In the Bazaars of Hyderabad
By Sarojini Naidu
Born with Bengali roots to intellectually-gifted parents Sarojini Naidu can be said to have a privileged upbringing. They ensured their daughter, Sarojini got the best education available in India. She studied in the University of Madras. Later, she went to England for higher studies in King’s College in London. Her education and supportive parents helped Sarojini to pursue her literary interests. Soon, her innate tendency for writing poems unraveled.
India was in chains then. The way India suffered as a colony of the British saddened her. The society was bedeviled by superstition, illiberal feudalistic mores, and particularly, pervasive discrimination against women. A patriarchal society didn’t permit any freedom to women. Crushed under blind tradition, backwardness, and poverty, India’s women struggled to make a mark in any field of life. Sarojini grew up under such circumstances. Her mind rebelled against the way women languished under a colonial rule that did precious little to bring about any meaningful reform.
Sarojini Naidu took up the cudgels on their behalf and crusaded for their emancipation. That started her foray to the public stage. Soon, she plunged to the freedom movement as a staunch supporter of Gandhi. She became the president of the Indian National Congress. But, her mind remained anchored to literary pursuits. She wrote many touching poems winning accolades from readers in India and abroad. She came to be known as the Nightingale of India. Many of her popular poems centered around the rustic simplicity, beauty, and diversity of Indian rural life.
As a freedom fighter, she attracted hostile scrutiny of the colonial masters. Enforcing draconian laws, the British had succeeded in muzzling anti-colonial news or writings. To Skirt the watchful eyes of the establishment, Sarojini wrote about the vibrant socio-economic landscape of India with its myriad hues and diversity. She asserted India’s uniqueness by singing the praise of India’s rural life, which was despised by the colonial rulers as moribund and dead.
About this poem … Sarojini Chattopadhay (later Naidu) was born and brought up in Hyderabad. That gave her a good understanding of the sight and sound of this bustling city. The markets overflowed with merchandize, and buyers and sellers. Frenzied yelling, bargaining, and haggling rent the air round the day. For a quiet, non-commercial visitor, the market provided amusement, intrigue, imagination, and food for thought. Sarojini Naidu was, no doubt, a discerning watcher of the market place. Her simple narrative style cast in a question-answer format characterizes this poem.
Explanation of the poem..
What do you sell O ye merchants ?
Richly your wares are displayed.
Turbans of crimson and silver,
Tunics of purple brocade,
Mirrors with panels of amber,
Daggers with handles of jade.
First stanza ..As a curious onlooker, the author marvels at the wide array of items offered for sale in the market. With eyes gaping with wonder, she asks the merchants about the many items they display, such as the crimson and sliver coloured turbans, tunics with purple brocades, amber-paneled mirrors and the dreadful daggers with handles beautifully studded with jade.
What do you weigh, O ye vendors?
Saffron and lentil and rice.
What do you grind, O ye maidens?
Sandalwood, henna, and spice.
What do you call , O ye pedlars?
Chessmen and ivory dice.
Second stanza .. Then her eyes fall on the many vendors who throng the market with their myriad wares. She asks the vendors who sell rice, lentils and saffron what they weigh. The author answers herself. Then she turns her eyes on the maidens who grind sandalwood, henna and spice. Then, there are the peddlers who sell items for the chess board.
What do you make,O ye goldsmiths?
Wristlet and anklet and ring,
Bells for the feet of blue pigeons
Frail as a dragon-fly’s wing,
Girdles of gold for dancers,
Scabbards of gold for the king.
Third stanza … Then the author casts her glance towards the famed goldsmiths, who, with their deft hands, make wristlets, anklets, ring, ultra-light bells for the pigeons’ legs, girdles for dancers’ legs, and ceremonial swords for the royalty. Undoubtedly, the skill of the artisans brings appreciation and cheer to the author.
What do you cry,O ye fruitmen?
Citron, pomegranate, and plum.
What do you play ,O musicians?
Cithar, sarangi and drum.
what do you chant, O magicians?
Spells for aeons to come.
Fourth stanza .. The fruit hawkers passing by catch the attention of the author. They offer citron, pomegranate, and plum. Then there are the musicians who play the sitar, sarangi and the drum. Adding a touch of bemusement to the bustling market place, there are the magicians who baffle the onlookers with their tricks, sleights of hand, and weird shouts, as if they are invoking heavenly powers.
What do you weave, O ye flower-girls
With tassels of azure and red?
Crowns for the brow of a bridegroom,
Chaplets to garland his bed.
Sheets of white blossoms new-garnered
To perfume the sleep of the dead.
Fifth and last stanza … Lastly, the flower-girls seem to have stolen the heart of the author. They make tassels of azure and red, decorations for a bridegroom’s head gear, chaplets to garland the marital bed, and strings of white and freshly-plucked flowers to add aroma to the bed being carried to the grave.
Concluding observation .. The poem appears to be from the diary of a simple young girl who visits the market for the first time. However, an intelligent reader will not fail to notice its celebration of nationalism, and its philosophical undertone. Those were the days in which goods from England were thrust upon the Indian consumers. Almost all nationalists vigorously opposed such economic hegemony. Sarojini Naidu too raised her voice albeit through her poems.
The poem depicts a thriving market place awash with goods of all descriptions. Hyderabad offered everything to the buyer from ceremonial thrones to burial accessories. So, it could do without goods coming out of British factories. What better way to underscore this than to celebrate the vigour and exuberance of the market place!
Questions and answers ………..
- What is the theme of the poem? ……. The poem is an assertion that centuries of colonial rule hadn’t robbed ;ife in India’s villages and towns of their uniquness, vibrancy, and colour. A sense of pride is discernible in the poem. The feeling that Indian rural life was not moribund and dead comes out unmistakably from this simple and short poem. Sarojini’s tone of difiance of British superiority is subtle, but clear. In short, depicting the Hyderabad market as bustling bazaar with myriad hues, and overflowing shops, the Nightangle has reiterated that India’s soul and spirit were not dead yet.