The Dedicated – 40. Interlude
In April 1905, Nivedita fell suddenly ilk The doctor’s diagnosis was brain-fever and typhus, and for a month her life was in danger. Two nurses were installed at her bedside; the physician kept her under hourly observation; Christine watched over her with tender solicitude. Sri Sarada Devi came and sat by the bed, but Nivedita did not recognize her. The National Congress was meeting, but she did not know it. Her house in Bagh Bazar was so lacking in comfort that she was moved, with great difficulty, to a house that stood empty next to the home of Dr. and Mrs. Bose. Her friends took turns in giving their services for whatever might be needed; Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the prominent political leader who was Nivedita’s associate and friend, sat up through several nights to crush ice for her compresses, and opened a subscription among Congress members so that she might be at once provided with all necessary treatment and care.
At last the tranquil soul triumphed over the stricken body, and the last crisis was past. Was this miracle due, perhaps, to a gift of primroses from a friend in Darjeeling? For here, for Margaret Noble – Nivedita – were the primroses of Ireland. Was it the blood of her youth that brought her Backto life? Her smile upon flowers in the valley of death remained a mystery. …
In any event, there would have to be a long convalesence. She was not told that Bagh Bazar had been ravaged by plague, and that the school had been closed. Her own coffers were empty. It was Dr. and Mrs. Bose who came to the rescue now, with the suggestion that she spend the entire summer with them at Darjeeling.
Jagadis Bose had gone through her own ordeal and, in the form of difficulties put in the way of his work at Presidency College, was still going through it His book on botany was finished; but, naturally, a mass of work remained to be done, in correcting, at once, the proofs of the first thirty-one chapters. Nivedita, who had worked with him faithfully, wanted to do this, but, for the moment at least, she was not able to. Worn out by her labors for svadeshi, brought to a state of further enervation by the torrid heat of the Calcutta spring, in convalescense from an illness that had almost taken her life, Nivedita had as yet no strength. She lived withdrawn into herself, and wrapped in thoughts of her guru.
In a letter to her friend she had written:
Is he the final Truth for me? My whole need when I first met Swami was to know in what sense superstitions were true. So others may have learned from him the Universal Truth. I feel that I was already so convinced beyond return of the falsity of all belief, yet my devotional nature told me that this was not the whole truth, and I sorely tossed about. Then came the Teaching. … I saw and thought wonderful things when I had fever. I thought that for the first time in India a man had left his mission to a woman. But now I see only quietness and retirement in the future, and I don’t seem to matter much.
Thanks to the mountain air and the careful attention of the Bose household, her strength gradually returned. Before she left Darjeeling she was able to work on Dr. Bose’s proofs, and to help him once more with her understanding and counsel. It was a help of which he had need. Since the departure of his patron, Mrs. Bull, for America, one misfortune had succeeded another in his professional life; he felt constantly paralyzed by intrigues against him at the College, and he was nervous and impatient. During the past year, Nivedita had aided him greatly by spending with him the two days of the week – Wednesday and Saturday – on which the school was closed. She knew the atmosphere he liked, and provided it for him. The politician, the journalist, the pedagogue disappeared, and she became merely the painstaking worker, her mind concentrated on the scientific perspectives that lay revealed. Both surrendered themselves to these, in an attitude of pure yoga toward science. They had actually written the book, Plant Response, together. And their violent outbursts of disagreement, which often horrified Mrs. Bose, had not mitigated against either their collaboration or their friendship. Now, at Darjeeling, Nivedita was correcting the proofs of this great book, while Jagadis Bose was seized with a fresh wave of inspiration. How well she knew her Bairn! He lived the drama of the scientist who is within sight, ten times over, of an elusive inspiration. She had seen him tom with anxiety before the discovery of electrical resonance, and burst
out laughing over the possibility of sending messages in space—-
We are gradually finishing the gigantic labor of the Bairn’s book on botany [she wrote in the late autumn]. We are both exhausted, for this has been going on continually for one year. But, on the other hand, one’s love and pride are more than satisfied for twenty years hence. It is literally true that when I heard Swamiji talk of the Absolute, and all knowledge being within, I said, ‘Well, the only proof of this would have to be given in Science. I accept it as a working theory.’ And now for the five years that I have been helping my Baim I have been watching and co-operating in the scientific proof! Blessed be the memory of my guru! The reason why an Indian worker succeeds where others fail lies mainly in his method of vision.
But this interlude in her life was drawing to a dose. She was strong again and ready to respond to the needs of her other, less favored, children. In several places the svadeshi movement had degenerated into reprehensible acts of anti-English violence. Returning to this situation, Nivedita noted, strangely, “I am growing more and more sure that I am a man in disguise.” But she added: “I look at the little Buddha on my table, alone, exploring the region of thought on and on, up and up. . . . Ever alone. And His hand on the rudder of emotion never trembles. Not one ripple of weakness is felt on that ocean over which He sails. And yet alone to all eternity. . .