I.K. Sharma. O.P. Bhatnagar: The Ccritic With A Big Heart. ( Jaipur : Rachana Prakashan, 2006). Pages xviii +164, Price Rs.325/-. ISBN 81-89228-13-7
I had known O.P. Bhatnagar for years as a poet with vision, seeking reality, discovering truth, suggesting new roads. He was always keen to regenerate man and humanity, demolishing fossil values, and looking for a substitute for the illusions of light. His creative and critical writings appeared to me as a spur to collective action.
But when I read his last collection of poems, Cooling Flames of Darkness (2001), I was surprised to find him unusually negative, dejected, and hopeless; perhaps, over-possessed by “fossilized summing up of life.” Yet, he sounded true when he opined: “We have a history and many are the knots/Before an Indian poet in English/Like an Eskimo trapped in desert” (Cooling Flames, p.61). Some of these knots he had earlier reflected in essays like ‘East-West Encounter in Indian Poetry in
Bhatnagar was genuinely concerned with the strength and future of Indian English poetry and was indeed its critic with a big heart, as I.K. Sharma would like to call him. O. P. Bhatnagtar: The Critic with a Big Heart is Sharma’s tribute to the genius of O.P. Bhatnagar, whose literary vision, focused on many a new poet, fictioneer and dramatist with promise, accorded authenticity and power to post-Ezekiel Indian English writing. (cf. ‘New Indian English Poetry Today’). O.P. Bhatnagar also explored post-independence authors and critics to highlight their contributions in perspective.
Though it is sad that the “established” set of poets and critics denied recognition to O.P. Bhatnagar for promoting the cause of marginalized voices, I.K. Sharma, evoking fond memories of his contacts with O.P. Bhatnagar, demonstrates the late poet-critic’s inner strength “to nourish the common grass” without denigrating anyone (p.xvii).
As an empathetic reader, and critic, Sharma collects ten earlier published critical articles by O.P. Bhatnagar to make this book. His introductory touches “the deepest chords in our emotional being,” as Prema Nandakumar, to whom he dedicates the book, observes.
I fully agree with what I.K. Sharma writes about OP’s life in Amaravati and Delhi on pp. xiv-xv: Not only had his health created darkness around him but also the academia in Delhi that ditched him to death. None bothered to take note of him.
I.K. Sharma seeks to present O.P. Bhatnagar as “a critic with a rare generosity of understanding,” to quote Prema Nandakumar (from her letter to him). In the first
In the second
Bhatnagar also reflects on the decline in Gandhian values with lack of political order, as manifested in the narratives of Manohar Malgaonkar’s A Bend in the Ganges, Bhabani Bhattacharya’s Shadow from Ladakh, and Nayantara Sahgal’s Strom in Chandigarh. The Indian political novelists have been aware of the ” pitiabale politics of the poor politicians” just as they have found sense in Gandhi’s humanism and secularism (p.77).
Bhatnagar’s scrutiny of over a dozen novelists is deep and thorough. As one would notice in his appreciation of Manorama Modak’s Single is the Wheel, which is the subject of his exploration in the fifth
In the next
Indeed, Gandhi has a massive presence in Indian English fiction, but one rarely comes across Gandhi in drama. (I wish O.P. Bhatnagar were alive to watch Gandhigiri in Lage Raho Munnabhai!) The earliest image of Gandhi appears in Bharati Sarabhai’s poetic play, The Well of People (1943), which is followed by K.S. Rangappa’s Gandhiji’s Sadhana, eleven years after the Mahatma’s death. Gandhian ideas are also presented by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas in Barrister at Law, Asif Currimbhoy in An Experiment with Truth, Lakhan Deb in Murder at the Prayer Meeting, Shiv Kumar Joshi in He Never Slept Too Long, R. Javanthinathan in Guardianship of India, M.V. Rama Sarma in The Mahatma, and Gian Singh Mann in Truth and Tears. All these playwrights present Gandhi “not in the dramatic but in the absolute image of truth, goodness, courage, justice, non-violence, abstinence, compassion, faith, sacrifice and universal wisdom” (p.150). The last
The volume very imaginatively made as it is, presents O.P. Bhatnagar as a pillar of Indian English Writing, with intrinsic faith in Indian English authors. His de texte critical analyses, devoid of intolerance of others’ views, are very logically developed and convincingly presented with a forward-looking mindset. His contribution to the cause of Indian English Writing will always be remembered as positive, forceful, and valuable. I.K. Sharma deserves kudos for his yet another significant contribution, as editor, to Indian English Writing.