41. In the Limelight
She returned to the plains soon after the partition of Bengal went into effect on the 16th of October, 1905, and just before the meeting of the Nationa’ Congress in Benares. She had learned of the partition while e was in Darjeeling, and had been one of the two speakers ‘ -oving meeting of
protest in Darjeeling Town B
The partition of Bengal – which was to be practically reversed in 1911 – aroused bitter opposition, and Nivedita flung herself heart and soul into the movement of revolt which was its result. She struck the keynote of her activity in her speech at Darjeeling:
“Shame on my country of origan! But we shall continue the struggle until the sacrifice and heroism of the children of India compel the English to remove z a* insulting barrier which divides Bengal, until they treat us ^th respect!”
She went back, then, to Calcutta, in time to meet Gopal Krishna Gokhale on his return from a mission to London. She had no difficulty with the British officials. The police seemed to have forgotten her. Her six months in the mountains had put an end to reports of her nationalist work. But she, of course, had not changed. On the evening she reached Bagh Bazar she said to the Indian friends who had hurried to see her, “Take heart! Let us be faithful and, above all, ready!”
A few weeks later, the National Congress was to convene under the presidency of Gokhale. Nivedita had accepted the post, during its sittings, of official reporter for the Calcutta Statesman. She settled in Benares, in an old house that had been placed at her disposal, three days before the Congress opened. Her Statesman articles were written with a dignified moderation which played down the differences of opinion between English and Hindu. In other papers she was less restrained. But in all, she held aloft the flag of India.
A few days before the Congress, Nivedita wrote in the papers:
What is the real function of the Congress? It must train its members in the new way of thinking which forms the basis of nationality. It must foster in them prompt and co-ordinated action. It must teach itself to emphasize the mutual sympathy which binds all the members of the vast family that stretches from th -Himalayas to Cape Cormorin, from Manipur to the PersiareGulf.
Popular excitement was aft height on the day Gokhale arrived in Benares. The crowtt^id not stop to ask whether he was tired after his long journey: he belonged to them! He embodied the co-operative spirit of the Congress. He was needed by the country. Even his enemies awaited him with absolute confidence. So now the crowd, accompanied by a band of cymbals and drums, and even by jugglers, went to await him, with a state coach, some d’ tance below the Benares railroad station, to give v‘ entry into the holy city. According to tradion woman who would welcome the
leader of the country. It was Nivedita who was unanimously w . ‘ins tble.
As Gokhale alighted from the train, she stepped forward and offered him the cup of milk which symbolized divine hospitality. Then she placed around his neck a garland made of flowers and camphor pearls, attached by golden threads. The procession moved slowly toward the town, amid shouts of victory. Nivedita followed with Gokhale’s friends. Suddenly the crowd surged forward, surrounding the state coach, pressing up to see Gokhale, to touch him. Then they seized an open carriage, made the leader get in, unharnessed the horses, took hold of the shafts, and themselves dragged this new “coach” through the streets.
It was in such a highly charged atmosphere that the National Congre:s opened. In their opposition to the partition, and their exasperation over the speeches of the retiring Viceroy, moderates and extremists had joined hands. They had one common aim in particular – to ratify the boycott on English goods. Up to now, the svadeshi movement had been considered illegal. It was to announce this grave new decision that Gokhale first went to the platform, after Tagore had stood and sung his hymn to e Motherland. After this, the meetings became more diffi-crah nd stormy, with Tilak attacking the remaining moderates who ‘ll counseled prudence, and dragging them into the oppo-.ion.
“And what part does Nivedita have in all this?” the Prince of Baroda asked Romesh Chunder Dutt. She was hardly to be seen. But her big house in a sequestered street near the Tilb-handeshwar barracks was the meeting-place, every evening, of those leaders who needed to find a common ground of agreement. Here they could meet without risk of their remarks being seized upon by the press. Delicate negotiations were begun between dissident groups or religious minorities. People came and went as they pleased. Friends acted as doorkeepers.
In this old house, witli its stone balcony, the lower rooms were used as offices. Here Nivedita worked with a few close friends. Many of the speeches made at the Congress came first to her hands, and left them transformed into impeccable English. They were often redrafted, too, with the help of their authors, and crammed with accurate statistics to satisfy the critics of the government Nivedita was equally exact in revising the summary records of the meetings.
The Congress meetings naturally took up the greater part of the day. But at Nivedita’s house conversation went on until late in the night A thin mattress covered with white cloth lay on the floor of the room in which she entertained. Sitting Indian fashion in the comer farthest from the door, Nivedita welcomed the guests who sat in a semicircle around her. She would open the discussion by asking, “What is tomorrow’s agenda?” On the evenings when Gokhale came, the crowd would wait for hours in the street and would follow his carriage when he left the house.
It was at one of Nivedita’s soirees, when a number of outstanding men were grouped around the Prince of Baroda, and when India had been exalted like a radiant goddess, that Gokhale first spoke of the “Servants of India.” The phrase covered a plan that he had nursed for a long time, and now he disclosed his whole idea. Indians of every caste, milieu, and religion would form an association to serve India, according to a £^ven code of honor, like the samurai of Japan. It would be/- .lay organization aimed at harnessing the wave of nationalised that was breaking out all over India, and canalizing and orgamzi&r its power. To serve – that was the whole of Gokhale’s religion. When he left Nivedita’s house that evening, the “Servants of India” had practically received their constitution. The organization’s first members were Nivedita’s friends.
When the Congress ended, Nivedita closed her Benares house. But before she went away she spent a day on the banks of the Ganges with the monks of the Ramakrishna Mission who had founded a hospital for the poor. They went together a long way from the city, to a secluded spot where sadhus lived, each in his hut of branches; and there Nivedita talked with God. Then she chose also to find the temple where the child who was to become Swami Vivekananda had been dedicated by his mother to Shiva, Lord of Benares. There, in prayer, Nivedita renewed her vow to serve India with all her soul, and thus to serve her guru. . ..
The Congress of Benares had thrust her into the limelight. During the months that followed she continued to exercise a very marked influence, until suddenly, in December, 1906, the political horizon darkened. Gokhale and Tilak took opposite sides; the schism in the Congress itself, which was inevitable, was to last several years. A harsh and difficult period was beginning, in which Nivedita perforce took part