O P Bhatnagar – A Poet of Political Awakening

O P Bhatnagar is one of the most leading voices of Indian English poetry whose collections Thought Poems (1976), Feeling Fossils (1977), Angels of Retreat (undated), The Audible scenery, Oneric Visions, Shadows in Floodlight (1984) and Cooling Flames of Darkness (2001) bespeak of political consciousness of the poet. As it is clear cut fact that Indian English poetry can never stay away from the socio-political air of India and poets who do not write under a single formula but rather start a dialogue between ‘man and man’ so Bhatnagar too deals with a number of issues of our society and politics. Dr. A.N. Dwivedi comments:

“Bhatnagar’s poetry comprehends a great variety of themes which directly focus on the long ness of his experience and the solemnity of his involvement in the affairs of life.” (CIE217)

Bhatnagar’s tackling of political theme is more firm and larger than any other Indian English poet for he has touched almost all the aspects of political scenario. Dr.V.K.Singh observes:

“We find in Bhatnagar a frank examination of the facts of current life. Bhatnagar descants upon myriad aspects of political life as existing currently. No salient characterize escapes his keenly discerning eye. Bhatnagar rips open the bosom of several political riddles. He mirrors before us what is what of all political problems.” (152)

Themes like election, bribery, corruption, criminalization of politics, rampant bribery among the leaders degrading character of national leaders, division of society by communalism, castism, linguism, and regionalism etc and the utter loss of values in politics are touched by the poet in a remarkably sensitive and superbly sarcastic way which is nevertheless not being surpassed by any poet of Indian English Poetry. His assertion that ‘Indian Poetry in English has to be Indian’ cannot be overlooked if we aspire to promote Indian Literature. Merely copying and coping with the English and English Literature is insufficient because Indian sensibility is not experiencing with the penury of thoughts, emotions and sensibility and because it has its foundation vitality and voice of potentiality. Dr. R.C. Sharma is right when he says:

“The reason why Bhatnagar advocates making Indian Poetry in English is beset with conflicts and concerns; and these conflicts and concerns are basically Indian. Bhatnagar is conscious of the milieu in which the Indian poet in English lives in addition as of the duty which the Indian poet in English has to perform.”(79)

O.P.Bhatnagar has dealt with a number of themes like social consciousness, political awareness, love, character, philosophy and Indianness. According to Dr. A. N. Dwivedi:

Bhatnagar’s poetry comprehends a great variety of themes, which directly focus on the largeness of his experienceand the solemnityof his involvement in the affairs of his life. (CIE,217)

In this way Bhatnagar understands the tempo and temperature of his times and consequently orchestrates his poetry. Bhatnagar’s dealing with the theme of politics is myriad and real. The various social problems that agitate the conscience of man are the subjects of his poetry and he tries to throw a good deal of light on all of them. S.C.Bose observes:

“The poetry of O.P.Bhatnagar which has indeed many dimensions is also meaningful as poetry of political consciousness.” (V. V., 29)

The frank examination of the fact of current life, and the picturesque delineation make his poetry vibrant and alluring. According to Bhatnagar:

“Most of the vital areas of the life today are governed by the quality of political life and air are creating and living. Politics today has replaced our religious mode of life. We are fast becoming concerned with a kind of nationalism that may define our role and responsibilities in the making of the destiny of our Nation in future.” (RC, ‘Introduction’, 8)

According to Bhatnagar:

Indian poetry in English should chiefly concern to social and political life of the people of India and it, ‘must democratize its concerns and relations to society and make it a source of shared expectations…it must throw light on the degeneration and corruption corroding identities. It must speak of the total lose of moral values, the gloom and the frustrations pervading the National scene.” (RC, ‘Introduction’9)

Poetry for Bhatnagar is a continued search and effort to symbolize for a better socio-political life .to him, it is ‘a self conscious craft shaped and reshaped by continued practice-perfected and retouched by way of the vision. Like life itself, it is the work of a gardener who after removing all weeds cultivates it to final growth and flowering. As such there is no influence of any particular school of thought on his poetry. It is thoroughly his own- a personal experiment inspired by surroundings, ages, times and above all by human difficult situation.

The first collection of Bhatnagar Thought Poems (1976) has good deal of poems of political consciousness. The poems high in thought content without in emotion like that of romantic poets but the first poem of the collection finds out the time of action of poetic creation. Bhatnagar writes:

“Poetry’s meaning

Like a deity in enshrined

Words upon words, the edifice build.” (T.P, 5)

Bhatnagar throws abundant light on the question concerning God who cannot be resolved out in going round the temple by the worshipper. God is a meaning and deity enshrined in words of poem, the artist alone can expound and seek Him out:

“We may go round and round the temple

in addition never be around God.

We may go round and rand an idea

in addition never be around a thought.” (ibid. 5)

In one of his poems, he predicts the future as gloomy as the present:

“The future looks faded

Like the blossoms of cacti after dawn

The saints from bars, brothels and night clubs

Tasting of casinos and underworld

Turn morals, values and virtues to ice-cream

Licked by fun loving childness in cones.” (T.P, 10)

In the poem ‘The new extent’ Bhatnagar tries to strike balance between one man’s meat is another man’s poison. The poet finds the dictum worn out in the modern context ‘a simple and honest man measures life in value spoons as he finds dishonesty to be the meanest way of life’. The stark reality of life can be seen as:

“A simple, honest man

In a worn out mode

May nevertheless himself find

Measuring life in value spoons

Bribery, corruption and forgery

For him, a bitter poison be.” (T.P., 12)

Bhatnagar wishes to opine that the one’s who amass wealth are the little concern with the interest with their fellow beings, nor do they feel any immorality in acting quite contrary to the code of conduct. In another poem ‘A Woe of surprise’, Bhatnagar expresses our sentiments and helpless attitude. The poet regrets the varied, disintegration that our country possesses today. The emphasis of the poet is nothing but Nationality, one sentiment and one attitude. This idea is penned by the poet as:

“Our is a multiheaded country

Looking in no particular direction

Trimurti is an all inclusive vision

From here to eternity risen

Telling the tale of our frivolity.” (T.P., 14)

Similarly in the poem ‘The Bonds of Country Care’ the poet comments on the loyalty and patriotism of those Indians who have been amassing vanity, wealth and arrogance by their sets to the countries to which they have immigrated. These so called loyal citizens and tireless patriots visit India for their own cause:

“Loyal citizens proud of patriots

Never forget the care of their country

And fly back home now and then

Either to choose a bride like a prince

Or buy of ones country a jewel of a land

Placing their kingdom in a safety of bands

Sealed with the loyal assurance with a wink

That although they don’t belong to this country

It sure belongs to their empire.” (T. P., 15)

The second collection Feeling Fossils has also some poems of political interest. Bhatnagar despite treating the politics in an indirect manner hardly fails to pin point very uncommon occurrences that somehow keep hidden from the eye of already those who have specialized in the game of politics. ‘Crossing The Bar’ is realistic poem that lashes on the modern politicians. His comment on the modern politicians is worth quoting:

“Morals as thick

As thick forests

Let no light in;

The game is weird

Hunting loyalties

For romance.” (F.F, 16)

Another notable poem ‘The No Man’s Land’ expresses the idea that freedom has brought no racial change in the life of the people who are nevertheless living the dark dungeon of poverty, illiteracy and justice. The movement of liberation was raised by the masses but only few privileged men came forward to control. And when the efforts and sacrifices of the masses resulted success those privileged few captured thrown of the country and continued ruling over the nation under the garb of democracy. So the poet feels right:

“Before the British came

The land was not ours:

After they left,

It was not ours too

The land belongs

To those who rule;

The others merely inherit

The no man’s land.” (F.F., 19)

The third collection Angles of Retreat has several thought provoking poems in which the poet explores the meaning of time as is evaluated from the events emerging from the cave of materialism wedded to hypocrisy. The tone of the poet in this collection is satiric and ironical. In the poem ‘History is A Sorry go round’ the poet wishes to propound that the historians often ignore the importance of the people at large and they tend to magnify the deeds of a few privileged men. The political sycophants have no other way of reaching the pages of History. The historians think that their labor in recording titles and tortures serve the cause of National unity and security and they are helped by political sycophants:

“Political sycophants are their aides

On whose beguiling predictions

They fire eat and perform

The Japanese fire-walk shows

To dazzle the already dazed.” (A.R, 40)

However political leaders and sycophants forget that the tyrants and blood suckers have to confront a fall:

“Too much suppression and much politicking

Ferments its own defeat

Forcing the masses to forge

In the smithy of their conscience

The invisible weapons of their conscience

The invisible weapons of their fall

Crowning shame on the foreheads of tyrants

And nailing bitter truths

On the crossroads times.” (A.R.41)

‘Beggars can Be Choosers’ is a exceptional poem in which the poet extends his sympathy for the poor, homeless deceased and propounds that begging is not an evil as those that are harbored by shallow careerists, dare devil smugglers and cheating blackmarketeers. The beggars are away from the ailment of tension, alienation and loss of identity and the poet concludes:

“All my humanitarian approach

Seemed a snarl to me

And my reformist fervor a celluloid zeal

Little realizing that beggars also can be choosers

And little less apprehending

The way we can misread one another

To keep our irrational forms going

That in endless deceit

End the shapes of our destiny.” (A.R, 43)

Similarly, in another poem ‘Thoughts on A Election Day’ is another poem of political consciousness in which the poet ridicules and paints a very vivid and realistic picture of ignorant voters and literate officials as follows:

“The ignorant voters in their routine

Queue up day-dreaming

And in a passion of a second

Get rid of their oscitant indecision

Stamping signs for men.

With a handful of literates

Sealing illiterate favours in steel boxes

And recording the proud percentage of poll

A quite reigns over the polling booths

Like mourners retired from their obsequies.” (A.R., 46)

The hope for new political miracles after such democratic occurrences in every five year is finely portrayed by the poet who wishes to say that Democracy is nothing but the ugly confront oppression and injustice.

The fourth collection of verse Oneric Visions indirectly muses over the themes of politics wherein several particles related to political consciousness are distributed in the quantity. For example in the poem ‘If One Starts Asking Questions like Hamlet’ the poet gives a reference to politics:

“The fanatic erect marbles statues

Of their transient idols

On the evanescent route of times-

Some whispering dramatical change

Others proclaiming peace-

Leaving the shared man

To elbow sun with sun-shades.” (O.V. 25)

In ‘Who is Afraid of Fear’ the poet’s idea about the extent of evils that tell about the character of politics is expressed by the poet:

“Up rise the ghost of smugglers

Hoarders, hooligans and holy-idlers

In a saucy denial of their treason

And stimulate the deformed apparitions

Of the men who wished to rule

Or the man who just couldn’t be men

And like a Shikhandi shielded

The shadow of sin

Branding sun complain of gout

Bent with an aging dream

Wiping morals like beauty

Scrapped by actors with cold cream.” (O.V., 35)

The Gandhian concept of non-violence is very well expressed in the poem ‘Non-Niolence and Violence’. Like Gandhi, Bhatnagar feels that already non-violence has its limits:

“If one strikes you once

I invite him to do it again:

If one takes off your shirt

Offer him to remove in any case remains.” (O.V., 35)

But it is not nearly non-violence but a dearth of wisdom rather the poet indicates:

“With ideals folded like umbrella

One may keep them for a rainy day

And indulge in violence for fun

But the wrinkled dialectic of violence

Is a bit too boring

Putting the ikebana of horror

Unrelieved and unpossessed

Of any sense of humour

Worth the while.” (O.V., 43)

The collection Shadows in Floodlight has several poems of thoroughness and observation in which the poet becomes philosophical in addition as analytical. In the poem ‘Of Poverty, Revolutions and Dreams’ the poet upholds rightly:

We cannot value poetry than its contents

Like vice more than its purity

And frustrations behave a wfore:

For poetry in itself is a dramatical change

Undreamt of in dreamt undreams.” (S.F., 17)

But in another poem ‘The Living Scene’ the poet presents the picture of modern India saying:

“The living scene in my country

Is worth only for the granite eyes

Insensitive and resilient

For our visions to unfold.” (SF,20)

And he adds:

“it’s a scene where utopia and epic

Are merging into a palpable chaos

Adventure overrunning freedom

Gangsterism whipping justice,

Politics keeping dignity captive

Inaction to avoid thought.” (ibid)

The sixth collection The Audible scenery has abundant poems related to political consciousness in which the poet vocalizes and reflects the present scenario of the Nation and its people. For example, the first poem reflects the slavish mentality of the people who are ready to suffer without making a sigh. The Nation has become coward and the malady is beyond all treatment. The poet says:

“The self enslaving slaves are ruled

By glad ghosts.” (AL, 9)

And he adds:

“When slavery is loved as a rhetoric to survive

Rendering both Cervants and Dostoyevsky futile

Conceits of cowards need no therapist

Nor freedom a Marx or a Gandhi to revive.”(p.9)

He mirrors our difficult situation saying:

“A prisoner is more free than those

Who have no freedom already to dream.” (ibid)

Almost the identical tone is continued in the next poem ‘The Walls of Prison house keep’. Bhatnagar writes:

“We’ve broken the chains of slavery

The walls of prisonhouse keep.” (AL, 10)

The following extract from the poem mirrors the plight of the Indians:

“Our despair is not because

There is less dramatical change

But little change.”(ibid)

Or:

“already now we look for leaders to follow

God to send us his grace:

We’re afraid of speaking the truth

And resisting in any case is unjust

Foul and corrupt in our bones.”(ibid)

What a fun it has that we have taken phrases for reality forgetting all resistance and protest. Bhatnagar says:

“Long caged in slavery

We’ve become like circus lions

Incapable of freedom in emotions

Became our own prisonwalls.” (.A.L. p.11)

The third poem in the quantity ‘Can Facts Be Destroyed By Ideas, highlights the reality which cannot be destroyed by ideas the so called cat politics cannot play the game of hide and seek for a long time. The poet writes:

“Yesterday they were the dreams of tomorrow

Today they are the memories of past-

Villages to replace heaven:

The unsheltered resting in villas:

Morals to be as firm as mountains:

With he hungry feeding at the Taj-

All this is history now of politics

That enhance country with poverty such long.” (AL, 12)

The poet concludes saying:

“already poets are now weary of dreams

Readt like Caligula to depart

Let struggle revive to make up for the loss

In art turn material hostile to art.”(ibid)

In this collection there are number of poems like ‘nevertheless Questions’, ‘The New Morality’, ‘The Second Coming’, ‘On Seeing Rashtrapati Bhavan’, ‘Displacement More expansive’, ‘That Space’ and ‘The Second Conversion’ in which the poet points out the foils and foibles of our character and presents the snapshot of the experiencing humanity and reveling a naked of modern life Bhatnagar tries to reform the present scenario and motivates us to fight against injustice and humiliation.

The last collection Cooling Flames of Darkness (2001) has also a number of poems of political interest in which the poem ‘The Janus Faced Politician’ is exceptional. The poet starts saying:

“Who says it takes yellow sweat and experiencing

To become a leader these fruitful days!

It’s now faience with all imperfections

To charm the innocent unequals

With more charming handicaps

Way laying day-dreams by faldage

With misleading drawings of fain hopes.( CFD, 17)

The farcical confront of Indian politics and the imposters called politicians are sketched by the poet so well. Bhatnagar urges us:

“So, watch a hardcore bandit

A seasoned-green kidnapper

A smart murderer: a high-fi smuggler

A high moving scamster

Talk glib on television

Or dictate his undercover turns

To the twice beleaguered people

Voting him to strength with little choice

Democracy forcing its way to a farce. (CFD, 18)

The poem ‘Ravaged Children of The Civilized Times’ shows almost all the outer conflicts in the world where the people of the modern times are more indulged in cancerous violence, sins and crimes rather being ‘in the line of the best selling fiction:/ media blow-up on sight on internet’. Politicians are like Cassius and Shakuni who are fixing distant designs of personal strength-park and are ‘perambulating their nebulous dreams.’ According to him, politicians will never let the world change in its earlier glory. He says:

“We’re ravaged of civilized times-

Our limping spirits have their own vexed truth:

Philosophers, physiologists or politicians aside

All fires end- find their glory in ashes:

And waters emptying themselves out

by all the mountain gashes. And

Howsoever much innocence may stand the test

By fire and water:

Violence will never lost its radiance

The woes of innocence their cold surrender.

May be the return to the tenderness of heart

Lies by bestiality, faxed all over the world

The text in its authenticity unchanged.” (CFD,14)

Likewise, in ‘The Primitives of The Age’, the poet imagines the more ghasty mishappenings and the overgrowth of the ghost of dirty politics:

“Come one, come all

Come hyenas or wolves

The inlaid roots will naturally force

Their trampled strength to fresh shoots

And survive the grizzly undergrowth

In a new grace of their old salons

Tesing the civilized in their

Much sharp teeth.” (CFD,16)

In ‘Looking At My Solitude’ the poet tries to unburden himself from the agonies of time but finds solace nowhere and says:

“For the agony of it

Philosophy, music or poetry

May only half-persuade the fine taste

To savour the taste of solitude

In good taste and trust:

For, the bitter at best can turn

Only less bitten not sweeter nevertheless.” (CFD, 36)

consequently, from the above narration it is revealed that Bhatnagar’s poetry is free from all the movements of Rightist or Leftist nor it has any relation with any particular school of thought or ideology rather to a depiction of reality crystal-clearly and narration of truth in pictorial and vividly. The Religion of Bhatnagar’s poetry is love and peace. His poetic creed is essentially human and kind. He seems to be a true advocate of simplicity when he says:

“Poetry at its best is a clear and a simplified version of the complicate and the confused for there is nothing more transcidental beyond the creative simplicity of poetry. Poetry wins not by its snobbishness but by its simplicity. Simple poetry is the poetry of togetherness. If more Indian people are to read poetry in English then it must get shared and easy to reach and related to the living human concerns of the times than insignificant to words, animals, damsels and sex.” (FD, 122)

consequently, we can say that Bhatnagar has treated the politics as metaphor in his poetry and his poetry has established itself as the clarion call of awakening in the present milieu of political darkness.

References:

oA.N. Dwevedi (ed.), current Indo English Verse. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot.1998.

oV. K. Singh. ‘Silhouttes from Political & Economic Life’ The Poetry of O. P. Bhatnagar- A basic Evaluation. Under the supervision of Dr. T. K. Ramchandran, Submitted to Rohilkhand University, Bareilly,1992

oR.C. Sharma & Dolly Oswal, ‘O. P. Bhatnagar’s Treatment of Politics’, Agra University Journal of Research. Vol.xxx, pt. 1, Jan.1982

oS. C. Bose, Vision & Voice. Vol.2, Ed. G. P. Baghmar, Nagpur; Vishwa Bharti Publications. (Abbreviated as V. V.)

oO. P. Bhatnagar(ed,) Rising Columns-Some Indian Poets in English.Amravati; Kala Prakashan.

o——————————Thought Poems.Aligarh: Skylark Publications. 1976,(Abbreviated as TP in the text)

o——————————Feeling Fossils .New Delhi: Samkaleen Prakashan., (Abbreviated as FF in the text)

o—————————Angles of Retreat .New Delhi: Samkaleen Prakashan., (Abbreviated as AR in the text)

o—————————-Oneric Visions. Jaipur: Rachna Prakashan., (Abbreviated as OV in the text)

o—————————–Shadows in Floodlights. Aligarh: Skylark Publications.(Abbreviated as SF in the text)

o——————————Audible scenery. Aligarh: Skylark Publications.(Abbreviated as AL in the text)

o—————————Cooling Flames of Darkness. New Delhi: Samkaleen Prakashan.,2001 (Abbreviated as CFD in the text)

o—————————Future Directions- Indian Poetry in English Jaipur: Rachna Prakashan, (Abbreviated as FD in the text)

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