A journey to a different milieu…

When Shri Sunirmal Basu, who had been once my teacher, approached me to do a review of his book, which is a collection of memoir, short stories, poems and essays, I was not very excited about it thinking that a pot pouri of things might never be enticing a read. But I was wrong. Terribly wrong. Unquestionably wrong. For this slim book having a great poetic cover design, is a poem by itself.

The book divided into four sections namely short stories, poems, essays and memoir, is greatly entertaining and at the same time soul stirring.

If the stories reveal the writer’s sense of practical life, the real one filled with its own sobs, smiles and sniffles, the poems set him free for primarily Shri Basu is a poet. A poet with impeccable sense of pathos, romanticism and practicality. Naturally the poetry section is the longest one of all four sections.

I have definitely found his ingenuity when he fuses his personal experience with utter objectivity. If poems like ভাতের গন্ধ ( the smell of rice) brings into fore the struggle of existence , making it existentialist in temperament, (page 84), the very next poem স্বপ্ন কুমারী, মেঘমালা ( the dream girl, string of cloud) is pure romance, in pure filmy terms!

And from that height of graphical romance I fall on the ground of reality and like Shelley perhaps I bleed too when I stumble upon বিবর্ণ ক্যাকটাস(discolored cactus).

However the section which finds Shri Basu at his narrative best is quite presumably the short story section which introduces us to his literary class. Ten stories of ten different flavours are put together in the book. And here I find a pattern too. It begins with love and passion and then it drifts into villainy and all that non pious ( stories like : দাহ, কেননা মানুষ, page 23,27) before ending with love again as the section ends with ভালো বাসার গন্ধ (the fragrance of love, page 40).

The essay section is comparatively simple and quite contrary to what we actually expect from an essayist. It does not contain heavy anecdotes and footnotes or bibliography. Still when we read রবীন্দ্রনাথ কেমন করে লিখতেন ( how did Rabindranath write) we find as if Shri Basu is following the romantic essay tradition of Charles Lamb, fusing story telling with subjective details. As if Shri Basu is conversing with Tagore himself and bringing into fore all the hidden treasures of the greatest bard of all times from Bengal. Same conversational tone and unorthodox style of analysis can be found in his other esssays on Manik Bandopadhyay and Najrul Islam, two other writer and poet from Bengal.

However the gem lies in the last but one essay in the section ‘ লেখকেরা কিভাবে লেখেন ‘ ( how do writers write). This essay though short, showcases the basic tenets of a writer, drawing comparisons from writing styles and habits of some well known bengali writers like Atin Bandopadhyay, Baren Ganguly, Prafulla Ray, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Amitava Dasgupta, etc.

But if I am to choose my personal choice of all sections, I will choose the memoir section, because knowing Shri Basu from my teenage till first half of my adulthood years, as a student and then later as a resident of almost the same locality in which he lives, I can instantaneously relate to his memoir. I can surely make out what beautiful grand scene of natural beauty he has tried to portray in his memoir on Batanagar.

And when he ends the section by quoting from Robert Frost ( ‘ And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep), I can definitely relate to his journey back home and even beyond that.

Name of book : কৃষ্ণ চূড়ার দিনগুলো, রাতগুলো,

Publisher : Taurean Publications

ISBN 978-93-91074-65-4

Finding Zian …

There is something about Zian. Before the arrival of Zian, I had moderate to severe detestation towards dogs. But then Zian came, against my will.
My son and his aunt Rinki mashi brought the little one some three and half years back. I was curious.
Curious and a bit anxious.
Curious , anxious and thrilled.
Curious, anxious, thrilled and filled with anticipation.
Initially all care of Zian was taken by my son.
I remained a distant observer of sorts.
An impassive one.
Reluctant.

Then Zian one day came to lick my toes.
I tried to shoo away the little ball of fur with tiny beady eyes.
But Zian started following me from one room to another.
From verandah to terrace.
Swift, agile and always ready.
Even at dead of the night!

Three and half years after, specially in the long drawn lockdown months , Zian and I , have become the best buddies. I have heard and seen in English and American movies how the pet dogs are greatly admired and appreciated and called ‘Buddy’.

After three and half years, I now know the importance of those movies. After three and half years of knowing Zian, I now know why dogs are different from all other creatures and why historically there is such a great bonding between dogs and human beings. After three and half years of knowing Zian, I learnt to be compassionate towards all creatures. All , literally.


I watch and rewatch movies like ‘ Hachi: A Dog’s Tale’ ( for those who have not seen it, must watch it, even if you have a great detestation towards dogs. You will just love Hachiko , the little pet dog of the story and you will cry at his devotion towards his master. https://m.imdb.com/title/tt1028532/) and ‘ A dog’s purpose’ https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Dog%27s_Purpose_(film)
Or for that matter ‘ Marley and me.
‘ ( https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0822832/)

Incidentally in all these flicks I find traits of Zian. And I fall back to love Zian more.
I love Zian in every way, in the most agitated state and the most restive state. While asleep, while awake.

And this Love of mine is also shared by my son and wife and relatives and friends.

This is for the first time I am writing so many things about Zian. And that is because I have chanced to click this photo of Zian today , in a pure restive state. It was early in the morning . The weather was cool and calm. I was just sitting then on the swing chair, resting a bit after my morning physical workout. A soft music was then being played on mp3 player.
And then I looked at Zian.
So peaceful and restive, perfectly in tune to the morning. And yet, I know, a slight movement of me would make him spring back to full alertness. And this thing of dogs is the most remarkable feature. They can swing into action and mobility in a wink of an eye.
And about their faithfulness. Who am I to write about that?
That is something phenomenal. Something truly iconic.

Follow me and also this write up too at Instagram.
(https://www.instagram.com/p/CRFx88HDlG1/?utm_medium=copy_link)

A Poet’s Nook is all we need

When Koyel , a teacher and a poetess by her own right, first approached me for a review of her poetry book ‘ A Poet’s nook’ ( Publisher : Evincepub, ISBN 9789390442478, publication year 2020) , I was non committal for I was not sure what to get from a lesser known poet. Doing review is always an arduous task, specially when you are doing review of works of first timers, the first time poet, or first time fiction writer. However, Koyel surpassed all my expectations in her lucid approach to poetry, not relying much on creating esoteric rhetoric which some of our very very post modernist poets do believe in. Instead she captures whatever crosses her mind. In her short preface to the book she herself states that quite clearly leaving aside any chance of misinterpretation. ‘ Poetry is the music of the soul ‘ , she declares and how that music strikes the chord of the poet and the reader is all about the art of poesy.

Next ninety pages of the book , having some eighty poems, put me into a journey of a sort. From Legacy of dreams to Black hole, I traveled , and traveled quite seamlessly, feeling no hiccups or even tiredness! Such is the eloquence of Koyel’s soul and mind! If The strange place put infront of my mind’s eyes visions of a place near a forest with a girl sitting on an oak bench, Rain Bash is pure joy of feeling every bit of rain. Then there are short pieces like Anticipation which are philosophical and yet grinding real.

But then , for a flight of fancy there is always pieces like Ethereal which stir the secret chambers of heart and make one realize that there is always a room for finding beauty amidst chaos and unrest. There is always a soothing comforting ease in the midst of disturbance.

I would be dishonest to myself and also to the poetess if I say that the book will sweep one off one’s feet by its sudden grandiose stuff. No, it will not do that. Instead, by reading , poetry will seep into the permeable soul of a poetry lover. It is not a book to fall in love with in the very first sight , having something grand and obscure. It is a book which is to be savored quiet and at one’s leisure. And love for it will grow in graded terms. It is like making an acquaintance. Slow and yet thrilling.

Growing with Janette : a review of ‘ Something here will grow ‘

Reading Janette Schafer is no less than a revelation to me. Not because her book of poetry ‘ Something here will grow’ startles me or sweeps me off my feet by its cerebral exercises, which as a book reviewer , I am , to some extent, accustomed to, but by its utter simplicity. So , with her start ‘ Floating above Detroit ‘ , trying to find the essence of the Green House , her first home in America. In ‘ Elixir’ , too , I again find myself in that house , and with her I go on searching for little slides of memories. Janette does not over power her poetry with imagery which is oblique or far fetched. Instead she narrates and while she does so, for example in ‘A Family History ‘ , we as readers , at once , visualize characters and places, she so aptly describes , without any ornamentation. She can easily announce ‘ My father was the first man I knew who broke my heart ‘ or ‘ My grandfather was the first man I knew who fought monsters’ . The same straightforwardness can be found in ‘ When I was seventeen ‘. She wrote quite matter of factly : I do not date or learn to drive. If straightforwardness is Janette’s key to poetry, her passion for music and sweetness of life , does not go unntoticed. In ‘ Harvest’ , she almost confesses : The sweetness of fruit is almost unbearable. Likewise, in ‘ Ode to Heroin’ , she weaves poetry with music asking queries like : How does the dolphin tell a dove of swimming ? How does a dove tell a dolphin what it is to fly? And yet , even after asking queries like these, she knows too well, what is it to surrender to passion , forgetting the prosaic aspects of life. So she falters not to plead : Kiss me beneath the waves ( That time I was naked with Lisa) or for that matter, in sing song manner, asks her readers to find her ( Come find me) . Reading Janette is like making a journey with oneself.

The man who had been the absurdist and yet the most lyrical one

The first distinct memory of Sukumar Ray, for me, like many others is definitely ‘ Abol tabol’ ( ‘আবোল তাবোল), his collection of so called ‘ non sense verse’. The illustrations accompanying them were those which left indelible impressions . Surprisingly despite being absolutely illogical or at least being very adverse to usual sense of logic, most of his ‘verses’ having lyric grace and inimitable rhythm, caught our fancy. They were our ‘ nursery rhymes’ and we sang them too oft which only buttressed their popularity.
Many years after, on his birth anniversary, as I try to understand why were they so popular then, one thing that strikes me is the sweetness of fancy that most of his poems evoke. They talk of mundane things like how two persons can quarrel and yet that quarrel never turns into a quarrel as it becomes a poem filled with hilarious anecdotes, or for that matter ‘ bombagorer raja’ ( বোম্বাগড়ের রাজা) comes alive with his peculiar habits. Then there were those poems having ballad like qualities telling stories which can be related to by anyone so easily that they remain unforgettable. So we can never forget poems like ‘ সৎ পাত্র’ ( The suitable alliance) or ‘ কুমড়োপটাস্'( kumropotas). They took us to reality of dreams or fanciful presentations of the real.
Sukumar Ray , can never be compared with any poet for no poet even thought of working on the absurd so copiously as he did. We can find the ridicule and the ludicrous elements in other poets and writers, we can find poets writing excellent limericks, we can find writers bringing in that Coleridgean ‘ willing suspension of disbelief’, but we can never find one singular poet like Sukumar Ray putting lyric charm in ballad like poems having absurdities which are fanciful and fairytale like. And added to that which poet could have ever dared to write impossible songs apparently so meaningless and yet so enticingly rhythmic?
It is difficult, pretty difficult to categorise poems of Sukumar Ray. They are lyrical, albeit illogical. They are fanciful, unreal yet sometimes real and ironic. They carry pure laughter, fun and also sometimes ridicule.
They tell stories of familiar characters and on occasions come up with alien, strange, never seen creatures like hybrids of ‘porcupine ‘ and ‘ duck’ ( হাঁসজারু) . Only someone with a different set of skills embedded into ‘ Imagination’ can possibly think of and conceive ideas that Sukumar Ray so easily conjured up. Yes, he had been a conjurer too, a conjurer of a kind with unmatched sense of the absurd.

A little boy, a golden hill, a lonely mother and her aggrieved son

After many days, saw a beautiful bengali movie. Released this year, this one ‘ সোনার পাহাড়’ / ‘ Sonar pahar’ tells a story of how a son ( after being married) gets himself distanced from his mother, a widow, for he can’t find a proper way to please both his mother and wife. That’s a pretty common thing and people would definitely say ‘ O we know these stories of mother-in- laws and daughter-in-laws , for we have seen enough of these on tv ‘.
No, the director, Parambrata Chatterjee, had no intention to present another sash-bahu story. Instead, he brings in a little orphan boy who after being given the chance to stay with old widowed mother Upama ( played by Tanuja) gradually takes up a great space in her so far uneventful, lonely life. She, who had been feeling lonely, irritable, almost castaway, finds a glimmer of hope and laughter in the boy.
Her son Soumya, ( played by Jishu Sengupta) who always thought his mother was too austere and rigid to make little adjustments with his wife, was almost shocked when suddenly he learnt that his mother and the little boy had gone far away to the hills.
This time, he was more curious than feeling jealous of the little boy who was taking up more of his mother’s attention.
So he arrived at the place where Upama had put up. There, he and his wife, witnessed the sweet friendship between the little boy and Upama. The more they saw them walking holding hands, the more they realised how they actually had left a vacant place in the old widow’s heart and how that vacant place which would have turned sooty, diseased and pained, was filled with giggles and laughter and vibrant colors of life by that little orphan boy.
And more importantly they learnt how their mother, had taken to writing after a long, too long break.
The son, who knew his mother’s penchant for writing, now, standing infront of the hills ( Kanchenjunga) drenched golden in the light of the day, tells his mother, his side of the story, his aggrieved heart which bled and yet which could not be put into full view of his own mother.
The mother embraces her son.
The little boy who had been solely instrumental in bringing the mother and the son close, smiles, standing a few paces away from them.

A beauty of a movie.

Mother and the shiuli blossoms

She had been a professional nurse. My mother. Sefali Ghosh was her maiden name before she got married to my dad and changed it to Sefali Dutta. Quite interestingly Sefali is the name of a flower found in this part of the world which blooms every autumn. So come autumn , I go into a different mind, a difficult mind too, if am I to say so, for it is like revisiting my childhood and having glimpses of my mother who happily went taking the stairs to heaven.
That year too the autumn had been awesome. The festivity had been all around. I took her for a ride around the city. Being a person who knew how bodies work, how diseases spread, she perhaps guessed something about her illness. She had a heart which had erratic beats. I remember she telling me all the time while we were having a tour of the city, through its lanes and bylanes, watching people and the trees and cars and all that are the usual part of the cityscape, that it might be her last tour with me. I laughed.
But then , she was a nurse. She knew it. Like she knew how my eyes had an inexpressible medical condition of being wet with salty water at that time when she said those words to me. She knew it that I was trying to be brave. Her brave boy.
And she climbed those stairs easily. Without making even a groan. She just slept and woke not.
Next year, I planted a sefali / shiuli tree just on our small piece of land by the car shed, beside that patio. It was summer. A full grown horrid Indian summer. The sun blazed hot and cruel. But I had to save that sefali tree. Every morning, that summer, even before the sun would turn like a scorching red hot ball of fire, I would wake up and water the tree. And every time I did that , I just prayed with all my heart that it survived that summer. The sultry boring lifeless summer of that year. With all my heart , nerve and sinew , I took care of the shiuli tree. If I would find its leaves turning yellowish a bit , I would check the soil, rake it, apply manure and water. In the evening, I would go near the tree and touch its little branches and leaves. I thought of myself as perfect gardener perhaps then. Caressing it. Loving it. Not that I took no care of other trees. Of course I did that. But that shiuli tree was always under my scanner. Once I found a worm crawling at its body. I took it and threw it far away. But before that I took and snapshot of it and searched the internet to find its genus and species. Once finding that I with some kind desperation like that of a medic, found out the measures to be taken to save the tree from onslaught of worms and pests like that.
That time I thought of myself a nurse too. A nurse to a tree. The shiuli tree.
Then came the monsoon. It rained for hours each day that monsoon. I had to take a spade and create a nullah or a makeshift channel on the ground to prevent that particular spot from getting waterlogged, knowing accumulation of water could weaken the tree at its roots.
That time I felt like a construction worker. A sewage cleaner also.
And then, the monsoon also passed, giving way to autumn. The delightful autumn.
For the first few days of the season, all other trees bore flowers. But that shiuli tree had none. I was worried. I talked to my wife. She went with me to that small garden we had beside the car shed. Our son went there too. We checked for buds. The tree though had grown taller and greener, had no signs of buds.
Butterflies!
My son suddenly quipped.
Yes, we needed butterflies to carry pollens and to make the tree bloom.
So again I searched for trees which attract butterflies most. Found some. Brought them and planted them.
That time I felt I was like a priest. Purifying the earth praying with all my heart for its beauty to arrive.
Praying those trees which attract birds and bees and butterflies to grow faster.
They did. Butterfiles arrived. Bees too.
The smell of flowers wrought my senses with joy.
I felt that time I had become half of that garden.
Only that shiuli tree.
I waited.
We all waited.

Then one fine morning, as I went near the tree I found them. Those white shiuli blossoms with an orange core waving to me from the branches of the tree. They had bloomed overnight!
I called my wife and son.
We three stood under the tree.
The air around it had that unmistakable fragrance of shiuli blossoms.

That time I felt perfect like a nurse.

Kumortuli

One of the most talked about spots of the city of Kolkata and often visited by tourists and photographers is ‘Kumortuli’ as it is so called because of the residences of clay image/ idol makers which congregate here.

Situated in ward number nine of Kolkata Municipal Corporation, between Ahiritola and Shovabazar, by the banks of river Hooghly, this place accommodated potters and clay idol makers after the British East India Company decided to create separate districts for ‘ the company’s workmen’ as can be found in the orders of John Zephaniah Holwell who succeeded Robert Clive as the Governor of Bengal. In accordance with those orders different ‘ districts’ were formed like ‘ collotollah’ ( quarters for oilmen), ‘ chuttarpara’ ( quarters for carpenters), ‘ ahiritollah’ ( quarters for cowherd), ‘ kumortolly’ ( quarters for potters and clay idol makers), etc;

From then on till date , many families of potters and clay idol makers , have not only been living here, but also have been keeping alive their profession of making idols and pottery items.

A visit to this place around this time of the year would be a fascinating one for any art lover or photographer.

For in the lanes and by lanes of kumortuli we could see how the artisans and clay idol makers work on to give shapes to the idols. They spend most of their days and nights in front of the idols they are busy creating. The creation of the idols, a time consuming and fully labour intensive process ( as there is hardly any use of machinations ) often takes months and most of the artisans who work there, keep on working under time constraints, around this time of the year, for come rain, come shine, they are supposed to deliver the idols of Durga and her sons and daughters within the stipulated schedule and there is no way of moving an inch away from it. So they work on.

On my visits to this place, everytime I am left amazed by the sheer, should I say, devotion of these workers who, not by any stretch of imagination, getting hefty pays, simply work on in cramped places, often covered by tin roofs or tarpaulin. They work there and often take their naps on the floor of those tents or sheds before they wake up and start again with their works.

I have found how women folk of the area also join in their male counterparts in helping them with making ‘adornments’ made of shola or thermocol as they are called.

Though idol making had remained by and large a male bastion, in recent years , many talented women have made forays into that. With the advent of theme based puja, the demand for traditional idols of Devi Durga have perhaps dwindled but still, many idols are being made and sent from here to different parts of the state and also outside. Kumortuli has its own Durga Puja as well which got started way back in 1933.

Woman and Her Muse, a review

Woman and her muse

Author: Lopamudra Banerjee,

Publisher : Authorspress, New Delhi 110016,

ISBN 978-93-88008-42-6

Musings are part of every poet’s journey to writing. Without musing how can a poet write, dream, nurture words and embellish them to make them express his or her thoughts, beliefs, wanderings, religiosity, essence of being?

Lopamundra Banerjee has put her womanhood at the centre and like a flower , spreading petals, out of that centre are spread her poems and prose and once they spread they reach varied dimensions of both space and time. Divided into six sections, namely a) Five weird musings, b) Kolkata, the poetry I breathe , c) Bon Voyage , d) Portrait of a woman as the artist, e) The Durga series and f) cinema musings , this book of poetry and memoir brings the reader to the realm of poet’s mind and how fleeting things of life cast their impressions upon it. Being a collection of different poems and prose pieces written at different times, the work , quite naturally traces back and forth, the poet’s journeys, both on the physical plane which is real in the most real terms and that flight of mind which is the inseparable part of any poet and writer.

She has made it quite clear in ‘ Woman and Her Muse’ , the poem included in the first section ( pg 23) :

when she speaks poetry/wordless walls stare/invisible, foamy dreams./cardboard boxes of memories/childhood/scattered ashes,frozen in time.’

Yes, she has drawn a rich tapestry of her mind and its richness lies not in mere weaving of words so to say, for it puts the reader into a wider perspective. How much wide it is?

Well , for that the reader will have to believe in her ‘Writing in cursive, Melancholic letters’ :

‘First , a cursive a, then two swaying p’s , then an expectant l floating with a languid e;’

Never it has happened that apple, the fruit of knowledge, has been so deciphered! The children learning cursive handwriting can well do that on their exercise books and here is Lopa , doing the same thing but on a larger scale. She is taking from her notebook , the proverbial notebook of a poet, those writings which stirred her and also which came out of stirring, and putting them one after another like canvases being put before the eyes of the discerning reader to grasp their meanings, texture, tone and variety.

And that is why, the cover page has probably that pair of eyes of a face ( a work of art done by Sufia Khatoon, a poet and a painter/artist).

A pair of eyes that stare at the reader and at the same time, as the readers stare back at the book, its pages, at those printed alphabets arranged in forms of poems and prose, they find how seasons, places, people, photographs, come and linger and cast an unforgettable mark upon them.

If the city of Kolkata, arrives through ‘ the hungry salt of tears/ pelting on a window…’ in Tilottama , at Jorasanko it is not only ‘the red brick building ‘ but a building having ‘ the images illustrated. Kadambari, Mrinalini sing still, gazing from the white, lingering void’.

And then College Street:

I am a bystander in your serpentine lanes in the crossroads of my journey…’

And finally , Princep Ghat:

I know some evenings

Your breath brushes past mine,

And we are kindred souls,

Burning in each other’s fire.’

And Rowing : The Boat Song:

Tonight, I am in need of your mast and anchor,

I am chased by endless wafting.’

And when the city of her birth comes so, there should be as always, a tribute to the greatest bard.

And there, I find myself not as a mere reviewer. Reading her humble homage to Tagore, is like finding the true meaning of all writings and all lives we live. There she surpasses her womanhood. There she reaches to find where lies that touch of divinity which Gurudeb had left for all to find solace and comfort.

So she finds comfort in Tagore as she tries to come in terms of her Homecoming while rearranging her old study room all alone.

If places take up a part of her mental space , invariably there are people too.

If Between the Folds and Pleats : ARoseate Sonnet ( invented by Dr. A.V.Koshy) takes the metaphor of the sari and extends it to find where lies the agonies and hurts of a woman or all women, a memoir written for Get Bengal during Kolkata Book Fair, brings into fore her longing to cross paths with long lost friends.

Bon Voyage, the next section, is all about traveling and finding beauty and meditative contemplation. Be it By the side of Table Rock Lake, Missouri, or Kerala: a series of vignettes, or To The Grand Minaret, Qutub Minar, she finds how each and every place opens up vistas leading to her past and shaping her present.

Those vistas, are they sought like Joyce? I was asking myself the moment I moved to Portrait of a woman as the artist.

Is there Stephen in everyone of us , trying to come in terms with the intellectual awakening that we face in this world?

May be , and for Lopa, being a mother who is also very much part of Indian Diaspora, putting The Topography of the Mind, is the most sensitive and subjective work to do and she has done it with that candid tone which can not even be found in Joyce, primarily because Lopa is not following any Joycean repertoire, she is not adhering to his theme or his narrative technique.

She is doing it with her own characteristic elan. And so she can claim easily :

‘Crazy girls, listen, the topography of a fertile adult mind of a woman , turning middle aged and forlorn, is a queer one’.

She does not weave a folklore, she does not take circumlocutory ways. She is blatant. She holds no bar while she puts into paper her mind.

And so she resurrects. She finds Laxmanrekha: The pangs of Freedom and also Na Hanyate:The Resurrection. She responds to love poems of Kamala Das and let loose the fiery breath of a woman while going beyond cage following Maya Angelou.

She becomes Panchali and with fullest devotion, calls her Sakha, Krishna before laying open a bruised woman’s heart to Partha, Bheemsen, Dharmaraaj, Nakul and Sahadev and Karna.

The Durga series, inspired by paintings of Monica Talukdar and other works is eclectic as it should be and what takes this segment to its height of humanism is that belief of a poet and writer to allude Asifa Bano to The Goddess who Dies.

Cinema Musings begins with For Charulata and the Broken Home, which is quite logical given the fact that she has translated ‘Nastanirh‘ ( The Broken Home).

Next comes Durga and Apu and then invariably Apu and Aparna.

From there as we move, we find ghazals, Gulzar , Geeta Dutt.

The sufferings, the dreams, the journeys- all that make her life and make her a poet and a writer, are put with unabashed honesty and the culmination of that honesty is her tribute to Julie Andrews, the last but not the least one included in this incredible collection of poems and prose and this time, she generates her sound of music with profundity.

‘A skyful of balloons’ and finding Eric Segal’s ‘ Love Story’ and going even beyond that,

A skyful of balloons ( A novella)

Author: Santosh Bakaya

Publisher : Authorspress

ISBN 978 93 5207 —

The first time I read Santosh Bakaya was the time when I got her magnum opus ‘ The Ballad of Bapu’. Someone writing a ballad on Mahatma, someone who is creating a long biographical lyric on the Father of the country, must be doing it out of a serious love towards poetry and also to the country. That was the thought with which I started reading it and once I went through it, amazement was the only thing that I had and that amazement led me not only to review that work of hers but also later on her another work ‘ Under the apple boughs’ . ‘ Under the apple boughs’, being a collection of her poetry, brought all the poetic elements she had imbibed over years- her academic brilliance, her easy yet learned handling of varied kinds of poetry, her romantic bent of mind akin to that of any keen observer of nature and its inexhaustible beauty.

It is often said that a poet can never be a good story writer (and when it is said some exceptions are obviously kept aside as it is always done in case of any overtly generalised statement). Story writing is something which requires not only creating situations and events which formulate the plot, but also requires a greater understanding of how characters function in a story build-up, how they come across each other under the broader outline of the so called plot and how far they can move within the constraints of the plot.

If poetry, despite sometimes being very much metrically organised, can be free from plotting of events on a large scale, stories are bound to be well structured having delineation and denouement. So when Santosh ji, out of her elder sister like affection, asked me to have a read of her novella ‘A skyful of balloons’, I expected the novella to be an extremely poetic one having a rhyme of its own. But I was not sure how the characters would grow and evolve within the structure of an young adult fiction. But then, when there is Kashmir at the backdrop, a love story can never become a lacklustre one. It is bound to be poetic and also a gripping saga of human struggle.

If Kashmir is that place where Love of Nature can be felt at its supreme best, where chinar and walnut and pine trees dot the landscape, where shikaras on lakes make many to erupt with joy, finding two love birds Preeti and Vivek there, is like almost believing in the beauty of love and how it makes not only the two happy but also the world around them.

The two , being neighbours and also childhood friends, know each other like palms of their hands.They grow together, celebrate birthdays together and when the stars would twinkle in the sky , when even the birds would be snoozing, the two would bask in beauty of love. If they would be in the shikara, chirping on , breaking into songs and recitation, the birds in the trees fringing the lake would also break into chatter.

That’s how their love story becomes the story of Love, reminding one, time and again, that popular novella by Eric Segal, ‘ Love Story’.

If we try to find a parallel, ‘Love Story’ can be the one, in many respects, to this novella. Thematically the semblance is apparent. The abundant use of anecdotes related to literature and poetry in a novella which deals with love usually found in y/a fictions and yet which goes beyond the pre-set norms of y/a, primarily because of its treatment of the theme, is what that makes it different like ‘ Love Story’ became the different one.

Having said that, it would be wrong to assume ‘ A skyful of balloons’ is another ‘ Love Story’.

For ‘ A skyful of balloons’ has as its locale , Kashmir- its beauty, its inexhaustible resource of natural wonders, its people.

Secondly the narrative is a mixed one , flashback and present.

Thirdly and most importantly, it has someone like Vicky , a little boy, who like a sunflower shines to give the story that halo of hope and love at the end and there it follows the paradigm which is greatly different from the paradigm that is followed by ‘ Love Story’, essentially by providing a strong message of optimism in contrast to cathartic feeling that ‘ Love Story’ arouses.

Fourthly, if I may add, Santosh Bakaya has gone beyond the usual periphery of y/a novella by putting into ‘ A skyful of balloons’ poetic and delightful passages which take the novella to that height which transmutes the novella to a prosaic poem and there the novella supersedes even ‘ Love Story’ or for that matter all so called y/ a fictions.

To sum up, all I can do is to quote Santosh Bakaya from the novella:

“Walnuts keep falling on my lawn.
From dusk to dawn
On and on.”