A Lover Of People's Stories:

Michael Chacko Daniels 


Don't you love people's stories; their challenges and struggles to overcome them; their successes; and what strengths and skills they used to succeed? San Franciscan Michael Chacko Daniels does, believing each person's story can be inspiring to all of us. 

Literary Works: Novels: Anything Out of Place Is Dirt (1971, 2004) and That Damn Romantic Fool (1972, 2005); Poetry: Split in Two (1971, 2004).

Professor A. N. Dwivedi describes Daniels as a “major author” in PAPERS ON INDIAN WRITING IN ENGLISH (Atlantic Publishers, 2002). “On the count of language,” he says, “I have an unfeigned admiration for the novelist.”

Daniels’ novels explore the close, many-layered relationships between young men in India at a time of religious, linguistic, economic, and racial divisions; urban isolation; unfulfilled romantic yearnings within a conservative society; and of intense argumentation over contending paths to national development: peaceful versus revolutionary.

About SPLIT IN TWO, Oakland's Poet and Oral Historian Ralph Dranow says: "This handcrafted, hardback edition, with its handsome cover, looks put together with exquisite care. And so do the poems. Daniels is a deft artisan of language, as well as a writer of open heart and keen intelligence. He is equally at home with family portraits, philosophical musings, love poems, wry self-reflection, and satire."

Daniels is donating to university and public libraries, the second revised editions of these three book--for inclusion in their uncensored permanent India, Asia, or World Literature collections. First preference will be given to libraries that currently have the first edition of these books. Ask your local library to request the books today from: Michael Chacko Daniels, Post Office Box 641724, San Francisco, CA 94109.

He attended Bombay’s Wilson College (B. A. Economics) and University (M. A., Economics), before venturing to Evanston’s Northwestern University in the U. S.  (M. S., Journalism).

His thirty years in community service work in the United States include five as a Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA) and 16 at Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living. His major focus has been community development, homeless training and employment, and accessible housing for  persons with disabilities. He helped establish Jobs for Homeless Consortium in Berkeley in 1988 and was its executive director from 1995 to October 2004.

He was also the editor and publisher of New River Free Press of Grand Rapids, Michigan (1974-1977); editor and designer of The Architecture of Independence series (Ramps are beautiful, 1982; Going where you wheel, 1986; and Making your home accessible, 1988); and executive editor of Fast-Track Training & Employment: Opening a World of Possibilities for Your Clients (Jobs for Homeless Consortium, 2000).

In June 2005, his flash fiction, Sing an Indian Name [http://denversyntax.com/issue5/fiction/daniels/indian.html], was published on Denver Syntax online magazine, and in February 2006, Dragonfire, an online magazine of Drexel University, published Three Dozen Mangoes for Mr. Diefenbaker [http://www.dfire.org/x2089.xml]


______ * ______

Narayanan's Private War On The 


United States Information Service, 


The 'Great Seductress Of Churchgate,'


Becomes A Tamasha


With A Kathakali Flourish


In the Pages of
That Damn Romantic Fool
Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 2005
Copyright 2005 Michael Chacko Daniels

Narayanan has a very special place in his heart for the United States Information Service library, or USIS as it is generally known, or “the Great Seductress of Churchgate,” as he calls it.

He feels strongly that the temptress’ long run in beguiling the best and brightest of his friends must be ended. And since no one else will expose this clever American enterprise in seduction, he has decided to do it in every way he can.


In this, as much as anything else that makes him heartsick about the conditions in India, he feels that “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” A year ago, as part of his personal mission to defend India from “Western depredations,” after devoting considerable time to field research, he had written a broadside against the USIS. It had sat in a box on his bookstand at home, having gotten very little exposure except among a few like-minded people.


His objective of contributing to the stripping of the “veils of illusion” from this outpost of American cultural and political propaganda remained unfulfilled. Fascinated by the possibilities of guerrilla theatre, he had finally decided to develop it into a voice-only “armchair guided tour” of the USIS.


Commandeering all the theatrical skills that he had developed over the years in order to banish boredom and retain the attention of the most fidgety of his students, he had proudly rolled out this armchair tour at an informal party for graduating students, which was being held in the spacious home of the college’s professor of English. Outfitted like a rural folk performer from Maharashtra’s hinterland, he wore a tightly tucked dhoti for the occasion.


His face was darkened and rouged up, his eyebrows exaggerated, and a generous moustache was planted above his lips. He held a little drum to augment his physical repertoire. During his rehearsals at a local gym run by a friend, he had become so engrossed in his mission that his critical mind was stilled and he found himself effortlessly shifting from clown to tamasha actor to street vendor, adding occasionally a little of a kathakali flourish with dancing eyebrows and rotating eyes.


Even before the tour commenced, Narayanan had received a rousing “Wah! Wah!” applause from the mixed audience of students and academicians, among them many who were sceptical over his left-leaning ways but who nonetheless were willing to be entertained by the Mathematics and Ethics lecturer because he had a reputation for bringing the street into the classroom.


A long drum beat.


“Come one, come all! If you haven’t seen the Great Seductress of Churchgate at work, come with me,” he had begun, his conspiratorial whisper, drawing them in.


Another drum beat.


“If you stay at Tardeo and you like Marine Drive, take the C route bus going south,” he had continued his innocuous

directions, clowning all the while to get their guard down.


A short drum beat.


“If you stay at Tardeo and you like Queen’s road, its busy traffic up to Marine Lines station and its quietness from the Presticold showroom to the Income Tax offices, take the B route bus going south.”


Another short drum beat. Some more clowning.


“If you stay in Colaba, take either the B or C route bus going north.”


A long drum beat.


“Come one, come all, but best of all, walk.”


Narayanan beat his drum, taking a few large, exaggerated steps, part clown, part tamasha actor.


"But if you stay elsewhere—Byculla, Parel, Mahim, Bandra, or Kurla—use the Western Railway trains. Get off at Churchgate, be sure you reach the eastern side of the Churchgate Railway Station, then cross over to the side of the ACC building, keep walking north till you reach a building with the name of ADELPHI (!).


“When you do, turn right.” Narayanan turned elaborately right. “Ahead, to your left, you might see the St. Xavier’s Academy for Boys. Ignore it. To your right, almost directly opposite to the Academy is the United States Information Service Library, alias the American Library. Enter it. Be silent, be respectful, be bashful.”


He covered his lips with his right hand, lowered his head, and tiptoed forward.


“You are entering a modern temple,” he whispered. “A temple dedicated to your economic and sexual myths.


“The priests and priestesses of this temple, like their kind through the ages, know your weaknesses,” he warned, raising his voice while straightening up and puffing up his body to look larger than life.  “They will let you indulge your weaknesses. You are here to read about the good life, how to acquire it, how to go ‘foreign.’”


He flapped his hands, first gently, then furiously.


“Do not raise your head too high, except to look furtively at the photographs on the wall, and books on the higher shelves. Your head must be bowed before the all-mighty.”


He lowered his gaze, slumped his shoulders like a marionette, and bowed his head. From this position, he intoned: “You have not come just to think of partaking in the good life. You have come to think of partaking in the good life your white gods and goddesses partake of. And this is one of the temples of the White Ones. One of their extremes. Your head must be bowed. You are in their midst.”


Turning erect, eyebrows dancing, eyes rotating, he warned, “They are present in the enticingly lit room; in the smoothness of the oil paint of the walls, and the wood and varnish of the tables and chairs; in the glossy magazines; in the frocky elegance of the Information Lady.


“And of course, in the books. The books! How could I have forgotten?! Hemingway!” Drum beat. “Faulkner!” Drum beat. “Guthrie!”  Drum beat. “Poe!” Drum beat. “Whitman!” Drum beat. “Hawthorne!” Drum beat. “James!” Drum beat. 


“Frost . . .


“But why do I tell you to keep your head bowed? Your head will be bowed; you will not raise your voice above a whisper, and you will make sure that your chair will not screech; you will probably even hold your breath.”


He pinched his nose and dropped to his knees.


“Somewhere above you are the photographs of Lincoln and Johnson.”


Then, turning sonorous, he imitated Father Fernandes, his palms touching in front of his chest.


“Our Father who art in heaven, give us this day our daily bread. Thy kingdom come.”


The tour was almost over. All but the most religious in his audience and the professor of English had applauded his oral and physical rendition. Bravos mixed with the wah, wahs. His observations and delivery impressed them. But most remained unconvinced that the USIS should be shut down. Narayanan had come prepared for their doubting minds. For his final proof of the maladjustments the USIS creates in the minds of young Indians, Narayanan sang Barthalomew’s poem, “Across Last Wharves”:

Across last wharves,
with sea mist’s early damp,
morning comes
without hesitation.

Pale wharves, often
I have thought
of the flight of gulls.

But each new day
I see the mist of the sea
and know within me
that I will not go beyond.

“When my friend, a devotee of the USIS, read this poem to me,” Narayanan explained, “I thought, It’s not well written, but it has feeling. He wants to go beyond, go abroad, leave this subcontinent for America.


“‘You must live where your friends are,’ I counselled him. Then I looked into his eyes. Try as I did, I could not shut out the loneliness I glimpsed there. ‘You are the only friend I have left,’ I think I saw him saying with his eyes. I hadn’t the heart to make a comment to correct or fix the illusions and distortions that had overtaken my friend’s mind, but I remember thinking, ‘If, when he was younger, he had no America to think about, he would have developed differently. He would have adjusted to our society. He would not have thought of going abroad.’”

The doubters paused to digest the song and the subsequent comments before entering into heated debate on illusions, distortions, and the role of various contending foreign seducers, much of it a blur to Narayanan, who was in a state of near-ecstasy. The intense excitation of mind, body, and spirit during the performance surpassed all his previous highs. It was an experience, he was certain, that he would devoutly re-create on the streets of Bombay on topics closer to the common man’s heart.


The principal, who had not been at the party but had heard of Narayanan’s performance, cold-shouldered him for months afterwards. He relented only when Narayanan’s next batch of students did well in the mid-term exams.

~   ~   ~

Adhering to the directions in his own script, Narayanan steps off the B route bus, walks past the ACC building, turns right at ADELPHI, examines the St. Xavier’s Academy for Boys for a moment, and enters the enemy’s gates.

Once inside the USIS Library, he focuses his eyes mercilessly in his continuing research of the Great Seductress of Churchgate. His lower eyelids move closer to the upper; wrinkles form at their corners. He tries to get a direct connection between his eyes and what he believes are the analytical areas of his brain.


He thinks, As I step in, Bombay is cast out. I am to step into this interior as if onto a piece of another world. I am to be shocked into awareness of this interior. My eyes are to excite themselves with the pleasant glow of the lights, to look around, observe the photographs on the walls. Look, there is Lincoln, the Great Liberator! Does he not look as if he has been carved from the Rock of Ages? And there is Johnson, the folksy President, Creator of the Great Society, the Great Civil Rights Protector. I am to look at the furniture in the room, its sleekness, its arrangement, and I am to feel I am watching neatly interlocking machinery. This piece of that other world, I am to tell myself, now or over a period of time, is what that other world is like: neat, elegant, efficient, bountiful, and enduring.


These people don’t have to use loud bombastic ideological statements or slogans. All they have to do is to repeat again and again, “This is how we live and work, these are the truths we live and work by”; and if they themselves believe that is how they live and work and that is what they live and work by, they will soon have the whole world believing in the beauty of their way of life.


This place could use some radical political theatre!


For now, he produces a Mathematics and Ethics lecturer’s version of civil disobedience in the heart of this American temple: he pulls out a chair, forcing a rasping noise from the wood by pressing it against the floor, although the content of his action torments his sensibilities. One man with glasses looks up from his book, draws his eyebrows together, and looks at Narayanan for about a minute.


The flow of Narayanan’s analysis cannot be stopped by that look: And the American mass media, especially the Hollywood films and the glossy magazines, function with an abiding faith in the myth. This library is an extension of the American myth-making system. Its purpose: nothing less than the reinforcement of the myth.


This is a temple dedicated to the American myth, and in a way it is also dedicated to our own Indian myths regarding today’s world. They help us cherish them. I think it would be only right if the Indian Government collaborated with the U.S. Government in setting up these temples.


A deep-seated anger against the United States and its information service tears at his heart and churns through him. Both, he believes with all his heart and mind, have prevented India from developing on the right socialistic path, produced much maladjustment among young people, and robbed him of so many of his friends.


As his anger grows and he has no other way of giving vent to it, the arguments against the object of his anger flow out of him.


A man circles Narayanan’s table on quiet feet, carrying a heavy stack of books. Approaching the receiving counter, which comes up to his shoulders, he waits patiently for his turn.


He is about as tall as Barthalomew, Narayanan observes.


“You have mixed them all up,” says the man behind the counter in a loud, quarrelsome voice. A tie adorns the library clerk’s collar. His neatly combed hair has not a wayward strand. His face is not oily.


“Mi—xed wh—at?” the library member asks in a voice that is not sure of itself. He speaks as if he is composed of hundreds of disparate pieces and not sure what unifying principle would hold it all together.

“You have mixed up the books you are returning with the books you are checking out,” announces the library clerk, as if a cardinal principle of library operation has been violated. In the library’s extraordinary silence, his voice sounds like a clash of tin cymbals.


Narayanan thinks, That USIS employee is talking as if that member has committed an unpardonable sin.


“I thought I—I could save you trouble if I come, excuse me, I mean, I came to you—only once, only once.”


“You are giving me trouble right now. Look at the line of people waiting behind you. Now remember, the next time you come, return books before you check out books.”


The bespectacled man sitting opposite Narayanan mutters, “These half-educated people! How can anyone expect them to follow simple rules?”


What a pompous ass! In two sentences he has put down both the criticising clerk and the humiliated member! thinks Narayanan.


The library member nods vigorously and says with utter humility, “My error. The next time I come I will return books before I check out books. Thank you for pointing out my error. It will not re-occur, I assure you.”


“It better not! This is the USIS, a free service of the United States Government for the benefit of the people of India. The service is free. But time is money, wasted time sets back efficiency, reduces the time we have to provide this free service to the people of India. Never forget: First, return books before you do anything else. Now, please make way for the lady behind you who has been waiting patiently. Madam, thank you for your patience, please step right up,” says the checkout clerk, shooing away the library member whom he has just publicly reprimanded and humiliated.


Narayanan’s lips curl. He prepares an observation: Look what happens to Indians who work for the United States Government. That man there, working at this free library, is a dispenser of American propaganda masquerading as charity. From a dispenser of charity, he has become a guardian of charity. What has brought about the transformation? Is it because he knows he is dealing with sheep and not lions and tigers? He tried talking to me like that one day, and he stopped when I replied in clear precise English. English, yes. That’s important. The better your English, and the more forceful you are, the less you appear to be a sheep in that man’s eyes. The man’s sensibilities have been completely perverted.


Narayanan picks up the mathematics book that had brought him to this temple of propaganda, and takes it to the man behind the counter with the tie, the neat hair, and the face that is not oily.

“Good evening,” says Narayanan without smiling. “I forgot to return this book when I came in.” His voice is clear, precise, unhurried, and self-assured. Seldom does he lose control of himself in the presence of others. He believes strongly in himself and his ability.


“Good evening,” says the man ensconced behind the counter. “That’s all right.”


“I would like to renew this book.”


The man nods and quickly stamps the date on the library card.


That is a place of perversion, thinks Narayanan as he leaves the library. I will never take any books from the USIS, except those on mathematics. Its most sincere desire is to seduce my sensibilities.


Daniels is donating to university and public libraries, the second revised editions of his three books--for inclusion in their uncensored permanent India, Asia, or World Literature collections. First preference will be given to libraries that currently have the first edition of these books. Ask your local library to request Anything Out of Place Is Dirt (Novel), That Damn Romantic Fool (Novel), and Split in Two (Poetry)  today from: Michael Chacko Daniels, Post Office Box 641724, San Francisco, CA 94109, USA.




And the following

Popular History Pages


____________ * ____________


A Grand Rapids Popular History


Pages from New River Free Press, 1973 to 1977


Your Friendly Guide to Urban Survival & Improvement:




Signed, Limited Editions

An avid reader's comment about

Michael Chacko Daniels'

handcrafted books:

"The books are beautiful,

they look like little treasures."

--Brenda Coleman

Each copy is

a work of art in itself.

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 Michael Chacko Daniels' books.

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Anything Out of Place Is Dirt
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Split in Two
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