36. Dynamic Religion and United India
When Nivedita was asked, “What are you doing?” she replied, “I am a teacher, and I have my own school.” But she was also one of the five members of the political committee which Aurobindo Ghose had appointed in Bengal to unite in a single organization the small and scattered groups of rebels which had sprung into existence and were acting without reference to one another. The other members were P. Mitra, a lawyer and revolutionary leader, Jo tin Banerje, C. R. Das, and Surendranath Tagore. Until the time when Aurobindo Ghose himself came to settle in Bengal, in 1905, the committee was only intermittently successful in its liaison work; but it did ^enlist tens of thousands of young men in the nationalist movement, and created a living body of young pioneers of Indian independence.
This committee conducted an underground activity, in which every member was responsible for his own small sphere of influence and knew nothing of the work of the others. Nivedita’s part, however, was almost wholly concerned with the open outer movement, and with the press, and in it she was swept by successive waves of enthusiasm and despair: Various public events – the magnificent Durbar, the University Bill which restricted the number of Hindu students in the university, the proposal to divide into two separate administrative districts – aroused criticism and opposition among the progressive and highly cultivated Bengali people. Nivedita, as a journalist, was in the thick of the fight She countered the argument that a literary education would render the students incapable of adapting themselves to the economic conditions of Indian agriculture and industry. And when Lord Curzon, the Viceroy, called attention, in a speech in Calcutta, to the extreme instability of the Indians’ moral character, she attacked him directly and led in the defensive assault.
The historian and pamphleteer in her placed themselves at India’s disposal, and it was child’s play for her to delve into diplomatic history and to provide material with which the Indian newspapers could repudiate the Viceroy’s charge. She summed up her personal feeling in a letter at this time: “The point in India’s wrongs that fires me is the right of India to be India, the right of India to think for herself, the right of India to knowledge. Were this not the great grievance, I might be fired by her right to bread, to justice, to other things, but this outweighs all.”
She now had definite connections with several newspapers, for which she wrote editorials. It was a direct way of influencing public opinion, and she reached a far larger audience than with her lectures. In fact, she more or less abandoned public speeches – in which she was easily drawn into controversial subjects and often spoke above her hearer’s heads – in favor of journalism, which allowed her every freedom of expression. It is impossible to know to what precise extent she collaborated with the Bengali newspapers of Calcutta which appeared in English, for she allowed articles which she wrote to be published anonymously or over the signatures of friends. Several of her pieces were signed “Vox Ignota” Some of her 1904 titles were “The Veins of the Ruling Chiefs,” “Some Measures of Educational Reform,” “The Native States,” “The Mohammedans and British Rule,” “Politics in Schools and Colleges,” and “The Viceroy and the Partition Question.” Sir Francis Younghusband’s Tibetan expedition occupied a good deal of her attention and was the subject of a number of critical articles. Her articles were spontaneous and lively, and better for their purpose than long-thought-out and methodical work would have been, but they were conspicuous for their careful planning as well as their style and their violent tone. It even happened that because of her the Statesman was at one time under suspicion, and her friend S. K. Ratcliffe, the editor, somewhat perturbed.
Every morning Motilal Ghose, the editor of the Amrita Bazar Patrika, called upon Nivedita in Bagh Bazar. He was a member of the Congress and worked hand in hand with Auro-bindo Ghose, providing Nivedita with one of the channels through which she expressed herself most freely. Their friendship was deep, and their confidence reciprocal. The fact that Motilal Ghose was a fervent Vaishnava – a worshiper of Lord Vishnu, whose principal incarnations are Rama and Krishna – added piquancy to their conversations, pure Shivaite – worshiper of Shiva – as she was! There grew up between them a deep brother-and-sister relationship which was demonstrated in the customary religious ceremony at the coming of the new August moon, when brothers pay homage to their sisters: on that occasion Motilal Ghose addressed to Nivedita the usual brother’s speech, and adorned her with garlands.
Her ambition at this time was to found, with the advice of her friend William T. Stead, founder and editor of the London Review of Reviews, a great Indian review. “The whole task now,” she wrote in a letter, “is to give the word nationality to India in all its breadth and meaning. The rest will do itself. India must be obsessed by this great conception. Hindu and Mohammedan must become one in it, with a passionate admiration of each other. It means new views of history and of customs, and it means the assimilation of the whole Ramakrishna-Vivekananda idea in religion, the synthesis of all religious ideas. . . . The one essential fact is the realization of Indian nationality by the nationl”
For the implementation of this task, she gave up going to Japan as she had been urged to do, to take part in the Congress of Religions, and, later, was obliged also to refuse Mr. Stead’s invitation to become his “Indian correspondent” in London, though this latter would have meant valuable contacts with highly instructive minds and the opportunity for firsthand study of European politics. In the struggle which she was undertaking against almost insurmountable obstacles she knew that she would meet with ultimate defeat; and she accepted that. But every effort set up a chain of consequences and created a new wave of vitality.
“Our work is to create an idea,” she wrote, “the idea that was Swami Vivekananda’s. But ideas are brought to birth in the dust of printing offices, and the offensive air of crowds, and the inability to get to summer resorts, and so on! As I look at the history of the world, I see that no idea was ever transmitted in its purity. Therefore one is doomed to struggle always; and if the struggle is crowned with success, that success will be perhaps its worst defeat. Or it will meet with defeat more obvious still.”
The summer of 190S, which had promised to be a period of relaxation, brought only a change of scene. Driven from Calcutta by the plague, with all her household, Nivedita found all her old political allies in Darjeeling. They visited one another’s villas, or sat together under the deodars. Christine was struggling with the Bengali language. Jagadis Bose, who had been somewhat neglected in the fever of Nivedita’s activities, was now given a good deal of her time. Mrs. Bull was expected to arrive from Japan within a few months.
Nivedita’s personal desire was to put the finishing touches to her book, The Web of Indian Life, from the sale of which she hoped to earn a large sum for the school. And at last she could note, “I finished my book at 4 p. m. on September 7th! It is a book dedicated to my guru, in which I have said the things that he would have liked said.” Begun in collaboration with Romesh Chunder Dutt, conceived along Patrick Geddes’ geographical lines, it was none the less like a river which derived its impetus from a single source. “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, this book is in short the Asiatic character,” she wrote, “both of messenger and message.” In it she reveals an ideology whose meaning has long since been lost sight of by the West – that the concept of spiritual family embraces the whole of Asia. “The relation between the guru and his disciples is always one of the most vital elements in the life of Asia/’ she states. “Whole nations are the disciples of a single man. They are his family. They strive to approximate to his method of life, in dress, food, manner, and even to some extent in language. Such facts make religion in the East a matter of enormous social consequence.”
It was in Darjeeling, in September, that she received invitations from several Moslem centers in North India to visit them at the time of the National Congress sessions. This was the longed-for co-operation between Hindus and Moslems; and Nivedita’s voluminous correspondence testifies to her share in the matter. With her guru’s message of unity on her lips, she felt entirely free between the two groups, and she addressed several Moslem audiences. She found new inspiration, now, in renewing her contact with large audiences. She perceived the unity of which she was speaking, and transmitted it. Early one morning in a small railroad station, as she was about to take her train, a Moslem deputation brought her a present of a basket of oranges, with an address of thanks written on a piece of birchbark.
These signs of unity were the rich result of her moving between the various religious communities. Her task was heavy, but her determination was strong. She was the boldest artisan imaginable, knowing full well that a single missing stone in a mosaic draws attention to its patch of shade. And for Nivedita her India was nothing but light.
During the following year – 1904 – she played her high cards in a relendess struggle. The first card she played was in taking the words which her guru had pronounced so often and interpreting them in her own fashion and according to the times: Dynamic Religion and United India, . ? . Then she played the card of Budh-Gaya.* But both “cards” were themselves reflections of her veneration for Swami Vivekananda, and her cherished respect for his memory.
“Six years ago,” she wrote in a letter to Miss MacLeod on .See Chapter 88.
the anniversary of her initiation, “I was called Nivedita. . . . May it be blessed to his service! . .. It was also foretold that I should die between the ages of forty-two and forty-nine. I am now thirty-six. So I suppose I shall see this cycle through. I fancy I shall die in 1912.* Oh, will these years make a difference to the position of India? Shall I be allowed to see that I was of some use to Swamiji? If I could only feel that his great soul went free, and could play and be at ease, because on the earth-side I existed – in that feeling would lie Heaven and Eternity. I don’t care the least about liberation [mukti]. I don’t even want him to forgive my sins or be sweet to me. I don’t mind about my relation to him personally. I only want to carry his burden, and leave him free, free to enjoy God. Oh, what a soul, of whom one can dream such a dream and know that it is true!”
In Calcutta Town Hall, on the 26th of February, 1904, before an audience of twelve hundred people, Nivedita spoke of a Hinduism that lay in the mind of the people who were wedded to the soil. “During the last fifty years,” she said, “men inspired by an ideal of social reform have been the first to rise. Then followed a determined rush forward toward a political ideal. Third, many kinds of religious revival have taken place. Of course the problem of India is a religious one; but there will never be a solution unless the truth is grasped that the goal is to be sought in the great word, Nationality. Religion has never dwelt in a creed that divides man from man; it is in a religion that becomes a nation-force that is the crying necessity for unity.” And she called the women forward, dwelling upon the supreme obligation that rested upon every Indian man to procure for the women of his household the education from which should come the dynamic force of the Indian nationality, the dawn of which was already manifest today. . . .
In March, Nivedita spoke at Benares, and in the neighboring towns. Her life was one of intense movement Since her meeting with the Gaekwar of Baroda, at Baroda, she had remained in close contact with the Indian Prince, and he had invited her to meet him in Naini Tal. Then it happened that # Nivedita died in October, 1911, with all her work completed.
at Kathgodan she saw Swami Sadananda passing through with a band of students from the Dawn Society, en route for the mountains; she herself felt tired and preoccupied, but she could not stop. Her sole holidays that year consisted of two days of freedom spent in Caluctta on the Ganges. She took a boat, which was anchored off Dakshinesvar; the river whispered many secrets to her, and the garden recalled powerful memories that no one but herself knew.
“O Mother,” she prayed, “grant me the strength of the Thunderbolt, and words with unspoken Power in them and weight of utterance. ..
And she wrote to Miss MacLeod:
“Pray for these things for me, for I still have much work to do for my guru.”