Prominent US based Nazrul scholars Prof Rachel McDermott, Prof Winston E Langley and Dr Gulshan Ara Kazi spoke about the state of Nazrul studies at a program at University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh on March 5 in Dhaka.
In his welcome speech, Professor Rafiqul Islam, an eminent Nazrul scholar, introduced the speakers and their scholarly endeavors to the audience.
Drawing a brief historical backdrop of Nazrul study in the US, Prof Rachel McDermott, who did her PhD on Nazrul and translated his works including 200 Islamic songs, provided many important bits and nuggets of information in her speech. After the World War II, from 1957 to 1965, the US invested about 270 million dollars in projects focused on teaching various languages and cultures of the world.
With the involvement of some leading American scholars like Edward Dimock, who is recognized as the pioneer of Bengali studies in the US, and also those who studied or taught Indian studies at leading American universities, institutions like the American Institute of Indian Studies came into being. With time, Prof Rachel went on to explain, the scope of studying Bengali literature and culture increased, yet the study of Nazrul suffered due to many reasons.
One of the main obstacles, Prof Rachel pointed out, is the serious lack of English translations of Nazrul’s works in the US, so the poet is often overshadowed by Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Tarashankar Bandopadhyay. In the US, she lamented, everybody wants to learn Hindi and Urdu instead of Bengali.
Despite obstacles, she expressed hope about Nazrul studies in the US and said: “You have to have commitments of the universities to keep Bengali studies going and thus Bengali needs to be pushed forward and the funding needs to be there”.
Prof Langley, author of Kazi Nazrul Islam: The Voice of Poetry and the Struggle for Human Wholeness, termed Nazrul “the voice of Humanity” and argued that Nazrul’s voice needed to be heard to uphold the universal values of human rights.
Stressing Nazrul’s ideas about nature, climate change, racism, ethnic cleansing and wars, he said, “Nazrul’s voice could be a part of a larger learning of the world ... the world needs to know Nazrul’s thoughts on nature.”
At the beginning of her talk, Dr Gulshan Ara Kazi, who sacrificed her promising career as a scientist and became a devoted Nazrul researcher, began with a brief account of how she contributed to introducing Nazrul in the US. The inauguration of Nazrul Endowment Funds in two universities and organizing periodic Nazrul conferences in the US, are the results of her determined efforts that she undertook with her husband.
“Nazrul cannot be confined to the Bengali people; his treasure is so rich that for the betterment of the world, we really have to take it beyond language, geography and time,” she said.
In the QA session, important aspects of Nazrul’s English translation were discussed. The translations published by the Nazrul Institute are not available in the US, and the number of willing translators is far from sufficient.
The event was organized by the Department of English and Humanities of University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.