Book Review: Santosh Bakaya’s ‘Runcible Spoons and Peagreen Boats’ – A lyrical tale of looking back

Final-483 (PB) Runcible Spoons and Peagreen Boats

By Chaitali Sengupta 

In the beautifully worded author’s note in her delightful fourth book of poetry, Runcible Spoons and Peagreen Boats, Dr. Santosh Bakaya states: “This book is a book of nostalgia, nostalgia about lost glens, lost bridges, lost smiles, lost games, lost hopes and lost parents.” Within the folds of the pages, the readers witness her walking through the memories of the past, memories that forever will last. It is a fascinating memoir in the poetic form where the poet recounts the pivotal moments in a way that either catches your heart or makes you stop and look back at your own life and reflect.

The two very interesting words in the title ‘Runcible spoons’ and ‘Peagreen Boats’ take us back to the famous “Owl and the Pussy cat” poem by Edward Lear. As you curl up with the book in your hand, you see how Dr. Bakaya’s mind takes her to the days when she was a ‘naughty girl’, being rebuked by her teachers, the Irish nuns in school, to the days of years gone by. Of a time when “that aquamarine blue of the summer skies, the blue of the languorous lagoons of my fertile imagination, colored my senses” (Author’s note). She visualizes herself as a carefree, happy-go-lucky kid, “That pigtailed brat running around/ footloose and fancy free, / one moment, licking her fingers, /lingering near the fridge…” (That is me). It warms up our heart at once. Yes, it is a lyrical tale of looking back with wistfulness, sprinkled with pixie dust, and along with each of her word, we too make time to go back to our past.

The book has been published by the Authorspress and is divided into four parts: Footfalls, Granny, Dad, and Mummy, where the poet shares intimate father-daughter conversations, anecdotes, and tales, drawing up a vivid and enchanting portrait of her father “with a tweed cap, white sweater, white trousers/ and, tennis racquet, off to play tennis” (“A June Winter”). Throughout the book, she provides for the readers a cozy window into her father’s personality, talking about the treasured time she spent with him, and the beautiful bond they shared. Not less enchanting are her poems about her grandmother. “In her own world she lived, forgetful at times, / often humming those forgotten Kashmiri rhymes” (“The Toothless Grin”). She is “a picture of septuagenarian grace’, with ‘a shock of white hair as though ruffled by the waves” (“The Toothless Grin”). It made me stop and remember my grandmother and find parallels. In the section called Mummy, Dr. Bakaya reminisces about her mother and the poems are a sweet reminder of how important unconditional love of a mother is.

The 41 poems in this collection are an exquisite visual treat woven with lyrical charm. Dr. Bakaya’s genius in lyricism is surely one of the brightest glories of this book. I shall name a few of the poems from the collection here, namely “A pleasing serenity”, “The Rugged Mountains”, “Walnuts falling”, “Nasturtiums”, “And the Temple waits”. These poems are contemplative in nature, a serene gentleness comes over us as we engage with those.

As we turn the pages and chuckle pleasantly (for that underlying humor is never absent from her lines!), reading her exchanges with her father. More memories flash through her as we realize the deep, intimate bond she shared with her father. Her “My Papa’s last letter to me”, is born out of her nostalgic remembrance and a nagging grief after having lost her father. “His thesis on Robert Browning unpublished, / his novel incomplete, his stories untold. / Yes, he left soon after.” The loss is immense. She mourns the absence of her father, who termed her as a ‘leprechaun’. But she is a humanist. She looks at the world with a healed mind, with her poetic language, love, and a deep sense of longing for the past. “I heard once again that fondly remembered sound/ Travelling across decades. / A sound which was the harbinger of warm days/ after the unending days of snow and cold” (“The Tiny Bird of Memory”). There is a lot of comfort, too, in these lines.

Dr. Bakaya’s heart beats for her native land of Kashmir and there are some lines in this collection which ooze her homesickness. In the author’s note, she talks about her home, The Relic: “The nostalgia of a lost paradise-The Relic, our renovated ancestral house, overlooking the Jhelum…” Her ears are forever “tuned/ to the musical drip and the lyrical trickle/ of the melting icicles hanging from the eaves/of my ramshackle home in Kashmir…” (“The Tiny Bird of Memory”). The far-away home is always there in her thoughts, and it is a connecting thread throughout this book.

The book ends with the elegantly written “Epilogue: The incessant Serenades”. An unexpected gem, it is perhaps the most poignant of all her poems in this book. “Thus, the winged chariot wings away. /I, no longer young, find myself in the chariot, / lost in thought, hugging those memories tight.”  It is a book of poems that quietly compels us to cherish the special people in our lives. The poems in this book will warm up your heart due to the beautiful impact of the loving memories Dr. Bakaya shares with her readers. It is an emotional, nostalgic journey, not only for Dr. Bakaya but also for all of us.

Chaitali Sengupta
 writes and translates fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Her first book of poetry is Cross-Stitched Words, a recipient of HONORABLE MENTION award at the New England book festival 2021. Her latest work of translation is Timeless Tales in Translation, a collection of 12 short stories by famous Indian authors. She has co-authored several esteemed anthologies and has contributed largely to well-known online/print journals. Presently, she is working on a translation work featuring the Dutch author, Louis Couperus.


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