Kazi Nazrul Islam: Crossing Boundaries

Yet, as I have said, the lovely put-upon Uma is, in fact, not as demure as we might think. The poets allude to the fact that she is, in fact, Durga, the ultimate slayer of monsters and that both Uma and Kali are manifestations of the Great Goddess in all her martial splendor and horror. It becomes an issue for many of the poets except one, Nazrul Islam: McDermott notes that it is precisely her “demon-smashing capabilities and her fame as a righter of worldly wrongs” (125) that drew him to the goddess as a poetic device. He writes within the tradition of poetry to Uma of both her coming to her parents and her leaving. “One of the most intriguing, if short-lived, uses of Kali and Uma material was in the early decades of the twentieth century, when nationalists called for Bengalis to conceive of their motherland as a goddess. Although this goddess was rarely named Kali, Durga or Umatypically she was simply Ma (mother) or Bharata Mata (Mother India)she certainly took over their functions…” The poems demonstrate that Bengali goddesses have been, and could again be, inspirational in galvanizing patriotic fervor. (McDermott, 9-10). It is into this time and place that Nazrul Islam writes his poems to both the goddesses, Kali and Uma. Interestingly, McDermott counts Nazrul as one of the truly important literary heirs of earlier Shakta poets, due especially to the excellent quality of his poetry. His poetry is distinctive not only because of its quality, but also because he writes to the goddess to do away with the injustice of foreign domination and internal injusticethe caste system. The writers of Bengali Shakta poetry were almost exclusively upper-caste male Hindus and Nazrul Islam is the only poet to write against caste boundaries (McDermott, 125). I have chosen several of the poems Nazrul wrote to the Goddess in which he combines the theme of longing for the Goddess’s presence with her demon slaying and righter of worldly wrongs capabilities. McDermott writes: “Nazrul Islam, writing in the early decades of the 20th century when success in the independence struggle was seen to be predicated upon Hindu-Muslim and intercaste unity, called upon the Goddess to return to India and Bengal both to crush the British and to help eradicate prejudice.” (Ibid.) I have selected from translations of both McDermott and Sajed Kamal (2000); the latter’s work indispensable in seeing the scope of Nazrul’s genius.