Tributes

Romain Rolland

Merely within twenty months from when he had landed in Bombay following his second visit to the West, Vivekananda was no more in this world. He was a few months over 39 at that time. Just around a quarter of a century later Romain Rolland (1866–1944), the great European idealist thinker, Noble Laureate French novelist, dramatist, essayist, had become so inspired by what he learned about the Swami that he wrote a biography entitled The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel. In its Prelude Rolland wrote: ‘When this quite unknown young man of thirty appeared in Chicago at the inaugural meeting of the Parliament of Religions … all his fellow members were forgotten in his commanding presence. His strength and beauty, the grace and dignity of his bearing, the dark light of his eyes, his imposing appearance, and from the moment he began to speak, the splendid music of his rich deep voice enthralled the vast audience of American Anglo-Saxons, previously prejudiced against him on account of his colour. The thought of this warrior prophet of India left a deep mark upon the United States.’ And Rolland was no American, he too, referring to the Swami’s teachings, wrote: ‘I cannot touch these sayings of his … at thirty years’ distance, without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock.’

 

Christopher Isherwood

Another famous Anglo-American writer, Christopher Isherwood (1904–1986), did also express his admiration for Vivekananda in a perspective of his own: ‘I loved him at once, for his bracing self-reliance, his humour , and his courage. He appealed to me as the perfect anti-Puritan hero: the enemy of Sunday religion, the destroyer of Sunday gloom, the shocker of prudes, the breaker of traditions, the outrager of conventions, the comedian who taught the deepest truths in idiotic jokes and frightful puns. That humour had its place in religion, that it could actually be a mode of spiritual self-expression, was a revelation to me; for , like every small boy of Puritan upbringing, I had always longed to laugh out loud and make improper noises in church. I didn’t know, then, that humour has also had its exponents in the Christian tradition. I knew nothing, for example, about, St. Philip Neri.’​

 

William James

But both Rolland and Isherwood were impressed by what they later heard and read about the Swami. While William James, an American who shaped the philosophical thinking of his country and had once been the foremost among his contemporary peers at the Harvard University, did see and closely interact with Swami Vivekananda. Expressing his deeper feelings about those experiences James once wrote to a mutual acquaintance: ‘[Vivekananda] is an honor to humanity.’

© : Somenath Mukherjee (See MORE )​