The birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, on 12 May 1820 is celebrated as the International Nurses’ Day. Another prominent figure who followed her path was the Scots-Irish Margaret Elizabeth Noble or Sister Nivedita, who catered to the sick in India, driven only by her moral instincts and courage, without any governmental aid.
She came to Calcutta on 28 January 1898 and on 17 March she met the Indian mystic and yogi Ramakrishna’s wife Sarada Devi. The Sister’s school for girls was inaugurated by her on 13 November. On 25 March, Swami Vivekananda, the chief disciple of Ramakrishna gave her the name ‘Nivedita’ (one who is dedicated to God) after initiating her to embrace Brahmacharya (bachelorhood).
While living at Bosepara Lane, Bagbazar, Kolkata, one night as she was about to dine, she heard a wailing from a mudhouse nearby and rushed there at once. To her shock, she found the child of the house dead. She lovingly took the baby on her lap and sat silently. This gesture of hers’ seemed to comfort the aggrieved family members.
In 1899, a threatening plague broke out in Calcutta. With Swamiji’s leadership, the Ramakrishna Mission formed a committee, where Nivedita became the secretary. She appealed for aids through English newspapers. At the Classic Theatre auditorium she, along with Swamiji, would give lectures on youths’ responsibilities towards abetting the plague and helping the sick. They also distributed printed handbills to raise awareness regarding the preventive measures against the plague.
One day, Nivedita saw a pile of rubbish heaped in her locality. No sooner did she see it, than she started cleaning them with a broom and a bucket. Astonished to find a foreign lady sweeping the streets, the local youths joined her too.
Dr Radha Gobinda Kar, one on whose name we have the renowned hospital now, once wrote, “One summer day, as I was returning home at noon, I saw a European lady sitting on a dusty chair by the door. It was Sister Nivedita, waiting for me since long for some information”.
She might have been inquiring on a child’s health to which Dr Kar said that the child’s condition has been critical since early that morning and it is advisable that she should stay away from him as the disease can be infectious. But to his wonder, she ignored his precautions, rushed to the child that same afternoon and took him onto her lap.
The child’s mother had passed away earlier and he lives in a damp and wretched hut under unhealthy conditions. Day and night, Nivedita wholeheartedly nursed the child. To improve the sanitation of the hut, she whitewashed its walls all by herself. But unfortunately, the child breathed his last on Sister’s lap.
Once in her school, a student named Mahamaya started vomiting blood. Naturally, the Sister was prompt in taking the girl to lie down in her personal bed. She nursed her with care before sending her back home. Later the girl was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
In July 1906, a famine broke out in East Bengal. The Ramakrishna Mission sent relief. During that time, Nivedita was sick but ignoring it, she reached the famine ravaged areas and joined the relief work. She lived there for several days and went from home to home inquiring on people’s health. She wrote a book on the famine, named Glimpses of famine and flood in East Bengal in 1906. Sister Nivedita is one-of-a-kind lady in the history of humanity, who respected the Indian cultures and traditions and understood the country’s people deeply.
With her genuine devotion towards the country, she has proved that India was more than just a foreign land to her.
Nowadays, when we are celebrating a day for the pettiest of things, it should be our commitment to dedicate a day in the remembrance of Sister Nivedita for her immense contribution to our country.
Coordinator, Class X, Kalyani University Experimental High School