Nightingale of India

Author: Dr.Sandhya Tiwari

Globalization has immensely contributed to the recognition of poets and poetry in general. It has transformed our life at immense speed not only to bring to light the past talent but also serving as a platform for those who are creatively responding to it. Today, it has succeeded in making people take note of these changes in culture, poetry and other genres of creative writing. Thanks to all these developments, I could enrich myself.

Incorporating the works of great writers, poets and thinkers into the curriculum is a contribution to the cause of nation. These great personalities, through their writings, are permeating   the young minds with the spirit of patriotism and respect for country. It is an honour and the supreme way to pay homage to literary souls who enriched the literature. It is popularizing the talent, otherwise which would have restricted to a limited people. In comparison to social sciences the chief advantage for a man of letters belonging to language and literature is; his work can be included in the curriculum. The purpose of the government behind this is each and every literate must know the contribution, the role played by such people in the history of India. This can be used constructively to enable students to reach a refined level of awareness. It outlines experiences in teaching English Literature, creates a curiosity and interest, especially if it is related to something which most students can identify with.

In recent years, English- language writers of Indian origin are being published in the West at an increasing rate. In June 1997, a special fiction issue of The New Yorker magazine devoted much space to essays by Amitav Ghosh and Abraham Verghese, a short story by, Vikram Chandra and poems by Jayant Mahapatra (16 volumes of poems) and A.K.Ramanujan and profiled R.K.Narayan and Arundati Roy's "A God of Small Things."

Indians began to use English for creative expression much before Macaulay's "Minutes" and the implementation of his policy on English education. [On March 7, 1835, the Governor General William Bentinck agreed with Macaulay's Minute and wrote, "the great object of the British Government ought to be the promotion of European literature and science among the natives of India," thus promoting and establishing a permanent position for the use of English language in Indian educational institutions.] For instance in 1823, Henry Derozio's volume of poems was published and in 1830 Kashiprasad Ghose published his volume of poetry entitled The Shair and the Other Poems. This two eminent Indians may not be great as poets, but their historical importance is great, for they belong to that small group of Indians who wrote in English much before Macaulay. Michael Madhusudan Dutt, who has left behind two volumes of poetry, was a Bengali poet of talent whose one ambition in life was to win recognition as a writer of English verse. He was the first to make a conscious effort to use Indian imagery, express Indian sentiments and tell an Indian story. Madhusudan was born with rock-like determination. He proved himself to be a student of exceptional gifts, and his teachers and professors with no difficulty recognized in him a fast-blossoming intellectual figure.

Besides a few minor poets of the 19th century, B.M.Malabari is another of repute. In his poems he laments the loss of the virtues of Indian character, ethical values. In such verses speaks the heart of India, yearning for freedom from the foreign clutches.

Swami Vivekanandawas a towering spiritual personality, born in on 12th January 1863, who awakened the slumbering Indian consciousness with his soul stirring vision of a dynamic spirituality. He is often viewed as the patron saint of modern India and many great figures acknowledge the life and works of Vivekananda. He reached Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent on December24, 1892. He swam across the sea and started meditating on a lone rock. He meditated for three days and said later that he meditated about the past, present and future of India. The rock is presently popular as Vivekananda memorial and is a major tourist destination.

In 1893, Swami Vivekananda went to America to attend the Conference of World Religions in Chicago. He earned wild applause for beginning his address with the famous words, "Sisters and brothers of America." Swamiji mesmerized everyone in America with his masterful oratory. Wherever he went, he dwelt at length on the greatness of Indian Culture. He spoke with spontaneous ease on every topic, be it History, Sociology, Philosophy or Literature. The Union Government has declared his birthday as National Youth Day.

Sri Aurobindo Ghosh is another great Indian nationalist, scholar, poet, spiritual philosopher and above all a renowned "yogi", who brought laurels to his motherland, was born on 15th august 1872. Although he wrote mostly in English his major works were translated into 9 foreign languages in addition to 11 Indian languages. "Auroville" is a universal township in the making for a population of up to 50,000 people from around the world. Aurobindo strived for the Transformation of our superficial, narrow and fragmentary human way of thinking, seeing, and feeling. Being into a deep and wide spiritual consciousness and an integrated inner and outer existence and of our ordinary human living into the divine way of life.

In the poetry of Toru Dutt the soul of India is revealed at its best. Many critics revere the first translation, of about 200 French poems, as "transcreation".

In the words of Edmund Gosse, "Toru's chief legacy to posterity is her verse collection Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan (1883) which includes the ancient Hindu stories of Savitri, Sita, Prahlad, Dhruva, and many such appeal to the emotions of love, devotion filial piety, gratitude, etc. it is for the first time purely Indian themes being treated in English against a purely Indian background.

It is Sarojini Naidu, the eldest daughter of scientist-philosopher, Aghornath Chattopadhyaya, and Barada Sundari Devi- a poetess, was born on 13 February 1879 in Hyderabad, who carries forward the task left incomplete by the early demise of Toru Dutt, that of interpreting the soul of India to the West and creating an authentic Indian atmosphere. Her father was also a linguist, a crusader, who established the Nizam's College in Hyderabad in 1878, pioneering English and women's education. Sarojini was a bright child who passed her matriculation at the age of 12 standing first in the Madras Presidency. She studied at the King's college, London and Girton College, Cambridge for a while. During this period her creative urge found expression in poems. She also happened to be a good singer. Her ability to sing charmingly fetched her the title 'Nightingale of India'.

During 1903-17 Sarojini came into contact with Gokhale, Tagore, Jinnah, Annie Besant, C.P.Rama Swami Iyer, Gandhi and Nehru. She began her political career in 1906. From 1915 to 1918 she lectured all over India on welfare of youth, dignity of labour, women's emancipation and nationalism. After meeting Jawaharlal Nehru in 1916, she took up the cause of the indigo workers of Champaran. In 1925 she was elected as the President of the Congress.

Sarojini Naidu, The Nightingale of India, was a great patriot, politician, orator and administrator of India her birthday is celebrated as "Women's Day".

The rhythmic quality of her poetry is mesmerizing frequent references to Hindu mythology accentuate the Indian atmosphere of her verse. She was able to harmonize Indian and foreign elements in her poetry.  Poetry is perception. No doubt we may have different parameters to judge the genius of a poet, yet what is your perception matters a lot.  Highly original and startling similes and metaphors come out of her, as do sparks from a chimney fire. Her originality of expression is commendable with regard to imagery. Highly vivid pictorial and visual imagery are exploited by her to delight and surprise the readers. The figuring of the moon as a caste-mark on the forehead of heaven is in itself a unique achievement of the imagination in poetry and also representative of the Indian ness of her poetry.

A caste mark upon the azure brow of heaven
The golden moon burns sacred, solemn, bright. (Leili)

The image of the river flowing out of the city gates, curved like "the tusks of an elephant" is based on personal observation, and those who have seen the river Musi flowing out of the gates of Hyderabad city can appreciate its justness.

See the white river that flashes and scintillates
Curved like a tusk from the mouth of the city-gates. (Nightfall in the City of Hyderabad By Sarojini Naidu)

Her poetry seems to sing itself, as if her swift thoughts and strong emotions sprang into lyrics of themselves. Though she has been criticized for her many hyperbolic and violent expressions, for her, there are a few critics who defended and asserted boldly that her metaphors and similes.

According to Rajyalakshmi, Sarojoni's similes and metaphors are "pictorial blocks of imagist perceptionand new way of organizing poetic emotion."

The work produced by this writer like John Keats, may not be great in quantity, it is great in quality. She will be remembered for a few fine pieces like The Indian Weavers, The Flute Player of BrindavanTo a Buddha Seated on a Lotus and others.

Though a number of themes are conspicuous in her works they can be classified into five major themes: The Folk Theme, Nature Theme-Spring, The Love Theme, Life and Death Theme and patriotism.

One of the interesting aspects of Sarojini's poetry is the folk theme delicately treated by her. Palanquin Bearers is a perfect example of the true folk-song, a common experience in India half-a-century ago. In this folk theme the poetess exploits the simple joys and hopes and fears and lives of the common folk in town and country exquisitely.

Sarojini had irresistible fascination for nature, she sings of the glories of seasons, particularly spring and summer and also about the individual manifestations of nature's beauty.

Lyricism, love of nature, interest in the past, a melancholic note, dominance of imagination, concern with the common man, emphasis on emotional life, ‘addition of strangeness to beauty', and the beauty of thought, vision, phrase and rhythm are some of the chief characteristics of romantic poetry. They are all profusely scattered all through her poetry. She has written more than 60 poems wherein the theme of love is dominant. This great poetess intricately presents the aches and ecstasies of love.

Arthur Simons commented:

Her poetry seems to sing itself, as if her swift thoughts and strong emotions sprang into lyrics of themselves.

It was about this volume that Symons made some observations that have often been quoted. Referring to a letter from Sarojini , in which she had written  "I sing just as the birds do , and my songs are as ephemeral", he said:

It is for this bird like quality of song; it seems to me, that they are to be valued. They hint, in a sort of delicately evasive way, at a rare temperament of a woman of the east, finding expression through a western language. They do not express the whole of that temperament; but they express, I think. Its essence; and there is an eastern magic in them.

Life, to Sarojini Naidu was not a riddle to be solved; it is a miracle to be celebrated and sung. She may be lacked the philosophical bent but her poems show accumulated wisdom rather than deep insight. In her world life and light are supreme. There are, of course, poems in which she seems to be crushed by pain and grief, but the poems into which she has poured most of her poetic power and skill are those in which there is a note of defiance and of victory over circumstances, over pain and suffering.

Behold I rise to meet the destined spring
And scale the stars upon my broken wing. (Sarojini Naidu, The Broken Wing)

She is equally a poetess of the challenge of suffering, pain and death to life. Sarojini being aware that time is destructive, and nothing can escape its ravages, she welcomes for it is the only way to rejuvenation and new life.

Despite the undercurrent of melancholy and pessimism, Sarojini's poetry is optimistic and forward looking – looking forward to the souls union with the eternal, the infinite, and Time and Death are the means to this union.

O Fate, in vain you hanker to control
My frail, serene, indomitable soul. (A Challenge to Fate by Sarojini Naidu)

As a typical example of such criticism I would like to refer to an essay by James Cousins, who was a friend and admirer of Sarojini has reasonably attributed appreciation for her. Quoting a stanza from one of Sarojini's poems, The Feast, Cousins says:

This stanza, despite its delicate beauty __ or, rather, perhaps the more insidiously because of its beauty __ is a menace to the future of India, because of its perpetuation of the "door-mat" attitude of womanhood, which is at the root of India's present state of degeneracy.

He also praises her not just for her poetic acumen but also for her boldness as a women and adds:
While Mrs.Naidu has broken away the bonds of custom, by marrying outside her caste and by appearing on public platforms, she reflects in her poetry the dependent habit of womanhood that masculine domination has sentimentalized into a virtue. In her life was a feminist up to a point, but in her poetry she remains incorrigibly feminine. She sings, so far as Indian womanhood is concerned, the India that is, while she herself has passed on towards the India that is to be.

Sarojini lived and created in those stirring times when India was passing through the throes of her struggle. The age of great patriots like Gandhi, Tilak and many others influenced her life greatly. After her meeting with Gandhi in 1914, she herself plunged into the thick of the battle. Her love for the nation is reflected in her poetry. Every aspect of Indian life is celebrated in Sarojini's poetry. Indian festivals, Temples, Gods and Goddesses Puranic myths and legends of Radha and Krishna form a major theme of her poetry.

The Gift of India is a poem beautifully depicts the chivalry of Indians during World War I. This lyric is characterized by Sarojini's poetic fervour and by her pride in her own country.
In this moving lyric Mother India herself speaks of the gift she had offered to the world-the invaluable gift: her children and reminds to the world their greatness.

William Heinemann from London published Sarojini's first major book of verse, The Golden Threshold, in 1905. It received very favorable notices in the British press. One reviewer said that the poems were of "undeniable beauty and distinction".

Thus Sarojini Naidu to quote the words of Dr.Keith, "is a cultured, refined versifier; she is a singer of an aesthetic world", similarly Margaret's throws light remarking: "She is greater than her poems. Her patriosm is the rival even while it is the inspiration of her poetry. For her country she would sacrifice even her beloved gift of song". It is seen that Sarojini Naidu's poetry has won acclaim of a host of discerning critics – both Indian and English.

Primary Sources:
Naidu, Sarojini. Songs, Published privately by Aghorenath Chattopadhya, 1896.
Nilambuja (Prose- Poem), signed Sarojini Chattopadhya, 3 October 1896 (unpublished), Archives, National Library, Calcutta.
The Golden Threshold with an introduction by Arthur Symons, London, William Heinemann, 1905.
The Bird of Time with, an Introduction byEdmund Gosse, London, William Heinemann, 1912.
The Broken Wing : London, William Heinemann, 1917.
The Gift of India : Reprinted from the Report of the Hyderabad Ladies' War Relief Association, Dec. 1915.
The Sceptured Flute with an Introduction by Joseph Auslander, New York, Doad Read & Co., 1937.
The Feather of the Dawn : Bombay, Asia Publishing House, 1961
Speeches and writings of Sarojini naidu : Madras : G.A. Natesan & Co.

Works Cited:
Arthur Symons: Introduction to The Gol;den Theshold . London, William Heinemann, 1905.
Bose, A: "Regal Ground: Sarojini Naidu's Poetry", The Other Harmony, Calcutta: United Writers, Oct. 1938.
Cousins, James H.: New Ways in English literature, Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1949.
Dustoor, P.E. Sarojini Naidu : Stout Hearts and Open Hands, ed. by P.D. Tandon, Bombay: Jaico Publishing House, 1957.
Gupta, Rameshwar : Sarojini Naidu : The Poetess, New Delhi: Doaba House, 1975.
Iyengar, K.R.Srinivasa : Indo-Anglican Literature, Bombay: Karnataka Publishing House, 1945.
Margaret E. Cousins: The Awakening of Asian Womanhood, Madras :1922.
Rajyalakshmi,P.V.: The Lyric Spring: The Poetic Achievements of Sarojini Naidu, New Delhi : Abhinav Prakashan, 1977.
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About the Author
Working as Associate Professor at Sreenidhi Institute of Science and Technology(SNIST), Dr.Sandhya Tiwari has published a book titled THE SILENT STORM - Poems by Dr.Sandhya Tiwari.

"Song of a Dream" by Reginald Unterseher 

Sarojini Naidu with Mahatma Gandhi
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