The state of West Bengal in India and neighbouring Bangladesh share many a threads of common cultural legacy, the most prominent of these being a common language. The writers and poets from both sides of the border enjoy readership and reverence amongst the common “Bengali” populace. A song of Rabindranath Tagore, Amar Shonar Bangla is the National Anthem of Bangladesh, whereas the national poet of Bangladesh Kazi Nazrul Islam is one of the most revered poets in West Bengal.
Popularly know as Nazrul, he was a poet, musician and freedom fighter, preaching revolution against imperialism through his poems and publication Dhumketu. Nazrul was a prolific writer penning short stories, novels, plays, essays and commentaries on relevant topics of the day. His intense feeling against any kind of oppression, expressed through his most famous poem Bidrohi (The Rebel) earned him the epithet of “Bidrohi Kavi”—the rebel poet. He wrote this poem a 100 years ago. The centenary is being celebrated by Bengalis all around the world.
“I am the burning volcano in the bosom of the earth, I am the wild fire of the woods,
I am 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 earthquakes on this world!
I am the rebel eternal, I raise my head beyond this world, High, ever erect and alone!”
(English translation by Kabir Choudhary)
Nazrul introduced “Ghazal” in Bengali literature. He wrote songs and poems stylistically akin to this genre. He also introduced many Urdu words into his writing. In one of his structurally most experimental poems, he wrote one line in Bengali, the next in Urdu: Alga Karo go khopar badhan (please loosen your tress; Bengali) Dil wohi mera phans gayi (my heart is imprisoned there-in; Urdu)
Through Bidrohi and other works, he expressed his philosophy of destruction of an old, stagnant system based on oppression and fear; paving way for the creation of a more egalitarian society. Being born and raised a Muslim, he wrote a number of Shyama Sangeet (songs devoted to Goddess Kali) and kirtans and bhajans (devotional music), often merging Islamic and Hindu values. He named his first son Krishna Mohammad.
Nazrul was an avid musician and extremely talented composer. Like Rabindranath Tagore, Nazrul wrote lyrics and composed music for songs, creating a distinct genre of music known as Nazrul Geeti. Nazrul Geeti incorporates revolutionary as well as more conventional spiritual, philosophical and romantic themes.
His end was slow and torturous. Suffering from memory loss, his health declined steadily forcing him to live in isolation till his death. One of the most vocal advocates of humanism, freedom and equality literally lost his voice before his death, but the values he propagated through his writing and music are eternal and will always remain relevant and be cherished for generations to come.
The writer is a Kathak dancer based in Delhi.