Book Review: ONLY IN DARKNESS CAN YOU SEE THE STARS

Review by: Anju Kishore

ONLY IN DARKNESS CAN YOU SEE THE STARS
Author: Santosh Bakaya
Genre: Biography
Publisher: Vitasta Publishing Pvt Ltd
Year of Publication: 2019
ISBN: 978-93-86473-62-2
Pages: 285
Price: 495

On 3rd April 1968, a day before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr had proclaimed passionately, prophetically to an adoring crowd, two-thousand strong:

I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you but I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.’

The Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee had reverberated with a dream that stormy evening, a dream that a single gunshot seemed to shatter the very next evening.

Forty years later, Barack Obama went on to create history by becoming America’s first African-American President in January 2009.

Santosh Bakaya
Santosh Bakaya, in her biography of Martin Luther King Jr, Only in Darkness Can you See the Stars, walks us down the incredible life and the daunting times of the preacher, writer, scholar and charismatic leader of the burgeoning civil rights movement in the United States of the 1950s and 60s. This “indefatigable crusader” who challenged the interracial inequalities of America with the power of non-violence even in the face of brutal assault and stiff opposition, continues to be a towering symbol of the blacks’ struggle for equality. Generously sprinkled with relevant and interesting photographs from his life, the book, with its crisp narrative, is a well-researched chronicle of his eventful life. It is also a sensitive study of King, the human being, with all his fears, insecurities and doubts.

Her portrayal of his frailties along with his strengths will warm her readers to this great man who was not born with an impenetrable armour and a shiny sword but was made with the power of his faith in the cause he lived for and was prepared to die for. By the end of his unfairly short life, he had risen from being a civil rights activist to a champion for world peace and human rights.

Anju Kishore

The writer regales the reader with a cheerful account of his happy childhood cocooned in familial love, that set the tone for his belief in the power of “honesty, discipline, diligence, courtesy and patience”. Brought up in a family of pastors, ‘you are as good as anybody’ was his father’s lesson that he grew up learning. Beginning with King’s childhood brushes with segregation that left a deep impression on his mind, Bakaya keeps the pages turning with her detailing of the major demonstrations he spearheaded and the marches he led, the instances of civil disobedience and the filling of jails he planned, to draw publicity to the blacks’ struggle for desegregation and integration of American society.

Her elaboration of how the ideals of this exceptional young man were shaped through interactions with great scholars and thinkers throughout his higher education in Sociology, Theology and Personalism gives us an idea of the rich groundwork on which he based his later non-violent crusades against social inequality and injustice.

Today’s youth would be familiar with King’s iconic speech, ‘I have a Dream...’ at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. in 1963 that galvanised the entire black community into stirring the mighty United States out of its complacency. For them, and for the generations of the future, this book is an education.

Readers of Indian origin would connect instantly to his reiteration, ‘I am tired of violence...and I am not going to let my oppressor dictate to me what method I must use…we have a power…a power that cannot be found in bullets and guns.’ His belief in the power of non-violence was indeed strengthened by his month-long "pilgrimage" to India in 1959 along with his wife Coretta and friend Lawrence Reddick, which "left an indelible impression on their minds, imbibing them with the spirit of Gandhi, which would greatly influence them in the years to come.” To this trip, Bakaya has thoughtfully dedicated an entire chapter, replete with many photographs and King’s India itinerary.

This powerfully oratorical preacher with the heart of a warrior and the sensibilities of a poet, termed his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 "as a recognition of non-violence as an answer to the crucial political and moral question of the time and the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence".

Santosh Bakaya, writer, teacher, Ted speaker and herself a Gandhian in thought has to her credit, The Ballad of Bapu, an acclaimed poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi. Only in Darkness Can you See the Stars is a logical continuance of the author’s intent to “remind a young India that looks askance at non-violence, what a struggle America waged to give itself equal rights including sitting rights and voting rights…King’s life is an example of what is doable at the time of utter darkness”. Beginning the book dramatically with King’s assassination and ending it with the same, but on a sorrowful note, she skilfully leads us to his powerful message to the world— a message of peace, love and brotherhood that continues to be relevant today in a world stricken by strife and divided by its inequalities:

‘Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilisations are written the pathetic words “too late”. We still have a choice today; non-violent coexistence or violent co-annihilation’.

She signs off this biography of historical significance and moral awakening with an evocative wish, wrung from her heart—"This hate-filled world would once again echo with his rumbling eloquence and persuasive conviction, beseeching it to put an end to ‘revenge, aggression and retaliation’, making place for the reign of love, for never were we more deeply ‘in need of a new way, beyond the darkness that seems so close around us’.

“It is the crying need of the hour to rededicate ourselves, as King wanted so many years back, to the struggle for a new world, bursting with love, compassion, sincerity, non-violence, harmony and peace”.


Anju Kishore 
I am a poet, editor and a former Cost Accountant. My poems have been featured in numerous national and international journals and anthologies. One of the winners of The Great Indian Poetry Award 2018 and The Prime International Poetry Prize 2020, my book of poems ‘… and I Stop to Listen’ was published in 2018. I have been part of the editorial teams of four anthologies with India Poetry Circle and Kavya-Adisakrit Publishing.

9 comments :

  1. Anju Kishore's review of Santosh Bakaya's wonderful book on Martin Luther King Jr is eminently readable and adorable. In a flurry of words she gives us more than a gist of what is in store in the book... The book's essence is so well captured. Kudos to Anju and to the eminent write Santosh Bakaya.

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    1. Thank you immensely for your feedback, Ravi sir

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  2. Excellent review dear Anju. This book is rich in its diction and is of academic value for generations to come. Santoshji deserves to be lauded for the detailed research that has gone into this book making it a must read for students and academicians.

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    1. Thank you very much, Pankajam ma'am. Your appreciation means a lot to me. As you said, the biography is of significant academic value.

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  3. Congratulations to Santosh ji for her novel and insightful venture and Anju for a great review of the book, encapsulating all details of the book almost pictorially. The review makes one want to read the book which is a great USP in itself. The book will,no doubt,I hope and wish, find a place in every bookshelf!

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  4. Congratulations to Santosh Bakaya ji for her novel and insightful venture and Anju for a great review of the book, encapsulating all details of the book almost pictorially. The review makes one want to read the book which is a great USP in itself. The book will,no doubt,I hope and wish, find a place in every bookshelf!

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    1. Thank you very much for your kind words of appreciation, Poonamji. I join you in wishing Santoshji wide readership for the biography

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  5. Excellent review, Anju. "For them, and for the generations of the future, this book is an education." Just this one line is enough to know the value of this book. Santosh ji is a fine writer, very passionate about her work. I am sure this book will reach where it must in the years to come.
    all the best to Santosh ji. And looking forward to more reviews from you, Anju.

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    1. Thank you so much for your time and sweet appreciation, Vidya. Santosh ji is a fine writer indeed and I join you in wishing her writing the best of times ahead

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