They are here to know and serve India — all part of a community service programme they have taken up. Their chosen field of service— the homeless and the hapless of Calcutta. Pema Cliett, a fourth-year student of State University of New York at New Paltz, and Christa Gadola, a graduate of Whitman College in Washington State, are tourists with a mission. They are here to stay, at least for some time. This is what they have to say after living and breathing and exploring Calcutta.
“Where are you from' Why are you here' How long are you staying'” As two white women living, studying, and serving in Calcutta, these are questions we hear on a daily basis. We understand that we look different; we have different skin and hair colours, we wear western clothing, and we speak a different language. And yet, we are just people, living our lives, trying to make Calcutta our home.
Until recently, we did not understand the meaning of “diaspora”, the movement of people from a nation away from their own country. But now, after some months in Calcutta, we identify with that experience. Living in Calcutta as outsiders is beginning to help us understand what it must be like for some people to live in the US, at home, and to feel as though one does not fit in, be it because of the colour of one’s skin or the beliefs one holds. Although it is a challenging, and at times frustrating experience, it is good for us to feel in the minority so that we can be more sympathetic and understanding of the plight of so many in the US.
Although Calcutta is not our home, we are living here for four months with an Indian host family as part of a programme called the International Partnership for Service Learning. The programme combines both academic studies and community service.
I, Pema, have chosen to serve at Loreto Day School, Sealdah, to work with the street-children. I tutor children of all ages in English, helping them to give meaning to what they have already “learned” in textbooks. I try to play a nursing role in their lives, as unfortunately many are missing the security and comfort of family and home.
I, Christa, am working at Mother Teresa’s home for children, Shishu Bhavan. As nursing is my chosen career path, I have opted to work with the developmentally-challenged in particular. While participating in the daily routine of washing, feeding and physical therapy, I try to dole out as many hugs and kisses as possible, offering them the love and affection they deserve.
Working within the community is enabling us to integrate ourselves into Calcutta’s society. In the beginning, we felt utterly foreign and incapable of fulfilling our responsibilities within our respective services. But now, ironically, our service is where we feel most at home. The children are accepting our presence and slowly allowing us into their lives and hearts. Despite our pale faces and our non-existent Bengali, we are “aunties” to all of them.
Over the next three months, we will become more and more a part of this country. Already, the constant stares are less ominous and the streets more navigable. We are confident that we will be able to integrate ourselves into this society. However, we are curious as to whether or not India will ever truly integrate us into her. Will we always be seen as outsiders'
Back to BC Roy
As the appalling condition at the B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children was splashed in the papers, four students — Shayoni Sarkar, Barkha Sharda, Namit Agrawal and Uttaran Das Gupta — watched in horror. A week later, when the outrage suddenly died down — and the doors of the referral hospital for kids slammed shut on the media — they decided to check things out for themselves. Here’s what they saw one morning, last week:
It was a grey morning at the B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children. A few policemen were stationed lazily near the main gate. At the centre of the compound, stood a crumbling wrought iron boundary around an ill-maintained garden. We sat down there to talk to some relatives of patients, waiting — alongside some stray dogs — under a filthy, dilapidated portico.
Among them, were the parents of nine-month-old Bula Roy. “No one in the city cares about the welfare of the villagers. We have no choice but to admit our infants here despite what is happening. We heard that three babies died yesterday,” they lamented. Another let us in on a secret: “Anyone can enter the hospital after visiting hours by pretending that one is delivering food.” Most had no idea what diseases their children were suffering from.
We headed for a paediatric ward, empty except for a sleeping stray dog. The shabby walls were stained with paan spit. On the first floor, oxygen cylinders, used bandages and cotton were strewn all over the place, and there were pools of stagnant water everywhere. The bathrooms were in appalling condition.
Some windowpanes were shattered, a few, broken. The fans and the beds were broken and rusty. The doctor’s desk was piled high with files caked by dust. Wet clothes were drying on ropes; food and blankets lay in every corner. There was a terrace where children were lying — three to a broken bed — with only the sky above them and their mothers for company. There was no doctor or nurse in sight.
On the second floor, conditions were better. There were a few nurses and doctors in the wards, though here, too, the corridors were unclean and unhygienic. There were a whole lot of people roaming around, creating a commotion.
Nothing that we saw suggested that things had changed for the better at a hospital where babies dying due to lack of infrastructure and neglect is “normal”. When will something be done' Or is it too much to expect'
War of words
It was a battle of brains at the Joka campus of IIMC. The participants were B-school boys and girls from eight top management institutions in eastern India. The two-day meet, Acumen 2002, had 32 participants showing their skills in debating and quizzing.
The weekend gave the IIMC junta and supporters of other participating teams the chance to troop into the newly-built auditorium and cheer their faves. Though quiz was the main draw with so many audience prizes to be won, the debate on ‘Should Indian managers take over the bureaucracy’ produced some stimulating points and counterpoints.
The XLRI team got it right in the quiz contest conducted by Joy Bhattacharya, of Super Selector fame, while the home team bagged the second prize. But the IIMC team debated its way to the top, followed by ICFAI. Other participants included XIMB, XISS and teams from city-based B-schools like EIILM and NIMC.
The winners from the eastern zone will now take on the champions from the north, west and south at the national finals in Delhi in December.
Don Bosco Park Circus was the place to be on the afternoon of September 21. The Interact District Council and The Interact Club of DBPC were out to entertain and, in the process, give some children of a lesser God a few hours to cherish. The ‘guests of honour’ were children from the Don Bosco Ashlayam, the Thalassaemia Society of India, and the Smile Hearts. Board members of the Council and the entire DBPC Club were present.
The programme began with a lively musical performance by an upcoming star — Samrat, ex- student of Don Bosco, Liluah. Then, Anish John and Naveen combined to sing a string of Hindi and English numbers.
Then, the magic moment – Shaan stormed in amid thunderous applause. The pop star turned the show into a request programme, with the kids getting exactly what they wanted — Jeena yahan, marna yahan to Roop tera mastana to Nikamma. After Shaan was presented hundreds of roses by the underprivileged children, it was time for him to make a request — a photograph with all the kids. “It’s been a pleasure to perform for you and I wish you all the very best,” he said.
Thank you, Shaan!
— Siddhartha Saraogi, Vice-president, Interact Club of DBPC
Fortune favours the brave. Especially those who choose to sing in French in front of an audience without musical accompaniment. The stage was Sandre Hall of Calcutta School of Music (CSM) where the eastern leg of French Nightingale, a talent hunt for under-25s organised by Alliance Francaise de Calcutta, was taking place. And Kirtika Ghosh, a student of Class IX at Calcutta International School (CIS), had almost finished her full-throated rendition of Ma plus belle histoire when memory failed her at the last line. The girl, who had auditioned with viral fever, ran out of the auditorium in tears even as the audience and the emcee Chai Eng Dutta broke into applause. The judges — Tanushree Deb of CSM, violinist Georges Lindenmeyer, percussionist Prabhu Edouard and French teacher at IIMC Marie Anne Gouzien — recognised the spirit by crowning her for the junior section.
In the senior section, competition was tough with 11 singers vying for a spot in the national finals. Cheered on by their respective teachers — Sharda Sharma of Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Lilian and Evelyn Bose of CIS and Basabi Pal of Chandernagore Government College — they belted out their musical best, tout en francais. Dyootiman Pal, the youngest participant in the senior section, had come all the way from Chandernagore. The journey was worth it. The student of Class XI, West Point Academy, Serampore, was chosen runner-up. But it was Paromita Chakraborty with her peppy and sensuous Mon mec a moi who won top honours.
The B.Sc student of Muralidhar Girls College plans to start preparations right away. With last year’s east zone rep Rohini Hannah-Joseph having booked one of the five tickets to France, Paromita sure has a reputation to live up to.