Mahendra Bhatnagar is seemingly an easy poet. But he is not. The caravan of images keeps constructing thoughts of varied hues. Passion adored with simplicity, spontaneity, stillness and sonority- sole delight of poetry anywhere-baffle the reader of Mahendra Bhatnagar. These characteristics reveal less the style, more the spirit and subject of the poetic creations of Bhatnagar. The subtle artistry of even the translators of his poems, with all their wealth of linguistic, language and situational equivalence and the excellence of their insight has faltered at most of the places, though their sincerity deserves all appreciation. That is why the translations of the original are a rare delight and its near-accomplishment is still rarer. The difficulties in such a venture emerge because of the complex intermingling of the philosophy of the metaphysics and the physics of daily life handled with excellence, conscious and unconscious, by Mahendra Bhatnagar. May be the scholarly translators also experienced the bumpy rides on the roads, which appear smooth and uncobbled, to Bhatnagar’s citadel on the wings of their own poesy. Once the journey begins on a happy note with a flowering heart, soon the road is seen branching off into different directions. And we move on the horns of dilemma. Even then, we reach there huffing only to relax after a good sleep amidst fresh and fragranced breezes blowing across the poet’s landscape.
The profundity and the intensity, the richness and variety of passion and pain, yearning, fulfillment and frustration of love, melancholy and despair of life - all incessantly lead to dreams and destinations where man is eternally seeking eternal solace in his emotional entanglements, rational unfolding and revelations, spiritual enlightenment, hope and faith. These are the inexhaustible treasures in the poetry of Mahendra Bhatnagar. What astonishes more the curious and the serious reader of his poetry is how Bhatnagar resolves these contradictions pertaining to the existential issues of the everyday life of the high and the mighty, the humble and the meek. His asphyxiated soul releases itself with the dare and the strength of its convictions and regales the audience with its liberated, luscious, lascivious, lurking and longing fancies.
If romance means the love of the far-off, if romance means love of the open fields, challenging high mountains, rocks, infinite star-studded skies, if romance means sweat of the soil fructifying into dreams, if romance betrayal of the beloved’s love to embrace the full bloom of the cosmic love, light and color, if romance means the youth and the youthful venturing out to seek fresh pastures, if romance means to dream and enjoy the maddening fragrance of the beloved’s beauty, if romance means to empathize and work for a life of freedom, dignity and happiness for the suppressed and the storm-tossed, if romance to have a rendezvous with death and let him caress you and be caressed in all preparedness, Mahendra Bhatnagar may have few peers but no superior seems to be in sight. Bhatnagar weaves a splendid pattern of enchanting colors and images reminding us of the romance of the Renaissance and the Romantics of English poetry like Spenser, Shelley, and Keats and even beyond that- Tennyson, Morris, Rossetti and Yeats.
Dr. Vidya Niwas Mishra in his Preface to the Selected Poems of Dr. Mahendra Bhatnagar-1 remarks- “Mahendra Bhatnagar is Browning, Shelley and Maykovsky welded into one, he is a visionary, he is a comrade-in-arms and he is an architect.” Mahendra Bhatnagar’s relentless pursuit of beauty and wisdom to explore the meaning of truth and reality as commonly believed and the philosophical truth is the marked characteristic of his poetry, though it is tinged with lament and elegy at times. Patricia Prime in her understanding of Bhatnagar’s poetry –Selected Poems of Dr. Mahendra Bhatnagar-2 has aptly observed, “His poetry is a combination of sublimity and wisdom, and is a way of exploring the meaning of subjectivity and of pursuing philosophical beauty. The poet figure is presented as a humanist, visionary and compassionate ideologist. Spiritually-minded, and open to the greatness of feeling and experience through such vistas presented by the Indian landscape and its people, Bhatnagar’s work offers a relentless and vitalized search for the fullness of human experience, and the fulfillment of destiny. . . .”
His Selected Poems-1 [40 Poems] and Selected Poems-2 [25 Poems], Death Perception, Poems for a Better World are indeed a rich harvest from the ageless fields of poetry. The poetry of Mahendra Bhatnagar can be categorized very conspicuously as under:
The poetry of nationalism, patriotism, the poetry of rejuvenation, regeneration and resurgence; the poetry of hope and faith and message of the New Age, the Golden Age for the masses living under repression and suppression a life of total denial; this may also include the poems for a better world;
The poetry of youth and youthfulness with the undying and living spirit and enthusiasm for adventure for an enduring life;
The poetry of personal sorrow, love, beauty and romance;
The poetry of Nature in her varying moods and fancies at different times of the day and in different seasons;
The poetry of death.
A poet’s chief concern is the dilemma of man under various pressing and depressing situations. An ordinary man with his ordinariness of situation may find the triumphant emergence quite difficult or even the escape-route a blind alley. But the poet, gifted with the insight and far-sight, overcomes the crisis caused by the conflicting interests, finds progressive movement pleasant in faith and the message thus transcends. Social, economic, political and religious awakening in man has always created a transitional phase in the general setup of life. Such a transition leaves its deep marks and scars on the value system also which sets in a new era. People prosper and seek happiness in their shared experiences of matter and spirit but these glitterati’s, with all their material and intellectual attainments, suffer miserably from their moral and spiritual impotence. This not only disturbs but also aggravates the crisis in everyday life and living. The poet alone is alive to his concerns and the poetry is born.
This is how the poetry of Mahendra Bhatnagar is born. Dr. Suresh Chandra Dwivedi, in his preface to "Selected Poems of Dr. Mahendra Bhatnagar” says very aptly, “He is endowed with the gift of free imagination dedicated to bring about change in our soulless, heartless, dead, disintegrated, disunited, disillusioned capitalistic world where common man is foredoomed to be exploited, cheated and looted at every step.” As a champion of the common mass of down-trodden mankind, the poor peasants and workers, Mahendra Bhatnagar not only indicts but also condemns and crushes the forces in the establishment or outside it. Dr. S. C. Dwivedi observes, “He is alert, careful, and cautious, sometimes reminding us occasionally of Brecht, Auden, Pablo Neruda and of Carl Sandburg . . . . Like them, he is the spokesman of the people, and he employs a rare sensitivity, a rare intellectuality and a rare humanity.”
The poems of resurgence have message of hope, faith, understanding, goodwill and humanity. These poems transform us and regenerate and rekindle our faith in the basic goodness and dignity of man as man. These poems awaken us to even the need for a rebellion against what degrades and debases and also dehumanizes us and sounds a clarion call to the ignorant and the suppressed to wake up from their aged slumber, open their eyes to the new dawn of freedom and life. Mahendra Bhatnagar is at times painfully aware of the dismal and bleak situation around and his conscience as poet shakes him thoroughly to attend to the call of his duty. “Lust for life”, “Reap the Paddy”, “Woman Reborn”, “Lose Not Your Heart”, “Vision”, “Not Alone”, “Life-Stream”, “Future”, “Light”, “Conviction”, “The Firmament Will Change Its Color”, “With Flags of Peace”, “Gala of National Celebration”, “The Masses”, “Resurgence”, “For the First Time” etc are a few such poems as are packed with Mahendra Bhatnagar’s rock-like faith and convictions in the glory of the nationalism, patriotism, humanism whose resurgence will give birth to the sanctified beings who alone will inhabit the New Age, the Golden Age of the dreams of the prophets and visionaries. This Age will be free from injustice, exploitation, loot, inhumanity, atrocity and parasites. The manifesto of the poet’s faith divine that love alone is the guiding and leading force of human life since and till eternity, though “The death’s orchestra plays on.” This is expressed in “Lust For Life” wherein the chief burden of the song is
“The man lives on
By the cravings of love.”
The seeds of world’s resurgence now find fulfillment and fruition and their “fragrance embraces the whole universe.” The tragic plight of even “Woman Reborn” is purported to be a poem of regeneration and emancipation of woman, notwithstanding the fact that it remains a far-cry in the din and pandemonium of Women’s Lib. However, “Lose Not Your Heart”, a song of rebellion sings on a note of high optimism:
“Your destination itself will arrive one day
And meet you half way!”
That is why the poet’s “Vision” is a pledge for the realization of those dreams and ideals. On this pilgrimage, Mahendra Bhatnagar is “Not Alone”. He is so self-assured that he asserts :
“I am not alone,
Not alone am I,
The resurgent age is with me.”
This is a poem of message for the New Age in which his optimism sparkles with a rare glow; this is a poem of faith and confidence which creates the atmosphere of constant cheerful movement of myriads of men with inexhaustible energy advancing towards the golden blooming world on the splendid peaks of liberty unhaunted by even by the remote shadows of despair and helplessness. It is today and today alone- undying today becoming forever! This is to be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan where
“Green, red, yellow and rosy gardens
Are in full bloom today!
Man is being initiated into humanity….”
“The new song of life’s revolt!
A new song of creation
On the wall of the age
Descends a brilliant crimson light,
Of conviction bold and glamour rare!”
Imagistic pattern here is more spell-binding than the thought-content.
The poet feels in “The Future” that man’s future path is enveloped in limitless darkness and thick darkness governs it. We can easily see through the mind of Bhatnagar working in symbols and understands that there is needed bright light, the flood light. He wants to hear the laughter of every man in his roaring spirits. So-
“And let hopes bloom
Of a future happy and glorious!”
His unflagging faith and optimism are further strengthened when his firm, bold convictions anchor his spirit. In “Conviction”, Mahendra Bhatnagar says:
“The tiny lamp of man’s undying faith
Has flickered strong as ever!”
His conviction sees the transitional darkness vanishing:
“And wrest from heavens
A rosy dawn of life new!”
There is sure to be a new awakening, new resurgence, New Age, the Golden Age when “The Firmament Will Change its Color” and “The Flags of Peace” will reinstate our strong faith in “peace and humanity”. The innocent dreams of “Resurgent Man” will re-write the history of the world with its aglow with love, freedom and dignity, understanding and brotherhood. All walls dividing man against man, man against God, shall collapse or stand demolished. This planet will become the habitat of sanctified beings working for the evolution of cosmic civilization. The poet can see a new awakening blazing and the world’s history taking a turn. So:
“From the world will banish
The dense darkness of sufferings,
And the close atmosphere of dejection heavy!
Surely will the firmament take a new color?”
- “The Firmament Will Change its Color”
The jubilations of national liberation, “the eventful day”, bring forth “the soldiers of freedom universal” and “This is the day Universal resurgence/ This glorious day/Of the famished, the naked and the suppressed!” The ecstasy of the poet is overwhelming-
“Impediments have turned friendly,
Magnificent is the current of history!
That is the landmark of Victory!”
- “Gala of National Liberation”
History bears ample testimony to the enduring truth that masses are never lost in age-long slumber otherwise the era of dark despair and despotism would not have died so soon and “the myriad lamps of life sublime” would not have been lighted to “to sow the seeds of vibrant life on earth.” It is always the awakening of the masses, the thunder of the “collective voice” that fructifies the vision of the prophets of mankind. Mahendra Bhatnagar has given fine, splendid and subtle expression to the working of the divinity of life in the universe age after age in his poem after poem. Of course, Bhatnagar’s leftist leanings also come to the fore when he asserts that “the demon of capitalism is “the root cause of hunger, starvation, suffering and misery. Then we feel constrained to ask ourselves, and also the poet, if the God of Communism has ever succeeded in alleviating and mitigating these social and economic ills and ailments! There may not be an answer to this question, and if there is any, it will be the subject of futile heated controversy, but the poet sees the wonderful resurgence
“A new flame is blazing in every direction;
Life is lit up with red twilight.
The age and the civilization have taken a turn
The creeper of culture is blooming with flowers new.”
Again, in another poem- “For the First Time” - Bhatnagar blows the bugle of the New Age fight for human rights; a call of the red revolt for the liberation of the common man trodden down since ages. He says-
“The new age is busy struggling
For the rights of all,
The coming years will follow suit,
The world will stand guard
On rights of all people!”
So there is no reign of terror, no king, no beggar! He is right that concrete convictions never collapse. His poetic rebuke to Mao and Chou are also his message of national resurgence. Similarly, “O Winged Steeds of Destiny” is a poem of challenge and indomitable will as sons of the soil and the toil show their determination coupled with confidence to lead destiny and shape up their own. They have the will to achieve the unachievable with the virtues of steadfastness, perseverance and endurance to take away even the brilliance of stars to adore our daily life. The poet says:
“O winged steeds of Destiny!
We will hold thy bridle
And give ye direction!”
“Gift of a Lively Faith” is a loving welcome to the dejected and the discarded as he is gifted with a lively faith. In “The Offshoot”-
“The brilliant sprouts into a new life!”
This is also a poem of resurgent life in a revolt against whirlwinds. In “We Know it Well” we find
“That lightning flashes not in the blaze of noon!”
“Stop It”- the very title is a command; this is a poem of forceful but silent protest against starvation, misery, suppression and atrocity. Mahendra Bhatnagar uses dreadful images of exploitation, social and sexual, because, in such a disgusting and dehumanizing situation, all slogans and appeals of peace and faith and love sound hollow and dirty and carry no meaning. He says:
“The naked carcass of culture;
When your vulture teeth are red
With blood of the teeming millions
And your breath smells of deflowered virginity…..”
Hence the poet makes a wonderful appeal to the helpless, hapless and exploited millions to open their eyes and see the glimpses of the new purple dawn with a new message of bright cheerfulness and happiness for themselves. This is a message of the New Age full of optimism in the better times. The title-“Poems For A Better World”- is quite illusive from this dimension as the poems here are mostly personal though the poet is fully conscious of his chief concern and tension- a better world for all human beings. His poems like - “The Bigots”, “Invoking Modern Man”, “In 1986 A.D.”, “The Other Age”, “Dictum”, “Someone Unknown”, “Corruption”, “Trickery of Votes” etc. all deal with the issues that pertain to our daily living and are really essential to the life of rejuvenation and resurgence.
Thus we see that the images of resurgence, regeneration and rejuvenation are the potent virtue in the poetry of Mahendra Bhatnagar and they lend charming vigor to his compositions. They are the message of conviction born out of courage to face and live life. The determined and rebellious mind frustrates the designs of the forces of destruction. However, it cannot be attained unless the strong unfaltering feeling of youth and youthfulness is there. So the poet adores such a state of body and mind in some of his poems, the songs of eternal youth. His “Youth”, is an undying assurance in this regard. Here, he is a singer of eternal youth, its enthusiasm, its bubbling energy, its ever-rising aspirations, its ever-fresh adventures and the spirit to reach the unreachable passing on the legacy of newly-emerging beauties to their inheritors, liberally and lavishly. He says-
“From time immemorial the orchestra of youth
Has been playing on
And shall ever play
The new melody of resurgent life!
But the light of youth
Shall never grow dim!
Time shall pass away
But youth will endure!”
He also advises youth not to languish itself away in romantic fancies and must not be simple and sentimental but work for the realization of dreams of a fresh, golden smiling life!
How can a poet ignore or be deaf to the voice of his conscience and also his heart yearning and smoldering under strains of unfulfilled desires, hopes dashed, dreams gone sour and romance reduced to lackluster sparks in ashes? No poet can be completely impersonal and it cannot be possible for him or her to be objective. May be his impersonality or objectivity are emerge out of his personality and subjectivity. T. S. Eliot rightly observed that “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but and escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.” (“Tradition and the Individual Talent”). Mahendra Bhatnagar is also deeply entrenched in his personal sorrow, love, beauty and romance in his poems and finds outlet and feels comfort in nature in her different moods and fancies at different periods of the day and seasons. When the poet’s mind is torn and tormented by some “Dilemma”, he feels overwhelmed to express himself in the light of the soul. He questions himself:
“What’s this weariness?
That leaves inert every limb, every nerve!
Deadened is the mind to sensations all,
Heavy and tired are the eyes with sleep!”
His soul is fatigued and its melody finds no echo even in heaven. Even his firm convictions melt and life’s paths are beset with difficulties and thorns. It is a grim reality and it is no longer an illusion. Should he surrender or use all the might of the soul to fight stark reality? The poem is loaded with Keatsian echoes, note of sorrow and melancholy marked by irresolution. All is wrought out here of the images flirting out of his lavish mind and the reader is fleeced into the overflowing beehive guarded by the mother bees posing danger and providing delight of “sweetness and light.”
In “Light the Lamps”, the bitter and sweet of life; the sour strains cloud the silvery bright sun-shine and the star-spangled skies of the poet’s life; and he, like Meera, “Drained the cup of poison to the dregs”, yet it failed to dampen the ever-thirsty spirit of love and beauty. The poet says-
“Dear! The love is still alive with all its aspirations,
Steeped in the flowery sweetness of spring,
Several nights of enchanting mad moon still remain,
Smile and smile a little
And be with me, my company!”
Mahendra is romancing freely with moon and moonlight in “To the Moon” and “Moonlight”. The very opening of the former leads us into a life of sensations:
“Please smile not and tempt me thus,
Or else I shall kiss your cheeks!”
He is enchanted by the lavish beauty of the moon “Where dance the naked damsels”. Than he says in “Moonlight”:
“This moon-light speaks not to me none knows why,
Fills the heart with strange nectar of love, this
These are highly picturesque poems reminiscent of the pastoral moonlit nights in the poetry of Coleridge and where life has not been assaulted and bruised by the jungles of concrete enveloped thickly by the dust, dusk and soot or threatened by terrorists, political or religious. Mahendra Bhatnagar is frequently a poet of fresh moods and memories in “No Grievance” and in “Conviction”, we see the blush and shyness of the full-blooded love of youth and it is all a graceful sight with not even a remote reflection or shadow of physicality. “Day-Dreaming” is a lyric of intense of intense love and beauty, a superb example of tension, intention and extension. He says-
“Like a lovelorn bee,
I’ve only kissed and kissed.
The buds, bright, ravishing, drunk-
And drenched in honey!
How tormented am I
By your beauty!”
“Betrayal”, another poem of beauty, romance, love and lust, is a betrayal of the beloved’s love to hug the cosmic love to find “a new kingdom of joy and smile.” “Accept Me” is a poem of love in all its purity and brilliance. He says:
Like the twinkling stars
On the breast of the blue!”
Then - My passions; My feelings -
“Like the most beautiful garlands
Of red roses
Fresh, fragrant and blossoming!”
He offers these all in adoration to her persona of love and idolization, celestial beauty! We roll in romance in other poems- “The Worship of Art”, “A State of Mind”, “Life”, “Through the Unwanted Moments”, “The Irony of Fate”, “How to Suffer Pain”, “The Incredible”, “Who Are You?”, “A Submission” etc. They all give to us a relish of romance and beauty- lusty and gusty! Almost all the poems here are the poems of desires and dreams and hopes and happiness. Mahendra Bhatnagar has the cardinal feeling of the song, music and beauty of life but this crashes against the inevitable pains, agonies, sighs and tears. The ironies of fate awaken Bhatnagar to the dread:
That the body is tightly tied with countless snakes
And is encircled with sharp thorns;”
“The Incredible” is a poem of the life of loneliness without love and romance. Such a life adds to the woes, pains and misery verging on the tragic; the poet, the actor, the hero, the performer, the singer- all alone on the stage of the auditorium completely empty of the audience and the spectators. Singing in broken voice his own requiem from where come out the notes- “so pathetic, monotonous and uncharming.” However, from the background appear the intoxicating images of the divine dancers and belles, and they, vanishing so sudden and so fast further aggravating the tension of loneliness and horrifying the romance of emptiness.
In fine, we observe that Mahendra Bhatnagar leads us from the sowing season in the fields of life instilling and enthusing mankind with new hopes, aspirations and dreams to the beauty and lore of ripening and the ecstasy of rich harvests--all a fruit of ever-adventurous human youth- leaving behind the stubble plains whereon we walk bare-footed collecting the leftovers passing on into the dusk and dread of wintry night. With this, we move from pastoralism, retreat into medievalism and then to antiquity and eternity!