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The Japanese Wife

It’s true. Over the last few weeks I have not stayed true to my writing habit. But I have stayed true to my reading habit! Since the time I last posted here I have read, ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’, ‘Zero to One’, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and most recently ‘The Japanese Wife’. After that unexplained hiatus (even to myself) I hope to once again start writing here with more regularity!

The book that I want to talk about in this post is ‘The Japanese Wife’. It’s a short-stories book by Kunal Basu.

When I saw the book in a neighborhood bookstore the name did ring a bell. I had a vague recollection that there had been a movie by that name a few years back but that was the extent of it. So I read the back cover of the book, it looked interesting and I decided to get it.

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I think the short-story genre is challenging one since the author has to engage the reader and leave them with a lasting memory in a matter of only a few pages. I remember the last short story book I read was ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ by Haruki Murakami and didn’t particularly enjoy it. But that was before I was enthralled by his other works and got hooked to his world of magical realism. Note to self: Go back and read that book again!

Ok, so back to the book at hand. It’s a collection of 12 stories not all of which leave a lasting impression.

3 of my favorites were ‘The Japanese Wife’, ‘The Accountant’ and ‘Long Live Imelda Marcos’, I think in that order.

‘The Japanese Wife’ is a beautifully written story about a teacher in an Indian village, Snehmoy, and his Japanese wife, Miyage, who’ve been married for 20 years having never set their eyes on each other. They only send each other letters and gifts (you’ll love the part where the author describes the arrival of a package of kites from Japan), always tinkering with the idea of traveling to the other partner’s country but never actually doing it. They just don’t feel the need to augment their epistolary relationship with a meeting. “He knew he had Miyage as securely as any man did his willfully wedded wife, even if she didn’t sit by his side on the banks of the Matla”, the author tells us.

At one point in the story Miyage becomes really sick and Snehmoy decides to leave his village and go live with her. But he doesn’t do it. The author doesn’t really explain why. Maybe it’s because Snehmoy feels responsible for the widow, whom he was once supposed to marry, and her boy. Personally I think it would have made for a very poignant moment if they were to meet after all those years of being married. But of course the author had other ideas for an ending, equally poignant as well. Even though the ending is tragic, the story does leave you with a warm feeling that love is an emotion that can transcend a lot of logical things!

The other story that I really liked was ‘The Accountant’. Another fantastical premise where an old accountant, Mr Ray from South Delhi, in the dull and mundane of his life, starts to remember vivid details of a previous life when he was a Persian architect who traveled to India to be one of the architects for the inimitable Taj Mahal. His name, Chota Mimar.

It was once again a beautifully written story especially the part where the author describes how the Chota Mimar is smitten by a Hindustani woman and goes searching for her in the back lanes of bazaars and other parts of Agra at night. I remember reading this story sitting in the hustle and bustle of a neighborhood cafe and thinking that one of these days, sitting in one of these cafes, reading one of these books, I hope I too start to remember some things from a previous life. Aah..what would that be like! A bit troubling but I wouldn’t mind it much!!

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