Category Archives: art

The banging of the drum!

The banging of the drum….

I fell asleep quickly and was awakened to the sound of a drum banging loudly at 5 AM  – the children’s alarm clock.  I find out later that it isn’t a drum, rather someone bangs the metal door with a stick.  In the distance the chanting from a nearby mosque sets the tone for the sun rising. I shower in the freezing  air, rather, I splash with the water from a large tap, no shower. I dress quickly, I am late and must put on a  salwar kameez, the traditional dress. As I leave my room, the girls are waiting to help me lock the door and carry my knapsack. It is beautiful outside though rather cold. The little ones are showering in the fresh  air, singing and laughing. They all say good morning Auntie, how are you and rush to shake my hand and hug me – even these little naked ones , still wet with soap.  It’s hard to believe I am here and have to pinch myself. Birds are chirping, there is a litter of puppies milling about, they too greet me with licks.  The grounds are lush with flowers tropical trees and a gorgeous vegetable garden the children of Udayan have cultivated themselves.  I wonder how I will ever leave this place? It is so beautiful and soulful.  These children are  happy just to be alive and so thrilled to have me, they welcome me as if I am a long lost relative. I nearly cry as I hear them singing their morning prayers and ponder why it took me so long to come to this land.

"my" girls, neighbors in the girls dorm

First class begins at 8 AM and I must  hurry to breakfast. The children eat on the floor, using their right hand to scoop the food into their mouths. I take my tea and oatmeal packet and then I’m off to set up the “studio” (a converted music room).

After two hours, speaking no Hindi or Bengali, the children have created 100 papers. Next class begins in 45 minutes and the room, which is in shambles must be cleaned before the next group – boys class IX comes to work.  With the few Bengali words I know I ask them to stop and clean the room. They are very respectful and immediately stop to help. The room is then immaculate.

Class X collage hand-painted papers, first day!

Class 10, first day hand-painted collage papers

By the end of the day – 5 PM I have to hang 300 papers. I am running out of paint and it is only the first day.Class 3 boys busy paintingClass 3 boys busy painting

As I lock up, the sweet voices of 300 children greet me – “good afternoon Auntie”…this goes on until I reach my room – with an entourage of 20 girls and a few little boys, age 3 in step. They wish to come into Auntie’s room to see what it’s like. The girls admire all the clothes and makeup, the boys are eyeing  the cookies someone has placed in the room as a welcome gift. In a few minutes all the cookies are gone. I watch in wonder as their eyes shine with delight. This one cookie has made their day.

After dinner, a vegetarian dish with rice and curry, I wander back to my room and visit with Taneil, my Australian neighbor. We are chatting only to find about 50 girls waiting outside the door, asking to come in.  The big question is “Auntie having computer music?  Movies?”  Yes, I do have music and movies so I let the children pick the songs they would like to hear. And then something magical happens – they are dancing and I am entranced. They have such grace and they are laughing, which is music to my ears. The girls ask me to dance and we fall over in stitches after I try to do the “duck walk” . Dance class is officially finished in auntie’s room.  We pile onto beds, floor and chairs and spend the rest of the night talking and eating even more cookies. I make a mental note to bring more from Calcutta.


Filed under art, India, teaching, the children

Saris, parties and a big black dog…

Saris, saris everywhere!

Wearing a sari, dressed up for a party!

I could get used to wearing these......

How to choose just one?

It is 3:30 in the morning and I am finally off to sleep. I awoke to the riotous sound of  birds squawking , monkeys laughing hysterically and a growling tiger — celebrating dawn’s arrival. Looking up at the high ceiling fans and Kantha tapestries hanging all about the room, I realize I’m not in Kansas anymore; I crossed over the rainbow.

Shamlu and her quiet staff are waiting for breakfast  and tea. It is a gastronomic feast  and I am famished. Mangos, omelet and Indian toast and jam await, yum.  Next order of business is finding several saris and blouses to wear to lunches and dinners. We play Indian Barbie doll, I try on about 10 saris, each one more beautiful than the last. Many have been made by Shamlu and her team of rural women weaving the tradition Kantha embroidery . I choose all of them!  Then Shamlu and I are off to her club, one of the oldest golf and cricket clubs in India. We are table hopping as Shamlu seems to know all of Kolkata, if not all of India. We sit at a table with many of her friends and I am eating all that is offered, it is delicious.  We leave around 3 PM and then off to dress for a party she is giving in my honor to introduce me to her friends.  As they arrive I am taken by their dress, each woman is wearing the most beautiful saris and salwar kameez. I too am wearing a sari that Shamlu has chosen and wrapped around me; I doubt I could do it myself but will have to learn.  The staff has quietly prepared a feast of all Indian snacks which are delectable. They keep offering me everything, some things I choose not to ask about and just pop it into my mouth. I know I have eaten foods that I would never have chosen had I been in the states – and yet everything is amazing. I am stuffed.  I meet a young Italian film producer and we chat for the night, I know she and I will become friends.

Later, Bobo, the Lab, comes bounding in to find me and play. I am charged with training him during my stay  – he is just 1 year old and has limitless energy.  As I say goodnight and dress for bed, I hear the bedroom door bang open and, thinking it is an intruder, I head for the bathroom and close the door – it is to no avail, the door bashes open and I am pushed to the floor – Bobo again; he wants to play and it’s now 1 AM!  The staff comes running in to “help” me and I am laughing with Bobo sitting on top of me. They shuttle him out of the room, he is looking forlorn and is whimpering. I promise that I will play with him the next day and finally go to sleep.


Shamlu modeling before the dinner party


Filed under art, India, travel

How it all began….a tale of three continents…

New York, the Statue of Liberty and my home town

It started in Greece, I had been a chaperone for a group of American high school students traveling throughout the Greek Islands and Athens. Now, our cruise was ending, it was our last meal on the ship and we were seated with a group of people from India. Two of the kids were with us, very articulate and funny kids, and it wasn’t long before our table of very diverse folks were laughing and exchanging emails. I was especially taken with Shamlu, a dynamo of a woman, who was brilliant, interesting and witty. We laughed and talked the night away, promising to email each other after returning to our respective countries.

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece......where we met

We corresponded -emails flying at a rapid rate as we realized that we had much in common, from our own life stories and our committment to global community service.
I googled Shamlu and the organizations she chaired. Needless to say, about 40 pages later, I was extremely impressed with the work she was doing to rehabilitate and educate woman and children in Calcutta and asked her what I could do from the US to help her endeavors.
She had googled me, and without missing a beat she invited me to come to India to teach art and my technique of painting and collage at Udayan, a boarding school for children who’s parents were leprosy sufferers. Shamlu didn’t say “come anytime”, she said please come in January and I said YES.

That was in April. I went happily along to the library and bookstores to research my upcoming journey. It seemed everywhere I went people were offering new insight and recommendations for literature, guide books, friends to look up when in Kolkata and more. Sitting in the bookstore one evening I discovered that Frommer’s India devoted a whole page to Mrs. Shamlu Dudeja – page 568 under Shop ’till You Drop. One of her many accomplishments has been the revival of the art of Kantha embroidery working with a team of rural women, and her shop was listed as one “not to be missed”. Wow.

Summer came and went while Shamlu and I planned what direction our partnership would take, the art supplies needed, and my application for a visa. What had been planned as a 3 or 4 week jaunt would become a 7 week stay – teaching the 300 children at the school, then mounting an exhibit of their work. Excitement was building, I had no fear of leaving my teenagers, or my country for such a long stay. Riding high on anticipation of going to India, a place that had always been a source of fascination and mystery to me I never stopped to really THINK about what I had committed to do.

After a visit to the doctor for a few (so I thought) vaccinations, reality hit. Aching arms and a roomful of supplies like impregnated mosquito nets, transformers, surge protectors, malaria pills and snakebite kits shocked me into the NOW of it all. I was really leaving. And, I was leaving very soon – to work with a wonderful woman who I had met just once.
What had started as a nice dinner in Greece had turned into a Life adventure in India.

The Indian Flag

The flag of my upcoming "home".


Filed under art, commuity, India, travel