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Archive for April, 2009

A Death in Tokyo

It was just after nine on Saturday night, as I was waiting for the traffic lights to turn green at Roppongi crossing on my way home from dinner with friends, that I received the call. Sawma called to inform that they were frantically trying to find him. He’d left home earlier in the day, dressed in black. He’d called all his friends to say goodbye for the last time and then switched off his phone. 

Then Puia called around eleven on Sunday morning to convey that he was no more. They had found his mangled body besides the railway tracks less than a hundred meters from where he was staying with friends. 

I did not personally know him that well, having spoken on phone with him only once or twice. The first time we spoke on phone was when he called to apologize for not being able to make it to the special dinner and get-together we had organized in our home for the Mizo/Zohnathlak community in Tokyo. He said that he had not been keeping well for some time and it had gotten worse that evening. I told him that we would miss him as we had so looked forward to him leading us in the singing of old Mizo classics after dinner. He said that he too had looked forward to the evening but was simply unable to make it in his condition. I told him to take care of himself and hoped he’d be able to make it the next time. 

My son had specially tuned our two guitars for that evening’s ‘lengkhawm’ and we’d even got new guitar strings. But, in his absence, all our grand plans for a good time singing late into the night came to nothing and the food and the dinner which was supposed to be just an excuse for getting together to sing became the main highlight of the evening. 

The first time I met him in person was at his workplace more than a year ago when, since we were passing by, my wife and I dropped by to pick up a bottle of kimchi from Puia. We shook hands, introduced ourselves, and he graciously welcomed us to Japan. Puia had already told us that he was a great singer who’d composed a few songs himself and had even recorded an album back home. That was the evening when the idea of getting together for a ‘sing-together’ of old/new Mizo songs was born. 

I next met him about a month back when we went to Ichikawa to participate in the fortnightly Mizo service. Apart from exchanging a few words after the service, I did not get a chance to talk to him further. But my kids had a great time with him in their small bedroom, singing and jamming together. I remember my daughter playing the guitar and singing while he accompanied her on another guitar, playing bass and switching to lead as the mood overtook. It was one of the images that came to mind when I heard the sad news. After a sumptuous early dinner of boiled pork and assorted Mizo dishes, we parted. That was the second time we met, and the last. 

We grabbed a quick lunch and immediately rushed to the small rented house in Ichikawa where he stayed. The place was already full of friends from the Mizo/Zohnathlak community, some of whom we had already met while most of the others we were meeting for the first time. As always, at times like this, thanks to our concept and practice of tlawmngaihna, they had all rushed to offer their condolences and offer any help they could. 

Later in the evening, we went to have a look at the place where his broken body had lain besides the railway tracks, up an embankment, visible from the house, just a few meters away. We climbed up the embankment, on top of which one came upon a breathtaking view of the Edo-gawa river which marks the border between Tokyo and Chiba. To the left was a railway bridge and to the right, about a hundred meters away, another bridge upon which one could see a constant flow of traffic coming from and going to Tokyo. Sawma pointed to the exact spot where his body had been found earlier in the day, hardly two meters and almost at touching distance from the fence, at almost the exact spot where the railway bridge began. He pointed to an opening in the fence where a determined person could have managed to squeeze himself in. We saw with fascinated horror the splotches of dried blood that the previous night’s rain had been unable to wash away. I looked beyond the river towards Tokyo, saw clouds in the horizon reflecting the last rays of the sinking sun, and, incongruously thought, what a beautiful day to die. 

We gathered round, just the fence separating us from the splotches of dried blood, a meter or two away, as our pastor said a prayer for the departed soul. As we came away, I glanced back to see one of the ladies quietly picking up a bunch of wild white flowers from the embankment and place it near the fence, a few meters away from the cursed spot. 

I was told that he left behind a wife and two young sons, aged seven and four. What tortured thoughts must have passed through his mind as he breathed his last, in a foreign land far away from his loved ones, I can not even begin to imagine. But I will ever remember him playing his guitar, singing, eyes closed, in his own world, fully into the moment, tapping his feet to the rhythm with thoughts, perhaps, of loved ones back home. Or, maybe, of some lost love, long gone. And, whatever the circumstances of his passing away, I can only wish that he has found his peace at last.

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