Kafka on the Shore

Except during summer, I do not remember dreams. My dreams are not so vivid neither so fantastic nor so mad in other weather. The past few days of early winter, however, have been very different. My mind has been churning with confused, half-formed thoughts.

Disclaimer: You will be subjected to some of that later in the post. This is not just stream of consciousness. This is stream of consciousness in dreams. You have been warned.

Importantly, I have been reading what will definitely be one of the most seminal books I have read in recent times. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I have actually been on a Murakami diet ever since Dr. Daya decided I must bring in my 30th with Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase. I was hooked.

On a recent date with the Consort while we were window-shopping books, I saw Kafka on the Shore and Franz Kafka’s The Trial sitting side by side on the same shelf. Surely, a sign? But the price was out of my idle-rich budget. Also I wasn’t sure if reading surreal literature and existential literature was good for my already nihilistic state of mind. That’s when Consort decided to show me who the man is in the relationship and bought them for me complete with love notes on the front page. And these are moments when you feel being in a relationship is worth it, after all.

The truth is, I don’t do well with the Japanese. And people of all other nationalities including Indians. I have taught three Japanese students in my lifetime and getting through 25 hours each with them, over a period of a month, was quite an ordeal. All three, though unrelated, were surprisingly alike. It could be that they didn’t know English at all but I distinctly got the feeling that they did not have a sense of humour.

The Japanese are particular. They need reasons. They need justification. They need meaning. A mere this-rule-evolved-because-of-usage, as is the case with most grammatical rules in English, makes them deeply unhappy. They squint at you slowly and with budding mistrust. Their minds while sharp is slow to arrive at conclusions. Once they arrive at a conclusion though, they do not unbend. They get colder and more distant. When it comes to studying English grammar in India, they conclude they are being conned by a teacher who doesn’t know enough herself. The only time they were reassured that I actually knew my subject was when I taught them verbs. My lesson on English verbs is always extremely detailed and of course, verbs are very logical. After that, the classes sped on. But I carry scars. I’m sure they do as well.

They are also annoyingly polite. In Sunnyvale, I had to share a cab with an Indian and two Japanese business men. When they learnt that they were to share the cab, they were not pleased. One of them, a very handsome middle-aged man, raised one eyebrow elegantly. The other nodded coldly when the driver wished them a ‘good morning.’ When they learnt that the other Indian would be dropped first, they made a fuss. They would lose time. It was simply not done. Their body language was that of controlled fury. But they were extraordinarily polite throughout. It was quite fascinating. An explanation that the Indian man’s destination was first on the way did not suffice. Our cheery American driver had to show the map and trace the route on it. They asked him pertinent questions about routes as I watched in amusement. We were, after all, wasting precious minutes, something they seemed very particular about! When they asked him about what speed his car did, and how long it would take, and what the difference would be now that another person would be dropped first, I tuned off and stared at Indians puffing up with borrowed American pride in their SUVs on the roads. Finally, they were convinced. After a seven minute delay, we set off. Mine was the last stop and I reached my destination in ten minutes. So the actual cab drive had taken us a total of ten minutes. I laughed all day that day.

That’s Jap for you. The way I know them.

Then there is my disastrous date with Japanese food. The first time I stepped into a Japanese food section in a mall, I stepped right out. I am rude like that. Not even the promise of chicken, Teriyaki chicken, would make me venture there. In Sunnyvale during the same period as the cab incident, a few of us from the team decided to dine together. Two lovely Irish men, actually called Pat and Mike, decided we must eat Japanese. I hankered after the Afghan restaurant next door to the Japanese but everyone else, my boss woman included, was set on Japanese food. I made Pat order for me because he kept swearing by Japanese food. He agreed and started studying the menu. First confidently and then with growing trepidation. He finally ordered Chicken Tempura Udon. He said it was safe and would be good. What arrived was this.

Chicken Tempura Udon

It tasted worse than it looked. That was the night I dined on a bar of Twix and drank a litre of water before finally falling asleep. The next afternoon we had cocktails after work. Sushi with wasabi sauce accompanied our cocktails. Everyone laughed and experimented with the new cuisine while I stared depressed and hungry into my cocktail. I simply could not eat!

However, Murakami, is something Japanese that I find entirely palatable besides the geisha make-up and cherry blossoms. He is different. Glorious. Inspired. He even makes Japanese cuisine appetizing.

For a non-surreal, coherent review of Kafka on the Shore, go here.

In Kafka on the Shore, Murakami talks a lot about existential angst in his characteristic cheery, surreal way. Here cats can hold conversations. Most cats, you see, know everything. There are inexplicable incidents, bodies that betray one in dreams. The subtext is unadulterated Oedipus Rex. There is mother-love, there is sister-fucking. There is the death of the father, of Johnnie Walker, a symbolical murder of the patriarch that results in chaos. There is a simpleton who speaks to cats who has a magical umbrella. He acquires a follower, a base truck driver who through his journey falls in love with classical music and well-made coffee and who holds a meaningful discussion on Ludwig Beethoven with a very erudite librarian towards the end of the book. There is a very meaningful argument about feminism and propaganda. Colonel Sanders who is a ‘concept’ tells us why God as a concept is rubbish. There are more cats. There is a quest for meaning. There is a loss of understanding. There is the sea and a forest that lives. There is silence that speaks, silence that is heard. There is music. There is a painting. There is Kafka talking like a crow. Kafka in Czech, Murakami tells us, means crow.

As I was reading this, I was attacked by a virus. I had a nasty cold that had me sleeping for nearly two days and two nights. I had no appetite so I barely ate. When I woke, I read. I read and I slept. And I dreamt. Of cats. There just isn’t enough milk to feed all of them. No one wants to feed them fish because then the sea will be empty and that will be terrible. I cheat on the man I am in love with. Every time I cheat on him with faceless strangers, the sex gets worse till I hardly even feel it. And so I know in my dream that I really love the man I am supposed to be in love with, the man whose face I can no longer see. Then my son writes me a letter about winter. It is beautiful. I cry. Then my husbands come to me and leave me gifts. A thorny flower that has the most divine fragrance. But no one can hold it and we don’t know how to enjoy it because it is so thorny. A blanket. It is blue and has a hole. The hole leaves my feet bare. I despair. Then my husbands tell me that I must get used to being poor. To console me they give me a pen that always leaks. Then they call each other on their iphones and talk for hours on it. I lose patience with all of them. I rage. I cry. I ask them what I must do about my lover. They don’t answer. So I tell them they have abandoned me. They smile and say it is time that happened and then they all leave me. Then I am with my daughter who wants to eat pizza at a time when the Americans and the Japanese are fighting, deciding to bomb each other. I tell myself I am a mother and must do what’s best for my child. I must buy her pizza. So I make up a rhyme that we both sing while a poker-faced Japanese man and a ruddy American are engaged in a staring match. The Japanese man decides to break away from the staring match. We all think the war is over. There will be no bombing now. The Japanese man accompanies us to the pizzeria. We are singing ‘pizza-pizza-who-wants a-pizza’ and laughing. I walk in to the pizzeria carrying my daughter who is about four. She is wearing red socks, a denim frock over a red t-shirt. She has her hair in a pony-tail tied with a red ribbon. All that red, I think. The door closes. I know then I am going to die. I know then I have a choice. I can rush through the door before the bomb goes off. But then I think, we anyway have to die. It might as well be now. All the while operatic music keeps swelling all around us. I sit on the chair meant for the ruddy American thinking all life is essentially meaningless. It doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do. My daughter has forgotten about the pizza and is clinging to me. I feel her weight on my body. It is heavy and I feel sweaty. That’s when I see the Japanese man press the button from outside the glass door. That is how I know I have died in a bomb blast.

And then I woke up.

This is what reading a Murakami can do to you.


About Bhumika's Boudoir

I love to laugh, and end up being a part of high drama and stormy emotion even when I don't pursue it. Being creative, and communicating with people get me going. I enjoy all the good things in life especially those that are slightly risque, and apologise little, if ever, for all that I do. Literature is a passion and so is music.
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5 Responses to Kafka on the Shore

  1. OFL Boy says:

    I should not have bought you those books. And how can you cheat on me….. 😦


  2. Nice one! I couldn’t stop chuckling over the “polite” Jap men. Speaking of Japanese books, have you read “Totto-Chan”? It’s an interesting read. http://www.amazon.com/Totto-Chan-Little-Girl-at-Window/dp/4770020678


  3. Loved the stream of consciousness which led me into different alleys. Saw your link on Damayanti’s Facebook wall and decided to stop by. Shall follow your vivid and vibrant words.

    Thanks for the lovely walk in this post.

    Joy always,


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