All those lyrics of mine that I will not get the opportunity to set tune to during my lifetime, I leave to you to embellish them with your music – Rabindranath Tagore to Pankaj Kumar Mullick (Jorasanko Thakurbari, 1937).
The incident that prompted this emotional reaction in Tagore is now a part of the legend of Bengali culture:
It was during the making of the movie Mukti, in 1937 that Pankaj Kumar Mullick, the film’s music director had gone to meet Tagore to seek his permission to use the song Diner Sheshey Ghumer Deshey in the film. The lyrics for this song were by Tagore but its music was not – it was in fact composed by Mullick many years prior to the movie. He had been unofficially singing the song at various gatherings but never in public. However when it came to using it in a movie, Tagore’s permission was an absolute necessity because Tagore’s songs (popularly known as Rabindrasangeets) and his poems - then, as it is now - were sacrosanct and nobody apart from Tagore had any right whatsoever to tinker with them let alone set tune to them. Given this scenario, Mullick set up an appointment with Tagore and with great trepidation rendered the song in Tagore’s presence. Mullick had no idea how Tagore would react to such a situation and he feared the worst – that Tagore would get upset with him and forbid him to sing the song ever again let alone use it in the movie. But what unfolded was absolutely contrary to his fears. Tagore was so overwhelmed on hearing the song that he embraced Mullick and uttered the words that gave Mullick the rare distinction of being the only composer allowed by Tagore to set tunes to his lyrics. In this manner Mullick was adorned with the unofficial title of being the 'First Man of Rabindrasangeet' – an epithet he aptly justified by making it his life’s mission to popularize the songs of Tagore among the masses. He not only pioneered the use of the medium of films but also that of radio apart from stage performances to free Rabindrasangeet from the shackles of elitism and let it loose among the music loving masses of Bengal. He was also the first person to sing Rabindrasangeets in Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil in an attempt to spread the magic of Tagore’s compositions among the non-Bengali speaking audience as well. Given the scale of popularity that Rabindrasangeets have reached today it can be said without any doubt that Tagore and Pankaj Mullick were kindred spirits – one meant for the other in this vast universe of eternal music.