We belong to an era where humanism is almost a misnomer. Crass commercialism, fathomless greed, cruel selfishness, omnivorous consumerism etc. define modern life in our country that is largely fed and nourished by the lifestyles and practices of western countries where pursuit of materialism reigns supreme. Indeed, we Indians, particularly the educated and the professional classes are literally aping the West and as a consequence, we notice a rapid and steady erosion of filial and societal norms. Hedonism is the guiding principle of many Indians.
Everyday newspapers come out with screaming headlines featuring thefts, murders, rapes, kidnappings, extortions, smuggling, terrorism, violations of laws and rules, criminals becoming public heroes, mafia gangs looming large with a halo of public acclaim. Our traditional social and family values that had for centuries acted as a binding force to promote harmony, better understanding, cohesiveness and warmth of human relationships are being brushed aside. A no-holds-barred currency-chasing mentality has usurped every space of Indian life. Finer faculties of the human mind now-a-days are looked upon as being out of sync with the prevalent mood and attitude. Selfless sacrifice is routinely derided as the hangover of a backdated psyche. Arcane forces of blind dogmas, religious fundamentalism, hatred, intolerance are tearing asunder the social, familial and ethical fabric.
In such a bleak scenario, it will be appropriate to recall the ideals, activities, humanistic qualities of Sister Nivedita, in the year of her 150th birth anniversary. Born Margaret Elizabeth Noble on 28 October 1867 to Mary Isabel and Samuel Richmond in Northern Ireland, the teacher, social worker, thinker and reformer who would come to be known as Sister Nivedita, loved and served our country with single-minded dedication and devotion in a quiet, self-effacing manner.
In November 1895, in what turned out to be a pivotal moment in her life, she was invited to a private gathering in the drawing room of an aristocratic family in London to hear a 32-year-old Hindu monk who only two years back created quite a storm in the parliament of world religions in Chicago, USA and had gathered considerable name and fame in America ever since.
The personality of Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu monk from Calcutta, drew Margaret like a magnet. In her reckoning she was face-to-face with a majestic personage, clad in a saffron gown with a red waist-band and imbued with a deep, sonorous voice, sitting majestically on the floor, cross-legged. As she recounted later: “I had recognised the heroic fibre of the man, and desired to make myself the servant of his love for his own people. But it was his character to which I had thus done obeisance.” But the first meet was not enough for her; she was unconvinced.
She attended Swamiji’s several other lectures and did not hesitate to ask a lot of questions which Vivekananda answered with brilliant logic and anecdotes and all her doubts receded into oblivion and her faith and reverence for the great preacher was established. Vivekananda’s principles, wisdom, ideals and teachings deeply touched the chord of her rational, pure, sensitive and sensible mind and this brought about a visible change in her. Swami Vivekananda was also greatly impressed by her passion and resolve and he could foresee her future role in India.