“The Pardah Nashin” is one of the most famous poems of Sarojini Naidu in lyrical tone. It is immediately intelligible. It clearly and plainly denotes her Indian sensibility. The poet’s description of the woman living under strict Pardah is true, vivid, and picturesque. The poet hailed from an aristocratic family of Hyderabad. The Muslim ladies observed the Pardah System very strictly. The Hindu ladies were also not far behind. The Pardah was almost compulsory among the upper classes. The poet observed it very closely. Being a woman herself, being gifted with deep perception, feminine sensitivity, the poet could observe not only the exterior but also the inner mind of a woman. The poem displays the poet’s admirable power of vivid description in a simple manner.
‘Pardah Nashin’, means a lady who lives or sits behind a veil. The lyric has been widely criticized for its alleged glorification of Pardah. The poet strikes the keynote in the very first two lines of the poem
Her life is a revolving dream
Of languid and sequestered ease.
She lives a life of ease, comfort, and security in the harems of the rich. She moves constantly in a world of dreams. She has nothing much to do. She is well-sheltered from the burden of life. Her life is a life of perpetual ease and relaxation. She is being jeweled with diamond studded girdles round her waist, and bright gems in her hair which shine like ‘changing fires on sunset seas.” And
Her raiment is like morning mist
Shot opal, gold and amethyst.
She lives a life of ease and comfort well protected from the lustful looks which stealthily cast on a woman from the scorching rays of the sun, and even from the touch of the hot or cold winds. She is hidden from the eyes of the world as jewels in hair and hidden by a turban
Like jewels in a turbaned crest,
Like secrets in a lover’s breast.
The Pardah Nashin leads a sheltered life beyond the reach of the wicked and the impure. None can dare unveil her hidden graces without permission; none can have a look at her beauty without first obtaining her own sanction or that of her guardians. But all her Pardah and all the security which she enjoys are futile for they cannot halt the march of time. With the passing of time, even the sheltered and secure Pardah Nashin knows sorrow and suffering which leave their traces on her face. No Pardah and no security can prevent the stealthy march of time which robs her of her happiness, and fills her eyes with tears
Time lifts the curtain unawares,
And sorrow looks into her face…
Who shall prevent the subtle years
Or shield a woman’s eyes from tears?
Pardah is ineffective against the sorrow and suffering of life. It would be wrong to call the lyric ‘a glorification of Pardah: rather the lyric is an exposure of its futility.
Sarojini Naidu in this poem wants to focus on that this was a world is a world within the world. Even in Sarojini’s lifetime such an interesting pattern of life was fast becoming a thing of the past. Decade after decade Sarojini saw the gradual disappearance of this realm of beauty and splendor. Through the Pardah Nashin, her autobiographical and feministic approaches are revealed. Though she actively engaged in the campaign for woman’s emancipation did not conceal her nostalgia for the world of the Pardah. It was a world of courtesy and charm, in which women of delicate beauty, with henna tinted hands and gem entangled tresses, reclined languidly on silken cushions, a world which enchanted her, like an alabaster box of which she wrote
There in I treasure the spice and scent
Of rich and passionate memories blent
Like adours of cinnamon, Sandal and Clove
Of sang and sorrow and life and love.
The poem is rich in imagery. The style is simple, clear, and lucid. It is the specimen of Sarojini’s lyric poetry. It is an exquisite piece of literary art in musical tone imbibed with Indian sensibility and feminine sensitivity. So, the veil opens and closes the poetry of perfect repose blooms.