Kazi Nazrul Islam: the ubiquitous force of resistance

Nahid Riyasad | Published: 00:00, Sep 01,2019 | Updated: 18:29, Aug 31,2019

Nahid Riyasad, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Poetry, National Poet, Agnibina, Shyammabadi, Sarbahara, Chakrabak, Pralayshikha, Rajbondeer Jobanbondee, Azfar Hussain

Nazrul at Krishnanagar, where he settled in 1926. — Nazrul Institute

Kazi Nazrul Islam is not only the national poet of Bangladesh but also unequivocally one of the most prominent names in Bangla literature. Marking his death anniversary on Bhadra 12, writes Nahid Riyasad

I am creation, I am destruction,
I am habitation, I am the grave-yard,
I am the end, the end of night!
I am the son of Indrani
With the moon in my head
And the sun on my temple

IF KAZI Nazrul Islam, the national poet of Bangladesh, was a coin, one side of his works embodies a gamut of religious song for both Hindus (Shyama) and Muslims (Gazal) and the other side erupts resistance — against imperialist colonial power.

Despite having a 77-year lifespan (1899-1976), he manages to invest little more than two decades in his literary endeavours. According to researchers, he primed in between the two world wars, more precisely from 1919-1942. With such short productive years, he is considered as one of the most talented and important literary figures in Bangla literature.

During his productive period he published a total of fifteen collections of poems that include among many others — Agnibina (1922), Shyammabadi (1925), Sarbahara (1926), Chakrabak (1929) and Pralayshikha (1930).

As told earlier, resistance against oppressive forces has been an epitome of his creations. This becomes evident as the then British colonial government in India banned not one or two but six books of prose and poetry of Nazrul. Not only banning, he was even imprisoned for his high pitched voice against oppressive authority.

However, by no means, imprisonment could mute his voice. Rather, he became more active in prison and penned one of his remarkable works — Rajbondeer Jobanbondee.

1922 was a crucial year for him. In that year, he penned more than twenty poems including Bidrohi (The Rebel). This is a rhetorically high-voltage and politically charged anticolonial poem infused with a plethora of allusions from Indian and Persian mythology. Bidrohi, published in a magazine titled ‘Bizli’, gained admiration from India’s literary communities and established Nazrul as the ‘Rebel Poet’ in Bangla literature.

In August of the same year, Nazrul started a bi-weekly magazine named ‘Dhumketu’ which was highly critical of the oppressive British colonial authority. Their office was raided by the police when they published a poem titled ‘Anondomoyer Agomone’ and Nazrul was subsequently arrested in early 1923 and charged with sedition.

After offering a historical argument in his support in the court, he was shifted to a jail in Hooghly from Alipore jail. There, he demonstrated one of the most important hunger-strikes of his time for forty days protesting at the mistreatments by jail superintendent and other staffs. He was released from prisons by the end of 1923.

Nazrul fell in love with Promila, a woman from Brahmo community during his visits in Comilla in 1921 and married her in 1924. Their marriage drew criticism from both Muslim and Brahmo Shomaj. They later settled in Krishnanagr in 1926. His secular mentality even stretched towards naming of his first child — Krishna Muhammad.

In 1930, for his book Pralayshikha, he again faced sedition charges and imprisonment. After a year, he was released. From his return to Kolkata till he fell ill by 1941, he has composed more than 2600 songs. In between 1928 and 1935 alone, he published ten volumes of songs containing over 800 compositions.|

Kazi Nazrul Islam in his adolescence sometime around the early twentieth century. — Nazrul Academy


He even worked in the Indian film industry. His directorial endeavour was in mid 1930s. By directing Dhruva Bhakta, he became the first Muslim director in Bangla films. In 1936, he worked as the music director of movie adaptation of Robindranath Tagore’s novel Gora.

His financial condition worsened as his wife fell ill in the late 1930s. Nazrul’s health started to deteriorate in the beginning on 1940s and his literary ability started to dry out.

He breathed his last on August 29, 1976. However, programmes are usually organised to mark his death according to Bangla calendar which is on Bhadra 12. To mark his 44th death anniversary, New Age Youth talks with students to get a grasp of their understanding of Kazi Nazrul Islam.

Didarul Ahsan is a Bangla language and literature student at the Chittagong University. In his words, ‘Kazi Nazrul Islam is not only the national poet but also an inspiration to the youths. His struggle and steel-strong nerve against oppressive forces of colonial British government has inspired many not to submit in front of power’.

A second year business student at a private university in Dhaka, Shoumik Shamim acknowledges that he knows very little of our national poet. ‘To be honest, I have never been a poetry lover and have never read any poems or prose by kazi Nazrul Islam except the pieces in our primary and secondary level textbooks. But I have heard that he was the rebel poet and for that I salute him.’

Jainul Shikder is a tenth grade student in a school and lives in Dhaka. He has a rather interesting view towards our national poet. Moreover, he effectively managed to incorporate the spirit and zeal of Kazi Nazrul Islam in his own life.

‘During the first week of August 2018 when thousands of school students took to the Dhaka streets demanding road safety, I was there too. I did not take part there merely by following my peers, rather, Kazi Nazrul played in important role in my participation.’

‘In my fifteenth birthday, my mother, who teaches Bangla literature in a college, presented me a copy of Shanchita. There I found Bidrohi; to be honest I did not understand all the references used there but it surely mesmerised me. Later I found out how this poem made Nazrul the rebel poet. From then on, I thought that it is also my duty to stand against unjust. That is why I participated in the students’ road safety movement last year,’ Jainul shared his experience how Kazi Nazrul’s writing changed his perception.

During the conversations with students, the mention of Bidrohi comes over and again. Mehedi Hasan, a young banker and an engineer by education shared his adolescent memories of how this poem ignited his interest for poetry.

‘I used to read a lot of books during my childhood and adolescent period, however, I detested poetry. One of my school friends insisted on reading Bidrohi for once and I could not refuse as we were very close. The first reading of Bidrohi deconstructed my entire psyche and I realised I have never read anything like this before. From then on, I have become an avid poetry reader,’ Mehedi said.

Asif Chowdhury, a young businessman from Narayanganj has somewhat different and rather interesting experience with Bidrohi. ‘I first read Bidrohi when I was in school. I loved the poem so much that I memorised the entire poem, which is quite large and full of mythological references.’

‘I had a dream of reciting this poem to my wife when I get married. I married the woman of my life recently and I recited the entire poem to her on our first night, even though she is not much of a poetry person,’ Asif chuckled.

New Age Youth contacted Biswajit Ghosh, professor at the department of Bengali in University of Dhaka to get an idea how youth of today can uphold the spirits of Kazi Nazrul Islam.

‘The vast works of Kazi Nazrul indicates that he had two very distinctive characteristics and both were formidable by their own rights — resistance against oppressive authority and secular thinking. The best learning for today’s youth would be inheriting his spirit and zeal of protesting against all injustices and work for the emancipation of ordinary people of the earth.’

Azfar Hussain teaches liberal studies and interdisciplinary studies at Grand Valley State University, Michigan. In one of his articles published in a national daily titled ‘Kazi nazrul Islam and our struggle for emancipation’ perhaps best captures the essence of the entire gamut of Kazi Nazrul’s works.

In Azfar’s words, ‘Indeed, humanity — and by extension human emancipation — constitutes the ideological core of Nazrul’s work. And to reread and reinvent Nazrul at our own conjuncture is to see, among other issues, how his works and words can reenergize our ongoing struggle against all oppressive systems — particularly capitalism, imperialism, racism, and patriarchy’.

Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.

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