Rabindranath Tagore :

In Conversation with Romain Rolland


excerpted from

A Tagore Reader, edited by Amiya Chakravarty


Tagore contact with Romain Rolland dated from 1919 when Rolland wrote to compliment Tagore on his definition of narrow nationalism. At Rolland's request, Tagore signed his name to La Déclaration pour l' indépendence de l'esprit, which was probably the first organized attempt to mobilize intellectual opinion all over the world against war. Their first meeting took place in April, 1921, in Paris. The conversation reproduced here took place in August, 1930, in Geneva. A report of this conversation was first published in Asia (March, 1937).

TAGORE: Do you think that Geneva is likely to play an important role in the world of international relationship?.
ROLLAND: It may, but a good deal depends on factors over which Geneva has no control.
TAGORE: The League of Nations seems to me to be but one of the various forces which are at work here. At the present moment it is by no means the most instrumental for the readjustment of international relationships. It may or may not develop into a power for bringing greater harmony in the political world. I have much faith in the various international groups and societies and the individuals working in this place, and my hope is that they will eventually create in Geneva a genuine center of international activities which will shape the politics of the future.
ROLLAND: We find a large number of people eagerly looking for a message from the East. India, they think - and I may add, rightly - is the country that can, in this epoch, give that message to the world.
TAGORE: It is curious to note how India has furnished probably the first internationally minded man of the nineteenth century. I mean Raja Rammohan Roy; he had a passion for truth. He came from an orthodox Brahmin family, but he broke all bonds of superstition and formalism. He wanted to understand Buddhism, went to Tibet, studied Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, Persian, English, French; he traveled widely in Europe, and died in Bristol. Spiritual truth for him did not mean a kind of ecclesiasticism confined within sectarin sanctuaries; nor did he think that it could be inflicted upon people outside the sect by men who have professional rights to preach it as a doctrine. He realized that a bond of spiritual unity links the whole of mankind and that it is the purpose of religion to reach down to that fundamental unity of human relationship, of human efforts and achievements.
ROLLAND: I have often wondered at the spirit of religious toleration in India; it is unlike anything we have known in the West. The cosmic nature of your religion and the composite character of your civilization make this possible. India has allowed all kinds of religious faith and practice to flourish side by side.
TAGORE: Perhaps that has also been our weakness, and it is due to an indiscriminate spirit of toleration that all forms of religious creeds and crudities have run riot in India, making it difficult for us to realize the true foundation of our spiritual faith. The practice of animal sacrifice, for instance, has nothing to do with our religion, yet many people sanction it on the grounds of tradition. Similar aberrations of religion can be found in every country. Our concern in India today is to remove them and intensify the larger beliefs which are our true spiritual heritage.
ROLLAND: In Christian scriptures too, this theme of animal sacrifice dominates. Take the opening chapters: God gave preference to Abel because he had offered a lamb for sacrifice.
TAGORE: I have never been able to love the God of the Old Testament.
ROLLAND: ... The emphasis is wrongly placed, and the attitude is not spiritual in the larger sense.
TAGORE: We should stress always the "larger sense". Truth cannot afford to be tolerant where it faces positive evil; it is like sunlight, which makes the existence of evil germs impossible. As a matter of fact, Indian religious life suffers today from the lack of a wholesome spirit of intolerance, which is characteristic of a creative religion. Even a vogue of atheism may do good to India today, even though my country will never accept atheism as her permanent faith. It will sweep away all noxious undergrowths in the forest, and the tall trees will remain intact. At the present moment, even a gift of negation from the West will be of value to a large section of the Indian people.
ROLLAND: I believe that scientific rationalism will help to solve India's question.
TAGORE: I know that India can never believe in mere intellectual determination for any long period of time; balance and harmony will certainly be restored. That is why a temporary swing in one direction may help us arrive at the central adjustment of spiritual life. Science should come to our aid to be humanized by us at the end.
ROLLAND: Science is probably the most international element in the modern world; that is, the spirit of cooperation in scientific research. But we have today poison gas at the disposal of politicians. It is tragic that scientists are at the disposal of military powers who are not in the least interested in the progress of human thought and culture ... The problem today is not so much the antagonism of nations as the clash between different classes in the body of a nation itself. This does not, of course, justify or minimize to any degree the real curse of aggressive nationalism and the spirit of war.
TAGORE: Words are too conscious; lines are not. Ideas have their form and color, which wait for their incarnation in pictorial art. Just now painting has become a mania with me. My morning began with songs and poems; now, in the evening of my life, my mind is filled with forms and colors.


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