|Through the splendour of songs
Farida Shaikh wanders across Nazrul country
The Return of Laili
Selected Songs of Kazi Nazrul Islam
Trans. Nashid Kamal
THE cover painting by Jamal Ahmed depicts the title of The Return of Laili.
Laili tomar esheche phiriya is a famous and favorite Bangla love song that has its roots in the love saga of Laila and Majnu. Nazrul was infatuated by Persian poet Hafiz and imbibed the ghazal style, thus marking the advent of the Bangla ghazal. Nazrul's unique melodies were steeped in Egyptian, Turkish and Cuban musical styles, all a valuable addition to Bangla literature.
This translation collection is sans the music of the maestro, Nazrul Islam. The contents of this slim volume spring from spontaneous expressions into words before being rendered into the original song. 'I have internalized Nazrul's thoughts and they come to me as much in Bangla as in English', says Nashid Kamal. With some of the songs, 'I tried to retain the rhymes', notes the writer. Generic names are used instead of specific names of birds or deities.
Nazrul was an unparalleled musical genius. While still an adolescent, his stunning talent was made obvious. He displayed an amazing capacity for composing lyrical tunes in his own style. Critics opine that 'Nazrul was the first poet who came out of the shadows of …Rabindranath Tagore.' He has composed over four thousand songs!
Nashid Kamal's first translation is O Evening --- andhare elokesh chhoriaeh elae tumi dhushar shondhae. This is followed by Oh dear --- chapa rongaer saree amar/ and then, If on a rainy night --- shawon raat e jodi shorone aashe morae; and the title song Oh Majnu --- Laili tomar eshechhe firiah.
Nazrul is known as the rebel poet, marked by his song, Those iron walls of prison, and the patriotic song, We are that nation; to raise the consciousness of women ('end the doom of seclusion and rise to be leaders') he sings the powerful lyrics, Oh womenfolk, wake up! and In talents and virtue. 'Nazrul was called ambidextrous…his ability to write songs on religious beliefs in both Islamic faith and Hinduism.' In Je Allah er kotha shonae, namaj poroh roja rakho, koloma poroh bhai, and then Radha and Krishna come feelings of religiosity. The doctrines of Islam were set in him during his childhood. He was the son of a muezzin; and 'Nazrul had been a caller of prayer…'
Nazrul wandered into the rural and the rustic---gypsy, snake charmers and saotals --- and 'brought their songs to Bangla literature.' He composed his own verses, using the tune and rhythm of bhawaiya, nadir nam shoi anjana, Oh waves of River Padma. He introduced a new genre of songs, such as the ' march song.'
Disappointment in love life and 'intense rejection… from his loved one… and from this world' was the spring of many of his love songs. The beautiful description of nature and his romanticism gave way to love songs that were so complete and 'outstanding in literary value.'
The selections of songs for translation in this collection are based on those that Nashid sings 'most often.' Such a qualification adds so much more of sensibility, sentimentality, tenderness of the heart and ambiance of romanticism. Nashid in this translation has truly been faithful to Nazrul who said, '… I am a poet of youth, what I want to say I express in my songs.'
Selected Songs of Kazi Nazrul Islam
Translation, introduction Abu Rushd
With a cover design of the poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, the book is a translation of forty-six songs of the iconic lyric poet of Bangladesh. Abu Rushd had a strong affinity with Nazrul's work, and his translation of Nazrul's songs is outstanding as 'no one has ever before dared to enter into such a novel venture.' It is 'an earnest approach towards familiarizing poet Nazrul's songs of universal appeal to the vast majority of non-Bengali speaking people outside Bangladesh.'
'Nazrul… suffers by compassion with… Rabindranath Tagore.' His first fame as noted by Abu Rushd rested on his Whitmanian approach to poetry. The poet's 'ardent radical impulse and broad social sympathies…loud voice of protest…' marks a departure 'from the traditional Bengali lyric of rather anemic emotion and the easy virtue of surrender to God.'
Nazrul was a romantic poet, though 'prone often to mistake rhetoric for genuine emotion…rhetoric nicely served his radicalism.' More often Nazrul and not Tagore depended on rhetoric 'when… muse got reluctant.'
On the 'unfortunate slimness' of his book, Abu Rushd notes that songs are more difficult to translate than poetry. The reason for this is that the music and the imagery of songs are 'inextricably linked with (the) particular national sensibility and mood and landscape.' The true spirit of Bengali songs 'is impossible to fully communicate to any alien sensibility.' In the translation 'rhyme is conspicuous by its absence…much to the detriment of the melody in the original.'
Songs are no more a serious literary form in English. Western tastes are now so complex that there is no interest 'in a kind of writing where the soul is laid so unashamedly bare and the ever effusive emotion so dangerously borders on sentimentality.'
Yet another personal reason of the writer for a book of a few pages is that, in his view, his familiarity with English 'will not allow him to attempt' dealing with such complex language images and sentiments with which his own sensibility is somewhat out of sympathy.' The selections of songs are based on the growing interest in Nazrul in Bangladesh and among Islamic nations.
The translated songs are titled pure songs, which are steeped in bare sentimentality of the soul, addressed to the beloved. The religious songs focus clearly on Islam and devotional songs on Hinduism. And it is this excellence of the poet which shows that Nazrul had a 'more cosmopolitan outlook than Tagore.' Other kinds of songs are folk songs, comic songs and patriotic songs.
The then executive director of Nazrul Institute, Maniruzzaman, has noted with reverence this first ever song translation of our national poet as a 'gigantic task' in the literary world. This work needs urgent reprint with illustrations. Together, the two books would serve very well, especially abroad through the many Bangladesh missions.
Farida Shaikh is a critic and is associated with The Reading Circle .