Tribute: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee at the unveiling of the plaque in London

 

By Amit Roy

SISTER Nivedita, who was born Margaret Elizabeth Noble in Northern Ireland on October 28, 1867 and gave her life to the service of India, was honoured with a Blue Plaque on Sunday (12) to mark the 150 anniversary of her birth.

The unveiling was done by the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee because of Sister Nivedita close connection with Calcutta (now Kolkata), the state capital.

The plaque reads: “SISTER NIVEDITA (MARGARET NOBLE)/ 1867-1911/ Educationist and Campaigner for Indian Independence lived here.”

It has been erected over the Brew Café at 21 High Street in Wimbledon, where Noble had lived in 1895.

India calling: Sister Nivedita helped the poor and vulnerable in West Bengal

That was the year when her life was changed by a chance encounter with the Indian seer and philosopher Swami Vivekananda, who was visiting London after a trip to the US. The young Noble was so inspired by his spiritual discourse that she followed Vivekananda to Calcutta three years later.

“Swami Vivekananda was present at the dock to receive her,” said Banerjee.

He gave her a new name, “Nivedita”, which means, “dedicated to God”. She threw herself into the cause of Indian independence and also into the education of girls from deprived backgrounds. During a plague, she waded into the affected areas to help poor patients.

But the work took its toll and she died on October 13, 1911 in Darjeeling at the age of only 43.

Her epitaph reads: “Here reposes Sister Nivedita who gave her all to India.”

After the formal unveiling, which was preceded by Hindu prayers, there was a cultural function at Wimbledon Library where an emotional Banerjee pledged: “We cannot forget her.”

English Heritage, which put up the plaque, was represented by a number of senior executives, including its curatorial director, Anna Eavis, and its Blue Plaques manager, Cathy Power.

“English Heritage is so proud and delighted to be honouring Sister Nivedita – Margaret Noble,” said Eavis.

“There are not very many women commemorated by the Blue Plaque,” she added. “I am particularly thrilled that such an extraordinary woman who campaigned for education for women is being celebrated in this way with a plaque which will endure for as long as the building is there, probably longer.”

Ties: Anna Eavis of English Heritage

“We get hundreds of nominations, but we put up plaques to about 12 in a year,” explained Howard Spencer, historian for English Heritage.

The nominations are debated by an expert panel of 12, shortlisted and carefully researched – “we have honoured people who have taken part in the broader Indian freedom struggle”.

Indians who have Blue Plaques include Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rabindranath Tagore, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, BR Ambedkar and V Krishna Menon.

Sister Nivedita is in interesting company – others who have merited plaques this year included Charlie Chaplin, “the UK’s first movie star”; the actor John Gielgud; Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev; and Lady Reading, who set up the Women’s Voluntary Service “and whose husband, Lord Reading, had been viceroy of India (1921-25)”, Spencer pointed out.

There were hopes of adding Britain’s first Asian MP, Dadabhai Naoroji, to the list, Spencer revealed.