When critics evaluate the contributions of a versatile genius like Kazi Nazrul Islam, most of them focus on his poems, short stories, novels, dramas, songs and essays. But besides his numerous literary creations there are many aspects of his life which are significant, yet remain less discussed. Nazrul was always restless. In his 43 years of active life he travelled to different paths to earn bread and butter and maximize his latent talent. He worked as a muezzin in mosque, performed in a rural theatrical group Letor Dal, served in a restaurant, joined the British Indian Army, became a journalist and editor of a newspaper, took part in politics, established himself as a brilliant poet and writer, penned and composed outstanding songs and directed music for Gramophone Company. In his whole life Nazrul was vocal against all sorts of discrimination to establish the rights of the oppressed people. Among all his professions journalism was the one that helped him most to stand beside the mass people and guide them towards the right direction. Thus his short career as a journo is truly crucial to understand his social thoughts and political ideology. His bold poems, articles, and editorials published in newspapers, containing sharp criticism of imperialistic British rule, not only inspired collective rebellions but also addressed the ultimate goal of the nationalist struggle. Kazi Nazrul Islam was born on 11 Jaistha, 1306 (according to Bangla year), in the village of Churulia near Asansol in Burdwan district of the then Bengal Presidency. Today, on the occasion of his 120th birthday, ‘morning tea’ pays tribute to our national poet by dissecting his fearless journey in journalism.
In the mid of 1917, when the World War-1 raged, it was the first time since 1857 that Bengalis were being recruited for the British Indian Army. An eighteen-year-old boy Nazrul instead of giving his send-up exams at Searsole Raj H.E. School joined the newly raised 49 Bengal in September, 1917. Being promoted to lance naik and then havildar, Nazrul was in his regiment at Karachi from where he contacted Bangiya Mussalman Sahitya Samiti’s secretary and a dedicated communist activist and organiser Muzaffar Ahmed through letters. While staying in vacation he met with him and the consequence of this meeting was momentous as in the later years Kazi Nazrul Islam’s literature, journalism and politics were highly influenced by Comrade Muzaffar.With the end of the World War-1 the regiment was demobilized. Nazrul arrived in Calcutta in March, 1920. By the time he understood that fighting for the British Indian Army can’t bring emancipation for the mass people of India. He found that making them politically aware and preparing them for the independence movement are really important. Thus Nazrul thought of doing journalism. Besides, it was a time of the history when a few vital incidents took place simultaneously. Bolshevik Revolution happened in Soviet Union, communal riot was sparked in Bihar’s Shahabad, Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms Proposal was placed by the British Government and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was conducted in Punjab’s Amritsar. All these incidents had driven Nazrul to take up journalism.
After coming back to Calcutta Nazrul began staying in Bangiya Mussalman Sahitya Samiti’s office from where a monthly magazine named ‘Moslem Bharat’ was published. Responding to the request of its editor he handed over his novel ‘Badhon Hara’ to be printed in it. The epistolary novel was written during his army life in Karachi. With the publication of this novel Nazrul for the first time got the taste of popularity and the circulation of the monthly increased rapidly. In that period he also wrote for some other newspapers and literary magazines including ‘Bangiya Mussalman Sahitya Patrika’, ‘Upasona’, and ‘Sawgat’. During his return from army, Nazrul had only a short story ‘Byathar Dan’, novella ‘Baunduler Attokahini’ and novel ‘Badhon Hara’ in his credit, but when he began contributing in the newspapers, he started to write profusely.
Nazrul penned for different newspapers, but his career as a journo initiated with the publication of daily ‘Nabajug’. The evening daily, first printed on July 12, 1920, was patronized by Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq. Because of the excellence of Nazrul’s writings ‘Nabajug’ achieved acceptance from the very first day. Albeit he had no previous experience of editing news and articles, he impressed everyone with his linguistic skill. Nazrul used to create interesting headlines quoting lines from familiar poems. He shortened long news with brief description, which was a key feature of modern journalism. In ‘Nabajug’, he penned a number of articles to highlight some fundamental problems of the ordinary people which had continued owing to the indifference of the British government. ‘Jugabani’, a book compiling Nazrul’s articles printed in ‘Nabajug’, was published in October, 1922, which was banned in the same year by the British government.
When daily ‘Nabajug’ was shut down due to ownership dispute in February, 1921, Nazrul joined monthly ‘Nowroj’. However, a few months later monthly ‘Nowroj’ was closed as well. Then he joined daily ‘Shebok’ in May, 1922. But the newspaper was shut down and its editor Maulana Muhammad Akram Khan was arrested for supporting the Swadeshi Movement. Then Nazrul joined the editorial section of daily ‘Mohammadi’. His satirical article ‘Katukutu’ made the daily a popular newspaper. His exceptional choice of diction and great sense of humour amazed the mass readers. After the death of poet Satyendranath Dutta, Nazrul wrote a touchy editorial but before publishing it his colleague Muhammad Wajed Ali changed the language and deducted a few paragraphs to satisfy the newspaper authority. As Nazrul had no reason to like it, he never returned to the office of daily ‘Mohammadi’.
Then Hafiz Masud Ahmed offered Kazi Nazrul Islam to become the editor of a new weekly. Nazrul asked to publish it as a bi-weekly magazine and named it ‘Dhumketu’. The first copy of it was published on August 11, 1922. ‘Dhumketu’ appeared on the firmament of sub continent’s journalism like a comet and at once captured the admiration of the readers of all classes. Nazrul’s undaunted editorials and belligerent poems were the main attractions of the magazine. Thus the readers eagerly anticipated for a copy of ‘Dhumketu’. But the bi-weekly struggled because of scarcity of money. Still it could continue its publication with the help of its huge circulation and some advertisements. Nazrul wrote a metaphorical poem titled ‘Anondomoyir Agomone’ in the autumn issue of ‘Dhumketu’ which attacked the British government in an unprecedented way. He was the first person who placed the demand of independence in a newspaper article! On October 13, 1922, Kazi Nazrul Islam stated in ‘Dhumketu’ that, “First of all ‘Dhumketu’ wants complete independence of India. We don’t understand self-governance as many scholars interpret the term in many ways. A single piece of Indian land cannot be controlled by foreigners. All responsibilities of India, protection of the total independence and the authority to direct the country will be in the hands of Indians. No foreigner has any right to dictate us on this issue.” The Colonial British government labeled Nazrul’s independent voice and unafraid attitude as terrorist activities. Thus they arrested him on November 23, 1922. Nazrul was sentenced to one year imprisonment in charge of sedition on January 16, 1923. He had given a stout statement before the court which was later published as ‘Rajbondir Jobanbondi’. He began a hunger strike in jail to protest against the mistreatment by the British jail superintendent. Consequently the British government released him on December 23, 1923. Compiling Nazrul’s editorials printed in ‘Dhumketu’ a book ‘Durdiner Jatri’ was published in 1926. However it was banned by the British government.
In the later part of 1925, Nazrul got involved in direct politics. He became a member of Provincial Congress. A few months later he along with Hemanta Kumar Sarker, Kutubuddin Ahmed and Shamsuddin Hossain formed Labour Swaraj Party which was a part of Indian National Congress. A weekly newspaper ‘Langal’ was published on December 25, 1925 as the mouthpiece of the party. Nazrul was the chief director and Mani Bhusan Mukherjee was the editor of ‘Langal’. It was the newspaper where Nazrul’s famous poems like ‘Samyabadi’, ‘Krishoker Gaan’, and ‘Sabyasachi’ were published. But the weekly’s publication was stopped after April 15, 1926. It was printed with a new name ‘Gonobani’ and a new editor Muzaffar Ahmed from August 12 of the same year. Nazrul got himself related to it as a writer. Some of his outstanding essays on communal harmony were published in ‘Gonobani’. ‘Rudra Mangal’, a compilation of Nazrul’s essays published in ‘Dhumketu’ and ‘Gonobani’, hit the book shops in 1927 but it was also banned by the British government.Nazrul joined weekly ‘Sawgat’ in 1927 and took charge of a section called ‘Chanachur’ where progressive articles against different social, political and religious superstitions were published. Besides, his novel ‘Kuhelika’ was printed in ‘Sawgat’. This weekly also achieved huge response from the readers. Then he took a long break from journalism and concentrated on creating music. Nazrul made a comeback as an editor of ‘Nabajug’ in 1941 when Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq decided to bring his old daily again. He started to work in the newspaper but couldn’t continue as during that time he lost his voice and memory. For 34 long years, from July 1942 to August 1976, the poet underwent an unbearable life of silence. He died on August 29, 1976, in Dhaka.
If Nazrul didn’t involve himself in journalism, he could focus more in creating literary works. But he thought that he needs to do journalism for awakening the conscience of mass people so that they could free themselves from the clutch of British rulers. Thus for Nazrul journalism was as important as his literary creations. His courage, patriotism, ethics, dignity and unyielding attitude made him an iconic journalist of his time. He was targeted by the British government and a number of his books were banned due to his venturous journalism. Nazrul faced every situation bravely and never compromised. There was no one else to strike in such a massive way right in the interest of the British rulers. He introduced a new brand of fearless journalism. Kazi Nazrul Islam showed his character and sacrificed many things to set example for the future generation of journalists.