What I Talk About When I Talk About Murakami

In a world where literature has crossed the boundary of books to be found in lyrics, Nobel Prize or no Nobel Prize, Murakami, for me, is the Bob Dylan of literature.


Imagine a world where cats can talk, fish rain from the sky, where a woman is omnipresent, where the soul is divided and wells are empty. Neither is it a Hogwarts nor a Wonderland; it’s not a dream, nor is it a crude reality. Far from a world of “abnormal things happening to abnormal people” or “normal things happening to normal people”, Murakami creates “stories of abnormal things happening to normal people”.

Such events and the impressions they leave in the minds of people are emotionally resonant, and universally so. I, for one, have this reminder written somewhere on my study table:

As time goes on, you’ll understand. What lasts, lasts; what doesn’t, doesn’t. Time solves most things. And what time can’t solve, you have to solve yourself.

– Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

These are oft-forgotten simple words, almost making it ironic that despite change being the only constant in our seemingly 9-5 lives, we do need to be reminded of change. This Japanese storyteller lacks a concrete plot. The events in his tales unravel in an abstract form which is only reminiscent of life itself.

Does life have a plot? Do the characters that appear in our neatly scheduled calendar-lives each have a specified function to play? If yes, are we clear in our minds about their functions? What about that man you had casual sex with on last Saturday? What about all the sleepless nights spent after a particularly tyrant schoolteacher flashes in your nightmare? That’s when Murakami outlasts the pages and slips into your very being.


The world of Murakami’s novels is inhabited by characters with Japanese names. They remind you of Salinger’s Holden. They make you feel Kafkaesque. Yet, for the first time in the literary history, these characters hail from the East of high rise buildings and modern shamans. The West, to them, is the source of jazz which constitutes a recurring theme in the sagas of these “everymen”.

This world is devoid of the homogeneity of the West as has been imposed on the East for the longest period in history. This world is of an erstwhile jazz café owner who, while being based in his native setting, stands out as a universal voice of inspiration without one didactic sentence. It’s as much your world too. It’s in the way he narrates his experience in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running that motivates you in the way your friends’ advice sometimes turns out to be more effective than that of your parents on the same issue.

On lonely nights, I read his works. I read his works on silent afternoons. I sometimes secretly aspire to write in simple language that connects to the hearts of many someday. On other occasions, I read Murakami to seek fulfillment from such sentences that make me feel as though the author was with me while writing them:

Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.

–Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

In a world where literature has crossed the boundary of books to be found in lyrics, Nobel Prize or no Nobel Prize, Murakami, for me, is the Bob Dylan of literature.

If this article makes you want to read more of Murakami, or has introduced you to him, do share. I would recommend A Walk to Kobe on Granta magazine for curious beginners who do not have immediate access to Murakami’s works.

Heels in Search of Goddess

Photograph by Rajatabha Ray

There is something about dance that makes it as much a medicine for the soul as literature. I remember the beginnings of being trained in Kathak as a child. Even though I hated taking those lessons and soon left the coaching, one thing I clearly recall about those few classes is how my teacher would emote with the music, and in no time, she would get across a state of mind to me. Back then, I used to imitate her steps, but now I know that the passion of a dancer in any auditorium is endemic. It has the power to send out waves of similar passion amongst the sea of audience. I was witness to one such endemic very recently.

Mallika Sarabhai is an activist and Indian classical dancer. She will perform a piece at the last session of day 2 at the Kolkata Literature Festival 2016. It will be a session different from the rest of the sessions because it will be a live performance. Well, if that is all you have expected from “Stri Shakti- In Search of the Goddess”, you are in for a surprise that will not only render your expectation as an understatement, but also awe the senses out of you.

There are only two temples of Draupadi in this country which otherwise makes a temple at every crossroad.

-Mallika Sarabhai

“We have to understand one thing”, began Sarabhai, “and that is, we look at everything, whether it is thought or action or language or culture or cooking from one single prism and that prism is patriarchy.” This was the theme throughout her dance drama that guided a mesmerised audience on one of the final days of Boimela through tales of those women who were not made into goddesses and those whose sufferings were deified with sexist intentions. Hence, she rhythmically narrated snippets from the Mahabharata. What universalised this narration of an Indian text set eons ago from now is the vantage point which the performer chose to narrate from. The prism of Draupadi, the princess who was commoditized several times in a ‘male-stream’ world, appealed to me- a Draupadi who, while walking through dark alleys late at night, while watching a barely dressed model campaigning for a real estate company, or even while reading in textbooks that 928 is a “satisfactory” sex-ratio, has felt disgraced. Sarabhai certainly struck a chord with her audience by switching between several characters within a matter of seconds with incomparable poise.

Every form of art, I believe, is revolution. If it does not challenge the existing norms that plague lives of many, then it is as futile as ornamentation of a naturally beautiful body. Thus she revolted, and how! From Sati’s frantic conversation with Yamraj to the childish portrayal of Nakula and Sahadeva during their encounter with a shared wife- the lady did it all. Each part of her body moved like pieces of a larger mirror- her body, reflecting a society constructed and manoeuvred by men. Her soul and her body were not isolated, but one meaningful entity that led us in the search for goddess. She redefined who a goddess is, and what parameters qualify a person as a one.

‘The Revolution introduced me to art, and in turn, art introduced me to the Revolution!’

-Albert Einstein

The vocalist and musicians aptly complemented the meaningful Search of the Goddess as Sarabhai deployed rhythm to draw home through Draupadi some often ignored arguments such as “Yes, Krishna gave me cloth but then where was Gita’s truth? Was it not needed then?” Similarly, she explicated that Sati is a ‘Sati’ not because she refused to live, but because she challenged death. This event indeed gave to us (especially those intrigued by feminist retelling of mythologies) much food for thought.

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Photo by Rajatabha Ray

It was while narrating a mythological allegory to the societal reluctance to crimes based on sexism that the brilliant dancer literally did something that we till a while ago had only been citing as an appreciation of her art; she painted an image with her footsteps, and how! When the painting was over, we, as audience, witnessed a lion (symbolic of the strength of the Goddess) before us. No doubt the performance received a standing ovation from the entire house which, I am sure, like me, will take home an inner speculation in Search of the Goddess.