The freedom struggle was gathering momentum, and Mr. Salve, who was an Indian Christian, joined Mahatma Gandhi. The Christian community was enraged and threw him out. But he was undaunted and sacrificed everything for the freedom of his country – renouncing his title of ‘Rao-Sahib’, burning all his suits and taking to spinning khadi. The British imprisoned him and his wife several times. In the absence of her parents, Shri Mataji bore the main domestic responsibility of raising the family.
Each family member had only two sets of clothes and slept on thin floor mats. Shri Mataji had only one coat throughout her education but she never grudged or grumbled. She was very happy that everything was sacrificed for the country. In fact she was very proud of it.
She was only seven when the Christian Missionary School expelled her due to her father’s anti-British agitation. As her father was in jail, Gandhi took her under his wings.
Gandhi asked how it would be possible. She assured him that it would be easily achieved through inner transformation. But he reasoned, “First of all, let us be free (from British rule). If we are not free, what can we enjoy? We cannot talk about it. People will say that we are not even free, how can we talk of freedom of Spirit? We should be free from foreign domination first.”
When the time came for higher education, Nirmala chose to study the field of medicine focusing on the scientific terminology of the anatomy, and human physiology. She wanted to know how far human knowledge had gone. In 1942 she spearheaded the student freedom movement.
“I saw Hitler coming up, and our country also was in complete bondage. So the first thing was to make our country free. It was very important and that’s why I took a very, very active role in the movement that was for the freedom of our country; same with my father and mother.”
Many young people gave up their studies to join the freedom movement along with her. It was not easy. Thousands of patriots sacrificed their lives. She was jailed several times, put on ice, and tortured brutally, but it could not break her indomitable spirit. She did not care for her life and was proud to sacrifice it for her Motherland.
On 14th August 1947 India received her independence.
“I saw the Union Jack coming down and I saw the Tricolor going up. That was the moment… it was beyond me. I cant tell you what was the feeling that covered me. Such a feeling that truth has overcome untruth! That justice has been shown over injustice! That feeling is still so much; I can’t even see the flag! I see it and I remember the whole history, the whole thing that how many people sacrificed! How many martyrs were there! How much people have fought for it! The flag stands for all that.”
Before Shri Mataji could finish her medical studies, she married Mr. Chandika Prasad Srivastava, on the 7th of April 1947. Although her husband was a prominent member of Indian Administration Service, his career took a sudden ascent as he became the Secretary to the then Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri.
After Her marriage, Shri Mataji devoted Herself to Her family. They had two lovely daughters, Kalpana and Sadhana. When Her daughters were both married Shri Mataji’s concern for the well-being of society manifested in Her launching ‘Youth Society’ for films to promote healthy entertainment and protect the innocence of Indian films.
“I was very anxious that I should lead a very normal life. I should not be like some Himalayan fellow or something like that because this is needed for the common man.”