As I’m squished in the back seat of the taxi, one hand gripping the headrest of the driver’s seat, cursing the awkward width of my childbearing hips while the man nods off against the back of my head almost to the beat of a metronome set on largo, I begin to narrate the day to myself:
I wake up this morning like any other morning for the past week now, quick to listen to BBC World and its affiliates for the latest developments in Japan and elsewhere. During a breakfast of chai and porridge, I read about the rape of an 11-year-old girl, which can be added to the long list of atrocities committed against young women all over India, most recently the widely-publicized murder of a Delhi student. I take my bath and wash up in haste, and soon make my way down the hill to the taxi stand. The shared cabs are located at the meat stalls, where one finds chickens,
pigs, and goats hanging from metal hooks from morning until night; I shoo away the flies from the interior of the vehicle. I am the first one in, and so I wait for 5 more occupants, who are typically comprised at least one freshly-shampooed female student, one or two plains men, a Khasi boy, and one or two tribal girls. They arrive, and we leave.
After class, I have tea and a nondescript muffin with a few classmates before going to the library. For a break, I turn to the National Geographic collection, and pick up a volume from my birth year. I come across an article by William Graves, with photography by (one of my favourites) David Alan Harvey: Tokyo: A Portrait of Success. The piece eerily begins: “It was the earthquake’s second shock that caught me by surprise. When the first tremor struck, I did all the right things: shouted ‘Jinshin!’ (Earthquake!) to the two children, snapped off the apartment’s gas main, pushed the youngsters under the kitchen table, and joined them there as the room rocked violently around us.” Graves continues to narrate the profile of a truly remarkable cityscape, touching on the notion of the Japanese spirit, yamato damashii, that “succeeds when all else fails.” He closes with reference to Kiyoshi Muto, the man who developed the architectural principle of jukozo, derived from the theory of flexible structure behind Japan’s old pagodas. In response to an inquiry about the predicted “big one” in Tokyo, Muto responds, “as for skyscrapers, they would stand. They would sway like the hula dancers in your Hawaii Islands, they would bend and ripple, but they would not break and they would not fall. They are designed to stand the very worst.” Graves concludes: “Far from abandoning the past, it is actually building on it for the future. There is no better foundation in the world.”
I leave the library after everyone else, when the cold comes with the quiet. How quickly the tall, noble pines basking in the afternoon sun turn into ghostly, towering figures against the gray firmament, stuck in between the fall of dusk and the onset of night. The air smells of smoke.