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.
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.
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?
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.
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