Rabindranath Tagore was an internationalist. But his roots were firmly in India?in the East. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, in contrast, was a ?Westerniser?. Tagore wanted to make his Viswabharathi a meeting place for East and West. He recognised the right of each nation to work out its own destiny.
Living at a time of rising nationalism, he was perturbed by the dangers it posed. According to him, a nation suffers if its culture is not allowed to grow by its own inner light.
Tagore saw life as a process, not as something already determined. Recalling the claim of Islam and Christianity that they have the last word, Tagore writes: ?If it were true that whatever needed to be done had already been done in the past? our continued existence would only be a burden to the earth.? He asks: ?How can those who think that they have attained their completeness in their ancestors and must insulate their beliefs and practices against the touch of modernism have the urge to live in the present or have any faith in the future.?
Tagore was not satisfied with an impersonal idea of God. He wanted a personal association. He cries: ?I want Thee, only Thee!? He was impressed by the Bauls of Bengal, who have no temples, scriptures or rituals. Their god is not of cosmic nature, but human. His own god was with the tiller who tilled the land and the maker of paths who broke the stones. ?God with us,? he says, ?is not a distant God (as with Semitic gods). He belongs to our homes as well as to our temples.?
Tagore believed that a true civilisation would issue out of the heart of Europe. But what came out were monsters: fascism and Nazism. He confessed before his death that his faith in Europe was shattered. But in his last essay, a kind of testament, he says: ?And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in man.? His hopes shifted to the East, to India in particular.
?The objective of Indian history is not to set up Hindu or some other dominance, but to secure a special kind of fulfillment for humanity, a level of perfection that must be a gain for all,? he says.
He calls upon all Indians ?to build up a greater India.? But he knew that not all Indians were ready to give a helping hand. He was ready to cast them aside. He writes: ?Any element (which) becomes mutinous and claims an undue predominance, refusing to blend with others?that wishes to remain separate, will have to be cast aside.?
On the Muslim issue, he was not with either Gandhi or Nehru. It is not clear whether he was in favour of a transfer of population. But he had a word of warning to the Hindus who wished to remain in the ?sanctuary of a remote past.? ?Indian history,? he says, ?is not the story of the Hindus alone.? He welcomed the diversity of India. Differences add to the richness of life, he says.
He was in favour of India'scontact with Britain. ?Without this contact with the West?, he says, ?India would have remained incomplete.? But it was also true that ?the continued passive acquiescence in the supreme knowledge and strength of the British is making our very soul sick.? But he had only contempt for Macaulay'schildren in India. He called them ?Shadows.? ?It has become increasingly plain,? he says, ?that beyond the bounds of Europe, the torch of its civilisation was not meant to give light but to start fires.? The fires burnt for century in India.
Tagore calls for total devotion to India??the haunt of our gods, the hermitage of our rishis, the nourishing mother of our forefathers.?
Tagore was not for the re-writing of history if the idea is to prettify it or suppress the truth. He writes: ?We want to draw a veil over our past to appease the Muslims because it adds to their sense of self-pity when reminded of their great past.?
Much has been written about differences between Gandhi and Tagore. So what, if there are differences! They were two of the greatest minds of India. Their mutual regard had never failed. To Tagore Gandhi was ?the Mahatma? and to Gandhi, Tagore was the ?Guru Dev.?
Tagore was a true nationalist. But his first loyalty was to humanity as a whole. ?My country, right or wrong??such a thought would have never occurred to Tagore. Or to Gandhi.
Today, I see Tagore as a caring spirit over India?a Guardian Angel. He says: ?I shall be born in India again and again. With all her poverty, misery and wrechetedness, I love India more.?
We need him more today!