India: Beginning

I’ll have to write about India, before I start to write about anything else. But before India, I have to tell you a little bit about Shusaku Endo.

I was reading Shusaku Endo’s 1993 novel Deep River earlier this summer. Shusaku Endo (1923-1996) is a Catholic Japanese writer who when he died in 1996, chose to be buried with two novels that he wrote – Deep River (1993), and Silence (1966), which became a Martin Scorsese film in 2016. Silence is a historical novel about the situation of the Catholic belief in 17th century Japan, the question of faith, etc., told through the journey of two Jesuit missionaries who secretly landed in Japan in search of their missing teacher. Deep River, on the other hand, is a story set in the contemporary time and largely about the lives and pains of modern Japanese people. The characters in the novel have different histories but they all belong to a same travel group that is leaving for India, and the story culminates when they arrive at Varanasi, the holy city by the Ganges, where millions of Hindus came every year to worship, bath, wait and die. Deep River is also Endo’s last novel published three years before he passed away in 1996 at the age of 73.

Initially my plan was to do a 10-day Vipassana session at a meditation center near Jaipur, at least at the time when I bought my round-trip tickets. But after careful deliberation, I decided to cancel my reservation and do some sightseeing around India instead. Endo played a big part in my decision. I should probably also mention E.M. Foster and A Passage to India, also turned into a great motion picture by the brilliant David Lean.

When I arrived at New Delhi in mid-August, I was overwhelmed by the heat and humidity of the monsoon season. It took me at least two days in my hotel to just get used to the weather, the food and recover from my jet lag. After that I turned off my tv and marched unto the streets – perhaps I should tell you a little bit about what was on tv then. I arrived at the Indira Gandhi airport late at night on Aug 11. By the time I got my on-arrival visa it was already Aug 12. Then I took a taxi to my hotel, which was another hour or so. By the time I went to bed it was around 3 AM. And when I woke up, 6 PM the same day, I turned on my TV and Naipaul’s death was all over BBC World News.

I carried a Naipaul novel with me. Then only other book I had with me was a latest edition of Lonely Planet India. The Mimic Man is the title of the novel. I read it on my flight from Boston to London, during my layover at Heathrow, and on my flight from London to New Delhi. And now the author is dead. He just died, at his home in London, when I was flying from London to New Delhi. Stricken my the news I decided to put down his book and go outside. So starting from his death my journey began.