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Kazi Nazrul Islam (24 May 1899 – 29 August 1976) was a Bengali poet, writer, musician, and revolutionary. He is the national poet of Bangladesh.Popularly known as Nazrul, he produced a large body of poetry and music with themes that included religious devotion and spiritual rebellion against fascism and oppression. Nazrul’s activism for political and social justice earned him the title of “Rebel Poet”. His compositions form the avant-garde genre of Nazrul Sangeet (Music of Nazrul). In addition to being revered in Bangladesh, he is equally commemorated and revered in India, especially in the Bengali-speaking states of West Bengal and Tripura.

Born in a Bengali Muslim Kazi family, Nazrul Islam received religious education and as a young man worked as a muezzin at a local mosque. He learned about poetry, drama, and literature while working with the rural theatrical group Letor Dal. He joined the British Indian Army in 1917. After serving in the British Indian Army in the Middle East (Mesopotamian campaign) during World War I, Nazrul established himself as a journalist in Calcutta. He assailed the British Raj in India and preached revolution through his poetic works, such as Bidrohi (The Rebel) and Bhangar Gaan (The Song of Destruction), as well as his publication Dhumketu (The Comet). His nationalist activism in Indian independence movement led to his frequent imprisonment by the colonial British authorities. While in prison, Nazrul wrote the Rajbandir Jabanbandi (Deposition of a Political Prisoner). Exploring the life and conditions of the downtrodden masses of the Indian subcontinent, Nazrul worked for their emancipation. His writings greatly inspired Bengalis of East Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Bangladeshi literary critic Azfar Hussain characterized Kazi Nazrul Islam as one of the greatest revolutionary poets in the world.

Nazrul’s writings explore themes such as love, freedom, humanity and revolution. He opposed all forms of bigotry and fundamentalism, including religious, caste-based and gender-based. Throughout his career, Nazrul wrote short stories, novels, and essays but is best known for his songs and poems. He pioneered new music forms such as Bengali ghazals. Nazrul wrote and composed music for nearly 4,000 songs (many recorded on HMV, gramophone records), collectively known as Nazrul Geeti, which are widely popular even today in Bangladesh and India. In 1942 at the age of 43 he began to suffer from an unknown disease, losing his voice and memory. A medical team in Vienna diagnosed the disease as Morbus Pick, a rare incurable neurodegenerative disease. It caused Nazrul’s health to decline steadily and forced him to live in isolation in India (he was also admitted in Ranchi (Jharkhand) mental hospital for many years. At the invitation of the Government of Bangladesh, Nazrul and his family moved to Dhaka in 1972. He died four years later, on 29 August 1976. Both Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal (India) observed mourning for his demise.

Kazi Nazrul Islam was born on Friday 26 May 1899 at 10:20 am in the village of Churulia in the Asansol Sadar subdivision, Paschim Bardhaman district of the Bengal Presidency (now in West Bengal, India). He was born into a Muslim Taluqdar family and was the second of three sons and a daughter. Nazrul’s father Kazi Faqeer Ahmed was the imam and caretaker of the local mosque and mausoleum.[Nazrul’s mother was Zahida Khatun. Nazrul had two brothers, Kazi Saahibjaan and Kazi Ali Hussain, and a sister, Umme Kulsum. He was nicknamed Dukhu Mian (literally, “the one with grief”, or “Mr. Sad Man”). Nazrul studied at a maktab and madrasa run by a mosque and a dargah, respectively, where he studied the Quran, Hadith, Islamic philosophy, and theology. His family was devastated by the death of his father in 1908. At the young age of ten, Nazrul took his father’s place as a caretaker of the mosque to support his family, as well as assisting teachers in school. He later had to work as the muezzin at the mosque.

Attracted to folk theatre, Nazrul joined a leto (travelling theatrical group) run by his uncle Fazle Karim. He worked and travelled with them, learning to act, as well as writing songs and poems for the plays and musicals. Through his work and experiences, Nazrul began learning Bengali and Sanskrit literature, as well as Hindu scriptures such as the Puranas. Nazrul composed many folk plays for his group, which included Chashar Shong (“the drama of a peasant”), and plays about characters from the Mahabharata including Shokunibodh (“the Killing of Shakuni,“), Raja Judhisthirer Shong (“the drama of King Yudhishthira” ), Data Korno (“the philanthropic Karna“), Akbor Badshah (“Akbar the emperor”), Kobi Kalidas (“poet Kalidas”), Bidyan Hutum (“the learned owl”), and Rajputrer Shong (“the prince’s sorrow”).

In 1910 Nazrul left the troupe and enrolled at the Searsole Raj High School in Raniganj. Here he was influenced by his teacher, revolutionary and Jugantar activist Nibaran Chandra Ghatak, and initiated a lifelong friendship with fellow author Sailajananda Mukhopadhyay, who was his classmate. He later transferred to the Mathrun High English School, studying under the headmaster and poet Kumudranjan Mallik. Unable to continue paying his school fees, Nazrul left the school and joined a group of kaviyals. Later he took jobs as a cook at Wahid’s, a well-known bakery of the region, and at a tea stall in the town of Asansol. In 1914 Nazrul studied in the Darirampur School (now Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University) in Trishal, Mymensingh District. Amongst other subjects, Nazrul studied Bengali, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian literature and Hindustani classical music under teachers who were impressed by his dedication and skill.

Nazrul studied up to grade 10 but did not appear for the matriculation pre-test examination instead, he enlisted in the British Indian Army in 1917 at the age of eighteen. He had two primary motivations for joining the British Indian Army: first, a youthful desire for adventure and, second, an interest in the politics of the time. Attached to the 49th Bengal Regiment, he was posted to the cantonment in Karachi, where he wrote his first prose and poetry. Although he never saw active fighting, he rose in rank from corporal to havildar (sergeant), and served as quartermaster for his battalion.

During this period, Nazrul read extensively and was deeply influenced by Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, as well as the Persian poets Hafez, Rumi and Omar Khayyam. He learnt Persian poetry from the regiment’s Punjabi moulvi, practiced music, and pursued his literary interests. His first prose work, “Baunduler Atmakahini” (“Life of a Vagabond”), was published in May 1919. His poem “Mukti” (Freedom) was published by the “Bengali Muslim Literary Journal” in July 1919.

Nazrul joined the British Indian army in 1917 and left in 1920 when the 49th Bengal Regiment was disbanded. and settled in Calcutta, which was then the “cultural capital” of India (it had ceased to be the political capital in 1911).He joined the staff of the Bangiya Mussalman Sahitya Samiti (“Bengali Muslim Literary Society”) and roomed at 32 College Street with colleagues. He published his first novel Bandhan-hara (Freedom from Bondage) in 1920, on which he continued to work over the next seven years. His first collection of poems, which included “Bodhan”, “Shat-il-Arab”, “Kheya-parer Tarani”, and “Badal Prater Sharab”, received critical acclaim.

Working at the literary society, Nazrul grew close to other young Muslim writers including Mohammad Mozammel Haq, Afzalul Haq, Kazi Abdul Wadud and Muhammad Shahidullah. He was regular at the clubs for Calcutta’s writers, poets and intellectuals such as the Gajendar Adda and the Bharatiya Adda. Despite many differences, Nazrul looked to Rabindranath Tagore as a mentor, and Nazrul and Muhammad Shahidullah remained close throughout their lives. In 1921, Nazrul was engaged to be married to Nargis, the niece of a well-known Muslim publisher, Ali Akbar Khan, in Daulatpur, Comilla.On 18 June 1921, the day of the wedding, upon public insistence by Khan that the term “Nazrul must reside in Daulatpur after marriage” be included in the marriage contract, Nazrul walked away from the ceremony.

In 1930 his book Pralayshikha was banned and he faced charges of sedition. He was sent to jail and released after the 1931, Gandhi–Irwin Pact was signed.In 1933 Nazrul published a collection of essays titled “Modern World Literature”, in which he analyses different styles and themes of literature. Between 1928 and 1935 he published 10 volumes containing 800 songs, of which more than 600 were based on classical ragas. Almost 100 were folk tunes after kirtans, and some 30 were patriotic songs. From the time of his return to Kolkata until he fell ill in 1941, Nazrul composed more than 2,600 songs, many of which have been lost. His songs based on bauljhumur, Santhali folksongs, jhanpan or the folk songs of snake charmers, bhatiali, and bhaoaia consist of tunes of folk-songs on the one hand and a refined lyric with poetic beauty on the other. Nazrul also wrote and published poems for children.

Nazrul’s success soon brought him into Indian theatre and the then-nascent film industry.His first film as a director was Dhruva Bhakta, which made him the first Muslim director of a Bengali film. The film Vidyapati (Master of Knowledge) was produced based on his recorded play in 1936, and Nazrul served as the music director for the film adaptation of Tagore’s novel Gora. Nazrul wrote songs and directed music for Sachin Sengupta’s biographical epic play based on the life of Siraj-ud-Daula. He worked on the plays “Jahangir” and “Annyapurna” by Monilal Gangopadhyay. In 1939 Nazrul began working for Calcutta Radio, supervising the production and broadcasting of the station’s musical programs. He produced critical and analytic documentaries on music, such as “Haramoni” and “Navaraga-malika”. Nazrul also wrote a large variety of songs inspired by the raga Bhairav.

Nazrul’s wife Pramila fell seriously ill in 1939 and was paralysed from the waist down. To provide for his wife’s medical treatment, he resorted to mortgaging the royalties of his gramophone records and literary works for 400 rupees. He returned to journalism in 1940 by working as chief editor for the daily newspaper Nabayug (New Age), founded by the eminent Bengali politician A. K. Fazlul Huq.

Nazrul also was shaken by the death of Rabindranath Tagore on 8 August 1941. He spontaneously composed two poems in Tagore’s memory, one of which, “Rabihara” (loss of Rabi, or without Rabi) was broadcast on the All India Radio.Within months, Nazrul himself fell seriously ill and gradually began losing his power of speech. His behaviour became erratic, and spending recklessly, he fell into financial difficulties. In spite of her own illness, his wife constantly cared for her husband. However, Nazrul’s health seriously deteriorated and he grew increasingly depressed. He underwent medical treatment under homeopathy as well as Ayurveda, but little progress was achieved before mental dysfunction intensified and he was admitted to a mental asylum in 1942. Spending four months there without making progress, Nazrul and his family began living a quite life in India. In 1952 he was transferred to a mental hospital in Ranchi. With the efforts of a large group of admirers who called themselves the “Nazrul Treatment Society”, the treatment society sent Nazrul and Promila to London, then to Vienna for treatment. The examining doctors said he had received poor care, and Dr. Hans Hoff, a leading neurosurgeon in Vienna, diagnosed that Nazrul was suffering from Pick’s disease. His condition judged to be incurable, Nazrul returned to Calcutta on 15 December 1953.On 30 June 1962 his wife Pramila died, and Nazrul remained in intensive medical care.

On 24 May 1972, the newly independent nation of Bangladesh brought Nazrul to live in Dhaka with the consent of the Government of India. In January 1976, he was accorded the citizenship of Bangladesh. Despite receiving treatment and attention, Nazrul’s physical and mental health did not improve. In 1974 his youngest son, Kazi Aniruddha, a guitarist, died, and Nazrul soon succumbed to his long-standing ailments on 29 August 1976. In accordance with a wish he had expressed in one of his poems, he was buried beside a mosque on the campus of the University of Dhaka. Tens of thousands of people attended his funeral Bangladesh observed two days of national mourning, and the parliament of India observed a minute of silence in his honour.

Nazrul’s poetry is characterised by an abundant use of rhetorical devices, which he employed to convey conviction and sensuousness. He often wrote without care for organisation or polish. His works have often been criticized for egotism, but his admirers counter that they carry more a sense of self-confidence than ego. They cite his ability to defy God yet maintain an inner, humble devotion to Him.Nazrul’s poetry is regarded as rugged but unique in comparison to Tagore’s sophisticated style. Nazrul’s use of Persian vocabulary was controversial, but it widened the scope of his work

The government of Bangladesh conferred upon him the status of “national poet” in 1972. He was awarded an Honorary D.Litt. by the University of Dhaka in 1974 and in 1976 he was awarded the Ekushey Padak by the President of Bangladesh Justice Abu Sadat Muhammad Sayem.Many centres of learning and culture in Bangladesh and India had been founded and dedicated to his memory. The Bangladesh Nazrul Sena is a large public organization working for the education of children throughout the country. Nazrul Sanskriti Parishad has been working on Nazrul’s life and works since 2000 in India. The Nazrul Endowment is one of several scholarly institutions established to preserve and expound upon Nazrul’s ideas and philosophy, as well as the preservation and analysis of the large and diverse collection of his works.Nazrul was awarded the Jagattarini Gold Medal in 1945 – the highest honour for work in Bengali literature by the University of Calcutta – and awarded the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s third-highest civilian honours, in 1960

Nazrul’s works for children have won acclaim for his use of rich language, imagination, enthusiasm, and an ability to fascinate young readers. Nazrul is regarded for his secularism. He was the first person to write about the Christians of Bengal in his novel Mrityukshuda in 1930. He was also the first user of folk terms in Bengali literature. Nazrul pioneered new styles and expressed radical ideas and emotions in a large body of work. Scholars credit him for spearheading a cultural renaissance in Muslim-majority Bengal, “liberating” poetry and literature in Bengali from its medieval mould. His poetry has been translated to languages English, Spanish and Portuguese. A major Avenue is named after him in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Kazi Nazrul University in Asansol, West Bengal India is named after him. Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University in Mymensingh, Bangladesh is a public university named after him.Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport in Andal, West Bengal, is India’s first private greenfield airport. A chair has been named after him in University of Calcutta and the Government of West Bengal has opened a Nazrul Tirtha in Rajarhat, a cultural centre dedicated to his memory.