Bandhanhara: Nazrul’s Novelistic Exposition
Subrata Kumar Das
Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976), the National Poet of Bangladesh and popularly known as the Bidrohi Kabi(the rebel poet), has been mostlyacclaimed for his poetry, though his prose works are no less significant.He started his authorial career as a fiction-writer but in later years his poetic composition brought him closer to the Bengali reading people. His poems and songs surpassed rest of his writings so rapidly that his readers could not get enough scope to pay proper attention to his novels and short stories. A span of ten years odd he took for writing his eighteen stories; his three novels took less – from 1920-1928. These novels escaped the attention of the then readers barring one or two little talks. It is true that during his paralised lifesome critics tried to evaluate his genius in prose writings but that concentration did not last long. In the recent years much is being written on him and the sorry saga is most of the critiques utter in the same tone about his novels. ‘His first novel Bandhanhara… is the weakest of the three’ (Serajul Islam Choudhury, Nazrul : Poet and More, Nazrul Institute, Dhaka, P-106) may be considered as the summary of all the critiques on Bandhanhara.
Nazrul wrote a total of three novels only. The fourth of whose advertisement came in the Saogat(The Gift) could not get the light at last. Mohammad Nasiruddin informs that the name of that novel, Nazrul wished, to be Mayamriga. His first novel, which was published inMoslem Bharat (Muslim India), where Nazrul’s poems were first published, was Bandhanhara(Free form Bonds). It began to come out serially from 1920 though this novel took a book shape after some seven years. Nazrul’s next novels Mrityuskhudha (The Hunger of Death) and Kuhelika(The Mystery) were published in 1930, and 1931 respectively. Besides, the three voulmes of short stories that Nazrul published in the mean time were Bethar Daan(The Gift of Sorrow) in 1922, Rikter Bedan(The Sorrows of the Destitute) in 1924 and Shiuli Mala(The Wreath of Jesmin) in 1931. Close observation shows that his first book that was a book of stories was published in February 1922, some seven months earlier than his first book of verse Agnibina(The Veena of Fire). Baundeler Atmakahini(The Autobiography of a Vagabond) which was his first piece of publication came out in 1919, when though he began to send poems to different newspaper, none of them could get published.
In writing the novel BandhanharaNazrul adopted the form of epistles. Most of the critics say that it is the first epistolary novel in Bangla literature and thus they want to give appraisal to Nazrul. But history of Bangla literature speaks differently. In Bangla Sahityer Etihash(The History of Bangla Literature) Dr. Sukumar Sen has mentioned that at least in two earlier novels epistolary form had been used. Basantakumarer Patra (Letters from Basantakumar) by Naterdranath Thakur which was published in 1882 should be considered as the most prominent and successful instance in this regard. In this novel four characters viz BasantakumarMukhopadhyay, Basanta’s friend Harakumar Chattopadhyay, late Biswanath Chattopadhyay’s only daughter of thirteen Kusumica and Kusumica’s friend Nilabzica correspond with each other and thus the story of the novel develops. In other novel Purano Kagoj(The Old Papers, 1899) by Ambikacharan Gupta, the use of letters is worthy to be noticed. Whether Nazrul read those two books or not, but there is a possibility that he read some literary works written in epistolary technique.
Bandhanharais a novel about Nurul Huda, the protagonist of the story. We can know that he is now serving as a soldier in the Bengali Paltan in Karachi. Before he left for Karachi, his marriage was settled with Mahbuba but for some unknown reasons he did not marry and violating everyone’s request joined the Indian army. From Karachi Nurul Huda alias Nuru writes a letterto Rabial, his friend at Salar of Murshidabad. This is the first of the eighteen letters of Bandhahara and with this letter the story begins to open. The other people who participate in writing letters are Rabial’s mother Rokia Begum, Rabial’s wife Rabeya, his sister Sophia, Rabial’s brother-in-law Monuar ⎯a resident of Bankura, Shahasika of Calcutta, and previously mentioned Mahbuba and her mother Ayesha Begum. All these three male and six female people write to each other in a spontaneous letter writing form. A close observation shows that Sophia also loved Nurul Huda, though till the end of the novel we do not know whom did Nurul Huda loved.
In this connection it is worthwhile to mention that Nazrul wrote three more letters of the book which were published inthe periodicals, but they were not included later on in the book. More to add is that the last two letters, which were not published in the periodicals, were incorporated later on. With this above three the number of letters in the novel reaches twenty one. If we make a list ofthe writers and recipients of the eighteen letters, it will help us to evaluate the conscious artistic manipulation of Nazrul in this novel more and more.
Moreover for the convenience of our discussion we like to make another diagram where these letters are shown making arrows form the writers to the addresses. As Nurul Huda sends and receives the highest number of letterswe have placed him in the centre of the diagram.
If we analyze the above table and diagram we will get enough food of astonishment how precisely Nazrul, a mere writer of twenty one only, uses these letters. We should not forget that the twenty one letters of the novel are not all that had been corresponded between the characters of the novel in more thanone year’s time. Rather the fact is some more letters were corresponded between them, as has been mentioned in these letters. But the novelist did not include the other ones considering their less contribution to the development of the plot. The other important thing is that Nazrul did not arrange the letters chronologically, rather he gave importance on other factors frequently.
Moreover the characteristicwhich bears more significance in connection to Bandhanharais the size of its epistles. Most of the letters of this book are of reasonable size. When the size goes beyond the general reasons we get satisfactory explanations about it. In this regard if we look at the works of the most popular and well-known epistolary novel writer Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) we will observe that the characters i.e. the writers of the letters are suffering from mania for writing letters. Miss Byron of his Sir Charles Grandison(1753-4) writes a letter offourteen printed pages on 22 March and on the same day more two letters comprising six and twelve pages. On the next day more two letters having eighteen and ten pages. On 24th she writes more two of a total of thirty pages. But on the contrary if we examine the letters of Bandhanharawe will notice that the longest letter is from Shahashika. In this twelve page letter to Rabeya she revives the memories of their girlhood as well as delivers her opinion about religion and women’s liberation. We should not forget that Shahashika is a learned school-teacher of Calcutta and in dire necessity it is quite befitting to her to write such a long letter. The second longest letter of this book is from Rabeya to Mahbuba. Inthis nine-page letter the question of length becomes negligible when Rabeya writes that she has been composing the letter for three days. In the other longer letters we observethat the writers of them have given direct and / or indirect explanation about their lengths in them. And thus we can realize that Nazrul has saved his epistles from unnecessary boredom.
Excluding the above aspects regarding form of Nazrul’s Bandhanhara,we will now try to have a glance at the contents of the books. What is the novel about ? The most prominent answer should be that it is aboutthe rebellious attitude of Nazrul. The rebellion that Nazrul exposed later on in his poem Bidrahi(The Rebel) and other poems has first got the black-white form in Bandhanhara.Nazrul’s attitudes towards womanhood, and the then Muslim society have also been delineated in it.
The well-known truth is that Nazrul is recognized as a rebel poet primarily for his Bidrahi. His rebellion is against God or rather against religious and social superstitions. In Bidrahihe uttered:
I’m the OM sound of Ishan’s horn.
I’m the mighty call of Israfil’s trumpet.
I’m Pinakapani’s hourglass drum, trident,
the sceptre of the Lord of justice.
I’m the Chakra and the Great Conch,
I’m the primordial sound of the Gong!
I’m the furious Durbasa, the disciple of Vishwamitra.
I’m the fury of fire, to burn this earth to ashes.
I’m the ecstatic laughter, terrifying the creation.
I’m the eclipse of the twelve suns
On the Day of the Doom.
I’m the Rebel Bhrigu,
I’ll stamp my footprints on the chest of god
sleeping away indifferently, whimsically,
while the creation is suffering.
I’m the Rebel Bhrigu,
I’ll stamp my footprints —
I’ll tear apart the chest of the whimsical god!
(Tr. Sajed Kamal, Poetry of Kazi Nazrul Islam,ed. Mohammad Nurul Huda, Nazrul
Institute, June 1997, Pp 29-31).
This intellectual shape of Nazrul’s psychology came out first in Bandhanhara. Moreover the thing worthy tomention is that in Bandhanharathe causes and contexts of such attitudes have also been expounded. Inthe sixteenth letterwhich is written by Shahashika the writer says:
Yes, I’ve something to say about religion. I told you earlier that every religion has
eternal truth as its foundation — the truth that was at the beginning of creation, at
present and will be in infinite future. As I believe in this religion, you can
categorize me in any religion you like. I’m a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a
Buddhist, a Brahma. I’m with out any outer ritual (temporary truth) of any religion.
The fanatics do the wrong there. Excludingthe eternal truth of religion they are
embracing those rituals. They are so much devoted to their religion that if anyone
proceeds to do anything with it, they become furious. But they don’t try to
understand that their faith, their religion is so meaningless that it can not bear any
sort of touch. Is religion sofragile that it won’t be able to bear a little touch?
Religion has tolerance as an armour, but I can’t stick to this idea seeing the
activities of these hypocrites. Their faith as well as its power is so little that they
won’t let you go in any different way, nor let you make any query to verify that
truth…. For these reasons, dear, I’m in favour ofthose atheists than the false theists.
(Translated by the present author)
In this connection it will not be irrelevant if we quote a part of Nazrul’s letter to Principal Ibrahim Khan (the letter was published in 1927 in response to a letter from Principal Ibrahim Khan in 1925). Nazrul wrote :
I’ve received the title kafer(infidel) that the Muslim society has given me. I can’t
remember if I have ever complained about its unjustness. But I’ve felt shy that I’m
not that much great to be ornamented with such a title. In spite of that I’ve been
placed in the row of Hafiiz-Khaiyam and Monsoor.
Many Muslim authors will debate on your term ‘Muslim Literature’. Dose it mean
literature by Muslim people or literature having Muslim feeling? If it is real
literature, it will be for all nations. True, it’ll have a religion outwardly. Poetry may
be created basing the truth of Islam, but not the religious books. I believe that no
poetry can be created on religious belief, neither on Islam. The main life force of
Islam is its sovereignty, democracy, universal fraternity and socialism.
I do believe in the novelty and superiority of Islam. People of non-Muslim
community also do. Epics, not only poems, may be written having the great truth of
Islam as the main idea. I’m a small poet, I’ve praised this greatness of Islam
through a lot of my write-ups. But the tone of it could notsupercede poetry. It can’t.
If it can, then it doesn’t remain poetic. (Translated by the present author)
Form all these any conscious reader will easily be able to understand how the rebellious bent of Nazrul’s mind has most appropriately been sketched in Bandhanhara.
The other aspect that could have made Bandhanharaa permanent place in the history of Bangla novel is Nazrul’s attitude towards womanhood in the novel. As he has expressed his own philosophy about the liberation of women, he has as well delineated the stagnant socio-religious condition where women are no better than the maid slaves. In Mahbuba’s letter to Sophia (Sl. no vi) and Shahshika (Sl no. xvii) the place of women in Muslim society has been pictured in a very trueway. Sophia’s letter to Mahbuba (Sl. no. viii) also gives some shades of this picture.But Shahashika’s letter(Sl. no. xvi) expounds it from the deepest causes. And out of all these Nazrul has tabled up the question of women’s liberation in the society. In the later years Nazrulwrote many poems and songs preaching women’s liberation. In his famous poem Nari(Woman) Nazrul wrote:
a bangle round thy wrist, anklet
round thy feet. O woman, tear
off the veil, that has made thee
a coward! Strip off all ornaments
and dresses that stand there as
symbols of slavery!
(Tr. Abdul Hakim, Poetry of Kazi Nazrul Islam, ibid, Pp. 291-292)
The message of the right of women in society in Narior other poems was first heard in
Moreover, Bandhanharahas other qualities that could place it in the row of wellknown novels of Bangla literature. Bandhanhara is a novel where we may get much more autobiographical elements of Nazrul’s own life. Other than that it is the first war novel is Bangla that gives reliable description of a warrior, though not of a war.
In Bandhanhara we may search for the contemplation and patience of the novelist for a better and more perfect literary piece. Inhis later prose-work Nazrul could not get that much time and opportunity to give because of his occupation ofwriting huge number of poetry and songs and his busy activities in politics. And for that reason if the reader expects a true success regarding form and content in Bandhanhara than those of Nazrul’s other novels, he will not have to sigh for it.