To an American friend the great French Savant Romain Rolland wrote as follows about the visit of Mahatma Gandhi to his home at Villeneuve, Switzerland, in December 1931:
How I should have liked to have you here during the visit of the Indians! They stayed
five days—from the 5th to 11th December at the Villa Vionette. The little man
bespectacled and toothless, was wrapped in his white burnouse, but his legs,
thin as a heron's stilts, were bare. His shaven head with its few coarse hairs
was uncovered and wet with rain. He came to me with a dry laugh, his mouth open
like a good dog panting, and flinging an arm round me leaned his cheek against
my shoulder. I felt his grizzled head against my cheek. It was, I amuse myself
thinking, the kiss of Saint Dominie and Saint Francis.
Then came Mira (Miss Slade), proud of figure and with the stately bearing of a Demeter,
and finally three Indians, one a young son of Gandhi, Devadas, with a round and
happy face. He is gentle, but little aware of the grandeur of his name. The
others were secretaries — disciples— two young men of rare qualities of heart
and mind: Mahadev Desai and Pyarelal.
As I had contrived shortly beforehand to get a severe cold on my chest, it was to my
house and to the chamber on the second floor where I sleep at Villa Olga — you
will remember it — that Gandhi came each morning for long conversations. My
sister interpreted, with the assistance of Mira, and I had also a Russian friend
and secretary, Miss Kondacheff, who took notes on our discussions. Some good
photographs by Schlemmer, our neighbour from Montreus, recorded the aspect of
Evenings, at seven o'clock, prayers were held in the first-floor salon. With lights
lowered, the Indian seated on the carpet, and the little assembly of the
faithful grouped about, there was a suite of three beautiful chants — the first
an extract from the Gita, the second an ancient hymn on the Sanskrit
texts which Gandhi has translated, and the third canticle of Rama and Sita,
intoned by the warm, grave voice of Mira.
Gandhi held other prayers at three o'clock in the morning, for which, in London, he
used to wake his harassed staff, although he had not retired until one. This
little man, so frail in appearance, is tireless, and fatigue is a word which
does not exist in his vocabulary. He could calmly answer for hours the heckling
of a crowd, as he did at Lausanne and Geneva, without a muscle of his face
twitching. Seated on a table, motionless, his voice always clear and calm, he
replied to his adversaries open or masked — and they were not lacking at Geneva
— giving them rude truths which left them silenced and Suffocated.
The Roman bourgeoisie, and nationalists, who had at first received him with crafty looks,
quivered with rage when he left. I believe that if his stay had lasted any
longer, the public meetings would have been forbidden. He pronounced himself as
unequivocally as possible on the double questions of national armaments and the
conflict between capital and labour. I was largely responsible for steering him
on this latter course.
His mind proceeds through successive experiments into action and he follows a straight
line, but he never stops, and one would risk error in attempting to judge him by
what he said ten years ago, because his thought is in constant revolution. I
will give you a little example of it that is characteristic.
He was asked at Lausanne to define what he understood by God. He explained how among
the noblest attributes which the Hindu scriptures ascribed to God, he had in his
youth chosen the word 'truth' as most truly defining the essential element. He
had then said, 'God is Truth.' "But," he added, "two years ago I advanced
another step. I now say 'Truth is God'. For, even the atheists do not doubt the
necessity for the power of truth. In their passion for discovering the truth,
the atheists have not hesitated to deny the existence of God, and from their
point of view, they are right." You will understand from this single trait the
boldness and independence of this religious spirit from the Orient. I noted in
him traits similar to Vivekananda.
And yet not a single political ruse catches him unprepared. And his own politics are to
say everything that he thinks to everybody, not concealing a thing.
On the last evening, after the prayers, Gandhi asked me to play him a little of
Beethoven. He does not know Beethoven, but he knows that Beethoven has been the
intermediary between Mira and me, and consequently between Mira and himself, and
that, in the final count, it is to Beethoven that the gratitude of us all must
go. I played him the Andante of the Fifth Symphony. To that I added, "Les Champs
Elysees" of Gluck — the page for the orchestra and the air for the flute.
He is very sensitive to the religious chants of his country which somewhat resemble
the most beautiful of our Gregorian melodies, and he has worked to assemble
them. We also exchanged our ideas on art, from which he does not separate his
conception of truth, nor from his conception of truth that of joy, which he
thinks truth should bring. But it follows of itself that for this heroic nature
joy does not come without effort, not even life itself without hardship. 'The
seeker after truth hath a heart tender as the lotus, and hard as granite.'
Here, my dear friend, are a few hints of those days of ours together on which I have
taken much more detailed notes. What I do not dwell on to you is the hurricane
of intruders, loiterer, and half-wits which this visit loosed on our two villas.
No, the telephone never ceased ringing, photographers in ambuscades let fly
their fusillades from behind every bush. The milkmen's syndicate at Leman
informed me that during all the time of this sojourn with me of the 'King of
India' they intended to assume complete responsibility for his 'victualling'.
We received letters from 'Sons of God'. Some Itatians wrote to the Mahatma
beseeching him to indicate for them the ten lucky numbers for the next drawing
of his weekly national lottery!
My sister, having survived has gone to take ten days* rest at a cure in Zurich. She
returns shortly. For my part I have entirely lost the gift of sleep. If you find
it, send it to me by registered mail !