Categories
Index

Borderless, May 2021

Editorial

And this too shall pass… Click here to read

Translations

Songs of Seasons: Translated by Fakrul Alam

Bangla Academy literary award winning translator, Dr Fakrul Alam, translates six seasonal songs of Tagore. Click here to read.

Temples and Mosques

Kazi Nazrul Islam’s fiery essay translated by Sohana Manzoor. Click here to read.

Purify My Life

Kazi Nazrul Islam’s poem, Purify my Life, translated by Shahriyer Hossain Shetu. Click here to read.

Waiting for Godot by Akbar Barakzai

Akbar Barakzai’s poem translated by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Solus

Aditya Shankar translates a poem by Sujith Kumar. Click here to read.

The Last Boat

Tagore’s Diner Sheshe Ghoomer Deshe translated by Mitali Chakravarty with an interpretation in pastels by Sohana Manzoor. Click here to read.

Poetry

Anasuya Bhar, Scott Thomas Outlar, Saranyan BV, Matthew James Friday, Nitya Mariam John, RJ Kaimal, Jay Nicholls, Tasneem Hossain, Rhys Hughes, Vatsala Radhakeesoon, Ihlwha Choi, Himadri Lahiri, Sunil Sharma, Mike Smith, Jared Carter

Nature’s Musings

Photo-Poetry by Penny & Michael Wilkes. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

Lear and Far

As a tribute to the 209th anniversary of Edward Lear, Rhys Hughes writes of his famous poem, ‘Owl and the Pussycat’, and writes a funny ending for it rooted in the modern day. Click here to read.

Stories

If at all

Shobha Nandavar, a physician in Bangalore, depicts the trauma of Covid 19 in India with compassion. Click here to read.

First Lady

Rituparna Khan gives us a brief vignette from the life of one of the first women doctors in India, Dr Kadambari Ganguly. Click here to read.

Mr Dutta’s Dream

Atreyo Chowdhury takes us into the world of unquenchable wanderlust. Click here to read.

Neemboo Ka Achaar or Maa’s Lemon Pickle

A compelling flash fiction by Suyasha Singh hovering around food and a mother’s love. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In A Lunch Hour Crisis, Sunil Sharma raises humanitarian concerns that though raised in a pandemic-free world, have become more relevant and concerning given our current predicament. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Serve the People

Danielle Legault Kurihara, a Quebecker in Japan, writes of differences in rituals. Click here to read.

Why I write?
Basudhara Roy tells us how writing lingers longer than oral communications. Click here to read more.

The Quiet Governance of Instinct

Candice Louisa Daquin, a psychotherapist, talks of the importance of trusting our instincts. Click here to read more.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Nations without NobelDevraj Singh Kalsi takes a fresh look at national pride with a soupçon of sarcasm and humour. Click here to read.

Adventures of the Backpacking Granny

In Visit to Rural BaoyingSybil Pretious travels to spend a night with a local family in rural China in a ‘hundred-year-old home’.Click here to read.

Essays

Four Seasons and an Indian Summer

Keith Lyons talks of his experiences of seasons in different places, including Antarctica. Click here to read.

Rabindranath and the Etchings of His Mind

Anasuya Bhar explores the various lives given to a publication through the different edited versions, translations and films, using Tagore as a case study and the work done to provide these online. Click here to read.

My Experiments with Identity

Tejas Yadav explores identity from the context Heraclitus, Rumi down to his own. Click here to read.

Can Songs be the Musical Conscience of a Film?

Prithvijeet Sinha uses Gaman (Departure), a Hindi movie around the pain of migrant workers, as a case study to highlight his contention that lyrics and songs convey much in Indian films. Click here to read.

Bhaskar’s Corner

In Manoj Das – The Master Storyteller, Bhaskar Parichha pays a tribute to one of the greatest storytellers from the state of Odisha, India, Manoj Das( 1934-2021). Click here to read.

Book Excerpt

Excerpted from A Bengali Lady in England (1885): Annotated Translation with Critical Introduction to Krishnabhabini Das’ Englandey Bangamahila by Nabanita Sengupta. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

A review of Feisal Alkazi‘s memoir, Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi Padamsee Family Memoir by Rakhi Dalal. Click here to read.

A review of Shakti Ghosal‘s The Chronicler of the Hooghly and Other Stories by Gracy Samjetsabam. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Raising a Humanist by Manisha Pathak-Shelat‘s and Kiran Vinod Bhatia. Click here to read.

Interviews

Communication scholars and authors, Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia, discuss how to bring up children in these troubled times, based on their book, Raising a Humanist, which has just been released. Click here to read.

Sonya J Nair of Samyukta Poetry talks about the Samyukta Research Foundation and its affiliates and its festival, Anantha. Click here to read.

Sara’s Selections, May 2021

A selection of young person’s writings from Bookosmia. Click here to read.

Categories
Slices from Life

Serve the People

By Danielle Legault Kurihara

My father-in-law’s passing, when I was pregnant with his grandson, served as a sort of personal consecration. The Japanese family entrusted me with tasks and responsibilities from the moment of his death to the moment, three days later, when we picked his bones out of the ashes. All differences of nationality and religion flew out of the window.

Being married to the third son of a Japanese family, you could say I’m very low on the totem pole. When my mother-in-law married the eldest son of this clan in 1947, she had prestige but she lived to serve. She gained some measure of glory by giving birth to all those boys in the tatami room, but she was still the last one to use the bath water after her parents-in-law, her husband and her three young sons had soaked in it. She laughs about it now but when I asked her about Great-Grandma’s antique hand-painted silk kimonos, she said she made a big bonfire in the garden after her death and burned them all.

We got the call in the middle of the night. Otoosan had passed. As soon as my mother-in-law stepped into her husband’s room at the Veterans Hospital, or Veteru as it is called in Japan, she put everybody to work. His body had to be washed and his face shaved. My husband took me to the other side of the curtain and offered a chair. “You don’t have to do this”, he said. I could hear my mother-in-law instructing her sons. They worked in silence. I sat in the dark.

Otoosan, an architect, a father of three sons and a former soldier and prisoner of war, lived the final years of his long life in the Veteran Hospital. I had only met him once before in his home where he was spending the day as an outpatient. This man, whose powerful physique held memories of a four dan black belt judoka, was strapped in a chair, being fed by his wife. My husband said in a loud voice: “Otoosan, this is my wife. She’s Canadian”. He looked up, showed no reaction on seeing my Caucasian face and the family giggled: all in a day’s work. His son, a three dan black belt himself like a chip off the old block, took over feeding his Otoosan spoonfuls of lukewarm miso soup, their knees touching, their eyes meeting.

First Task

For my first task, after the family finished taking care of Otoosan, I was asked to sit at his bedside and wait with him while the family filled out paperwork in the office. Before leaving, my mother-in-law turned to me and said gently, “He should not be alone, you understand”. They left in the wake of two black clad white-gloved funeral employees who had appeared on cue from the shadows. There we were together, and it seemed like a moment to reacquaint myself with Otoosan, now wrapped in a pristine white sheet, only his tranquil face showing. I stared at him for a long time and finally whispered domo. It can mean hello or thank you or a mix of both. I read once that this greeting was used during the Edo Period to express a feeling of confusion or unsureness about the person one was addressing.

Second Task

For my second task, to my great surprise, my mother-in-law asked me to accompany Otoosan in the van transporting him to the family home while the others went to the funeral support company. Why me, the foreign wife married to the third son?  But everybody had a part to play in this family event and at that moment, the responsibility fell to me. I climbed into the white van to do my job.

My father-in-law and I could never have imagined making this trip together. Not in our wildest dreams. Not only were we practically strangers to each other, but we came from vastly different worlds, him an elderly Japanese man and me, a thirty-something pregnant French-Canadian. Together we crisscrossed the empty streets in the cold white van, side-by-side, his body wrapped in a shroud on a futon near me. In winter, three am is a dark and deep hour but I was told Otoosan was still here among us, in the realm between two worlds. He had just begun his last pilgrimage. Knowing this, I somewhat felt less forlorn traveling through the winter night, so far away from my country and my own cultural bearings. But that’s beside the point. I had a responsibility to fulfill.

Third Task

The porch light was on, the house already wrapped in black and white stripped cloth swaying in the dark as Otoosan was carried inside his home through the front door. He was laid to rest on a futon in the tatami room, two decorative lanterns like fancy bookends framing his bed. A black-and-white photo of Otoosan looking strong and serious sat in the middle of an altar among candles, chrysanthemums and fruit. In the pale yellow light of the lanterns, we dressed him in his white pilgrim garb for his 49-day journey to the Pure Land, following a hierarchical order. His wife put a white cap on his head and rice in the small pouch hanging from his neck, his sons smoothed out the white coat folded in reverse, and I slid, as best as I could while kneeling on the tatami, white cloth slippers over his feet. This was my third and last task of the night. The wake would start tomorrow. My husband, looking sad and exhausted, said, “We will sleep here next to him. Go home to get some rest.”

Fourth Task

The next day I stepped over the rows of slippers now crowding the spotless entrance step of the family home like a military parade. My mother-in-law, in her formal black silk kimono stamped with the family crest on the back collar, glided between the tatami room and the adjoining kitchen on her blinding white tabi socks. A diminutive powerhouse, married to an eldest son. I looked down at my rather homely nondescript black maternity dress.

For my fourth task, she directed me to take down from the cupboards the fancy sets of dessert dishes and tea cups, wash them thoroughly, dry them rigorously and set them out on the table. “Don’t break anything!” she chided with a smile in her eyes. I also had to wipe clean the large decades-old bone china serving platters and stack them with oranges, the locally-grown fruit. I took a certain pleasure in displaying them in a Jackson Pollock style. One way or the other, I knew they would be rearranged.

Early evening, relatives and acquaintances arrived in black suits and dresses to whisper condolences to my mother-in-law who bowed deeply to each guest. The mourners filled the tatami room, all sitting seiza before Otoosan. Leaning in, they greeted each other quietly.

Suddenly there was a commotion. The priest strode in like the phantom of the opera, his magnificent black kimono robes and glitteringvestment swooshing around him. We snapped to attention, backs straight, holding our Buddhist rosaries between clasped hands.  He greeted us, kneeled in front of Otoosan and started chanting in a loud sonorous voice. I was sitting on a stool in the back. I could never sit seiza and being pregnant did not help my cause.

It seemed like the chanting lasted forever. Just as I started dozing off in the stuffy incense-filled tatami room, my husband began to heave. I realized with horror that he was trying to suppress what looked like a maniacal laugh. Eyes staring ahead, his mouth half-closed, he repeated several times in a strained voice, “Snoopy, look, Snoopy!”. From the ceiling lamp a small plastic Snoopy wearing a red fireman hat was dangling from a string just above the bald head of an old uncle. My husband left the room to bawl in the bathroom. I sat on my stool thinking about the Japanese character in the movie Snow Falling on Cedars, how his stereotyped stoic face had changed his fate.

Fifth Task

After the service I strolled into the kitchen to get a drink. There stood one of the elder female relatives, erect in her black kimono. She had now officially taken over duties while my mother-in-law was busy chatting with the guests. I had met her only once and this time she looked at me with what seemed like shiny panther eyes, ready to pounce. In a flash I was thrown into the deepest end of the hierarchical senior-junior relationship: Cinderella, the wife of the youngest son. Serve more tea! Boil more water! Offer sweets! Wash these dirty cups! I was learning humility on the spot, my only stunned response being a weak Hai! I began shuffling around in my black stockings, looking busy and alarmed, set on doing my duty.   A Mao slogan popped into my head: Serve the People, for I was living a cultural revolution of my own. I just could not imagine this scenario happening in my country.

The wake lasted two more days. People came and went, and we ate our meals together just two meters away from Otoosan. We re-arranged flowers, sat near him and chatted. He was never alone. Some family members talked to him. On the morning of the fourth day, the family lined up from the house to the hearse. Otoosan exited his home feet last to the mournful sound of the car horn. No birds, no wind.

For the ceremony at the large funeral hall, the priest recited the sutras in front of Otoosan’s photo and a magnificent flower display. So many mourners, in slippers, paid their respect with incense and prayers at Otoosan’s casket. Each person brought incense grains three times to their forehead before finally depositing them in the incense burner. After the eldest son gave the customary speech, we lined up in order of importance to receive condolences. I was last of course but wholeheartedly included. “You must be Yoshiro’s wife,” some of Otoosan’s elderly friends exclaimed, naturally mistaking me for the second son’s spouse, the one working abroad. 

We followed the hearse to the crematorium and, huddled together in front of Otoosan, we said goodbye to his earthly envelope before he was sent off for cremation. In the meantime, we all gratefully sat down to a feast of large bento lunchboxes filled with rice balls, potato salad, fried chicken and pickles. Relatives from far and near sat close to my mother-in-law, some lay back on the tatami, some loosened their ties and belts and others had loud conversations over the long low tables. I sat on a stool devouring my food. Pregnancy made me hungry.

Sixth Task

Finally, we were called in to pick Otoosan’s bones from the ashes and transfer them to an urn. As he handed me a pair of large chopsticks, my husband said, “You don’t have to do this”. But I wanted to do it. By that time, I had had four days to acquaint myself with Otoosan and with death while going about my tasks in the living family home. The family put Otoosan’s bones in his urn in a matter-of-fact way. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

On the 7th day of his passing, a sunny winter day, we stood in front of the imposing family grave while the eldest son placed Otoosan’s urn alongside those of his forefathers, under the heavy slab of rock at the foot of the stone monument. Only first sons and their wives are included. It looks like my husband and I will have to find our own resting place in Japan. 

I think my mother-in-law worries that her eldest son’s eldest son will not be able to carry on the tradition of caring for the family grave. He doesn’t have a son to continue the lineage, only daughters. But then again, my mother-in-law stoically goes with the flow of life and change. I was part of this flow. Twenty-three years after Otoosan passed on, she apologised for imposing on me the task of riding with him from the hospital to the family home. On the contrary, it was an honour.

I fulfilled my role as the third son’s wife the best I could to assist the Japanese family mourn Otoosan. On my next trip to the home country, it wouldn’t kill me to brush leaves or snow off the headstones of my loved ones, bring flowers or have a look at their urns through the glass. I might linger and tell them about me, my son, the Japanese family. I also need to discuss my resting place among them. Who knows, maybe my husband and my son will come from Japan to help me.

Glossary

Sieza – formal Japanese sitting posture (on your knees)

Hai—Yes in Japanese.

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Danielle Legault Kurihara, a Quebecker, lives in Japan. She writes about her expat life and her bicultural son. She writes for him.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.