Radhika Jha’s new book, My Beautiful Shadow, did not get favourable reviews. It was trashed for being too dark, dramatic, depressing.
And it is all these things.
But how can it not be?
It is so very Japanese.
Kayo is an ordinary housewife, who sinks into depressions, becomes addicted to shopping, gets heavily in debt, and then her life spins out of control. Along the way, you stop over at Dogenzaka, Tokyo’s love hotel district. You visit a pachinko, the Japanese video game parlour. You wander through zen rock gardens. You realise kimonos are more expensive than you could have imagined.
Radhika Jha is a dancer-turned-journalist-turned writer. When her debut novel, Smell, was released in 2001, she was hailed as a promising new voice. With My Beautiful Shadow she lives up to it. We met at Mamagoto in Khan Market over crisp vegetable tempura.
Excerpts from the interview.
When did the novel begin?
It started with a dream. I saw a woman’s family go away in a car while she was sitting alone in the house. I knew the family didn’t realise she had not gotten into the car. And I thought, "How can someone so essential, the mother of the family, become so invisible?" I wanted to find out how. And, in my dream this was a Japanese family.
It’s in Japan because of a ‘dream’?
Well, it’s one thing to say, “dream”. At a deeper level, what fascinates me about Japan is how it’s held on to its culture despite being so modern. As I lived there, I saw this has come at an enormous price.
It’s practically a stereotype. Children grow up hardly seeing their fathers. Divorces happen when men retire at 55 and women are faced with husbands who are strangers. The nuclear family has created these individuals in the most brutal kind of way.
The sex parts were disconcerting.
People in Japan have a pragmatic attitude towards sex. I liked that.
Is your protagonist, Kayo, like you?
I could completely identify with her feeling of invisibility. For me also, Japan was kind of a brutal change. I wasn’t working when I was there, so the only role I had was being mum and wife.
Was shopping your drug?
After my daughter was born, I was obsessed with buying. It was the only way to feel that I was doing something for myself. I talked to a lot of women, and we all felt that the stress gets too much. That shopping is your moment of existing for yourself.
Do you speak Japanese?
I did learn it for about five years. I was in a hospital for a few weeks, there my Japanese became natural. I can read at the level of a fourth grader. But Doraemon I can read! I was tempted to use a Japanese pseudonym. But if I did that, I would be giving in to the idea in the West that ‘If you’re Indian, you should write about India.’
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From HT Brunch, November 9
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