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A promise as good as gold

Nirupama Naik was 10 when she gave away her jewellery to Gandhiji for the nationalist cause and swore that she would never wear gold again. At 80, she still keeps her word

Young Nirupama with Gandhiji (to his left)

AGE HAS neither deterred her spirit nor her resolve to help the needy. Eighty-year-old Nirupama Naik is among the few old-timers left amidst us to personally interact with Mahatma Gandhi and hold dear the values of service and sacrifice he inculcated in them.

An interaction with her brings before us vivid images that preceded the country gaining Independence. It was by sheer coincidence that led Ms. Naik to Gandhiji and the Freedom Movement. Gandhiji, who used to undertake whirlwind tours to seek funds for the upliftment of the poor, had included in his itinerary a visit to Udupi in 1933. Nirupama's father, Pangal Manjunatha Naik, was a freedom fighter and an eminent leader of the town. Nirupama's mother, Manorama, a homemaker with four children, had also jumped into the fray. Ten-year-old Nirupama didn't like being left out and often participated in prabhat pheris and sold khadi door-to-door. Her parents getting routinely arrested for making anti-British speeches was part of the routine during her childhood.

So, it was not surprising that the elders of the town chose Nirupama to present Gandhiji a citation during his visit. They knew that the great man, who was usually opposed to such formalities, would accept it only if a child presented it. Ms. Naik still remembers her awe when she saw the Mahatma up close. She remembers trembling as she read the citation, written in Hindi, in front of the thousands gathered to see the Mahatma.

As young Nirupama concluded reading the recitation, Gandhiji jocularly asked her if she would give away the jewellery she was wearing for the cause of the poor. And she unhesitatingly handed them over to him. The Mahatma put them back on her, when someone sitting beside him wondered if she would be admonished by her parents for giving them away. Nirupama's father, who learnt about this incident later, actually admonished her for taking back the jewellery! So, she begged Gandhiji to accept them. Smiling, Gandhiji said: "All right, I will take them. But later on, you should not pester your parents to get you jewellery. Promise me that you will never wear jewellery all your life." The young girl may not have understood the implication of the promise she made that day, but she never went back on it.

Later, when she went for the Bombay Congress and tried to get Gandhiji's autograph on his portrait, he reminded her of the promise. He also demanded Rs. 10 from her saying that his autograph also came at a price, as he had to collect money for the national cause through "all available sources". She paid up and took the autograph, of course.

It was but natural that Ms. Naik, who was baptised into social work early in life, decided to take up medical profession after completing her early education in Udupi. Even when she went to Madras Medical College to pursue her studies, she didn't leave her nationalistic fervour back at home. She and her friends hoisted the national flag on the hostel building during the Quit India Movement. Retribution was swift. However, she remained unperturbed when she was thrown out of the hostel for not apologising and for insisting that she had not broken any rule. Out of the hostel, she stayed with a young widow who gave her refuge for two years to enable her to complete her medical course. Later on, she specialised in gynaecology and went to England on free studentship to get her MRCoG.

Nirupama Naik has an unshakable faith in the Mahatma's principles of simplicity and service _ Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

After she returned to India, she worked in West Bengal and Bihar. At the time of her retirement, she was the Medical Superintendent and Professor of Gynaecology at the Jawaharlal Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry.

Ms. Naik, who never married, decided to settle down in Bangalore and help the needy. She has been associated with Krishna Seva Ashrama, Sanjay Gandhi Hospital, and Satya Sai Seva Organisation. She has participated in over 25 medical camps all over Bangalore. With advancing age somewhat restricting her mobility, she now spends her time helping the blind to compose texts in Braille.

Born to parents who had donated all their land for the national cause and who refused pension saying they had only performed their duty to the nation, it's not surprising that Ms. Naik is unswerving in her commitment to simple living and compassion for fellow human beings.


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