On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi's 142nd birth anniversary, President Pratibha Patil on Sunday paid homage to a statue of the Father of the Nation that sits inside the tranquil Ariana Park on the aptly named Avenue of Peace in Geneva.
The President, who is on a state visit here, later spoke to the Indian community in Geneva. She emphasised the history of the two countries that began with Mahatma Gandhi's visit here in 1931.
Gandhi was on his way back from the Round Table Conference in London and spent five days in Switzerland visiting his friend, the French philosopher and Nobel laureate Romain Rolland.
That visit was the foundation on which the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru signed the Treaty of Friendship and Establishment way back in 1948.
Later, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of this historic treaty, the Swiss unveiled the Mahatma's statue in Ariana Park.
"And today, our countries are now exploring the establishment of a privileged partnership," Patil said.
Mahatma Gandhi's visit to Switzerland was a huge national event, covered frantically by the local press.
Romain Rolland, in a letter to a friend wrote, "The telephone never ceased ringing; photographers in ambuscades let fly their fusillades from behind every bush… we received letters from "Sods of God."
Some Italians wrote to the Mahatma beseeching him to indicate for them the ten lucky numbers for the next drawing of the weekly national lottery!
Roland's memories of that 1931 visit are vivid…"this little man, so frail in appearance, is tireless, and fatigue is a word which does not exist in his vocabulary. He could calmly answer for hours the heckling of a crowd, as he did at Lausanne and Geneva, without a muscle of his face twitching."
One particular incident seemed to have influenced Roland a lot.
"One would risk error in attempting to judge the Mahatma by what he said ten years ago, because his thought is in constant evolution. I will give you a little example. He was asked at Lausanne to define what he understood by God. He explained how, among the noblest attributes, which the Hindu scriptures ascribed to God, he had in his youth chosen the word "truth" as most truly defining the essential element."
"He had then said, "God is Truth."
"But," he added, "two years ago I advanced another step. I now say, 'Truth is God.' For even the atheists do not doubt the necessity for the power of truth. In their passion for discovering the truth, the atheists have not hesitated to deny the existence of God, and, from their point of view, they are right….thus, not a single political ruse catches him unprepared. And his own politics are to say everything that he thinks to everybody, not concealing a thing."