The Equaliser by Kazi Nazrul Islam

A Translation of Kazi Nazrul Islam’s poem “Samyabadi” by Shahriyer Hossain Shetu

Samyabadi recited in Bengali by Kazi Sabyasachi, Nazrul’s son
I sing the song of equality --
Where all obstacles have become one,
To unite Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians.
I sing the song of equality!
Who are you? -  A Parsee? A Jain? A Jew? A Santhal, a Bhil, a Garo?
Confucius? Charbakh Chela? State, state again and again.
My friend, regardless of what you want to be,
Whichever scriptures or books you carry on your stomach, back, shoulders, brain --
Read as much of Quran-Purana-Veda-Vedanta-Bible-
Tripitaka-Zendabesta-Granthasaheb as you can.
But why would you carry these burdens that only hurt?
Why bargain at stores when fresh flowers bloom in your path?
You have all the books, the knowledge of all ages,
You will find all the holy texts if only, my friend, you open your life!
All religions and eons reside inside you,
Your heart is the abode of all the Gods.
Why search for the divine in dead scriptures and skeletons?
He smiles within the immortal nectar that lies concealed in  your heart.

My friend, I am not lying,
This is the place where all royal crowns bow down.
This is the heart where can be found Nilachal, Kashi, Mathura, Vrindavan,
Buddha-Gaya, Jerusalem, Madina, Kaaba-Bhaban,
Here are the mosques, the temples, the churches,
Here Jesus and Joshua were introduced to the truth.
On this battlefield, the youth who played the flute chanted the great Geeta,
Shepherds and prophets met God on this field as friends.
Here is the heart that made the Sakyamuni meditate,
Discarding his kingdom for the cry of suffering humanity.
In the mountainous cave, the beloved son of Arabs heard his calling
To recite the verses of equality in the Quran.
I haven’t heard a lie, my friend,
No temple or Kabah is bigger than this heart.

Shahriyer Hossain Shetu is a student in the Department of English & Humanities, ULAB.




And This Too Shall Pass…

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land…”
-- TS Eliot, Wasteland

April and May have been strange months — celebrations withered to anxieties. As the pandemic took on demonic proportions in its second wave, devastating millions with death and darkness, paralysing with the fear of losing friends and relatives or ones’ own life, festivities gave way to mourning. April this time truly seemed like the cruellest month as expressed by TS Eliot in the start of the Wasteland, turning our joyous thoughts on healing to a devastating reality of swirling smoke of pyres and graves that continue to throng certain parts of the world. However, mankind needs hope like the Earth needs rain, hope to survive. Great literature and writing inspire to give just that.

This month is also the birth month of three greats who were able to generate that kind of hope with their work: Rabindranath Tagore, Edward Lear and Kazi Nazrul Islam. We launched our new Tagore section on May 7th with Aruna Chakravarti’s translations of the maestro, Songs of Tagore. Do visit us at Tagore & Us to read them and more. We plan to keep adding to this section on a regular basis. This time we have Bengal Academy Award winner Fakrul Alam’s translations of six seasonal songs of Tagore, a translation from Borderless of a poem by the maestro that is not quite accepted as Rabindra Sangeet as the tune was given by the eminent musician Pankaj Mullick. An essay by Dr Anasuya Bhar highlights different lives given to Tagore’s writing by his own rewrites, translations, and films – an interesting perspective. We also carry tributes to Tagore in verse from Ilwha Choi of Korea, Mike Smith of UK, Himadri Lahiri and Sunil Sharma from the poet’s own homeland.

We celebrated Edward Lear’s birthday with some limericks and Rhys Hughes essay placing the two century old writer’s poetry in the present context and a hilarious conclusion to the sequel of Lear’s famous ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’. Upcoming is the birth anniversary of the rebel poet from Bengal, Nazrul. Sohana Manzoor translated a powerful essay and Shahriyer Hossain Shetu, a poem by this legendary writer who believed in syncretic lore and married a Hindu woman. Now the national poet of Bangladesh, Nazrul even wrote of Hindu Gods in many of his songs and essays – a lore that yearns for revival in the current day where politicians have fragmented the world by building more walls, using the names of religion, race, economics, caste and culture.

We have a poem from Pakistan by eminent poet Akbar Barakzai translated by Fazal Baloch using the lore of Samuel Becket’s Godot and yet another translation from Malayalam by Aditya Shankar of Sujith Kumar’s poem. Our poetry section is exciting with an exquisite poem from Jared Carter on a yeti, resting on the ephemerality of its presence; a funny one from Rhys Hughes and a diversity of poets from many countries, including Bangladesh. We also started a new column called Nature’s Musings which will combine poetry or prose with photographs by award-winning photographer Michael Wilkes and Penny Wilkes, who joins us now as a writer-in-residence.

In stories, we carry a COVID narrative by a real doctor, Shobha Nandavar, based in Bangalore and interestingly another about a doctor, the first women to adopt the medical profession in Bengal. Sunil Sharma in his narrative has highlighted a crisis in humanism. There are many more stories which would make for an interesting read. In musings, other than Devraj Singh Kalsi’s witty take on countries without Nobel Laureates, we have a Canadian writer’s perception of death rituals in Japan. Sybil Pretious has shared with us her strange adventures within China this time. Don’t miss the backpacking granny!

The May issue has a wide range of essays and musings ranging from Candice Louisa Daquin’s write up on the need to trust instincts to Keith Lyon’s residency in the Antarctica with interesting photographs. He writes that you could wear shorts in summers! Bhaskar’s Corner pays a tribute to the Padmashree Odia writer who passed away last month of old age, Manoj Das.

Our book excerpt is from an unusual book by Nabanita Sengupta, A Bengali Lady in England (1885): Annotated Translation with Critical Introduction to Krishnabhabini Das’ Englandey Bangamahila. We also carry reviews by Rakhi Dalal of Feisal Alkazi’s memoir, Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi Padamsee Family Memoir and by Bhaskar Parichha of Raising a Humanist by Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia. Shakti Ghosal’s The Chronicler of the Hooghly and Other Stories has been reviewed by Gracy Samjetsabam.

Our interviews this time are more on practical issues than literary – with the two authors of Raising a Humanist and with someone who supported our Tagore section by inviting us to talk on it in an online festival called Anantha, Sonya Nair. A friend and an academic with decidedly avant garde outlook, she is part of the twenty-year-old peer-reviewed Samyukta Journal that homes many academics. Pause by and have a read to see how they serve.

I would want to give heartfelt thanks to Nidhi Mishra and Archana Mohan for hosting Ms Sara’s Selections from Bookosmia this time as they help many battle the pandemic with hope, especially young children growing up in a world inhibited with masks and social distancing. I would also like to thank all the writers and my whole team for rising above the darkness by helping us get together this issue for our readers who I hope do find solace in our pages. And thank you readers for being with us through our journey.

There is a lot more in our pages than I have written. Do take a peek at this month’s issue and enjoy.

Best wishes,

Mitali Chakravarty


Temples and Mosques

Kazi Nazrul Islam first published Mondir O Mosjid (Temples and Mosques) in Gonovani (People’s Voice) in August 1926, and then as part of his essay collection, Rudromongol(1927) This essay has been translated by Sohana Manzoor.

“Kill those foreigners!” “Bash the non-believers!”—the riot between the Hindus and Muslims has begun anew. At first, it was mere bickering, then it grew into hitting one another, and in the end, it turned into breaking each other’s skulls. In defending the prestige of their respective deities, the Hindus and the Muslims screamed and yelled in a drunken stupor, but as they fell on to the ground after being wounded, I noticed that neither called upon Kali or Allah; they cried for their mothers. They were lying side by side and were crying like two orphaned children bereft of their mothers.

I also noticed that their screams failed to deter the mosques; the effigies in the temples did not care about their sufferings. Only the blood of the fools kept on staining the stones of the holy buildings. Who will dare to erase the stain of stigma from the temples and mosques, my hero? The future is taking preparations for the hero yet to come.

The Great Spirit is approaching, the infinite being who will destroy the meeting place of these drunken religious fanatics. He will demolish the temples and the mosques and bring together all human beings under a single dome of the sky.

I am aware that the self-proclaimed “private secretaries” of the creator will chase me away by throwing their hats and caps, and blowing their shikhas, and yet they are the ones that will fall. They are the fanatics. They have not drunk the light of truth, but the alcohol of the shastra.

Those who hit Muhammad and barricaded his path, those that killed Jesus, have risen again and are in the act of hitting humanity—hurting people like Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Where are all those prophets who died in saving human beings? They came to save humanity, and today it is their perverted disciples who are causing so much offence to humanity.

The God of humanity is imprisoned today in the secured unit of the temple, in the reformatory of the mosque, in the jail of the church. The mullah, the purut, and the priest are guarding him. On the throne of the Creator sits the devil.

At one place, I saw a total of fifty-nine Hindus beating up a lean, emaciated Muslim. At another, the same number of Muslims thrashed a weak specimen of Hindu. Their way of killing a fellow human being could easily be compared to barbarians killing wild boars. I scrutinized the faces of these murderers and realised that their faces were more ferocious than the devil’s, uglier than the boar. They were filled with jealousy and hatred and hence reeked of hell.

The leaders of both parties are the same and his name is Satan. At times, he joins the Muslims wearing a beard and a cap, and on other occasions, he sports a shikha and works with the Hindus. This same fellow also leads the British soldiers shooting both Hindus and Muslims. His long tail dips into the sea and his face is red like that of the wild monkey beyond the ocean.

I noted that Allah did not arrive to save his mosque and Kali did not appear to save her temple. The top of the temple was destroyed as was the minaret of the mosque. Neither of the two deities cared enough to strike the Muslims with thunderbolt, or to hit the Hindus with stones of Ababil.

Amidst all this turmoil, a few boys appeared and took the clean shaved corpse of Khairu Miah and carried him to the burning ghat uttering “Hari bol” at the top of their voices. A few other boys took the body of the bearded Sadananda Babu chanting “La ilaha illallah,” to the Muslim graveyard. The mistaken identities were assumed on the basis of these men having or not having beards.

Were the temple and the mosque growing cracks? Were they laughing at each other?

The battle continued. I saw a thin, wasted beggar-woman begging in the streets with a new-born child at her breast. It was wailing in a thin voice as if protesting against its birth in the world. The woman said, “I can’t even give him milk and he has just arrived. I have no milk in my breast.” I heard the voice of the world’s mother in hers. A man at my side sneered, “And you had to have a male child at this hour too? You don’t have a pound of flesh on your own body even!”

The woman just looked at him without batting her lashes once. Her eyes were burning like stars as if she was saying, “We have to sell our bodies because of hunger. And we sell it to people like you.”

Yes, this man could very well be the father of this child. If it’s not him, it could very well be his friend or brother. Aren’t the stars from the sky hurling the same question to you?

Three days later, I saw the same beggar woman on the street. She had no child with her, and her eyes were vacant. The other day, when she had the child with her, I saw the love of the universe in her eyes and her voice was earnest. But today, the mother in her had died and she was begging for the sake of begging.

She recognised me. I had given her the six paisas I had for tram fare. Her dry eyes suddenly welled up. I asked, “Where’s your son?” She pointed to the sky and said, “Will you come with me, Sir?”

I followed her to a dustbin by the Krishnachura trees. I shuddered when she dug out a small bundle of rags from beneath the rubbish. She hugged and kissed it saying, “My darling, my sweet.”

This was her child—her darling and her sweet. She sat there quietly for some time and then threw the body in the dustbin. She said, “I bought a tin of outdated barley with the money you gave me the other day. I fed that barley diluted in cold water to my son. I took some myself with the hope of growing some milk in my breast. But no, it did not happen. My darling could not have a drop of milk in these three days. Then the barley was finished too, and he left me just today. It’s good that he left. I hope in his next life he is born to some well-to-do people. At least, he’ll have some milk.”

The beggar woman went off to beg and I took her child and walked toward the graveyard.

On my way, I saw the Hindus and the Muslims fighting with stones and bricks. I stood and watched them with the child’s corpse in my arms. But these zealously religious people had no time to look at a dead child; they were too busy hurling bricks and stones against each other and causing havoc. They had no time to look at the mother of the universe passing them by with ten lakhs of her emaciated children. They were the worshippers of bricks and boulders.

Weren’t those houses of worshipping created for the welfare of humanity? Since when have human beings become sacrificial animals for those houses? If that’s the reason behind the existence of those buildings, demolish them. Let all humanity gather together under the starlit night sky. Human beings built the temple and the mosque with their own hands. Now just because two bricks have fallen from the structure, should innocent victims be punished?

I wonder, when the row of emaciated, hungry men and women walk by the temple and mosque, why aren’t those structures affected?  Why isn’t there an earthquake and why doesn’t the Eternal Power tear down these buildings? Why doesn’t He pursue those caps and shikhas and wipe them out from the face of the earth?

Oh, where are you, the youth of our times? You are the only ones that can overcome such adversities. O my fearless brothers playing with fire, the ten lakh hapless people stand at your door. They seek your help.

You are not part of the team of vultures; you are the roaring fire, and you belong to no race, no creed. You belong with light, with songs, with integrity. Come out and chase those vultures away.



Shikhas – Crest of hair

Shastras— Hindu scriptures

Mullah – Muslim priest

Purut – Hindu priest

Ababil – Mythical birds from Islamic lore that attacked by pelting stones. Just as Thunderbolt was the weapon of the Hindu deity Indra, these birds attacked invading African armies and protected the Kaaba or the holy Islamic rock in Mecca.

Hari bol, La ilaha illallah – Chants used by Hindusand Muslims while doing death rituals invoking Krishna with Hari Bol and Allah with La ilaha illallah

Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) was born on 25th May. He was a Muslim, married a Hindu and wrote songs mingling Hindu and Muslim lores. In addition to his prose and poetry, Nazrul wrote about 4000 songs. He was charged with sedition by the British for his fiery writing and jailed repeatedly.

Sohana Manzoor is Associate Professor at the Department of English & Humanities at ULAB. She is also the Editor of The Daily Star Literature and Reviews Pages.