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The theatrics of masculinity and Nazrul’s communist inclinations

  • Published at 05:35 pm July 28th, 2018
Azfar Hussain

ULAB hosts public lectures by Manosh Chowdhury and Azfar Hussain

The department of English and Humanities of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) hosted two public lectures on masculinity and Nazrul’s poetry respectively on July 26 at its Dhanmondi campus in Dhaka. 

Manosh Chowdhury delivered the first lecture entitled "Construction of Masculinity in Bangladesh.” A professor of Anthropology Department at Jahangirnagar University, he entertained the audience by describing the various ways in which “masculinity is reanimated over years in our psyche.” He urged the audience to reflect upon the soap commercials that always feature women doing the cleaning and scrubbing. “Masculinity is a reproduced concept,” he said, “It’s theatrics.” The theatrics of having to behave in certain ways to preserve a social system. It is the theatrics one sees in traditional film narratives or in the culture of university hazing (Manosh remembers it as “chambaji”), which he sees as an essentially “masculine activity.”

He criticized Ahmed Sofa’s use of female characters as conforming to the way most films and shows of the time were written, and, responding to a question about the nature of social media in endorsing the masculine view, he said, “Technology enhances our ability to edit our behavior.” For prof Manosh, with the advent of new technology our definitions of masculinity will change and progress. 

After a two-hour break, Azfar Hussain, commenced his lecture entitled “Kazi Nazrul Islam, ‘World Literature’, and Internationalism.” He is an associate professor of liberal studies/interdisciplinary studies at the Grand Valley University in Michigan, USA and a summer distinguished professor of English and Humanities here at ULAB. 

Prof Azfar talked about the universality of Nazrul’s poetry, which he personally experienced when he introduced Nazrul to black communists in Cuba and to the legendary Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o, who thought Nazrul sounded Kenyan. 

He talked about how Nazrul’s contemporary Buddhadeb Bose failed to appreciate Nazrul because of his Eurocentric romanticism, how Jibanananda Das, though older than Nazrul, was nevertheless inspired by him. 

According to Prof Azfar, comparisons are not neutral, and Nazrul being compared with Byron, Shelley, and Kipling is Eurocentric on one hand and nonsensical on the other. 

He maintained that Nazrul is better served when compared with Chondilal, Nanok, and Lalon. Internationally, he compared Nazrul to Nazim Hikmet from Turkey, Pablo Neruda from Chile, Aimé Césaire from Martinique, Julia de Burgos from Puerto Rico, Faiz Ahmed Faiz from Pakistan, Roque Dalton from El Salvador, Otto Rene Castillo from Guatemala, Kim Chi Ha from Korea, and Mahmud Darwish from Palestine, among others. 

In his animated, fiery voice prof Azfar recited Nazrul’s “Kuli Mujur” side by side with German poet Bertolt Brecht’s “Questions From a Worker Who Reads,” demonstrating the similarities between two poets from different parts of the world who never read each other. 

Prof Azfar concluded his lecture by discussing Nazrul’s seminal poem “Bidrohi. He noted that Nazrul had demanded independence long before even Gandhi was asking for self-governance. 

Professor Shamsad Mortuza, Head of the Department of English and Humanities, delivered an introductory speech at the beginning and the lectures ended with a vote of thanks by Professor HM Jahirul Haque, Vice Chancellor, ULAB.