Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sarojini Naidu (February 13, 1879 — March 2, 1949)

BACK in the first decade of the last century, an aspiring young girl sought an appointment with Edmund Gosse, and showed him some of her poems. After giving it a careful thought Gosse said a few kind words, but added at the end: "All your poetry, in the falsely English vein, should be put in the waste-paper basket. You have no doubt mastered the English language, but you should start writing about the mountains, the gardens, and the temples." The advice was well-taken and the young poet rose to become 'the nightingale of India': Sarojini Naidu.

Sarojini NaiduThe eldest daughter of a scientist-philosopher Aghornath Chattopadhyaya, Sarojini Naidu it appears inherited the gift of poetry from her mother, Barada Sundari, who was herself a poet. Her earliest poems can be seen in the archives of the National Library in Calcutta.

In 1895 she left for England for higher studies on a scholarship awarded by the Nizam of Hyderabad. There she studied at King's College, London, and then Girton College, and Cambridge University. About this time she fell in love with Govindarajulu Naidu, and married him despite stiff opposition to an alliance between a Brahmin and a non-Brahmin.

Sarojni's second volume of poetry, The Bird of Time, appeared in 1912.

But those were turbulent times, and the whole nation was in the grip of revolution. When Dr Annie Besant gave the clarion call of Independence, Sarojini Naidu gave up her literary career and joined politics 1917. Leaders like Gokhale, Tagore, Jinnah, C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer, Gandhi, and Nehru shaped her political thought.

From 1917 to 1919 she campaigned for the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms, the Khilafat issue, the Rowlatt Act or the Black Bills, the Sabarmati Pact and the Satyagraha Pledge. She was Gandhi's most trusted lieutenant when he launched the Civil Disobedience Movement on April 6, 1919. And she spoke out against the Jallianwala massacre , and returned the Kaiser-i-Hind medal to the Government, led a deputation to Montague, Secretary of State for India, and fought for the rights of women. She was elected President of the Indian National Congress in1925, and in her Presidential address she said: "The National Congress must clearly issue a mandate to all those who come within its sphere to vacate their seats in the Central and Provincial Legislatures and inaugurate from Kailas to Kanyakumari, from the Indus to the Brahmapurta, an untiring and dynamic campaign t o arouse, consolidate, educate and prepare the Indian people for all the progressive and ultimate stages of our united struggle and teach them that no sacrifice is too heavy, no suffering too great, no martyrdom too terrible, that enables us to redeem our Mother from the unspeakable dishonour of her bondage, and bequeath to our children an imperishable legacy of Peace. In the battle for liberty, fear is the one unforgivable treachery and despair, the one unforgivable sin."

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