‘A Skyful of Balloons’- Review
BY: Wani Nazir
The antecedents of Feminist criticism trace all the way back to ancient Greece in the work of Sappho and Aristophanes’ play Lysistra. So the word ‘feminism’ isn’t any new one. The woman has ever missed the juicy side of existence as Virginia Woolf puts it, “Women have burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning of time”. The postmodern period witnessed the flowering of numerous major female literary figures in both Europe and America. Such prominent figures are A.S Byatt, Carl Churchill, Helene Cixous, Simon de Beauvoir, Kate Millet etc. The wave of feminism however didn’t remain static in these places but the gusts swept swiftly and affected this mysterious land with some big-wigs.
Despite the full contribution of male writers like R.K. Narayan, Raja Rao and Mulk Raj Anand, the ink of the female hand didn’t cease. Indian Women writing in English is being recognised as major contemporary current in English Language-Literature. The likes of Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and Anita Desai have won worldwide acclaim for the quality of their writing and their imaginative use of English. These include the role of English as global lingua franca: the position of English in India. The Indian writers in English are writing, not in their native language but in a second language, and the resultant transcultural character of their texts.
Traditionally, the work of Indian women writers has been undervalued due to patriarchal assumptions about the superior worth of male experience. The factors contributing to this prejudice is the fact that most of these women writers have observed no domestic space. The Indian women’s perceptions of their aspirations and expectations are within the framework of Indian social and moral commitments. Indian women writers in English are victims of a second prejudice vis-a-vis their regional counterpart’s. Proficiency in English is available only to writers of the intelligent, affluent and educated classes. Writers’ works often, therefore, belong to high social strata and cut off from the reality of Indian life. As, ChamanNahal writes about feminism in India: “Both the awareness of woman’s position in society as one of disadvantage or in generality compared with that of man and also a desire to remove those is advantages.”
Dr. Santosh Bakaya, (not a radical feminist in strict sense of the term) has powerfully produced several stories, which have a rich gallery of characters who move and play their different roles until they find the lost Holy Grail (existence). Her characters are not flat. They change and melt and gain a new countenance according to the ambiance of that particular period in which they live. Santosh Bakaya weaves her characters with different and variegated threads of emotions and feelings.
A Skyful of Balloons, her recently published novella, is a collage of myriad elements like metafiction, intertextuality, nativism, allusion etc.
Many a time, the love of Preeti and Vivek appears to have the same Marlowean tone and strength as these lines have:
Come live with me and be my love.
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
“The passionate Shepherd to His love”
A Skyful of Balloons being replete with allusions, the writer, following the path of symbolists, has picked them industriously to prove the characters’ point of view. Dr. Thussu explains the anguish and wavering of faith; acute pessimism finds a place in his words when he recites Mathew Arnold’s Dover Beach before Preeti in the same fashion as Daisy recites before Baxter in Ian McEwan’s novel, Saturday.
The sea of faith Was once too,
at the full, and round Earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
Here Mathew Arnold’s Dover becomes the Lidder of Pahalgam. The great Lidder Nala’s gurgling has become as denouncingly cacophonous as the waters of Dover are to Arnold.
Listen, you hear the grating roar of pebbles which the waves draw back and fling.
Why does the sweet gurgling of Lidder appear to Preeti as a grating roar? Indeed, her anxieties and trances which she dwells in, coerce her to feel the scene as melancholic. It is this dark mode that she lurches into the final triumph. We find a very judicious portrayal of death in chapter 25. Death has been labelled as staid and uncomical when Vivek roars with peals of laughter. Here Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 is mentioned by Vivek to gesture towards the painful sting of death.
“Death is a serious business. Don’t trivialise it”
The novel significantly portrays the Wordsworthian beauty. Kashmir has been talked of as something assuaging and full of vitality. The pristine environs of Kashmir have been eulogized. The loco descriptive beginning of the novel in the fashion of many 18th century poets like Wordsworth and Denham is wholly set in Kashmir.
The union between Vivek and Preeti is not only for union’s sake but this bond makes the writer helpful in drawing and conversing about myriad issues. The writer through this couple explains the issues like gender and sex, patriarchy, the threat to the female world after the break of postmodern dawn, the identity crisis which emerged out of the swift increase in modernity, language and its relation to culture and many such vital issues which are the cynosure to every concerned in the postmodern condition.
Though the novel with a rich gallery of dialogues between the characters, particularly, Vivek and Preeti clock-works and pans outs myriad of societal issues, the overuse of intertextuality and employment of allusions somewhat has gone awry and the novella appears to prop on a profusion of allusions.
A major preoccupation of the novel has been a delineation of inner life and subtle interpersonal relationships in a culture where individualism and protest have often remained alien ideas and marital bliss and the woman’s role at home is a central focus.
Santosh Bakaya’s novella, A Skyful of Balloons is a continuation of her exploration into the many facts of the feminine experience in writing. In this novel, she has displayed the themes of silence, gender differences, passive sufferings and familiar relationships in much deeper realms.
‘A Skyful of Balloons’- Review
Genre: Fiction (Novella)
Author: Dr. Santosh Bakaya
Paperback: 150 pages
Publisher: Authorspress (2018)
Price: INR 295