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 rebel eternal / I raise my head beyond this world, / High, ever erect and alone!
-- Kazi Nazrul Islam, “The Rebel” (1922)i
O, the young rebellious ones / Break down the iron bars of the prison, play the trumpet of the day of the doom / May the flag of destruction flutter over the wall of ‘Prachi’ / Who decides who is ruler, who is the slave? Who decides your punishment? / Break open the prison cell set fire to the dungeon / Rejoice freedom -- Kazi Nazrul Islam, “Break Down the Prison Cell”ii
Situated at the intersection of arts, culture, and politics, Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899 – 1976) was revolutionary in every sense of the word. A multifaceted, multidisciplinary artist, Kazi Nazrul Islam’s work skillfully traversed a number of genre boundaries. From poetry to drama, from music to philosophy, the National Poet of Bangladesh was a pioneering artist, committed to exploring new forms, seeking out marginal voices, and using arts as a vehicle for anti-colonial action. Known for his life-long dedication to social justice and liberation in the face of orthodoxy and oppression, Kazi Nazrul Islam opposed bigotry in all its form, a belief made clear in the major themes that undergird his artistic work: revolution, respect, freedom, love, and equality. Interested in a humanism that extended well beyond the perimeters of race, class, and gender, Nazrul was a visionary social justice artist. And, his activism is apparent in his reputation as “the rebel poet.” Such a sensibility and subjectivity was forged through Nazrul’s journalistic and poetic work, which boldly criticized British colonial policies, the British Raj, and sectarianism. Nonetheless, Kazi Nazrul Islam was not bound by traditional nation-state affiliations, a sense evident in his assertion that he and his worked “belong[ed] to the...
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