Sarojini Naidu, fondly known as the Nightingale of India, was a brilliant poetess and freedom fighter. She was also the first woman president of the Indian National Congress and the first woman governor of Uttar Pradesh.
Sarojini was born in 1879 in Hyderabad and was hailed as a child prodigy. Her father held a doctorate of science from the University of Edinburgh and was the founder of the Nizam College of Hyderabad. Her mother was a poetess who wrote poems in Bengali. Sarojini began writing poems at the age of 12. She was proficient in several Indian languages as well as English and Persian. The Nizam of Hyderabad was greatly impressed by a play she wrote called Maher Muneer. He later granted her a scholarship to study in King’s College, London, and Cambridge University. Edmond Gosse, a famous poet and critic, advised her to stick to Indian themes in her poetry which she was beautifully able to capture in her exquisite poems. One such famous poem written by her was the Palanquin Bearers which gets into the hearts and minds of “palanquin bearers.” The palanquin was a covered box-like transportation structure with poles in which brides were carried by bearers. Read the first two lines from the Palanquin Bearers which are as follows:
“Lightly, O Lightly, we bear her along.
She sways like a flower in the wind of our song.”
The entire scene which is now antiquated is beautifully rendered life. She gets into the mind of the palanquin bearers by describing how they sang and nimbly carried the palanquin.
Another beautiful poem by Sarojini Naidu which also gets into the minds of the protagonists is the Coromandel Fishers. The following is the first two lines from the second verse of the poem.
“No longer delay, let us hasten away in the track of the seagull’s call.
The sea is our mother, the clouds are our brother, the waves are our comrades all.”
The close affinity that the fishermen feel towards the sea is aptly expressed with soul-stirring imagery.
During the partition of Bengal in 1905, Sarojini gave up poetry writing and became an ardent supporter and leader in the Indian freedom struggle. She travelled all over India and spoke on behalf of women’s empowerment and freedom from British imperialism.
Do go ahead and read some more poems and works of the Nightingale of India which will enchant you and connect you with the heart and soul of India during the 20th century.