Nazrul Islam is a true artist masquerading as a professional carpenter. The man full of humour can't tell you his actual age. With a shy laugh, he says he is around 60. His age though is irrelevant to his legacy. Nazrul Islam harbours a one-of-a-kind love for all things made of wood. His clothes are testament to that fact because there the manifestation of his adoration is plain for all to see. His hat and his spectacles are both made of wood. Look down and one sees that his shoes are also made of wood. These fashion statements are fruits of his own labour, each accessory made by his own hands.
Nazrul Islam was born to a farmer's family of Chatarkandi village under Gopalpur thana of Tangail district. Currently, he resides with his family in a house adjacent to Boro Deora old mosque in Tongi, Gazipur. During his formative years, he cultivated the land with his father. A son of the soil, he immediately fell in love with the smell and touch of nature. He spent many an hour moulding the earth he worked with to make different toys and figurines.
One day his friend, Siddiqur Rahman, pointed out that he worked with clay which meant his creations would not last long. He urged Nazrul to craft things with wood, which is a more a durable material and one that could attract buyers. Thus began Nazrul's love story with wood; he started making wooden toys and gift items. Gradually, he began designing various significant architectural symbols of the country.
On the noon of May 7, he sat with this correspondent to tell his story. He said he had to come to Tongi in 1978. In 1981, he began making wooden toys and gifts as a hobby. Eventually, this turned into his profession. Did he have help along the way? "I have no master or teacher. I learned this on my own but my friend, Siddiqur Rahman, helped me a lot in this work. He inspired me to do this professionally,” Nazrul said.
Nazrul has sculpted different things, from animals, humans to figures of divinity. His most notable work includes sculptures of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Fakir Lalon Sai, world renowned poet Rabindranath Tagore and national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. Apart from these, he has also created replicas of the National Mosque Baitul Mukarram, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Central Shaheed Minar, Memorial monument, and naval vessels, such as newly added submarines-Somudrajoy, Somudra Ovijan, Bijiy, Dholesawry, and Osman. He has also created models of different ships, the Taj Mahal, and of many mosques located in different parts of the country. The ships he designed were commissioned works and he sold each ship for Tk 70,000 to Tk 80,000 for the Navy's museum.
Nazrul Islam's work helps to support his family financially. However, the lion share of his earning come from commissioned work. He recalls a time when there were no orders for around six months. That is when he decided that he needed to do something for earning extra. He soon opened a chotpoti shop which now nets him around Tk 200 profit a day.
Nazrul's craftsmanship has won him many admirers. Many Bangladeshis residing in different countries have purchased his work to sell them on in various showrooms. Nazrul's future plan is to immortalise the many monuments and significant locations of the country in wood. He wishes to leave these behind as pieces of memories for his children and grandchildren.
For Nazrul, age is just a number and the inevitability of death only spurs him to work harder. As long as can, he will continue to capture everything in his art and because his art will outlive him. He wishes to leave behind awe-inspiring pieces of work to be remembered by.