Love of the great is like sand-bank
(Boror piriti balir baadh)
Translated by: Mohammad Omar Farooq (11/8/99)
(Initial draft; suggestions welcome; please do understand that this is only a crude translation of Nazrul's rich style of writing)
(Background: This article was written in December 30, 1927 in Attoshakti magazine. Rabindranath Tagore gave a speech on "Ultra-modern - Oti-adhunik - Bangla Literature" at the reception honoring him at the Presidency College of Calcutta. It was published on December 20, 1927 in "Banglar Kotha.".This article by Nazrul was in response to some comments Rabindranath made in that speech.
In response to Nazrul's article Birball, that is, Sri Promoth Choudhury, wrote in Attoshakti on February 3, 1928. The title of Birball's typically humorous article was "Bango-Shahitte Khuner Mamla." This piece is also included in Nazrul Rochonaboli, Vol. 4, pp. 441-445. There is indication in this article that Nazrul actually had misunderstood Rabindranath's comment. There is additional indication that Rabindranath's reference was to someone else.
However, Nazrul's article leaves an impression that his reaction was not based on merely misunderstanding, as their relationship was very intimate. As much as he revered his Kabi-guru Rabindranath, apparently Nazrul was deeply hurt by his poet-master. This article may explain the background of his poem "Daridro" (poverty), which you might like to read after you read the article. Also, interestingly, in Promoth Choudhury's article there is no reference to issue of poverty toward which Nazrul has expressed his deepest sensitivity.
Later in other articles and poems, especially after realizing his misunderstanding about his master-poet, Nazrul paid his unreserved homage to his Kabi-guru, such as in article "Amar Shundor" as late as in 1942. He also wrote poems "Tirtho Pothik" in 1935 revering Rabindranath; Vol. 3, p. 539. His poem was in response to an affectionate letter he received from Rabindranath. Nazrul also wrote "Rabi Hara" at the death of Rabindranath; Vol. 3, p. 541.]
I was then a political prisoner at Alipur central jail. The crime: one time, seeing the way the mother of the king eating her son, I angrily called her "witch" (daini)...
One day the assistant jailer came and delivered the news: "What else now, you have been awarded the Nobel Prize. Rabi Thakur has dedicated his 'Boshonto' drama to you."
Standing by me were few more poetry-loving political prisoners. They laughed at the news more than I did: not overjoyed, but with disbelief.
But one day that fairy-tale did turn out to be true. The World Poet did really branded the "the mark of bad omen" (olokhkhoner tilok-rekha) on my forehead.
It was really "the mark of bad omen", because since then my closest friends turned their backs on me. Those who praised my writings ten times, now they started maligning (ninda) the same writing fifteen times. For me, the blessing turned into a curse (bore shap).
While still inside the jail, I started getting hints that the Indus river-like jealousy was gaining momentum. I did not believe, especially when I heard that a elder-brother-like poet-friend was leading this powerful, unholy alliance. I used to enjoy his boundless affection. Our intimacy was known not merely between ourselves, but also whole country knew about it through his homage to my works in his celebrated poetry and prose.
Those who always make hullabaloo as the worshippers of truth and beauty, when their minds get filled with hatred and prejudice, that's truly sad.
Hearing what I was hearing my tears dried up in my eyes. Only I realized how much my heart suffered at that outer gain. I cried in silence: My Gurudev, why did you inflict this on me? ...
I did not merely respect the World Poet, I have revered him wholeheartedly, like a devotee adores his deity. From my early age, I have paid homage to him by offering bouquet and incense in front of his picture. I used to be ridiculed by so many for this.
Indeed, at least on the bald head of one such Rabindra-hater, the cruel mark of this devotion is shining forever. One day the responsibility of the trial of this devotion ended up at the court of my object of adoration.
My respected poet and writer Manilal Gangopadhdhay disclosed the incident right in front of the Poet (Tagore). The Poet smiled and said: "Wow, I won't have to worry about myself any more!"
After that we have met many times; we also had conversations. I read before him a few of my poems ... of course, at his request. Sometimes, quite auspiciously I received great praise from him. In those spontaneous and bubbling praises, I never sensed any lack of sincerity or a half-hearted effort to make me feel good.
If I ever sat far away due to my shyness, quite affectionately he drew me near. I felt that I was accomplished, as if I was receiving blessings.
Sometimes when I did not visit him for an extended period of time, he himself used to send for me. So many times he asked me to live in his Topobon. As a hapless, I never have been able to sit near his feet and receive enlightenment from him - my entire life was spent in unworthy pursuits.
So many times he has complained to me in so many ways: "You are shaving your beard with sword!; One day people will send you to the Guesthouse!" etc.
I observed that while my pride was beaming through my face, there were other famous poets whose faces were darkening. Gradually, the best friends and well-wishers of my life turned into my adversaries. It's almost three-four years now, these well-wishers have been have been showering their rebuke on me, but apparently their appetite still remains unsatisfied. Wow! I have never imagined that the rebuke and malice could have so many styles and ways.
Letters every Saturday! And, what kind of lowly sarcasm and slang to rebuke collected from the fish market. On this carpet of rebuke spread just for me, I was probably the greatest emperor.
The pile of abuse (gali) showered on me made a record. ... Every week, bags full of such abusive mail. I bore it all. My consolation was that what else can be expected when a small insect tries to acquire a bull. O fool, you are a vegetarian poet without tooth or nail - why is such prodigality on your part? How can you afford to show patriotism? Instead of gulping winds in the garden of flower-faces, observing the yawning of flowers, singing "come on, the love bud!", you went to pinch the King's back! Now you are in jail, have already enjoyed hard labor, endured hunger-strike, decorated yourself with iron-chain! You got your chains and books - one by one - confiscated. What kind of amusement (roshikota) is this? Why all this trouble?
Suddenly one day I realized that storm is brewing in Benu-bon (bamboo-clusters) of literature. In a twinkling of an eye the flute of music transformed into monster's bludgeon. Run! Run! However much euphemistically I call it Benu-bon, when it becomes stormy, bamboo-cluster shows its true color - which rascal would disbelieve that?
Poor "youth" literature! It's like mobilization of seven brave warriors to kill the boy Obhimonnu! All the kids gathered around. Frequent clapping, saying: "Hey, you want to go to see the bamboo-works? Come quickly." Was it only the beating of the seven brave warriors? The infantry behind them was only worse. No attention to dust, mud, dung, or soil - no consideration to taste or decency - everyone just kept throwing whatever they had at the victim .
There is really no honor being beaten by real warriors. However, didn't the lowliness of those hired hands from outside really turned the Benu-bon of literature into bamboo-clusters by the ponds?
I am now used to the abuses of police. There is a limit to their abuse. However, when abuse is delivered by the literary people, there is truly no limit. They really become more cruel and rough than those fault-finding polices. They are like the bees, unsettled from their hives. You can't hide from their bites, even under water.
I somehow escaped and fled from the nastiness of politics. I thought now I will overcome my past agony by deeply inhaling the fresh air of literature. Nope. Who knew that the literary circles are nastier than the political ones?
It's my fate. I have no escape. One day I suddenly woke up at the heavy presence of seven heroes (shoptorothi). What's the matter?
I came to know that my crime is that I am young! I was told that the youth loves me; they adore my writings.
Quite timidly, I submitted: How is that MY crime? Many voices roared: That is your crime. You are young and the youths are dancing around you.
I said: Somehow, I can't be scared into growing old right away. We have to wait some years to make that happen. Also, those who dance at my tune, why don't you make them dance to your tune? Everything will be solved. Why bother me?
I heard in the background that I am regarded as the guard of the precocious Obhimonnu (youth). If you can be finished, it won't take too long to overcome him.
So far I did not take all these seriously, and did not reciprocate those arrow of smoke with smokes - neither of stove nor of cigarette. I thought this is battle between kings - I better stay away at distance. However, when elephants fight, smaller creatures are not spared. So, I have to save myself too. There is no heroism in taking it lying down.
Those who have been expressing disgust at politics, I myself was taken aback by their sudden attraction to those bamboos of Benu-bon, let alone what might the outsiders be thinking.
One also has to admire the way bamboos were being hurled. Instead of targeting any individual's head, it was being hurled at the group or party. That way your bamboo won't miss or go waste. Bravery, indeed! So far, like a defeated one I bore everything in silence. But often inaction is misinterpreted as submission. That's why now individual heads are being targeted not with arrows, but with bamboos.
Of course, you can try to make a few holes in a bamboo to make it play like a flute. Yet, its roughness and the hurt it inflicts tell you that it is a bamboo, not a flute.
When you see someone more deserving of playing flute are now swirling bamboo sticks, it makes one feel sad, but it also make feel like laughing.
I saw in today's "Banglar Kotha" that the person who took up the generalship on behalf of the hundred sons of blind Dhritorashtro to humiliate Ponchopandob is none other than the valiant Kobiguru - adored like Bhishmo by both sides of us - and he has consented to this lynching. The Bhishmo of Mahabharata did not consent to this, but the Bhishmo of greater Bharata did - this is even more agonizing for this age.
Regarding me as the patron and guard of Obhimonnu (representing the youth), the poet-master himself did not desist from throwing arrows. He has said: I have done wrong by using the word "khun" for blood (rokto) so much.
I offer my adoration at the feet of the Poet: he himself wear toupi (cap) and pajama. Why should we be the target of his displeasure when we wear those - that I don't understand.
I am not the first to use Arabic or Persian words in poetry. Long before me Bharatchandra, Rabindranath, Shatyandranath have done the same.
I am observing a trend for some time. Many Hindus from the aristocracy wear pajama- sherwani-toupi, even lungi. No one ridicules them for that; indeed, their attires are then ennobled as "oriental". When the same attires are used by Muslims, they become "Mian Saheb." If there is competition between a Maulana and the saint Narada about beard, the outcome as to who would win is difficult to predict; yet, there is no end of mockery and sarcasm.
Indeed, I have been consciously avoiding toupi-sherwani-dari to escape the kind of treatment usually offered to a "Mian Saheb". Still, I have no respite.
From now on, I might use "bicharaloy" instead of "adalot", but what shall I call najir, peshkar, ukil, or mokhtar?
Kobiguru's argument about long-lasting usage is obsolete. He himself has written a poem, in which he has used "utaro ghomta". We are accustomed to "ghomta kholo". I might have been faulted if I myself wrote "utaro ghomta". However, whatever is the linguistic origin of "utaro", who can deny that the use of it at that particular context has enhanced the beauty of the lyric? Indeed, only to enhance the sound of my expression and to add beauty and unique rhythm, with delight, I use Arabic-Persian word. Indeed, so many times Kobiguru himself has praised its value and worth in his discussions.
Today we feel that today's Rabindranath is not the same Rabindranath we have always known. Some grammar-experts in the background are making him speak like this.
I use "khun" in my poems, not to add Muslim or Bolshevik color. May be, nowadays, the Poet does not like either of these colors - may be that might be the reason of his convulsion (akhkhep).
I have used, not just "khun", but so many other Arabic-Persian words that are in current usage in Bangla. I do believe that the world poetry has a Muslim pattern (dhong). I don't know that this pattern has ever taken away anything from the beauty of our literature. Even late Ajit Chakravarty has profusely admired this pattern.
Dressing Bangla literature with a couple of Iranian attires does not make it an outcaste, rather it appears quite beautiful.
Almost half of our culture's decoration today has this Muslim pattern. Any artist or literary person (shilpi) would recognize the need for this external form and beautification. Sage Malobiya may not recognize it, but Rabindranath, Abanindranath would recognize so.
Moreover, the "khun", for which Kobiguru has become upset, is routinely being used in our "color box". And, that's also not limited to killing (khun kora) or to be killed (khun howa). I also see destruction (khun-kharabi) of hearts and that's not just in the Muslim neighborhoods.
I wrote a song: "udibe she Robi amaderi khune rangiya punorbar" [That sun will rise again with red hue of our blood].
Unfortunately, I recited it before poet-master the other day, and that may have caused him to bring it up. He prefers "rokto" to "khun". So that line should have been: "udibe she Robi moderi rokte rangiya punorbar". It would have been okay too; however, it would have lost half its intensity. Anywhere I have used the word "khun," it is the way used in patriotic songs or fiery poems. Where "roktodhara" would have been appropriate, I did not force "khundhara" there. However, I did not use "rokto-kharabi"; either I wrote "rokta-rokti" or "khun-kharabi".
Poet-master feels that the meaning of "rokto" is much broader. It fits into love poetry as well. But it needs some touch of "hue" (raag). As "khun" does not flow on lover's cheek, so is the case with "rokto" - unless, of course, one bites his teeth into the cheek. We don't play "khun-khuni" with our lovers, but "khun-shuri" (teasing; argument) is quite common.
Not just the poet-master, but also many other contemporary writers forget that half of Bangla poetry-lovers are Muslims. They don't seek toupi-chapkan from these writers; they desire the tune of Serang parallel to violin, the tune of nightingale in a garden (bagicha) parallel to cuckoo in an orchard (phul-bon).
Those who feel that due to this matter Mahabharata has been violated should become members of Hindu-circles than literary circles.
Observing the poet-master, who left new treasure of vocabulary by creating new words outside the existing dictionaries, I become amazed at his fear of new words. It seems that there are many individuals and aspects behind this rage. It also appears that my adversaries within the literary circle has heaped lies before him against me that has poisoned his attitude. Otherwise, my passion for Arabic-Persian words is not new; nor is poet-master's acquaintance with me or my poetry. How is it that such matter has not come up before?
It is even more saddening when some firefly (jonaki poka) far below the sphere of sun (robi-lok) shows brags of poetic talents. Are the devotees only those nasty fellows who are agitating his beautiful and tranquil mind by constantly backbiting against others? And are those of us who do not visit him frequently now among his adversaries?
My appeal to the poet-master: it's alright if he wants to be the general of the Dhritorashtro. But it is our hope that he would not lower himself by harboring unfounded suspicions about us due to the instigation of those people.
Those caretakers (panda) who are the nearest to the temple of worship are not necessarily the best of the devotees of the deity (devta).
One more thing about which some explicit words from the poet-master would be most welcome and beneficial.
The tone of his recent writings gives an impression that our cursed poverty has become target of sarcasm.
It's well-known that he does have the wealth to doubt our poverty and suffering as fake. We also know that, except the suffering of poverty - the greatest of all suffering, he is more or less familiar with all other kind of sufferings. That is why even though such a thought was agonizing, but did not make upset me.
How the new writers (poets) have to struggle with extreme poverty to survive, sometimes without food and other times with little food, the poet-master, due to the blessing of Luxmi, is not experienced with that. I pray to God that he never has to find that out. The poet-master has never visited the cottages of writers like us - not that such visit would have been demeaning for him - otherwise he would have seen how severe is the misery of our daily life. We are almost hiding ourselves in corners of our villages in this condition of misery. Far from engaging in propaganda from places to places, sometimes we feel ashamed to step outside our home. It becomes increasingly difficult to hide those holes in our dresses with patches. It is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to sit among the educated and the gentlemen, as if we are to be faulted for this. The more the outer poverty whips our inside, the more this soul becomes rebellious.
Is it not possible that it is that shame of poverty that holds me back from visiting the poet-master? Is the thought unrealistic that looking at this unkempt character the guards at the door of his musical gathering won't even let me in?
If the holy ones curse the poor devotee because he could not join the pilgrimage, then the devotee can only blame his fate.
My humble submission to him - throw all the arrows you like, I might be able to bear it; but please don't add salt to our wounds by being sarcastic at our very personal suffering from poverty. That cruelty would be difficult to bear.
I have one more supplication at the feet of poet-master. With your affection and your right as our master, help us to realize if we have done anything wrong. We will respect your guidance without hesitation. However, when he is surrounded by only those who know merely ugly sarcasm and abuse without his reproach, then our head stoops low in shame and pain. The honor of the world-poet/king - the sphere of sun (robi-lok) - is far above such mud-throwing.
The novelist-king, Sharatchandra, rebuked me (or whatever) before these "Saturday letter-writers" (I don't know whether it's true or not) - he, at least, never belittled our poverty. Since he has always treated unfortunate people's pain and suffering with so much greatness, now his position is approximating the sphere of sun (robi-lok).
One day I heard a story from the novelist Shurendra Gangopadhdhay that Sharatchandra, with the income from the books he has written, will build a shelter for all the stray dogs. Those dogs that tire themselves roaming the streets in search of little food will find food and shelter there - free of charge. Somehow Sharatchandra has come to know that those stray dogs were writers in their previous life, now are born as dogs. I heard that he has even prepared a will to that effect.
Hearing this, so many times I bowed my head in respect and said: Sharat Da, you are really a great person. We, the writers, ARE the caste of dogs. Some of us die in hunger like dogs and others die fighting with each other. He (Sharat) seems to have that sixth sense; he has seen the avatar (holy)-dimension of the writers (in these dogs).
That's why I have just one prayer today: if there is incarnation, I wish I never be born in this land as a poet. If I am born in this land, I would rather like to return as a dog in the shelter of Sharatchandra. At least, I won't have to worry all the time for just a little food.
Source: Nazrul Rochonaboli, Vol. 4, 1996, pp. 23-29.
If you would like to read Daridro (in english) now, a link is provided at the top.