Arley Isabel Munson.

Jungle days; being the experiences of an American woman doctor in India online

. (page 1 of 15)
Online LibraryArley Isabel MunsonJungle days; being the experiences of an American woman doctor in India → online text (page 1 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


III I I i II €r

.:ii: ' ;: ;i ''III;

I ' ; 111 ii..)'!' 1 i-;i! 'Ill i I


■ irtiitit



Dr. Arley ISIunson








Copyright, igi3, by

Printed in the United States of America



When my friends ask me : "Why did you leave the
splendid opportunities of your own country for the
discomforts and dangers of a far-off pagan land?" I
feel inclined to make the submissive reply heard so
frequently from the lips of the meek- voiced women
of India: "Kismet! Adrushtam! It, was my destiny.
How else should I find peace?"

It was during my early childhood that, on turning
the leaves of a mission book, I found an illustration
representing a Hindu mother throwing her baby into
the gaping jaws of a crocodile, as a sacrifice to the
gods; and I asked my mother what the dreadful pic-
ture meant. When she had explained it to me, I hid
my tearful face on her shoulder, and, my heart swell-
ing with sorrow and pity, I resolved to "hurry and
grow up" that I might go out to India and "save those
poor little babies."

In the years that followed I learned the tragedy of
the Indian woman's existence, and the smoldering
resolve of my childhood flamed into a mature and
steady determination to spend a part of my life prac-
ticing medicine and surgery in India, with the hope
that by healing the body I might reach the mind and



heart and lead them, if ever so short a distance, out of
the darkness of ignorance and vice that surrounded

My medical college and hospital studies completed,
I left New York for India.

On my journey to India and during the five years
of my life there I kept a fairly accurate record of
my experiences, from which record the present book is
largely taken.

The illustrations are from photographs of the actual
persons and places mentioned in my story. I avail
myself of this opportunity to thank Rev. Charles W.
Posnett of Medak, India, for his cordial and generous
permission to use the photographs taken in his dis-

I have touched but lightly on the evangelical side
of mission life. My effort to rid my patients of phys-
ical ailments occupied my time so fully that I was
obliged to resign their spiritual guidance to my thor-
oughly able and willing colleagues.

This book, then, apart from rough sketches of
scenes as they came before me in my travels from
Bombay to Calcutta, from Kashmir to Tuticorin, is
simply a glimpse into warmly beating human hearts
hidden away in the depths of Indian jungle-villages,
where their "Doctor Mem Sahib" found them, loved
them, and tried, in her imperfect, human way, to help

Though at times the thunders of defeat and tragedy
almost deafened me, rang always high above the



tumult the clear, sweet note of that happiness promised
in Mr. Kipling's vision of the future, when "... no
one shall work for money, and no one shall work for
fame, But each for the joy of the working ..."




I. Bombay .... .■ >


II. Life at Sholapur


III. Wayside Sketches . . . .


IV. The City of Palaces . . . .


V. Benares


VI. Agra ........


VII. Sholapur Again


VIII. Hyderabad


IX. My Indian Home . . . .


X. The Rains


XI. Our Indian Friends . . . .


Xll. American Thanksgiving Day in Indi^

^ 59

XIII. Christmas


XIV. Dream Days Among the Himalayas


XV. Back to the Plains


XVI. We Go A-Touring


XVII. On Horseback and Off


XVIII. The Jahtra ....


XIX. Rice Christians ....


XX. God's Out-of-Doors


XXI. Off to Kashmir ....


XXII. Summer Sightseeing .


XXIII. Women of India ....


XXIV. Jungle Foes ....


XXV. New Camping Grounds


XXVI. Mahorrum


XXVII. An April Holiday


XXVIII. Swadeshi




XXIX. To THE Hills Away

XXX. Darjiling

XXXI. Hospital Lights and Shades

XXXII. Young Hopefuls .

XXXIII. Penetrating the Wilds

XXXIV. Fantastic Summer's Heat
XXXV. Strenuous Times

XXXVI. The Cholera Terror .
XXXVII. Farewells . , r.,








Dr. Arley Munson Frontispiece

Medak Dispensary, vaccination day 42

Indian carpenters at work 60

String bed of India, the common sleeping cot\ . . 60

In the Medak Dispensary 7°

Mahomedan Madas bringmg gratitude offering of

sheep garlanded with flowers 7°

Dr. Munson operating in Medak Hospital .... 76

Corner of medical ward, Medak Hospital .... 76

Dora Chatterjee ^^

Toddy-drawing ^^4

Swing bridge of Kashmir ^34

Snake charmers and jugglers ^34

Kashmiri women ^38

Watering the rice-fields ^82

Tree ferns in India ^^^

Medak Zevana Hospital, prayer comer, surgical ward 226

A country cart stopping at Medak Hospital . . . 232

Medak touring outfit ^32

Boys' playground, Medak 250

Giris' playground, Medak 250

Medak doctor on tour ^5"

Medak nurse visiting the sick in a palanquin . . . 256

Sunday Bible Class, Medak 292




BOMBAY to-morrow morning!" exclaimed
the captain cheerily as we rose from din-
ner, and we knew our long voyage was
ended. Ocean life and ocean friendships had
been delightful, but that last evening, instead of
the usual merry gathering on deck, everybody,
busy with his own thoughts, was strangely quiet.
At midnight I still gazed out over the water,
the vast loneliness of the sea sinking into my
soul. My dream of work in India would soon
be reality. For years I had heard my little sisters
of India calling to me to help them, and now I was
nearly there. The thought almost overwhelmed
me, for who was I that I should presume to teach
others how to live! Deep down in my heart, I
longed — Oh, so desperately! — to turn traitor to
my ideals and go back home. But this was cow-
ardly indeed; so, stifling a sigh which was half



a sob, I strengthened myself with a whispered,
"No more backward glances! Eastward ho!"
and went to my stateroom, where I had a com-
forting good-night chat with Sonubai.

Sonubai was one of my college mates who was
traveling with me on her way home to Sholapur.
In response to the cordial invitation of her par-
ents, Dr. and Mrs. Keskar (those Brahmans con-
verted to Christianity who did such noble, self-
sacrificing work among the sufferers in the recent
terrible famines and who later became the medi-
cal superintendents of a Christian orphanage and
leper asylum at Sholapur), I had decided to make
my home with them until my plans for work
should mature.

When we rose next morning everybody was
in a fever of excitement, for there before us, a
horseshoe of purest sapphire blue, lay the harbor
of Bombay.

My eyes eagerly scanned every detail: stately
steamships and other ocean-going craft lay well
out from the land; tom-tits, curious little sail-
boats manned by native boatmen, darted here and
there; and the white shore and green trees af-
forded a soothing background to the gaudy dis-
play of color on the pier, where hundreds of the
Indian men of Bombay in gala raiment — a few
foreigners and white-clad Englishmen among


them — had come to welcome our giant ship from

We had left the ship for the tender and were
approaching the pier when Sonubai exclaimed
delightedly, ''There's Father!" and in another
moment Dr. Keskar and Rev. Dr. Karmarkar,
an Indian Christian of Bombay, were heartily
greeting us. The customs ordeal ended, we drove
toward Dr. Karmarkar's home.

With slow tread and downcast face, women in
draperies of every hue and texture passed
through the streets, their jewels almost covering
face, neck, arms, and legs, and jingling at every
step. A few of the men were quietly dressed,
but many would have put a peacock to shame, as,
in blue coat, magenta waistcoat, red trousers,
rose-pink turban, and yellow shoes, or in some
other color scheme quite as varied, they shuf-
fled along. The whining cry of blind beggars
in simple loin-cloth pierced the babel that sur-
rounded us. And there were the babies of the
city, carried on their mothers' hips or running
about the streets, their shiny brown skin alone
clothing their chubby bodies.

Occasionally an English soldier or civilian in
khaki or white duck passed through the crowds,
his trim costume and ruddy Western face
strangely at variance with the life about him.



From the din of the crowded, unsavory ba-
zaar, with its fat shopkeepers, its tiny, open
shops, and the dusty confusion of its wares, we
were glad to come into the wide, green Esplanade
Road. Here the passing throngs were like a
story-book pageant: English ladies and gentle-
men in summer habit galloped by on spirited
horses, or, exquisitely dressed in Hyde Park or
Fifth Avenue style, drove leisurely along in open
carriages; military officers in uniform rode reck-
lessly; a palanquin, closely curtained and con-
taining some "pride-of-the-harem," was borne
past, the women servants following on horseback
and an Indian gentleman — husband or son — can-
tering by the side of the palanquin, each hand
holding a rein and the arms flopping negligently ;
and dark-skinned ayahs in snowy muslins were
there, in charge of daintily dressed English chil-

At the Karmarkar house, Mrs. Karmarkar,
who had taken her medical degree from the same
college in Philadelphia from which I was gradu-
ated, met us with warm hospitality, and in the
evening she and Dr. Karmarkar gave a feast —
jawan — to all the friends who had arrived that
day in India.

The floor was prettily decorated with a design
in red chalk, while exquisite red roses formed



the centerpiece. In full evening dress, we sat
about, Turk-fashion, on bright-colored rugs, and
ate with our fingers from the banana leaves on
which the food was served, while garlands of
pink roses and white jasmine around our necks
added gaiety to the jolly, informal feast.
The gentleman who sat beside me taught me the
table etiquette of the Hindu. Food should be
eaten with the right hand, only the thumb and
the first two fingers — even those not below the
first joint — coming in contact with the food;
water should be poured from the glass into the
mouth without touching the lips. That finger
and glass affair may sound easy. Try it! Al-
though I enjoyed the Indian food, the meal
seemed like the old picnic meals of childhood,
more sweet and spicy things than things substan-

With teas, dinners, receptions, and services at
the various mission institutions, the American
missionaries and Dr. Keskar's friends among the
Indian Christians filled our time so pleasantly
that it seemed but a turn of the kaleidoscope be-
fore our Bombay visit came to an end and we
were off for Sholapur.



ALL the way to Sholapur, Sonubai and I
had our railway coach to ourselves.
Along each side of the roomy compart-
ment ran an eight-foot, leather-cushioned seat,
and above each of these seats hung a wide shelf,
also leather-cushioned, constituting an "upper
berth," which could be hooked back against the
wall when not in use. As there was floor space
enough between the lower seats and the tiny but
complete dressing-room to accommodate all our
trunks and bundles, we had the coolies place our
baggage inside our own coach. Then, wrapping
our rugs about us, we stretched ourselves com-
fortably on the long seats and slept soundly till
the train rolled into Sholapur.

At their Orphanage on the outskirts of Shola-
pur, where, because of the plague in the city,
the Keskars were camping, we were met by the
children of the institution, hundreds of bare-
footed, brown-faced boys and girls, the boys in
turban, dhoti (draped trousers) and coat of spot-



less white, the girls with their graceful red sari
flung loosely over head and shoulders and falling
in long pleats to the ground. As we approached,
they burst into a song of joyous greeting — the
poor lepers joining in from the distance. When,
with bright smiles of welcome and a lusty, "Sa-
laam!" the children had finished the song, and
Sonubai's mother and two younger sisters had
greeted her with tearful embraces and me with
courteous warmth, there began one of the strang-
est, most bewitching dances I had ever seen. A
company of about twenty small boys divided into
two lines. With body and limbs moving in per-
fect rhythm to the sound of their crude casta-
nets and to the loud beating of a drum, they stood
first on one foot, then on the other ; whirled round
and round ; wound in and out of the opposite line
in a graceful series of intertwinings ; sank to a
sitting posture on their heels; then rose again
light as air. All this again and again, slowly at
first, then faster and faster, until the little danc-
ers, exhausted, dropped laughing to the ground
amid our loud applause.

As we passed along, group after group came
toward us, their leader throwing garlands of pink
roses and yellow marigolds over our heads, until
we reached the cool, roofed veranda where we
listened to a speech of welcome from Dr. Keskar,



followed by prayers and hymns of gratitude for
our safe arrival.

Although I did not understand the vernacular,
I could easily read in the faces of the little ones
gathered about me happiness and comfort and a
sincere love for "Papa" and "Mamma," as they
call Dr. and Mrs. Keskar. It was hard to realize
that many of the chubby, happy- faced boys and
girls gathered about me were the famine children
of 1899 and 1900, the pathetic little skeletons
which the press throughout the world so vividly
described and photographed.

The greeting ceremonies ended, I was intro-
duced to Indian home life.

With unlimited hospitality, the Keskar family
did all they could to give me pleasure, Mrs. Kes-
kar personally superintending the preparation of
English food for me — the Indian curries, hot
with chilis, were painful to my throat — while
Guramma, the cook, deftly turned it out from
pots and pans in use on the mud stove. There
are no chimneys in Indian village houses, but
Guramma, laughing and chatting happily over
her work, seemed not at all inconvenienced by
the clouds of smoke rolling over her head and
filling the kitchen, though I could not even pass
through the room without a violent fit of cough-



My day began with Suernamala. That im-
pressive name belonged to my small handmaiden
who, from morning till night, except during
school hours, was somewhere close at hand.
When the morning sun roused me from sleep I
could see Suernamala's plump figure flitting about
the room. Observing that I was awake, she
would bow low in a respectful salaam, and sum-
mon Bhagu, her assistant (India is a land of
assistant unto assistant), to help her bring my
chota hazrai (little breakfast), a simple meal of
tea and toast and jelly. Frequently, when the
child was grateful to me for some trifling favor,
she would stoop and kiss the hem of my gown.
I tried in vain to break her of this habit, but, in
spite of all my explanations, she would tearfully
implore me not to consider her unworthy to touch
even my clothing, so I submitted with what grace
I might.

Most of the day was spent in attending to the
various ailments of the children, for, soon after
coming to Sholapur, Sonubai and I had started a
little dispensary for the Orphanage.

Then, as twilight came on, we would stroll
about the compound, feeling like the 'Tied Piper
of Hamelin," for children surrounded us on every
side and followed in a long stream behind, cling-



ing to our dresses and fingertips, and chattering
merrily to each other and to us.

At night, after the children slept, Sonubai and
I would sit in low chairs by the little mother's
side and listen while she sang to us the sweet
Marathi hymns or narrated, with a pretty mix-
ture of English and Marathi, the old legends of
Hindu mythology.

In the midst of this peaceful existence would
come the startling sights and sounds of the jun-
gle, so that for days I was surprised at nothing
but the lack of a surprise. Now the cry of
"Sahp!" would ring through the air; some one
had seen a snake, and the schoolboys would arm
themselves with heavy sticks and seek out the
reptile — cobra or python — which had little chance
to escape. Again, some one would shout that a
mad dog was in the compound — the life of the
pariah dog, the homeless, pitiful scavenger of the
Orient, frequently ends in hydrophobia — and a
moment later the shrieks of the beast as he was
clubbed to death would send shivers down my
spine. Milder surprises were the howls of the
jackal, filling the night with wild, weird sound;
a fox dashing through the compound; an owl
flying into the house; or a stately camel stalking
slowly along the dusty road, a dark-faced, wild-
looking man of the desert on its back.



As a drove of camels passed one day Dr. Kes-
kar persuaded the driver to give me a ride. The
camel, not half so pleased as I, grumbled most
disagreeably while he knelt for the mount. The
great pack on his back was covered with one of
our own rugs, the creature emitted more of those
hideous grunts, and then I held for life to the
pack-ropes while he slowly rose to his feet.
When the camel knew that his driver was de-
termined I should have a ride, he took to me
more kindly; so, doing my best to balance myself
and to sway with the dreadful sweeping swing of
that great hump, I rode with more triumph than
dignity all around the compound.

When Christmas came — my first Christmas in
the tropics — it seemed to me that I was living in
a dream. The weather was perfect, the sky, an
intense, dazzling blue, the clouds mere flecks of
down, and tiny zephyrs, fragrant with the breath
of roses and lemon-grass, caressed my cheek with
the soft touch of a baby's hand. Friendly spar-
rows hopped about the floor or chirped overhead
among the rafters; lizards scuttled along the wall
in the sunshine; tiny squirrels frisked about the
doorstep, or, half shyly, half impudently, peeped
in at us. From the windows we could see a round
Eastern well with a green orchard in the back-
ground. Little brown boys frolicked under the



trees or splashed with deHght in the pond; goats
with their kids hopped among the rocks or, stand-
ing on their hind legs, reached eager mouths to
the young leaves above them ; emerald green par-
rakeets skimmed through the air; and the cooing
of the jungle doves mingled with the raucous caw-
ing of a flock of crows in a neighboring tree.

During Christmas Eve, and all through the
night, groups of men and boys had come beneath
our windows singing Christmas carols in the
good, old-fashioned way; and now on Christmas
Day, the compound resounded with the song and
laughter of the children at their games; even the
poor lepers seemed full of Christmas spirit; and
life was good to live.

The coming of the bangle-man added to the
pleasure and excitement. Under Mrs. Keskar's
directions, he gave a pair of the bright-colored
glass trinkets to each of the schoolgirls, the vain
little creatures insisting on the tiniest bangles in
spite of the pain which brought the tears to their
eyes as the bangle-man coaxed the bangles over
their hands. As a guest of the house, I also was
decorated. I refused to be tortured, however,
and, greatly to the bangle-man's disgust, insisted
on a fair-sized pair of bangles which slipped eas-
ily over my hands.

After the distribution of gifts to the children



of the Orphanage, the Keskar family and I went
to the Leper Asylum. Although in a few of the
poor, doomed lepers no outward sign of the dread
disease could be detected, most of them had the
bleared eyes, and seamed, swollen features of ad-
vanced leprosy, and many had neither fingers nor

For the time being they had lost the hopeless
look which, sooner or later, comes into the eyes
of lepers, and delightedly they grasped the treas-
ures held out to them, responding with a loud
"Tankoo!" and a graceful salaam. Three-year-
old Rubi did her best, but could only wave her
hand in an uncertain way and piece out the ges-
ture with a dimpling smile. I shuddered to think
of the wretched fate of that bright babe. Even
then she showed the telltale spots !

The presents given, the lepers sang their na-
tive songs for us with drum and castanet accom-
paniment, and then we returned to the Orphan-
age and the Christmas dinner.

Poolaii (rice and goat-meat boiled together)
takes the place of our turkey at home, and the
children's eyes glistened as, seated on the ground
in perfect content, they dipped their fingers again
and again into the heaped-up plates, or drank
long draughts of water from their tin cups.

Baby Assiabai was too young for the poolau,



but her coos and gurgles showed that she also
enjoyed her Christmas. Baby Assiabai repre-
sents one of Dr. Keskar's medical triumphs. A
few months before Christmas, Dr. Keskar found
her, a tiny babe on the very verge of starvation,
in a corner of a village hut. Lean, hungry-eyed
rats gnawed greedily at her fingers and toes, and,
close by, five dead bodies, plague-stricken, lay
huddled. The doctor brought the wailing child
to his Orphanage and put her in charge of a fos-
ter-mother who tenderly nursed her back to life.
The wounds of the hands and feet soon healed,
the wasted form rounded out, and dimples played
in the plump cheeks as she laughed at our at-
tempts to amuse her.

Our one sadness of the Christmas-time was to
find that Kanku had the leprosy. Kanku, a child
of South India and a stranger indeed among our
Marathis, often wept bitterly over the thought-
less teasing of the other children about her South
country language and customs; the only happi-
ness of her timid, home-loving Indian heart was
to stand outside the lepers' inclosure and talk
with two or three leper girls who were from her
own district in the South. Then, on Christmas
Day, we found in Kanku unmistakable signs of
leprosy and gently told her so with a shrinking
dread of her misery at the bitter truth. To our


surprise, Kanku laughed joyfully, "Now I can
be with my own people," and rushed away to her
little countrywomen in the Lepers' Asylum.

New Year's Day was celebrated by dining with
a prominent Brahman family of Sholapur. The
invitation surprised me, but Dr. Keskar explained
that the Brahman gentleman who had sent the
invitation was less orthodox in thought than
Brahmans usually are ; that he had been to Eng-
land and America, thereby breaking his caste;
but that he dressed in costume, observed the rites,
and had duly performed all the ceremonies of
purification, one of which is the eating and drink-
ing of the five products, including the excretions,
of the cow ; so he had been received with no ques-
tion among his people. The Brahman's wife
greeted us shyly, bringing all the children to see
us ; but these did not sit with us at the meal, for
Brahman women eat after the men have finished,
the wife eating of the husband's leavings. There
were several Hindu guests present, and we sat
on the floor. Once, instead of the food being
placed by my side, I thoughtlessly took it from
the hand of the waiter, thus defiling the poor
fellow, who was instantly compelled to take a
purifying bath.

The eldest son of the family, a grown man,
had appeared at the table in his white dhoti and



shirt, and it was explained to me that the shirt
was in deference to my feehngs, for it is the
habit of the Brahmans to dine in the dhoti alone.

Another curious custom which they observed
was the surrounding of each leaf plate with a
ring of water, and the placing of a morsel of
food on the floor as an offering to the gods. This
is the Hindu "grace."

Bidding the women good-by, in their own
apartment, we joined the men in the drawing-
room, chatted a while, and started homeward.

Squatting on his flat board seat our driver
urged on the bullocks by tickling them with his
toes, or twisting their tails, and all through the

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryArley Isabel MunsonJungle days; being the experiences of an American woman doctor in India → online text (page 1 of 15)