Cause Kazuo Ishiguro is Not a Noble Man

POV

Cause Kazuo Ishiguro is Not a Noble Man

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

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he couldn’t hear him leave but she knew he wasn’t there. And when the phone rang, she continued to look at it, wondering why it seemed so distant from her. The leather chair they had bought from Wasava prefecture, riding early morning, the first time she had left home without coffee to beat the early morning traffic, sat between them. Kakinada-San (name changed) could hear the phone ringing. She looked at the phone and then went past it. He had kept the door open, she stopped and turned back, answered the phone. He had won the Nobel.

That’s a feeble attempt at a master. And to think it’s a feeble attempt at a translation of the master. But then, maybe, just maybe, Ishiguro is beyond words.

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Ishiguro is that guy at a funeral who doesn’t cry or hug or condole your deceased whoever. But he is there, without marking his presence. A presence that continues unnoticed much after the tears and wails go silent, the tight embraces stop, the relatives take their leave, the friends wave their goodbyes, the dog shifts masters, the nights continue forever, the bills arrive, the past knocks, the possibilities announce themselves, grief stays and willingly takes a backseat – that’s when Ishiguro says hello. And this time he is here to stay.

Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro is that guy at a funeral who doesn’t cry or hug or condole your deceased whoever. But he is there, without marking his presence.
(Image Credit : Getty Images)

Time and Ishiguro have a strange relationship. He writes behind time, allowing it to tick ahead of him, letting it lead and then taps it on its back, pointing it at his father’s look on that hot afternoon when his mother lay still. Or then, he races ahead of time, stopping its advance, reminding it of the sounds of her last bath. Ishiguro, on days, is a coin-drop; on some days, he is a “time to pause”. And on the rest, a complete mind-fuck, a heartbreak.

Ishiguro is that guy at a funeral who doesn’t cry or hug or condole your deceased whoever. But he is there, without marking his presence.

A lot of Ishiguro and his style and approach is revealed in the last scene of The Remains of the Day, perhaps one of the finest movie adaptations of a great book. As Mrs Benn steps into the bus and rides away, Mr Stevens looks on – what could have been, is only a snowflake in the avalanche of feelings that cascade through him.

It is a scene of almost intolerable despair, narrated with an equally intolerable restraint. That scene tells us everything we need to know about Ishiguro and his inner world. This is a man who has scant respect for words. His prose is bare, vacant, as if words were something he was using hesitatingly out of a lack of choice, for want of a better means to introduce us to feelings we never knew we had. And it is in this attitude to words that he soars as a writer, as a narrator of experiences, a chronicler of feelings. And in all this, he stands out for a value system that is traditional, purist, unabashedly occidental, and Japanese.

Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro is a man who has scant respect for words.
(Image Credit : Getty Images)

I’ve never been to Japan but Ishiguro is perhaps its most engaging tourist guide. I can smell the cold winter air of melancholy in the northern prefectures, can feel the slight bow of the heads of first cousins as the elders walk by, can sense the ageing of a generation and the overhang of a long lost war, the aching pain of past deeds. Ishiguro gives us the cultural and moral compass of Japan like no other. And to think that he wrote from the other end of the world, not from the land he’d left when he was five.

Which brings us to the question: If last year’s winner of Nobel was a poet-singer-songwriter, what is this year’s winner? A writer-narrator-chronicler of things that reside beneath our skin? An abstemious, yet oddly lush excavator of anonymous feeling? A possessor of obscure, un-nameable sorrows who leads you, with polite apology, into a disarray that you can’t quite fathom?

Ishiguro has stood for many a noble cause. But each time he has written, he has left his readers, with the secret knowledge that they have understood very little about life. For that, he is not a noble man.

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