« 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]
(Windsor, ON, Canada)
SAROJINI NAIDU is a beloved public figure in India’s history. She was a gifted poet, freedom-fighter and a powerful speaker. A close collaborator of Mahatma Gandhi, she was, by her looks and appearances, a simple, frail-looking woman but with a nerve of steel. She would serve the cause she believed in with dedication and passion. She worked alongside such stalwarts, like Mahatma Gandhi, Pt. Jawaharlall Nehru, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and others. She played her part fully and would end up scoring several firsts for a woman in Indian politics. In fact, she became the first woman President of the Indian National Congress and also the first woman Governor of a State in India – the Uttar Pradesh. She was an activist and a patriot to whom freedom of the Motherland primed over all. She spent twenty-one months in jail alongside Mahatma Gandhi and others for participating in the famous ‘illegal’ “Salt March”, led by Gandhiji himself.
Sarojini Naidu was a Bengali who lived in Hyderabad. Her maiden last name was Chatopadhya. Her father was the Principal of Nizam College of Hyderabad. She was born on February 13, 1879, and was the eldest of five children. She did brilliantly in school and could speak and write several languages. She wrote a play — “Maher Muneer”— (in Persian) when she was twelve years old, which impressed Nizam Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, who awarded her a scholarship that allowed her to go to England for further studies.
Sarojini Naidu did her education at the University of Chennai (then Madras) and later in London and Cambridge. It was when she was a student in London, England, that she met and fell in love with Dr. Muthyala Govindaarajulu Naidu, a medical doctor, who was from Andra Pradesh. Unfortunately, Dr. Naidu was not from the same caste as Sarojini, who was a Brahman. In those days inter-caste marriages were literally taboo among certain class of Hindus in India. Understandably, Sarojini met with strong opposition from her orthodox parents but she stood her ground. Fighting the taboos and social prejudices, she got her parents to finally consent to her marrying Dr. Naidu. Together, they would have five children: four girls and a boy.
Before Sarojini Naidu became involved in politics, she had already made a name for herself as a poet. She handled the English language with panache. She wrote great poetry in English and it did not take her long to capture the attention of the literary masters in India, then led by the great Guru, Rabindranath Tagore, who would surprise the literary world by winning the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 for his inspirational collection of poems “Geetanjali” which was a first for India.
Sarojini was a prolific writer and poet and, like Tagore, she was admired and lauded for her fine literary talents. And deservedly so! It was no surprise then that all India hailed her poetic magnetism with the title of “the Nightingale of India” (Bul-Bul-e-Hind).
In 1905, when the British Government partitioned Bengal, Sarojini did not like it and that was when she joined the Freedom Movement of Gandhiji to help get the British out of India. And, when she did, it was not as a passive participant. She was a militant – the more so after meeting stalwarts like Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and others. She soon became a dedicated activist and a rising star in the Freedom Movement.
But Sarojini was always a poet first. Her poetry was remarkable for its terseness, beautiful imageries and easy-flowing rhythm and style and was based on simple day-to-day life themes that never left her readers indifferent. She expressed her feelings beautifully and in a touching and passionate manner. Some of her poems are little gems. In this regard, we can easily mention: “The Palanquin Bearers”, “Indian Weavers,” “Coromandel Fishers” or “Night Fall in the City of Hyderabad.”
In 1905, she published the first collection of her poems under the title “The Golden Threshold.” Two more volumes would follow in 1912 and 1917. They were titled: “The Bird of Time” and “The Broken Wing,” respectively that established her among the all-time literary greats of India. These books were followed by three more, called “The Magic Tree”, “The Wizard Mask” and “A Treasury of Poems.”
Poetry dominated Sarojini’s view of the world and her politics. As a poet, she never needed any introduction. She was a household name in the country. In the true Bengali tradition, lived her poetry and it was something that never left her. Besides, the variety of her themes that touch and impress us came from the soft spots of her heart. One good example is her short but lofty poem called the “ECSTASY”, which goes thus:
Cover mine eyes, O my love!
Mine eyes that are weary of bliss
As of light that is poignant and strong.
Oh, silence my lips with a kiss,
My lips that are weary of song!
Shelter my soul, O my love!
My soul is bent low with the pain
And the burden of love, like the grace
Of a flower that is smitten with rain;
Oh, shelter my soul from thy face!
Each and every poem of Sarojini Naidu is a poignant composition. It touches the heart and always reflects the glimmer of a brighter tomorrow. Sarojini’s poems are sprinkled with colours, and hope, and sunshine. How could it be otherwise? Is not the nightingale a sign of hope, love and spring? Sarojini was a gifted poet who, by a beautiful twist of irony, also morphed into a tough political leader! We don’t encounter many of her kind in history!
Sarojini Naidu was Governor of the State of Uttar Pradesh (UP) when she was taken ill on the night of March 02, 1949. Her physician gave her medication to help her have a good night sleep. “Not eternal sleep, I hope!” she was reported to have joked. However, as fate would have it, that very night Sarojini Naidu died … in her sleep … of cardiac arrest! She was seventy.
A great lady she was, indeed! Her memory is honoured throughout India every year on Women’s Day, which is commemorated on February 13, which is also Sarojini’s birthday!