(continued) Romain Rolland, a French writer and public figure of far-reaching humanist sympathies, knew and had the deepest regard for both men, and saw them in their difference. ‘The controversy between Gandhi and Tagore, between two great minds, both moved by mutual admiration and esteem, but as fatally separated in their feeling as an apostle can be from a philosopher, a St Paul from a Plato, is important. For on the one side we have the spirit of religious faith and charity seeking to found a new humanity. On the other we have intelligence, free-born, serene and broad, seeking to unite the aspirations of all humanity in sympathy and understanding.’ It may sound as if he prefers the philosopher but as a pacifist he was enormously moved – as was Tagore – by Gandhi’s great battle on behalf of the principle of ahimsa – non-violence. As much as anyone in two millennia Gandhi re-ignited the pacifist flame. But a clear head is needed with a clear soul. In a letter Rolland wrote to Tagore in 1923 he said ‘the noble debate’ between the two ‘embraces the whole Earth, and the whole humanity joins in this august dispute.’
‘Rabindranath’ the film would carry in passing the opposition and deeper oneness of these two burning lights. It would also briefly picture a most unfeeling moment on the poet’s part when he scathingly lambasted and rejected a remarkable book by a young Englishman, Edward Thompson, who knew him, had read all his work to that point (1926) in the original Bengali, and published ‘Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist’. The book is marred by a very few tactless and ill-considered remarks (probably pointed out to Tagore by another English friend who resented the newcomer’s temerity). In the main, as someone said at the time, it is a hirak-ratna – a diamond. Like the rest of us Tagore could snap, get things wrong.
But he was the greatest human being it has been my privilege to be near. He died two years before I was born but I have written poems about him, translated some of his books, and have been lightly yet almost continually refreshed by the closeness. He was a religious man, unlike myself: he once used the phrase, ‘The play of love (lila) between God and the human soul’, to describe a relationship I do not believe exists. But that does not matter. I may not believe in all his words but I believe in his outlook. We are all of us creative, we are all of us practical, we are all of us dreamers and doers, and a unity of action is to be found herein, a unity of being. This is why I am a Tagorean.