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Amy Carmichael :: Ponnamal—Chapter V: Underland

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We were in the midst of our usual life when the little Elf walked into it, interrupted it, and finally changed its current.

We had been for a year or so at Dohnavur, which was then Camp to us, our belongings being at Pannaivilai. It was a trial to leave Dohnavur, for there were some in the Hindu villages who were inquiring; and one in particular, who afterwards came out and was hypnotized and carried back in triumph, was much in our thoughts. But we never stayed for long anywhere in those days, being dedicated to the wanderer's calling; and Dohnavur was only one of our various headquarters while itinerating, and we had to return to Pannaivilai for another year's work on that side of the district.

Now there was in the Hindu village near by, as I have told before, a certain child who had set her heart on escaping from the life to which her mother, hardly understanding its purport, had allowed herself to be persuaded to devote her. Her father, a man of noble character, was dead; she had escaped once and had fled to her mother, who, to the Temple woman who followed after, gave her up again. To whom then could she flee? She did not know; she only knew that one March evening, in the twilight, something within her made her run across the narrow stream that divided her village from ours, and through the wood of rustling palmyra palms, and so to the village where a great church stood, and under it she paused to wait upon events. There she was found shortly afterwards, and next morning she was brought to us. We had only arrived the day before.

Had we not arrived, what would have happened? Who can tell? We need not try to imagine. We had arrived; the woman who found the child, instead of taking her back to her people, as she told us she would have done had no one been at hand to take the responsibility of her, brought her to us; and we kept her.

Thereafter for awhile all went on as before; only, as evening by evening we returned from work, there was a child's loving welcome, little loving arms were round one's neck. I remember wakening up to the knowledge that there had been a very empty corner somewhere in me that the work had never filled; and I remember, too, thanking God that it was not wrong to be comforted by the love of a child.

But this is Ponnamal's story, and the Elf did not become part of that till later; so that some years must be imagined of steady work as before-on Ponnamal's part without any inkling of that to which we were being drawn; on mine, very little.

And yet underlying all our work thenceforth was a search, begun almost unconsciously, for the covered facts connected with a traffic of which now for the first time I had become thoroughly aware. The child told me many things. These things burned in me. I told them to Ponnamal. She sympathized, but did not see what we could do. Neither indeed did I. All efforts that year to save children failed. Nothing I could devise, nothing Ponnamal could do, could effect the deliverance of a single little girl.

Then the thought came to me definitely to try to find out the conditions which govern this traffic in child‐life. Our constant itineration was a help in this; it brought us into contact with many people, and perpetually led to new experiences. But some of the things we did together we never talked about; for I was feeling my way in those days, and felt that talk even to those nearest me would be premature. Sometimes we drifted quietly into the midst of some big festival at night, and lost ourselves in that place about which so many who live on its edge know nothing at all. Often I used to wonder at the way it received us; and one evening the talk about me was so different from the kind everywhere reserved for people of our race, that I began to feel I had slipped unawares into something quite new. It was Alice in Wonderland over again, only it was a different wonderland. Alice in Underland would have to be its name; and was I Alice, or who? Ponnamal was herself, however, which was reassuring; and we sat and talked to the people and had some food. Presently some newcomers arrived; the place was a caravanserai, and the time was late evening. It was moonlight, and we were on the shadowy side of the wide mud verandah. As the new travellers came in and passed us, they made to me the ordinary sign of salutation to a Brahman woman, and Ponnamal beside me laughed softly; and I understood, and knew that for the first time I was inside India, the real India.

After that experience, I found it well to go there as often as possible. It was thus, while far inside this underland, deep in the recesses of some great temple court with its towering walls all round, or sitting among the friendly garland‐makers as they strung jessamine and oleander into wreaths and flower‐balls for the gods, I heard much unknown to me before, and gradually to me it was given to see into the heart of the matter, and to know how the laws were being evaded and the children polluted. Words fall from such discoveries: they ask for deeds, not words. But as I stood in spirit before this new knowledge, which like some great shape limb by limb took visible substance before us, I ate ashes as it were bread, and mingled my drink with weeping. Ponnamal ate of those ashes too; but that which even then was calling to me with such urgent voice that I thought those very near must hear, seemed as a vain dream to her. She would have gone with me to the mouth of hell, and did, when I had to go there; but that we should ever be able to snatch children from that open mouth was something too good to be true. We had yet to learn that nothing is too good to be true.

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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