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The Day I Recited a Bengali Poem Before a Turkish Audience

Anil Bera recounts an anecdote on how Kazi Nazrul Islam’s poem connected him to a Turkish audience.
Kazi Nazrul Islam
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A day in the life of a seventh grader

It was an ordinary day in October 1967 at the Jalchak Nateswari Netaji Vidyayatan (JNNV). I was part of an unruly classroom of seventh grade. To bring order back to the class, our teacher Bijoy Krisha Dhauria started reciting a Bengali poem that we had never heard of. His baritone voice filled up the room and then drifted outside to the corridor. I was completely mesmerized and the poem stayed with me like a body part. Later, I traced the poem in the collected works of one of my favorite Bengali poets, Kazi Nazrul Islam. It was a poem titled ‘Kemal Pasha’. The poem also introduced me to the great Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal and opened the doors to Turkey for me. I later learned that the poem composed in 1921 was one the first poem’s dedicated to the Turkish leader and certainly the only one in Bengali. It hails Kemal Ata Turk as the saviour of Turkey and Kemal Pasha by Kazi Nazrul Islam is one of the best dramatic poems composed in the Bengali language.

Half a century later in the land of Kemal Pasha

In October 2017, I was part of an august gathering of Econometricians, Operations Researchers and Statisticians of Turkey for the 18th International Symposium on Econometrics Operations Research and Statistics in Trabzon, Turkey. I had little longer than an hour to deliver the keynote address.  It was an unusually long time even for a Keynote Speech. But I wanted to devote the first five minutes to a poem that I first heard two-scores-and-a-ten years back in a modest classroom of my school. 

During coffee breaks the conversations turned to Kazi Nazrul as if that was the conference theme. On popular demand I had to recite the poem again during the evening cocktail gathering. A radio interview was hastily organized where Nazrul’s poem was the highlight again.  Then came an hour-long appearance in T.V., my very first one. Nobody wanted to hear the English (or even the Turkish) version as if by a magical touch the conference participants had become conversant with the “Bengali” language. The Turkish audience could easily relate to Nazrul’s deft use of Turkish, Arabic and Persian words. Such is the magic of Kazi Nazrul Islam. I’m sharing an English version of the poem translated by Mohammad Nurul Huda of Bangladesh. 

The Poem

Kemal Pasha by Kazi Nazrul Islam

Brother Kemal, the desperate son of a frenzied mother
Has gone furious; so the devils’ dens are full of hue and cry
Looking for self-protection everywhere;
Kemal, what a wonder you’ve worked!
Ho Ho Kemal, what a wonder you’ve worked!
[Then the Havilder-Major orders a quick March}
Left Right Left: Left Right Left.
Left Right Left: Left Right Left.
[The soldiers again sing in chorus]
Brother KemaI, the desperate son of a frenzied mother
Has gone furious: so the devils’ dens are full of hue and cry
Looking for self-protection everywhere;
KemaI, what a wonder you’ve worked!
Ho Ho KemaI, what a wonder you’ve worked!
[Havilder-Major.. Left! Right!]
Bravo brother!
Bravo to your sharpened sword.
You have sent all your enemies to Hades
in one clean sweep.
Tell me now, who is there on earth
not afraid of Turkish sword?
[Left! Right! Left!]
Well done, brother, well done!
The coward foes are completely done!
Well done, brother, well done!
Hurrah Ho!
Hurrah Ho!

To sail over the invading aggressor |
We need, indeed, a dashing Kemal; a terror.
Kemal,what a wonder you’ve worked!
Ho Ho Kemal, what a wonder you’ve worked!
[Havilder-Major says Bravo to soldiers. Left! Right! Left!]
Besmearing red-crimson blood from head to toe
Who listens to peace-message of war-shy cowards, — who?
Reddenned with Pindarees’ blood
This blue bayonet, sharp and hard,
Born ready to pierce the heart of a foe.
O the envious ones! You are avenged upon, quickly hit.
Bravo soldiers! Bravo!
Trample all those mortal creatures under your feet.
With such a course
With such a force
Trample all those mortal creatures under your feet.
Look, there signals in the sky a blood-red sun, with rays and heat.
Bravo soldiers! Bravo!
[Left! Right! Left!]
The envious ones have drowned the goodwill of soldiers
Hence they are completely crushed, victory being ours.
Those who loot other’s land are plunderers.
Hence they are destined to receive blows and scars.
What do you say, comrades of ours?
Hurrah Ho!
Hurrah Ho’
We need such a mighty Kemal to crush the devilish foe.
Kemal, what a wonder you’ve worked!
Ho Ho Kemal, what a wonder you’ve worked!
[Havilder-Major: Right wheel! Left! Right! Left!
Soldiers turn right]
Capturing a tree people, subjugating a free land,
Not caring for the world, you have shown, for a time,
might and strength,
But at the end. you too danced a Turkish dance at our hand.
Hurrah Ho! Hurrah Ho!
The ill-starred have lost their luck; Allah so decreed their lot.
With such a frenzied band they fought.
Hurrah Ho! Hurrah Ho!
Even Allah is frightened, looking at your uncouth mouths, who shout!
They shout, and shout,
Not a hen’s strength in their body, yet they bet with Turkish horses,
Men conqueror Mollah.
Ha Ha Ha!
Laughter seems to tear my veins, Ha!
Ha Ha Ha:! Ha:! Ha:!
[Havilder-Major says Bravo to soldiers! Left! Right!
Left! Bravo Soldiers! Say again, Bravo!]
Brother Kemal, the desperate son of a frenzied mother
Has gone furious; so the devils’ dens are full of hue and cry.
Looking for self-protection everywhere;
Kemal, what a wonder you’ve worked!
Ho H! Kemal, what a wonder you’ve worked!
[Havilder-Major.. Left wheel. As you were! .. Right wheel!
Left! Right! Left! ]
[Fantastic clolour play of setting sun flashed before the eyes of soldiers.]
Why you look with rapt attention, comrades! Ho Ho Ho!
That’s right brother! The evening looks like soldier’s bride, a doe!
A martyr’s bride clad in crimson attire
Besmeared with fresh blood of her husband dear! —
No no no, — as if livers are sliced into pieces, the livers,
Of thousands of fallen heroes — the body shivers!
Who is that butcher, who hangs the pieces on the grand gate of sky?
I would stab him at his chest, the butcher! fie!
I would chop his head!
I don’t know what to do next, I’m so enraged!
[Havilder-Major — Bravo soldiers! Left! Right! Left!]
[The mountain.-pass 3ith slopes appear. Soldiers go ahead carrying the
dead soldiers and helping the wounded ones]
O my young brothers!
Who is that butcher who slices out the tender young hearts’?
O my young brothers!
[A valley ahead. Havilder-Major.. Left form! Suddenly the soldiers
turn their faces towards left.
Havilder-Major.. Forward! Left! Right! Left!]
The dress of sky at our sight
Coloured brilliantly with the blood of fight!
So beautiful so great Beat loud and deep the trumpet
Whatever it may be, brother, a Karbala maidan!
We sing of truth, its anthem
Hurrah Ho
Hurrah —
[The mountain-pass ahead. They seem to have lost directions. Havilder-Major
tried’ to trace out right direction. Then he orders: ‘Man Time’.
Soldiers stand firm and start striking at the ground with their feet. ] .
Drum! Drum! Drum!
Left! Right! Left!
Drum! Drum! Drum!
In the sky two big balls of colours floated
One is deep blue, the other deep red.
Borther, the deep blue one belongs to enemy
Who never wishes well of any,
And black blood flows through their veins only
They are fierce, they are beastly.
They are greedy, malicious, they, the band of devils
The ferocious, the band of beasts and devils!
They are tyrant and oppressive
Killing the truth is their only motive
They are tyrant and oppressive!
They defamed the calling of soldiers
Insulting themselves, not others.
So they are black-faced demons, their blood resembling blue water!
Ferocious band of beasts they are!
[Havilder-Major discovers directions. He then orders.. Forward! Left wheel–
soldiers again start moving — Left! Right!Left! ]
True fighters have sacrificed their lives, and the fake
And the coward have shown their back —
True fighters are, indeed, martyrs!
Conceding heavy blows the coward’s back are full of scars
Such warriors they are
that their backs are pierced with spears.
Dead-in-life come to fight? Go to hell!
Haven’t you seen a hero’s blood? It’s warm and red.
You dead-in-life, go to hell!
[So saying, they take out blood by their daggers and show the same]
And they say, they shall become king
Go to hell conceding the beating
Given by Kemal, a martial king.
[Havilder-Major.. Bravo soldiers.}
This is all we want, nothing more!
Living means to live free, nothing more!
All we want is this much, nothing more!
[Some people are seen approaching them running.
Their eyes are full of tears looking at the scene.
This made the soldiers further excited.}
We have done it, brother, done it.
The enemies have fled away on their feet
And the fort is freed. Why repent?
Gone is, what is gone. The fort is freed.
Hurrah Ho!
Hurrah Ho!
[Havilder-Major: Bravo fighters! Left! Right!]
Step steadily, move apace
Inclining all your bodies
And waving all your hands!
Moving in quick martial tune, making steps one two three
Let us walk like waves of a sea.
We no more want a paradise even, now that the land is free.
Heaven we don’t want, we’re free.
[Havilder-Major: Bravo soldiers! Say again. O brothers!]
Brothcr Kemal, the desperate son of a frenzied mother
Has gone furious: so the devils’ dens are full of hue and cry
Looking for self-protection everywhere;
Kemal, what a wonder you’ve worked!
Ho Ho Kemal, what a wonder you’ve worked!
[The squad passes by a city. Women are casting looks through their veils; their eyes
full of tears of jov. Even the newly wedded brides’ shower flowers
welcoming the victorious soldiers.]
Don’t you hear them., the band of brides under veils, enquiring
About him, on a wooden chair, riding’?
Don’t you know him? So foolish sisters all you are! He is Kemal,
Kemai, he is
The intrepid son of a frenzied mother!
Your brother he is.
Kemal, yes. Kemal he is.. .
Who else could have so majestic mien?- Kemal he is.
Homes and abodes might be blown and burnt, take care
Of your habitats, take care.
Our blood is boiling, we are bereft of consciousness,
We are excited and furious! Get away from us!
It’s our gala night! Kindle flames in every house, everywhere.
Get away from us.
Kindle flames in every house, far and near.
[Havilder-Major: Left form! Left! Right! Left! Forward
Look around! make steps with caution
Lest you trample the dead in your motion!
We shiver seeing the dead
Ha Ha ha!
Those who have died are, indeed, dead.
The survivors live well and fed.
That’s the simple equation we know; why sorry?
They fear seeing the dead. Don’t get lost, don’t worry.
Ha Ha Ha.
[A narro}v and broken bridge ahead. Havilder-Major orders: ‘
Form into a single line’. The soldiers start crossing the bridge marching slow!;
They held the dead and wounded friends with care fostering them
with their backs and breasts.]
True, indeed, O my brother!
As we look at the dead comrades, fastened who are
With our breasts, our souls weep for the derailed.
A thunder-hand tortures our souls, makes them sad.
Forgetting all our wounds, we break into tears,
Our souls hard-pressed, souls with scars!
Sleep on, brothers, sleep on our backs and breasts.
Alas! Our souls are full of sighs, though we praise you thus,
Though we say, well done!
My good brothers, well done!
Sleep on, do sleep, in hades,
O my brothers on the other side of setting sun.
Far-off is your destination, across the land of setting sun
Sleep on, my brothers dear and never turn.
O the red bridegroom of death-bride, sleep on.
Alas, your shining moonface nobody kissed on.
O the wretched!
Even on death you have left behind an endless void
In some soul, longing to bloom from human-bud!
Your youth passed in vain, not hugging for a night your beloved.
O the young martyrs of sunny blood! O the wretched!
Even on death you have lett behind an endless void.
So the writers take pens in praise of pleasure of death.
In one line they tell about one million dead, so I smile, in fact.
When their dogs die, they justify their martyrdom,
News flash out in headlines;
But in one line they mourn the soldiers,
ten thousand have given their lives’.
None of one million youths knew if some black eye-lid
Got wet with tears, if somebody paid them heed.
They die and rot in ditches, their mothers and sisters praise them, ‘Great’!
Alas! Who on earth sympathises with them in the truest?
Comrade! Your bride who comes along, an evening girl,
in blood-red attire,
Wears the sari of darkness to enter the grave, her bridal chamber.
I can’t think of your face turning dust by the dust of grave
O my brothers golden, nothing I can save.
Before final going, kiss us once again,
O my neglected brother Then have slumber on the lap of eternal mother.
[They cross the bridge deposting the bodies of their dead comrades on the ground of motherland. Their blood boil in agitation, they marched on]
Rightly spoken, O my friend
The truth! Let me kiss your hand.
Death they have conquered, why then weep on’?
Ab-Jam-Jam they brought, drinking from the pitcher of poison.
Who died’? Why you weep and fuss’?
Well they have done.
To save the country they gave their lives precious.
So they are true martyrs!
The true heroes have sacrificed themselves in blood-attires.
They are true martyrs!
[They see the camp. The great hero Anwar Pasha advances with his army to recieve the conqueror: Seeing this the soldiers are overwhelmed with joy and start ‘Double March’.]
Hurrah Ho!
Hurrah Ho!
Brothers and friends- keep aloof.
Hurrah Ho!
Hurrah Ho!
[The soldier” also start dancing with Kemal Pasha on their shoulders.]
Hou Hou Hou! Long live Kemal, live long!
Kemal, live long!
Who comes near’? Brother Anwar’?
Anwar O brother! Demons are all crushed,
Dance fiercely now! Jump here and there,
Now all the beasts are clear crushed.
Hurrah Ho!
Hurrah Ho!
Things are still far-off! — Hurrah Ho! Hurrah Ho!
Winning the war our souls are expanded much, Salam to you all.
Stop, O stop your dance!
Softly place the wounded ones on ground. Hence,
Stop your dance.
[While placing the wounded]
Brothers there? Yea, Salam to all. Salam!
Lend your ears to Commander Kemal, Kalam!
[The Commander gives his order]
Bravo! Stop! Ho! Ho!
Bravo! Halt! One! Two!
[In no time all the commotion comes to an end. But the refrain of
victory keeps vibrating far into the horizon before melting down
into an endless azure space]
Brother Kemal, the desperate son of a frenzied mother
Has gone furious: so the devils’ dens are full of hue and cry
Looking for self-protection everywhere;
Kemal, what a wonder you’ve worked!
Ho Ho Kemal, what a wonder you’ve worked

Courtesy: Mohammad Nurul Huda. Poetry of Kazi Nazrul Islam in English Translation [Dhaka: Nazrul Institute, 2000). pp. 55-64.

Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Anil K Bera is an internationally renowned econometrician. He is Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign’s Department of Economics. He is most noted for his work with Carlos Jarque on the Jarque–Bera test. Anil Bera was born in remote village in West Midnapore and attended college at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata and received his Ph.D. in Econometrics from the Australian National University. His sense of humour and wit makes him a cynosure of all parties.

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