There are two kinds of people in this world: those that love to read and those that love to write. Snuggled between these two groups, smack-dab in the middle of the dividing line, are those who are simply enchanted with words. These individuals are the true connoisseurs of vocabulary, who celebrate the nuances in pronunciations and revel in the imageries that words have the ability to invoke. Naushad Noori, celebrated Urdu poet and an iconic grand-father, epitomised the description of these word-aficionados. He danced in doldrums of the dictionary and in turn was a staunch protector of any language, in any form. In 1952, Naushad Noori would attract infamy from the very quarters he called his own when he stood up for the Bengali language, despite being an Urdu poet.
Naushad Noori, like all dreamers who make up his category, developed an affinity with the languages early on. Fittingly ahead of his time as poet, the unassuming figure who picked out the best mangoes for his grandchildren in between piggyback rides, transformed into a revolutionary when handed the pen. His large body of work is evidence of the zeal with which he worked. However, his pursuit wasn't one of remembering something to live by but rather a celebration of literature; a purely undiluted love letter to man's genius of crafting the best form of communication. He was a man bursting to engage with enunciations and just as his love affair with the Bangla language was at its zenith, Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, declared Urdu to be the state language of Pakistan. Naushad Noori reacted with fury and reached for his pen when others in his position would have advised temperance. Noori was not going to stand for the death of what he considered one of the most beautiful languages in the world.
At this point, one may wonder why a poetry or a prose would matter to Jinnah. It is important to note that this was a time when intellectualism mattered more to the masses than muscles. Naushad Noori had also attracted an affectionate notoriety for himself in those days. A graduate of BN College, Patna, Noori joined the Progressive Writer's Association, formed in 1936 and moved on to attend the programmes of the Communist Party. The disparity of wealth distribution, evident by the state of his state of birth Bihar, was perhaps one of the reasons behind his leanings towards the left. Reacting to the invitation of Harry S Truman sent to the Prime Minister of India to go to Washington, Noori penned one of his most famous poems, 'Bhikari' (beggar). As Nehru geared up to ask America for aids, Noori lambasted the Prime Minister for his capitalistic ambitions and lack of foresight. In a show of his prodigy, he delivered the entire poem in Hindi and Sanksrit as opposed to his regular Urdu and Persian, endearing himself to the gathered audience of working class people hard done by a growing wealth gap. His words echoed so much that the Indian government took notice and issued an arrest warrant which led to his migration to Dhaka.
But being outspoken meant, while he attracted a large following here, he also courted controversy. In 1952, shocked and appalled by the policies of the West Pakistani government, he penned one of his best known poems, “Mohenjo Daro”, in Urdu. His choice of Urdu was not only for his appeal; it sent quite a telling message. Mohenjo Daro was his personal, lyrical protest against Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan's decision, to impose Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan. For the first time ever, Naushad Noori forced not only his Urdu speaking counterparts, but even the Bengalis, to understand the ramifications of giving up their language.
“Our manuscript, our song Our ancestor's fables! To each his own lullaby
To each his own alphabets, Enscribe them in leaves,
stones, skin, papyrus leaves, silver and even iron,
The epidemic has resurfaced…,”he warned. For Naushad Noori, Jinnah's logic flew against the face of what he loved most: words and languages. He personally took it upon himself to protect Bengali. He lost his government job when he chose to resign instead of retract but did not change his tone and continued to fight for the Bengali language.
Growing up, I did not know these fascinating facts about him. For me, he was a grandfather, who carried me around on his shoulder and played with us cousins. We never knew his firebrand political side. We did not know the sacrifices he made. He would ask his children for nothing bar a new panjabi or so and even then he did not want more than four sets in total. He was a simple man in love with simple things. When he passed away, I was confused at the number of people mourning his loss. How did they know him, I wondered. Perhaps they didn't; they knew his words and they fell in love with how he resonated with them. Naushad Noori may be Bangladesh's greatest Urdu poet. For me though, he will always be the world's greatest grandfather and while the Ekushey Padak may not make his way to him anytime soon, nothing detracts from his legacy.