Of the 3 countries we have stayed at for extended durations, we retain the fondest memories of Japan. The most obvious reason is because we were young lovers then – not so much spouses or parents. Young love has a different headiness, not quite unlike aged scotch.
I could fill pages writing about our stay in Japan but I realise it’d get tedious. Three things stand out: the absolute loneliness which was never unhappy; the severe paucity of english reading material; and the early visits to doctors and radiologists when I conceived D there.
Much later when I watched Sophia Coppola’s ‘Lost in Translation’ it seemed it was a film especially made for lonely wives of traveling profesionals. The Tokyo British Council Library is the only branch of the famous library I know that houses no english fiction, only a few stray periodicals. It took me about 4 months before I could locate an english lending library and the prices were so exorbitant that I withdrew scorched. Finally, I found the Project Gutenberg online and rediscovered so many wonderful works anew – Metamorphosis, Age of Innocence, Tar Baby, etc. I remember reading online late into the night and marking passages with A sleeping beside me, exhausted after his 16-hr work days. If you looked out, you could see the lights of the Tokyo Bridge in the distance, the Tokyo Tower and the red and blue Citibank umbrella logo. It was in Tokyo that I discovered that tall buildings develop a society of sorts and talk to each other. Their bright twinkling lights beckoning, squabbling, comforting each other in the silent darkness.
The thing about staying abroad is that it lets free the moth trapped inside you. You can do the things you always wanted to without fear of people whispering behind your back. You can wear the shortest skirt without a care for your fat legs, or get drunk in a karaoke bar and sing ‘Save the best for the last’, or join an amateur bb team and make a fool of yourself on court, even befriend attractive ex-investment bankers who devote a lifetime to a study of Zionism.
When I try to place my stay against the backdrop of momentous events that were unfolding around me, 2 incidents stand out. The massacre in Rwanda and Saddam Hussein’s capture (reported live by CNN’s Christine Amanpur). I remember footage of the security guards probing Saddam’s teeth as I do of reading about the horrific clash between the Hutus and the Tutsis in the Japan Times. I applied for a job in the newspaper and was rejected because of my ‘gaijin’ visa status.
It was in Japan that I kept house for the first time. In a sense, it transformed me into a woman; preparing me for the responsibilities I’d have to tackle ahead. I’d never had to plan grocery shopping or evening meals before. I remember exploring cheap wines and pairing them with dinner; searing pork chops, tossing greens and chilling potato salad in the refrigerator. We rarely had any Indian meals and no matter how good or bad the food turned out, A was always happy.
Japan brought me 2 great friends – sb and sj. It was sb who introduced me to the world of free music download. That was the beginning of an incredibly rewarding habit. I’d explore and download everything from rafi to rehman and wait for A to return in the evening and check it out. Everything seemed perfect when he nodded in appreciation as Roop Kumar Rathod sang ‘khamosh raat’.
Only people who have lived in Japan are aware of the serene beauty the country possesses. There is an economy, a quiet, clean façade to its most ornamental edifices that separates Japan from European places of interest. You can never compare the Meiji Shrine or the Emperors Palace with the Buckingham Palace or the Palace of Versailles in terms of sheer scale or grandeur. But if you are someone who loves to lie on his couch in a ‘vacant or in pensive mood’, you will find quiet in the busiest corners of Japan - from the high-end stores in Ginza and the teeming nightlife of Roppongi to the lonely trails amidst the tall swaying oaks that surround the Asakusa temple.
No post on Japan would be complete without a mention of Hanami or the cherry blossom season. Whole rows of fluffy cotton-ball flowers decking row after row of cherry trees, and the early spring breeze flirting with the branches, even the sight is enough to lighten the most jaded amongst us. Later, when I witnessed autumn in Vermont with the trees sporting a fiery orange flame in the fall season, I wondered, ‘Why do I doubt His existence in my moments of distress?’
A has been running helter skelter planning the evacuation of his team from Tokyo and overseeing the migration of some critical areas of the project. I have rarely seen him more subdued. We go about our lives, attending to office and home, but deep in the recesses of the mind, the thought of how things are unfolding there nags. I hope He watches over them.