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Amy Carmichael :: Ponnamal—Chapter II: Enlightened

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Things were so with Ponnamal when we, Mr. and Mrs. Walker and I with them, came to live in the old mission house of Pannaivilai, less than a mile from her home. The Walkers immediately began to visit the Christian houses about us; and one day, when visiting those particular parents‐in‐law, they saw, standing behind a door set ajar, a girl with hair like a dark cloud falling round her face, looking out at them as they sat in a front room of the house. India is a land of mystery. We get accustomed to mysteries, and hardly think of them as mysterious. But they wondered who the wild‐faced girl could be, and asked, and were told 'the widow of our son.'

And now began those wonderful days when vital religion was preached Sunday by Sunday in the village church, and the place was alive with a sense of stir and a new brightness. Among the first to be enlightened was the girl Ponnamal. She listened, one of a group of women on the right‐hand side of the preacher, whose eyes, even as he poured out rapid sentences in complicated Tamil, saw everyone, took in everything. Then the Spirit who works without noise of words wrought in her, and her heart was refreshed in the multitude of peace.

From this time forward all things became different for Ponnamal. There was the same starved existence, with its cramping walls and irritating, depressing influences; and yet all things were made new. She went about her duties in a kind of triumphant serenity which not even the jarring clatter of the house could disturb. Her mother‐in‐law was disgusted with her; she who had devoured the life of her husband, what right had she to be happy? But there was one blessed respite, for gradually Mrs. Walker's gentleness prevailed with the old father‐in‐law, and he allowed Ponnamal to stay for an hour after the Sunday service and teach a class in Sunday‐school. It was there I saw her first.

I can see her now, a slight figure in a dark blue sari, with a group of grown‐up women round her; for the school included people of all ages, down to old grannies as ignorant as infants. Ponnamal had women who could read, so they were more or less intelligent; but what struck me was her power over them. There was something about her which was quite unusual. From that moment Ponnamal for me was a woman set apart.

But she was still held in stern bondage by the old parents‐in‐law, who rigidly limited the hours of her liberty. Once in an evil moment she went to a neighbour's house to comfort a poor despairing widow who had sent a message to her imploring her to come; they were very angry with her, and she was confined-coffined, I had almost written-more rigorously than ever.

But it was discipline that could not hurt her now; the sense of fret was gone. She learned fortitude, patience, and the secret of possessing that joy which is not in circumstances, and so does not depend upon them.

In those days I was immersed in the study of Tamil. But as often as I could, I went out with an Indian woman chiefly to listen and learn. Before long I had made friends with the old couple who stood like two ancient, obdurate dragons between Ponnamal and the fulness of life. I had seen the old father‐in‐law crush a butterfly against the church wall during a service; the action seemed symbolical of the trend of his purpose towards this, the only fragment of vivid human personality he had it in his power to crush; and oppressed by the thought of it, I tried hard to find a tender spot in the old man, and one day I found it. Before he was quite aware of it, he was solemnly assuring me that if I came on a certain afternoon which he named, Ponnamal should go out with me.

Not till sixteen years later, when Ponnamal, in the leisure of illness, was living her life over again, did I know that she counted that the day of her spiritual Jubilee, the opening of her prison door. Nor did I know of the things which kindly worked together toward pulling back the bars. For the Indian mind rarely recognizes that which ours seizes upon as the crucial thing. The real substance of a letter is scattered loose all over it, or dropped into a casual postscript, or never told at all. That which grips you in a story is there by the merest chance. And so it came to pass that not till she lay ill, and I, sitting beside her with a big volume of 'Lotus Buds' on my lap, was colouring the pictures for her, by way of drawing her into reminiscences connected therewith, did I hear the back side of that afternoon.

'After you left the house, my father‐in‐law repented his promise, and my mother‐in‐law upbraided him for making it. They decided that when you came they would say it did not happen to be convenient to allow me to go. On the afternoon appointed, they talked about the matter to some of their friends who chanced to be spending the day in the house. They said, "that Mūsal Missie" "they called you that because like a hare were your swift ways" "came and beguiled us into folly." And they told the foolishness into which you had caused them unawares to fall. But their friends saw the matter otherwise, and one whom they greatly respected for his age and wisdom said, "Where is the indignity? The Mūsal Missie will come in a bullock‐bandy and take the girl with due respect to the place whither she wishes to go; and she will with care return her at the proper time. What indignity to your family can there be in that?" The other men all agreed, and they softened towards the proposal; and all this time I was waiting behind the door, shaking with fear lest at the last moment they would harden again.'

But when a few minutes later I arrived, all I saw was a smiling old man and a smiling old woman, and a composed, though evidently eager, girl. The eagerness, however, was well under control; there was no hint of it in the quiet manner, only it looked out of her eyes; and I saw it, and met it, and loved her.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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