Not entirely uninvited

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From the liberal sprinkling of allusions to Alice, in and out of her Wonderland, the gentle musings of Piglet and Pooh, the wisdom of Shakespeare, and Neruda, Shelley and Swift and Wordsworth, to the voices of the characters populating the pages of Flights From My Terrace, the sweep of sights, scents, and sounds flowing from the pen of Santosh Bakaya come to life in our minds.

The friends and forces of nature who accompanied Santosh from childhood to adulthood dance across the pages, some returning from years previously, in the compact turnings of time expertly expressed within these essays. With a few deft phrases, all time and distance is swept away, and we are brought to life as it always was, always could be, in Santosh’s writing, which often has a wonderful humorous twist at the close of each essay, as delectable as a pilfered piece of chocolate cake.

 

Suddenly she stopped coming to school altogether, we wondered where she had disappeared, but our minds were filled with clutter and Sherry was not part of this clutter.

 

Some years later I was flying from Delhi to Srinagar, when a svelte, smart and smiling airhostess hailed me with the words, “Hi Santosh, how have you been?”

 

I gaped at the elegant lady before me, and the realization dawned as her scintillating smile brightened up the inside of the plane. No person in the world could have so charming a smile except Sherry. The sunny moon!

 

“You have lost much of your muchness”, I quoted from Alice in Wonderland, giving her the once over.

We delight in cameo appearances of an elderly Bin Laden look-alike to the leonine roars of Brobdingnagian five-year-old younger sisters, the short essays and stories of Santosh Bakaya offer quips and challenges, observations and banter, wrapped in the vibrant colors and textures of life seen from sidewalks and terraces, buses and shops. As the redoubtable weaver of words remarks, through various characters in Essay # 9, “I am a Good Cooker”: there are no charges for looking, no charges for playing along, as we let our imaginations be captivated by the scenes laid out within the pages of Flights From My Terrace, a printed collection of 58 essays originally published as an e-book on Smashwords.

And the glimpses of life to which Santosh treats us in the pages of this book lose none of their vigor, for being taken up, put down, and taken up again, whenever company  or a short flight of fancy is needed—for that is one of the joys of reading essays and short fiction. We are invited to sally forth, lock-in-step with life itself, emerged from its dark corners, protected gardens, teeming streets and bustling shops, and with surprise, we find we need to tarry, to spend time there. We revel in fields and along roadsides, among flocks of sheep and errant birds, among bicycles and cars impatient to be elsewhere. We wander amidst the beggars, the shopkeepers, the cooks and the cleaners, the Lilliputian siblings and giant, hirsute marauders, turned gentle for the holding of a hand. And this is why griots and storytellers, the Scheherazades and the Ibn Battutas of the ages share their experiences of life, of major expeditions, and of trips as short as kitchen to terrace, with a single purpose. We live in a complex, global world, and stories are good for us. They help us to see life, in its devastation as well as its opulence, to learn to live with others, to learn tolerance, and form deep friendships.

 

Suddenly some men in the crowd started pointing fingers in his direction and four men detached themselves from the mob and started walking towards him, menace in their stride and malice in their eyes. Brandishing hockey sticks and raising full-blooded slogans, they strode purposefully towards him.

 

Malik stifled a cry of horror. “They will kill me, they will put me on fire… they…” he mumbled in shrinking terror and started looking around for something with which to defend himself. The satchel heavy with the thick books could be that weapon, but you don’t throw your school bag on people, do you? The little boy philosophized when a big, hirsute hand pounced at him.

 

“He will hurl me in the fire”, were the last words he said to himself before he lost consciousness. …

 

… “Don’t be afraid, beta”, the owner of the hand spoke, sloughing away the wrinkles from his kurta and handed him a packet, “Eat, you must be hungry”, he said. …

 

… After half an hour, the boy and the man were out of the malodorous room into the fresh, open air.

 

There was no violent storm raging outside — only an unbelievable peace — the sky was no longer black and brooding, a golden shaft of sun had suddenly pierced the cloudy veil and a clear and bright blue sky peeped from behind.

 

The shrill deafening chorus of hate and venom had died, the wind was whispering softly and the trees drooping dispiritedly just some time back seemed to have revived their spirits and had all of a sudden become musically inclined, murmuring a tune which was soothing and euphonious. The world was instantly a better place in which to live.

 

The small, traumatized boy clung desperately to the big broad man — and both started walking towards Malik’s house.

 

“Abbu and Ammi must be mad with tension”, he mumbled to himself, and tightened his hold on Shyam’s big, broad and hairy hand which had frightened him out of his wits just a few moments back.

 

Now, he suddenly found that it had a reassuring touch.

 

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Essay by essay, Bakaya leads us through the boisterous and secret lives of strangers we come to recognize as friends. Taking us to many settings, the tales remind us that life circles us with its bursts of intensity and occasional strange magic, in everyday events, everyday locations. Through reminiscences that sometimes shock, sometimes tickle, Bakaya remains that friend at our elbow, engaging both our intellect and heart, and sharing her own.

 

During my sojourn in Accra, I was face to face with two Accras, the impoverished, and the illiterate, living in shacks and the literate, well-heeled staying in sophisticated houses, frequenting malls, and cruising along in luxurious cars. This sprawling city, an admixture of modern buildings, sky scrapers, shanty towns, castles, lively markets and diligent people had slowly sneaked into my heart.

 

The next day, as we headed towards Kotoka airport after a week of fun, frolic, and fantastic food, my overwhelmed heart kept going to the small child in yellow knickers, who had said, “I love you” to me in Jamestown fishing village. These were the only three words of English that he knew, but he sure did know the significance of love.

 

If each of us made a habit of saying, “I love you” to each other, won’t the world become a better place? This fleeting thought crept into my mind as we went inside the airport gates, I turned back to wave to our friends.

 

“I love you all,” I shouted.

 

“We love you too, madam”, they shouted back, their voices hoarse, eyes teary.

Reading the essays in Flights From My Terrace is like visiting unknown, exciting street corners and worlds, encountering characters you’d love to meet in person, journeying from doubt to trust, from dreams to nostalgia. And, always, with each vignette, you can pour a good cup of tea, or coffee, sit down to take flight to these new places with Santosh, and safely return before the cup is empty.

Leaving the pathways of the known to journey through the challenges and changes of this collection of essays, we are refreshed; each turned page of Flights From My Terrace introduces us to new tastes of this life, and leaves us hungry for more.

And when you are finally ready to put down the essays, and return to the busy-ness of your daily life, you, also, may find yourself looking back at the people in these pages, and at Santosh Bakaya, to shout, “We love you too,” whether or not anyone is there to hear you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                       — Michele Baron, May 2017, Kyrgyzstan

About the author

Hailing from Kashmir, Dr. Santosh Bakaya is a much-awarded writer of many internationally acclaimed books, like Ballad of Bapu, and a collection of peace poems, Where are the lilacs?

About the reviewer

Traveling the real and virtual worlds, Michele Baron gives her attention to children, outreach projects, the arts, and growing plants wherever there is a bit of soil. Her published works include three books: A Modest Menu: Poverty, Hunger and Food Security in Poetry and ProseA Holiday Carol,  and blue wings unfolding

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