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 had 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 nor 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 continued to stain the stones of the holy buildings. Who would dare to erase the stain of stigma from the temples and mosques, my hero? The future awaits the hero’s arrival.
The Great Spirit approaches, 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 while 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 scrutinised 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.
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