Devkota: the Nazrul of Nepal
Subrata Kumar Das
During my visit to Darjeeling in 2005, on my way to Bhutan and Nepal, one evening I happened to find some books on Nepali literature in the famous mall area of the Himalayan city. The book that attracted me most was on Nepali literature written by a Professor of California University! Has Bangladeshi literature been able to draw any such critic? And the possible negative answer created a sort of hopelessness in me: what have we really been able to do? Is there a good book that can give a true picture of the literature of Bangladesh to the global readership? No, no no …
On my return to Dhaka, I browsed the books that I had bought on that very evening, read some of them and grasped The Himalayan Voices. Michael James Hutt gave the efforts to write that book which is actually an elative introduction to the literature written in Nepalese. The middle-size 300-odd-page book dived in so deeply that I felt the impulse to write a Bangla-language article on Nepali literature. In that article published in the prestigious literary monthly Kali O Kalam I mentioned my discovery that the poems of the Mahakavi of Nepal Laxmiprasad Devkota have resemblances with that of our National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. And the question ended there with no more fruit. But years later, in another evening very recently, when I was talking about it to Dr Maniruzzaman, a noted linguist and litterateur of the country, he mildly rebuked me for making delay in writing an article comparing these two great poets of two different languages. The evening slid into night and when dawn was creeping upon my computer screen I found that a sort of effacement was also creeping into me with the article ‘Nazrul O Devkota: Sohojato Bidrohi Chetonar Dui Kovi’. Yes, these two poets were very similar in respect of their rebellious attitude. Nazrul wrote ‘Bidhohi’ while Devkota’s poem is ‘Pagol’ along with many other examples.
Nepali poetry started not that much earlier. Only in the seventeenth century it began to be parctised. The major work of the time was the translation of the epic Ramayana by the Adikavi Bhanubhakta. The modern poets that Nepal produced include Lekhnath Paudyal (1885-1966) and Balkrishna Sama (1903-1981). Their way was followed by Laxmiprasad Devkota (1909-1959) who is considered the greatest poet that was ever born in Nepal?
What made Devkota like Nazrul? Nazrul was born ten years before him, and Nazrul’s voice stopped 17 years earlier, when in 1942 he was attacked by an incurable disease. Nazrul continued his writing for about 22 years while Devkota’s tenure was not much longer than him. These personal-life resemblances will help us to reach a true realisation about them. When cancer hovered over Devkota, he was yet to complete his fifty!
Let us not forget that Devkota wrote a good number of volumes. Of these Muna and Madan, was written based on a traditional story of Nepal. This poem actually brought huge fame for him. The magnum opus of his later period is Nepali Sakuntala that was written grasping the mythological character Sakuntala. But Devkota’s last years brought him fame for writing poems like ‘Pagol’ which were mostly rebellious in tone against all sorts of injustice and disharmony, inhumanity and subjugation persisting in society. The Nazrul readers can surely recall that the poet would publish a newspaper named ‘Yugvani’ during the early years of 1920s when in 1922 he wrote ‘Bidrohi’. In 1946 Devkota had to leave Nepal for India to avoid the Rana regime and a published from Benaras a newspaper having the same name!
Now let us try to compare the two poems ‘Bidrohi’and ‘Pagol’. Devkota addresses his friend and speaks to him which is a style not similar to Nazrul’s poem. And this ‘Pagol’ begins with-
Surely, my friend, I am mad,
that’s exactly what I am!
The ‘mad’ here is comparable to ‘bidrohi’ in Nazrul’s poem, though the poem of Devkota’s has a different structure. Gradually the poet moves forward. He explains in the second stanza the reason of his being ‘mad’. We can guess the reasons behind it. He says, as the translation of Hutt reads:
I see sounds
We also know that the ‘mad’ sees what others can’t, or what others see, the ‘mad’ sees differently. He announces: ‘You have five senses, but have six’ or ‘You have a brain, my friend, / but I have a heart’ etc. He explains:
To you a rose is a rose, and nothing more
but I see Helen and Padmini
you say that the hills are deaf and dumb
I say that they are eloquent
The third stanza of the poem narrates how the speaker of the poem became ‘mad’. It was a phase by phase situation to him. For his ‘six sense’ he would behave unnaturally and what happened at last is:
‘the world called me a drifter…’
‘they said I was possessed…’
‘they said that I was raving…’
‘they called me a mad man…’
What is important that Devkota is hilarious as the Bangali poet and his hilarity is expressed through many similes and metaphors as in the case of Nazrul’s ‘Bidrohi’. Both the poets call themselves Bhimsena, the Mahabharata hero, and retorts ‘My breath is a storm… my brain burns … like a submarine’. Like Nazrul Devkota also declares that ‘I would swallow the whole universe raw’ and here lies the greatest similarity between them.
Along with ‘Bidrohi’, Nazrul wrote a good number of poems that were against all oppressions. The tone that are found in Nazrul’s ‘Iswar’, ‘Manush’, ‘Pap’, ‘Nari, ‘Sarbahara’, ‘Amar Koifiyot’ is also discernible in Devkota’s ‘The Poor Man’, ‘The Beggar’, ‘The Street Singer’. In the ‘The Beggar’ the lines are:
He has fallen from the black clouds
and is living in the shadow
Do you see a god in him
or do you see a beggar?
I am sure any reader of Nazrul would hear his voice in these poetic creations of Devkota.
Nazrul was born in an impoverished family, and during his whole life he had to bear the brunt of poverty. On the other hand though Devkota was born in a middle class family, his life didn’t pass in solvency. Many of Devkota’s manuscripts were left unpublished when he contracted cancer and left this world. If we look into deeper layers of their lives we will be able to find more similarities. During the thirties of their own age both of them had to experience deaths of many dear and near ones. In 1925 Nazul’s first child Krishna Muhammad died, which was followed by the death of his mother in 1928. And immediately afterwards of the death of Bulbul, Nazrul’s 4-year old boy, caused the poet much gief. What a resemblance that during 1930s Debkota’s father, mother and two-year old daughter died which were followed by the deaths of his two sons also. The youngest was of the same name of Nazrul’s son ‘Krishna’.
Nazrul is a great example of one who could write poems in the shortest period of time. An epoch-making poem like ‘Bidrohi’ was a product of one single night. Similarly, Devkota also could. He composed ‘Shakuntala’ in three months, the epic ‘Sulochona’ in ten days, and ‘Kunjini’ in one day. It was also a practice with Devkota to write a couplet while giving an autograph.
The influence of English Romantic poets is a common topic of discussion for both Nazrul and Devkota. In the case of Nazrul, they are P.B. Shelly and Byron. On the other hand with these two, William Wordsworth is also mentioned in regard to Devkota. An important point is that many critics try to find Rabindranath Tagore’s influence on Devkota, though the influence of Kazi Nazrul Islam is never mentioned. When Devkota had been in India, didn’t the poetic fervour of Nazrul reach the other states by then?
The sad fate of Nazrul was that he could not attract any international translator for his poems which is dissimilar for Devkota who got more than two. And in one respect they agree: the peoples of the two countries of Nazrul and Devkota believed that both of them could win Nobel Prize if their works were placed properly to the Nobel authority.
Let me finish this write-up with my Nepal trip? It gave me innumerable things including the unbelievable beauty lying in nature and inconceivable congruity resting in human mind that I experienced in many of my fellow travellers. But one great achievement was the discovery of the Nepali poet Laxmi Prasad Devkota, and I am sure he was, this way or that, influenced by our national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.