The Solitude and Other Poems of Rajender Krishan, Editor and Philosopher Poet, embraces ideas and precepts which take him closer to Tagore the mystic rather than to Whitman, the Transcendentalist. Although, he is permanently settled in America, he still finds his philosophical and poetical roots nourished by Indian ethos and values.
“Where are we going, Walt Whitman asks Allen Ginsberg of his literary predecessor in the poem ‘A Supermarket in California’, a question raised by Henryk Sienkiewicz’s classic 1896 novel Quo Vadis , the title of the novel meaning ‘Where are we going?’.
The same question is heard in all the ground-breaking sixty poems of Rajender Krishan’s Solitude and other Poems published in 2013 by Cyberwit.net. But the poems never leave us confused and sprawling, they lead us to a sure destination. Is the poet a mystic or is a transcendentalist or having a tinge of both – these are the usual questions when a poet opens the heart of self discovery for readers seeking their own enlightenment. At the first reading of the poems, these questions stir an urge in our mind to probe deeper to see if Rajenderji speaks in ‘the voice triumphant’ as we feel it in the mystic poems of Tagore which are different from the transcendental poems of Whitman.
Whitman’s most transcendental poems are probably ‘Song of Myself’ because of its vision of the self and its relationship to the universe. But Thoreau makes clear that Whitman’s openness about sex posed problems for the mystics and even there is doubt about the Transcendentalism of Whitman who also tried to communicate more than any other ‘Silence’ which is called transcendental consciousness or inner wakefulness in which the ‘knower-knowing –known’ distinctions should dissolve as if in a trance, but this is not the mysticism of the Upanishads. While in his case this fourth state of consciousness is linear in Transcendentalism, in Tagore’s poetry as in the Upanishad concepts, this is emblematic of a ‘circle’ because of the ‘samadhi’ or ‘self-immersion’ quality of his consciousness. The awareness of his self and his Self – these two selves in Whitman’s poetry distinguishes him from Tagore the mystic. The awareness is completely non-existent in Tagore who forgets the difference of his self and his Self in his poems of Songs Offerings or Gitanjali.
The Solitude and other Poems of Rajender Krishan, although published by a man of the world permanently settled as Diaspora Indian in America is cent per cent soaked in Indian mystic ideals. The poet’s candid mission is to be the poet of the common man and, the poet of the Indian ideal and his mission is successful.
Langston Hughes said of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that ‘Walt Whitman wrote without the frills, furbelows and decorations of conventional poetry, usually, without rhyme or measured prettiness’. This is not wholly true of Rajender Krishan’s poems in Solitude and Other Poems which are written in beautiful rhymes, but other features are true also about him. Whitman was a transcendentalist like Thoreau or Emerson who sauntered in the real world of demands and choices. But to categorize Rajenderji as a transcendentalist is difficult. He is out and out a mystic of the Indian soil where reality may matter and yet it is the Truth which prevails over reality. Rajenderji is a seeker of truth and a devoted soul to Kabir and the Hindu saints that he has always been, he intends for his persona, his life force to come through and inspires the readers of his poems some of which got a room in Solitude and other Poems.
To one’s surprise one may discover shades of Tagore’s mystic poetry in them. A deeper analysis of his poems reveals that his poetic affinity is greater to Tagore the Mystic than to Whitman or Emerson, the Transcendentalists when find him writing of shattering reserve and immersing oneself in life, both in order to help others and to help oneself.
The individual self-engaged in a meaningful dialogue with the Divine Self is a common feature with the mystic poets of India. Tagore is one such poet of India who also wrote in many genres of the deep religious milieu of Hinduism. The values and core beliefs of the Hindu scriptures permeated his work. Tagore’s philosophical and spiritual thoughts transcend all limits of language, culture and nationality. In his writings, the poet and mystic takes us on a spiritual quest and gives us a glimpse of the infinite in the midst of the finite, unity at the heart of all diversity, and Divine in all beings and things of the Universe. Rajenderji’s poems in the Solitude and other Poems insist repeatedly that there is no unbridgeable gulf between our world and God’s and this mystic note reminds me again and again of Tagore’s poetry in Gitanjali or Songs Offerings.
As in Tagore’s poetry, in Rajender Krishan’s Solitude and other Poems also we find that he was significantly inspired by the spiritual revelations and struggles of the soul. To discover the deeper message and insights into life that this literary mystic has for us a mystical interpretation of his life and writings is necessary. His poems like those of Tagore are a courageous reaffirmation of what is of permanent value in the life of a man. Mystic or Transcendentalist – this question is not much important for a poet like Rajender Krishan. He wanted to boldly confront his audience face to face, to see and to be seen. He seems to be a very much a masculine voice because of his confidence, strength, both vocalizing and sharing his encouragement for the readers. Like a transcendentalist such as Whitman or Emerson, he too believes that society and its institutions – particularly organized religion and political parties ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual. He also subscribes to the utterance of the faith that people are at their best when truly ‘self-reliant’ and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed. But he goes beyond this transcendentalism of the Americans and reaches out to Indian Mysticism found in Kabir and other Saint poets. He can begin with questions that are related to confinement:
my earthly existence
by the dogmatic rules, rituals
dividing sectarian borderlines
chaotic disharmonies? (p.6)
Rajenderji is a mystic if mysticism is an ‘umbrella term’ conflated with spirituality and esotericism. His poems are mostly associated with mysticism which includes meditation and contemplative prayer with its emphasis on the direct personal experience of unique states of consciousness, particularly those of a transcendentally blissful character. He believes in the freedom of expression and thus becomes a natural admirer of the great mystic poet, Kabir. He describes this in his poem as
‘singularity of life
where I experience
the essence of freedom
in the association
of your perpetual presence. (p.4)
Although he is a diaspora Indian, yet he is well aware of the contemporary conditions in our country and in man in general. A poet with deep understanding of our native ethos, customs, beliefs and candid righteousness, his poems have the fundamental love of mother land.
His mysticism consists in his love of the solitude which reminds us of Wordsworthian pantheism. He is a Cortez or Columbus of the mind where myriad sea routes are opened for him for reaching the desired land of serenity ‘incredible marvel of pristine amusement’ as he said in his poem ‘Solitude’. This he owed to the Dervishes at Hazrat Nizamuddin. As mentioned in his first poem, Core of the Onion, life remains within life; concepts are born and die in perpetual orders. The quest for the Atman is so keen and real in his poems, sometimes he compels us to go to the basic interrogation ‘Who am I?’. It leads to ‘Realization’
is the Genesis
of the act
the eternal Self
Hari Om Tat Sat
Formless fathomed (p.14)
This cerebration towards the divinity is coupled with an amazing discovery of the ‘serenity of my grandmother/ framed in the photograph’ in the poem ‘Crossroads’. The ‘labyrinth of life’ is not a crisis for the poet. The definition of Karma comes again and again. The Hindu Obligation of planting trees is one such karma. The guideline is wonderful and the sayings of the wisest are uttered in a breath in profuse strains of unpremeditated art:
“Kabira said, ‘Beg Not’
Christ said, ‘Cheat Not’
Amma said ‘Hate Not’
Abba said, ‘Worry Not’
Simply tread the properly chosen path
Sensing failure, ‘Fear Not’. (p.17)
The gang rape incident of Delhi does not escape his mystic eyes, but the protest of the poet is mystically envisioned:
“She has died
to become alive
in the hearts of the youthful
revitalized and fortified
as the prologue of change! (p.116)
The Hindu mystics never believe in the death of the soul, which the weapons cannot destroy and the fire cannot burn. Nirbhaya after her death is alive like the Phoenix in Cynewulf’s poems in the Anglo Saxon poetry.
Rajenderji in spite of his mysticism is not cerebrally or emotionally separated from the mass. He can easily move in the political world of corruption and chaos only to raise the huge question:
Dictatorship is dead?”(p.118)
I remember my poem ‘Sandy’ which went to Editor’s Choice in Boloji.com was inspired by Rajenderji’s poem ‘Sandy’s Tandava’ but it was beyond my capacity to feel the Supreme Being ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ (p.108)
Splendorous in metaphor, the poems transport us to the treasure land of wisdom and we are inspired to dance to the tune of his thoughts and get engrossed in the music of his insights. Life is peeling onion and reaching the core of the onion is ever difficult:
‘one grasps a tangible nothing
realizes an intangible something”.
Through this inward journey, the abysmal depth of the mind opens up for giving us insight of Indian mysticism and for rousing our empathy for the universe. We enter into a palace of ‘incredible marvel of pristine amusement’ as Rajenderji takes utmost care of aesthetic aspect of his philosophical utterances.
Being a regular reader of his poems over the years, his mystic voice stays with me awakening my deeper sensibility that is essentially human which is more than divine. Every poem that takes us in a sojourn to the far off galaxy of philosophical musings is also a reminder about his ‘trauma of leaving his homeland’ and we feel a loneliness which is tangible.
There is a vast difference between ‘Solitude and Loneliness’. All mystics love solitude and they are never alone because of their ability for interior dialogue with God. ‘Life is a great teacher’ for Rajenderji. But he knows how to go beyond life and society and probably herein lays his quintessential mysticism, his ability to go beyond in the hours of ‘solitude’ and ‘serenity’.
As in the poem ‘Blessed is the Emptiness’, he feels that he is blessed when alone and unfilled, the ‘dreaded path of emptiness’ leading him to ‘self-discovery’. The awareness of the difference between the poet’s self and his Self dissolves and the Transcendentalist goes beyond the bourne of reality to reach the mystic frontiers of Truth.