Book Review: Under the Apple Boughs

Reviewed By: - Wani Nazir

Under the Apple Boughs
Genre: - Poetry
Author: - Santosh Bakaya
Year of Publication: - 2017
Published by: - Authorspress, New Delhi
ISBN: - 978-93-5207-5959
Pp.:- 234
Price: - Rs.350/=

“Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo”, says Donald Marquis, an American journalist and author. Santosh Bakaya is once again back with a bang on the literary arena with her second poetic collection “Under the Apple Boughs”, the title borrowed from Dylan Thomas’ autobiographical poem ‘Fern Hill’. But this can be said with authoritative license that like her first poetic collection “Where are the Lilacs?”, ‘rose petal’ dropped and dropped in ‘the Grand Canyon’ of Indian literary spheres and in the hearts of lovers of poetry with a resounding ‘echo’ making its presence veritably felt.

Indian English poetry of the recent decade is sui generis and fecund in terms of being replete with Nativism that can be called intensively-felt Indianism. Many poets like R. K. Singh, K. V. Raghupati, Susheel Kumar Sharma, Manas Bakshi, Shiv K Kumar write with élan in English with their poetry fraught with nativism. And Santosh Bakaya outstandingly sparkles like a star on the firmament of Indian English poetry, and is fast emerging as the most powerful poetic voice in India. And how can her poetry be bereft of Nativism and local colour? She explores in her poetry her roots in her motherland, in her country and echoes K N Daruwlla:

                                    “Then why should I tread the Kafka beat or the wasteland
                                    When mother you are near at hand one vast, sprawling defeat”

The lines from one of her poems “When a father’s soi shlakh [nettle thrashing] hurt, but became a love balm/Soothing the thrashings soon to pierce the sylvan calm” or the line from the poem ‘NO LONGER’Az roz saine dilber myaney (Stay the night with us, O sweetheart mine)” bear testimony to the fact that Santosh Bakaya despite writing in a foreign language carries on the tradition of Ruskin Bond, R K Narayan, Sarojni Naidu and other greats and also her mother language along.

“Under the Apple Boughs” that is another foray into poetic realm by Santosh Bakaya is divided into  four sections – Memory Shards, Crippled Rhyme, Nature Sings a Symphony, and O Africa! Each section is a mirror to the name it has been christened.

Section one, Memory Shards, cascade the poet’s preoccupation with memories of her childhood, her  motherland, her parents and all what has been bracketed with her past life cajoling the reader to eavesdrop and excursion back to the annals of poet’s past life. Reading the first section, it surfaces that the chemistry of poet’s mind is complex, how it charts the lanes of memory in her unique personal way, and how the poet’s mind is the cradle of the incidents, events and persons she has come across in her life. One important thing about the section especially and about the whole book generally is that ‘poet’s eye rolls in a fine frenzy’ not giving ‘airy nothings…a name’ but she deals in the concrete with concrete experiences, having faith in a vital language that is ‘word-hunting’ as well as ‘image-hunting’.

Take for instance the following lines:

In the neighbor’s courtyard the guava tree
Still stands like a sly sentry, green with envy.
The magpie robin chirps frantically.             (ON REVISITING MY CHILDHOOD HOME)

A mélange of memories resurrected and ricocheted
And came my way, some bright, some trite.        (WAS IT ALREADY AUTUMN?)


 The feisty chipmunk leaps and leaps
And my heart [ah, foolish heart!] keeps
This chunk of memory in its recesses deep.         (SHRIEKS AND MORE SHRIEKS)

The memories are not through and through jocund but an admixture of joy and pain, ecstasy and gloom. In one of the poems in the first section, the poet dovetails joy and sorrow in a very powerful way, and the reader too is carried away by the power the lines carry:

                        Serrated, sharp-edged memories
Slough like leaves of verdant trees
Sometimes caught viciously in the breeze
They whimper and moan
At times cruise along merrily,
Involved in a surreal pantomime.              (SERRATED, SHARP-EDGED MEMORIES)

“Poetry is for me Eucharistic. You take someone else’s suffering into your body, their passion comes into your body, and in doing that you commune, you take communication.  You make a community with rhyme’. These words of Marry Karr come true when the reader wades through the rough and ‘crippled rhyme’ of the second section “Crippled Rhyme” where poetry proves to be mankind’s chief arsenal against life’s weal and woe and a weapon to create consciousness of resistance against injustice. This section is reminiscent of most of poems of her first book of peace poems “Where are the Lilacs?” She feels a quarry of pain on seeing the world searing in the cauldron of hatred, animosity, national prejudice, social evils, war, and weaponry that has seeped whole human race down to the abyss of destruction and obfuscation. Almost all the poems are soul-scathing. The lines from some poems:

In an audacity of triumph wild, the monster fled.
The boy’s dreams bled, painting the cul-de-sac red.        (CUL-DE-SAC)


“Mommy, I do not want to sleep in this carton
How can this carton be my bed?
It is so hard, mommy
I miss my toys, mommy
Take me in your arms mommy
The night is stormy.                              (I DO NOT LIKE MY NEW NAME)


Somewhere a truck becomes a weapon of destruction
Filling people with untimely loss and desolation.
But the birds carry on cruising, the butterflies jitterbugging
Unaware of the scenes heart-tugging
Unleashing relentlessly in the barbaric world.                     (NOT A FIG)


Why do humans want to paint life
In splashes of crimson hatred?                          (WHEN HUMANITY WEPT)

show Santosh Bakaya as a petite soul, taking in the pain and suffering of humanity, empathizing with the suppressed and crying and wailing with them all, be it a mother waiting for her elusive son, the travails and tribulations a refugee child, or a relentlessly slogging labourer or the throttled dreams of a rag picker.

In the third section, Nature Sings a Symphony, the poet turns to Nature in all its manifestations. But unlike Wordsworth doesn’t deify Nature but presents it before the readers in all its hues objectively like Keats.  Take for instance, the lines in the poem, THE BUSY NIGHT:
                        Sheathed in a thousand and one moon beams
The tired shepherd glows in the reflected light.
The smile playing on his lips is bright


                        The russet shadows of evening
Hugging the pine trees
Happy the breeze.
My fancy rushes me on eagle’s wings
To that snug spot on that grassy knoll
Tiny ears pricked to the crickets call.
Wherever I go those memories I lug
Ah, how at my heart strings they tug!                                                                                         

The poems in the last section, O Africa, have been written during the sojourn of the poet in Accra, Ghana. This will be in place to say that the whole book has been in fact dedicated to Acra and her people. In her Dedication Santosh Bakaya writes:

I was struck by the resilience and spunk of the people of Accra, awed by the phenomenal women, diligently getting up at the crack of dawn to do the household chores and bake and cook. Not one beggar did I find on the streets, not one outstretched arm or a voice beseeching for alms. They had faith in the potential of their arms to earn their daily bread. Their tactile warmth, their open-armed hospitality, their passionate intensity, their amazing energy, all went straight to my heart – and it is there that it still nestles. Even that old Neem tree in the garden beams.
The poems in this section are soulful and brewing with love and beauty of Accra. It is this section that distinguishes the poet’s way of seeing the world from the non-poetic way. The poem TO THE WOMEN OF ACCRA paints beauty in action of women of Accra in an artistic way:
                        Your glowing skin
Speaks the language of love,
Of hope, of diligence immense
Your untiring hands wield the ladle
Your child snug in a cloth tied to your back
Serving as a cradle.
The poem A DAY IN ACCRA, GHANA eulogizes the sunrise and how its soft rays washed her being with unadulterated love:
                        The sun appeared riding on a grey cloud
Its soft rays washed my being with love unadulterated.
And an infinite beauty filled my soul, I felt sated
As a rain- drenched kid smiled up at me from his mother’s lap
Now sun – drenched
Coming to the language and diction employed by Santosh Bakaya in the book, let me confess that the most striking characteristic of the author I am always impressed with(reading and reviewing her other books) is her use of language, use of figures of speech. Sometimes I wonder how such beautiful and apt words come in her grip. She knows how to ‘dress’ her ‘thought’ in beautiful ‘language’.
Yes! This is the book that is worth cherishing, worth keeping so top on the shelves of lovers of literature.

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