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Advocacy of Humanism by Rabindranath and Nazrul

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By Syed Tosharaf Ali
28th-Oct-2020       
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Bengal boasts having one of the most developed literary traditions in Asia. In its recorded history of over 1400 years, from the ancient time to the medieval age, poetry was one of the dominant means of expressing thoughts, emotions and imagination. Our poetic heritage blessed with the positive influence of religions contributed in a comfortable immersion with European thoughts and ideas during the British Raj. Prior the British rule, liberal and religiously tolerant Muslim Sultans patronized poets and scholars to foster their creativity which resulted in translation of Hindu religious classics like Ramayana and Mahabharat. In this phase, poets like Al Awal, Kazi Dawlat enriched Bengali literature with pro-human thoughts and ideas. In short, the Buddhists were the initiators, and the Muslims were promoters, and the Hindus were the modernizers of Bengali language and literature. In the 19th Century, a lot of literary talents appeared in Bengal.
Over time, Bengal became the assimilating terrain of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam along with Western scientific knowledge which produced Michael Madhusudan Datta, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, who were extraordinary talented persons. Here I have chosen only two characters to convey my tributes to their magnificent role in advocacy for humanism. They are great poets, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976).
Both of them were born in a time of the Nineteenth Century when the Indian Sub-Continent was under the British rule. The British East India Company came to do business in Bengal like other European nations. Unlike other nations, East India Company started interfering in internal matters of Bengal. Using unfair means, mostly through conspiracy, the company continued to capture regional powers within India. With time, eventually, the East India Company became the ruler of Bengal. A mere clerk of the East India Company, Robert Clive, who came to India with a yearly salary was 80 rupees only, returned England with two crore rupees in cash and on top of that ornaments worth of 65 lac rupees through plundering. This single example is sufficient to understand the tyrannic nature of the colonial rule.  In a time when, Bengal struggled to establish a united front to oppose the imperial encroachment, Hindu elites considered the change of power as a blessing. While the Muslim community abstained from cooperating with the new rulers, the Hindus collaborated with the new rulers and continued getting benefited in many ways. The urban Hindu middle class was composed of Zamindars, teachers, lawyers, officers and clerks. In the undivided Bengal, the higher caste Hindus were mostly Mukherjees, Benarjees, Chatterjees, Ghoshs, Boses, Mitras, Dattas, Senguptas, Dasgupta etc. To come closer to the British rulers, they started to learn English and  in comparison to their Muslim counterpart, started easily availing government positions. Later Bengal saw development of a new Zamindar class.
 Learning English language enabled them to have access to Western thoughts, ideas and culture. Those who were thoughtful were moved by the new outlook about life, society and politics. They looked around and developed an interest in establishing a systematic process of learning and updating their social outlook. The utilitarian perspective of Jeremy Bentham influenced a few talented personalities, sense of human rights as advocated by Tom Paine, John Stuart Mill and their rational thinking based on experience and following inductive logic. This connectivity, with the Western education, culture and experience gave birth to new thinking in the Hindu elites, leading them to initiate reforming Hindu society which ultimately played an essential role in spreading modern education and encouraging women education. In this reforming phase, Bengali literary also seen modernization. A lot of great men emerged from the Hindu community in the 19th Century. Among them, Raja Rammohon Ray, Henri Luie Vivian Dirago, Ishwar Chandra Bidya Sagar, Akshaya Kumar Dutta, Radical Brommo leader Keshab Chandra Sen, Poet Michael Madhusudan Datta, Hindu nation-builder Bankim Chandra, Swami Bibekanondo, Radical Social reformer Darkanath Ganguli and Durga Mohon Das and leader of Women's Movement Shashi Pada Bandopaddhaya were the prominent figures. They paved the way for the rise of Rabindranath Tagore who was the youngest of his seven brothers and became the most renowned of all the great Tagore family.
Tagore was lucky to belong to a Zamindar family, and at the age of 29, he was assigned to look after his paternal Zamindari of North Bengal. In this connection, he had to move and stay at Shelaidaha, Shahjadpur and Patisar. His grandfather Prince Darkanath Tagore was a great entrepreneur in British-India and he was friends with Raja Rammohan Ray but did not join his Brahma Samaj Movement. One of the reasons may be Tagore family of Zorashako, was migrated from Mouvogh at Khulna and they were called Pirali Brahmin for their fascination smelling Muslim food. For this reason, they were socially discriminated; particularly they failed to establish a social relationship with the mainstream Hindu Community. Only his eldest son Devendranath Tagore became a follower of Rammohan Ray. Rabindranath’s elder brother Dwijendranath Tagore was a great talent, famous for his philosophical thoughts and mathematical excellence. His second brother Shurendranath Tagore was an ICS. He got the highest marks in Arabic and Sanskrit in ICS examination. His other brother Jatirendranath Tagore was an uncommon painter.
Rabindranath was brought up in the unconventional atmosphere of his father’s Kolkata home, where family members took an active part in the liberal political, religious, and literary movements of Bengal. By the time he was seventeen he had published several successful works of Prose and Poetry, and during his long and active life, he produced twenty-five volumes of poetry, five novels, fifteen plays, five volumes of essays – besides other writings, one of the countless honours accorded to him was the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He became the first Asian who earned a Nobel prize.
Now a simple question may arise, what were the factors that influenced Tagore. Primarily he was influenced by his father and other members of his family. Then he was deeply impressed by Rammohan Roy whom he considered the “gallant unflinching standard bearer” of the new India. He was, of course, also impacted by liberal European ideas, both directly through Western literature and indirectly through his Indian contemporaries and the movements they represented. But the deepest spring of his inspiration was the teachings of the Upanishads and to the doctrines of such Indian saints as Chaitanya and Kabir.
He is known primarily for his poetic genius, and he was nonetheless a prominent political figure of modern India. The partition of Bengal Province in 1905 swept him into the maelstrom of Indian politics where he participated vigorously in the agitation against the British rule. Following two years of public speaking and political writings, he retired- disillusioned by the motives and methods he encountered in public life. He rejected the violent efforts for revolutionary reform as well as the class divisions among his people. Nevertheless, his reforming zeal remained strong, and in 1919 he renounced his Knighthood because of the massacre of Indians by British troops at Amritsar in Punjab. All his life, he stood out as a symbol of humanity, tolerance, and freedom in India and the rest of the world.
Tagore was in a real sense a World citizen.  The University which he founded at Santiniketan in West Bengal was dedicated to his ideal freedom world-wide. He travelled extensively throughout his long life both in Asia and the West, where Kings and heads of the State honoured him. He, therefore, knew the West and admired its magnificent progress, but turned away from its greed for power and materialism. “My experience in the West”, he wrote in 1922, has impressed me with the truth that real freedom is ‘of the mind and spirit’; it can never come to us from outside.”
On the contrary, Kazi Nazrul Islam appeared in the sky of Bengali literature as a 'Dhumkatu' or Comet. He came from a poor family and experienced many odds in his early life and joined in Bengali Paltan without completing his secondary education. He was the first boy in his class and was extraordinarily brilliant. But he was extremely restless for which he was dropped out from the formal education, but his hunger for knowledge remained insatiable. So his life in Barak became the cradle for a future poet and composer. As a soldier, he was hard working and promoted to the rank of a Habilder. Nazrul had to return from his service because Bengali Paltan was dissolved. This was of course a blessing for the Bengali literature. Coming back from the battleground, he raised his voice against the injustices and the subjugation imposed by the British ruler. He became the voice of the young generation with his God-gifted talent and extraordinary creative as well as imaginative power. The Second World War and famine of 1943 had already diminished the romantic atmosphere and mentality in its entirety. In the field of literature, new rugged words with new sounds and meaning were in high demand. Exigently, Nazrul responded to the call of his time. He composed uncommon poetry titled "Bidrohi" and overnight became a famous poet. The poetry was written in December 1921. Poetry can change the mindset of the people, he proved. But the real danger was waiting ahead for him. When he wrote an anti-establishment poem titled "Anandamyer Agomone", then the government-issued warrant against him and he was arrested and sent to jail. He had to face trial and convicted for one year. But in jail life, he along with other political prisoners took a hard line of protest which was mainly referred to the quantity and quality of food, treatment and diet in hospital, severe disciplinary measures for neglect of petty jail rules. The news of the hunger strike in Hugli jail worried the nation. A public meeting of the citizens of Kolkata was held under the presidency of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das at College Square on 21st May 1923.
C.R Das in passing the resolution unanimously said that he knew the young Kazi very intimately as a great poet, fearless and bold, having the courage of his conviction. He also added, the young Kazi had given a new life to Bengali poetry. Rabindranath from Shilong sent a telegram appealing, 'Give up hunger strike, our literature claims you'. The Central Jail authority returned it writing "Addressee not found". So the telegram did not reach Nazrul. Here I ought to mention that when Rabindranath was requested to use his influence on Nazrul, he disagreed and wrote to Pabitra Gangapaddaya, “It is similar to kill an idealist to tell him to give up his ideology. If Nazrul is compelled to die by hunger strike, then the internal truth and the ideal would be glorified forever.” However, he changed his mind, and he sent a telegram. But when his telegram was not delivered to Nazrul, he became angry and wrote his son Rathindranath in an aggrieved mood that the central jail authority knew the address of Nazrul, but they denied to convey my message to him. They are creating a way for his suicide. Then Rabindranath dedicated a book in the name of Nazrul, and the copy of that book was sent to Nazrul in Hugly Jail by a special messenger. Rabindranath became anxious for the life of Nazrul. Nazrul gave up hunger strike after 40 days.   
By the grace of Almighty at the age of 24 Nazrul became a legendary figure for his Bidrohi, Agnibina, Bisher Bashi, Foni Monsha etc. and he was accorded grand reception on behalf of the Bengali nation on the 15th December 1929. Moulana Nazir Ahmad Chowdhury, Editor of the monthly 'Mohammadi', tried to foil that great occasion but failed. In that grand reception chaired by Acharjya Profullah Chandra Ray, Nazrul was welcomed by the great personalities of Bengal. Barrister S. Wazed Ali read out the address of welcome and Netaji Subash Chandra Bosu in his speech called Nazrul a ‘Living Man’ said. “He took part in the war, he was jailed and all these experiences reflected in his prose and poetry. His dream was not of his own but the dream of his nation and humanity at large."
Prafulla Chandra Roy, in his Presidential speech, told the audience that Nazrul as an original poet touched our heart.  Rabindranath has recognized him for his originality. He expressed his profound hope that by reading Nazrul's poetry our future generations will become 'superman'. At the request of Prafulla Chandra Roy, Subas Chandra Bosu  Nazrul was pleased to sing two of his songs, 'Birdall Chal Samore' and 'Durgom Giri, Kanter Moru'. The speech which was delivered by Nazrul in reply to the reception was a unique one. He claimed himself as a poet of truth and a lover of beauty. "I am a poet of humanity and trying to unite the Hindus and the Muslims. Nothing to be afraid of me"
Basically he assimilated the idea of freedom and equality along with the thought of women's emancipation. He strongly advocated humanism remaining above religious differences. His sound conviction, profound feeling, passion, courage and vitality truly inspired his generation. He also influenced the thousands of men and women who were dreaming of establishing an exploitation free society and a civilization based on the ideology of equality, fraternity and liberty. The critic will judge his artistic and aesthetic value as expressed in his prose and poetry, but he was an uncommon poet who attracted and influenced the youths towards idealism. His influence was manifested in the field of education, art and culture, social and family life and the political movement. He was devoted to his belief and did not care about the difficulties of poverty, jail or any debacle in his personal life. He sided with the oppressed and weak against the powerful oppressors and never derailed or compromised with the vested interest. He was a torchbearer of hope in midst darkness.
Nazrul was against all sorts of narrowness and sectarian outlook. He always spoked in favour of the proletariat of the world. He was out and out an internationalist, and even when he decided to stand in favour of Islam, he did not mean Islam for Muslims only but humanity. When anyone goes through Nazrul’s poetry or prose, he will be in touch with a great revolutionary mind. The reader may become a man eager to aspire things that are extraordinary and bold. Nazrul’s compelling words have the power to fire up a rebellious mind, and they will continue to do so in the years, decades and centuries to come.
Rabindranath and Nazrul played a complementary role in making their countrymen inspired and bold. Both dedicated their lives for uplifting humanity. They have left behind them a wealth of outstanding literature which is destined to guide the present and future generations to bring a meaningful change by rekindling humanism to defeat oppression and parochial populism.

Syed Tosharaf Ali: A thoughtful writer and a responsible journalist. During his student life he was attached with student politics and as the convener of Bagerhat Zilla Sawdhin Bangladesh Chatra Sangram Parisad, he took part in the Liberation War and served as a political motivator and organizer under sector- 9. After the end of the Liberation War, he came back from India, devoted himself to serve the local people and led the reconstruction and development works of his locality. He earned his B.A. (Hons.) and M.A. Degree from Rajshahi University. He showed his talent in a competition organized by the Rajshahi University Central Student Union in observance of a cultural and literary week-1973, and became champion in debate, oratory and essay writing and was awarded certificates duly signed by Vice-Chancellor Prof. Dr. Khan Sharwar Murshid. In 1976, when he was a student of journalism in the Dhaka University he joined the Daily Ittefaq and served the esteemed Daily in various capacities. He is now the Editor of the influential weekly Robbar and the Deputy Managing Editor of The New Nation. He was awarded Gandhi Peace Award, Bagerhat Foundation Award, Atish Dipankar Award, Dhaka Jubo Foundation award etc. for his outstanding contribution in the nation building through journalism and services rendered to Bengali literature. He wrote, edited and translated twelve books and a few books are in the process of publication.

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