Who was Nazrul?

Written by: Gulshan Ara Kazi & Cathy Schlund-Vials

A glimpse of life & work of Kazi Nazrul Islam

Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976), the National Poet of Bangladesh, was a 20th-century literary and artistic phenomenon. He was a poet, novelist, lyricist, composer, singer, short story writer, film maker, dramatist, philosopher, journalist, social activist and freedom fighter. Born in British- occupied India, he entered the literary world at a time when the tapestry of India was tainted with sectarian hatred, religious divisiveness, and colonial violence. Indeed, this dire situation swayed him to become an activist. Using his epic writings and drawing on an unrelenting commitment to peace, harmony, equality, truth, and justice, Nazrul called for unification, urging everyone to rise above religious and sectarian differences in order to put up a united front. To be sure, Nazrul came from a humble background. At age nine, he lost his father; consequently, while attending school, Nazrul had to work to support his family. With big eyes, bushy hair, a divine voice, captivating charm, and an innate talent for composing and performing, Nazrul was – even in childhood – a true force. As a student, he was drawn to Indian and world history, literature, music, philosophy, and politics. . Though he was an avid reader and a gifted pupil, he was unable to finish high school due to financial hardship. He was by and large practically self-taught. Armed with an extraordinary vocabulary and unparalleled writing skills, Nazrul began his crusade by using his pen to fight against the sword of systemic oppression. His 1921 poem “Bidrohi” (“The Rebel”), had an immediate and profound impact on his generation: the work, which emphasizes the capacity of all humans to abolish obstacles in the pursuit of truth and justice, made Nazrul a national hero at the tender age of twenty-two. What follows is an excerpt from The Rebel:
O, the great Hero
Proclaim that I stand tall for ever
And the Himalayan peaks bow before me
I traverse through the galaxy
Surpassing the moon, the sun, the planets the stars
And piercing through God’s throne, I rise
I am the eternal wonder of the creator of the universe