Tuesday 8 May 2018

Sister Nivedita: The Dedicated - Who gave her all to India – 52

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

Hardships faced by Nivedita

In the days of the blind rush for imitating the English, a nationalist education for Indian girls was initiated, ironically enough, through the benign hand of an 'English woman'. We simply do not know the enormity of social obstacles, the physical hardship and severe poverty that Nivedita had to endure to run her school. Perhaps, we shall never come to know that, because so easily did she involve herself in other people's sorrows and sufferings, as equally she was unmindful of her own pains and privations. But truly she had to spend many days unfed and under-fed in order to run the school.

Initially no Hindu maid would agree to work in Nivedita's household or school because she was a mlechchha (foreigner). Even if they would, they would not agree to touch utensils and other household goods used by her. So during those days she had to help herself in this regard. Because of difficulty in cooking food, she mostly lived on fruits and milk. As the days passed, her kind behavior made the womenfolk of Baghbazar locality accept Nivedita as one of their own. Even the natural tendencies of an otherwise illiterate maid-servant were wiped out by the quality of her love. Nivedita's self-sacrifice for the cause of India was so evident that even she thought that indeed Nivedita belonged to India, no matter if she was a Memsahib. So, later on, the maid never objected to washing her used utensils. But the utensils used by any other Memsahib who might have called on her had to be washed by Nivedita herself!

The premises of 16, Bosepara Lane in Baghbazar area was her school as well as residence. The house was not at all healthy. Over and above, as Nivedita was born and brought up in a cold country, she used to suffer greatly during the summer days. The ceiling of the house was low, and during the summer days, the rooms would become so hot that anyone staying at the room for a while would develop headache. In those days, there was no electric lamp or fan. She had only a small hand fan. During the hot summer days in that room she would keep on writing books with singular attention, her head downcast. Needless to say that during the hours of writing it was not possible to use the hand fan. Perhaps, as she remained singularly absorbed in writing, it made her insensitive to the heat. At times, she would come out of the room after writing, to look at things that the students might have been doing. At that time, she would be seen with her face reddened with heat.

One day while she was supervising the work of the girls, suddenly she took her seat rubbing her forehead with fingers. When somebody inquired, she said, 'It's greatly painful.' After a while, she was again absorbed in her writing. Though Nivedita had praised her house in a letter to one of her friends, actually speaking it was not convenient. Due to living in that home, Nivedita frequently fell ill and suffered from malaria on number of occasions. In fact, the whole locality was unhealthy. But in spite of all requests and entreaties from her well-wishers, she did not agree to leave the house and change over to some healthier place within the town. How could she leave the place that gave her first refuge in India, no matter how unhealthy it might be? She used to say: 'The place has adopted me; leaving it I will not go anywhere.'

To cap it all, there was financial hardship. Nivedita had to meet all the expenses of running the school and maintaining herself out of the earnings from her writings and the monetary help that Mrs Ole Bull used to provide. When she would face financial hardship even after so much of labour, she would first curtail her own personal expenses. Amala Bose, wife of Jagadish Chandra Bose said, 'Her neighbours knew how the lion share of her income was used to meet the sorrows of the poor, to provide food for the hungry. For this she would sacrifice even her basic needs.' Rabindranath Tagore while reminiscing said the same thing. 'It was not out of donations, not even from the surplus that Nivedita met the expenses of the school. It was out and out part of sharing her food. This is the truth'.

In September 1910, her health started failing and she had the premonition of the end. She went to Darjeeling to spend her last days. She wrote her will on October 7th leaving all her possessions to be used for the school. On October 13th morning, the sun shone unusually bright in Darjeeling. She said, 'The frail boat is sinking, but I shall yet see the sun rise"

She breathed her last uttering the prayers, 'Asatoma sat gamaya, Tamasoma jyotir gamaya, Mrityorma amritam gamaya'. In Darjeeling, on her memorial are inscribed the words,

'Here Reposes Sister Nivedita who gave her all to India'.
To be continued...

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