She belonged to a weaker sex. She found a home in a foreign land. She fought for a cause that was a dream for million’s. She became a part of a struggle that could not have been her own. She was one of the two English daughters of Gandhi – Meera Ben. Come, lets explore her life story which journeys in midst of thorn and suffering but with a satisfied soul.
The real name of Meera Ben is Madeline Slade. She was a solitary child who disliked school but loved flowers, birds, trees and animals. This made her parents to get her education at home by a governess. She learnt to read and write, but she just hated numbers. In the later part of her life this flaw made her study Botany and Anatomy than mathematics. As a child, she had an aptitude to learn different languages in short span. She learnt French, German and later Egyptian.
Meera Ben was an attractive lady, with six feet height, charismatic features, a sharp hooked nose and beautiful eyes. History states that she was much sought after by young men but the lady was not interested in love affair. She rather was frantically searching for peace and an significant aim in life.
One of the biographies state that Meera Ben did not like the western culture and instead enjoyed being with nature. She loved music that could soothe her soul. Beethoven a deaf musician roused in her a spiritual hunger, that made her go to a pilgrimage to Bonn and Vienna (the places of Beethoven’s birth and death). She was so imbibed in Beethoven that she made all possible attempts to know all about him. She was more inspired by him after reading ‘Jean Christophe’, a novel based on the life of Beethoven, written by Romain Rolland. Now, she made up her mind to meet this French philosopher. In order to talk to him in French, she first went to live in France in order to master the writers language.
It was here Meera Behn was introduced to Mahatma Gandhi. She read Romain Rolland’s book ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ at one sitting and it changed her life. In one of the interview she states, “Now I knew what that something was, the approach of which I had been feeling….It was to go to Mahatma Gandhi who served the cause of oppressed India through fearless truth and non-violence, a cause, which though focused in India, was for the whole of humanity.” She was such an ethical lady that in order to prepare herself to meet here Guru- Gandhi, she gave up alcoholic drinks, became a vegetarian and studied the Bhagvad Gita.
After Meera felt she was all prepared to join Gandhi’s mission, she wrote a letter to Gandhiji congratulating him at the end of his 21 day fast in 1924 and sent him some money for his cause. In the letter she insisted that she wanted to join him. Gandhi welcomed her with open arms and thus started her bit of struggle to India’s freedom. She came to Bombay on 6 November 1925 and the very next day she was at Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmadabad to be apart of a cause that millions dreamt.
In the beginning life in the Ashram was not any fairytale that Meera read in several books. But she never opted defeat she made all possible adjustments, learnt Hindi, adopted Indian dress and mastered spinning and carding. Gandhiji later sent her to the Kanya Gurukul, Dehradun. In the Gurukul she taught English, spinning and carding. Gandhiji never wanted her to join the political struggle, so she toured Bihar, Bengal and Madras to propagate Khadi and to teach improved methods of carding and spinning. She even taught the villagers sanitation and nursed the sick. However, her ill health usually made her travel back to the feet of Gandhi, but as soon as she recovered she went to her doom of people who needed her the most.
Meera Ben accompanied Gandhiji to the most important events like the Second Round Table Conference in 1932 (acted as his interpreter) and Satyagraha movement. She was later imprisoned along with Kasturba for her contribution in freedom struggle. A research states that during the Second World War, Bapu sent Meera to Assam, Orissa and Bengal and it was on the basis of her reports that he worked out a scheme of non-violent civil defense. She was also sent to the A. I. C. C. at Allahabad with a draft on Quit India Movement which was later accepted at the Bombay A. I. C. C. meeting in August 1942 as the Quit India Resolution. That’s not all, Meera was also arrested along with Bapu and was in the Aga Khan Palace Detention Camp from August 1942 to May 1944. After her release from the jail she started a center for the services of the villagers and old domestic animals near Rishikesh.
Meera never married. She vowed to be a Brahmacharini, so she shaved off her head and in later years adopted saffron robes. In one of the interviews, she said she felt like a foreigner in England but in India she found her home. This proved the immense love and faith she had towards India and her guru Gandhi. It was this love and faith that made Gandhi call her Meera. After Gandhi’s assassination, Meera felt lost in the mystic world. So, on 18th January 1959 she left India for good and settled in a small village about 30 miles out of Vienna. In her native land many workers and farmers called her “The Indian Lady”.
Meera Ben made her impact in Indian history and the struggle for freedom. She chose a path walked by few extraordinaries to find a land free form domination.