Dr. Anandibai Joshee

1IN the story of the Pundita Ramabai, reference has been made more than once to her kinswoman Anandibai Joshee, between whom and herself there existed a tie stronger even than that of blood, the bond of a common purpose and a common aim, that aim and purpose being nothing less than the amelioration of the condition of Indian women, and their emancipation from the state of bondage to which an absurd tradition had condemned them.

2Both these women belong to the Mahratta race, which has played such a remarkable part in Indian history. Lord Macaulay, in his essay on Clive and Warren Hastings, thus refers to the rise of the Mahratta power:—

3"The highlands which border on the western sea coast of India, poured forth a formidable race, a race which was long the terror of every native power, and which, after many desperate and doubtful struggles, yielded only to the fortune and genius of England.

4"The original seat of that singular people was the wild range of hills which runs along the western coast of India. In the reign of Arungzebe the inhabitants of those regions, led by the great Sevajee, began to descend on the possessions of their wealthier and less warlike neighbours. The energy, ferocity, and cunning of the Mahrattas soon made them the most conspicuous among the new powers which were generated by the corruption of the decaying (Moghul) monarchy. At first they were only robbers. They soon rose to the dignity of conquerors. Half the provinces of the empire were turned into Mahratta principalities."

5The rapid successes of the Mahrattas were due to their warlike character, to their pluck and hardihood, all of which contrasted strangely with the indolence and effeminacy of the inhabitants of the plains. Although considerably modified by time and circumstances, their descendants still retain most of these characteristics, which are shared in some degree by the women of the race. Amongst the Mahrattas, women have always been treated with more respect, and are allowed a greater degree of freedom than is the case among most other Indian races, and as a consequence they are remarkable for their courage, their perseverance, and their strength of character.

6Among the Mahratta freebooters who distinguished themselves in the earlier wars of their people, was one of the name of Joshee, who, as a reward for his services, received from his chief the grant of a large tract of land and several villages in the neighbourhood of Poonah, and here his descendants continue to reside to the present day.

7It was in the old palace at Poonah, which had been the home of many generations of Joshees, that the subject of the present sketch was born in March 1865. Her father, Gunpatrao Amritaswar Joshee, was a rich landowner of Kalyan, a town lying a little to the north of Bombay, and was a man looked up to and respected by all his high-caste neighbours. He had married a kinswoman of his own, Gungabai Joshee, whose father and uncle lived in Poonah. The uncle was a distinguished physician, and it was in order to have the benefit of his advice that Gungabai Joshee had returned to her old home. Here her little daughter was born, and here she was named Jamuna, or Jumna, after the sacred river, a name which means the "daughter of the sun."

8Her childhood passed happily enough between her grandfather's house at Poonah and her father's house at Kalyan, and in both she was a great favourite, showing even in her earliest days a bright and intelligent disposition. Her father was peculiarly devoted to her, and had her constantly with him. He was one of the large class of men in India who, though they do not care to break openly with their national religious customs, yet have ceased to have any real belief in the teaching of Brahmanism, and no doubt it was from him that Jamuna learnt, while still quite young, to realise the absurdity and falseness of the worship of idols. She was of an imaginative temperament, and both she and all her family appear to have been greatly impressed by a dream she had as a child, and in which, as she believed, her famous Mahratta ancestor appeared to her, and told her that she alone of all his descendants had truly inherited his spirit and his talents, and that she was destined to achieve some great thing.

9When she was but five years old, the family party was increased by a young man, another member of the Joshee clan, named Gopal Vinyak Joshee, whose coming was destined to have a great influence upon her life. He was a clerk in the Government Post Office Department, and a fairly educated man. He took a great fancy to Jamuna, and finding her most anxious to learn, he undertook to teach her Sanskrit, and continued to give her lessons for three years.

10At the end of that time Gopal was transferred to the post office at Alibag, and his little pupil's grief at the prospective interruption to her studies knew no bounds. She fancied that she would never have any further opportunities of learning, and her thirst for knowledge was insatiable. Her mother had never approved of her studies, and was not at all sorry that they should be brought to a conclusion; in fact, as she was eight years old, and according to the national custom of a marriageable age, she thought it was time to arrange a match for her.

11In order to enter at all into the feelings of the little Jamuna, we must remember that in India women develop, both physically and mentally, earlier than they do in Europe. A girl of eight or nine is as much advanced intellectually as an English girl of twelve or fourteen, and at thirty she is already considered an old woman. This little girl, who with us would still have been in the nursery and only just able to read and write fairly, was in India looked upon as old enough to become a wife, and with her marriage all prospect of any further education would have come to an end.

12We can hardly be surprised that one who had already shown such enthusiasm for study, should have felt dismayed at the idea of never being able to learn any more, and we can believe how delighted she must have been when her kind old grandmother smoothed her path for her by offering to go and live at Alibag, and to take Jamuna with her and make a home for her, so that she might continue her Sanskrit studies.

13Thus the matter was arranged; though how all the social difficulties were got over is not quite clear. According to some accounts Jamuna was betrothed to Gopal before leaving her father's house, and this would, of course, have made things easy for her ; at any rate, whether there was any formal ceremony or not, it is evident that it was understood that they should eventually be married, and, owing to the grandmother's having to leave Alibag the following year, their marriage actually took place in March 1874, the day that the bride completed her ninth year.

14 According to Mahratta custom, Jamuna changed her name at her marriage, and was known hence forward as Anandibai, meaning "Joy of my heart." The wedding festivities lasted several days, and were similar to those usual among high-caste families; there were feastings, fireworks, illuminations, and a regular "tamasha," as the natives call it. Gunpatrao Joshee was, as we have already said, very fond of his daughter, and very proud of her, and he also believed firmly in the intimation of her future achievements given her in the dream. He therefore loaded her with presents, quantities of beautiful clothes, of silk, muslin, and embroideries such as are worn by the richest Indian ladies, as well as many ornaments, many of which were heirlooms in his family, and were of great value. Hindu women of all classes are very fond of ornaments, and if they are too poor to buy gold ones they content themselves with silver ones, or even with imitation things made of gilt wire and glass, while in some parts of the country bangles of glass or brass are always worn by women of the lower classes. The ornaments of a high-caste and wealthy lady are very numerous and often of great beauty, both in design and workmanship; bangles and anklets, head ornaments and armlets, nose-rings and earrings, as well as rings for the fingers and toes, are indispensable, and their value, when made of pure gold and set with stones, is often prodigious. Those given by a man to his daughter on her marriage form, in fact, the principal part of her dowry.

15After their marriage the young couple moved to Cutch, where Gopal had been appointed postmaster. In her new home Anandibai occupied herself in her household duties, as well as continuing her studies under her husband's superintendence, but she greatly missed the affection and sympathy of her own family, especially as at Cutch there seems to have been no one with whom she could make friends, or from whom she could look for sympathy and help. The town and district of Cutch had long "had a bad name as one of the most backward and uncivilized places in British territories, and the inhabitants were for the most part a low, ignorant set of people. Female infanticide was practised to such an extent in this town that at the time when the Joshees went to Cutch there were only thirty native-born women, in a population of nearly twelve thousand; all the rest of the women came from other places, and were sunk in indolence and vice.

16Of this period of her life Anandibai always spoke sadly, as having been very unhappy, and she was greatly relieved when her husband was at last transferred to Bombay.

17In 1878 her only child was born, but it lived only a few days, though the sorrowing mother was convinced that it might have been saved had it been possible for her to obtain proper medical advice, and from this time her thoughts were turned to the need for women doctors in India, and she conceived the idea of studying medicine herself, with the purpose of devoting her life and energies to alleviating the sufferings of her fellow-countrywomen.

18Her husband offered no opposition to her plans, but, on the contrary, did his best to further them, and agreed with her that, if possible, they should both go to America, where she would have the best opportunities of obtaining a thorough medical education.

19 With this object in view, Gopal Vinyak Joshee addressed a letter to the editor of a missionary paper in America, asking for some assistance to enable him and his wife to proceed thither. Apparently his letter did not produce a very favourable impression upon his correspondent, who, having seen a good deal of young Hindu students in America, felt it his duty to discourage others from going there, and he refused the assistance for which Gopal had asked. It happened, however, that a copy of the magazine in which this correspondence appeared, fell accidentally into the hands of Mrs. Carpenter, of Roselle, whose sympathies were stirred by the idea of the young Indian woman's craving for education, and she forthwith entered into correspondence with Anandibai. The latter, meanwhile, had been making the best of the few opportunities that came in her way to acquire fresh knowledge. In Bombay she attended a school established by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and she always spoke with affectionate regard of the lady teachers, and of the enthusiasm which had led them to come out to India and devote themselves to the work of teaching. She complained greatly of the system pursued in this school, where all the scholars were forced to read the Bible on threat of expulsion, which she considered an unwarrantable interference with the rights of conscience. In consequence, she left the school for a time, but was persuaded by her husband to return, as he argued that the teaching she obtained there was too valuable to be refused on any but the most serious grounds. She frequently, in after years, referred to her experiences at the School, and maintained that the tone adopted by the missionaries towards the religion of their pupils was far too contemptuous, and really wanting in con sideration for their feelings. "How absurd it would be," she wrote, "if I were to say to a Christian, 'All that you believe is nonsense, but all that I believe is just and true.'"

20That this opinion is held even by Christians, is evident by the following extract from the report of a conversation between the Pundita Ramabai and an American friend, reported in the Daily Inter-Ocean of Chicago, of December 10th, 1887:--

21 "I understand you to say that it is your idea that, in teaching Christianity, the wisest way for the missionary to begin is not by showing them that Christ despised the ancestral faith of the Hindus, but by pointing out all the truth which the Hindu religion has in common with Christianity, and thus leading the mind of the Hindu from his own belief, which has in it much of good, as far as morality is concerned, and many spiritual truths as well, up to the highest revelation, which is that of Christ?"

22"Ramabai.-That is just what I think, and I can prove by the New Testament that it is the wiser way to do, for did not St. Paul, when he stood on Mars Hill in Athens, say: 'As I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To the unknown God: whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you'? I must say that those missionaries who begin to denounce in strong language, good and bad equally, whatever is said in Hindu religion, gain nothing by it, because they themselves are ignorant of what is said in the religion of this people whom they go to teach, and hence arouse the indignation of the people, who have great love and reverence for their ancestors and their ancestral faith."

23This, indeed, is what seems to have happened in the case of Anandibai Joshee, and though in later years she was fortunate enough to meet with many missionaries whose zeal was more wisely tempered by discretion, and from whom she received valuable assistance, yet her experience in Bombay was never forgotten, and was referred to with mingled pain and anger.

24In 1881 Gopal Joshee was transferred to the Post Office in Calcutta; but here neither he nor his wife were at all happy or comfortable. The damp, enervating climate is very depressing to most people who are not natives of Bengal, and both the Joshees suffered in health, while it was with the greatest difficulty that they could procure the kinds of food to which they were accustomed. The social manners and customs also were quite different from their Mahratta ones, and when Anandibai walked about in the town with her husband, unveiled, she was rudely stared at by the passers-by, and sometimes even exposed to open insult.

25There was some departmental trouble, too, in regard to the non-delivery of an important official letter, and this probably was the reason that before long they were moved, first to Barrackpore and then to Serampore, small stations a few miles distant from Calcutta, the one on the left and the other on the right bank of the river Hooghly.

26It was during their residence at Serampore that the invitation already referred to was sent to the recently widowed Ramabai, and, for the reasons given, was gratefully declined.

27During all this time Anandibai Joshee had been in constant correspondence with Mrs. Carpenter, who was doing everything in her power to arrange for her visit to America, but there were many difficulties in the way. It was decided that it would be useless for her husband to go to the States, and that he would help her best by remaining in India and following his profession. It was, therefore, necessary to secure an escort for her, and money also was needed, both for the expenses of her journey and for her support during her residence in America.

28At last matters were all arranged. Gopal Joshee consented to her leaving him. An escort was found through some missionary friends, and a sum sufficient for her immediate needs was raised. A subscription was got up for her in Calcutta by the kindness of Mr. James, the Postmaster-General, and some of the leading English people in Calcutta, and to add to her funds she sold some of the jewels her father had given her.

29With a brave though aching heart she sailed from Calcutta in April 1883 for England, whence, after a very short stay, she went on to America, arriving in New York early in June, being the first high-caste Hindu woman to visit the United States.

30She was most warmly welcomed by Mrs. Carpenter, who took her to her own house in Roselle, New Jersey, where she was treated with the greatest kindness and consideration. She always said that the months spent under this lady's hospitable roof were among the happiest of her life. Her pleasant manners, her readiness to be pleased, her modesty and light-heartedness, made a favourable impression on all who came in contact with her, and it was impossible not to feel respect for one who had the courage to take such an unusual step, and who, at the same time, was endeavouring faithfully to carry out the duties enjoined upon her by her national traditions.

31A very touching picture of her way of life is given by her biographer, Mrs. Dall, who tells us how careful she was to observe the national rites, and of the way in which, every morning, she repeated the precepts teaching a wife's duties, and marked her forehead with the spot of paint which showed she was a married woman. Before leaving India she had told her own people, "I will go to America as a Hindu, and come back and live among my people as a Hindu." And this brave resolve she carried out unflinchingly. She wore her native dress, refused to eat anything but the vegetable food allowed by her religion, and endeavoured in every way that was possible, during the whole period of her residence in the States, to conform to the customs of her people.

32In the autumn of 1888 she commenced her medical studies in earnest. She had been offered a scholarship in the Homoeopathic College in New York, but after much consideration it was decided that the best thing she could do was to enter on the regular four-years' course at the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia. Mrs. Carpenter took her to Philadelphia and introduced her to Dr. Rachel Bodley, the Dean of the College, who at once took a warm interest in her, and became one of her most valued friends. Dr. Bodley held a reception for her in her own house, when she excited great interest and curiosity by her native dress and jewellery, and everyone felt drawn to the young stranger, who matriculated at the College in October of that year.

33From that date she devoted herself, with the steadiness and perseverance for which she was remarkable, to her medical work, throwing herself into it with enthusiasm, and working sometimes as much as fifteen or sixteen hours a day. It was not easy work at all, and the severe application, as well as the trying climate, told much upon her health. In February 1884 she nearly succumbed to a severe attack of diphtheria, and during the whole remainder of her stay in America, she suffered constantly from headaches or from colds on her chest.

34During the spring of 1884, Mrs. Joshee, as she was now usually called, was asked to deliver a lecture before one of the missionary societies on the subject of "child marriage," and surprised and disappointed her audience by speaking in terms of approval of the custom. Her lecture raised quite a storm of controversy, and no doubt alienated from her the sympathy of a good many people, who could not understand the position she took up on the subject. If they had been better acquainted with the history of her own life, and with the traditions among which she had grown up, they might perhaps have been able to judge her more leniently, and might have felt able to offer her their sympathy in what she had been able to accomplish, while at the same time regretting that her emancipation from the thraldom of custom was not more complete.

35In 1885 Gopal Joshee arrived in America, but his coming only proved what her friends had feared it might do, a source of embarrassment to his wife. He began talking and writing in a quite unaccountable manner, speaking slightingly of women and their capacity for education, and, at the same time, showing himself quite ready to take every advantage of his wife's exertions, and of the kindness which her friends showed him for her sake. His presence added to his wife's difficulties in every way, and his conduct and conversation were calculated to strengthen the belief already held by many people, that the average Hindu is not likely to be benefited by visiting Europe or America, and that it will take years of education and experience to counteract the effects, on the minds of Indian men, of the belief in their absolute superiority to women, in which they have been trained for so many generations.

36In March 1886, Anandibai Joshee took her degree as Doctor of Medicine in Philadelphia. Eye-witnesses describe the scene as a most striking one. The brave Hindu woman was surrounded by many friends and sympathisers, conspicuous among whom was Ramabai, who had come over purposely from England in order to be present on this occasion, which was the first on which the degree of Doctor of Medicine had ever been conferred on a Hindu woman. It seemed, indeed, that a brilliant and useful career must now lie before this brave, patient woman, and the compliments and congratulations and presents which were showered upon her, seemed only as the forerunners of many assured successes. But this was not to be. Mrs. Joshee's health was already very delicate, and during the visits that she paid with her husband in the course of the summer, she caught several severe chills, which fastened on her lungs. It had been her intention to have passed some time in practical work in the hospitals, especially the New England Hospital for Women and Children, and the Blockley Hospital at New York, but a new direction was given to her plans, by the offer of an appointment as resident physician to the female ward of the new Albert Edward Hospital, established at Kohlapur. The salary proposed was Rs. 300 a month, rising to Rs. 400 or Rs. 500, and she was to be allowed to practise privately in her spare time. Many considerations induced Mrs. Joshee to accept this offer. She longed to be at work, and to use her knowledge without delay for the benefit of her countrywomen; her health she felt was failing, and she fancied that perhaps a return to her native land might restore it, and to add to these, there were family reasons which seemed to point to the advisability of a speedy return to India. Mr. Joshee had resigned his appointment in the Post Office Department, and it was necessary that someone should undertake the care and support of his mother and other near relatives.

37Before, however, the final arrangements could be made, Mrs. Joshee was taken very seriously ill, and it became evident that she was suffering from consumption, and that even with the greatest care her life could not be prolonged many months. It was with aching hearts that her American friends bade her good-bye, feeling that they would never see her again. She and her husband sailed from New York in October, and after a painful voyage reached Bombay, where she was received with much respect by people of all classes.

38The second Annual Report of the National Association for Supplying Female Medical Aid to the Women of India contained the following allusion to her :—

39 "The committee take the opportunity of tendering their congratulations to Mrs. Anandibai Joshee for having so successfully taken her degree at the Yeomans College at Philadelphia, in the United States of America. Mrs. Anandibai Joshee, who is a Maratha Brahmin lady, and a native of Kallian, proceeded to America with her husband, matriculated in October 1883, and entered upon the three years course of medical instruction. After a few months stay at the college she obtained a scholarship of 400 dollars. In March 1885 she presented herself for final examination in the fundamental branches, anatomy, physiology, and chemistry, and passed these examinations creditably, ranking eighth in her class, which consisted of forty-two ladies. She has since taken her degree, and has now returned to her native country."

40The above lines had hardly appeared in print before Mrs. Joshee's career, which had given promise of so much usefulness, was brought Sadly to a close.

41On her arrival in Bombay she had been received with marked honour and respect, even by the Brahmans and Pundits, who it was expected would have denounced her breach of caste rules in crossing the "black water," and it must have been some consolation to her, when she felt her strength and life ebbing away, to know that her countrymen appreciated the sacrifices she had made. She remained a short time in Bombay and its neighbourhood, in order to get the best medical advice, but the doctors there failed to give her substantial relief, and it was determined to move her to Poonah, in the hope that in her native air she would revive.

42There, in the house in which she had been born, Anandibai Joshee passed the last few weeks of her life. She was surrounded by all nearest and dearest to her—her mother, brother, sister, and grandmother —and everything that affection could suggest to soothe her sufferings was given her. Daily inquiries were made after her health by all the principal people in the city, and her husband spared neither time nor money in endeavouring to perform the customary religious offices. Although they had both lost caste by their visit to America, their offence was not beyond redemption, as it would have been had they, for instance, married out of their caste, and it was possible to obtain forgiveness and restoration. For this purpose Gopal Joshee offered sacrifices, performed penance and paid a large sum of money, in the hope that the vengeance of Heaven might be averted and her life prolonged, or, at any rate, that she might be restored to full caste privileges and entitled to the last rites, without which Hindus believe that future happiness cannot be obtained.

43Day by day Anandibai Joshee wasted away; her sufferings were terrible, but were borne without a word either of complaint or impatience, and with a cheerfulness that astonished those around her. It was on the 27th February 1887 that the end came, and that the brave, patient spirit of the young Hindu woman was released from her suffering body. Her death caused a feeling of profound sorrow, not only in her own family circle, but throughout her native city, as well as in the far-off country where she had made so many true friends. According to Hindu custom, after death her body was bathed and anointed, and then arrayed in her most beautiful garments and ornaments; it was publicly cremated, the funeral pile being lighted from the sacred fire, and all the ceremonials of an orthodox Hindu funeral were observed by the priests. In one particular only was the ordinary custom departed from ; for her ashes, instead of being consigned to the Ganges or some other sacred river, were collected by her husband, and sent over to America to be buried there.

44Thus closes the life-story of Anandibai Joshee. Almost her last words, as she knew that the work for which she had been preparing herself could never be hers, were, "I have done all that I could do." How few of those blessed with fuller light and more ample advantages could honestly say the same ! Yes, indeed, "she hath done what she could "; and are we not justified in believing that the Lord, who in these very words commended the humble self-sacrifice of His Jewish follower eighteen hundred years ago, will accept and acknowledge the efforts of this brave Hindu woman, even although in this life she did not attain to the blessedness of knowing Him as the great Physician of souls?

45She was not quite twenty-two when she died; and yet in her short life how much she had accomplished. She sacrificed her life in the endeavour to bring help and relief to her suffering fellow countrywomen, and who shall dare to say that her sacrifice was in vain, or that her early death may not stir others up to follow in her footsteps, and so a rich harvest may spring from the seed she sowed in love and hope and patience?