Via Simultala, EIR
Saturday 28 November 1931
I have addressed this letter home, as I expect you to be there on its arrival, and as this is my last opportunity of getting my Christmas mail off, it must include the other members of the family.
I write in Camp with Dr and Mrs Kitchin. Tisri and Bamdah are 30 miles apart. We have “met half way” and thus contrived a meeting we would not otherwise have managed. It is pleasant to have a rest from hospital and patients flourishing tickets, and cataract patients that pour off every bus twice daily. I kept it a dead secret that I was going away yesterday afternoon in hospital. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have had a moment’s peace for a couple of days before going. The last few days I have again been doing between 30 and 40 operations a day, and when patients come to report to me before going home, I often don’t recollect ever having operated on them!
Weather is now so delightful that I cycled here in the afternoon sun. Bushwedik is an outstation of Tisri, flat country, less wooded and less pretty than Saloia (the Bamdah outstation), but charming nevertheless. The voices of children herding the cattle reach me as I sit here, and I have just walked through the Santal village nearby, surrounded and almost hidden by 12 foot high crops, and yellow and orange blossoms. There are one or two Christian families who have built a mud-hut school (also used as church) on their own initiative, and hacked out a road – where it was absence – so that the Kitchin’s car could come all the way.
Last night when looking at my Statesman (daily paper) two non-Christian Santal herdboys aged about 5 and 7 came up to wake the Sahibs. The point of this story is that these were aboriginals, very young and as primitive, as you will find anywhere. Looking at the back page one said “Pictures, pictures!” (in Santali). As it happened there was a photo of Gandhi on the steps of 10 Downing Street, and without thinking, I pointed to it and said “Gandhi”. To our astonishment, he was tremendously interested, saying “G-ndhée, G-ndhée”, with a funny emphasis in the last syllable, and called some of his friends to see the picture again. We asked them and they had all heard of Gandhi, but knew nothing about him.
Many thanks for your letter. I have omitted to bring it with me, and so must write from memory. I was most interested in the Sterling newspaper interviews, and wondered at first if you had developed a crisp journalistic style, but as you say in your letter, I came to the conclusion that it was the reporter’s work. You seem to have made a good impression with the local EIS lecture, and I look forward to getting the printed copy. I hope you are now amassing testimonials for a principal teacher’s job. You should stand a good chance, being well in with a lot of the ‘high heid yins’. Thereafter I expect to hear of you contemplating marriage. Ament that I am continually being asked by the more well-to-do patients and by Indian Government officials who come my way as to whether I “am allowed to marry” – as if I were a blessed monk, or something! When told that this is not so, they wish to know why I’m not married, what year I will marry and always(!) what my salary is. When I am vague about this, they only think me a more extraordinary person. I invariably find, even amongst men of some education, the doctrine that it is a sin not to have a girl married once she has reached puberty, because without marriage she is being exposed to dangers which, “since she is only a woman”, she cannot be expected to resist herself. Coupled with this, it must be remembered that, in India – unlike home – the female population number some millions less that the male.
In order to “book” a wife, a proportion of the males must therefore procure their wives from the next generation ie marry little girls. And even if the little girls’ parents are fond of the child, the dowry they must give may be reasonable, and they may not get a chance like it later. That seems to me to have a good deal to do with Child marriage.
Many thanks for the “Apple Cart”. It’s a pity I have it in the Complete Shaw volume, but I can carry yours about more easily, or will send it back if you think you could give it to someone else. It is a thin book and it is no trouble to post it. I send you by this post a number of short plays by Richard Hughes etc. He was at one time a missionary in Bengal. The booklet has headings rather like a textbook but is very reasonable. I apologise for the smallness of these gifts, but the Bandah PO does not undertake foreign parcels and I cannot trust the Simultala PO to stamp things properly for me, unfortunately. It is 16 miles away too.
I was interested to hear that Alex Law was “permanently gone on Jessie Low”. Did you not mean Mammie? Jessie must be about 8 or 9 years younger – but perhaps he believes in catching ‘em young and licking them into shape!
I have had a prime “row in Bandah just before coming here, and am glad to be away for a day or so. Some days ago I had a request from a lawyer for the Hospital Cataract Op Register for December 1927, in order to prove that a man, now deceased, had had a successful cataract operation then and was therefore able to sign a document after that date. On examination of the register, I found the papers concerned torn out, and also ten corresponding pages of the old Admission Register. I also got indisputable evidence of two men who came a few days ago, and settled with Bismath the Head Compser. about this – with a ‘greasing of palms’. It is of course a criminal offence to interfear with the course of the law like this, and after typing out the evidence of all the witnesses, I was fortunately coming on here, and so could get Dr Kiklinus’ advice. He agrees with the gravity of it and I shall suspend Bismath for two months. You have no idea what discipline amongst simple people like this means. The whole family will come in tears and wail at the bungalow – then of course they will appeal to Dr Kitchen, whom happily I have consulted and to Dr Dempster and Dr Macphail.
With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year. It doesn’t seem a year since I left home – nothing like it.