A Japanese student taught me a lesson in love and responsibility

Today we are getting addicted to power of a different kind.

 |  7-minute read |   20-03-2017
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When Kohei, a former exchange student from Soka University, Japan, placed with St Stephen’s College a couple of years ago, asked if he and his friend could visit me I was happy to welcome the idea.

Like all exchange students from Japan he was refreshingly genial, keen and jovial. Even a set of ten students from Japan would light up the campus of over 1,200 scholars.

St Stephen’s has exchange students from the US and France as well. They are different. If Japanese students are happy to adjust to, and blend with, the college life as it is, the rest feel entitled to take things on their terms. They bring their cultural baggage with them and live in Delhi as they would, back home in the US or in France.

The Japanese students accept the given, but let the spirit of their culture - its sweetness and infectious positivity - shine through. The western students take whatever they can from the college, on their terms. The Japanese students receive with joy and gratitude what the college offers and do their best to enliven its ambience. 

Kohei stood out in this respect. So I was particularly happy to welcome him home in Kerala. Also his friend, for no other reason than he was Kohei’s friend.

“My friend, Shin,” Kohei explained privately to me sometime after their arrival, “has a sad story. He and his family were devastated by the last tsunami. They lost everything. My mother, a politician in Japan, introduced him to me and said, ‘You take care of Shin,’ and I have been doing it ever since. I have had a great time in St Stephen’s. I want my friend also to have a taste of India.”

“How nice,” I said and began to sense something touchingly humane and ennobling in the offing.

“We have brought a gift for you,” Kohei said the next day. “Can we present it to you?”

Together they unpacked the gift. It was a complementary couple of Japanese dolls. They set them up in my living room.

“There is a ‘proverb’ behind these dolls,” Kohei continued. “Shin will explain that to you. He knows it best.”

I was a bit confused. Shin could barely speak English. Of course, he was extremely enthusiastic. (Would shake and sway his head and beaming face in an exaggerated fashion.) Generous to his core. Eager to help in any which way. But familiarity with the English language was not among his talents.

Shin began. Every now and then he would get stuck for words. His pronunciation was a challenge in itself. At each stage, having waited long enough, Kohei would come to his rescue, but showing utmost respect for Shin’s efforts and expertise.

The story, based on a play in the Kabuki tradition, is as follows. The two dolls (both in the human form) are two lions: the red-haired doll, the father lion and the white-haired doll the son lion.

Father lion takes son lion to the top of a mountain and “kicks him down to the valley”. (I had to help both Shin and Kohei to zero in on the word "valley") The son lion has to make his way up to the top of the mountain. In doing so, the son lion "proves his spirit".

modi-embed_032017080901.jpg I admire Modi. But I wish he imbibes Kohei’s spirit. Photo: India Today

On the spirit thus proved, the father lion decides how to train his son further, or to train him at all.

The spirit matters. Everything hinges on it.

You should have seen Shin’s face as he completed the story, self-effacingly aided and prodded by Kohei. He almost became the son lion that, by painstakingly climbing up to the top of the mountain of the narrative, proved his spirit.

But the best is not yet.

I realised that Kohei invested on this expensive set of dolls only to create an opportunity for his friend. He knew Shin, due to his linguistic inadequacy, would be left out of the conversation most of the time. So, he thought up a situation in which Shin would be at the centre.

Even though he was a far superior narrator, endowed with a better command over the language, he wanted to put Shin at the centre and turn him, for a while, into a master narrator!

Yes, the spirit matters.

I have dealt with sons of politicians in sizeable numbers. No one like Kohei numbers among them. I doubt if I have come across a single Indian teenager who matches Kohei in his sense of responsibility towards a fellow human being placed, by chance, in circumstances of under-privilege. And doing all of that without a shadow of the patronising attitude.

In the three days that we spent together, Kohei was repeating sentences and phrases from my lectures and addresses in St Stephen’s, seeking clarifications, explanations and further applications.

“The best that happened to me,” he said, “is that I came to India”. Kohei is in love with India, “thanks to St Stephen’s,” he says.

It should surprise no one that Japan is unique and stands out in the global village. The secret is the spirit. The spirit matters.

We too have the lion that kicks and the son that crashes down to the valley. But they are fixed in a different matrix with its own drives and directions.

We have lions; but no father lions. They kick. But the kick is not meant to prove the spirit of cubs, but to break their spirit. If the son-lion crawls its bleeding way up to the top of the mountain, like Eklavya, he will be kicked down again and again, till his spirit breaks and he gets domiciled at the base.

I am struck by the sweetness and the positivity of Kohei. The awesome power of it. Today we are getting addicted to power of a different kind. The power to hurt and humiliate. The power to disempower. The power to exclude and to excoriate.

I admire Modi. But I wish he imbibes Kohei’s spirit. Or, the spirit of the “father lion” instead of the “lion” per se. Kick, by all means. But let it be to assess the “spirit” and not to break it.

Kicking is destructive aggression, if it is not animated by a nurturing sense of responsibility, fortified with a passion to empower and to bring out the best from every citizen.

The merit of a Prime Minister is not that he roars like a lion, but that he kicks like the Kabuki lion. He kicks with a father’s heart and not with military boots.

I wish we - parents and teachers - could nurture young people like Kohei. A teenager, he already has the heart of a mother. And we talk of "peer-pressure". Time we moved on to "peer-nurture'.

“After leaving St Stephen’s”, Kohei said to me somewhat bashfully, “I fell in love.”

“That’s good news,” I said.

“What do you think of love?”

“It’s sacred. Wherever there is love there is God. And where there is God, there is responsibility. Love is a thirst: the thirst to bring out the best from each other. Tell the fortunate young lady that she is dear to me too.”

“Will you attend our wedding?”

“I am afraid I won’t be able to. I have renounced all international travel.”

“Then we shall come.”

“Any day. For as long as you wish.”

On that we departed. Kohei and Shin courtesied a dozen times as we parted company at the airport.

I am pretty sure I haven’t seen the last of Kohei.

There was a time when mera juta hai Japani was on the lips of millions in India. I wish it could be mera dil hai Japani.

Also read: Why are some people opposing a yogi as a CM?


Valson Thampu Valson Thampu

The writer is former principal of St Stephen's College, Delhi and former member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI).

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