Kazi Nazrul Islam, the rebel balladeer of Bengal
Welcome To CitySpidey


Kazi Nazrul Islam, the rebel balladeer of Bengal

"Nazrul is more important now than he was before"

Kazi Nazrul Islam, the rebel balladeer of Bengal

In the midst of the times when communal dissonance, class and gender oppression built a sad omnipresent reality of British India, emerged a young poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam. Today marks the 123rd birth anniversary of this rebel, who went to become one of the most celebrated Bengali writers of all time.

Subodh Sarkar, a poet and a professor from Kolkata and a member of Sahitya Akademi, while talking about Nazrul says, "Nazrul's 'Bidrohi' was not just Nazrul's most popular poem, but remains the most popular Bengali poem to date. This poem has been translated into as many as 80-85 languages by Kazi Nazrul University. I believe that if Nazrul's work is translated properly into several languages, he will be established as a great voice of national integrity. Nazrul is a poet epitomizing the variety and the manyness of India."

The Rebel

"I am the unutterable grief,
I am the trembling first touch of the virgin,
I am the throbbing tenderness of her first stolen kiss.
I am the fleeting glance of the veiled beloved,
I am her constant surreptitious gaze...

I am the burning volcano in the bosom of the earth,
I am the wildfire of the woods,
I am Hell's mad terrific sea of wrath!
I ride on the wings of lightning with joy and profundity,
I scatter misery and fear all around,
I bring earthquakes on this world!

I am the rebel eternal,
I raise my head beyond this world,
High, ever erect and alone!" (Translated by Kabir Chowdhury)

Also read: Nida Fazli: The people’s poet who distilled life

Sarkar further says, "Nazrul was extremely popular in Bengal. Bengala itself is a language that was spoken in several regions, also in eastern parts of the Indian subcontinent. Thus, Nazrul received a huge readership at that time. Tagore's work was widely popular and his work has been translated into almost all Indian languages and also foreign languages. But sadly, Nazrul's work couldn't transcend linguistic boundaries. Nazrul work has been translated into several Indian and foreign languages but most of that is not available now. But one good thing is that Kazi Nazrul University in Asansol has taken the initiative to translate Nazrul's work."

Born in a Muslim Bengali family in Burdwan district, West Bengali, Nazrul, as he is popularly called, was drawn to poetry and art ever since he was a child. Although he received his education at a local mosque, it was when he travelled with a theatrical group Letor Dal that he started writing poems and songs. It was also then that his understanding of Hinduism broadened as he read Hindu scriptures along with Persian and Sanskrit literature. At the age of eighteen, he joined the British Army to quench his thirst for adventure and to enhance his understanding of the politics of the time. After serving for three years in the British Army, during which he also witnessed the first world war, Nazrul left the army and went on to seek his writing career. However, what he had seen during these three years influenced Nazrul's writing deeply. Not to forget, this was also the time he delved into the world of literature and read Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, as well as the Persian poets such as Hafez, Omar Khayyam, and Rumi.

Nazrul, through his work, defied several social systems which were built to cater to the privileged sections of the society. He believed in equality of all kinds and that is reflected in his work. One of his most popular works 'Bidrohi', which literally translates to 'rebel' earned him the title of "Bidrohi Kobi" (Rebel Poet). It was published in 1922, coinciding with Gandhi's civil disobedience movement, also a year before Nazrul was charged with sedition. Nazrul's work in his biweekly magazine named 'Dhumketu' was also critical of the British Government. The theme of rebellion was constant throughout most of his work at the time.

Nazrul's extensive body of work not only included his criticism of the British Government but was also reproving of the building of communal antagonism. Although he was a muslim, his work had integrations of Hindu dieties and muslim understanding, which evoked opprobrium among those who were attacked by his work. Nazrul believed in communal harmony and his view of nationalism was different from what was being catered to the people back then and somewhat, even today. This makes his work relevant and important in the present scenario. However, unfortunately, a lot of Nazrul's work still remains untranslated and unavailable for the masses to read.

Along with speaking against religious differences, Nazrul's work also reflected his denunciation of social ills based on grounds like gender, language and economy. Nazrul was a feminist in his own right, his work being a testament to this.

“I don’t see any difference
Between a man and woman
Whatever great or benevolent achievements
That are in this world
Half of that was by woman,
The other half by man”

Nari, Sanchita

Kazi Nazrul Islam

(Translated by Sajed Kamal)

According to Shyamal Bhattacharya, a journalist and writer from Kolkata, Nazrul came from socialist school of economic understanding and thus, his work had sympathies for those led down by the lack of money and also had an association with the first communist party of Bangladesh. Bhattacharya says, "Nazrul's work has not been widely translated even though he was one of the greatest Bengali poets. In his works, one can witness how his idea of nationalism rose above social disparities. He has talked about the common man, the soldiers of the Indian subcontinent under British rule in his work. He evoked a sense of revolution through his work."

"On the basis of religion, India was divided. People were fighting amongst themselves. However, language is one thing that unites people. For the people of Bangladesh, who were fighting for their rights, Nazrul's work was very important. It gave voice to their struggles and thus, Nazrul was later declared the national poet of Bangladesh. It was rather only befitting and ironic to his nature of work, that Nazrul was born in India but died across the border in Bangladesh, while he talked about communal harmony," says Bhattacharya.

Daridro (Poverty)

O poverty, thou hast made me great
Thou hast made me honoured like Christ
With his crown of thorns. Thou hast given me
Courage to reveal all. To thee I owe
My insolent, naked eyes and sharp tongue.
Thy curse has turned my violin to a sword...
O proud saint, thy terrible fire
Has rendered my heaven barren.
O my child, my darling one
I could not give thee even a drop of milk
No right have I to rejoice.
Poverty weeps within my doors forever
As my spouse and my child.
Who will play the flute?

 – Translated by Kabir Chowdhury

Both Bhattacharya and Sarkar are of the view that it is very important to preserve and translate Nazrul's work, especially in modern times.

While talking about the importance and relevance of Nazrul's work in the current social and communal environment of India, Sarkar says, "Nazrul is more important now than he was before. He is the voice that we need now. The kind of communal dissonance and 'vibhajan' we see across the country now, Nazrul never supported that. The gender divide, the linguistic divide, the religious divide, the economic divide, the ethnical divide, Nazrul was against all this. He celebrated India as diverse but unified. "

Along with poetry and proses, Nazrul also has around 4000 songs and ballads to his credit, which are collectively called Nazrul Geeti, a whole branch of study in itself. Although most of Nazrul's work remains unavailable and untranslated to be read by any non-Bengali, it gives hope that in Bengal, still in schools students are taught about Nazrul's work. His anguish, his love for his country, and his defiance of societal inequalities still find a place in the textbooks of schools of Bengal, which carry his legacy ahead.

After he turned 42, Nazrul's health began deteriorating. He suffered from a serious mental illness and was admitted to a mental asylum in 1942. Talking about the same, Professor Sadiq of Delhi University says, "Because of a mental illness, Kazi Nazrul Islam had to live in a mental asylum in Ranchi. It was a coincidence that during those days, shayar Mazaz and Hindi poet Niralaji were also admitted to the same hospital."