It is good to meet life sometimes; not by seeing it in the eye but by interlocking fingers and walking by its side.
In this book, Pico Iyer finds himself undertaking such a walk, under the light-heavy shadows of autumn.
Twenty-five years after he first came to Japan as a 26-year old, enthusiastic, US-based journalist, he is compelled to make an unplanned visit back. The reason? Death of his father-in-law. His wife, Hiroko, conveys this news over phone and Iyer finds himself back in the quiet, unhurried neighbourhood of Nara.
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.