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.”