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The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket

In: English and Literature

Submitted By jhielhynd
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The Jay by Yasunari Kawabata, Japanese, 1949
The Jay by Yasunari Kawabata, Japanese, 1949 Since daybreak, the jay had been singing noisily.
When they’d slid open the rain shutters, it had flown up before their eyes from a lower branch of the pine, but it seemed to have come back. During breakfast, there was the sound of whirring wings.
“That bird’s a nuisance.” The younger brother started to get to his feet.
“It’s all right. It’s all right.” The grandmother stopped him. “It’s looking for its child. Apparently the chick fell out of the nest yesterday. It was flying around until late in the evening. Doesn’t she know where it is? But what a good mother. This morning she came right back to look.”
“Grandmother understands well,” Yoshiko said.
Her grandmother’s eyes were bad. Aside from a bout with nephritis about ten years ago, she had never been ill in her life. But, because of her cataracts, which she’d had since girlhood, she could only see dimly out of her left eye. One had to hand her the rice bowl and the chopsticks. Although she could grope her way around the familiar interior of the house, she could not go into the garden by herself.
Sometimes, standing or sitting in front of the sliding-glass door, she would spread out her hands, fanning out her fingers against the sunlight that came through the glass, and gaze out. She was concentrating all the life that was left to her into that many-angled gaze.
At such times, Yoshiko was frightened by her grandmother. Though she wanted to call out to her from behind, she would furtively steal away.
This nearly blind grandmother, simply from having heard the jay’s voice, spoke as if she had seen everything. Yoshiko was filled with wonder.
When, clearing away the breakfast things, Yoshiko went into the kitchen, the jay was singing from the roof of the neighbor’s house.
In the back garden, there was a chestnut tree and two or three persimmon trees. When she looked at the trees, she saw that a light rain was falling. It was the sort of rain that you could not tell was falling unless you saw it against the dense foliage.
The jay, shifting its perch to the chestnut tree, then flying low and skimming the ground, returned again to its branch, singing all the while.
The mother bird could not fly away. Was it because her chick was somewhere around there?
Worrying about it, Yoshiko went to her room. She had to get herself ready before the morning was over.
In the afternoon, her father and mother were coming with the mother of Yoshiko’s fiancé.
Sitting at her mirror, Yoshiko glanced at the white stars under her fingernails. It was said that, when stars came out under your nails, it was a sign that you would receive something, but Yoshiko remembered having read in the newspaper that it meant a deficiency of vitamin C or something. The job of putting on her makeup went fairly pleasantly. Her eyebrows and lips all became unbearably winsome. Her kimono, too, went on easily.
She’d thought of waiting for her mother to come and help with her clothes, but it was better to dress by herself, she decided.
Her father lived away from them. This was her second mother.
When her father had divorced her first mother, Yoshiko had been four and her younger brother two. The reasons given for the divorce were that her mother went around dressed in flashy clothes and spent money wildly, but Yoshiko sensed dimly that it was more than that, that the real cause lay deeper down.
Her brother, as a child, had come across a photograph of their mother and shown it to their father. The father hadn’t said anything but, with a face of terrible anger, had suddenly torn the photograph to bits.
When Yoshiko was thirteen, she had welcomed the new mother to the house. Later, Yoshiko had come to think that her father had endured his loneliness for ten years for her sake. The second mother was a good person. A peaceful home life continued.
When the younger brother, entering upper school, began living away from home in a dormitory, his attitude toward his stepmother changed noticeably.
“Elder sister, I’ve met our mother. She’s married and lives in Azabu. She’s really beautiful. She was happy to see me.”
Hearing this suddenly, Yoshiko could not say a word. Her face paled, and she began to tremble.
From the next room, her stepmother came in and sat down.
“It’s a good thing, a good thing. It’s not bad to meet your own mother. It’s only natural. I’ve known for some time that this day would come. I don’t think anything particular of it.”
But the strength seemed to have gone out of her stepmother’s body. To Yoshiko, her emaciated stepmother seemed pathetically frail and small.
Her brother abruptly got up and left. Yoshiko felt like smacking him.
“Yoshiko, don’t say anything to him. Speaking to him will only make that boy go bad.” Her stepmother spoke in a low voice.
Tears came to Yoshiko’s eyes.
Her father summoned her brother back home from the dormitory. Although Yoshiko had thought that would settle the matter, her father had then gone off to live elsewhere with her stepmother.
It had frightened Yoshiko. It was as if she had been crushed by the power of masculine indignation and resentment. Did their father dislike even them because of their tie to their first mother? It seemed to her that her brother, who’d gotten to his feet so abruptly, had inherited the frightening male intransigence of his father.
And yet it also seemed to Yoshiko that she could now understand her father’s sadness and pain during those ten years between his divorce and remarriage.
And so, when her father, who had moved away from her, came back bringing a marriage proposal, Yoshiko had been surprised.
“I’ve caused you a great deal of trouble. I told the young man’s mother that you’re a girl with these circumstances and that, rather than treating you like a bride, she should try to bring back the happy days of your childhood.”
When her father said this kind of thing to her, Yoshiko wept.
If Yoshiko married, there would be no woman’s hand to take care of her brother and grandmother. It had been decided that the two households would become one. With that, Yoshiko had made up her mind. She had dreaded marriage on her father’s account, but, when it came down to the actual talks, it was not that dreadful after all.
When her preparations were completed, Yoshiko went to her grandmother’s room.
“Grandmother, can you see the red in this kimono?”
“I can faintly make out some red over there. Which is it, now?” Pulling Yoshiko to her, the grandmother put her eyes close to the kimono and the sash.
“I’ve already forgotten your face, Yoshiko. I wish I could see what you look like now.”
Yoshiko stifled a desire to giggle. She rested her hand lightly on her grandmother’s head.
Wanting to go out and meet her father and the others, Yoshiko was unable just to sit there, vaguely waiting. She went out into the garden. She held out her hand, palm upward, but the rain was so fine that it didn’t wet the palm. Gathering up the skirts of her kimono, Yoshiko assiduously searched among the little trees and in the bear-grass bamboo thicket. And there, in the tall grass under the bush clover, was the baby bird.
Her heart beating fast, Yoshiko crept nearer. The baby jay, drawing its head into its neck feathers, did not stir. It was easy to take it up into her hand. It seemed to have lost its energy. Yoshiko looked around her, but the mother bird was nowhere in sight.
Running into the house, Yoshiko called out, “Grandmother! I’ve found the baby bird. I have it in my hand. It’s very weak.”
“Oh, is that so? Try giving it some water.”
Her grandmother was calm.
When she ladled some water into a rice bowl and dipped the baby jay’s beak in it, it drank, its little throat swelling out in an appealing way. Then—had it recovered?—it sang out, “Ki-ki-ki, Ki-ki-ki …”
The mother bird, evidently hearing its cry, came flying. Perching on the telephone wire, it sang. The baby bird, struggling in Yoshiko’s hand, sang out again, “Ki-ki-ki …”
“Ah, how good that she came! Give it back to its mother, quick,” her grandmother said.
Yoshiko went back out into the garden. The mother bird flew up from the telephone wire but kept her distance, looking fixedly toward Yoshiko from the top of a cherry tree.
As if to show her the baby jay in her palm, Yoshiko raised her hand, then quietly placed the chick on the ground.
As Yoshiko watched from behind the glass door, the mother bird, guided by the voice of its child singing plaintively and looking up at the sky, gradually came closer. When she’d come down to the low branch of a nearby pine, the chick flapped its wings, trying to fly up to her. Stumbling forward in its efforts, falling all over itself, it kept singing.
Still the mother bird cautiously held off from hopping down to the ground.
Soon, however, it flew in a straight line to the side of its child. The chick’s joy was boundless. Turning and turning its head, its outspread wings trembling, it made up to its mother. Evidently the mother had brought it something to eat.
Yoshiko wished that her father and stepmother would come soon. She would like to show them this, she thought.

The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket
August 27, 2008
“The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket”
Yasunari Kawabata
Walking along the tile-roofed wall of the university, I turned aside and approached the upper school. Behind the white board fence of the school playground, from a dusky clump of bushes under the black cherry trees, an insect’s voice could be heard. Walking more slowly and listening to that voice, and furthermore reluctant to part with it, I turned right so as not to leave the playground behind. When I turned to the left, the fence gave way to another embankment planted with orange trees. At the corner, I exclaimed with surprise. My eyes gleaming at what they saw up ahead, I hurried forward with short steps.

At the base of the embankment was a bobbing cluster of beautiful varicolored lanterns, such as one might see at a festival in a remote country village. Without going any farther, I knew that it was a group of children on an insect chase among the bushes of the embankment. There were about twenty lanterns. Not only were there crimson, pink, indigo, green, purple, and yellow lanterns, but one lantern glowed with five colors at once. There were even some little red store-bought lanterns. But most of the lanterns were beautiful square ones the children had made themselves with love and care. The bobbing lanterns, the coming together of children on this lonely slope – surely it was a scene from a fairy tale?
One of the neighborhood children had heard an insect sing on this slope one night. Buying a red lantern, he had come back the next night to find the insect. The night after that, there was another child. This new child could not buy a lantern. Cutting out the back and front of a small carton and papering it, he placed a candle on the bottom and fastened a string to the top. The number of children grew to five, and then to seven. They learned how to color the paper that they stretched over the windows of the cutout cartons, and to draw pictures on it. Then these wise child-artists, cutting out round, three-cornered, and lozenge leaf shapes in the cartons, coloring each little window a different color, with circles and diamonds, red and green, made a single and whole decorative pattern. The child with the red lantern discarded it as a tasteless object that could be bought at a store. The child who had made his own lantern threw it away because the design was too simple. The pattern of light that one had had in hand the night before was unsatisfying the morning after. Each day, with cardboard, paper, brush, scissors, penknife, and flue, the children made new lanterns out of their hearts and minds. Look at my lantern! Be the most unusually beautiful! And each night, they had gone out on their insect hunts. These were the twenty children and their beautiful lanterns that I now saw before me.
Wide-eyed, I loitered near them. Not only did the square lanterns have old-fashioned patterns and flower shapes, but the names of the children who had made them were cut out in square letters of the syllabary. Different from the painted-over red lanterns, others (made of thick cutout cardboard) had their designs drawn upon the paper windows, so that the candle’s light seemed to emanate from the form and color of the design itself. The lanterns brought out the shadows of the bushes like dark light. The children crouched eagerly on the slope wherever they heard an insect’s voice.
“Does anyone want a grasshopper?” A boy, who had been peering into a bush about thirty feet away from the other children, suddenly straightened up and shouted.
“Yes! Give it to me!” Six or seven children came running up. Crowding behind the boy who had found the grasshopper, they peered into the bush. Brushing away their outstretched hands and spreading out his arms, the boy stood as if guarding the bush where the insect was. Waving the lantern in his right hand, he called again to the other children.
“Does anyone want a grasshopper? A grasshopper!”

“I do! I do!” Four or five more children came running up. It seemed you could not catch a more precious insect than a grasshopper. The boy called out a third time.
“Doesn’t anyone want a grasshopper?”
Two or three more children came over.
“Yes. I want it.”
It was a girl, who just now had come up behind the boy who’d discovered the insect. Lightly turning his body, the boy gracefully bent forward. Shifting the lantern to his left hand, he reached his right hand into the bush.
“It’s a grasshopper.”
“Yes. I’d like to have it.”
The boy quickly stood up. As if to say “Here!” he thrust out his fist that held the insect at the girl. She, slipping her left wrist under the string of her lantern, enclosed the boy’s fist with both hands. The boy quietly opened his fist. The insect was transferred to between the girl’s thumb and index finger.
“Oh! It’s not a grasshopper. It’s a bell cricket.” The girl’s eyes shone as she looked at the small brown insect.
“It’s a bell cricket! It’s a bell cricket!” The children echoed in an envious chorus.
“It’s a bell cricket. It’s a bell cricket.”
Glancing with her bright intelligent eyes at the boy who had given her the cricket, the girl opened the little insect cage hanging at her side and released the cricket in it.
“It’s a bell cricket.”
“Oh, it’s a bell cricket,” the boy who’d captured it muttered. Holding up the insect cage close to his eyes, he looked inside it. By the light of his beautiful many-colored lantern, also held up at eye level, he glanced at the girl’s face.
Oh, I thought. I felt slightly jealous of the boy, and sheepish. How silly of me not to have understood his actions until now! Then I caught my breath in surprise. Look! It was something on the girl’s breast which neither the boy who had given her the cricket, nor she who had accepted it, nor the children who were looking at them noticed.
In the faint greenish light that fell on the girl’s breast, wasn’t the name “Fujio” clearly discernible? The boy’s lantern, which he held up alongside the girl’s insect cage, inscribed his name, cut out in the green papered aperture, onto her white cotton kimono. The girl’s lantern, which dangled loosely from her wrist, did not project its pattern so clearly, but still one could make out, in a trembling patch of red on the boy’s waist, the name “Kiyoko.” This chance interplay of red and green – if it was chance or play – neither Fujio nor Kiyoko knew about.
Even if they remembered forever that Fujio had given her the cricket and that Kiyoko had accepted it, not even in dreams would Fujio ever know that his name had been written in green on Kiyoko’s breast or that Kiyoko’s name had been inscribed in red on his waist, nor would Kiyoko ever know that Fujio’s name had been inscribed in green on her breast or that her own name had been written in red on Fujio’s waist.
Fujio! Even when you have become a young man, laugh with pleasure at a girl’s delight when, told that it’s a grasshopper, she is given a bell cricket; laugh with affection at a girl’s chagrin when, told that it’s a bell cricket, she is given a grasshopper.
Even if you have the wit to look by yourself in a bush away from the other children, there are not many bell crickets in the world. Probably you will find a girl like a grasshopper whom you think is a bell cricket.
And finally, to your clouded, wounded heart, even a true bell cricket will seem like a grasshopper. Should that day come, when it seems to you that the world is only full of grasshoppers, I will think it a pity that you have no way to remember tonight’s play of light, when your name was written in green by your beautiful lantern on a girl’s breast.…...

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...“So, is there life after democracy?” -Arundhati Roy Arundhati Roy starts her collection of essays ”Listening to the grasshoppers” with a remarkable and intriguing question that makes us stick with her way of thinking and look forward to startling revelations throughout the book. To her the democracy that’s been lauded as the largest democracy of the world, is a hoax, a sham. She draws reference in the earlier part of the book to the tagline in one of the posters of a Kashmiri protestant stating ‘Democracy without Justice = Demon-Crazy’, skilfully setting the tone for the detailed description of the ‘cunning, Brahmanical, intricate, bureaucratic, file-bound and apply-through-proper-channels’ style of governance. “Right now we’re sipping from a poisoned chalice- a flawed democracy laced with religious facism. Pure arsenic” The raw description and writing by Roy is the blatant truth or at least her version of the truth of the failure of India’s democracy. She sounds the warning bugle of the rise of the so called Hindu nationalism that’s trying to cast Islam as our national enemy. The most important example that she puts forward to support her claims is the massacre of perhaps 2000 muslims in Gujarat in 2002, in which the state government was allegedly complicit. She provides a shocking analysis of the riots of Gujarat and the fact of it being orchestrated by Hindu nationalist stalwart, Mr. Narendra Modi. In three nifty articles, she cuts open all the questioning method the......

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