After seventeen months of preparation, they had thrust her into the temple service. Her name - Arpana - means "offering". Born the youngest of thirteen children, she required more attention than her mother cared to give. "Children tie the mother's feet," goes the Indian proverb. Her mother had enough children to tie her own feet, so she gave Arpana to the Hindu priest - an offering to release her from the needless burden of another child.
The constant abuse of her nine-year-old body by the male temple worshippers dulls her senses, and at night, her tears have finally ceased to flow.
The keeper brings Arpana her meals in the main room and watches to ensure she eats them. But no one watches as she vomits the food into the chamber pot. Her already slender frame thins each day.
Perhaps the gods that she gives her body for will show mercy and take her from this life. Perhaps she has served enough to free her from the cycle of rebirths, or at least move her to a higher caste. Perhaps death will simply end the consuming sorrow and pain.
She covers her emaciated body with a tattered shawl and slowly makes her way to the meal room. The younger girls look up in fear at her and the other older girls who face the daily torment. They do not know what the future holds for them, but the eyes alone tell them of the affliction that lies ahead.
Today, hushed whispers echo in the large chamber, and the keeper's face reflects obvious irritation. Arpana leans toward Eshana, who murmurs, "Shilpa ran away again."
The foolish girl had run to her mother's home the first time, who promptly returned her to the temple. This time she would be wiser. Perhaps she would find where Preena and the others had disappeared to. Rumors among the girls speculated about a place of hope, where none need serve the pleasures of men. Several girls had run away or simply disappeared in the last few months.
Arpana sits quietly and eats the meal before her. Believing in a place of hope would indeed stop her from starving herself and inspire her to seek escape from this horrible place, but can she believe in something she cannot see?
As she walks back to her room, she weighs the dangers of escape versus remaining and continuing her plan. Seeing death as the end of misery, as a consequence of escape it fails to frighten her as it has in the past. So deep in thought, she hardly notices the tall, round figure approaching her.
“Do you want to leave this place?” the figure whispers.
Stunned by the question, Arpana lifts her gaze to the mysterious stranger. Though dressed in a sari, with dark skin and soft brown eyes, the woman's deeply accented Tamil gives her away as an Englishwoman. Yet Arpana senses a true kindness in the woman's manner.
“Yes,” Arpana states simply.
“Then come with me, and say nothing.” The woman takes her arm and begins walking boldly in the direction of the temple doors.
Fear grips Arpana's heart as she wonders what may happen should the keeper or any of the priests see her leaving. With each step, however, the fear loosens its hold and her confidence grows.
Finally they exit through the doors. The brilliance of the afternoon sun nearly blinds Arpana's eyes. After a moment, she turns to look at the woman. “Miss, who are you?”
The woman looks down at her with a gentle smile. “My English name is Amy, but my girls call me Amma.”
Mother, the word signifies. Arpana pauses, and finally ventures the question, “Are you to be my Amma too?”
“Only if you wish, child. I have a home that is a place of safety for you. You are welcome to come with me.”
Hope suddenly pierces her soul, and a lump forms in her throat. Pain from her years of sorrow begins to wash away in the flood of tears that follows. The girl who could not cry now sobs as she receives the gift of grace and life.
“Yes, take me to your home, Amma. I want to be your child and live.”
Through a life fully surrendered to God, another child receives true hope and freedom.
* * * * *
Author's Note: Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), missionary to India from 1895 to 1951, spent many years rescuing of children from the secret practice of forced prostitution in the Hindu temples. Amy would dye her skin with coffee and dress in the traditional sari to gain her access into the temples. She forsook marriage for the calling of God, and established a home at Dohnavur in southern India, where literally hundreds of children found safety, education, and hope.
Read more articles by Leah Nichols or search for articles on the same topic or others.
I still cannot understand, even in my senior years, how people can be so cruel to children, and it warms my heart to read of someone who spends her/his life rescuing abused children. Thanks for submitting.
I had heard of Amy Carmichael, but I wasn't quite sure what she did. This piece was amazing. You took a real story and mixed it with superb fictional writing. I could feel the girl's pain as I read. Wonderful! Not the girl's pain, but the story. :)
Leah, I'm glad you posted this tender story. In just the few I have read so far, I am finding so many different ways that the lies of false gods leave their followers miserable and hopeless. It reminds me not to take the hope of Christ for granted.
I hope you feel better soon. Don't forget to have someone make some chicken soup for you.