यतो धर्म: ततो जय:
Nivedita as Lokmata – serving the people - 2
In mid-July 1906, a famine broke out in East Bengal. Immediately a few sannyasins and brahmacharins from Belur Math were sent there to begin relief operations. Gradually, very alarming reports of the famine reached Calcutta, and Nivedita became restless to go there. Only recently, she had suffered from brain-fever and therefore, was not keeping in good health then. In spite of that, disregarding everybody's requests, she reached the famine-ravaged areas and joined the relief work already initiated by the sannyasins, brahmacharins and volunteers. She lived there many days and served the people. She became one with them, particularly with the rural women folk of those areas. They also took her as their own and shared with her their tales of distress and woes, fully opening their hearts. They did not fail to identify her as a true well-wisher. Nivedita moved from house to house to inquire about their welfare. This helped her to update her knowledge of the disaster.
At the same time, Nivedita was charmed to find glimpses of nobility and dignity in those hapless people ravaged by famine. When she was leaving a particular village, the entire women folk of the village walked down to the bank of the river to bid her farewell. The boat had sailed past for quite a distance and Nivedita found that they were still standing in the pose of praying. There was not end to their own distress, still they were praying for her! Tears filled Nivedita's eyes!
When some Government officials gave, a wrong picture about the famine-affected people that they had enough or they were greedy etc. Nivedita was pained and she sprang to their defense. She herself had seen their dignity, concern for others amidst utter poverty. The terrible face of the famine cast a deep influence on Nivedita's mind, which she described in a series of essays in her book named 'Famine and Flood'. Immediately after her return from the famine relief work, she fell seriously ill. She suffered from malaria for a long period, which totally broke, down her health and yet her work continued.
Her motherly heart was always concerned for the poor and working people. One day Nivedita took her students for a visit to the Museum. Moving from one room to another in the Museum, she reached a room with her students. The part of Museum was being repaired and white-washed. A number of coolies were working there and one among them had fallen asleep on the floor upon a piece of cloth. With extreme care, Nivedita walked past him and signaled to her students, putting her finger to her lip, not to make any sound. The students tip-toed across the room so that the coolie was not disturbed.
In spite of so much of caution, the coolie got up and finding Nivedita just in front of him, stood up and saluted her. He was visibly scared to see a 'Memsa'ab' before him. Nivedita became very sorry and repeatedly asked him to sleep once again. The more she persuaded the coolie to sleep, the more he felt scared. He had never in his life met with such behavior from any 'Memsa'ab' and he could hardly imagine that any 'Memsa'ab' could make a request in such a manner to an insignificant man like him. He only thought he must have committed some serious crime. It was a wonderful scene indeed! It was because of her such empathy aligned with action for the poor, affected and deprived that Sri Ravindranath Tagore called her Lokamata.