First and foremost it is pertinent to say that Reba Som through her research of various letters and writings has done full justice to the book she had embarked on. It is done with lot of finesse and lucid words. These make the book an engrossing read all along.
It brings to the fore the (Margaret Noble) Nivedita’s life her goals, views, struggles and her mission done with lot of zeal and unmatched enthusiasm against all odds. The intense relationship with her Guru, all these enabled her to be rightly named the ‘Lok Mata’ or People’s Mother, by none other than the legendary poet Rabindranath Tagore. Nivedita in the author’s apt words will be surely remembered as one India’s greatest friends.
The author holds Nivedita in high esteem and rightly acknowledges her immense contribution and sacrifice. As she points out : “ Among all the disciples of Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita occupies pride of place. Margaret Noble arrived on India’s shores in the late nineteenth century, took the vows of brahmacharitrini, and devoted the rest of her life to the cause of India .
Apart from educating the women, Nivedita wrote and lectured widely on Hindu thought and Indian culture with lot of passion, invoking nationalist sentiment and unity. She won over leading national figures of the day with her fierce and blunt intellect and even influenced the ending of Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Gora.
Nivedita, being a multi- faceted personality provided immense professional support to the brilliant scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose, dialogued with leaders like Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Aurobindo Ghosh, and inspired Abanindranath Tagore to create a painting that eventually became the iconic ‘Bharat Mata’.
The author points out that Nivedita had an inquisitive and analytical mind. Since early days as a teacher in England , she had sought to contextualise World developments in a historical and geographical framework to understand the evolution of society, culture and religion. Women figured as a key subject in Nivedita’s writings and with great poignancy, she captured the travails and strengths of rural and urban women across the countries and cultures. By linking the nun with the wife in terms of dedication and commitment, she brought a unique perspective to her analysis. Equally important was her socio cultural study of the mother in a familial setting leading to a study of mother goddess.
In India , in the words of the author, Nivedita found a rich diversity – of people , topography, sound and colour and she made quick entries into her diary. Her writings, henceforth, concentrated almost exclusively on the many aspects of the Indian society, culture and history to which she was introduced by the many lectures of Swami Vivekananda. These were enriched over time by her countless travels on which she embarked and her deep study of Indian Literature, philosophy, mythology and history.
Her World view and historical sense helped situate her thoughts on India within a wider framework. “ How can we know of India”? she wrote” If we know nothing of the World outside India”? How shall we recover the truth about ancient Pataliputra, if we know nothing of Persepolis of Petra, of Babylon, of China and the international relations of all these? Or how are we to understand the growth and significance of Benaras, if we never studied Cologne, Charters, Durham or Milan? What will history of Hinduism mean to us, if we never considered that of Christianity or of Islam?.
Rabindranath Tagore who had recognised the exceptional versatility of Nivedita had initially been put off by her combativeness. He had realized early in the day that where it was not possible to agree with her, it was impossible to work with her. And yet in a male dominated colonial Bengali society that Nivedita had entered as a foreign woman, acting on her own steam, she eventually succeeded in receiving an attentive audience in the most conservative male bastions of academic, political, spiritual and British bureaucratic circles and equally in traditional Hindu women households.
This incredible accomplishment partly realized by the initial endorsement of her work by Swami Vivekananda, was largely on account of her forceful personality and the undeniable sacrifice she made with her dedicated social work.
Sister Nivedita of Vivekananda
Penguin – Viking