Village work in India – Spring Term 1918

Six o’clock on a Thursday morning. So, I clamber into the tonga and settle myself and my possessions as comfortably as possible for a ten-mile drive to the village of Jeur. On such occasions one says one’s prayers on the way, and has plenty of time to meditate undisturbed on many subjects – except when the ponies Jib furiously when they find they are to go beyond the church-or a bullock-wagon won’t get out of the way, or a bit of the harness breaks, but it doesn’t usually, for this is a good road.

It is 7.30 when I arrive, and Rangubar, the emphatic, worldly-wise catechist meets me. “All the women are assembled, and I have made some Hindu women come too; but only give a short lesson, or they won’t stay.” Personally, I rather wish the Hindus weren’t there, as I know they don’t really want to listen, and a class ranging from Communicants to heathen is a little difficult to teach. However; I go into the school; the catechist’s wife is there. She can read, and is rather fat and supercilious, and doesn’t think I can teach her much (which is probably true). Munzulabai, the master’s wife, is there also, nursing a fat baby. She, too, can read, and when I ask a question the other women usually wait on her to answer. And there’s Sagunabai, old and nearly blind and deaf, but she always comes to the class and behaves most devoutly; and Rakhmabai, who begins a shrill argument as to why I should give her a new garment. (We never do give anything in the villages; the Indian padre knows better than we who really is in need, and we do nothing independently). Other women, too, and many children. We begin with an Indian hymn and prayers, then Rangubar gives an address, beginning with Adam and Eve and ending with “Listen to Madam Sahib, and it will certainly be to your profit!” But not to his, and he goes off. I generally tell some Gospel story: the women are very ignorant. They forget extraordinarily quickly, so whatever one tells is likely to be new to them, except the Birth in a Manger, and the Death on the Cross. It’s not very satisfactory; my Marathi is not easily understood, and a baby cries, and two children begin to play, and in the middle a woman gets up and walks out, and the girl I’d hoped to prepare for Confirmation has gone out to work    The class over, I go to two other houses a little way off; as the inmates have not been to the class. In one are two catechumens, they really do seem to want to learn, and at once say “Come in, sit down,” and are ready to listen, even though one does find the very first Commandment has gone absolutely out of their heads, and they can give but the vaguest answer to any question. After that, two miles on to another village. Here I know the women better, and the class is entirely Christian, save for one catechumen, who is trying hard to learn, and is quite willing to stay longer than the others in order to have special teaching. Afterwards I go round to the houses of those who did not come to the class. There is always some excuse, grinding, or cooking, or a baby to mind, but they are friendly enough, and will listen to a little teaching on the spot. Then there’s probably medicine to give out, but one has to be a little careful, as they love medicine, and all think they need senna tea! By this it is often eleven, and I am quite glad to get to the dak bungalow for breakfast and a rest. In the afternoon two more women to find and teach, and after tea I start back. On the way we go off the road to another Christian woman with three very attractive children, Margaret, Martha and Mary. She lives with her Hindu employer, a caste woman -(all the others I’ve visited are outcastes) – and both give me a really hearty welcome, and I generally go away the richer by a large sugar­cane, or some fruit. The Hindu listens at a little distance while I teach. She is quite interested, but more puzzled by the strangeness of my speech. That is the last visit of the day, and I drive comfortably back to St. Monica’s, rather glad it’s all over for another fortnight.

This can hardly, perhaps, be called a “typical day,” as, except for Thursday, I spend the time mostly in school, with as much language study as I can get in. But village work throughout the district is more or less on these lines, mainly teaching Christians, simply because one has not time to go on to thee heathen as well, and the Christians them­selves do need so much. One feels more and more the need of really keen Indian Christians, that they may evangelise their own people. Some of us dream of a place where English and Indian may live and work and pray together, where those Indian women who want to follow a missionary vocation may be trained to do so. It is badly needed. I hope some of you will pray about it.

Finally, I do wish some O.G.’s would visit Ahmednagar. It’s only twelve hours from Bombay, on the branch line from Dhond to Maulnad. We always enjoy having visitors, and of course I should love it especially. Just send a card to me at St. Monica’s, Ahmednagar, and you may be sure of a welcome.