Michael Chacko Daniels'

Tale of Narayanan and Joseph:

That Damn Romantic Fool

Two Young Men

Have A Friendship--

Or Do They?

An Introduction By Naomi Rose

Whenever a good story tells the truth by going deeply into the motivations and self-deceptions of its characters, its details and location become, simply, where we are when we are inside the story. Michael Chacko Daniels’ novel, That Damn Romantic Fool, takes us inside a time and place and kind of friendship that enlarges our sense of ourselves, invites us to look at the characters and thereby ourselves, and gives us a wider sense of who we are.

That Damn Romantic Fool continues Daniels’ first novel, Anything Out of Place Is Dirt. Unlike the earlier novel, where Narayanan was a foil to reveal the romantic nature of the main character, Barthalomew, here he is the central character, and it is he who is revealed.

The relationship between Narayanan and his friend, a younger man named Joseph whose upper-middle-class parents are frequently tangled in dramatic fights about money, is the heart of this novel. Narayanan, a college teacher of Ethics and Mathematics, is attractive, impeccable, disposed to think of himself as both righteous and dispassionate—and, for the most part, impenetrable.

Now thirty, he befriends Joseph as a self-appointed mentor, convinced that he sees the error of Joseph’s ways and can point him in the right direction—his own. “No one could have budged him from his mission,” we learn early on, “not even his beloved ammachi, who instinctively distrusted such passions that inevitably replaced one’s centre with that of another’s.”

But “relationship” is a wishful word. Their friendship is characterised by verbal duels. The connection between the two men takes place largely in the form of debates and arguments about everything the older man believes in: revolutionary politics rather than Joseph’s more peaceful view; literature as pure sound and rhythm, rather than introspective writing—in short, almost anything. Narayanan puts forth these arguments to sway Joseph to his own view, utterly certain that he is right and that Joseph will go the way of Barthalomew if not set on the righteous path.

Yet beneath all these verbal duels, there is a passionate drama going on.

For Joseph, these debates are a way to get closer to Narayanan. He seeks not his mentor’s certainty but his acknowledgment and affection. But all the swordplay costs Joseph hope and energy, for Narayanan is unable to give the affection and caring that his friend seeks. Joseph, hoping to become a novelist and turn his penchant for what he calls “navel gazing” to good and literary use, confides his dreams to Narayanan. But Narayanan lectures on, moulding and remoulding, persistently attempting to convert Joseph to his own ways.

Narayanan is truly a youthful character, full of ideas, schemes, and certainties that have not been tried and leavened by maturing. Most significantly, however, he has a self-absorption that passes itself off as brilliant self-examination. “The beggar man who was pulled out of a hole of a dwelling on Chowpatty this evening,” he thinks to himself, “would not have died if things were not as they are. Something will have to be done about it. I must make a decision about the way things are and what should be done about them.”

As the magnifying glass of narration makes us privy to his intricate and self-justifying thoughts and motivations, we begin to see behind the rather elegant façade that counterfoiled the rhapsodic Barthalomew in the first novel of this series. We see in Narayanan a man who believes that he truly knows himself, but whose intellect stops him from experiencing the most basic feelings. When a road worker is hit by a car outside his building, while his mother is exclaiming and trying to decide how to help, Narayanan asks, “Why do people have such big cars in such a poor country?”

He has rules, schemes, ideas about everything, scales of measurement by which he almost always comes out looking good in his own eyes; but his heart is closed off to the lived pain and joys of others. Yet the author draws him with such complexity and precision that eventually we recognise ourselves—our own self-certainties, our own arrogance bathed in the glow of higher motivations and charm, our own sense of separateness and loneliness replaced and fortified by ideas, positions, and opinions.

Joseph is more vulnerable than his friend, but his heart is alive, and his need for his friend is understandable. That Narayanan cannot take this in—that the intellect, all ideas and self-protection, cannot see what is happening or respond to it—turns out to have a tragic result, as Joseph sees Narayanan’s lack of care for what it is. Yet paradoxically, in Narayanan’s instant of realising the drastic result that his insistence on conversion has brought about at the end of the story, he turns himself into a human being. And this is his real beginning.

This exquisitely written novel, with its intricate ideas woven into a background of human emotions, gives us food for thought, people to look at and then, more empathetically, look into, and a lift of the heart, in sorrow and in joy, through the glorious language and images. One would not at all be a romantic fool for reading and enjoying That Damn Romantic Fool.


Naomi Rose is a writer, editor, and book developer who created and teaches the “Writing from the Deeper Self” approach to writing. Her current book projects are The Blessings Ledger: The Union of Money and Compassion, and The Book that Changes Your Life Is the One You Write Yourself. She lives in Oakland, California. She can be reached at naomierose@pon.net and through her website at www.essentialwriting.com.




And the following

Popular History Pages


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A Grand Rapids Popular History


Pages from New River Free Press, 1973 to 1977


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Each copy is

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