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.

*

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.”

*

9 thoughts on “Maurice Schumann’s Recollections of his meeting with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

  1. I had several letters exchanged with Maurice Schumann but, somehow or other, we never managed to meet. To celebrate Sri Aurobindo’s birth anniversary in 1972, when I organized a session at the Musée Guimet, François Baron – former Governor of French India – quoted some of the letters Schumann had sent me. Another point of the day was a well written speech on Sri Aurobindo and Art, by Janine Auboyer, Curator of this Musee.
    Prithwindra Mukherjee

  2. Many thanks, of most interest. Let me tell that i am preparung a trip to India in short, to visit Ashram and Auroville :).

    Would like share an excerpt of Tonight Freedom, by Lapierre/Collins i am reading to documentate:

    History’s most grandiose accomplishments can sometimes
    have the most banal of origins. Great Britain was set on the
    road to the great colonial adventure for five miserable shillings.
    They represented the increase in the price of a pound of pepper
    proclaimed by the Dutch privateers who controlled the spice
    trade.

    Incensed at what they considered a wholly unwarranted
    gesture, twenty- four merchants of the City of London gathered
    on the afternoon of 24 September 1599 in a decrepit building
    on Leadenhall Street. Their purpose was to found a modest
    trading firm with an initial capital of £72,000 subscribed by
    125 shareholders. Only the simplest of concerns, profit, inspired
    their enterprise which, expanded and transformed, would ulti-
    mately become the most noteworthy creation of the age of
    imperialism, the British Raj.

    The Company received its official sanction on 31 December
    1599, when Queen Elizabeth I signed a royal charter assigning
    it exclusive trading rights with all countries beyond the Cape
    of Good Hope for an initial period of fifteen years. Eight
    months later, a 500-ton galleon named the Hector dropped
    anchor in the little port of Surat, north of Bombay. It was 24
    August 1600. The British had arrived in India. Their initial
    landing was a modest one. It came in the solitary figure of
    William Hawkins, Captain of the Hector, a dour old seaman
    who was more pirate than explorer. Hawkins marched off into
    the interior, prepared to find rubies as big as pigeons’ eggs;
    endless stands of pepper, ginger, indigo, cinnamon; trees whose
    leaves were so enormous that the shade they cast could cover
    an entire family, potions derived from elephants’ testicles to
    give him eternal youth.

    l A Race Destined to Govern and Subdue ’ 11

    There was little of that India along the Captain’s march to
    Agra. There, however, his encounter with the great Moghul
    compensated for the hardships of his journey. He found him-
    self face to face with a sovereign beside whom Queen Elizabeth
    appeared the ruler of a provincial hamlet. Reigning over 70
    million subjects, the Emperor Jehangir was the world’s richest
    and most powerful monarch, the fourth of India’s
    great Moghul rulers.

    The first Englishman to reach his court was greeted with a
    gesture which might have disconcerted the 125 worthy share-
    holders of the East India Trading Company. The Moghul made
    him a member of the Royal Household and offered him as a
    welcoming gift the most beautiful girl in his harem, an
    Armenian Christian.

    Fortunately, benefits of a nature more likely to inspire his
    employer’s esteem than the enrichment of his sex life also grew
    out of Captain Hawkins’ arrival in Agra. Jehangir signed an
    imperial firman authorizing the East India Company to open
    trading depots north of Bombay. Its success was rapid and
    impressive. Soon, two ships a month were unloading moun-
    tains of spices, gum, sugar, raw silk and Muslin cotton on the
    docks along the Thames and sailing off with holds full of
    English manufactures. A deluge of dividends, some of them
    as high as 200%, came pouring down on the firm’s fortunate
    shareholders.

    The British, generally, were welcomed by the native rulers
    and population. Unlike the zealous Spaniards who were
    conquering South America in the name of a redeeming God,
    the British stressed that it was in the name of another God,
    Mammon, that they had come to India. ‘Trade not territory’,
    the Company’s officers never ceased repeating, was their policy.

    Inevitably, however, as their trading activities grew, the
    Company’s officers became enmeshed in local politics and
    forced, in order to protect their expanding commerce, to inter-
    vene in the squabbles of the petty sovereigns on whose terri-
    tories they operated. Thus began the irreversible process which
    would lead England to conquer India almost by inadvertence.
    (…)

  3. this is not the complete text , have the french text with me, most remarkable of which was Mother’s speed of movement at that age, he was invited to agameof table tennis he describes as a young man he was made to run around, and another remarkable was the spiritus bit, my translation would be” am not a believer, but there was no artificial light in the room yet there was a light …emanating from him ”, only yogis can see this yet he, a young politician saw it…! great man , next few days after this interview he was constantly harping on life divine bit, Dupleix’s tercentenary took place a week later in which he again mentioned it, had seen the recording at Pournadi’s place, had copied the vdo recording for her…

  4. I happened to meet (Governor) François Baron’s son in Auroville about 2 years back. In course of conversation, when I told him your father was a student of Sri Aurobindo, he replied, “He was more than a student. He was a devotee.”

  5. “On this earth that his presence sanctified” ! Totally overwhelming….
    ”am not a believer, but there was no artificial light in the room yet there was a light …emanating from him ” How T R E M E N D O U S!

    1. thank you again, it is wonderful to hear a personal account of one who has had the darshan of the Master.
      i wish you success in your research in the future.

  6. It is mostly unknown how at the background of transfer of the five French enclaves to India – legally and peacefully- the divine advice of Sri Aurobindo was heeded by an enlightened person.
    Destiny forbade,else the Indian leadership under Gandhiji would have listened to the appeal of Sri Aurobindo and accepted the offer for Independence by the Cripps Mission and thus Independence without division would have been achieved

  7. Thanks. This is something worth reading and understanding about the French connection with India. Great!! REGARDS, PRABHJOT

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *