“The Rebel:” An Introduction and Translation

“Bidrohi” (The Rebel) bears the essence of Kazi Nazrul Islam’s life and his works and therefore it remains his most characteristic poem. The poem, thereby, also gave the world “Bidrohi Kobi” (The Rebel Poet). Over his lifetime, even when his focus shifted from the thunderous to the serene, from the restless to the contemplative, from earthly sorrow to Love Divine, none of it was out of character for the original “Rebel,” traversing heaven and earth, transcending mythological, religious and ephemeral barriers, and personifying more than a hundred characters through a diverse and long series of metaphors, symbols, allegories and allusions which together had woven an incredible synthesis of a rebel spirit and creativity. “Bidrohi” is a poetic tour de force which, for its astonishing depth and breadth, stands out as a single poem that’s complete in itself as a literary phenomenon. In fact, when the poem was first published in the January 6, 1922, issue of Shaptahik Bijli (Weekly Lightning), its appearance on the Bengali literary horizon was like a phenomenon. Supposedly that the poem was written in one night while Nazrul was in Calcutta in 1921, at the age of 22 years and 7 months, was itself an expression of his astounding—both rebellious and creative—vitality and genius.

To be a Rebel, for Nazrul, meant to protest as well as affirm, to destroy as well as create, to react as well as proact. Along with all its other attributes, it is this synthesis of polarities within the single poem which makes “The Rebel” one of the most exceptional and extraordinary poetic creations—in any language and anywhere in the world. In fact, “The Rebel” was also a microcosmic reflection of Nazrul’s worldview, idealism, and activism. Even when the realism of brutal colonial rule tested his patience with the Swaraj (home-rule) movement for India’s independence—which he supported in principle but later came to consider too slow paced—he never gave up hope, never resigned to inaction, never gave up his idealism. Nor did he cease to admire the movement’s champion, Gandhi, who advocated the independence movement through nonviolence. In fact, on their uncompromising stand for equality, social justice, and India’s independence from British colonial rule, Gandhi and Nazrul remained soul mates and mutual inspirers. Such was Nazrul’s holistic consciousness, such was his holistic activism, such was his holistic literary contribution. And such was his realization of the spirit of Shiva—the supreme destroyer and creator—who harmonized these two otherwise paradoxical forces into his universal manifestation as Nataraj, the Lord of Dance. As Nazrul himself said in the last speech of his life, “Jodi Banshi ar na Baje” (If the Flute Doesn’t Play Any More):

From the ocean as I rose as dark clouds during stormy nights bringing repeated lightning and roaring thunder across the sky, I also quenched the thirst of the Earth with abundant rain. There are some who saw only my dance of destruction. But the same restless dark clouds did not just come with drums and horns of destruction, but also with tears of compassion that made flowers of love, the lotus and plants blossom and the wilderness flourish. The same clouds brought a flood of joy, jingling of anklet-bells, resonance of divine melody and stream of songs. (Quoted from Kazi Nazrul Islam: Selected Works, translated by Sajed Kamal, published by Nazrul Institute, 1999, p. 221)

And yet, “The Rebel” is only partially understood if it is read only—or mainly—as Nazrul’s own characterization or identification with The Rebel. The poem’s purpose is that it is also a universal proclamation, an affirmation, an inspiration, an invocation, of “The Rebel” within the hearts of each “I” of the common humanity which lays oppressed, subjugated, exploited, powerless, and resigned. This purpose is yet to be realized, for the stuff of our world and the stuff of Nazrul’s remain essentially the same. Times have changed, but the differences may be merely in the guises, fashions, and forms. It is for that purpose—and the bounteous poems, songs, music, stories, plays, novels, essays, and speeches created out of that purpose—that Nazrul remains a modern, visionary, holistic, revolutionary, and universal poet, songwriter, composer, writer, and philosopher—in the very best sense of these words. And it is for that very purpose that “Bidrohi” must now be read, recited, and sung—in millions of voices and all over the world—so the Rebel’s message and call for freedom, awakening, truth, empowerment, courage, defiance, protest, activism, persistence, hope, compassion, beauty, romance, love, spiritual unity, equality, and justice resounds throughout the universe, ushering the world to peace!

As my tribute to Kazi Nazrul Islam, and with the purpose of the poem to be read in English and his message to be spread beyond linguistic borders, I present my translation, “The Rebel.”

 

 

Kazi Nazrul Islam

 

The Rebel

 

Proclaim, Hero,

proclaim:  I raise my head high!

Before me bows down the Himalayan peaks!

 

Proclaim, Hero,

proclaim: rending through the sky,

surpassing the moon, the sun,

the planets, the stars,

piercing through the earth,

the heavens, the cosmos

and the Almighty’s throne,

have I risen—I, the eternal wonder

of the Creator of the universe.

The furious Shiva shines on my forehead

like a royal medallion of victory!

Proclaim, Hero,

proclaim: My head is ever held high!

 

I’m ever indomitable, arrogant and cruel,

I’m the Dance-king of the Day of the Doom,

I’m the cyclone, the destruction!

I’m the great terror, I’m the curse of the world.

I’m unstoppable,

I smash everything into pieces!

I’m unruly and lawless.

I crush under my feet

all the bonds, rules and disciplines!

I don’t obey any laws.

I sink cargo-laden boats—I’m the torpedo,

I’m the dreadful floating mine.

I’m the destructive Dhurjati,

the sudden tempest of the summer.

I’m the Rebel, the Rebel son

of the Creator of the universe!

Proclaim, Hero,

proclaim: My head is ever held high!

 

I’m the tempest, I’m the cyclone,

I destroy everything I find in my path.

I’m the dance-loving rhythm,

I dance to my own beats.

I’m the delight of a life of freedom.

I’m Hambeer, Chhayanat, Hindol.

I move like a flash of lightning

with turns and twists.

I swing, I leap and frolic!

I do whatever my heart desires.

I embrace my enemy and wrestle with death.

I’m untamed, I’m the tempest!

I’m pestilence, dread to the earth,

I’m the terminator of all reigns of terror,

I’m ever full of burning restlessness.

Proclaim, Hero,

proclaim: My head is ever held high!

 

I’m ever uncontrollable, irrepressible.

My cup of elixir is always full.

I’m the sacrificial fire,

I’m Yamadagni, the keeper

of the sacrificial fire.

I’m the sacrifice, I’m the priest,

I’m the fire itself.

I’m creation, I’m destruction,

I’m habitation, I’m the cremation ground.

I’m the end, the end of night.

I’m the son of Indrani,

with the moon in my hand and the sun on my forehead.

In one hand I hold the bamboo flute,

in the other, a trumpet of war.

I’m Shiva’s blued-hued throat

from drinking poison from the ocean of pain.

I’m Byomkesh, the Ganges flows freely

through my matted locks.

Proclaim, Hero,

proclaim: My head is ever held high!

 

I’m the ascetic, the minstrel,

I’m the prince, my royal garb embarrasses

even the most ostentatious.

I’m Bedouin, I’m Chenghis,

I salute none but myself!

I’m thunder,

I’m the OM sound of Ishan’s horn.

I’m the mighty call of Israfil’s trumpet.

I’m Pinakapani’s hourglass drum, trident,

the sceptre of the Lord of Justice.

I’m the Chakra and the Great Conch,

I’m the primordial sound of the Gong!

I’m the furious Durbasa, the disciple

of Vishwamitra.

I’m the fury of fire, to burn this earth to ashes.

I’m the ecstatic laughter, terrifying the creation.

I’m the eclipse of the twelve suns

on the Day of the Doom.

Sometimes calm, sometimes wild,

I’m the youth of new blood—

I humble even the fate’s pride!

I’m the violent gust of a windstorm,

the roar of the ocean.

I’m bright, effulgent.

I’m the murmur of over-flowing water,

Hindol dance of rolling waves!

 

I’m the unbridled hair of a maiden,

the fire in her eyes.

I’m the budding romance of a girl of sixteen—

I’m the state of bliss!

I’m the madness of the recluse,

I’m the sigh of grief of a widow,

I’m the anguish of the dejected,

I’m the suffering of the homeless,

I’m the pain of the humiliated,

I’m the afflicted heart of the lovesick.

I’m the trembling passion of the first kiss,

the fleeting glance of the secret lover.

I’m the love of a restless girl,

the jingling music of her bangles!

I’m the eternal child, the eternal adolescent,

I’m the bashfulness of a village girl’s budding youth.

I’m the northern breeze, the southern breeze,

the callous eastwind.

I’m the minstrel’s song,

the music of his flute and lyre.

I’m the unquenched summer thirst,

the scorching rays of the sun.

I’m the softly flowing desert spring

and the green oasis!

 

In ecstatic joy, in madness,

I’ve suddenly realized myself—

all the barriers have crumbled away!

I’m the rise, I’m the fall,

I’m the consciousness in the unconscious mind.

I’m the flag of triumph at the gate

of the universe—

the triumph of humanity!

Like a tempest

I traverse the heaven and earth

riding Uchchaishraba and the mighty Borrak.

I’m the burning volcano in the bosom of the earth,

the wildest commotion of the subterranean ocean of fire.

I ride on lightning

and panic the world with earthquakes!

I clasp the hood of the Snake-king

and the fiery wing of the angel Gabriel.

I’m the child-divine—restless and defiant.

With my teeth I tear apart

the skirt of Mother Earth!

 

I’m Orpheus’ flute.

I calm the restless ocean

and bring lethean sleep to the fevered world

with a kiss of my melody.

I’m the flute in the hands of Shyam.

When I fly into a rage and traverse the vast sky,

the fires of Seven Hells and the hell of hells, Habia,

tremble in fear and die.

I’m the messenger of revolt

across the earth and the sky.

 

I’m the mighty flood.

Sometimes I bring blessings to the earth,

at other times, cause colossal damage.

I wrestle away the maidens two

from Vishnu’s bosom!

I’m injustice, I’m a meteor, I’m Saturn,

I’m a blazing comet, a venomous cobra!

I’m the headless Chandi,

I’m the warlord Ranada.

Sitting amidst the fire of hell

I smile like an innocent flower!

 

I’m made of clay, I’m the embodiment of the Soul.

I’m imperishable, inexhaustible, immortal.

I intimidate the humans, demons and gods.

I’m ever-unconquerable.

I’m the God of gods, the supreme humanity,

traversing the heaven and earth!

 

I’m mad, I’m mad!

I have realized myself,

all the barriers have crumbled away!!

 

I’m Parashuram’s merciless axe.

I’ll rid the world of all the war mongers

and bring peace.

I’m the plough on Balaram’s shoulders.

I’ll uproot this subjugated world

in the joy of recreating it.

Weary of battles, I, the Great Rebel,

shall rest in peace only when

the anguished cry of the oppressed

shall no longer reverberate in the sky and the air,

and the tyrant’s bloody sword

will no longer rattle in battlefields.

Only then shall I, the Rebel,

rest in peace.

 

I’m the Rebel Bhrigu,

I’ll stamp my footprints on the chest of god

sleeping away indifferently, whimsically,

while the creation is suffering.

I’m the Rebel Bhrigu,

I’ll stamp my footprints—

I’ll tear apart the chest of the whimsical god!

 

I’m the eternal Rebel,

I have risen beyond this world, alone,

with my head ever held high!

 

 

 

 

 

Glossary:

Balaram  Lord Krishna’s brother whose weapon was the plough.

Bedouin  An Arab of the nomadic North African, Arabian or Syrian tribes.

Bhrigu  According to Hindu mythology, Bhrigu, a sage, was sent by some sages to find out who was the greatest among Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. First he went to Brahma, who was displeased with Bhrigu because (in fact, intentionally—to test Brahma) he had approached him without proper respect.  Bhrigu made amends for it and then went on to see Shiva, subjected him to the same test, and displeased him too for the same reason.  Bhrigu made amends for that too and then went on to see Vishnu.  Vishnu was sleeping. Bhrigu was angry and kicked Vishnu on his chest to protest it because Vishnu is supposed to sustain the creation, which was in chaos and suffering. Vishnu woke up and, instead of getting angry at Bhrigu, asked him if his foot was hurt. Bhrigu thereby decided that Vishnu was the greatest among the gods.

Borrak  The celestial horse which carried Prophet Mohammad on a tour of Heaven (Islam).

Byomkesh  Shiva.  This name derived from byom (sky or air) and kesh (hair).  In order to break

Ganga’s fall, Shiva spread his matted hair like a net in the air.  See Ganga.

Chakra  A circular disc-shaped weapon in the hand of Vishnu.

Chandi  A Hindu deity, a manifestation of Durga, who severed her own head and drank the

blood; symbolic of a furious woman.

Chenghis Khan  Mongol conqueror (1162-1227).  Also spelled Genghis Khan.

Chhayanat  An evening raga—serene, though lilting.

Dance-king  Shiva, the Nataraj—the master performing the dance of creation, sustenance and

destruction.

Dhurjati  Shiva, with reference to his matted hair.

Durbasa  A Hindu mythological saint notorious for his quick temper.

Ganga  Sacred river in northern India.  Originally a heavenly river, she was sent to earth in response to the prayers of

saint Bhagiratha.  To protect the earth from the shock of her fall from heaven, Shiva caught her with his matted hair and channeled her course.  Also called the Bhagirathi.

Great Conch  A conch is a shell which can be blown like a horn. The Great Conch refers to the conch in the hand of

Vishnu, signifying power and victory.

Habia  The seventh and the worst of the hells in Islamic faith.  Hindu myth also describes Hell as having tiers—Seven

Hells. Nazrul refers to both.

Hambeer  A pensive, evening raga.

Hindol  A lilting, late-hour raga.

Indra  In Hinduism, the king of gods and goddesses.

Indrani  The wife of Indra.

Ishan  Shiva; also the northeast direction.

Israfil’s trumpet  In Islam, upon God’s command Israfil will blow his trumpet to announce the

end of the world.

Neelkantha  In Indian mythology, the ocean became polluted and needed to be churned— separating the nectar and the poison in the water. Gods took the nectar, but what to do with the poison? If not removed, it would poison the Earth. Shiva came forward and drank it, saving the Earth. Henceforth, Shiva became known as Neelkantha, “Blue-necked,” (“Neel” meaning blue, “kantha” meaning neck) from drinking the poison.  In “The Rebel” Nazrul refers to Shiva’s “blued-hued throat”.  More on Shiva below.

OM  The mystic sound denoting the Hindu trinity: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; the origin or root of all sounds; the

symbol of the Supreme Being.

Orpheus  In Greek mythology, a Thracian musician and poet whose flute music had the power to move inanimate

objects and charm all.

Parashuram  The sixth of the ten incarnations of Vishnu, with his battle-axe (parashu) who exterminated the

Kshatriyas, the ruling warrior caste, from the face of the earth 31 times. In this poem Nazrul refers to the

Kshatriyas as “war mongers.”

Pinakpani  Shiva.

Shiva  One of the Hindu trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Simultaneously he is the god of creation as well as

destruction, annihilation as well as regeneration, barrenness as well as fertility, eroticism as well as asceticism. The apparent paradox signifies the underlying potentialities of his power, manifested in many ways. Shiva is depicted in many forms. One of the most popular forms is that of Nataraj, the Dance-king or the Lord of the Dance; the dance position is that of harmony or balancing between creation and destruction, between the opposing forces, between the polarities of Nature. His consorts are Durga and Kali. His abode is the Himalayan peak, Kailasa.

Shyam  Lord Krishna, when depicted in black, dark blue or green complexion.

Snake-king  The Snake-king Vasuki, in Hindu mythology.

Swaraj  Self-government or home-rule advocated by the Swarajya Party formed by C. R. Das  and Pandit Motilal Nehru.

It was also championed by Gandhi. Nazrul was a supporter of the principle while growing increasingly

impatient with what he considered a slow pace, even inaction, of the party, as expressed in the poem, “My

Answer.”

Uchchaisraba  Indra’s celestial horse.

                  Vishnu  One of the supreme Hindu trinity which also includes Brahma and Shiva; Vishnu is the sustainer of the

creation.

Vishwamitra  In the Ramayana, a Hindu sage who acquired miraculous powers through  meditation.  Also the guardian

and instructor of Rama and Lakshman during their youth.

Yamadagni  A saint, the father of Parashuram (see Parashuram).

 

 

Kazi Nazrul Islam. An ardent voice of humanity, equality, religious harmony, freedom, human rights, universal justice, beauty, romance, love, spiritual unity, co-existence and peace, Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976), the “Rebel Poet” of Bengal, is among the greatest contributors to Bengali cultural heritage. Equally astounding is the fact that he accomplished what he did within such a brief period of time. Out of his 77 years, Nazrul had a creative career of less than twenty-four years (1919-1943), ending due to a neurological illness debilitating his functional capacities, including speech. Even that brief period was ridden with poverty, personal tragedies and constant harassment by the British colonial government—which both threw him in jail on charges of sedition as well as proscribed several of his works. Yet during the same period, Nazrul produced at least 20 books of poetry, 3 books of stories, 3 novels, 3 books of translations, 29 plays and operas, 2 movie scripts, 5 books of essays and other writings, and 4000 songs and ghazals (the latter being composed in a Persian and Arabic mode)—many of which he himself composed the music for as well as sang. The Bengali Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore was a great admirer of Nazrul, calling him a “comet”. Among other honors, Nazrul was awarded with the “Jagattarini Gold Medal” by Calcutta University (1945), the “Padmabhushan” title by the Government of India (1960), and the National Poet status (1972) and the “Ekushe Padak” (1976) by the Government of Bangladesh. Nazrul was a phenomenal synthesis of the rebel spirit and creativity.

 

 

 

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