Memoir / Essays: The Wind Still Whispers in the Willows

Santosh Bakaya

Santosh Bakaya 

In the stillness of the bedroom, when the cicadas start chirping, the owls confer with loud hoots and the dwindling noises of a retiring household drop off one by one into some sort of a disciplined silence, I quietly lie on the bed, dutifully scrolling Facebook.

Yesterday night as I lay down on the bed, I came across a meme of a cute little kitten all set to leave her house, a briefcase by her side and the caption: Eight year old ready to move out of my parents’ house cause they yelled at me .My daughter, has tagged me in the meme, with the comment “You are this kitten,” suffixed with a winking Smiley.
Well, therein lies a story of my childhood escapades which she has heard from me time and again. I was a universally acknowledged imp and would disappear from the house when scolded, either heading for the attic which was in my granny’s room or towards the neem tree in our verdant garden in our university quarters in Jaipur, where my father was a professor of English.

“Don’t scold Baby, she will run away.” Everyone was asked to treat me with kid’s gloves, but how long? I was forever devising devious plans and hatching conspiracies; some of my pranks deserved punitive action, so I was punished and I ran away, as predicted.

I close my eyes and see!
Yes, I very clearly see a ten-year-old girl, [a brat actually], climbing up to the attic. Eyes gleaming, hands itching, she heads towards an ancient looking trunk, a relic from her granny’s Kashmir days, and flings it open. The trunk has nothing but books heaped one upon another. Books which take her to different worlds. Books which she loves touching, feeling, smelling…. books which she carries to her bedside and sleeps, surrounded by the tantalizing smell of the carefully book- marked bibliophilic treasure , both hands lying possessively on two books. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and My Family and other Animals by Gerald Durrell, her constant bedside companions.
Many were the times her dad and mum would tiptoe to her bedside and gingerly disentangle the books from her firm grasp. She would play possum as they patted her on the head and tiptoed out of the room, fingers on their lips.
When I had got tired of the attic, my fertile mind had started hunting for new and more exciting hideouts.
After one such parental reprimand in which my elder brother had also chipped in, I had stealthily crept out of the house with a baggage strung on a stick and the stick on my ten-year-old shoulder. You know what the baggage held? A copy of The Wind in the Willows, my floral night suit, an apple and a toothbrush. The pilgrim had progressed towards the neem tree in the garden, and in three giant leaps had slithered up the tree, settled herself on a fragile branch and pulled out the book and the apple from the baggage. The moment I had sunk my teeth into the luscious fruit, there was a huge bellow from down below.
“Where is Baby now?”

An apple a day was known to have kept doctors at bay, but definitely not an indignant dad, who was shouting at the top of his baritone. In the frenzy of the moment, instead of sinking my teeth into the apple, I almost swallowed the Adam’s apple!

In my haste to set right my folly, I fell down on to the lawn, my limbs flailing, and my pathetic little baggage open, for all to see. What followed was a cascade of sibling jeers, sniggers and jibes. To this day, my siblings don’t tire of asking me how I had intended to brush my teeth, since I was not carrying any water bottle with me, and how I planned to change into my night- suit ensconced on a fragile branch of a tree?

When all my hideouts were found out, I started heading towards the hills, nay hillocks. Just a little away from the boundary wall of the campus, which adjoined our house, hillocks, big and small, made a perfect picture postcard scene. What absolute pleasure it used to be standing on one hillock, a triumphant glint in my eyes, drums of victory echoing in the ears. My joy was no different from the joy one mountaineer would feel after having climbed the Mount Everest.

I recalled; my juvenile mind had then believed that they were waves which had been put under a spell by some mischievous wizard.

Every night is my tryst with this lost world of mine, where I read meanings in the polyglot silence, whispering and mumbling, stammering and stuttering, lisping and purring notes from a long-forgotten song.

In this multi layered eloquence of the nights, I fumble and scavenge for some notes of sanity in the rampant insanity around. Somewhere a door shuts, a window opens, the curtains are drawn, a lost cat purrs, a stray whines, the trees rustle and the night yaks on.
 Is it some surreal dreamscape? As the silence becomes a glib talker, sounds from the past, also become confident and stride into the present, galloping fast – faster – faster…

A lost universe suddenly finds its moorings- there is a sudden profusion of all those moments which had long dwindled into mere pinpoints in the whole wide world. All these lost moments suddenly start shining with a dazzling radiance.
In this lost universe, it is books that hold sway, as I see myself lovingly fingering dad’s huge collection of books, and a lost moment sparks in memory, “this Santosh will someday write a novel, she has a very fertile imagination, is always reading books and cooking up stories.” This was Sr. Theodora beaming at me in Sophia School, Jaipur. I was looking at her, misty eyed, when I heard a voice:

“How many times will you read The Bell jar? Oh, I see this is my copy of the book! I was wondering where it had disappeared. And you have filched Not that kind of Girl too! Honestly, this book is not your cup of tea, this cup will cheer you better.” This was my daughter removing the books from under my hands and handing me a steaming hot cup of tea.
Life seemed to have come full circle, and I sat happily perched on the circle still basking in all the love, while sounds from the past continued to serenade me with their soothing strains. 

Bio: Internationally acclaimed for her book ‘Ballad of Bapu’ [Vitasta Publishers, 2015, a poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi], Santosh Bakaya is an academic, poet, essayist, novelist and TEDX speaker whose poems have been translated into many languages and received laurels worldwide.

A die-hard believer in Martin Luther King’s dream and John Lenon’s Imagine, dreaming a day ‘when there is nothing to kill or die for’, and ‘all the people sharing all the world’, she is the recipient of the Reuel International Prize for Writing and Literature [2014] for her long poem ‘Oh Hark! And has been conferred with the Universal Inspirational Poet Award [2016] by Pentasi B Friendship Poetry group and Ghana Government; and The Setu Award (USA] ‘in recognition of a stellar contribution to world literature’ (Individual category, 2018). She has received the first Keshav Malik award 2019 for her entirely “staggeringly prolific and quality conscious oeuvre” in fiction, prose and poetry.


  1. Dr. Piku ChowdhuryOctober 7, 2020 at 1:18 AM

    Lyrical lucid and vivid... Every line evocative of compelling lively images. Wonderful memoir

  2. Such a beautiful memoir ! Holding all the attention !Loved reading it !


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