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The Dissent of Nazrul Islam (Poetry and History)

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Item Code: NAR941
Author: Priti Kumar Mitra
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9780198063247
Pages: 324 (7 B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 320 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

This is one of the first works in English on the life and times of Nazrul Islam, and includes translations of many of his verses. The volume focuses primarily on Nazrul’s dissent against the British colonial government in India, the Gandhian non-violent nationalist struggle, Islamic fundamentalism and Hindu chauvinism, as well as the hegemony of Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali literature. Surveying the literary, political, socio-cultural, and intellectual circumstances that shaped the Rebel Poet’s ideas and actions, Mitra illustrates how these opened alternate ways of thought and writing. This volume will be an absorbing read for students and scholars of South Asian intellectual history, comparative literature, and cultural studies, as well as general readers.

About the Author

Priti Kumar Mitra is Professor of History and former Director, Institute of Bangladesh Studies (IBS), Rajshahi University, Bangladesh.


Ideas lie behind events and events make history. Intellectual history, which examines the role of ideas in man’s march through time, is therefore a crucial discipline to get at the roots of historical processes. Indeed, ideas mean a lot to researchers who seek to understand the phenomenon of change in human past. All significant changes that gave history a quality of drama invariably presuppose dissent from the status quo in their background. Dissent occurs in the realm of ideas and could often lead to great transformations in the world of concrete events.

The nineteenth century, one of the most extensively studied periods in South Asian history, has been attributed with many reform movements and a veritable renaissance. However, the accounts of the ‘renaissance’ and ‘reforms’ found in so many studies by Western and South Asian scholars have rather failed to explain what, of all things, happened in the period which was otherwise marked by brutal colonial subjugation and pervasive economic misery. With only sporadic attempts at socio-religious reforms and no revolution at all, the nineteenth century hardly witnessed any great transformation in society and material condition of the people. Those studies, however, render it clear that the truly significant change the nineteenth century registered in Bengal had taken place in the realm of ideas. The structure of the intellectual change involved dissent and the ensuing dialectics that took place between dissent and the orthodoxies it challenged. Dissent actually remained the dynamics of the volatile nineteenth century in South Asia. All the stalwarts of the ‘Bengal Renaissance’ started as rebels in thought, and they diligently sought to undo the status quo in society and epistemology, undermining its theoretical foundations altogether. But their success in achieving this goal in the real world in their own time was by no means exciting for them.

This line of thinking led me to undertake a new study of the nineteenth century in order to know the meaning of the period in the history of Bengal in terms of dissent and ideological dialectics. I took care to learn about the phenomenon of dissent in the context of world civilizations, delving into the intellectual history of Europe, the Islamic world, China, the United States, and, of course, South Asia. Then I sought to analyse the great rebellions in modern Indian thought in the light of my wider acquaintance with the phenomenon of dissent in world history. The exercise produced a dissertation entitled "Dissent in Modern India (1815-1930): Concentrating on Two Rebel Poets— Michael Madhusudan Datta and Kazi Nazrul Islam’ as part of a PhD programme that I pursued at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, USA. In this work I emphasized ideas over events and individuals over movements. Individual dissenters and their numerous dialogues with several orthodoxies formed the central theme of the study. Kazi Nazrul Islam, the famed ‘Rebel Poet’ of Bengal, fitted well into my scheme, thanks to the new approach I chose for the research.

Nazrul Islam was an entirely new addition to historical studies and nearly half of the voluminous dissertation was devoted to him. It was the first work done on the poet in the West. I also presented papers in two seminars on Nazrul’s role as a dissenter at the University of Hawaii and the East-West Center, Honolulu. A long field trip took me to several institutions in the US, the UK, India, and Bangladesh, and exchanges of ideas with various scholars enriched my understanding of the phenomenon of dissent and helped me determine the place of Nazrul Islam in the history of dissident thought. Later, the study of the ‘Rebel Poet’ would be further pursued at the post-doctoral level at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Seminars were organized there as well as at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, on Nazrul’s historic disobedience—the first such presentations on the subject in the United Kingdom. All these years of research and exchanges led to further clarification and Nazrul’s historicity as a dissenter was established beyond all ambiguities. Finally, the investigation was carried to a conclusion at the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Dhaka, under a one-year National Fellowship for Advanced Research in 1995-6. Meanwhile I presented papers in at least three seminars on Nazrul Islam’s dissent at the Institute of Bangladesh Studies, Rajshahi University, the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Dhaka, and the Bangla Academy, also at Dhaka. The cumulative result of the long enquiry is presented here in a structured narrative through the pages of this volume. Even in the midst of writing the draft, a short trip to Delhi and Kolkata in 1997 (with support from the Indian Council of Historical Research) helped procure some new and important material that would qualitatively impress the final draft. Now an assessment of the book’s worth by thoughtful readers and incisive seers is keenly awaited.

As is the case invariably with such undertakings, this study has been possible through support and cooperation from numerous individuals and institutions. I received all kinds of aid from so many different quarters and my debts to them are immeasurable. A full acknowledgement would require so much space as is not at my disposal. I would therefore name only those who are more immediate in my memory and whose involvement was much crucial in what the research has eventually produced.

I am deeply indebted to my doctoral advisor, Professor Jagdish P Sharma of the Department of History, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, USA. His constant guidance and rare friendship remained a perennial source of inspiration and support throughout this research. It was Professor Sharma who first drew my attention to the problem of dissent and its relevance for a much needed study of the poet Nazrul Islam. | am highly obliged to the members of my PhD dissertation committee— Professors James Connors, Truong-Buu Lam, Prithwish Neogy, and Richard L. Rapson—for their valuable advice and guidance. I am particularly indebted to Professors Connors and Neogy who enlarged my vision of history through special discourses and provided invaluable assistance to my interpretational efforts. I am also thankful to the late Professor Burton Stein, formerly of the University of Hawaii, who initially served on my committee and advised me extensively on modern South Asian history.

During my field trip for the doctoral research, I was fortunate to receive generous guidance from many prominent scholars in the United States, England, India, and Bangladesh. I take this opportunity to express my sincerest gratitude to all of them. On the US mainland I had the good fortune to work with Professor Edward C. Dimock of the South Asian Language and Area Center, University of Chicago. His erudite observations on trends in the history of Bengali literature gave me fresh insights about my subject of study. At Chicago I also received crucial assistance from Professors Naresh Guha (visiting), C.M. Naim, Ralph Nicholas, Wendy O’Flaherty, Fazlur Rahman, A.K. Ramanujan, Susanne H. Rudolph, Clinton B. Seely, and Edward Shils. Professors Thomas Metcalf and Frits Staal of the University of California, Berkeley, and Professor Charles Drekmeier of Stanford University spent their valuable time to enlighten me on various aspects of dissent as a phenomenon of history.

At London I worked most profitably under the supervision of the distinguished scholar of the history of Islam in India, Professor Peter Hardy of the SOAS, University of London. Dr Hardy’s learned discourses gave me new directions in my study of dissent and his warm hospitality and kind encouragement enhanced my dedication to work. At London, fortunately, I also met my former colleague, Professor Mustafa Nurul Islam of Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh. As a foremost specialist on Kazi Nazrul Islam, Professor Islam provided me with invaluable guidance on some crucial primary sources. On a second occasion, I worked again at SOAS with Dr William Radice who teaches Bengali there. A poet himself and a prolific translator from Bengali into English, Radice helped me through the wilderness of dissent studies in English in the Western context. He also introduced me to resourceful scholars at SOAS as well as at Oxford and Cambridge.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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