Article in Times of India

Japanese women on epic quest


Raghukul reet sada chalee aayee, Praan jaye par vachan na jaye.

The students listen patiently, as the teacher discusses the finer points of the Ramayana. But this is no ordinary class. The students are Japanese women, a small community in Mumbai, trying to understand Indian culture.

The group belongs to the five-year-old Bombay Club and consists of around 40 Japanese women eager to learn more about the country of their temporary residence. And guiding them in their quest, the Ramayana, is scholar Shakun Narain.

The group has just completed reading Valmiki Ramayana, and shows great interest in the epic. “There are so many gods, I want to know more about them,” says Mari Nakamura, who’s been in Mumbai for five years. “Is Ram real? Did he actually live?” questions Atsuo Suzuki, a new entrant to the group. “Why didn’t Laxman’s wife join him in vanvas?” asks Asaka Hiroe.

The group, which meets once a month, has made steady progress – making regular notes on “tough” words like bhakti and karma. Mariko Izaki is the team leader-cum-translator between the women and Narain.

Though Buddhist, knowledge of the Ramayana is a gateway to the women understanding India. “The book is the soul of India!” declares Atsuo Shiga. The inspiration has led them to several books on gods and goddesses, understanding their roles in Indian mythology. “Japanese society is not religion-conscious, while Indians hold firm to theirs,” says Kiyomi Kato. Bonding firmly with the group, Narain is busy helping the women to understand the symbolisms in the epic. “Their dedication is amazing,” she says.

With ambitious plans to translate the epic in Japanese, the women are also taking lessons in learning more about the saree. This Saturday, students of the Japanese school will enact Panchatantra, a book which was also translated by the group. As the class concludes, the women are reminded about the triumph of good over evil. “Happy Diwali! Time to celebrate the victory of Ram in Mumbai!”