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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.
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”.
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.