Category Archives: the children

Untapped Genius and a Bora Hanaman

One of the first completed collages

These kids are awesome!

Just give them your time and some paint...magic!

It is Saturday and I am pressed for time. I need to get enough collages finished so they can be framed. I lost a day yesterday as I fell ill and couldn’t get out of bed. Still sick, I went to the art room to teach anyway. Would rather feel miserable but working with the kids than feel miserable in my tiny room.

We started at 8 AM  with 11 of some of the most talented students who have demonstrated an understanding of my technique as well as passion for the work. The room was silent, everyone was in the “zone’ and I put on some Hindi music to keep the pace going. Within 3 hours, 4 of my students had completed an entire collage!  Not once did they ask for help, as I had been concentrating on making rounds to the ones who needed a little push, some guidance, I was shocked when they called me over to show me the completed collages.   As awful as I felt physically, I was euphoric !  Lunch came ad went, no one wanted to leave the art room, so we continue to pull a painting marathon. It wasn’t until the light has gone that we realized we had worked all day without a break, and that we were almost missing dinner. These students stayed to spotlessly clean the room, and we all left together, our passion solidifying our friendship. I felt complete.  There is quite a bit of untapped genius here – these children would be in  elite art schools if they were from any other place in the world. I am determined to keep pushing them, hoping that when I return next year many will have graduated and possibly be on there way to schools for the arts.

The "artist's colony" hangout in the art room

Since the start of the school Olympics, there were cricket matches each day and today was no exception. As I exited the art studio the match was still on  – these passionate students, so sensitive and quiet while working in my art room were intense as cricket players, so serious and competitive. Taniele and I laughed as we both remarked that we could be at any school in America or Australia or anywhere, and the students would not be different; just boys in a major competition, fiercely playing and cheering their favorite teams on.

On my way to my room to pack up for Kolkata – I was going there to rest, see a doctor and take a break, I was urgently called by Taniele and several girls shouting “auntie, monkey on the roof”!  I had no idea what they were talking about, I knew there were jackals, foxes and dogs, but not monkeys hanging out at the school.  I grabbed the camera, flew over to the playing field only to find hundreds of the little ones squealing with delight as they watched a bora hanaman (very large monkey) sitting on the roof, eating a banana, unfazed by the commotion below. He eventually moved to the rooftop overlooking the cricket match and seemed to be watching the game.  As the children persisted to yell at him and laugh, he moved about (I think trying to escape) these “crazy creatures” below- it was to no avail, everywhere he went the children followed. Finally getting annoyed, he took the flowerpots which lined the roof and started hurling them at the children below. With my camera in tow, I tried to shoot a few pictures, only to be abruptly stopped – he hurled one at me, missing me by a few inches. Guess he didn’t like paparazzi – I decided to take refuge and pack my things to leave for Kolkata.

Bora Hanaman watching the crowd below

"Hmm.. ready, aim, throw the flowerpots!"

I arrived at the Taj Bengal where I was to stay as Shamlu had other house guests in my room. It was a great move as the manager recognized how sick I was -I had no voice at this point. He alerted the staff to my demise, and everywhere I went someone was standing there with a hot cup of spices, ginger and lemon to drink. They stayed to watch me drink the last drop.  About every 20 minutes the door would buzz and more tea, hot “toddies” (non alcoholic) and salt to gargle with would arrive.  Flowers came as well, with a note telling me to arrange for a eucalyptus steam, sauna, and aryuvedic massage.  I arranged this for Sunday, and not feeling much better forced myself to make the appointments.  I was glad I did. After a few hours of this pampering, my throat started to feel better, and I felt almost human again. Treating myself to a meal at one of the many restaurants at this hotel, I stuffed myself with salad, fruit and PIZZA!  It rivaled any great pizza in New York. Even though I was under the weather I knew I could get very used to this. The shower was the best ever, and the pillow too – small things we take for granted were a delight . I savored every minute.

By Monday morning, the Maitre D knew me well and ordered all the hot drinks for breakfast and insisted I eat an omelette (he didn’t have to force me) and porridge. Water and juice were served at room temperature so as not to hurt my throat. That afternoon, a friend from Kolkata paid a visit to see how I was feeling and he too insisted on feeding me. I was stuffed but still a little sick. The hotel and my friend called the hotel doctor who paid a “room call” complete with blood work and prescriptions which were filled without delay by the staff.  Rick ( my doctor husband) had sent me with a small arsenal of medicines and had started me over the phone with the correct antibiotic.

By Tuesday I felt well enough to return to Udayan. I loaded up on chocolates for the girls in the dorm – it was the birthday of four of them and there was to be a celebration. I also loaded up on oranges, bread and olives, having had my share of rice, rice and rice at the school.

The ride back was early in the morning, so early that I was treated to a remarkable site – goat herders walking their flock in the middle of the main roads in Kolkata-unbelievable!  Here, in this city of great buildings, shops, shacks and hustle and bustle, vying for a piece of the road crammed with all the vehicles and animals and every conceivable being and object was this man, oblivious to the noise and commotion, as his goats walked peacefully to their home, having grazed for the day.  What a country of contrasts.

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Filed under art, commuity, India, teaching, the children

A Day of Firsts, School Olympics and a Night on the Town

Today there is to be the beginning of the Olympics at the school. It will go on for several days.  All the children are involved and to kickoff the games there is to be a cricket match!  This will start after classes have finished and my art classes are over as well. I pull out the camera ready to take photos of everything.  There are 4 teams: England, for Father Stevens’ native country, India, France , in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Dominique Lapierre, major supporters of Udayan School and Australia, for another major patron, cricketeer Steve Waugh and for Taniele who hails from Australia and is an Olympic bronze water polo champion.

The cricket match begins

All smiles for the camera; she's one of the reasons I'm here

All smiles for the camera, I love these children

Everyone is at the field when I arrive with the camera, I sit with Taniele so she can explain the game to me, which I must say is very confusing to a Yankees fan. I am excited as well, this is the first cricket match I have watched, and since it is an Indian passion, all the kids are revved up.  I see that many of my very talented boys are also great cricket players and they are very serious.   The first match is India vs. Australia and I watch in awe, snapping pictures the entire time. Australia wins, the crowd erupts jumping, hugging and screaming.  The children charge towards Taniele and we are crushed by their embraces; they have decided that since I’m from America, Australia is to be my team as well.

girls team, France vs. Australia play a traditional Indian game

Taniele, Happy , and cricket fans

After the game, we have planned to go to Barrackpore center to shop and have dinner.  As we walk to the main road, we are greeted by throngs of villagers who know Taniele and now wish to meet me. Everyone waves and stops us – I then learn my first sentence in Bengali – Ap kaise hai, “how are you”.  We reach the main road, filled with buses, cars, pedestrians, rickshaws bicycles and motorcycles – it is a rude awakening, since the roads I have traveled to and from the school are very quiet. Hailing a motor rickshaw (another first) we squeeze in with 3 other people, not an easy task as she is 6 feet tall, and I’m no shrimp .  After an exciting ride ( and I am laughing the whole way, it’s like a ride at a carnival) we disembark and then walk a bit to the railroad tracks. We wait as a train passes through, crowds of people waiting in front of the crossing gate. Then Taniele announces that we must walk across the tracks – on the rails, I follow tentatively, haven’t I always warned my own kids never to walk on railroad tracks?   We arrive in Barrackpore center. there are small shops, tiny streets where the impossible happens – all these different modes of travel converge on a 6 foot wide 2 way street.  It is not a small village, rather a mini Kolkata.  Loudspeakers blaring on all corners with different political announcements vying for airtime, it is deafening. It seems that anyone with access to a loudspeaker can make any announcement they wish. I want to grab a mike and say “shup karo” (shut up!)

"we won!"

Sikandra and my boys bring auntie their new pet...SNAKE!!!!!!

We amble along, people are staring a little, I guess we seem quite a pair – westerners wearing traditional dress- and find a music store. We’ve been looking for some movies to watch on my laptop and find a few at a reduced rate, then I buy 2 CD’s to play in the art classes, they are Bengali musicians.

Leaving the shop we find a very cool street with food, clothing, saris and bindis for the face to wear with our saris. I choose magenta and Taniele finds a nice black one. We buy the matching petticoats and blouz (blouses) to wear under the saris. Next week it is Saraswati puja and every woman and girl where saris for the celebration, so now we are prepared. Then we are off to V Cafe, recommended by the staff at Udayan. From the outside we are a little doubtful, but once entering we are happily surprised. It is lovely and the food is terrific.  I’d give it 3 stars. We’ve chosen a lot of food, the waiters are staring at us as we finish everything in sight.  We sit for a while and chat away, she is great company, then head back , this time via bicycle rickshaw (I am hanging on for dear life) amazed that this one very thin man can haul us all the way to the gate of the school. We check out our new purchases and then say goodnight.  Another big day tomorrow – I will start the 30 talented students I have identified on their collages – we will mount them and create the work to be exhibited.


Filed under commuity, food, the children

Chocolate for breakfast!

"Willy Wonka" and crew

Happy faces after chocolate treats

Today I have to start early so I may give the children the treats I’ve brought from Kolkata.  Getting out of my “princess bed” as the girls call it (I think it has something to do with the mosquito netting) I am anxious to take a shower and be off to play Willy Wonka.  Surprise!   “Low setting”.  No power, no shower, no water. Hmm, very unique way to start the day. It is not unique for these kids. They are very adaptable and very willing to take whatever comes their way with grace.

As I race out of the girls dormitory, freezing, I see the little ones joyfully splashing in the water, another little  girl about 4 years old, can’t button her sweater.   I drop everything to help her dress quickly, feeling like a mother hen.

At breakfast, I sit as each class arrives and sings their morning prayers. I pray too, for these young souls so full of promise. I pray that this isn’t all for naught and that when I return next year, many of them will have achieved their “target” – University.

Each group solemnly comes up to me as I hand them little chocolate eclairs. Chocolate for breakfast, along with curry and rice and a banana. Special combination.   Off to the first class, we will begin to shape the collages,readying them for mounting and the start of “painting with paper”.  The class 9 boys arrive with a garland of marigolds for me to wear in my hair. One boy gives me a cut out heart. Then Swapan comes in with 4 boys carrying a very large work table that will be used for making the final collages. It is large enough for 6 students to work simultaneously , it feels like Christmas. I am so thrilled with the table I want to give him a hug. Instead I give him a handful of chocolates.  Swapan means “dream” in Bengali, and this he is; he is a dream, always helpful, always there.

Class is over and auntie is a little miffed, most of the boys have left and the room is in shambles.Three boys and I clean the 60 brushes and palettes. I barely have enough time to ready the room for the next class. I give these boys chocolates too for their kindness. Sugar high!   Only one boy arrives for next class, his name is Lalu and he is one of my best students. Really talented, his work is going to be great. We peacefully work for an hour, he cleans up without my asking and then leaves for his studies.  At least I have inspired one person. Lalu says he wishes to be an artist.     Content, I go to lunch, a mixture of hardboiled egg, curried beets and potatoes, and of course, rice.  This is not a low carb diet, time to exercise.

Off to finish my classes and call it a day. See you on the next post.

some local talent


Filed under art, food, the children

Some talented, creative painters and the Bengali “Michael Jackson”

boy's dormitory

children's vegetable garden

main classroom building

I awake and race through the morning ritual having just 5 minutes for breakfast after sabotaging myself in the middle of the night with my alarm clock.  I see that I indeed had a restless and obviously active sleep. Everything is on the floor, all 5 blankets – and the mosquito net has been wrapped around me. I can’t find the opening and spend a few precious minutes escaping from my net trap.

First class is boys class VIII, they are raring to go, I hardly have time to explain as they are off and painting, using up even more papers and paints.  They are so focused I decide that music is in oder, the rhythm speeds them along. Time flies and we stop to clean up. I promise them that they may choose some music and after carefully scrolling through my music library, they ask for a Hindi song. Suddenly the room is a dance studio and I am in awe – these boys are great!  They ask me to join in and one boy is so talented, he is called Michael Jackson. Everyone circles around him as he twirls  and smiles, soon all are joining in. Music, art and dance, a great combination.   Next class is at the door waiting, it will now be my fourth hour straight.  Now there must be 800 papers completed and I tell them that tomorrow we will start to do the collage.  Father Stevens comes over to see the progress and he is amazed, so am I. The children are thirsty for personal, creative expression and it shows. I am hopeful that the finished projects will be beautiful and unique.

I leave to sit in the sun and write this blog and am immediately surrounded by 30 of the children looking over my shoulders asking to see auntie’s family and the pictures I have taken of them. This goes on for an hour until John, one of the gentlemen who works here teaching and overseeing the school “rescues” me telling me it is lunch time. I can hardly break away from the children, the group has grown in size considerably.  Laughing I remember to do my computer work in private or I will never post again.

The boys pose with their paint before dancing up a storm

The day is done, the last class has left to go out to the playground, if I close my eyes , I could be anywhere children are squealing with delight.


Filed under art, music, teaching, the children

Networking, meetings and more paint!

I have spent the weekend at Shamlu’s home, going from one party to another, it’s a whirlwind of socializing and networking.  I admit it is fun dressing up in Shamlu’s gorgeous saris.   I shop the next day for supplies and a few new kameez. Returning “home”, we then meet with the Consulate General from the United States to discuss the possibility of funding the exhibition.  Then I am off to another party – people I have met the night before, and on Sunday, a brunch meeting with a new friend and then, the grand finale of the weekend, an intimate meeting with HH the Dali Lama. I am brave enough to ask a question which he immediately answers. I am in Heaven!  It is finally time to get ready for my return to Udayan. Where has the time gone?

I arrive at Udayan after a full day of errands in Kolkata. First and most important is to register with the Deputy chief of Kolkata police. Thank goodness Shamlu is with me and she and the Deputy are old friends. We have tea and biscuits and then sit down to yet more paperwork. Then we’re off to search for an open photo studio – I must present 4 more passport photos of myself. (I hate this, they are never flattering.)

After this, we are over to the Palladian Lounge for a meeting about the exhibition, The Lounge is our venue. It is large and very beautiful. Invitations, publicity, framing, hanging and timing are discussed and arranged.  There will be a press conference at the school, photographers will shoot and film the work in progress.  This is a big job!  I thought I would peacefully paint and teach the children but there is so much interest and so much need for funding – it has to be a spectacular event.  Then, I am whisked off to collect more painting supplies as the children’s enthusiasm had depleted my stash of paints and paper. We are getting creative, using plastic plates as palettes, plastic bowls (25 rupees each) for water.

Loading the car with the supplies, my clothes and chocolates for the children (400 pieces) I am on my way to Udayan.  This taxi driver is OK, but it is still an insane drive. I cannot watch any longer or I will commandeer the car and drive myself. Swerving on a 10 foot wide 2 way road, trying to avoid the trucks, buses, people, bikes, motorcycles (these guys are nuts) taxis, private cars, rickshaws, cows and occasional dog, I decide to take out the computer and write. At least I’ll have some productive time before we crash.

As the taxi drives through the gates, the children are waiting, shouting Auntie, auntie, good evening Auntie. I am home.  The boys take all the packages from me, and I unload while chatting with my very good friend, Taneil. We are compatriots, holding down the fort for the girls. We are interrupted by the girls who have major English exams tomorrow – they want us to tutor them. They speak Hindi and Bengali. I shrug and try to explain, action verbs, “being” verbs as they call it, present and past tense of each of the above. All while miming and pointing to the Hindi and Bengali translation of the English I am teaching. Taneil and I are wiped out after they leave.   We settle down, looking through all the new salwar kameez outfits I have bought to work in and then watch 30 rock. Fun!

Some little friends waiting for me.

The welcome committee, girls in my dorm

I crash and awakened to silence instead of the usual chaos of the morning. I have overslept, having somehow turned off the alarm in the middle of the night!

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Filed under art, India, teaching, the children

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

Auntie Stacey and 300 curious faces

Udayan girl's dormitory, my new home.the sweet faces of Udayan....My bedroom , mosquito net and all.

My bedroom , mosquito net and all.

I arrive at Udayan with much fanfare , everyone is waiting as the Taxi honks to announce my arrival.  I am so tired I could drop at any moment.I am looking forward to sleeping under the mosquito net, a new adventure.  The girl’s dorm is boisterous – more than a college dorm I would think.  My room is rustic as I had expected, but it is still more than these children will have in their lifetime.  The girls are singing and dancing, playing in my room.  But I am called into the main hall, the children and staff have a surprise waiting: a ceremony to welcome me with groups of children performing  – singing, dancing, even an amazing yoga demonstration. Then I am presented with a garland. I must go up to say thank you (Namaskar) and then begin to hand out 400 toys I have brought with me for all the children.  They are overjoyed.


Filed under India, teaching, the children