Colonialism, politics of language and partition of Bengal PART XXVby Nurul Kabir
MOHAMMAD Kazem Ali Qureshi, better known as Kaikobad (1858-1952), had his ‘literary inspiration derived from his desire to make the backward Muslims aware of their rich tradition and heritage and thereby help restore their glory’. [Banglapedia: National Encyclopaedia of Bangladesh, Volume 5, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Dhaka, Sub-Verbo: Kaikobad]
Kaikobad is famous for his epic, Mahashmashan, published in 1904 and based on the third war of Panipath between Indo-Afghan Muslims and Marathas in 1761. Kaikobad’s objective behind composing the huge poetic volume was, as he wrote in the introduction to Mahashmashan, ‘to write a poetic volume on the heroism of Indian Muslims, the reading of which would enable the Muslims of Bengal to audaciously claim that the Muslims of India had once been matchless heroes and that they were inferior to none in terms of courage and sense of pride.’ Kaikobad was in Bangla poetry what Mir Mosharaf Hossain was in Bangla prose, for, as Wakil Ahmed observes, ‘they were the ones who had successfully broken the ice of complex of the Bengali Muslims in terms of literary practices in Bangla language’.
Kaikobad was a proud Muslim writer of Bengal, but not a parochial communalist in any manner. He compared the Hindus and Muslims engaged in communal fights as ‘apes and gibbons’, and aspired for Hindu-Muslim unity for the decisive struggle for India’s independence from British colonialism. He used his poetic ability in forging unity among feuding Muslims and Hindus. In a poem, Hindu-Mussalman, Kaikobad urged members of the two religious communities to come closer as ‘children of Mother India’ and sincerely ‘serve at the mother’s feet’.
Kaikobad also published a few volumes of poetry. The readers warmly received his Ashrumala, a volume published in 1894.
However, Kaikobad’s Bangla was, like that of Mir Mosharaf Hossain — Sanskritised. Hossain’s prose was like that of Bankim Chandra, while Kaikobad’s was similar to that of poet Nabinchandra Sen. Not surprisingly, Nabinchandra praised Kaikobad’s Ashrumala the same communally patronising way Bankimchandra did Hossain’s Bishad Sindhu. In a letter to Kaikobad, Nabinchandra Sen wrote on April 2, 1896: ‘Had I not received your gift, I would not have believed that a Muslim can compose such beautiful poems in Bangla’. [Nabinchandra Sen’s letter is cited in Wakil Ahmed, Unish Shatake Bangali Mussalmaner Chinta O Chetanar Dhara (The thoughts and ideas of Bengali Muslims in the 19th century), Bangla Academy, Dhaka, 1997, p 248]
Bangabasi, a literary monthly edited by a Hindu writer, made similar comment on Kaikobad and his poetic volume: ‘We did not know that there is any Muslim in the country who can compose such beautiful poems in such beautiful Bangla.’ [ibid]
Mozammel Haque (1860-1933), a prolific Muslim writer from the Nadia district of West Bengal, also devoted his great literary abilities to rejuvenate the otherwise ‘backward’ Muslim society of Bengal in the spirit of the Arab and Persian Muslim saints, philanthropists and fighters. He wrote in Bangla the biographies of a number of great Arabian and Persian Muslim thinkers of the past. He also wrote a biography of Tipu Sultan, a Muslim ruler of the princely state of Mysore in India, who vigorously fought against British colonialism.
That a prime purpose of Mozammel Haque’s literary exercise was to enlighten Bengali readers, particularly Muslim ones, about the Muslim tradition and history objectively and thereby inspire them to make progress with a sense of pride, is evident in the subjects he had chosen to write the essays, novels and poems on.
Many non-Muslim writers had projected Fateh Ali Tipu Sultan of Mysore as a fanatic ruler, who oppressed his Hindu subjects and converted them to Islam by force, which was mostly nothing but politically motivated distortion of history. Aware of such politically motivated projection of a Muslim ruler, Mozammel Haque says in the introduction of Tipu Sultan that he wrote the book ‘to provide the readers with an objective narrative about Tipu [Sultan]’. [Mozammel Haque, Introduction to Tipu Sultan, in Muhammad Abdul Qayyum (ed.), Mozammel Haque Rachanabali (Works of Mozammel Haque), Volume 1, Bangla Academy, Dhaka, 2005, p 159]
Haque was also eager to generate in the ‘lazy’ Muslim minds of the day an interest in literature. In his ‘submission’ at the beginning of Tipu Sultan, Mozammel Haque lamented: ‘Alas, when would you learn to appreciate literature, and when would you understand that literature remains the matrix of the strength of a nation.’
He also wrote a couple of novels, Johara in 1917 and Darafkhan Gazi in 1919, to enlighten the Muslim minds of Bengal about the glorious past of Islam on the one hand and generate awareness against the inhuman social practices prevalent in the contemporary Muslim society on the other. While Darafkhan Gazi was a historical novel relating to the invasion of Pandua in Bengal by the Pathans, Johara was about the tragic consequences of the early marriage of Muslim girls prevalent in Bengal those days.
Mozammel Haque also published a few volumes of poetry, Kusumanjali being the first one in 1881. His Jatiya Foara, another volume published in 1912, was a collection of some ‘spirited poems exhorting the Mohamedan community to a sense of their present fallen condition and advance on the path of progress.’
Bandhab, a contemporary periodical edited by a Hindu writer, praised Kusumanjali saying: ‘We never knew that Bengali Muslims could write such beautiful Bangla. All the poems contained in this volume, including Maharram, have been written in the language of the Hindus.’ [The Agrahayon, 1289 (BS) issue of Bandhab, cited in Wakil Ahamed, ibid, p 262]
Shomprakash, another Bangla-language periodical, published a review of the volume of the poetry, saying: ‘We knew, and we heard, the Muslims cannot speak good Bangla, but Kusumanjali has started removing our impression… Readers, see for yourself as how pure Bangla Mozammel Haque has written.’ [ibid] Surabhi, another literary magazine, although critical about the contents of the volume, appreciated the book, for ‘the writer being a Muslim has written pure Bangla’. [ibid]
Mozammel Haque also wrote two volumes of Padya-Shiksha, or art of poetry, the first volume of which was included in the school curriculum. Reviewing the second volume of Padya-Shiksha, Bangbasi, a literary journal edited by a Hindu author, wrote: ‘The writer, although a Muslim, has command over the Bangla language form of the Hindus.’
Notably, the Hindu writers and journalists used to give positive reviews of the works of Muslim litterateurs when the latter followed the Sanskritised syntax and semantics of Bangla practised and patronised by the former. Such appreciations from well-known Hindu authors might have pleased the Muslim writers concerned, or have even embarrassed them, but the rest of the Muslims writers, and the Muslim readers in general, must have found such ‘appreciations’ humiliating to the entire Muslim community. But the Hindu literary community continued to do such cultural activism without bothering about its social and political implications.
The communalist appreciation of Muslim works by the Hindus was not limited only to the literary world; it was also visible in the social arena.
Recollecting his school days in Mymensingh, Abul Mansur Ahmed writes that addressing at the annual function of his school, the Hindu manager of the local zamindary said, ‘It is indeed a matter of great pleasure that the Muslims, following the footsteps of the gentlemen, have these days started concentrating on education.’ [Abul Mansur Ahmed, Atmakatha (Memoir), Ahmed Publishing House, Dhaka, Second Printing, 2009, p 161] For the Hindu manager, the Muslims were not ‘gentlemen’.
It was, however, not an isolated example. For instance, Bangabasi, otherwise the ‘best’ Bangla weekly of the time, edited by a Hindu journalist, wrote while reporting on a public meeting: ‘The meeting was attended by a few gentlemen and a large number of Muslims.’ [ibid] For Bangabasi, only Hindus were gentlemen.
Such appreciations would only send a communalist message to the larger Bengali Muslim community that the literary works are praiseworthy only when they were done in the manner the Hindu writers did, which in fact contributed to the widening of the gulf between the Muslim and Hindu literary communities.
Under the circumstances, a significant section of the educated Muslims of Bengal, particularly the writers, developed certain grievances against the literary practices of the 19th century Hindu writers. The grievances included, as articulated much later by Professor Anisuzzaman, (a) absence of the Arabic, Persian and Hindustani words used in the everyday life of the Muslims in the modern Bangla literature, (b) absence of representation of Muslim life in the literature and (c) demonisation of the respected Muslim characters of history in poetry, plays and novels. [Anisuzzaman, ‘Swaruper Sandhane’, Nirbachita Prabandha, Anyaprokash, Dhaka, 2000, p 48]
The Muslim writers of Bengal, therefore, deemed it necessary to create their own Bangla literature to nurture Islamic values and traditions. They also made efforts to ‘Islamise’ Bangla language by using more and more Arabicised/Persianised words to counter the ‘Hinduised’ Bangla burdened with Sanskritised ones used by Hindu writers. In the process, Bangla language and literature got divided into two categories, Hinduised and Islamised, which, in turn contributed to creating two opposing, even conflicting, political consciousness in the larger society of Bengal.
The most prominent among those who took the pioneering role in preaching that the literary activism of Bengali Muslims should be dedicated to creating an Islamic political consciousness in Bengal remains Ismail Hossain Sirazee (1879-1931).
Sirazee published a poem, Anal Prabaha, in 1899. The poem contained in fiery language the Muslim glory of the past, his intense anger for the fallen state of the contemporary Muslims and fervent call to the Muslim youths to fight for Indian independence from British colonialism. The second edition of the volume was published in 1908, and the book was banned by the British colonial administration, while Sirazee was jailed for two years.
Sirazee’s poetic exercise appears to be a reaction to those of Hemchandra Bandapadaya (1838-1903) and Nabinchandra Sen (1847-1909), both of whom were fiercely anti-Muslim and intensely pro-British to ensure Hindu revivalism.
In Bharatsangeet, a poem composed in 1869, Hemchandra describes the past glory of Hindu race in India, which was lost to the Muslim ‘enemies’, ‘regrettably’ due to the obliviousness of the inherent strength of Sanatan dharma. [‘ধিক হিন্দুকুলে! বীরধর্ম ভুলে,/আত্মা-অভিমান ডুবায়ে সলিলে,/দিয়াছে সঁপিয়া শত্র“ করতলে/সোনার ভারত করিতে ছার। Hemchandra Bandapadaya is cited in Syed Ali Ahsan, ‘Unish Shataker Mohakabyer Dhara’ (The trend of epics in the Nineteenth century) in Muhammad Abdul Hai and Syed Ali Ahsan, Bangla Sahityer Itibritto: Adhunik Jug (History of Bengali Literature: Modern Period), Eleventh print, Ahmed Publishing House, Dhaka, 2010, p 204] In order to revive the past glory of Hinduism, Hemchandra had advised the Hindus in another poem to take the ‘path shown by the English’, for ‘had the English not been here, India would have been a deserted forest’. In that case, writes Hemchandra, ‘who would have shown’ the Hindus, ‘who would have taken’ them ‘to the path abandoned many years ago’? [‘না থাকিলে এ ইংরাজ/ ভারত অরণ্য আজ/কে দেখাত, কে শিখাত/কে’বা পথে লয়ে যেত/যে পথ অনেক দিন করেছ বর্জন।’ ibid]
Nabinchandra Sen, like Hemchandra, was a Hindu nationalist. In his well-known epic poem Palashir Judhya, published in 1875, Sen portrays invading English military commander Lord Clive as a person ‘committed to justice’ and ‘morally superior’ to the ‘sinful’ Muslim rulers of Bengal. Although he describes Mir Jafar Ali Khan and Miron who betrayed Nawab Seraj-ud Dowla as villains, and Mohanlal who fought and died for the nawab a patriotic hero, Nabinchandra Sen preferred welcoming the British invaders of Christian faith to supporting the local nawab of Muslim faith. Moreover, his poetic trilogy — Bairatak, Kurukhetra and Prabhas — remains the epic of Hindu revivalism, introduced by Bankim Chandra in the 19th century Bangla literature.
To be continued.
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