4. Rabindranath and Subhas

Rabindranath and Subhas:
Immortality’s bard and Eternity’s hero;
The flute-player versus the sword-wielder.1

When Subhas was only in his teens, he wrote to his brother, Sarat, about the treatment of Rabindranath Tagore by his own Bengali countrymen. The young heart cried:

"“What a strange people we are! We have so little of reverence in us. I am almost stung with self-reproach when I think how indifferent Bengal has been in showering laurels upon him.”"

Around 1914, while Subhas Chandra was studying at the Presidency College, he took his friends to Santiniketan for their first meeting with Tagore. Subhas sought advice from the Poet with regard to the life-activities of the students. Unfortunately, Tagore could not satisfy Subhas.

Their most auspicious second meeting was without doubt a Heaven-blessed coincidence. It took place when Subhas was returning to India in 1921 after his years at university in England, and Rabindranath happened to be a fellow passenger on the boat. Tagore and Subhas engaged in many heart-to-heart conversations. The Poet, who was Subhas Chandra’s senior by thirty-six years, did offer the young man his sincere congratulations for having resigned so bravely from the I.C.S.

Subhas, on his side, found in Rabindranath a kindred spirit — for had not the Poet renounced his knighthood following the massacre of his countrymen by the British at Jallianwalla Bagh?

Many times when Subhas Chandra
Suffered in prison,
He turned to Tagore’s
Inspiration-inundated songs
To give voice to his heart’s
India-liberation-cry.

Through the Free India Centre, which Netaji established in Germany, Rabindranath Tagore’s song Jana Gana Mana was played and sung for the first time in Hamburg on 29 May 1942.

Simultaneously, India’s tri-colour banner was hoisted, along with the German flag. The German national anthem was then played.

The Mayor of Hamburg gave Netaji the warmest welcome.

Eventually, Tagore’s Jana Gana was adopted as the official national anthem of independent India. Once again, Gandhi-ji and Nehru followed Netaji’s lead.

The mutual affection between these two Bengali giants was most touchingly revealed whenever either of them succumbed to physical ailments. On 19 October 1930, in New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A., Tagore fell seriously ill. Subhas came to learn the news from Reuters, and he immediately sent a wire to the Poet:

CITY OF CALCUTTA ANXIOUS ABOUT YOUR ILLNESS STOP ON BEHALF OF THE CITIZENS I WISH SPEEDY RECOVERY AND A SAFE RETURN HOME STOP WIRE HEALTH STOP SUBHAS

Tagore was extremely moved by Subhas Chandra’s love and concern, and he wired back:

THANK YOU SUBHAS I FEEL MUCH BETTER STOP YOUR RABINDRANATH

On his part also, Tagore used to write most affectionate letters enquiring about Subhas Chandra’s health whenever word reached him that Subhas was suffering on the physical plane.

In 1940 Tagore requested an interview with Subhas. In spite of his deepest love, deepest admiration and deepest respect for Tagore, it took Subhas two long months to offer him an interview, for Subhas had been inundated with myriad activities since resigning the Presidency in April 1939.

Finally, on 2 July, Tagore came and met with him in Calcutta for about two hours. Afterwards, Tagore left for Santiniketan, only to hear on his return that Subhas had been arrested — just three fleeting hours after the interview had taken place. It was to be his eleventh and last imprisonment.

In the midst of Subhas Chandra’s hectic round of activities,
He did meet with Tagore.
Alas, nobody knew that would be his last,
Very last, heart-to-heart conversation with Tagore.
Once Tagore discovered that Subhas Chandra’s
Soul-heart-mind-vital-body
Had become a perfect sacrifice for Mother India,
Tagore declared Subhas Chandra’s service
To Mother India indispensable
And proudly claimed him
As the Supreme Pilot of the Bengal-Life-Boat
And the pinnacle-Mother-India-patriot.

The British Government home-interned Subhas in December 1940. The real royal Bengal Tiger, to the nation’s widest astonishment, disappeared the following month! This disappearance of his created a tremendous sensation and uproar nationwide.

Poet Rabindranath Tagore was anxiety-stricken. He immediately sent a message by telegram to the family of Subhas:

DEEPLY CONCERNED OVER SUBHAS DISAPPEARANCE STOP CONVEY TO MOTHER MY SYMPATHY STOP KINDLY KEEP ME INFORMED NEWS

Sarat Chandra Bose wired back:

MOTHER AND WE PROFOUNDLY TOUCHED BY MESSAGE STOP NO NEWS SUBHAS YET DESPITE UTMOST EFFORTS LAST FEW DAYS STOP HOPE HE WILL HAVE YOUR BLESSINGS WHEREVER HE MAY BE

Tagore loved Subhas.
Tagore chided him.
And, in the evening of Tagore’s life,
Tagore became fully aware of the undeniable fact
That Subhas was the man of the hour,
The man of the century
And the man of India’s destiny.


  1. RTM 101. The excerpts in this section on Tagore and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose are taken from the book Sri Chinmoy published on 23 January 1997 to mark the centenary of Netaji’s birth and the 50th anniversary of India’s independence: Sri Chinmoy, Mother, Your 50th Independence-Anniversary! I Am Come. Ever in Your Eternity’s Cries and Your Infinity’s Smiles, Subhas, New York: Agni Press, 1997, pp. 125-137.