It is a puzzling question if Kazi Nazrul Islam was a rebellious or a romantic poet. The answer is simple though. He was both at the same time.Nazrul started liking poetry, songs, drama, and literature while performing in a theatre group. Main themes of Nazrul’s writings include love, both in union and separation; nature, freedom, nationalism, patriotism and social justice. His protest against all sorts of malice, mal-practice and injustice made him rebellious; he encountered all forms of extremism. All through the short span of active, colourful and highly productive career, Nazrul wrote poems, lyrics, short stories, novels, dramas, dance dramas and essays that inspired the young generation against the British colonial rule, and he became well-known as the rebel poet, not forgetting the romanticism in him.
Kazi Nazrul Islam is the national poet of Bangladesh although he was born in West Bengal. Suffering from mental and physical dysfunction since 1942, he was brought from Kolkata to Dhaka in 1974 through the initiative of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The poet was in great shock due to death of his son Bulbul and illness of wife Pramila. To honour his wish “masjider-i pashe morey kabar diyo bhai” he was buried beside Dhaka University Central Mosque, from where ‘aajan’ is audible and people going for prayer are visible. Here his purified soul rests in eternal peace. He highlighted the main tenets of Islam in great many poems and songs. But, he did not ignore other religions. He gave equal emphasis on Hindu divinity. Being a poet of love he was particularly fascinated with romantic affairs of Sri Krishna and Radha that inspired him to compose masterpieces of ‘Shyama Sangeet’. He was fond of Brahma and Vishnu, gods of creation and preservation of the universe among multiple incarnations. His insight led him to preach the message of amity between two mainstream religious communities. He became rebellious by witnessing fanaticism, political subjugation, derivation and prevailing social maladies. This turned him into a rebel poet, while poverty made him great. In heart and soul, he remained a romantic poet and a maestro musician par excellence.
Nazrul is the founder of a distinct school of Bangla music known as Nazrul Geetii, many based on classical ragas. He developed ragas Dolonchapa, Hindol, Patha Manjuri, to name a few, himself and popularised less practiced Ragas. Bhairabi, the morning raga most suited him mood, in which he composed many songs. Remix of different ragas was his unique style. He made a fusion of Indian classical tradition in Bangla songs and by merging exotic tunes from Persia and the Middle East. Nazrul composed about 4,000 tunes. Many of them are lost today. ‘Nazrul Geeti’ is indeed a misnomer as most of his songs are complete with lyrics and melodies, and as such should be called ;Nazrul Sangeet’. They are still unsurpassed in this age of cacophonic band music. Melody is the essence of Indian classical music, whereas western music is based on harmony and beat. He combined melody with harmony and adopted beats.
Like Rabindranath Tagore in Rabindra Sabgeet, Nazrul was not content with only one form of art or one medium of expression. He looked to a wider horizon. He was an all-rounder literary figure as well as an out and out music man.
Nazrul’s ‘Bidrohi (The Rebel), written in December 1921 and published in several periodicals and in an anthology titled ‘Agnibina’ (the Vina of fire), is regarded as one of the most sensational poems in world literature. One can see in this 5-page poem, elements of romanticism, mysticism, heroism, revolt and love – all in one. Here Nazrul tried to establish the invincible power of human creativity, strength of the individual for heroic encounter with personal integrity and solidarity with fellow human beings, in defiance of evil forces. He solemnly called for rebellion against all forms of oppression in British India. This elevated him to the status of a freedom fighter at a time when Non-cooperation Movement was launched by Mahatma Gandhi. His “Confession of a Political Prisoner” is a superb treatise of patriotic zeal.
Starting up with “Proclaim, o hero, /proclaim you forever hold your head high /Looking at my head upright the peaks of the Himalayas bow down /Say, by tearing the sky above the universe,/ Crossing over the moon, the sun,/ The planets and the stars/Surpassing the earth and the heavens above /Piercing through the Almighty’s sacred seat/ Have I risen/I, the eternal wonder of the world!” he continued to say: “The rebel, as I am, and weary of fighting a great war/ I will calm down/Only when the sword of the oppressor will not wield in the battle field/I, the great rebel, will be calm only that very day”, warning in between that: I am the burning volcano in the bosom of the earth,/I am the wild fire of the woods,/ I am the 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 earth-quakes on this world!” Simultaneously, the rebel-cum-reformer rejoices with ecstasy of creativity (aaaj sristi shukher ullashey) and chants the message of equality between man and women, rich and poor, and all sections of the people irrespective caste and creed (samyabadi). He inspires the youth to say ‘we are strong, we are powerful, we the students all” (The students’ song). He urges them to listen to the call of duty and go ahead. His “Chal, chal, chal” has rightly been adopted as the marching song of Bangladesh Armed Forces.
Many of his poems and patriotic songs provided courage to the freedom fighters during Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. We derived the name of the country ‘Bangladesh’ from his poems. No poet can ever become a rebel without love – love for the beloved and dear ones, love for the homeland, love for fellow countrymen and love for the humanity as a whole. Love is the main driving force that took him to the path of revolt. His poetic and musical career would have remained incomplete without the unstinted love for nature and humanity. His philosophy is akin to the ideals of our minstrel Lalan Shah and the great poet Rabindranath Tagore. He travelled to East Bengal to get the real taste of folklores. He was deeply influenced by 13th century Persian mystic philosopher-poets Omar Khayyam and Jalaluddin Rumi. “The lover’s cause is different from all other causes” wrote Rumi. He was also a great admirer of Kamal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey.
Nazrul’s birthday (Nazrrul Joyanti) on 11 Jaistha or 24 May is celebrated with great reverence throughout Bangladesh every year with his songs, dance drama and recitation of his poems. Nazrul was mainly a proponent of North Indian Classical tradition, which the Persian and Mughal rulers brought to India. He, however, blended the Muslim Gharanas with pre-Muslim Hindu Dhrupad stream. Nazrul brought a revolution in Bangla music. Unlike the elitist Rabindra Sangeet, Nazrul’s works attracted the common people – the middle class, the working class, the peasant, the boatman and the like. Even today in this age of fusion with western music when Bangla band songs, more of a ‘gun’ than ‘gaan’, have become only sound and fury signifying nothing, Nazrul still resonates for the listening pleasure of the sensitive music mind.
The writer, a former civil servant, is Executive Director, Centre for Governance Studies