At some point in my life, I picked up the habit of never leaving a bookstore empty handed. It was a game of sorts, a self-proclaimed tradition or quirk, and perhaps a way of reassuring myself that I remained an ardent reader, even when most of those books remained untouched after the purchase.
Recently it has evolved into a different kind of addiction – the challenge of picking up books at airport bookstores that simultaneously fit my budget and are off my beaten track. I picked up two at the outset of my last journey – The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing and Japonisme by Erin Nimi Longhurst. The former has been resting at the bottom of my bag for more than a week while the latter has been a fascinating travel companion.
It is a compilation of nuggets of Japanese wisdom, culture and philosophy that feels refreshing and personal at the same time.
My introduction to Japanese culture happened when S mentioned the word ‘komorebi‘ to me once. He has an anonymous penpal who goes by the name. Komorebi is Japanese for sunlight that filters through the leaves of a tree. I instantly lost my heart to the word, and that was just the beginning. I also remember S telling me about the concept of ‘kintsugi‘ another time (he used to serve as my personal encyclopedia), the Japanese art of fixing broken things like cutlery where the cracks are highlighted in gold instead of being hidden, so that the object becomes all the more beautiful and valuable, like broken people usually are. A couple of years ago, MB introduced me to ‘ikigai‘, the blissful state in one’s life where one’s vocation, profession, mission and passion coincide – again, an eye-catcher that didn’t fail to awe. Needless to say, the book has proven to be a valuable find.
It’s always a fascinating feeling when you find words that describe things that you feel and could never elucidate on your own. I suppose that’s what I love most about Japanese. All these words for feelings of longing and sadness and nostalgia and beauty and endurance and… well, life. Like the various facets of love – koi, the selfish romantic love that keeps seeking and may remain unreciprocated, and ai, the giving, mutual, unshakeable love. Like natsukashii, a feeling of nostalgic happiness that’s tinted with just a bit of wistful poignancy, and evokes an emotion or a memory, perhaps through a scent or a scene or an article of clothing or food. Like mono no aware, the gentle sadness and sensitivity towards the inevitable ephemeral nature of life, and how everything, everything, happens for the last time once, even if you never really noticed at the time.
As I read through, I find myself sighing, smiling, accepting, and feel just the slightest tint of heaviness in my soul.
Perhaps it’s all the golden dust lining the cracks.