It is a miserable thing to be a Hindoo lady. While she is a very little girl, she is allowed to play about, but when she comes to be ten or twelve years old, she is shut up in the back rooms of the house till she is married; and when she is married she is shut up still. She may indeed walk in the garden at the back of the house, but nowhere else.
Hindoo ladies are not taught even those trifling accomplishments which Chinese ladies learn: they can neither paint, nor play music; much less can they read and write. They amuse themselves by putting on their ornaments, or by making curries and sweetmeats to please their husbands: but most of their time they spend in idleness, sauntering about and chattering nonsense. As rich Hindoos have several wives, the ladies are not alone; and being so much together, they quarrel a great deal.
Some English ladies once visited the house of a rich Hindoo. They were led into the court at the back of the house, and shown into a little chamber. One by one some women came in, all looking very shy and afraid to speak; yet dressed very fine in muslin sarees, worked with gold and silver flowers, and they were adorned with pearls and diamonds. At last they ventured to admire the clothes of their visitors, and even to touch them. Then they asked the English ladies to come and see their jewels; and they took them into a little dark chamber with gratings for windows, and displayed their treasures. They talked very loud, and all together and so foolishly, that the ladies reproved them. The poor creatures replied, “We should like to learn to read and work like the English ladies; but we have nothing to do, and so we are accustomed to be idle, and to talk foolishly. Do come again, and bring us books, and pictures, and dolls.”
You see what useless, wearisome lives the Hindoo ladies lead. Now hear what hard and wretched lives the poor women lead. The wife of a poor man rises from her mat before it is day, and by the light of a lamp spins cotton for the family clothing. Next she feeds the children, and sweeps the house and yard, and cleans the brass and stone vessels. Then she washes the rice, bruises, and boils it. By this time it is ten o’clock, when she goes with some other women to bathe in the river, or if there be no river near, in a great tank of rain-water. While there, she often makes a clay image of her god, and worships it with prayers, and bowings, and offerings of fruit and flowers, for nearly an hour. On her return home she prepares the curry for dinner: her kitchen is a clay furnace in the yard, and there she boils the rice. When dinner is ready, she dares not sit down with her husband to eat it: no, she places it respectfully before his mat, and then retires to the yard. Her little boys eat with their father; but her little girls dine with her upon the food that is left.