Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Looking at Life -- a book review

If there's only one book, you're planning to read this month, I'd urge you to pick this one.
I came across Tomichan Matheikal's blog posts during the A-to-Z blogging challenge of April 2021 and from the word go, I was hooked. 

The very apt title of the book, Life, can mean so many things at a time when the world is going through a pandemic. Even before I dug my heels into the essays, this caught my eye: "A book has no life without readers. Life, that is what matters in the end whether it is a person or a book." 

I had read somewhere that a reader lives as many lives as the number of books he's read. The reader of this collection of essays certainly lives at least 24 lives vicariously through Tomichan's carefully chosen words and artfully crafted pieces.

As an introduction, the author states that "These essays are written for ordinary readers and not for scholars. The style is simple and lucid so that any lay reader will find it easy to read and understand though the topics are not commonplace."

Imagine sitting in your favourite coffee shop with a group of friendly philosophers, historian, book lovers and thinkers. Now imagine conversations meandering from one to the other with thoughtful insights, weaving politics, humanity, religion, art, literature and common sense with such ease that you are left feeling informed and intelligent by just being present while sipping your coffee.

That's how I felt while reading this book:  absorbing the ideas presented easily and yet keenly aware of the introspective quality of what I was reading.

I can fill this post with pertinent quotes by famous people picked by the author and planted throughout the book which encapsulate the essence of his essays perfectly from Oscar Wilde to Bernard Shaw but I'll let you, the reader, relish those when you read the book. I'll stick to quoting Tomichan's words here to give you a sense of his style.

On the background of broad strokes of world politics, the nation state and religion, the author paints a line or a paragraph of such vivid wisdom, that it grabs you and compels you to look at it as a life lesson, a personal eye-opener, a warning to be aware of the pitfalls of society, of vanity. "Self-delusion on your part and condescension on theirs." 

The underlying theme of all the essays is 'Life' of course, but looking at it from the point of view of Greek mythology and the Mahabharata, from Kuhn to Kafka, from the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta to the life of Jesus, from Gandhi to Zorba, examining the truth or many 'truths' under the lens of the present-day politics compels the reader to examine her own ideas and set notions about life.  

"Rebellion is saying No to certain realities and saying a louder Yes to better alternatives."

What's life without lessons: learnt, unlearnt, yet to be learnt, forgotten and some that should never be forgotten?  I'd say it's a life never lived. This volume called 'Life' is peppered with lessons  but not in a preachy way. The essays are introspective on both micro and macro levels.  The reader may want to give time to the lessons to percolate before moving on to the next page. I did when I read sentences like: "Popularity has a diabolic appeal. It enchants and blinds people." 

Reading the book is akin to philosophical osmosis.  The reader is submerged in the richness of thought garnered from such a vast canvas of reading, that at the end of each essay one feels one has reached some clarity of thought that one wasn't aware one possessed. And in some cases, questions emerge ready for debate: a wholesome, gusty debate about how we can undo the damage we have done thus far as a race.

"Hatred is one of the most potent and bewitching of all human emotions. People love to hate those who are different from them in some ways. Politicians know this truth and use it effectively to create marauding bandwagons."

Tomichan's essays are a mirror. Reflected in them, you see yourself, the society and the world, warts and all, and yet looking into this mirror is not an exercise in vanity or futility. On the contrary, the essays have that reflective quality where one stops at a sentence, a phrase and pauses to gain a deeper understanding of self and society. 

"We need to heal our own fragmentations. We need to sit by the shore of a calm sea and put certain pieces together, pieces of our own souls."

And just when you think you may need a break to absorb all that you've read thus far, there appears  "the tender coconut that comes when the Warangal sun is boiling your innards is a memorable delight."

Refreshed and eager, the reader moves to the next essay and then the next. The sequencing is perfect. So, if you are keen to read it all in one go, you can. Be prepared to stop and be impressed on the way, though.

"Every crusader, every militant bhakt, every jihadist, has a heart and a mind that died long ago clinging to pet truths like barnacles clinging to rocks." 

The reader may wonder how to even begin taking those barnacles off oneself, society, political structures and age-old belief systems.

I'd recommend by reading works such as this one.  It can certainly be the first step to open one's eyes to the beauty and fragility of  'Life' and make one cognisant of the fact that despite our differences and prejudices, this is the only reality we have. Rest is imaginations and stories. 

"Genuine seekers of truth refuse to be deluded by gods." and "Truth is nobody’s prerogative."

The book offers solutions. It's not a futile coffee-table discussion in one's drawing-room. No, Sir. It's a call to change, to take stock of the situation, to take responsibility, to stop looking back and reminisce about golden days but to wake up and do something about today. The book urges the reader to live life and live it as a fruitful, well-informed citizen of the world.

"But we need a shift from our self-centeredness to a cosmic outlook. Who will bring about that shift? 
You."  

"It is my fervent hope that this book will live and not merely exist." states the author and as you go through the essays, the reader is let into his belief that "Life is a passion to be experienced, not a riddle to be solved." despite the book's deep and thoughtful provocations.

After I finished reading the book, I was reminded of a dear blogger friend, Yamini's recent post about Satsang. In her words,  "'sat' means 'true' and 'sang(a)' means 'community'. Therefore, it is the sitting in true communion - implying intent of purpose in the gathering and the potential for expansion from it."

That's what this book is. It's a Satsang: an invitation to gather around wise men and women of history, examine their words and philosophies and in doing so open up our own potential to expand our horizons of learning, understanding and acceptance.  I'll end my review with the author's words: "Take care of what you do to people’s hearts. The rest doesn’t matter."

I sincerely hope you will read this book.

The book is free to download now. You can get it here:  Life


PS. This book is part of #BlogChatteEbook carnival in which my book, And all the Seasons in between is also a part.

6 comments:

  1. Reviewing is an art and you are an expert. Thank you for capturing the spirit of the book and presenting it to potential readers. Your review is also a reminder for me to maintain certain standards in writing. Thank you.

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    1. You humour me:) Thank you.
      I'm glad our paths crossed this year.

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  2. Hari OM
    Arti-ben, this is a wonderful wander through your thoughts on TM's e-book... I have of course seen his name around various places I comment but have somehow never connected. I shall correct that now. Due to your production, I have been absorbed into Blogchatter and have a bit of exploring to do... dare I dip my toe by posting there also? As you have honoured me by visiting and quoting Aatmaavrajanam, it may perhaps interest others. We shall see. YAM xx

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    1. Please do Yamini.
      Your writing brings me so much peace and light dear Yamini. I'm sure there are many like me who stand to gain from your wisdom.
      And TM's book is truly a treasure.

      P.S.-- hope my productions didn't disappoint! This Jain is vain like that;-)

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  3. I must check out this book. ... Thanks, Arti, for the review.

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    1. I think you will enjoy this book Pradeep. It's intelligent and precise.

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