Discovering Residence of Sister Nivedita

Discovering Residence of Sister Nivedita

I enjoy my stay abroad. But long stays have periods of boredom unless you plan what to do. That was a lesson learnt in the last four years; I spent more than two months in Wimbledon, London every year.

I spoke to Kavi. We discussed what can be done in my three months stay in Wimbledon, London. ‘Why don’t you discover old buildings and write about them?’ he suggested. The idea appealed to me.

I opened my laptop. And logged on to Internet. Internet is more like sea. It often takes you away from the site you wish to reach. Like waves take away a log of wood. Far away.

But sometimes the new destination holds surprises.

I knew the story of Sister Nivedita as a child. My uncle who was influenced by teachings of Swami Vivekananda suggested to my mother that I should be named Vivekananda, and so I was, though pyar se log mujhe Vivek kehte hai. He named his daughter Nivedita, my cousin, six years younger, after Sister Nivedita. My knowledge of Sister Nivedita’s life did not go much further.

Let me come back to the internet and how it holds surprises. I accidentally discovered that Sister Nivedita stayed in Wimbledon at the turn of the twentieth century. Not too far from where I am staying, just about five minutes’ walk.

It is here that the Irish lady Margaret Noble, who later became Sister Nivedita, met Swami Vivekananda before he left for USA.

She stayed on the High street in Wimbledon, London. Locating the building was not difficult at all. Note the blue plaque on the building. But it is placed between the windows on the first floor of the building, so one is likely to miss it.

Reportedly, a person of Indian origin now owns this building. That makes me happier indeed!

Livemint Story captures her life well: By 25, she had started her own school in Wimbledon. She acquired a reputation as an experimental educationist, influenced by ideas popular in continental Europe at the time, including those of Friedrich Froebel, father of the kindergarten concept. Her success brought her in touch with London’s intellectual crème de la crème, and in November 1895, in what proved to be a pivotal moment in her life, she was invited to a private gathering to hear a 32-year-old “Hindu yogi” who had acquired a considerable reputation in America in the preceding two years.

At the gathering, Swami Vivekananda’s words seemed to speak directly to Noble’s own beliefs about the best in human nature. His words were a call to action: to serve suffering humanity, to sacrifice one’s life for the good of others, this was what the Earth’s best and bravest were born for. Vivekananda recognized that Noble could be of huge assistance in his efforts to uplift Indian women. Noble knew she had found her true calling.

……………   She was possibly the first person to have conceived and designed an emblem and a flag for the Indian nation, way back in 1905. She chose the vajra (thunderbolt). Nivedita’s design of two crossed vajras was meant to signify the coordinated and selfless actions of multiple individuals, acting in effect as one national organism. Nivedita had this design embroidered by the girls of her Calcutta school and it was displayed at an exhibition organized by the Indian National Congress in 1906 in Calcutta. Eminent Indians like J.C. Bose (who later made it the emblem of his Bose Institute in Calcutta) started using it, and this idea was also later reflected in the design of India’s highest military decoration, the Param Vir Chakra. [Livemint Oct 28 2017  ]

In a life of just 43 years, Sister Nivedita had done so much for India!

I was also touched by this write up on her which I have quoted below, appearing on Wikipedia . Why? Because I recently wrote that the departing souls say good bye in some way to the people close to them. [Telepathy When They Say Good Bye] Here is one more piece with a similar story:

Sister Nivedita saw Swami Vivekananda for the last time on 2 July 1902 at Belur Math. Vivekananda was observing the Ekadashi fasting on that day. However, when his disciples took their meal, he himself served them joyfully. After the meal, Vivekananda poured water over Nivedita’s hands, and dried them with a towel. Nivedita recorded it in The Master As I Saw Him in the following words:

“It is I who should do these things for you, Swamiji! Not you, for me!” was the protest naturally offered. But his answer was startling in its solemnity — “Jesus washed the feet of His disciples!”

Something checked the answer “But that was the last time!” as it rose to the lips, and the words remained unuttered. This was well. For here also, the last time had come.

Swami Vivekananda died at 9:10 p.m. on 4 July 1902. On that night, Nivedita dreamed Sri Ramakrishna was leaving his body a second time.

Salute to Sister Nivedita. Discovering her home in Wimbledon is inspiring! I discovered her residence [for myself] in Wimbledon, but she resides in the heart of every Indian. 

Vivek Patwardhan