May 22, 2013 | 11:54 PM (BD Time)
22 May, 2013 Wednesday
Versatile genius Nazrul
Niaz Zaman :
Ei sundor phul,
Ei sundor phol,
Mitha nodir pani,
Khoda tomar meherbani
These opening lines of a popular Islamic song by Kazi Nazrul Islam testify to the ease with which the poet composed verse. Among Nazrul Islam's patrons in the early 30's was Dr Kazi Abdul Hamid of Kolkata, originally from a landowning family of Sundarpur. Nazrul Islam often visited Dr Hamid's residence at 92, Baithakhana Road and regaled the company with songs. Dr Hamid also invited Kazi Nazrul Islam to his village home at Sundarpur. On learning that Dr Hamid's mother complained of his not composing Islamic songs, the poet composed this song, praising the bounties of Sundarpur, using the word sundar - beautiful, describing the excellence of the flowers and the fruit of the place before going on to thank 'Khoda' for His bounty.
Kazi Nazrul Islam, the National Poet of Bangladesh, was a versatile genius. Equally adept at writing love poetry as in writing Islamic Hamds and Naats, at composing poems and songs that speak of the ecstasy of creation, he was also the eternal rebel breaking down the social and prejudicial barriers that keep people in chains. Like Whitman he too might have proclaimed, "Do I contradict myself?/Very well then, I contradict myself / (I am large I contain multitudes)."
There are different appearances of Nazrul for different occasions: for the Bengal nationalists fighting against foreign occupation he has 'Karar oi louho kopat' (These iron doors of the prison), for the Muslim devotee at a Milad he has 'Roz hashore Allah amar Korora bichar' (Allah don't judge me on the Judgment Day), for the lover he has love songs such as 'Mor priya hobe esho rani' (Come darling and be my queen), and for the humanist seeking to create a new world there are several poems about the ecstasy of creation or destruction: 'Vidrohi' (The rebel), 'Proloyollas' (The ecstasy of destruction), 'Dhumketu' (The comet).
While it is very difficult to explain what it is that makes a poet, there are undoubtedly certain events and accidents that go into the making of a writer. In Nazrul's case, his early poverty made him suffer hardships and injustices that others from more affluent backgrounds can experience only at second-hand.
Born into the impoverished household of Kazi Fakir Ahmad on 24 May 1899 at Churulia, in West Bengal, Nazrul lost his father when he was only eight. His early education was in a maktab, a Muslim traditional school. And though Nazrul acquired much of his Islamic learning here, his Islamic poems and songs go far beyond the Quranic recitals and sermons of traditional Islamic schooling.
Another early experience which acquainted him with the realities of life while also introducing him to the world of song and music - and quite different from the religious discipline at the maktab - was his stint with a group of itinerant leto musicians. The leto combines the question-answer form of the kobigan with the dance and acting elements of the jatra. There is demand for a skilled poet who can compose impromptu verses on different subjects. Nazrul's stay with this group thus developed his skills at composing on short notice. Nazrul's experience with this group also made him more aware of Indian myths and legends.
However, if Nazrul had remained in Bengal, part of his genius might have remained undeveloped. It was his sojourn in the army that perhaps introduced the poet to the martial music that reverberates through his patriotic songs and poems. In 1917, at the age of eighteen, Nazrul joined the 49th Bengalee Regiment. He was sent first to Nowshera and then to Karachi where he remained till the regiment was disbanded. Although it is popularly thought that Nazrul fought in Mesopotamia, Karunamaya Goswami in his biography of the poet points out that Nazrul did not actually fight and did not go to the Middle East. Nevertheless, Nazrul's experience in the army was important on a number of counts.
It was in Karachi that Nazrul widened his knowledge of Persian language, literature and music, particularly the ghazal. Later he would compose Bangla ghazals and though Atul Prasad wrote the first ghazal in Bangla, it is Nazrul who is credited with developing and popularising this form in Bangla. It was in Karachi too that Goswami suggests that Nazrul heard of the Socialist revolution in Russia and was inspired to write songs and poems urging a social revolution in India and an end to the exploitation of the poor and working classes. These songs of Nazrul have a martial tune, which may be atributed to Nazrul's exposure to military marching rhythms. His dramatic poem 'Kamal Pasha' with its Havildar-Major ordering soldiers to march 'Left, Right, Left,' as well as its Urdu phrases such as 'Kamal tu ne kamal kiya bhai' (Kamal you have done wonders) might not have been written but for Nazrul's deployment at Karachi.
But even as Nazrul was learning Persian and Urdu or acquiring an ear for martial tunes, he was also sending poems and stories to magazines in Kolkata. In 1919 'Baunduler Atmokotha' (The autobiography of a vagabond) was published in Saogat in the May-June issue, and 'Mukti,' a poem, was published in the July-August issue of the Bangiya Musalman Sahitya Patrika. The translation of a Rubaiyat of Hafiz, great Persian poet, was published in Prabasi. Nazrul Islam's first publications were therefore made while he was at Karachi. By the time Nazrul's regiment was demobilised in March 1920 and he returned to Kolkata, it was to find that his literary reputation had preceded him.
The 1920's saw the growth of Indian nationalism as well as Muslim renaissance. Nazrul Islam's genius was called upon for both these causes. In 1921, Nazrul Islam came to the literary spotlight with his iconoclastic poem 'Vidrohi.'
In this poem, which Syed Sajjad Husain terms a 'rhapsody,' Nazrul draws images from Hindu, Muslim, and Greek sources, combines images of destruction with images of creation, speaks of chaos as well as calm. Thus the poet speaks of the 'winged mount' [Borrak] speeding across the 'measureless distances of earth and sky' as well as of 'Orpheus' lyre' and 'Lord Krishna's flute' lulling the ocean to sleep. The poem is almost impossible to translate -Syed Sajjad Husain admits as much in his note to the translation. Several other translators too have attempted to translate this poem and though they have been able to convey its heady meaning, they are often unable to convey its resounding, forceful often staccato rhythms.
Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote other poems in this vein and his first book, Agnivina (The Fiery Lyre, 1922), led to his being termed 'Vidrohi Kobi' (rebel poet). Late in 1922, Nazrul Islam was arrested for his poem 'Anandamoyir Agomone,' written for the Puja issue of Dhumketu, the magazine that Nazrul was editing. In agamani songs, the coming of Durga is celebrated, but Nazrul was not celebrating the coming of the goddess, but asking when the goddess would help liberate the country groaning under foreign rule. In this translation by Sajed Kamal, the poet asks:
How much longer will you
Stay hidden behind a clay statue?
Heaven today is subjugated by merciless tyrants.
God's children are getting whipped,
Heroic youth - hanged.
India today is a butchery - when
Will you arrive, O Destroyer?
God's soldiers are serving terms of hard labour
Exiled to desolate islands.
Who will come to the battle-field
Unless you come with your sword in your hand?
This poet who could write about ecstasy and sorrow, about creation and destruction, who could write about love but also about a squirrel, lost his power of speech in 1942. On 24 May 1972 Kazi Nazrul Islam was brought to Dhaka in the Independent Bangladesh. In 1976 the citizenship of Bangladesh was
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