Kazi Nazrul Islam: The Iconoclast

by Tajnim Imami

KAZI Nazrul Islam, the beloved Rebel Poet, embodies the fierce spirit of a warrior who is impervious to the hardships of life. He appeared in the Bengali literary scene at a time when the brilliance of Rabindronath Tagore was likely to eclipse any budding talent. Yet, Nazrul was a wondrous wordsmith who made his own mark in the literary landscape and introduced a whole new kind of style and form to Bengali literature. Crucial to his work is his uncompromising faith in humanity that repeatedly challenge and combat oppressive entities even today.
The spirited amalgamation of faith, dissent and peace in his writings and composition of poems, short stories, novels, songs and dramas were unexplored at the time. His audacious take on communal unity was ferocious and unapologetic against all the seeds of violence and resentment nurtured by the colonized India at the time. He raised his voice against colonialism, class struggle and patriarchy, steeped in conviction and courage. Even when jailed and censored, his unwavering stance on his beliefs and the fierce magic of his words poised him for the immortality that he has gained through his work today.
Despite the lack of formal education, Nazrul is a phenomenon in terms of his depth of knowledge regarding religion, literature, culture, and politics. Although little is known of his formative years, it is believed that during his service in the British Indian Army he was exposed to the works of figures such as Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Hafez, Rumi and Omar Khayyam. His fusion of Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit vocabulary along with the intermingling of Ghazal’s form with Kirtan myths initiated a new kind of mysticism that speak of his inclusive mindset willing to experiment with all that he found beautiful and unifying in culture and faith. His curious and unabashed attempt to go beyond literary borders gave his works a kind of context and form with a whole new life and meaning previously undone in Bengali literature. His mastery of the variety of metrical patterns as well as religious, cultural and linguistic resources are best framed in his explosive poem named ‘Bidrohi’ as it bristles and thunders with its lexical and rhythmic treasures.

Throughout his work, he consistently focused on the virtues of communal harmony and its benefit for the country. Recognizing this as the key element for progress, he continuously attacked the religious zeal and bigotry present in both Muslim and Hindu communities. While Tagore’s works promoted peace and a balanced sense of nationalism through assimilation and sage spirituality, Nazrul’s seethed with the spirit of a soldier’s youthful action and a universal sense of a higher power that any worshipper can search for and strive to reach.
In his article, ‘Hindu Mussalman’, he openly criticized the religious fanaticism practiced by certain Hindus and Muslims who are more preoccupied with their outward appearance and performance than their beliefs and action. A spiritual believer rather than a dogmatic one, the poet wrote Islamic Ghazals and Hindu devotional songs like Shayama Sangeet, Bhajans and Kirtans with equal fervour. He was unafraid to combine Hindu mythology with Quranic references as he extolled the love between Radha and Krishna while also paying homage to historical Muslim characters like Qasim, Ali, Umar and many more. His fusion of Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian values brought forth a new dimension to Bengali culture and literature. The best example of this can be found in an article of his published in Joog Bani, ‘Come Brother Hindu! Come Musalman! Come Buddhist! Come Christian! Let’s overcome all obstacles, let’s dispel all meanness for good, all lies, all selfishness, and let’s call a brother a brother’.
His genius penmanship eloquently combined protest and peace in the same pulse of a line, be it a poem or a short story. The force of his rebellion is ever present in his declaration of humanity’s victory over suppression and indignation. In 1922 while working at Nobojug newspaper, he published many essays and treatises criticizing British Imperialism and spoke up for the hardships of farmers and workers which then prompted the government to confiscate the newspaper and its publication. Dauntless, Nazrul started Dhumketu, a bi- weekly newspaper, the content of which led to his imprisonment for one year. When he stood trial, he once again proved his steadfast mentality regarding his duty as a poet upholding the truth of the condition of his fellow citizens. Born in poverty, Nazrul worked many jobs to make his ends meet. His struggle gave him a perspective on the divisive tactics of the British Imperial power and built his sense of solidarity with the working class people.
His sense of unity transcended well beyond faith, class and colonialism and synthesized gender into the equation as well. When the contemporary society was debating the merits of women’s education and the extent of their freedom of movement he was already preaching his belief in the equality of women. A great example of his belief is his poem titled ‘Nari’ that exults women’s equality with ‘Whatever great or benevolent achievements/ That are in this world/ Half of that was by woman/ The other half by man’.
A champion of equality, justice and dignity, the values are omnipresent throughout Nazrul’s work. His practice of intellectual criticism and experimental curiosity lent his work a kind of intensity leaving a profound impact in the world of literature. It is the universality of his spirit that permeates the very identity of his country attempting to flourish as a fair, non communal state and making him the guardian of its greatest values, its national poet.

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