Maurice Schumann’s Recollections of his meeting with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

Dear Friends,

Maurice Schumann (10 April 1911—9 February 1998) was a French politician, journalist and author. He was also an inspirational radio spokesman of General Charles de Gaulle and the French Resistance in broadcasts to Nazi-ruled France from London during the Second World War. He was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of France from 1969 to 1973.

On 27 September 1947 Maurice Schumann (at that time he was the head of a French cultural delegation) had met Sri Aurobindo and the Mother during his visit to Pondicherry. Sri Aurobindo supported Maurice Schumann’s plan to make Pondicherry “a meeting place between France and India” and suggested establishing a university where pupils from different parts of the globe could study Indian culture. Years later Maurice Schumann would recall his meeting with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in an interview to the late Pournaprema, the Mother’s grand-daughter.

The text of the said interview, translated into English from French, has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

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So the question was to find out if there was a way to negotiate with the Government of India, not the perpetuation of our presence in the five enclaves, but a delay, a time for reflection which would enable later negotiations to enable these enclaves to attain independence.

At first, when I was sent to try to obtain this result, I was told, the diplomats explained to me that the chances were very, very meagre, not to say nil, given the fact that India in its entirety, at the time when she was torn by civil strife—which I personally witnessed and which made so much blood to flow, (mainly in Calcutta, and where ‘Mother India’, as Gandhi used to say, was broken in two by the birth of Pakistan, which at that time was a Pakistan itself split in two, as there was an East Pakistan and as Pakistan,) it seemed inconceivable that a continuation of a French or Portuguese colony was possible.

François Baron told me then that there was a strong French influence in the Ashram.

She [The Mother] arranged a meeting with Sri Aurobindo which was all the more surprising because as a rule Sri Aurobindo was not seeing anybody… He made an exception for me. Given the stature he had, his immense moral influence, it was in itself an event. And from the moment he received me on this earth that his presence sanctified, the idea of use of force against a place where he had, pursued by the British police, taken refuge, was inconceivable. He had an opportunity to express his gratefulness to France, he did it immediately and the interview he gave me, the audience he granted me, went even further. Actually, it is an important phenomenon that I have understood better since, that the colonizers of India, their more important figures, had the feeling, to use Kipling’s phrase, that never would the East and the West meet.

Whereas the greatest Indians held the absolutely opposite opinion. That was the case with Gandhi when I met him. I met him after I met Sri Aurobindo. I went to Delhi and it is there that I met him. But Gandhi was fully aware of what he owed to English culture. And Sri Aurobindo was fully aware of what he owed to Western culture.

The political result, I have just spoken to you about it. I was received by Nehru, it could not have been otherwise after having been received by Sri Aurobindo who had permitted that a report of it could be made, and so he [Nehru] could not but receive me, Gandhi could not but receive me, and both of them had to discuss with me,— mainly Nehru, for Gandhi had other concerns—the future of the decolonization of the five enclaves, to discuss but not to think even for a moment, to take recourse to arms. That was then the success of my first diplomatic negotiation. I am not able to say the same for the others I had later as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Pournaprema: And do you think that, at present, if there is this French presence in Pondicherry, for there are important French institutions in Pondicherry—it is due to this.

It all started with that. For it was not possible to hold on to a colonial status. There was a deputy from French India who was an Indian, Saravan Lambert, in the National Assembly, my colleague; there was a Senator representing French India,— it was already the situation before the War and so it continued during the Fourth Republic, but we could not be happy with a colonial status as in the earlier days. Therefore we created, within what was then known as the French Union, a body consisting of the representatives of the five enclaves. The first meeting was held in Pondicherry. I was present. I spoke to the delegates; and there an idea came up, which was immediately developed further. It was this:

We salute Independent India. We know perfectly well that the whole of India will one day be independent. We would like that the departure of France as a power and as an authority should coincide with an agreement regarding Pondicherry which would become a window open to France, to the whole French entity, French culture, and the French language.

A half-century later, there are definite signs for which I am infinitely grateful to Sri Aurobindo and to your grandmother, for it is evident that without her the first stone of the edifice would not have been placed.

Pournaprema: It is wonderful to hear that. I thank you very much. After all these years, what do you still recollect of your meeting with Sri Aurobindo? An inner impression…

The extraordinary radiance of the divine life, the Life Divine. The radiance that was there on his face. I always thought that faith manifested as a breath. One feels, in certain circumstances, the Breath of God—Spiritus—it means ‘breath’, and felt it as soon as I saw him. One had the impression—there was no artificial light falling on him—one had the impression that he was himself a radiant centre.

Pournaprema: How long did the interview last?

One hour. It was more philosophic than political, but its political importance was that it did take place. The single fact that it happened guaranteed the success of my mission.

Pournaprema: And Mother, where did you meet her?

In the room where Sri Aurobindo meditated. It is because of her that the interview took place. The idea came from François Baron who was himself an adept of Sri Aurobindo whom he called “My Master.”

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Thirty Photographs of the Mother Inaugurating the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.

Dear Friends,

During the early years of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, children were not allowed to live in the Ashram. In the early 1940s, when a number of families were admitted to the Ashram, the Mother decided to open a school to provide education to the children who had come with their parents. On 2 December 1943 she formally opened a school for about twenty children and she herself was one of the teachers. On 24 April 1951 she presided over a convention at Pondicherry where it was resolved to establish an “international university centre.” On 6 January 1952 she inaugurated the Sri Aurobindo International University Centre. This name was changed to Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in 1959.

Thirty photographs of the Mother inaugurating the Sri Aurobindo International University Centre on 6 January 1952 (taken by noted photographers of the Ashram like Venkatesh, Robi Ganguli and Chimanbhai) have been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

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Photographs Courtesy: Ms. Tara Jauhar

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