The Battle by the Poets

This is an extract from ‘He who summoned the Magpie Robin’ by Nirjhor Barua.


The uncertainty had gripped the whole nation into a dip towards frenzy. Stockpiling had become the common mans duties. Although people looked for products home-grown or manufactured, a sense of Bengali nationalism had taken over. It had slowly started during the early fifties when the authority declared Urdu to be the state language where the majority of the population were Bengali speakers. The outburst and protests that followed with police open firing and killing protestors. The dead of the 21st February 1952 movement soon got recognised as martyrs and their death and sacrifice commemorated into a monument known as the Shahid Minar-Martyr minaret. Each year from then on, City-dwellers on the dawn of 21st February would place flowers and sing sorrowful songs as to remember them. Although couple of Muslim Clerics deemed this performance to be hindu-like and as an act of ‘Shirk’, a Sin of idolatry: unforgivable by God- Allah the Merciful. It was not stopped by the people, the decrees got ignored. No right-wing propaganda and manipulation of the state and its minions could stop it. The Language movement as it came to be known as, which the Bengalis were proud of being the ones in the history of mankind to fight for their mother-tongue, was the beginning of the end of Unified-Pakistan. It was a wound which kept widening with every disparity that followed. Martyr Asad’s blood drenched shirt, the shirt that became a banner, the banner that led the mass revolt of 69, bringing down Ayub’s Regime, the incompetence of the government during the cyclone last year and the refusal to hand over power to the people of the east, had been the last nails in the coffin of a unified Pakistan.

Tagore’s works were celebrated more, in defiance and in pride. Tagore had become a symbol, the symbol of being Bengali. The Authorities had declared a Ban on Rabindranath Tagore couple of years ago, but it did not hold any ground, it got ignored as well. There was a constant attempt by the establishment and the Moududi followers to undermine and replace the great bearded poet with Muslim versions or Urdu ones, and that works of Tagore apparently went against the Ideals of the state of Pakistan. Tagore was apparently ‘too much Indian’. But it all fell into deaf ears; he and his works were the cultural centre of the Bengali life, one of the drivers of Bengali nationalism, he, a Nobel-laureate polymath was of more importance then the suggested alternative. His life, death, poems, songs, essays, stories, all, all were celebrated. He would not be abandoned so easily. The Students Struggle Committee recently declaring his song as the de facto National Anthem of the East and also other political and social groups and parties agreeing to it. It had made the poet to be more of a Headache for the Junta then it used to be.

 Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam’s Karar oi louho kopat- The steel doors of prison, Bidrohi- Rebel, became choral songs and poems. People read these in public, sang them in all harshness and bold strength. ‘…I am the cyclone, I am the destruction, I am the grand-fear, I am the curse of the world, I am the overwhelming….’ Symbolic words, words written originally against the British. Now the indicated oppressors were simply changed, the message remained the same—– We will rise against you if you try to take our rights away, or something along those lines. When all the Anti-Rabindranath campaign failed, right-wingers tried to use Nazrul as the symbol for Muslim Identity to sort of put the whole ‘Bengali-Identity’ in the back bench. These right-wingers totally neglected the Secular side of Nazrul. They neglected his words of love, emancipation, and against Bigotry, religious Fundamentalism-extremism, and that his wife was Bhramo-Hindu. They neglected the fact that he even had written songs exploring both Hindu and Muslim values. But no, they only focused on one identity of the rebel-poet which could be exploited to their advantage; it was the poet’s Muslim Identity.

In this land where poets had led mass movements, few smaller ones kept it alive, fuelling it. The poets played their respective part. Asaduzzaman, Martyr Asad, and his flag of a shirt became Shamsur Rahman’s Poem. “… His ageing mother how often had hung this shirt with loving care in the courtyards sun. The shirt now deserted the soft shade cast by the pomegranate tree and the decorated sunlit mother’s courtyard. The same shirt now flutters in the city’s main streets, on the factory chimneys, in the nooks and cronies of the crowed avenues, it flutters…..” the poets played their roles. Shamsur Rahman’s immortalized the legends who take to the streets in Nazrul’s spirit for a cause that revolves around Gurudev Rabindranth Tagore, being led by the Sheikhs poetic words.        

****************************************************************************************     11/06/2012




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