Saturday, March 3, 2012

Songs of the Rebel Poet: Khairul Anam Shakil

Kazi Nazrul Islam

Two poets define the modern Bengali consciousness: Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam.  Each came from his own religious community, Hindu and Muslim, but both were passionate warriors against fundamentalism, obscurantism and narrow mindedness.  It is no accident that these two renaissance men emerged out of the humid riverine lands of Bengal which has long been known for its humane and sophisticated culture.

Kazi Nazrul Islam is recognised as the National Poet of Bangladesh even though he lived there only for the final four years of his life.  Nicknamed Bidrohi Kobi (Rebel Poet) by all Bengalis, his political writings, poetry, literature and lifestyle spoke out eloquently against oppression whether it be political, religious or gender derived.  Not only was he an active political rebel against the British raj but he consistently raised the hackles of the self appointed guardians of social convention and conservatism.

Born in 1899 into an influential landowning family Nazrul’s father was a Muslim judge (kazi) who made sure his son was well educated in the local religious schools. With a deeply ingrained love of literature the young boy fell in love and soon joined the travelling theatre troupes (leto) that put on performances in villages and towns across Bengal. He began writing plays and stories that took their inspiration from both Hindu mythology and Islamic traditions.

Though a good student who impressed his teachers with his dedication and intellect, Nazrul never graduated from high school and joined the British army in 1917 and served time as a quartermaster in Karachi.  During those years he began to write seriously and published his first poems, stories and novel. In 1920, he was discharged from the army and moved to the cultural center of India, the roiling metropolis, Calcutta (Kolkata).

He fell in with a literary clique of progressive thinkers that included Tagore with whom he developed a close if not entirely uncritical association for many years.  In 1922 he published his best known poem Bidrohi (Rebellion) and came to the attention of the nationalist independence movement.

Never completely comfortable with the major political groupings and movements of the day he remained a member of the Indian National Congress even though he advocated a more radical agenda then Gandhi and Nehru.  His marriage to a Hindu woman, and his habit of giving his children both a Hindu and a Muslim name (Krishna Mohammad, for example) scandalized the conservative Muslim community and irritated Hindus as well.  His critical vision was not trained solely on the British and overtly political matters. His strong advocacy of gender equality and religious tolerance was equally compelling and eloquent.

I don't see any difference
/Between a man and woman
/Whatever great or benevolent achievements/
That are in this world
/Half of that was by woman/The other half by man.

Come brother Hindu! Come Musalman! Come Buddhist! Come Christian! Let us transcend all barriers, let us forsake forever all smallness, all lies, all selfishness and let us call brothers as brothers. We shall quarrel no more.

In the early 1940’s Nazrul fell seriously ill and spent the better part of a decade and a half in an out of various mental institutions.  His literary and intellectual contribution to public life ceased as he was cared for by his family.  In 1972 Bangladesh was born and one of the early acts of the government was to invite Nazrul Islam to the new country.  He migrated and lived the last years of his life in the new nation. In 1976 he passed away leaving two nations grief struck.

In his active years Nazrul Islam, like Tagore, composed hundreds of poems in many styles that are preserved as Nazrul geeti and sung by Bengali artists of all persuasions and ages. Tonight’s post features the smooth voiced Bangladeshi singer, Khairul Anam Shakil, (above) interpreting some of Islam’s best loved geets and ghazals. Shakil is trained in classical Hindustani music as well as Industrial Engineering! But his passion and greatest renown is for his interpretations of Nazrulgeet, of which he is a teacher.  He has recorded many albums of Bidrohi Kobi’s songs and this one, released by the Bengal Foundation is his most recent.

            Track Listing:
            01 Nahe Nahe Priya
02 Gaveer Nisheethe
03 Padmar Dheu Re
04 Shunnya a Buke
05 Shyama Namer
06 E ki Asheem
07 Bano Kuntalo
08 Tumi Sundar
09 Parodeshee Badhua
10 Tarun Premik
11 He Priya
12 Aye Moru Parer
13 Riniki Jhiniki
14 Balre Jaba
Listen here.

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