(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
O. P. Arora
Manas Bakshi is a distinguished poet, short story writer and critic. Twelve celebrated volumes of his poems have already established him as a fine sculptor of words and a profound thinker with an unmatched artistic sensibility. Soliloquy of a Sailor, Bakshi’s latest, superb poetic flight is unique in many ways. It is not a collection of his poems like his twelve earlier volumes. It is not only a long poem but also a soliloquy, and perhaps one of the longest soliloquies in literature. It is voluminous for a soliloquy and Manas Bakshi has excelled in creating one of the finest treatises in projecting his views on this life and beyond.
The metaphor of journey has been explicitly used by the poet, like sages do, to expound the philosophical doctrine that man here, in this world, is a traveller, sent by God to perform certain tasks and then quit. He doesn’t belong here. Nobody belongs here. We all are on a journey, and when the journey is over, we go back. In fact we are all playthings here, like Shakespeare said long back in As You Like It, we are mere actors here playing different roles through this journey. Some people make this journey interesting and exciting while others whimper and whine all through. The huge difference we find in the journey of different people can be attributed to their strength of character, their inner self, their attitude, their passions and likes and dislikes. Apparently these differences create a lot of variety here, though the basics remain unchanged. We are all sailors here, like the protagonist of this poem, and our body, a frail boat though, is capable of sailing us through the arduous journey. Struggle is inherent in this journey, and everyone tries to achieve whatever he dreams of in this or the other world. Everybody courses through similar shades of thought process, dreams and disillusionment, achievements and frustrations, hopes and despair, pain and anguish, and moves on, fretting and fuming, cheering and enjoying, loving and hating, towards his ultimate end. Very few of them sit back like this sailor to evaluate their performances, analyzing the causes of their failures, or going within and asking themselves the pertinent questions relating to their own life and its course. Most of the men, puffed up with their inflated ego, would live in self-deception and self-justification.
In this fascinating journey that is life, man passes through various interesting phases. Childhood and youth are two of the most formative periods which determine his state of mind and conscience. The journey of life for most of the people begins with “thrill and romance”, and the river too looks like “a fascinating damsel”, and man sails hopefully, pleasantly, on an unknown, fathomless journey, without knowing what is in store for him. Yet man finds it interesting to see what is “there beyond/ The Eternal riddle”( 10). The journey provides the seeker with an opportunity to roll on the thought-waves, ever-churning in his mind the mystical questions which have always haunted the human race, but the self-realisation fills him with ecstasy too. But this kind of self-realisation is possible only when the sailor “starts speaking / To his inner self” ( 12 ). Here the poet uses very effectively the “ Life-river” metaphor to indicate life’s vicissitudes, highs and lows through the journey before merging with the “ sea-divine” ( 12 ). The poet is steeped in Indian philosophy of rebirth and yoni, and for him death is not the end of life as soul is immortal, and moves onto the next birth. The poet adds another dimension to the phenomenon of death—life is so full of pain that the “shore of death” appears more “friendly, warm and intimate / Than life itself” (13).
The sailor, the self, wants to sail on his journey, exploring and expounding, alone, with his inner self, and is eager to shed the baggage of his past on the shore itself. But memory is the culprit and hauntingly brings back the “people and places” buried in his past. It is erroneous to think you can isolate yourself entirely from your past, howsoever reclusive you might become: “Past is dark, inarticulate / still indispensable…” In fact your past is inherent in your present, and your present is inextricably linked to your future. In Nature there is no division of time; it is simply timelessness. Memory, “painful or delightful” (20) tickles you with either your romantic escapades or gnaws at your heart hammering with the betrayals and frustrations. Most of the human relationships are complex and intricate, and deception, pretension and hypocrisy torment the sensitive souls who are very vulnerable and become the victims of the malicious designs of the self-seekers. They are easily trapped as they cultivate these relationships to ward off “ boredom and loneliness” . Their imagination weaves dreams of a happy life around the masked beauties and gets lost in the romantic bewilderment expecting “God-like giving / Mother-like caring / Earth-like enduring” (26). Stupid youth! Where will you ever find this kind of love? Consequences: Pain, agony, anguish, remorse. The poet born in a different age with different expectations is baffled by the love and relationships that are on sale in this ‘cyber age’ and ‘Facebook era’ offering “Contractual marriage’, “live together” of numerous varieties (30) where “ love is adulterated, humanism mortgaged” ( 31 ). A sensitive soul is tormented to find a “ relationship may end at any moment”, and yet a “ latent layer of attachment “ may remain. This “layer of attachment” of the failure of the romantic relationship or the aura he created around a relationship would haunt him forever.
‘Wayside Wonders’ raises eternal, universal questions of life and death, like, wherefrom man comes and where he goes after death, the questions all thinking men have since times immemorial been perturbed with and tried to answer. The poet, in his self-analysis, thinks of the mother earth and realizes that the mantra of ‘ giving’ is supremely beneficial as you “ can carry nothing with yourself” after death: “ Empty-handed come we all / Wherefrom we don’t know, / Empty- handed leave we all.” The excerpt used here is enough to prove that Manas Bakshi, like all the sages, has risen above the worldly, mundane existence and is eager to reach the heavenly light. The poet finds an infinite bond between the living and the non-living, and that every particle in Nature is an epitome of the Universal Consciousness. He is, however, pained to find that despite the transience of everything including life, man, instead of living in and with love as Nature would want him to, he indulges in “massacre and plunder”, communal violence, barbarism and terrorism, for the sake of “political or religious gains.” He, therefore, like a true poet talking to his inner self gives a sane advice:
To know the eternal soul.
The spark is in you
Ignite it to blow up
The darkness of mind. ( 38 )
Only by removing the “darkness of mind”, you can hope to reach the harbour. As man abandons the natural ways and gets trapped in the “ showbiz civilization” and gets enticed to “ the glare and glitz of urban sprawl”, ( 41 ) he becomes an unnatural man, loses his soul to the artificial world. It creates havoc both with natural balance and his spiritual longings.
Life’s journey is as ‘inscrutable’ as the moving force behind the journey. The poet laughs at the ignorant man who thinks that he is the ‘ doer’ and gives direction to the boat of his life without realizing that it is his ‘destiny’ which drives him to his goal. The sailor, like most of the sensitive people seeking enlightenment, is pained to find himself alone on this baffling journey of life. Loneliness, the universal disease of the modern age, haunts him and fills him with unfulfilled longings. But this loneliness proves useful too as the seeker tries to unfold the mysteries of this journey and visualize “a flash of the universal ‘Brahaman’” ( 46 ) . The poet affirms the belief expounded by the philosophers and thinkers of great standing that if you want to progress in life, you must learn to stand alone. Solitude allows you to ponder over the mysteries of life and reach the depth of your consciousness. In his solitude the sailor too learns the eternal truth that like him the “river too is thirsty ( 48 ) and so are all other living and non-living elements. How true! Every object in Nature, living and non-living, is baffled by the eternal questions and is “thirsty” for the answers. Manas Bakshi has enlarged the scope of his sailor’s journey and turned it into the journey of every object, living and non-living. What a vast canvas! His range is indeed baffling. In the next section, ‘ Voice of the River’, the universal character of the ‘ restless self’ is reinforced when the river announces that all the rivers of the world are the same, and all the oceans are the same, and their confluence too is the same. This reminds of Krishna in The Gita where he opens his mouth and Arjuna can see the entire universe therein. There is hardly any difference between the journey of the sailor and that of the river or for that matter that of any living or non-living being. They face similar challenges all through, and also share similar pleasures. It is very interesting to see how Manas Bakshi’s imagination turns this offering into an epic poem by transforming this human journey into the journey of all the living and non-living beings. The river’s voice becomes the voice of a prophet when it says that Nature is boundless and blissful, only man has created boundaries. His pride and ego shed “unholy blood” and create terror in the peace and harmony of the universe where “only one Supreme Being / Reigns the cosmic organism” (53). The river’s voice becomes a sage’s sermon:
Feel free like flying birds
Mind will touch the sky,
Move like wind
That knows no boundary (55)
These lines are the essence of the great concepts of true freedom, globalization, and the inner progress.
The poet laments that man, obsessed with his journey, becomes oblivious of the naked truth that it would all end one day. It is really amazing to find that man, so engrossed in this material world, never thinks of his own death although he bids goodbye to many of his closest persons. True of all times. The question of Yaksha to the Pandavas is repeated in every discourse in India, and yet the truth remains engraved only on the walls of the cremation grounds. Of course, myths of heaven or hell—“Heavenly pleasure or hellish torture” (59) weigh heavy on his mind whenever he thinks of death. The poet, however, firmly believes in life after death and pronounces his traditional dictum: “Life ends—not the life-cycle…” The river of life is approaching the ocean, the end is near, and the sailor is perturbed by this question of heaven or hell, but he is lost in the haze of uncertainties. Mystics too, at the end, must have been bewildered like the sailor who feels utterly stranded:
As if between heaven and hell
The sailor is alone
Searching for the meaning of life
He has lived. (60)
That is what makes life interesting. After cruising through the entire journey, man is never able to define life or arrive at “ the meaning of life.” Ultimately the poet realizes that the question, Who am I? can be answered only when you accept that you are a part of the “ Shapeless Him”:
All is He—the Almighty,
He in me—an individual entity,
Detached—I’m nobody till lost in Him. (64)
This is the ultimate spiritual answer to all our quests, all our wanderings, all our journeys.
The poet is pained to find a lot of violence, hatred and communal conflicts on his journey, and rightly concludes man is engaged in these murderous and nefarious activities because he lives only at the physical plane. However, he hopes one day his spiritual cravings would certainly override his baser inclinations and he would listen to his inner voice and “the universal symphony / Of a transitory existence….” ( 68 ) Only when, according to the poet, man is drowned in the “music of soul”, he would be “ one with the only One” and realize the invisible “One/ Living within.” When he reaches this stage of being one with the Super Consciousness, he would transcend the mundane existence and darkness enveloping it and would be immersed in the celestial light.
Journey’s end fills you with numerous questions, uncertainties and predicaments. Traditional beliefs have compounded these riddles, but an evolved soul would certainly like to evaluate these myths. While death is certain but what happens after death is highly uncertain, in fact the greatest riddle. Rebirth, Moksha or the eternal bliss, you are never sure of anything. The soul’s explorations too cannot fathom deep into the Cosmic Order to find out answers to the question: “Who’s the sailor / The Inner self, / Mind or Soul?” (74) The poet attempts to pacify the disturbed, curious, anxious sailor that he should be happy his death would facilitate him to meet his Creator: “The formless, limitless, divine infinite…” (74)
The mysteries of life and death are unfathomable, and whatever certainties philosophers and saints have explicated or arrived at are only ambiguous and unsubstantiated. The poet rightly and magnanimously leaves all those questions to the explorers and exponents, and in simple words gives his verdict:
Born an ordinary human being
I know not what’s incarnation,
Have only completed a circle… (79)
Beautiful. This journey of a simple sailor, of Everyman, representing the entire human race, is nothing but going about in a circle, a cyclical motion… There is no beginning, no end… like Time and Space… like Eternity. It is an epic poem of the journey of Everyman.
Bakshi, Manas. Soliloquy of a Sailor: A Long Poem. Authorspress, 2020. (All the references are taken from its text)
About the Author:
Dr O. P. Arora, a well-known poet, novelist and short story writer, has published five volumes of his poems, The Creeping Shadows, Embers in the Ashes, The Edge of the Cliff, Pebbles on the Shore and Whispers in the Wilderness and three novels, A Bite of Paradise, The Silken Traps and Beyond the Mists. He has to his credit two books in Hindi too—one, a novel, and the other, a collection of short stories. He has an excellent academic record and holds a Doctorate in English Literature from Panjab University, Chandigarh. He has taught in Delhi University for nearly four decades. He resides at A-2/B, 183A, Ekta Apartments, Paschim Vihar, New Delhi- 110063; and can also be contacted through email: email@example.com.