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Malraux meets Jawaharlal Nehru - Biblio

Raja Rao ()
1996 November

Title : Malraux meets Jawaharlal Nehru
Author : Raja Rao
Publication : Biblio
Date : November, 1996

Place de la Sorbonne ... Panditji and I get out of a
taxi, opposite a Chinese Restaurant-Shanghai, was it
called? (it is still there!). Green shrubs, in square
lacquer boxes at the windows, with red Chinese characters
on the glass walls, it had a modest but intimate ap-
pearance, like most restaurants in the Latin quarter.
This is where Jean Guehenno, the French writer, had
arranged for us all to meet. Jean Guehenno was a highly
considered writer of the Left-he came from a shoe-maker's
family, but taught Latin and Greek at a famous college,
Lycee Lakanal, in Paris. He also edited the internation-
al literary magazine, Europe, which published Romain
Rolland, Panait Istraiti, and Thomas Mann. Guehenno had
published one or two pieces by me-my earliest writings-
and he was one of those rare men Malraux met. Malraux
always had this obsession. "I have no interlocutors", he
would say. "France is full of clever men and women. But
what do you talk to them? I have never, ever felt,
unless one can die for an idea it's not worth living.
That's what I like about the Orient, about India." And
Guehenno was one of those, like Romain Rolland, who dared
die for an idea. And France is only France, when a man or
woman is willing truly to die for an idea. Thus the
Resistance, and de Gaulle.

In fact that is how Malraux looked, as he stood, in full
elegance and height, at the entrance to the Shanghai or
whatever the restaurant was called. In a black suit and
with stuffed waistcoat, his sparse hair turned back,
square in face, his quick round eyes darting now left now
right, like marbles, as he sought us...

Panditji, on the other hand, quiet, self-turned, his face
dipping into his chest, withdrawn, with almost a lisp as
he spoke, as if he to himself? Whereas Malraux shot his
words, as in an artillery, left, right, centre or down,
Panditji on the other hand seemed too far away to know if
anything was happening at all. Was he thinking of Kamala
Nehru in the hospital, or was he wondering what sort of
man this was, so supremely arrogant but shy with an
innocent University student's smile? Panditji understood
some French and Malraux some English. I was to be their
interpreter, but a poor one. Besides Malraux spoke with
such concentrated rapidity, no one, and so many have
tried, could follow what he said. Symbol pursued another
symbol, broke it to bits, and reconstructed, the camel
became a bear, man, an angel, and then a deacon, and
afterwards a king, and finally a buffoon. So that Pan-
ditji himself would correct me sometimes here and there,
when a French word had not the same significance as its
English sister vocable, both with similar origins... His
first question-hands firmly clasped in one another and
laid heavily on the table, he said looking straight at
Panditji-was, "I am, as you know, interested in Gandhism.
I can understand any intelligent man's aversion to
violence. It is a sort of human castration. But I am an
accidental man. I believe in action, in the Act. We in
Europe are all a hurry. But you, you of the East, and
especially India, you have the window on eternity. So
that my question is, Monsieur Nehru, what relation has
metapsychosis with nonviolence?"

Panditji had never anticipated such a question. And with
those words? What does he mean?

"I am afraid," replied Panditji in his very gentle way,
"I am afraid I have never thought of it."

Malraux became polite, and explained himself. "Europe is
destructive, suicidal. Europe, like Nietzsche understood,
and who understood Europe better than Nietzsche did--so
he had to go mad. You remember what Dostoevsky said:
Europe is a cemetery of ideas-Yes, we cannot go beyond
good and- evil. We can never go, as the Indians can,
beyond duality. India had Shankara. France had Des-
cartes. Aristotle made a mess of Europe-he created good
and evil. He created science and distanced us from So-
cratic wisdom. So it took almost two thousand years for
Nietzsche to come and say: the Truth is beyond good and
evil. But you know better than I do, advaita of Shankara
is not Nietzsche's non-duality. Thus our cemetery-even
when we grow roses in them. You remember that is why,
our cemeteries are on hilltops, so that we look up always
at-death. But you in India have grown a civilisation,"
and here Panditji looked up, "you, sir, you have created
the Upanishads, and the Gita, where Sri Krishna says,
standing beyond duality, you, Arjuna, kill and be killed,
for there is neither the killer nor the killed."

"But," started Panditji slowly, with a deliberate voice,
"but Krishna tried every politic way to stop the War,
nonviolently. He said to the Kauravas give the Pandavas
five provinces, five districts, five villages, or even
five houses, as they the rightful heirs to the kingdom-"

"Would,Gandhi say this to the British?" interrupted

"You know, I am sure, how Gandhi the Prophet of Non-
violence, how he offered to raise volunteers for the
British Army, during the first world war. He always
believed: The adversity of your enemy should never be
your opportunity. But the British..."

"But if you believe in metapsychosis, you have the whole
of eternity before you. Good is good because there is
eternity. Time creates duality. You Indians will die
because Krishna taught you there is no death-"

"Not merely Krishna but the Vedas as well. We are a
rational people. Time is of the mind. The mind is of

"Of Brahman," shouted Malraux, pressing down his cigar-
ette on his plate. "Yes, that is it. Death makes man a
man. Man does not make death. Death is a mask man wears.
A mask as we wear at the Carnival. But at the end of the
Carnival is the Crucifixion. For the Indian there is no

"But we too have death," said Panditji, almost in a

"But you mock at death with fire"

"And you?"

"The cemetery, that is with wood and cement. And that is
Europe," concluded Malraux...

"Monsieur Nehru, you know I love India," started Andre
Malraux following his own thought. "I even learnt some
Sanskrit to read the Bhagavad Gita. It's a great book, a
revolutionary book-that is, a bible for the Real Revolu-
tion. Man's aim is to achieve his destin. Everyman, as
the Hindus believe, has his dharma, the leather-worker,
the minister or the King, like Dharmaraja. I love the way
Bhisma, on his deathbed, gives advice to Arjuna, his
adversary in battle, but a nephew of his. That is what I
admire in India. The destin d'homme. Bhisma is great,
for, having fought with the Pandavas, he it is when
fallen, asks Arjuna to bring him a glass of water on his
deathbed of arrows. Now, that to me is India. India has
no enemies. She only has adversaries. That is what
Gandhi is about. I admire him. I cannot follow him.
For the Indian will follow his dharma, like Bhisma did
against the Pandavas, though these were almost like his
own children. But I, the occidental man, need to fight,
fight against evil. Take away evil, and there is nothing
to fight for."

"But," said Panditji gently, "evil is only misunderstood
good, is it not?"

"Then why do you fight the British?"

"Not I, but Gandhiji would say, to convert my enemy!
Like Bhisma in fact."

"But Bhisma fought a battle-"

"We fight our battle too. You fight with guns, we with
wills and hearts. Do you think it is easy to stand
before a towering police horse, and be crushed like a
hen? We Indian, Mr. Malraux, are no cowards."

"Of course not. Look at the way Alexander treated Pur-
usha. By the way that is the first confrontation between
the occidental man-and the Indian, the Indian, shall I
say saint."

"No, the King," corrected Panditji, with his thin voice.
"You have to see Gandhiji, dressed like a peasant, but
walking erect as no emperor in India has ever walked. We
believe in the Saint King in India, like we believe, we
believe in Poet-Sages, Kavis, Dharma binds them both."

"Yes, I have often thought, Gandhi before Clive would be
like Alexander before Porus. Europe," continued Malraux,
smoking away, and following his smoke, "Europe, I said,
is a cemetery. That is true. Look at Goya."

"If Europe is Goya," picked up Nehru, after a moment of
deliberation, "what then Monsieur Malraux is-is my coun-

"India is Ajanta," shot back Malraux, with a delighted
childlike smile, "Ajanta, where Shiva is the dancer of
the crematorium, and the Buddha starts his compassion on
the other side, with a lotus in hand, and looking down on
our poor humanity with a blue benignance. That, sir, is
why Europe is enamoured of the Buddha, and has so little
understanding of Shiva."

"Yes," interrupted Nehru coming back to himself slowly-
the prison was gently fading- "but there is Rodin."

"Yes, and there is also Picasso," smiled Malraux between
his whiffs. "But Picasso might have to live another life
for his supreme vision of Shiva. To understand Shiva one
has to meditate and not act. The Western man can invent
any manner of action. That is why for the early Bud-
dhists, the Buddha was symbolised by the Two Feet-the Two
Feet of the Acharya-the Guru. The Greeks brought in
their St. Sulpicien sculpture and gave the Buddha of the
Lahore museum, his moustache and his coiffure of Apollo.
The Western Man can only live in duality," said Malraux
and went into a deep indelible silence.

"I was thinking," Malraux began, "I was thinking of a
princess or queen of some sort, in Egypt, her eyes shini-
na through the water of a well, someone so dead but she
was absolutely alive, as only the Egyptians -an make one
believe. She belonged to the Twenty Second Dynasty, if I
remember right, and she lay there, in this deep fountain,
in Nubia. That was death to us, but not to her. She
wanted to live for ever, and for some unknown reason, her
eyes glowed. Indeed like Parvathi's. Shiva had conquered
her death. How could a wife to Shiva die? "

"Why not?" asked Panditji, somewhat angrily.

"Because, because as your Shankara says," smiled Malraux,
"because, in your dream you can see your own dead body.
So is one alive when awake or asleep in sleep? Or is
all, all, like that girl in Nubia ever awake-and so out
of death? Sir,' continued Malraux, with a quiet passion,
"Sir, that is the greatness of your country. It can turn
defeat into victory. Wait till the British go. I prophe-
sy they want you back, not as Empire, as, as-say, their
Holy Grail. The British were seeking the Holy Grail-and
their destiny, King Arthur and all that, took them to
India. So Columbus landed in America. India was what
they were all seeking. That was what Europe was seeking-
Europe's Holy Grail. India does not belong to you, Mr
Nehru, though you may say so-it belongs to Me," said
Malraux, beating his chest, "a Moi. India is the world's
Holy Grail. Please never forget us, Mr Nehru. I promise
to visit you, when India is free. Remember me. Keep India
from duality." With this Malraux rose.

Panditji was both moved, moved to the depth, and must
have almost felt, Malraux was an younger brother-Europe
after all was our younger brother-and as we the four of
us walked out of the Shanghai (or whatever that restau-
rant was called) the Chinese butlers looked at us with
deep respect. Not because of India, but because of China,
because of Malraux's Condition Humaine. At the door, as
Malraux said goodbye to Panditji, how like a schoolboy
Malraux looked. "Duality and death are the only two
enemies of man. When you become the Prime Minister of
India, or if you will, because Mahatma Gandhi will never
become an official of any Government-he is too much the
Chief of all Men-remember me, and let me tell you finally
what I have to say. Let the great Sankaracharya, let him
guide India. Such my prayer."

Under the flapping awnings of the Shanghai (or whatever
the restaurant was called) Malraux took Pandit Nehru's

stretched hands, and pressing them with his own-looking
away shyly to a side-said: "I am a fabulist. I love
fables. There is among the legends of the French Middle-
ages, somewhat belonging to the thirteenth century, a
book called Historia de Preliis, written by a Church
Father, called Leo, a story of Alexander, with which I
would like to conclude. Alexander had not yet reached
India, and maybe one of those Iranian magi had met him
after the fall of Persopolis and said to him: There's in
the right middle of this Universe, the City of the Sun.
Its steps are made of sapphire-for it's on the top of a
mountain, a thousand steps high. When you go step after
step-and therefore a thousand steps-you come to a great
high hall lit brilliantly with only a large precious
stone. And In the proper middle of the Hall seven steps
above the altar, made of pure gold and emerald, will lie
a sage clothed in ochre and silks. Go there and he will
give you a message...

"And on reaching there, across the land and up the great
hills, the sage said to Alexander: 'Trace your steps
back, young man. Go back. India is death to you.' India
is even death to death. Alexander would not listen. He
smiled. The sage had warned the great conqueror of his
death. The City of Gold was Les Indes, say our texts. And
you know what happened to Alexander. After wanting to
bring all of disparate humanity together, he died of a
stomach ache. That's what comes when you do not listen to
the sage of the Holy Grail. Laws are what we impose upon
the world to understand ourselves. Adieu, Monsieur
Nehru." And he let go Nehru's hand and humped into the
standing taxi. Guehenno followed him with a polite bow.

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