Spreading the passion and enthusiasm of Kazi Nazrul Islam
The poet's 119th birth anniversary today
Kazi Nazrul Islam is the 'National Poet of Bangladesh'. He was an immensely talented person, a gifted literary genius in the field of writing poems and composing songs. He started working quite early in his life to financially support his family which also affected his education. He did numerous jobs in his childhood and later joined the armed forces after matriculation. While serving in the army, he started his literary career, most of which revolved around poetry. Initially he received appreciation and praise for his poetic collections but later the British Empire sensed a bit of hostility and rebellion in his poems and imprisoned him for over a year. During his years in prison, his rebellious and fierce attitude grew deeper and he wrote many such works. After coming out of prison, he encouraged people to fight for independence and also wrote about the weaker classes of the society. Later his focus shifted towards religion due to some personal life incidents. He faced constant struggle in his personal life due to poverty, his wife's illness, his mental health and the death of his loved ones. Despite all difficulties he emerged out as a revolutionary who managed to leave his imprint in the spheres of music, poetry and writing.
Through literature, journalism and political activism, Nazrul fought against foreign rule, communalism, imperialism, fundamentalism and exploitation. In response, the British colonial government proscribed his books and newspapers and put him behind bars. Through his written Rajbandir Jabanbandi (A political prisoner's deposition) and his 40-day hunger strike, Nazrul protested against the harassment. In support of him, Rabindranath dedicated one of his books to him.
Nazrul used subjects and vocabulary never used in Bangla poetry before. He became immensely popular for portraying in his poems contemporary political and social phenomenon. Some fundamental conflicts of human civilisation also formed the themes of his poems. He used Sanskrit and Arabic metres as easily as he did traditional Bangla ones. He was aware of history, both ancient and contemporary, of his own country and of the world outside. He nourished almost all the streams of Bangla songs and established them on the solid foundation of north Indian classical music. Through a wide variety of themes and tunes Nazrul truly turned Bangla songs into modern music.
Composer and lyricist of about 4000 songs, which are collectively known as Nazrul Geeti, Nazrul's literary talent was also evident in his poems, essays and novels.
Nazrul was born on May 24 in 1899 in Churulia village under Asansol of Burdwan in India's West Bengal. In his childhood, Nazrul joined a folk opera group and began composing poems and songs. When he was in class 10, he joined the Indian Army in 1917. Even as a soldier, he continued his literary activities, publishing his first piece "The Autobiography of a Delinquent" in the May 1919 issue of Saogat and his first poem "Freedom" in Bangiya Musalman Sahitya Patrika in July 1919.
When the 49th Bengal Regiment was disbanded after World War I in 1920, Nazrul returned to Calcutta to begin his journalistic and literary life. His fiery editorials in the daily Nabayug made him suspect in the eyes of the British administration.
His most celebrated poem "Bidrohi" (The rebel) was published in 1922, which shook the very foundation of British colonial rule, putting his literary career on a strong footing.
One of his political poems, "Anondomoyeer Agomone", published in Dhumketu in September 1922, led to a police raid on the magazine's office and sentenced him to one year's rigorous imprisonment. He was released from prison in December 1923.
On April 1924, Nazrul married Pramila Devi. From 1928 to 1932, he became directly involved with His Master's Voice Gramophone Company as a lyricist, composer and trainer. A good number of records of his songs, sung by some of the most well-known singers of the time, were produced during this time.
After the liberation of Bangladesh, Nazrul, at the request of the Bangladesh government, came to Bangladesh on 24 May, 1972 with his family to permanently reside here. The then president and prime minister of the new country paid their homage to him. In 1974 the Dhaka University awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Letters (D.Litt). In 1976 the Bangladesh government awarded him the Ekushey Padak, the highest civilian award of the country.
After his demise, Kazi Nazrul Islam was buried with full state honour beside the Dhaka University central mosque.
The writer is a freelance contributor.