Nazrul today: glory, gains and grievances

by Badiuzzaman Bay

008Kazi Nazrul Islam is a national poet, yet he is not.
That is the message that speakers at an open mic in March sent out, pouring out a barrage of allegations and reprimands before a clearly agreeable audience. Nazrul as a national poet is being neglected, they said, comparing the perceived neglect to the pre-1971 state denial of Rabindranath Tagore’s genius.
Among the speakers were some well-known names including the poet Al Muzahidi and children’s writer Ali Imam, who represent a community of Nazrul activists who argue that a national poet deserves the highest level of national attention since he represents the identity, beliefs and principles of the whole nation.
In Nazrul’s case, they say, this is not happening. But how genuine are these grievances? What forms of neglect has Nazrul been subjected to?
Allegations of neglect with regard to Nazrul are not new, and certainly not limited to Bangladesh. In India’s West Bengal, where he was born and lived most of his life, such allegations were raised on different occasions, even during his lifetime when he was living in relative obscurity before Bangladesh embraced him and restored him to his true glory.
By contrast, his connection with Bangladesh was more emotional than biological, and had been established long before he was brought to the country in 1972 and accorded citizenship in 1976. He loved this country and its people and his feelings were enthusiastically reciprocated by the latter who considered him one of their own.
Almost 40 years down the line, Nazrul activists now point out to a host of factors to substantiate their claim of negligence, including a declining interest in Nazrul research, lack of sponsorship for Nazrul-related events, lack of state incentives for related organisations, inadequate media coverage, poor conservation of his possessions, etc.
Mintu Rahman, general secretary of Nazrul Academy, accused the government of ‘stepmotherly treatment’ towards the poet which he says is evident in the way funds are dispersed. ‘Nazrul’s songs and poems have been spread to the distant corners of the country. Nazrul lives in people’s hearts. That being said, fund constraints are coming in the way of a greater progress,’ he said.
‘The government metes out stepmotherly treatment to Nazrul organisations when it comes to funding. From NA, we get only Tk 30,000 as yearly allowance when other organisations, including those dedicated to Rabindranath Tagore, get in excess of Tk 100,000.
‘The media is not very supportive either, when it comes to covering Nazrul events. Except for a few events, either held in the capital or organised by government bodies, most go unreported. I think the channels could devote more airtime to Nazrul programmes, but it appears as though they are under some kind of pressure not to do so.
‘Nazrul organisations could have performed better had there been enough support from the government and the media,’ he added.
Nazrul Academy is one of the oldest surviving organisations dedicated to Kazi Nazrul Islam, founded in 1964, and has approximately 40 branches across the country. Their main sources of funds, Rahman said, are personal grants and tuition fees by the students.
Meanwhile, Nazrul Institute, the premier organisation dedicated to Nazrul’s memory, has a stated purpose of collecting and preserving the large and diverse collection of his works, spearheading research on his thoughts and philosophy as well as promoting his work.
Since its establishment in 1985, the institute has published over 400 books and 35 books of songs in staff notation, and released 49 music albums, while continuing to train learners in Nazrul music and poetry recitations.
Despite its seminal contribution to streamlining research on Nazrul and organising his previously-scattered body of works, controversy arose in recent years over the institute’s lacklustre operation, a virtually nonfunctional research wing, uninventive event concepts, and failure to attract readers to its library.
The library has a rich collection of over 10,000 books but it remains deserted most of the time. More pathetic, however, is the condition of the museum housed on the second floor of the two-storied Kabi Bhavan, where Nazrul lived the final years of his life.
The museum remains deserted most of the time, too, and – unlike biographical museums of this type – has nothing to remind one of the years the poet had lived there, except for a few photographs. In total, the museum has 109 photographs, several photocopied manuscripts, an un-credited sculpted portrait of Nazrul and a gramophone.
According to sources, museums in the three existing branches of NI – two in Mymensingh, one in Comilla – are in a similar state, with no memorabilia or anything of Nazrul’s possessions to give visitors a glimpse into his private life.
Rezauddin Stalin, deputy director of NI, acknowledged some of the shortcomings. ‘There is no question about the government’s sincerity, but if you put things into perspective, you will see that these shortcomings are but parts of a bigger problem. We have yet to create an atmosphere in which Nazrul is read, heard, and appreciated as he deserves,’ he said.
The institute is not well-supplied with researchers, Stalin said, but it has plans to hire some to make the research wing functional.
However, professor emeritus Rafiqul Islam, a leading researcher on Nazrul and also the chairman of the institute, expressed satisfaction with the research works done so far. ‘We have created the pedestal on which future researchers can work,’ he said.
Nazrul activists, however, argue that the problem with not having enough homegrown researchers lies partly in the dearth of academic courses on Nazrul literature in Bangla departments of public universities. Apart from Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University, no other public universities have compulsory full-credit courses on Nazrul in their Honours programmes.
‘Our students are being deprived of the opportunity for extensive study of his works. A genius of Nazrul’s stature deserves to be studied more,’ said Nasim Ahmed, a frequent commentator on Nazrul affairs and the president of Bangladesh Nazrul Abritti Parishad.
BNAP is one of the organisations that have been pushing for changes befitting the status of a national poet.
Some of their demands include setting up Kazi Nazrul Islam Chairs in all Bangla departments, setting up Nazrul study centres in all public universities, declaring his birthday as a national holiday, featuring his portrait on the front or back of any currency note, airing daily Nazrul shows in state-owned television and radio channels, and revamping the Nazrul Institute’s moribund research and publication wings.
‘What Bangladesh did for Nazrul is exemplary, and will be remembered for centuries to come. But there’s no room for complacency,’ Ahmed said.
‘Concerted efforts should be made to keep him alive in the minds of the people, for his messages and ideologies that are ever so relevant, especially those related to religion, social justice, human equality, communal harmony and women’s empowerment.’

The author is a journalist and art critic

One Comment

  1. Giasuddin Dalal says:

    Should kazi Nazrul Islam`s entire works be translated into English Language for world readers?

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