The fruits of Abstinence

As Socrates once proclaimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. In the last six months I embarked upon an examination of sorts. An examination of my diet, the effects of certain foods on my body, and crucially, whether I was at all capable of living without certain naughties in my life.

For those of you who read my previous post Abstinence, you would have noted that I had planned a month long expulsion of four dietary baddies: alcohol, sugar, meat and coffee. Unwittingly, that month- May 15 till June 15- ended up being FIVE weeks long! And boy, was it a looooong month. It was a struggle in many ways. The easy ones to give up were the coffee and the alcohol. Perhaps because a binge of one nearly always followed a binge of the other. Co dependants, and therefore co evictees. The meat and the sugar were much tougher.

In the previous months, I had tended to over compensate in one quarter when imposing a ban on another. For instance, in my sugar free month, I happily munched my way through all manner of meat preparations, drank my body weight in gin and kept myself buzzing on cappuccinos. I still (miraculously) lost weight! However, this time around, I denied myself the crutches I had become accustomed to. My sense of deprivation would most certainly have derailed me, had it not been for one little detail: my stubbornness. There was a dogged determination to my pursuit of ‘cleaner’ living.

At the end of that month, I baked a cake.

This cake was a celebratory one. Not for myself, but for my daughter who had just finished her GCSE exams. It was a hazelnut torte, the layers sandwiched together with swiss buttercream, finished off with chocolate ganache and decorated with ferrero rocher chocolates. I wish I could say that not a crumb passed my lips. Alas, that would be a bare faced lie. I ate not one, but two slices, and you know what? I enjoyed them too.

So was all of that abstinence an exercise in futility?

Nope. Not at all. This was never meant to be a life long prohibition. It was meant to be an examination not just of the ouster of certain foods I had determined I was dependant on, but also of my will power and ability to see it through till the end. That I managed, and am quietly proud of my accomplishment.

However, the dilemma that faces me now is how do I carry this forward? When I’d tried explaining to a friend that I was doing a no sugar, no meat, no alcohol and no coffee ban, he’d looked at me quizzically and quipped, “No life either?”

Sadly, for those five weeks, I wasn’t the most fun person to hang out with. In fact, at times I was a bit of a pain in the rear. The restaurants I agreed to go to had to have vegetarian options. I always declined the wine and the dessert, and stared mournfully at the lattes my friends rounded off their meals with. That is not how I want to live the rest of my life!

So, going forward the catchword of MY life will be moderation. Don’t drink an entire bottle of wine because it’s there. Don’t eat meat everyday because you are too lazy to look up new and exciting vegetarian recipes. Don’t eat an entire bar of chocolate because you are bored. And don’t drink five coffees in a day because you couldn’t haul your bottom to bed at a decent hour.

Which brings me to the mystery element of my abstinence.

In all of this taking care of my body malarkey, I stumbled upon an interesting truth. My bedtimes were inevitably at some godforsaken hour. Not because I was working hard on the great Indian/English/American novel, but because I was trawling through reams of nonsensical social media postings. What was this strange pull that social media exerted on me, and could I break the spell? I set about finding out.

For the entire month of June, I have sworn off social media. Facebook, Instagram and even Whatsapp have been cruelly culled from my life. Aside of answering a few panic stricken messages on Whatsapp, that I reluctantly signed back onto for a day, my life has been social media free. And oh, the joy of it!

I can now choose to read the news items I wish to read, without Facebook’s algorithms determining I need a glut of information about something I might have displayed an interest in once. No more reading every Tom, Dick and Harry’s opinion on what is wrong with the world (and how they will solve it all, hiding behind their computer screens). No more seeing a casual acquaintance’s blow by blow account of her agonisingly mundane life’s minutiae.

What a relief it has been. I have caught up on my reading, my writing and finally started to listen to the podcast I’d earmarked two years ago! I cannot, in all honesty, Continue reading “The fruits of Abstinence”


Sakura (Experiment series 2- part 3)

Late afternoon she wheels me to the tree. It is in full bloom and I look up at it in wonder. Eighty two years this tree has lasted.

Okasan was a careful gardener. She’d ensured it was watered and pruned and looked after well. It had been a wedding gift to her, and maybe in its yearly blossoms, she saw her own contentment grow. Otosan and she had been a happy couple. That rare couple that spoke through their eyes, finished each other’s sentences and seemed to live in their own enchanted bubble that not even three children could penetrate.

I inherited this tree, along with everything else.

The blossoms are a delicate pink. One falls on my lap, and I look at it laying there. She reaches for it, and brings it up to my nose. I inhale. They lie when they say that the sakura has no fragrance. To smell the sakura blossom, you have to close your eyes and open your heart.

It was on a bed of fallen blossoms that my heart had awakened to love, and to pain.

His kiss was like a brush of a petal against my lips. My eyes had met his, in longing and in confusion. He’d brushed the hair out of my eyes and leaned in again. My mouth had opened of its own volition, letting his tongue collide with mine, explore my mouth; probe, feel, arouse. His fingers had caressed my face, his touch setting off a thousand miniature explosions in my body. His arousal mirrored mine. We’d fumbled with each other’s clothes, scarcely pausing to think. Hoping that dusk would conceal our lust. Hoping that no wandering feet or prying eyes would find us, limbs entwined, gorging on one another with an insatiable, voracious, urgent desire.

What a strange thing!

to be alive

beneath cherry blossoms

He’d quoted Kobayashi Issa when he first saw our sakura tree. This peculiar guest from America. This boy-man with his blue eyes and his blonde hair, and his odd way of lisping our names. Okasan had taken him under her wing. He was her replacement son, the boy who would substitute for Masahiko whilst he was away being Americanised. This boy who spoke Japanese with a Californian drawl that made me snigger behind his back. My sister Noriko had followed him around like a lamb, fascinated by this strange entity who had invaded our closed but happy world. I had held back. Perhaps even then I had sensed how fatal he would be.

Our assignations were always under the tree. The only place we were unobserved from the house. Just a look from him was enough to send the blood rushing to my head. His gentle exploration of my body, limb by limb. His teaching me what my own body was capable of. His watching me climax, delaying his own gratification. His amusement at my greed, at my contrastingly frantic hunger for him. His placing a sakura bloom behind my ear, and his tongue inside my ear, making me come unexpectedly.

Forty years of living a lie.

How can it be that memories from an age ago are as fresh as this blossom? While everything else is dried like parchment. Dried, crumpled, forgotten.

Was it in those stolen moments that I had fallen in love? In those mysterious glances that passed between us, in the beading of the sweat that lined his upper lip, in his whispered promises? We were young, it was true, but I had never felt more alive than when he held me in his arms. Alive to the possibilities of life and love.

And yet.

I had planned to follow him to America. Convince the parents to let me do what Masahiko had done before me. Such plans we’d had. Such dreams. And the kami had laughed in their celestial abode.

Forty years of living a lie.

Why did I survive? If anyone had to perish that day, it should have been me. Okasan, Masahiko, Noriko – all gone in a boating accident. Otosan crumpling into himself. Losing the other half of him. And I. I, with my survivor’s guilt, watching my dreamt of future receding farther and farther away.

One never questioned duty. It was my duty to marry. To produce the heirs. To carry forward the lineage. I did what was expected of me.

Forty years of living a lie.

Every Wednesday, Midori, my granddaughter visits me. She is the only one out of six grandchildren that has the time for me. We used to talk when she was little. I would amuse her with my origami birds. We would lie under this tree, and I would recite the haiku of Basho, Buson, and yes, even Issa. She still retains an affection for me.

She humours me by bringing me to the tree every week. Even when it is not in bloom. She senses my need, and indulges it with a grace and a sensitivity that will no doubt lead to great pain in her own life.

As for mine; it is nearly over. This prison of a body is letting me down gradually. One day soon, I will be free of it. I let out a little grunt to tell her I am ready to return to the house.


She lowers me on to the bed, shooing the otetsudai away. My eyes thank her. She leans forward, and moves the hair out of them. Her touch is feather light.

“Rest well, Ojisan. I will come again next week.”

She slips out of the room silently, leaving her old grandfather to dream of blushing sakura and trysts with golden haired gods.

© Poornima Manco 2017