One of the stories in the short story collection The Nomad Learns Morality by Tomichan Matheikal ends with John Lennon’s quote There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be. Lennon’s words seem to encapsulate what life is all about. We often wonder about our aims and ambitions and fret over life’s absurdities that we meet everyday. Mr. Matheikal’s book is an example in this regard. The stories in the collection deal with life and its ironies, humans and their follies, illusions and realities. The writer has enriched his stories by drawing characters from mythology, history, and his everyday life. The stories are short, insightful and investigative in nature. There are questions asked. Answers are something we need to search for.
I have reviewed the book on my other blog. To read my complete review of the book, click here.
For this post, I am including one quote from each story to spike your interest. I hope that these lines do justice to the spirit of each story, and make my readers curious to pick up the collection and read it.
‘Every error is an invitation to see our reality better, to realise where our consciousness is and where it can be.’ – Ahalya
‘ They want war when they are bored with the mundane affairs.’ – Sarayu’s Sorrow
‘Both snakes and ladders are essential, brother, to complete the game.’ – Snakes and Ladders
“Truth is simple,” returned Draupadi. “But dharma is subtle.” – The Autumn of the Patriarch
‘God watched them with amusement. Satan watched them with inquisitiveness.’ – Original Sin
‘Dreams of heavens can lead people to caves.’ – Children of Lust
‘They made him their Messiah and demanded miracles. Frustration was his destiny.’ – First Christmas
‘Women, mused Achilles. Strange creatures. They make us mad. They make us love and they make us fight. ‘ – War and Love
‘ “What slave work do you want me to do for you?” asked Diogenes when he had been bought.
“Be a teacher to my children,” answered Xeniades with the insanity that matched the wisdom of Diogenes. – Barrel Life
‘There is no retreat for a conqueror. ‘ – And Quiet flowed the Beas
‘What does the next morning matter to a devotee? ‘ – Worship
‘ “But God is the ultimate hypothesis that explains everything,” exclaimed the Emperor wondering how Laplace could dismiss such a valuable hypothesis so casually. ‘ – Scholar, Politician, and Priest
‘ The distance between life and death is just a moment. ‘ – Life’s journey
‘ Is truth the expediency of the authorities? ‘ – Galileo’s Truth
“The line between politics and religion is an illusion that can be shifted in any direction as required by the occasion.” – Caliph of Two Worlds
‘ History is replete with blunders written by sycophants.’ – The Saga of a Warrior
‘ At least I know how to kill. At least how to conquer the gods of the others.’ – Aurangzeb too Dies
‘ “Burn all the books by intellectuals and subversives,” ordered Shuddhodhana.’ – Under the Peepal
‘ “Do we become what we hate?” I asked without realising what I was doing.’ – Maya
‘ “But we can only return to the place. Not to the time.” ‘ – Destiny
‘ Joy came trickling down in the simple forms of an ordinary life uninterfered by priests and their gods.’ – The Devil Has a Religion
‘ “One being’s fear is another’s sustenance.” ‘ – A Ghost and a Secret
‘ The myriad gods waited to be appeased. ‘ – Mayank Passes
‘ You can experience life as a terror or you can experience it as a wonder, said the peacock.’ – Michael and the Witch
‘ Nutmegs have no religion. ‘ – Sacrifice
‘ Father Lawrence, like most Fathers of the Church, possessed the quality of omniscience in matters related to his proteges (or victims, as the case sometimes would be).’ – Coma
‘ No one had realised the ultimate futility of human endeavour better than Father Benedict.’ – The Lights below the Darkness
‘ You should grow up into a man in the society, not away from it.” ‘ – Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star
‘ If you believe in god, you’ll have to believe in the devil too, he said something like that.” ‘ – The Nomad Learns Morality
‘ Teachers had no air-conditioners. ‘ – BMW
‘ We have to cry a lot if pearls are to be gained, said Johnny.’ – Pearls and …. Bullies
‘ “When it’s over the audience should be able to carry that joy and grace in their hearts. Otherwise the dancer is a failure. The dance is a failure.” ‘ – Anna, I Miss You
‘But honesty is not a business person’s cup of tea.’ – Queen of Spades
There were some questions I had to ask the author himself after I read the book. Here are the questions and the answers.
What similarity do you see in the women characters you have drawn from history and mythology? Sita, draupadi, Ahalya, Cleopatra, Roxana, Helen, Bresies, Eve etc.
What’s common to almost all of my female characters is their questioning of patriarchy and patriarchal systems. When men stand for POWER, the women appeal for LOVE. Philosopher Nietzsche had classified Jesus, Buddha and such religious leaders as effeminate, while the conquerors were macho for him. Wise people like Aristotle belonged to the balanced centre, they relied on reason rather than passion to find filfilment in life. Personally, I would choose reason too. But I am very aware of the role played by emotions and passions in ordinary life. Through these female characters of mine, I am seeking for the dominance of LOVE over POWER.
Cleopatra is an exception. However, being a woman she could understand the passion of that soldier and she gratified it which a male ruler would never have done.
Which character is closest to your heart?
I can’t pinpoint any character as closest to my heart. But Rama and Bhishma as I have portrayed them are very dear to me. As you mentioned in your review they are mastered by certain “constructs” and hence cannot follow their heart. That helplessness is what makes them closest to me. It is the essential helplessness of all great people. Even God would be helpless if He/She became a human being!
Are you a nomad too?
Yes, I am a nomad at heart. People have called me anarchist, rebel, and other such names. Some have described me as subversive. They are not entirely wrong.
Who is a true teacher?
A true teacher does not teach as much as inspire. If I can inspire my students to work towards self-realisation I am a good teacher. Otherwise I am just another professional.
Authors one must read, in your view –
I don’t want to suggest writers for others. The tastes differ. My great writers are Dostoevsky, Kafka, Camus, Kazantzakis, etc. I have also relished reading modern classical writers such as Joseph Conrad, D H Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. There are other contemporary writers too. Amitav Ghosh is an excellent writer, for example.
Why do you end the stories the way you do?
The ending of my stories is not a conscious choice. Honestly, when I actually write the story I depart from what I had planned in mind. That is because writing is very much a subconscious process. Life has only one clear end: death. That’s one reason why my stories have to end in vagueness. The writer has to choose the end. Characters in stories are merely means for the readers, even for the writer, for probing within….
Would you not like to add an Introduction for your readers?
I would like to make a request rather than give an introduction.
When writers like Salman Rushdie write books like Satanic Verses, they are not ridiculing any religion or God. They are probing their own inner conflicts. It is their way of trying to make sense of the religion, its deities and also the fellow human beings who may appear absurd and baffling. It is their way of making sense of life. When I probe characters and events from religious books or other existing sources, I am doing the same: trying to make sense of them and life. I also expect that my attempt at making sense of life can be of help to the readers. Unless the reader understands this, the work will be a failure.
How would you define love and hatred in one line?
Love is a desire for the well-being of the other. Hatred is the need to overpower the other.
What is humanity?
By humanity, I assume you mean the quality of being humane rather than the species. For me, the quality is a balanced synthesis of reason and emotion. One should learn to control the passions with one’s reason but nurture the good emotions at the same time.
What about politics and religion?
Politics is essentially a power game which determines who will rule over whom. Religion has been a very effective tool in the hands of power-seekers.
I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Mr. Matheikal for answering the questions that I asked him. These questions were important for me as they helped me see the writer at work in these short stories. Those who wish to read ‘good literature’ are urged to with all sincerity to pick up the book and read it.