Category Archives: India social life

Stranger in a strange land…

I wake up at 5 AM, I’m used to that at Udayan, that’s when the girls awoke and the sound of their morning ministrations and singing was my alarm clock.  I have bags to unpack and I am now very hungry.  Making my way to the kitchen I am confronted with the huge refrigerator and lots of prepared foods – frozen, boxed nothing like what I’ve had for sometime.  In India, marketing is a must each day or things spoil so the luxury of freshly prepared foods is going to a challenge.  I make a note to get over to my organic market today and make some vegetarian dishes for the family.   I am really feeling lost – there is just so much in this kitchen to deal with. The microwave is remarkable to me as is the freezer -all these gadgets – it’s as though I’ve been away for years, not months.

modern conveniences, or kitchen culture shock!

I take Jacques for a walk and notice a can of soda someone has tossed on the ground, it looks so out of place, everything is so quiet, too quiet and so pristine. I scoop to pick it up and throw it out and then it hits me – in Kolkata I never would have done this, there would be too much to clear away!  The streets here look so beautiful, especially after the newly fallen snow. Yet it is lonely, impersonal, there is no sign of life, no people, no music wafting in the air no scent of spices cooking. Unused and overlooked.  The solitude and insular nature of this life is a stark contrast to life in Kolkata. I am missing the daily dialogue and the interest in the life going on around us. You may be walking alone, but you are never alone. The entire city is one family, very communal. Here it is segregated into your job, family; one may be part of the same village but living in a different area is as though you lived in a different part of the state.   In Kolkata it all meshed and in one day whatever you did your world merged  –  many of the same faces appeared, and even strangers reached out to help.  Work, play the daily chores all bring (it seems) the communal nature of life in India into the fore.  I felt like I lived with the whole world, everything was interwoven like the  colorful intricate tapestries they create.

some of the younger gang

a side street in Kolkata

My body is in this world but my mind is split in two worlds.  The constant blare of the TV, invasive and jarring is a reminder of  the lack of natural environment.  In Kolkata, especially at Udayan, I was one with nature and the elements in India, totally immersed in the children, art and the culture. It feels very artificial here – air conditioning and heat   are like barriers- I want to open the window all the time, even in the snow, rain and cold to let life in.  I have all the conveniences, yet it is like living in an Ivory Tower.

My cell phone rings jolting me out of my musings about the nature of my two worlds. It is my sister, just in for a few days from California.  Will I come into New York and meet her for dinner?  Of course I say, I haven’t seen her in 3 months and we always make time for each other, even if it is for just an hour or two.

Waiting for Metro North I observe that no one on the train platform makes eye contact, I see bored, stressed and depressed faces, no smiles, no interaction. Then the train comes rumbling in and the crowd exclaims that it is just “so crowded!” I chuckle to myself, I definitely have a new perspective on little things, having taken the trains in Kolkata, this one seems nearly empty…the fact that there are seats available, that no one is leaning, sitting or sleeping on me – wow- even the bathroom (which I never would have thought of using before my time in India) looks sparkling clean.

As I ride the taxi uptown to my meet my sister I am marveling at how perfect and serene the streets of Madison Avenue look, with buildings gleaming, and how orderly the traffic is . Even though I traveled to and from the same destination while working at Udayan so many times, we couldn’t go a mile without asking for directions on many a street corner. Street signs were not to be counted on and sometimes the only way I knew where I was going was by landmarks – the same fruit stands, or the way a street curved, or the stream beside the road – these were my road signs.

A landmark to the road towards Udayan

Outside New Market in Kolkata

After dinner we walk back to Grand Central together and then we say goodbye, but even though it is only 10 PM  on Saturday night – the height of travel  at the station on a weekend, I ask Cindy to stay with me.  I actually feel unsafe – this place seems sketchy. Cindy is incredulous – “are you serious” she asks.  Yeah, I am and I never felt this way in Kolkata – even though I was traveling alone, I felt safe and at home.

When I am finally seated on the train, I close my eyes while listening to my Bengali music and I can see the faces of the class 10 boys as they sang on the bus, or the beatific face of the musician who gave a concert in Jaipor.

posing at sunset

my musician friend from Jaipor

I must keep the fire burning in my heart with my music and the photographs of the children, so I can bring myself back to the special place I have just left.  And I will continue to write as I did in India and create some of my own collages – after all I’ve had the best teacher, the children of Udayan and their bright smiling souls.

Always ready for the camera!

"my girls" and dorm-mates for two months

These are the greatest teachers I’ve had in my career, and I hope my work will          be as inspired as these are. Namaskar…..



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A little royal history

Princess Karuna Devi

It is now Saturday and I am off to the Tollygunge Club to have brunch with a good friend I have known since I arrived here. We spend a few hours sitting in the shade and just hanging out having a light Bengali meal, then are off to visit the rowing club where he used to crew when he was a young man. We sit by the water for a while and then it is time to drive back to the palace and he is off to work, he never stops.

We arrive at my destination and I ask him in for a cup of tea, just a few more minutes before we say goodbye.  He has been a source of guidance and caring, always keeping in touch and more than once explaining the intricacies of daily life here in Kolkata. We’ve had social, political and business discussions, he is very worldly and has lived in the States for quite a long time before returning to his native land.  I will miss him so much – what a great, kind man. I know we will continue our friendship via phone and email.  If it is possible, I will see all of my friends when I return from Delhi, the day before I head back to New York.

So here I am, writing from the palace, trying to catch up on this blog so I may keep journaling as I leave for my final week of travel through India. I am sitting on the veranda and it is very peaceful. I can see wedding preparations being done on the great lawn of the palace which is now used for various special events- the wedding is tomorrow and it is fascinating to watch the crew build all the platforms, with  flowers arriving and an amazing lush display that is being created for a lucky couple.

Karuna arrives from her visit to Burdwan which had been the family’s kingdom, now a city with the palaces used for the university there.   Her official title is Maharaji Kurmari Karuna Devi of Burdwan, or Princess Karuna Devi.  She and I talk about the history of her family and what it was like to have grown up in a real life fairytale.  Gardens and acres of land, ponds filled with fish wearing gold rings, elephants grandly dressed wandering the grounds, sentries in full royal costume wearing headdresses, ornate carriages at the ready to take the little princesses from one palace to another.  All this only to have the story end in her twenties when the land was parceled out and royalty was no longer recognized.  She tells me about her father’s coronation and takes me around the grounds and some of the parlors to show me pictures of the royal crest and clothing that was routinely worn.  It looks like something out of a movie about ancient India, yet it really existed for almost 500 years.  We tour the rooms as she relays more memories about her youth and when I ask where the jewels and costumes have gone she says that most of the films, photographs and jewelry have just disappeared .  I say it is terrible and she says “but it is what it is, you can’t live in the past”.  So true, yet still very sad that today’s Indian youth have only a small reminder of their great heritage because the regal buildings were not preserved.

Just now there are associations trying to refurbish the buildings that are still standing but have been neglected so that the remains of this historic country are tangible, not just told in a history book. Much of what has happened here has been happening for years all over the world, old destroyed to make way for new.  One hopes that before the majesty of an era gone by is totally erased from memory it will be preserved and appreciated as part of a great heritage.

Tomorrow I will leave for Delhi and I should go to sleep early but we talk until 1 AM  about everything including her philosophy about life, marriage, love and I find that she is one of the most savvy and “cool” ladies I know, a real feminist at heart. I relish our frank discussions and will miss this very much.  We have really opened up to each other as women and I wonder if I should leave my “home” here in Kolkata to explore more of India or stay to be with the friends I’ve made over the last 7 weeks.

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Late night in the palace with Stacey (LOL)

A view of the palace

It is Friday and Karuna is leaving for 2 days for a puja in her home village so I will be here alone. I don’t mind as I have errands to run and some of the younger people I’ve met have asked me to come for lunch and hang out for a bit . It is a nice change of pace and I relish it. I am given a car and first go to finalize the travel arrangements for the trip to Delhi, Agra and Jaipor. Then off to Erica’s flat where she is editing the documentary they’ve been working on for several months about the goat herders here in Kolkata. Her partner/editor is there, a lovely, lively Bengali man and we order in lunch and talk about the business of film making, Bengali art and life here in the city as a “westerner” – Erica is from Italy and we talk about the adjustment to this way of life, and mostly the adjustment we must make when returning to the western world. Since she has been here many times before, she tells me to take note of my thoughts as I arrive at home in the US, how it will seem strange for a while. I decide to keep journaling as this shift will be interesting to document. I am sorry to say goodbye, but I know we will see each other again and we exchange our emails and they go back to editing and I head off to meet yet another friend for a light dinner and some shopping.

After a great day, I am feeling very proud of myself for being on my own without relying on guidance or translation from anyone, taking a taxi back to the palace.  After saying goodnight to the staff I retire and am just about to get into bed but go off to wash up . Closing the door behind me to the bathroom, I here a click and think nothing of it until I remember that I must have my bottled water for my toothbrush. I try the door and it is locked from the outside. I am locked in!  Here I am in my nightshirt and nothing else. No phone of course, and the house is asleep. I bang on the walls but they are thick and the doors are massive and no one can hear me. Now I’m contemplating trying a window or some of the tiny doors but I squeeze through only to find one dead-end after another. Eyeing the length of the claw-footed tub, I am almost resigned to sleeping there but try one more time this time yelling “emergency!” and  “aya baba” (OMG). I hear a stirring and then 5 of the staff and the dog arrive to save a damsel in distress. Really.  They are laughing hysterically and I am too, out of relief mostly.  Never a dull moment with me, I somehow manage to get into trouble even in when brushing my teeth!

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The big event: art show and paparazzi…

before the guests arrive, anticipation

Today is the big day, the newspaper printed another small article as a reminder – we are hoping for a large turnout.  As we finish the final touches having labeled and priced each painting, I go back to the house to dress.  Thank goodness for Meera once again, my hands are shaking and I can’t figure how to wrap the beautiful Kantha sari I’ve chosen to wear. from   Once wrapped properly, she helps me place a bindi on my forehead and then picks out the jewelry to go with the sari. Antara, Archana and Shamlu give a thumbs up of their approval and we are off to the Palladian.

As we arrive I am greeted by my new friend Shalome who is one of the administrators there and he is amazed at my transformation from a racing maniac hanging paintings to a (somewhat) serene woman in Indian dress. He remarks that I look as though I have worn a sari all my life and I must admit I do feel very comfortable.

admiring some of the art with the students

say "cheese"!

the artists and their work

One last check at all the work, a bit of leveling each collage and we are ready for the troops. The children arrive promptly at 5 PM, and they rush to me hugging, kissing and admiring my outfit. Even the boys tell me that “auntie” looks like a “princess” and I laugh.  After they settle down I tell them to look around at all they’ve created and that this exhibit is for them; had they not been such great, talented students we wouldn’t be here having a show.  They are bubbling now with anticipation and I can see how proud they are and it makes my heart fill with joy.  This is the best time – seeing their expressions. I am so happy for them.  We take many pictures and the staff is there to pose with me and the children ask for photos with me as well.

Guest are arriving and I must leave the kids to greet everyone, then the media comes, many more than I expected – TV, magazines and 4 newspapers to cover the event. The children’s eyes are a s big as saucers, they are awestruck.

The journalists and photographers grab me for shots with the kids, on my own, with the work and then they interview me and a few of the students asking about the meaning of their individual collages and what it was like to work in this medium and with me.  Their expressions tell me the whole story and I can’t stop smiling.  One fashion magazine pulls me aside to take photos of my outfit and then I’m grabbed by some more of the media.   This joint is jumping and I see some of the chief guests arrive, it is time to start the opening ceremony. We have speeches and a candle lighting ceremony and Shamlu speaks as do the main guests,  one of whom is a very famous artist. He pronounces the work and the show to be a success and the frenzy begins as the viewers start to purchase the work and ask some of the children to explain the technique and the meaning of their collages.  We sell out of the greeting cards Antara has printed and soon about 12 large works are sold.  I am asked to say a few words which are mostly directed to the children, had it not been for Udayan I wouldn’t have come to India and not have had the great privilege of working with these children. They have made this experience complete and I thank them for that.  I tell them to continue to work in my absence and that a seed has been planted, it must be nurtured by practice and continued creativity.  Then Antara and a few of the Udayan girls perform a special song they’ve practiced for the event. (Antara sings like a songbird and teaches singing with an open heart).

Antara and her choir perform

Our honored guest speaks to the children about their great work

Shamlu makes a welcome speech

Soon it is time for cocktails so the children must leave and we say goodbye tearfully. I promise to come before heading back to the US.  The party now is in full swing and when I’m not being interviewed by the press I am meeting with many who are interested in the how and why and also the specific technique I use.  So many people, so much interest and love in that room.  After it winds down I am finally able to sit and take a breathe. Then  Karuna suggests we go for a small dinner and the party continues. We toast to the continued success of the show as it will be on for 3 days, saying our goodnights and head back to our respective homes. Giddy from the success of the exhibit, we all collapse, happy but exhausted. Someone calls to say the TV has aired the art show and interviews, but I don’t know which station so I don’t get a chance to see it.

presentation of flowers and the opening ceremony


A word of thanks

Thursday morning I am called by the editor of Society Magazine for another phone interview and after a very productive conversation she tells me the magazine will be out in March or the very latest April.  April will mark the one year since I met Shamlu , very auspicious. I think we make a good team.

the girls take a guest on a tour of their work

Today I will shift over to Karuna’s as there is a scheduling conflict with a guest from France – I am to stay at a 110+  Maharaja’s summer palace for the next few nights until I head to Delhi.  This is a rare treat and the palace is grand.  The royalty was “abolished” in 1955 during the fight for independence, though the maharajas were permitted to keep their titles, they had to give up much of their land holdings. In this palace only a small part of this huge, historic building is used for living quarters and the rest is let out for affairs such as weddings. Karuna has invited me to the Oberoi Hotel for yet another fashion show to launch a new energy drink. I am greeted at the door by the organizer of the event and the head of the drink company – we met last night at the art show. Much hugging and kissing occurs and so once again the paparazzi hones in- there are many who were there last night and they recognize me (how could they not – an American in a salwar kameez).  We leave after mingling with many of the people I have come to know during this 7 week stint, we exchange cards and some of the more prominent men have promised me that they will do some networking to get funding for me to return next year. There is no money for art supplies when the children need linens and toothbrushes and other personal hygiene products. Having done my share, we return to the palace and I sleep well having dreams that seem like fairytales.

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Sunday, last minute fashion show

Even though it is Sunday, usually a relaxed day, it is a busy. I must get all the collages completed with the various students. We have 45 collages now, and three need to be finished. I am battling with the children’s exam schedules and the Hindi and Bengali different study times and exam dates. Between the language and the myriad of schools the children attend it is at times very confusing and hectic.  I am looking forward to a productive day .  I have lots of time for everyone and all my budding artists do come asking for just one more paper, just one more time to do another piece. The kids are insatiable and I am ecstatic about that.  We work efficiently and quietly with Bengali music playing in the background. They are so engrossed in their work I hardly have to help, just an occasional suggestion,  they are very focused, very much in the zone.

Doves in Love

Angels in Flight

Dreamscape by Saddam

It is almost lunchtime and the phone rings. It is Taniele asking if we should go to a fashion event in Kolkata, very dressy, all the major celebrities and musicians will be there along with beautiful fashion and a divine dinner at the Hyatt Regency by poolside. I do want to continue with the students but Shamlu has sweetened the deal with an overnight and an early return to Udayan on Monday. It is too good to pass up so I agree and promise the students that I will give them more time on Monday.

We must pack a few things, hair and nails and all that, then hop on a rickshaw to take us to the train, my first time!

I am glad I’m with Taniele, the station is crowded and very confusing. No one seems to know which track the train to Kolkata will be leaving from so we wait at the top of both staircases. ( actually there are three very fierce, rabid looking dogs blocking the stairs and I have no intention of passing by them). We are the only non Indian riders, so there’s a lot of giggling and stares, though I’m getting used to that now.  The train approaches and it is filled to the gills, I haven’t ever seen a mess like this – Grand Central at rush hour is sleepy compared to this. The train hardly waits, so you must try to find the women’s car and hop on to find a seat. There are none, so I stand along with about 200 women all vying for a space, some sit on top of one another, others cram next to you half of them fall into your lap- then there’s the occasional argument.  About 10 men are soliciting their wares and they are relentless, we are a captive audience and they repeat their promotion incessantly for about 20 minutes. It is wild and deafening.   At each new stop, more solicitors get on and some of the women depart allowing me to sit.  Another man comes on,which is odd as this is a women’s car, he places an electronic box above my head and I assume it is his luggage of some sort. WRONG!  Out of nowhere a blaring karaoke song starts playing and he sings away for another 40 minutes. I may go mad and I think I need a tylenol.

Being on the train is a great way to see unknown parts of Kolkata, not just the shops and museums, but rural areas with tents, small homes and shacks of aluminum with their laundry hanging- mundane Sunday chores, and the diversity of the landscape.  With all the noise and commotion I am still very grateful to have this time to take in another experience.  Arriving at the station, pushed and pulled by the throngs of people, to me it seems like total chaos.  We step over bodies sleeping, beggars are in abundance and everyone is walking over them and no one seems to mind, this is part of daily life.  Our railroad car was the size of a bathroom on Metro North, but with three times the passengers.  We decide to take a taxi to the house and have to haggle with 4 different drivers before finding a prepaid taxi.  Dressing quickly I am wearing a sari from Shamlu’s collection and some of the jewelry I bought during my stay.  Meera wraps me , thank goodness or I would surely unravel as I walked – not a pretty site. The affair is in full swing and the poolside garden is filled with paparazzi and glitterati.   There is a famous cricket player, Sourav Ganguly; a renowned artist named Wasim Kapoor and a nationally known actress Juhis Chalawla who will model.  Actors Kiren Kher, and Arjun Rampal are there as well.   We have VIP seats and walk about before the show starts with drinks and fantastic food and networking.  As the fashion show gets underway Taniele and I are drooling, each and every item is more beautiful then the last and we want all of them.  There is an auction at the end as this is a fundraiser for “Dream for Life” a charity for people who are “diffabled” with blindness.  The items go for more than one can imagine, some more than 10 times most people make in one year!  After this we are stuffed and make our way to the car for a good night’s sleep. Taniele says I do NOT snore, as we are sharing the room, so I must admonish my children when I return home to the States. We have a delicious breakfast at Shamlu’s house – a little break from the usual at the school, then we are off to Udayan in the very early hours with no traffic;  taking a taxi instead of the train.  It is quiet, just the goat herders returning from grazing.

We are greeted by the waiting children as though we were gone for a week, not an overnight, and I am actually very happy to be “home”.

welcome home hugs

Later in the morning I start more boys who hadn’t the opportunity to paint before, along with the “crowd” of artists who can’t seem to get enough time to create – they want to have music and art time.  It is lunch time and the kids don’t want to leave, but I shoo them to the dining hall and they return in record time to complete what they’ve started.  At 4:30 it is time to leave but the kids beg me for more time, resulting in staying 2 hours longer, they are so intent on their work. Sikandar and Happy have done 2 collages each and are very promising, so they get a private lesson in drawing with  charcoal and shami cloth,  gum erasers and after just 30 minutes of demonstrating and practice they produce  work that looks like they’ve been in art school for years. Astounding.

The other boys are gathered outside the art room as I lock up to help me carry my knapsack ant to just talk about exams, art questions and just to chat. We have a laugh and spend quite a while before the mosquitoes start their feeding frenzy. We call it a night and tell each other we will meet again in the morning.  I head off to the girls dorm.

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Back to Kolkata..more paint, (Auntie get us red – lal- and more glue)

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.

Republic day ceremonies

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.

Victoria memorial

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.

New Market

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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.

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