Nazrul on the global stage

In conversation with Professor Rafiqul Islam
Kazi Nazrul Islam’s poetry inculcates the triumph of humanity, while his music soothes the senses with its embrace of eternal love. Eminent Nazrul exponent, researcher and chairman of the Nazrul Institute Trustee Board, Professor Rafiqul Islam, talks about Nazrul on the international level, and the relevance of his literature in the 21st century:
Nazrul had innate poetic abilities. We would like to convey the message of humanity and dignity that Nazrul reverberated in his poetry to the world. We find the relevance of Nazrul’s poetry in the present world brimming with violence, fundamentalism and bigotry.
Today, Bangladesh and India jointly celebrate the 90th anniversary of the publication of Nazrul’s “Bidrohi” (The Rebel), the most outstanding of the National Poet’s creations. This is a rare event where two countries are celebrating a single poem. We haven’t heard of a joint celebration of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” by USA and UK or Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” by USA and Australia.
To introduce Nazrul’s literary works to the world, especially to the English-speaking world, we have much to do in the days ahead. We are short of resource persons, including translators. The language of translations done in the 20th century has become archaic in the 21st century. Again, the translators must be connoisseurs of poetry; otherwise the translation will be below par. We are looking for new translators for our upcoming mission.
The Nazrul Institute, supported by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of Bangladesh, has published several research-based works on Nazrul, marking the 100th birth anniversary of the poet.
Dr. Jahangir Tareque, a well-known linguist, litterateur, translator and a Professor at the Institute of Modern Languages, University of Dhaka, translated Nazrul’s works in several languages, including “Kazi Nazrul Islam: Poems Choisis” (French); “Kazi Nazrul Islam: Peomas elegidos” (Spanish); “Kazi Nazrul Islam: Chansons” (French).
Professor Winston E. Langley, Associate Chancellor and Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, has done single-handedly, more than all others put together, to introduce Nazrul to the English speaking world. Langley’s book, “Kazi Nazrul Islam: The Voice of Poetry and the Struggle for Human Wholeness”, was published by the Nazrul Institute, Dhaka in 2007. A second edition was released in 2009.
In the beginning of the book, Langley placed Nazrul in a historical context and spoke about the significance and characteristics of his poetic voice.
Langley cites English poet Shelley, to whom the poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world and are the voices that unite the collective pursuit of moral development. Although in the post-modern era, many may object to this instrumental view of the purpose of poetry, Shelley’s view of the poets’ role, according to Langley, is personified in Nazrul.
It is amply evident that the work on Nazrul that Langley has embarked on is a true labour of love.
While Winston Langley continues his intellectual and academic endeavour, the couple, Dr. Gulshan Ara Kazi and Kazi M. Belal of (Taranga of California), also remain devoted to the enterprise of introducing Nazrul’s genius to the world.
The Kazi couple’s determined efforts resulted in the setting up of Nazrul Endowment Funds at the California State University and the University of Connecticut. The couple have also been the driving force behind organising periodic Nazrul conferences and symposia in various North American universities.
The fifth Kazi Nazrul Islam Endowed Lectureship Programme at the California State University, Northridge, California was held on October 1, 2011. The event was jointly organised by USA based organisation Taranga (run by Bangladeshi immigrants) and California State University. A cultural programme featuring Nazrul’s songs, music, poetry, dances and drama was also held at the event.
Annual Nazrul Lecture, sponsored by the Nazrul Endowed Program, the Asian American Studies Program and the Asian American Cultural Center of Connecticut State University, Storrs, Connecticut was held on October 5, 2011.
The Nazrul-Burns Centre (The Centre for East-West Arts and Cultural Excellence, Scotland) was established in 2009 at the university of Glasgow in Scotland to promote “multicultural, secular Scottish lifestyle through diverse creative and innovative arts, cultural and leisure activities, including raising the profile of the Bangladeshi National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) and the great Scottish National Poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) towards greater understanding and mutual respect.”
Bringing the poet’s work to non-Bengali readers through English translation, however, remains a sporadic and private effort.
Dr. Kueker Neua of Japan has also conducted research on Kazi Nazrul Islam. We have already published books containing over 3000 songs of Kazi Nazrul Islam. A CD of 130 songs (in proper notation) recorded by 130 artistes has also been published in June, last year. BTV regularly airs a programme titled “Geeti Shatodal” on Nazrul Sangeet. I host the programme. I observe that other private television channels don’t give appropriate emphasis on airing Nazrul Sangeet. This needs to be addressed.
To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the publication of Nazrul’s “Bidrohi”, Nazrul Institute organised a two-day (June 24-25, 2011) international conference on Nazrul in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The conference, held at the National Theatre Hall of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, brought together scholars and delegations from USA, Netherlands, China, India and Bangladesh.
Professor Winston E. Langley, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA; Professor Rachael S McDermott, Bernard College, Columbia University, New York; Dr. Peter Custers, writer and journalist from the Netherlands; Young Weing Ming, editor and presenter, China Radio International; Professor Pabitra Sarkar, former Vice Chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, India; the late National Professor of Bangladesh Kabir Chowdhury; Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Chowdhury; executive director of Nazrul Institute Rashid Haider; poet Mohammad Nurul Huda; Professor Mohit Ul Alam and I gave in-depth presentations on Nazrul at the conference.
Poet Mohammad Nurul Huda presented his keynote paper titled “Universalisation of the Rebel”. In his keynote paper, enriched with apt quotations, allusions and references, Huda drew attention to the different layers of meaning in Nazrul’s “Bidrohi”.
In his brilliant bilingual speech (Bengali and English), Dr. Peter Custers focused on various concepts popularised by Nazrul like “National Awakening”, “The Muslim Renaissance”, “Firm Opposition to Communalism”, “Tolerance and Equality”, “Mysticism and Syncretism” and “The legacy of Religious Tolerance”. His paper was titled, “Kazi Nazrul Islam: Bengal’s Prophet of Tolerance”.
Terming Nazrul as “Mohakobi”, Custers said, “Nazrul needs to be institutionalised internationally as his poems, songs and love are for the universal humanity. Nazrul focussed on religious scriptures like ‘Mahabharat’ and ‘Ramayan’ from different perspectives. He termed the exploited and downtrodden people as ‘Gods’ in his literature.”
In her presentation, (in Bangla) titled “Banglar Nazrul: China-r Nazrul”, Young Weing Ming said, “My Nazrul studies started with the recitation of ‘Bidrohi’. After reading the poem, this certain sensation took over my senses that I can only compare to a volcanic eruption or tsunami.”
Meanwhile International Centre for Nazrul (ICNAZRUL) held its soft launch on May 19, 2012 in Dhaka. The soft launch brought together a select group of guests and representatives from USA, Turkey, Japan and the local community, who will forge a collaborative network to formally launch ICNAZRUL and the 1st ICNAZRUL International Symposium in Dhaka in February 2013. Its planned activities are to translate and publish Nazrul’s works in English and other languages with leading translators; organise, support and collaborate on cultural programmes highlighting Nazrul’s work for the general public and international community; organise International Nazrul conferences and events; support international academic research and publications on Nazrul’s life and works; set up a digital archive of Nazrul’s literature, translations, music and writings.

Courtesy of The Daily Star

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