Although to any discerning Bangalee, Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam are two distinctive pinnacles of Bangla literature, instances of contrast and comparison of various aspects of the two stalwarts have never been a rarity. How they are paired together, often almost face-to-face in an unspoken debate of supremacy -- according to their literary styles, philosophies, and overall volume of works, can make any new reader wonder what relations between Tagore and
Nazrul themselves were like.
When Kazi Nazrul Islam was born, the rays of Robi (Bangla for sun) had already reached distant corners of Bangla literature. Nazrul himself was an avid fan of Rabindranath's writings, as is evident from the poem “Tirtho-Pothik” which he sent to Rabindranath expressing his awe of Rabindranath's writing, and the excitement of being remembered by him. Rabindranath, in turn, welcomed Nazrul's stormy arrival to Bangla literature, and blessed him on the publication of his first bi-weekly literary publication “Dhumketu”, expressing confidence in Nazrul's ability to banish darkness and awaken people with his writings.
When Nazrul was taken to prison for his political poem “Anondomoyi'r Agomone” (published in the 12th edition of “Dhumketu”, September 26, 1922), Rabindranath expressed his support for him, dedicating his lyrical play “Bashanta” to Nazrul. After Nazrul was transferred to the Hoogly prison, he went on a 40-day hunger strike protesting the misbehavior of the jail super. As he was being ill treated in prison, Rabindranath was requested by the literary community to convince Nazrul to break his fast, knowing of Rabindranath's influence on him. But Rabindranath understood Nazrul better than others, and said, “To ask an idealist to surrender his ideologies is equal to killing him. Even if Kazi dies of the hunger strike, his ideologies will stay intact in his heart.” However, he got anxious at one point and sent a telegram to Nazrul that said, “Give up hunger strike. Our literature claims you”. But the jail authorities did not convey the message to Nazrul.
Nazrul wrote several poems about Rabindranath, including “Osru-Pushpanjoli” (from “Notun Chand”, on Rabindranath's 80th birthday), “Koishor Robi” (from “Notun Chand”) and Robi'r Jonmo-tithi (“Shesh Saogat”); he also dedicated his anthology of selected poems “Sanchita” to Rabindranath Tagore.
Nazrul was called on to do the music for the film adapted from Rabindranath's “Gora” by its director Nareshchandra Mitra, but the Visva Bharati Music Board was of the opinion that the seven songs used in it did not have proper tunes, and the film's release was at risk. Nazrul visited Rabindranath with a print of the film and a projector, and after seeing it, Rabindranath said, “You have adapted my songs, and in what sense do they find you at fault? Do they understand my music better than you do? Can they honour it more than you have?” and signed a no-objection paper.
Rabindranath Tagore's demise shocked Nazrul as much as the rest of the subcontinent; he wrote the elegy “Robi-Hara”, which he recited from the Calcutta Betar Kendra. He later wrote another poem, “Salam Osto-Robi”, and a song, “Ghumaite Dao, Sranto Robi re Jagayo Na, Shara Jibon Je Alo Dilo Deke Tar Ghum Bhangayona”.
Sajanikanta Das and Mohit Lal Mojumdar of the literary magazine “Shonibarer Chithi”, envious of Nazrul's meteoric rise and his pleasant relations with Rabindranath, attempted repeatedly to cause a rift between the two, but only succeeded in creating a temporary misunderstanding, that did not hold in the long run. As long as they lived, the relationship between the two greats of all time -- was of mutual admiration, respect and affection.