Dr. Ida–for the Women of India

The Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, started as a single-bed clinic, by Dr. Ida Sophia Scudder who served as a missionary for 50 years. Today, it is one of the top-ranked educational, healthcare and research institutes in the country.

The first class of 14 women—taught by Dr. Ida and a few of her associates, with only one microscope, one skeleton, and few textbooks—faced regional end-of-first-year examinations along with men from established government-run medical schools.  Dr. Ida tried to encourage the girls:

     “All anybody can expect of you is to do your best.”
     The girls were not deceived.  “Best” to Dr. Ida meant nothing short of 90 percent.  They huddled on the long, hard seats staring at each other in terrified silence…Examinations according to the British system were matters of educational life or death.
     Ida, herself one of the examiners, met Colonel Bryson in the hall…
     “Ah, Dr. Scudder! So you’ve brought up your first class for examination?”

“Yes.”  Ida smiled at him brightly.
            His face clouded with sympathetic concern.  “My dear doctor, please don’t be discouraged if none of your students makes the grade this first time.”
            “None of them?” echoed Ida bleakly.
            “”It wouldn’t be surprising…only a small percentage of men pass it.  Naturally we couldn’t expect too much of such a young project, especially all women.  But they can always try again.  Promise me you won’t give up, whatever happens.”
            “I promise,” said Ida.  She went on, head held high but heart sinking to the region of her shoes.
            The grim days passed. Huddled in a tight, silent group in the mission bungalow in Madras where they were housed, the girls waited to hear the results.  Lists from various men’s college were posted and read with dismay.  Only about 20 percent—one in five—was passing!
            “And we’re only women!” wailed one of the fourteen in anguish.
            In a note from the considerate Colonel Bryson, Ida learned the results before they were posted. The distance from college to mission bungalow seemed interminable.  She wished it were a tennis court or a racetrack so she could run at top speed and still be considered proper.  But she reached it finally, stood in the doorway of the room where they were waiting. They read the answer in her radiant face.
            “Lambs!”  She held out her arms to them.  “You did it!  Passed. Every single one of you.  And four of you in the first class.  And—can you believe it?  This places our school at the head of all the medical schools in the presidency!” …
            The next time she met Colonel Bryson, he shook his head.  “I’m afraid, Doctor,” he said sheepishly, “that your girls are setting too high a standard for our men to live up to.”
            Ida only smiled.

From  Dr. Ida, The inspiring story of Dr. Ida Scudder, fifty years a medical missionary in India bu Dorothy Clarke Wilson.

I’ve read a couple of Wilson’s other books–I’d like to own every one of them.

River Crossing by Elephant

Eric Dinerstein traveled by elephant for the final fifty miles to the Royal Karnali-Bardia Wildlife Reserve in Nepal, where he was to study tigers.  “…and this was a slow elephant.”  In the seasonal rain, the path turned into a mud swamp.

After the rains stopped…we reached the banks of the Babai, and, to my dismay, the river was a deep brown torrent.  Across the surging water beckoned the rosewood and acacia forests of Bardia.  The drivers were determined to cross without delay. The mahout, sitting behind the elephant’s head, urged her down the riverbank.  She stalled at the water’s edge, perhaps guaging the the speed of the current or the stupidity of the humans sitting on her back.  The mahout would have none of it.  Whacking her with his stick across her broad forehead and muttering curses, he drove her forward.  Within seconds, the elephant was up to her knees and elbows, then shoulders, and before I could tell the driver that we might want to consider our plan of attack, we were swept away.

For a brief moment, only the tip of the elephant’s trunk and my head were above water.  Elephants are surprisingly bouyant, however, and powerful swimmers, and the drivers, who held onto the saddle ropes, soon had us back on the riverbank.

I had learned a priceless lesson that all of us must discover in our own way:

When life knocks you off your horse, or your elephant, get back on and cross the river.

Fireworks of 1870s, by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott described a fireworks display in Eight Cousins, a book published in 1875.

Uncle Mac takes 13-year-old Rose Campbell into Boston Bay to watch fireworks from his boat:

“…they are going up all over the city, and how pretty they are,” said Rose, folding her mantle about her and surveying the scene with pensive interest.

“Hope my fellows have not got into trouble up there,” muttered Uncle Mac, adding with a satisfied chuckle, as a spark shone out, “No; there it goes!  Look, Rosy, and see how you like this one; it was ordered especially in honor of your coming.”

Rose looked with all her eyes, and saw a spark grow into the likeness of a golden vase, then green leaves came out, and then a crimson flower flowing on the darkness with a splendid lustre.

“Is it a rose, Uncle?” she asked, clasping her hands with delight as she recognized the handsome flower.

“Of course it is!  Look again and guess what those are,” answered Uncle  Mac, chuckling and enjoying it all like a boy.

A wreath of what looked at first like purple brooms appeared below the vase, but Rose guessed what they were meant for and stood straight up, holding by his shoulder and crying excitedly,__

 

“Thistles, Uncle, Scotch thistles! There are seven of them, one for each boy [her cousins]!  Oh, what a joke!”  and she laughed so hard that she plumped into the bottom of the boat and stayed there until the spectacle was quite gone.

 

I think I’ve read elsewhere about fireworks in a stars-and-stripes pattern–or did I see or imagine that?

Do we have such spectacles today, nearly a century and a half after?  Has anyone seen a fireworks display with identifiable flowers or patriotic symbols?

Tigerland and other Unintended Destinations

Eric Dinerstein entered college with a goal: filmmaking.  He enrolled in the film school at Northwestern University. Evanston, Illinois.  Perhaps he dreamed of Hollywood, but no Hollywood fantasy could match his adventures since.

During my sophomore year…friends talked me into moving to a farmhouse set on 250- acres of woods, abandoned pastures, and swamp… While wandering along a stream, I accidentally spooked a sharp-billed bird that squawked in indigation and flew off… I did observe the escapee long enough to identify it in my field guide as a little green heron Ia most accurate name, says a colleague, because it sports so little green in its plumage.)… Every new species of bird and wildflower was a revelation, as if I were actually the first naturalist to find it…

I began to dream of the glorious life of a field biologist, while filmmaking seemed less appealing by the moment. The most talented graduates of my program at Northwestern had just been hired to shoot a commercial for a lightbulb factory.

Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations is Eric’s adventure tales with tigers, bats, hippopotamuses, African wild dogs, snow leopards, American bison, and more.   He’s not only an outstanding wildlife biologist/conservationist, but he’s a great writer with an outstanding sense of humor.

More about Eric Dinerstien and his books later, but I’ll end this post with a quotation from early his career, arriving to study tigers in Nepal:

But on this night, my tent mate was Surya Sharma, a studious, high–caste Brahmin in his early twenties and the son of a famous Nepalese judge.  As we were drifting off to sleep, the sound of loud chewing and lip smacking stirred us awake.  Surya peered through the insect netting.  He reached over and clutched my arm.  “Rhinos!” he whispered fearfully, using the English rather than the Nepali word (gaida), not wanting to gamble our lives on my Nepali vocabulary.  We had been warned earlier that rhinos routinely trample and kill several tourists each year.  I peeked through the fly mesh.  Surya’s grip tightened.  I saw an enormous greater one-horned female rhinocerous accompanied by a calf.  Eventually they wandered off, but the interlopers left a lasting impression on both of us.  For me, it was the first face-to-face experience with a creature I would eventually devote years of my life to conserving.  For Surya, it was the abrupt end of tenure as a Peace Corps language teacher.  When our program was over, he went straight to law school.

 

 

Shiloh: A Boy and a Beagle

“The reason I don’t like Judd Travers is a whole lot of reasons, not the least is that I was in the corner store once … and saw Judd cheat Mr. Wallace at the cash register.  Judd gives the man a ten and gets him to talking, then–when Mr. Wallace gives him change–says he gave him a twenty.”

Worse yet, Judd kicks his dogs.

Marty will do anything to rescue Shiloh, the beagle who follows Marty home from the “rattly bridge where the road curves by the old Shiloh schoolhouse and follows the river.”  Trouble is, not only does “anything” includes lying, but it risks Shiloh’s life.

It’s Judd who unintentionally hands Marty a solution.  Then Marty, when he’s forced to spend time with Judd, learns that right and wrong aren’t always as simple as the difference between the truth and a lie.

Shiloh is a Newberry Medal book; even better, there are three sequels:  Shiloh Season, Saving Shiloh, and Shiloh Christmas.

Heat, by Mike Lupica

Heat has it all: Baseball at Yankee Stadium–the dream of Little Leaguers who practice within sight of it; Michael and Carlos, determined to keep “Official People” from finding out why Papi isn’t home; Ellie, a girl with a secret; Mrs. Cora who knows something about angels; the Little League coach who doesn’t like kids who pitch better than his son; and Michael’s best buddy, Manny.

Manny told Michael he’d meet him at Macombs…around three o’clock. …that could mean anywhere between three and four.  He operated on Manny Standard Time, and there was no getting around it if you were Manny Cabrera’s friend.   He was loyal, funny, smarter than he let on, loved baseball as much as Michael.  There were so many good points with Manny that Michael couldn’t keep track of them all.

But none of Manny’s good points, not a single one, involved him showing up on time for anything but a real game.

When Michael is barred from Little League and Carlos no longer has a job, it’s looking bad, and suddenly, walking across the field, come the Official People:

It wasn’t just El Grande and Ellie.

Carlos was a couple of steps behind, walking with Mr. Gibbs of ACS.  And another man Michael didn’t recognize, but one who had Official Person written all over him.

Has Michael’s dream become a nightmare?

Like baseball, basketball, and football stories with real-life type characters?  Try Mike Lupica’s The Only Game, and Last Man Out, Lone Stars, Long Shotand others–some of them New York Times Best Sellers.

Hey–I said I’m not into sports.  But I am into  Lupica’s characters.  Just give me a cozy chair and a mug of hot chocolate.