Kirkus Reviews named Two Coins as a Best Indie, 2019. CIBA Semi-Finalist 2019 Fiction Book Awards Are two coins all a lady's reputation is worth? In 1883 Calcutta, it's more than unusual for a woman to sue a man in open court. When both parties are missionaries, and the man accuses his female opponent of sexual misconduct with a native Christian and another missionary, newspapers fly off the shelves in Calcutta, Edinburgh, and even London. But what really happened?
James Wilson is at a dinner party held at the Female Orphanage when he mentions that Mr. Gillan, one of Miss Pigot's enemies, is about to leave for Edinburgh. To his surprise, Mary has a strong reaction. He doesn't understand why she should be upset. But Mary reads the situation differently. Her enemy Miss Smail sent letters and reports to the Mission Board. Mr. Gillan never approved of her appointment as Lady Superintendent. Mary doesn't know what Miss Smail wrote, and she has no idea what accusations Mr. Gillan might bring. I think Mary feels cornered. She doesn't know if she's in trouble. And if she is, she doesn't know how to defend herself. What will she do?
James Wilson is drinking an iced tea when it happens. As if watching a scene in slow motion, he sees Mr. Gillan escort Miss Smail to the Prize Distribution. There's no reason she shouldn't be there, except Miss Pigot threw her out of the mission and hasn't forgiven the Scotswoman for writing reports to the home missionary society. Mr. Wilson tries to head off Miss Smail before Miss Pigot sees her, but it's too late. A public scene is never a good thing, but this scene will be used to support charges against Miss Pigot. Mr. Wilson doesn't know this, of course. He just knows public displays of anger incite gossip and seldom work out well.
Mr. Wilson and several others are at a student Prize Distribution waiting in the sun to have their photo taken. The photographer fiddles with his equipment and Miss Pigot is nowhere to be found. Finally the photo is done and Mr. Wilson goes to the refreshment table. I imagine him in a slightly annoyed but relaxed state of mind. He gazes into the crowd and sees a crisis about to happen. He knows about the feud between Miss Pigot and Miss Smail. He knows Miss Pigot evicted Miss Smail from the mission complex. A scene is about to take place, and there's nothing Mr. Wilson can do to stop it. Have you ever seen two people on a collision course?
Between Miss Pigot and Rev. Hastie, Mr. Wilson can hardly get a word in, but when he does, it's useful. It's 1882. Miss Pigot threw Miss Smail out of the mission. Miss Smail sent her letter accusing Mr. Wilson and Miss Pigot of a flirtation. Tension between Scottish College and the Female Mission rises. Mr. Wilson is suspicious of his colleagues but doesn't know anything definite. Such a small community to have so much innuendo. So easy for things to blow out of proportion and take on a life of their own.
When Georgiana Smail shows Rev. Hastie a letter about Mary Pigot that she intends to send to the mission board in Edinburgh, he's shocked. He doesn't like Miss Pigot and prefers not to work with her, but Miss Smail's charges are beyond his comprehension. He needs a stiff whiskey just to keep reading. Above all, Rev. Hastie doesn't want one of his colleagues to fall under suspicion. How will it look if his faculty member is charged with immorality. It's too much for Rev. Hastie to grasp. His first thoughts are how to deflect Miss Smail's charges.
Relations between Mary Pigot and Georgiana Smail have been strained since Georgiana arrived. Clashing personalities. Different goals. Misunderstandings. Georgiana prefers the company of Mary's opponents. And now the final straw. Georgiana tells Mary she writes reports to the mission sponsors in Scotland, and doesn't tell Mary what she wrote. No wonder Mary's angry. In retrospect I don't think evicting Georgiana from the mission premises is a wise decision, but Mary is too angry to think about ramifications.
As 1882 begins, Mary thought her workload at the Female Mission would be lighter. She hoped to have more time to visit zenanas while her new assistant, Georgiana Smail, looked after daily affairs. But the two don't look at things the same way. The cultural gap is too great. Mary becomes more tense instead of less. Georgiana's level of frustration increases daily. The women are mutually disappointed with no skills to bridge the gap between them. But Mary tries. "What," she asks Georgiana, "do you suggest?" Can two headstrong individuals come to terms?
William Hastie and Rev. Gillan are at Col. Walker's house for the New Year celebration of Hogmanay. The table is set with ivy greens running down the center. The modified Cock-a-Leekie soup Rev. Hastie of being home in Scotland. But there's more - a piper and something that looks like haggis. Hastie tells Miss Smail she's given him taste of home. Holiday times remind people of childhood magic and the closeness of family and friends. Nothing could be farther from Rev. Hastie's home than Calcutta, yet his hosts prepare a meal that brings back nostalgic joy. The turning of the year is a magical time.
Hogmanay is the Scottish celebration for the new year. Col. and Mrs. Walker host a celebration and invite Revs. Hastie and Gillan. Mrs. Walker's sister is also there. Though not a large gathering, it represents the respectable Scottish community in Calcutta. An army officer, and two reverends. Other Scots will be at different celebrations, but these individuals are of interest because they hold Miss Pigot's fate in their hands. An officer's bungalow. A glass of whiskey. It all seems so civilized.
New Year's Day 1882. William Hastie and Mr. Gillan are on their way to from Calcutta to Dum Dum to celebrate the new year. Mr. Hastie is not a man who admits failure, yet he expresses his inability to persuade Miss Pigot to bring her orphanage under his control. Mr. Gillan, Miss Pigot's long time opponent, dismisses Miss Pigot, and turns his attention to Miss Smail, the woman Miss Pigot finds difficult. The seeds of conflict and prejudice are here. Will they grow?
When the Ladies Association sent Mary Pigot an assistant, Mary thought her life would be easier. I think she thought Georgiana Smail would take over daily supervision of the Female Mission, leaving Mary free to teach and visit zenanas. But Miss Smail isn't fitting in. The two women can't get along. And Miss Smail's relatives don't approve of how Mary runs the mission. Mary begins to think Georgiana is more of a threat than a blessing. Is she correct?
When I thought about Mary Pigot's childhood, there wasn't much to go on. Her father was a Scot, who wasn't mentioned in the Calcutta Scottish community. He didn't move in prominent circles. But he probably practiced some European customs. Mary's mother came from a part of India controlled by the French and was widowed at least three times before moving with a new husband to Dacca. At Christmas time the European shops had lots of toys and Christmas goodies, but I don't think Mary's family could afford them. They could, however, post garlands on their gates. And so I gave Mary this memory.
Mary Pigot doesn't realize it yet, but her new assistant, Georgiana Smail, will be more of a detriment than a help. Georgiana's sister is married to a British officer who is also prominent in the Scottish community that employs Mary. They don't approve of Mary, and Georgiana's arrival and observations won't change their minds. Mary herself is ambivalent. She makes a special dinner to welcome her new assistant, and the newcomer is late. The two women get off on the wrong foot, and there doesn't seem to be any way back.
Mr. Fish and Mr. Wilson are going to the Female Mission to assist in student examinations. Mr. Fish starts the conversation. Mr. Hastie is the third speaker. His irritation is clear. Mr. Hastie thinks he should manage the Female Mission. Miss Pigot claims she doesn't need any help. From Mr. Hastie's perspective, she does need help, because she frequently asks for assistance. But what she sees as collegiality, Mr. Hastie views as proof she can't cope. And Mr. Wilson will be caught in the middle. Mr. Hastie is his boss; Miss Pigot is his friend. What a muddle.
I like to think of Mary Pigot taking this moment to watch a gecko crawl over a ledge. There's nothing unusual to see, which makes it a moment of relaxation before she resumes her responsibilities. Mary doesn't have much time for herself, and she seldom sits still. But in this brief moment she pauses to listen to the rain, feel the humidity, and watch a common gecko.
Bidu didn't admit to taking the bracelets, but Miss Pigot thinks the child is responsible for other thefts and punishes her as example to the other children. The thefts stop, but discipline issues remain. Miss Pigot felt she had to be constantly vigilant to instill proper discipline. The children complain about the foo, and Miss Pigot decides to make another example. Miss Pigot's methods seem harsh today, but in the late 19th century physical punishments were common. I wonder though, if Miss Pigot worried she might lose control over the orphanage.
When Mrs. Mullick's bangles didn't turn up, suspicious turned to Bidu Grace, a girl who practically grew up at the orphanage. Miss Pigot believes Bidu Grace took the bracelets, but the girl is reluctant to confess. Miss Pigot has a problem. There's a problem of theft at the orphanage. She needs to make an example in order to stop the cycle. And Bidu has been implicated in other missing items. Miss Pigot needs to maintain discipline, but also to be just. It's not a situation she's comfortable with.
Besides the schools, orphanage, and zenana visits, Mary Pigot runs a program for 'parlor boarders.' These are local women who married European men. Their husbands want them to learn English manners and how to run a house. The parlor boarders live at the school while they train. The program brings funding for the mission, but presents its own problems. Mrs. Mullick is afraid. What will her husband say? He'll think she lost the jewelry. Mary must find either the jewelry or the thief.
Mr. Hastie and Babu Banerjee dislike each other. Babu Banerjee publishes anonymous articles that Mr. Hastie interprets as an insult. Mary Pigot counts Babu Banerjee a close friend and Mr. Hastie a probable enemy. She wants to calm the situation, and seeks help from Mr. Fish, a recent arrival at Scottish College. He seems to have Mr. Hastie's ear. Mary invites him to visit and tries to enlist his aid. He says he'll do what he can but she shouldn't expect anything. I don't think Miss Pigot selected the best advocate. How can a new arrival persuade Mr. Hastie to modify his behavior? Mr. Fish would have little to gain and much to lose.
Babu Banerjee, a lawyer, has children in Miss Pigot's school. He and Miss Pigot are friends. But he isn't a member of the Church of Scotland, so why would he send his children there? These thoughts run through William Hastie's head. He hears a rumor and he's predisposed to believe it because he doesn't like Miss Pigot or Babu Banerjee. A seed begins to sprout, a willingness to believe anything negative about either party. What sort of plant will this be?
Mary Pigot and her companion visit ladies living in seclusion. Mary visits a widow who likes Bible stories and tells her about Jesus' temptation in the desert. The widow is frustrated. How could the devil be so arrogant? How could he tempt god? Mary's reply shows the source of her inner strength and her belief that god will support her work. Mary will need that conviction in the months ahead.
Rev. Gillan dislikes Miss Pigot. He thinks she doesn't show him proper respect. Now he has an ally. Mr. Hastie doesn't get along with her. Rev. Gillan summons Miss Pigot to his office to inform her he now controls her budget. Rev. Gillan tells Miss Pigot to restore relations with her nemesis. But Mr. Hastie refuses her efforts. I don't think Miss Pigot cares. She did what was required. Perhaps she should have paid more attention.
Mr. Hastie and Miss Pigot are on her veranda. Mr. Hastie has matters to discuss, but Miss Pigot calls for tea. Actually, she calls the beverage chai.When Mr. Hastie tries it, it's not a bit like tea in Scotland, or even at Scottish college. It's like nothing he ever tasted before, and he doesn't like it. I'm surprised he even tried it. The beverage has a distinct aroma. I wonder why Miss Pigot offered it. Was she simply being a good hostess, or was she testing Mr. Hastie's manners? Mr. Hastie never actually says what he thinks of chai, but I'm sure Miss Pigot is aware of his response.
From the moment William Hastie arrives at the Female Mission, he's displeased. The drawing room is messy. The workers ignoramus's him to continue their task. The piano keys are dusty. And Miss Pigot's appearance doesn't please him. "She might have been a pretty woman once." So patronizing. I think Mr. Hastie is predisposed to disapprove of Miss Pigot and her orphanage. If he expects Scottish standards in an Indian city, he can't avoid being disappointed.
Interesting how four people can represent four different cultures. Mary Pigot, the only female, is aware of Victorian social niceties, but puts her own comfort ahead of ladylike behavior. William Hastie, a new arrival from Scotland and head of the mission, is a man of utmost propriety. Mary's behavior shocks him and won't be forgotten. Octavius Steele, host of the evening and leading member of the Scottish community in Calcutta, indulges Mary's behavior. He's more interested in his whiskey. And James Wilson tries to get along with everyone. No one on this occasion imagines the trouble Mary's posture will cause.
Mary had a long day in Kidderpore visiting a school and two zenanas. She might have preferred to spend the evening on her own veranda, but there's a dinner party at Mr. Steele's home. Mary can't beg off, and she doesn't really want to. The dinner will be good. The conversation could be pleasant. And Mr. Steele is an important person in the Scottish community. A bachelor, he's fond of Mary, and she needs his support for her orphanage and school. Mary arrives, pastes on a smile, and engages in small talk. The evening seems off to a good start.
Mary and her protege Miss Bartlett arrive at a zenana, the area of the house where women are secluded. Offering lessons in zenanas is an important part of the Female Mission. Mary needs permission from the male head of household and the senior wife. She also needs to encourage the women and girls to learn. Mary brings prizes for those who complete their lessons. Scottish women who support missions send the dolls. I wonder what the girls think about the exotic toys that look so different from themselves. I wonder if Mary would prefer it if the dolls at least had dark hair? But the blonde haired doll achieves Mary's goal; she's admitted to the zenana.
Back at work, Mary Pigot is on her way to visit schools. With her is a new hire, a young woman who grew up in Calcutta but can't speak Bengali. This frustrates Mary. How can Miss Bartlett teach local women if she can't speak their language? How could she grow up in Calcutta without learning Bengali? I think of Miss Bartlett as an Anglo-Indian, a woman with a European father and Indian mother. We only know her father kept his family apart from local culture. Now, Miss Bartlett has to earn her own way and has no skills. Mary has compassion for her situation, but can't keep her employed if she can't do her job. The dilemma is one Mary frequently faces.
As later events unfold, the innocent act of sitting back-to-back at a picnic sowed seeds of scandal. In the present moment, Miss Pigot reflects the arrangement might lack decorum, but they've known each other for years. And they're missionaries. How untoward could sitting this way be? Mr. Hastie isn't present when the others decide to sit on the ground. When he sees the arrangement, he can't help but focus on the unmarried Miss Pigot sharing her back with the married Mr. Wilson. Mischief is often in the eye of the beholder.
Mary is excited. Today is a holiday, and her good friend James Wilson and his cousin are hosting a picnic for the girls and teachers at the orphanage. They invited Mr. Hastie, and he agreed to attend even though he disapproves of the picnic and the holiday itself.He's in the same car on the train. Nevertheless, Mary's spirits are irrepressible. She will have a good time in spite of Mr. Hastie's gloomy presence.
Mr. Hastie attends his first meeting of the Corresponding Board. We're in his point of view. The topic is Mr. Robson who left his post without notice, yet still lives at Scottish College. Mr. Hastie can't understand why Miss Pigot is present. First, she's a woman. Second, she speaks up. Third, the Female Orphanage isn't part of the college. Finally, she infuriates the others with her opinions on Christian charity. On the one hand, Mr. Hastie and Mr. Steele are sticklers for rules. On the other, Miss Pigot who has no standing on the committee reminds them of Christian duty.
William Hastie returns to duty, all thoughts of cholera behind him. It's not that he lives in the present moment. He just overlooks irrelevant events. He was sick. Now he's well. More important, he's on his way to meet his new colleagues and tell them what to do. James Wilson rides with him. Wilson's thoughts are unclear. He has to get along with this man and has an affection for life in Calcutta. An affection Hastie doesn't share. Hastie complains about the sun, and the peddlers offering their wares. He didn't like the Mohurrum procession. Already Hastie seems unsuited to his new post.
Rev. Hastie lies in his sickbed watching Dr. Charles check his vital signs. Nurse Briggs interrupts the examination to tell the doctor she can't stay. This displeases Dr. Charles. Hastie is an important man and the doctor wants him to recover. I think of him giving the nurse a disdainful look as she puts her case forward. The nurse disapproves of Mary Pigot, because Mr. Wilson came into the sick room. The nurse doesn't want to associate with them. She wants to quit, but has to give the doctor a good reason or she won't have references. Is she making something out of nothing? Did Miss Pigot exceed the bounds or propriety? And what does the patient think?
James Wilson visits the sick room. He says it's to see how Mr. Hastie is. Miss Pigot is glad to see him. Sit down, she says. They sit with their heads together and recite a prayer while the nurse looks on. Do they know how that looks? A married man and a single woman with their heads together? Suddenly, Mr. Wilson realizes the situation and rushes out of the room. Clearly, Miss Pigot doesn't understand social conventions, but he knows better. Outside, he berates himself. But it's too late. The nurse knows what she thinks she saw.
Mary doesn't know it, but this first visit to William Hastie's sickroom sets in motion everything that follows. The nurse, the cane lounge, even the flickering of the kerosene lamp. All set the stage for what is to come. So many times the mundane later changes the course of our lives. Mary came to take up her duty as night nurse. The patient is restless as Nurse Brigg's measures out cholera pills. The concoction of opium, black pepper, the herb asafetida, calomel, and quinine originated in India. It didn't cure cholera but the opium probably made the patient sleep.
William Hastie is sick, and Mary's summoned. She expects to be Mr. Hastie's sole caregiver, and is put out to find she'll only be the night nurse. She be up all night with a patient she doesn't really know. Mary makes a mental shrug. There's nothing Mary can do. She tells herself she'll be friendly face in a strange place. But Mary doesn't believe her own thought. The situation contributes to later strained relations between Mary and Mr. Hastie.
When she receives Mr. Steele's note about Mr. Hastie's illness, Mary Pigot goes immediately to the Steele house. Mr. Steele is a wealthy Scottish merchant, and Mary likes to visit his substantial home. It's a window into a different world transplanted to India. The drawing room is decorated to Scottish standards. Someone brings in a silver tea service. It's as if this is a social call. But the servants are worried. Will the disease spread? Mr. Steele isn't even home. Mary indulges in a cup of tea served in a delicate cup, she and wonders why Mr. Steele summoned her. Is she here to nurse the patient?
Mary Pigot supervises the Female Orphanage which includes oversight of high schools, day schools, and zenana schools for women who live in seclusion. She has a lot on her mind. Her friend James has been demoted. Her initial meeting with the Mr. Hastie was awkward. The calm of routine paperwork feels good, if cumbersome, until Sajiva, her chief of the household, delivers a note. Mr. Hastie has cholera - a disease so common, nursing the patient becomes yet another task to complete. Mary is sorry Mr. Hastie is ill so soon after arrival, but not surprised. Mary calls for her carriage, wondering what change this new event will cause.
There are three primary characters in Two Coins: William Hastie, the incoming principal of Scottish College; Mary Pigot, superintendent of the Female Orphanage, and James Wilson, outgoing Acting Principal of Scottish College. Each tells part of the story. James is by far the most reticent, the most deferential to hierarchy. James knows he doesn't have the credentials to be selected as principal. He also knows he's the most qualified man for the job. He swallows his disappointment and prepares to do his duty. James is a man who always tries to make the best of any situation.
About the same time William Hastie stands at the ship's rail and adjusts his sun hat, James Wilson and Mary Pigot grapple with his arrival. Mr. Wilson hoped to be appointed Principal of Scottish College; now he must make the best of the situation. And he wants Miss Pigot to do the same. But it's hard for her. Mr. Wilson is her friend, and she has few friends. He's her advisor and colleague as she does her duties at the Female Mission. It isn't just that Miss Pigot relies on Mr. Wilson's friendship; she needs his advice to function. And now, everything will change.
This is the first paragraph from Two Coins. The voice belongs to William Hastie, incoming principal of Scottish College in Calcutta. The year in 1879. Hastie, has no particular desire to take up the post of principal, except that the position fulfills a pre-requisite for a university appointment. I didn't originally plan to open the story with Hastie, but often an outsider puts events into greater clarity.
Biographical historical fiction that takes the reader across India during the last decades of the British Raj. From a girlhood among Hindu shrines to widowhood and Christian conversion, Rama seeks her destiny. Is it only to educate Hindu widows? Or does God have a larger plan in mind? Rama’s Labyrinth traces the life of Pandita Ramabai, a social reformer who rose above personal adversity to rescue and educate famine victims.
Rama's daughter Manorama finished her education in America. Now she's home, and Rama is at wharf in Bombay to greet her. I think Rama loves her daughter intensely, but Rama also puts Mano in a sealed compartment of her heart. When they are separated and sometimes when they are together, Rama carries on with her work. But now she can relax. Mano is home. Mano will help Rama with the work. Rama spares a thought for her husband who died long ago. But Mano doesn't have a separate compartment in her heart. She wants her mother. Now, perhaps, they'll be together.
Minnie is Rama's right hand worker, but even she is surprised when Rama decides not only to build a church, but to use only the stones left from when they dug wells for water. Thirteen wells continue to fill despite an on-going drought. Each well has a name. The first well was Patience. Rama expected to strike water, and she did. Now Rama reaches for a greater miracle. She will build a church and fill it with believers. Minnie looks at Rama's plans, and thinks the church is too small. "Then we'll build another," Rama says. Who would have thought the 8-year-old girl beginning her lessons 33 years before would grow up to found an ashram and build a church?
After attending the Keswick Convention, Rama changed her approach. Educating child widows wasn't enough. Feeding and sheltering famine victims wasn't enough. Rama held daily religious services. Listeners believed and were baptized in the Brim River. But there's more work to be done. Among the famine victims were girls and women too naughty to be with the general population. They don't listen. They don't want to change. Rama isolates them and wants to help them but doesn't know how. Once again, Rama trusts God to send her funds for housing and a teacher for the incorrigible girls. Once again, God answers her prayer. Rama floats on God's promises.
At the Keswick Convention Rama has a religious breakthrough, possibly the one she'd searched for her entire life. She believes the Holy Spirit is with her, and prays for revival in India. When she returns to India, Rama's only thought is prayer, preaching, and Christian conversion for her charges. After 10 days of preaching at Mukti and Sharada Sadan 183 girls and women request baptism. Rama takes them to the Bhima River for full immersion in the water. When Rama was a child, her father insisted the family wash in that same river for purification. But Rama has more she wants to do.
I chose Rama's Labyrinth for the book title, because it seems no matter which direction Rama selects, she doesn't find her destination. Now she's secured support from her American backers. She's had a nervous breakdown. She should go on a speaking tour to her supporters. Instead, Rama decides to go home. But not straight home. She visits Mano at school in New York State and sails for England. Before returning to India, Rama goes to a religious revival in Keswick, England. Rev. Donald worried about whether Rama influenced students to convert. Rev. Hopkins worries about sin. Hopkins says Christ's death sets people free. Rama realizes that though God has always taken care of he, she still doesn't trust him completely. Rama is about to take a different path through her labyrinth. Will she reach the center?
If such a thing existed in 1898, Rama would have been a member of #womenwhodotoomuch, which probably explains her physical collapse. She runs Sharada Sadan for Hindu widows. She founds Mukti for female famine victims and their children. She's the fundraiser. She's the publicist. She tries to be a mother. And she's determined to earn God's blessing. Rama doesn't stop until she drops, and then she starts again. Rev. Donald agreed to serve on a board. Rama needs his support so she can raise funds, but he won't be joining her in the mission field. We may have different labels today, but I don't think the situation has changed much.
Remember the Rama's shrieks? She had a complete collapse. Judith sent for Rama's daughter Mano. When Rama came back to America she brought Mano and put her into school. Now Mano sits by her mother's bed, terrified Rama would die and leave her alone in a strange place. Mano wants to be with and take care of her mother, but Rama always goes away. It's a sad situation. Not only for Mano, but for Rama as well. Rama loves her daughter as best she can. She has no other family. But other matters seem more pressing. Fundraising. The farm. Famine victims. All crowd out the daughter Rama loves. Rama feels the cracks in Mano's heart, but she can't close them.
Rama's struggles seem different from ours, but in many ways they're the same. She follows her passionate commitments. She looks for love and acceptance. She makes a few wrong turns, and retraces her steps. Rama never waivers in her goals or supporting her cause, but others do. Teacher, fundraiser, mentor - where does it end? Now she's in America to raise funds. She addressed a meeting to convince supporters to pledge more donations. Judith, her friend and sponsor, urges her to go on a speaking tour to rally the rank and file. And Rama is just so tired and discouraged. She can't be two places at once. She can't do everything. But she must. Do you ever feel like that?
Rama's American sponsors support a school for child widows in India. It isn't a missionary school, and Rama isn't supposed to share her faith. But students have converted, and her sponsors are upset. Imagine how Rama must have felt. She needs financial funding. How can she reach her American sponsors? Rama made a lifetime commitment. Can they do any less? I don't think Rama is nervous when she addresses the assembly, or even desperate. But she is very determined, and she believes God supports her work.
Rama is in Boston to raise funds for her school. The 10-year Ramabai Association subscriptions are about to expire. She needs people to re-commit and is ready to speak to an assembly, but Rev. Donald needs to speak to her first. Rama can't believe what she hears. Rev. Donald says Rama is too bold. That the school is to educate Hindu widows, not convert them. Rama is shocked. Will he withdraw his support of the school? And if he does, will she be able to raise funds? Is this an opportunity or a disaster?
Mano needs to wear glasses. She had them once, but as Rama became more reliant on God, she took Mano's glasses away and told her to pray for better sight. The prayer, thus far, hasn't been granted. Mano suffers severe headaches, but her mother refuses to allow her to wear glasses, as if Mano's bad eye sight is due to her lack of prayer. I'm sure Rama loves her daughter, but she doesn't know her very well. Rama spends her time and energy caring for the poor. There isn't much left for Mano. It's a sad situation.
Rama sent Mano to school in England, but the situation changed again. Rama needs to visit her American supporters, and decides to stop in England so she can take Mano with her. As a young child, Mano stayed with a nun she called Ajibai while her mother was in America. Perhaps that's why Mano calls the convent home, but Rama can't understand Mano's choice of words. Inadvertently, Rama gave her daughter the same sense of rootlessness she grew up with.
Remember Mano? Rama's daughter is old enough for college. She's ready for her entrance exams to Bombay University. But Rama says, 'no.' Rama wants her daughter to go to school in England. Mano seldom sees her mother. She feels rejected. Imagine. Rama spends her time saving others, but not with her daughter. But at least she came for a visit. I don't think Rama ever understood how much her daughter missed her.
For weeks Rama has done nothing but rescue famine victims and take them to her new farm. She hasn't thought about the school in Pune, or her daughter. I don't think Rama spent much time thinking about Mano. The girl was in Pune. She was sheltered and fed. That was enough to know. Now Rama is ready to resume her former life. To got to her school in Pune. To see her daughter. I think Mano spent most of her young life missing her mother. She can't wait to tell Rama about her exams and show her love by washing her mother's feet. I wonder what Rama feels when she sees her daughter kneeling at her feet with a pan of water.
The woman who is deaf and dumb refuses to be left behind. Rama gives includes her with the other famine refugees. Thakubai thinks its a waste of money to take the woman, so Rama tells her the Bible story about the judge who finally granted a poor widow's request, if only because he didn't want her to keeping coming to court. Thakubai protests. The widow in the story went away; this woman is coming with them. Rama laughs and realizes God makes the choice, not her.
Rama decides to take as many women and girls as she can to the school: Sharada Sadan. Famine victims all, they follow her to the train station. Rama thinks she will nourish the refugees and teach them a skill so they can take care of themselves. Rama thinks she can only rescue those who can learn a new life. She doesn't want to take the woman who was deaf and mute. But the woman doesn't accept Rama's rejection, and Rama is too tired to eject the woman from the train. Rama is about to learn a lesson.
It might have been this event that changed Rama's direction. Before, she committed to educating child widows. But now? Now she's in Sohagpur among famine victims. She's been all over the world, established herself and her school, but now she's faced with the trauma of her childhood. Famine. Poverty. Relentless despair. Rama can't turn away.
Famines were frequent in British India. At first Rama acknowledges the famine in the Central Provinces. Yet the reality of famine fills her consciousness. Only she and her brother Srinivas survived the famine that killed the rest of her family. Rama probably pushed out her memories. But she couldn't reject God's call to rescue widows suffering from this famine. She has to help them however she can.
While Rama was away at the Christian camp meeting, twelve of her students decided to be baptized. Rama's example of simple faith pulled the girls. Rama didn't know if this was a triumph or a disaster. The school was funded as a secular school. Hindus allowed child widows to attend, but wouldn't accept students being baptized. And Rama was still engrossed in her own crisis of faith. This wasn't like praying for a farm. This was Rama's cherished school. But Rama had no time for sponsorship politics. A greater crisis loomed.
Rama was a mercurial person. One minute convinced of her decisions; the next in despair. One moment filled with joy that her prayers for a farm were answered; the next, filled with spiritual emptiness. As I wrote Rama's Labyrinth I continually asked myself what Rama truly wanted. A home? A family? Enough to eat? To rehabilitate child widows? Rama worked for all these goals and achieved them. But she still doesn't have what she seeks. Now she's at the annual Christian Lonauli Camp Meeting asking the same questions. She approaches Rev. Gregson. Can he answer her questions? Can she answer his?
A letter from America changes Rama's outlook from despair to elation. Sharada Sadan needed a farm to support its mission, but Rama had no where to turn for funding. Reluctantly, Rama throws herself and life's mission into the vortex of prayer. I don't think she knew what to expect. Would God support her? Was she good enough? Now she has her answer. Rama has what she wanted. But the void inside herself remains empty. Hers isn't a unique dilemma. Will it resolve?
After Rama told Judith about her idea for a farm, the two women returned to Pune. Judith left for America. Rama continues to think about the farm.She believes God wants her to have it. "How can I raise the money?" she asks her friend Sundrabai. Rama tells Sundrabai she's decided to rely on God to provide it, like he funded the China Inland Mission. But despite what Rama tells her friend, she isn't ready to relinquish her role. God will give her the farm, but she will earn it. She must.
Rama and Judith enjoy their last breakfast in Agra. Judith's tour of India is almost over. Rama returns to her most important topic, Sharada Sadan - her school for widows. Rama knows her funding may run out and has an alternative suggestion. Judith is more than a little surprised. Rama rushes on so she doesn't have to admit she doesn't know anything about farming.
Judith and Rama arrive at Lucie's Hotel in Agra, and go to the dining room for breakfast. Rama chose the English-styled hotel out of consideration for Judith's sensibilities. Rama felt a little uncomfortable. Strange to have the waiter asking her what she wants. But embarrassing to realize Judith wanted coffee. Rama felt she'd failed her American guest. Why didn't Judith tell her she wanted coffee. Rama would have acquired it. But Judith didn't come to India to drink coffee. She came to visit Rama.
Rama takes her friend Judith, representative of her school's American Christian sponsors, to Varanasi. I think it's harder than she expected, because Rama has confront the faith and customs of the people she loved. People who weren't Christian. She wants Judith to see the funeral customs aren't without merit. But she can't explain it to herself. Rama loves her family, but they are lost to her. Rama thinks of a way to explain what Judith is looking at, more comfortable with a mental focus. Rama is a person of heart who hides in her mind.
The last time Rama was in Varanasi, she was a child traveling with her itinerant HIndu family. She had no home. Now, she's taking Judith on a personal tour. Judith wants to see India. Rama's desire is unclear. To please her friend? To revisit her childhood? To escape the daily struggle of keeping her school open? To once again straddle two worlds — Euro-American and Indian? I don't think Rama analyses her motives and memories. At this moment, she's more interested in teaching Judith the correct name for this most holy, Indian city.
Rama's Christian faith lost her many supporters in India and America. The Indian Advisory Board resigned. The Unitarians stopped sponsoring the school. And Judith Andrews came to India to visit the school and encourage Rama. I think Judith wants to bring Rama back to herself, and to do so she needs to take Rama away from daily routine and back to the beginning of Rama's long journey when she was the impoverished daughter of an itinerant Shastri. And Rama herself is ready to leave her troubles to guide Judith into India.
Rama's school is in trouble -- her Indian backers withdrew their support, because students became interested in Christianity. Now Judith Andrews is at the school. Rama is glad to see her, but she knows it isn't purely a social visit. If Judith doesn't like what she sees, Rama could lose American financial support. But this first morning is about friendship. Judith doesn't just want to inspect the school, she wants to understand it, and she wants to befriend Rama as she had in Boston. Rama, more than anything, needs a friend who can grasp more than accounts and student count. She wants a friend who can understand.
Step by step Rama has been more open about her Christian faith. She invites students to morning devotions. She knows there will be a consequence. Rama isn't allowed to spread her faith in a school for Hindu widows. Now Judge Ranade, prominent social reformer, a founding member of the Indian National Congress, and a member of the school's Advisory Board urges Rama to keep her faith to herself. Rama knows she could lose her life's work. But . . .
Sundrabai, Rama's Christian colleague, quietly pushes Rama deeper into Christian activity. "Trust Christ," Sundrabai says. "Meet Rev. Pentecost. Go to his lectures." Now the students have an outing near the Bhima River. Sundrabai suggest they stay home and pray. I think Rama was reluctant to take that step, but couldn't refuse it. More students were attending morning prayer. Now Sundrabai urges an active step. A Christian retreat for those who wanted to learn more. Slowly, irrevocably, Rama moves towards a public Christian life. Her decision could destroy the school.
While Rama considers her religious doubt, life at Sharada Sadan goes on. Godubai comes to see her. Rama has a soft spot for her first pupil who now is a key support at the school. When Rama opened a school for child widows, she probably didn't consider the young women might want to remarry. And yet, what can she say against the marriage? As Godubai points out, the fact that her intended groom is short isn't really an objection.
"Come to my lectures," Rev. Pentecost said as if Rama had nothing better to do. She's annoyed with this man's assumptions that he knows better than she. Rama is also irritated with Sundrabai for persuading her to meet this man, and with herself for consenting to do so. Rama is already a Christian. What can this man tell her she doesn't know already? And why should she listen? But within herself, Rama knows she wants a greater spiritual life than she has. What if this man can show her the way forward?
Sundrabai, the woman who advised Rama to accept Christ, rushes to tell Rama the news. An evangelist is in Pune. Sundrabai begs Rama to come hear him. Maybe she'll receive the Holy Ghost. Rama is skeptical and perhaps unsettled. One day Sundrabai tells her to receive Christ; the next, it's the Holy Ghost. But Rama agrees to go to the Methodist mission. Her initial impression isn't positive, but she waits with the others. Does this preacher have an answer to Rama's spiritual dilemma, or is it time wasted? When she meets him, Rev. Pentecost tells her to stop trusting Unitarians and attend his lectures. What kind of advice is that?
When Rama was baptized, she was content. She saw herself as part of the nuns' community at Wantage, as a person who wouldn't be alone again. Rama practiced her faith, but didn't preach it. Then detractors accused her of trying to convert her students. Rama began feeling ill at ease. She reads a book by Rev. William Haslam, a minister who wrote about being converted as he preached. Rama can't understand how this can be. She asks a Christian friend how a Christian can convert to being a Christian. Rama stands at yet another crossroads.
The issue of Christian teaching isn't resolved, but other matters take place. For reasons of economy, Rama moves her school from Bombay to Pune. Just as Rama says her prayers in the morning, she kisses her students good night in the evening, because she believes they all need love. Just as she does. It's hard to say who benefits the most from the nightly ritual, Rama or her students.
Rama's meeting with Sarah Hamlin moved from expenses to religion. Sarah doesn't know Godubai requested baptism. She just knows Rama keeps her door open during morning prayers. Rama is equally surprised. Rama doesn't see herself as a missionary. Sarah thinks otherwise. Rama doesn't take Sarah's concerns seriously, despite the fact that Sarah can advise the Ramabai Association to cut off funding. Many American churches support Christian missions, but not the Unitarians who fund Rama's school. Rama isn't one to follow precise directions, but Sarah is.
After discussing baptism with Godubai, I wonder if Rama is relieved to discuss something as mundane as accounting with Sarah. In many ways Rama saw American accounting methods as irrelevant. If you buy a bed, of course you buy a mosquito net. Why should that be a separate entry? Sarah takes her job seriously. The American board sent her to India to keep track of how their money is spent. She's shocked that Rama takes what Sarah sees as an irresponsible approach. Both women begin feeling annoyed.
After Godubai expressed her desire for baptism, Rama had to teach an ethics class. It must have been hard for her to concentrate on the lesson. On the one hand, Rama wants to honor Godubai's request. On the other, a baptism would violate Rama's agreement with her sponsors. Now the two meet after class in Rama's office, and Rama begins to back pedal, finally offering to find a missionary to instruct Godubai before the final decision is made. In her heart, Rama knows the matter isn't settled. But for now, she pushes it aside.
After morning prayers, Godubai, Rama's first pupil, tells Rama she wants to be baptized, and Rama doesn't know what to do. Both her Indian and American supporters say the school is for Hindu widows only. No exceptions. Rama bends the rule, by allowing everyone to attend morning prayers. She doesn't expect to convert anyone. Now Godubai wants to convert. If Rama arranges the baptism, Godubai must leave and Rama's sponsors will think she deceived them. But who is Rama to thwart God's plan? Rama never anticipated the crisis unfolding before her. What should she do?
Ever notice something out of order, but can't put your finger on what it is? Sarah Hamlin is a new arrival from America. She's never been to India before, and this is her first morning at Sharada Sadan, Rama's school for Hindu widows. Rama wants things to go smoothly. How disconcerting to notice Sarah's expression of disdain when Rama's daughter enters the room. Rama runs her motherly checklist. Mano has a clean sari and bare feet. What could be out of place? Mano's hair? As Mano leaves to comb her hair, one of the teachers wonders if Mano was testing her mother. Or perhaps Mano simply forgot.
Sharada Sadan, Rama's school for child widows, is growing. She has students. She has teachers, And the American sponsors sent Sarah Hamlin to take care of the accounts. Everything should be fine, but Rama isn't sure. She knows Sarah will take a stricter view of accounts, but surely Sarah will accept Rama's way of doing things. Mano seems to be adjusting well. She's with her mother. What could be better than that? I wonder if Rama thinks everything is settled now.
Rama doesn't seem sentimental, yet she kept the lace handkerchief from Mano's baptism. I wonder if Rama had her own memento, or if she just kept the scrap of lace for her daughter. It's been five years since Rama and Mano's baptism. Rama achieved what she set out to do. Her school for widows is open. She has time to remember the moment she turned away from Hinduism. Mano doesn't remember much. She was only two years old. But she remembers Ajibai, her precious grandmother. I wonder how Rama felt about her daughter's memories.
Godubai is 24 years old. Her brother Naharpant promised that if she came to Bombay to take care of his house, she could have an education. The young woman is emaciated and determined. What does Rama feel when she meets Godubai? Elation to have her first pupil? Compassion for the widow? Curiosity about Godubai's home situation? And what does Godubai think when she meets Rama? Is Godubai anxious that Rama might not accept her? Does she worry that bringing a small child will nix the opportunity? All these emotions while Naharpant watches and waits for the outcome. I wonder what he wanted to happen.
Rama's school for child widows is open. Word is beginning to spread. As she sits on the veranda I'm sure Rama is worried she won't have any students. Even with support from Reformers, it will be hard to convince families to send their widowed child brides to her. I think Rama must have wondered if her efforts would bear any fruit. On this day, a young man brings his widowed sister to Rama. Everyone must have felt nervous. No one knew what would happen. Rama watches closely as she decides what to do.
Rama's dream has come true. The opening ceremonies for Sharada Sadan, Rama's school for widows, are about to take place. Rama reflects on two women who have influenced her life, as if to decide who she is. Is Rama like Emma Willard, founder of the WCTU, who forged ahead no matter what the obstacles? Or is she like Ajibai, the forceful nun whose approval she craves? Perhaps she is both. Does Rama remember her own first lessons, dedicated to the Goddess Sarasvati? I think she does.
Rama's relationship with her daughter is difficult for me to understand. Rama loves Mano, but she always seems for focussed on her work. When she was in England, she left Mano with the nuns while she went to school. She took Mano to America, but then sent her back to England. Now reunited with her daughter in India, Rama leaves Pune two days later to establish her school in Mumbai. Mano must have wondered why her mother was always leaving. Perhaps Mano enjoyed having a mother when she could, and missed her when she left.
It's hard to say what Rama was most excited about: arriving back in India, preparing to open her school for widows, or being reunited with her daughter. The nuns bring Mano to the Pune train station. Rama hasn't seen Mano since she put her on the ship to England three years before. Rama is suddenly filled with emotion. Her baby has become a child. And her child barely knows who she is. Rama sees a glimpse of Mano's pain. Will it make a difference in Rama's plans?
Departing from San Francisco on the RMS Oceania, Rama stands by the rail as the stars appear. With fundraising finally complete, Rama is ready to return to India to found her school and be reunited with her daughter. But doubts assail her. What her dream doesn't succeed? Awash in uncertainty, Rama "hears" a voice. Her resolve returns, only to flee again. "Srinivas, what if I fail?"
In a receiving line in San Francisco, Rama meets a new benefactor. Irving Scott, a prominent businessman, will sponsor a Pacific Coast Branch of her fundraising Ramabai Association. Rama asks why he would sponsor her school, and is delighted by his reply. Philanthropy, Rama learns, has many forms -- religious, social, and entrepreneurial.
Still grieving for Rachel Bodley, Rama arrives at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Rama will speak at the National Educational Association Conference, and Sarah Cooper, a leader in kindergarten education, will introduce her. Rama hopes the delegates will establish Ramabai Circles to raise funds for her school. I'm struck by Rama's tenacity. Missing her daughter and grieving for her friend, Rama pushes forward with her work.
When she finds out about Dr. Bodley's death, Rama rushes to Philadelphia. There are things that need to be done. Mrs. Brentwood gives Rama a place to stay. She and her husband are very formal people, but when no one seems to be home, Rama thinks she can sneak downstairs in her bare feet to get a drink of water. Rama is mortified to run into her host. Later, Mrs. Brentwood admonishes Rama and blames Dr. Bodley for not teaching Rama better manners. In the 21st century it's hard to comprehend the strictness of 19th century dress codes.
When we're apart from people we love, we expect them to continue their lives and duties. Rama's been on speaking tours, and working in Boston with Judith Andrews, while in Philadelphia Rachel Bodley continued her own duties. Already unhappy due to her daughter's illness, and her new speaking tour, Rama's schedule stops. Rachel Bodley is dead. Once again, Rama's world is upside down. She's back in Philadelphia in a stranger's home wondering what she should do next.
Since Rama's first spoke at the Tremont Church in Boston, she's been busy with a speaking tour on the East Coast, completion of a book, and establishing Ramabai Circles as fund raising units. And in addition to Dr. Bodley in Philadelphia, Rama has a new mentor in Judith Andrews in Boston. Everything is going perfectly ... except ... all Rama wants to do is rejoin her now seven-year-old daughter. And when Rama receives news Mano is sick, she wants to leave America immediately, but she can't. "Surely you want to complete your work in America," Judith says. Does Rama have any choice but to stay?
Rama is nervous as she faces her largest audience to talk about child widows and raise funds for her school. Joseph Cook told Rama to touch her listeners' hearts. Rama imagines what the two men who knew her best would say. Bipin her husband. Srinivas her brother. Both taken from her by Death. Rama visualizes their support, and faith in her ability to touch her audience. The vision gives Rama courage to step onto the stage. Rama takes time to regain her mental focus and begins the speech of her life.
When Joseph Cook, a well-known speaker, starts telling Rama what her speaking topic should be, Rama is more than a little annoyed. Rama wants to raise money so she can start her school for Hindu child widows. Her mind is on the school, not the plight of child widows before they arrive. Rama's topic is the school's curriculum. Cook advises a different approach. He tells Rama to talk about the children. Rama doesn't want to take that approach. She thinks she's already talked the topic to death. Reluctantly, Rama agrees to tell the stories again. It turned out to be a good choice.
Rama is about to speak to reform community of Boston. But she can't concentrate. All Rama can think of is her daughter, now on a ship back to England. Rama wonders if she did the right thing, but how could she do anything else? Rama needs to deflect her companion's curiosity and says the church is too big. She can't speak to such a large crowd. The woman reacts badly. Everyone important speaks at the Tremont Street Baptist Church.
Rama's first public speech was a triumph. Speaking invitations are pouring in. Professionally, Rama is a success, but as a mother? Rama herself doesn't know. How can she take care of Mano and attend public engagements? How can she write when the child demands so much attention? The situation isn't unusual. But Rama doesn't know how she can do her work and take care of her child in this new country where Rama herself depends on others.
Rama came to Philadelphia to raise funds so she can found a school for child widows in India. Rama will use the themes she develops in her first major speech at all her fundraising events. Rama informs he audience what life is like for women in India, especially the little girls who marry much older men and become unwanted child widows. These are the children Rama wants to educate. But it's a long road from a first speech to an actual school.
Rama is about to make her American speaking debut. She's nervous and isn't sure what to tell the listeners drawn to what they expect to be a memorable speech. Rama calms herself with memories of how her mother taught her to recite Sacred Legends. So much has happened since then, and yet perhaps only Rama's purpose is different. So much depends on how Rama's first words engage the audience's attention. Rama twists her fingers in nervousness, but she knows what she needs to do.
It must have been a bittersweet moment. Rama went to England to become a lady doctor, only to be told she could not hear well enough to attend the courses. Now Rama witnesses her cousin receive a medical degree in Philadelphia. Anandibai would be the first Hindu lady doctor. Rama was proud, but also, I think, a little envious. Rama must have wondered if her goal to educate child widows could be as important.
Rama's first day in Philadelphia includes a reception for Dr. Bodley's students and faculty. Anandibai, about to receive her medical degree, introduces Rama to her colleagues and leads her to the dining room to view forbidden foods. How frustrating it was to maintain vegetarian diet restrictions, when so much delight beckoned.
When Rama went to England, she knew Ajibai and the nuns at Wantage would welcome her. But in America? Everything is so strange. Rama's name is in the newspapers as an educator and reformer. Can she live up to this reputation? Rama has no one to confide in. No one to support her as she looks at the stars and remembers her brother.
On the journey from the wharf to the residential area Rama notices relations between Anandibai and her husband are strained. Rama's hostess stands to greet them with a warm welcome. I think Rama responds to Dr. Bodley's warmth with relief. She and her daughter are welcome. Perhaps she wonders if her first impression of her cousin's marriage is correct.
To Rama's surprise, Anandibai's husband Gopalrao is also present for their first meeting. He's stiff and taciturn. Rama, Mano, and their new relatives board a streetcar. Rama notices the advertisements above the car windows and is drawn to one that refers to God, before recommending Soapolio, a type of soap. In essence, this advertisement is Rama's introduction to American life. What more will she learn in the months ahead? And what does Rama make of Anandibai's relationship with her husband?
Arriving at the wharf in Philadelphia, Rama doesn't know what to expect. Will her cousin Anandibai be there to meet her? And if she is, will Rama recognize her? Rama sees a woman in a sari, and knows it's her cousin. The women have never met, yet they recognize each other. Rama's American career is about to begin.
The voyage to America is perhaps the first time Rama has had to parent Mano alone. There have always been other people to share childcare. On board the ship Rama is alone with Mano and unable to distract her, until the sight of flying fish makes Mano laugh. On board the ship Rama has time to spend with her child, but how will she cope after she arrives in America?
Rama informs the Sisters at Wantage that she and Mano are going to America. They sail in February and almost immediately experience a storm at sea. Rama decides not to stay below but take her risks on deck. The journey takes Rama into a new phase of her life. Once again Rama remakes herself.
After confronting Ajibai in the chapel, Rama returns to her room. Rama concludes that if she returns to Cheltenham and leaves her daughter with Ajibai, Mano won't learn the things Rama thinks most important. Rama makes her decision. The next day Rama visits Mother Superior. Sister Geraldine, the nun Rama calls Ajibai, is also present. Rama eases her way into a conversation that will change her life again.
Rama kisses her daughter good night and walks to Chapel. The nuns take their places. But instead of listening to the liturgy, Rama fights her anger. "Mano listens to Ajibai more than me," Rama fumes. "This isn't my fault. Ajibai should've followed my instructions. It's her fault."
Ajibai taught Mano to pray according to Church of England customs. Rama had herself and Mano baptized into the Church of England. But Rama has her own view on the best way to pray. The situation is a new crisis for Rama. Who has the right to teach her child? Who is more important in the Mano's life? And what should Rama do to reassert herself as a parent?
Ajibai. Grandmother. After all this time apart. After Rama's joyful reunion with Mano, her daughter refuses to say bedtime prayers with her. For the first time Rama realizes the extent of Mano's attachment to Ajibai. Rama immediately asserts her position. "I'm your mother," she says. Is she handling the situation well? Would any of us?
As the train approaches Wantage, Rama is anxious. She's been away at Cheltenham while her daughter Mano stayed with the nuns. It's their first separation, and Rama felt it deeply. Like many mothers separated from their children, Rama wonders if Mano will recognize her. And they they're together in a magical moment of reunion. "Don't leave home again," Rama's daughter orders. Neither knew how often they would be apart.
Classes are over. Rama is on her way back to Wantage and Mano. But everything is a mess. The nuns want her to be a missionary. Miss Beale wants her to teach only women. Dr. Bodley wants Rama to come to America in support of a cousin she's never met. A cousin who will be a Lady Doctor. That's what Rama wanted to do until they said she couldn't hear well enough. Rama feels conflicted and frustrated. Maybe she should go to America, but right now Rama just wants to go home to her daughter.
At Cheltenham, Rama offers classes in Sanskrit. Her mentor Miss Beale advertised for male students to join the class. Her sponsors in the Church of England forbade a mixed class. They want her to return to India as a missionary. Miss Beale withdraws the course. Rama is outraged. Who are these people to tell her how to live her life? She has other options.
Rama has a meeting with Miss Beale, the headmistress. Rama has an unusual situation because she's both a student and professor of Sanskrit. 'What is the appropriate attire?' Miss Beale wonders. Rama points out she wears saris. Always. She came to Cheltenham to teach and to learn. Nothing more. Nothing less. She didn't come to become English. Rama wins the debate. If only everything was that easy.
Though sad to leave her daughter behind with the nuns, Rama is excited to begin her education at Cheltenham Ladies' College. Yesterday Rama met Dorothea Beale, headmistress of the college. This morning, Rama meets other young women staying in the same house. She'll meet her teachers, and she'll introduce herself to her own students. Rama is both student and professor of Sanskrit. It's a lot to take in. Just like the day she joined Goddess Sarasvati's community of knowledge.
Baptized one day, on the train the next. It wasn't really that quick, but it must have seemed like it. Rama will go to college at Cheltenham, but she can't take Mano. It's their first long separation. Rama's heart must be breaking. I'm guessing a tear rolled down Rama's cheek as she blew her daughter a kiss.
Ajibai worried about Rama's decision to be baptized. Mother Superior has no hesitation. Now Rama and Mano stand at the baptismal font. This public rejection of Hindu religion will change Rama's life. Rama remembers her brother Srinivas. He told her to follow her destiny. This is it, she thinks. I'm a Christian now.
Consulting her mind and her heart, Rama concludes she wants to be baptized into the Church of England. She expects her dear Ajibai to be thrilled. She looks forward to the comfortable life she has with the sisters. And Mano will never wonder if she's good enough. Her salvation will be assured. But Ajibai isn't smiling. She doesn't rush forward with happy hugs and good wishes. Rama is confused.
Of all Rama's many struggles the decision of whether or not to convert to Christianity is perhaps the most momentous. It means cutting herself off from her early life. Separation from friends and colleagues. But life in the convent at Wantage is so comforting. And Jesus offered salvation for women as well as men. Mano would never know spiritual inequality. Rama's mind can't come up with an answer, so she consults her heart.
After Rama's companion tries to kill her, the nuns send Rama to Oxford to stay with Professor Max Muller, a Sanskrit scholar. Rama can converse in her first language. They discuss her future. What will she do now that she can't be a lady doctor? What will she decide when Sister Geraldine encourages her to convert to Christianity. Prof. Muller asks Rama what she thinks about her situation. Rama thinks she should know the answer, but she doesn't. It takes all Rama's courage to sleep without someone in the room to protect her.
Rama wakes to a demon's face. The reality is equally frightening. Anandibai, Rama's traveling companion, holds a pillow to Rama's face. Rama escapes to the hall with her daughter. Sister Geraldine, Rama's "Ajibai," takes her to safety. Rama's life careens into another crisis, but this time she has protection. "Rest," Sister Geraldine says. Incredibly Rama is able to do so.
When Rama went to bed she must have wondered what more could go wrong. She can't train as a lady doctor. She has to leave Mano while she attends school. She has no clear path. Rama dreams of her past when the family lived at Dwarka. She thinks of the sea, and then she can't tell if she's dreaming or in danger. is there a demon? Is it real? Can she escape with her child?
When Rama woke up that morning she expected to be a lady doctor. By evening everything had changed except her love for Mano. That and Rama's desire to reconnect with her brother. "I want the curtain open," she says. "My brother and I used to watch stars." If she can recall that earlier time, perhaps Rama can cope with her new destiny, whatever that turns out to be.
Rama is devastated. She failed the hearing test. She can't be a doctor. She needs a new profession. She's supposed to leave her daughter for weeks while she attends Cheltenham Ladies' College to become a . . . what? No wonder she thinks of past times when Srinivas was alive, when she was pregnant with Mano, when . . . Rama remembers. She dedicated Mano to God. Is this how he will take her? And will he take Bipin's memory too? More than ever before, Rama wonders what will become of her.
In the same interview Rama finds out she won't be training as a lady doctor, and that Mother Superior arranged for her to attend Cheltenham Ladies College. Even worse, Rama has to leave her daughter at the Wantage Convent during the term. It seems to be a pattern in Rama's life. Just when she thinks everything is settled, life turns back into chaos. Will she accept the nun's direction and go to Cheltenham? If she doesn't, what can she do?
Rama thinks she has everything in place to meet her destiny. She's just waiting for her exam results. Disaster! Rama is deaf in one ear. She can't attend medical school. She can't be a doctor. The shock and disappointment are terrible. Rama believes it's her destiny to be a lady doctor, and Mother Superior tells her she can't attend medical school. It's the first time Rama's been thwarted by anything except Death. What will she do?
For the first time in her life Rama is at peace in a place that can't be taken from her. Rama misses her lost family members, but she has her daughter. And for the first time she experiences stability in a women's community.
Whenever Rama faces an obstacle, she pushes through it. Reunited with Sister Geraldine, Rama decides to call her Ajibai, "Grandmother." The name pulls Geraldine into Rama's sphere, smoothing the strangeness of Rama's new home. Encouraging Rama to begin paying her way. "Whom shall I teach Marathi?" Rama asks, and stakes her claim to be more than a Christian charity case.
The Mother House at Wantage, England. A solid, English sort of building -- nothing like the bungalows of India. Rama wants to like it. But she's nervous. Especially after the scene at the pier. Then she sees Sister Geraldine, the older nun she first met in India. The woman Rama trusts. Imagine Rama's relief. Somehow things will work out.
Anandibai traveled to England with Rama and Mano. The adults need each other for respectability. As the voyage continues, Rama becomes concerned. Anandibai is afraid of nuns - awkward if you're going to a convent. Her focus is on joining her brother. At the pier Anandibai's brother rejects her. The woman collapses, shrieking her despair. Rama's first instinct is to control the scene and protect her own reputation. She can't afford a bad first impression.
Leaving India for England was a courageous act. Rama 'crossed the water,' potentially losing caste. She's a woman traveling alone with only a stranger to help her. Rama expects to come back a doctor, but who can say? And when she goes to her cabin Rama learns other passengers won't travel with Indians. "Just as well," she says. The new sense of "otherness" is the first of many disappointments and frustrations.
It took incredible courage for Rama to 'cross the water' to England. It meant complete loss of caste, a hard decision for a Brahmin. I'm struck by Rama's determination to meet her destiny when she had no idea what that meant. A lone single parent with a small child traveling to a land where she has no friends. The decision makes me wonder which was more important to Rama, leaving where she was or arriving at her destination.
Rama didn't leave Mano with the nuns after all, but soon returns to the convent. She's decided to become a lady doctor which means she'll need to go to England. Rama thinks, "the nuns are English, I'll let them sponsor me." A new adventure begins.
Rama's decision to leave her daughter Mano with the nuns seems inexplicable. She's just met them. She didn't plan to leave Mano with them. But, Rama wants to work with child widows. She wants to lecture. She doesn't have much money. And the Sisters are so nice. Mano would have what she needs. Rama can work without worry. It seems like a perfect solution for everyone. But is it?
Miss Hurford invites Rama to visit English nuns working in Pune. Rama accepts and takes Mano with her. The nuns are curious. How can a single mother lecture and care for her child? It's a perfect opportunity for Rama to tell Thakubai's story. The child becomes part of Rama's lectures on child widows. Miss Hurford is the first of many shocked listeners.
Thakubai, once the thief with bony fingers, is now part of Rama's life. She's the first child widow Rama helps, but not the last. Blessings come in many forms.
The bony fingers reaching for Rama's basket belonged to a child-widow named Thakubai. Rama says she wants to educate child widows, but Thakubai, with her tattered clothes and unwashed body, is the first widow she meets. Rama has few resources. How can she add another mouth to feed? How can she not?
Rama's career is off to a good start. But she has a modern problem. Rama is a single parent who does her own marketing and sometimes forgets how heavy the shopping basket gets. She struggles to keep her child out of the mud, and puts down the basket for an instant. A hand reaches for it? What will Rama do now?
Rama goes to Pune to start a new career as a lecturer on women's reform. Mrs. Ranade, wife of Reformer Judge Ranade, introduces Rama to her new audience. The first lecture went well. Rama's new career is launched. Mrs. Ranade wants Rama to join her for English lessons taught by a female missionary, which brings up the question: Who is a missionary?
Shortly after Bipin dies, his clerk visits Rama and tells her Bipin has unpaid debts. Some creditors want payment. Rama doesn’t hesitate. "I wish to sell this house and its contents," she says. When the clerk hesitates, Rama responds by waving her hand. Whether though courage or foolishness, Rama makes the decision to sell everything and start again. Is it the right choice?
When I wrote this section, I realized the depth of Rama's loneliness. She's more alone than she's ever been. Her husband is dead. Her way of life is gone. Only Rama's young daughter is still with her. How will Rama cope? How will she live and support Mano? What can Rama do?
One day Bipin came home complaining he didn't feel well. Three days later, he died. Cholera was and is a swift disease. Rama did everything she could. She sent for the doctor. She nursed her husband tirelessly. She appealed to the Hindu gods who failed her before. Nothing cured Rama's husband. Rama's great love is gone. There is only his cousin Krishnapriya saying they must prepare the body.
Rama finished explaining how Savitri rescued her husband from death when she felt a premonition. Is she being silly? It happens a second time when she sees a shadow. Is it Yama, the god of death, coming for her husband?
Rama tells the story of how Savitri defeats death (Yama) to save her husband. The myth put incredible pressure on Indian wives who must be like Savitri, protecting their husbands from all harm. Savitri spent her life preparing for this moment. What does Rama think as she selects this story? Will she be able to protect Bipin?
Rama, with her husband and child, visits her husband's cousin Krishnapriya, who invites everyone in the village to hear Rama speak. They've never seen a woman before, and certainly not a pandita. Rama ponders what she can share with such a mixed audience, and decides on the story of Savitri. A Hindu woman is responsible for her husband's health. Rama knows this universal theme will touch her audience and open them to a broader message.
As things turn out, Bipin delivers Rama's baby and names her Manorama or "Heart's Delight. Both parents fall in love with their new daughter, relishing their new family roles. For the moment, Rama's interest in Christianity and her own career as a lecturer and writer dims.
At the moment religion is the least of Rama's thoughts. The child is coming. The servant wants to send for the midwife, but Rama refuses. This is a modern birth with a doctor. And clean clothing. Rama's only thoughts are for the moment and the child.
Rama's thinking about religion. She finds no place in Hinduism or Brahmo Samaj. Christianity seems different. There's a place for women, a place for her. Or so Rama thinks. Bipin isn't sympathetic.
we're testing the bubbles
The missionary is back. Rama listens to the crucifixion story. Bipin walks in just as Jesus' followers place his body in the tomb. Bipin asks a question - partly to needle the missionary and partly due to curiosity. Does the missionary provide a useful answer? Does Rama grasp her husband's question?
Rama wants to know more about Luke's Gospel, so Bipin introduces her to a missionary. She wants information. He's an evangelist. And now he's called at an inconvenient time. What will Rama make of his story?
Rama wants to know more about the book she found with Bipin's things - it was Luke's Gospel. Bipin introduced her to a missionary he knew. Rama invited him to visit and explain Luke's book. Rama hopes to learn something new, but not to take it too seriously. Bipin warned her to be careful. Reverend Allen could be persuasive.
As a married woman, Rama knew children would likely appear in due course. Was she ready for her first child. So much about her life is different from what childhood led her to expect. Birth family - gone. Marriage - unexpectedly delightful. A child - what should she expect?
Rama was putting books away when she found a pamphlet, the Book of Luke. The story called to her. She asked Bipin about it, and he brought home a missionary to answer her questions. The missionary said she believed in Jesus she would have eternal life. This excerpt is Rama's reaction. Rama is about to enter a new stage in her life. One that would last longer than her marriage.
To Rama's surprise, married life is good. She and Bipin move to Silchar. He's a barrister. She has a new home. The first days of a new life can be blissful. I found myself really happy for the newly married couple as I recorded their joy.
It's difficult to know what Rama feels when she agreed to marry Bipin. She holds him in high regard - perhaps even loves him. She doesn't want to lose his affection. I wonder: would Rama have married if her brother lived. Or, would she have married Bipin if she hadn't made the promise to her brother. But she's alone. Bipin wants to marry her. She cares for him. She agrees.
Rama thinks herself alone. Srinivas, the last member of her family, is dead. What can she do? A lone woman. No family. Bipin wants to marry her, but . . . She loves him, but . . . And now the moment of truth is at hand.
Each time Rama loses someone in her family, I feel a sense of sadness. Life in Rama's India is often inexplicably short. Disease strikes and kills without warning. Now death stalks Rama's brother, the last member of her family. Her devastation is complete. And on the heels of her greatest loss, Rama finds herself utterly alone. Who will she turn to for help?
If you follow these Book Bubbles, you can guess what happened. Rama doesn't want to marry, but she promised Bipin to speak to speak to Srinivas. She blurts out the words "Bipin wishes to marry me." Srinivas is delighted - urges her to hurry before Bipin is deterred. But . . .? Rama remains confused. The unknown remains a mystery.
Rama promised Bipin she would speak to her brother about Bipin's marriage proposal. Srinivas wants her to marry. Bipin is his close friend. What could be more perfect? Yet Rama hesitates. She doesn't want a husband. She doesn't want her life to change. And yet . . .
Rama's life turns upside down again. Srinivas decides they will move from Sylhet to Dhaka. Bipin gives Rama a poem by Tagore. Rama is deeply touched. But do they have a future? Is it one of friendship? Or something more? And how can the matter be discussed without actually discussing it? Such matters are often difficult.
When I researched this part of Rama's life I had compassion for her predicament. She likes her precarious life as it is. After watching her mother trailing on her father's pilgrimages, Rama doesn't want to be under male control. The problem? How can Rama retain Bipin's friendship without letting her aversion to marriage push him away. Rama wants Bipin's friendship, not a proposal. But how is that possible?
Although Rama doesn't want a husband, she's drawn to Bipin. Srinivas also enjoys Bipin's company. There's a major obstacle to spending time with Bipin. Srinivas removed the barrier. He invited Bipin to join their meal. Rama's thrilled without entirely knowning why.
Srinivas wants to do his duty, and since Rama refuses to discuss marriage, he contacts suitable suitors. He doesn't know she's found someone - neither does she. Srinivas tricks Rama. He doesn't tell her a suitor is calling until he's about to call. Srinivas has tried to think of everything Rama needs in a husband. Rama still rejects the concept. It is a challenge.
Rama is a lovely young woman, a scholar, and a lecturer. Brother Srinivas accompanies her. Now they are in Sylhet. Rama hasn't told Srinivas she finds a man there attractive. And she isn't really looking for a husband. But this is India in the late 19th century. Srinivas knows that if anything happens to him, Rama has no future. In this excerpt Srinivas is trying to broach the subject with Rama.
Rama never worried about how she looked. But as she dresses for a reception in Sylhet, she studies her appearance carefully. Bapu Medhavi will be there. Rama doesn't know why that should make any difference, but it does.
Rama accomplished more than she could have dreamed. She's a respected lecturer on female education. She has enough to eat and doesn't sleep by the roadside anymore. But it isn't enough. Rama wonders what she wants, or if she'll recognize it.
Rama reads the Vedas, and discovers there's no place for women. They don't have rights. They don't have choices. They have nothing without a man's permission. Naturally, Rama becomes disillusioned with Hinduism. How can she encourage women's education when it won't change their lives? What should she do?
Despite her education, Rama has never read the Vedas. Father forbade it. Yet here they are, a gift from Keshub Chandra Sen who urged her to read them. Still, Rama assumes the books are for her brother. Will she have the courage to read the Vedas for herself. I wonder if in some ways life was easier as a pilgrim. Putting one foot in front of the other doesn't require a decision.
Rama passed the university Sanskrit exams and received the title "pandita." Rama addressed her first audience about the need for women's education. But she wondered if her own commitment was real. Just because she was an educated woman didn't mean Rama had committed her life to women's education. How would she decide?
Poor Rama. Nothing's ever enough. She's literate in Sanskrit, daughter of a well-respected religious teacher. But in Calcutta Rama has to prove herself before University examiners. She needs credentials.
Srinivas told social reformers in Calcutta about Rama. The reformers envision education for women. They know that once women were held in high esteem. Rama knew sacred literature. She was literate in Sanskrit. Rama could demonstrate women's capabilities. Rama is a shining star. Rama is about to become the center of attention with Srinivas as her escort.
After Rama began reciting, she and Srinivas enjoyed a more comfortable life. Srinivas thought they could do even better. He decided it was time to leave the pilgrim path and migrate to Calcutta. He believed Rama proved the women's worth. She had a role to fulfill. Rama isn't so sure.
Srinivas finally allows Rama to recite. She's a success. Life seems to be getting better...until Rama's sister Krishna falls ill
Srinivas tells religious stories in exchange for donations. It's an insecure existence, and he hasn't been bringing enough money home. Rama wants to tell the stories too. Women aren't supposed to take a public role. Every time Rama asks, Srinivas refuses. How can she convince him that reciting is part of her purpose?
So there they are. Srinivas is head of the family. Mother lays dying. Krishna falls into despair. Rama knows people will come to hear a woman recite; they will give alms to her family. Srinivas refuses. Poor young man with everything on his shoulders. Why can't Rama say thank you? Why can't she be satisfied?
Rama's family didn't commit suicide, but their situation remained desperate. Rama knew her parents were at death's door, but when her father died, Rama couldn't help but think the gods Anant Shastri served all his life failed him. And if that was true, what hope could there by for anyone?
Rama revered and loved her father, but she never knew if he loved her. Now her father has decided that rather than starve in the famine, he would commit suicide. Now he tells Rama he loves her. Already in despair, Rama wishes she'd known her father loved her. And who was "our god" anyway?
Famine ravages the Deccan Plateau. Rama and her family have nothing to eat. Father leads them into the forest, How was that going to help? People ate bark stripped bark from the trees. Finally Rama's father, Anant Shastri, made a decision. He would drown himself in a sacred tank. What can Rama do now? Should she end her life? Should she push on hoping to find food? Rama bangs her head on the wall of the labyrinth. Is there a way out?
Srinivas is losing his faith in the gods, but decides to try one more time. He would visit Seven Sages on the Floating Hills. But he has no money for the boat to cross the lake. Rama wants to support her brother's quest, but thinks it's a lost cause. Srinivas has reached a decision. What will he do? Will Rama go with him?
Rama is about to ride a train for the first time. She's never been in a train station before, never seen such a vast variety of people. In particular, she's never seen European or English women. I wondered what it would be like for she and her sister to see how English women dressed with their corsets at the waist and skirts flared out by hoops. They must have seemed like beings from another world. And so, I wrote this section -- and also noted that the chasm between Rama and these fascinating creatures was too wide for her to cross.
Rama immersed herself in holy rivers and tanks all over India. Now at last, she will immerse herself in the holiest of rivers - The Ganges. She prayed to Goddess Ganga, and sank down under the surface. It didn't turn out to be the uplifting experience she expected.
When Rama lost consciousness at Lord Krishna's temple at Jaipur, she embarrassed her family. They told her not to be overcome by emotion again.So, Rama changed, and in changing she separated herself from active participation in the family's rituals. From now on, Rama told herself, she would avoid anything that touched her emotions. It was a lonely choice.
Though she's the youngest member of the family and a girl, Rama speaks on behalf of the Driver. She thinks the work is too hard for one person. Srinivas thinks Rama is foolish, but her father Anant listens, and decrees the Driver can have a boy to help him. It's Rama's first success as an advocate.
Rama's brother Srinivas is about to tell a sacred legend for the first time. Like his father, he began by addressing the bell, so if there were women in the crowd it would be clear he wasn't speaking to them. Rama is beginning to realize the many restrictions faced by women, including the restriction of hearing the sacred legends.
Festivals provide welcome relief from life's dreariness - a chance to put on a yellow sari. And today Rama gets to go to a festival for her favorite goddess. Sarasvati was the goddess of scholars
Rama is eight years old, but quickly being treated as an adult. Rama's mother engaged an old woman to act her agent at the market. Now the woman has returned, but Mama is busy. Rama takes it upon herself to complete the transaction. As only an eight year old can, Rama assumes what she thinks is an adult persona.
Laxmibai tries to teach her 8-year-old daughter the day's lesson. It's hard for her to focus. The family is moving. She has to dismantle the house, sell possessions,
When you're a child, so many events are beyond understanding. Rama's family was downsizing to an astonishing degree. Mama ordered Rama to stop the next shepherd coming down the road. How was she supposed to do that? Rama, always resourceful, stopped a shepherd, inadvertently divided his goat herd, and brought the herd back together, while her mother waved her arms in an attempt to persuade the shepherd to buy the family's goats. Once again Rama observed that communication would be easier if her family spoke local dialects as well as Sanskrit.
Rama idolized her older brother, and constantly peppered him with questions. Often he didn't want to answer. Rama's need to know often conflicted with Srinivas' desire to avoid looking at things too closely. Rama and Srinivas are gazing at stars in a dark night. She doesn't like the dark and wonders why her brother prefers it. I think this scene reveals quite a bit about Srinivas' character - his desire to do what is expected, to succeed as his father's son.
Krishna is Rama's older sister. Her marriage was unusual, because instead of going to her husband's family, Krishna's husband Rohit joined her family. In exchange Rama's father Anant Shastri educated Rohit, but the young man didn't like the situation, and planned to leave. This family drama was the most intense Rama had ever experienced. She didn't especially like her brother-in-law, but neither did she want to lose her sister.
From the time she was a child Rama questioned everything about her spiritual life. Here she's eight years old, walking with her brother Srinivas. Rama usually asked Srinivas her questions. He found them troubling and often didn't answer. Rama didn't want ask her sister Krishna who was having problems with her husband Rohit. She was afraid to ask her parents. In one sense "Rama's Labyrinth" is about Rama's search for answers.
No sooner does Rama learn her destiny than she has to tend the goats. From the enticing sublime to daily life with a thump. Rama didn't like the shift - especially when Goddess Saraswati didn't help her. This is the first instance of Rama having to deal with life's challenges. And she responded as she always would. She went after the goats and got the job done.
Pandita Ramabai had such a full life, it was impossible to include everything. How much I could include related to where I began the story. I concluded Rama's story began when her father, against all custom, decided to educate her as a scholar. Everything flowed out of that first decision.
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