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NIGHTINGALE of India

POET, POLITICIAN: A woman of wit and wisdom.   | Photo Credit: MAIL PIC

Lightly, O lightly we bear her along

She sways like a flower in the wind of our song

Skims like a bird on the foam of a stream,

... sing the Palanquin Bearers of Sarojini Naidu in her poem of the same name.

The Bharat Kokila or the Nightingale of India was a poet and freedom fighter of repute. She brought out three collections of poems during her lifetime. What was remarkable about her poems is most of them can be sung.

A star is born

This poet-freedom fighter born in 1879 was the first of several children to Dr. Aghore Nath Chattopadhyay, Principal of Nizam College, Hyderabad, and Barada Sundari Devi, a Bengali poet. As a student, Sarojini was bright and soon she excelled in many languages including Bengali, Urdu, Telugu and Persian besides English. The Nizam of Hyderabad on reading Sarojini’s Persian play, Maher Muneer, sent by her father was so impressed with the young woman he granted her a scholarship to study in King’s College and later she went on to Girton College in Cambridge.

While in College, she met Muthyala Naidu, a physician, and fell in love with him. There was no opposition from the families for this inter-caste marriage. Her father wanted her to pursue mathematics or science, but the daughter had a yen for the Muses and chose Poetry for her vocation.

She was introduced to Gopal Krishna Gokhale who in turn put her on to other prominent political figures of the time like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, C. P. Ramaswami Iyer and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Sarojini famously referred to Gandhiji once as “Mickey Mouse”. She played a leading role in the Civil Disobedience Movement and was imprisoned thrice.

She worked alongside Nehru for the welfare of the Indigo workers of Champaran in Bihar and fought vehemently with the British for rights. Sarojini Naidu travelled all over the country and held forth on dignity of labour, women’s emancipation and nationalism.

Sarojini was made President of the Indian National Congress in 1925. She founded the Women’s Indian Association with Dr Annie Besant. She travelled to Europe, the US and UK. After Independence, she became the first woman governor of an Indian state, the United Provinces now known as UP.

The poet-politician wrote a biography of Muhammad Ali Jinnah entitled The Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity.

Having met Sarojini in Bombay, Aldous Huxley remarked : a woman who combines in the most remarkable way great intellectual power with charm, sweetness with courageous energy, a wide culture with originality and earnestness with humour. If all Indian politicians are like Mrs. Naidu, then the country is fortunate indeed”.

On March 2, 1949, Sarojini Naidu died at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

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Printable version | Nov 14, 2020 10:08:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/nightingale-of-india/article19093162.ece

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