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256 pages, Hardcover
First published April 16, 2019
Hiroko’s hometown is a silky courtesan who knows how to bewitch every newcomer, even in old age, with her natural sense of style, her lacquered designs; Nara is the absentminded older brother who’s forever pottering around in the garden, wondering where he put the key.Dealing with loss can generate many projections. But in Japan, perhaps, it hovers over the sturdy base of impermanence, making the resultant image a parable of quiet agility and enviable acceptance. Iyer is no stranger to this Japanese ethos, making it to this country every fall, for a quarter century now. But over the backdrop of a loss so intimate and aching, his visit this time turns especially remarkable – he sees his days consumed by visits to his mother-in-law in an old-age home, table-tennis sessions with his neighbours, errands for the house, eventful moments with his step-daughter and comforting picture of his wife living by, and reflects on the gurgling vein of life that isn’t afraid to run meek in autumn because slowing down is as significant as springing up.
What do we have to hold on to? Only the certainty that nothing will go according to design; our hopes are newly built wooden houses, sturdy until someone drops a cigarette or match.To merge the many films of past and not let the result unsettle, to hearken the heartbeat of future and not arrest its natural tempo, to extend arms to the heart’s content and scoop close the whiff of present, a walk like that in the autumn light is precisely what I took in this book. And there was no closure; just a delicate healing that descended on nerves that were hitherto unaware of their restlessness.
What do we have to hold on to? Only the certainty that nothing will go according to design; our hopes are newly built wooden houses, sturdy until someone drops a cigarette or match. As I climbed all the way up to our house, the day after everything in our lives was reduced to rubble, I saw that everything that could be replaced--furniture, clothes, books--was, by definition, worthless. The only things that mattered were the things that were gone forever. (p.202)He doesn't say what things were gone forever, and here, as occasionally elsewhere, I found the point a bit hard to fathom.
His form of Buddhism couldn't be more different from the ones practiced in Japan; he's always urging--to little avail, perhaps--his Japanese audiences to forgo their chanting and backbreaking meditation for a more analytical grappling with the central texts of Buddhism, of the kind Tibetan masters, much more philosophical, enjoy. [...] I've been in Japan long enough to see its freedom from abstraction and theories as its deepest liberation. (p.181)Precisely.
"When I came here, I was so taken by everything that was different, full of drama, so distinctly Japanese. [...] Now I see it's in the spaces where nothing is happening that one has to make a life."
"Little no-action movie," she says, visibly unpersuaded, and closing the pages of this book without needing to open them, "Rain come down window. Car stuck in traffic jam. Quiet music playing. Autumn light."