The touching story of Nazrul's life-long, attendant-companion

Asadul Huq

[Weekly Kolom, December 12, 1998; 19 Dargah Road, Calcutta-17; translated from Bangla by Mohammad Omar Farooq]

[The writer Asadul Huq is not only an exceptional researcher on Nazrul, but also he was among a handful who used to be close to the poet Nazrul and his wife during their illness. In this article, he presents the untold story Kusha, the poet's life-long, untiring attendant.]

It was quite some time ago to the best of my recollection, one day in April of 1955. We just closed the door and were about to begin our conversation sitting on a rug beside the bed of poet's wife when we are suddenly interrupted. As I looked up at the noise of the opening door, I saw a man - wearing a gray-color pant and white shirt with rather ordinary appearance - passed by us and went inside the home. Poet's wife asked him, "Kusha! Where is tea for Asad?" The man continued his work without paying any attention. His silence made me somewhat uncomfortable.

It was that discomfort that made me further notice that since his entry into the room he has been mumbling in a low voice - like reciting some chants of snake-charmers. I tried to pay extra attention, if I could pick up something, but without success. Whatever I could understand, it appeared some thing related to balancing money. He was adding lakhs and lakhs of Taka, then giving to others as loans or charity. Then the balance was close to zero, and he was repeating this routine.

For a few moments, I was distracted. I was listening to him with amazement. The voice of poet's wife broke the spell. As returned my gaze to her, she smiled and said, "He is our Kusha - lives in this house. He attends to the needs of his babu (poet Nazrul). He was on a vacation and has just returned." She waved at me indicating that he has some mental problem. I was relieved! Then, it occurred to me that a crazy would live in the house of another one, what's so surprising about that?

Anyway, we returned to what we were discussing. I did not notice when Kusha went out through the other door. Now it was my turn to be surprised as I saw Kusha returned and stood by me with a cup of tea and some refreshments in a plate. His mumbling was still continuing. After handing over the cup of tea, Kusha placed the plate beside me on the rug and resumed his cleaning job. While drinking tea and having our conversation, I noticed that the mess of room since I arrived was gone, and now it was quite well-arranged.

It is relevant to mention here that I am talking about a time when the poet Nazrul used to spend the entire day scattering a few empty bottles all over the room and then sometime pick them up to arrange on a rack. Sometimes he would shred a piece of paper and then place them under his pillow or simply scatter on the floor near his bed. This Kusha was his only attendant who used to keep his bed and room in order. I notice that Kusha nicely arranged those bottles on a rack. He put away the pile of shredded papers, changed and arranged the bed. He also arranged everything else in the room nicely.

Failing to suppress my curiosity, I asked the poet's wife and she replied with a smile that Kusha is always attentive to these things. The poet is constantly misplacing things, and Kusha is putting things in order. Kusha was not least annoyed or upset. Kusha believes that his babu is so busy the whole day reading and thinking, which causes all these mess. Who will take care of his babu if he doesn't? Sometimes emotionally he would say: there were times when some of his students would help his babu at home, but no more. Therefore, who else is there to look after the need of his babu?

Sometimes, Kusha would appear worried. When asked, he would intelligently say: there were times when so many people would sing my babu's song, but these days I don't see that many. But why - Kusha would ask.

Kusha was always generous in praising his babu. He says that his babu can really write good songs. Sometimes like a wise man he would comment that who knows what has happened to this country: every thing has changed and apparently all the nicety and affection have disappeared like camphor. So many things Kusha told me and the more I heard my curiosity to learn about Kusha grew further. Unable to suppress my curiosity, I turned to the poet's wife to learn more about Kusha: who was he; where did he come from; how long had he been in that house, etc. This is what I learnt from the poet's wife.

The real name of the man was "Kusha Shau" - everybody calls him Kusha. As a child Kusha came to this house seeking work. Since then he had been with the family. Kusha speaks to himself all the time, but no one has to remind him about his works. He always knows and anticipates what his babu needs and he is always attending to the needs. The responsibility of taking care of guests is also on his shoulder. If there is nothing at home, he would go to Pramila (poet's wife) . She would give him money and mention to him the needed items. He would bring those as instructed. If nobody else is at home, he would take care of the grocery. He can take care of all the household chores by himself.

My curiosity about Kusha grew further. Therefore, whenever I would visit that house, I would set aside some time to have conversation with him. Of course, I used to ask mostly about his babu and he used to answer them properly. I still remember Kusha so well. He did not know society, religion or law. He only knew his babu and to serve him properly.

I remember in 1963, before departing from Calcutta to abroad, I visited the poet's house. Nobody else was there. Kusha alone was guarding the house and taking care of insane babu. It's hard to express how happy he was. Whenever I remember the poet, the picture of Kusha also appears in my mind and makes my heart heavy.

So interesting is this Kusha, originally from Orissa. So many things are in circulation about Kusha. Some say, the poet found Kusha from a Betel-leaf shop in Shaymbazar of Calcutta. The owner of the shop unburdened himself by handing over orphan Kusha to the poet. Some say that Kusha became orphan at a very age. His parents passed away with half of the village population due to Cholera. Nobody, including his relatives, came forward to take care of this boy. Kusha was passing terrible times. Kusha's father was a poor day-labor and his mother used to be housemaid - both earning so little to leave anything for Kusha at their death. Who really knows how the Omniscient makes things happen?

During some travel the poet came to know about Kusha and immediately the poet took his full responsibility and brought him to his home. Kusha has been with the poet ever since. Even after his arrival, so many people came to and went away from this home, but Kusha never has brought up such thought. Kusha believes that his position at this home is right after the poet. Therefore, the thought of leaving this place never occurs to him. He is intimately involved with the life of the poet. Kusha claims that he is the eldest son of the poet. According to him, poet's son Kazi Shobbyosachi was not born when he came. Therefore, he is the son older to Shobbyosachi. I found the same answer from him when I asked him this question. Kusha doesn't know about his parents, nor does he know about any relative. He knows only the poet and he serves him around the clock.

One day Kusha said that now that Kazi Shobbyosachi (boro babu) has grown up, it has become somewhat difficult for him when he might not do something right. Borobabu's temperament is not so nice, and when he is upset, he takes even Kusha to task. Apparently, his borobabu does not know how to respect his elder brother. I have mentioned this matter right before Kazi Shobbyosachi several times. He used to laugh loudly at this. However, he did mention that the poet did raise Kusha with the affection like a son. We all know, of course, that there was no blood relationship between Kusha and poet Nazrul. But I have seen myself how deep is Kusha's affection and love for the poet. Kusha knew exactly when the poet was to have medicine or the time to go to bed. Sometimes the poet won't tolerate anyone near or around him, but Kusha was an exception. Just as it is said that the smell of Dhup makes a ghost retreat. However bad was the poet's mood, Kusha's presence used to change all that. I have verified it myself from many incidents.

The door of the poet's house used to be particularly open for two days during the week especially for students or public. The daily crowd was not negligible, but sometimes it used to be big. The poet could not tolerate big crowd. When he would become upset, he might keep shouting and faint. The scolding of the poet could be heard from behind the wall quite clearly. When he used to be in this mood for quite some time, his mouth would start salivating, face redden, indicating imminent loss of consciousness. Therefore, attempts were taken to prevent situations reaching that stage. Kusha at that time was most wanted. No one could calm the poet like he did.

Several years ago one time he fainted like this and spell of fainting was recurrent since then. Sometimes, he has been observed getting fainted at the least excitement. Quick treatment kept this symptom well under control, but whenever he used to begin shouting, people around him would get concerned about the recurrence of his spell. Nobody else was there to bring things under control and calm him other than Kusha. It's the truth, no one could calm him except Kusha.

It's the same routine that Kusha used to enter the room mumbling, go near the poet, and collect and hand over the shredded pieces of paper to his babu. If Kusha assessed that the poet was calmed, then it was alright. Otherwise, he would pull a screen separating the poet and the visitors and go away. Then, gradually the poet would gain his composure. Usually, on such a day unless for special reasons, he would not be allowed any more visitor.

The poet used to sit on a bed right across from the door of the room. Most of the times, visitors simply have a look at the poet from the door and go away. Special guests would be met by the poet in a different room. ... Kusha, of course, had his uninterrupted mumbling regardless of what he was doing. Who knows that this might have been Kusha's trick to keep the poet calm?

It is reported that several yeas ago the poet was taken the mental infirmary in Rachi for treatment. The principal Mr. Davies, the chief of the jail, was amazed at Kusha. Who knows may be even Kusha's name is also listed in the roster of patients of that jail.

It is told that the whole hospital and its establishment used to be nervous when the poet used to be upset. No one could control him then. He would give up eating and continue uninterrupted shouting. He would even physically assault sometime those who would approach near him. The whole jail used to be awakened at his shouting. This was the time of course when he was prone to faint, particularly when the shouting would be prolonged. Quite often, the workers would call Principal Davies to attend the situation.

While observing the poet with the eye of an experience professor, the old principal noticed the sudden presence of Kusha there. Kusha was trying to pass by others to come close to the poet. Seeing a stranger approaching, some staff tried to prevent him, while the principal saw that the poet was trying to say something to Kusha. The principal immediately waved to the staff to allow Kusha to proceed. Kusha came close to the poet while mumbling, but the poet - everyone noticed - did not resist Kusha. Kusha held the poet's hand and helped him sit on the bed, changed his cloth. Then, massaged his hair with oil and took him to the bathroom to give a shower. He put on the poet fresh cloth, combed his hair and then sat him on the bed. Then he fed the poet, wiped his face with a towel, and then helped him lie on the bed. Kusha spread a sheet over his body and the poet turned on his side closing eyes to go to sleep. Kusha was about to leave home, when the principal extended his hand saying: Hello, Kusha. Principal Davies was observing the works of Kusha in astonishment.

When Kusha was busy attending the poet, the principal came to know about Kusha from one of his colleagues. Kusha was the poet's attendant and himself a patient in the outpatient department. Kusha used to say with pride that Principal Davies said "Hello, Mr. Kusha" when shaking hands with him.

During the poet's stay at the mental institution for treatment, poet's wife and relatives used to live in a public bungalow. Kusha used to live with them as well. The distance between the jail and the bungalow was almost two miles - only a path to walk. Who knows what happened to Kusha one night! He came to the front entrance of the jail around midnight. The entrance was closed. Kusha was determined. After persistent effort, he was able to enter climbing over the wall and then he proceeded toward the room of the poet. His clothes were torn, his arms and legs had lacerations. At this late night, the guard may have been dozing off for a few minutes, but suddenly he noticed the presence of someone while the front entrance was still closed. The guard called him, but Kusha kept mumbling and proceeding to the poet's room without paying attention to anything else.

The biggest obstacle in conversing with Kusha is the fact that whatever you ask you have to detect his answers that are bracketed within his mumbles. And, if you don't make that effort, then it's really trouble. That's exactly what happened in that jail. Hearing no response from Kusha, the guard sounded the alarm bell. The other guards came rushing and caught Kusha. That night Kusha spent in jail. The whole night he kept up his mumbling. When he was presented next morning before the doctor on duty, he recognized Kusha. He was released, but very upset at that guard. Even later, when he remembered that incident, Kusha would express his outrage at that guard. He would say: "Even Principal Davies shook his hand saying Hello, Mr. Kusha and how dare this guard - well, this guard is illiterate, you know."

For a while Kusha had to leave with Kazi Shobbyosachi in Shialdoho area. However, whenever he missed his babu, he would not hesitate to leave everything and present himself at the poet's service in Talapark area. After sitting quietly by the poet's side for a while, he would return to his work. Kusha moved to Dhaka with the poet. At the time of the poet's death in PG Hospital, it was only Kusha present by the poet's side. Kusha used to sleep on the floor of the poet's room. Even after the poet's death Kusha used to live in the hospital. His last days used to pass sitting or lying outside the hospital room where the poet used to live. He used to take food in hospital. In this condition, one day Kusha also bade farewell to life in Dhaka as well.