I recently read Haruki Murakami's Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche about religious cult 'Aum Shinrikyo' in Japan that believed in the end of the world and Armageddon, racked up up to 40,000 followers worldwide and among other crimes, planted sarin (a nerve agent) on a train in Tokyo in 1995 killing dozens and injuring thousands. Of course society kind of ruled them out as extreme or abnormally indoctrinated people. The media also cast them as such and in predictable fashion focused on the culprits when reporting the events subsequently. About the victims in many cases, they reported mostly about the numbers of dead and injured. The author decides to shine a light on the victims as he believes they are not just a statistic, but have a story to tell. He interviews several of them about their daily lives leading up to the incident, and about how it’s affected them till date. Also and kind of interestingly, in a follow-up to the initial book, he interviews members of the cult.
The testimonies certainly trigger sentiments that would not be triggered unless when one visualizes being victim to sorrow of such massive proportion. Of course that's not even a fraction of the pain felt by the victims, who were completely innocent people, going about life - just like you and I - completely random. One moment making shopping lists, on their usual commute, or heading for an appointment. The next moment unable to move their throat muscles enough to swallow their own food due to having inhaled an invisible poison gas. Some reduced from fully functioning adults to “mentally about grade-school level”. Some losing their memory and becoming unable to recognize their own family. For some, one moment they had superb prospects for life. Whereas the next moment, hoping that they will be able to coordinate their brain enough to move their arm in the near future was being overly hopeful. For others, understanding such a word as “stop” or nodding affirmative to a question as “how are you” was a sign of progress from the devastating condition in which they were rendered after the attack. It's indeed disheartening for a human to be referred to as a 'vegetable'. Yet it's not uncommon word used in the book sometimes by family members, describing their loved ones, in an attempt to convey most accurately their situation
The recounts also trigger feelings of amazement. Of how amazingly coordinated the human body is. We may not know or appreciate enough when all is well. But after dozens of testimony from people whose physical and mental facilities were affected, with some still deteriorating as a result of the toxic gas - beyond the anger and hate you may feel for the perpetrators - you begin to marvel at how your own body works. You might never have paid attention to such little things as the "complicated maneuvers the tongue and jaws perform whenever we eat or drink", or the coordination required and numerous chemical reactions set in motion to trigger a simple smile. But then, you begin to appreciate more that you have most if not all these still in tact. That you have only the problems you have.
Among other things, the humanity in people which we wouldn’t think of, unless in such a situation is potrayed directly and indirectly. The speed with some could judge such an abstruse situation yet try to help, for those who did. The organisation of the Japanese society and work ethic - “Most people, although they were in a bad way physically, still tried to get to work somehow...they could hardly walk - in fact, one guy near me was crawling!” - however this is a subject for another day and mood. The search for meaning, justification and consolation within themselves and elsewhere, by victims and relatives -“The dead are dead, of course, but there are surely more meaningful ways to die.”.
In counting the victims it is reported that 12 were killed and 1050 injured. I wonder about the families of the injured who become morally beaten up. Their lives changed forever and not in a good way. Who have to go to hospital on a daily basis and be traumatized by their loved one not recognizing them. Who have to remind their sister “it’s brother” every day after saying hello to her.
It's quite interesting, to notice a kind of pattern from the interviews of many who got attracted to this cult. They seemed to be very logical thinkers. Inquisitive people. Many, well-educated, holding master's and doctoral degrees. People who sought for answers to a lot of questions that they could not find, especially when they were much younger. Also, many people who felt they didn't fit into the 'worldly', materialistic society. Many, at tender ages were thinking about things people at their age don't necessarily think about. Their peers were thinking about boy/girlfriends and being cool, while they had what they may have considered a "bigger picture" in mind. Asking themselves questions about death, materialism, sociology, the meaning of life and more. They were very often seeking answers which society did not provide, but this and other cults and religions in their opinions, addressed in one way or the other. And combined with buddhism, yoga, meditation and such kinds of pacific practices, the appeal from the cults became stronger.
Beyond being an emotional piece, it's also very informative book providing insight into the events of that day, and exposing various perspectives of various people involved and affected in different ways.