[This is merely a partial attempt to shed light on only certain aspects of Nazrul. With time, I hope to expand the scope of this article in future. NR refers to Nazrul Rochonaboli, 1996 edition.]

Toward understanding Nazrul: 

The Nature and Source of Rebellion

Mohammad Omar Farooq
December 1999

One of the comments left in the guestbook of my website dedicated to Kazi Nazrul Islam (http://www.nazrul.org ) is as following: "I was so excited to find this page but as always, I only found a very incomplete picture of Nazrul. His is much larger than the picture painted here." The guest did not leave any clue as to in what respect he found it "very incomplete" and what would have been his suggestions to improve, even though the website clearly acknowledges that the work on the website is not, by any means, complete.

Regardless, painting a complete picture of anyone, especially someone like Nazrul, is not an easy task due to at least two interrelated reasons: (1) our own biases; and (2) Nazrul himself had covered a broad range of literary and artistic work, not necessarily being conscious whether people would find consistency in his thought, work, and life. Nazrul himself was aware of this predicament, and he never aspired consistency. 

My friends, I can't say any more; my mind feels so much agony and pain, 
I have gone mad; now, I utter whatever my mouth throws out in disdain.
        Amar Koifiyot, NR/v1/p295

Of course, saying things as comes to one's mouth is hardly consistent with consistency. He was more interested in expressing himself - as many ideas and feelings in as many ways, mediums, colors, tenors or forms as possible.

Thus, people describe and use many of his songs as nationalistic, but he avowedly was not a nationalist. In the face of those who claim him as a secularist and leftists stare his religious songs and hymns. If his "Shammyobadi" [The Egalitarian] - both the poem and the collection - appears supportive of his leftist leanings, wait! In his poem "Shammyobadi" he drew connection to many different traditions, religions, and philosophies, but interestingly he identified the "message of equality or egalitarianism" exclusively with the Qur'an. More interestingly, in his Moru Bhashkor (a poetic biography of the Prophet Muhammad), the Prophet is also "Shammyobadi" (NR/v3/p99). In the face of those who want to point out his Shayma songs and other works,  drawn especially from Hindu religion and tradition, stands his avowed Islamic identity. And, not the least, in the face of those who claim him as a voice of Islam stares his "rebellion" against the hegemony and lifelessness of prevalent institutional religion and orthodoxy. So everyone who likes him for one reason or another has carved out a part of him for themselves and then simply ignore the other parts. Similarly, everyone who wants to find something to dislike him has plenty of ammunition to offer.

The fact is that if religious overtone makes the secularists uncomfortable, then Nazrul is easily discardable. If his secular, and unorthodox thought and life style are found undesirable, he would say: So be it. If the contents and references in his works that are drawn from or related to Hinduism is not palatable, he would probably say: So what? And, if his Islamic orientation causes anyone heartburn, he would probably ask: Why such hearturn? So, the readers are left with their own proclivities: Do they want to emphasize the parts they like or the parts they don't like? Then, they can draw their own bridge or wall between themselves and Nazrul.

Some aspects to help understand Nazrul better

There are some general components of any valid approach to understand such personalities.

1. An individual's life, personality and thought, in a dynamic context, evolves over time. Thus, contradictions are not uncommon in many well-known personalities, for examples, Dr. Ali Shariati (the other architect of the revolutionary change in Iran), Malcolm X (Malik Shabaz), Sayyid Qutb (accused of and hanged for sedition in Egypt). One cannot just pick up any work of someone at random and then may not encounter some inconsistency. Indeed, some inconsistency may not be all that unnatural in human beings as to err is human

2. An individual's life, personality and thought should be evaluated in the context of his or her totality. If someone wants to evaluate Nazrul by either his Shammyobadi (with somewhat secular, leftist tone; Nazrul Rochonaboli/v1; from hereon, NR), Ranga Joba (with Hindu orientations; NR/v3), or Islami Kobita (published by Islamic Foundation; with Islamic orientation) would only get a fragmented view of a personality, such as Nazrul. One might love Nazrul because of his Islamically-oriented works. But such person might be ignorant of his other dimensions and as those dimensions are encountered, the perception and attitude toward Nazrul would be changed. Anyone not familiar with Nazrul might pick up his Ranga Joba or listen to his Shayma songs and fall in love with him, only to have a rude awakening that Nazrul can't be evaluated in terms of that aspect alone.

That is why the complete collection of Nazrul Rochonaboli [NR] is essential to understanding Nazrul than any particular piece of his works. Indeed, understanding any personality should be in the context of his/her whole (complete) works.

3. As an individual's life changes over time, the trend of evolution is an important factor. Evaluation of any such person must take into consideration if there was any identifiable direction of the change or evolution. 

4. If Nazrul had something to say to explain himself, his belief and philosophy, perspective and orientation, or aspiration and dream, generally, that must be given precedence over interpretation of him by others.

There are certain aspects of his life, personality and perspective that are almost non-controversial, for examples, as following.

1. The fundamental value he placed on human dignity and freedom.
2. His universal condemnation of bigotry, injustice, oppression - irrespective of religion, ideology or other factors.
3. His commitment to harmony among people of all backgrounds, including and particularly as related to his own individual and social experience, Hindu-Muslim relationship.
4. His restless and indomitable human spirit idealizing the vibrancy and human potential of the youth.
5. His uncompromising stance against all forms of colonization, including and particularly, the British rule in India.
6. His experience and dealing with two beauties: the pain-beauty, that empathizes with the pain and suffering of the humanity; and truth-beauty, the search for what is truth and right.

Among other things, the following, are also important in understanding him.

1. He grew up in a society where Hindu-Muslim relationship has been in a sad state for long time. He believed that both sides had blames to share as well the responsibility to break the ice and work toward better harmony. Except those with a fragmented view, no one accuses him of being communal. He was non-communal. His vulnerability may have been that he was "overly" non-communal, if there is any such thing. He married a Hindu woman. He did not hesitate to write Shayma songs, drawing on and devoted to Hindu religious sources. Even Rabindranath, who is generally and justifiably recognized as non-communal, not only did he not write any such equivalent for Muslims, but also did not draw on Muslim sources at all for his literature. Nazrul did not believe that Khoda, Bhagvan, or Ishwar were different. Thus, while his master-poet Rabindranath could not and/or did not, Nazrul, with ease and conviction, could draw on varied spiritual sources and bring together, for example, Narayan, Luxmi, Shibaji, Indra, Buddha, Ibrahim, and Aurangjeb in his literary works (Indrapatan; NR/v1/p218). He lamented the fact that Hindus and Muslims, including their learned and literate ones, knew so little about each other. Unlike many of his contemporaries, irrespective of Muslim or Hindu side, including Rabindranath, he knew very well both [1] Islam and Hinduism, the traditions, heritage, and culture of Muslims as well as of Hindus. Of course, to some that was his transcending nobility and greatness, and to some the same was his vulnerability.

Without any hesitation, Nazrul could name his first child Arindam Khaled, the first name originating from Sanskrit and meaning "enemy-destroyer" (shotru-domonkari), while the second from Islamic historical figure, the military leader Khaled. What a combination! What a real "Arindam" was Khaled! Nazrul's works are full of parallel reference to Kokil (Cuckoo) and Bulbul (nightingale), the two birds symbolizing, respectively, Hindu/Indian context and Muslim/Persian context. Who else could say "Kolma amar kopale tip, nai tulona jar" [NR/2/p435-36] or put together in one short poem "Muazzin" and "lal shidur" (NR/v1/p331) or call for "Bajao shongkho, dao ajan" (blow the conch, give the prayer-call) (NR/v1/p334)? Dhuti and pajama, rokto and khun (NR/v1/p36), shoshan and gorostan (NR/v4/p88; NR/v3/p537), Jahannam and Norok (NR/v1/p16), prarthona and munajat (see this link) have meshed so artistically and naturally in his works. Was he deliberate in many cases like these? It seems to be so. Who else could express so candidly about Hindu extremities as in "Jater name bojjati" (Wickedness in the name of the caste system; NR/v1/p116) or Muslim lapses as in "Khoma koro Hadhrat" (Forgive us, O Prophet; NR/v3/p377) or "Shohidi Eid" (NR/v1/p154)?

No writer of the subcontinent in any period has gone such long distance in articulating and presenting his level of non-communalism. It cost him dearly from the side of Muslims, as many Muslims still feel so uncomfortable with the whole Nazrul. Indeed, according to Nazrul, he has been hurt more by Muslims than any other group (NR/v4/p371; link) If the Muslims were unwilling to forgive the Rebel's declaration that he will venture "Khodar ashon arosh chhedia" (penetrating beyond heaven, the seat of God; NR/v1/p7), they found solace in the fragment of Nazrul that devoted to Islamic themes and created poems, songs, hamd/naat that still remain unparalleled in Bangla Muslim literature. Many of them have rested their case; they would rather enjoy on the eve of, or during, the Eid, eid-songs of Nazrul and continue to call the Hindus as "malawun" or simply ignore, with some spiritual disdain, their existence altogether. 

On the other side of aisle, many Hindus welcomed Nazrul more affectionately, but the traditional Hindus were not eager to hear either his poem, The Rebel, or Jater Name Bojjati (NR/v1/p116). They were not happy that this Rebel dares to say: "Bhagvan buke eke dei podochinno" (I place footmark on the chest of Bhagvan"; NR/v1/p10). But they might have forgiven him because this Rebel also wants to go "Khodar Ashon Arosh Chhediya". They were particularly disturbed by a Hindu woman, Pramila Devi, marrying Muslim Nazrul. In one of his letters, Nazrul mentions about his desire to donate blood to save a Hindu, but was refused as a Muslim donor. He also suffered at the hands of Indian literary circle as he lamented in a letter written to his Master-poet Rabindranath (NR/v4/p23-29; link). It is also a fact that much of the support for his medical treatment and living came from the Muslims of both Bengal, until he was invited as a citizen of Bangladesh by the government of Bangladesh.

The important point here is that Nazrul may have gone a distance, far more imaginable or palatable to many, in his pursuit of Hindu-Muslim harmony. Whether one approves or disapproves of such "excessive" non-communalism, it is pivotal to understand Nazrul's life, personality and works. The fact that Hindu-Muslim relationship in the subcontinent, with nearly one-fifth of the world population, still remains a hot bed of dangerous conflict and lack of harmony may prove the need to turn to Nazrul more closely and with greater respect and appreciation than he has been accorded so far by either Hindus or Muslims.

2. Nazrul had an universalistic perspective; he was not a nationalist. He had written patriotic songs, some specifically against the British. But his songs devoted to the themes of courage, bravery, and sacrifice for human dignity, freedom, and liberty were thoroughly universal. "His revolt, it is important to remember, was aimed not only against the foreign rulers, but against oppression of all kinds - social, economic and political. Nazrul Islam was not a nationalist, although he knew that national liberation was the first step towards the liberation of the masses from social and economic oppression." [1] 

His works, because often are of general nature, were used by all. Indians used his works against the British rule. After gaining independence, Pakistanis used his works in support of Pakistan and against India. Later, in the Independence struggle (then) Bangla-speaking East Pakistanis utilized his works in their own support and against Pakistan.

3. Nazrul had a dimension of excessiveness in his works the recognition of which is important to understand him and his contributions. When he rebelled, he would declare penetrating beyond the seat of God; when he expressed love to this beloved, his imagination would in no time reach the highest gear seeking to get the red hue from the rainbow to decorate his lover's feet; when he would advocate freedom and independence, he would not merely write about it - rather he would sing the song as well while shaking the bars of the jail; and when he would pay homage to someone he reveres, often he would go overboard. However, there were times, especially when someone would point out to him that he may have crossed the boundary beyond he himself would have liked, he often did correct those. One such case was when he wrote a poem paying homage to Deshbondhu Chittoronjon Dash. Choudhury Shamsur Rahman wrote an article pointing out some of these excesses, upon which Nazrul subsequently corrected some parts of the poem "Indra-patan". Those changes did not diminish Nazrul's homage to Deshbondhu, but did improve it to better reflect Nazrul's own convictions and faith [NR/v1/p903]. Even Nazrul's adversaries would agree that he won't have done anything that he himself did not want to do.

4. His Muslim identity and Islamic root are essential in understanding him. In general, he was religious in his perspective. But his religious perspective had several distinctiveness when compared to the prevailing orthodoxy. 

(a) Generally, he was against use or abuse of religion as a tool of exploitation or oppression, or as a means to divide and conquer, or to use as a shell to tie the common people into timid and coward submission.

(b) Even though he was thoroughly conversant with the details of the ceremonial aspects of religion, including Hinduism, but particularly Islam, his personal life, for the most part of it, did not reflect practice of the basic rituals. However, he did not avoid these in haughty or disdainful defiance. In many of his works, he has expressed deep sorrow and repentance for it ["Roj hashore Allah amar koro na bichar" - O God, please don't judge me on the Day of Judgment,  NR/v3/p280]. [Listen to audio file in Nazrul Audio Collection] Indeed, he offers a very special prayer rug (Jainamaj) to all fellow believers. [Curious? Follow this link.]

(c) He was expressly against religious bigotry or intolerance, and in the context of Indian subcontinent, was especially concerned about Hindu-Muslim relationship. [link]

(d) He was against excessive burden of laws and regulations imposed by the orthodox establishment of institutionalized religions, including Islam. [Attokotha; NR/V3/p399] 

(e) He was also very concerned about the blind faith and submission, especially about accepting fatalism that stultifies the dynamics and growth of human mind and spirit. In this regard, to shake others up, occasionally he did not mind to wear the hat of an atheist - "nastik" (NR/v1/p107; NR/v1/p293). If his rebellion against all injustice, exploitation and oppression were interrupted with shower of decorative labels such as "Kafir", it only made him more animated: 

"Oppressors: we finish them.
Kings-kingdoms: we destroy and condemn. ...
We are devils? That's fine.
Please don't join our line.
Our chariot is for the blood-hound.
Our path is hell-bound.
Leave us alone, the wise-old!
We are, without faith, Kafir and bold." 

[Dushshashoner Rokto-pan; this crude translation is mine; NR/v1/p153)

Just as he offered his reverence to Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Muhammad, and Rama (Shoytto-Mantra; NR/v1/p.120), he was quick to prevent others from labeling him as Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or Brahmin (Badhonhara novel; NR/v1/p.796). He was very sensitive about labeling, particularly during his earlier life as indicated in Badhonhara published in 1927 at the age of 28 (also see, an address in 1929 in NR/v4/pp89-92). 

Those who have studied Nazrul identify at least four stages in his active literary life (NR/v3/preface/pp.10-12). During the last stage of his life, particularly the few years preceding the illness that quieted him, he turned toward "metaphysical" and "mystical" poetry. "Allah Porom Priyotomo Mor" (there is an audio file in the Nazrul Audio Collection) and many of the likes of it were written during this period.
Indeed, many have misunderstood Nazrul's works that were related to Hindu or other sources. Many, including among his admirers and devotees, have been religiously biased in evaluation of Nazrul's works. Poet Abdul Qadir, the editor of the first edition of Nazrul Rochonaboli and who knew Nazrul closely, wrote (translation from Bangla is mine): "In explaining the spirit of Nazrul's "Devistuti", Dr. Sri Gobindgopal Mukhopadhdhay commented in the preface, 'The real identity of Nazrul is: in his nature and orientation Kazi Nazrul Islam is mother-worshipper (matri-shadhok)'. Let me mention an incident in this regard. In 1338 Bangla year, I wrote in the editorial of 'Jyoti' magazine, 'Nazrul Islam is not merely the roaring voice of Muslim Renaissance of Bengal, in literary works he is the foremost in ignoring the sphere of Islam's scripture or rules by not avoiding neo-paganism.' After reading that piece, Nazrul Islam firmly remarked that the apparent neo-paganism in his poetry and songs is actually pseudo-paganism.  Observing the use of Vaishnavi Lilabad and Shaiva-like worship those who think that he is paganistic, the poet's message to them is that he was never a pagan or a neo-pagan, even though at times for the particularly needed literary form and for expressing his thought and feeling he put on for the moment the garb of pseudo-pagan." [NR/v3/preface/pp.10-12]

Thus, despite the above aspects, and the fact that he freely and consciously utilized ingredients from Hindu traditions and faith in his works, he also could keep separate his works related to Islam and Islamic tradition unaffected by any other source. Whatever he touched, he pour his heart, talent and creative ability into it. His Shayma songs or other works such as Ranga Joba or Devi-stuti are no exceptions. However, as evident from his words, not in poetic works but in his prose, speeches, and letters, he clearly and unmistakably identified himself with what he believed and understood to be Islam and its essence. Just as a human being, he was not willing to reduce himself at the level of the prevailing Muslim establishment that was more akin to blind, tradition-bound, ritualistic, exclusivist, introverted, and intolerant orthodoxy, so was he conscious in not hiding the primary root and source of his "rebellion", so that others cannot label him as they wish. However, even when he made remarks about some of his works or words may have been liable to be interpreted as "Kufr or sin" in his past life, based on his understanding of Islam, quite appropriately, he did not have any appetite for human judgment. "No human being has any right to give me His punishment." (My League-Congress, NR/v4/pp70-72).

Nazrul: The Rebel

The label of Rebel has become inseparable from Nazrul. He was barely twenty-one "when he made his first appearance in Bengali literature in the nineteen twenties... His long poem "Bidrohi" (The Rebel) "which has ever since popularly stuck to his name and which in retrospect can be considered as a key-note poem. ... It is impossible to convey in another language the power of this untranslatable poem, the spell of its rhythmic sound patterns and imagery built out of the deeply experienced and shared mythological love of his people. Gushing forth like the mountain torrents, swirling, cascading over rocks and cataracts, slowing momentarily into a gentle placid flow, and in the next moment breaking into furious resounding waves, it was a spontaneous burst of a fearless heart, calling for manly strength and courage to break out of all chains in the march of freedom. It is for this passionate fervent invocation of the 'life virile' which captured the mind of the younger generation of Bengal, then yearning for an activist's revolutionary ideals. Classicists could and did find structural lapses in the poem, formalists scoffed at the linguistic and metrical innovations and conservatives, both Hindus and Muslims, ridiculed and abused Nazrul Islam's defiant egotism.

But its total effect was irresistible. It is rare in the history of any literature that a single poem could have so much impacts as to establish its author not only as a major poet, but also as an undying literary force." [3]

When he turned his literary genius to nature, the nature became animated. When he became the voice of the orphans, destitutes and the oppressed, the readers could experience the sadness and pain with the poet. When he speaks of freedom, one feels free like a bird, soaring high. When he speaks of fundamental human honor and dignity, it is hard not to keep one's head erect with the poet. When he plays rhythms with his words, one feels like dancing with him. When he offers his devotions, one's heart irresistibly mellows. His writing rarely put anyone to sleep or slumber. Rather, he had poems that seem to make your blood boil, eyes shed tears, toes tingle to dance, and hands shake the world around you.

In The Rebel he magnificently mentions: "I carry the lover's lute in one hand and the trumpet of war in the other". [4] O yes! When he chose to play his flute, his love and romance were as lively and touching as everything else. There were not too many things that could control or restrain this Rebel's fury, fire, or wildness. But it was his lover - the object of his romantic worship - that won over this rebel.

"O my queen
Today at last I accept defeat
My battle-flag lies at your feet...." [5]

Regardless of his bond with nature, romance, faith or people, he got stuck with his identity as the Rebel.


The Rebellion

It is correctly pointed out that "his revolt is multidimensional. It is complex and many-faceted." [2] However, as indicated in his own poem the Rebel, "He is ... crying his heart out, in anguish and anger against all oppression, tyranny and injustice." [2]

"...I am weary of strife,
but I would have no rest
until the skies have ceased to ring
with the groans of the tyrant's victims
and tyranny itself lies dead, vanquished. ..." [4]

Since his literary appearance as a Dhumketu (comet), he has covered a wide range of literary genre, broke new grounds, and made many innovations. His themes were as varied as social issues, politics, religion, love, nature, and so on, but as much as he equally excelled in other areas, including holding a world record in number of song lyrics, he still is remembered as the Rebel.

A good deal of analysis has been done by others, both during his life time and later, on the nature and significance of his rebellion. But all of that can be summed up like this: "It is universally acknowledged that the spirit of rebellion lies at the heart of Nazrul's poetry, but there is no consensus about the nature of rebellion that the poet propounds in his poems." [2]

I am neither a Nazrul expert nor a literary expert in Bangla or otherwise. But ever since I read Nazrul's The Rebel almost three decades ago when I was in my late teens, it was only a natural curiosity to seek to understand his rebellion better. It was not an easy pursuit because of both apparently contradicting tendencies in Nazrul and the fragmented focus and effort of various camps laying claim on him and his legacy. For me, a better understanding had to wait, until I had access to the complete collection of his works Nazrul Rochonaboli (1996).

As I have mentioned and hopefully others would concur that probably the best commentator of his works and ideas was Nazrul himself. As I read his works, and kept reading, there were few places where he is very pointed and succinct in both explaining the nature and identifying the guiding source, if any, of his rebellion. To avoid putting any of my word in his mouth, and let him speak for himself, here are the links for some of the relevant comments of Nazrul. The words of Nazrul are directly excerpted in Bangla (and English rendering) in the following two extended excerpts.

Explanation of the rebellion - I (a crude translation of the above)

[These are excerpts from a letter of Nazrul to Principal Ibrahim Khan, published in 1334, Bangla year,  or 1927 in Saugat. Nazrul Rochonaboli, 1996 ed., Bangla Academy, Vol. 4, pp. 392-401.]

The love and devotion of my young friends made the victory-emblem of the "Rebel" permanent on my forehead. Many of them misinterpreted it as the emblem of defamation, but I did not. Just because I sang the song of the pain-beauty, does that mean I have rebelled against the truth-beauty? I rebelled - sang the song of rebellion - against wrong and injustice, against what is false and polluted, against the fabricated, rotten taboos and traditions, against the hypocrisy and superstition in the name of faith and religion. May be my crime is that I could not state everything gently and politely, or that I did not try to display the dazzle of my silver-sheath while hiding the sword in it. That's the reason I am the "Rebel"! I have rebelled against oppression and injustice; I have crossed the boundary of all the superstitious rules and traditions, because I felt it was necessary . . . .

Let me reiterate: those who think - I am against Islam or I have rebelled against its truth - then it is an unfounded mistake. To reject as Islam all the piled up trash of superstition and taboo in the name of Islam, is that a quest against Islam? Those who make such mistake, what else can I say other than to beseech them to read my writings with care and empathy?

Also, those who rebel against me because of (my poem) the Rebel, I don't think they have high regard for Hafiz or Rumi either. In my view they were greater "rebel" than me. . ." [end of excerpt]


Explanation of the rebellion - II (a crude translation of the above)

[The following excerpts are from a speech Nazrul gave at a reception ceremony in 1940, toward the very late part of his literary life - less than two years before silence descended on his voice. "Shwadhin-chittotar Jagoron" (The Awakening of the Spirit of Freedom). Nazrul Rochonaboli, 1996 ed., Bangla Academy, Vol. 4, pp. 114-116]

. . . Studying the history of the revolutionary movements of the contemporary political world, one can easily see that the root of communism and socialism is in Islam. You may not have right in my food for sustenance, but you do have right in my surplus wealth - this is teaching of Islam. No other religion has offered such guidance and proclamation for humanity. That is the true message of Eid (celebration) . . .

Allah is the Supreme Creator. His creation is so great and vast. The treasure of creation as we see in moon-sun-star was born in the background of that evercreative canvas. The endeavor to know, understand and appreciate it is the highest quest of life. That's why we cherish that free and great life.

We have to shed all fear, weakness and cowardice. We have to live demanding the right of justice, not begging for it. We won't bow our head before anyone - we will mend shoes at street sides, we will live modest life based on our own earnings, but we won't turn to others for pity or charity. This awakening spirit of freedom and dignity is what I want to see in the Muslim youth of Bangla. This is the essence of Islam's teachings. I invite all to embrace this teaching. In my life I have embraced this very teaching. I have suffered pain, I have embraced all the hurt with smile, but I have never bowed before humiliation of my spirit. I have never surrendered my freedom. "Say O Valiant! Ever high and upright is my head" - I found this song from the realization of that very same message. I want to see the rebirth of that free-spirit. This is the supreme message of Islam - the essence of Islam." [end of excerpt; read the full article.]

There are several more speeches he delivered that are included in Nazrul Rochonaboli, Vol. 4 that were given during the last 2-3 years of his healthy life that further shed light on his evolving spiritual and mystical odyssey. Three that particularly stand out are "Allar Pothe Atmoshomorpon" (Submission in the Path of Allah; NR/v4/pp117-122; a must reading for those who want to know about his evolving thoughts toward the end of his active, healthy life), "Jodi ar baashi na baje" (If the flute doesn't play any more; NR/v4/pp125-129), and Amar League-Congress (My League-Congress; NR/v4/pp70-72). The mystic odyssey of Nazrul and its evolution, in his own words, did not alter his earlier rebellious perspective and universalistic vision. Nor did it detract him from everything that he stood for throughout his life. 

What was the most precious desire the Rebel poet had in his life? In the preface of his Kabbyo Ampara, a poetic translation of the last volume (para) of the Qur'an, he wrote: "The biggest desire of my life was to render a rhymed, poetic translation of the Holy Qur'an." That was an important milestone in his life. In this work, he must have wanted to define himself. Categorically.

He was a messenger of liberating the human spirit, of universal brotherhood, of courage and dignity, of peace and harmony among all, of unity and cooperation, of what is right and just, of what is true and beautiful, of love and compassion, of non-dogmatism and non-fanaticism. He concluded the preface of the work that represented the biggest desire of his life by identifying himself: Khademul Islam, Nazrul Islam. [See NR/v2/p336]

Beyond Labeling

Just because Nazrul Islam signed off the work that was his most cherished goal, should he be labeled as an Islamic poet or a poet of Muslims? Absolutely not. Nazrul himself would not have gone along with such labeling. Recognizing an anchor of his life and thought does not mean that he should be labeled in a parochial way. He is in a distinct category of himself compared to Allama Iqbal or poet Farrukh Ahmed. Nazrul is unlike anyone else. That's Nazrul. 

And, that's why I believe that he deserves to be known to the world as

an extraordinary and most versatile poet, lyricist, and writer (He holds a world record in terms of number of songs written and composed. Although his primary contributions are in the areas of poetry and music, including classical music, he also wrote a good number of novels as well as prose.);

a mass-oriented, revolutionary literary figure;

a voice against bigotry, injustice, oppression and inequality of all kind;

a personality full of love - romantic and humanistic - who could also express his feelings in the most beautiful way;

a fearless and undaunted activist always feared by the establishment;

a passionate advocate of religious/ideological harmony as reflected particularly in his contribution toward better Hindu-Muslim relationship (even Rabindranath Thakur did not write a Hamd/Naat, but Nazrul wrote Shayma songs);

an uncommon voice of Islam proclaiming universal values, peace, freedom, justice, harmony and cooperation, while repudiating any bigotry, extremism, fanaticism, narrow-mindedness, judgmentalism, exploitation in the name of any religion or ideology including Islam;

a symbol of ever fresh youth, valor, creativity, freedom and indomitable human spirit;

and, most importantly,
as a wonderful, warm-hearted, loving human being.

NR: refers to Nazrul Rochonaboli, Vol. I-IV, Bangla Academy, 1996 edition. 

1. Serajul Islam Choudhury, "The Blazing Comet," pp. 169-186 in Kazi Nazrul Islam: A New Anthology by Rafiqul Islam (ed), Bangla Academy, 1990.

2. Kabir Chowdhury, "Kazi Nazrul Islam: His Revolt and Love," pp. 187-196 in Kazi Nazrul Islam: A New Anthology by Rafiqul Islam (ed), Bangla Academy, 1990.

3. Abu Mohammad Habibullah, "The Personality and Poetry of Kazi Nazrul Islam," pp. 143-155, in Kazi Nazrul Islam: A New Anthology by Rafiqul Islam (ed), Bangla Academy, 1990.

4. Syed Sajjad Hussain, Bidrohi (The Rebel), pp. 20-25 in Kazi Nazrul Islam: A New Anthology by Rafiqul Islam (ed), Bangla Academy, 1990.

5. William Radice, Bijoyini (Victoress), p. 112 in Kazi Nazrul Islam: A New Anthology by Rafiqul Islam (ed), Bangla Academy, 1990.