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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 20, May 7, 2011

Tagore and Nehru

Saturday 14 May 2011

This contribution from the distinguished scientist who was closely associated with Tagore for over two decades throws interesting light on the approach and attitude of the two greatest sons of India. It is being reproduced from Mainstream (Republic Day Special 1965) for the benefit of our readers.

by P. C. Mahalanobis

I have read with much interest in Mainstream (June 20, 1964) the article about Jawaharlal Nehru’s talks with Rabindranath Tagore. I had the good fortune to be present on two other occasions and also know about a third occasion when Tagore and Nehru had come together which were not mentioned in the Mainstream article.

Jawaharlal Nehru came to Calcutta to attend meetings of the All India Congress Committee at the end of October 1937. At that time Rabindra-nath Tagore was staying with us at Gooptu Nibas, a house on the Barrackpore Trunk Road in Baranagar. Nehru came one day to see Tagore in this house. After some general conversation, Nehru raised the question of the selection of a national song for India. He was making a collection of patriotic songs in different Indian languages. He mentioned the two Bengali songs, Bande Mataram (by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee) and Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka (by Tagore), and said that he himself was in favour of adopting Jana Gana Mana as the national song in India.

Wider Approach

TAGORE said, as the author of Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka, it was difficult for him to express any views. He however agreed that Jana Gana Mana had a wider approach. Nehru referred to the objections which many Muslims had raised to accepting Bande Mataram as the national song. Tagore said he could very well appreciate these objections. He had composed the tune for Bande Mataram for the first time, but only for the first few lines because he himself had difficulty in accepting the portion beginning with “tuam hi Durga”. Muslims could not be expected to accept this part.

Tagore said that he belonged to the Hindu community in the wider sense but, having been brought up in a Brahmo family, he himself found it difficult to accept the imagery of the song. Tagore and Nehru agreed that national songs must be acceptable to the people as a whole. Tagore added with a smile that sometimes one is willing to sacrifice his life for the country but cannot give up a song. As far as I can remember, at Nehru’s request, Tagore sent him a brief note or a letter in this connection.

During this discussion Tagore had stressed that India did not belong to Hindus alone. India also belonged to the Muslims, the Christians and all the other people who came into India, settled here and made it their own country by living and dying in it. Nehru was in sympathy with this outlook. Tagore had always stressed that unity in diversity was the only possible way for India’s national integration. Unity in diversity was the foundation of the Nehru policy in domestic and external affairs.

Against Fascism

THE second occasion was just after the Second World War had started in 1939. Tagore was again staying with us in Gooptu Nibas in Baranagar. Nehru had gone to China to see Chiang Kai Shek but on the outbreak of war had hurried back home by air. On landing at Dum Dum airport, he learnt that Tagore was in Calcutta. He came directly from the airport to Gooptu Nibas to see the Poet.

Nehru spoke briefly about his visit to China. His mind was preoccupied with the war. He was convinced that the fight against the fascists was of crucial importance for the world. He was distressed that the Viceroy had declared war on behalf of India without even consulting the leaders of the Opposition in the Central Assembly in which the Congress party was in a majority.

The British Government of India had deprived the Indian people of the opportunity to join the war of their own free choice. He was wondering whether there would be still any possibility of India taking up with self-respect the fight against the fascists.

Nehru came out from Tagore’s room to leave for the city. It was near tea time. I asked him whether he would like to have a cup of tea before going to the city. He smiled and said: “Yes, I shall have a cup of tea.” As he had already come out of Tagore’s room, he said he would prefer to have his tea in the verandah. I showed him a chair on a long verandah on the south, and went to order the tea.

When I came back I found he could not sit still but was pacing up and down the veandah. He was muttering: “Only if the British would give us a chance to fight the fascists—only if they would give us a chance”, and was smashing one clenched fist on the other. I saw how great was his agony that the people of India had been deprived of the opportunity to fight the fascists.

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