I don't grudge Kazuo Ishiguro the Nobel, but it's Haruki Murakami who saved me

Revisiting the author of 'Sputnik Sweetheart' as the Nobel Prize for Literature once again eludes him.

 |  The Castaways  |   Long-form |   06-10-2017
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"Murakami is not here anyway, I thought. He is most likely somewhere else, sealed in a space capsule in the centre of a field of lavender, labouring over words."

— Patti Smith, M Train

Haruki Murakami didn't win it again. Last night, I picked up his books, read random lines and made no more wishes. I like the title of Kazuo Ishiguro's book, Never Let Me Go, but my favourite title for a book is Sputnik Sweetheart, an ode to a lost satellite. Of course, I don't grudge Ishiguro the Nobel Prize for Literature. But it is Murakami who saved me. 

Sometimes, it is good to drink green tea that looks blue all by yourself and feel like you are drinking the sea and drowning at the same time. Or maybe floating in outer space.  

You then think of the forgotten satellite launched by the Soviets in 1950s and the book by Murakami called Sputnik Sweetheart, my favourite. 

It is about divided souls and mysterious disappearances and signs and symbols and dreams and ferries wheels. What could be more real to the one dealing with such existentialism routinely? Isn't it about what you feel to be true than the way things happened? But what is reality? 

mura_100617083845.jpgHaruki Murakami didn't win the Nobel Prize for Literature, again.

Sputnik, after three months of its launch where it was to orbit the earth every 96 minutes, disintegrated. It was lost in space. I am forever curious about black holes. Maybe I am in one. Maybe Sputnik was a sweetheart lost to the black hole, following no regular orbit but running wild into a place of no theories, no physics, no chemistry. A half-misssing person. A story of crossovers. 

Do you remember me?

Don't you remember me?

Murakami, a cult novelist, who played the piano and opened a jazz bar after college because he didn't want to work in a "company" and says throughout his 20s, he worked like crazy because he always owed someone or the banks money. It was at a baseball match that he went to not far from where he lived and for "no reason and on no goriness whatsoever" it struck him that he could write a novel. And then, he bought a sheaf of paper and every night, he would return to his kitchen table and write.

Maybe that's why I like him. This thing of having no reason whatsoever. Every year, they say he is going to win the Nobel. Every year, we raise a toast in hope. But then, is a prize the only measure. A writer like Murakami helps you dance in the void. He once saved a pigeon. I once saved a pigeon. His kitchen-table novels as he calls them are guiding lights for the unconsoled. Like a man you know from nowhere comes and tells you magic exists. And tells you about people always crossing over to the other side. 

I am a futurist. But did I breach your silence? But then I know the past. That's how you go into the future. The one word that rings through all journeys is "abandonment".

It is a harsh, brief observation. Is this what the lost Sputnik shouts from wherever it is?

Haruki Murakami didn't win the Nobel Prize for literature. But then, he once wrote that happiness is an allegory and unhappiness is the story. Validation is an allegory, too. It is enough that Murakami is writing somewhere. Maybe, as Patti Smith says, he is in a space capsule. 

At 3am last night, I picked up a lesser-known book curated by Murakami called Birthday Stories. It is about wishes. 

"But you had better think about it very carefully because I can grant you only one."

In the darkness somewhere, an old man wearing a withered-leaf-colored tie raises a finger.

"Just one. You can't change your mind afterwards and take it back," Murakami wrote in Birthday Girl

The last story is in the book is by him. 

Maybe you can think of what the birthday girl wished for that night of her 20th birthday. I think it was to never have wishes again.

And who said the sea can't fit in a cup. If you are sitting in a room making up worlds at 3am. 

Here and there I have written my name in the mist on a window of a car or a home on foggy nights trying to leave my name behind. Who knows if there are stories in such lines drawn on misty windows. They disappear, but we learned that matter is indestructible. Are feelings matter? Are we condemned to be in a space capsule or wander around in a Norwegian Wood?

At 3am, I pace up and down. I tap at the window.

The blue moon waits outside. I am thinking about the girl Murakami wrote about. What did she wish for? 

In New York once, my brother scribbled lines on a board. 

"Do you need people? Hell no!"

That's the thing.

I often dream of Murakami or maybe I don't. We make up dreams. Murakami laboured over his dreams in wakefulness. He had that ability. His is a dream-like world where insanity contrasts with what is considered normal. Nothing is out of the place. It is like how you remember your childhood room or the dolls with flaxen hair and plastic blue eyes that rotated when shaken. 

I often see the line he speaks of in Sputnik Sweetheart

The writer writes that we are connected to the reality by the same line. 

"All I have to do is to is quietly draw it towards me," my favorite Murakami wrote. 

On such nights, you could even talk to Murakami. 

Draw the line, I wrote in my notes. 

Aren't we all on the edge of insanity? Do we draw that line?

Unlike Sumire, who writes in her journal "don't write dreams", I often write them down if I remember them. Murakami says that's the only right thing to do. To dream. 

On many nights, Murakami's words have been the lighthouse in the deep troubled seas. 

Kazuo Ishiguro is a beloved writer. But then the river he talks about where the current is strong and two people are holding on to each other, but they have let go because in the end, they can't live together forever in Never Let Me Go hits too close. I know that feeling. But then, I'd rather be in an orbit, a beautiful shooting star, a lonely lump of metal. 

"And it came to me then. That we were wonderful travelling companions, but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality they're nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. When the orbits of these two satellites of ours happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we'd be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing," Murakami writes. 

Both have written about loneliness, memories, abandonment and yet, Murakami is who I turn to in the darkest hour because he has punctuated time, galaxies and called that unloved Sputnik that got lost, a sweetheart. This urban vacuum is like the unknown space. 

sputnik_100617083859.jpgMy favourite title for a book is Sputnik Sweetheart, an ode to a lost satellite

Some nights you turn in the key and walk into a room with your great grandfather's bed waiting for you. You curl up and stare at the walls for no particular reason. It shouldn't be strange that if you inherited the diaries and the bed and the coat hanger and the half-finished bottle of rum from the loneliest man ever, you will also inherit his loneliness. 

In that great house that is no more except intact in my memory, as both Ishiguro and Murakami write that memories fade but those that one holds close, don't go away, a child wanders there sometimes in search of memories.

I am that child. I am the one left behind always. To search for the lost and the one to never abandon the story. Perhaps this is why we write. To communicate from outer/inner space. For a retrospective investigation. Or maybe just to mix memories with imagination, to tell ourselves stories about us so we can smile or cry. What else is there but the fact that we remember. 

What is the art you didn't make? What is the memory you never wanted to forget?

Tell me something that nobody knows?

Who are you? Have you answered that question? 

Murakami made an appeal for the pointless things to have a place in this far-from-perfect world. Maybe, as he says, in a distant place all is already, quietly lost. 

Are you lonely? What is loneliness? 

"Sometimes I feel so - I don’t know - lonely. The kind of helpless feeling when everything you’re used to has been ripped away. Like there’s no more gravity, and I’m left to drift in outer space with no idea where I’m going.

Like a little lost Sputnik?

I guess so," Murakami wrote. 

I have always felt like the little lost Sputnik with no particular ambition, helpless and with no idea where I am headed. Maybe nowhere. But I have often felt light. It is like Murakami knew me. Or the likes of me. I can't ever say I am good at this. But like he wrote, it is "faster to list the things I can't do. I can't cook or clean the house. My room's a mess, and I'm always losing things. I love music, but I can't sing a note. I'm clumsy and can barely sew a stitch. My sense of direction is the pits, and I can't tell left from right half the time. When I get angry, I tend to break things. Plates and pencils, alarm clocks. Later on I regret it, but at the time I can't help myself. I have no money in the bank. I'm bashful for no reason, and I have hardly any friends to speak of."

I still can't tell left from right. Except maybe in a political sense but in the dystopian world, that too is a blurry space. I have broken too many things. I have regretted breaking them later but then, I break them again. I have no money in the bank. And those who have been to my house can tell you how messy my room is. But it is my space capsule. 

And there are always dead ends. 

When Murakami tells us the stories of Men Without Women, I want to tell the stories of women without men. I could be a chapter in it. 

All around me, women are like drifting endlessly looking for love, sex, companionship, something to make this life a little less lonely. There is someone out there, they say. 

They were there... till yesterday. Like Murakami's Kitaru sings in the tub "tho' she was here/til yesterday..."

The ellipsis is where the story begins and ends. I like Kitaru. He understands that life should not be that comfortable. Smooth and comfortable is the problem. And then, how do you go on to being on your own after being a couple? It isn't that hard. Except that you begin to feel that you have been left behind. 

I buy flowers sometimes. Sometimes a friend buys them for me. Either ways, there are flowers in the vases at home on some days. There are books and there is a terrace where birds come by. I have a job. They let me travel to strange places where I can fill notebooks, sit in cafes watching clouds touch down upon stoic mountains, or just sit in an aircraft and wonder about the immeasurable space. I pay my bills. I buy myself coffee and muffins. I write when I feel like. I have a bath tub. I water my plants. That's how it goes.

Coffee, cafe, absinthe, joints, Cocteau, Rambaud, Pessoa, cake, champagne and pizza. And calling cabs at odd hours. There was also one time that I threw up in a cab while driving through the Lincoln Tunnel. I was young. Also, reckless. New York was a heady place. You were on your own. You earned just enough to survive. I was without ambition. I wanted to be nowhere in particular. 

Maybe I am lost. Maybe in this state, in that other space out of the universe, time really doesn't bind anything. Maybe I am lost forever.

It is a life built on dreams. I read signs. We are all stuck halfway in different worlds. Magic realism is part of this world. In the end, you and I live in a Kafkaesque world. It is all about leaving the defences back home and walking into the void.

Don't be afraid of the blank inside you. It can devour you but then, even stars break. Even waves break. 

And maybe if we are lost in the void, someone will call us "sweetheart" and isn't that what we all live for. Even if it means "nothingness" is what we will eventually find. So many times I have woken up feeling of the dream was real or unreal. I believe in signs. I believe in symbols. 

In Sputnik Sweetheart, when Sumire asks her friend "what could be the difference between a sign and a symbol", the narrator says that with a symbol “the arrow points in one direction. The emperor is a symbol of Japan, but Japan is not the symbol of the emperor... Say, for instance you write ‘The emperor is a sign of Japan’ that makes the two equivalent". 

But there is always a difference. For instance, there is the older Miu, found stuck in the Ferris wheel and feeling a part of her has been missing ever since the dream... she is incapable of loving another. 

Sumire goes on to the "other side" after rejection. Stories we tell ourselves are key to living life, an unsolved mystery, a web of signs and symbols. 

"A story is not something of this world. A real story requires a kind of magical baptism to link the world on this side with the world on the other side," Murakami wrote.

All these bridges. All these words and all this night. And these signs as we stare endlessly into the space and wonder about the million losses and the little lost Sputnik. 

Also read: Why Kazuo Ishiguro deserves Nobel Prize in Literature


Chinki Sinha Chinki Sinha @chinkis

Rover in the driftless area of the outcastes. Writing is a way of deleting.

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