Marriage and Independence

Sir CP Srivastava and Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, soon after marriageShri Mataji’s childhood and teenage years were intertwined with the birth of the new Indian Nation, and her years as a wife and young mother proved to be equally so.

Nirmala Salve, now widely known as Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, was married to Chandrika Prasad Srivastava on the 7th of April, 1947. One hundred and twenty nine days later, on August 14th, at the stroke of midnight, India became free.

As Shri Mataji’s younger brother H.P. Salve, fondly known as Babamama, recounted: “During the communal riots (at the time of  the 1947 partition) there was an occasion when someone knocked at the door. When Nirmala opened it, she found one lady and two gentlemen standing at the entrance looking extremely frightened and scared. They told Nirmala that they were refugees from Pakistan and since one of them was a Muslim, the Hindus were after them, chasing them with drawn swords. Nirmala took them in without a moment’s hesitation and hid them in a room.

"After some time some people came with drawn swords," he continued, "and said that a Muslim was hiding in the house. Nirmala categorically denied this and bluffed them by saying that She was a staunch Hindu herself, so how could she give protection to a Muslim. The people with the swords initially did not believe her, but saw the large bindi on her forehead, which is symbolic of a Hindu married woman, so they went away convinced…” [1]

Shri Mataji with infant daughter KalpanaThis incident took place during her pregnancy, and she delivered her first child, Kalpana, in the month of December 1947. On the 29th of January, 1948 Shri Mataji met Mahatma Gandhi, who took Kalpana on his lap and said, “Nepali (an affectionate nickname he had given Shri Mataji), you are the same to look at, now you are a mother. When are you going to start your spiritual work? Now we are free, you should start whatever you wanted to do.” Tragically, the next day, a political extremist assassinated Mahatma Gandhi as he attended evening prayers.

In 1948 Shri Mataji’s husband Chandrika Prasad (later widely known as Sir C.P. Srivastava, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990), was selected for the Indian Foreign Service and Indian Administration Service (I.A.S). Following Shri Mataji’s counsel, Sir C.P. elected to remain in the I.A.S. and serve his country from within its borders. During these busy first years of marriage, their second child, Sadhana, was born in February 1950. In May of that year, Sir C.P. was appointed to Lucknow as a city magistrate and the young family remained there for some time.

Late in 1951, Sir C.P. went to Meerut as the Additional District Magistrate. The staff bungalow was located on a sizable property and built in traditional British style. Shri Mataji, now with two small children, cultivated the land adjoining the bungalow. With the help of a farmhand, she converted the unused land into a very fertile vegetable garden. She grew vegetables for home use and sold the surplus to supplement their family income.

In his memoirs, H.P. Salve recalled, “Shri Mataji’s farm was regarded as the best farm in the district. The brinjal (eggplants) were so big that I could not lift them. She produced very, very big cauliflowers, very big tomatoes, very large cucumbers. It was unbelievable how she made such great-sized vegetables."

In 1953, Shri Mataji’s family moved to Mumbai when Sir C.P. was posted to the Directorate-General of Shipping (later to be called Shipping Corporation of India). H.P. Salve recalled wonderful summer holidays with Shri Mataji and her children at Pachmarhi, a hill station near Chhindwara, in central India, an area of great beauty with ancient caves, waterfalls, forests and wildlife. Shri Mataji and her family also spent a lot of time in Nagpur, where many of her relatives lived.

On Sunday, the 8th of February 1955, doctors admitted Shri Mataji’s father to the hospital. One week later all his children gathered around him. Shri Mataji was extremely close to her father and had always valued his advice, especially on spiritual matters. Her brother recalled that their father asked Nirmala “Have you been able to find the method?” - referring to the method of giving en masse realization. Surrounded by his family, Prasad Salve passed away two days later, on February 17th, 1955. H.P. Salve admired that Shri Mataji, “who would be filled with compassionate tears when she saw even one beggar, at that moment of great personal loss summoned up all her courage and started arranging for the funeral.”

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of being.
carl gustav jung

1. ^ H. P. Salve, 'My Memoirs' New Delhi: Life Eternal Trust, 2000