Tagore-Gandhi: Two journeys that forged a common path

Historian Rudranghu Mukherjee’s new book on the unique friendship of Gurudev and Mahatma revisits their vision of a more tolerant nation

AM | December 9, 2021


#Mahatma Gandhi   #Rabindranath Tagore   #freedom struggle   #history   #books   #ideas  
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)

Tagore & Gandhi: Walking Alone, Walking Together
By Rudrangshu Mukherjee
Aleph, 186 pages, Rs 699

Two men born in the 1860s, more than anybody else, gave us an idea of India, an idea of what this country should become. Rabindranath Tagore and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Each an extraordinarily noble mind animated by a deep concern for masses, both exhorting us in these distressing times to rekindle a vision of a more harmonious coexistence. Their friendship was an unparalleled phenomenon, nearly miraculous for the modern India.

It must have been an auspicious constellation under which they met for the first time – soon after Gandhi’s return to India in 1915. The affection and respect was spontaneous and mutual. Though their dreams and sensitivities were alike, the paths they’d forge were slightly different. Gandhi, for example, would call for a boycott of foreign cloth in a campaign that had elements of violence in it. Tagore was unhappy watching bonfires of foreign clothes.

Rudrangshu Mukherjee, in this excellent work, narrates the story of this matchless bonding that was a high point of India’s freedom struggle. Through their correspondence and writings, the book explores the evolution of their relationship and their ideas in their historical context.

What is the most beautiful in their friendship is that they discussed threadbare their differences in a model of public debate, appreciating each other’s motives, respecting each other’s views, without a hit of acrimony or self-righteousness. Their correspondence, indeed, enriches the possibilities of debate itself.

What could be behind their differences? As Mukherjee argues here, the Gurudev was animated by a poet’s heart, a heightened sensitivity, whereas the Mahatma was leading a mass movement against a powerful colonial empire. Yet, in the higher plane of their minds there was a harmony inexpressible in words. “I have found no real conflict between us. I started with a disposition to detect a conflict between Gurudev and myself but ended with the glorious discovery that there was none,” Gandhi said in Santiniketan in 1945.

Their one and the same fervent hope was to see an India free from fear, bigotry and hatred. Revisiting their journeys – when they walked alone and when they walked together – is as timely as necessary today.

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