Those days I was a teacher at Shantiniketan. One day I went to invite Rabindernah Tagore for the annual Hindi Sammelan, when he started a discussion with me. During the course of our conversation he asked "Besides teaching what else are you doing over here?"
"I wrote stories in Hindi which are published in the leading Hindi magazines. During my stay here, I have written a lot and also earned a good name for myself."
"But your mother tongue is not Hindi. You are a Punjabi. Why don't you write in the Punjabi language?"
I felt Tagore was a narrow-minded, provincial man; at that time I did not realised an artist must first be nationally known in the true sense of the word, before he is internationally acclaimed.
"But Hindi is the national language. It is language of the entire nation Why should I write in any provincial language, when I can write for the entire country?" I said.
"I write in Bengali, which is a provincial language; yet, not only the people of Hindustan but people all over the world read what I write."
"I am not a great writer like you, I am just an insignificant writer."
"It is not the question of greatness or smallness; a writer has a relationship with his own birthplace, his people and his language. It is only from them that he can perceive the warmth and feeling of being one of them."
"Probbly you do not have much knowledge about the conditions prevailing in my state. In Punjab, we either write in Hindi or Urdu. No one writes in Punjabi. Punjabi is a very backward language. If you want a honest opinion, it cannot be called a language It is a sub-language, a dialect of the Hindi language."
"I do not agree with you. The Punjabi litereture or the Bengali literature is very old. Can you look down upon that language and call it outdated or backward, the language in which great poets like Guru Nanak have written?"
And then he recited a few lines of Guru Nanak, which I now remember by heart. But at that time I was absolutely unaware of them. Those lines were
Gagan mein thaal Ravi Chand deepak bane Tarka Mandal Janka Moti Dhoop Malyachal pawan chanwar kare sagal banraya pjulanto jyoti
Literally translated the four lines means
Nature in its own way offers arti (prayers)
To God the creator of the Universe
The sky is the thaali (tray)
The sun and the moon are the diyas (candles)
The stars are the pearls
The fragrance from the Malyachal mountain is the incense
The breeze sways like the chawar (fan)
And the entire flora blossoms luminously.
After reciting these lines, Gurudev said, "I would also like to tell you that i am trying to translate a few parts of Guru Nanak's great epic into Bengali language. But I feel I will not be able to do justice to him."
(he along with many other Bengali writers have translated 'Bichitra Natak', 'Asa di war', 'Jap Sahib', etc into Bengali.)
"But this is the religious language of the Sikhs, " I said. " I am referring to the literature which is far above the religious communities and institutions. This kind of literature is not available in the Punjabi language. That is the reason why Punjabi is a decadent language."
"A century ago, the intelligent Bengalis who had been educated in the English medium, used to say the same things about the Bengali language. It is not so difficult to popularise your own language. Bankim babu (chandra Chatterji) had given the Bengali language thousands of new words. Even I have enriched the language with other thousand words. I have established the Bengali language," he said proudly. "Today, this language has its own expressions and manifestations amongst the languages of the world. It is not in any way inferior to any other language."
I remained quiet, but I was not convinced by this discussion. As far as I knew, most of the Punjabi writers wrote in Hindi or Urdu. Punjabi was just Gurmukhi--a script which was used only by Sikhs, because it was connected to their religion. I did not even know to read or write it. When Hindustan was fighting for Independence, it required one national language. The congress was making tremendous effort to make it the natinal language and encourage its growth and popularity. I did not think it proper to argue, so I told Gurudev the purpose of my visit. He accepted the invitation. I got up to leave.
I had barely reached the door, when Gurudev spoke words which troubled my heart for many years. But one day, suddenly, I realised that these words had much truth in them. He said : "A prostitute, even after amassing all the wealth of this world, cannot command respect. Similarly, when you spend your entire life writing in an alien language, neither your own people will accept you as one of them, nor will the people in whose language you have been writing. Before trying to win outsiders, you should first win over your own people."
This was Gurudev's style. He would never lose his temper; he knew how to control himself. He was never afraid to speak the truth, knowing that one day, truth would win, bloom and flourish.