The Japanese Wife is a collection of twelve short stories written by Kunal Basu who is an Indian writer of English Fiction. Basu has also written four novels – The Opium Clerk, Racists, The Miniaturist and The Yellow Emperor’s Cure. The Japanese Wife deals with varied themes and the stories lay an emphasis on the geography as well for example the flood prone Matla River. Like every short story collection, there were some of them which were to put it quite honestly – boring (but we won’t talk about them). Here are the three stories which I loved and why –
- THE JAPANESE WIFE: The very first story in the book and the first sentence had me gripped – ‘She sent him kites.’ It’s about a Math teacher named Snehmoy who had an unusual marriage with his pen friend Miyage from Japan. They write letters to each other and share an unbreakable bond despite never meeting each other. Their marriage is seventeen years strong and that’s when Miyage falls sick and Snehmoy decides to consult a doctor. That’s when he also realizes that he can do nothing to help Miyage without her physical presence. On his way back, the weather turns harsh with violent rain and he contracts pneumonia and passes away. The story ends with Miyage visiting the house of the late Snehmoy in a white sari and shaven head.
Why read it – It’s a love story so innocent and pure that it would make your heart burn. You’ll experience longing, joy, fear and a range of emotions which would leave you quite frazzled and finally you will experience peace with a hint of sadness. Peace, because despite the odds of Miyage ever being able to make it to India, she turns up at his doorstep and it makes you realize the invincibility of human beings. It leaves you a little teary-eyed as well because it’s simply, hauntingly beautiful and you can feel it.
The story was also made into a film by Aparna Sen
- LONG LIVE IMELDA MARCOS: Despite the queer title and the political connotations attached to it, the story has nothing to do with Imelda Marcos. It’s about a Filipina maid named Mary who works for a Bengali couple in Hong Kong. Mary is the ultimate housekeeper who is ‘chaos intolerant’ and is absolutely brilliant at her job. She not only looks after their household but gradually becomes an irreplaceable part of their lives to the extent that they begin to see her as their guardian. It is only when Mary falls in love with Yusuf, a Gujarati Muslim that they start worrying about her and discuss at length whether what she was doing was right almost as if she were their own daughter. They brood over her going on dates with Yusuf and whether he would propose to her as if she was a member of their family. When Yusuf returns to his town in Gujarat in order to tell his family about Mary, he doesn’t return for days. Mary is perturbed but doesn’t disclose this to her ‘master’ and ‘mistress’. Yusuf dies in the Gujarat riots and Mary realizes this while watching the news at the couple’s house. Within a week Mary leaves without even giving them a notice. Three years later, Mary sends them a photo of her family which includes her husband Manuel and their son Joseph who has the exact same eyes as that of Yusuf.
Why read it – This story does a remarkable job of bringing out the invisible lines which divide people in fiduciary relationships even as we try to consciously ignore them. Mary’s distance from her employers doesn’t mean that she loved them any less but the mere fact that they were someone for whom she worked and not her friends. It also makes us aware of the countless number of Yusufs who lost their lives in the Gujarat riots and the many unhappy endings of love stories like that of Mary’s.
- LOTUS DRAGON: This is a historical fiction which takes place during the Tiananmen Square uprising. It deals with a married couple who are both professors – Dr. Rudra Narayan and Dr. Supriya Sircar. They plan to visit China for their honeymoon and find themselves amidst the tense environment of a revolution. They also meet Wang who is their student interpreter who offers them to show all the places around and gradually becomes quite close to them – ‘They took him under their wings. Before long he became their friend, their child – like newlyweds they planned around their newly born.’ At the same time, the uprising gains momentum and Wang helps them by explaining everything which was happening around them – the gatherings, the flags, the marches, and the heightened security. However, both of them struggle with understanding the actual pulse of the situation. When the situation gets really out of control the Embassy arranges an evacuation for them. They also visit the ill-fated square and try to breathe in the essence of an uprising and while they are at it, Supriya informs Rudra that she has a tumor in her brain and they return to India. Five years later, Wang calls Rudra and both of them reminiscence about their time in China. However, when Wang asks to speak to Supriya, he hangs up and stares at her photo which was taken in China during their honeymoon.
Why read it – Kunal Basu perfectly captures the whirlwind of emotions which a visitor feels when he or she is stuck in a foreign land amidst something huge and revolutionary. A visitor doesn’t understand the depth or meaning of what is going on and is often drawn towards the events while worrying about personal safety. The friendship which thrives between the couple and Wang is portrayed in such a realistic way that you would find yourself relating to it. It is a story which makes you think about a revolution in a very subtle manner.
It is not often that I am moved by a book let alone short stories. As an ardent book lover I take immense pride in the number of trashy books that I have read (how else would you know how to distinguish between good and bad?) but I also believe that apart from possessing the superhuman strength to endure lousy plots, pathetic tales and creepy romance, a book enthusiast needs to understand the importance of sharing the experience when he or she comes across something as splendid as The Japanese Wife. The stories are thought provoking and honest, consisting of genuine characters and Basu is a keen observer. He talks about the inexorable rules of life which the heart wants to defy vehemently but ultimately fails due to the lack of courage and the absence of choice. Some of the stories in the book aren’t worth the time but the above mentioned ones would definitely leave an impact on you.
Here’s the Flipkart link to the book (I make your life very easy, I know).
Tell me whether you liked or hated the The Japanese Wife in the comments below and for those of you who have still not read the book now is the glorious time lovelies!
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Written by- Shruti Das