What is the meter of the Dictionary?
Poetry collection by Santosh Bakaya
Samrudhi Dash reviews poetry collection by Santosh Bakaya
Dr. Santosh Bakaya has an alchemy with words that needs no introduction. Her latest collection of poems titled ‘What is the Meter of the Dictionary?’ is not just another feather in her already overloaded hat, but also a delight for her readers, once again giving them a chance to delve into the pages of her verses that transport you to places and scenarios that linger on long after you have turned the pages.
As Dr. Ampat Koshy rightly puts it in his edifying blurb, this collection is “a fine addition to her ever-growing corpus of powerful works that I have, personally, lost count of”. And just as Dr. Koshy advises, “Hop on to the bus, Gus”, I did just that and since then I’m still on the bus, mesmerized by the way the words flow, outwitting all considerations of time and space.
As Dr. Bakaya confesses in her Acknowledgements and then the Preface, she was, right from her childhood, plagued by questions and fascinated by shapes. To quote her words:
“Shapes have forever fascinated me – the shape of clouds, the shape of patches of sun, the shape of a noonday chill on a cold winter month, the shape of flamboyant kites flashing their long tails, the shape of a blade of grass swaying in the breeze and even the shape of a bird’s wound.”
As she acknowledges it in the Preface, “When a fledgling lost its footing and fell, and despite my ministrations, could not revive, it left me with a profusion of tears. It was then that words came to my rescue”, it’s these experiences from the seemingly ordinary that she knits into the most colourful, poignant, soul-stirring verses that often leave the reader teary-eyed, awed at the spectacular spectrum she brings forth, and for a moment, you are left suspended in time, still basking in the effervescence of verses. A potent poet, Dr. Bakaya’s verses compel the reader to delve into a different world, a parallel universe, which she creates to escape that existential crisis she faced as a child, and perhaps still does.
This collection of poems, powerful and moving, revolve primarily around nature as seen through the lens of a deeply thoughtful, questioning mind that seeks refuge in words and as Dr. Bakaya herself says, the inspiration behind the book as well as the title, is Dylan Thomas.
The uniqueness of Dr. Bakaya’s writing is the ease with which she connects with her readers and through picturesque imagery, the way she transports the reader into a world created through the alchemy of verse. Reading through the pages, you can’t help but wonder at the varied, colourful collage of parallel worlds forming, merging and again bursting forth with an ebullience that kind of takes you on a ride – smiles, tears and all. Her poems not only make you think but compel you to ‘feel’ – feel and trace your fingers on the shapes of clouds, the sun, the wind, waves, wings, birds, darkness, light, breeze and more. It’s amazing, actually extraordinarily beautiful, how attributes of even the most intangible of things, have been given a concrete identity through verses that a compulsive writer pens, right from the depths of what the heart dictates.
In a recent conversation with me, Dr. Bakaya humbly confessed, “I don’t know... I just pour my heart out” and that’s the potent beauty of her alchemy – she lets emotions flow into verses, with her creativity and imagination and a constantly questioning mind adding the seasoning on an already perfect brew. Reading through her poems, I was, to be honest, lost in a world of myriad hues and colours, allowing the cartography of life to unfold, as she took me to places, people and things and like Dr. Koshy rightly puts in his blurb, “Either way, you won’t regret it, for sure!”.
The book is divided into two parts – ‘A Joyous Tumult’ and ‘Faint Echoes’ and features 76 poems of a powerful, heart-warming intensity. Dr. Bakaya has a way with words that actually takes you on a visual and sensory ride and be it in poems like ‘They Say there is Autumn in my Land’ where she talks about her homeland, Kashmir – taking us through paddy fields, apple orchards and rich meadows or ‘The Sun’s Cold Shoulder’, where she turns nostalgic, talking about her Dad – for a moment you feel you are right there, sitting on the park bench, living her memories, questioning life’s ephemeral moments and going misty eyed. Indeed, she is a wizard at weaving words into verses that span a whole spectrum of emotions, scenes and characters.
In poems like ‘Somewhere a Blackbird Coos’, Dr. Bakaya’s love for the elemental facets of nature becomes evident in the way she seamlessly juxtaposes the beauty of the rain, clouds and the singing bird against the backdrop of a hungry beggar making his way through the din and bustle of traffic, speaks volumes of the sharp eye she has, alongside her deep sensitivity to everything around her.
Somewhere a Blackbird Coos,
As the beggar near the garbage bin
Studiously ignores the traffic din and listens.
Ears riveted to the music of the loose change in his begging bowl.
The leaves hug eachother and laugh and laugh.
Not for them to keep tactility at bay.
Social distancing! Ah! Perish the thought!
A ripple of their laughter touches me too.
I smile – yes, I smile, hugging a handful
Of happy memories, as the raindrops pitter-pattered
How beautifully she weaves in diverse elements into a single lyrical cadence that turns into a visual and sensory delight, leaving you smiling in spite of the tumult of emotions. Indeed Dr. Sunil Sharma correctly points out in the Foreword that “Not many of the writers can have this critical faculty and facility in a world going insane with hatred and bigotry. And we remain grateful for voices like Bakaya for waking us to the beauty of an unspoilt world around us at any given time, provided we are listening.”
“My Happy Place” is one such jolly and delightful poem that took me to the glorious Technicolor days of childhood.
Hey, is that a unicorn
Or has my imagination gone into overdrive?
I can feel the pink glow of colour creeping on to my face.
I inhale the clear -scented sweetness of the air,
As my imagination goes berserk,
Perking up, I clutch on to those rain drenched minutes,
Making them fragments of the eternal.
In the wilderness, a linnet sings on.
In Part Two – More Shapes, Dr. Bakaya confesses, “The obsession with shapes reached such an extent that, with the passage of some more time, I myself started resorting to shape-shifting, becoming a tiny mote, intruding into the hearts of people and looking at the world through their eyes...” This section of poems has its own uniqueness in the depth of the poems, capturing human emotions in their untrained form and though deeply poignant, thought provoking, these poems almost always end on a positive, affirmative, hopeful note and I find myself smiling through tears!
How beautifully she captures the thoughts of a wheelchair ridden old man in ‘The Soliloquy of an Octogenarian’
I sit here, looking at the world from my wheelchair.
Life is fair, at times also unfair.
This chair is my friend for all seasons.
I suddenly remember Heidi,
And her wheelchair bound friend Clara.
One day, maybe I will be able to walk like her?
I break into a string of giggles
At the absurdity of it all.
An owl hoots, a understanding hoot.
In her poem “Look Mommy”, Dr. Bakaya becomes the voice of an autistic child and portrays in her powerful write, the innocence and at the same time, the strength of a child, little understood by the world.
I will overcome one day. Yes I will.
Even when you are not around,
I will teach the meaning of innocence and purity to the world.
The world will sit back and listen.
There is beauty everywhere, Mommy.
There is love everywhere Mommy.
I love everyone.
Love is me.
This is one of the poems that’s stayed with me, as I recollect one such loving boy, who left us too soon and it’s in reading this poem, again and again and again, that I’m trying to find my closure, venturing into my own purloined memories, hidden in the folds of an aching heart.
Perhaps I could keep writing on and on about the beauty, the brilliance of this book of verses that’s stolen a slice of my heart. But I think I’ll rest my case here and tell you, it is books like these that show us how blind we have been to the world around us, verses such as these, that flip open the album of life and spill forth memories and more, and you sit, relishing slices of nostalgia, smiling, weeping, laughing, still hoping and living. Perhaps that’s what true poetry is all about. It brings forth our best as well as the most vulnerable moments to the fore and makes us realize, how human, ultimately, we all are. And this experience is, in the very least, a deeply humbling one.
At the close of the Preface, Dr. Bakaya writes, “There was a time I was obsessed with the word peregrinations. With the passage of time, I find myself peregrinating more and more. Well... Hope these mental peregrinations of different shapes and sizes will find an echo somewhere in the reader’s heart”.
And to this, my reply is, these heart-wrenchingly beautiful poems have inscribed themselves somewhere all over my own scribbled soul and I know, on some days when the going gets too tough, I simply go back to the pages of these verses and laugh, cry and live a little – a lifeline of sorts. And I hope you understand what this means to an over-emotional, over-thinking, obsessive, compulsive, crazy, messy writer like me. I am just glad, grateful that Dr. Santosh Bakaya chose to share her verses with the world.
About the Poet
Santosh Bakaya is a Ph.D., a poet, essayist, novelist, biographer, Tedx speaker and has authored as many as twenty-three books across different genres. She is the Winner of Reuel International Award for poetry  and Setu Award for her stellar contribution to world literature . She has been acclaimed for her poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Ballad of Bapu. Her biography on Martin Luther King Jr. Only in Darkness can you see the Stars has also been critically acclaimed. Her latest book is Runcible Spoons and Pea-green Boats. She pens a weekly column called Morning Meanderings in Learning and Creativity. Com.
Samrudhi Dash, who writes under the pseudonym 'Inara' is a poet, author, editor and motivational speaker with a Masters in English literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. She has to her credit, five poetry collections and three novels, her third novel titled, "Letters From A Stranger - A Life Changing Map", having made it to the Amazon Bestsellers List at Rank 10 in 2020. She has contributed to several national and international poetry and prose anthologies, and literary magazines and e-zines and edited and co-edited five anthologies. She is a recipient of the Nissim International Best Upcoming Poet Prize, 2019, the WE Strong Feminine Voices Award, 2020, the WE Women of Letters, 2022 and the Nissim International Prize for Excellence in Writing, 2022. A strong feminist at heart, she believes in gender equality and women empowerment. As someone who has always lived in a day-tight compartment, taking each day as it comes, with a firm belief in the power of dreams and the divine designs of the Infinite Universe, her signature words are ‘Hope, Live, Believe.’