Notwithstanding the considerable acclaim Nazrul received over the course of his lifetime, he faced considerable hardship. Exhibiting tremendous power, determination, and courage, Nazrul consistently adhered to an unshakeable ethical commitment to truth and justice. Even when struck by dire poverty, Nazrul remained undaunted, as apparent in this excerpted piece:
Poverty (excerpt)
O poverty, you turned me into a greater man
By adorning me with the crown of thorns
You gave me the honor of Christ
And made my words razer sharp
Your curse turned my vina into a sword
A true rights activist, Nazrul was ahead of his time with regard to gender equality; upon witnessing the discrimination faced by women, Nazrul issued the following call to action:
Arise women, ascend like blazing flame
Rise with bright red sign on your forehead
Enshroud the earth with the glitter of your brilliant charm
Dance ecstatically with your maddening rave
O, victims of rape, strike like serpents
Show your power which can burn the earth
Blaze up from smoking ash
Wake up mothers, sisters, daughters, wives
O the stampeded ones
Descend from heaven like the powerful river “Jhannobi”
Bring lightning in dark cloud
Arise as ever vibrant, ever victorious
Despite the diversity and power of his artistic work, Nazrul’s oeuvre was largely confined to a two-decade period (more specifically, twenty-two years). Nevertheless, he would create one of the most invaluable anthologies on humanity, human rights, religious tolerance, labor rights, global peace and truth and justice. Although these themes are familiar to most readers, less understood is his philosophical perspective and overall worldview, particularly as it was informed by both Islam and Hinduism. This simultaneity with regard to religiosity has led to some debate about his affiliation: was he a Hindu? Was he a Muslim? Was he a non-believer? The ambiguity on this question is attributable to Nazrul’s insistence that he was – through his poetry and speeches – the voice of a non-denominational God.
This was quite evident in his statement in the court room when he was sentenced to serve a one-year hard labor prison term on the allegation that he had committed treason against the British monarch. As context, Nazrul was at the time the editor of several newspapers; in line with his artistic work, as a journalist he continued to stress freedom, equality and justice. Nazrul was particularly critical of colonialism, and his offices were often raided on the presupposition that he was publishing “anti-British” rhetoric. After publishing “Anandamoyeer Agomone” (“Welcoming the Goddess of Joy”) in Dhumketu (The Comet), the newspaper office was shut down and Nazrul was arrested in 1923. What follows is an excerpt from the poem in question:
“Welcoming the Goddess of Joy” (excerpt)
O my daughter goddess
How much longer will you remain hidden in a clay image?
Our paradise has been captured by the monstrous tyrants
They are whipping our angelic children, hanging our young heroes
The land of India has turned into a slaughter house
O mother, when will you come?