Translated by Professor Fakrul Alam
Born in united Bengal, long before the Partition, Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) was known as the Bidrohi Kobi, or “rebel poet”. Nazrul is now regarded as the national poet of Bangladesh though he continues a revered name in the Indian subcontinent. In addition to his prose and poetry, Nazrul wrote about 4000 songs. ‘Manush‘ or ‘Mankind’ was published in Nazrul’s collection called Sanchita.
MANKIND Of equality I sing. There isn’t anything greater or nobler than a human being. Wipe all distinctions based on country, period and situation. Let all religions and countries be one. In all nations, ages, and homes let God be your companion. Arising from a dream, a zealous priest opens the temple door and exclaims: “Devotee, open doors, The God of Hunger stands outside; time now to pray to Him.” Surely, he thinks, God’s Grace will transform him into a King! Wearing tattered clothes, emaciated, and voice enfeebled by hunger, A wayfarer pleads: “Open the door, I’ve been hungry the whole week.” Instantly, the door is shut, the hungry one is turned away. In the darkness of night his hungry eyes glare all the way. The beggar mutters, “Lord, the temple seems to be his, and not yours!” Yesterday the mosque was full of sweets and meat and bread, This day the sight of the leftovers makes the Mullah glad! Just then a hungry man comes in, sores on his skin, He says, “Sir, for the seventh day I’m starving! Enraged, the Mullah exclaims, “So what, if you are hungry? Go and lie down where carcasses of cattle are cast away! By the way, do you pray?” The wayfarer confesses, “No Sir!” The Mullah swears, “Swine, time then for you to scram!” Picking up all leftovers, the mullah the mosque gate slams! The hungry one turns back, muttering, “I can claim, Eighty years I survived without ever invoking your name How come, from me, Lord, you never withdrew your bounty? Should I conclude mosques and temples are not for me? That Mullahs and Brahmins have shut their doors to the poor? Where are you, Chengiz, Mahmud of Ghazni, and Kalapahar? Storm all doors of these so-called houses of prayer! Who bolts the House of God? Who locks its portals? All doors force open, smash ’em with hammers and crowbars. Alas House of Prayer Aloft on your minarets charlatans flaunt themselves, Disdaining mankind! Who could these people be, loathing man, But kissing ostentatiously the Vedas, the Bible, and the Quran? Snatch from their lips all the holy books. Don’t forget their originators perished in the hands of such crooks! Hypocrites always prosper thus! Listen all you fools, Men brought books into being; books didn’t create men! Adam, David, Moses, Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed, Krishna, Buddha, Nanak, and Kabir are our ancestors. Their blood course through us, we are their successors, We are their kin; our bodies are like theirs. It is possible that one day we will achieve their statures! Don’t laugh, friends. My self stretches to infinity, None -- not even I -- knows what greatness lies within me. Perhaps within me is Kalki, in you Mehdi or Jesus, Who knows where one begins and ends; who can limit us? Why loathe the man so, brother, why kick him at will? It could be that even in him God keeps vigil! Or even if he is nobody, no one exalted or great, See him as a man besmeared and completely shattered. And yet no house of worship or sacred book on earth Can measure up to that small body’s worth! It could be that in his humble hut one day will be born Someone who in his unique way the world will adorn! The message the world awaits, the superman not yet glimpsed, Perhaps will appear in this very hut someday soon! Is he untouchable? Does he put you off? But he isn’t reprehensible! He could be Harishchandra or Lord Shiva! An untouchable today could be Emperor of all Yogis tomorrow. Tomorrow, you will eulogise him, will praise him to the skies Who is that you call a rustic, who is it that you despise? It could be Lord Krishna in a cowherd’s guise! And what if the one you hated as a peasant so Was King Janaka or Lord Balaram incognito? Prophets were once shepherds, once they tilled fields, But they brought us news of eternity—which will forever be. Male or female, you kept refusing all beggars every day Could it be that Bholanath and Girjaya were thus sent away? Lest feeding a beggar makes you feast less, Your porter punished the beggar at your door, What if you thus drove a deity away? What punishment will lie for you then who can say? What if the goddess thus insulted never forgives you? If your heart wasn’t so greedy, so obsessed with only what you need, Friend, you would see that in serving you the gods became impoverished! Beast that you are, will you abuse the God within your heart To swallow the nectar distilled from human misery and hurt? Will that drink make you happy? Will that satiate your lust? Only your evil angel knows what food will please you most. One your evil angel knows how you can self-destruct best! Through ages, beast, know that what thrusts you to death is lust!
Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).
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