Nazrul and Nargis: The Marriage Story
Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
There is significant controversy surrounding the account of Nazrul's marriage. He apparently was to be married with Nargis Begum of Comilla, when he was in his early 20s. But he withdrew from the marriage ceremony. Later he married Pramila Devi. Many Muslims as well as Hindus were and still are upset about his marriage. I have tried to gather some pertinent information here. I intend to gather more in future. What follow are first my summary of the account and then an extended excerpt on this matter from other sources.
Nazrul came to know Ali Akbar Khan of Daulatpur, Comilla. He was the uncle of Nargis Begum, later with whom Nazrul either was married or supposed to be married. Some of Nazrul's closest friends were aware of some serious problems with Khan sahib. When Nazrul was invited by Khan sahib to visit his house in Daulatpur, several of his closest friends and well-wishers categorically admonished him against it. However, at some point he ignored those admonition and set out with him from Calcutta to Daulatpur in June 1921.
On their way, they stayed at the home of Khan sahib's friend, Birendrakumar Sengupta. At same home resided Birendrakumar's cousin Pramila. Nazrul became very close to this family as well, particularly due to their literary-cultural tradition and environment.
After reaching Khan sahib's house, he spent some time there and came to know his niece Nargis Ahmed. Soon their acquaintance led to more serious relationship, and the issue of marriage came up. As Nazrul corresponded with his friends in Calcutta regarding his ardent desire and decision to marry Nargis, his friends again strongly advised him against it. At their wedding were also invited Birendrakumar's family, including his mother Birojashundori and his cousin Pramila.
There is a controversy whether the marriage contract was executed or not. But there was a problem at the wedding ceremony. While staying with Khan sahib in Daulatpur, Nazrul experienced some ill-treatment from both Khan sahib and Nargis, which wounded his feelings deeply. Apparently, despite the progress in the relationship between Nazrul and Nargis and the arrangement of marriage, Khan sahib was also looking for an excuse to get out of this whole mess. He presented a marriage contract at the wedding ceremony, whereby Nazrul was required to live in Daulatpur with Nargis. Such a condition was obviously unacceptable to Nazrul, and he decided to walk away from the ceremony.
Nazrul returned to Comilla again in later that year again (1921) when the British Prince was scheduled for a visit to Comilla during his trip to India. He participated in a demonstration and played the song Jagoroni while going through the town. Once more he returned to Comilla in 1922 and stayed for an extended period of time. It was during this time his relationship with Pramila deepened. Her liveliness, patriotism, personality, love for music were among a few aspects that attracted Nazrul to her. In 1924 (25th April) their relationship consummated in marriage. Among those who had special initiative behind this were Mrs. M. Rahman (the daughter of public lawyer of Hughli, Khan Bahadur Mazharul Anwar) and Moinuddin Hossain (the owner of Nur Library). It was Mr. Hossain who performed the marriage ceremony.
At that time subject to the Civil Marriage Act of 1872 (commonly known as #3 law), this marriage was not possible because the bride's age was only sixteen, while the law stipulated eighteen as the minimum age. That's why their marriage was performed according to the Islamic rules as applicable to "Ahl al-Kitab", which angered many among the orthodox Brahmin community....
The Analysis of Dr. Sushilkumar Gupta
"On the way to Daulatpur Ali Akbar Sahib along with Nazrul stayed for a few days at the home of Indrakumar Sengupta in Kandirpar, Comilla. He was the inspector of Comilla Court of wards. Ali Akbar used to visit that house as a friend of Birendrakumar, son of Indrakumar. Birendrakumar used to be Ali Akbar Sahib's schoolmate at Comilla Jila School. At the home Birendrakumar, beside his mother, father, and wife, there used to reside his two sisters and a son. Birendrakumar's mother's name is Birojashundor Devi. In addition to them, also resided at that home Birendrakumar's widowed aunt Giribala Devi and her only daughter Pramila (nick name Duli). Another name of Pramila is Ashalata. Her father, Bashontokumar Sengupta used to be a Nayeb in the State of Tripura. After her father's death, Pramila along with her mother can to Comilla. Their original home was Teota village in Manikganj. Even thought this family was not very well-off, there used to be a healthy and lively environment.
After this Nazrul went directly to Ali Akbar's home and became his guest. Nazrul was treated very well there too. A widow sister of Ali Akbar used to be in charge of the family. She started caring for Nazrul like his mother. Another widow sister of Ali Akbar used live in the same neighborhood. She had a son and an adult daughter. ... During the stay of Nazrul, that widow sister of Ali Akbar started visiting their home more frequently. Nazrul became close to her daughter and later they fell in love with each other. Her name was Sayida Khatun alias Nargis Begum. It is said that she was charmed by the tune of Nazrul's flute. After the decision of marriage was finalized, his friends in Calcutta came to know about it. His friends were not at all supportive of Nazrul's decision to get married there.
Pabitro Gangopadhdhay learnt about the decision to marry in a letter from Nazrul and replied to him warning about it. Let's quote a few lines from his letter (June 5, 1921): 'When I came to know through your letter that you have voluntarily decided to embrace her in your life, then I have no sadness. However, you are much younger than us; you also are not as much experienced. Moreover, your emotional side is generally too strong. That's why I worry whether both lives would be shattered or not. If you ARE conscious about it, then that's it. The impatience of young age often is sweet, but I hope it won't go against you. If you have thoroughly thought it through and decided accordingly, then I wholehearted wish your communion.'
Realizing the nervousness as well as passion emanating from excessive sentimentality of Nazrul, Pabitra Gangopadhdhay again wrote him on 25th Jaishtha, 1328. 'If you really believe that she is your dream girl, then I feel jealous at your fortune. I am, of course, quite familiar with such central characters in English-French novels. Therefore, I have no problem empathizing with your feelings. ... It's won't be surprising to have your marriage as a plot of one of our novels. You wrote: 'The way I have become vulnerable to a stranger, rural teen-ager, I have never been so before any other woman.' I am also pleased to know that her 'outward wealth is also not insignificant.'
Thinking about the fragility and sentimentality of young Nazrul, Muzaffar Ahmad was very worried about his marriage. In the letter he wrote on June 15, 1921 ...as a friend his deep concerns about that marriage is manifest. From that letter we come to know that the marriage was scheduled for Ashar 3, 1328. Here are some excerpts: 'I have not receive any letter from you recently. From Wazed Mian's letter I learnt that your marriage is scheduled for Ashar 3 ... The time is very tight. ... Therefore, I won't be able to join. However, I pray to God that everything goes well.'
After that date of marriage, Muzaffar received the letter of invitation from Ali Akbar. Even if he received the invitation on time, he wouldn't have been able to go there because at that time steamers between Goaland-Chandpur and Assam-Bengal Railway were on strike. The letter of invitation was drafted by Nazrul himself. In that letter, Nazrul and his father Faqir Ahmad Sahib have been introduced as "Muslim Rabindranath" and Churulia's "Aimadar." ...
During those period of stay, Nazrul became very upset at the conduct of Ali Akbar Khan and occasional mistreatment from her fiance. Also during this period, at special request of Nazrul, Birojashundor Devi arrived at Daulatpur by boat and joined others at the wedding-home. Ten persons from Sengupta family attended that gathering. ... When Nazrul disclosed his humiliation to Birojashundor Devi, she advised him against marrying there. However, since guests of the occasion already were present, he felt compelled to participate in the cermony and the marriage contract (Aqd') was done." [Gupta, pp. 53-58, 68-70]
The Account in Muzaffar Ahmad's Biography
Comrade Muzaffar Ahmad, one of the lifelong friend and patrons of Nazrul, who also spent considerable length of time working together on many projects of common interest, provides some additional insight into why Nazrul felt compelled to walk away from the marriage.
"To learn first hand about what transpired at the wedding ceremony, I was searching for the teen Santoshkumar Sen, who accompanied Birojasundar Devi (to Nazrul's wedding). He was around fifteen or sixteen at that time, an age to remember and understand an event. Elders are not alive any longer. After a long time, I was able to locate Santoshkumar at his home at Purna Mitra Lane of Taliganj (Kolkata). According to his account, Ali Akbar Khan (i.e., uncle of the bride) already realized that Nazrul was no longer eager about that marriage. Indeed, he also looking for an excuse to have the marriage interrupted or not consummated. That's why at the wedding ceremony [i.e. without any prior discussion or consultation] he wanted to include a term in the marriage contract that after the marriage, Nazrul will not relocate with Nargis. Instead, he will settle in Daulatpur with Nargis. It was not possible for Nazrul to yield to the imposition of such a humiliating term, and Nazrul walked away from the wedding ceremony." [Ahmad, pp. 66-67]
Prof. Rafiqul Islam's biography also concurs with the details of Muzaffar Ahmad's account. Thus, whatever way the relationship between Nazrul and Nargis developed during his visit to Daulatpur, Comilla, at one point Nazrul was attracted to Nargis, and gradually became less interested and the humiliating condition of marriage contract that was abruptly raised at the wedding ceremony by Nargis' guardian Ali Akbar Khan made it impossible for Nazrul to continue as usual. He walked away from the wedding ceremony. Notably, the ceremony occurred, but the marriage, in accordance with Islam, was not consummated. According to the Telefilm "Nargis" [a production of Impress Telefilm], before he left, he gave an opportunity to Nargis to come along with him. However, Nargis could not make up her mind and as a rather young bride, her emotions were torn between Nazrul and her family. The same night, in a stormy weather, Nazrul left Daulatpur.
Dr. Sushilkumar Gupta, Nazrul Chorit-manosh [Kolkata, India: De's Publishing, 1990] Muzaffar Ahmad, Kazi Nazrul Islam Smritikatha [Memoirs of Kazi Nazrul Islam - Kolkata, India: National Book Agency, 10th print, 1998] Dr. Rafiqul Islam, Nazrul Jiboni [Life of Nazrul - Department of Bangla, Dhaka University, May 1972]; Prof. Rafiqul Islam is a national Nazrul professor in Bangladesh and one of the leading Nazrul researchers.