Sunday, 12 November 2017

Article : A tribute to Sister Nivedita (Part 2)

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

...  In a short stay in India of about 14 years, between 1897 and 1911, Nivedita made lasting contribution to the major fields of national action that defined the early nationalist movement. Be it national education, be it the Swadeshi art and industrial movement, be it sustaining the revolutionary movement or providing succour to the revolutionary nationalists, be it supporting Indian scientific research as she did in the case of Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, ensuring that he continues with his path-breaking research and stands up to British, read colonial hegemony, and prove the point of Indian capacities in science and scientific research, Nivedita's imprint is hard to ignore, especially, if one were to disengage oneself from dialectical lenses while studying this phase of India's evolution.

The complete marginalisation of her contribution by the "mainstream" academia and intelligentsia is understandable though. Direct, forthright, unabashed and unrepentant when it came to India and India's interests, image and welfare, it is extremely difficult to stereotype Nivedita into categories. One who was so intricately and intrinsically identified with India's civilisational aspirations, one who so eagerly embraced the Hindu way of life, one who so minutely detailed the civilisational contributions of Hinduism — both in terms of history and religion, her Cradle Tales of Hinduism, Footfalls of Indian History and especially Kali the Mother was staple read once upon a time all over Bengal and other parts of India, while making a great impact abroad in countering false propaganda against the Indian way of life — could not be stereotyped — it was plain impossible.

Nivedita's descriptions of the various facets of our national life caught the essence, the spirit as it were, of our core civilisational construct, identity and expression. She was wholly accepted and absorbed in India, her stay in the "native" quarter of Calcutta, her project of a girl's school in the area, her efforts to create and evolve a national discourse on all issues and subjects that strengthened India's quest for self-hood was not only welcomed but saw genuine and unstinted supported from the people.

​So at ease and so accepted was she that Nivedita could easily speak at the temple of Kalighat on Kali and describe her centrality in the evolution of Indian religious experience. For her, India never need be apologetic — this same uncompromising nationalism saw her take on missionary calumny against India on foreign shores. One who simply said, when asked what she would do in India that "My life is given to India. In it I shall live and die", or who, in her daily aspiration meant for nationalists wrote thus, "I believe that India is one, indissoluble, indivisible" and that "National unity is built on the common home, the common interest and common love" and that the "strength which spoke in the Vedas and Upanishads, in the making of religion and empires, in the learning of scholars, and the meditation of the saints, is born once more amongst, and its name today is nationality" and one who believed that "the present of India is deep-rooted in her past, and that before her shines a glorious future", can hardly be compartmentalised while also being unmanageable for a large section of our self-anointed intellectual-guardians and conscience-keepers who have always worked to negate the India of the past altogether.

Above all, perhaps had it not been for Nivedita, we would not have discovered that Vivekananda which even the most conscientious biographer fails to capture. Who else but Nivedita, herself profoundly and unalterably identified with Bharat, could have written about the master thus, "There was one thing however, deep in the master's nature, that he himself never knew how to adjust. This was his love of his country and his resentment at her suffering. Throughout those years in which I saw him almost daily, the thought of India was to him like the air he breathed."

As we inch towards her 150th birth anniversary one would do well to recognise, re-evaluate her life and work and to rekindle a deeper and wider interest in Sister Nivedita. That would, in a sense, be a tribute of gratefulness to her as Lokmata.