Sunday, January 23, 2011

Making a quilt and sailing the River Hooghly

Friday, our last day, was another busy one. We first went to Prayrona III where we were to do a project with the kids - some really little ones. In fact, Rosalie was a bit concerned that they would be so taken aback at the sight of all these big, white people (whom they seldom, if ever, see) that they would burst into tears. She had us bring candies and toys to soften them up, and by and large it worked. There were some quivering lower lips here and there, and a lot of apprehensive stares, but once they saw what we were going to do, they warmed up and had fun with it. The project was managed by our friend Sandy, who spent part of the week with us. We started with squares of white fabric, about 8" on a side, and glued a strip of rickrack across one end. Then we had the kids make thumb prints - little tiny thumb prints - in different colors and patterns on the square. We then used black sharpies to draw details on the colored thumbprints to make them into ladybugs, centipedes, birds, trees, and anything else we could think of. It was fun to watch recognition dawn on the kids' faces as the spots of color became identifiable bugs and plants. As a final Indian touch, we had the kids glue sequins onto the squares. The results were surprisingly good. Sandy collected all the squares and will sew them into seven quilts that she will take with her to the Scottish partner school that raises funding for the Prayrona schools. Sandy told me that she merely mentioned to some Indian acquaintances that she was going to sew all these squares together, and then next thing she knew, twenty women volunteered to help her. This kind of volunteering is contagious.
After we were finished and said our long goodbyes to the kids, who were by now smiling and reaching for our hands, I went outside to where the cars were waiting. Four teenage boys were playing carroms on a board set up on the sidewalk. This is a game my siblings and I played endlessly as kids. I exclaimed "carroms!" as I approached them, and they all paused and smiled that I knew the game. Then, in Calcuttan fashion, one of them stood aside and asked me if I wanted to play. Of course I did. I quickly felt sorry for my partner across the table, as my shooting skills have decayed dramatically since my prime carroming days. These guys had the moves - it's all in the finger flick. The other team cleaned my clock by running the board. It was all good fun.
We went to the house of the teacher, Champa, for lunch. She is a gracious host. She lives in a quiet (yes, really!) neighborhood of Kolkata in a beautiful, airy flat. The dining room is central, with bedrooms, kitchen, laundry porch and small shrine room off of it. On one of her balconies, she has a garden of potted flowers. It was nice, and interesting, to see this kind of home, after seeing homes in the bustee, which can be no more than 10' by 10' and house eight or ten people. Of course, there are palatial residences in the older colonial neighborhoods. One of these, which though still privately owned is partly open as a museum, is the Marble Palace, which we saw on the day of our city tour. A quick note on that: it is a large, marble house, with cavernous function rooms in two stories that enclose a central courtyard. It is in rather neglected condition. The owner, a wealthy potentate, assembled an eclectic collection of European and other art, none of it of particular note that I could determine. However, there are marble statuary, enormous cut-glass chandeliers, furniture, clocks - you name it. One of the interesting things is a grand piano, the first in Kolkata, according to our guide. Kira, Chelsea and Caitlin, going to use the facilities, ran across the owner of the house preparing to do her work-out, and had a conversation with her. She was very curious about them. But . . . back to our day.
After lunch, we headed with our drivers, the knucklehead brothers, to the ghat where we were to board a boat for a three-hour river tour. (A three-hour tour? Ring any bells?) After much stopping to scream questions at pedestrians, sidewalk shopkeepers, and anyone else with an opinion, and much arguing between them, the knuckleheads finally dropped us at the correct ghat, or landing, where the Minnow - no - I mean our boat was waiting. But we couldn't board right away, as they were shooting a scene from a movie on this dock. A crime drama, apparently, as the hero was dressed suavely in a suit and two heavies with guns were dressed in black. We didn't see much as we edged past them onto the boat, but after we set off I heard the pop pop of the guns as the cameras presumably rolled.
We were on the Hooghly River, a branch of the Ganges, that cuts along the edge of Kolkata on one side and Howrah on the other. It is quite wide, about 700 meters, and there are three bridges spanning it that we either cruised under or saw in the distance. The old Howrah bridge, which goes from the flower market on the Kolkata side to the Howrah rail station on the Howrah side, is a famous landmark of the city. Further down the river is a beautiful new span, with graceful suspension cables that suggest harp strings. We left at 3pm and cruised upriver for about an hour and a half. We passed the ashram that we visited last year and the Kali temple across the river. By now the sun was low in the sky, and the light was amazing. Tate showed me how to set my camera to get the most color out of the sunlight. I wish I had brought my longer lens to catch some more dramatic shots. I can't wait to see what she got with her new Nikon. We saw low fishing canoes, from which the fisherman drag seines for hilsa, a delicate fish commonly found on the menus of Bengali restaurants. We saw a power station that very much resembled Battersea in England, and the crumbling remains of former jute warehouses. There were one or two tall chimneys on defunct factories, with trees growing out the top. Ferries that went in our direction at this hour were loaded to the railings with people going home; those going back into the city were mostly empty. Our gang sat on the deck in front of the wheelhouse, taking it in and talking. Tate and I sat closer to the bow with our cameras - she was making good pictures while I was pointing an shooting. We got back just after dusk.
On our last night, we went to Fire and Ice, and Italian restaurant (of all things) and had a variety of pizzas, pastas and chicken dishes with a bottle of wine (Australian this time; we did drink an Indian cabernet/syrah blend at the Fairlawn party - not great, but as the French say, "you could drink it"). It was fun to spend our last dinner in Kolkata this way. Some of the kids went to have henna drawings done after dinner; I went to blog a little, and then back to soak in a little Fairlawn, all lit up with the colored lights.

1 comment:

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