What Romain Rolland Thinks

Wednesday, the 3rd April, 1935. It was a bright sunny morning and Geneva was looking at its best. In the distance, silhouetted against the clear blue sky, stood the snow-capped heights of Saleve. In front of us there lay the picturesque lake of Geneva with the stately buildings mirrored in its glassy bosom. I was out on a pilgrimage. Ever since I had landed in Europe, two years ago, I had been longing to meet that great man and thinker - and, great friend of India and of India's culture - Mon. Romain Rolland. Circumstances had prevented our meeting in 1933 and again in 1934, but the third attempt was going to succeed. I was in high spirits, but occasionally a thrill of anxiety and doubt passed within me. Would I be inspired by this man or would I return disappointed? Would this dreamer and idealist appreciate the hard facts of life - the practical difficulties that beset the path of the fighter in every age and clime? Above all, would he read what fate had written on the walls of Indian history?

What heartened me, however, were the inspiring words in his letter of the 22nd February … "But we men of thought must each of us fight against the temptation that befalls us in moments of fatigue and unsettledness, of repairing to a world beyond the battle called either God or Art or Freedom of the Spirit or those distant regions of the mystic soul. For fight we must, as our duty lies on this side of the ocean - on the battleground of men."

For full two hours we drove along the circuitous route which skirts the lake of Geneva. It was charming weather and while we raced along the Swiss Riviera we enjoyed one of the finest sceneries in Switzerland. As we came to Villeneuve, the car slowed down and ultimately came to a standstill in front of Villa Olga, the residence of the French savant. That was indeed a beauty spot. Sheltered by an encircling row of hills, the house commanded a magnificent view of the lake. All around us there was peace, beauty and grandeur. It was indeed a fit place for a hermitage.

As I rang the bell, the door was opened by a lady of short stature but with an exceedingly sympathetic and lively face. This was Madame Romain Rolland. Hardly had she greeted me than another door opened in front of us and there emerged a tall figure with a pale countenance and with wonderful penetrating eyes. Yes, this was the face I had seen in many a picture before, a face that seemed to be burdened with the sorrows of humanity. There was something exquisitely sad in that pallid face - but it was not an expression of defeatism. For no sooner did he begin to speak than colour rushed to his white cheeks - the eyes glowed with a light that was uncommon - and the words that he poured forth were pregnant with life and hope.

The usual greetings and the preliminary enquiries about India and Indian friends were soon over and we dropped into a serious conversation. Mon. Rolland could not - or did not - speak English and I could not speak French. So we had as interpreters Mademoiselle Rolland and Madame Rolland. My purpose was to discuss with him the latest developments in the Indian situation and to ascertain his present views on the important problems before the world. I had therefore to do much of the talking at first in order to explain the Indian situation as I analysed and comprehended it.

The two cardinal principles on which the movement of the last 14 years had been based were - firstly, Satyagraha or non-violent resistance and secondly, a united front of all sections of the Indian people, e.g., capital and labour and landlord and peasant. India's great hope was that the Satyagraha movement would fructify in a peaceful settlement in the following manner. Within India, the movement would gradually paralyse the civil administration of the country. Outside India, the lofty ethics of Satyagraha would stir the conscience of the British people. Thus would the conflict lead to a settlement whereby India would win her freedom without striking a blow and without shedding any blood. But that hope was frustrated. Within India, the Satyagraha movement no doubt created a non-violent revolution, but the higher services, both civil and military, remain unaffected and the "King's Government" therefore went on much as usual. Outside India, a handful of high-minded Britishers were no doubt inspired by the ethics of Gandhi, but the British people as a whole remained quite indifferent; self-interest drowned the ethical appeal.

The failure to win freedom led to a very earnest heart-searching among the rank and file of the Indian National Congress. One section of Congress men went back to the old policy of constitutional action within the Legislatures. Mahatma Gandhi and his orthodox followers, after the suspension of the civil disobedience movement (or Satyagraha) turned to a programme of social and economic uplift of the villages. But the more radical section, in their disappointment, inclined to a new ideology and plan of action and the majority of them combined to form the Congress Socialist Party.