A natural disaster does not maintain the norms and traditions of a society. It is boundless.
It is more boundless than human imagination. And when it is related to a virus, the situation becomes more uncertain and unpredictable. According to virologists, the nature of the virus is one of the trickiest ones.
However, learning lessons from past experience can help us assume and predict many things in taking fruitful steps. Besides, assumptions and hypotheses based on experiential knowledge can lead us to the way of possible solutions. It is inevitable that pandemic brings disaster and, in the past, human society has experienced it in different levels and dimensions. That is why learning a lesson is the most crucial.
In this article, my contention would be evaluating the current pandemic life from a social, political, and economic perspective where we have failed to save ourselves as social animals in the covid-19 situation. In doing so, I will illustrate how Nazrul's poetry can help us rise and grow out of this pandemic in multifarious ways.
The so-called new normal--current customs, activities, and practices that arose out of pandemic-- has become abnormal for most people. The world, especially the poor and middle-income people, is engulfed by the crude nature of the capitalistic trend of profit and consumption. Truly the pandemic has not only crippled their life but also made them feel so inferior and unwanted in a so new and ghostly economic and techno-driven world where inequality has surged more than ever.
In his poem "Sammyabadi" (Of Equality) and "Manush" (Man), poet Nazrul begins placing his position in the world: "I sing the song of equality." In Manush, he further claims that "Nothing is higher than men, nothing so nobler." Humans have created civilization to live peaceful and dignified life. The only spirit of togetherness and brotherhood can save them. Any discrimination will lead to chaos and bring further segregation and alienation.
In January 2021, The United Nations Secretary-General Guterres states that it is the 'time for unity' and 'the international community must work together in solidarity' to protect the world from this shattering experience which certainly resonates with the poetic words of Nazrul. To Nazrul, peace, equality, and solidarity are integrated together. Hence, in his poem Sammyabadi, he imagined, demanded, and pleaded for a 'universal temple' where everyone can pray without any discrimination. His prophetic and humanistic poetic soul further proclaimed that 'nothing is greater than the heart of men', and it is, by far, the best Temple or Kaaba.
In a pandemic, the low-income populations are facing suffering and tribulation the most. They are going through an acute and excruciating existential crisis. Yet, it's been described as a 'perfect storm.' It has shaken the whole world. Now human vulnerability has been exposed before an invisible enemy. From rich to poor, religious or pagan, the covid virus has reached the door of everyone.
But again, it is the poor people whose life and dignity has been shattered to the core. Many of them have been displaced from their jobs. They had to migrate and relocate; tried to start new small ventures; additionally, many people remained out of work and lost their income source.
Consequently, to survive, Kazi Nazrul could be the inspiration. In any situation, Nazrul urges people not to face unchallenged defeat. He is a voice against oppression and segregation. And, evidently, in his poem "Bidrohi" (The Rebel), he instigates people to be valiant and to 'keep their head held high.' Self-esteem is very important to Nazrul, whether someone is poor or rich. He urges people never to bend down whatever difficult the oppressive situation turns into; instead, he implicitly but muscularly invites people to be 'rebel eternal'.
Covid has already taken many lives. Many nations are failing to cope with that. In addition, many nations and the bourgeoise institutions have already started to reap benefits by manipulating the vulnerable situation of the affected people. Only good leadership can sail the distraught and helpless people to the safe shore. A good captain is needed as Nazrul looks for such a charismatic person in his "kandariHushiyar" (Captain Beware) poem suggesting the precarious condition: "The hapless nations drown; it knows not how to swim."
Our world leaders need to be determined. As the whole world is trembling and shaking, nobody knows how to prevent this invisible enemy alone; thus, genuine collaboration and helping hands are needed by forgetting all the disputes and barriers. Still, we have time. Our captains need to be 'beware' to save the world from the Covid peril. To achieve this, we must 'dissolve all barriers and breakups' ("Sammyabadi").
In his poem "Milon Gan" (The Song of Unity), the poet echoes the urgency of fraternity. In any disastrous situation, unity can make us strong and help us to survive. Without integration, disaster knocks at the door. Nazrul writes, "sing like as you recognize each other brothers, [that day] the dead rivers get tide, water roars breaking the barriers." Through this unity, he actually guided us not to be communal in any case. As diseases and viruses do not have any religion, they attack and kill people indiscriminately. So, religious superstitions and enmity will not bring anything good.
We only can hope that people will rise above their selfish interests. At least, in this pandemic situation, people will be humanitarian. Governments must take proactive actions regarding health and economic issues.
The situation is really grave now. Private job holders are in real insecurity, petty businessmen are losing their businesses, many educational institutions are shutting down closing the job doors of the teachers. Even failing to cope with the unprecedented condition, people are committing suicide at an alarming rate. Domestic oppression and violence are increasing too. A sense of suffocation is pervading everywhere.
Amidst these horrific circumstances, we should revisit Nazrul. Different media should spread his poetry and other oeuvres of writings to the masses as well. Our world is becoming a world of exploitation. Not only physical and psychological, but even digital exploitation is also going on rampantly. To get the true benefit of this global world, revisiting and rediscovering Nazrul can be a great project as he is a great advocate of universalism.
Now is the time to be tolerant. We must not be partisan and biased; nonetheless, we must inculcate the way of egalitarianism. In this pandemic, if we can nurture the concept of 'One World, One Heart', we will easily beat Corona.
In his editorial Joog Bani, Nazrul asks everyone to be together under one umbrella, forgetting and breaking all walls that keep people apart: "Let us forever forget our paltriness, all lies, egoism and let us all be brothers. We shall quarrel no more."
So, following Nazrul, we must be out of the clasp of all sorts of prejudices- be it gender or race. Only love can unite us. We must not embrace slavery and must look for a way out to snatch our freedom either in a nonviolent way or through revolution. Lastly, in this pandemic, a revisiting of Nazrul's poetry can be very conducive and congenial to deal with the current dire situation because where love, rebellion, and hope reside, there reside the literary works of Nazrul.
The writer is a columnist and teaches English literature at a private university. E-mail: [email protected]