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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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Comments on: "A Death in Tokyo" (6)

  1. My deepest condolences.. being sick and ill in a foreign land is worse enough, but being there for one another is the best part of our community. Neither friends nor foes, nor relatives or strangers, but just because we share the same culture, the same language and traditions, we help each other out, wherever we are.
    I don’t think non-north eastern Indians have a tradition so giving, selfless and endearing as our “tlawmngaihna”. No matter how much we may think that the feeling has died down, it is revived again each time, in each one of us when others face their worst.

    PS: Welcome back after a long break.

  2. ruolngulworld said:

    Yes, isn’t it wonderful, this ‘tlawmngaihna’ of ours?! Its so comforting to know that we are not alone, especially in times of trouble. More so when we are outside.
    I should add here that, even as we left in the evening on Sunday, there were people still coming in to offer their condolences. I didn’t realise that there were so many people from the Zohnathlak community here.

  3. My deepest condolences too.

    Even I have been to many Mizo “funeral service” outside Mizoram before they send the body home for the actual funeral. The bonhomie that exists is undeniable and this is one of the many reasons why I love our community.

    How did he die on the tracks? Any foul play suspected in the accident? Was there a postmortem done? And are they sending his body back home or burying him there? And who was he staying with in Ichikawa? I’m sorry I can’t help asking those questions. I’m just curious, maybe because of our Mizo/zohnahthlak ties.

  4. What a horrifying story. I hope the widow and children find all the strength and support they need.

  5. touched.

    reminds me of a time when everyone started chanting shri krishnam sharnam mama when the body was ready to be taken to the funeral ground. i was perplexed, because the soul seemed already in good company. then i was told, ‘it’s not for her, it’s for us. we are asking god to give us strength to cope with the loss’. every religion has such beautiful things ready for all times..

  6. Jonathan L. Inbuon said:

    Foreign a um ta hnung bera lan that ti chu a va pei mei mei, a um naw hai hman in that nuom teu teu lo…:-)

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