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150th birth anniversary When Gandhi visited Switzerland

Gandhi spent five days in Switzerland (December 6-11, 1931) at the home of his friend, Nobel-prize-winning French writer Romain Rolland. swissinfo.ch retraces the Indian leader's footsteps on his 150th birth anniversary.

Rolland had written a biography of Gandhi called "Mahatma Gandhi - The Man Who Became One with the Universal Being" that was published in 1924. Gandhi visited him and stayed at his house in Villeneuve on Lake Geneva after his visit to London to attend the Roundtable meeting on the future of colonial India. 

In charge of trip organisation was Gandhi's English disciple Madeleine Slade who adopted the Indian name "Mirabehn" or sister Mira. She was a great admirer of Rolland, having visited him before leaving for India to meet Gandhi. Among the Indian contingent accompanying him was his youngest son Devdas and secretaries Mahadev Desai and Pyarelal Nayyar. 

Rolland's diary records Gandhi's dietary routine in detail. At 6 or 7 in the morning he would drink a glass of of freshly-pressed orange juice followed a little later by a glass of boiled goat's milk. At 10am he consumed hot water with lemon and honey or powdered cinnamon. Lunch was a bunch of grapes and a glass of goat's milk. Dinner would comprise grated raw vegetables like carrots or celery and two grated apples. Gandhi spun khadi cotton every day of his Swiss visit and travelled only on foot or third-class train carriage as was his habit.

Onlookers gathered in the small town of Villeneuve to catch a glimpse of the famous Indian. Rolland was worried that Gandhi's presence would draw opportunistic visitors - including nudists - looking to draw the world's attention to their cause. 

The Indian leader gave two public lectures in Switzerland: one on December 8 at the “Maison du people” in Lausanne and the second on December 10 at Victoria Hall in Geneva on the invitation of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. 

gandhi geneva

Gandhi's speech in Geneva

The Swiss press was hostile to Gandhi especially after he criticised certain papers for mischaracterisation of his speeches made in London. Gandhi's anti-military and anti-capitalist remarks also won him many enemies.

"The Courrier de Montreux, which so far had felt obliged to be tactful, both to him and to me, carried a leading article to the effect that of all the things Gandhi did in these five days in Switzerland, the best was to get out, and he was denounced as an instrument, conscious (why not?) or unconscious, coming to Switzerland to disarm and destroy, so as to deliver her people unarmed into the hands of Communist aggressors," noted Rolland in his diary. 

Gandhi's host was almost certain that the Swiss authorities would have deported him if he had stayed longer or at the very least forbidden another public meeting. 

Source: Archive correspondenceexternal link (letters, diaries, articles).

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