The Heart Is Shizuka

The tsunami and earthquake may have ravaged Japan but a young art student, currently in Kolkata for voluntary work, shows stoic resilience to the disaster
Deblina Chakravorty
Twenty three-year-old Reika Yoshii has a perpetual smile on her face. Her eyes light up in laughter as she tells us how much she loves having ‘chai’ . Her expression doesn’t change even while describing how everything in her apartment in Ibaraki Prefecture on Honshu island had started shaking on March 11, when Japan faced one of the most devastating crisis in recent history. “I was scared. All things fell down. It took me a day to clean up the mess,” says Reikasan in broken English. Of course, she was frightened but underlying that fear was a sense of “shizuka” or calm.

Reika Yoshii is one of the several boarders from Japan who come, every year, to Kolkata. Invariably, they choose the Lahiri household, near Lake Town, as their breakfast joint. Dhara Lahiri, who runs the joint, says that Reika is lucky to have managed to reach India after the tsunami and the earthquake wreaked havoc there. “Reikasan was supposed to bring her friend along but unfortunately, she couldn’t manage tickets at the last minute as all outbound flights had been cancelled. And now, sadly, I have to prepare for a dry run as I am not getting any more boarders. Reikasan will probably be the last for at least a while now.”

On March 11, Friday, a tsunami triggered a massive quake measuring 8.9 that ravaged Sendai, the capital of the Miyagi Prefecture in North Japan and sent tremors that shook other parts of the country. Around 9,199 people have been confirmed dead and another 13,786 missing. Worse, Japan is teetering on the brink of a nuclear disaster after reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Prefecture failed, giving rise to a Chernobyl-like risk of exposure to radiation.

Reika keeps a track of every development that is taking place in Japan. She no longer lives with her parents but is worried about them. In between her voluntary service at Shishu Bhavan, which takes up most of her time here in Kolkata, she likes hanging on Sudder Street. Reika will leave for home in the early hours of March 25. Is she expecting to see any development from what she has last seen before coming to India? “I don’t know. I will divert attention… watch TV. If tsunami comes, I will shift my apartment.”

It reminds one of the early 19th century woodblock print, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, which depicts a boat carrying rowers about to be swallowed by a great wave. Reika’s silent but cheerful resilience to the natural disaster that engulfed her country is reminiscent of her countrymen’s acceptance of the fact that Nature is red in tooth and claw yet life must go on.

(Appeared first in The Times of India on March 24, 2011)

Reika Yoshii
The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai
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