Standing at the intersection of human sufferings and dignity, Kazi Nazrul Islam has created a sizable oeuvre for the Bengalis to fall back on. For some he is a rebel, while for others he represents a literary giant immersed in love and longing. Both ways, he is a perfect embodiment of an anti-colonial figure, who, as a poet, writer, musician, playwright, journalist, editor, had always been vocal against injustices, driven as he was by optimism for a society free of oppression. The hope for overcoming the given reality set the defining tone of his poems and songs. In many ways, the Bengali collective psyche in the twentieth century received sustenance from this giant of a man.
Nazrul, who was born into poverty, grew out of it by way of his prolific writings. His poetic works Bidrahi (The Rebel), Daridra (Poverty), Pralayullash (The Ecstasy of Destruction), Rana-bheri (The War Drum), Akejor Gaan (Song of the Do-Nothing), Pratigga (Promise) Korbani (Sacrifice) and others, made him a household during his lifetime. Today, in retrospect, these works still resonate with many readers as they hold out to the readers the poet’s range of the poet’s artistic and linguistic achievements and the hope that colour them.
His first anthology of poems, Agniveena ( ‘Lyre of Fire’), published in 1922, was dedicated to Sribarindra Kumar Ghosh. Even after a hundred years, a fire of hope burns in the heart of the reader who is able to connect to his poetic cadence. It can be said that Agniveena, for its fresh invocation of a rebellious self and the infusion of the hope for salvation, once revisited, the force of its poetic gestures and the spirit to transcend the human conditions still grips the readers.
This first book of poetry contained poems like Kamal Pasha, Anwar, Shat-il-Arab, creating a sphere of its own in the minds of Bengali readers. It once gave people hope, inspiration, and instigate rebellion against the colonial regime. To cut to the heart of this work, the humanism that binds the poem ‘Anwar’, for which it can be compared to Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Invincible’, still appeals to the readers of today. The optimism that infects the poetic gestures that flow naturally, provides the readers with courage to face difficult times, asking them to live in hope.
Before the first book was published, Rabindranath discovered Nazrul and acknowledged Nazrul’s newspaper by sending blessings when Dhumketu was launched. Besides, Rabindranath unhesitantly showed his appreciation of Nazrul’s talent. When Nazrul was charged with sedition and was taken to prison for his political poem ‘Anondomoyi’r Agomone’, published in the 12th edition of ‘Dhumketu’, September 26, 1922, Rabindranath expressed his support for him, dedicating his lyrical play ‘Bashanta’ to Nazrul. But the poets of the thirties, including Sudhindranath Dutt, Vishnu Dey and Amiya Chakraborty were as silent about Nazrul while Buddhadev Bose and Jivananda Das only showed cautious enthusiasm. These two ‘Bengali’ poets were also influenced by Nazrul’s poetry. In fact, Jivananda Das’s early poetic gestures and diction were beholden to Nazrul.
With words and meters Nazrul was eclectic. He even layered his language with many Arabic-Persian words. And he was also first to use the Arabic ‘Motakarib’ rhyme in his poems. As he also made comments on the state of politics, he often saw things in retrospect. By way of providing an apology, in the poem Amar Kaifiyat ‘My Apology’, he summed up his time. This is where his views on the polite society and his solidarity with the oppressed was once again well pronounced.
Nazrul’s main theme has been class and colonial oppression. His outcry against exploitation and the fight for a just society in the art perfectly matched with his political actions in reality. Between 1918 and 1919, an influenza virus killed about 50 million people worldwide. Even in the face of the epidemic, which was then dubbed the ‘Spanish flu’, he was an incorrigible optimist. His optimistic for the liberation of humanity as a whole never ceased inspire him. In addition to participating directly in World War I, Nazrul witnessed the ravages of the World War II. His concern for humanity seems all the more relevant today on his 121 birthdays during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To get a taste of the humanist strain of his work, one can look to Nazrul is a series of creations, poems to be precise. In Asha (Hope), Manush (Human Beings), Pathhara (Lost) he is at his humanistic best. In the first verse of the poem Manush (Human Beings), the poet declares human equality, the second verse declares the superiority of man and the third segment is structured around the idea of hope that permeates most of his work.
The virus, which has been named COVID-19, cannot differentiate between Hindus and Muslims. Since during this Eid, people had to sacrifice a lot, the two poems, Hindu-Muslim war and Shahidi-Eid will make the song of hope ring across all Bengali homes.
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