Saturday, February 06, 2010

With Rosseau to Tokyo

Last week I suddenly realized that my indispensable travel companion - my Delhi driving license - was expiring on 22  February 2010.

I had got it from the RTO office at Sarai Kale Khan in the winter of 1994, with the help of Negi Driving School in Lodi Colony. Since the time it came out nice and warm from the laminating machine, it had, over the years, survived numerous monsoons, a few traffic-policemen, as well as one metropolitan magistrate at Patiala Courts named Ms. Bhatnagar. She had fined me Rs.200 on the charges of `driving with a helmet-less pillion-rider`...

These days I just ride an old, yellow bicycle at Tsukuba University, and its been over ten months since I stopped commuting on a motorbike or a car, but the thought of NOT having a valid driving license had propelled me into the world of the Unten-Menkyo-Senta (License Bureau). Since its a lot harder to make a fresh license, I`d been collecting the documents required for the formalities here - passport, original driving license (Indian & international), and - the most cumbersome of all - a Japanese translation of the foreign license, duly attested by the national embassy in Tokyo. So this was the purpose of my first ever visit of an Indian embassy, anywhere in the world.

It is difficult to travel without book, and the book I picked this time was "Jean Jacques Rousseau - his education theories selected from Emile, Julie and Other Writings". Quite a mouthful...but I had not intended to pick such a 'heavy' sounding book but it was the only unread, small book available on the shelf. It once belonged to a much-respected former professor of Tsukuba University, whose family gifted away his entire book-collection after he passed away last year from a sudden illness. On the last page a hurried hand had noted more than 30 years ago - "'75 July 6 in New York - Tadashi Yamada".

As the 7:45 AM JR-bus rolled out of the campus, the morning sun was casting its long shadows on patches of dried grass, snow and ice. I started with the biographical note -

...born in Geneva to a French father and a Swiss mother who died when he was a week old. Rosseau was reared by his father, and eccentric and sentimental watchmaker. his father taught his to read but did not train him in the conventional habits and attitudes of normal life. Thus, he stole, lied, played dirty tricks, was indolent, ill bred and unprincipled...several years later... he failed as a clerk, was apprenticed to an engraver but ran away at sixteen and became a vagabond...

Memories of an old NCERT textbook floated up...`Voltaire-Rosseau-Montesquieu` and the French Revolution. Didn`t these guys pour something into that cauldron of ideas ideas on liberty and fraternity that swept away the monarchy in France and led to the rise of a Corsican artillery lieutenant named Napoleon Bonaparte? But how did a vagabond become an ideologue? The book, unfortunately, did not elaborate.

...In 1741 he went to Paris...lived with Therese Lavassuer who bore him five children. His genius awakened in a flash in October 1749. he wrote the prize essay, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences. This was followed by What Is the Cause of Inequality Among Men?...His life was a psychological puzzle - highly emotional, erratic, a creative genius, a man of reprobate and perverted nature, an idealist, passionately devoted to the downtrodden and liberty...

Our bus now turned into the Joban Expressway and sped past empty fields, woodlands and the occasional golf-course. Mt. Fuji appeared like an apparition on the horizon, its crest lit by the morning sun but the view was soon blocked out by tunnels that appeared at Nagareyama, and then by the sound-barriers and trucks speeding towards Tokyo.

Struggling to keep the book away from the bright sunlight, I read about the theory of social development; about the Natural Man, the Savage Man and the Civilized Man -

...the original man just wants to avoid pain & death and wants to satisfy his physical needs for food, a mate and rest. He is motivated by the impulse for self-preservation (amour-de-soi)...with reason he becomes more than an animal and develops speech, family-life and simple arts...later imagination brings more desires and he creates civilization...however, primitive self-love gives way to a calculated and ambitious love of self (amour-propre), which leads to all the evils of society and leads to degradation and inequality...

The bus got stuck and then re-emerged from the traffic-jams around Tokyo. By now it seemed that we are all, in a distant way,  by-products of Rosseau`s imagination. Education reformers were inspired by his `practical` approach. Froebel had taken his principle of following child`s nature (or instincts) and worked it out into the Kindergarten method.

The book was set aside aside as soon as we reached Tokyo station. The embassy was open only from 9:00 to 11:00 and it was already 9:50! Walking quickly out of the JR-Marunouchi gate I rushed towards the Otemachi Tokyo-Metro station. The entrance was only few blocks away, but once underground you had to walk about 350 meters to get to the right platform for the purple-color-coded Hanzomon Line. Luckily the connection came just in time and I was soon hurrying up from Kudanshita (`nine-steps-below`!) to the embassy.

I was there by 10:15 - well in time to get the work done, so I took some time to look around.

It was an unexceptional, glass-fronted building with long, high sliding gates. Near the entrance, a stone plaque said that it had been inaugurated less than a year ago (March 2009) by the current ambassador H.K. Singh; the architect was one Hiroshi Miyazaki; the consultants, Plants Associates and it had been constructed by Shimizu Corp. The first thing you noticed on this plaque was that it had a strange little piece of paper stuck on it - a closer look and it turned out to be a photocopy of the national emblem!!

Satyameva Jayate and Emperor Asoka's lion-crest fluttering in the Tokyo breeze. Welcome back, I said to  myself, to the world of chalta-hai, afterthoughts and ad-hocism.

Inside, at the consular counters, there were screens for the token numbers but the equipment itself had been hastily covered with an A4 sheet. A closer look revealed a note scrawled with a 0.5 ballpoint pen - "Not working, pls take token from tray". I wondered how difficult it might have been to take a simple, bilingual computer print-out, but then nobody was asking for the tokens anyway.

Am I nitpicking? Or perhaps I am looking from the other side of the fence. In any case, these are small acts of sloppiness that give bigger insights on what a visitor to India can expect from the government machinery.

The ladies at the counter were efficient. I handed in my Japanese translation of the Delhi driving license and waited. The hall had a bright, colorful M.F Hussain painting, a large flat-screen showcasing Manipuri classical dance and a nifty water-dispenser.

My papers came back in a few minutes with the seal and signatures of the consular officer-in-charge, and a neatly printed bilingual bill for Yen 1400. I wanted to ask why they were charging such a high fee for just an attestation (grumble, grumble) but I held my horses, collected the docs and walked out.

Across the gnarled old cherry trees of Chidori-Ga-Fuchi ("1000-bird's pool"), Kintanomaru Park was a nice place for a stroll. It would have been a nice place to settle down for the rest of the day with Rosseau. But I had to get back to the university quickly.

A brisk walk down the Yasukuni Road took me past the second-hand book stalls of Kanda (the Daryaganj or Tokyo!), some crumbling old buildings at Jimbocho and many colorful garment shops along Awajicho,  to the JR station at Akihabara.

Here I hopped on to the next available TX to Tsukuba and took out Rosseau once again...and promptly nodded off to sleep.


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