Literary Shelf

The Achievement of O.P. Bhatnagar

The art of composition differs from poet to poet and the craftsmanship of it. Feelings, shadows, fossils, words, mysteries and miracles of thoughts are primary to the understanding of the poem in our hand and are also quite indicative of the poetic art and the process of his composition.
- Poet B. K. Dubey

One learns plainly that he (Bhatnagar) is deeply aware of tribulations a man faces and therefore, explores various possibilities to find an escape route, for in hours of fulfillment emptiness haunts, a painful predicament of a modern man it is.  
- Critic P C K Prem

Distinguished poet O.P. Bhatnagar who died some time ago wrote five books of poetry in English. His poems were translated into several European languages.  On invitation he attended the fourth World Congress of Poets in Seoul, Korea. He was on the editorial broads of prestigious journals like The IUP Journal of English Studies in our country. Born in Dehradun, he studied in the schools there but moved to Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, and gone to Maharashtra to teach English in a college.   First he was seen and noted as a poet in the Encyclopaedia of Post – colonial Literature. Sometimes it happens that poets get proper recognition rather late.  He opted for this basically suggestive art in a pensive mood, sometimes satirical and sometimes, ironical. Sometimes his vision is tragic as we see in the poems included for the study here.

Book I – Thought Poems

Human nature is such in that it has shifting facades, not always virtuous or god-obeying. Bhatnagar is painfully aware of man’s insufficiency to delve into the depths of ideals. The poet reminds us of ‘We are the hollow men, stuffed men, head piece filled with straw’ of T.S.Eliot.

Round And Round

We may go around and round a temple
Yet never be around God
We may go around and round an idea
Yet never be around thought
Poetry is meaning
Like a deity enshrined
Words upon words the edifice built
What is the idea?
Where is God?
Who will tell what the artist sought? (p.5)

Many a time the death wish dominates. Wishes and desires are not seriously basic needs or wants.

Desires on Death

Desires on death
Sit in quiet evening arrays
Like amused sparrows
On naked electric wires
Watching with muted wonder
The fading glory of the dying sun

Death does not mean or result in ennoblement. The poet believes firmly that is this:

The New Tragedy

Death in modern times
Leaves man more naked
Than dead
For unwelcome death
Is not worth dying

People do not die
Of growth these days
Instead struck dead
By deadly diseases
Or dreadful atrocities of man
The tragedy now lies
In the uneasy silence
Of the wounded survivors
Who suffer death
Without ennoblement

We are reminded of Keats -beauty is truth and truth beauty.  The great poets of the past invoke the remembrance of things past. This leads the poet here of the dreadful reality. We agree with the idea of dreadful reality of the royal romance.

Of Beauty and Truth

The presumptuous ego of Shah Jahan
In creating the Taj for his love
Wasn’t as genuine as marble
It only assuaged his sorrow
That had bent him to his woes
In the Red Fort
Tired of eying the lost-truth
Of his love
In a frame of beauty
The beauty of the marbled sorrow
Was not all truth
Nor the truth of it all beauty
For the sculptors had defied both
By their devotion skilled in art
Growing finer than all the passion
Love could part
What remains is the white flame
Of their sweat carved in marble
Not the entombed vanity
Of a royal romance

Windows reveal the mentality of those who look through them.  This is true not only of  the Indian ones.

Indian Windows

Windows are windows
To shut the past from the present
And see the future as remote
As the fading horizon at dusk.
They are like strangers
Not feeling at home
Forever peeping out of the window
In an indistinct anxiety to go;
Their feelings grow like caterpillars
Flying out as butterflies
Flitting from flower to flower
Eluding the fingers of man
Or like bats hung upside down
To see the world in right perspective
Making endless flights in the room
In a confused hurry missing all windows

This poem is a sample of the poet’s imagination boy- tuberculosis – fruits – juice for and the conclusion – which is the reality of such little ones in extremely painful poverty.

Getting To Live

A village tuberculosis boy
Hopping locals in Bombay
Saw dreams of oranges, plums,
Melons, mangoes and grapes
With a fervid lure for tingling fruits
He saw a bum mooch a lemon
Why can’t his will squeeze out his disease
Like that saucy boy draining sour juice?
He picked up confidence at the Churchgate station
Where people appear and disappear
With trains.  From now on
Happiness was no happenstance
Nor existence a condition
Of circumstance
But a willing creation
Of what one feels at a glance
In a secret more metaphysical
Than “Crime and Punishment”
He willed more to achieve less
Than die more without less

Book   II – Feeling Fossils

Bhatnagar is a thinker and his expressions are very strong and many a time pungent.  This is evident in his expressions about contemporaneity.  Memories do not die or, at least fade or are forgotten. The following poems don’t need explanation: they are to be felt.


Memories have turned rocks
Sun, Moon, wind and water
Strike their head in despair
Someone may have to dynamite them
To use the toughness of their being
In laying the foundations of hope


When he was young
He set up boundaries
To define what he possessed
Now that he is old
With gout down his knees
His dream demolishes divisions
To walk through the fences
To share his miseries
With the neighbour

Courage of Being Free

Bondage leases security
Free is being alone
We are afraid of ourselves
Like pale ghosts
Shying away from homes
But he was different
He loved her
But refused the dead body
To be his wife

The following poem is some kind of wise declaration. Reminds us of ‘I have miles to go before I sleep’ of Frost.  The native cultural concepts take a firm impact.

Have Promises to Keep

I don’t have miles to go
But promises to keep
‘Nada-Brahma” is one
Of our ancient concepts
And am proud to belong to it
To shake the universe
With the thunder from my throat
And use the last breath of mine
To keep my countrymen awake
With more dying words to reach
Before I sleep
I love my country
Which loves my voice
And my speech

Floods are frequent experiences of cataclysmic disasters like earth quakes. We in India feel that they are frequent in Bharat which we proudly remember as Mahabharat.

Of Floods in India

Floods of tears are enough
God need not threaten us with more
Console the veiled brides
Who waited with floods of emotion
Their grooms
Tell them of pantheism
Dust unto dust and all that
In words as wet and cold as water
Have they still to wait
For the Day of Judgement?

Each poet has his own definition of a poem and his own poetry. This long poem is an illustration.

A Poem is a Smile

What can a poet say
That words cannot feel
In similes, metaphors,
Symbols are wits
In any suggestion of art
A poem is a smile

That spreads
From eyes to heart
Using words
That have laid their meaning
To rest to become beautiful
Like femininity of a woman
Emerging from a happiness
Locked in blue waters
Revealing the unconscious beauty
In parts

Book III – Angles of Retreat

Sexuality, copulation, child birth and old age are portrayed in the poems in this section. Angles of turning back refers to the whole gamut of seeing, vision. The originally acute and correct vision reveals what is seen. The poet opines that the vision is either distracted or understood awkwardly.  Sexual love goes on into child birth with the rays of light going high into heaven and god. The next poem melting ice in the heavy snow areas of Antarctic region. The conclusion is absolute truth and reality.

The Best Time to Love?

When vision is blurred
Reality faded into outline
When hidden forms begin to re-emerge
When shapes are laid bare
None knows the best time to love
Too late or too early,
Here when it is not desired,
Withdrawing when most aspired
Then expresses it in haste
Or delays when the occasion calls
The human is always distracted
Always awkwardly tuned
In the perpetual harmony of love
Is the child drawn
Never scaling love by time
But like water reflecting
Every ray of light
Piercing gods in heaven

Melting Ice in Antarctica

As children
We longed for gas balloons
By a thread in the air hung
Held tight by a hand
Of dream-fingers
In age
We run out
Of all tingling fancies
Discover their fulfilment
A mirage
Hopes, dreams and desires
All disappear
A gas balloon
Snapped from its delicate hold
By the thrust of some indifferent
We have recently learnt the trick
Of melting ice in Antarctica
And keeping our grandchildren happy
While their parents are busy
Staring with unseeing eyes
The flight of their fancies falls

The actualities of the ultimate are described with poetic imagination.

Sex is Not a Baby Food

Of sex I had a narrow view
Till I came by a divorce
Whose mind made mellow
By her minty adventures
Could blatantly foresee
That sex is not a baby food
To stick to only one brand
Lest it may cause indigestion
To one’s delicate system in growth
She was completely honest
In announcing her faith
That the best test of one’s growth
Is one’s capacity to digest everything
Sex should come as a Challenge
Not as shame or consolation
Or something to shy from
It’s a pleasure on which body grows
And soul feeds like honey
Made rich by the extracts of different flowers
Serving ideas with a different hue
Causing wide stomach upsets
Agreeable but only to a few

Here the poet goes painting the world vision seen as poets and thinkers across the creative world. He goes into Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian-born American novelist and his novel Lolita

Of Art, Fact and Artifact

Starting off with a cute idea
Up their fanciful sleeves
Of enlivening creative writing in English
Round their world in eighty days
A group of young fervent Journalists
Approached Raja Rao and asked –
How do you get your ideas?
He said: In agitation.

They asked a Czech poetess
Do you think poetry is a medium
Of a controlling mental agitation?
It’s a medium of re-formation
Of ideas under a situation
Stressed the young poetess
And they published – Reformation
Next came the German playwright
Accosted with the question
How do you reconcile a foreign language?
With native experience and sensitivity?
You have to have high, strong feelings
To remove all the barriers to language
And they publicised – High strung Feelings
Spreading more careful fiction
Then fact about art
Reporting is more of a stuff
A streaker is made of
Stripping facts beyond nudity
And one wonders with agonic agitation
Whether the artefacts of Burroughs
Or what Nabokov writes
Be more of apodyterium
Than literary apomixis

Book IV – Oneiric Vision

The learned poet brings his reader to dreaming. Somewhere along the twisty path of the twentieth century, Vladimir Nabokov, our brilliant dreamer-in-chief, came into contact with Dunne’s theories of oneiric prophecy and was evidently inspired by them. The Indian reality is seen right at the opening of the poem.

I Can Question Only My Dreams

When I see a crowd
Line up for a bottle of kerosene
In tiring queues to light up
Their hungry hours: The numberless
Go blind of adulterated oils
Making a smooth passage to dark:
And children thin out to death
For want of milk in the water
Served to them as feed
I cannot ask my conscience to revolt
For suffering has become our creed
I can question only my dreams
That have made me different
Like trees growing different
In different lands.  May be
I have dreamed more than suffered
And escaped the levelling down
Of my odd virtues and hopes:
To see the whole truth
I must loosen my eyelids
And bring my visions
To a close.

This poem is a verbal illustration. Sand dune is the low stretch of loose dry sand formed by the winds, especially near a sea shore.  A teacher basically professors also illustrate which is a teaching aid.

A Framed Sand-Dune

A poem is a vision
Which one can make
And unmake it
Till it is lost
To find it
One must go
To the desert
With wide-eyed wonder
Looking for shapes:
For a poem is
A framed sand-dune

The poet is first a scholar, professor in an institution of higher learning and as such a poet with a difference and elegance Any ‘ordinary’ reader would do well to know of the Spanish novel by Miguel De Cervantes, of the 16th Century.

Don Quixote

For the brave
There must always be
Something to conquer
For the generous a beggar
For the coward
Something to shy from
For the sentimental a tragedy
Man must act a Sancho Panza
To his unending dreams
Of visionary valour
Fighting fluid battles
On cotton thick flakes
We are indeed brave
To seek reality
And then nothing is left to seek
Tired of his stasis
We look for something Kinetic
And recreate fresh illusions
Till imagination joins the parted ends.

What is seen through a window is described. What is seen is from a window frame here.

From a Window Frame

The children are playing
Out there on the grass
Making motifs like a carpet
Rolled on the floor:
Jumping, kicking, tumbling
Raising haunches to the sky
Sharpening visions to the core
I move between chairs in slow strides
Mending memories and rolling smiles
Down the window to stir them to dance
In ecstasy chasing hopes
Feeling my smiles, the children wave at me
Like paddies whirled by winds
Beseeching me in glances studded with dreams
To keep the distinct view framed

This poem describes what is seen not the temple or the sanctum. Visitors and people come to offer prayers do different things. The poet is a visitor and a commentator here.

From Puri Temple

Holi visions do not make
All Shankaracharya
A line of lepers
A swarm of supplicants
Snatching horror from the eyes
And pandas playing nine pins
Shrivel the soul to a stub
Dying in the full heat of the sun
Enchanting figures in erotica
Accost from the high temple walls
Calling forth a virulence
Just lost
Are these figures
Part of this temple
Or the temple
Part of these figures?
Manmade temples
For gods
Not for human beings
Let stars tell the truth
If dark can be
Generated by light

Book -V Cooling the Flames of Darkness

Cooling the flames of darkness (2001) has a number of poems of political interest that highlights the poem ‘The Janus political front ‘. The poet speaks as one side of the Roman two-faced Janus starts saying this from one face it takes it yellow sweat and suffering

it takes it yellow sweat and suffering
to become a leader in these fruitful days!

with more charm disadvantages
way placement day dreams by old age
misleading drawings of fain hope is China
with all the imperfections
charm the unequal innocent
 (CFD, 17)

The Indian policy is called shams by this poet. Bhatnagar urges us:
“so, watch a hijacker of green seasoned
hardcore bandolero
intelligent murderer of A:
 a smuggler of high-fi
a high mobile scamster
talk glib television
or dictate its undercover becomes
people twice besieged
him voting power with the
option forcing their way to a travesty of democracy.” (CFD, 18)

The poem ‘Devastated by children of civilized time’ shows almost all external conflicts in the world where people of modern times is more pleased in cancerous violence, sins and crimes being something ‘on-line fiction Bestsellers: / Blow up the media to view on the internet’. Politicians are like Cassius Shakuni are fixing distant personal energy Park designs and are ‘get off your nebulous dreams’. According to him, politicians will never let the world change in its former glory. Says:

“are stricken civilized times-
our spirits limps have their own unnerving truth:
philosophers, physiologists, and politicians on one side
all Fireworks end for his glory in ashes:
and the waters are empty
through all the gashes of the mountain.” And
Howsoever much innocence can stand the test
by fire and water:
violence will never lose its shine
the evils of innocence cold surrender.

can be return to the tenderness of heart
lies through bestiality, faxed around the world
unchanged text on their authenticity. “(CFD, 14)

Similarly, in ‘The primitive age’, the poet imagines the more mis happenings owing to the over growth dirty, ghastly, politicization.

“come one, come all come from hyenas or wolves
the roots inlaid naturally compel
power trampled to fresh shoot
and survive the weed grizzly
in a new grace of its ancient rooms
civilized testing
with their much biting “teeth.” (CFD, 16)

looking for in my solitude the poet tries to relieve himself of the agony of the time, but finds solace in nowhere and says:

“poetry can only half – persuade good taste
to savor the taste of loneliness
in good taste and confidence
for the best bitter can convert
only bite less not sweeter still.” (CFD, 36)

It becomes clear that the poetry of Bhatnagar is free of all movements of left or right or has anything to do with any particular school of thought or ideology. It is a representation of the actuality. The religion of Bhatnagar poetry is the inward metal painting of humanitarian ideology, of love and peace. His poetic credo is essentially human and good.
Earlier he wrote: “Poetry in all its glory is a clear and a simplified version of the complex and the confused, because there is nothing more transcendental beyond the creative simplicity of poetry. Poetry wins not by the poet’s snobbishness, but by its simplicity. Simple poetry is the poetry of togetherness. If more Indian people want to read poetry in English, they must obtain common and accessible subjects connected with the life of concerns human times of mere words, animals, maidens and sex.”

Bhatnagar has succeeded in politics the metaphor in his poetry and his poetry. As a whole, for him, poetry is a bugle of awakening in the current murky trends in politics. His using words and expression Janus, Cassius, bandolero suggest that a deeper consciousness of fairness, particularly in the political/sociological façade.


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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