Book Reviews

Soliloquy of a Sailor

Life reveals Unkind Truths on its long Voyage to Manas Bakshi

A poet of intense urban sensibilities and philosophic proclivities often speaks about the predicament of man who struggles hard intellectually to find resolutions to his inner thirst for peace and harmony but every time he thinks he is near the destination, it recedes further and causes inevitable sense of pessimism. He is reluctant to accept this truth but idiom of ponderings denies him the privilege. A poet of twelve collections of poetry, Manas Bakshi is a major notable name in Indian English Poetry. ‘Soliloquy…is about the unbearable experiences a victim (?) of Covid undergoes for about two to three months but finally, a ray of the sun brings light to him.

At times, a dialogue with ‘the self’ appears agonizing and tragic (Soliloquy of a Sailor, Authorspress Publication 2020). Thoughts of immensity and merger it is with the Absolute as if. The simile of water, infinite in depth of the great sea and the river allures and gives some teasing moments, which stay incomprehensible. Life’s journey for the inquisitive mind continues from the reality to the ultimate destination –self-realization finally resolving the quest.

Nocturnal ambivalence
Full of mystic lore
Haunting, archaic and also ecstatic
– (The Journey Begins 10)

A desire to go beyond four walls opens new pastures for a man to probe and understand life from birth to death and find out what is embryonic in between.

Discarding earthly attachments is a path to final deliverance and it puts an end to the cycle of transmigration. Earthly encrustations are bondages, a gateway to the cycle of birth and death, from which a man must get rid of if he wants liberation. Precisely this predicament distresses the poetic mind a witness to the futility of life and its ephemeral attainments, which provide transitory joy and then, a period of cynicism and darkness begins born of ignorance in understanding life’s conundrum. The metaphor of boat and ‘the self’ who ponders over life’s dilemma is infectious and apposite.

Monologue with the boat, ‘the inner self’ is a serious deliberation on life and its tangential core. Is it a voyage to ‘a refulgent glint’ 12, the ultimate truth.

Testifying its worth
Before embracing
The potential sea-divine.

None knows with finality the end of journey. Enquiry into ‘the self’ and uniting with the never-ending is the eternal objective. However, worldly decoy keeps the cycle of birth and death interminable and thus, inexhaustible sufferings with unyielding desires live more, and so rotary motion of life, death and rebirth is perpetual.

That’s something occult
Between heaven and hell. 13

Imperfection haunts a man even as the boat faces its end sans any formal obituary or upright extinction because transient existence is the truth of life. So long, man is in bondages, he cannot get rid of anguish of birth and death. Everybody is under the control of Time and its verdict. The poet believes in the inviolability of soul and its being deathless, for the seed never dies and if nurtured it grows up frequently. However, it is the objective of life at times, the poet laments even as he continues the endless journey of birth and death without hope of deliverance. To abandon worldly ensnares is the real predicament for here the roots are strong and cutting asunder calls for tremendous strength in terms of disciplining the senses –the modes of Prakriti

The Sailor is persistent, resolute, determined in life’s voyage to attain the purpose of life and continues to speak to ‘the inner self’. Looking back and around it is in the dark, uncertain, indefinite, and still fundamental to one’s life. If someone calls up the silent moment, it echoes around and wakes up conscience to alert ‘the self.’ At this instant, a struggle begins between ‘the self’ and manifesting itself as the eternal spirit –the supreme lord. It comes up with an argument as one activates intellect to find joy in vicarious reasons of proving ‘the self’ but on cautious analysis one finds nothing is left but only memories appear lasting that pursue the lonely sailor, the boat, an embodiment of ‘the self’ in search of destination.

Memories appear to dominate the forlorn sailor giving joy and anguish mostly imagined but harrying as is the nature of an ordinary crusader. He, the poet, needs to enquire into the phenomenon with more zeal and fanatic efforts to realize his ambition or else it turns into a path to grotesque ‘future quest’ amidst worthless drifting along the waves. Alas, he finds joy in self-lamentation and wasted yak about the objective of life in disturbed times.

Or, wail in personal pain
Of reopening a chapter
Perhaps not wistful
Even if it crawls on its own
To scratch on some chapters of life 19

Poet in contemplative mood evaluates ‘the self’ and the invasion of thoughts and reminiscences where he wishes to situate ‘the self’. Before long, he realizes that it is impractical or perhaps good to hold on to memories until the departure to the world beyond about which indefinite but fantasy continues to prod him into hallucinatory musings without concretization of experiences or impressions causing adequate dilemmatic situation. Here, childhood cravings and mysteries surround as life in entirety begins to indulge in congeniality of existing problems society faces where crowds of religions, virulent outbursts of men in power, communal bitterness and mutual violent setbacks without cushion against muggy agony continue to invade.

A man enjoys assembling morsels of memories throughout life and afterward resurrects each gray moment with wreckages of adornments and feels gratified. Exactly the anguish of a sailor it is who tries to grasp each wavy experience in the belief that future will make him strong.

Blasphemy ascribed, betrayal contrived
And the innermost self seems
Stranded before a black well
Where the murmur of falling leaves
Resounding with the words
Of political gimmick
Had sunk long before
Humankind had a beginning! 23

He feels astonished whether it is sniveling in clandestine or beginning a new episode unintended, and so endeavours to peel off layers of wounds old engraved in frosty reminiscences.

The thoughts cull out a few portions of memories to revive relationships man often nurses in lonely moments whether pleasant or bitter but each teaches without ceremony, and as such, some quixotic, idealistic and nostalgic slices of time appear breathing. To locate perfection in relations and feel the warmth even when you try to find out the truth of each relation, the poet’s aloneness and inner void – (forced perhaps?) disturb here.

Remains very often
Vulnerable to intricacies –
Analysed and unravelled
So long as you live.

Relations protect a multiparty system, hidden and obvious and everyone tries to interpret relationships as these suffer monotony, ennui and extreme loneliness - a huge dilemma in contemporary times where growth and progress is the cardinal principle but all live in a blend of conservative cocoons irrespective of sadistic and contrary protestations to strut up post-modernistic proclivities.

When memory too – hazy and frail
In whispering darkness. 25

He creates a strange world of living as probability recedes even while darkness overwhelms and then he takes a break and imagines ‘those drizzling moments of love passionate/ Those rainy evenings/ Of getting drenched together 26.’

It signals malfunction, cynicism and distraction where efforts to resurrect memories continue so that the protagonist obtains some relief. Love is a ‘give and take’ affair. If it is nonexistent and reconciliation is remote, than overwrought affiliation takes roots and brings tediousness. To scrutinize true love is a mirage in spite of the therapy the poet suggests.

On the touchstone of true love,
God-like giving
Mother-like caring
Earth-like enduring? 27

Here, he is unrealistic and so collapse and disillusionment is definite to agitate. Even identification with the boat is of no consequence and therefore, dissimilarity in relations bound to disconcert.

He differentiates the love of man’s mother and mother bird, the one is selfish and aspires for return at some point of time but the bird mother rears up her progeny with no anticipation. This relationship of birds has some relevance to human life and its destiny. It ends up some time as if one undertakes a journey together but one or the other exits on death where man has no control. Here, one may call it love and affection or the societal compulsion to live life with knowledge of the ultimate and its ineffectuality.

Song of time, song of eternity
That transcend the barriers
Of petty worldly feud,
Religious and territorial
Man-made boundaries. 30

At this moment, he wants a song celebrating love, time and eternity and so the cerebral predicament to find stable anchor in life and love perturbs the sailor where relations are a journey to reach destiny separately and then forgetting. It tells - one neither knows about the origin of birth nor death. A kind of non-entity determines human bonds and traditions, and strikes ties with changing times. One carries a heritage reminding of ancestors with a message, and exhorts living in harmony but it never happens. It symbolizes time, eternity, and the unsung song it looks, as the poet appears to ramble among prehistoric pages –a thought eternal for man who is engaged in futile career’s aspirations but leaves nothing and lives in invariable conflicts and denials.

Relations continue to wrestle inside a man, a faint infatuation interacts and silent efforts revive old acquaintances until one meets his or her end, and it is human weakness for he loves to celebrate warmth and empathy beyond limitations. Abruptly, the thoughts run to shaky waves - a doubtful path, and relations appear to break into fragments sans substantial signposts in indefinite times.

Relationship grown, maintained with care
Sometimes lasts for a life-time
Sometimes shattered at once
On grounds whatsoever,
Resembles the sandcastle
Thriving at the mercy of sea waves 31

The life of a sailor undulates and is unsteady and despite its control over rising waves, it is ineffective. When on a journey on watery surface, he is indifferent to vagaries of human emotions and anguish as he appears to abandon homeland and never knows when to return as ‘ varied/ To make him feel again/ The surrounding dusk and disorder /Behind the celestial light 33.’ Many lethal brainteasers overwhelm poet’s sensitivity and colossal ambiguity seems to darken what looks radiant in life. When mindscape is sick and indefinite of future due to some reasons about life and existence, psyche of man is diseased and creates hazy life’s sketches where the ultimate is beyond hold. Human relations suffocate in varieties of equations where loyalty suffers as deceit overcomes notwithstanding claims of eternal alliance. Culmination is the disaster that visits but none accepts.

Empty-handed come we all
Wherefrom we don’t know,
Empty-handed leave we all 33

Such thoughts continue to assail and distress a delicate heart in hours of crisis but sadly, the inner strength depletes.

Empty-handed come we all
Wherefrom we don’t know,
Empty-handed leave we all

If the mental equilibrium faces incessant attacks of uncertain times ahead, as is the destiny of a sailor on the rising and falling waters, he has visions of imminent collapse amidst threatening waves and naturally, a feeble heart fails to stand up against inevitable death. Even godly men are unable to bring inner serenity when death strikes and here, poet as sailor on an indistinct journey faces cataclysmic moments of reckoning as death haunts the actuality of which is still unfathomed.

This mindset visualizes unanswered and vague issues humankind confronts at the personal, social, political, national or international level from religious bigotry, fanaticism, anarchism, terrorism, greed for hegemony, lethal maneuvering among nations big or small, intrinsic hypocrisy among rulers and imperfection of susceptible public. At the level of avarice, hunger, frailty and dishonesty among all including purported teachers of humanity contribute to poet’s cynicism, skepticism and desperate anticipation of death. Still, a ray of hope lights up everyone amidst the phantom of fatality and destruction.

Everything set ablaze!
Who’s there to save?
Whose grouse is it and for what?
Who will pacify?
Who will mitigate? 38
The spark is in you Ignite it to blow up
The darkness of mind – Half emitted
Half consumed....
The harbour is there
Illumined it appears

with a spirit of resignation and abandonment a frenetic sailor seeks sanctification of ‘the self’ in a bid to stand on solid ground for there is always a scope for correction even in history as it affirms changes, so is the destiny.

A thoughtful poet in extreme sense of agony and crisis in life of improbability with little hope of kismet indulges in forced musings irrespective of time, grade and stage in life. He reflects on humankind, providence, and the wretchedness in which man howsoever high or low survives in the superfluity of opulence, lust and futility that he often denies and it is this dark area in the finest creation of god, an intellectual quite confidently asserts. When he cannot get an opening, he seriously ruminates on destiny, nature, ecology, spirituality and psychological frames, values … impulsively binding him to transitory relations in an age of materialism, which had been in existence for ages setting aside philosophical argument to the contrary. These are regions of Bakshi’s lyrical sojourn minus reprieve.

Even human civilization’s
Threatened to lose
The plane of survival
Once the wings of Nature’re clipped,
Who will remain to see
Our long-cherished
Old values extinct? 42

Man’s anguish is only that he would remain to be the witness of whatever happens around, for he is unaware of the chaos pervading in others heart. Some time ‘peace and harmony’ is a lingering pain where he wants us to participate. These hysterical meanderings in one’s darkness quiz.

The poet cannot run away from the embedded spirit of sarcasm and biting wit that restrains man’s liberty as he lives in ‘the reflected self’ maybe paradoxical glory slithering out of hands and he sits down to lament. Sailor and his soliloquy create grilling moments and put question mark on the intellectual depths of poet where he affirms certain perennial truths and then, afterward somewhere retracts to reassert faith that he rejected earlier.

Even if one contemplates on the beliefs, aberrations and indistinctness that permeate this long discursive poem stretching to larger-than-life dimensions, one feels traumatized within as he realizes the futility of human living. This living indirectly humiliates the finest creation of god if there is any though the poet faintly brings in god to strengthen his argument. However, a queer aloneness pesters a meditative mind.

Human mind
That’s too alone
To see its longings unfulfilled
Transformed into
Lonesome soliloquy…
Alone I realise
What’s there
Beyond explication
Echoing from beneath:
It’s the voice of the river at night. 48, 50

Possibly, it is an earnest desire of an inquisitive mind in distress to seek merger with that Invisible whom he has never seen but fixes mind on him –the big void, the consequence of ignorance and loneliness.

It is a journey to the unmeasured areas beyond realism or perhaps going to regions of reality only, the poet visualizes when he identifies ‘the self’ with the universal spirit. ‘The self’ may carry many names ‘life-the river’ but the ultimate destination is the same, the merger with the absolute –the infinite. This thought emerges repeatedly in many lyrics in altered taxonomy.

Voice of the river
Echoes the voice of a restless self –
Seldom was anybody aware to mark …
With the curving waves
Distinct at midnight
Recalling some eventful moments. 51

However, it carries one origin and source despite distinctive and analogous characteristics but the destiny is the eventual dissolution into the absolute. The human heart attached to illusory joys of life aspires for salvation even as it abandons yearnings that obstruct his path to final beatitude.

When identity is lost, it is merger, it is unity and a path to supreme surrender, the forgetting of ‘the self’ in the ‘cosmic design’ a soul invariably aspires. But then, it retreats for unknown reasons as solemn hymns transport to divine lands when you ‘Pray with total submission,/ Feel the Onkar/ Emanating from within – /The only one Supreme Being /Reigns the cosmic organism’… / With your long, lively, now lifeless, / Terrestrial embodiment.’ 55

Mystified Human Psyche underscores the tribulations of life and existence where man confronts emotional pangs, anguish of non-availability of essentials of life while inadequacy of money, food and little joys of life make it difficult but human beings stay indifferent as the day ends. With varied variation in attitude human beings ‘Seldom, ponder over the day… 59’ and so soon, the verdict is clear and so it appears that these are hymns of eternity as one continues the voyage, which in truth is the start of end, and that is statement of life, in poet’s brusque but mordant incline in phrase.

No scope to assuage or escape
But divulge everything
Explored and concealed
All along the journey
Of a self in silence. 62

Poet in a slow loudening unexpectedly makes an irrefutable resolve and declares that a man ought to open up everything lying quiescent, possibly dead and inactive somewhere in the dark regions inside –‘the self,’ because from here any running away is a façade and therefore, the destination is not easily realizable and so the struggle inside is unbroken.

In his poetry, Bakshi speaks to nature many a time and often finds consolation in it for it is an image of god for him whom he has not seen or if seen, does not know how to measure its magnitude. It is symbol of a journey of man’s life and like a friend lives with him amidst rains, storms, tornado and calamities, and each time it has something divine to convey of an eternal value without being ambivalent, and so it divulges transience.

Ravaging, devastating
Telling the truth:
Everything is frail
As life itself,
It’s great 63

In the next moment, he thinks of god – (lord Krishna). Even the great lord had to face the writ of providence and could not escape the day of reckoning, for even a petty person turns out an instrument of death. This life is transitory and has source in the womb of eternity and finally, blazing desires push him to the pyre even as yearnings stay unfulfilled.

Microcosmic between life and death
To find out the eternal truth
Behind all living non-living elements:
The divine, shapeless. 66

If one goes back to other lyrics, one easily finds out that poet search for identity is unending even while at some moment, the fusion or unification with the Supreme Spirit, the god seems near and so is the faith, he holds as a true devotee of divinity.

All is He – the Almighty.
He in me – an individual entity.
Detached – I’m nobody till lost in Him. ..
An iota of the divine, shapeless infinite”. 67

Poet’s innate desire is to merge with the entire humankind and become its great counselor so that he guides it. The metaphor of ‘a sea-bound river /Stream of life… flowing and flowing’ is the precise expression of longing that has been alive in him since the very beginning of poetic journey. Recapitulating life’s philosophy or ineffectuality or craving in a acuum drives to dark hell, is perceptible as he speaks of the essence.

Visible is the body
Not the soul,
Transparent are the worldly phenomena
Not the invisible urge
Of a burning charcoal...69

A tragedy of a human being it is – a soul, an embodied being, at last wants someone to sympathize but regrettably, words echo in the vacuum and so the sailor’s dreams end -a sheer futility, ‘And when we die / We yearn for just a drop of water’ -

You search within
To share your soliloquy,
And feel engrossed
In realization of the invisible
One Living within. 73

At this stage, the sailor -an inquisitive individual soul –the jiva, is desperate for he envisages breakdown of sacred journey, a mission to the absolute –the supreme lord –the invisible. Thoughts beyond life assail and he finds total defeat as nemesis overwhelms him where load of futile existence haunts. Now, the mystery of birth, rebirth and death seem certain to coax him to know what is beyond transitory existence. A serious thought tells him to abandon all yearnings, struggles, nostalgic reminisces and scrambling for attaining goals that are mere mirages.

Know what life is for, here –
Decline and fall,
Effervescence of life
Just a spell of evanescence –
Renouncing the world
To attain Moksha
Not meant for all.
…and understand that
death’s a prelude
To that eternal bliss
Consonant with
Karmic synthesis 75

The inquiry of the soul governs the realm beyond corporeal existence Bakshi forwards a thesis. The soul –Atman ensures serene and calming sonata that sees and feels and yet is beyond such phenomena, which are the uninterrupted flow of truth in the celestial discipline.

If the body itself is the boat
Who’s the sailor
The inner self,
Mind or soul? 77

Man ought to know the eternal truth of soul –it being the ruler.

The verse presages a new beginning of life and here he thinks of new birth after death with intrinsic thought of deliverance from the cycle of transmigration, an earnest desire rankling mind and intellect of everyone at years of sunset. It is dilemma of human life that when one is vibrant, energetic and harbours feelings of sensuous pleasure and opulence, these thoughts of after death and the truth of death never make a man realize the reality of life. To live effectively and bring essence to existence is the objective of human life and thoughts of ‘Crematorium or graveyard’ etc invade to disturb him and the truth of cosmic dissolution overwhelms. Here, he envisions water and water everywhere and perhaps thoughts of great sage Markandeya remind of eternal truth where he is incapable of obtaining blessing of the great lord so that he can witness the cosmic splendour as hour of Mahapralaya –total annihilation, arrives.

Its eclipse preordained
Into the inexplicable cosmic vastness....
All around’s water
Endless and deep
A wandering self, a sailor myself
Awaiting the final dip. 82

Bakshi’s growth of philosophic thought is obvious. In exclusivity, he reaches a penitent conclusion that life if not understood in right perspective, keeps one whirling around with objective in mirages of innumerable fantasies… the journey continues.

A look at his poetic produce is impressive. His poetry collections are - Long Awaited – (Firma KLM P. Ltd., 1988), In the Age of Living Death – (Rupa & Co., 1990), The Welkin is Blue Yet in Agony – (Firma KLM P. Ltd., 1995), Of Dreams and Death – (Firma KLM P. Ltd., 2000). From Adam to Myself – (Firma KLM P. Ltd., 2003), Not Because I Live Today – (Script, 2005), Man of the Seventh Hour – (Script, 2006), The Midnight Star – (Cambridge India, 2009), Between Flower And Flame – (Script, 2011), Maudlin Musings – (Sparrow Publication, 2014), Dance Of Satan And Other Poems – (Authors Press, 2017), Parnassus Of Revival – (The Poetry Society Of India, 2017)

He has authored two others books –From Feudalism to Capitalism - A Case Study of Agrarian West Bengal, 1920-1980. Firma KLM. P. Ltd, Kolkata -12 and Land Reforms in Left Regime - A Probe into West Bengal’s Socio-Economic Perspective, 1977-2011, Allied Publishers Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi.

Bakshi weighs up existing anxieties of life in uncertain times and tries to guide man to the ultimate reality. Not very happy with life, he penetrates into the dark areas of life and naturally pessimistic outlook overweighs and vulnerable regions of joys get the beating. Resentment and anger disturb even as poetic journey is long and agonizing. The delineation and depiction of city’s culture and attitudes where materialistic propensities dominate and determine lifestyles drive to collapse of intellectual inquiry. Emptiness and loneliness haunt amidst crowds. He lives in constant fallacy and phantasm where nothing belongs to him. He affirms life is fragmentary and causes inner chaos. Refuge in Providence does not offer resolution to mundane entraps and ultimately, he confronts enormous uproar and disintegration of hopes amidst prejudice, extremism and discrimination, intolerance and religious frenzy he encounters and brings nervousness that oxidizes and kills confidence. He envisions no scope for the growth of ‘the self’ indistinct and indefinite.

After years of inquiry into the essence of life, finally, he sits up disillusioned at the probable end of journey, for notwithstanding analytical dialogue with ‘the inner self’, he visualizes no cheery rainbow and perhaps these philosophic ambiguities prove not very obliging to survival. Time does exert influence on man’s thoughts. Whatever may be the reason, here, he dissects the essence of life and speaks up some harsh truths, and asks everyone to think seriously and apply counteractive measures and that way, he tells man to get up with hope and dreams. A nice intellectual treat it is at this stage of life.


More by :  P C K Prem

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