‘The Tale of Genji’ is regarded as one of the oldest novels ever written. It was written around the year 1000 A.D., during the Heian Period. It’s a classic work of Japanese literature written in the early 11th century by a noblewoman and lady-in-waiting. Her name was Murasaki Shikibu. The original manuscript of this book was created around the peak of the Heian period and during the last lapse of classical Japanese history, between 794 and 1185 A.D. which no longer exists. It was created on “concertina” a free-reed musical instrument or Orihon, a type of book, prevalent during the Tang dynasty in China in which several sheets of paper are pasted together and folded alternately in one direction and then the other.
The work is a rare account of the lifestyles of high courtiers during the Heian period. It is scribbled in the archaic language in a poetic and complex fashion making it unreadable to the average Japanese reader or speaker without specialized study. It was not until the early 20th century that the narration was translated into modern Japanese by poet Akiko Yosana. The first English translation of the narration was attempted in 1882 by Suematsu Kencho, but was of poor quality and also incomplete.
The novel is about the Japanese high society. The work recounts the life of handsome Hikaru Genji, or say the “Shining Genji”, who is the son of an ancient Japanese emperor known to readers as Emperor Kiritsubo and a low-ranking concubine who is Kiritsubo’s Consort. For some political reasons, the emperor removes Genji from the line of succession, demoting him to a commoner by giving him the surname ‘Minamoto’ a surname vouchsafed by the Emperors of Japan upon members of the imperial family who were excluded from the line of succession. Thereafter, a choiceless Genji pursues a career as an imperial officer. The tale focuses on Genji’s romantic life and describes the customs of the aristocratic society of those times. It is perhaps the world’s first novel. One could even say it is the first psychological novel, as claimed by Argentinian short-story writer Jorge Luis Borges, and the first novel yet to be considered a classic, particularly in the context of Japanese literature. There is debate over how much of the novel was actually written by Murasaki Shikibu. The debates over the novel’s authorship have gone on for centuries now, and are unlikely to be settled ever unless some major archival discovery comes about.
The title has a rather lascivious plot. It starts with the death of Genji’s mother when he is three years old. Emperor Kiritsubo who is deeply in love with her cannot forget her. But soon, the Emperor meets a woman by the name of Lady Fujitsubo, formerly a princess of the preceding emperor, who resembles Kiritsubo’s deceased concubine and the mother of Genji. Later Lady Fujitsubo becomes one of his wives. Genji first loves her as a stepmother, but later as a woman when they fall in love with each other. But Genji is frustrated because of his forbidden love for Lady Fujitsubo and is therefore on irritable terms with his wife. His wife’s name is Aoi-No-Ue or Lady Aoi. Even though Genji feels guilty he soon engages in a string of love affairs with other women. These love affairs are however unfulfilling, as in most cases his advances are rebuffed, or his lover dies suddenly, or he is bored of them.
Genji visits Kitayama, a rural hilly area to the north of Kyoto. There he finds a beautiful ten-year-old girl by the name of Murasaki. He is fascinated by her. Genji discovers that she happens to be the niece of Lady Fujitsubo. He kidnaps her and brings her to his own palace and educates her to be like Lady Fujitsubo, who is, Genji’s ideal woman. During this time Genji also meets Lady Fujitsubo secretly, and she bears his son, Reizei. Everyone except the two lovers believes that the father of the child is Emperor Kiritsubo. Later the boy becomes the Crown Prince and Lady Fujitsubo the Empress. Genji and Lady Fujitsubo swear to keep the child’s true parentage a secret.
Genji and his wife, Lady Aoi, finally reconcile. She gives birth to a son but dies soon after. Genji is sorrowful but finds solace in Murasaki, whom he marries. Later Genji’s father, Emperor Kiritsubo, also dies. He is succeeded by his son Suzaku, whose mother Kokiden, together with Emperor Kiritsubo’s political enemies, grabs power in the kingdom. Thereafter another adultery or secret love affair of Genji is exposed: Genji and a concubine of Emperor Suzaku are caught while meeting in secrecy. Emperor Suzaku quietly conveys his amusement to Genji at his exploits with the woman named Oborozukiyo but is duty-bound to punish him even though he is his half-brother. He exiles Genji to the town of Suma in rural Harima Province now part of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture. There, an affluent man by the name of Akashi Novice entertains Genji. Genji has an affair with Akashi’s daughter. She gives birth to Genji’s only daughter, who later becomes the Empress.
In the capital, Emperor Suzaku is unsettled by certain dreams of his late father Kiritsubo, and something begins to affect his eyes. Meanwhile, his mother, Kokiden, falls ill, which weakens her influence over the throne, and culminates in Emperor Suzaku ordering Genji to be pardoned. Genji returns to Kyoto. His son from Lady Fujitsubo, whose name is Reizei, becomes the emperor. The new Emperor Reizei knows Genji is his biological father and raises Genji’s rank to the highest level possible and that is Genji’s apogee.
However, when Genji turns 40 years old, his life begins to retard. His political status does not change, but his love and emotional life begin to incrementally dwindle as middle age takes charge of him. He marries another lady, the Third Princess known as Onna-Sannomiya. But Genji’s nephew, Kashiwagi, later forces himself on the Third Princess, and she bears his child Kaoru who is in a similar situation to that of Reizei and is legally known as the son of Genji. That reminds Genji of his past. Genji’s new marriage changes his relationship with Murasaki, who expresses her desire of becoming a nun (a bikuni) but the wish is rejected by Genji. Later Genji’s beloved Murasaki passes away.
In the following chapter, ‘Maboroshi’ which means “Illusion”, Genji ponders how fleeting life is. And immediately after the chapter titled Maboroshi, there is a chapter titled ‘Kumogakure’ which means”Vanished into the Clouds”, which is left blank. It insinuates the death of Genji after leading a salacious life.
The book is made of 54 chapters. Chapters 45–54 are known as the “Uji Chapters”. These chapters are about Kaoru and his best friend, Niou. Niou is an imperial prince, the son of Genji’s daughter, and the current Empress because Reizei has abdicated the throne. Kaoru is known to the world as Genji’s son but is fathered by Genji’s nephew. The chapters involve Kaoru and Niou’s rivalry over several daughters of an imperial prince who lives in Uji, a place a little away from the capital. The tale ends abruptly, with Kaoru wondering if Niou is hiding Kaoru’s former lover away from him. Kaoru has at times been called the first anti-hero in literature.
The tale has an abrupt ending. Opinions vary on whether this was intended by the author. Arthur Waley, who drafted the first English translation of the whole of ‘The Tale of Genji,’ believed that the work was completed. Ivan Morris, the author of ‘The World of the Shining Prince,’ believed that it was not complete and that later chapters were missing. Edward Seidensticker, who made the second translation of ‘The tale of Genji,’ believed that Murasaki Shikibu didn’t have a planned story structure with an ending in mind but would have simply continued writing as long as she could have. Since the novel is about 1000 years old there are missing linkages that cannot be corroborated.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE
(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 8 prestigious libraries of the US that includes Harvard College Library; Harvard University Library; Library of Congress; University of Washington, Seattle; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Yale University, New Haven; University of Chicago; University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill University Libraries. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in libraries and archives of Canada, Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai; Jaipuria Institute of Management, Noida; India. Shoolini University, Yogananda Knowledge Center, Himachal Pradesh and Azim Premzi University, Bangalore).
ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY
(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi; Available for reading in Indian National Bibliography, March 2016, in the literature section, in Central Reference Library, Ministry of Culture, India, Belvedere, Kolkata-700022)
AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES
(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be the undying characteristics of Lucknow. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014. It is included for reading in Askews and Holts Library Services, Lancashire, U.K; Herrick District Library, Holland and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, USA; Black Gold Cooperative Library Administration, Arroyo Grande, California).
REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD
(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)
TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN
(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his way through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available on Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)
RHYTHM … in poems
(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day-to-day life. The book is available on Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)
(Published in February 2020. The book is a collection of eight short stories available in Amazon, Flipkart and Notion Press)
AWADH ASSAM AND DALAI LAMA … The Kalachakra
(The story of the man who received His Holiness The Dalai Lama and his retinue in 1959 as a GOI representative when he fled Tibet in 1959. The book was launched on 21st November 2022 by His Holiness The Dalai Lama).
Short stories, Book reviews and Articles published in Bhavan’s Journal: 1. Reality and Perception, 15.10.19; 2. Sending the Wrong Message, 31.5.20; 3. Eagle versus Scholars June, 15 & 20 2020; 4. Indica, 15.8.20; 5. The Story of King Chitraketu, August 31 2020; 6. Breaking Through the Chakravyuh, September 30 2020. 7. The Questioning Spouse, October 31, 2020; 8. Happy Days, November 15, 2020; 9. The Karma Cycle of Paddy and Wheat, December 15, 2020; 10. Power Vs Influence, January 31, 2021; 11. Three Refugees, March 15, 2021; 12. Rise and Fall of Ajatashatru, March 31, 2021; 13. Reformed Ruler, May 15, 2021; 14. A Lasting Name, May 31, 2021; 15. Are Animals Better Teachers?, June 16, 2021; 16. Book Review: The Gram Swaraj, 1.7.21; 17. Right Age for Achievements, 15.7.21; 18. Big Things Have Small Beginnings, 15.8.21; 19. Where is Gangaridai?, 15.9.21; 20. Confront the Donkey Within You 30.9.21; 21. Know Your Strengths 15.10.21; 22. Poverty 15.11.21; 23. Top View 30.11.21; 24. The Bansuriwala 15.1.22; 25. Sale of Alaska 15.2.22; 26. The Dimasa Kingdom 28.2.22; 27. Buried Treasure 15.4.22; 28. The Kingdom of Pragjyotisha 30.4.22; 29. Who is more useful? 15.5.22; 30. The White Swan from Lake Mansarovar 30.6.22; 31. Bhool Bhulayya 15.9.22; 32. Good Karma 30.9.22; 33. Good name vs Bad Name 15.10.22; 34. Uttarapath—The Grand Trunk Road 1.12.22; 35. When Gods Get Angry 1.1.23; 36. Holinshed’s Chronicles 15.1.23
SUNDAY SHILLONG TIMES
POEM HAPPY NEW YEAR 8.1.23;
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