but would love ever find a warm place within it. The question lingered in the air as he drove the bus to the next town and the enduring fragrance of love found a way to trickle within the woven threads of tabi(white socks) and a red top hat as they rested in the frostiness of a murky grave. The two decorated accessories whose beauty was marred by the ominous shadows of death and disease.

“The true joy of a moonlit night is something we no longer understand. Only the men of old, when there were no lights, could understand the true joy of a moonlit night.”

It has been more than ten hours since the first flower of the spring had bloomed. The transcendent moonlight seems to have found a way to my room brightly stamping its authority on the room floor. The words of the priest from the mountain temple fleeted through the moonlight as the shuffling of ‘go’ stones were strategized on a day running toward winter. Did the priest’s astuteness intertwine the ends of fate and destiny together? Can the beauty of the nature be truly cherished when it achieves salvation from materialistic crudity? On the gloomy boulevard, the street lamp looked like a ball of fire; the tungsten blazing through the glass, its fiery flames engulfing a maiden’s prayers as superstitious whims roar with laughter. The girl who approached the fire did not yearn to walk to the home where her heart never belonged. Was it a forlorn heart’s pitiful dream? Or was it a blessing, the path to one person’s happiness that was found in the smiles of the woman he loved? True happiness? Where does one discover it? Does it lie down in the eyes of the deaf neighbors when they scrutinize youth while the ugliness of age depreciate their bodies? Is a philanthropic deed itself rooted within the egocentric domain of personal bliss? Can the purity of philanthropy escape the ugliness of self induced happiness? Does the crippled wife of the poultry man ever question if there is a God when her husband carries her to the bath house? If there was no God then how would the survival of Beppu Ritsuko to be able to glimpse several glorious seasons of autumn rain be elucidated? Was it divine intervention or as in the case of the peasant was it providence that bestowed him the veneration of lavatory Buddhahood? Can clemency be sought from those who have been wronged? Did Yumiko find her deliverance by distributing God’s bones? The paperweight that was cautiously bought with the prized silver fifty-sen pieces was now the only lasting remembrance that Yoshiko had of her mother and her life from the pre-war time. How is it that human sentiments are nourished through lifeless objects? One measly touch of the flawlessly cut riding clothes was all Nagako desired to feel the warmth of a loving family. Every tear, every twinge and elation crystallized in the core of these comatose substances giving it a timeline of life and death that ultimately liberates the human soul from the burdensome past. Is then death the truthful path to salvation? Does death actually erase the distinction between genders through its neutral death mask? Is it necessary to pile on some make-up and a fake smile to dissolve the agonizing pain of death and go on living? Will the solemnity of a funeral home be marred by the nitty-gritty of daily life? The sacredness of death is sooner or later misplaced in the allure of newborn memories. From the time one is born, we adorned diverse masks throughout varied life-stages as we get engrossed in the roles we play. Are we then afraid of that deciding day when the mask finally falls off and the repulsiveness of truth peeks from the dazzling veil of fallacy? The man who did not smile already knew the perils of a handsome mask. Is human spirit a frightening thing emitting the lingering fragrance of guilt like the chrysanthemums place on the grave? The incident of the dead face made me question the faithfulness of faces that are genetically connected. A wife’s search was marred by the faces of love. The face of the child nestled in her bosom yearned for a sense of belonging. Does it really matter if a child has a dissimilar face than its parents? Does the purity of parental love fail to permeate the external physical segregation? Is the solidarity of love so feeble? Ask the earth who embraces children giving them an optimism of love. Is the realm of noble love narrowed by pitiable visage similarities? When a heart can find a sense of belonging in a new household do practical imagery overrides the matters of genuine love? Love has no inhibitions, no boundaries; humans do. The couple, who resides within the tenderness of a tree trunk, ask them if they know a thing or two about immortality. The bleeding ankles of a young girl that searched for the summer shoes as she rode behind the carriage, may tell you the sweetness of an everlasting journey. As the snow tumbles down from the wings of the flying birds, Sankichi falls in love once again. The transitory beauty of the snowflakes crystallizes on my windowpane on a balmy spring night as the love of Shimamura and Komako cascaded through the artistic gleanings from the snow country.

The moonlight has been quite mulish as it seems to reside firmly on my bed gazing through the printed words held in my hand. The name of the man who will never write scintillating stories again, shine brightly in the moonlit room. The remnants of the luminous paper lanterns collide with the subtle moonlight, giving way to a flimsy apparition now occupying my room. Suddenly an arm is jutted out towards me and I nervously wonder why. And, then as the crickets take pleasure in their nocturnal chorus, from the palm of the hand are released ingenious stories overflowing with mystique, surrealism, melancholy, beauty, spirituality, allegorical narratives and a splash of haiku echoing in the haunting silence of the heart and even through the weakest of them all emit the fragrance of the teachings of Zen philosophy forming blueprints like the lines embedded within the fleshy palm. This may not be his strongest literary pursuit, nevertheless, unlike the face that may lose its freshness in the fullness of time, the words of man that made me fall in love with him will never lose their novelty and my periodic viewing will only strengthen their beauty time and time again. The melodious bell cricket amid the world of grasshoppers:- Yasunari Kawabata – my literary soul mate.

4/5****

The Master of Go – Yasunari Kawabata

The Master of Go
Two stones….two individuals. One game…..one world. The yin-yang philosophies sprouting from the wooden bowls on to a 19 x 19 arena. The small stones carrying the burden of altering destinies. In the realm of shōsetsu, Kawabata chronicles a factual reportage of a decisive championship game of Go held in 1938, between Honnimbō Shūsai and Mr. Kitano Minora. Abiding the culture of literary fiction, Kawabata confers fabricated identities to the players as well as to himself (Mr. Uragami) in this epic struggle that spans over the period of nearly six months.

**(Title holder Honnimbō Shūsai’s last official game , his opponent being the 7th Class Mr. Kitani)**


“The game of Go is simple in its fundamentals and infinitely complex in the execution of them. It is not what might be called a game of moves, as chess and checkers…..”

Intersection

The game of Go commences with the stone being placed at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal squares. The Black stone always taking the privilege of an opening move. The devious tap of the stone on the wooden grid echoes the hysteria of a transitional era. New laws and new tactical regulation overruled the aristocratic stubbornness by refined trickery. The strategic moves alternating the white and black stones delineated the struggle of aristocracy vs. liberalism; youth vs. old age; new vs. old; and art vs. gaming pragmatism.

“Shusai the Master would seem in a variety of meanings to have stood at the boundary between the old and the new.”

The frail and ill Master who revered the tradition of Go as a way of life and art , painfully observed the transition of his beloved painting into the commercial entity bound by scientific regulations and competitive aggressiveness. An inhabitant of the Meiji Era, the Master finds himself standing on the edge of modernity that challenges traditional mores and progress in a strange world with cries for equality. Mr. Uragami, in his reportage addresses the Japanese landscape that is suspended between the resistance of the old cultural mores and the democratic post- war revolution. The Master who was accustomed to conservative prerogatives struggled to rationalize the tactical moves of his young adversary Mr. Otake. The unorthodox Black-69 move struck like a spray of black ink spoiling the rhythm of the Master’s harmonic artistic play. Uragami wonders if the “invincible” Master was now as feeble as the scrawny legs that marred the authoritative illusion. Were the long recesses and the venue changes between the games, a defense from the fury of the Black stones? The Black stones were insensitive to the pleas of an aged clamshell stone. The exhaustion of insomnia that ravaged the serenity during the four day long recesses was now curious about the loneliness that sprang from the nostalgia of a waning art. The frail Master with all his might hung on to the last threads of his invincibility.

“In that figure walking absently from the game there was the still sadness of another world. The Master seemed like a relic left behind by Meiji”

On the bridge of transition was the battle of the Master to restore the vitality of the very game that made him bleed, justified? Is the birth of nostalgia, the loneliness of change more agonizing than physical death? Mr. Uragami poses a baffling question whether the metaphoric notion of “sealed in cans” would make our lives happier without our territories being invaded or are we equipped to forfeit our conquered territories to smell the fresh winds of change?

Territory

Go is fierce; it is a territorial game. Territory called “ji” in Japanese is formed by a continuous line bounding the adversarial stones in a captured territory.

“Had Go, like the Nō drama and the tea ceremony, sunk deeper and deeper into the recesses of a strange Japanese tradition?”

Go becomes the medium through which various boundaries are pitted against a strategic battle of sustainability and perishability. Otake’s robust and patiently timed moves paves a path to a modern strategic system that abides the essence of time and laws challenging the Master and capturing territories by abstract conditions of Justice. Mr. Uragami take this territorial battle further into the lives of the players and the existence of Go as a traditional art and as a embedded culture of a nation. The Game of Go that has its origins in China about 4ooo years ago is now an inhabitant of the Japanese culture. It has been explored and improvised by the Japanese societal mores for more than 12oo years to be an important artistic heritage of the Japanese cultural territory. The threat of this game being captured by foreign territories becomes conspicuous when Mr. Uragami expresses his skepticism over whether a foreigner (Dr.Dueball’s Germany- the game had attracted players from America) would do justice to the game of Go as he will be unaware of the history of the game and would treat it is a sheer game and not art that had become a way of life to many Japanese Go players. Does the mystery and the nobility of a game is diminished if played away from the land of its origin? Is a sovereign heritage greater than the art of the game? These similar worries was expressed by the Master when in a bid to reclaim his genius over the game, he witnessed Otake’s severe game brimming with scientific precision and slyness. The striking of the stones was echoing the violence of a tragic chasm of a competitive world that had bestowed the title of “invincibility” to the Master crafting a grand super-powerful figure. The Master became a citizen of a hallucinatory world where he achieved a winning immortality; a world where he believed he could not afford to lose. The mentioning of the fact that the Master had not played the Black stones for more than 30 years; inferences can be drawn of a possibility of the White stones being the honored territory of a Master. Is then this illusionary territory that brings tragic consequence when the sanguine vagueness is marred by the loneliness of reality? When does the player become larger than the game? When do the mores of cultural heritage become greater than its sovereign nation? When does the move ‘Black-69’ strike like the flash of a dagger piercing into the safeguarded territory of the player capturing his stone wall?

Contiguity of Stones

The continuity of the stones is established by placing them in row in a horizontal and vertical manner. Diagonally placed stones are vulnerable for a territorial captive attack.A lonely stone is unfavourable to the playing contestant.

“Don’t you suppose he was lonely?”……. “Yes. But he (the Master) was always lonely.”

Did the loneliness, the thought of him being the probable last surviving ‘Master of Go’ from the Meiji era made the Master vulnerable to Otake’s stubborn ambition? Like an isolated stone that becomes less powerful, did the seclusion of his artistic prowess in the modern world made him defenseless?

Mr. Uragami contradicts the play of contiguity by illustrating a breakage brought by modernity in the world of Go and its players. In the play of black upon white and white upon black, the threat of forfeiture prevailed right from the personal feelings of the players to the fate of the game in the altered Japanese landscape. In the emerging new age and fresh vitality of Go would the frequent threat of forfeiture interrupt the contiguity of history and traditions leading to the collapse of the stone’s sanguineness?

Life and death of the stone

A stone has a life and can be killed when entirely surrounded by the adversarial stone. In the war like game the stones and the players amalgamate into one whole existence. The notion of “sealed in tin cans” depicted during the play keeps the player from external disturbance. The game and its strategies follow the players until the game is over and even thereafter, as in the case of the Master. For a Go player each free moment is a risk management session increasing the pressures of time and the deliberation over the future moves brings certain quirks and nervous addictions. The sanity of life is found in the madness of Go.

“He is not just a genius. He is inhuman”

Unlike Mr. Otake, the Master was bled by the game of Go. The shadows of Go followed the Master hovering into the vagueness of his existence. As a true artist sculpting the Go art, the Master resisted from judging the persona of the opponent as it perverted the sanctity of the game. The Master calculated his every move even when he played a game of chess, billiards and mahjong. When the Master played his moves and the game consumed his life, at times making him lose the realization of his own identity. The stones had sealed his destiny as a ‘Go Master’ in a can of loneliness and the shrewd game has made him a sort of a martyr. Mr. Uragami who himself was an ardent fan of the Master, infers that there are two types of players: – one who are complacent with their game output and the other who meticulously enhance their art; the word satisfaction being a rarity in their game. The Master belonged to the latter. The Master had become a tragic figure, a ghostlike existence. Novelist Naoki Sanjugo who wrote himself to death asserts,-
“If one chooses to look upon Go as valueless , then absolutely valueless it is ; and if one chooses to look upon it as a thing of value , the a thing of absolute value it is.”

So where does a player stop from not letting the game consume him? Is the art of the game that creates martyrs of its soldiers? The pleasure of the game brings seclusion from worldly exhilarations of life. The unadulterated sleep of a child is far fetched blessing in the cursed insomniac world ridden by chaotic configurations. When does the harmonic monochromatic ballet of Go become a war of spirit and destiny? Is then life greater than a man or is the man greater than the life? The long coarse white –hair on the Master’s eyebrow; the symbol of life’s longevity knew the answer and so did White-130.

Under the morbid tides of destiny the death of a stone. The game ends. Hope ends….. A new stone is astutely placed on an intersection. Once again, the game of Go begins , deciding a new destiny for its Master.

4/5****

The Dancing Girl of Izu and Other Stories – Yasunari Kawabata

The Dancing Girl of Izu and Other Stories

“As death approaches, memory erodes. Recent memories are the first to succumb. Death works its way backward until it reaches memory’s earliest beginnings. Then memory flares up for an instant, just like a flame about to go out. That is the “prayer in the mother tongue.”

A string of solemn words sprint from my mind onto my lips at slight picture of a funeral that passes on the street. With my hands pressed palm to palm; expressing gratitude to the death a prayer in the mother tongue, “Bless the departed soul and forgive all the mortal sins”; escapes in the melancholic air. Forgiveness, they say, is the only medicine that cures an infected heart. A prayer; a hope for betterment flickers as the mind enters into an empty abyss. When death approaches, it fetches the long lost past; nostalgia slowly creeps with the facade of first love; the fragments of a faded childhood and the tattered pages of life’s desolation are pasted in a sentimental embrace even as the empathetic mother tongue binds the corpse in ropes of convention. As a child, I was terrified of funerals. But, it all changed on the day my grandfather died. The elders thought as I was too young to see the dead and so I was sent to the neighboring apartment. I never got to witness my grandfather’s silent face; his last physical memories of this world. Not a single tear was dropped when I came back to an empty room and even today funerals never make me grieve. At funerals, I sit by the dead and stare blankly at the soundless face, searching for a fragmentary goodbye of my grandfather as my anguish never got the merited privilege of closure. Does death complete the emptiness that life always dwells in? Can death really erase all the mistakes and sins of mortality? When does a man rob the virginity of his life and then later, why does he regret it as a reckless act? Did my grandfather recollect his first spoken words in his mother tongue? The virginal call to his mother. Will I remember my first words on my deathbed? The choreographed beats of a drum lingered from a nearby tea house.

As I sat on the old steps, waiting for the youth, whom they called ‘Master of funerals’, I heard the heart wrenching cries of a child as his poured the oil out of the lamp, lit in front of the dead. The boy despised the mere smell of the oil; rapeseed to be precise. The oil was cruel enough to play tricks on the child’s mind. The lingering sweet odor brought back the dead. Unaware of his quandary, it would not be long till he smelled the rapeseed oil once again. Will he then offer a hundred lights at the altar to honor his parents? Ask the boy for whom death permeates through the viscous oil. A middle-school teen who had come to honor the dead sat besides me. He did not felt the need to put on a solemn mask like several others at the funeral. Just like me, he could not grieve the death. The rituals commenced with the entry of the ‘master of funerals’. The youth was neither a temple priest nor a shaman. The fellow was in his 20s who unfortunately had seen more funerals than celebratory sacraments of life; his kimono smelled like a grave. Amid the chants, to the horror of the mourners, the teen slammed a book in my palm. “Please, read it carefully”, he pleaded. Words were jammed up in my throat. How could he do such a disgraceful thing in the middle of the funeral? Doesn’t he respect the dead? Tears flooded his aching eyes and I knew it right then, I had to read his penned diary of the sixteenth year. I could not bring myself to give him an unenthusiastic answer; I had to revere his words the way his belief resided in my approval. The boy’s grandfather was on the brink of death. Maybe, it was fate giving me a second chance to pronounce my own unsaid goodbyes. Maybe, his word would lessen the weight of my onerous memories. Nevertheless, will the teen himself be able to unload his baggage? Will the sorrow of his loneliness vanish like the tears from his grandfather’s hopeful eyes? Similar to his grandfather, would his heart stand strong for seventy-five years while the wounds of failure bled? Ask him on his 27th birthday.

The pristine images of the flowing white fabrics floated the virginal essence of life that conquered the departed soul. The soft waves of the sea murmured the melancholy of breathing memories. The urn to be used for gathering the ashes rested peacefully on the wooden mantle that once was a proud owner of an authentic Japanese watch symbolizing the courage of love. Love is certainly a funny thing. It dawns from sheer vanity of beauty and crumbles in its opulent absurdities.Frightening love. Love that dwells on fringes of insanity; love that consumes the very essence of its purity to the advent of insanity. Is love a bastard child of lunacy or an orphan seeking a home in fostered hearts? Ask the man who patiently waited for the bitter blade to touch his warm neck.

The boy, who had come with a smartly wrapped parcel containing some of his mother’s old kimonos along with his belongings, kept smiling as the birthplace bid a sorrowful adieu to one its children. Amid the ritualistic chants, the funeral proceeded onto the pompous street that prided in its mountains of silver and copper coins. The coins fell swiftly as pearls from a necklace. By honoring the dead,the honey road became an illusionary plaque of a melancholic heaven. Is then, paradise a distant path or is it found in the boots of the beggar who tonight will feast on a scrumptious sea bream and sake; the red comb a gift on her wedding night. The outlandish screeching of the cicadas interrupted the funeral procession as the villagers glanced at each other. The cries of the cicadas from the hill in the park metamorphosed into the merciful whimpers of a woman dwelling in the realms of her chastity under the roof. Once again the villagers glanced at each other. The rumor of a woman who lost her virginity three times preceded the procession.The woman who stood behind me in a white kimono grinned as only she knew the absolute truth. She had lost her virginity at the very sight of a wrinkle resting near her eye and the sting of her sagging breast bled for the first time. Not a single memory, just a flimsy shadow. Is old age the inevitable enemy of beauty that life prides upon? Do the baggage of our memories become detrimental as we head towards the dusk of our lives? Ask the woman who lost her virginity for the fourth time. Vile gossip is an illusion stemming from a nascent self-hatred .Like a chimerical ballet liberated from human errors, fantasy takes refuge into the arms of realism. Isn’t it true that at times we choose to dwell in our rose-tinted prejudices? Ask the man standing in the shadow of a pilgrim in the third-class waiting room at the station. The voice of the drums seems to get closer.

The procession took a final turn on a narrow road that led to the ‘Mountain Peach Bath’; a man- made paradise. Suddenly, a wild uproar halted the funeral procession. “You worms. It’s a small road just wide enough for automobiles to pass. If you were so shocked when you first realized what kind of intentions that road had, you had better open your eyes while you can and think about the intentions that lie behind that highway.”, howled an infuriated young man. The public bath gave way to a newly built private bath and the Mountain Peach Bath’ could only be found in the history archives of fading memories. Somewhere, the crickets zealously chirped in a jar. The persistent odor that oozed from burning the pine boughs brought happiness to a gloomy heart. Did the ashes of the burned pine boughs cleanse the heart from the burdensome memories? Did the heart become a pictograph of purity, once again? Ask the heart who was anxious to eradicate the embedded orphan complex.

Underneath the persimmon trees, unaware of the large procession; the children played with their newly discovered half-sword. The blunt piece reminiscing in the memory of its sharpness lay on beneath the ancestral shrine. The samurai sword was chastised for tasting the blood of a grief-stricken woman. Did the sword have the right to take a genuine life? Who made the sword a messiah of justice? Ask the broken piece that drew blood.

Hurrah! Hurrah!” yelled the sisters at the gate of the inn. Did they express the similar sentiments of the soul that had just departed from a sullied body? Or were these words of encouragement bestowed on the woman who in the memory of her father embarked on a journey of residing in the inns throughout Japan. Did the inn represented her unfulfilled dream or bear the burden of her unkind memories? Akin to the way I struggle to find my grandfather’s face in the dead. The deafening sounds of the drum were excruciating to my emptiness. As I peeked into the tea house, I lost track of the funeral. An adolescent dancing girl in her teens was happily playing the drums, entertaining the tea house patrons. A virginal beauty daunting to the eyes of her admirers; the dancing girl of Izu was a nomad of beauty and cleanness; a girl yet to be christened as a woman; someday.

Nearly after a somber hour, the funeral procession came to its end. Reminiscent to a soul noiselessly leaving a body in all its glory, the setting sun slipped into its watery grave leaving its memories in a violet sky. The soft waves of the sea melodiously hum a lullaby to the princess of the dragon palace who slept in the cerulean depths whilst a fairy tale was penned on a lover’s grave. On my way back from the cremation, weary laborers walked from the mountains into the village; a girl sat terrified of the sea, wondering if there would be someone caring enough to take her away from this place. The nightfall glistened in the moonlight. The moon shimmered in its loneliness; its virginal baggage getting heavier with every star that cropped up in the nightly ecstasy. As the moon pondered on its forlorn fate, the horse beauty flew like an arrow towards the moon. The drums of the dancing girl welcomed a new life in to this world as it gave its first virginal cry. That day, I had witnessed both, the echo of life and the stillness of death; everything in between lay scripted in the unread pages of the diary that fervently fluttered in my lap.

“Put your soul in the palm of my hand for me to look at, like a crystal jewel. I’ll sketch it in words…”

When I embarked on the Kawabata journey, I was determined to read each of his literary works, come what may. I desired to view Kawabata’s primary strokes of his literary painting. A writer’s first work resembles the monochromatic background splashed on a bare canvass; its image yet unknown. To discover the root after cherishing the grandeur, the essence of the root is placed on a critical dais. Alas, I had seen the painting first and not the bare canvas. I was handed a completed art and as I sat there trying to decipher and classify every color that amalgamated in the quest for a divine nothingness , I listened to the silence that lingered between the scripted words, comprehended the lingering sentiments and the opulent beauty that flowed with every stroke on the bare canvas. At times when the silence consumed me, I could observe the anguish of a soul that shimmered like a crystal jewel amongst the sketched words. To comprehend the meaning of nothingness, a cry of a lonely heart, to evaluate a character without any prejudices, the quest for a virginal soul, to hear the earthly grave that now bestows the divinity of a grain that feeds sons and grandsons; a need for the “ears of a Buddha”. A privilege that Kawabata sometimes bestows.

3/5***

The Old Capital – Yasunari Kawabata

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The Old Capital

The sting of the needle was lost in the delicate crimson stream. Not a wince or a slight whimper. The strange words bounced in my ears resembling songs of exasperated crickets. The harshness of the sun did not bother my skin anymore, neither the rain puddles that ruined my shoes. Not a drop of tear, not a speck of anger. Could this happening so soon? The one thing I feared the most. Did Kawabata finally overwhelm me? Did the silence consume me like a ravenous shokujinki? As I walked home, the frogs happily croaked on the walls of a nearby pond even as heated clouds swarmed the sky. I ran; my tears competing with the fluttering of sparrows. Windows were being angrily locked, doors shut with a thunderous bang. Those bell crickets!! These lucky insects. How will I ever isolate myself from this vulgar world? Why couldn’t I be those violets who grew in the hollow spaces of the maple trees, priding in their blooming beauty amid the vulgarity of the overgrown moss. Would my carefree life just be a beautiful illusion existing in my heart? Has the opening of the lid brought an end to my enchanted world? When will silence finally annihilate my aching memories? Will it be possible to stand tall and straight like those majestic cedars even when its branches are cut to build tea rooms? Will a man ever cease from being an “emotional creature”?

Bell crickets with violet garbs,
Grasshoppers in empty hearts,
Sullen memory patiently birth,
Pristine illusions of a universe,
Above the friendless pagodas,
Lonely red pines call the sun,
On sode of gracious kimono,
Bright tulips delicately spun.

Serenely, Kawabata weaves the threads of beautiful illusions that refuse to depart from our existence. With torrential flow of sordid emotions comes the want for a sheltering mirage that overthrows the repulsiveness of realism. The vanishing exuberance of Kyoto saddens its citizens as they try and hold on to the memory of Kyoto’s last streetcar; embellishing it with flowers and holding onto the photographic illusion of the newly christened “flower train” ; the lonely roads cry in nostalgia. The clean streets that once festooned to the picturesque festive parades and rice cake showers from the festival floats were now endangered to being darkened by ubiquitous friendless inns. Would the crickets ecstatically chirp if their glass palace ceases to exist?

“The time never comes when a beautiful illusion turns ugly”.

Why would someone want an illusion to turn ugly? Isn’t its loving glory that becomes an escape from everyday life? Would Hideo ever want to recognize that Naeko is simply is an illusion of his long harbored love? Would it bring grief to the cherry blossom to see their ephemeral fantasy being trampled by those who had earlier been mesmerized by its very magnificence? It saddens Takichiro to see his world metamorphosing into an unknown entity. Was it his efforts of holding onto past memories, an effort to eradicate his loneliness? Was Takichiro’s attempt of drawing cacophonous kimono patterns, a cry of his illusion for a fading art? Was the Kodaiji Temple embracing the illusion of its festively lit streets?

“You can’t kick or tread on an illusion that you harbor. All you can do is overturn yourself.”

The demise of illusion births realms of loneliness. The chimera of cherry blossoms vanishes with the falling of its petals. The beautiful spring brings harsh summer and even a harsher winter. Kawabata eulogizes the waning of obi-makers in poetic precision as their journey is scripted from once being the honorific institute of an emerging empire to now kneeling at the mercy of governmental sponsored ‘Intangible Cultural Treasure’. The spirituality of Kyoto is misplaced amid the rise of capitalism. Chieko gets swept by waves of loneliness when her romanticized illusion of being a foundling is broken by winds of pragmatism. When Hideo critiques the inharmonious design that Takichiro drew for Chieko’s obi, the illusion that Takichiro could draw a fashionable obi design is shattered even with the inspiring abstracts of Paul Klee and Chagall. Weeks of seclusion in a convent could not redeem the sanctity of Takichiro’s imagination for its beauty was stained with conflicts between a warm heart and morbidity of reality. To erase the stubborn chimera one has to be toppled. But, when does that become necessary? All those motifs that we bring all along our way to find an escape from our mundane lives, occasionally some of the motifs overrule our very existence and then there is a dire need to overturn ourselves. To think of those bell crickets that chirp every summer, what would they do if someone opened the lid and made them aware of their crystalline illusion? Would that destroy their universe in that jar?

“Universe in a jar” in which there was a palace in a vessel filled with fine wine and delicacies from both land and sea. Isolated from the vulgar world, it was a separate realm, an enchanted land.”

Kawabata validates the application of an ancient Chinese proverb, “universe in a jar”. Chieko had been raising bell crickets in a jar for past five or six years. The lifecycle of these insects flourished and perished in the jar itself. Every July, eggs would be laid amid the glass interior and luminous August would welcome the raring young. Through these crickets, Kawabata delineates the reality of a sheltered life that we humans live until we face the malice of the outside world. As kids we are protected by the warmth and love of our parents and as parents we bestow the same to our kids. Chieko led a similar sheltered life and so did Takichiro when his father’s business was flourishing and above all the city of Kyoto, when its people safeguarded its splendor and spirituality from any kind of vulgarity. The crammed lives of the bell crickets made Chieko question her survival. Her loneliness was compared to the violets that grew in a cramped manner within the hollow space of an old maple tree.

“Chieko herself had placed the bell crickets in a jar, but why had the violets come to live in such a cramped spot?”….. “To be born in such a place and go one living there”…..A natural life…..”

Kawabata metaphorically elucidates the normality of a life that thrives in its accustomed habitat. The crickets in the jar never knew a life beyond the glass walls, the violets never knew the joy of blooming in a field, the obi-makers could not imagine a world without silken weaves and kimonos, Chieko could not have conjecture the veracity of her abandonment, the cedars never knew a life beyond that of being a mere crop and the city of Kyoto never knew the existence beyond festive seasons. Would a mountain accustomed to the warmth of a rising sun know the tranquility of a breezy ocean bed embracing a sleepy sun?

“Good fortune is short, while loneliness is long….”

Unlike, the flowers that have transitory lives, we humans do not bloom yearly with fresh and untainted lives. Thus, in the course our lengthy lives, monotony takes over our dynamism and at times the thought of feeling alive fails to enlighten, even when the blood flows into little test tubes. Kawabata presses the need to look beyond our natural existence and face reality. At a certain point, it becomes necessary for the crickets to realize a life beyond their jarful existence. The cedars can never have the charmed life of the camphor trees. Chieko’s confusion about finding Naeko delineates her desire to break free from her sheltered life. Takichiro’s desire to buy a smaller house and Naeko’s trepidation over Hideo’s love illuminates the realization of a harsh reality. Moreover Chieko’s comparison with the two solitary violets that would never ever meet elucidates her remoteness that comes along with the pondering about being a foundling. Picturing Chieko as an abandoned child, Kawabata puts forth his own vulnerabilities.

“Maybe all people are abandoned children. Perhaps being born is like being abandoned on this earth by God”…. “They do say we are God’s children. He abandoned us here, and then tried to save us….”

Being an orphan himself, Kawabata was always a wanderer; spiritually. His nomadic existence shines through his prose where he pursues his quest to harmonize the simplicity of nature with the complexity of human life. Through Chieko, Kawabata seems to spiritualize the universality of life in its entirety. Nature once again plays a significant character in this eloquent text; the isolated existence of violets not only depicts Chieko’s sentimentalities, but the impossibility of the two violets ever meeting equating Naeko’s failed love. The congratulatory chirping of the crickets when the two violets unpredictably meet. The purposeful cultivation of the Kitayama cedars symbolizing the misery that comes through the unawareness of an uncharted life; the green pines that comfort Hideo’s monotonous survival and the tulips that help Takichiro to find solace. The reader can identify proverbial traces from Thousand Cranes, alas, I desist from making such comparison and placing the two books to be entirely singular literary units.

The silence discovered in Snow Country‘, steadily seeps through the lattice doors of Kyoto .The mind has always been a slave to delusion. Our falsified visions bring corruptness of religion, stubborn superstitions and egotistical sentiments that glow brighter than the lanterns at the Gion festival. Right from ridiculing the superstitious omen brought by twins in rural Japan to Takichiro being somewhat a misanthrope; Kawabata wants the reader to comprehend that mankind at times can be very frightening. A man no matter how gentle can never let go of emotional complexities. Through Naeko, Kawabata questions the possibility of a land free of humans that would thrive in all its naturality.

“Why did the man come into this world?”…. “It’s frightening….mankind.”

A world without a man would be filled with virginal forests and carefree fauna. No crickets would have to live in a jar, none of the elegant cedars would bear the pain of their severed branches and mountain would no longer live in fear of eradication. Nevertheless, it is the man who built tea rooms, the Heian shrine, the temples, the Kamo river where lively tulips bloom; the streets that dance in celebratory lanterns and celebrate the virtue of life. It is humans that appreciate the beauty of cherry blossoms, question the loneliness of violets, capture the serenity of nature in the magnanimous silken folds of a kimono, decorate the last streetcar, embellish the boulevard with festive colours and give meaning to the existence of nature. Without a man, there would not be beautiful memories that keep the past alive, no illusion of happiness and hope. Without a man, there would be no Kyoto. The beauty of human existence marred with the ugliness of emotion.

“Man is certainly an emotional creature”.

4/5****

Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata

Snow Country


Butterflies…..
Amusing the lotus pond
A child’s delight.

Butterflies dab my tears and lotuses kiss my heart. As a child, I used to spend hours gazing the dainty beauties as they flirted with the boisterous flowers. Amid my hearty giggles, the soft buttery wings browsed my cheeks for a pink watermark. I sought to embrace these coquettish insects as I sat on the wet grass. As I lifted one from its flowering sojourn and laid it on my palms, my eyes lit like the time my mother cuddled me after a bad school day. The rosiness of the wings spread on to my palm as it lay there silently in all its glory. It did not fly as I wanted it to. I coaxed it, even twisted my palm, all it did was spiral down on the ground as a rocket descending to its earthly grave. That was the very first and the last day, I had ever caught a butterfly. I still cherish their fragile beauty but from afar; I do not touch their wings for I’m afraid that I might bring an everlasting emptiness in their lives. “Their beauty shines through death”, said the temple priest, as he immaculately entwined the bowed lotuses into a stiff pink garland. The lotus bud that braved the rambunctious dragonflies and thunderstorms only to bloom for a day and the butterfly after months of seclusion burst through the rigid cocoon only to be left as a crimson dust on a child’s palm , was it all a wasted effort? A wasted beauty? If only, the plucked lotuses could whimper and the butterfly could squeal. Does a heart shine brighter with the demise of love?

“The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. The earth lay white under the night sky”.

As the maple leaves bid adieu to the red carp in the lotus pond, the snow comes alive. The earth pristinely glistens underneath a vermillion sky. The snow-laden cedar fiercely guards the persimmon trees near the old moldering house. The chimney smoke twirls in a sensuous way with the steam from the nearby hot-springs. Chimerical decorated beauties parade on the floating world of nightfall. The days are filled with lonely beds and nights with lonely hearts. The melodious strings of a samisen appreciated among icy fingers. The clean air cluttered with translucent worthlessness. The insects wordlessly moan as a heart is cut into two. The secluded cocoon weaves its silken thread artistically, only to emerge in the spring metamorphosing into the finest Chijimi. The snow country is “a place where the maidens live”.

 

Red lips, porcelain face,
Songs of crimson snow,
Lonely love.

It is when the snow touches the earth, can she sense love, her lover’s warm breath, his arms around her trembling waist and his kiss on her blood-stained lips. When the world sleeps, the heart rouses. The footsteps that had been lost underneath the white expanse had resurfaced; the iciness of the winter had renewed the tenderness of love. In the intimacy of love, her heart was beating like couple moths on a lamp, once again fumbling into emptiness. After all, it was a lonely heart drowning in remote emotionalism.

A heart is never lonely; a person is, when he stands at the crossroads where the perfect fantasy is blemished with candid realism. Akin to the glass window that bestows a lonesome traveler with the precious company of the moon, only to realize at the end of the journey, it was only solitude that alighted at the station. Shimamura found lonesomeness seductive. The “indefinable air of loneliness” that surrounded Komako, the loneliness that lingered in Yoko’s voice and her piercing eyes and the emptiness that came from Shimamura’s life itself; he stood on the edge of fantasy and reality. Shimamura was always fascinated with untainted mirror images or the illusions that were constructed within his thoughts. The phantasms of an impeccably choreographed ballet were lyrics from heaven, liberated from human errors and where imaginations were without boundaries.

“It was like being in love with some he had never seen”.

Shimamura treated his women in similar way as the chimerical ballet. He desired the romance of fiery red strokes on a geisha’s lips softening onto a snowy visage, but he sensed emptiness as the face was wiped cleaned. He sought after the call of the naked heart without having to shelter it from the frosty afflictions.

“Was it sorrow at finding herself about to sink into deep a relationship with a traveler?”

Komako as they call was a splendor of the floating world. Komako was as multifarious as her heart. She observed the bereavement of her heart, though she could never see a dying person. She loved Shimamura even though the latter being skeptical about having to build a liaison with a woman of an “ambiguous position”. Shimamura calls her a “clean beauty” and not a “real beauty”. Kawabata rightly asserts the position of a wholesome beauty. A woman looks utmost beautiful when her face is a melancholic riddle. The snow attains it grandeur when its smooth velvety carpet is tainted by footprints of skiing children. It is in sadness that a beauty luxuriously shines. The priest was right after all, the beauty of the lotuses was magnified in the garland. Kawabata further pushes this symbolic position solidifying its stance when Shimamura later, addresses Komako as “a good woman” correcting his former statement of her being “a good girl”. It is here that the reader views the metamorphosis of Komako’s ‘clean beauty’ into a ‘real one’.


Nagauta on a samisen
Hearts still asleep
Wasted effort.

The fair maidens who as children learn to weave the silken mesh of the exquisite Chijimi cloth, live in months of seclusion and monotony and labor their love into the product that needed months of washing in hot water, hours of massaging by feet and bleaching and when spring finally arrived the Chijimi was proudly displayed as a sweltering body’s ideal companion. The women immersed themselves in hard work at the risk of their fading beauty in the strenuous survival of the secluded snow bound months. Kawabata signifies the production of Chijimi cloth to rationalize the query of ‘a wasted effort’. The said terminology becomes the definite antagonist to the foundation of love and beauty.

“A good piece of Chijimi, if it has been taken care of, can be worn quite unfaded a half- century and more after….”

Unlike, the weavers whose undying love for the art of weaving leaves a gift of a Chijimi to be cherished for years, Shimamura ponders how his relationship with Komako would leave nothing as definite as Chijimi. Was then the love that harbored in the room where silkworms once bred, a wasted effort of two lonely hearts? Like peonies on a frosty river bank searching for happy puns, Kawabata equates the beauty of human intimacies as the ephemeral weave that do not even have half the shelf-life of an airy Chijimi cloth.

“The labor into which a heart has poured its whole love…where will it have it say, to excite and inspire, and when?

Only if one could have read Komako’s diary, the one that she had been writing since she was 16, it would have been known whether her loyal love to Shimamura, her skeptical emotions for Yoko, her collection of non-smoked cigarettes and her stance in Yukio’s life were a bunch of wasted efforts. If, Shimamura could have gained a little of his lost honesty in the snow country, only if one could read Yoko’s piercing moist eyes and if someone could have asked the Milky Way , if being outshined by the blazing fire made its brightening splendor a wasted effort. Only if one could? Kawabata in his usual sinister flair speaks about the idea of an exhausted beauty that would not have an unambiguous ending. Komako, going back to the hot-springs , dowsing her heart in sake , Shimamura once again losing his candor in an illusionary other world and the chrysanthemum withering on the snow-caped eaves.


White peonies in moonlight
Echoes of distilled love
Snow falls.

Kawabata symbolizes the snow as the ultimate pictogram of a wasted beauty. The fragile beauty of a snowflake deteriorates at the slightest touch melting into the heat of the fingers. And as the snow accumulates on the ground its opulence is trampled by footprints, shoveled paths and at times the decay of bleeding hearts. Similar to the beauty of love, the exquisiteness of the pristine snow perishes in its own excessiveness.


Snow on bald cedars
Letters to obscured leaves
Melancholy writes….

I have an aversion to happy endings. To me, happy endings are similar to feeding rainbows to Thomas More’s utopian unicorn. Label me weird or even call me absolute idiot, nevertheless it is in sadness, that I feel alive. It is in sadness that I think about the little girl that still resides within me. It is in sadness that I appreciate the rarity of a smile and it is sadness that helps me to value the true essence of happiness. One may never desire it, let alone embrace it, but sadness comes knocking back when one starts to dread happiness. And, when it does penetrate into our lives it brings along infinite silence; the most powerful resource of the mind. At this very moment, I earnestly realized that Kawabata has always been communicating about the silence that overwhelms human sentimentalities and life as we know it. And, I like an ignorant fool was unaware of the very institution that was assisting me not only to read Kawabata’s thoughts but script my own. A silence that can make or break a prosperous soul.


The Milky Way, brightest star
Whistles the mountain ghost
Departed soul.

In his Nobel Prize winning speech, Kawabata emphasized on the works of Daigu Ryokan (1758-1831) and the subsequent source of inspiration for his works. Commenting on the premise of his nominated book, ‘Snow Country’ he said, “Ryokan was born in the province of Echigo, the present Niigata Prefecture and the setting of my novel Snow Country, a northerly region on what is known as the reverse side of Japan, where cold winds come down across the Japan Sea from Siberia. He lived his whole life in the snow country and to his “eyes in their last extremity…”

It is not surprising to find an ideal ode to Kawabata’s prose from one of Ryokan’s inscribed poems:-

Where beauty is, then there is ugliness;
where right is, also there is wrong.
Knowledge and ignorance are interdependent;
delusion and enlightenment condition each other.
Since olden times it has been so.
How could it be otherwise now?
Wanting to get rid of one and grab the other
is merely realizing a scene of stupidity.
Even if you speak of the wonder of it all,
how do you deal with each thing changing?

(Japanese actors essaying Shimamura and Komako in Shirō Toyoda’s ‘Snow Country'(1957))

5/5*****