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      Volume 10 |Issue 20 | May 27, 2011 |


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Nazrul . . . in Resilience, in Romance

Syed Badrul Ahsan

Photo: courtesy

In Kazi Nazrul Islam it is the spirit of resistance to unbridled authority that has always been at work. The rebel in him is what constitutes an important segment of his poetry, making you wonder, at some point, if poetry ought to come in layers of political and social protest. You raise the question of Nazrul's poetic philosophy when you recall the overall Indian struggle, back in the early decades of the twentieth century, for freedom from British colonial rule. Must poetry be political? The inquiry leads you to a bigger question: does literature have a role to play in the shaping of a nation's identity?

For an answer, there is William Butler Yeats to fall back on. Yes, there was more serenity in him than there was in Nazrul, but when you hark back to the Irishman's thoughts on the politics around the Easter rising of 1916, you quite comprehend the inevitability of poetry, of the creative imagination playing a huge role in the making or reinvention of politics. It is something you spot in Pablo Neruda as well. It follows, then, that Nazrul would be touched deeply by the swirl of patriotic emotions around him, enough for him to explode into a rendition of karar oi louhokopat. It was, in a very powerful sense of the meaning, a coruscating expression of patriotic passion at its highest mode of illustration. It would bring home the message that India needed to be free. Years down the road, as the brutalised people of a Bangladesh-to-be struggled to shuffle off the raiment of Pakistani oppression in 1971, it was this same song that waded back into life, into Bengali collective life, the better to egg the nation on to a twilight struggle against a powerful, murderous military machine.

Nazrul, for us, has thus been an embodiment of resistance. His durgom giri has been a perpetual call for a storming of seemingly impregnable fortresses. From a larger perspective, he has regularly been symbolic of resilience, that sure ability of the Bengali to rise from the pit of what looks like disaster and resume the struggle. In Nazrul, the struggle has something of the intangibly epic-like about it, considering that the ends he aims for do not come to a halt merely with an attainment of liberty but extend themselves to encompass a wider arc, of equality guaranteeing the happiness of man. Gaahi shamyer gaan, sang the poet, and so passed on the crucial truth that poetry must minister to the social and ideological needs of the masses. And it must do so through ensuring that the attainment of freedom is swiftly followed by the arrival of emancipation. Hear him sing ei shikol pora chhol moder ei shikol pora chhol. Freedom is something more than a casting aside of political fetters. It is also a dawning of the thought that for freedom to be a sustained process, social justice must come in, to add weight and substance to liberty. And until that happens, there is that march of history which must go on. In chol chol chol the preoccupation is not just the creation of a martial spirit in men. It is, beyond and above that, a long, tortuous trek that can only end once the Olympian heights of collective, happy human bonding have been scaled.

Photo: courtesy

It is thus that Nazrul becomes, to remain for all time, our rebel poet. There is a sheer degree of restlessness in him, of the kind which transforms him into a duronto Baishakhi jhorh, an unstoppable gale in Baishakh. Go back to his Bidrohi poem. The head is never to be bowed. Nazrul does not bow, his people do not genuflect, before the illegitimacy of authority. And thus does resistance do wonders for those clamouring for a voice. That is Nazrul for you, or a significant part of him. There is the other aspect to his nature, to his poetic being if you will; and it comes in a multitude of layers all testifying to the romantic soul in him. Nazrul was irresistibly drawn to beauty as plumed images are perforce drawn to the elegant colours of the heavens. His sense of romance comes in shades of not merely black and white but are interspersed as well with a whole array of colours. His love songs are more than a celebration of woman. They are a re-creation of the beauty of woman. In mor priya hobe esho rani / debo khonpae tarar phool, the image of a woman in all her beauty rising anew in ripple-like circumstances is what you stumble into. Elegance is what comes of the song, eventually to lead you into an observation of the graces that Nazrul's poetry has fashioned in the woman . . . and on her. Tumi shundor tai cheye thaaki priyo / shey ki mor oporadh is a deep, soft invocation of beauty welling up inside you. Note the purity, almost pristine in its charm, holding the song in firm yet tender feeling. In Nazrul, only the souls connect in man and woman. Do not go looking for eroticism or even a suggestion of it in the poetry. You will be disappointed.

The Nazrul personality is defined by the comprehensiveness which has traditionally been the measure of a poet's reputation. His politics was without ambivalence; his romance shines through a profusion of lyricism that has hardly, if at all, been matched in our part of the world and beyond it. His search for God has been searing, pursuing as he does the many manifestations of the Creator, leading him to a heightened sense of divinity.

The fury of the storm defines Nazrul. And yet there must come that moment when the agni bina, the fiery flute, must give way to pain, his and ours, as he sings ghumiye gechhe sranto hoye / amar gaaner bulbuli. Watch the rains descend to earth, to bathe it in bleak heartbreak. An aching comes over your soul, cutting a path to the sobbing heart in you.

(Kazi Nazrul Islam, Bangladesh's national poet, was born on 25 May 1899 and died on 29 August 1976).


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