Kazi Nazrul Islam’s visits to Chattogram


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07AB7779-FB99-4284-9118-1F3538273956 Uday Sankar Das

“I have not come to be a poet

I have not come to be a leader

I came to give love, I came to get love

Because I have not had that love

I depart in quiet pique from this love-lorn, insipid world forever”.

 As we pay tributes on his 119th birth anniversary to the national poet of Bangladesh, Kazi Nazrul Islam, described more often than not as a rebel poet, we must also pay homage to him as a poet of love and humanism, a fact we often tend to forget. He had also always spoken for the political freedom of the downtrodden.

 Unlike Rabindranath Tagore, he was not a globe-trotter, but whenever the opportunity arose and whenever an invitation was forthcoming, Nazrul never failed to go to any part of Bengal and even visited some places more than once. Between 1926 and 1933, Nazrul visited the south-eastern, natural beauty-laden port city of Chattogram three times.

 Nazrul became friendly with the chief whip of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das’ Swaraj Party and Subhas Bose’s close friend, Hemanta Kumar Sarkar, who hailed from Krishnanagar. Nazrul was gradually getting more directly involved with the various political activities while he was in Krishnanagar, and at the end of July, 1926 he went to Chattogram with Hemanta Kumar and stayed there till the first week of August.

 Initially they put up at the District Bungalow, but at the request and insistence of renowned literary personality Habibullah Bahar, Nazrul, for the rest of his visit, stayed at Bahar’s maternal grandfather Khan BahadurAbdul Aziz’s house in the city’s Tamakumundi area. Although the Khan Bahadur had recently died, the hospitality extended to Nazrul in ‘Aziz Manjil’ was extremely cordial.

 Nazrul’s ever-smiling face, his vibrant personality, his songs, recitations and his style of interacting with people around him, and above all his mannerism, greatly helped in lifting the shadow of grief from his host’s house.

Eminent litterateurs of Chattogram used to call on the poet and prominent citizens together with representatives of various institutions accorded him a number of receptions. Among those who had taken the initiatives to hold these receptions for Nazrul were Principal Kamaluddin, Mahim Chandra Das, Khan Shaheb Abdus Sattar, Rai Bahadur Kamini Das, Habibullah Chowdhury and Abdul KhaliqueChowdhury.

 People from all walks of life and from both the Muslim and Hindu communities attended these receptions in huge numbers and the enthusiasm shown by the young generation was overwhelming.

 Despite Nazrul’s busy schedule of attending receptions and lecture meetings, he never refrained from writing; some of his prominent poems in his anthology of poems and songs “Sindhu Hillol” were penned during this visit to Chattogram. Noted among these poems are ‘Anamika’, ‘Gopon Puja’, ‘Sindhu’ (Parts 1 and 2),’Bangla-r Aziz’ and ‘Karnaphuli’. These were written between 27th July and 1st August.

 On 31st July, 1926, Nazrul, during his stay at ‘Aziz Manjil’ in Chattogram’s Tamakumundi, dedicated “Sindhu Hillol” to ‘Bahar and Nahar’ (HabibullahBahar and his sister Shamsunnahar Mahmud). In the dedication, which began as follows – “I give these writings to Bahar and Nahar”, Nazrul wrote a poem to them, and signed at the bottom as: ‘Nazrul Islam, Tamakumundi, Chattagram, 31-7-26’.

The first two lines of that poem to ‘Bahar and Nahar’ in the dedication read –

“Who is the better of you two,

Bahar, you bring flowers to the garden, Nahar, you bring light” ……….

On 1st August, Nazrul, accompanied by HabibullahBahar and a few political activists and teachers left Chattogram for Feni to address a political rally. The rally was held at Feni’s Islamia High School ground. While addressing the huge crowd, Nazrul made a fervent appeal to the people to rise against all sorts of oppression from the ruling class. He asked the people to take a very strong position against the local and foreign rulers.

 At the request of the citizens of Feni who assembled to listen to Nazrul, the poet rendered a few patriotic songs – “Kara-r Oi Louho Kapat”, “Oth re Chaashi” and “Durgamo Giri Kantaro Moru”. At the end, the crowd insisted on his reciting his epic poem ‘Rebel’. Nazrulwith a smiling face duly obliged and recited a part of that poem.

“Weary of struggles, I, the great rebel,

Shall rest in quiet only when I find

The sky and the air free of the piteous groans of the oppressed.

Only when the battle fields are cleared of jingling bloody sabres

Shall, I, weary of struggles, rest in quiet,

I, the great rebel.”

[Rebel – translation: Kabir Chowdhury]

This gesture was greatly appreciated on that day by the people of Feni. But, a sudden torrential downpour disrupted the proceedings and the meeting had to be hurriedly called off.

Nazrul then returned to Chattogram, and after staying there for 3 days left for Kolkata on his way to Krishnanagar on 4th August, 1926.

The poet however promised his ardent followers and fans that he would be visiting Chittagong again and would stay for a longer period.

Kazi Nazrul Islam did keep his promise and his second visit to Chattogram was more eventful and lasted longer than the first.

Kazi Nazrul Islam’s second visit to Chattogram was in early January 1929 when he was again guest of Habibullah Bahar and his sister ShamsunnaharMahmud. In her book, ‘Nazrul-ke Jaemon Dekhechhi’ (The way I have seen Nazrul), Shamsunnahar wrote, “At the end of 1926 and during the early part of 1929, Nazrul came to Chattogram twice. The sweet results of these trips were some of the poet’s greatest poems which were included in ‘Sindhu Hillol’ and ‘Chakrabak’.

During this visit, Nazrul went to the grave of Khan Bahadur Abdul Aziz to pay his respects, and also attended an anniversary programme held in the memory of Poet Nabin Chandra Sen. The Bulbul Society of Chattogram also accorded Nazrul a reception.

The day following his arrival, Nazrul attended the 30th founding anniversary of Muslim Education Society held at the Victoria Islami Hostel. In his speech, the poet made a fervent appeal to establish a cordial and harmonious relationship between the Muslims and Hindus, and he impressed upon the necessity of both the communities to be aware about each other’s religious treatise and culture. This speech was later published in the magazine ‘Bulbul’ under the headline ‘The practice of Muslim culture’.

Kattali Union Club accorded Nazrul a grand reception which was attended by thousands of people from both the Muslim and Hindu communities. It was chaired by Moulana Azizur Rahman, a former superintendent of Darul Union Madrasa and the founder of the first Muslim-owned printing press ‘Islamabad Press’.

Nazrul delivered an in-depth speech on education and civilisation, heard in rapt attention by the huge audience at whose request, the poet also rendered a song.

During this almost-a-month long visit, Nazrul also went sightseeing with ‘Bahar and Nahar’. He went on a boat cruise on River Karnaphuli and to the various picturesque hilly sites, met the youth of the city and also visited Sitakunda, going to the hilltops there.

The days when Nazrul did not attend any public function or meeting, the Tamakumundi residence where he stayed was turned into a venue of literary discourse attended by litterateurs, political leaders, cultural activists and also the youth of the city. These discussions would often go on till late at night.

Nazrul penned quite a number of popular songs and poems while residing at Tamakumundi, including the introductory poem ‘Ogo O Chakrabaki’ of his anthology of poems and songs “Chakrabak”. Other notable writings during this sojourn in Chattogramincluded a song of sampan ‘o majhi bhai’, folk song ‘kihoibo lal boithaa baiyaa’ and a bhatiyali song ‘tomaikuuley tuuley bandhu’. For Chakrabak, he also wrote ‘Badal Raater Paakhi’,’Stabdha Raatey’ and ‘Sheet-erSindhu’. The last poem was re-named ‘Sindhu – Fourth Wave’. Paying respect to Poet Nabin Chandra Sen, an illustrious son of Chattogram, Nazrul penned a poem ‘Nabinchandra’ during this visit.

Towards the end of January, 1929 Nazrul was a guest of the Alam Brothers, as they were known, members of a literary-passionate family hailing from the village of Fatehabad, in the outskirts of the city. Of the four brothers, Shamsul Alam, Mahbub ul Alam, DidarulAlam and Wahidul Alam, there is a similarity between the second-named and Nazrul, in that they both fought for the British during the First World War and later became renowned litterateurs. The Alam family hostedNazrul on 25th and 26th January, 1929. The district administration of Chattogram had recently put up a memorial in honour of this visit to the village.

The real highlight of this visit was Nazrul’s trip to the tiny island of Sandwip in the Bay of Bengal, where he went to visit a small village where lied the ancestral home of his close friend Muzaffar Ahmed, who later became a reputed communist leader of West Bengal. Muzaffar in his memoirs on Nazrul wrote, ‘I do not think he went to Sandwip on his own initiative. Two of my nephews used to study in Intermediate Class in Chattogram College at the time. In 1927, Nazrul was introduced to one of them (Abdul Muktadir). Now I have come to know that Nazrul went to Sandwip at Muktadir’s inititaive’.

On 28th January, 1929 Muktadir and one of his friends, Salimullah Chowdhury accompanied Nazrul to Sandwip where he was put up in the government bungalow. On the following day, the people of the island accorded Nazrul a civic reception at the local Kargil High School ground. The meeting was chaired by Prasanna Kumar Moktaar and the address of honourand welcome on behalf of the islanders was read by Mohammad Waliullah. In his speech, Nazrul heaped praise on the courage and hospitality of the people of Sandwip. He was fascinated by its natural beauty, he added. Nazrul also rendered a few songs and recited a part of his epic poem ‘Rebel’.

Nazrul also visited Muzaffar Ahmed’s ancestral house in the village of Musagram in Sandwip, where he was born. Muzaffar later wrote, “I do not know why Sandwip was liked by Nazrul. After returning to Kolkata, he expressed his desire to go to Sandwip once more, of course, if I went along with him”. But that did never happen as very soon after that Muzaffar Ahmed was arrested and sent to Meerut Jail.

Although in was not possible for Nazrul to visit Sandwip again, he did return to Chattogram once more; his third and final trip in May, 1933. He came to attend the Chattogram District Literary Conference held at Raozan as the chief guest. Among others, Professor Abul Fazal, Mahbub ul Alam, Wahidul Alam and Habibullah Bahar took part in the conference. The editor of ‘The Musalman’, Mujibur Rahman and Mohammed Modabber also came from Kolkata.

This conference was a huge success with an estimated ten thousand people coming to join the various sessions. Local leaders like Moulvi Nurul AfsarChowdhury, Nurul Huda Chowdhury, Abul Kashem(who later became a Sub-Judge) and Ahmed KabirChowdhury played a prominent role in organising this conference, the reception committee of which was headed by Dr Mohammed Enamul Haque.

On his way to the conference in Raozan, the poet had a stopover for lunch at Gohira at Ahmed SagirChowdhury’s village home. He also inspected GohiraHigh School and instantly wrote a song praising the school ‘You have built this clay Tajmahal here (Tomragorechho ekhaaney ei maati-r Tajmahal).

In the conference, chaired by Abdul Karim ShahittyaBisharad, Nazrul was openly criticised for going to war ‘with the British against the Muslims’ by the editor of weekly ‘Mohammadi’, Nazir Ahmed Chowdhury. Nazrul, in his speech, did give a reply to this criticism.

Wahidul Alam, the youngest of the Alam brothers, in his book, Prithibir Pothik (World Traveller), dealt with the poet’s reply in details and quoted him saying, ”You’ve heard the allegation brought against us that we fought for the British against the Muslims. But I want to say that when we went to the war we were full of youthful energy, and not being able to contain the vibrant energy of the youth, we jumped into the war, not caring for which party we were fighting, or against whom”.

This last visit of Nazrul to Chattogram was very short and in less than a decade, he was afflicted by a disease that took away his voice and his memory. For 34 long years, he had to suffer a life of silence, which was equally unbearable to millions of Bangalis. The memory of the poet of love and humanism lives deeply etched in our hearts forever.

(The writer is a senior journalist, political commentator and sports analyst)

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