The Bangle Sellers by Sarojini Naidu
A word about the poet .. Sarojini Naidu was a multi-faceted talent. Born at a time India was in chains, with a society blighted by corrosive patriarchy, caste prejudices, and oppression of women, Sarojini Naidu made good use of her education to let her literary talent, reformist zeal, and patriotic anti-colonial urge flourish. To bypass the strict colonial rules against overt display of freedom spirit, she used her pen to show how vibrant and rich India was, culturally, economically and socially. Almost all her poems are rooted in the soil, depicting the many facets of social life, so vibrant and so lively.
The poem.. From the days of yore, Indian women have been wearing bangles. From early childhood till the time of death, women wear bangles. Only the colour and design change. As a woman grows in age, the design becomes more and more somber and dull. Because of such ingrained obsession with glass bangles, factories have come up in different parts of UP, and parts of north India. The bangles change hands many times before they reach the bangles vendor who, going from door to door, sells it to the womenfolk.
Stanza 1 .. Temples have traditionally been places where people congregate during festivals. Seeing an opportunity here among the crowd, vendors of myriad items come to the fair. The bangles vendors are a common sight in such fairs. On the basket they carry atop their heads, they carry bangles for every wrist size, and of every design. No girl, maid, wife, or elderly lady can ignore the attraction of the bangle seller’s offerings. Girl children like the flashy bright ones, and the grown-ups prefer the more sedate designs.
Stanza 2 .. The poet erupts into a frenzy of imagination on seeing the numerous types of bangles on offer. She uses metaphors and similes quite liberally to describe the charm and lure of the bangles. Some bangles have the hues of blue and silver, quite like the mountain peaks. Some others are like the buds that thrive in the point of origin of a mountain stream. Some other bangles shine brilliantly like the vibrant colours of new-born leaves.
Stanza 3 .. She likens the bright glistening bangles that brides wear on the occasion of their marriage. Like a sunlit corn field, the bangles sparkle with their hues. There are some other bangles that glow like the ritual fire burning on the raised platform where the priest chants the mantras. The bride sits there with her heart pounding in intense excitement, and joy. The poet likens the torrent of emotions in the mind of the bride with the sun-swept bright corn field.
Stanza 4 .. The poet now describes some other bangles that are purple, gold flecked grey. This variety is fancied by those woman who are past their prime, and have left their boisterous youth behind. They are matured and mellowed. The subdued colour of the bangles suits their age and persona. Such a woman has seen it all – the motherhood, the trials and tribulations of running a household, and the joys and sorrows of a housewife’s life. Now she has become spiritual, worshipping God for the welfare of her husband.
Conclusion .. Sarojini Naidu wants to prove a point. She wanted to let the colonial masters know that India is not a moribund, decaying society, but a thriving, youthful one, where people live life to its full. It has its colours, the joys, the customs, and the culture. This poem centered around bangles demonstrates it quite vividly.
Questions and answers …
a. What is the theme of the poem? The poem has strong patriotic undertones. It affirms that even under centuries of foreign rule, and no effort of the rulers for fostering reforms, growth, and universal education, Indian society remains vibrant, cohesive, and free of violent social strife. Master artisans produce the gorgeous bangles of myriad designs and sizes. The pattern of colours and the profusion of hues suit the age of the wearer. It will be safe to assume that Sarojini Naidu has tried to highlight the skill of the bangle artisans, the system of trade then prevalent, and the smooth transition of a woman from her young days to her dotage. The poem celebrates life, and the richness of craft.