Of Mystics and Miracles and other Essays

— Manoj Das


Price: Rs 600

Pages: 376
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
ISBN: 978-93-84101-39-8
Hard Cover
Publisher: Sagnik Books, Kolkata

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About Of Mystics and Miracles and other Essays

This collection of articles and transcribed talks by the creative writer Manoj Das offers the reader the opportunity to explore a different aspect of his writing. Solicited to speak by various institutions or organisations or asked to write by editors on any number of topics, the author shares his insights and perceptions on literature and education, mysticism and yoga, mythology and legends, social issues of the day, and some thoughtful pieces on a few great writers and Indian revolutionaries. Every essay evidences something of his style as a storyteller, and throughout these pages runs the stream of Sri Aurobindo’s thought and the influence it had on the author’s life and development.


There are books one reads for information, entertainment, or inspiration, but there are also books one reads simply for the good company they provide. Manoj Das’s Of Mystics and Miracles and other Essays belongs to that last category. Those who have read or heard his stories before may find things they already know, but the book is none the less for it. The simple presence of the author is in the end what makes this book a joy to read. Although it may take time to read the book from beginning to end, you will not regret buying it, because of the wonderful cover from which his smile will delight you.

This is not to say that it does not provide information, entertainment and inspiration, it does all that, but, for me at least, that is not its greatest merit. The cover of this book says it contains essays, but most of them are actually slightly reworked transcripts of talks given by the author on a surprisingly vast range of occasions. Manoj Das has a huge, perhaps unequalled, stock of anecdotes up his sleeve — from literature, history and his own rich life — and the storyteller that he is, he uses from there whatever it takes to populate and enrich the tapestries he weaves to fit the various occasions on which he is asked to speak.

A typical example is a short essay on the theme of translation, about which he spoke at the 20th World Book Fair in 2012. It begins with the story of the ancient Babylonians who attempted to build a tower that would reach the heavens. To punish them for their audacity, the gods made them wake up one morning to discover none could understand the language of the other, so that in the end all went off in different directions, leaving the tower incomplete. Manoj Das then speaks of the role translations played in the history of India; relates how an Odia translation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought tears to a local woman’s eyes; and ends with a sophisticated theory of translation illustrated with Sri Aurobindo’s rendering of Kalidasa in English.

In “The Lost World of Ancient Raconteurs” we are treated to a touching description of the aides to the priests attached to a major temple, who would go to distant villages to collect pilgrims who longed for the darshan of their favourite deity. As they journeyed together, intimacy grew, and the pilgrims posed their questions on the mystery of suffering and death—questions that were answered through stories. Mystic mendicants who accompanied travellers also entertained them with stories full of wit, insight, and, on occasion, the revelation of spiritual truth. Manoj Das, a supreme raconteur himself, then tells a series of stories to illustrate various issues. From the sadhu who solved the problem of a farmer’s recalcitrant cow, to the simple lad Bholanath who came in a roundabout way to the realisation that he too was Brahma, we experience the warmth of the author’s own conviction in the wisdom of these tales.

Still, this book is not only a collection of stories. There are also serious essays that show his concern for the social and political upheavals of our times. A typical example is “The Message of the Departing Century” in which Manoj Das looks at the lessons of the two great world wars and the collapse of the institutions belonging to the old world order – monarchy, empires and colonies, feudalism – noting that their ghosts found renewed life in the cold war between the superpowers and the entitlement and privilege assumed by the “petty politicos who conducted themselves like potentates”. He ends that essay with extensive quotations from Sri Aurobindo and the remark that, while freedom may have been won on many fronts, the ultimate freedom is still to be won: our freedom from Ignorance.

Some of the essays are really striking, others perhaps less so, but what makes each essay a joy to read is the love and respect that is present in all of them for the “weird and wonderful” tribe to which we humans belong. Even where he is perfectly clear that he condemns the things we do — especially all that is ugly, and the senseless cruelty people inflict on each other — underneath that condemnation one can still feel his love, not only for the victims but even for those who commit men’s endless list of crimes and follies. It is the depth of his concern for humanity that is the real message of this book.

—Matthijs Cornelissen

Dr Cornelissen teaches Psychological Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Work at the SAICE and is the founder-director of the Indian Psychology Institute.


June 2019