Professor Anwarul Karim, PhD :
I remember, I heard about Nazrul for the first time from my father as far back as 1945-46 when I was a school student in lower classes and participated in the cultural program of the school My father helped me learn how to recite a poem of Kazi Nazrul Islam. As far as I recollect it was a poem, entitled 'Lichu-chor' ( One who plucked lichi from trees by stealing).I got a consolation prize because I was too young to catch the theme and its sentiments.
Since my childhood, I enjoyed Nazrul's music very much, particularly his 'Karar oi louho kopat/Bhenge phel kor re lopat'. (Let the door of prison house be broken forcively and may you be able to bring out those imprisoned). The song, 'Durgomo giri kantar moru dustoro parabar' impressed me most when I was young and I used to participate in chorus when it was performed. The poem or song was written when there appeared communal riots between Hindus and Muslims in India. Nazrul came as a harbinger of communal harmony. When this song was sung, it caught the attention of all. Leaders like Chittaranjan Das, Sarat Chandra Bose-the elder brother of Subhas Chandra Bose praised Nazrul highly. Netaji Subhas used to sing this song along with his friend Dilip Chandra Roy, son of Dwijendralal Roy (DL Roy). Both Dilip and Subhas Bose were close friends to Nazrul.
But I liked his poem 'Bidrohi' (Rebel) more. It thrilled us because of the sentiment that expressed heroism all through the poem. The word 'Bidrohi' or the Rebel was symbolic in nature. The 'Person' in the poem revolted against all sorts of oppression, torture and exploitation. The poet suggested the supremacy of Man as the representative of God over others. Nazrul used 'Khoda' or 'Lord' in his poem ironically to denote the British who were supreme over others and let loose a reign of terror. A section of conservative Muslims totally misunderstood him and considered Nazrul as one who betrayed God (non-believer). It was wholly untrue. I came to know more about Nazrul from my father who worked in Kolkata during the British period and attended a number of Nazrul programs along with Abbas Uddin Ahmad-the great folk musician who was a close friend to my father.
In 1929, December 15, Nazrul was accorded a reception nationally at Albert Hall. It was presided over by the Scientist and social reformer Acharya Profulla Chandra Roy. Profulla Chandra Roy praised Nazrul and spoke very high of him and said that "Nazrul was one and only. He had no parallel. He added that Nazrul was born with a mission to bring amity among the Hindus and the Muslims. He said in his Presidential speech, Nazrul is our proud possession. He has his own individuality in his literary works, and there is no trace of Rabindranath Tagore's influence on him. His greatness is unrivalled."
At that time the Second World War was coming to an end. There was a sort of nationalism that worked in and through everybody for Independence of India. Netaji Subhas Bose was active with his Azad Hind Fauj. At that time, the country was also divided into two separate blocks-Congress and Muslim League were then two political parties and they wanted Independence of India. The Muslim Leage wanted patition of India on the basis of the Two Nation Theory. Although Nazrul never believed in the partition of Bengal, yet the Muslims considered him as one who had represented the Muslim sentiment quite explicitly in his poetry. Partition of India appeared to be imminent. Muslims held that they were greatly neglected both by the British and the Hindus.
Finally India was divided on the basis of the Two Nation Theory. But the Muslims of Pakistan could not live together. A new nation thus emerged replacing East Pakistan as Bangladesh after a 9-month Liberation War against Pakistan The song, 'Sonar Bangla' of Rabindranath Tagore became the National Anthem while Kazi Nazrul Islam became the National Poet. Both Rabindranath and Nazrul became part of our culture. Bangladesh observes the birth and death anniversary of these two poets nationally.
Nazrul and Bangladesh
East Pakistan was renamed as Bangladesh and it was a strange coincidence that Nazrul dreamt of a country free and independent as of Bangladesh during the British India when India and United Bengal were fighting with the British for Independence. In a poem he said:
Let every Bangalee teach their sons and daughters one 'montro'
This sacred Bangladesh
Is ours and it belongs to all Bangalee
We shall drive them out by giving them a good beating such as 'prohareno dhononjoy'
We are fearless and brave against those outsiders who came to suck our blood as robbers
Bangla will belong to Bangalees
We pray Bangla will come out victorious
And victory to Bangalee.
It is also a matter of strange coincidence that Bangabandhu also made such kind of triumphant utterance shouting 'Joi Bangla.' Bangabandhu did a great job when he brought Nazrul to Bangladesh and accepted as the National Poet of Bangladesh. The University of Dhaka honored him with honorary Degree of Dlitt. He was awarded with Ekushe Padak by the government. It was the initiative of Bangabandhu who, as the founding father of Bangladesh, did a great job honoring a poet who fought against all odds and injustice and upheld the non-communal and secular culture of Bangladesh. But I was tremendously shocked when I attended an international seminar at the University of Kolkata, I found no name and picture of Nazrul in the banner or anywhere in the program. The program was about Bengali literature. Names of Rabindranath, Bankim Chandra, Madhusudan Dutta, Sarat Chandra, Manik Bandopaddhaya, Jibanananda Das, Shamsur Rahman and others were excepting Nazrul. In fact, Nazrul has been ignored by his own men. The most disappointing thing is this that we have not been able to present this great poet to the people of the world through his translated works. There is hardly any good work available in the Dhaka Market. We have Nazrul Institute established by the Government. More effort has to be made to introduce Nazrul to the world people. Nazrul Academy should also be patronized by Government to project our great Poet. Hardly, there is any international conference on Nazrul and his works. Bangabandhu had all the intention to introduce him to the world. He it is who paid glowing tributes to Nazrul and took all arrangement for his treatment. Unfortunately, Bangabandhu was killed by his own men and it was the darkest chapter in the history of Bangladesh. Bangabandhu died on August 15, 1975 and Nazrul died one year after in 1976 on August 29. Nazrul thus had been ignored by his own people in Bangladesh or in India. Yet Nazrul survives and will continue to leave his mark as one of the greatest poets of the world as long as the Bangla literature exists. I draw the kind attention of the Cultural Minister of Bangladesh for taking initiative in popularizing Nazrul's works in the world market.
In 1983 when I was made State Guest by the Government of India and visited Visva-Bharati, Shantiniketan, I enjoyed a program when the noted Nazrul Artist Feroja Begum visited Visva-Bharati. It was possibly a summer day. The program was held at the open field of Visva-Bharati. It was an open air program. Initially Feroza Begum was introduced to the guests and the Vice Chancellor presented the inaugural speech highlighting the contribution of Feroza Begum and her husband Kamal Dasgupta who were both very close to Nazrul and learnt music from him directly. Kamal Das Gupta made a number of notations of Nazrul songs. In the program Feroza Begum presented around twenty songs. And these thrilled the audience. There were requests from the audience and she complied.
On the following day I met Feroza Begum at Bangladesh Biman office in the Park Street, Kolkata where I also went to meet with one of my relations who was an officer there. Feroza Begum told me that it was the greatest moment of her life that she could sing before a gala audience of Visva-Bharati of Rabindranath Tagore, the songs of Nazrul! It was amazing that the songs of Nazrul could touch the human heart so deeply. Feroza Begum told me with all her emotions that she prayed to Allah that let the song could leave a very lasting impression on the mind of all. And it actually happened when people rushed to her and praised her profusely.
We express our heartfelt gratitude to Muhammad Nasiruddin, the Editor of 'Saugat' and others in India who accorded Nazrul with a big public reception at the Albert Hall in Kolkata. The program was attended among others by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Nazrul was honored as the Poet of Bengali Nation. In his lecture, Netaji Subhash Bose declared in the reception meeting that the song 'durgom giri kantar moru dustor parabar' had the quality of becoming the National Anthem of Bangla. Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das was one of the admirers of Nazrul's songs and poetry. He occasionally wept when he heard the songs of Nazrul. The popularity of Nazrul was all time even when Rabindranath Tagore lived. In fact, Rabindrnath himself admired him and held him in high esteem. He appreciated him and called him as the savior of the oppressed and the downtrodden when he wrote the preface of his journal 'Dhumketu'and eulogized him for his revolutionary spirit. He offered his notable romantic play 'Basanta' to him. Tagore went forward to tell him that he (Nazrul) should give up hunger strike for life as the nation and Bengali literature need him.Nazrul all through his life admired Tagore and took him as his guiding force.
Nazrul earned name and fame for writing the all time revolutionary poem, 'Bidrohi' (The Rebel). 'Bisher Banshi. (Poisonous Flute) caught the attention of the British as works of treason. A section of Muslims and Hindus condemned him for using 'anti religious words in the poem'. In fact, these people failed to understand him totally. These exposed their follies. The poem, 'the Rebel' was directed towards the British and the wealthy who became the 'Lord' or 'Master' of the suffering humanity. The British government considered this poem as highly seditious. Nazrul was jailed a number of times for his publication of several anti British writings. His 'Rajbondir Jobanbondi' or 'The Deposition of a Political Prisoner' was the most impassioned and epoch making speech and is treated as unrival and unparallel in the history, not only of Bengali literature but, as of other literature also. This he delivered he was a political prisoner and his imprisonment caused unprecedented protest throughout India and Bengal. As an Editor of 'Nabajug' and 'Dhumketu' he made the life of the British as of Hell in India. Nazruls work, 'Proloy Shikha', 'Chandrabindu' was proscribed by the British. In fact, Nazrul became a terror to the British empire. Nazrul's poem 'Anandamayir Agomone was a poem that was directed towards the destruction of the British empire using the name of Hindu goddess, 'Durga' as the Mother goddess to rise up against the British oppressive rule and to save people. The poems of Nazrul speak of the downtrodden and the oppressed throughout the world. He represented the common and ordinary people of the world. His poems include themes which are universal in nature and ever living. He is a modern poet and his poems have the greatness comparable to all the classic poems. It is because of his involvement with the Communistic ideals, he was not considered for Nobel Prize. There are English poets of modern times like Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes who were awarded Nobel Prize. These poets might not be equal to sky-touching Nazrul. The award committee could not evaluate the great poet properly. Nazrul is for the suffering humanity and stood firm against the enemies to humanity.
Nazrul was out and out a nationalist. He strongly protested when a group of Indian leaders including Gandhi decided to accept Dominion Status of India instead of full Independence, He made satirical remarks about those who decided to accept such kind of plan with the British.
Nazrul was born in a religious family for which he was all through non- communal. He took up the profession of a writer not for the Muslims only but for all irrespective of caste and creed. Principal Ebrahim Khan, when he wrote a letter to Nazrul to uphold Muslim views in his writings and to become a poet of the Muslim community, he disagreed. He told him that literature represented life and not particularly any religion. The writer must not reflect sentiments of one community only. His writings covered both the community. Humbly he mentioned that he contributed to the rejuvenation of the Muslims. The Hindus proclaimed Nazrul as one of the best producer of 'Shyama Sangeet'. Because of his non-communal approach he married a Hindu lady. And this irritated and angered some people of Hindu community. And the Editor of Monthly Probasi stopped publication of his writings. The monthly Sanibarer Chithi (Saturday Letter) made him the principal target of its parodies. Nazrul remained a target of attack by the a section of Hindus. But his writings were so powerful and all embracing that he was recognized a world class poet. Some Muslims too did not accept him as a poet of Muslim community. Muhammadi journal of Akram Khan was bent on crushing him as a poet. A section of communal Muslims declared him as 'Kafir' or a non-believer in the faith of Islam. But his writings on Islam and Muslim creed endeared him to all and sundry. Nazrul however continued to be a non-conformist and secular with respect for all religions.
The popularity of Nazrul in those days was unparallel. He became the 'idol' of the young poets and writers. Achintya Kumar Sengupta and many others then formed an association of young poets under the name and style 'Kollol jug' All those who belonged to this group of young poets took Nazrul as their leader. Nazrul was known to them as 'Kazi da'. These groups paid tribute to Nazrul because he initiated iconoclasm in Bengali poetry. He was against caste and class system. In fact, he brought in class struggle in Bengali poetry. He it was who stood firm as a humanist. His poem 'Man' is unique in this regard. He waged war against the rich and the capitalist who exploited the poor and the 'have not's. None in the world among the poets and writers ever represented so boldly the rights of the common people. He totally broke away from Rabindranath. He introduced post modernism in Bengali literature for the first time. Nazrul brought in a sharp change in the whole world of Bengali poetry. He revolted against the contemporary system of writing. His use of imagery and metaphoric symbols were totally uncommon and never used in any kind of poetry of any language. He considered 'Man' as the Super Man. He has the power to destroy and recreate. He has control over earth, water, air and fire. The greatness of Nazrul lies here. He is an iconoclast and founded a new class of poetry unusual and unconventional. The world never experienced it before and not has seen it till today after 45 years of his death. Occasionally it is held by a section of writers that Kazi Nazrul Islam borrowed ideas from Walt Whitman. Whitman certainly brought in a change in the style of writing using modern theme and imagery. But Nazrul is unique in his own way. He is unparallel. Rabindranath was bound to accept his greatness as a poet and congratulated by dedicating him one of his plays. His comments on Nazrul's 'Dhumketu' are a superb appreciation of his genius.
There is no doubt that both Whitman and Nazrul have similar vision and mission and there are points of similarities in their respective areas and one speaks against slavery and the other speaks against the bourgeois. Both stand on the same platform.
If one reads Nazrul and Whitman closely one may discover identical poetic mission and vision, yet I differ about their position to each other. Whitman speaks of a class - slaves and slavery. And Nazrul speaks about the whole humanity, the deprived and the oppressed. He does not believe in class or caste system and thereby he upholds humanity.
(The writer is a Pro VC Northern University and formerly Visiting Scholar, Divinity School (1985), Harvard University.)
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