A Letter to a Fellow Nomad

Dear Sunaina,

As you know, it’s been a few months since I have been blogging. What you may not know is that I have been tearing my hair over a book I was writing. Well, last week, I finally managed to key in the words ‘The End’ and now I face the lovely task of editing and proof-reading:)

But before I begin that final journey on my first ever book, there is a promise I made to you and have to keep. It is that promise that has me sitting down this morning, writing a letter to you – Sunaina Sharma – my fellow life nomad and blogger.

Sunaina, you may not know this but in the midst of all the writer angst I experienced for the first time (writing a book is hard), I came across a post on Facebook by you titled Tomichan Matheikal’s The Nomad Learns Morality.

Fact is, I had stayed away from not just writing for my blog but also from reading posts from other bloggers for some months. You see, writing a book consumes and subsumes you. But when I came across your Facebook post, I clicked on the link because both you and Tomichan Matheikal are two bloggers (amongst a few others) whose posts I respect and enjoy reading.

The end result of my reading your review on Matheikal’s book was my buying The Nomad Learns Morality and reading it. You know this and asked me to let you know what I thought of the book.

That’s the promise I made and that’s the promise I am fulfilling this morning (India time).

First off, let me tell you that I just loved the book title. Aren’t we all nomads in life’s journey, learning morality or the repercussions of not having a sense of one?

Second, I totally agree with you that good literature is thought-provoking and Matheikal’s tales are certainly that. In fact, as I read his Snakes and Ladders, The Autumn of the Patriarch and The Original Sin, the thought, or rather wish, that persisted in my mind was that this is the way ancient literature needed to be discussed in school classrooms and in conversations between parents and their offspring.

Not as black and white.

Not as the goodness of heroes as the gospel truth.

But as literature rich in understanding the travails all life’s nomads face in navigating hard choices, full of moral ambiguity.

I was blown away by these lines in Snakes and Ladders (Chapter 3): “You lacked the courage to stand up to people”, said Lakshmana. “You were more concerned with your image, the façade of the Maryada Purshottam”. Lakshmana was chagrined when his role model and hero consigned his wife, the most chaste woman, to the flames in the name of agni pariksha, just to gain applause from the gallery. “You never protested though you knew deep in your heart that your ladders were being pulled away unjustly. Unnecessarily, in fact”. 

I wish that the lines above could be discussed widely in India because unless we, as a nation, encourage different perspectives and healthy debate, we can’t possibly progress. I love India but I have to say that such discourse is sadly lacking in the Indian way of life, which asks for blind belief, unseeing obedience and rote learning.

I suspect it’s the same in many other parts of the world where religious books are upheld as a truth that is not open to interpretation or discussion.  That being the case, I find it hardly surprising that the human race has materially progressed but hasn’t journeyed much beyond seeing morality as a game of convenience and control to be played and won.

Matheikal brings this point out powerfully in a tale, which bears the title of the book, The Nomad Learns Morality (Chapter 29). Bejoy, a worker, murders his master, Cherian.  When Bejoy is taken away by the police, he points to Cherian’s body and says, “He died because he taught me morality”. 

Sunaina, in your review of The Autumn of the Patriarch, you ask,“Is the ‘greatness’ of a figure of prominence like Bhishma a ‘construct’ that ‘cages’ him? Is it something that forces upon him the decisions he ‘thinks’ he has made willingly”. 

My answer to your question would be, “Absolutely. It’s not just Bhishma but all of humanity that is caged by constructs of religion and social mores”.

To free ourselves from our largely self-imposed prisons, we must, like Matheikal, ask questions of history, mythical figures and teachers, past and present.

You have said as much when reviewing Matheikal’s story Saga of a Warrior. Let me quote your words back to you, “I want to emphasize the fact that the story of Khusru, as narrated from the view-point of his wife, has deeper meanings and throws light on how histories can be constructed differently and how every story can have elements of ‘truth’ and ‘fabrication’. History written by ‘sycophants’ as the writer correctly puts it, is full of ‘blunders’. Approaching them with caution is advised. History etched on the walls and erected as mausoleums also hides skeletons inside. Who is a hero and who is weak, who is hailed as a true warrior and who is stigmatized as a coward and a traitor should be objects of continuous interrogation”. 

There are 33 stories in Matheikal’s The Nomad Learns Morality. Each story brings out reasons to question conventional wisdom on moral and social constructs. And, therein, lies the value in reading this book.

I agree with you that Matheikal should have included a bibliography to direct questioning life nomads on different paths of exploration. But then again, I think Matheikal has succeeded in provoking his readers to, at the least, start wondering about the beliefs their lives have been guided by. The rest is up to them surely?

Sunaina, I have shared with you my stand-out thoughts after reading The Nomad Learns Morality. Your review has done full justice to the book by analysing each of the 33 tales. That being the case, I will simply strongly encourage readers of my post here to (a) read your review and (b) buy Tomichan Matheikal’s The Nomad Learns Morality.

Your review got me to buy the book and find a treasure trove of thought-provoking tales there. Let’s hope my letter to you adds to that action and results in many more nomads undertaking Matheikal’s literary journey.

With regards from a fellow nomad,

Lata.

To buy the book, click here


Featured Image Credit: Rose bush in the Ooty Rose Garden. Image by Lata Subramanian.

 

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