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Amy Carmichael :: Ponnamal—Chapter IX: ‘Nous’

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Once more Walker of Tinnevelly must come into this book, for the chapter word suggests him. It was one of his favourite words. So and so 'has no nous' he would say in rather disgusted tones, of some hopeless muddler. Or, in tones of keen approval, 'You know where you are with him; he has plenty of nous.' Of Ponnamal he used to say with the particular smile that was his on such occasions, 'She's all right: she's got such nous, you know.' I did know it, and blessed her Creator. For nous appeared then to me, and has ever since appeared to be, one of the rarest of gifts, by no means to be taken for granted; and after a somewhat extended experience of a variety of types of human beings, I for one incline to put them all into one of two divisions: those who, when thrown out of a top window, fall on their feet, and those who alight otherwise. Ponnamal could be trusted to fall on her feet.

Her nous showed in a hundred directions.

She had a clear head for packing a day full of good honest work, and for directing the energies of others. She knew how to turn odds and ends both of time and of material to good account; and she was down to every trick of shiftiness in those about her. Slackness she abhorred; she was most un‐Oriental in her attitude towards it; and she had little patience with silliness. 'You didn't know! why didn't you know?' she would demand if excessively tried; and she found nous‐less people, however virtuous, wearisome.

It was one of Ponnamal's ways-due, I suppose, to the nous in her-that caused her to work at a given plan until she had got it as near perfection as possible. Take the house‐keeping plan, for example. It is not easy for a reader accustomed to the convenience of civilization to conceive what it means to feed a large company of children, and workers, and frequently Indian guests, in a jungle place, far from shops and markets; or of what it is to get building work done, even if it be only mud‐building work, in a place where there is no poverty compelling enough to persuade people to work at anything for two days running. We had struggled along as best we could while Ponnamal was in Neyoor; but as we had not proper rooms where we could store food‐stuffs, we had to buy in small quantities; and there were endless difficulties about getting enough variety for the vegetable diet upon which the health of the children depended. Gradually, as more help came from England, we were able to build nurseries, and so set the old mud rooms free for stores; and Ponnamal, who returned at this point, came into her own.

She added up all the expenses, so multifarious that a Westerner is baffled by them, connected with grain bought straight from the field-buying, carting, husking, cleaning, boiling, drying, storing-and compared these with the cost of rice bought in the bazaar; then she added the cost of the alteration in the store‐rooms that would be required if the grain were to be stored by us, and how long it would take to reimburse this expenditure out of our profits; and as she came to the conclusion that, allowing for the numerous items invariably 'forgotten' in an Eastern estimate, we should gain by the change, I handed the whole over to her; and twice a year at the two harvests of the year she saw to the right conduct of all this complicated business, superintended the measuring, and kept the involved accounts. Then there were the smaller and extremely various requirements for curries and condiments, and all the sundries needed for orderly existence. A household as large as ours has to be sufficient to itself, for nothing in any quantity can be bought within a day's journey. All that this fact covers was most capably undertaken by Ponnamal; and I felt sure now that every rupee would do the work of two, or as nearly two as possible.

One morning after her illness had taken fast hold of her, but before she was too ill to be able to think clearly, she went through these items with me, explaining the laws which govern the various markets, and the customs observed in paying the different people employed. The rice measurer, for example, of one field will not measure in another, and each has to be paid in cash and in cloth according to the rules of that particular field. Sugar bought by the sack is to be had at one season; salt, also bought by the sack, at another; rope and cocoanuts and certain oils are cheapest in a town twenty‐five miles to the west; curry commodities in another twenty‐five miles to the south; and so on-details which, but for her clear‐headedness, would have been most bewildering in their minutia, were slowly dictated to me as I took notes of them all. She had an amazing head for figures, and once when she was miserably ill, and I sitting beside her was doing accounts, half aloud, she followed, added up the column of figures, and gave me the correct total. She had helped me to balance my accounts for years, and as long as she could walk came over to my room to do this her last cherished bit of work.

Ponnamal's intimate sharing of all these matters, which to us from the first were sacred secularities, resulted in something of her spirit passing through the whole work. There were some, like Arulai of early days, and others who in these later years have gathered round us, who were naturally nobly‐minded, and to them we owe much. But I doubt if we should have that careful thought for economy, which we can truly say exists among us, if it had not been for Ponnamal's example in this matter. No one in Dohnavur looks upon 'the mission' as a limitless fund from which to draw as much as may be of the good things of this life; rather we have difficulty with our girls to get them to take such strength‐feeders as milk, for example, when they are under par. More than once after quite a tussle with one who much required it but would not take it, we extracted the protest, 'because the babies need all we ought to buy.' And yet this girl, like every other here, is pouring out all she possesses on the sacrifice and service without a thought of any reward but the joy of doing it.

And as the people around us, to whom our lives are open, watched Ponnamal going about her duty with industry and eagerness, finding in this arduous work all she desired of earthly delight, incorruptible in her integrity, and ever with a lynx eye for waste anywhere, they marvelled at her: 'Such do not exist among us,' they once remarked, summing her up; 'nor did we know there were such among Christians.' They knew that for many unbroken years nothing could draw her away even for a holiday. Some of them knew that she never even told me when any of her relatives were married, because she knew it would trouble me to think of the reproach that would fall upon her if she did not go to the family tamasha; and yet nothing would have persuaded her to go, for there was no one to take her place. It was hidden from us then that soon she would have to go away altogether, and that no one then would take her place. We never thought of ourselves without her. It did not seem possible: she was part of Dohnavur.


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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