May 22, 2013 | 10:00 AM (BD Time)
22 May, 2013 Wednesday
Nazrul introduced new era of modernity in Bengali poetry
Siddique Mahmudur Rahman :
Kazi Nazrul Islam, known as the 'Rebel' poet in Bengali literature and the 'Bulbul' (Nightingale) of Bengali music, was one of the most colourful personalities of undivided Bengal between 1920 and 1940. His role in freeing modern Bengali poetry from poor and unsuccessful imitations of Rabindranath Tagore was significant. He may be considered a pioneer of post-Tagore modernity in Bengali poetry.
The new kind of poetry that he wrote made possible the emergence of modernity in Bengali poetry during the 1920s and 1930s. His poems, songs, novels, short stories, plays and political activities expressed strong protest against various forms of oppression-slavery, communalism, feudalism and colonialism-for which the British government not only banned many of his books but also put him in prison. While in prison, Kazi Nazrul lslam once fasted for forty days to register his protest against the tyranny of the government.
He was born on May 24, 1899 in Churulia village, Bardhawan in Pashchin Banga, India. Nazrul lost his father Kazi Fakir Ahmed when he was only nine year old. Nazrul's nickname was 'Dukhu' (sorrow) Mia, a name that aptly reflects the hardships and misery of his early years. Later, Nazrul joined a folk-opera group where as a member of this group, young Nazrul was not only a performer, but began composing poems and songs himself. Nazrul's involvement with the group was an important formative influence in his literary career. In 1910, at the age of 11, Nazrul returned to his student life enrolling in class six. But, financial difficulties compelled him to leave school after class six, and after a couple of months, he ended up in a bakery and tea-shop in Asansole. In 1914, Nazrul came to Darirampur, Trishal in Mymensingh district with a kind-hearted Sub-Inspector of Police to re-enter a school. Although Nazrul had to change schools two or three more times, he managed to continue up to class ten.
In 1917 he joined the Indian Army. He served in the army almost three years, up to March-April 1920 and was promoted to the rank of Battalion Quarter Master Havildar. As a soldier, he continued his literary and musical activities, publishing his first piece 'The Autobiography of a Delinquent" (Saogat, May 1919) and his first poem, 'Freedom' Bangiya Musalman Sahitya-patrika, (July 1919), in addition to other works composed when he was posted in the Karachi cantonment.
After the 1st World War in 1920 the 49th Bengal Regiment was disbanded. Nazrul returned to Calcutta to begin his journalistic and literary life. His poems, essays and novels began to appear regularly in a number of periodicals and within a year or so he became well known not only to the prominent Muslim intellectuals of the time, but was accepted by the Hindu literary establishment in Calcutta as well. In 1921, Nazrul went to Santiniketan to meet Rabindranath Tagore. In 1921, Nazrul was married to Nargis, the niece of a well-known Muslim publisher Ali Akbar Khan, in Daulatpur, Comilla, but on the dawn of the wedding (18th June, 1921) Nazrul suddenly left the place. He went to Kandirpar, Nazrul met Pramila Devi in the house of one Birajasundari Devi in Comilla. Pramila later became his wife. On his way to Calcutta, Nazrul spent a fortnight in Comilla where he became involved in the non-co-operation movement against the British government. He composed and sang several memorable and inspiring patriotic songs; the amateur lyricist and composer had found a new voice to express his patriotic fervour. Later in Calcutta in the same year (1921), Nazrul composed some of his greatest songs and poems of which 'The Rebel' is perhaps the most well-known. The 22-year old poet became on overnight sensation, achieving a fame and popularity unparallel in the history of Bengali literature. In 1922, Nazrul published a volume of short stories Byether Dan (The Gift of Sorrow), anthology of poems Agnibeena, an anthology of essays Yugbani.
He started editing a bi-weekly magazine, Dhumketu. A political poem published in Dhumketu in September 1922 led to a police raid on the magazine's office, a ban on his anthology Yugabani, and one year's rigorous imprisonment for the poet himself. On April 14, 1923, when Nazrul lslam was transferred from the Alipore jail to the Hooghly jail, he began a fast to protest the mistreatment by a British jail-superintendent. Immediately, Rabindranath Tagore, who had dedicated his musical play, Basanta, to Nazrul, sent a telegram saying: "Give up hunger strike, our literature claims you", but the telegram was sent back to the sender with the stamp "addressee not found." Nazrul broke his fast more than a month later and was eventually released from prison in December 1923.
On 25th Apri11924, Kazi Nazrul lslam married Pramila Devi and set up household in Hooghly. An anthology of poems 'Bisher Banshi' and an anthology of songs 'Bhangar gan' were published later that year and both volumes were seized by the government. Nazrul soon became actively involved in political activities (1925), joined rallies and meetings, and became a member of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee.
From 1926 when Nazrul settled in Krishnanagar, a new dimension was added to his music. His patriotic and nationalistic songs expanded in scope to articulate the aspirations of the downtrodden classes. His music became truly people-oriented in its appeal. Several songs composed in 1926 and 1927 celebrating fraternity between the Hindus and Muslims and the struggle of the masses, gave rise to what may be called "mass music". Nazrul's musical creativity established him not only as an egalitarian composer of "mass music", but as the innovator of the Bengali Ghazal as well. The two forms, music for the masses and ghazal, exemplified the two aspects of the youthful poet: struggle and love. Nazrul injected a revivifying masculinity and youthfulness into Bengali music. Despite illness, and other hardships Nazrul wrote and composed some of his best songs during his Krishnanagar period. While many others were singing and popularising his songs in private musical soirees and functions and even making gramophone records, Nazrul himself had yet no direct connection with any gramophone company. Throughout 1927 Nazrul was assailed on the one hand by non-Muslim members of the Brahma Samaj, and by conservative Muslims on the other. A couple of progressive, secular magazines came to his defense. Nazrul even became involved in an acrimonious controversy with Tagore regarding the use of a Persian word in Bengali. The monthly Mohammadi also adopted an anti-Nazrul stance which was strongly countered by writers in the weekly Saogat, foremost amongst whom were Ismail Hossain Siraji and Abul Kalam Shamsuddin. The latter hailed Kazi Nazrul Islam as a pioneer, an epoch-making poet and the national poet in Bengal.
From 1928 to 1932 Nazrul become directly involved with His Master's Voice Gramophone Company as a lyricist, composer and trainer and a good number of records of Nazrul songs sung by some of the most well-known singers of the time were produced. The newly established Indian Broadcasting Company also enlisted Nazrul as a lyricist and composer and he remained actively involved with several gramophone companies and the Radio till his last working days. Nazrul songs were in great demand on the stage as well. He not only wrote songs for his own plays, but generously provided lyrics and set them to tune for a number of well-known dramatists of the time. A colourful national reception accorded to Nazrul in 1929 in Calcutta and attended by the scientist Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, Barrister S. Wazed Ali, Subash Chandra Bose and others was a demonstration of his rising fame and popularity.
In the midst of these productive activities, tragedy struck
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