In 1931, the French writer, Romain Rolland and the Indian advocate of non-violence, Mohandas Gandhi, met in Switzerland. For Rolland, the meeting was the culmination of his desire to meet the man whom he so admired. Gandhi yearned to meet Rolland, his biographer, as well. According to author Kathryn Tidrick (Gandhi: A Political and Spiritual Life published in 2006), the meeting did not go well. Rolland wanted to talk politics, Gandhi wanted to talk about his host’s health and his own God-given gifts.
Who were these two very different people? The French-born Rolland (1866-1944) was a writer, an art historian and mystic who received a Ph.D. in 1895 writing his dissertation on opera in Europe. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1915. A lifelong pacifist, he wrote his book about Gandhi in 1924, having long studied Gandhi and Tagore, among others.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), born in India, received a law degree from University College in London in 1891 and used his skills to help improve the situation of Indians living in South Africa. Returning to India in 1915, he organized protests by the lower classes against unbearable taxes and discrimination. He established an ashram in Gujarat in 1918. He was the leader of the Indian National Congress struggling for the rights of those who suffered discrimination, and, of course, for the independence of India from Britain. His assassination in 1948 only vaulted his international renown.
This photograph is part of the James Garrett Vail collection (no. 930).