In a short biographical essay, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri says that one of the books she remembers her mother reading was a yellow copy of poetry by Kazi Nasrul Islam, “which seemed to be a holy text to her.” And maybe it was. Mr. Islam (1899-1976) was a practitioner of fiercely spiritual and nationalist verse, which he deployed in the face of all kinds of oppression. He is known simply as “the rebel,” after his 1922 publication “Bidrohi,” which remains his most famous. For this and other works, he was jailed by British authorities, but the imprisonment served to enflame, rather than crush, his convictions. As a writer, Islam is renowned for his large volume of work, as well as for his introduction of the ghazal–a form originating in Persian and Urdu poetry, and which we’ve studied in this forum–into the Bengali language.
I am including for your reading pleasure an excerpt of the very long “Bidrohi.” This is from the end of the poem. I apologize that I cannot include an original language version. The problem lies partly in my inability to search in Bengali, and partly in the fact that every time I find a promising link to the original text it is blocked by the new internet filters my MFGD boss just put up. If anyone would like to share a copy, or to elucidate any of the references here, please respond.
Speaking of workplace deficiencies, a challenge: A client of ours who is detained by immigration authorities and cannot contact his family is in need of a phone card. If you’d like to take advantage of this opportunity for a charitable work, please contact me off-list. -ed.
I am Orpheus’s flute,
I bring sleep to the fevered world,
I make the heaving hells temple in fear and die.
I carry the message of revolt to the earth and the sky!
I am the mighty flood,
Sometimes I make the earth rich and fertile,
At another times I cause colossal damage.
I snatch from Bishnu’s bosom the two girls!
I am injustice, I am the shooting star,
I am Saturn, I am the fire of the comet,
I am the poisonous asp!
I am Chandi the headless, I am ruinous Warlord,
Sitting in the burning pit of Hell
I smile as the innocent flower!
I am the cruel axe of Parsurama,
I shall kill warriors
And bring peace and harmony in the universe!
I am the plough on the shoulders of Balarama,
I shall uproot this miserable earth effortlessly and with ease,
And create a new universe of joy and peace.
Weary of struggles, I, the great rebel,
Shall rest in quiet only when I find
The sky and the air free of the piteous groans of the oppressed.
Only when the battle fields are cleared of jingling bloody sabres
Shall I, weary of struggles, rest in quiet,
I the great rebel.
I am the rebel eternal,
I raise my head beyond this world,
High, ever erect and alone!