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© Manik Singh

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The effects of Kozui (Floods) were devastating. The water had wreaked havoc across the city, and nobody was spared. Everybody wondered what made this happen. The scientists had no clue while there were many alternate theories floating around. People believe different things.

Tōmawashi as a practice has been in existence for more than a 1000 years. Its origin is unknown, but its impact and effect are believed to be more powerful than anything humankind has ever seen.

Satsan was not a religious man,, but he believed in the existence of a unifying force. He had achieved a lot in his life. He was content. Born into a poor family, he had realized that education was the alternative to getting out of such a life. He was meticulous in his efforts and was the most successful among his siblings (2 brothers and 2 sisters). Everybody looked up to him; some were even jealous of his success, but everybody respected him. He commanded it. Struggles such as those of Satsan transform a person, his evaluations of situations and people become more accurate with experiences. Minor obstacles or failures become less dreadful, and the anxiety that once came with such an experience has somehow disappeared. Satsan had reached a point where he had achieved everything he wanted to, and people looked up to him for advice. Who should he look up to? Something off late started bothering him, and he wasn’t sure what it was. Such things are hard to explain. He had everything, what could possibly be the reason for such a void?

Kinsan (Satsan’s son) wasn’t very different either. He had seen the struggles, and he knew what it took to reach the top. How lonely it gets once you get there. He had made his set of mistakes. None of which he regrets, all were great lessons. He too looked up to Satsan for advice from time to time but felt helpless when it came to the void that has been bothering him for quite some time now. He was aggressively searching for alternatives as well.

Arsusan had met Satsan at a common friend’s house. Satsan could immediately sense that there was something special about Arsusan. He was enlightened. Though many agreed that Arsusan was indeed a special being, nobody knew the extent of his influence. Maybe he wanted it that way. Arsusan is a quiet man, mostly keeps to himself. His thoughts wander and try to answer some of the questions that have been troubling the humankind for years. He had no attachments to materialistic things, and he abhorred money and the things it made people do. Many believed Arsusan had figured out a lot of mysteries that have escaped us as a species but didn’t think the time was right to disclose them. People couldn’t understand this, but he did. He knew the power of the “ripple” effect and consequences of a rather innocuous event.

Arsusan saw something in Satsan. He saw potential. Potential to be a confidante and a supporter of his mission. As it was quite evident, Arsusan’s circle of trust was very small. Now, Satsan was in it.

Satsan confessed in Arsusan. He explained it to him, the feeling of “void” ness that he felt and how it bothered him. He didn’t tell him about his dreams.  Even while explaining his situation to Arsusan, Satsan had sensed that Arsusan understood his trepidation. Satsan finally felt aligned with someone who’s at the same frequency as his. He felt calm.

Arsusan had a solution.  Satsan though was excited about the prospect of some relief but was still anxious. That’s how Tōmawashi came into the picture. It involved men to circumambulate Mt. Sinai dressed in bare essentials (loin cloths) and the lucky few who actually made it to the end, got a chance to climb from one part of the peak to pluck a leaf of the pious Japanese maple tree with fireflies surrounding it. Only a lucky few had seen the sight, and nobody could explain the fireflies. Arsusan was one of them; he knew the reason for it too. Why did he not disclose it? The time wasn’t right.

Satsan had faced many struggles in life. He was relentless in his efforts, but he knew this one would be a challenge greater than anything he has ever faced. Arsusan had also made the same very clear. In his typical way of putting things bluntly without any regard for what effect it may have, he said to Satsan, “ This is it, my friend. This is your answer. I am not sure of the end result myself, but this will either destroy you or complete you”. Choose wisely.

Satsan wasn’t going to back out now; the decision had been made. He started preparing for his journey so did hundreds of other men with similar motives and missions. Their grit would soon be tested.

You didn’t have much scope to prepare for such a journey. It was a different kind of situation, either you are prepared mentally, or you are not. There wasn’t any other way about it. That didn’t stop people from exploring a different technique to increase their chances or their probability of success. But the experienced Kashikoi hito (wise men) such as Arsusan knew better. That the real world ideologies of “practice makes you perfect and intelligence being nothing but a repetition of facts” had no meaning in this situation. In fact, it would be a major obstacle if a person isn’t able to move away from such a thought. Arsusan believed in Satsan and his capability, but he was also aware of the scope of error and misjudgment and that nobody was immune from it. He would just have to wait and see.

Satsan started on the trip. Men had to carry their own food for their two-day trek. The nights were hard with cold slowly taking a grip over the bodies and testing the mettle of the men around the mountains. Many gave up on the first night, unable to take the cold. It was too much. Satsan was determined and was going strong; it would take something much more powerful to stop him from completing this task. He felt he had to complete it. The answer had evaded him for so long that the hope of finding one was enough to push him to the limits of human resilience and tolerance.

At the end of it all, only a lucky few were left. Most of the others had given up for one reason or the other. The ones who were left started on yet another journey through the treacherous path. The men didn’t have a lot of equipment with them to begin with; it wasn’t supposed to be a proper mountain expedition. The struggle had been built into the practice, and the men could feel it. With each passing hour, a slip of the hand or a slip of tolerance would give away a participant. Satsan was well aware of his surroundings although he didn’t have much experience, he used his “alertness” to his advantage and evaded a lot of mistakes others along with him had made. He felt closer to the goal. He was, in fact, getting close to it. Satsan used to think about a lot of things during his trip, his life, the struggles, his friends, and Kinsan.

Satsan often used to discuss a lot of things with his son Kinsan; he felt proud of his son. In Kinsan, he saw his image and knew that he had done a good job of making him independent and provide him with the capability to face the dark world that we lived in. But the things he shared were more commonplace, everyday things. Banal things. It was the banality that sometimes bothered Kinsan. He knew that he just couldn’t get through to Satsan but he also understood that Satsan was a complex man. He would be brought into the circle of trust when the time is “right”.

That day the time seemed right. Satsan could sense it. It was a few days before Satsan went on the Tōmawashi. He called Kinsan to his room that day in the morning. Kinsan was restless. He knew something had happened but the anxiety was killing him from the inside. Satsan has had a dream.

Dreams aren’t that uncommon for Satsan, but this one was different. For the first time, he had dreamt of his son. That wasn’t a rare occurrence; it was the only one. His dreams are layered and further complicated by the abstractness of the dream itself that in order to make sense of it, Satsan sometimes used to spend hours after he had woken up. He didn’t do that now. He had gotten better at it. It was this ability that had helped him accomplish so much in his life.

The dream that day though wasn’t that layered, it wasn’t abstract. It was direct; it didn’t leave much room for interpretation. That’s what bothered him and also that it was about his son. He had never had a dream about a person in his life.

Kinsan didn’t know what to make of this. He was confused and maybe a little scared. But he was content with the fact that Satsan had finally opened up about something to him, even though it was the rarest of the rare dream that involved him. This was good. It was a start at least.

Satsan elucidated on his dream. He gave a very detailed account to Kinsan. He didn’t want to paint selectively a picture of it. He told Kinsan that he saw him lying unconscious in a shower room. Kinsan at the center of the shower room with no one around except there being heaps of water around him. The water wasn’t being drained, though; partly that was the reason that Satsan realized that this was a dream. Sometimes the dreams are so deeply embedded in the subconscious that differentiating them from the reality is nearly impossible. That wasn’t the case here.

The water was swirling around him, preparing to take Kinsan along. Satsan remembers trying to wake up Kinsan who seemed to be in a deep slumber, but all his efforts were in vain. Kinsan felt a little uneasy; he didn’t know how to approach this. Satsan tried to comfort him. But they both knew that this meant something, and they would realize it only when the time is “right.”

The sight at the top of Sinai Mountain was a different one. It was surreal. Only two people had made it; Satsan was one of them. He was very happy with what he had achieved. Achievement had meant less and less as the years had passed for Satsan, but this was definitely a grand highlight. The glowing fireflies under the night sky, the firmly rooted tree with umpteen branches spreading in a number of directions forming a complex pattern. Satsan felt that he could hear the sound that trees made that day if they ever did. Everything seemed perfect. Aligned.

Satsan plucked the leaf from the tree and ate it. It had a very different taste, unlike anything he had tasted. As a ritual, he had to offer one to the unifying force and consume the other. He couldn’t pluck any more leaves other than those two. Neither had he planned to it, disturbing the balance of the worlds’ wasn’t something he wanted to be responsible for. At least that’s what he thought; he could be wrong.

The trip back was a leisurely one. Satsan was content that he had delivered on his promise to Arsusan and himself as well. He felt good about himself (except a feeling of a bit uneasiness which he quickly brushed aside), not that he needed to but it sure felt like this was the answer he was seeking for. Arsusan met Satsan. He was delighted that his assessment of Satsan was accurate and that he was indeed worthy of being in his circle. Satsan also felt indebted to Arsusan, for it was because of him that he was able to embark upon such a journey that could potentially fill the “void” (or so he hoped).

Arsusan was right, everything for Satsan felt into place. The “void” ness that concerned him so much once had vanished. The balance was just perfect, and Satsan was enjoying every moment of it.

Tōmawashi as a practice was a powerful one for the participant, as was quite evident. But the effects on the surroundings was something nobody had ever realized. Changes that move at a sluggish pace are often ignored and are only realized after their metamorphosis into something bigger. The practice had resulted in the movement of the tectonic plates of the Sinai Mountain. Years and years of pilgrimages around the mountain by the devoted participants and their powerful chants had finally taken its toll. The world wasn’t prepared.

Due to the movement, the balance was lost. The water from the ocean made its way to the city closest to the mountain, Chigasaki. Water was relentless in its pursuits; it spared no one. There wasn’t anything that could stop it. All of the human developments and progress had failed in tackling the situation; it seemed more like a desperate effort to stay afloat.

Satsan was in the city when the dreadful Kozui happened. He tried to help others survive; the entire city seemed to have wiped out. The houses were uprooted, buildings had disappeared, and any sign of life was hard to come by. It was like a wild animal had been left loose and he ran amok without any regard for the impacat of his actions.

Nobody could explain the swirling of water at places. The water just moves around in concentric circles defying gravity and forming a cyclone like a sight. It was odd. But, what really wasn’t at this hour?

Something like this had never happened, Satsan thought to himself. There were no plans on how to control it. Bracing it out seemed like the only option, but the costs were so high, everybody felt helpless. It seemed we were being brought down to our knees and bow down to the unifying force. It was a warning sign, a demonstration of the influence and power the force holds over our world. Our egos felt deflated. Maybe we needed it. Suddenly, his trail of thought was broken by another passing realization, at least Kinsan was safe.

Kinsan lived in Osaji, which was a little farther away from Chigasaki. The city of Osaji remained largely unaffected by the devastation caused by the Kozui. Arsusan and Kinsan went around the city, trying to salvage whatever was left of it. Swirls were everywhere; one had to be alert not to get caught in one. The Tōmawashi had trained them both enough in the art of “alertness” so avoiding the swirls wasn’t a problem.

A little farther head, Satsan saw a sight he could never imagine he would see. A swirl of the size of the Sinai Mountain, it was stable. Nothing could throw it off balance; it looked like a giant top spinning at a furious speed. On top of it, he saw an image of a boy caught in the swirl.

He couldn’t believe his eyes, how is this even possible? Kinsan was supposed to be in Osaji. What had brought him here in Chigasaki? All these questions could wait, time was of the essence here. Kinsan needed help; Satsan would leave no stone unturned in his effort. The swirl was approaching the Sinai Mountain.

Arsusan and Satsan embarked on climbing the Sinai Mountain. They had to be at the very top, to be at the same elevation as the swirl. This journey was different. Both had never imagined that they would be involved in something like this.

On reaching the top, things started to make sense to Satsan. The time was “right”. The deep slumber, the shower and the swirl. How inaccurate had he been in reading the situation and placing incorrect pieces to make sense of the puzzle? Sometimes, the dreams that seem so direct are the ones that require the most interpretations. But he wasn’t to be blamed, how could he have foreseen this.

The pace of the swirl was dizzying. It had the effect of a hypnosis if someone looked at for too long and which resulted in him being pulled into the swirl. Kinsan’s unconsciousness made things a little harder as well, Satsan and Arsusan would have to go the extra mile to ensure Kinsan’s safety.

Arsusan grabbed the tree from a small cavity that had formed on the bark of the Japanese maple. At that point, Arsusan realized how destiny had placed him there. There were only a handful of people who had seen the tree even fewer knew about the cavity on the tree and here he was securely placing his hands in the cavity to help Satsan. If at all somebody would have accompanied Satsan to the top, he would have failed at helping him. How the event progressed and led to the situation they were in, had even surprised Arsusan. He admitted that he had a tough time getting his head around the idea and how the events had unfolded. For the first time, he felt he was made aware of the feeling to get to know things when the time is “just” right. Life came full circle for him.

Holding Arsusan’s hand and extending his other hand towards the swirl, Satsan summoned all his energy and directed it towards a single goal, to catch Kinsan in the split second for which he would appear from the swirl. The deftness required for such a task remains unparalleled to anything the human kind has ever seen. Satsan mustered all the courage and energy he had in him and prepared for the catch.

As the time approached closer, the seconds that passed felt like hours. Satsan had his eyes transfixed on the swirl, anticipating the time when he spots the glitter of hope. And like a natural progression of things, Kinsan did appear from the swirl, and Satsan had locked him in. He was quickly approaching towards the tree, and Satsan knew he didn’t have any scope for errors. With a quick jerk, he clutched Kinsan’s hand and tried to pull him towards himself. Arsusan held his ground tightly, and the jerk caused a pain that he had never experienced in his life. Now wasn’t the time to feel it, bigger things were at play. He just couldn’t give up now.

As both of them braced the swirl and pulled the unconscious Kinsan, something miraculous happened. The swirl started retreating, and that made it easier for them to draw Kinsan towards them. The worst was behind them.

As Satsan looked behind, there were a lot of things that remained unexplained. Why now? Why Chigasaki and above it all, why Kinsan? He felt that the questions would answer themselves when the time comes. When the time is right, the dots connect themselves.

Magical realism Fiction Japan Murakami-esque flow

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