Ramblings: Happy (Lunar) New Year, everyone! This is my little new year’s gift to you all. Enjoy~ (also, I was on a roll and was eager in translating this chapter…you’ll know why soon)
T/N: Any notes at the end of relevant paragraphs that are indicated with an asterisk * are usually my own translation notes, unless I say otherwise in square brackets. Words in square brackets [ ] in sentences are words I added for clearer meaning.
Chapter 27: Water Splashing Day
On the last day of the Su Mu Zhe Festival, Pusysdeva no longer has to crouch next to my bed and yell at me to get up. My dream of watching the sunrise with Rajiva has already vanished at the sound of the suona* and laughter ringing in the air.
* double-reeded horn, a Chinese wind instrument
“Ai Qing, wake up! I have never seen any girls who like to sleep in as much as you do. Today is the most exciting day of the festival.”
I make a grunting noise. My eyes remain closed as I try to savour the loss of a sweet dream. Only in dreams can Rajiva and I can walk hand-in-hand without any fear…
“If you don’t get up, I’m going to lift you up myself!”
I jerk upright immediately and run off to the washroom.
We head into the streets wearing masks. One step out of the gate and my eyes turn wide at the scene before me: the street is full of water puddles, everyone’s clothes are completely soaked through, and yet nobody seems to mind.
“Come along, and you will see how exciting this last day is!”
The sound of music reverberates from a corner of the street. Pusysdeva grabs my hand and pulls me to that area.
A pulling cart is slowly rolling forward, carrying a couple of suona players and a large barrel of water. Two young men are currently scooping out the water and splashing it at people nearby, yelling: “May luck flow in and disasters flow out in the new year!”
Every house on the street has all their doors and windows wide open. A large bucket of water is placed in front of each, and there are some homeowners who are also splashing water back at the cart. It is hard to see the faces of the people being drenched with water since they are all wearing masks, but I can clearly hear their bright laughter so they must find this very refreshing. They make me even more excited, reminding me that I am witnessing the water splashing festival from 1,650 years ago!
The playboy manages to avoid a scoop of water, but I receive it in full, leaving my skirt soaked through.
“Come, Ai Qing.” Pusysdeva grabs my hand, eyes bright and eager. “Let’s splash water!”
He drags me back to the residence of the State Preceptor. A horse-pulling cart is already set up at the center of the courtyard, nicely decorated, and is currently carrying a barrel of water on top. Pusysdeva arranges for a young man to steer the cart and two people to play the suona. He then lifts me up on the cart and jumps up himself in one splendid move. A water scoop is pushed into my hand. He then turns around and tells the driver: “Let’s go!” The cart gets rolling and the suona begins to sound as we move from street to street, submerging ourselves quite literally in the water splashing activity and that cheerful atmosphere.
I once visited Thailand during their new year [April 13 in Gregorian calendar], which is called Songkran, also known as the Water Splashing Festival. On the streets of Bangkok, everyone was armed with a water gun as parade trucks begun their procession. When the music reached its high notes, young men and women would yell out in tune, scoop out water from the large plastic buckets placed on the trucks and splash at people nearby. When the trucks reached concentrated areas, they would stop and a water fight would ensue between the water splashing ‘soldiers’. Even when the trucks are parked next to the public buses on the road, the soldiers would not hesitate in splashing the buses with water. Everyone was drenched with water and smiling happily. But back then, I was only a spectator, watching from a safe distance away. Even though I got splashed a couple of times, even got a group of Thai teenagers I did not know running toward me and pasting some white powder on my face, I had never fully participated in the water festival and played as hard as I did today.
On the streets of Kucha, we splash water on people and they splash water back at us. When we encounter a cart going in the opposite direction, both carts would stop and a water fight would ensue. The soldiers would be splashing water and yelling out well wishes all the while. At first I was still hesitant, only took small scoops of water and splashed people gently. But after being attacked relentlessly and getting soaked to the bone, I begun to fight back just as hard and splashed people with huge scoops of water, all the while trying to avoid the counterattacks as best as I can. It is currently summer in Kucha, where the heat is very oppressive and dry, so getting splashed with water like this feels very refreshing. I yell to the point of losing my voice. Never before have I had so much fun!
There are some people on the streets holding water guns made of wooden tubes, which have a very wide range. Someone points their gun at me. I immediately move to the side to duck, but the unsteady cart makes my feet slip, tipping me forward to the ground. My face does not get to kiss the ground, but instead I am being held against a chest is heaving hard. A pair of light grey eyes are looking at me from a very close distance, checking me out from top to bottom. I suddenly realize that my wet clothes are currently sticking to my body, and the common phrase to use in this situation would be “showing each and every curve of my body”. I can only see his eyes [through the mask] and cannot read the expression on this playboy’s face. My cheeks heat up. Thank heavens I have a mask on.
I try to get out of his hold. Pusysdeva doesn’t try to tease me like before, but he looks at me for a long while, before letting out a long sigh: “Ai Qing, your breasts are too small…”
A large scoop of water descends on his head. Of course the likes of me cannot be compared to the fuller bodies of the Kuchan women!
“But I heard that some massage can make them bigger.”
A second scoop of water hits his head. Pusysdeva shakes shakes his head to get rid of the water. Reddish brown curls are sticking to his forehead, but this rascal is still unafraid.
“I can help you…”
Out of water, I can only lunge forward to strangle him. I must finish off this rascal. Letting him live will only endanger society for years to come!
Since the water barrel has been emptied, the cart begins to roll back into the city. Pusysdeva tells the driver to stop when he pass by a branch of the Muzat River. Together with the other men [suona players], he lifts the barrel to the river to refill the water. I also jump down from the cart to help them.
Pusysdeva was the one who played the hardest earlier, so his body soaked from top to bottom. His clothes are clinging to him, revealing hard muscles and a broad back. If I do not find such a sight to be pleasing to the eyes then I am not a woman!
“So? Liking what you see?”
This womanizer! Every word out of his mouth is always full of innuendos! My ears feel like bleeding from hearing them. Have mercy on me, Pusysdeva!
[T/N: but it was you who was staring, Ai Qing…]
I hasten to throw a scoop of water at him, which he easily dodges, making the person behind him receive the full onslaught.
The person’s clothes were actually dry before my scoop of water hit him, but they are now completely soaked, causing him to take a step back in embarrassment. He has a tall and thin build, wears a white girdle with a sash in the same colour, and his face is hidden by a lion mask. There is something rather ethereal about the aura he is exuding. Even though the space around him is bustling with sound and people, his figure gives off a lonely feeling. Heart beating fast, my eyes try to search for his, but he has already turned around and walked away. I am about to give chase but Pusysdeva’s hand stops me. My eyes trail after that disappearing figure. I shake my head. It must have been an illusion, for how could he have been here? Not to mention that the person’s hair was light brown in colour. And yet, why did my heart constrict at the sight of that lonely figure? Even Pusysdeva’s [water splashing] game no longer holds my interest…
The cart continues to roll forward, passing by the inn I once stayed at [after returning to Kucha]…
At last, we arrive back at the State Preceptor’s residence. Pusysdeva still feels that he hasn’t played enough, yelling out that he wants to continue on with the water splashing. He really is a child at heart. To think that he still have stamina to go on after playing for the whole day like that.
As soon as we step inside, I can notice right away that something is different. Everyone in the residence appears to be much more solemn that usual. Out of the corner of my eyes, I see flashes of brown kasaya robes fluttering in the wind, hugging a tall thin figure standing all alone in the middle of the courtyard. Hearing our ruckus, the person turns around, a calm expression on his face…
At that moment, my eyes begin to tear up. Rajiva, how long has it been since I saw you last? Why do I feel as if a lifetime has passed in between?
Rajiva watches me carefully for a moment, when his face suddenly reddens and his eyes drift away. I am still in the state of having wet clothes clinging to my every curve. In front of Pusysdeva, I did not mind, but for some reason, in front of him, I find my heart beating fast, my cheeks heating up and my head involuntarily tilting down.
The mask on my face gets pulled off. Pusysdeva’s vice-like claw grips my shoulder once again.
“Brother, look who it is! It’s Ai Qing, our fairy, returning to us after ten years of disappearance.”
Rajiva lifts his eyes to look at me. A look of surprise flashes by his eyes. He clasps his hands together and gives me a forty-five degree bow: “Rajiva greets Teacher!”
I did not expect him to treat me so formally in front of his brother. Flustered and not knowing how to respond, I just gaze back at him stupidly.
“Go change your clothes quickly, you are completely soaked! Or else you will catch a cold!”
This is the first time Pusysdeva has ever uttered such ‘caring’ words to me. I sneak glances at Rajiva to gauge his expression. His face is still the same. Not a trace of expression can be gleamed. Something cold creeps into my heart. Pusysdeva’s hand on my shoulder suddenly feels like thorns prickling into my skin. Angry, I shove him off and walk as fast as I can to my room.
Behind me is the sound of Pusysdeva’s teasing laughter: “How typical of a woman, always getting angry for no apparent reason–”
Rajiva cuts him off with a sharp voice: “Go change your clothes and meet me in father’s room. I have something to tell you.”
After changing my clothes, I pace around the courtyard while waiting for my hair to dry. The two brothers are currently in their father’s room. I do not know what Rajiva is telling them. My mind is a mess. Why is Rajiva here? Is Master Bandhudatta still at his place?
The door to Kumarayana’s room opens then, cutting off my train of thoughts. Pusysdeva walks out, face pale as a ghost. When he sees me, he immediately steps forward and pulls me into his arms. I grit my teeth and struggle to escape to his hold. I definitely do not want Rajiva to witness this scene.
“Ai Qing!” Pusysdeva continues to hold me tight and speaks with a broken voice, “My mother…has passed away…”
I freeze in my spot, all thoughts of escaping gone. Ah, that is why he is here—to report this news. I look up and see Rajiva standing at the doorway of the room. The sky above is darkening as the shadow of sunset begins to recede, leaving only a lone spot of sunlight on the ground.
“Young master*, your room has been cleaned.”
* The Chinese actually says 大公子, which literally translates to “elder noble son”. I agonized for hours over this but could not think of an English form of address that wouldn’t sound as awkward. If someone has a better alternative, please tell me in the comments!
Even though Rajiva is now a renowned Buddhist master all across the Western Regions, Kumarayana still asks everyone in his residence to address Rajiva as “young master”. Perhaps he is reminding his son that while he is at home, he still has secular identity as an important member of the family?
Rajiva gives a slight nod, crosses the threshold and walks off to his own room, not bothered in the least about me and Pusysdeva standing in the courtyard. When he passes by me, his lips are pressed together, his face impassive, as if saying that everything is in this earthly realm is immaterial to him. My heart feels like it’s being crushed to pieces. Tears start to roll down my cheeks. I use all my strength to push Pusysdeva off me.
Seeing my tears, Pusysdeva panics and tries to comfort me, “I’m touched that you’re crying for me, but please, don’t cry…”
I fling his arm off, run back to my room and bolt the door.
“Ai Qing, open up!” Pusysdeva knocks on the door carefully.
I ignore him and bury myself in the blanket. Whenever I am sad, I always allow myself a night to cry my heart out, so that I can begin the next day with a fresh start. It is my belief that there are no obstacles in life that cannot be overcome. But I still do not understand, why exactly am I crying?
“Crying for my mother, it’s not worth it.”
I poke my head out of the blanket and find Pusysdeva crouching in front of me. Now that I think about it, he has probably never used the main door to enter my room.
I have never seen Pusysdeva’s face like this: a little sad, a little angry, a little pained…all mixed together.
“Mother had never cared about this family. Her heart and mind were always set on the path of a Buddhist, to escape this realm, to reach the nirvana, to be freed from the endless cycles of suffering.” A corner of his mouth lifts up into a sneer, “I do not understand, what is so good about that nirvana compared to reality? Why does it hold more importance than her husband and child?”
He bites his bottom lip and takes a deep breath. “In her heart there is only my brother. She gave birth to me only to give this family line an heir, to fulfill her duty towards her husband’s family. Having completed that last duty in this earthly world, she then took off with my brother, leaving me behind. The past twenty one years, how many times have I been able to see her? My father longed for her each and every night, but what about her? Does the path towards Buddhahood make a person become so cold, so heartless?”
Pusysdeva suddenly stands up straight, his head held high, and says: “They want to become Buddha, but not me. To become one, you must disregard all feelings and attachments, what’s so fun about that? A lifetime lasts only what, some forty-fifty years. I’d rather descend into hell than live this short life so oppressively. In the next life, I care not whether I get to be human or a pig, so long as I get to live this life as I please.”
I am speechless, my tears forgotten. Pusysdeva has never confessed his inner thoughts to me like this. Could it be that his reckless and playboy attitude is a rebellion against his mother’s decision to leave her family behind? That him trying to paint the afterlife in the worst possible light is his way of rejecting the Buddhist way?
“We humans live between the earth and sky, and our days are but a fleeting shadow—here a moment, gone the next,” I get down from the bed and walk to where he is, telling him softly, “Pusysdeva, there is nothing wrong with trying to live in the present.”
His body trembles a bit. He turns around and looks at me with a solemn gaze: “Ai Qing, you don’t think I’m a terrible person?”
In this kind of place, where everyone is a Buddhist and nirvana is sought by all like Kucha, Pusysdeva’s thoughts are of course unacceptable. A poem by Bao Zhao comes to mind:
“Water poured on level ground
Will run north, south, east or west.
Human’s life is also bound by fate,
Why lament at work and brood at rest?”
[T/N: The poem is basically saying we should not worry unnecessarily about things beyond our control as it will only make us miserable. This is a modified translation from the work of Robert S. Chen (1989), “A study of Bao Zhao and his poetry: with a complete English translation of his poems”, unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, University of British Columbia.]
*Bao Zhao (c. 414–466 CE) was Chinese poet, writer, and court official known for his shi poetry, fu rhapsodies, and parallel prose. The excerpt above is from Poem No.4 in his “Variations on the Weary Road” collection, aka “Imitating ‘The Road of Adversity” (Robert Chen’s translation).
“Pusysdeva, the thoughts you hold, the things you do, all show that you thirst to live and enjoy the life you currently have. I also agree that you should live in the present. But you who keep on chasing the moon and flowers* like that, heart devoid of love, are you truly happy?”
* Chinese idiom, meaning to play around with women, skirt-chasing
“Devoid of love?” He mumbles after me, his eyes glazed over.
“Maybe there is [love], but you don’t even know it! You do not even dare to admit that you loved your mother. Because you loved her, you wanted to know how it would feel to be in her arms. Because you loved her, that is why you were angry at her for leaving you, why you were jealous of your brother for receiving more of her attention, and why you were in such fierce opposition to her Buddhist beliefs.”
“Ai Qing!” Pusysdeva calls out, his eyes clearly conflicted. “Do you think…mother loved me?”
“But of course! There are no parents who do not love their children. Your mother loved you in her own way, even if you could not feel it, even if it was not as large as you wanted it to be. When you become a parent, you will understand.”
Pusysdeva is silent, the circles of his eyes reddening [from trying not to cry]. All this time, he has always yearned for his mother’s love.
For the rest of the evening, Pusysdeva talks to me about all kinds of things, his tone sorrowful, using words from the bottom of his scarred heart. It is a sight I have never witnessed before. When he leaves my room, his face still carries traces of sadness, very much unlike how he usually is.
I blow out the light and move to sit by the window, watching the room opposite in silence. The silhouette of a tall thin figure appears on the window shades every once in a while. I sit there in a daze until the light in his room goes out. In the silent night, thousands of thoughts keep swirling in my mind, make it hard for me find any peace.
That is how the Su Mu Zhe Festival comes to an end.
Ramblings: Guess who is back? 😀 I’m sure you all have missed him just as much as I did. Rajiva is here to wreak havoc on our (and Ai Qing’s) emotions again. But I welcome it, because having him on the pages is better than not having him at all, don’t you agree? 😉