Between the Arab and the Indic Worlds: Kazi Nazrul’s Profoundly Restless Hunger for the Spirit
Neela Bhattacharya Saxena
A relentless seeker of truth and beauty, Kazi Nazrul Islam in his famous address as a prisoner of the British government, had proclaimed his identity in “Rajbandir Jabanbandi:” “Ami Kobi, ami apraksh satyake prakash korbar janye, amurta srishtike murtidaner janye bhagaban kartrik prerita….Ami je Kobi, amar atta je styadrashta rishir atta. Ami ajana, ashim, purnata niye janmagrahan karechi.” I am the poet; I have been sent by God to express the unmanifest truth, to give form to the formless creation….O, I am the poet; my soul is the soul of the truth seer. I am born with that plenitude which is limitless and unknowable.” The question I will explore in this presentation is who is this seer poet whose voice at once encompasses the breadth and depth of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, and what is the identity of this God of his. A poet whose voice like Al Hallaj’s dared utter in the wilderness of our souls: “Anal Haq;” I am the truth, and then was swallowed up by the eternal silence. What Nazrul had described as his “Brhama Khudha,” spirit hunger, his intense longing for the beauty of Allah made him equally a lover of Diwan-e-Hafiz, tales of Karbala and the Hindu Puranas, for whom religious fanaticism could never arise in what was religion to him. In his essay “Gorami Dharma Naye,” he asserts that fanaticism is not religion. As a true Muslim who had taken the injunction to surrender to the will of God seriously, he also recognized Allah’s beautiful 99 names in the myriad phenomenal reality of the world. Nazrul had the great capacity what the Sufi scholars call khayal or imagination, the supreme faculty of a poet that bridges the gap between tanzih, God’s transcendence and tasbih, his immanence. As William Chittick explains, “It is the innate ability of the soul to perceive the presence of God in all things—a presence indicated by the verse, ‘Wherever you turn, there is the face of God’ (2:115)” (Sufism 24). Both the Arab and the Indic spiritual heritages that mingled in the history of the Indian subcontinent have taught us to think with the heart, and there is no poet whose life and works epitomize more powerfully this amazing ability that the world direly needs today than Kazi Nazrul Islam. Holding onto Nazrul’s spirit we may be able to disconnect ourselves from the blood feuds that religions of the world have unleashed amongst us from the very moment they named themselves as institutions of exclusion and became the instruments of power. Here I will make an attempt to articulate what like Kabir and Lal Ded before him Kazi Nazrul, the poet of a borderless human hunger for the spirit, expressed in his many works; it is that spirit that no religious dogma, no creed, no church, mosque, or temple could ever contain within their stone walls. We live in extraordinary times where contradictions abound. On the one hand techno innovations and fast moving globalizing forces are bringing different cultures, peoples, and communities together; it is also a time when ultra-nationalisms, religious fanaticisms, and rigid boundaries between nations, cultures, and belief systems have been tightening their stranglehold on the human imagination and forcing singular identities on diverse humans often in the name of a god who cannot ultimately be named. Nazrul would be a profoundly alien creature in such a world, and it is time we celebrated such aliens so we can recognize our real selves perhaps in the mirror they uphold.