Monday 2 July 2018

Breakfast with the Sisters: A Meeting of Great Minds - 1

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

Breakfast is the great meal here,' wrote Nivedita to Josephine MacLeod on 26 November 1902. 'At that hour we keep more or less open house. I am really extravagant in brown bread and Quaker oats, and a disciple has given us good coffee. ... This morning Mr. Ratcliffe [the editor of The Statesman] by cycled over and sat on the floor with the rest of us. Doesn't it sound nice?' S K Ratcliffe, in fact,'cycled down with his wife from their own house every Sunday morning for breakfast.' He later wrote 'that breakfast was served very simply on the little verandah, and those who talked there could never tear themselves away until the sun had become too hot for a comfortable journey back through [t]he blazing streets.' In fact, the list of writers, journalists, artists, scientists, politicians, and others who came to 'The House of the Sisters', whether for breakfast or not, is staggering. As Barbara Foxe wrote: 'In the cool of the early morning, before the work of the day began, men, women and children—and, later, statesmen, writers, and thinkers of many nationalities, though most frequently Indian called, and talked, and discussed' (164). But the Sunday breakfasts were the special time for the meeting of minds, as Mr Ratcliffe indicated, most likely because the Sisters—Sister Nivedita and Sister Christine—were more free then, as their school was closed on Sundays.

Not much is known about Sister Christine's role in these discussions, as less is known about her life, and she had a more quiet personality. But she was definitely involved, and we shall discuss more about her later. On the other hand, Sister Nivedita was the dominant personality here, and readily became deeply involved in many aspects of Indian life and culture, in some part kindled by the stimulating discussions at their breakfasts. It was, in fact, at The House of the Sisters where many political, social, and cultural plans were made, and also ideas exchanged and developed, that had profound influence on modern India. Here we shall look at just a few of the guests at The House of the Sisters, and see their interaction with Sister Nivedita and the parts they played in India's fight for political and cultural freedom.

We have already mentioned S K Ratcliffe, the young British editor of The Statesman. Soon after he became acquainted with Nivedita, he was married in Calcutta, and both he and his wife, Katie, began to come for Sunday breakfasts. Nivedita obviously loved them very much, as we can see from the tone of the many letters written to them after they returned to England. Being the editor of an important newspaper was a great responsibility, and, it seems, Mr Ratcliffe used his position to help India in its struggle for freedom. In a letter, referring to him, Nivedita wrote: 'And HE has been divine about India. He has done yeoman service to our cause, as Editor of the Statesman.' Among other things, Mr Ratcliffe published items in the paper written by Nivedita, exhorting Indians to stand up against falsehood and injustice. After he resigned his editorship of The Statesman over a disagreement, Nivedita tried her best to get him an editorship with another paper, but failed.

Yet Ratcliffe and his wife both continued working for the cause of India even after they returned to England. And later Nivedita understood that if they had stayed in India, Ratcliffe may have even been imprisoned for the way he spoke up and exposed the corruption in the British rule of India. In a letter to the Ratcliffes dated 28 July 1911, only a few months before she died, Nivedita wrote in a sad and reflective mood: 'The Man of Science [J C Bose] says it would be a wonderful thing for us, but a bad thing for you, if we raised Indian money to buy the I.D.N. [Indian Daily News] and gave it to you. It would be so bad for you, that I don't think about it. You are now leading a wholesome life [back in England]. And yet how happy those years have been, in which we had you here [in Calcutta]! Our little world seems silent and deserted now! One sees life as some-thing that lay in those years and is past' (2.1215).

Pravrajika Shuddhatmaprana :  Pravrajika Prabuddhaprana is a senior Sanyasini of the Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission.

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