Writing is a risky business. You never know exactly what is going to come out or whether anyone will want to read it or not. Some take the risk and it pays. Others take the risk and produce something that is a monstrosity: a text which none will read. The risk taker, I believe, must be fearless. There is something in him or her which defies fear. And so, in the encounter with risk and fear, the pen is put to the paper and the fingers to keyboard. And one can produce. Writing seems so beautifully simple. We have all been taught how to do it in our society. However, some are deemed incapable of doing it while others are hailed as geniuses. How curious it is that one person’s writing finds general acceptance and praise and others are thought unable to express themselves.
This week, I had been watching Japan on TV. The BBC is running a Japan season. Japan is special to me. Everyone has a special country that they are not from but with which they feel a special kinship. I have many such countries, historical and contemporary. I feel kinship with the Ancient Greeks. I studied them and their language for a number of years. I was also in the Athens house at school. I feel kinship with China, too. In fact, to digress slightly, I always found Chinese women to be the most beautiful when I was a boy and hoped to marry a Chinese lady. There was, I remember, a fascination in their eyes. To be honest, I haven’t entirely diverted myself from my youthful preference.
I have watched three programmes on Japan over the last few days. The first was a programme on the Japanese swordsmith. The handmade manufacture of a Japanese sword is one of the images I have used throughout my PhD to understand and conceptualise the process. It takes strength, will and patience in both the occupation of the swordsmith and the researcher. Many times one will hammer at the sword. My research is a sword. In Hindi, the words shastra and shastra, which refer to learning and to weapons, sound almost alike. Shastra means, according to Wikipedia:
Shastra (शास्त्र, IAST: Śāstra, IPA: [ʃaːst̪rə]) is a Sanskrit word that means “precept, rules, manual, compendium, book or treatise” in a general sense. The word is generally used as a suffix in the Indian literature context, for technical or specialized knowledge in a defined area of practice.
Like the Japanase swordsmith, the Indian scholar sharpens his weapon and his learning. He beats at the sword in the forge until his hands tremble and he loses sensation in them. He spends days sharpening the blade. One seeks strength, a strength that one can entrust life and death to. The learning and the weapon are art objects infused with a soul. The rituals must be maintained, the name must be carved carefully on the blade. The blade is a name and a spirit.
The other programmes about Japan were about the visual culture of the country. There was a beautiful example of a Bonsai tree in one of them. The tree was named after the whirlpool in Japanese and was 500 years old. It was an extraordinary specimen of the art. I am becoming more and more interested in gardening and gardens and as I watched the twisted and gnarled tree, carefully cultivated to look beaten and weathered, I felt the sensation of love growing in my breast. I have often paused to gaze lovingly at the trees in the park when I go on my daily walks. And I have often thought that no art could rival the beautiful construction of the trees by the hand of lovely nature. But here, art and nature were not in contention. They formed a harmonious whole in which one could not be separated from another. And this is the beauty of Japan and the Japanese mind in one concrete image.
I spent the morning teaching English to my students at the refugee and migrant centre. There were about eight students that came in drips and drabs to the class. I was teaching them about time and cooking verbs. All of the rules about time keeping that we have carefully incorporated in our minds are extremely challenging to students from different countries. I watched them making errors and corrected each one. To teach time in about an hour and its rule is, I think, a philosophical impossibility if one thinks about it. Such nebulous concepts, however, have to be carefully enclosed in their own units of time in an English teaching situation. It is such paradoxes and meta states that we encounter on a daily situation. At the end of the class, I put the students into teams and we had quizzes testing their English knowledge, which the students always enjoy. One team lost quite horribly to another. There is an intermediate English student from Iran who trounced all and sundry, since the rest were beginners and basic students.
I usually devote Fridays to teaching and volunteering. However, because of the recent Grenfell Tower fire, my volunteering in North Kensington had been cancelled. The centre where I teach secondary school children had been dedicated to helping the survivors of the fire. It was strange to me that this fire in London, which was completely unrelated to me as a person, was arranging events in which I was involved and therefore involving me. One reads about such things in the newspapers and thinks that they are far away and removed. When they directly impinge upon one’s life, then one realizes their awful reality.
I prepared a lesson plan at university for next week and met up with one of the other researchers. He had finished his research and landed a job with the NHS. He was now working on putting together an article for a prestigious journal with his supervisor. I went off to Regent’s Park to read my book in the sun afterwards. I amused myself with looking at the roses and smelling their beautiful scents and reading their unusual names. I also, as per usual, spent my time watching the people. I had a trip down to the Japanese gardens as well, which fit in nicely with my recent watching of Japan on television. Gardening is an art which I don’t understand yet, but someday will. The beautiful mystery of gardening is something to be savoured, an exotic fruit which one has just caught the scent of and sees far away, up high in the trees. I took some photographs. There were some black swans in the Japanese gardens which reminded me of my days studying classical civilisation and the Romans, a rara avis in terris and all that.
I drew a picture of a gymnast at university which I had with me in my Chinese-English picture dictionary which I use for my Chinese students. I have two Chinese students at the moment, both women. Afterwards, I spent time walking around the city of London. I had many thoughts in my head, but I was thinking of the relationship between sex and play. Play is something that survives in sex. We play with the bodies of the other. We allow them to play with our own bodies. We derive pleasure from the play. In fact, without the play, some people cannot feel sexual satisfaction. The play forms the introduction to the act and is appropriately named foreplay. Whatever sex means, and it surely has multiple meanings, play is an integral part of the sexual act. The question is, why this is the case? Play itself is something that is not completely understood. We still do not entirely know what games are and what is the reason for their existence. It is an area worth investigating.