In March 1899 a devastating plague
broke out in Calcutta and spread like wild fire all over the city. The fell disease took a
toll of hundreds of lives every day. Deeply distressed, Nivedita plunged into action in
order to save the city from the grip of the dire menace. She started sweeping the streets
and cleaning the drains. Bengali youths, unused to any kind of manual labour, and
accustomed to look upon scavenging as dirty work, just sat and watched for a while, though
they felt guilty at their won inaction. The women, put to shame, ran into their homes. But
it was not long before all of them girded up their loins and came to the aid of their
loins and cam to the aid of their beloved sister. Thus did Nivedita teach the people of
Calcutta their first lessons in sanitation, self-help and social service, not by precept
but by practice.
Nivedita formed a committee of social workers in order to fight the
plague on a well- organized basis. Squads of earnest and devoted workers fanned out in all
directions and not only cleaned all the streets and lanes but nursed the victims. Nivedita
worked round the clock, often-foregoing even food and rest. Her health was seriously
impaired, and she became worn out.
She ran from home to home, hoping against hope to overtake and
frustrate death. Often, however, to her great grief, death forestalled her and frustrated
her noble design. On one occasion, the victim, a mere boy, died in her motherly lap. At
such times, Nivedita stayed on with the unfortunate bereaved for hours together, offering
them her consolation and sympathy.
Nivedita and her team incessantly carried on their formidable effort
for full thirty days before they succeeded in bringing the enemy to his heel. In the
meanwhile, Nivedita had literally saved hundreds of victims from the very jaws of death,
staking her very life in the process.
All through these gruelling days Nivedita lived on fruit and milk, and
nothing more. She had to give up even milk on one occasion to save the money for the
medicines needed by a plague victim.