Here it is

Here it is

October 28, 2010

I’ve been waiting for it for a long time, and finally here it is. Last night I woke up twice to go to the toilet. And I had to give up a visit to the Botanical Garden, where is the largest Banyan Tree in the world, I need to be near a toilet all the time. I’m feeling better anyway. Thanks to mom’s pills. Now I’m trying Emma’s cure,? 2 liters of coke. But I find it difficult to drink half a liter, 2 is almost imossible. But I’m sleepy and coke will help me.

This morning I taught Mitun?how to write his name in English. I left him a couple of sheets and a pen so that he can practice more. He seemed happy. I am happy. Because after he filled one page with his name he was able to write it withouth copying.

Street kids in Kolkata

Street kids in Kolkata

October 27, 2010

Tonight I was having dinner at the usual little restaurant by the street when Tom came by, like last night. He talks a lot (and people who talk a lot usually bore me), but he says interesting things, so I listen. Sometimes I get lost, in particular when he talks too much about gods, but when he mentioned white and black magic (you can hurt someone you don’t like or make it die for as little as 35?!) that is well established in this area, he got my full attention.

We started to talk about the children that live in the street; apparently many come from Biha, a very poor region in the North of India.

Street Kid no. 1: Mitun

Mitun, for example, is 8 years old and works at the stall where I have breakfast; he comes from a village in Biha. He has two brothers and three sisters, his parents didn’t have enough money to feed him. The two guys who manage the stall come from the same village, so they offered him the job. He works from 8am to 10pm, bringing chai and breakfast to people sitting on the benches like me, he keeps asking if you need more. He earns 600 IR too per month, about 9,50 euro, plus food and lodging (on the floor of the tiny room where the two managers also sleep, still better than the street). It’s not a lot, but he has something to eat and the little he can save he sends home. And the most important part is that he’s not on his family shoulders anymore, he actually helps them. But he can’t even write his name. I think he should at least learn the basics of bengali and maths, if simply to check he’s given the right amount of money. But if the option is to die of hunger…

Street kid no 2: Masul

Masul also comes from that region. He’s 25, or maybe 21. He also came to the big city because his family is very poor. He “works” for an ngo that allocates medicines to drug users near the New Market. He’s an interpreter for them. In exchange of a few hours of work he gets food. I saw him this morning, sleeping on the sidewalk in front of my hotel. He’s smart, he makes himself understood in English (with some difficulty) and likes to tell stories (about values in life and the many girlfriends he’s had). He is also illiterate. He does things he’s not proud of. For example his parents are not happy of the work he does (maybe because he doesn’t earn any money? I didn’t understand this part) and he has no time to pray. But he does acts of kindness from time to time. For example one day he crossed an old lady who was crying because she didn’t have anything to eat; he had R20 in his pocket (0.30?) and gave them to her. Because what you give, good or bad, you get it back. That is something I also believe in. Or at least I hope so. It’s the only solace when I think of my former room-mate who didn’t give me back 200?.


Street kid no 3: Dip

Dip is also 20 years old. His family is from an area near Kolkata. He works in a stall where I always buy lemon juice and banana shake with my dinners and breakfasts. He earns very little and sleeps on top of the shop counter, that during the night stays in the street. But he has something to eat. And can write his name in English and Bengali.?

I don’t know about the others. I have the feeling many choose to live in the street because it’s easy. Nights are not cold, they can bath at public fountains, and with the money they get from begging they can open a bank account, with not much trouble and no need to work. But I feel bad when they take kids to the street. Children don’t have a choice. Some families have been living in the street for generations. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they don’t like it neither. Sure, I don’t envy them.

There are those that can’t work because they have physical malformations and in India there is no social or health system that can help them. And the city does not have wheelchair facilities or footpaths (well, there are actually very few wheelchairs, people can’t afford them, usually if they can’t walk they just drag themselves on the pavement with the help of the arms), working would be impossible.

This is a situation that strucks you when you visit India. People are generally very friendly and nice, and they co-exist with this terrible situation. I guess I could also get used to it. It’s a problem not easy to tackle.

Interesting people in Kolkata

Interesting people in Kolkata

October 26, 2010

I decided to stay a bit longer in Kolkata. I went back to Mother Teresa Mission two more times, and today I bought a ticket to Varanasi for Thursday.

On Sunday afternoon I went to Victoria Memorial. It’s a building that looks a bit like the White House in Washington, with a nice big park around it. There were some couples talking, one hugging, but not so much affection shown one to the other, it’s not allowed here. Absolutely no kisses. Among male friends they are very friendly, they hug and walk holding hands (it’s very weird for an Italian, but I saw this in Morocco too).

Well, I truly love this town. I wonder if it will be the same with other parts of India. Apparently Delhi for example is not as welcoming as Kolkata. Here people are really friendly. In the poorest area even more. Today they kept asking me to take pictures and they wanted to talk to me, to know where I come from and what I do, but with no other intentions (usually they want you to at least to visit their shop), just out of curiosity.

I went to the flower market, near the river. Beautiful. They sell flower garlands, that people buy to take to the temples, to put around the god statues. People didn’t mind me taking pictures and a man showed me with pride his large belly; his belly is proof that he has money to buy food, which is something to be proud of here in India.

During one of the mornings I spent washing clothes at Mother Teresa Mission I met an Indian volunteer. She is about 40 years old and she feels lucky her parents found her a husband born in Rotterdam and grown up in London, very open minded, that made her life much easier. Nowadays women can go to university and could marry those they choose. But often they don’t do it because if the marriage fails, they are left on their own, without the help of their family. So many marriages are still arranged. It was her who asked me what I think of the situation in India. I said it was a shock to see all those children living and sleeping in the streets and wondered why the government doesn’t do anything to help this. Are there no taxes? Not enough rich people that pay taxes? She explained that there isn’t a social and health national system, so people have to make do with what they have. There are taxes, and quite high, the rich should pay about 30% of what they earn. But they don’t do it, tax evasion is very high, because they know that even if they paid, the money would end in the pockets of some politician. She thinks the people should change. Their mentality. Indians don’t mind the people living in the street because they were born and grew up with this view, so for them it’s natural. So they don’t care about changing it. She is trying to educate people during the yoga lessons she teaches. I really liked her.

Sara, the black cat of the hotel, has come closer to me. She is very pretty. I also want a black cat. She was there two days ago too. Two days ago there was a party on the roof of the hotel because it was the last night in Kolkata for a group of Japanese tourists (there are many in town). I’ve met an interesting guy. His name is Peter. He’s about 65. Grey and long hair, beard with a knot halfway. He reminds me of Dal?. He was born in Canada, grew up between London and Paris, for the last 35 years between Tokyo and Kolkata. This is his favorite town in the world. He says it’s easier to communicate here with locals without speaking the same language, than with Canadians from Vancouver. Once, when he was living out of town where nobody locks their door and he was the only foreigner around, he woke up one morning surrounded by 8 people looking at him. He invited them for breakfast. Another reason why he likes this town is that it hosts 6 million refugees. During famines and wars loads of people flocked here from Bengal and Kashmir and other parts of India. For this reason the city grew so fast in the last century and filled up with people that live in the street.?

Peter is a painter and in India has published a couple of books (poems and thoughts). For the last 18 years he has a painting in mind, that he can’t put on canvas. For him painting is a way of meditation. Like observing nature and animals. He’s been living in a room on the roof of this hotel for 6 months, with 7 cats. Sara is his favorite, a bit wild, always roaming around. He shares his food with cats and crows. Apparently crows in Kolkata are better than crows in Delhi and Japan. And they have a big thing for the family. The sick and elder travel with the others, they are not left apart.?

He talks like he’s reciting some verses.?

Tonight I was eating in the street, at one of my favorite places, and a guy talks to me. Tom. Polish. About 45 yo I would say. Might be younger or older, I can’t tell; he looks young but he’s already retired. He lived 10 years in India, in the last 5 he has been living in Bangkok but he’s considering coming back. A true passion for Indian culture. At first I thought he was the usual annoying man, but he’s actually very interesting. While we were there talking about gods and hindu myths, a guy he knows passed by, Sasha. Russian, probably younger than me. At 12 his parents sent him to study in New York, where he met Stefano from Bassano del Grappa. He’s in Kolkata for 6 months for an economy research on poverty, to see which systems might work better to reduce poverty. He spent one and a half year in Ghana working on the same project. Apparently microcredit is not very useful, in contrast to what I thought. Because not everyone is inclined to business, most people prefer to work for someone else and receive a monthly salary, they are not interested in having a loan to start their own business. More effective and useful is micro-saving. Bank accounts where people, even if very poor, can deposit the little they have, even if just cents, because in the long run they can make a little treasure; people that wouldn’t have the possibility to apply to a regular bank account.?

After a little while I found myself on the terrace of a nice hotel, in a restaurant very posh, with toilet paper in the bathroom, where a coffee costs 80 cents and a dish at least 2 euro (my dinner tonight was 30 cents). I was spectator of a debate between a theologian and a scientist-economist. They talked about Einstein and his theory of relativity, of the huge knowledge of ancient Indians, that 5,000 years ago already knew at which angle a shuttle shot towards the moon should come back to the Earth withouth exploding (??? Tom wanted to suggested the Indians had already done such experiments? Sasha answered that they could have understood it by looking at meteorites? I don’t know, I wasn’t able to follow much), of the passage from one dimension to the other (because if it’s true that there are infinite dimensions, of which only 21 we know of, it’s scientifically impossible to go from one dimension to the other, while according to Indian theories the spiritual element can change dimension – so a soul could find itself in a fire particle around the sun). At one point they started to talk about the creation of matter (God? Explosion?) and at this point I got completely lost (while Sasha got excited telling us that last year they discovered three creators of matter – or whatever they are called – that interact, one negative, one positive and one neutral – from which the idea for the book “Angels and demons” by Dan Brown). Well, I didn’t utter a word, only once when Sasha put the theological-scientific discussion to a halt to ask me which fruit I would keep in my garden. I felt like a complete ignorant, but I was fascinated and amused by these two weird geniuses that defended their points of view with so much passion.?

I went back to the hotel super late, midnight. But I can’t sleep. I keep thinking. I’m already in the second half of my trip.

I pierced my nose today. I’m going to have one of those flowery golden piercings that wear Indian women.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Volunteering at Mother Teresa Mission in Kolkata

October 23, 2010

This morning I went to the Mission of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Where she lived and prayed and where she was dead. I decided to go because 3 of the 4 girls that share my room are volunteering there. Woke up at 5.20am, because at 6 there’s Mass. It’s not compulsory, but I didn’t know where the place is exactly, so I preferred to go with them. But I didn’t like it much. The homelie was about suffering, that is needed to be purified from sins. The priest said that sometimes he is asked why children suffer, if it’s because of their parents’ sins. Or for sins from previous lives. I didn’t understand what he replies. I guess he doesn’t know the answer. Because of this idea the monks whipped themselves. What’s the point in doing so? Suffering to be saved? Because you don’t want to go to hell? So someone should behave properly so that he/she doesn’t end up burning? One should do it because he/she knows that it is the right thing to do, not because he is afraid of consequences. In my opinion.

Anyway, I’ve just eaten a crepe with banana and chocolate. Not a bad life.

I went to the mission because I wanted to see how it works. They sent me to a place that hosts people with disabilities, physical and mental. For the first hour I washed clothes (have they enquired what my favorite hobby is?), not something I like, but it wasn’t difficult, I had to rinse them. Then they sent me to wash the floor of the room where the guests sleep. They throw water to the floor, with bleach, and sweep with a broom. Then ather buckets of water to rinse, and again the broom. I finally used one of those Asian brooms, that have always fascinated me since the first time I visited China.

At 10am little break with chai and biscuits, then we went to the room where they eat. I helped an elder lady to eat her curry rice with a baked apple. It reminded me of the apples my grandmother cooked for me. She didn’t talk, so I told her some stories. When I tried to sing some songs she reacted strangely, probably she didn’t enjoy my singing, so I stopped, afraid that she would fall to the floor screaming and tossing and turning to show me her disappointment.

Now I’m here, near my hotel. I don’t feel like doing anything. Well deserved relax. Mosquitos are at work. I don’t know if I’m going back to Madre Teresa Mission tomorrow too. I shall see how I wake up. Have a nice Saturday Night.