Transcending divisiveness-Kazi Nazrul Islam

Somerita Malik and Kazi Nazrul Islam
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Somerita Malik and Kazi Nazrul Islam

Highlights

Shyamala- sangeet or Bengali devotional music dedicated to the mother goddess celebrates Shakti as the consciousness manifest in all diversity, and binds the country together transcending all barriers that are inherently divisive.

He, who has seen my mother

Can he ever hate his brother?

She loves everyone in the three worlds;

Her heart cries for all

With her, there is no difference of caste,

No distinction between high and low;

All are the same

(Kazi Nazrul Islam's poem translated by Rachel Fell McDermott)

Shyamala- sangeet or Bengali devotional music dedicated to the mother goddess celebrates Shakti as the consciousness manifest in all diversity, and binds the country together transcending all barriers that are inherently divisive. Kazi Nazrul Islam's offerings to Goddess Kali, personify the devotional, empathy filled mysticism of Shakti and form an important part of this tradition along with the works of Ram Prasad Sen, an eighteenth- century devotee of Mother Kali. In November 1922, the young poet Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899- 1976) was ironically arrested for sedition for his poem 'Anandamoyee Agomone' (The coming of Anandamoyee) invoking the Hindu Goddess Durga. Nazrul's devotional outpouring rattled the British as it was not just another verse in praise of the goddess. In his typical no-nonsense style coupled with his prowess to use words that evoke powerful imagery, he invoked the goddess known to annihilate evil in her fiery form to denounce the atrocities of colonial rulers. His clarion call asking the youth of the country to break the shackles of foreign rule and sacrifice their lives if required to liberate India was enough to attract the law of sedition and he was promptly arrested. Born in a Muslim family his supplication of Durga was itself a centre of controversy and a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity that was inimical to the rulers. Regarded as one of the greatest poets in Bengali literature, Nazrul's large body of work includes poetry, music, novels and stories with themes that encompass a vast array of subjects that include equality, justice and rebellion against oppression apart from religious devotion. His activism and poem titled 'Bidrohi' meaning rebel earned him the epithet 'Bidrohi Kobi' or rebel poet and his radical views in his publication 'Dhumaketu' (comet) unsettled and upset the rulers who knew that his words compelled action and inspired rebellion in many ways.

The poet whose hatred for the British was fuelled by his stint with the British Indian army, married a Hindu lady called Pramila who continued to sport a vermilion bindi on her forehead and was never compelled to convert to Islam. Nazrul's life was laced with many tragedies including the death of his two sons, waist down paralysis that immobilized his wife who suffered for 25 years and his own mental health issues in the later years of his life. The man who was shifted to Bangladesh after the country was formed and was venerated as the country's national poet, remains a legendary personality whose works continue to inspire millions of people around the world who look at them with awe and unconcealed admiration.

The lyrical beauty of Rabindranath Tagore's works and the many translations that emerged may have made him a household name not just in Bengal but the whole of India, but Kazi Nazrul Islam who was an equally proficient writer from the region remains relatively less known. An anomaly that is being corrected by admirers of Kazi Nazrul Islam who are striving to popularize his works in various parts of the country through translations and rendering of poems written by the legendary poet. Chayanat (Kolkata) established in 2008 with over 1000 members has in the last 15 years released 11 concept -oriented audio albums and organized the first of its kind 'Nazrul Mela' in Kolkata where artists from Bangladesh and India jointly celebrated his work. In the centenary year of his most famous poem 'Bidrohi' and at a time when the auspicious 'Navaratri' celebrations and devotional fervour associated with goddess Durga are at its peak, comes a unique presentation from Chayanat titled "Offerings to Nazrul', an album with Kazi Nazrul's poems recited in three languages Hindi, English and Urdu. Recited by artists from Hyderabad, it was aptly released here in remembrance of the poet who was critical of both the fanaticism of Islam and the orthodoxy of Hindus. "The sole purpose of this album is to reach out to more people through multiple languages and spread the work of Kazi Nazrul Islam" says the young and dynamic lady behind Chayanat, Somerita Mallik. An accomplished singer herself, Somerita conducts programmes in different auditoriums and online platforms all- round the year to spread his work. Hyderabad holds a special place in her heart since it is renowned for its confluence of cultures and the Ganga- Jamuna Tehzeeb which was dear to the poet himself who believed in the oneness of humanity. Going forward, Somerita hopes to include many other languages in her effort to spread the work of this literary colossus whose writings embrace all of humanity and need to go beyond the narrow confines of one region. A few lines from 'Bidrohi' bring out the crux of Kazi Nazrul's work as he says

"Weary of struggles, I, the great rebel,

Shall rest in quiet only when I find

The sky and air free of the piteous groans of the oppressed

Only when the battlefields are cleared of jingling bloody sabres

Shall I, weary of struggles rest in quiet

I am the rebel eternal

I am the rebel eternal,

I raise my head beyond the world,

High, ever erect and alone!

(Courtesy: Mohammed Nurul Huda. Poetry of Kazi Nazrul Islam in English Translation (Dhaka Nazrul Institute)

The angst of Kazi Nazrul Islam, and his ultimate hope for an ideal society where diversity brings abundant joy, peace and unity, reflect the collective feelings of humanity and remain relevant now more than ever. It is indeed time for the world to discover his works anew.

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