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Rabindranath Tagore and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

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Washington Bangla Radio

By Nikhil Bhattacharyya

New Delhi, May 5, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB-India) Rabindranath Tagore and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, two great Indians of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth century had between them a kinship and appreciation of deepest character. They both were for Indianism, humanism and emancipation of dispossessed. On them Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1941, wrote in his jail diary, “ Gandhi and Tagore, two types entirely different from each other and yet both of them typical of India, both in the long line of India’s great men…, I have felt for long that they were the outstanding examples in the world today. There are many of course who may be abler than them or greater geniuses in their own line. It is not so much because of any single virtue but because of the tout ensemble, that I felt that among the world’s great men today Gandhi and Tagore were supreme as human beings. What good fortune for me to have come into close contact with them”.

Tagore first called Gandhi a Mahatma or a great soul. He said at “Gandhiji’s call India blossomed forth to new greatness, just as once before, in earlier times,when Buddha proclaimed the truth, of fellow feeling and compassion among all living creatures”. Gandhiji called him the Great Sentinel or Gurudev”.

To the outside world Tagore never hesitated to project Mahatma Gandhi as the spiritual soul of India. He wrote to China’s Marshal Chian Kai Sek in 1938 saying, “At this desperate age of moral upset it is only natural for us to hope that the continent which has produced two greatest men, Buddha and Christ, in the whole course of human events must still fulfill its responsibility to maintain the purest expression of character in the teeth of the scientific effrontery of the evil genius of man. Has not that expectation already shown in its first luminous streak of fulfillment in the person of Gandhi in a historical horizon obscured by centuries of …?” Chiang Kai Sek replied to the letter (concern on Japan China conflict) as “Respected Gurudev Tagore”.

A Bengali poet and a Gujrati Barister, working in South Africa. How the kinship developed?As described by Tagore’s biographer Prabhat Kumar Mukerji. In 1912-13 a Gujrati Barister Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was busy in organizing Satyagraha in South Africa to protest against atrocities on Overseas Indians. Mutual friend of Gandhi and Tagore a British Missionary and a Poet C.F. Andrews was going to observe the movement. Tagore wrote to Andrews “You are fighting our cause in Africa alongwith Mr. Gandhi and others.

The poet and the karmayogi met for the first time on March 6, 1915. Gandhij was not quite satisfied with the Santiniketan system. He wanted the students to do their own jobs along with studies, he felt there was no need for servants, cooks, sweeper or water carriers. When Gandhiji’s desire was communicated to Tagore he agreed without any hesitation. He announced, come “sab kaje hat lagai mora”. The new system started on March 10, 1915 which Tagore declared as “Gandhi Divas” in Tagore’s Ashram. Meanwhile Gandhiji plunged into the freedom movement through his non-violent, non-cooperation movement changing Congress first 30 years’ movement of petition and constitutionalism to a movement of action. In 1921 the poet entered into a controversy with Gandhiji regarding the methods used.

He took exception to boycotting of schools and colleges and even burning of foreign clothes. In a letter to C.F. Andrews he wrote “a crowd of young students came to see me. They said if I would order them to leave schools they will obey. I was emphatic in my refusal. They went angry, doubting sincerity of my love for the motherland. Reason for my refusal “ anarchy of emptiness never tempts me”.

Inspite of their differences Tagore salutes Gandhiji’s spirit and the sea change he had brought into the lives of Indians but was unable to follow him in his steps. However, Rabindranath was not hesitant of paying his tributes to Gandhiji. He said, “He (Gandhiji) stopped at the threshold of huts of thousand of dispossessed, like one o their own.He spoke in their own language. Here was the living truth at last, not quotations from book. For this Mahatma the name given to him by the people of India is his real name”.

Rabindranath once mentioned about Gandhiji’s call for plying Charkha for half an hour every day. Tagore asked why not eight and half hours, if it could help the country, in gaining freedom or Swaraj. The two could not agree.

On May 20, 1932 Mahatmaji went on a fast in Yerwada Jail protesting against separate electoral representation for backward Hindus. Tagore sent a telegram to Gandhiji saying “it is well worth sacrificing precious life for the sake of India’s unity and her social integrity. Though we cannot anticipate what effect it may have upon rulers who may not understand its immense importance for our people, we feel certain that the supreme appeal of such self offering to the conscience of our own countrymen will not be in vain. I fervently hope that we will not callously allow such national tragedy to reach its extreme length. Our sorrowing hearts will follow your sublime penance with reverence and love. Gandhiji replied “ “have always experience God’s mercy. Very early this morning I wrote seeking your blessing if you could approve action and behold I have it in abundance in your message just received” referringto the telegram.

The same day Gandhiji wrote a letter to Gurudev Rabindranath saying “This is early morning 3 o’clock of Tuesday. I enter the fiery gate at noon – if you can bless the effort. I want it. You have been to me a true friend because you have been a candid friend often speaking your though aloud. I had looked forward to a firm opinion from you one or the other. But you have refused to criticize. Though it can now only be during my fast. I will yet prize your criticism, if your heart condemns my action. I am not too proud to make an open confession of my blunder, whatever the cost of confession, I find myself in error. If your heart approves the action I want your blessing. It will sustain me I hope I have made myself clear. My love”. A note was added by Gandhiji to this letter “Just as I was handing this o the Superintendent, I got your loving and magnificent wire. It will sustain me in the midst of the storm I am about to enter”. (Source: Rabindra Rachanawali, Vol. 14)

Worried about the health of Mahatma Gandhi, fasting in Yerwada Jail protesting against the British proposal to formulate separate electoral representation to scheduled castes, Rabindranath Tagore reached Pune to see for himself. Mahatmaji sent his son to escort Tagore inside. By that time the British Government had accepted the demand of Mahatma Gandhi and the fasting leader observing moun till afternoon that day agreed to break his fast. Kamala Nehru prepared the juice and Kasturba Gandhi offered the sip. Tagore was requested by Mahatmaji to sing a self composed song. He sang “jiban jakhan shukai e jai, karunadharai eso”. Tagore included his experience of the day into his book on Mahatma Gandhi.

In Pune on Gandhi’s birthday Tagore attended a meeting in Shivaji Mandir presided over by Madan Mohan Malaviya where he read out his written speech and gave full throated support to Mahatmaji’s untouchability abolition movement.

Mahatma Gandhi visited Tagore’s school and university in Santiniketan on four occasions – twice with Kasturba Gandhi and twice alone. In 1936 Rabindranath reached Delhi with his Dance Drama team after visiting Allahabad and Lucknow with the purpose of collecting funds for Vishwa Bharati to tide over the money crunch. Mahatma Gandhi was sad to see that his Gurudev at such an old age moving around collecting funds. Gandhiji met him and arranged the money.

In 1940, a year before Tagore’s death, Gandhi alongwith Kasturba Gandhi went to see the ailing poet, where Tagore asked him to take charge of Vishwa Bharati after his absence. In 1951 after Independence, Vishwa Bharati was taken over by the Government of India as a Central University.

Rabindranath attended a number of Congress sessions in Calcutta where he composed songs and sang. ‘Jana Gana Mana’ the National Anthem was the opening song for the second day of the Congress Session in 1911.

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