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SELECTED LETTERS > GANDHI -SAROJINI NAIDU CORRESPONDENCELetter from Sarojini Naidu to Gandhiji, February 11, 1929

 

Letter from Sarojini Naidu to Gandhiji, February 11, 1929

Kansas City
11th February

You of course being an expert can wield with equal ease both pen and spinning wheel in a train. But I, being a novice, moreover a novice with a crippled right arm, regard it as a feat to attempt this letter in a whirlwind train that bears me from the diamond white snow regions of the central western provinces to the topaz and sapphire sun lands of the south. Never, I assure you, did the soul of my Vedic ancestors raise such a joyous Gayatri to Surya Deva as do in this glad hour of deliverance of the chilled and suffering tropic bones in my body.
The flying landscape reveals already the magic of the spring in wakening woods and quickening hedgerows. (How the spring that brings back beauty to the new world brings to my heart a deep nostalgia for the sight of scarlet, palash and the scent of honey-dripping mango blossom!)
The second chapter in my Book of Travels is duly ended and I am now about to begin the third section of the story which will embrace the Southern and the Northern States from Florida to New England including many Universities and Colleges of the more conservative as well as the more progressive kind, among them the Howard University in Washington which is entirely for the Negroes.
I have had since I last wrote to you one month of strenuous and continual travelling across many thousand miles of country from Chicago to Los Angeles and back through the wheat, copper, oil, cattle and cotton countries, a vast area that bears testimony to the triumph of man over nature, of his courage, enterprise, endurance, resource, industry and vision that could coax or compel such rich results in such a short period. And yet, all the power of man becomes no more than a feather or a ball of thistle puff in the presence of Nature in the Grand Canyon of the Arizona Desert where time itself has sculptured magnificent temples to the unknown God out of rocks that are dyed in all the colours of jewels and flowers. Song itself is transmuted into silence and silence is translated into worship in the midst of such awe-inspiring beauty and splendour.
The Arizona Desert is the home of many Red Indian tribes, who live their own picturesque and primitive lives, so strangely aloof and alone in the land that was once their ancestral heritage. They are more akin to us than to the foreign Western peoples who have taken away that heritage. There is a freemasonry that binds all primitive world races in a common bond, for the folk spirit, whether in India, Roumania, Zululand or the Arizona Desert, expresses itself very much in the same symbols and reveals very much the same primal virtues through the folk music, folklore and folk dance. Valour, I think, is one of the primal key-virtues and nowhere does it find more stirring expression than in the dances I saw of the Hopi tribe on the edge of the Grand Canyon, the Eagle Dance, the Dance of the Buffalo Hunt and the Victory Dance. You will be very much interested in what a proud young representative of an Indian tribe said to me at the conclusion of an address I gave in San Francisco. He was obviously well educated and may have been a graduate of one of the Universities. "Thank you for your inspiring talk about your country. This country once belonged to me and my people. We are dying out, but they may kill us, they can never conquer us." Yes, these desert children are children of the Eagle and the Wind and Thunder. Who can conquer their spirit? I felt the truth of the proud boast when I went to Arizona.
California I loved, every flowering rood and foamkissed acre of that lovely land. But one sorrow made a cloud for me in that horizon of dazzling sunshine - the unhappy plight of the Indian settlers who after twenty or thirty years of prosperous labours on their own farm lands have by the recent immigration laws been deprived of all right to land and citizenship. They are reduced to working, most of them, as day labourers on the soil of which they were not so long ago masters. They are nearly all from the Punjab, the majority are Sikhs. I do not suppose that many of them originally came with the intention of making a permanent home in California. Every year they hoped that the following year would see them rich enough to return to their own village homes in India. And so they drifted on, never bothered about establishing a social tradition or educational record similar to the activities of other immigrant races who become in the real sense American, and therefore an integral and acceptable unit of the new nation in a new world. Being separated also from all the normal and legitimate intimate ties and associations of domestic life has caused great hardships and I fear not infrequently worked detrimentally to their moral welfare.
But never have I experienced such profound and passionate devotion to their country as in the hungry hearts of these exiles of circumstance. My own homesick heart was moved to tears at the depth and passion of their hunger and love. What can be done to ameliorate the material and moral difficulties and dangers of their lot, and to solace their nostalgia, to create a living link between them and the beating heart of India? I think the Khalsa should make it part of the community duty to send from time to time some wise, enlightened and patriotic Sikh settlers who, as I have said, form the bulk of the Indian population. The rest are chiefly Musalmans from the Punjab who naturally present the same or similar problems. Some of them have married Mexican women and created homes for themselves. There are also a few Sikh families with darling babies and growing sons and daughters, but all too few, all too few among a community numbering over five thousand people.
I have come to the conclusion after my visits to Africa and America that the status of Indian settlers can never be satisfactory anywhere till the status of India is definitely assured among the free nations of the world.
You are aware of my inveterate habit of studying the human document in all its phases and there is no record, plain or cryptic that does not interest me and which I do not try to interpret and understand. In the course of my travel, I sample not only every kind of climate and scenery but also every type of humanity. Temperament and mentalities are so much the creation of climates and landscapes and environments, avocations, opportunities and the limitations of circumstances. The temperament and mentality of the Middle West has been of keen interest and significance to me. The interior of a country is always more conservative and typical of the authentic characteristics of the country in their deeper and narrower issues than on the more cosmopolitan coastlines. The Middle West of the United States therefore is, or the smaller towns especially, what is called "hundred percent American"... in all the implications of American virtues and non-virtues which are far from being a synonym for faults but might be termed another name for mental provincialisms that might be all the better for a touch of the fresh air from a wider world. O yes! They do welcome a touch of fresh air from a wider world as I can happily testify. My audiences on the Atlantic or the Pacific coasts have not offered a more cordial reaction or a warmer response to the word of the Wandering Singer than the audiences of the wheat and oil and copper provinces of the interior.
This week I received belated reports of all events and incidents, I was almost going to say accidents, of the Great National Week in Calcutta. Padmaja's little word pictures were more vivid and illuminating than all the journalistic descriptions. She writes, "The little Wizard has lost none of his ancient magic." But the supreme, the final magic still awaits expression and fulfillment in a true and fruitful formula for Hindu-Muslim friendship and unity of vision and action which alone can redeem India from her intricate sevenfold bondage.
Hearken to the entreaty of a Wandering Singer, O little Wizard. Find the formula, work the magic and help to ensure the realization of the wondrous dream of a liberated India. Good bye.

From: Young India, May 30, 1929