Mahendra Bhatnagar’s Perception of Life
As the title indicates, Mahendra Bhatnagar’s poetic collection Life: As It Is reflects the poet’s philosophy of human life that continually flows like a river and glows like a ray. The poems contained in this bilingual collection, according to Dr. R. Kichenamourty “deal with a wide range of themes mostly philosophical in nature. His views on Truth, Destiny and Death are quite thought provoking.”1 The very first poem ‘Reality’ compares life to a flickering lamp that keeps on burning day and night in the darkness of sky that is limitless. The sense of gloom looms large over his heart when he thinks of the bitter reality of death. The poet pessimistically asks:
there are only heaps of pebbles,
where are pearls?
The poet underlines the importance of time in his poem ‘A Moment’. To him each moment is as important as life itself because it is in a single moment that life can take a sudden turn or can be taken away forever. Hence, the beauty of life lies in utilizing every moment to the fullest till our ego is crushed to pieces. The poem ‘Ascetic’ presents a beautiful contrast between an ascetic and a worldly person. While a worldly person, driven by a state of restlessness, depression and mental imbalance, weeps and laughs without a reason and even thinks of committing suicide under the pressure of stress and strain, an ascetic enjoys the state of equipoise, bliss and serenity born of his neutrality to life and death, poison and nectar, enemy and friend, good and bad, defeat and victory, respect and humiliation. In the backdrop of baffling contradictions, the poet contrasts life with a book and realistically highlights the visible differences between both. According to him, a book is divided into chapters with proper planning and designing whereas life’s journey goes ahead in accordance with divine plan. Human mind fails to give shape to life’s book for the reason that nothing is certain in life except change. The famous saying ‘man proposes, God disposes’ truly applies to all that we do and this is the reason why humans are to abide by God’s will. God is the designer of life’s book and what message he wants to convey through this book, more often than not, transcends our limited comprehension. The poem ‘Experience’ presents the poet’s disillusionment and disenchantment with the false attractions, promises, joys and victories of worldly life.
Having lived his life as a helpless prisoner of multiple allurements, human bonds and bondages, delusive pleasures and illusive treasures, the poet repents over the irretrievable loss of opportunities life offered to him. He pitiably feels that he has been plundered by the hypocrites and rascals who came to him as his friends and well-wishers. His only fault was to repose faith in their sweet words and false promises. For his loss he hits hard at himself and desperately asks of his inner self:
What have I done?
strange foolish things,
the debt imposed by society?
Now what is left out
tasting the bitter juice of
In the poem ‘Realism’ the poet has pessimistically dealt with the darker side of life. Here he has compared life with an unbearable burden and a dreadful ride on two boats. Often he sees under his feet “a saw poison smeared and double edged” and close to the throat “a sharpened dagger.” Not only this, he painfully feels “a noose around the neck and visualizes only the dense darkness everywhere. Such horrible conditions make him utter:
is a compulsion!
too much burdensome!
Through his poem ‘Enlightenment’ the poet intends to convey to the world his message that the torture and deceitful dispensation meted out by the so called friends and fellows, dear and near ones, deeply hurt the sentiments. The occasional breakdown of emotions and sentiments served as a furnace to make the poet emerge as more mature and experienced. As he puts it:
I could know
The secret of life and of the world
When I was badly hurt
By my own selves and by others.
These lines have a close parallel in his poem ‘Hurt’ where he pessimistically says:
Desolate and sear is the garden
Withered and mute is life.
Where are the flowers now?
Only the yellow leaves fall!
Memories serve as a powerful tool to change our inner state. The poet has sung of their force in his poems ‘Before End-1’ and ‘Before End-2’. In ‘Before End-1’ the poet presents the memories of good times as flowers which make the atmosphere pleasurable. Moved by such atmosphere, he sings:
It seems each door is decorated
With bunting of mango leaves
Life becomes fragrant,
With sweet intoxicating nectar,
With bright, fresh
In ‘Before End-2’ he compares the memories of bad times to thorns. Wounded by the piercing memories of the excruciating experiences he encountered during the hard phases of life, the poet gloomily utters:
It seems as if
All around a dust storm rages,
In painful hell-fires
Life stumbles, cries
With a stricken heart!
Infidelity and loneliness are very difficult to cope with. For those victimized by them life becomes an unbearable burden. Unable to reconcile to their misfortune, the cowardly persons commit suicide but those gifted with courage bear the onslaught of agony silently. The poet advises both types of people to accept the adverse conditions of life. He exhorts:
Accept this willingly,
The poem ‘Duty’ reflects the poet’s views about man’s basic duty. Being the best creation of God, man should love his Creator and all things—animate as well as inanimate—created by Him. Since God is present in all living things in the form of energy, not only human beings but also animals, birds, creatures, plants and trees deserve love of man. Loving buds, flowers, flies and fairies is one of the basic duties of man. As the poet says:
This life, this world
Is what a man must do!
In the poem ‘Freedom Space’ the poet draws our attention to the two contradictory phases of his life. In the former part of his life the poet was burdened with cumbersome responsibilities and tiring assignments. Like an acrobat, he worked hard only for earning money and like a bull bore heavy yoke on his body and passed again and again through long, narrow graveled, stony and undesired streets. But in the latter part of his life, he feels free, like air, to go anywhere and do anything he likes.
The poem ‘Essence’ presents the essence of life in a very thought provoking manner. Here the poet initially compares life to crematorium, a place where nobody likes to go except when forced to follow the dead body of his dear and near one. He also compares life to a banyan tree standing alone and waiting to be looked at. Pessimism reaches its climax in the second stanza of the poem where the poet conceives life as a synonym of gloom and severe punishment for the sins of past lives. As the poem moves towards its end, it unfolds new vistas of painful journey that life stands for. This journey is as painful as the scorching heat of noon during summer and pricking of needles in throat.
Life is a journey of joys and woes. One the one hand, it is replete with mind boggling problems and challenges, failures and setbacks, disappointments and frustrations while on the other hand it gifts us with unimagined successes, golden opportunities and multiple moments of joys and pleasures. The poet brings this fact home in his poem ‘Capability’ where he says:
a mere journey
on an infinite path.
To stop momentously for the rest
is the mere
prelude of marching ahead.
The poet has been a traveler in true sense of the term. Having surmounted countless hindrances and challenges that failed to deter him from going ahead, the poet wants to welcome the day of prosperity by singing songs of mirth and happiness. He vents his hope of betterment in these lines:
Let the desert of deficiencies
bloom into prosperity
a life full of sentiments
may come again!
The poem ‘Unexpected’ reflects the poet’s concept of fate and divine plan. He pertinently holds that the law of nature controls the movements of all objects-animate as well as inanimate. The same law determines the mutual relationships of living creatures. This is the reason why some of us enjoy the company of fellow travelers whereas some others impatiently aspire for the moments of desired companionship. A majority of people are in search of someone or something to fulfill their desired dreams which haunt them relentlessly. That is why he calls upon the miserable people:
O, cursed people
of the world!
In his poem ‘The Art of Living’ the poet has hit upon the root cause of the miseries of life. In his opinion those who do not know the grammar of life i.e. a set of rules that govern life from birth to death remain unhappy throughout because they are unaware of the way of living life purposefully and meaningfully. The poet considers himself as one of such people and that is why he grows confessional in his attitude to his life and remorsefully utters:
I didn’t read
the grammar of life.
It is, that
I didn’t learn
to lead happy life
During the moments of positive thinking the poet finds himself on the stable ground where he will remain unaffected by the onslaughts of adverse circumstances. Having endured the pain as severe as the stinging of scorpions, the poet has emerged victorious and feels that in midst of all types of challenges he will remain “invincible” and “unshaken”. But when he looks back at his past life, he grows repentant to think that the time he wasted in vain pursuits will not return. He ponders:
Eh, many a year of life
devoid of rejoicings
full of dearth
yes, fluttered away
several years of life!
Like an ordinary human being, the poet faced the time of sorrow as well as the fast running moments of happiness. While the golden days of life which came to him like a sacred boon, like a comforting song were worth living, the glooming days full of despondency, depression and extreme emptiness, inauspicious like a curse were bitter and prickly.
The poem ‘Point of View’ sums up the poet’s perception of life. Here he philosophically deals with the past, present and future of life and exhorts us to forget the past so that we can utilize our present in order to invent a future. He interrogatively sings:
What is past—
Why should it be the controller
of the present?
Why should it overpower the
Free the present
from the past
live it with full fervor
In the poem he reveals the mystery of man’s happiness. He holds that one can smile only if one can forget the painful memories of the past and fully lives in the present. The best way to forget the memories of the by- gone time, according to him, is to sing the songs of the golden days of life. He exhorts:
if the heart aches,
sing with such an ease
that none can ever get at it,
sing with the honey soaked voice
the mirths of life
Let not the dead pal leaves of autumn
even slightly rustle,
the songs of spring.
(A Point of View)
There is a blend of pessimism and optimism in the poems included in the book. One of his later poems is devoted to the treatment of life as a meaningless journey. His view of life reminds me of Shakespeare famous quote, “Life is a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing”.
Caught in a pessimistic mindset, the poet compares life to an ill arranged and lonely closed room, an unwanted comet, a vast river with great whirlpools, and an ugly canvas of mud and dust. To cope with the mess life stands for, the poet, towards the end of the collection, grows prayerful and turns to God for solace and good things so that the gift of life may prove meaningful. Like a child praying to his mother, the poet prays to God:
Let me taste the sweet smell
of every flower.
If you have given me life,
let me relax on a creeper’s lap
free from all inhibitions.
(Through the Unwanted Moments)
Prayers with firm belief in the benign power of God provide solutions to many problems of life. Weeping over misfortune is not the way a successful man follows. Action with faith is what leads to redemption from the ills of life. The poet is optimistic about the advent of golden days if we wake up before it is too late and that is why he firmly decides:
We’ll march removing hurdles
cleaving the dark
For, we know it well
that lightening flashes not
in the blaze of noon.
(We Know it Well)
The poet in the end discards the cowardly persons as unfit for his companionship and welcomes as his peers the courageous persons who face the calamities of life laughingly and endure many hardships in life without relaxing before getting destination and the destination of humans life, according to him, does not be in “self-interests, confined means of self-contentment targeted on worldly happiness, but in struggling hard on the path of life. The end of life’s journey is bitter fact. The thought of coming death unnerves his mind to extent that it appears impossible for him to bear his life. The first line of the last poem of this collection “I cannot bear now,” reflects the intensity of his agony. More painful for him is his inability to express his suffering in rhythm and metric. His nostalgic remembrance of the past life of love and comfort is not less distressing to him. Like Shelley, he has fallen on the thorns of life and is bleeding. The warrior in him is immensely sad to think that his agony has physically and mentally incapacitated him beyond the hope of recovery. But, even now, he does not put his pen to rest. To express the bitter reality surrounding the inevitable end of life, he uses the fading might of his pen and gloomily writes:
Life is difficult
Heart lure is mute
the stroke of time
Bhatnagar, Mahendra. Life: As It Is., Delhi: Indian Publishers Distributors, 2012.
(All references given in the paper are from this work).