TWI Review : Only in Darkness Can You See The Stars

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Lopa Bannerjee

Author: Dr. Santosh Bakaya

Publisher: Vitasta Publishing, 2019 

‘Although King returned from his voyage of discovery to India, highly inspired, rested and recuperated, he realized that America’s self-discovery was half-hearted, lackadaisical and floundering. White America had hardly begun to realize the all-pervasive malaise that had crept into the white psyche of stunning the blacks, and treating them as inferior….integration was still not an actual fact. King was afraid that full integration could easily become ‘a distant or mythical goal.’ 

[Excerpt from ‘ONLY IN DARKNESS CAN YOU SEE THE STARS: page 72, from the chapter: VIOLENCE VS NON-VIOLENCE] 

What does the phenomenal Martin Luther King JR. stand for today? What is his essence and the relevance of his life and his legacy in America and in the world of global politics? History books and his numerous other biographies commemorate him as the great crusader for black rights, orator, politician and social influencer of his times. But as I write these lines, browsing the pages of Santosh Bakaya’s powerful, evocative documentation of King’s life in ‘Only in Darkness Can You See The Stars’, I ponder over the dehumanizing bigotry and the venomous politics of segregation which is rearing its head stronger in the world we are living and breathing in today, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute. Hindus vs Muslims, America vs Mexico, Nationalism vs humanity, the politics of war mongering vs the narratives of human survival. The broad social, political, spiritual legacy of Martin Luther King JR. remains more true, steadfast and significant during the strife-ridden times of today—the legacy of nonviolent activism, the legacy of striving to combat the demons of racial segregation and the legacy of dreaming for a better world devoid of divisive politics, where faith in humanity and nonviolence, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi would be the primal guiding force. 

‘With a stab of anguish, Abernathy realized that his friend was beyond all hope and prayers. He had noticed a huge hole in his body, which no prayer could fill….MLK was slowly but surely slipping into eternal sleep. There was darkness all around and despite his recent pronouncement—that only when it is dark enough, can one see the stars—his friends could see only an all-enveloping darkness around them…” 

[Prologue, ‘Only in Darkness Can You See the Stars] 

Santosh Bakaya, in her characteristic inimitable style, starts off the documentation of King’s life with the jarring shock and jolt of him being shot dead. Only after the readers face the extremity of violence and the colossal loss that this tragedy signified back then and also now, she peels the layers of King’s personality bit by bit, chapter by chapter, starting from his early years at 501 Auburn Avenue surrounded by a loving pastor family, to his initial days in Moorhouse College, his spiritual and intellectual journey, his foraying into the ministry and eventually into being the spokesperson for the rights of the black Americans. The author is in full control of her narrative, combining the significant elements of black history, civil rights movement, the various phases of the socio-political scenario of the 1950’s and 60’s and the precious gems of King’s life embedded in it as he paves his way in a strife-ridden America dictated by capitalism, color, class and creed. The details of this journey of King which recounts the various milestones and travails of his political career are at once stunning and powerful, and the education and insights they provide make the book a historical narrative strewn with superlative storytelling prowess, considering that the storytelling consists of such an important, integral part of global history. 

Bakaya had previously written the bestselling ‘Ballad of Bapu’ (Vitasta, 2014), a one-of-its-own-kind of literary gem, the poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi that documented the life and travails of Gandhi in her unique style of versification. She had come across as a great wordsmith in that book which is available worldwide now, infusing the elements of poetry in the exceptional life journey of India’s great political leader and visionary, Gandhi. On the other hand, in ‘Only in Darkness Can You See the Stars’, the author turns to a historian, a narrative nonfiction writer, a biographer and a journalist with a literary lens, and thus the scope and purpose of this biography of King supersedes many other books written on his life. Moreover, here she documents King’s one-month voyage in India, the land of Gandhi, Tagore, the land of religious and cultural diversity that greeted King and his wife Coretta, from where he had returned, drenched with the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolent resistance. Symbolically, the author’s narration in this part of the book, read alongside ‘Ballad of Bapu’ serves to bring home to the readers that the philosophy of nonviolence is a deep, consistent truth and great leaders of our history have internalized its essence and worked wholeheartedly to attain it, though the paths they have tread have been deadly. 

Martin Luther King’s dream of a redemptive America and his struggle to attain justice as ‘a reality for all God’s children’ has gone down the annals of history. Today, as parents we strive to raise our children in a rather apocalyptic world, where the divisiveness of religion and politics rear their ugly heads from time to time, fueling mass genocides, threatening to diminish the very fabric of humanity. ‘Only In Darkness Can You See the Stars’ by Santosh Bakaya is a book which is relevant to these trying times when we must ask ourselves the significance of being HUMANS. 

Lopamudra Banerjee is an author, editor and adjunct faculty of Creative Writing at Richland College, Dallas, USA. She has authored six books and has co-edited four anthologies in fiction and poetry. She has been a recipient of the Journey Awards (First Place category winner) for her memoir ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’, and also a recipient of the Woman Achiever Award (IWSFF, 2018), the International Reuel Prize for Poetry (2017) and International Reuel Prize for her English translation of Nobel Laureate Tagore’s selected works of fiction (2016). Her nonfiction essays, fiction and other writings have been published in various journals, e-zines and anthologies in India, UK and USA. She is also a consulting editor of the literary e-zine ‘Learning and Creativity’, India. Recently, she has been an honorary poetry fellow at Rice University, Houston and co-produced the poetry film ‘Kolkata Cocktail’ directed by Shuvayu Bhattacharjee, where she has also featured as one of the lead actors.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Santosh Bakaya says:

    Delighted to see this review of my book here . Thanks a ton Lopa Banerjee Thanks a ton TWI .

    Liked by 1 person

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