Translated by : Satyakam Dhar
Kazi Nazrul Islam is not as seriously taken outside the two Bengals (West Bengal and Bangladesh) as an intellectual as some of the other Bengalis of his time. Even in West Bengal, over the years his appeal has narrowed down to his unique, timeless songs. His poetry and political views are believed to have lost relevance. Intellectuals hardly discuss his writings nowadays. But a relook at his work tells us much of it still speaks to us, to our time.
Born a Muslim, writer of exquisite devotional songs in praise of Hindu goddess Kali, a relentless freedom fighter, one of the earliest leftist activists India, married for the most part of life to a Brahmo lady, Nazrul was a man who embodied everything communal harmony and secularism means. Like Gandhi, he, too, could have said “My life is my message.”
On April 6, 1941, Nazrul delivered the following speech at Muslim Institute Hall, Kolkata, after being named chairman of the meeting to celebrate the silver jubilee of Bangiya Musalman Sahitya Samiti (Bengali Muslim Literature Association). In this poignant speech delivered in Bengali, he explained what he was trying to do through his poetry, music and activism and laid bare the scars in his heart. Titled ‘jodi ar banshi na baje’ (If I Fall Silent), here he also spoke of withdrawing from public life. Premonitions of a time when he would not be writing anymore are there. As luck would have it, a year later he lost voice and memory due to a rare incurable disease.
Let’s read this speech and find out how Nazrul speaks to us as his country is being torn apart by a religious fascist government.
The gift you offered me today is something I’ll treasure all my life. Every part of my being is singing one line “I’m honoured, I’m honoured.” However, you felicitated me that very day when you liked my writing. I was born in twentieth cenutry — the age of the impossible. I am one of the trumpeteers of its army — let this be my biggest identity.
Just because I was born in this country, this society doesn’t mean I belong to this country and this society only. I belong to all human beings. A poet doesn’t want alms, he wants offerings, he wants love. Worshipping beauty and singing paeans to it is my religion. Still I must say I haven’t only seen harp in the hands of beauty and lotus at her feet; I have also seen tears in her eyes. I have seen her starve to the grave, to the crematorium. I have seen her at the battlefield, inside the dark prison cell as well as at the gallows.
Some have unnecessarily scared people by tagging me as a rebel. But I never wanted to fire up this innocuous nation of ours. I rebelled, wrote rebellious songs, against the wrongs and exploitations. My rebellion has been against the lies, against whatever is fake, stale, old. My rebellion is against hypocrisy and superstition in the name of religion.
Some say I am yavana (enemy of Hinduism), some say kafir (enemy of Islam). I say I’m neither. I have only tried to bring Hindus and Muslims together and shake hands. My only objective was to turn expletives into banter. If that handshake has been more obscene than arm twisting, they will separate themselves. It won’t be difficult for them to end the ties I built because one has rod in his hand, the other has knife up his sleeve.
On one hand there is communal violence, xenophobia, poverty, starvation. On the other, greedy demons have piled on billions in the banks. I had come to erase this inequality, this sense of being different. I established oneness, beauty and equality in everything I did, be it poetry or music. I don’t want name, fame or leadership. I’ll keep singing songs of joy and pain no matter how much sorrow there is in my life. I’ll give every inch of me, I’ll lose myself in you. I’ll live in the lives of all. This is my motto, my worship.
Rabindranath used to tell me “Listen you mad guy, something very tragic is going to happen to you, like Keats and Shelley. Be ready for it.” In my eagerness for that tragedy, I have filled many a life with rain of tears without any reason. But my own life has remained as dry as a desert. There’s been only laughter, only singing, only rebellion.
I clearly remember the day of a great feeling. My son had died, I was overwhelmed with that grief. On that very day, hasnuhana had bloomed in my garden and I enjoyed its smell wholeheartedly. My poetry, my songs have grown out of experience.
If ever your love pulls me out of the cocoon of my solitude at an improper moment, then don’t count me as the Nazrul you have known. That Nazrul has escaped through the rear door of death. Tell yourself that a restless youngman had come to this world with thirst for fulfillment. His departed soul came to us in its dream and wept in pain of being incomplete.
If I fall silent — not saying this because I’m a poet but because you loved me — please forgive me and forget me.
Trust me, I didn’t come to become a poet or politician. I came to love and get love. Since I didn’t get that, I’m going away from this loveless world for good.
Perhaps there will be big meetings the day I die. Many would praise me, many write poems. “Patriot”, “hermit”, “brave rebel” and so on will be said about me. Speaker after speaker would break tables with their emotional punches. Don’t go to those functions, dear friend. Those would be my funeral organised by ugly souls. If you can, sit silently and recollect any one of the incidents of my unwritten life. If you find a withered or trodden on flower, embrace it and say “I’ve found you, friend.”
I won’t wake up again looking at you, I won’t hamper anyone’s meditation by making noise. I’ll keep quiet and burn like an incense stick.
Short biogrpahy of Kazi Nazrul Islam