Leaving Udayan after the Republic Day ceremonies, I head for Kolkata to get some more papers, paint and matte medium which is our glue. Shamlu is waiting with wonderful food and Meera is there with her beatific face and warm heart. Shamlu has some plans she must tend to and I am left with Bobo, a blossoming garden and quiet. I take advantage of the peace to write in the blog and return emails and meditate. Wow, I have neglected my meditation, always on the go at the school and it centers me, I am in a good state of mind.
Accomplishing a lot, Meera comes in almost without a sound and gently asks me to eat some dinner. I relish this time without the hustle and bustle of the social life here in Kolkata and as much as I am missing the children of Udayan, I am happy for the solitude. Bobo and I play for half an hour in the lush gardens in back of Shamlu’s house, then I come in, he’s tired me out and I am ready to settle down with a book I’ve been reading- “The Camel Knows the Way” by Lorna Kelly. She worked as a volunteer here in Kolkata in 1981 under the tutelage of Mother Teresa. It’s a very interesting book and I’m glad to recognize some of her haunts that are still here and thriving.
One of Shamlu’s friends, Shukti, calls to invite me to spend tomorrow with her. She wants to show me the Victoria Memorial, the Writers Building and then off to New Market, one of the oldest markets in Kolkata. There, everything is under one roof and you can get anything from saris and jewelry household items and linens. It is remarkable and overwhelming. Turning corner after corner you could spend an entire year’s salary here and Shukti knows all the best places. We go to one store where she has a relationship with the owner. He shows me his hand made Pashmina scarves, one side silk, the other pashmina. So beautiful, I choose 3 as gifts. Then there are boxes hand crafted by artisans working with crushed gems stones. Each one is different so you must scrutinize the design to find the most perfect piece. After I feel like I can’t imagine purchasing another thing, he asks about the jewelry in the cases before us. I hone in on a pendant and choker and the shopkeeper then shows me the matching earrings and ring. What to do! Shukti tells me not to worry, she haggles for me and I do make out like a bandit. She is a remarkable woman who is here to visit her elderly mother having grown up in Kolkata. She is now living in Wayne, New Jersey so we are neighbors. I like her very much – she is forthright , genuine and very fun to be with. We share a little about ourselves and discover that we have a lot in common, including a love of music. So, the next stop is to find the CDs Shukti bought yesterday and misplaced them. We first go off to Flury’s, a bake shop that is 100 years old and was mentioned in the book I am reading. It is a wonderland of delicacies including Indian pastries and croissants, not to mention the chocolate treats that are so enticing. You could gain weight just looking at them. I buy a few treats for Shamlu and off we go to search for the missing music. Ending up at Musicworld, she finds them , but I have now wandered off in search of the CD that is currently playing in the store. 5 CDs later, Shukit pulls me out of the shop before I break the bank. I can’t help it, the Bengali music is hypnotic and I love to work in the studio to music. I find a CD the girls will love and another for the Udayan boys. I will give them to the school when I leave to return home. It is s small gift for the wondrous experience they have given me. Then I have business to tend to, there is an opening at the Palladian Lounge, the venue for our upcoming exhibition, and I want to see how they have hung the work and priced each piece. I must also approve the invitations and make sure the information about me and the students is correct. As I am meeting with them, some of the dignitaries I have met once before say hello as if I am an old friend. We discuss the show, and then get down to the business of logistics for my show. As a meal is served (I am stuffed) I meet the wife of the French General Counsel and we chat away about France, cheese and wine, and Provence where my mother has her summer home. She is a lovely person, knowledgeable and so open, it’s nice to speak a little French with her.
We end up at Shukti’s home for a quick bite of dinner, of course it is delicious, and then I’m “home” at Shamlu’s. She is waiting for me and we spend the rest of the evening chatting and laughing and I teach her a few things about editing photographs on the Mac. Both of us say goodnight at 2 AM, we’ve talked so much. Shamlu is a great conversationalist and very funny.
Thursday comes, I’ve had some weird dreams and am surprised I’ve slept past 7 AM. I start off by Skyping home and say hi to the kids and Rick, Meera walks in looking at me like I’m nuts – I’m talking to a computer and she comes over to see if there’s a picture and there’s none. I try to explain that I’m talking to the family, so she says “namaskar” and the children say hello back. She leaves the room laughing. Antara and crew come in for the day’s work, and we do some work on the publicity end of the show and for the sake of fundraising for the school. They ask for the photographs I’ve taken of Udayan and then ask for a blurb to be written by me. I spend much of the day writing, and we all end up eating the goodies from Flury’s and chatting, it’s like hanging out with my girlfriends. I show them some of the things I’ve bought and they like most of them. Antara is laughing, her eyes wide as she looks at one of the kameezes I have purchased – it is one of my favorites, definitely a little funky. Shamlu HATES the kameez I’ve bought from a local designer, though I say it’s the artist side of me that likes it, the embroidery and design are unique.
So, here I am once again writing away, then we are off to a dinner with friends I’ve met before and a newscaster and his wife. Socializing here is business and pleasure and I must do my part for the art show and for my passion – the children of Udayan.
It is Friday and I’m supposed to go back to Udayan, but before I return Antara and I have an appointment along the way to a frame shop that is supposed to be top notch. I love being with her, she has been my guide, my friend and the “go to ” person every step of the way – teaching me Bengali, listening and gently offering advice when needed. The children adore her at the school, she is on premises quite often, teaching and guiding the girls, what a natural!
After 5 attempts to find this place, way out in the far reaches of Kolkata, we enter iron gates that lead to a deserted street. I think this has to be a mistake until a guard comes up and directs us to another tunneled dark street with nothing but what looks to be garages. There we see the sign for the shop, it is a warehouse. This shop frames for most of the major hotels, museums and galleries. I walk in and feel right at home. It smells like my frame shop in New York and everyone is working diligently. Looking at the frames on display, I know we are in the best of hands. We are escorted to the master framer’s office and are served tea, then we get down to the technical aspects of framing a collage – acid free paper, hinged mounting and a simple but elegant frame. Satisfied, we say goodbye and are once again off to my final destination, Udayan. As we round the winding congested streets, I try to absorb everything from the character of the crazy streets to the shacks along the way – women in saris, rickshaws, people selling fruit, doing their laundry, children playing and bathing, even brushing their teeth.
I know this will be my last time this year going towards Barrackpore. I will leave the school on the 8th of February to hang the show. I will see the children only at the art exhibit, not at the school. It will also be the last time Antara and I share this trip together and I will miss her company so much.
As we enter the school loaded with paint and paper, glue and clothing that friends here have collected for the children the kids scream “auntie, auntie you’re here you’re here !”
I savor this, they brighten my day and then there are hugs and hand holding and curiosity about what is in the huge bag. They don’t ask for chocolates, they are just happy that I’m back and all of them ask when their painting class will be scheduled. I have class in the afternoon until 6 PM , the students finish 4 more spectacular collages.
I retire early as Saturday will be a full day, a big push to start more of the school in the art room, and some of the young artists who had almost finished but then had exams. We are to complete these pieces so that they can go to the framer on Monday. I say a goodbye to the work, it will be framed and sold – I will only have the photographs and my memories to visit them again. It is an accomplishment, but difficult to part with.
The kids are amazing – they finish 4 more large collages and we call it quits. More of “my kids” are gathered outside the art room door and greet me with “good evening auntie”. I tell them about the moon which is to be full and the largest most spectacular full moon this year too. We stare at the sky and are silent. There is a breeze, the scent of the flowers in the garden in full bloom, birds are chirping and the resident puppies have come out to play. This truly is a beautiful place, I know I’ll mss it very much.
After the group goes off to play before dinner, the older boys are waiting to tell me about the exams and talk about art and their girlfriends. They laugh and joke with me, speaking half Bengali, half Hindi and I chime in with a mixture of both and mostly English. This has become a routine after I finish class, they are usually waiting to hang out a bit. I so enjoy them. We say goodbye, they must study and I’m off to my room to catch up on my writing and have a cup of tea. I feel serene and fulfilled.