Nazrul is still remembered as 'Vidrohi Kavi', a fiery rebel poet who raised his voice against injustice in every sphere of life! Born in Churulia (West Bengal), Nazrul received religious education and began working at a local mosque pretty early; but soon joined 'Letor Dal', a rural theatrical group. This is where he was initiated into poetry, drama, music, literature and got introduced to the socio-political scene. This inspired him to serve the British Army in the Middle East during the First World War. This exposure introduced him to mass singing and the music in this part of the world.
Back home in Calcutta, Nazrul, as a scribe, fought against the British rule, fundamentalism, communalism and exploitation. He condemned them through his literary works and actively participated in the Independence Movement of India. As a result, the British government banned his books and newspaper columns. This also led to his frequent imprisonment.
During a short period of the 20-odd years of his dynamically creative life, he gifted almost 4,000 songs belonging to every imaginable genre of music including raag pradhaan, kirtan, folk, Bengali modern songs, Shyama Sangeet, ghazal. Nazrul's acquaintance with the tradition of Persian ghazals, a form of love songs, formed the base of his Bengali ghazal compositions. This innovation by Nazrul not only enriched Bengali music but also Bengali language that adopted numerous Persian/ Urdu words. His stint as the staff of the All India Radio Calcutta was, perhaps, the best period that saw eminent musicians emulating his innovation-friendly style and taking them to the height they deserved.
Much later his power-packed writings and compositions became a great source of inspiration for the rebels who led the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. As such Nazrul is hailed as the national poet of Bangladesh. Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel laureate, was so impressed by this poet's fiery pen, that he had dedicated one of his books to Nazrul - almost 40 years his junior! Despite all, Nazrul Islam's multifarious persona as a littérateur and poet-composer remains hugely overshadowed by Tagore.
Fortunately, there are some dedicated scholar musicians like Suman Bhattacharya and Chadranath Chatterjee who continue to do research and sing Nazrul-Geeti with exemplary devotion. Kirtan: During an event organised by Pashcimbanga Kazi Nazrul Islam Academy (West Bengal Information and Culture Department), Bhattacharya offered sterling versions of kirtan such as "Ami ki sukhe lo grihe rabo" (studded with a variety of ragas and talas), "Manimanjiro baje arunito charane" (a blend of ragas Bilawal and Bihag, sung by Nazrul himself in February 1941 under the pseudonym Roopanuraag in Sangeet Bichitra, broadcast from AIR, Calcutta). Bhattacharya regaled listeners with a few emotive Shyama Sangeet; one such song was "Amar Shyama Mayer kole chore, japi ami Shyamer naam" (sitting in the lap of my Divine Mother Shyama, I am chanting the name 'Shyam').
Raagpradhaan: Mumbai-based renowned vocalist Chandranath Chatterjee, a disciple of Pandit Amarnath (prime disciple of Ustad Amir Khan) obtained his Ph.D. in music by doing unique research on Nazrul Islam's works. He was featured in Doordarshan's National Programme and AIR Delhi along with a talk show "Aaj ke Mehmaan' in Vividh Bharati National.
Veteran singer Arati Mukherjee joined him in presenting classical based Nazrul-geeti such as "Gagane shaghane chamakichhe damini" based on the famous khayal in raga Megh (Gagan garaj damakata damini) and "Rum jhum jhum nupur bole" based on Jhan-jhan jhan-jhan payal baaje in raga Nat Bihag). The latter was made popular by Lata Mangeshkar (film "Buzdil"). All these established the immortality of the phenomenon with telling effect.
The writer is an eminent journalist and Nazurl-researcher
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