The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Song sung true

It’s that time of the year again when rosy-cheeked Tibetan ladies come to Calcutta to sell even pinker pullovers and sweaters. It’s that time of the year again when the decibel level at the Alipore Zoo rises, as migratory birds twitter away in their temporary home. Sadly their decibel level decreases as that of the city goes up. It’s that time of the year again when the once-a-Calcuttan-always-a-Calcuttan brigade comes home to raise a toast to family, friends and fellowship.

Truly, there’s no place like home — particularly if ‘home’ is Calcutta and the ‘time’ is December. Everything adds up — the numbers that tell the mercury story and the numbers that tell the nativity story. Everything’s just right.

Everything was just right a couple of days ago on the grounds of the oldest cricket club outside England, the CC&FC. A 50-strong choir had come down from their home in The Children’s City to bring joy to the city that is already known by that three-letter word. Before I tell you how and how much joy they packed into that one evening, let’s dwell on why Kalimpong has deservedly earned the sobriquet, The Children’s City.

It all began in 1900 when a Scotsman picked up six helpless children and took them home. In fact, he built one for them — on the hillside of Kalimpong dominated by the eternally snow-topped peak of Kanchenjunga. A hundred and three years on, the ‘home’, a 500-acre magic maze of greenery, has daughters, sons, and flowers, all growing in perfect sync with nature and with one another. Over the last century, Dr Graham’s Homes has been home, nursery and school to some 10,000 children who have blossomed into caring people who can look life straight in the eye, with a smile on their lips.

It was with a smile on their lips, courage in their hearts and punch in their voices, that they made the evening so extraordinary at The Children’s City in Concert.

They flowed from the beat of Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song to A.R. Rehman’s Shakalaka Baby with as much ease as they swung from the rhythm of Bombay Vikings’ Tera Mera Pyar to Oh! Happy Day from Sister Act II. The repertoire was Tendulkaresque, the grace Laxmanish, the timing Gangulian. In the audience, Russi Mody’s piano-sharp fingers played notes on his knees and a few thousand others spent some to support a cause. The cheese from the DGH farm and flowers from its greenhouse sold out before you could say, ‘Encore’. Shane Saviel, self-taught and super-talented, conducted the choir as it experimented with Ronan Keating’s If Tomorrow Never Comes before signing off with every child’s Christmas signature, Jingle Bells.

The spirit of the Homes will jingle all the way as long as it has Santa Claus incarnations giving continuous and consistent support. Michael Robertson, Chairman of the Homes, honoured a few of these Santas in mufti as he inducted Philip Magor of Williamson Tea, Subi Sanyal, former sheriff of Calcutta, Sumit Mazumder of TIL, and The Telegraph as ambassadors of DGH. As Aniruddha Lahiri, Managing Director, ABP Ltd., walked on stage to receive the honour on behalf of The Telegraph, two incredible little champions came to mind: Pooja was a five-year-old looking for her next meal from the same garbage dump that her parents were picking rags from; Toofan was lying in a gutter, pus oozing from every sore, dying — surely!

Anamika Gupta, a teenager who couldn’t look the other way, brought Pooja to us at The Telegraph Education Foundation; Sister Cyril, a nun who never looks the other way, picked up Toofan and took him to a caring Doctor at the Calcutta National Medical College. As Pooja’s rag-picker mother prayed for a miracle to take her daughter away to a life worth living, Toofan was nursed back to life, having lost a kidney. Pooja and Toofan, who give the term ‘street fighter’ a different connotation altogether, were spontaneously adopted by DGH at The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence ceremony a couple of years ago. Today, Pooja is an intelligent bubbly girl in Class V; she loves going for long walks, talking to friends and flowers alike. Toofan is just that — a storm! On stage he’s Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk, on the playing field he’s Michael Jordan doing his wiz-tricks.

Teachers and cottage parents dote on Pooja and get carried away with Toofan, just as they do with so many other special children in the Home carved out of a barren hillside by Dr John Anderson Graham.

Young singers from Dr Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong perform at
The Children’s City in Concert at CC&FC

We too could play our part by adopting a Pooja or a Toofan. Let’s go across to Birkmiyre Hostel on Middleton Row, the Homes’ Calcutta Office, or log on to, the Homes’ website. Let’s share the responsibility; and then share the joy.

Speaking of sharing, let me share with you what I have lined up for this week. Maybe you’d like to line up in front of me. This afternoon at three, there’s a panel discussion at Apeejay School, Salt Lake, on a topic close to our hearts: ‘Vision Calcutta — Blueprint For the Future’. Come along and thrash it out. On Friday the 12th, it’s the Advertising Club’s big night at the Hyatt. Hustle an invitation and let your spirits fly high.

On Saturday I’m doing the Indo-British Quiz organised by the British Deputy High Commission as part of the Kolkata Festival. See you at the Millennium Park at 4 pm. On Sunday, I’m going to be on Chowringhee from 2 to 4.30 pm at the spectacular Thames-style parade. Hit the road!

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