Amit Kumar Sahni
Research Scholar: B.B.S. Purvanchal University
As a poet, O.P. Bhatnagar's perception of man is humanistic and he aspires, "poetry which has no protest or resentment against injustice, and indignity to mankind is not merely surface and selfish but unsocial and insulting." His conception about the good poetry is that it is "direct, simple and devoted to human concerns in a tender and sensitive way. It is a dialogue between man and man."
Bhatnagar, as a realist, emerges, as a poet of protest. His "own poetic quest", according to R.S. Pathak, is "to discover truth" and "seek reality" in order to find out new roads, which might serve as a viable alternative to the "fossil values", "striptease" morals and "a cancerous corruption" of our complete degenerate society."He explains his concern of protest to Narsingh Srivastava in an interview:"I am for poetry of protest against the injustices and indignities to man as in Neruda, yertushenko, Pasternak and Brecht. Protest does not mean and angry disorder but an ordered disdain for what misdemeans and violates the human values and images in life."
Bhatnagar believes in 'no God' but he is a worshipper of man as God that Baghmar in Considerations rightly points out:"Bhatnagar is an atheist. He worships no Gods. If he worships and God, it is man, the greatest of all gods, whose concern is the all-consuming passion with him, His commitment to human values, ideas and concern is no sham."
O.P. Bhatnagar is poet of man who is at the centre of universe which is the heart of existentialism. His first four volumes Thought Poems, Feeling Fossils, Angles of Retreat and Oneiric Visions present man's dilemmas and predicaments which lead to sufferings, catastrophes and unimaginable agony. The first poem of Thought Poems entitled 'The Crowded Metaphor' focuses on the present day reality with a kind of man's isolation: 'Loneliness has an ego/which inflicts emptiness/To struggle with silences/Beyond the shadows of restless calm.' Man has alienated himself from society due to hypocrisy and indifference. As a result, he is lonely and isolated. Modern man is suffering from loss of sympathy, love and generosity the poet finds man as "The streets like a crowded metaphor/Are better than the lonely ones." Thus, loneliness of man externalizes his unhappy and chaotic state of mind which is the face of existentialism.
We can witness the various dimensions of human predicaments and catastrophes of man in his last three volumes - Shadows in Floodlights, The Audible Landscape and Cooling Flames of Darkness- Display the shades of human suffering and degradation of human values and ideals in the life of modern man. His quest is meant for well-being of innocents and common men who are victimized by corruption, dishonesty and injustice. As a tragic poet, he experiences the dying spirit of mankind and his quest and commitment to man and society inevitably establish him an existential poet of Indian English poetry.
Bhatnagar as an existential poet is an architect of human predicaments and human sufferings which originate from social, religious, political and economic disorder of society. He feels that the innocent and common people are worst-hit as they lack the power of protest against corruption, immorality, dishonesty and injustice prevailing in the society. He craves and aspires that his poetry should be a powerful weapon to wage a war against those who have become a centre of exploitation and a source of power to exploit the dispossessed and depressed strata of society. He has championed the cause of human predicaments of people which necessarily makes him a poet with a difference and a poet with creative energy and a voice of common people and that of his dilemmas and predicaments.
Existentialism delineates the human despair, disillusionment, isolation, purposelessness and nothingness that we can find in the philosophic and realistic expression in his poems like 'The Crowded Metaphor', 'Boundaries', 'Desires on Death', 'Beggars can be Choosers', 'Look homeward Angel', 'Tragic Hero', 'Striptease', 'Senior Citizens of Morgan Town', 'Beauty Queening' and 'The Ravaged Children of Civilized Times' where man's despair and disillusionment are well expressed.
Bhatnagar has displayed the existential the existential sufferings of the common people in the world of political corruption, violence, deception and manipulation which has made the life of people desolate and deplorable. He has dealt with such human predicaments in the poems like 'History is a Sorry go Round', 'The Peacock', 'Risen or Fallen', 'Orange for Sports', 'Creasing Comes Alive', 'If someone starts Questioning like Hamlet', 'Birth of a Nation', 'Crossing the Bar', 'Janus Faced Politicians' etc. These poems highlight the human miseries and predicaments which had made the life of common people miserable, lonely, helpless and full of despair.
If we look into the western existential philosophy, we can find that it displays the predicament of modern man whose life is hopelessly tragic, lonely, alienate and full of despair and anxiety which arises from his loss of self and loss of his world. Camus in The Stranger and Kafka in The Castle depicts man as a stranger to his world. He feels himself rootless, homeless, and disconnected from his own people and that of his society like an outsider and wanders in the world of despair and pessimism. One of the characters in Sartre's No Exit remarks, "Alone, none of us can save him, we are linked together inextricably. Man is the corner stone of Sartre's philosophy who after total denial of God becomes his own salvation and creator of his own values. Sartre also emphasizes that man is "a recognizer of value" and "the bearer of value" who builds a society of his own values. Sartre believes that universe is purposeless, it is neither good nor bad, neither moral nor immoral and like the universe's working, man's existence is mysterious which makes him 'absurd' because "there's nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing". According to Camus, man experiences the sense of anxiety, estrangement or horror of death for which there are only two ways of solution either to commit suicide or to encounter the horror of death which is a feature of being 'absurd' from the existential point of view.
But Bhatnagar is different from the western existentialists in many ways. The Western existentialists are tragic, death-proned, and hopeless, but Bhatnagar is optimistic, protestant against the disorders or society and treats death as a universal phenomenon and fells that a living like death is a part of existence. Instead of accepting materialism as a part of man's existence, Bhatnagar condemns materialistic approach of the rich and defends the cause of the common people and the innocent people who are victimized. He is tired of people's tolerance of exploitation in the society and he calls India as "a defaced man". He laments that even "a bee sting an ant pine has" and "A tortoise can but save his neck" but the common man does not move on a long march to "storm a Bastille, Seize a Kremlin/on again be as hold as any negative positivist." He is an awakened nationalist who protest against all the odds of society but the western existentialists are tired, exhausted & lacked the sense of any enthusiasm in them.
The western existentialists do not believe in the existence of God. Kierkegaard says, "All men are despairing animals". It means that there is death of faith in God which is a Godless concept and loss of faith in God brings a dark world of despair for man. In Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Man waits for God who never comes and it becomes his endless waiting. But Bhatnagar is an atheist but not in the western sense. In the Hindu mythology, there are many Gods but he believes in God in the broader sense. To him, man is his living God and he believes that there is some invisible force which controls this universe. Therefore, he is a non-believer in God in a reasonable way.
Another feature of Bhatnagar's existentialism that he is 'a poet of social purpose' and 'a social significance' for which he becomes 'a poet of protest' against 'the injustices and indignities to man' like Neruda, Pasternak and Breacht. He is worried of prevailing 'fossil values', 'striptease', morals and a 'cancerous corruption' in society which has handcuffed the innocent and common people of India. Laws grind the poor and justice delayed is always denied to the poor people in the country. The modern leaders in the garb of democrats are 'a hardcore banditry', 'a seasoned green kidnapper', 'high-fi smugller' and 'a moving scamster'. Politics has become a hub of corruption. But people tolerate such nonsense and do not protest against such exploitation which is the main concern of poet's protest which fills his heart with a feeling of despair and pessimism. But as an optimistic philosopher, he has not lost his heart and he still to improve the disorder of society which definitely differentials him from other western existentialist writers and in his struggle of existence, he ranks himself as an existentialist writers and in his struggle of existence, he ranks himself as an existentialist poet in the tradition of Sartre, Camus, Neruda and Brecht. In brief, he is not only an individual poet but also a society poet, a poet of protest as well as an existential poet.
1. Baghmar, G.P., The vision and the vice, Nagpur: Viswa Bharati.Vol I,Vol II &,Vol III
2. Sharma R.C., Considerations, Vol I p.8
3. Srivastava Nursingh, poetry, Vol II p.15
4. Pathak R.S., op.cit., p.6
5. Sartre, No Exit, Tran. Stuart Gibrat (New york: Vintage Book) p.29
6. J.P. Sartre, Nausea, trans. L'Alexander (London: Lahmann) p.162