By Alice B. Van Doren
Hindu or Christian.
In the last chapter we have spoken of the Hindu girl as yet untouched by Christianity, save as such influence may have filtered through into the general life of the nation. We have had vague glimpses of her social inheritance, with its traditions of an ancient and honorable estate of womanhood; of the limitations of her life to-day; of her half-formed aspirations for the future.
Of education as such nothing has been said. As we turn now from home to school life, we shall turn also from the Hindu community to the Christian. This does not mean that none but Christian girls go to school. In all the larger and more advanced cities and in some towns you will find Government schools for Hindu girls as well as those carried on by private enterprise, some of them of great efficiency. Yet this deliberate turning to the school life of the Christian community is not so arbitrary as it seems.
In the first place, the proportion of literacy among Christian women is far higher than among the Hindu and Muhammadan communities. Again, because a large proportion of Christians have come from the depressed classes, the "submerged tenth," ground for uncounted centuries under the heel of the caste system, their education is also a study in social uplift, one of the biggest sociological laboratory experiments to be found anywhere on earth. And, lastly, it is through Christian schools that the girls and women of America have reached out hands across the sea and gripped their sisters of the East.
The School under the Palm Trees.
"And the dawn comes up like thunder Outer China 'cross the Bay." Far from China and far inland from the Bay is this South Indian village, but the dawn flashes up with the same amazing swiftness. Life's daily resurrection proceeds rapidly in the Village of the Seven Palms. Flocks of crows are swarming in from their roosting place in the palmyra jungle beside the dry sand river; the cattle are strolling out from behind various enclosures where they share the family shelter; all around is the whirr of bird and insect as the teeming life of the tropics wakes to greet "my lord Sun."
Under the thatch of each mud-walled hovel of the outcaste village there is the same stir of the returning day. Sheeted corpses stretched on the floor suddenly come to life and the babel of village gossip begins.
In the house at the far end of the street, Arul is first on her feet, first to rub the sleep from her eyes. There is no ceremony of dressing, no privacy in which to conduct it if there were. Arul rises in the same scant garment in which she slept, snatches up the pot of unglazed clay that stands beside the door, poises it lightly on her hip, and runs singing to the village well, where each house has its representative waiting for the morning supply. There is the plash of dripping water, the creak of wheel and straining rope, and the chatter of girl voices.
The well is also the place for making one's morning toilet. Arul dashes the cold water over her face, hands, and feet. No soap is required, no towel--the sun is shining and will soon dry everything in sight. Next comes the tooth-brushing act, when a smooth stick takes the place of a brush, and "Kolynos" or "Colgate" is replaced by a dab of powdered charcoal. Arul combs her hair only for life's great events, such as a wedding or a festival, and changes her clothes so seldom that it is better form not to mention it.
Breakfast is equally simple,--and the "simple life" at close range is apt to lose many of its charms. In the corner of the one windowless room that serves for all domestic purposes stands the earthen pot of black gruel. It is made from the _ragi_, little, hard, round seeds that resemble more than anything else the rape seed fed to a canary. It looks a sufficiently unappetizing breakfast, but contentment abounds because the pot is full, and that happens only when rains are abundant and seasons prosperous. The Russian peasant and his black bread, the Indian peasant and his black gruel--dark symbols these of the world's hunger line.
There is no sitting down to share even this simple meal, no conception of eating as a social event, a family sacrament. The father, as lord and master, must be served first; then the children seize the one or two cups by turn, and last of all comes Mother. Arul gulps her breakfast standing and then dashes into the street. She is one of the village herd girls; the sun is up and shining hot, and the cattle and goats are jostling one another in their impatience to be off for the day.
The dry season is on and all the upland pastures are scorched and brown. A mile away is the empty bed of the great tank. A South Indian tank in our parlance would be an artificial lake. A strong earth wall, planted with palmyras, encircles its lower slope. The upper lies open to receive surface water, as well as the channel for the river that runs full during the monsoon months. During the "rains" the country is full of water, blue and sparkling. Now the water is gone, the crops are ripening, and in the clay tank bottom the cattle spend their days searching for the last blades of grass.
"Watch the cows well, Little Brother," calls Arul, as she hurries back on the narrow path that winds between boulders and thickets of prickly pear cactus. Green parrots are screaming in the tamarind trees and overhead a white-throated Brahmany kite wheels motionless in the vivid blue. The sun is blazing now, but Arul runs unheeding. It is time for school--she knows it by the sun-clock in the sky. "Female education," as the Indian loves to call it, is not yet fashionable in the Village of the Seven Palms. With twenty-five boys there are only three girls who frequent its halls of learning. Of the three Arul is one. Her father, lately baptized, knows but little of what Christ's religion means, but the few facts he has grasped are written deeply in his simple mind and show life-results. One of these ideas is that the way out and up is through the gate of Christian education. And so it is that Arul comes to school. She is but eight, yet with a mouth to feed and a body to clothe, and the rice pot often empty, the halving of her daily wage means self-denial to all the family. So it is that Arul, instead of herding cattle all day, runs swiftly back to the one-roomed schoolhouse under the cocoanuts and arrives not more than half an hour late.
The schoolroom is so primitive that you would hardly recognize it as such. Light and air and space are all too little. There are no desks or even benches. A small, wooden blackboard and the teacher's table and rickety chair are all that it can boast in the way of equipment. The only interesting thing in sight is the children themselves, rows of them on the floor, writing letters in the sand. Unwashed they are, uncombed and almost unclothed, but with all the witchery of childhood in their eyes. In that bare room lies the possibility of transforming the life of the Village of the Seven Palms.
But the teacher is innocent of the ways of modern pedagogy, and deep and complicated are the snares of the Tamil alphabet with its two hundred and sixteen elusive characters. Baffling, too, are the mysteries of number combination. "If six mangoes cost three annas, how much will one mango cost?" Arul never had an anna of her own, how should she know? The teachers bamboo falls on her hard, little hand, and two hot tears run down and drop on the cracked slate. The way to learning is long and beset with as many thorns as the crooked path through the prickly pear cactus. Bible stories are happier. Arul can tell you how the Shepherds sang and all about the little boy who gave his own rice cakes and dried fish, to help Jesus feed hungry people. She has been hungry so often that that story seems real.
The years pass over Arul's head, leaving her a little taller, a little fleeter of foot as she hurries back from the pasture, a little wiser in the ways of God and men. Still her father holds out against the inducements of child labor. Arul shall go to school as long as there is anything left for her to learn. And into Arul's eyes there has come the gleam of a great ambition. She will leave the Village of the Seven Palms and go into the wide world. The most spacious existence she knows of is represented by the Girls' Boarding School in the town twenty miles away. To enter that school, to study, to become a teacher perhaps--but beyond that the wings of Arul's imagination have not yet learned to soar. The meaning of service for Christ and India, the opportunity of educated womanhood, such ideas have not yet entered Arul's vocabulary. She will learn them in the days to come.
Countless villages of the Seven Palms; countless schools badly equipped and poorly taught; countless Aruls--feeling within them dim gropings, half-formed ambitions. Somewhere in America there are girls trained in rural education and longing for the chance for research and original work in a big, untried field. What a chance for getting together the girl and the task!
Where the Girls Come from.
If the girls of India could pass you in long procession, you would need to count up to one hundred before you found one who had had Arul's opportunity of learning just to read and write. Infinitely smaller is the proportion of those who go into secondary schools. American women have been responsible for founding, financing, and teaching many of the Girls' High Schools that exist. They are of various sorts. Some have new and up-to-date plants, modelled on satisfactory types of American buildings. Others are muddling along with old-time, out-grown schoolrooms, spilling over into thatched sheds, and longing for the day when the spiritual structure they are erecting will be expressed in a suitable material form. Schools vary also as to social standing, discipline, and ideals; yet there are common features and problems, and one may be more or less typical of all. Most include under one organization everything from kindergarten to senior high school, so that the school is really a big family of one or two or four hundred, as the case may be.
The girls come from many grades of Indian life. The great majority are Christians, for few Hindu parents are yet sufficiently "advanced" to desire a high school education for their daughters, and those who do usually send their girls to a Government school where caste regulations will be observed and where there will be no religious teaching.
Some of the Christian girls come from origins as crude as that of Arul. To such the simplest elements of hygiene are unknown, and cleanly and decent living is the first and hardest lesson to be learned. Others are orphans, waifs, and strays cast up from the currents of village life. Uncared for, undernourished, with memories of a tragic childhood behind them, it is sometimes an impossible task to turn these little, old women back into normal children. But the largest number are children of teachers and catechists, pastors, and even college professors, who come from middle class homes, with a greater or less collection of Christian habits and ideals. With all these is a small scattering of high caste Hindu girls, the children of exceptionally liberal parents. The resulting school community is a wonderful example of pure democracy. Ignorant village girls learn more from the "public opinion" of their better trained schoolmates than from any amount of formal discipline; while daughters of educated families share their inheritance and come to realize a little of the need of India's illiterate masses. So school life becomes an experiment in Christian democracy, where a girl counts only for what she can do and be; where each member contributes something to the life of the group and receives something from it.
What the Girls Study.
Schools are schools the world over, and the agonies of the three R's are common to children in whatever tongue they learn. An Indian kindergarten is not so different from an American, except for language and local color. Equipment is far simpler and less expensive, but there is the same spontaneity, the same joy of living; laughter and play have the same sound in Tamil as in English. Besides, Indian kindergartens produce some charming materials all their own--shiny black tamarind seeds, piles of colored rice, and palm leaves that braid into baby rattles and fans.
So, too, a high school course is much the same even in India. The right-angled triangle still has an hypotenuse, and quadratics do not simplify with distance, while Tamil classics throw Vergil and Cicero into the shade. The fact that high school work is all carried on in English is the biggest stumbling block in the Indian schoolgirl's road to learning. What would the American girl think of going through a history recitation in Russian, writing chemistry equations in French, or demonstrating a geometry proposition in Spanish? Some day Indian education may be conducted in its own vernaculars; to-day there are neither the necessary text-books, nor the vocabulary to express scientific thought. As yet, and probably for many years to come, the English language is the key that unlocks the House of Learning to the schoolgirl. Indian classics she has and they are well worth knowing; but even Shakespeare and Milton would hardly console the American girl for the loss of all her story books, from "Little Women" and "Pollyanna" up--or down--to the modern novel. To understand English sufficiently to write and speak and even think in it is the big job of the High School. It is only the picked few who attain unto it; those few are possessed of brains and perseverance enough to become the leaders of the next generation.
It is not unusual for an Indian girl to spend ten or twelve years in such a boarding school. An institution is a poor substitute for a home, but in such cases it must do its best to combine the two. This means that books are almost accessories; _school life_ is the most vital part of education.
To such efforts the Indian girl responds almost incredibly. Whatever her faults--and she has many--she is never bored. Her own background is so narrow that school opens to her a new world of surprise. "Isn't it wonderful!" is the constant reaction to the commonplaces of science. No less wonderful to her is the liberty of thinking and acting for herself that self-government brings.
Seeta loves her home, but before a month is over its close confinement palls and she writes back, "I am living like a Muhammadan woman. I wish it were the last day of vacation." Her father is shocked by her desire to be up and doing. He calls on the school principal and complains, "I don't know what to make of my daughter. Why is she not like her mother? Are not cooking and sewing enough for any woman? Why has she these strange ideas about doing all sorts of things that her mother never wanted to do?" Then the principal tries to explain patiently that new wine cannot be kept in old bottles, and that unless the daughter were to he different from the mother it was hardly worth while to send her for secondary education. So, when the long holiday is over, Seeta returns with a fresh appreciation of what education means in her life; and we know that when _her_ daughters come home for vacation, it will be to a mother with sympathy and understanding.
The girls' loyalty to their school is at times almost pathetic. An American teacher writes, "One moonlight night when I was walking about the grounds talking with some of the oldest girls, one of them caught my hand, and turned me about toward the school, which, even under the magic of the Indian moon, did not seem a particularly beautiful sight to me. 'Amma' (mother), she said, in a voice quivering with emotion, 'See how beautiful our school is! When I stand out here at night and look at it through the trees, it gives me such a feeling _here_,' and she pressed her hand over her heart.
"'Do you think it is only beautiful at night?' one of the other girls asked indignantly, and all joined in enthusiastic affirmations of its attractions even at high noon,--which all goes to show how relative the matter is. I, with my background of Wellesley lawns and architecture, find our school a hopelessly unsanitary makeshift to be endured patiently for a few years longer, but to these girls with their background of wretchedly poor village homes it is in its bare cleanliness, as well as in its associations, a veritable place of 'sweetness and light.'"
Organized play is one of the gifts that school life brings to India. It, too, has to be learned, for the Indian girl has had no home training in initiative. The family or the caste is the unit and she is a passive member of the group, whose supreme duty is implicit obedience. One Friday when school had just reopened after the Christmas vacation, one of the teachers came to the principal and said, "May we stop all classes this afternoon and let the children play? You see," as she saw remonstrance forthcoming, "it's just _because_ it's been vacation. They say they have been so long at home and there has been no chance to play." Classes were stopped, and all the school played, from the greatest unto the least, until the newly aroused instinct was satisfied.
Basket ball had an interesting history in one school. At first the players were very weak sisters, indeed. The center who was knocked down wept as at a personal affront, and the defeated team also wept to prove their penitence for their defeat. But gradually the team learned to play fair, to take hard knocks, and to cheer the winners. They grew into such "good sports" that when one day an invading cow, aggrieved at being hit in the flank by a flying ball, turned and knocked the goal thrower flat on the ground, the interruption lasted only a few minutes. The prostrate goal-thrower recovered her breath, got over her fright, and, while admiring friends chased the cow to a safe distance, the game went on to the finish.
The dramatic instinct is strong and the school girl actress shines, whether in the role of Ophelia or Ramayanti. In India among Hindus or Christians, in school or church or village, musical dramas are frequently composed and played and hold unwearied audiences far into the night. Among Christians there is a great fondness for dramatizing Bible narratives. Joseph, Daniel, and the Prodigal Son appear in wonderful Indian settings, "adapted" sometimes almost beyond recognition. They show interesting likeness to the miracle and mystery plays of the Middle Ages. There is the same naive presentation; the same introduction of the buffoon to offset tragedy with comedy; the same tendency to overemphasize the comic parts until all sense of reverence is lost. In some respects India and Mediaeval Europe are not so far apart.
A high school class one night presented part of the old Tamil drama of Harischandra. The heroine, an exiled queen, watches her child die before her in the forest. Having no money to pay for cremation on the burning ghat, she herself gathers firewood, builds a little pyre, and with such tears and lamentations as befit an Oriental woman lays her child's body on the funeral pile. Just as the fire is lighted and the corpse begins to burn, the keeper of the burning ghat appears and, with anger at this trespass, kicks over the pyre, puts the fire out, and throws the body aside. Just at this moment Chandramathy sees in him the exiled king, her husband and lord, and the father of her dead child. There are tearful recognitions; together they gather again the scattered firewood, rebuild the pyre, and share their common grief.
The play was given in a dimly lighted court, with simple costumes and the crudest stage properties. But one spectator will not soon forget the schoolgirl heroine whose masses of black hair swept to her knees. She lived again all the pathos, the anger and despair and reconciliation of the old tale, and her audience thrilled with her as at the touch of a tragedy queen.
Co-operation in school government and discipline is one of the most educational experiences that an Indian girl can pass through. To feel the responsibility for her own actions and those of her schoolmates, to form impersonal judgments that have no relation to one's likes and dislikes, these are lessons found not between the covers of text-books, but at the very heart of life-experience. Under such moral strain and stress character develops, not as a hothouse growth of unreal dreams and theories, but as the sturdy product of life situations.
Some schools divide themselves into groups, each of which elects a "queen" to represent and to rule. The queens with elected teachers and the principal form the governing body, before which all questions of discipline come for settlement. Great is the office of a queen. She is usually well beloved, but also at times well hated, for the "Court" occasionally dispenses punishments far heavier than the teachers alone would dare to inflict and its members often realize the truth of Shakespeare's statement, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
The "Court" is now in session and has two culprits before its bar. Abundance has been found to have a cake of soap and a mirror, not her own, shut up in her box. Lotus copied her best friend's composition and handed it in as hers. What shall be done to the two? Discussion waxes hot. The play hour passes. Shouts and laughter come in from the tennis court and the basket ball field. Every one is having a good time save the culprits and the four queens, who pay the penalty of greatness and bear on their young shoulders the burdens of the world. Evidence is hard to collect, for the witnesses disagree among themselves. Then there are other complications. Abundance stole _things_ which you can see and touch, while Lotus's theft was only one of intangible thoughts. Furthermore, Abundance comes from a no-account family, quite "down and out," while Lotus is a pastor's daughter and as such entitled to due respect and deference. And still further, nobody likes Abundance, while Lotus is very popular and counts one of the queens as her intimate friend. Much time passes, the supper bell rings, and the players troop noisily indoors, but the four burdened queens still struggle with their dawning sense of justice. At last, as the swift darkness drops, the case is closed and judgment pronounced. Much time has been consumed, but four girls have learned a few of life's big lessons, not found in books, such as: that thoughts are just as real as things; that likes and dislikes have nothing to do with matters of discipline; that a girl of a "way up" family should have more expected of her than one who is "down and out." Perhaps that experience will count more than any "original" in geometry.
Student Government also brings about a wonderful comradeship between teachers and pupils. Out of it has grown such a sense of friendly freedom as found expression in this letter written to its American teacher by a Junior Class who were more familiar with the meter of Evangeline than with the geometry lesson assigned.
We are the Math. students who made you lose your temper this morning, and we feel very sorry for that. We found that we are the girls who must be blamed. We ought to have told you the matter beforehand, but we didn't, so please excuse us for the fault which we committed and we realize now. Our love to you.
V Form Math. Girls.
P.S. We would like to quote a poem which we are very much interested in telling you:
"What is that that ye do, my children?
What madness has seized you this morning?
Seven days have I labored among you,
Not in word alone, but showing the figures on the board.
Have you so soon forgotten all the definitions of _Loci_?
Is this the fruit of my teaching and laboring?"
Co-operation is needed not only in "being good," but also in eating and drinking and keeping clean. There are school families in India where every member from the "queen" to the most rollicking five-year-old has her share in making things go. The queen takes her turn in getting up at dawn to see that the "water set" is at the well on time; five-year-old Tara wields her diminutive broom in her own small corner, and each is proud of her share. There is in Indian life an unfortunate feud between the head and the hand. To be "educated" means to be lifted above the degradation of manual labor; to work with one's hands means something lacking in one's brain. Not seldom does a schoolboy go home to his village and sit idle while his father reaps the rice crop. Not seldom does an "educated" girl spend her vacation in letter writing and crochet work while her "uneducated" mother toils over the family cooking.
Girls, however, who have spent hours over the theories of food values, balanced meals, and the nutrition of children, and other hours over the practical working out of the theories in the big school family, go home with a changed attitude toward the work of the house. Siromony writes back at Christmas time, "The first thing I did after reaching home was to empty out the house and whitewash it."
Ruth's letter in the summer vacation ends, "We have given our mother a month's holiday. All she needs to do is to go to the bazaar and buy supplies. My sister and I will do all the rest."
On Christmas day, Miracle, who is spending her vacation at school, all on her own initiative gets up at three in the morning to kill chickens and start the curry for the orphans' dinner, so that the work may be well out of the way before time for the Christmas tree and church.
Golden Jewel begs the use of the sewing machine in the Mission bungalow. All the days before Christmas her bare feet on the treadle keep the wheels whirring. Morning and afternoon she is at it, for Jewel has a quiver full of little brothers and sisters, and in India no one can go to church on Christmas without a new and holiday-colored garment. One after another they come from Jewel's deft fingers and lie on the floor in a rainbow heap. When Christmas Eve comes all are finished--except her own. On Christmas morning all the family are in church at that early service dearest to the Indian Christian, with its decorations of palm and asparagus creeper, its carols and rejoicings and new and shining raiment. In the midst sits Jewel and her clothes to the most seem shabby, but to those who know she is the best dressed girl in the whole church, for she is wearing a new spiritual garment of unselfish service.
The Indian Girl's Religion.
To the Indian schoolgirl religion is the natural atmosphere of life. She discusses her faith with as little self-consciousness as if she were choosing the ingredients for the next day's curry. She knows nothing of those Western conventions that make it "good form" for us to hide all our emotions, all our depth of feeling, under the mask of not caring at all. She has none of that inverted hypocrisy which causes us to take infinite pains to assure our world that we are vastly worse than we are. What Lotus feels she expresses simply, naturally, be it her interest in biology, her friendship for you, or her response to the love of the All-Father. And that response is deep and genuine. There is a spiritual quality, an answering vibration, which one seldom finds outside the Orient. You lead morning prayers and to pray is easy, because in those schoolgirl worshippers you feel the mystic quality of the East leaping up in response. You teach a Bible class and the girls' eager questions run ahead so fast that you lose your breath as you try to keep pace.
The following letter was written by a girl just after her first experience of a mountain climb with a vacation camp at the top. "Now we are on Kylasa, enjoying our 'mountain top experience.' This morning Miss ---- gave a beautiful and inspiring talk on visions. She showed us that the climbing up Kylasa could be a parable of our journey through this world. In places where it was steep and where we were tired, the curiosity we had to see the full vision on the top kept us courageous to go forward and not sit long in any place. She compared this with our difficulties and dark times and this impressed me most, I think.
"When we came up it was dark and I was supposed to come in the chair, but I did not wait for it, because I was very curious to go up. When I came to a place very dark, with bushes and trees very thick on both sides, I had to give up and wait until the others came. When I was waiting I saw the big, almost red moon coming, stealing its way through the dark clouds little by little. It was really glorious. I thought of this when Miss ---- talked to us, and it made it easier to understand her feeling about that.
"So much of that, and now I want to tell you about the steep rocks I am climbing these days," and then follows the application to the big "Hill Difficulty" that was blocking up her own life path.
God in Nature.
Love of nature is not as spontaneous in the Indian girl as in the Japanese. Yet with but a little training of the seeing eye and understanding heart, there develops a deep love of beauty that includes alike flowers and birds, sunsets and stars. A High School senior thus expressed her thoughts about it at the final Y.W.C.A. meeting of the year.
"Nature stands before our eyes to make us feel God's presence. I feel God's presence very close when I happen to see the glorious sunset and bright moonlight night when everybody around me is sleeping. I think Nature gives a much greater and more glorious impression about God than any sermon.
"Whenever I felt troubled or worried, I did not often read the Bible or prayer book, but I wanted to go alone to some quiet place from where I could see the broad, bright blue sky with all its mysteries and green trees and gray mountains with fields and forests around them.
"I think Nature is the best comforter and preacher of God. When we are too tired to learn our lessons or to do our duty, we can go alone for a safe distance where God waits for us to strengthen us. It is hard for me to sit and think about God in the class room, where everybody is speaking, and the class books and sums on the board attract my attention, or make me feel useless because I was not able to do them as nicely as others in my class. But, if we go away from all these, our friend Nature jumps up and greets us with new greetings. The cool wind and the pretty birds and wonderful little flowers and giant-like rocks help us to feel the presence of God. We cannot appreciate all these when we are walking with the crowd and talking and playing, but, if we are left alone when we go out to see God, then even the stones and tiny flowers which we often see look like a mystery to us. In thinking about them we can feel the wisdom of God."
Crude as the English may be, the spiritual perception is not so different from that of the English lad who cried,
"My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky."
Religion Made Practical.
Religious feeling and expression may be natural to the Indian mind, but how about its transfer to the affairs of the common day? It is a hard enough proposition for any of us, be we from the East or the West; to make the difficulty even greater, the Indian girl is heir to a religious system in which religion and morals may be kept in water-tight compartments. Where the temples shelter "protected" prostitution and the wandering "holy man" may break all the Ten Commandments with impunity, it is hard to learn that the worship of God means right living. Harder than irregular verbs or English idioms is the fundamental lesson that the Bible class on Sunday has a vital connection with honest work in arithmetic on Monday, the settling of a quarrel on Tuesday, and the thorough sweeping of the schoolroom on Wednesday. Right here it is that we see "the grace of God" at work in the hearts of big girls and middle-sized girls and little children from the villages. When classes can be left to take examinations unsupervised, a big step forward is marked. When before Communion Sunday the "queens" of their own initiative settle up the school quarrels and "make peace," one has the glad feeling that a little bit of the Kingdom of God has come in one small corner of the earth.
"Among you as He that serveth."
Religious emotion may find one of its normal outlets in personal right-living. That is good as far as it goes, but yet not enough. It must seek expression also in making life better for other people. The Indian schoolgirl lives in the midst of a vast social laboratory, surrounded by problems that are overwhelmingly intricate. What is her education worth? Nothing, if it leads to a cloistered seclusion; everything, if it brings her into vital healing touch with even one of its needs.
The spirit of Christian social service opens many doors. There are Sunday afternoons to be spent with the shy pupils of the High Caste Girls' Schools at the opposite end of town. In the outcaste village beside the rice fields we may find the other end of the social scale--twenty or thirty little barbarians whose opening exercises must start off with a compulsory bath at the well.
Vacation weeks at home are bristling with opportunity--the woman next door whose forgotten art of reading may be revived; the bride in the next street who longs to learn crochet work; the little troop of neighbor children who crowd the house to learn the haunting strains of a Christian lyric. A cholera epidemic breaks out, and, instead of blind fear of a demon-goddess to be placated, there is practical knowledge as to methods of guarding food and drinking water. The baby of the house is ill and, instead of exorcisms and branding with hot irons, there is a visit to the nearest hospital and enough knowledge of hygienic laws to follow out the doctor's directions.
Rebecca teaches a class of small boys in the outcaste Sunday school that gives preliminary baths. On this particular Sunday, however, she starts out armed not with the picture roll and lyric book, but with a motley collection of soap and clean rags, cotton swabs and iodine and ointment.
"Amma," says Rebecca, "in the little thatched house, the fourth beyond the school, I saw a boy whose head is covered with sores. May Zipporah teach my class to-day, while I go and treat the sores, as I have learned to do in school?" So Rebecca, following in the steps of Him who sent out His disciples not only to preach but also to heal, attacks one of the little strongholds of dirt and disease and carries it by storm. No young surgeon after his first successful major operation was ever prouder than Rebecca when the next Sunday evening she rushes into the bungalow, eyes shining, to report her cure complete.
Is there somewhere an American girl who longs to "do things"? A little plumbing--or its equivalent in a land where no plumbing is; a little bossing of the carpenter, the mason, the builder; a great deal of "high finance" in raising one dollar to the purchasing power of two; a deal of administration with need for endless tact; the teaching of subjects known and unknown,--largely the latter; a vast amount of mothering and a proportionate return in the love of children; days bristling with problems, and nights when one sinks into bed too tired to think or feel--there you have it, with much more. More because it means opportunity for creative work--creative as one helps to mould the new education of new India; creative as one reverently helps to fashion some of the lives that are to be new India itself. More too, as the rebound comes back to one's self in a life too full for loneliness, too obsessing for self-interest. Does it pay? Try it for yourself and see.
One bright noon in North India, sixty years ago, a young missionary on an evangelistic tour among the villages paused to rest by the wayside. As he paced up and down beneath the tamarind trees, pondering the problem of India's womanhood, shut in the zenanas beyond the reach of the Gospel which he was bringing to the little villages, there fell at his feet a feather from a vulture's wing. Picking it up, he whimsically cut it into a quill. Thinking that his sister in far-away America might like a letter from so strange a pen, he went into his tent and wrote to her. He told her of the millions of girls shut up in those "citadels of heathenism," the zenanas of India,--a problem which only Christian women might hope to solve. Half playfully, half in earnest, he added, "Why don't you come out and help?" As swift as wind and wave permitted was Isabella Thoburn's answer, "I am coming as soon as the way opens!"
Already a group of women, stirred to the depths by the words of Mrs. Edwin W. Parker and Mrs. William Butler, returned missionaries from India, were forming a Society to help the women and girls of Christless lands. At the first public meeting of this Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, though but twenty women were present with but three hundred dollars in the treasury, when they learned that Isabella Thoburn,--gifted, consecrated, wise,--was ready to go to India, they exclaimed, "Shall we lose Miss Thoburn because we have not the needed money in our hands to send her? No, rather let us walk the streets of Boston in our calico dresses, and save the expense of more costly apparel!" Thus was answered the letter written with the feather from the vulture's wing by the wayside in India. In 1870, Isabella Thoburn gathered six little waifs into her first school in India, a one-roomed building in the noisy, dusty bazaar of Lucknow. From this brave venture have grown the Middle School, the High School, and finally in 1886 the first woman's Christian College in all Asia, housed in the Ruby Garden, Lal Bagh. Here for thirty-one years Isabella Thoburn lived and loved and labored for the girls of India.
Table of Contents | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter
eBooksHome | Inspirational Articles | General Essays | Sermons | Library - Home | Baselios Church Home
A service of St. Basil's Syriac Orthodox Church, Ohio
Copyright © 2009-2011 - ICBS Group. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer
Website designed, built, and hosted by International Cyber Business Services, Inc., Hudson, Ohio