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SELECTED LETTERS > GANDHI -SAROJINI NAIDU CORRESPONDENCE Appendix II > Comment on April 11, 1918

 

Comment on April 11, 1918

I have always spoken in high terms about her purity and I see nothing to withdraw from all that I have said. I have seen so much power and dignity of bearing in her, that I can't imagine anyone impugning her character. Faults there are in that lady - speechifying and making a great noise. But that is the very essence of her public life, the food on which she thrives. "Take it from me," she once admitted to me, "and I would die!" And I saw the truth of the remark. It is this flurry that fires her with zeal for public service. She is certainly a lover of gaieties. Would always have her table groan with rich dishes. Though not a millionaire's daughter herself, she has long enjoyed the luxuries of a princely home and cannot give them up. She may deliver an impressive speech on simplicity and voluntary suffering, and immediately afterwards do full justice to a sumptuous feast. But, I am quite sure, she will cast off the slough, if she falls in with a man of my type. Nature herself has made her of that deceptive fibre. I myself, when I first saw her, wondered, "How can I take any work from this apparition!" Even when she visited the Ashram, she was such a sought-after that only once I could serve her the Ashram fare. All the same, I cannot forget her sudden visit one day when I was in England. There I used to do my work squatting on the bare ground with a thin yarn mattress between. No such cushions and gaddis as here you provide me with. In she sailed, nevertheless, and without the least thought, squatted down by my side and even began to eat out of my dish! I was asking myself what I should do to draw her out. Then decided to put her straight questions. "How is your home life? When do you retire for sleep? What is your time to get up?" "Mine at 8 a.m.", she replied. "But the children would be already up. They would all flock to my bed, young and old - the moment they found me awake - and there would be a scramble for making my body their playground." What a picture, that! Could there be a mother's love greater than this? And the same story even at her old home in Hyderabad. What complete freedom between mother and children! And their correspondence! It is a treat to read their letters. She has brought up the children so well that they are quite at home in a wide variety of subjects. And how brave she is! She stood by me to the end, right till my Ambulance Corps in England broke down completely. She even delivered a lecture in Hindi to those Indian volunteers in England at my instance. How completely has she understood me and my position! I explained to her how it was necessary that she should sacrifice her fondness for the English language to serve our country's cause. She immediately saw the truth of my view, and, gulping the unpalatable, said, "Yes, you are right." That woman is living solely for the cause of India. She is using all her extraordinary power of speech and pen in India's service. There is, of course, in her behaviour with men, a freedom which may appear to the strictly orthodox - Malaviyaji for instance - as going beyond the limits of modesty. She revels in fun and frolic - even mischievous pranks. But to me it seems she is just the sort of person whom all that befits. I know her husband well enough. He, too, is a brave soul. He has the largeness of heart to give her the fullest freedom. They simply hug and dote upon each other. I think she never hides from the public gaze her conduct with anybody. The fact itself is a proof of the purity of her soul.
I have myself subjected her to a close scrutiny, and I can vouch for her good behaviour. Not that she is free from other faults. She would freely indulge in wild exaggeration. I had to rebuke her severely for writing about me in the way she has done. "It is an insult. You had no business to write of me in this strain," I had told her. But it is woven into her nature - to laud to the skies the person she admires. But apart from these defects, where would you find a woman like her who has given up her life and soul for India?