Rebel poet: Kazi Nazrul Islam

To say that May 25 or 11 Jaistha and August 29 or 12 Bhadra no longer ring a bell in these regions is no exaggeration. And yet, these are the anniversaries of the birth and death of a genius poet, writer and musician. The same one who received the nickname Bidrohi Kobi, or Rebel Poet, for his eponymous poem written against the backdrop of a non-cooperation movement exactly one hundred years ago. The man who composed over 3,000 songs, which led to the creation of a genre now known as Nazrulgeeti. The poet whose creations ushered in a kind of Indo-Islamic renaissance. The activist who wielded his pen against colonialism, religious fundamentalism, elitism and fascism. The boy from an obscure village in South Bengal who became a playwright, novelist, journalist and freedom fighter. Kazi Nazrul Islam.

Until the late 1990s, recordings of Nazrul Bidrohi’s poem – in the voice of his eldest son Kazi Sabyasachi – were played at puja pandals, political rallies and cultural programs. I remember his dark voice, the clear pronunciation, the words pulsating with power and emotion: Bolo bir, / Bolo unnoto momo shir … Say, Valiant, / Dis: High is my head! An exhortation to rebel against all forms of oppression and in particular against the British colonialists.

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The Nazrul Social and Cultural Studies Center or NCSCS is located in Asansol, near the village of Churulia where Nazrul was born. According to Swati Guha, director of NCSCS, “Nazrul is known for his poems and songs, but very few know his novels, short stories, essays and editorial articles in the journals he edited.”

Nazrul was the editor of Bengali journals such as Dhumketu (Comet) and Langol (Plow). In fact, his foray into the Bengali literary scene was with the short story Baunduler Atma-kahini (Autobiography of a Wanderer) published in such a journal called Saogat (The Gift). Nazrul had made history in Karachi in 1919; at the time he was havildar with the Bengal regiment there.

Guha continues, “Even his headlines were punchy. It’s time we learned to appreciate the vast body of creativity of this little understood maverick genius. To celebrate Bidrohi’s 100th anniversary, the NCSCS decided to have the poem translated into 100 Indian languages ​​and dialects.

Despite all its richness, Nazrul’s creative life was quite short, just over 20 years. At 42, he was struck by a brain disease called Pick’s disease; it caused permanent mental and physical damage.

“I believe he was a child prodigy,” says musician and archivist Devajit Bandyopadhyay. “Exposure to folk theater early in his life helped him acquire skills as a poet, playwright and music composer,” says Bandyopadhyay who is writing a book whose working title is Nazruler Natyasangeet.

Born in 1899 to a poor Muslim family, Nazrul received a religious education at the primary level and worked as a muezzin in a mosque until the age of 10. He studied in a formal school until grade X. And until he joined the British Army he had worked as a housekeeper, a bakery aide and in a leto troupe, a folk musical. itinerant.

Nazrul began to learn Bengali and Sanskrit literature, in addition to his childhood education in Persian and Arabic, to hone his skills in Leto Gaan. Said Bandopadhyay, “We have discovered hundreds of unreleased songs and musical compositions from him … He would mix Indian classical music with Middle Eastern tunes.”

Nazrul married Pramila Devi, a Hindu, and named her first two sons Krishna Mohammad and Arindam Khaled. Both boys died in infancy. The two young boys were Kazi Sabyasachi and Kazi Aniruddha.

Nazrul used Perso-Arabic and Sanskrit in all of his works. In his poems and devotional songs, he easily unites the gods of the Hindu pantheon and the prophet Muhammad. Not surprisingly, he was criticized by the guardians of Hinduism as well as by Orthodox Muslims for it. He has been physically assaulted more than once. In response, he wrote an essay, Mandir O Masjid, which was published in the leftist newspaper Gana Bani. Here is a translated line: “Hearing the tears of the wounded, the mosque does not waver, and the stone-goddess of the temple does not respond. “

But it all came later. According to Sumita Chakrabarti, former Nazrul Chair professor at Burdwan University, “Nazrul’s popularity was at its peak between 1920 and 1940 as his poetry and songs inspired both freedom fighters and ordinary people. desperate to get rid of the colonial masters.

But how did he get there?

Sure, you could argue that some people are born wired a certain way, but there is no ignorance of influences and life experiences. Inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Nazrul unleashed his attack on inequalities and injustice in society through such poems as Sarbohara (The Proletariat), Samyobadi (The Communist), Daridro (Poverty) and Anandamoyir Agomone ( Welcome Anandamoyi).

Shortly after the publication of the last poem in 1922 – in which he compared British India to a “slaughter” in which the “children of God” were whipped and hanged by the British – authorities arrested him for sedition and the sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for one year. In court, Nazrul shocked while representing himself and reading his essay Rajbondir Jobanbondi (The Deposition of a Political Prisoner). It contained an explosive couplet, which reads in translation: The oppression of the tyrant of the truth / Must diminish / This truth, my God / Will establish.

Nazrul’s liberal and socialist views were heavily influenced by Muzaffar Ahmad, one of the founders of the communist movement in India. Nazrul and Ahmad together founded the Swaraj Labor Party, one of the first leftist parties in India, wrote the party brochure and edited spokesperson Langol.

It would not be incorrect to say that his imprisonment and deposition catapulted Nazrul into a different orbit – of glory, of achievement. And yet, there has always been a section of people who try to dilute any discussion of his genius by calling him a populist.

To this day, much of the Bengali intelligentsia consider its literature to be low, aimed at the semi-literate, and devoid of aesthetics. In these circles, Nazrul is generally referred to as the “havildar kobi”. “The intellectuals of post-independence India considered its literature too loud and arrogant,” Chakrabarti adds.

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When Bangladesh was born in 1971, Nazrul was still alive but ravaged by his illness. The new nation, however, chose him as their national poet.

Recalls Chakrabarti: “In West Bengal too, after the Left Front came to power, Nazrul’s poems were included in the school curriculum. Academies were founded, supposed to encourage research on Nazrul; the auditoriums and the roads that bear his name. When the Trinamul came to power, he founded the Kazi Nazrul University in Asansol; the Nazrul Tirtha, a cultural center in New Town, Calcutta; and the NCSCS Research Academy.

But if you asked me, despite all these efforts, Nazrul has practically disappeared from the minds of the men and women of Bengal.

As for me, I miss the baritone voice of Kazi Sabyasachi reciting lines, whose razor edge remains intact over the years. The lines of Kandari Hunsiyar or Beware, my captain of Nazrul say: “The boat is shaking, / The water swells, / The sail is torn … ‘Are they Hindus or Muslims?’ / Who asks this question, I say. / Tell him, my captain, / The children of the motherland are drowning today.

Ann G. Starbuck