Apr 01, 2023
Apr 01, 2023
Soliloquy of a Sailor by Manas Bakshi, a veteran Indian English poet with numerous acclaimed collections to his credit, is like a breath of fresh air in a scene where one is virtually overwhelmed to see poetry of all hues and shades spilling over 24x7 in all kinds of print and online formats including every conceivable social media platform. In Preface to Lyrical Ballads, that proclaimed the advent of the Romantic Movement, William Wordsworth had categorically pointed out that “Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply.” Amply displaying a sensibility that Wordsworth talked about, Bakshi’s poems in this collection reflect a serious contemplation on the kaleidoscopic manifestations of human life. Vacillating between ground reality and metaphysical ruminations, the Sailor’s imagination embraces all that is visible to him from his earthly moorings and the battle of life to his arrival at his ultimate destination on the other shore.
The Soliloquy comprises fourteen poems with each poem further spread over several sections. The titles of the poems do prepare the reader for an extensive journey of life through the pageant of wayside wonders, engaged relationships, and self-realisation to arrive at the abode of the ‘formless divine’.
In the opening poem, “The Journey Begins,” the poetic persona poignantly states: “Colour doesn’t matter,/ What matters/ Is depth./ What’s there beyond/ The eternal riddle –/ Between a beginning/ And an end.” Reference to colour/depth binary brings into play the dilemma of living that separates what is visually available from what one experiences intuitively.
If, at times, the Sailor is lost in reveries and memories of abstractions, mythological figures in the guise of Lord Krishna and Arjuna make their appearance in “Memory Calls Back” to evoke the need for fighting against injustice and taking up “the cudgel/ …To fight off the felonious opponents.” In a world fraught with fear, loneliness, boredom, anxiety, distrust, and ennui, the poem “Vignette of Relationships” offers the anodyne of verifying “all relationships/ On the touchstone of true love.”
Though engaged in contemplation of the divine, the Sailor cannot resist bringing in to play the sordid boon of “Facebook relationship” of the Cyber Age that celebrates galore the empty ritual of each day of the year: “Rose Day,/ Opening petals one by one/ Propose Day, Chocolate Day, Promise Day/ Teddy Day, Hug Day, Kiss Day/ It all ripens into Valentine’s Day.” Ironically, the Sailor views these day-oriented relationships as “the sandcastle/ Thriving at the mercy of sea waves.” (“Viewing Relationships from a Different Angle.”) Likewise, in “Wayside Wonders” the poet understands how “At the crossroads of/ Myth and reality/ Transience and eternity/ Life and death” what ultimately remains is “Emptiness,” reminding one of Mathew Arnold’s lines from the poem “To Marguerite”: “YES! in the sea of life enisl’d,/ With echoing straits between us thrown,/ Dotting the shoreless watery wild,/ We mortal millions live alone.” The Sailor, however, is not unaware of the fact that in a world torn by “Religious anarchism” and “mindless terrorism” the panacea lies in people coming out of the shell of their island-like indifference to embrace with humaneness the essential wisdom of “coexistence.” (“Wayside Wonders.”)
The fate of Man Alone comes up for elaborate consideration in the reflective lines of the poem “Lonely in Life, Lonely After Death.” Here, the soliloquy turns into the melancholy strain of the Sailor who is seen as a child reconciled to find amusement even in a “broken toy.” The poetic cadence gradually changes as, adrift like the boat, he begins to imagine himself as the prime mover until the realization of “How painful it is/ To be really left alone!” dawns upon him. Nevertheless, what urges him to continue his “mystic journey” are the sights and sounds of “the flowing water, blowing air/ Charming sunlight and soothing moonbeam” that offer him endearing companionship.
The poem “Voice of the River” gives ample evidence of the poet’s ability to think long and deep simultaneously about the mundane and the sublime. Pained to see “Hoodlums, terrorists and rapists/ Ransacking faith in microcosm,” the Sailor provides an instance of what true humanity is all about in: “I offer water/ To one and all,/ Call it life..../ Never draw a dividing line/ Between countries/ And community-centric entities –/ But alas!/ It’s the pride of human beings/ To demarcate territory,/ And mark their identity./ Nature has blessed all of us/ With everything – beneficial, healing and real.”
Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American Transcendent philosopher, Bakshi believes in the plentiful blessings that Nature offers to mankind in order to rid the individual as well as the collective craving for gross material pursuits. This can be seen prominently in the poem “Nocturnal Musings” where the focus is not on urban society but on the life of Tribals who inhabit different corners of the globe be it “The Onga of the Andamans/ Or, the Massai of Africa.” Living in direct contact with Nature, Tribal communities continue to cherish their inheritance of culture, music and song that blissfully spring from ancient durable customs that go hand-in-hand with the pristine glory of Nature. Bakshi observes in the said poem: “It’s no myth./ The tribals still believe/ Each object of creation/ Linked up with another” and goes on to assert how, bereft of “spiritual ecology/ Humanity is incomplete.” By clipping the wings of Nature man can only hasten his own extinction.
The philosophical strain of experiencing being and nothingness as a true seeker who has learnt to shed off his ego to ensure an affinity with the Supreme godhead is brought out very effectively in the following lines from the poem “The Shapeless Divine”:
All is He – the Almighty.
He in me – an individual entity.
Detached – I’m nobody till lost in Him.
‘Soham’ – I’m He
An iota of the divine, shapeless infinite.
Yet, knowing that the task of renunciation to “attain Moksha” is not everyone’s cup of tea, the seeker is caught in the ambivalence akin to that of Prince Hamlet in the “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Shakespeare’s play. As a fitting finale to the ruminations on the transitoriness of human existence and the inevitability of death, the concluding poem “The Realization Begins” ushers in the dawn of realization and ultimate wisdom:
Born an ordinary human being
I know not what’s incarnation,
Have only completed a circle –
Circle of being myself
With own sufferings, failures and success,
… … … …
All around’s water
Endless and deep
A wandering self, a sailor myself
Awaiting the final dip.
The distinct gleam of hope and faith expressed in this poem reminds one of the existential vision of Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot where Vladimir and Estragon exclaim with certainty: “in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.”
Apart from very few poems where one can see an effort being made to use some rhyme scheme, Manas Bakshi admirably succeeds in engaging the interest of the reader/audience who are drawn to listen with rapt attention to the symphony of existence which he sings with gay abandon.
Soliloquy of a Sailor: Poems by Manas Bakshi. Authorspress, 2020. pp. 92. Rs. 295.
More by : Prof. Nibir Ghosh