Fisticuff of The Souls is a novel based on the premise that man dies, but not his soul, no matter what his transgressions in life are. The novel by Mrs. Matilda Pinto, formerly a professor of English Literature at Mangaluru’s famous St. Agnes College, is set to be released in January 2018.
A sneak peek at the novel tells me that the narration is engaging with stories and encounters which take the readers on a roller-coaster ride through a century gone by, unique to a people who lived in the west coast of South Kanara and Kodagu. It gives us a bird’s eye view of the social matrix of a time in these districts.
The story addresses the concerns of its two female characters, Teru and Awra, ordinary people in a small town, and the larger issue of deliverance from dominance at various levels. Their ordeals through life and death and their existential longing to make sense of who they are, are other thematic challenges addressed.
Matilda, the author
News Karnataka caught up with the author Matilda Pinto recently, to talk about her forthcoming book. She started off by telling us the story of her name. “I was baptized Josephine Matilda Philomena – a formidable combination of names as is customary in my community, but I am grateful to providence that my elders withheld my first name from circulation. Why? While Josephine by itself is a great name, but any association with Napoleon’s Josephine and having to live up to it, is something I have a lot of reservations about”. Her second name, a Spanish one, and one she is fond of, known by and uses widely, means someone who shows strength in battle. Speaking of her strength, she simply said, ‘I persevere to the very end.’
Beyond her name, she was a professor of English literature par excellence for thirty-five years in St. Agnes College, Mangaluru and even headed the department. According to Matilda, her career not only helped her meet her monetary needs but also shaped her thoughts and honed her observations. It’s with regret she admits, that her writing as a vocation is just about taking off despite it being a passion from when she was much younger! As her name Matilda suggests, challenges are her forte and for her age is just a number to be crunched, not worshipped, so “there is no time like now”, she says.
Yes, she is unique for her never say die attitude. She sees immense possibilities in a ‘Yes’ whether it is a challenge or a proposition; as a teacher she once tucked up her sari to wash the messed-up dog poop in a class room which everyone including the attendant were running away from. Or as in covering a sozzled woman, lying naked in a bus stop to the amusement of the auto drivers feasting on her vulnerability. These are vignettes from her interesting life she shared with us, that I dare say, are good enough for another work of fiction.
She is also a pioneering and very active member of Toastmasters International, a global organization which nurtures communication and leadership skills. She is the recipient of the Distinguished Toastmasters Award, being the first lady to receive it in the whole of India and Sri Lanka, of the then District 92, in 2007. ‘Matilda therefore I am’, she chuckles.
Excerpts from the Interview
What inspired you to write this book?
The death of my mother. Unable to reconcile with her loss, I had to find a way to connect with her and writing came as a relief. I began to revisit her life and explore the concepts of life, death, and salvation to find my equilibrium. The discovery that life and death could be as beautiful as you wish to make them, freed me from anxiety and guilt. I let mother go to make peace with her soul. This move released the stranglehold on my thoughts. The result, I began to cherish her life and a book was born.
Can you pique the interest of potential readers by summarizing your novel?
Once upon a time, not so long ago, there lived a super-senior who died and unusually refused to navigate to the other world. Her soul hovered about dodging heavenly escorts. Having a mind of her own, she resumed her journey only and only when she came to terms with her life for what it had been. To her dismay, life on the other side did not turn out to be hunky-dory. There she encountered a myriad other souls waiting to be addressed for transgressions endured during their lifetimes. Eventually, after much tears and many a tantrum, despair and discernment, souls are seen opting for reconciliation and merging into a spirit pageant in progress. The tongue in cheek transformation is refreshingly edifying.
What is the central theme of your book?
Fisticuff of the Souls is a fictional novel based on the premise that man’s soul has eternal life, irrespective of his transgressions. Salvation is the soul’s right, but there is a catch. The soul must earn its amnesty by acknowledging its peccadillos of its volition, with no coercion from angels or allies. It could take eons for some of the souls to swallow pride, to flash a smile in forgiveness, to concede wrongdoing and to opt for salvation above self. The two female characters in the novel – women with chutzpa – Teru and Awra, show the mortals how the former does it and the latter is likely to attempt it.
The story unfolds in the coastal districts of South Kanara and Kodagu, very distinctive districts in Karnataka in South India. However, the central theme of life and death are universal.
What according to you will appeal to readers in the novel?
The narration is full of stories within stories ranging from the funny to the outlandish…. and who can resist a story? Their queer takes on life and everyday morals can leave the reader stumped. Yet their shortcomings are so human that it endears them to the readers. The narration itself is engaging with stories and encounters which take you on a roller-coaster ride through a century gone by, unique to a people who lived in the west coast of South Kanara and Kodagu. It gives the readers a bird’s eye view of the social matrix of a time defining the life of the folks.
Beyond the story of the two women however, the story delineates the soul’s fight for freedom that is taken beyond the terrestrial sphere to be fought before the gods. The fight put up by two ordinary women to secure freedom, to breathe and live free is sure to appeal to the readers who are on this side of the bank, just a step behind their supernatural counterparts.
The chronicle rises above parochial interests of ordinary people in small towns by delineating the complexities of life and its myriad ‘Why’s’ which leave us baffled. It is here that the story finds itself addressing not just the concerns of two simple women, but the larger issue of deliverance from dominance at various levels. This concern has an infinite appeal to all.
Does the novel address any of the issues that contemporary society faces?
The book relates to the existential lack of freedom. A class or gender lives and dies without ever having known what it means to be free to think, speak and to act. In the context of the story, such hegemony hinders attainment of salvation of the indigent and the warlord. Concerns of the kind never run out of fashion. So it was with the slaves in the yesteryears, so it was with the displaced Jews in the preceding century, so it is today with the marginalised. Besides, when freedom in its limpidness is on a downward slide, this story gently nudges our conscience to watch out for fear of being left behind among abysmal clouds for infinity, with nothing other than loneliness for companionship.
What makes your book different from other books like it?
There could be similar books that speak of salvation and women’s concerns, but I’ve not come across one which presents the abstract concept of life and death with tears and tantrums, adventure and acceptance, courage and conviction and love and laughter. With zest, too.
What do you want readers to take away from your writing?
The previous generation of women in my familial and social circle were not as privileged as the present ones. Their subtle resistance to oppression to gain a foothold in the family hierarchy and society is worthy of emulation. Their tears and testimonies, their tales of sadness and sagacity kindled in me a fire to live my life to the hilt.
I chose to educate myself to wage my battles.Education has empowered me to be able to think and act, to speak and write, to read and know. It has made a difference to who I’m and how I relate to people and transport their inspiring stories to every pitch hole hoping to impact the lives of others.
Naturally I want my readers to develop and sustain the verve to nurture freedom of thought, action and movement as delineated by the two women in the story, even if it means they to have to put up a fight before God.