The 118th birthday of Kazi Nazrul Islam was observed yesterday, May 25. The genius of Kazi Nazrul Islam, lovingly called the Rebel Poet, has indisputably proved extraordinary. Comparing the poet with the flash of a meteor could not have been more apt.
As applicable to people gifted with an innate charm, Nazrul mesmerised readers and admirers with his unique literary and personal magic - and the magic effect continues. It looked as if he came, he saw and he conquered.
Rabindranath Tagore had cast a wider spell, which seemed to have overshadowed the whole Bangla literary landscape. Nazrul also had to be held in Tagore's thrall. But thanks to his astounding creative brilliance, Nazrul was able to develop an individual mien. Finally, both types of their unique mystique ran parallel. However, Nazrul's fame remains limited to the confines of South Asia, the Sub-continent, more specifically Bengal in particular. Unlike Rabindranath Tagore, the poet did not have overseas or European admirers. But he had his own and distinctive literary temperament. Rabindranath Tagore's mysticism appealed enormously to the Western authors and readers. The 'dissident' and 'rebellious' tone of the Rebel Poet remained unreachable to the overseas readers. But the poet was blessed to have his strong bastion among his Bengalee readers. He succeeded in presenting himself before the literate Bengalees as one endowed with a voice completely unheard-of in Bangla poetry. Many would like to point out his temperamental resemblance to the flamboyant Voltaire or the spirited Shelley. But in the context of the socio-political realities of the undivided India in the 1920s-`40s, Nazrul's dissent developed in a unique format. This was different from Mohithlal Majumder's anti-establishment character, the iconoclasm of Michael Madhusudan Dutt or the Marxist stance of Sukanta.
Despite his superb poetic excellence, Nazrul as a person was star-crossed. The poet lived a long life from 1899 to 1976. But his active years of creativity were short, covering less than three decades. He suddenly lost his speaking capability in 1942, at the age of 43, and was eventually diagnosed with a strange and incurable mental illness.
Harried by series of woes and uncertainties throughout his childhood and youth, Nazrul has had to go through varied types of sad experiences. It enabled him to have the bitter tastes of different layers of life-struggle. These experiences resulted in an all-embracing humanism. When it comes to poets celebrating humanism cutting across the barriers of nationality, culture and belief, few can muster the capability to be at par with Nazrul.
Kazi Nazrul Islam dreamt of a worldwide fraternity akin to that propounded by Marxist philosophy. It was different from Rabindranath Tagore's 'Ei Bharater Mahamanober Sagarteer' (the shores of the great humankind of the land of India). The great Bengalee poet did also have a world vision; nationalism --- be it Indian or Bengalee, did not mean everything to him. Due to his being rooted in the ancient non-pantheon Vedic philosophy, and the virtually monotheistic Brahmo doctrine, Tagore nurtured an inherent dream of the idyllic India of the ancient times. Yet thanks to his ever-alive and receptive self, he could not finally remain distant from the international canvas. The savageries of World War-I distressed him to such an extent that Tagore witnessed in the Armageddon a crisis of world civilisation. The poet placed mankind in a broad universal perspective, at times feeling anguished by the follies of the modern times. But, nonetheless, the 'Indian dream' remained with him for a considerable period of his creativity. His opposition to the British colonial rule at times appeared to be a blend of a free India built on the ideals of unalloyed 'Indianism' and Western economic and social pragmatism. Nazrul's activism for Indian freedom, in fact, was prompted by his yearning to see a land where humanism is fully celebrated, and man is not deprived of the dignity he deserves. Lots of people might feel inclined to liken this dream to the American Dream of Poet Walt Whitman.
Had Nazrul been alive today, free of his crippling ailment, how he would have reacted to the Bangladesh realities does not require much conjecture. In his active creative years in his scores of poems, songs and essays he extolled the virtues of communal harmony. He regarded this harmony as one of the keys to the freedom of colonial India. Throughout his writing career, Kazi Nazrul Islam continued to unsparingly lambaste orthodoxies and obscurantism of both the Hindu and Muslim communities. Skewed judgement was anathema to him. His humanism and the unflinching commitment to upholding man's dignity remain virtually unsurpassed. In the domains ranging from those social, literary to cultural, Nazrul's call for unity and assimilation had drowned all discordant notes. After Rabindranath Tagore's promotion of the message of peace and spirituality in his unique Indian setting, it was Nazrul who had first held the banner of humanism aloft. Like his distinctive poetic form, that had generous spaces for forthrightness and being vocal, the poet had never minced words. The sensuousness and creative delicacy of Tagore and the younger Jibanananda Das were not Nazrul's forte. Yet the poet had never belittled the importance of poetic embellishments. A master of traditional Bangla rhymes and metres, which he interspersed with rhymed phrases of Hindustani, Urdu and Persian, Nazrul emerged in Bangla poetry with a completely new diction. In spite of the apparent resemblance to Mohitlal Majumder, he stood apart from both Tagore and the poets of the 1930s including Jibanananda.
That Nazrul was not eager to prove himself as the torchbearer of poetry for the sophisticated and enlightened readers became clear with the publication of his poem 'Bidrohi'. In terms of the spontaneity of inspired outpourings of a youthful poet, 'Bidrohi' has earned for itself a lasting place in the realm of world poetry. The poet's multi-pronged view of life and the paean to the indomitability of man and his distinctive philosophy find an evocative expression in the poem. Compared to this, Rabindranath Tagore's 'Nirjharer Swapnabhanga' is less emotion-charged, economical in expression but more expressive of the pent-up feelings. It is also one of the immortal poems in Bangla literature. The greatness of the two poems draws much on the distinctive natures of the two poets. As has been seen in the brief but frenziedly hectic creative phase of Nazrul, his poems and songs mirror the in-depth views he had of different phases of life. There are moments of pure joy, reflections, empathy for fellow humans --- and a subterranean stream of pathos.
Nazrul's creative life was brief. Perhaps nature dictates the course of poets like him to remain apart from their contemporaries. In a short span of life, they are made to perform varied types of roles as a creative person. Owing to the socio-political reality in which the creativity of Nazrul blossomed, some extra-literary tasks were thrust upon him. He has not disappointed his time. By being attached to his social mission, Nazrul has amply proved both his artistic honesty and responsibility.
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