Moral Dilemmas in a metaphorical Black Hole

Dr Jose Maliekal SDB

Dr Jose Maliekal SDB is a thinker, professor of philosophy, social activist and a Catholic priest. He has written a book, Standstill Utopias, based on his doctoral thesis. His observations on reality tend to be keen and profound. Hence his views on my writings are of much significance to me personally. He has been magnanimous with his review of my novel, Black Hole and I am thrilled to present the review below. 

Literature is an introduction to where and how we live and the challenges that face our time and society. In many ways, literature is an introduction to who we are, or ought to be, as people. It helps us to be ‘critical insiders” to borrow a leaf from U.R. Ananthamurthy, a doyen of Indian literature (Kunal Ray, The Purpose of Literature, Being a critical insider would mean not being a spectator to all what is going on around us. As human beings, we are just not spectators, but players in the game of reality and its interpreters.

While going through the short but insightfully crafted novel, Black Hole, written by Tomichan Matheikal, I found myself coming face to face with the manifold challenges that face our time and society, especially in the socio-political and the economic field where there is a heady mix of politics and religion, that too in an unholy nexus.

From the metamorphosis of the patriot Kailashputar, into Kailas Baba, who found himself becoming the founder of the Devlok Ashram, and the story of the expansion of the Ashram, into a mammoth commercial venture, in tandem with the struggles of India, to free herself from the colonial yoke, a tragicomedy unfolds.

The author, wielding his pen, with ease and poise, born out of his vast erudition of literature, philosophy and history, through masterly strokes of frame tales, paints for us portraits of the protagonist, the many deuteragonists and the tritagonists in the unfolding drama. He weaves a tapestry of silhouettes of persons in moral dilemmas, on the one hand and unscrupulousness of conscience, on the other, and the saga being unveiled, veering itself into a black hole, caving inward, under its own weight.

Only that the black hole is not the just the timespace of Delhi alone, the land of self-exile of the young Ishan Salman, fugitive from himself, and from Fr Joseph, his benefactor-antagonist, emblematic of the mushrooming godmen/women and soothsayers of our motherland. The black hole is the everydayness, where we find ourselves facing our own Agniparikshas and our own Kurukshetras, searching for footholds, without realizing that “We live in an administered world” (Theodore Adorno), of palace intrigues, where we are mere pawns and puppets. And where we embrace “Religion, the opium of the people” (Karl Marx).

Earlier in my carrier, as a social activist and teacher of philosophy, moving along with a dance troupe, in the villages of East Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, conscientizing people on socio-economic evils, we were confronted by the ubiquitous village drunk, with one question, “All this farce, you are into and about, is it about Bhukti (struggle for survival and   fulfilment of material needs) and Bhakti (devotion)?

This tension between Bhukti and Bhakti runs throughout the life of the nation. It accounts for the imprisonment of Ishan Salman Panikkar, the rapist who did not rape, Salman Lahiri, the comedian, who did not crack a joke and Fr Stan Rosario, the terrorist of compassion. At play here is the Derridean spectre of the Invisible-Visible enemy of the terrorist, an essential recipe for the imaginary of the enemy construction, under the Fascist metanarrative rubric of the Hidnurahtra.

Taking a cue from Irwing Howe, who has delved into the character of novels, I consider Black Hole to be standing at the intersections of the political and the historical. Any novel, worth its name, has to evoke a discourse of politics of representation and politics of recognition. And I presume, Black Hole would be no exception. And I dream that it would join the ranks of Mahasweta Devi’s renowned short story, Draupadi, Bama’s Karukku, Sukirtharani’s poems (Ray, The Purpose of Literature) and Perumal Murugan’s Madhorubhagan, finding themselves in and out of academic syllabi and their authors being silenced, for like them, it smells of life, in flesh and blood. Life, with its bare crudity and nakedness, is always disruptive, lending itself to reversals, resisting co-optive hegemonization.

We could and should expect from the thought-leader/public intellectual novelist, that is Tomichan Matheikal, even more of his creations, of the genre of the Homo Dialecticus (Human, the Resister). 


An interview of mine with Dr Maliekal can be read here: Interview with a Missionary

Black Hole e-book is available exclusively here.

The paperback is available exclusively here


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