ON 14th July a man was seen going into the Bangalore Cantonment railway station, carrying a bag, after bidding his wife goodbye.
What did he carry in it?
A bird, a plane or a superman costume?
Wrong on all counts.
Something far more explosive.
He carried in it two books by Dr. Santosh Bakaya, both inscribed in her own hand.
At the platform, he sat down on a bench, waiting for the train.
He took out the book. The time was 5 p.m. or so. The train came and he found his seat and sat down. Till 10.30 in the night he was knocked out, loaded, reading the book from cover to page 155. The book held his attention so much that he got up again at 3.30 in the morning and read till 5.30 to complete all 325 odd pages of it.
He then held an interview with Gandhiji in his head.
Gandhiji, do you know who should write your biography as a poem?
I wrote mine partially as an autobiography, G said, a bit coldly.
I know, I read it, and truth to tell, it was boring in parts. Prose is. Fischer’s is too.
He looked at me interested.
No one said that to me before, he said. Then maybe I should….
Santosh Bakaya is the one you want, I told him.
How can I make her do it? , he asked. I met Clinton, Hilary in a séance. Can I do the same with her?
No need to, I told him triumphantly. She is my friend and she already dunit. And boy, are you lucky?
Boy, am I?
Yes, boy, you are!
What’s so special about it?
She writes it in rhymes, each stanza five lines each but slips NOT into doggerel.
I had him hooked now.
She has a fabulous introduction and foreword and even a poem in it by your great grandson, Tushar Gandhi, and if you read the contents page and the excerpts at the back after reading the whole book, it makes terrific sense.
He was getting more and more interested.
Tell me more, he said.
On the cover it says it is a book everyone in India should read, this according to Tushar Gandhi, but , I think , he is dead wrong.
I hastened to explain.
It is a book EVERYONE should read!
Where can I get one?
Try amazon.in I said. I have one, but won’t give it to you as she autographed it for me and as I value her book more than Vikram Seth’s Golden Gate any day. It has richer content and neither she nor I, would find it difficult to write a novel in sonnets but her poetic saga of your life story is a national treasure like she says, you are.
Gandhi had stopped listening to me.
He had logged into amazon.in and was trying to get hold of his copy of the Ballad of Bapu.
After eight hours he got back to me.
You were right, he said, and vanished into thin air.
In a more serious vein:
When I read Ballad of BAPU three things astounded me.
1. One – conceiving the idea of writing Gandhi’s life in quintains and actually having the genius and ability to carry out such an audacious plan. Breathtaking!
2. Two – the introduction (in prose!)
3. A section in the introduction that talks of violence, that though it imitates Dickens, matches him and rivals both him and SAMUEL BECKETT who has similar brilliant passages in his ear-lier novels like Murphy and Watt.
Santosh is from Kashmir and this helps her to understand the experience of the in- betweener which in its turn, helps her portray Gandhi’s inner self accurately, his almost frenetic attempt to bring peace among groups of people who do not necessarily want peace to be there among them.
This portrayal of Gandhi’s anguished inner self that seeps through the humour of her narrative is finally what will make the book unforgettable as it is partly her own reaction at the often senseless violence in the world we live in now.
Amidst the crossfire of hate and oppression
Rampant bloodshed and chaotic confusion
Stood a figure
In clothes meager
Spreading love and banishing hate, tough his mission.
It is where she most enters the mind of this Gandhi and lets us have glimpses of it too, that the book finally becomes an abiding classic.
Dr A.V. Koshy, is a Pushcart nominee, poet, critic, essayist , co-editor of THE SIGNIFICANT ANTHOLOGY and writer of the bestseller, Art of Poetry.
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