India 2005


Many people wonder why I choose to spend my summer in Calcutta. It is definitely no holiday resort. I sometimes find it difficult to explain what it is about the place which attracts me and so many others, so much. Imagine a place which greets you with a variety of colours from the most vibrant to the dullest, mixed with a combination of expressions on the faces of an excessive amount of people. Add that to all the possible sounds you can imagine and stir with smells which push you olfactory senses over the edge. 

Perhaps the most welcoming factor about Howrah station is the voices of children who loiter around the rail ways hoping for any little donation they can get from people who come from afar. The capturing faces of these children who have nothing and nevertheless seem like they have everything to smile about, makes the long and tiring trip all worth while.


This is just the beginning. The real ‘attraction’ in Calcutta, which only allows people to check out yet never lets them leave, are the white saris with blue stripes walking around the most gruesome streets painting a smile on the poorest of the poor – just like Mother Teresa wanted. Just forty minutes from the station by taxi, half of which are spent stuck in the chaos of cars all going the wrong way hooting their loud horns as if they are the only ones who have a right to pass, is Mother House - the heart of the Missionaries of Charity and a few minutes away is Shishu Bavaan – the heart of all those children who needed shelter and were given love instead. This is the house where I used to spend my days, attempting to give to the children something which I thought I had, something which they ended up giving me instead.

The house is divided into various sections and the amount of work done there is infinite. It plays the part of a dispensary - giving out medicines and treatments to all those in physical pain; an adoption centre - giving out opportunities to couples who long to home an orphan; and last but not least it excels in the part of a home full of love and affection which satisfies all basic and not so basic needs of the children who live there.

Every morning we used to walk to Shishi Bavaan with a craft prepared and a plan of how to make the morning hours more stimulating for the children there. Our aim was to occupy them, trying to give them that individual attention which they constantly thirst for. Together with this we also wanted to include some educational activities which would provide them with the requisites needed to start school.


The most rewarding part of my experience in Calcutta was watching the excited smiles of the children when we would present them with a craft, game or activity. The simplest thing would have them jump up for joy. We were like the Santa Claus they never heard about, presenting them with the greatest gift imaginable, when all we had in our bags was pieces of cut out papers and colours. To the children we had it all.   

One by one, we would give the children a chance to express themselves by singing, playing and engaging in exercises which stimulate their mind and body. We would start off with a sung prayer during which the children would make use of simple musical instruments to create a beat and sing to it. Following this we would allow the children to perform some exercises which help them practice their fine motor skills. The most capturing sceneries do not stand a chance against the sight of a child attempting to insert the end of a string in the hole of a wooden bead and smiling with satisfaction upon the completion of the great feat!   


Day after day the children rewarded us with their continuous improvement. Each day they would greet us with a clap we never heard before, a tune we longed to hear from their cute voices and a hug which we thought we were supposed to give. To top it all some of the children who had a number of physical and psychological difficulties, were accepted in school towards the end of our stay there and this was beyond any gift we ever imagined getting from Calcutta!                                                                                                                                                                                                                              


On the last day of my experience I went to mass before heading for the train station. Due to circumstances I ended up hearing mass at Shishu Bavaan in Bengali (the language spoken by most in Calcutta), as opposed to the mass I usually heard at Mother house in English. I thought I would understand nothing yet at the end of the mass I ended up understanding the reason for which I had travelled so far, made sacrificies and spent a summer in the most paradoxical city I can think of. As the mass reached its end just like my experience, and the children started making their way out, one little boy, Indra hesitated, looked back at me and walked towards me holding out his hand as if to say “Hey aren’t you coming with us?”. It was baffling to me how a two year old boy with whom I felt I could barely communicate with had realised I was leaving and wanted an explanation for it.

It is impressive how well we can communicate with children without realising and it is even more remarkable how children manage to express their love and appreciation much better than I could ever hope to do. On the last day of my stay in Calcutta I understood what I went there for. It was precisely for this moment. It was to learn that the ones I think are poor and needy are in many ways richer than I will ever be, and spending time with them helps me aspire to become rich in love and spirit. This is why I chose to spend my summer in Calcutta - to bring back some of the riches I found only there.