Panchali

[Inspired by the elemental image of Draupadi/Panchali, the undisputed heroine of the epic Mahabharata, depicted in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s masterpiece of a novel, ‘Palace of Illusions’.]

Draupadi

Panchali, I am, to you, my Partha, my love,
Painfully displaced in recycled domestic patterns
Circulated freely amid all your brothers and you.
The saint who determined my cycle between one coy bride
To the next had created enough music in my bones
To satiate all you Pandavas as equal husbands,
Though he never knew how trapped
My luminous smile had been,
My dark-skinned charm, colliding
with so much of your chivalrous cacophony.

Panchali, I am, to you, my valiant Bheemsen,
A luscious lilac that you craved to engrave
In your voluminous heart, never knowing
How the absence of light rustled in my bare form,
My deep, dark tresses, shedding its rhythmic dewdrops
Not in unconditioned love, but in stoic, formulaic surrender.
Panchali, my Dharmaraaj, I am to you,
The untamed fire that spread all over you, in spurts,
The easiest pawn you could have settled for,
Reckless, warped in a gambling spree
you could very well do without.

Did I burn you too, my cognac fire
Was it a bit too scalding, Nakul and Sahadev,
My youngest husbands, moving in the orbit
Of your elder brothers’ wants? Did you get
How my splinters and shards surrounded you
In a vain rapture in the palace of illusions
When all I waited for, perhaps, was the Mahaprasthan,
The final journey of my nemesis, with all five of you,
Following the slit throats and mashed up corpses
Of my sons, of our kith and kin?

Panchali, I am, to you, Karna, my all-pervading bruise.
For I had forgot, in spite of your irresistible musk
That you and me both were wiggling children
of the cracked earth. The fiery flashes of your pride
Matching my own insolence, had borne a cursed utterance,
‘Sutaputra’, my vanity had attested a lie, a lie that resounded
Every time we crossed paths, as a rhythmic reminder.

Panchali, I am, to you, my Sakha, Krishna,
The smoke and fury of my mind’s badland
Soothed from time to time, when your hands touched mine.
What magic did your words unfold
To this dark, forlorn child-woman,
As you hovered in my life, presiding over its queer equations?
Dream girl, I wasn’t for you, when disrobed,
shunned of my womanly honour, your drapes covered
my bruised, black moon. Your words revealed,
Like half-shining flashlights, draped my life
In the ambiguous sheen I myself couldn’t fathom well.
Here, you touch my hands yet again, for one last time,
Where I find myself beyond the rims of time, and tell me
I have played my part well in this chaotic and tumultuous play.
Is this a new beginning, where I dissolve and form anew?
Panchali, I am, look, the boundless sky, my new palace, engulfs us all.

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‘Flights From My Terrace: A Treasure Trove Of Memories and Metaphorical Truths

Filled with vivid, veritable expressions, descriptions connoting the joie de vivre of life in its small, yet discerning moments, Santosh Bakaya’s treasure trove of 58 essays in ‘Flights From My terrace’ comes across as a remarkable odyssey of childhood memories, nostalgia, and a vivid internal journey capturing universal human feelings. The journey of these essays combined together in an unforgettable mosaic, in her own words, is “the outcome of my ruminations on my terrace” of her snug, cozy Jaipur home, a home which pulls her away to the other homes and their assorted images, homes and realms she has inhabited with her memories, opening the doors to her idyllic childhood, replete with delight, loss, wonder, and bewilderment cried to be put into words.

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Bakaya, the amazing storyteller, essayist and poet extraordinaire attains catharsis and makes perfect sense of the hubris of her mind and the memory chaos by documenting and depicting a series of diverse complex emotions in the book, starting from the exuberance of flying kites to the reminiscence of the sweet nothings of an idyllic Kashmir of her childhood to being a mother to delving in the other metaphorical truths of her life. Hers is a Bedouwin (nomadic) heart inside which churns the quicksilver flash of memories, and splashes across the zigzag crannies of the terrains she touches now, hungering, wreaking havoc.

In spite of the deeply synesthetic appeal of the flow of her words, never once does her sea of thoughts from Kashmir to Bharatpur feel too exhausting for the readers to handle. She has them always in her stride as she is in complete grip of her narration, whether she is depicting the romancing of sacred whispers, the sweet resonance of birds chirping, the sudden burst of the cacophonous world, or her untiring, persistent interaction with strangers and serendipity. Like a true memoirist and a flawless essayist, she absorbs the readers full on in the immediacy of her subtle life experiences, eclipsing everything else with the earnestness and the lyrical candor of a loving heart.

Yes, undoubtedly memories and their essence form the core and crust of ‘Flights from My Terrace’. The fervor with she describes her journey from Bharatpur to Jaipur in the essay ‘The Persistence of Memory’ as “…a chunk of memory here, a sliver of memory there,” forming “a memory avalanche” is truly remarkable and unforgettable. Also, one cannot help but reminisce the beauty and power Bakaya inscribes to the seemingly inconsequential subjects, like the neem tree of her childhood, the family dog, Nipper, the cat, Lazy, among other things, and all of them are incorporated so endearingly into the narrative that they echo in the minds of the readers like a delightful, richly woven symphony, long after they finish reading the book.

“I did not have to make any conscious effort, these slivers of memory just erupted from the subterranean depths, fitting into the narrative smoothly.” She said in an interview where I had asked her about the effortlessness and ease of her narrative journey in the book. The passages about her scholar father, her loving grandmother and other members of her kith and kin come together as delightful chunks of the unforgettable mosaic of her narration, along with all her other lyrical encounters that form the crux of the book.

The takeaway from ‘Flights of Terrace’ to a discerning lover of literature is the use of language, tender, lyrical yet robust and poignant, the pervasive and spirited voice of Bakaya as the narrator, the crisp, almost meditative beauty of her prose. To all who love powerful stories centered on the meaning and essence of home and one’s memories and nostalgia that spills over, spreads around the idea of home, childhood and the engrossing facets of humanity, this book will remain a cherished, treasured read always.