Woman of The Month – Sarojini Naidu
“As long as I have life, as long as blood flows through this arm of mine, I shall not leave the cause of freedom…I am only a woman, only a poet. But as a woman, I give to you the weapons of faith and courage and the shield of fortitude. And as a poet, I fling out the banner of song and sound, the bugle call to battle. How shall I kindle the flame which shall waken you men from slavery...”
Sarojini Naidu lived by these lines that she had written ages ago. So, it seems just right to celebrate the woman who made a difference to the people around her, to the world of literature and to her country especially because it is currently woman’s day month. Today, the 3rd of March is the day; the Nightingale of India Sarojini Naidu flew away to the heavens forever.
Sarojini Naidu’s poem PALANQUIN BEARERS was the first poem that I read while in school. The lines,
LIGHTLY, O lightly we bear her along,
She sways like a flower in the wind of our song;
She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream,
She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream
continue to mesmerize me like they did ages ago. I suppose it was her ability to lift the reader from reality into the beautiful ‘singsong’ world of her poetry that brought many poetry lovers closer to her works. In spite of her poetry expressing emotions and thoughts in English, they communicated the sensitivity of the Indian soul. We all know of her as the Nightingale of India, but in fact, it was the freedom struggle that revealed to us how very talented and courageous she really was. Political activist, feminist, poet-writer and orator – she was indeed a superwoman. Most of us women are trying hard to balance responsibilities. Sarojini Naidu is indeed an inspiration!
Despite great ambitions to pursue higher studies Sarojini was constantly plagued by ill health. She married her friend Dr. Govindurajulu Naidu at the age of nineteen amidst great opposition from both sides thus, creating a scandal in her conservative times breaking all bonds of caste and community. (Remember, Sarojini was a Bengali by birth). Letters by snail mail are something that I miss receiving and writing. I want to share with you a letter written by Sarojini to her daughter Leilamani Naidu from the Le Grand Hotel, Marseille in the year 1921. It reveals the intensity of her affection when mother and daughter were living far away from each other.
The letter reads:
My beloved little child:
This is my last night in Europe, in this great foreign, arrogant continent where through my song and speech and struggle I have won a place for India. Now I am glad to set my face homewards once more to serve India with speech and song and struggle: the one poignant regret I have is that I leave you behind – alone. …. My little girl, how I have tried to shield and guard you, to save you from the suffering and disillusion arising out of your own too eager, too exacting demands upon friendships and affections and understandings, unused and unable to endure the strain of such fury and insistent demands… When you have resented what you thought was an attempt to curb and control and hamper you, I assure you my darling there was nothing but the purest, most deepest comprehending mother-love, trying to safeguard you from the results of your own impetuous and vivid nature and impulses – so harshly misjudged and misconstrued by even those who seemed to you most of necessity to understand an appreciate… It is because I want to protect you from suffering such as I had to endure in my youth because my temperament and ideas were different – they are different – from what the world accepts and understands – that I tried to guide you… Remember that you have to help India to be free and the children of tomorrow to be freeborn citizens of a free land therefore – if you are true to your country’s need you must recognize the responsibility of your Indian womanhood. Nothing in your speech or action should cause the progress of Indian women to suffer; nothing in yourself should give room for wretched reactionary slave – minds to say “This comes of giving too much education and freedom to our women.” Think over it my darling. Be great my little child, fulfill yourself nobly in accordance with all the profound and beautiful impulses and ideals of your nature… but always remembering that you are the symbol of India. And may God prosper you in all things. I love you my baby. You will never know how dearly, and with what anxious and yearning tenderness…
Well, goodnight my little Papi and good bye!
You are the guardian of my Jewel of Delight… Beware! Be faithful to your trust and keep the treasure of your soul incorruptible.
Such beautiful words from a wonderful woman!
It needed courage and a strong will to be Sarojini Naidu during her times when the country was passing through the roughest period in history, when women were not entitled to the kind of freedom we take for granted today. She could have very well settled down with her family but the poet and sensitive soul in her did not permit her to forget her duties towards her country. For someone fond of silk and jewellery she gave it up all to don the khadi for the cause of her country. As a political leader she used her power of oratory, her sincerity and patriotism to captivate innumerable people both in India and abroad. A leading foreign journal once described her as a “Joan of Arc who rose to inspire India.”
Even for death this great woman had a poem ready.
TARRY a while, O Death, I cannot die
While yet my sweet life burgeons with its spring;
Fair is my youth, and rich the echoing boughs
Where dhadikulas sing.
Tarry a while, O Death, I cannot die
With all my blossoming hopes unharvested,
My joys ungarnered, all my songs unsung,
And all my tears unshed.
Tarry a while, till I am satisfied
Of love and grief, of earth and altering sky;
Till all my human hungers are fulfilled,
O Death, I cannot die!
A nightingale she was in true spirit.