Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Flights from my Terrace – Santosh Bakaya

Bliss was it in the dawn to be alive...

Santosh Bakaya’s latest offering, ‘Flights from my Terrace’, is replete with good humour, bonhomie and joie de vivre. Her book is divided into three sections, each of which can be seen as a treasure trove of memories that brighten our lives and irradiate our mundane existence.

Ms. Bakaya’s favourite spot in her home is her terrace, where she sits, completely at peace, as the birds warble around her. Then, in the twinkling of an eye, a winged chariot arrives to transport her into the depths of her memory. Even as she pens an elegy on the passing of a bygone era, she never fails to doff her hat to the invisible magician and the invisible painter waving their magic wand and wielding their paintbrushes to create breathtaking hues in the sky.

This talented writer obviously gets her wit and her passion for the written word from her father who “had a terrific sense of humour and a rapier wit.” She also talks with pride about her harmonious childhood, her parents being “the most compatible couple” who never belittled each other “by drowning their speaking with shrieking and squeaking.”

One does enjoy her volatile, sometimes angst-ridden dialogues with her spirited daughter, Iha, who berates her in good-humour at times, but rushes to take care of her when she is down in the dumps, or ill.  Ms. Bakaya ponders over when her little girl grew up.

“Just a few years back, she lay in her crib, lost in her own world, smiling to herself... now she gives me a withering look... in disgust, derision, impatience or whatever teenagers give their mothers when engrossed in texting, chatting, whatsapping, pinging and poking.”

Ms. Bakaya’s love for literature comes through in every nuance of her writing as she quotes liberally from her favourite poets and writers.  From Edward Lear’s endearing rhyme ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ to hilarious quotes from G K Chesterton, to Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Baudelaire, Walt Whitman, Thomas Gray, Longfellow, Shelley, Charles Dickens, Maya Angelou and the Bard himself, she knows them all intimately, and hence, is able to pick and choose, as one would a nosegay of vibrant flowers, in perfect harmony. Tagore and Kalidasa also find a mention.

Her love for her beloved Kashmir seeps from the pages as she describes the immense joy she felt when she went back home.

“The sounds of carefree laughter, of walnuts falling on the rooftops at the dead of the night.
Of the falling of autumn Chinar leaves, of crackling fire, of the rumble of my grandfather’s hookah, of melting snow...”

One can almost view the twinkle in the author’s eyes as she speaks of being a toddler “with my two front teeth shining, trying to compete with granny’s three teeth”, the giraffe on the cake ‘pighling’ (melting), and “the breadvala yelling with all the force a breadvala can muster (it was, after all, the question of earning his daily bread)."

One particular saga had me in splits, when a perky parrot or a cunning crow on the tree, decided to relieve itself on a certain mendicant’s tangled head.

“This had a profoundly unsettling effect on one, who just a couple of minutes back appeared to have eternally settled there... now the detached man was absolutely attached.”

The Birder’s Inn in Bharatpur is another haven for Ms. Bakaya. That she loves the feathered species is apparent, as she waxes poetic about garrulous parrots, purple sunbirds, snowy egrets, arrogant-looking crows and tiny sparrows, all serenading her with their “boisterous bird banter”.

This brings me to the wonderful examples of alliteration strewn across the book, as when they were “perennially drunk on a delicious cocktail of camaraderie, conspiracy, bonhomie and body shaking laughter.”Another brilliant example goes thus: “This colourfully, chaotic, confusion captivates me.”

Across the book, Ms. Bakaya comes across as “the mischief monger, the rabble rouser, the boisterous brat”, as she chuckles over “follically challenged people”. She is playful as she frolics with words, punctuating them with “grins, giggles and guffaws”. She sings along with Frank Sinatra (a Million Kinds of Stardust), Harry Belafonte, Don Mclean and the like. And as her eyes seek "newer landscapes in the darkness, hunting for the fireflies flitting around," it is not hard to fathom why, in Jamestown fishing village, a small boy in yellow knickers, ran to her with a breathtaking smile, and said, "I love you." For as she writes on, she comes across as an incorrigible optimist, with stars in her eyes, yearning to inject some insanity in the sane world around.

                                                              the hands make the world every day,
                                                              fire conjoins with steel.
                                                              linen, canvas and cotton arrive
                                                              from the scuffles in the laundries,
                                                              and from light a dove is born;
                                                                                                      Pablo  Neruda

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