India, Here We Come
By James E. McEldowney

When two people love each other they get married. That's what happened to me. My name is James, Jim for short. The girl I fell in love with was Ruth. We got married a very long time ago, in 1933. Both of us were studying to be missionaries. I wanted to go to China because I had some very good Chinese friends. I also liked Chinese food very much. Ruth wanted to go to India. Her father's cousin, Ethel Calkins, was in India. She wrote wonderful letters telling of her work with women and children. It seemed that India was a strange and wonderful land.

After we were married we were ready to be missionaries. Right then the Japanese people were fighting the Chinese, so we couldn't go to China. We were happy when we were told we could go to India.

We left Malverm. Iowa by train in August, 1935. At Lincoln, Nebraska, my mother's sister Ada, and her daughter, Betty, came to say goodbye to us. Just before the train pulled away, Aunt Ada said, "Bring back a little Indian baby." Ruth replied, "We'll see what we can do about it."

The next morning we ate breakfast in Denver and that night we were in Salt Lake City. We spent the night there. While we were in the city we saw the Mormon tabernacle and on Sunday morning we went to the Methodist church. Then we took the train to San Francisco. It was cold in San Francisco so we had to put on warmer clothes. We went to the ticket office of the Steamship Company and got our tickets. The next day we left for India. It took us 54 days on a Dutch freighter, the Tosari, before we got to India.

When we came to the Philippine islands, some dolphins raced along-side the ship. They are large fish, eight or ten feet long. They escorted us through the narrow channel, swimming close to the front of the boat and jumping out of the water. What a sight. Before we got to Manila the ship stopped and small boats came to take us to the city. The captain said, "We have a ship full of gun powder. We are going to unload it at Fort Corregidor. We will see you in Manila in two days." I was very surprised and said, "What if we had been struck by lightning during that bad storm we had a week ago. Would it have blown up the ship?" He smiled and said, "Yes, and you would not even have known anything about it," meaning that we would have been blown up, too.

We had many other stops on the way to India but at last we arrived in Bombay. Mrs. Warren, a missionary who lived there, met our boat. "Welcome to India," she said. Then we had to present our passports and get permission to land. After that we went to customs. Our baggage had alread been brought to the customs shed. We had to show what things we were bringing to India and pay some customs on one or two items. Mrs. Warren waited for us and took us to her home.

What a strange place India was with crowds of people on the streets. There were tiny cars and all kinds of horse drawn carts and carriages, and hundreds of bicycles. But we hardly had time to see even a little of it when Mrs. Warren said, "Now you must get ready for the train trip to Hyderabad." One of the things she told us was that there are sicknesses in India we do not have in America. We must be very careful. "Indian people like to be friendly and offer you some food. You had better not eat any of it because you might get sick." Then she told us many more "don'ts" before we got on the train.

The trains were different than in America. We were put in a little room, called a compartment. We had to make our own bed with bedding Mrs. Warren had given us. The train started and we slept during the night. In the morning we ate some of the food Mrs. Warren had fixed for us. We were hardly finished when we stopped at a station. An Indian man who spoke very good English came to the compartment and asked, "May my wife ride in your compartment?" Of course we said, "Yes." Then he brought her. She was a large woman. She had many trunks and bundles. There was plenty of room. She wore what we later learned was called a "burka." It was something like a long white sheet that covered her from head to toe. There were two little peek holes in the cloth over her face so she could see out.

He left her just before the train started. Very soon she took off her burka. She was fully dressed in lovely Indian clothes. Then she tried to talk with us. She knew no English and we did not understand her language. Then she wanted to be friendly and offered us food. It was hard to refuse without seeming to be unkind, but we had to refuse it. After we had gone further she took out what looked like a large loaf of candy. She kept insisting that we take some. At last I thanked her as best I could and put the candy in our food basket. Later I was told that what I should have done was to cut a couple of slices off the cake and given the rest back to her. We had much to learn if we were to live in India.

There were many people waiting to meet us at the railway station in Hyderabad. George and Elsie Garden were there. We were to stay with them until our house was ready. Edith DeLima, the principal of Stanley Girl's school was there along with teachers and students. There were also a number of the members of the church where I was to preach. Gabriel Sundaram, the principal of the Methodist boy's school and some of his teachers and students came. They brought garlands of flowers. Mrs. Warren had warned me in such uncertain words to be careful of Indian things that I almost refused the garlands but they piled one after another on Ruth and me. It was their way of saying "Hello." They use garlands to show respect to people and greet them. It is a very beautiful custom. Altogether it was a great welcome.

We lived in Hyderabad two years before Betty Ann was born. We studied Urdu, one of the Indian languages. I was the preacher in the large English Methodist Church. Many students and other people from the city came to my church.

We knew Betty Ann was on the way but we did not know exactly when she would be born. Near the time we were expecting her we had a great celebration in the church, a harvest festival. I invited John Paterson, a well-known missionary, to preach that day. Early that morning Ruth said, "I think the baby is coming. Send a note to the doctor and ask him what I should do." We didn't have telephones then. The reply came back, "Your wife is probably having false pains. The baby is not due for another two weeks. Tell her not to worry." All day, while she was getting ready for a big dinner that night her pains kept coming.

The church was filled for the service and John Paterson had just about finished his sermon when my cook, Meshak, came right up on the platform and handed me a note. Edith DeLima, who had offered to stay with Ruth when I came to the service, had hurriedly written the note. It read, "Ruth needs to go to the hospital. There is no hurry, but come at once!" Paterson was just finishing his sermon so as soon as I could I whispered to him to take charge and end the service, and I left.

Well we barely got to the hospital. Right away the nurses saw that the baby was on its way. They took her into the room where babies are born. Only a few minutes later I heard Betty Ann give her very first cry. Our first child was born. How wonderful! Soon they let me see her. She looked healthy and wonderful. Ruth was able to hold her and both seemed to be doing fine. It was not long before people from the church came and asked, "Where is Ruth? She will be having a baby in a few days." A nurse spoke up, "Not a few days! She already has a little girl." And that is how Betty Ann began her very wonderful life in the land of India. [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]

Back to the top


Previous Story - "Go West Young Man, Go West" || Next Story - "Kashmir, A Fairyland"

Return to James E. McEldowney's Writings page