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Amy Carmichael :: Ponnamal—Chapter VII: ‘Why Mens Honours Woman?’

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The following bears upon my tale, though for the moment the critical reader may doubt it. It is a cutting from the Madras Mail, the South Indian newspaper which we take at Dohnavur.

'Mr. R. M. D. writes to the Times of India as follows: "My purpos for writin on you this, is to inform your many English Brothers not to give honor and devotion to your ladys because they will in the end becum proud and then they will want vote. 2 or 3 thing happen at Victory Garden to‐morrow and then I all of sudden made up my brain to write you immediate. There was many Englis womans and when mans are sitting on the bench, and womans come, man stand, and give their sit to woman. This happen 2 or 3 time to‐morrow and I question you why? I again tell you why? Mans and womans are similar in this world and then why mens honours woman? If they honours old old woman, one thing, but they honours young young lady. My purpose to write this to inform the Englis Sahebloks that when they do this they spoil their feminine lady and then this lady get proud and walk like pcock and then ask vote and then spoil Ken Garden and throw bomb on Loid Gorg, put bursting powder in envelope, and post, and create other mischief. Therefore I say to my Englis, please don't spoil Englis womans in India, because by honouring them you people put in their brain the sids [seeds] of sufragetism and then they get wild like Misses Pancurs. Please please print this leter near the Ruter's Telegram with big big words."'

What the writer of this eloquent appeal to the chivalry of the Englishman would have said could he have seen Ponnamal, an Indian woman, established in charge of the Nursery at Neyoor in South Travancore, honoured exceedingly by all who came in contact with her-among others, two English doctors-imagination fails to imagine. The Princess, Mr. Walker used to call her, for she had a stately way about her with all her gentleness; and the respect he had always felt for her was not lessened when he saw her rise to this new call to the arduous. He would have 'given his sit' to such a woman ten times over, and felt honoured to do it; and yet she was just Ponnamal; and she never knew she was wonderful, and that the doctor wrote that to see her at her work was a blessing to him; and her faith, especially through dark times, was an abiding inspiration; or that when her work was finished, we should read a book and find these words descriptive of her and her common, glorious toil: 'The love of duty is the strength of heroes, and there is no way of life in which we may not set ourselves to learn that love.'

By the time the new work was well established, Mr. Walker with my mother was in Dohnavur. I do not know exactly what caused that friend of friends, Walker of Tinnevelly, to become our champion. Perhaps, as was his wont, he waited till he knew all round about a matter before committing himself; and when he knew, threw fear to the winds, and was strong. I remember the first time I was sure of his sympathy. A three‐sheet official letter of criticism had come from home. I could not wonder at it. It was kind, but disapproving. To follow its counsels would have been to consign how many children? to perdition. I read it, and it chilled me, though it never occurred to me to be influenced by it. Then I went to the study where he sat writing, and gave it to him.

He read it slowly through, turning over the crackly pages with the greatest deliberation. 'There speaks the voice of ignorance,' was all he said; and I knew I could count on him thereafter. And count on him I did. For he was one of those rare valorous souls upon whom the opinion of the hour made no impression whatever. The opinion of that particular hour was summed up by a certain newspaper in India, to which, unfortunately-for it was quite out of sympathy-one of the Dohnavur books had been sent for review: we would live to repent our endeavour, was all it had to say.

A year later Mrs. Walker returned. One of the babies immediately took possession of her; loved her; said so, as only a baby can say such things. That which nothing on earth could have bought was hers the moment she entered the nursery. So she, too, was in sympathy before many days had passed.

As for my mother, she would have gathered all India into her heart; for India's imperilled children she had only one word, Welcome.

She and Ponnamal foregathered at once. My mother considered her a truly remarkable woman, and was never weary of discovering new gifts and virtues in her. Nor was I, for this new work, with its new demands upon courage and wisdom and, above all, unselfishness, found her prepared at every point. When the nursery at Neyoor had to be opened, so that some at least of the children might be within reach of medical help, it was of course Ponnamal I had asked to take charge of it. She was at that time in poor health; but Neyoor did good things for her, and she loved her nursery. The place was so beautifully kept that the doctors used to take visitors to see it; and many were the inquiries as to where she had been trained, so clever were all her devices for nursing babies, sick and well, and for managing generally. Of her own hard work few knew; it was always Ponnamal who had the illest baby by her at night; always Ponnamal who did the work which no one else had grace enough to do.

I went to Neyoor as often as I could, but it became more and more difficult to leave Dohnavur, as the family grew bigger and bigger; so that through almost all the more strenuous times Ponnamal was alone with her charge, and twice she worked through bad epidemics all but singlehanded, so far as reliable help went; handicapped by all sorts of misadventures too, but brave and resourceful as ever. One of these epidemics is indelibly marked in Arulai's memory, as she was the innocent cause of it. She had been visiting in a house in the Dohnavur village where there was small‐pox, and she had not been told about it. Next week she went to Neyoor, and developed small‐pox in that houseful of babies. The doctors put up a mat shelter for her some little distance from the village; and there poor Arulai and the babies, who of course followed in rapid succession, abode in what Arulai recalls as a baking oven, till they recovered, as they mercifully all did. Far otherwise was the next, when a more serious foe than small‐pox attacked the little children. They died then one after the other, sometimes two in a day.

Every day through those years Ponnamal wrote to me, and every week she sent the babies' weights and notes of their progress. One of these bulletins lies before me; seventeen babies' weights are given and mother‐news about each. Of the joy of the little flying visits I paid I can hardly bring myself to speak. They are too full of Ponnamal to be easy to contemplate steadily. For just that little space, a time whose minutes ran with breathless peace through the hours, she threw aside the burden of her sole responsibility, and rested her heart in me, as I rested mine in her.

Once, after a visit to the Neyoor Nursery, I asked that occasional postcards of cheer might be sent to her, knowing how she would appreciate them, especially if no address were given, as then she would not feel they must be answered, and for answers I knew she had no time. And I mentioned also babies' knitted vests, safety‐pins, and soap, as things the Nursery liked. The response to this immediately was over a hundred postcards from all parts of the world, numbers of letters, safety‐pins galore, and soap tucked into parcels of vests to make up weight. Ponnamal, who had no idea she was known outside the family, was amazed at this shower of pleasant things, and she stored her postcards and letters in bags and kept them to regale me when I went over. Some of them are by me now, love‐words that did their work. There was one friend who always seemed to divine when trouble was within about three weeks of us, and with the trouble almost invariably would arrive a postcard with the Hampstead postmark. 'I began to look out for it when things went wrong,' Ponnamal once told me, 'and was quite surprised if it did not come.'

In a land where belief in signs and omens is cultivated as a science, it was not wonderful that the first great disaster to our work, that fatal epidemic, shook the faith of all who were not committed to it in deepest ways. Shortly after the first baptism of a group of young girls "a group unique, I suppose, in the story of missions in India" the storm fell. 'The blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall' is a word which reads to us straight from life.

It is an old story now, and I would not touch on it, but for the dauntless courage it discovered in Ponnamal. Child after child died; the doctors were away, and the help at hand was hardly sufficient to deal adequately with the trouble. The two nurses-the only older ones we had-lost heart: 'If another baby dies, we shall know the blessing of God is not on this work,' was their conclusion. Another died, and another, and they prepared to depart and leave Ponnamal with the young inexperienced girls, and eight or nine babies still ill, all the sick‐nursing to do, all the foods to make, and her own strength failing. Then some evil men who lived next door awoke to the opportunity; their wickedness was a nightmare to Ponnamal, with the convert girls on her hands; and I was recovering from a threatened breakdown, and till the worst was over was not allowed to go to her. From the very heart of it all she wrote "and of the evil things that befell us that year, these I have mentioned were the least", 'The storm will not last always. The waves dash into our little boat, but when the Lord says, "Peace, be still," they will lie down. Let all your prayer for us be this, that we may rest in the Will of God while the storm lasts.'

Was it wonderful that I loved her, counted her precious? 'I do not want people who come to me under certain reservations. In battle you need soldiers who fear nothing.' So said Pere Didon; so say I. Can any words fitly express the preciousness of such a one?

We had the sympathy of some in our distresses; but many seemed to agree with the nurses that these untoward happenings should be understood to imply the disapproval of Providence. Just then, when it was most needed, came a mighty cheer. It was a letter from one who understood: 'I know what you will be going through now,' she wrote, 'and how people will be telling you the attempt will end in failure, and that you are wrong to try to do the impossible; but do not heed them.' And she went on to say that she believed all work that had in it the seed of eternity was bound to pass through a baptism of suffering and be misunderstood, decried, and judged by its apparent failure or success. Let none of these things move you, was the burden of her letter; and Ponnamal rejoiced in it. 'That is the truth,' she said, 'and we shall live to prove it.'

At last the Neyoor plan grew too difficult. We had so many children that we could not manage in Dohnavur without Ponnamal. So we built another Nursery here, and on a happy day, crossed as it was by fears of all that being quite doctorless was sure to mean, but helped exceedingly by the arrival of a trained nurse, Miss Wade, henceforth a beloved co‐worker, Ponnamal and her babies returned.

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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