A Fearless Soul
In 1899 plague once again struck Calcutta, and this time in a much greater virulence. The Ramakrishna Mission formed a committee to carry on its relief work with Swami Sadananda as the working head with Sister Nivedita as its secretary. Her relentless involvement in relief work even disregarding personal safety amazed people. She also wrote appeals and letters in newspapers in this regard, gave a lecture before the students at Classic Theatre on 21 April 1899 entitled The Plague and the Duty of Students which drew many to relief work. Swamiji's presence in the meeting obviously gave it a new dimension. This time the work of the Ramakrishna Mission in plague relief drew generous admiration from both the people and the concerned government agencies. Before accompanying Vivekananda to the West Nivedita gave three more lectures in Calcutta. First was on 13 February at Calcutta Albert Hall entitled Kali And Her Worship; and the next two were on 26 February and 28 May, entitled Young India Movement at Minerva Theatre and Kali Worship at Kalighat Temple respectively.
She Who Came Never Went Back
On his second and last visit to the West Swami Vivekananda left Calcutta aboard SS Golconda on 20 June 1899. With him were Swami Turiyananda and Sister Nivedita. The former went to assist him in propagating the message of Vedanta. Nivedita's plan was to earn fund and patronage for her newly opened school in Calcutta. But the voyage to London became memorable as during those 42 days the Swami poured out his best to his spiritual daughter. And Nivedita was more than capable of retaining what was passed on to her.Her experience of remaining aboard the ship to London with Swamiji was later recorded in the Masterpiece Nivedita wrote on the life of her mentor, Swami Vivekananda. There one learns that Nivedita was aware of her noble responsibility to humankind; for while narrating her experience she wrote: '... His talks were not all entertaining, nor even all educational. Every now and then he would return, with consuming eagerness, to the great purpose of his life. And when he did this, I listened with an anxious mind, striving to treasure up each word
that he let fell. For I knew that here I was but the transmitter, but the bridge, between him and the countless host of his own people, who would yet arise, and seek to make good his dreams.' And one day while ending a long course of various talks on India and Her people the Swami said: 'And so strength must come to the nation through education' - in referring to the whole talks which came to this utterance, Nivedita later wrote: '... This one talk of my Master had been well worth the whole voyage, to have heard.'
During his second visit Vivekananda remained in the West till he returned to Bombay on 3 December 1900. Nivedita remained abroad for a longer period till she reached Calcutta via Madras on 9 February 1902, slightly over four months before Vivekananda would remain no more. This time while in the West she visited both the coasts of the Atlantic and primarily did two things. First, Nivedita tried her best to seek money and patronage for her project of educating Indian girls; second, tried to attract attention of prominent political personalities, activists, journalists and intellectuals in the West to problems faced by Indian people as a consequence of various injustices perpetrated through British rule. Though she hardly had adequate response from British political personalities who mattered, there were others who heeded to her words, discussed various matters pertaining to the problems in specific, and the societal aspects in general. Her experience seemingly gave Nivedita a new dimension to what she encountered in India before and inspired her to adopt new plans to work on. She realized that it was the wealth from her colonies that kept the British democracy and lofty ideals ticking. Her stay in the West this time gave her a two pronged motive - one was to involve herself at par with the Indian people in freeing themselves from British subjugation; and the other was to fight against the anomalies between what the British preached in their own country and what they did in India.
The Luminaries Nivedita Knew Well or Befriended
Mary C. Grey (Lady Minto)
James Keir Hardie
Sir Frank Benson
Sir Guy Fleetwood Wilson
Thomas K. Cheyne
No matter how long she had been in the West or interacted with howsoever great personages, at a meeting in Madras on 4 February 1902 Nivedita expressed her feelings in these simple words : 'I had, before my departure for Europe, the great privilege of living in a simple Indian home, making Indian friends, and being taught in some measure to act and think and feel like an Indian woman. ... It was this memory ... that I carried with me during my recent wanderings amidst the luxury and splendour of the West. It is this memory that I bring back to you today undimmed ... .'
But from now on Nivedita's life and work would take a new dimension which, though she never deviated from her unipolar focus on India and Her people, shall be varied in course and approach, which finally would earn her the accolade in what Rabindranath Tagore will write when she would remain no more - Loka Mata, the Mother of the People.