By Prateek Agarwal
Edited by: Dr Swatii Chandak
Imagine this: there’s a machine that can download your brain onto a computer and save it as a file in computer’s hard drive. All of your preferences, likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, aspirations, memories, Secrets and fantasies are right there in that file and can be loaded up into a program that would turn the computer into a perfect, if temporary, Synthetic replication of “you”.
The computer could then do most tasks that you do, with the same tastes and preferences as yourself. It could create your boss’s favorite complex project reports, find and order a new Curtain set for the living room, do research for a project at work, do your taxes, calculate savings for your dream holiday destination, all while you sleep or sit on the couch and get fat.
In a way, it would be “you,” yet it would reside completely outside of your body and conscious awareness. A replica of you, yet not the one “you” that’s known to the world. Are you still you? Or some weird, new entity like yourself? Which “you” is real, the one sitting on the couch or the one in the computer file?
I recently encountered these and so many other astonishingly perplexing, yet tremendously intriguing questions as I got introduced to this maestro Japanese writer called “Haruki Murakami.”
Being a member of Jaipur Book Lovers (JBL) which is arguably Jaipur’s largest book club (started about a couple of years back), I do get notifications about its events on WhatsApp, Facebook and other channels that I have subscribed to. That morning, while I was about to get ready for office, my phone buzzed as it was a message sent by one of the Jaipur Book Lovers members. The message said something like this: “As the next meetup date is upon us, in this meetup we’re going to discuss the works of Haruki Murakami, A Japanese writer and one of the world’s best living novelists.”
Hmm. A Japanese writer, Not my cup of tea, I thought, but they told he’s “one of the world’s living novelists,” I’ve never heard the name before though.
As I spoke to a few of the JBL members, I was told that the works of Haruki Murakami had been translated not only in English but more than 60 other languages. He’s got numerous internationally significant awards besides often been mentioned as a possible recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature (which is still a speculation though).
The icing on the cake was my search of his name on the internet that brought about 492,000 results on Google, 1,305,208 votes on Goodreads, various articles in New York Times, The Guardian ETC. I felt like the entire world knows about his work and I’m the only one oblivious.
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
As I stumbled upon this quote by Murakami, I felt as if Murakami has written this only for me (This was a line from Murakami’s famous novel “Norwegian Wood”).
One of the JBL members suggested the short story “Town of Cats” to start with that I chose to read. The story was an amazing piece of writing. I loved how Murakami turned something ordinary into an extraordinary story. How he played with words and phrases with such brilliant and never-read-before use of metaphors, telling the story without directing readers to the conclusion and rather let them wonder about the possibilities that might occur. I was drawn to his writing style and read a couple of more of his books “What I talk about when I talk about running” and “Kafka on the Shore.” I not only loved the writing style, but I also wanted to participate actively in the meetup that was being organized by JBL to discuss the works of Haruki Murakami.
Note: Reading books on decided topic before meetup is not a condition by the club. I just chose to read as a personal interest in exploring and actively participating.
On a much awaited and highly anticipated Sunday morning, I reached Rambagh Golf Club (The venue for the meetup). I reached 10:45 AM something while the meetup had to start 11:00 AM, but saw some book lovers already there, excited for discussing Murakami’s work. Some of the members came equipped with Murakami’s books while most members had their notebook and pen in hand, ready to express and explore the works of the maestro.
Dr. Manu, the co-ordinator for the meetup stood and started with welcoming members followed by ashort introduction to the topic to set the tone, and then held an incredible discussion.
“My name is Ravi, and I work as a special educator,”A member opened up his speech. “I introduced myself this way because of Murakami’s work given me an interesting insight into who I am. Actually, what is my name and what do I work for a living does not constitute who I am”.
In the discussion that followed, it expressed that formation and construction of one’s identity is a complex question. What we come to see as ourselves, our identities — what we’re good at, what we look like, what we believe in, what we value – are constructed by various factors that come into play.
In the novel ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World’, characters like Kumiko and Cinnamon get to be the way they are, for it begins with the forcible removal of the protagonist’s “shadow” (kage). In the end, the protagonist and his librarian friend, both of whom retain traces of their shadows but not enough to be considered “whole,” are given the opportunity to escape the town, presumably back to the conscious world, but they elect not to do so. At the same time, not wishing to return to the mindless stagnancy and control of the town, they choose a third option: to stay in the forbidden forest outside the town, where they will, presumably, attempt to reconstruct (or construct a new) their lost selves.
At my turn, I talked about the short stories as well as books I read. I discussed“What I talk about when I talk about running,” which is Murakami’s memoir about a part of life, particularly about how he became a writer. It’s an incredible account of Murakami’s personal experience where he tells from his life the similarities between running and writing. Just as it is Murakami’s specialties of using metaphors, he used running as a metaphor and gave extremely powerful, practical lessons to writers about how they can write well on a consistent basis.
Several members there agreed and told about how much they liked the book.
Kafka on the Shore was the book which many members have talked about, mainly admiring the uncanny yet a fascinating use of metaphors and the magical realism that Murakami has used in this as well as in his other works.
Just like the computer file analogy I’ve given at the beginning of this article, one gets to ponder when reading Murakami’s work if what we hear, see, speak and feel is real? Is the world that we’re living in, things that we possess, people that we’re living with, place that we’re living in are real? Is the reality that exists outside our minds and our consciousness truly there, does it exist? If so, how does it exist? How, actually do we comprehend its existence?
The discussion continued as members shared brilliant perspectives about his other works such as novels, various short stories as well as other books including ‘underground’, ‘Norwegian Wood’, ‘Sputnik Sweetheart’, ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’, ‘Dance Dance Dance’, ‘1Q84’ and others.
One of the members, Shubham highlighted Murakami’s style of including various animals as characters and that Murakami’s simplicity, efficacy, and ability to surprise readers is remarkable, which he can relate to the work of George R R Martin.
An interesting discussion about the translation of Murakami’s work also took place, highlighting the notable differences between his original writing that are in Japanese and the English translation which we get to read.
There had been a polite debate with some member telling that the work of Haruki Murakami is not everyone’s cup of tea, which I disagree. I believe that no matter what your literary taste is, Murakami’s writing does have the power to leave you mesmerized and spellbound.
In Murakami’s words, in fact:
“I think of human existence as being like a two-story house. On the first floor, people gather together to take their meals, watch television, and talk. The second floor contains private chambers, bedrooms where people go to read books, listen to music by themselves, and so on. Then there is a basement; this is a special place, and there are some things stored here. We don’t use this room much in our daily life, but sometimes we come in, vaguely hang around the place. Then, my thought is that underneath that basement room is yet another basement room. This one has a very special or, very difficult to figure out, and normally you can’t get in there–some people never get in at all. You go in, wander about in the darkness, and experience things there you wouldn’t see in the normal parts of the house. You connect with your past there, because you have entered into your soul. But then you come back. If you stay over there for long, you can never get back to reality.
My sense is that a novelist is someone who can consciously do that sort of thing.
Prateek Agarwal is a tech entrepreneur, life coach, blogger, and public speaker. He has a keen interest in reading books, writing, discovering new things around as well as meeting people and understanding their challenges.