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Amy Carmichael :: Ponnamal—Chapter XI: Ahead of Her Generation

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The years of search, and of service, and of shouldering what to her had been large responsibilities, developed all that was fine in Ponnamal. She had always been remarkable for earnestness, but now there was a new air of sure‐footedness about her. She had learnt to walk in slippery places without slipping. Her judgment had ripened, too; I found myself turning more and more confidently to her for counsel in difficult hours.

So also, apparently, did the people about us; for they brought all manner of matters to her, from the maladies of their babies to the marriages of their daughters. I used to wonder sometimes how they regarded her views on the latter subject; Ponnamal could be caustic when she chose.

It was she who explained to me the mysteries of the marriage market. In India we do not buy our brides as do the barbarous: we buy our bridegrooms; and in our part of the country the price, called by courtesy daughter's dowry, is arranged on a sliding scale according to the examinations passed by the suitor, so much per examination or 'failed pass.' Thus a B.A. is so much, a 'failed B.A.' so much, next come a 'First Arts' and a 'failed F.A.' then 'Matriculate' and 'failed Matric.' The plan is simple, but it spells ruin for a parent who wants to marry his girls to educated men, and Ponnamal considered it wrong every way. But she was far ahead of her generation on the whole subject; she disapproved, for example, of girls being committed to the irrevocable fact of marriage before they knew their own minds, and she thought the marriage question should be lifted up into a higher atmosphere, and approached in a finer spirit than that common now. She had other thoughts too, even rarer; for she held that India needed the service of the unmarried woman as well as of the married; and that the time must come when this would be acknowledged by the Church in India. She never compared the relative holiness or devotion required for the two kinds of service; she simply held that India needed both, and that there was work to do which only one who was free to be 'absorbed in her duties towards her Lord' "I quote from Mr. Arthur Way's translation of 1 Cor. vii. 34" could do; and indeed the proof of this lay all about us.

'When it is taught that the Cross is the attraction,' she said, quoting a favourite word of ours "whose truth she did not think was much taught now", 'things will be altogether different.' She knew that for many sacrifice would be found in the bringing up of a family for the highest ends; but for some she believed it would surely lead to a turning from the greatest human joy for the sake of those who must otherwise be left to perish. All this, even this last, which as yet in our community is not recognized as true or possible or even desirable, Ponnamal said when occasion arose, in her usual incisive fashion; and courage and her principles were tested. While Purripu was still young, hardly more than a school‐girl, a suitor was suggested by some members of her family. The dowry difficulty could be overcome, as there was money obtainable if only Ponnamal would compromise a little, in the matter of putting jewels on her daughter, and in other small concessions to the spirit of the world. But that was not Ponnamal's way.

Later, when her illness made the matter of Purripu's future one of serious concern, she was assailed on all sides; relatives, friends, neighbours, even the most unlikely came to see her about it, and they wearied her spirit exceedingly. For by this time the mother knew her daughter's mind, and to Purripu the desire had come to follow in her mother's steps and take up what she could of the work that must soon be laid down. Should she be forced to abandon it? Ponnamal faced it out. She only wanted to obey; she knew that 'obedience leads to unexpected places and knows no precedents;' there was no precedent for her guidance now, and the mother‐love in her could not rest without some clear sign from her Lord. Alone in hospital she was given such a sign. It was of the kind that could not be controverted. And to the credit of her relatives be it told, that when once they knew of it they left her in peace, and all her prayer for Purripu from that day forward was that she might go on in strength. 'Let not her crown be tarnished, Lord,' was the sum of all she asked.

But it was not her mind on these subjects which interested our neighbours, who liked her better when she met them on their own ground, which after all is the most we can usually do for the rank and file of our own generation. You cannot pull people uphill who do not want to go: you can only point up. So she listened patiently to their long involved and explicit descriptions of symptoms, cause, never mere result, of discrepancies within; and to the much‐tried mothers of many infants she was an angel from heaven.

It was in the morning and evening chiefly, when the milk‐sellers came, that Ponnamal held her clinics. Up would come an agitated mother, with a brass vessel of milk in one hand and a baby in the other. The milk tested, measured, and poured out, the baby would be introduced. Then if business allowed it, Ponnamal would go into its matters and, amid yards of talk from the mother, interrupted by many remarks from the baby, extract as many facts as she could. Or, it would be a stolid four‐year‐old, clothed in a bead and a bangle, who, too disgusted for speech, would be solemnly spread on its parent's knee, and poked in divers places till a squeal announced the discovery of some vulnerable point.

Among Ponnamal's books is one of dilapidated appearance, a translation into Tamil of a simple medical book written in 1860 by one Edward Waring, Physician to the Maharajah of Travancore. In it, clearly set forth, are many maladies with their appropriate treatment, so far as a lay person can attempt to treat them. Where that is undesirable the fact is noted; but where bazaar remedies can help, such are suggested, and the stumbler in these obscure regions is guided in the way he should go. This book, with, as commentary thereupon, Ponnamal's experience at Neyoor, furnished her, ingenious and commonsensed person that she was, with the means to help many, and her fame as a medico was great. One day she received the following English letter, written in one long paragraph:


'Though we had no personal talk yet I think you could recollect me. I hear you are doing the service of God: very good. I am doing medical practice privately too. I treat cases. I have got very efficacious medicines for diabetes, leprosy, asthma, etc., and diseases considered to be hopeless. Some medicines were taught and given by a Yogi [Hindu ascetic]. He is a graduate, and was drawing four hundred rupees a month from Government and had children also. He made arrangements for their maintenance and left everything; he is in Benares practising religious life. Nothing happens in the world without the will of God. I am a daily communicant and was inspired to write you these few lines. In addition to your work do you like to do "qualified" medical practice? It will be very useful. If you like I can get you a diploma from Colombo for the medical practice. You can learn it yourself if I send you the books. The cost of the books is five rupees. The medicines are made into globules and given electricity power. For every disease there are numbers; 1, 2, 3, etc., and according to the number you must prescribe the medicine for each disease. You can learn it in no time. To diagnose disease you must go through our materia medica. This business will not tire you much, and you can get many friends if you begin to practise. I am the commission agent for this district. I have got medicine chests containing all the medicines for all the diseases for ten rupees. If you require an order I can send to you.

If you require any other informations I am ready to give you.'

The letter concluded with moral reflections: 'Where there is a will there is a way.' 'Our life is like a cloud rapidly vanishing,' and so on. The humours of life in the East are unfailing.

Ponnamal—Chapter X: An Ordinary Day, and Digressions ← Prior Section
Ponnamal—Chapter XII: Sacred Secularities Next Section →

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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