Colonialism, politics of language and partition of Bengalby Nurul Kabir
KAZI Nazrul Islam’s unambiguous secular humanist worldview found expression not only in his essays and articles but also in his poems. In one of his famous poems, Samyabadi, composed in 1925, he sings the ‘song of equality’, in which ‘Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians have met one another, overcoming all barriers, removing all differences’[গাহি সাম্যের গান/যেখানে আসিয়া এক হয়ে গেছে সব বাধা-ব্যবধান/যেখানে মিশেছে হিন্দু-বৌদ্ধ-মুসলিম-ক্রীশ্চান; ; see Kazi Nazrul Islam, ‘Samayabadi’, Nazrul Rachanabali (Collected works of Kazi Nazrul Islam), Volume II, Nazrul Birth Centenary edition, Bangla Academy, Dhaka, 2012, p 79] Again, in Manush, he brands as ‘ignorant’ those who nurture enmity with others on the basis of difference in religious faiths. He calls them ‘ignorant’ because they do not realise that ‘it was human beings who brought in the Books’, the holy books that is, ‘instead of the Books giving birth to human beings’.[মূর্খরা সব শোনো,/মানুষ এনেছে গ্রন্থ; - গ্রন্থ আনেনি মানুষ কোনো; see Kazi Nazrul Islam, ‘Manush’, Nazrul Rachanabali, ibid, p 82]
Nazrul’s secular humanist attitude towards life is also evident in the fact that he has composed several thousand songs, particularly several hundred ghazals and kirtans, involving religious thoughts and ideas of both Muslims and Hindus, in which he appropriates Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit words in compatibility with the themes and ideas he deals with. His secular political consciousness, secular lifestyle and secular literary practices drew many progressive personalities of his time, both Muslim and Hindu, towards him. His extraordinary abilities also exposed him to the wrath of obscurantist sections of the Muslims and Hindus of the contemporary Bengal, whom he would ruthlessly attack, both in poetry and prose, for their parochial worldviews.
Many Kolkata-based Muslim-run weeklies and periodicals, such as Mohammadi, Hanafi, Islam Darpan, Muslim Darshan and Shariate Islam, bitterly criticised Nazrul Islam in the 1920s and 1930s for his evidently secular philosophy of life. Some of those periodicals even branded him as kafir, infidel in other words.
The weekly Mohammadi wrote in an editorial in March 1929 that ‘Nazrul Islam should rather be called Nazrul Dashabhuja’, which is the synonym of the Hindu goddess Durga. As the Kazi came to visit Bogra of East Bengal after the incident, one of his young Muslim admirers drew his attention to the editorial comment. In response, he said, ‘Brother, they refused to understand me. Read my works carefully, you would understand me. Moreover, a poet is to be meant equally for Hindus and Muslims alike.’ [KM Shamsher Ali, ‘Bogurai Nazrul’, in Abdul Mannan Syed (ed.), Otit Diner Smriti (Memories of the past), Nazrul Institute, Dhaka, 2004, p 88]
Again, while visiting East Bengal’s Kushtia in 1929, Nazrul was exposed to an embarrassing question from a Muslim stranger, as to whether or not he was a believer. The stranger referred to a line of his famous poem Bidrohi, in which the poet said ‘A rebellious Bhrigu, I imprint my footsteps on Bhagwan’s bosom’, and observed that ‘Bhagwan and Allah is the same entity’, and asked as to why he composed such an ‘audacious’ sentence. The poet’s instant reply was: ‘Why don’t you, the parties of Allah and Bhagwan, then, are getting united to oust the white pharaohs settled on the shoulders of both the peoples.’ [Azizur Rahman, “Kustiai Bidrohi Kabi” (The rebel poet in Kushtia), in Abdul Mannan Syed (ed.), Otit Diner Smriti (Memories of the past), Nazrul Institute, Dhaka, 2004, p 71] Evidently, Nazrul referred to the much-needed unity of Hindu and Muslim communities to oust the British rulers from India.
However, in response to Muslim criticism of his secular literary practices, Nazrul time and again tried to explain his stance, although in vein, those days. In a letter to an admirer, Nazrul Islam wrote in 1925: ‘The Muslim society has attacked me again and again, and that too ruthlessly, but I didn’t mind, for the illiterate Muslims of Bengal are obscurantist and the educated ones jealous. …The Muslim society has always made mistakes [about me], for they have confused between my poetic works and myself – Nazrul Islam the person that is. I am a Muslim, but my poetic work is dedicated to all countries, all times and all religions. The source of so many mistakes remains in the habit of judging a poet by his religious identity, and considering him as a Hindu poet or a Muslim poet.’ [Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote the letter to one Anwar Hossain. See Nazrul Rachanabali (Collected works of Kazi Nazrul Islam), Volume IX, Nazrul Birth Centenary edition, Bangla Academy, Dhaka, 2012, p 179]
In another letter to Principal Ibrahim Khan in 1927, Nazrul wrote, with a touch of regret: ‘I do not know whether or not the Muslims of Bengal are poor in riches, but what I am sure about is, and that too through my painful personal experiences, that they are poor, very poor, in terms of mental wealth. I have accepted the moniker of kafir that the Muslim society has accorded me with, and I don’t remember that I have ever termed it an injustice. But I feel ashamed to think that I have not become great enough to be called a kafir, for I have been promoted to the rank of the great men Hafez, [Omar] Khayyam and Mansur [Hallaj].’ [Kazi Nazrul Islam, Nazrul Rachanabali (Collected works of Kazi Nazrul Islam), Volume IX, Nazrul Birth Centenary edition, Bangla Academy, Dhaka, 2012, p 182]
However, criticism from Muslim fanatics could never stop Nazrul from pursuing his secular humanist ideals. He rather continued both individually and collectively to combat the Muslim prisoners of religious fanaticism by his literary activism. He was merciless against fanatic mullahs in his literary exercise and joined a collective effort of the like-minded Muslim litterateurs of Bengal in fighting against the menace in the mid-1920s.
In this regard, Abul Mansur Ahmed recollects in his memoirs that some rationally thinking Muslim writers, committed to the welfare of the Muslim population of Bengal, unanimously resolved in Kolkata in the mid-1920s that ‘Mullahs are responsible for all the disgraces of the contemporary Bengali Muslims’. Mansur Ahmed writes: ‘It is the mullahs who have kept the Muslim population ignorant and in poverty by offering misinterpretations of Islam. They have propagated for years that earthly riches are meant for kafirs, while hurs and gilmans are waiting for Muslims in the heavens. We all were convinced about the view and, therefore, all launched a literary campaign against the mullahs.’ [Abul Mansur Ahmed, Atmakatha (Memoirs), Second Printing, Ahmed Publishing House, Dhaka, 2009, p 153] Those who belonged to the informal group included Dr Lutfar Rahman, S Wajed Ali, Kazi Abdul Odud, Humayun Kabir, Mohammad Wajed Ali, Abul Mansur Ahmed and, obviously, Kazi Nazrul Islam.
In its bid to intellectually combat fanatic thoughts and ideas of the mullahs, the group in question founded a ‘League against Mullahism’ with Moulana Mujibur Rahman, the assistant editor of the Kolkata based Mussalman. The group was officially floated in the famous Albert Hall in Kolkata, while Moulana Abdur Razzak Malihabadi, secretary to Moulana Abul Kalam Azad, presided over the inaugural session of the anti-Mullah platform. [ibid, p 154]
To be continued.
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