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Japan Diaries 4

Driving in Tokyo with Laltuoklien

October 8 was the ‘Autumnal’ Equinox or ‘Shubun’ in Japanese, a public holiday in Japan, marking the end of autumn and the beginning of winter. As if on cue, I was met by a cool, slightly chilly wind as I stepped out for my morning jog that morning. The previous day had been quite a warm and sunny day but overnight the clouds came and brought about such a change in the weather that I decided to wear my jacket/coat to office. It turned out to be a wise decision because by the time I left office that evening, the air had definitely turned cool with a hint of winter chill in the air. The sudden drop in temperature from a warm and comfortable Sunday to a decidedly cool and slightly chilly weather the next day could have been just a coincidence. The slight drizzle in the morning and during the day of course contributed to the difference. But still, I could not but wonder at the way it suddenly turned cool the very day it was officially declared that winter had begun. Even the weather gods here work according to a schedule.

It was also the day I started driving with Laltuoklien in Tokyo. I finally located my ‘BBC London Airport’ album that morning. As soon as I got into my car, Deep Purple exited my car tape and Laltuoklien made himself at home in their place. As the pilot (David Buhril with his American accent) announced the last and final call for Laltuoklien to board flight 007 for BBC London airport, my mind drifted back to that evening. Laltuoklien in his trademark ‘Texas lukhum’ belting out his new ‘BBC London Airport’ on our rooftop in Sector-8, R.K. Puram. The barbeque sizzling with marinated beef, Khubchand pork, Indira Market chicken and good friends gathered round it like a ‘meiphu’. The foggy Delhi night and the slight chill that portended the coming of winter added to the magic that took us back to our carefree yesteryears when we would gather round the ‘meipui’ on a cold winter’s night back home. With our very own ‘Farmer Rocker’ to serenade us that evening, I think each one of us was transported back to a more simple time and era when more often than not the most important thing was which ‘nunghak’ we would ‘leng’ that evening, or whether we would manage to get tickets for that evening’s show at one of the two Cinema halls in town.

Since then, Laltuoklien has become one of my constant companions during the two hours I spend daily in my car getting to and from office. Apart from the usual suspects from the world of Hmar and Mizo music as well as other regulars from the world of Country to Rock and even the occasional Heavy Metal, Laltuoklien’s unique interpretation of the world have kept me company in this burstling metropolis where I don’t even know my own neighbour who lives next door. I may now live in one of the most modern cities of the world but I still have to find a way to shake the memories of my beloved land, society and friends and memories of the good times we shared. Indeed, it is these very memories and the ever present hope that we will someday be back that help me retain my sanity and give me comfort so far away from home.

Our shifting to a quieter part of Tokyo to be near the children’s schools seems to also have contributed to our longing for the hustle and bustle of daily life as we know it in India. Here, my daily drive from home to office takes about an hour on Route 246, one of the busiest roads in Tokyo. Cocooned in my air-conditioned car with only my music for company, the drive sometimes takes on surreal qualities compared with the driving I had become so accustomed to in Delhi. The road I take is basically a six-lane highway with three lanes on each side. In India, one would just zoom along zig-zagging and taking whatever lane promises the least amount of obstacles. Here, everyone sticks to their lane even if the next lane is practically empty. Changing lanes is done only when you have to turn into another road or you have reached your destination. I find that I now have to ‘unlearn’ all those little tricks that enabled me to sneak in and overtake the car in front or beat the red light and survive my daily commute to and from office in Delhi. Driving in a place where rules are rules and where even a tiny infraction is unthinkable is a far cry from the chaotic streets of Delhi. But I’m already beginning to miss the chaotic streets of Delhi where it was basically every man for himself and it was survival of the most daring.

The unnatural quietness, apart from the powerful sounds of the occasional 500-1000cc bikes flitting in and out of traffic between the thousands of car moving at a snail’s pace during mid-morning traffic, is also something unimaginable in Delhi where the car horn is meant to be honked at every opportunity. Here, a driver using the horn does so to convey that he/she is extremely angry/upset at something another driver may have done. Thus, given the discipline and serenity of the Japanese people, it is as if someone forgot to fit the cars here with horns. I remember our time in Milan where our car horn did not work but I hardly even noticed it because there simply was no chance to use it. I drove that car for three years all over northern Italy and once to Switzerland but never got round to fixing the horn because it was never really needed. My car now has a perfectly working horn but except for the one time I pressed it by mistake as I waited for the lights to turn green, I honestly do not remember having used it here during the two months I have now been driving in Tokyo. The surprised and somewhat condescending and sneering looks I got from all the drivers around me for that one mistake was itself enough to make one swear to never ever press the horn again.

The absence of sound – of people talking, of music blaring from the next apartment or the next car, of children laughing and shouting at each other, of cars honking, of people quarreling……. – these are some of the things I have begun to miss most here. We live in a two-storey apartment block with six apartments – all occupied. At least four of the families, including ours have school-going children. But, so far, I have not yet heard the sound of children (not to speak of adults) talking, shouting, crying, quarrelling or even playing music. I have yet to even hear the sound of a television set or a music system from any of our neighbours. If I were to ask those of you who have known and seen my children to give me a list of their qualities or things they could be accused of, I am sure accusing them of being too noisy or boisterous would probably not even figure in that list. But here, we have to almost constantly tell them to tone things down. So quiet is the neighbourhood we live in that it sometimes feels like we are living in ghost town, especially after 8 in the evening when the only sound that comes in from outside is the distant sound of traffic crossing a flyover located about half a kilometer from our house.

I remember Pu Malsawmthang telling me that the Japanese are at least 100 years ahead of us in almost everything. After living here for more than three months now, I could not agree with him more. Perhaps that is the reason we still don’t feel settled here. We miss the chaos, the dirt, the noise, the shouting, the haggling, the bargaining, the fun and joy of playing the music system at full volume, the intimacy and joy of good friends gathered round on a weekend singing Pu Muong’s (L.Keivom) classics with the man himself at the guitars. I am beginning to seriously doubt that we will ever feel at home here. I never thought I’d miss the grime and dirt of Delhi, but I am now beginning to.

(16 Oct 2007)


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