She is by no means an adventurous traveller recounting her excursions into ‘the Land of the Rising Sun’ wrapped in the secrecy of its isolation from the rest of the world. She was following her Japanese husband Oemon Takeda to visit her Japanese in-laws living in a small village near the town of Nagoya. Hariprabha Takeda’s observations are brief, but sharp, describing her everyday life as a stranger admitted into a hitherto hermetically sealed culture.
As Kazuhiro Watanabe explains in the numerous Apendices that add to our understanding of Hariprabha’s life and writing, ‘The year 1912 in which Hariprabha Takeda and her husband came to Japan was a monumental one in Japanese history. That same year Emperor Matsuhito died in the month of July, ending the forty-five year long Meiji era. The period under Matsuhito’s regime is known as the Meiji era, and during that period Japan did away with the traditional military rule that had endured for centuries, and started her march towards modernity’ (p. 187). For Oemon Takeda these steps would take him to the Bubbles Soap Factory in Dhaka as a technician. His experience would enable him to eventually start his own soap factory. He is credited with having introduced the use of glycerin in the manufacture of soap at his Dhaka Soap factory. One of his brothers, Toshan Takeda also joined him. We hear all these details, not from Hariprabha but from the entries made by some of her relatives and scholars at the end. We are also given to understand that what may have brought the couple together was the growing influence of the Brahmo Samaj movement of the early 1900s.
Hariprabha’s mother was an activist social worker, as we could call her today, devoted to the welfare of abandoned widows and orphan girls. This liberal atmosphere in the family is probably what led to the young and well-educated Hariprabha marrying a Japanese man. It is also said that part of the Brahmo way of life was to maintain a diary. This may explain the correspondence that is part-diary, part notebook that Hariprabha sends to her sister Santiprabha Mallick. She is the one who is responsible for publishing the diary to great acclaim in November 1915. There is also some speculation that Rabindranath Tagore’s own trip to Japan and his more complex observations may have been sparked by his interest in reading Hariprabha Takeda’s jottings.
Be that as it may, when Hariprabha boards the ship with her husband to make the journey across the seas, there is all the excitement of the first time traveller. ‘I was very happy to see the ocean, the blue water below and the blue sky above.’ And then she tells herself: ‘I had long cherished the desire to see where the river surrendered itself completely to the ocean for a long time, but I had not been able to do this. The river gets its life from the ocean, and then once again comes and unites with it. Though they are joined now the blue water and the muddy water remained completely separate. After being born from the Almighty, can we also surrender our lives to His feet and carry our sins and weaknesses back to Him? He is pure and sacred while we are sinners, and so we have to become humble before uniting with Him. This union is a long way off, which is probably why I couldn’t see the union of the river and the ocean’ (p. 57). In passages such as the above we get a glimpse of how Hariprabha could be both refined and passionate in describing her feelings. We never get to hear of the personal feelings that must have existed between the Takedas when he took his strange Indian bride to visit his parents. They were probably part of a rural farming background. What emerges from Hariprabha’s account is how hard the women had to work to maintain their very austere and simple way of life, in the kitchen, in the home, in the fields and in every other aspect of their daily interactions. There does not appear to have been many of the social class distinctions amongst the people she met. There are details of how babies are kept dry by the use of pads worn under oilskin pants before being harnessed comfortably on to a working mother’s back, so that they could be kept warm and also secure.