Thursday, May 5, 2016

What's in a name?

Thoughts flow in and out of our mind. If we observe our thoughts and behaviour, we will note that they can be inconsistent, so random and inconsequential. There are times these unruly thoughts lead to some resemblance of an epiphany but very often they are fleeting and volatile. As life progresses, if we do not pay attention, unresolved issues from our past get carried along and become embedded in our subconscious mind like a growth. Grudges and disappointments unwittingly affect our point of view and behaviour in general. I feel that the past is imbued with the elements of a dream and what we remember about  the past may not be accurate as it is probably what we remember remembering about the past.

Often we view ourselves in the way we think that is how the others see us.In one sense, growing up means we should be able to know when to care and not care about things that happen to us or said about us. Nothing is certain, everything in life is subject to change. Life is full of challenges even in its banality thus  there is  nothing wrong to crave some sense of predictability in our  everyday life. There are times when certain unresolved memories from the past crop up to haunt us and makes it necessary for us to revisit the past just like Tsukuru Yazaki, the main character in Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the novel written by Haruki Murakami.

At a public high school In the suburbs of Ngoya, Tsukuru belongs to a rare and harmonious group of friends where all but he had a family name corresponding to a colour : White, Black ,Red and Blue. Red and Blue are boys and White and Black are girls. Tazaki was the only last name that did not have a colour in its meaning.

His father had been the one who named him. Well before Tsukuru was born, his father had already decided on his name. Why was unclear. Maybe it was because his father had spent many years of his own life far removed from anything having to do with making things. Or maybe at some point he’d received something akin to a revelation – a bolt of unseen lightning, accompanied by soundless thunder, searing the name Tsukuru in his brain. But his father never spoke of where he’d gotten the idea for the name. Not to Tsukuru, and not to anybody else.

When it came to which Chinese character he would choose to write out “Tsukuru,” however – the character that meant “ create,” or the simpler one that meant “make” or “build” ----his father couldn’t make up his mind for the longest time. The characters might read the same way, but the nuances were very different. His mother had assumed it would be written with the character that meant “ create,” but in the end his father had opted for the more basic meaning.’

Tsukuru goes to Tokyo for his sophomore years.  One day he is told that the group no longer wishes to have further contact with him. He quietly carries the pain of rejection into his adulthood. When he is a grown man, he makes two friends, one is Haida who draws him into the realm of classical music and when he plays a recording of Liszt’s “Years of Pilgrimage”, it reminds him of his school friend , Shiro (White)who plays “Le Mal de Pays” beautifully. When Haida vanishes from Tsukuru’s life, he has left behind the record set of “Years of Pilgrimage”. Tsukuru feels that he is an empty vessel and when people come to him, they discover how empty he is, and leave and sometimes they leave behind a momento, like Haida and the boxed set of Years of Pilgrimage.

Maybe I am just an empty, futile person, he thought. But it was precisely because there was nothing inside of me that these people could find, if even for a short time, a place where they belonged. Like a nocturnal bird seeks a safe place to rest during the day in a vacant attic. The birds like that empty, dim, silent place. If that were true, then maybe he should be happy he was hollow.

When Tsukuru meets Sara , the latter senses that the former has to rid of  the pain of the loss of his four school friends, thus she insists that he seeks them out. He must find out  the reason that they no longer wish to have  any further contact with him. After Sara has made on line search through Google, Facebook and Twitter, she provides him the information about his friends who are located as close as his boyhood home of Nagoya and as far as Finland.

Even though he is successful as a young man, Tsukuru has low regard for himself. He works as an engineer and builds and refines railroad stations. He is the kind of person who craves stability. The only real interest he has is train stations so he ends up working in an area where his passion lies.

Finland is his first trip abroad and when he arrives at Helsinki, he feels no different than when he had gone back to his hometown, ‘only the currency  in his wallet had changed’.

 “Where are you from?” asked the taxi driver in English, shooting Tsukuru a glance in the rearview mirror. He was a middle-aged man with a full, thick beard.
“ Japan,” Tsukuru replied.
That’s a long way to come with so little luggage.”
“ I don’t like heavy baggage.”
The driver laughed. “Who does?But before you know it, you are surrounded by it. That’s life. C’est la vie.” And again he laughed happily.
Tsukuru laughed along with him.

Coffee is the drink for Tsukuru and the characters in the story. As someone who loves coffee and cares  about the roast of the beans, I appreciate  one particular quote from the book The fresh smell of coffee soon wafted through the apartment, the smell that separates night from day.' click

Unlike the Murakami’s other books, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki is rather casually written with the usual wry observations interjected by the author. Since I do not read Japanese,  I can only read the English translation copy of the novel. I like  the minimalist writing style as I  can glide through the story in one sitting.

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