The aim of youth

‘What is more shameful than the fact that today there are no painters, musicians, scientists, sculptors among the Bengali Muslims? Our conservative society has strangled them! We have to voice our opinions against this act, otherwise we shall be left without any artistes’ — the national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam said in his speech at the Muslim Youth Conference at Natyabhaban in Sirajganj in November 5-6, 1932. Below is the translation of the speech by Nashid Kamal

Kazi Nazrul IslamMY DEAR younger brothers!
I do not know what prompted you to choose me, a most humble person, to be the chairman of your meeting? During the duress of the nation, I have had no courage or qualification to lead the youth, who are the life and strength of the nation. I am not a leader, I only serve the nation. Although, I would say that my love for the country is not an iota less than those of the patriots. If insults and sacrifices are the yardsticks of patriotism, I should be considered a pigmy in comparison to them. However, I have also sacrificed in my own way and if I haven’t been of any good, at least I have not nurtured harmful thoughts nor have I been a thorn to obstruct those who work for the country. I did have the honour of being marked on my forehead with national insults, which too have been erased over time. I have no right to be proud of those past experiences.
I have no hesitation in saying that today I am in league with those who are not workers, they are meditators. Those who improve the lives of others with their work and services, they are simply great, but those who inspire the great, they are also great or at least they are not any less. They work behind the force, they provide the same that water and soil provide for the flower. I am a poet, like the bird in the forest I have a habit of singing. I sing in spite of anyone’s like or dislike. When the black drongo comes after the singing bird, pursues it with its long, sharp beak then he shifts from one branch to another, but does not stop singing. His happiness is in singing, sadness is in singing too. He sings according to his own wish, it is just coincidental if his song awakens someone from his languorous sleep. I have not finished walking the path of youth, so the song that I sing pertains to youth. In the hay time of youth, if my songs have brought the tide, then it has happened by chance. The moon is capable of bringing new waves in the sea, but perhaps it is not aware of its own power.
I am not a speaker at all; in fact, I am in league with those who speak less. Like Bakhtiyar Khilji, those who rank first in speeches, I don’t know how they are able to bring their soldiers into their sentences in such a short time. Like Laxman Sen, we are overwhelmed by those speeches. Their messages come across like the incessant rain, for the poets, their messages are feeble and they appear like weak, slim waterfalls. He is more bent on making rhymes and attributing tunes to the words. I am surely way behind those, whose words travel fast like the Padma or the Bhagirathi river.
My only strength is my tremendous love for the youth. From the day that I have learnt singing, I have respected youth and its zest. In my songs and poems I have tried my best to speak about its victory, sing its praises.
Like the first human being who spotted the early sun in its full radiant glory and offered his respects, in the same way I offer my deepest respect to the youth, I have sung their praises. Youth has the same ability as the sun, it clears the darkness of the night and becomes the god of light. He emerges playing the games of colour and departs through spreading a variety of colours. Where the sun (of youth) sets, that is the exact premises where the dark hair of the night is spread.
If, on account of being a fan of youth, you have chosen me as the central flower of your garland, then I shall lodge no complaint. I accept it in all graciousness. Not as a leader, but I am happy to be in your group and participate as a team mate. In our team, there is no team leader, we are all branching out in hundred directions and hundreds of youth today blossom as thousands of flowers. We all wish to have the same vision and mission in mind as we blossom.
Today, after coming to Serajganj, I miss the presence of a very humane leader, the pioneer of young Muslims of Bengal, the one who hoists the flag of youth, Moulana Ismail Hossain Seraji. The lamp of Seraj of Bengal has died down with the Seraji from Serajganj. We shall never listen to those words again, the fiery words that had created great impact on the clouded sky of the Bengalis and had enabled them to be stirred in great madness. The bird of heaven has flown back to its nest in heaven. I am not only speaking about the colossal loss of this nation, I am also speaking about my personal loss. When I first entered the garden of literature, I was very cautious and guarded in each step-just a black drongo, (afraid of all eagle birds) and fearful of even speaking in full ardour, was sometimes stung by peaked beaks, when I suddenly received a money order with Tk 10 in it! The coupon read thus, ‘I have read your works and being pleased, I send you this money, if I had ten thousand, I would send you so, please do not return the money’. My eyes became wet as I repeatedly read these loving lines. I touched my forehead with the Tk 10 note. I had still not met him, only had read his writings with rapt attention, reading, memorising and paying respect to this great soul — Ismail Hossain Seraji. That day I was able to see a jovial picture of this poet in my mind, I gave flowers to this portrait, both at his feet and in his neck. Later, in the Faridpur Provincial Conference, I was able to meet him personally. I touched his feet and felt blessed. He pulled me to his bosom and personally offered me some sweets. It was like a father finding his long lost son in his arms. After arriving in Serajganj, I am repeatedly reminded of this poetic and patriotic great man. It seems like coming to perform Hajj without making a visit to the Kaa’ba. I think his soul is somewhere around this area, giving us inspiration as the youth have assembled in Arafat Maidan of youth today. My heart is filled with respect and honour for this person and I seek blessings from him.
My entire being is humbled by the respect and ovation you have showered on me. The pitcher of my heart has been filled to the brim with the water of love. The fulfilled pitcher is unable to deliver any expression of respect or thankfulness. Please accept the unexpressed respect and love from the fulfilled and sated heart of mine. I do not wish to shower anyone with hailstones of advises. I will only speak on what is absolutely necessary and I shall be short.
Firstly, I wish to say that this Muslim Youth Conference will have no significance if we are not able to fully armour ourselves and wage a fight against the old and decaying. With the world ‘old’, I mean those values which adhere to lies and death. Old people are those who are not only a burden on the soft-hearted, glittering journey of the new human beings, but they are also deterrents. Those who do not know how to march past with the rhythm of the century, they are living beings but actually dead. They are clinging to the old values piled up like mountains. Old are those who have noted the advent of the new sun but are afraid to open doors in fear of disturbing their sleep. Those who are irritated by the din, created by happy, playful children, those who are deeply submerged in the volumes of old testaments, those who have turned into skeletons due to the weight of their knowledge, they are the old ones. Their religion is ‘old age’. Old is not always defined by the age of the person. I have met many young men, who have the skeletons of the old covered by the garb of youth. On the other hand, I have met many elderly people who are weighed down by age but beneath the cloud there lies the glorious sun of youth. The crown of youth glorifies only those whose strength is unending, speed is like the tornado, his aptitude is like the raging storm of the monsoon afternoon, whose hopes are enormous, whose lust for life is tireless, whose generosity is exemplary, whose fire of life is limitless, whose thirst for knowledge is deep, and for whom death is contained in his fist. I have seen ‘youth’ among the Bedouin of Arabia, among the soldiers waging war, in the weapons of Kalapahar and the strength of Kamal, Karim, Zaglul, San Yat-sen and Lenin. I have seen ‘youth’ in the form of ‘pilots’ who are seeking the wonders of infinity in the sky and losing their lives in that pursuit; among those who travel the world with the aim of discovery and never return; those who aim to climb to the top of the white peak of the Himalayan range and are embedded in snow; those who dive deep into the blue of the endless Atlantic and accept death; those who are determined to travel to the mars and the moon and lose their way; those who want to go forward with the highest velocity; those who want to discover new planets and are not afraid to give up their lives, I have observed ‘youth’ amongst these forerunners. I have watched the motherly instinct in the ‘youth’ when he bears the coffin to the burial premises; when he distributes food in the graveyard for the hungry people struck by flood and famine; when he sits next to an ailing, forlorn friend and looks after him; when he turns himself into a beggar and sings in the streets to raise funds for the stricken; when he stands next to the weak, providing him with strength and hope.
This is ‘youth’ and the religion of ‘youth’. We have no other country, no nation, no religion. Their cantonment belongs to no country, race or religion. We, the Muslim youth, should be able to declare firmly that our religion is Islam, but the religion in our hearts is that of youth and youthfulness. We belong to all countries, all nations, all religions, all times. We are the followers of ‘youth’. Those who have been able to overcome these barriers of religion and nationalism have turned into superheroes, supermen and great personalities, and they are respected by all.
Our religion is to break those buildings which are in imminent danger of falling apart, it may be the cause of death for many. If our beloved home is about to fall apart on our heads, then the youth should have the courage to pull it apart and rebuild. If one is not able to enjoy the bounties given to you by God, only raising hands in prayers will not grant them. God has given you the hands to achieve heaven and heavenly objects. Let the youth have this motto — ‘We shall build our world according to our taste’.
I think that the Bengali Muslims face a lot of superstition and conservatism which is not present among other Muslim societies. Some ‘self-proclaimed’ religious leaders have unnecessarily created avenues to bring in false values and inhibitions, whereby some of our values are being submerged! Additionally, some ‘crocodiles’ are also entering through those avenues. I am able to tolerate the religious men, even when they interpret Islam in their own ways, I cannot tolerate the fake mullahs, find them simply intolerable. In the name of serving Islam, they are actually causing more damage. Their actual intentions are summarised this way, ‘Whether the dead man goes to heaven or hell, I am happy as long as I get paid for the rituals.’
There is a saying that ‘ An empty stable is better than a naughty horse’. If we fail to follow this saying, the entire world will make a laughing stock out of us. These entire beings are full of superstitions and weird dictates. Only the youth can save the poor people from the weird dictates of the ‘so-called’ religious leaders. Sometimes, they will try to overpower the youth by showing off their immense strength, but one cannot be daunted by such possibilities. I condemn the internal feuds and rivalries between brothers, between relatives. However, if the relatives have leprosy, then they need to be removed! If a tiger has bit off a hand, it is necessary to cut off the hand and save the rest of the body. I feel extremely distressed that I am having to say all this. This is not a time to judge our faith in Islam by the yardsticks of beard, and long dresses. We are much backward compared to the followers of Islam, who live in other parts of the world. Those who are just happy to pass days, I would like to convey the message that in this day and age when the cars/aeroplanes can carry us fast, there is no point in wasting time, adhering to the age old tradition of bullock carts. We have to walk faster to catch up with those who have passed us, and if necessary we have to make unusual adjustments to achieve the same. We should not be alarmed of losing our faith. If Islam is gone and Muslims are gone too, then how will faith survive? On whom? Enough of this, I do not wish to create any more enemies, only happy that our wives have not left us even after learning about the ‘fatwas’ of divorce. Moreover, none have become ‘pure’ even after some ‘fatwas’ and similar dictates have been hurled at them!
On our journey forward, if the mullah’s are obstacles, then ‘seclusion’ is synonymous with ‘mountains’. God knows when these useless objects will be moved from our premises. The ‘seclusion’ practised by the uneducated Muslims of Bengal is almost stifling. The fear of these dictates not only dominate men, they also dominate the women. Most of the educated or half-educated Muslims earn their living from jobs. They are unable to make both ends meet, yet they boast about keeping their women in seclusion, and majority of their women are dying at home due to the lack of light and fresh air. How will the new generation be born to women in such ill health? Even the prisoner with a death sentence has more freedom than these women in seclusion. We seem to emphasise on those Islamic rituals which are free.
We cannot even think that our daughters have to be given equal opportunity in education as our sons. By not providing them with education, we have not only kept our daughters and wives in the dark, we have ushered them into deep dungeons of backwardness. The result of such oppression is that they shall never be able to come out of it, even if they are set free. They have stopped feeling their pains and weaknesses. We pride ourselves of being Muslims, but we forget or we choose not to acknowledge that the first Muslim was a woman!
The aged people are now at the end of their life cycle, it is the turn of the youth to free the women from these dooms of internment and free them from the braces. These birds have been tamed from birth, they do not know how to fly. When they see their fellow birds fly outside, they erroneously think them to be of some different species! We must set them free from the cages, we must allow them to enjoy the bounties of nature. Today, the men are the hunters and the women are the ‘hunted’. Their cries make us despondent and from those lowly semen, lowly human beings are conceived!
All these situations, the questions and answers, can only be solved by the youth. They have the strength and courage to overcome the mountains, the obstacles, the deserts of gloom, the problems posed by unreasonable dogmas.
To achieve all this, we need tenacity, steadfastness, we need organisations. We, the Muslims of Bengal, are aimless because of the lack of organisations and perseverance. We watch the Hindu youth, they have such unity, perseverance and sacrifice. They seem to be the same in body and soul. They are able to build a solidarity in spite of their differences. They are comparable with any other youth-based organisation of the world, we do not know the amount of sacrifice that they have gone through in building up their organization from scratch. They have sacrificed the love of their near and dear ones, relatives, lovers, friends, their personal aims for the sake of the nation, for the betterment of the country, for the improvement of humanity. It is because of these brave young men that we are able to spot the radiant sun. They have the courage to stand fearless next to their deaths and snatch away the fervour of life from its fists. These are the brave, forest-farers who prevented us from rusting. Unlike us, they do not have the heavy weight of ‘jobs’ on their shoulders. That is why they are independent, unfettered. They have been able to overcome all obstacles and soar high. The brilliant youth, who could have had cushioned jobs as judges, barristers, professors and magistrates, are ferrying on the roads. It is because of them that the spineless nation is being able to survive. Like the wick of the lamp, it lets itself burn to produce light among those living in the villages.
The Muslim youth does not get educated for the thirst of knowledge, he only wants a job. We look forward to his ‘future prospect’ as if he is a donkey! They calculate that by completing BA or MA exams they shall at least get the job of a sub-registrar. I condemn such tunnel vision and such unimpressive aims, we have no scope to earn freedom! If we do not get rid of this mind set, we shall never be able to progress, we shall remain in the dark. The youth can only take a stand against these traditions. If they are unable to tolerate their own compatriots, we shall not get any decent position in the world!
If we cannot free ourselves of the greed for positions, titles, lucrative jobs and salaries, we shall never be able to organize ourselves, nor create an organization. Where are those brave martyrs? I urge you to come out into the freshness of the air, under the limitless blue skies, which hosts the moon. Our organisation (of youth) will be established on the basis of our knowledge, foresight, our physical and mental agility. For this, we need sacrificial souls, who will shun all greed and lust and will carry the sack of the beggar, posing as a traveller from one hearth to another.
Our goals should be the same, although the ways may differ. For the ferocious, let him hoist his flag of the hailstorms and march towards the expedition. For the brave, the war zone is for him, for the worker, the huge working ground awaits. For the dreamer, the meditator, one who worships the beauty, let him dwell in the wings of imagination and propel himself to the dream world, into the wide expanse of the beautiful blue sky. He will win the aspired princess from the dream world and the beauty of that will ease the tension of our worst struggles. We will let the singing bird fly into the realms of the greenery, he will fly nearby and his songs will fill our tired moments with music and new aspirations. They are our beautiful friends. Just as we bless our sore eyes with the beauty and gaiety of the flowers growing in our front porch, in the same way we shall please and fulfil ourselves with their songs, poems and pictures.
We do not listen to dictates, we have no reason to kill the singing bird, whose nature is to sing. He has been born with the right to create beauty, who is going to prevent that by issuing dictates?
That will be equivalent to playing God with the gods, I am not a party to that.
If we just consider India (leave the rest of the world apart), we find that the best singers, musicians are almost all Muslims. The religious personnel of those countries are far more firm compared to our nations. Yet, they have never insulted the talented people, instead they have accorded them great respect. The youth will have to work hard to create an environment whereby the mindset of the mullahs will be changed. They need to propagate that art, music, etc are beautiful and there is no sin associated with the practice of the same. The religion of the heart is the key which exists above all doctrines and dogmas.
What is more shameful than the fact that today there are no painters, musicians, scientists, sculptors among the Bengali Muslims? Our conservative society has strangled them! We have to voice our opinions against this act, otherwise we shall be left without any artistes. What is the use of living an animal’s life with a high majority when we cannot boast of finer achievements? The more internal deaths amongst us, the more are the numbers added. A huge banyan tree is much more important than a garden full of useless weeds
My speech is now turning into a speech, my last word is that we are the worshippers of youth, we are the messengers of new innovations, the leaders of freshness and green. We should be able to march past with any nation of the world. We are hostile only towards those who oppose us in this mission. We shall wear the anklets of the storm and we shall march past like the dancing tornado. Those that need to remain will do so and those that need to be broken will be done with. Let the light of our lives be emitted through the dimness of the dark, scary, stormy night. On the peak of the carnage of breaking through all obstacles, we shall hoist our flag of victory. Let us be able to fill our hearts with the thrill of life and let us be able to trample over all superstitions.
We want the truthfulness of Siddique, the bravery of Umar coupled with his greatness, the sword of Ali, the sacrifices of Hassan-Hossain and their tolerance. We want the swords of Khaled-Musa and Tarek, the love of Belal. If we can achieve these qualities then we shall remain immortal in the eyes of the world.

Nashid Kamal is a vocalist, writer and professor of demography.

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