Nazrul Commemorative Lecture

Made possible by support from the Nazrul Committee of Connecticut in collaboration with the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Connecticut, this event is part of a public/private endeavor that aims to place the work and activism of the poet Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) within the context of broader literary, political, social and intellectual ideas and movements.


2016 “Nazrul’s Moral Aesthetics: The Beauty of Real Racial and Religious Tolerance”

On October 25, in the Class of 1947 Room, HAIDER A. KHAN delivered the 2016 Nazrul Commemorative Lecture “Nazrul’s Moral Aesthetics: The Beauty of Real Racial and Religious Tolerance” with a sense of urgency in light of the trajectory of concerning events since September 11, 2001.

Prof. Khan began by asking, “How do we approach and begin to assess Nazrul’s contributions to the cause of ethnic-racial and religious harmony through his oeuvre?” [Nazrul’s] meteoric rise to literary fame and political notoriety just as much as his untimely and tragic eclipse may have prevented the critics from a full and genuine assessment of his contributions. In post-1947 Pakistan as well as post-liberation Bangladesh, his identity as a Muslim (in truth a partial and complex identity at best) became politically primary for reasons that are too obvious and crude to consider. Unfortunately, the richness, depth and complex polyphony of Nazrul’s creative life has been all but lost in this game of political and religious (and at times, politico-religious) representation … Cf. “Nazrul’s Poetics: a polyphonic discourse of the multitude” presented by Haider A. Khan at Univ. of Tokyo, April 2002.

Focusing on a few selected poems (Bidrohi (The Rebel) being quintessentially and singularly Nazrul’s most cited) and excerpts from essays that challenge an easy interpretation along either purely religious or purely secular lines, Khan argued for a subtle literary and philosophical analysis that emphasized Nazrul’s deeply moral aesthetics and dialectical syntheses.

Nazrul’s approach cuts deeper than a project of freedom based on collective and individual violence … [and] drew upon the cultural resources of the tradition of love from both Hindu and Islamic traditions. The marvel of The Rebel is the juxtaposition of love-hatred, violence-nonviolence, restlessness-peaceable meditation, eternal striving-quiet meditation … and their attempted dialectical resolution generate its unique, dynamic movement ….  Most profoundly, Nazrul sees not only the misery of a racist, sexist, classist imperial oppression, he also offers us through his literary works a vision of a world beyond these miserable conditions of the prehistory of humanity.

Professor Khan’s concluding remarks echoed the sense of urgency that opened his lecture, calling for a movement grounded in global creativity that “can be a part of the dialectics of a global movement for emancipation of the entire humanity,” referencing Bakhtin’s sense of the dialogical and recently developed work on moral realism by Boyd, Gilbert and Khan.

Pursuit of beauty for this deeply moral* – but not moralizing and certainly not sentimental movement is an urgent necessity. Nazrul has been a pioneer in this sphere through his own immensely rich contributions. His creative light beckons us still in seeking a world of beauty beyond racial and religious intolerance.

2016 Nazrul Commemorative Lecture by Haider A. Khan (center front) with members of the Nazrul Committee of CT
2016 Nazrul Commemorative Lecture by Haider A. Khan (center front) with members of the Nazrul Committee of CT

Haider A. Khan is John Evans Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Economics at the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. He has served as the chief international adviser to Arab Trade and Human Development in Cairo,  and has published more than 20 books and over one 150 articles, his most recent is “Development and Women’s Rights as Human Rights: A Political and Social Economy Approach Within a Deep Democratic Framework” in the Journal of International Law and Policy, 42(3).

Prof. Khan is also an award-winning poet, translator and literary, music and art critic. His writings cover Rabindranath Tagore, Nazrul Islam, Shamsur Rahman, Mirza Ghalib, Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Nazim Hikmet, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Pablo Picasso, Surrealism, Asian and Islamic Art, Guillaume Apollinaire, James Joyce and the Japanese Haiku master Basho, as well as many modern and postmodern Japanese poets. His forthcoming book (in Bangla) – Muktijuddher Dingulo:Andhare Alor Gaan (The Days of Our Liberation War: Songs of Light within Darkness) is an analytical memoir in haibun, an organic synthesis of haiku and complementary prose form. His poems “War Sonata” in English and “Mandro Shaptok” (The Lowest Octave) in Bangla have been anthologized widely.

*Also see Sabrina Binte Masud and Arpana Awwal. “The Dialectics of Liberation: The Socio-political Philosophy of Du Bois and Nazrul.” Identity, Culture & Politics: An Afro-Asian Dialogue. Volume 12, Number 1, July 2011. pp. 77 – 90;Winston E. Langley. “Kazi Nazrul Islam: the Voice of Poetry and the Struggle for Human Wholeness.” Dhaka: Nazrul Institute (2009) and The Voice of Poetry and the Direction of Civilizations, presented in 2007 at the University of Connecticut as the first Nazrul Commemorative Lecture.

In her essay Revolutionary Arts and Political Poetics written in 2010, Professor Cathy Schlund-Vials, who is also Director of the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut, contextualizes Nazrul’s work and situates him squarely within the contemporary global landscape, comparing Nazrul to poet-activists Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, and Maya Angelou.