Category Archives: travel

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.

b

Shamlu modeling before the dinner party

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under art, India, travel

The Journey Begins…

It is January 1, 2010 and I start the new decade with a “leap of faith”, boarding a plane to India, leaving my husband and three children for two months.  I am lucky to be bumped to first class on the first leg of the trip and am able to relax, study my Bengali and fall asleep.

We land in Frankfurt and I have a 6 hour layover and take up my husband’s advice to shower in the lounge, so I start out to find the Lufthansa lounge and I remember my friends warning that this airport is confusing and huge. No problem I think, I can do this!  But it does take me 3 trips around the terminal and about an hour of my free time. I also go through security 4 times but finally arrive at the lounge. There I do take that shower and emerge refreshed and ready for the last part of the journey.   Boarding the plane I am once again put into first class (I can get used to this) and fall asleep for the entire flight.  We land, my luggage is waiting for me – hurray! – and I walk out to find a smiling face holding a card with my name on it;  he is the driver who will take me to Shamlu Dudeja’s house   It is 2 AM.

This time my car ride is eventful. Cars, rickshaws, pedestrians, cows, dogs, bikes and trucks all competing for the same 12 feet of roadway. There is no rhymn or reason – one way streets become two way streets without warning, no dividing line in the middle of the road, everyone is swerving to avoid (or not) the sudden oncoming traffic and even at this time of night everyone is honking with or without reason. Traffic lights are ignored as are any road signs, it seems anything goes.  I am jet lagged and realize there is nothing I can do so I laugh the whole way to my destination.

Arriving at Shamlu’s home, I am greeted with open arms, tea and biscuits and lots of huge licks from her Black Lab, Bobo.   Shamlu and I spend a few hours talking well into the morning, then turn in for the remainder of the night. Tomorrow will be a big day and I can’t wait.

8 Comments

Filed under 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".

16 Comments

Filed under art, commuity, India, travel