On 25 May, Bangladesh was awash with birthday celebrations for its national poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam. Garlands were hung on his grave in Dhaka, cultural programmes were held, and both the president and the prime minister made statements in his honour. Still, two days prior, a group of artists had gathered in the Bangladeshi capital to demand that the government do more to memorialise Nazrul, by naming more roads after him and building more monuments to him.
Such fervour would not have surprised Kalyani Kazi, the 83-year-old widow of Aniruddha Kazi, Nazrul’s eldest son. A few days before the festivities, in her flat in Kolkata, she explained to me that, “in Bangladesh, there is a more affectionate public for Nazrul’s work.” But as much as Bangladesh claims the poet as its own, the story of his national allegiance is actually quite complex.
Nazrul spent most of his life in India, and lived in Dhaka for just a few years before his death in 1976. For decades now, the circumstances surrounding his years in the city have been the root of a major conflict within his family. While some of his relatives say he was happy there, others claim that he went uncared for, and that he was not sent back to live his last days in India, as he should have been, because the Bangladeshi government wanted to stake its claim on him.