References to European Literature in Nazrul’s Writings
Subrata Kumar Das
As Nazrul did not get much opportunity for institutional education, there have been ample of controversies among many of us about his efficiency in English. But we should not forget that, at the age of about 21 only during the year 1920, Nazrulused to translate articles from an English magazine named The Englishman. It is a sorry saga thatmost of the critics opine that, Nazrul did not read or realize the literature composed in English or other European languages appropriately. Even mentioning his ‘Bortomaan Bishwoshahityo’ (Contemporary World Literature), many Nazrul experts comment that, his depth of study in foreign literature was insignificant. But if we take a look only at ‘Bortomaan Bishwoshahityo’ we will see that, there he not only mentioned about the literatures composedin various languages of Europe, but made a classification and simplification of those literatures and litterateurs also.
Though Nazrul has mentioned and referred to the litterateurs of many countries and their literatures in his works, it is not clear why some of us do not want to believe that Nazrul learned English language and studied foreign literature necessarily. Shantipada Singha, the manager of Dhumketu has pointed the main causes of these disbelieves in this way, ‘The fault of Nazrul is that he is a Muslim and has never gone near the university.’ In his book Nazrul Kotha, (Stories about Nazrul) Singha has also narrated an event, possibly the only one so far we know in this connection, of Nazrul’s grasping literatures by Tolstory, Dostoyevsky, Gorky, Hugo, Turgenev and Maupassant.
From when did Nazrul’s authority over the European literature start? Compring Bangla literature with that of European in his prose, ‘Bangla Shahitye Musalmaan’ (Jugovan 1922), Nazrul first made a comment on European literature. In the last part of it he said, ‘Art means exposition of truth (execution of truth), and truth is beautiful, truth is well-fare forever. Art can be called creation, ecstasy or man and nature (man plus nature), but the exposition of truth is the other main goal of it’ (Translation). Doesn’t the reader hear the sound of Keats’ poems in this line?
Now we will turn to a page of Nazrul’s notebook of poetry written in 1927. This page has been printed from the Bangla Academy, Dhaka in 1994 withthe title Nazrul Pandulipi, (Manuscripts of Nazrul) edited by Selina Bahar Zaman. In page 175 of the book, we have got the names of some European writers and their books like: Upton Sincair, B. Russel, Balzac, Ibsen, Zola, Karl Marx and Bakunin.
The well-known letter of Nazrul written to Principal Ibrahim Khan was also published in the same year, 1927. In that letter Nazrul gave references to European/English literatures multiple times. Here in one stage Nazrul wrote. “If I say with the same tune of western hermit Whitman: ‘Behold, I do not give a little charity. When I give I give myself. Then don’t take that for my pride (Translation). Encouraged by the tune of Whitman, ‘Agropothik’ was written in 1927. It proves that, by now Nazrul had started to studying foreign literature necessarily.
References to foreign literatures were also found in many other contemporary writings of Nazrul. In a part named ‘Chardik Theke Pagla Tore Gheira Dhorcche Pape’, (Oh Mad, You are getting attacked from all around) of his comic article ‘Chanachur’, (Tid-bits), Nazrul wrote: Alas Brutus, you too! The faces of the old are getting angry!’ (Translation). A quite similar dialogue we find in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In Act 3 Scene 1 of the play when Julius Caesar dies, his final dialogue was, ‘Et, tu, Brute?’
The letter that Nazrul wrote to Qauzi Motahar Husain, (The then editor of Dhaka Muslim Shahityo Shomaj) in 1928 is also a bright example of his study in foreign literature. He wrote in the very starting: ‘I am remembering only one line of Browning, “So very mad, so very bad, so very sad it was, yet it was sweet.” And it seems to me thatI can visualize the entire world through two small words, ‘Beauty’ and ‘Ache’!.. ‘Beauty’ and ‘Ache’, between these two leaves is a flower-blooming world. A queen bee, around her the world’s honeycomb’ (Translation). [Though Nazrul quoted the line wrongly because it was written from memory. The correct line would have been, “How sad bad and mad it was! But then, how it was sweet!]
In the same letter he wrote: “Probably from millions a poet comes who is attentive to beauty, he is neither reserve, nor dutiful, he only makes mistakes, he only falls on the thorns of life, he weeps! He goes over all the rules and regulations and drinks beauty like the Skylark. He only says, ‘Beauty is beautiful’. He doesn’t have the legslike the divine bird of Milton and doesn’t touch the world of dust’ (Translation). [The line recalls ‘Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ where the poet writes, “I fall upon the thorns of life – I bleed.”] Inthis regard, the letter also says: ‘Probably you are thinking that poor Shelley, poor Keats, poor Nazrul would cry only Rabindranath often used to tell me, “You mad, you will meet a tragedy later in your life like Keats, be ready” (Translation).
In this letter it is clear that the poems of Shelly, Keats, Browning have already become a part of Nazrul’s soul. We get more in another letter right after one month on 8 March 1928, written to Quazi Motahar Husain in which Nazrul says, “WhyI am feeling Keats, Shelley so much in my blood? Can you tell me? After reading the poems that Keats wrote to his darling Fanny, it seems to me as if I myself wrote them. Keats had soar-throat, and he died of that, might be soar-heart. I am also suffering from soar-throat. It’s bleeding as if I were Keats. Maybe someday by the merciless cruelty of some Fanny, the calm blood ofmy body will blast and colour me like a bride (Translation).
In 1928, an address of honour was given to Nazrulon behalf of Chittagong Bulbul Society. In answer to that, Nazrul sent them a counter-speech named ‘Proti Nomoshkar’. In the last paragraph of that speech he wrote: ‘No wish of my life is fulfilled and I don’t hope them to be ever. And my prayer is to meet the god of death in your love like Shelley’ (Translation).
Nazrul was given a reception in the Albert Hall in Kolkata by the whole Bengali nation on 15th of December of 1929. In his counter-speech, Nazrul quoted from Keats, ‘Beauty is truth, truth is beauty’. The essay ‘Bortomaan Bishwoshahityo’ (1932) comes next. The litterateurs Nazrul has mentioned in this essay are: Shelley, Milton,Yeats, Gorky, Barnerd Shaw, Benavante, Leonid Andreyev, Knut Hamsun, Anatole France,Keats, Whitman, Merezhkovski, Puskin, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Karl Marx, Ibsen, Balzac, Zola, Kipling, Johan Bojar, Noguchi, Freud, and Wtadystaw Reymont. Many litterateurs who were less known to the then Bangali readership like Noguchi, Johan Bojar, Benavante, Leonid Andreyev, Wtadistaw Reymont or Merezhkovski could not avoid the attention of Nazrul.
We see Nazrul’s glorious authority on English literature also in his prose, ‘Ainar Freme’, which is a criticism on Abul Mansur Ahmed’s storybook Aina.In it while commenting on satire, in one stage Nazrul wrote: ‘Every literature appreciates satire, but unfortunately in our literature we don’t get such. The high seats of Jerome and Barnard Shaw in English literature prove the appreciation by the general readers. Not only in English but also inall other rich literatures, satire has been praised’ (Translation). It feels strange to think that Nazrul read even a less known litterateur as Jerome.
The speech Nazrul gave on the Eid-programme of Kolkata Bengali Muslim Shahitya Shomity is known as ‘Shadhinchettar Zagoron’. In that speech he said: One day while I was returning from market, I saw a man coming with a hen in his one hand and a bunch of flowers in the other. Greeting him I told, ‘Such a mingling of fair and fowl (foul) I have never seen any where’ (Translation). The same thought is also seenin another prose of Nazrul named ‘Dhormo O Kormo’ published in a magazine named Novojug in 1941. There Nazrul wrote, ‘I never saw such a combination of fair and foul!’ (Translation). Suchindirect mention of Shakespeare’s writing! Because, to find the source of ‘fair and foul’ we have to go to the Scene 1 of Act 1 of William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Macbeth, where the witches say, ‘Fair is foul, foul is fair’ and in the first appearance the hero of the play Macbeth’s first speech was, ‘So fair and foul a day I have never seen.’ Will anyone deny Nazrul’s reading of Shakespeare’s Macbeth as the source of ‘fair and foul’?
Though Nazrul received enough jealousy and objection in his early life from both Muslims and the high educated Hindus, those could not take upper hand over the popularity of his successful creations. Moreover, the adoration that he got from Rabindranath saved him a lot from the objection of the high numbered Hindus. But after the death of Tagore, when Nazrul himself lost his memory; the joys of those Hindus knew no bound.