Sandra Wagner-Wright

Literature & Fiction

Author Profile

Sandra  Wagner-Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Rama’s Labyrinth is her first work of historical fiction. When she’s not researching or writing, Sandra enjoys travel, including trips to India, South Africa, and the Galapagos Islands. Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a weekly blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life. Check out Sandra’s webpage at www.sandrawagnerwright.com

Books

Rama's Labyrinth

Literature & Fiction

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.

Book Bubbles from Rama's Labyrinth

"Mama Always Writing"

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 Speaks to her First American Audience

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's First American Speech

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.

A Great Day for Hindu Women

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.

They Eat By Turns

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.

Rama Remembers

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.

Uncomfortable Introductions

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.

"Read the Second Line"

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?

I Couldn't Miss Your Graduation

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.

Mano Frets

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?

We're Free

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.

Rama Opens the Door

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.

It's Her Fault

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."

"Pray the way I taught you""

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?

"I'll Wait for Ajibai."

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?

"Don't Leave Again"

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.

Why Her and Not Me?

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.

I've Received An Invitation

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.

I Wear Saris

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.

It's A Lot To Take In

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.

Will You Be a Good Girl?

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.

This Is My Destiny

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.

Ajibai Isn't Smiling

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.

What Does My Heart Want?

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.

"What do you think?"

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.

Rest, Rama

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.

Is it a demon?

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?

What a Day

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.

What Will Become of Her?

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.

You'll Be Able to Visit

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?

"But it's my destiny. . ."

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?

Stability

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.

Rama Forges Ahead

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 Blocks Looked Solid

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.

"I Demand You Stop"

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.

"It's Just the Three of You"

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.

I Still Don't Know

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.

I Can Do Both

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.

Don't Worry, I'll Come Back

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?

"What Kind of Parent Does That?"

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.

A Good Arrangement

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.

Rama's First Child Widow

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?

Purple Eggplants

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 Begins Again

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?

Birds With No Nest

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?

Shall We Play With Blocks?

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?

Death Comes Again

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.

Premonitions

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?

Savitri Defeats Death

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?

What Could She Say?

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.

"Heart's Delight"

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.

A Modern Birth

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.

It's No More Illogical Than Hinduism

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.

this is a test

we're testing the bubbles

That must have been expensive

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?

It's All From Lord Brahma

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?

Does Your God Have a Name?

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.

Rama's Life Takes a New Turn

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?

"I think you misspoke."

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.

Joy in the Morning

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.

The Decision is Made

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.

But . . .

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.

Yet another loss

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?

"Bipin wishes to marry me."

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.

"I do have something on my mind."

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 . . .

A Simple Barrister

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.

How should Rama answer?

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?

Hidden Attractions

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.

Rama's Suitors

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.

Does Rama need a husband?

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.

Will he notice 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.

What does Rama want?

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.

No Place for Women

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?

The Next Frontier

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.

What does "committed" mean?

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?

University Exams

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.

"A Shining Star"

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.

Turning Point

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.

"They take everyone away"

Srinivas finally allows Rama to recite. She's a success. Life seems to be getting better...until Rama's sister Krishna falls ill

Rama's Quest Begins

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?

Can't you be satisfied

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?

The Gods are Far Away

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?

Love Matters

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?

Is This The End?

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 at a Point of Decision

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?

Rustic Rama sees exotic foreigners.

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 Enters the Ganges

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.

No More Emotions

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.

Rama the Advocate

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.

Unauthorized Women

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.

Sarasvati's Festival

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

It's hard being a grown-up

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.

Skipping Lessons

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,

Communication Gaps

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.

Srinivas doubts himself

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's Marriage Ends

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.

Rama's Constant Questions

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.

Goat Girl

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.

Rama enters her Labyrinth

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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