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  • Ekta Kumar


I fell in love with the word Yakitori, even though I had no idea what it meant. It just rolled off my mouth easily, and had such a lovely ring to it. The first time I said it, a quiet Japanese man brought a hot plate of skewered meat to the table. The second time, it had my sons rolling on the floor with laughter. Yakitori rhymes without fuss, leading to nonsensical Indo-Japanese poetry - the kind only children understand. After which I looked for opportunities to say it, even when I had no intention to eat it.

old  painting japanese public domain food teisai hokuba chopsticks miso
Bowl of New Year Food - Teisai Hokuba, 1

Bowl of New Year Food - Teisai Hokuba, 1808

The past few weeks, there have been so many other new words and phrases. I was making strange sounds, without really knowing how the alphabets were strung together. My lack of comprehension was not limited to language. Everything was foreign. I did not understand the pin drop silence on crowded buses, the complicated panel of buttons next to the toilet seat, or the bewildering absence of dustbins. As I stuffed my sticky ice-cream cup in my handbag, I wondered how was it possible that every woman passing me on the street, had every single strand of hair beautifully in place, and why was the word ‘no’ difficult to find in Japanese. So much was unknown, unanswered. Like why a man I met on a bus, was on his way to Myanmar to make Takoyakis.

old japanese painting public domain women culture art wood
Three Beauties of the Kwansei Period, 1791

Three Beauties of the Kwansei Period, 1791

Which brings me to the question, why do we travel?

(1) To feel gloriously foolish, about not knowing enough.

(2) To come back wiser, and check the list.

Old japanese art painting public domain woman mirror beauty vintage artist edo
Naniwa Okita in a Mirror, Kitagawa Utamaro, Edo Period

Naniwa Okita in a Mirror, Kitagawa Utamaro, Edo Period

I collected a few words, brought back an orange lipstick, and new names on my phone.

When I think about it - The first option is certainly more fun!

And you?

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