Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sarojini Naidu: a brief biography

Sarojini Naidu was born February 13, 1879 in Hyderabad. Her father, Aghorenath Chattopadhyaya, was a celebrated scientist, poet and social reformer whose brilliance foreshadowed that of his daughter's. Dr. Chattopadhyaya was a gifted student, earning a scholarship to study at the University of Edinburgh where he earned his Doctorat in Science (the first Indian to do so) before continuing his education in Bonn, Germany, where he continued to earn praise. Upon his return, he founded the Nizam College at Hyderabad devoting his life's work to education, very much following in the footsteps of his Brahmin ancestors who were traditionally known for their patronage of Sanskrit learning. Sarojini's mother, Varada Sundari, accomplished in her own right, was a noted Bengali singer and lyricist and a devoted mother to her eight children. It is therefore with the enthusiastic support of an educated parentage and during a time when Hyderabad was a flourishing center of education that Sarojini's creative lineage began.

Educated in Hyderabad and later in Madras, she excelled in her studies and earned fame all over India. At sixteen, she earned a scholarship and was sent to London and Cambridge for further studies but failed to gain the same level of academic success (partially due to illness as well as restlessness, as she readily admits) and came back to India. While Sarojini's poetic sensibilities began early - she wrote a prodigious one thousand three-hundred line poem at the age of thirteen - it was during her studies in England where she began writing her poems that later comprised the bulk of her first significant collection, the best-selling The Golden Threshold. After her return to India, she continued to break social ground by marrying Dr. Govindarajulu Naidu, a man of a different caste. Subsequent years were spent quietly by the young Sarojini, content by raising her four children and tending to her domestic work.

The decade after Sarojini's publication of The Golden Threshold in 1905 proved pivotal. It is during this time that she released her major poetic collections, including The Bird of Time in 1912 and The Broken Wing in 1917. It is also during these years when the young Sarojini's Nationalist political activities surfaced and further solidified. She met regularly with Gokhale who introduced her to many of the facets of Indian political life, and soon afterwards, Ghandi, Nehru, Jinnah and others with whom she grew and suffered with in later years. With such an encouraging environment, Sarojini later moved on to become leader of the Indian National Congress, traveled extensively to the United States and elsewhere as news bearer of the Indian Nationalist struggle and solidified her reputation as a poet of worldly stature.

Of her time during her travels in Canada she recounted, in a letter to Gandhi, that her visit "has been more like a homecoming to our own people than the visit of a wandering Minstrel. The heart of Canadian is as warm as the climate is cold." From the "land of Great Lakes" to the deserts of Texas and Arizona; quoting Khalil Gibrans's The Prophet in one sentence and a French writer in the next, Sarojini was no longer just a poet of international repute but an inspiration to those, who like her, were actively engaged in a politics of resistance, one that she believed spoke a universal truth of freedom and which attested to the fundamental sameness of all beings. It was a theme to which she returned to time and again through out her life, the very essence of the Gandhian principles of the universal attributes of Mankind that she internalized early on and that her father helped spur in her.

A final achievement came in 1947 when she became the first female governor in India, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. She died in office two years later at the age of sixty-eight.

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