Early days in Calcutta
THE ASHRAM at Barrackpur was thriving, but Gauri Ma soon realized that without close contact with the people of Calcutta, the work there would not spread. Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna had once counseled her, "No, child. No! This work must be done in the city." Gauri Ma, whose natural inclinations were to practice austerity in lonely places, had tried to do the work away from the commotion of the city, but how could the words of the Lord prove erroneous?
Finally, in 1911, a house was rented at Goyabagan Lane, and the whole Saradeshwari Ashram moved to Calcutta. At a public meeting in Calcutta. Gauri Ma described the goals and the work of the ashram. She called upon those worshippers of the Mother gathered there who felt for the sufferings of women to come forward and help, declaring that their lives would be fulfilled by self-sacrifice in the service of women. Many sympathetic men and women who heard Gauri Ma's sincere call came forward to help in the work she had begun.
The work of the ashram and school continued to make steady progress. Gauri Ma organized an executive committee composed of a few householder devotee men and women, so that the progress and expansion of the work could proceed smoothly.
At this time, there were about twelve single or widowed women living at the ashram; they taught about sixty students, who attended classes regularly. In time, they purchased a carriage for the school. Gauri Ma personally worked to collect money, food, and clothes for the ashram. Many of her former students taught at the school.
One gentleman who had seen Gauri Ma's work at that time and who himself had worked with her described her unstinting devotion: 'The story of those days is very moving and stands out as a lesson to us. Finding students for the school, interviewing women who came to join the ashram and selecting the capable ones from among them, running the ashram smoothly amid the flurry of the many visitors who came, and, above all, worrying about the finances of the ashram – all these tasks could be successfully handled only by someone like Gauri Ma, who never lost hope and always remained calm. There were many obstacles and difficulties, scarcities and hardships. Gauri Ma went through them all with her head held high. Not for a moment did she deviate from her goal, nor was she ever afraid. So often we are overpowered by disappointment, but we never heard Gauri Ma speak ill of anybody or ever glance backward. One could always see manifest in her the glow of a great goal, and even more so, a great inner strength."
The financial position of the ashram in the early years in Calcutta was not sound. Some days there was no food for the women at the ashram, so Gauri Ma would have to go out and ask for alms. Trials and tribulations, sufferings and hardships are borne by people who choose to do noble work for a great cause in all times and all places. All such difficulties this sannyasini and disciple of Sri Ramakrishna had to bear. The very blood from the hearts of great people must be shed so that noble work may blossom and flourish. Such is the universal law.
The bittersweet experiences during those difficult days were often softened by touching experiences. One day, Gauri Ma presented herself at the home of a rich gentleman whom she did not know. The lady of the house had heard about Gauri Ma but had never met her. She inquired about the reason for her visit. "I am a sannyasini, Mother. Please give me some alms," Gauri Ma replied. "There are many girls whom I have to feed. and today there is no food in the house. That is why I am asking for alms."
The wife was touched, so she gave her some legumes and vegetables. Gauri Ma tied the ingredients in a cloth and left. But the housewife found the whole incident strange. This woman did not appear to be an ordinary beggar. (It is true – can we ever cover fire with a cloth?) Her curiosity aroused, the wife sent a young boy to follow the sannyasini to find out who she was.
Gauri Ma took the bundle of food and started off on foot for the ashram. Serendipitously, the principal of the Sanskrit College and a great scholar, Dr. Satish Chandra Vidyabhushan. happened to pass that way in his carriage. Seeing Gauri Ma, he stopped immediately, stepped down, saluted her by touching her feet, signifying respect, and took her to the ashram in his carriage.
Meanwhile, the young boy had secretly climbed onto the rear of the carriage, and thus he arrived at the ashram. He observed everything carefully then returned to his mistress, giving her a detailed account of all he had seen. On learning Gauri Ma's identity, the housewife felt deeply ashamed for having treated her as an ordinary beggar. Not long afterwards, she went to see Gauri Ma. She saluted her, saying, "Mother, that day I did not recog- nize you. I have come to ask your forgiveness. Please forgive this ignorant and foolish woman." After that, the good lady and her family frequently helped the ashram.
Gradually, the number of residents of Saradeshwari Ashram increased to twenty-five, the number of students to seventy. In addition to receiving the usual education. students were taught both Sanskrit and English. Besides this, during the early days at Barrackpur, Gauri Ma had introduced spinning and weaving. In Calcutta she made arrangements for the teaching of other types of handicrafts as well.
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.