Pipes and sugarcane

On the way home there’s a man who makes sugarcane juice which, I am always surprised to find, is the best I’ve ever tasted.

I walk everywhere. I can’t ride a scooter, I don’t like buses or autos and my bike was stolen 5 years ago. So I’ve no option but to walk. I’ve come to like it. I walk 10 km every day, the distance doesn’t matter anymore I only look at the amount of time it will take me to get where I want to go.

The earlier college ends the more inconvenient it gets. The heat and lack of trees along the footpath makes the road home a death sentence. Usually I try reading a book on my phone. If the chapter is good and the battery can sustain the brightness needed to read from a screen while the sun boils above you, I fail to notice the heat. Every day I realize I have forgotten to refill my water bottle. The water from the college purifiers might always taste funny, like they have someone’s medications dropped in them, but thirst makes me do crazy things.

Back when I was a kid my father would always stop at every little road side stall and buy something. He’d ask me if I wanted some juice. I’d always say “no need”. He’d buy two glasses anyway. I hated it. The fact that my father would insist on not having any sugar or anything other than pure juice in the glasses didn’t make it any more tolerable. Memories of me gagging, every time someone asked me if I wanted sugarcane juice, come back to me every time I drink sugar cane these days.

The man who sells sugarcane has his little setup next to the empty bus stop on Berlie Street which is always crowded on the way to college. He seems to follow some seasonal pattern, like those trees with purple flowers on the way home. I don’t know what the trees are called but they have this ability to stay unnoticed until they decide to, for a short period of time, shed their purple flowers and colour the road purple. I still haven’t figured out his annual pattern of disappearance though. I wonder where he goes for all those months. How does he manage to pay his bills if he keeps disappearing every other season?

I always hesitate when I see him. I don’t like giving away the ten rupee notes I have. I feel terrible about giving him a hundred, the guy always need change. We give each other a knowing nod. Sometimes I feel obliged to buy juice if he notices me. Sometimes he seems to resent the fact that he has to put away his paper and start crushing the cane. I’ve never heard him say a word, but he wears sly smiles on occasions.

He isn’t always by his stall. Occasionally he sits in the bus stop. You’d think he was a regular who had no business staying there for more than a few minutes. The loud tin box where he stores his crumpled, moist notes always remains neglected on his little stall. On other days he sits and skins the huge bundles of cane that he keeps against the trees that shades his stall. There can be no doubt about his popularity if he really manages to sell all that cane. On some cloudy days I see him sitting with the man who sells chaats on the other side of the bus stop. He never says a word to him either. He has never shown any interest in going back to his stall and selling cane on those days. He just stares, maybe telling me I don’t have to buy anything today.

Every time I drink the Sugarcane I’m surprised how cold it is, how relaxing it is, how it makes me realize that I’ve been walking all day only to make me forget a second later. No matter how many times I remind myself about how great it tastes, I’m always surprised by how it manages to blow me away. These baffling moments are when the Sugarcane guy puts on one of those sly smiles.

His little stall has green plastic pipes in it. The one you’d normally use to water plants. They look like they play some important role in his strange homemade contraption. You can’t really see them, until you realize he doesn’t have room for his legs behind his stall. Every time I try to see what they do, he makes a little hop to the side and hides the pipes. It’s a little suspicious, and road side stalls are shady enough. But the always surprisingly amazing taste makes up for any suspicious pipes and sly smiles.

His stall is green just like those pipes and looks like any other. Those pipes are the only things that stand out. Most people don’t even seem to notice the pipes. The juice serves as an excellent distraction and you find it hard to care about those little green pipes. I can’t help but wonder if there was some great genetic modification that made sugarcane taste better. Was it even sugarcane I used to drink back when I was young? I don’t know and realize that, like always, I have chugged everything down too fast for me to savour the taste. I don’t regret it though. I’ll just buy some more some other day.

His unending silence, the good taste that just doesn’t make sense till you drink it, the mysterious pipes and smiles, and his seasonal disappearance makes me wonder if he’s a genie.

1Q84-Book 3

One of the worst things I’ve done this semester is call Murakami the Japanese Paulo Coelho. It took me a long time to get around to finishing the last part of the trilogy. Partly because I had a lot of other things to finish reading and partly because I was afraid the trilogy would end up being disappointment.

The novel has mad ambition. It raises expectations and suspense like crazy. Halfway through the last part of the trilogy I worried that Murakami could not help but disappoint. The world and stakes keep intensifying at such a terrifying rate that you assume the only way a conclusion can be reached is through some conventional cop out ending. A few of my friends had read some short stories and novels by Murakami which they found rather disappointing which ruined my confidence in Murakami’s ability to tell a story. I wondered if I had been taken for a ride.

In 1Q84 Murakmai proves himself an excellent storyteller able to keep the reader hooked and create interesting characters. But I never felt confident enough to pass judgement until I got to the ending. There is so much going on that your just dying for a conclusive end to tie up everything- miracle births, tiny spirit men, miracle ejaculations, chapters where one of the main characters is a corpse, all the fantastic elements introduced in the previous novel mixed up in a world where death is very real, and very thing runs according to the girding rules of reality. The reality bit is very important, even works that revolve around “believable” settings tend to exaggerate and take things further than things would go in the real world. Here things are extremely realistic, something like buying a gun, disposing a body,surveillance aren’t things that are very easy to do. Even the pros need to extremely cautious and aren’t super efficient archetypes. There are two scenes where characters need to take taxis on  a busy freeway. In any other book this would barely get a line.Here this gets stares, questions, this is a risky, unusual step, that has people commenting on their odd behavior and people citing regulations, very few books would bother to depict this.

You’d be surprised that this extreme painstaking realism that does not ever take any liberties exists in a world with two moons in the sky, air chrysalises,phantom cable fee collectors etc. There is also a very elaborate play going hidden behind the plot. This might be Murakami playing with the story telling, what is called real in stories,how much the characters know about the stories they are in etc in general. Even if he took away the fantastic element in the story and the world he creates, the story or the romantic plot would still be fantastic and never happen in the real world. But you can be sure that this is what we’d call believable in any other book. The fantastic elements in the book, they exist and they  are extremely beautiful and very symbolic. I half  a mind to go through the book reading only the fantasy bits.It’s easy to lose yourself and start day dreaming about the sky as described in the book. I’ve been looking at the moon every day since I began reading the books.

There isn’t much that the reader discovers about Japanese culture. You learn about Japanese law but not culture. I don’t know if this is due to translation, if Murakami writes for an international audience. But this is not a bad thing. I can’t come up with any thing else I’d call bad about the book. A few chapters in I forgot ever doubt I had, blazed through the remaining chapters and went out to look at the moon.

I’ve heard a lot of praise for Murakami and I know a lot of people who think he’s overrated. I can’t comment on his other works but the 1Q84 trilogy is simply amazing and well worth the read.