Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Whirl of Kolkata

We have been so busy over the last few days that no one has had a chance to get down the street to the internet cafe to write. And it has been so intense an experience that I have to sit and think a minute about what we did on each day. So, in (somewhat) brief . . .
Monday we visited one ot the Prayrona schools where there is vocational training for young women. The group who met us were between 14 and 15 years old. They greeted us with a daub of dye on our foreheads, and a namaste. We were paired up with the girls, and the task for the visit was to make a small bag - a simple design with a foldover flap that is closed with a snap. The fabric was already cut, and the interior piece was chain-stitched with our names and those of the girls. The girl I worked with is named Rani, which means Queen. The idea was that the girls would stitch the first seam or two, and then we would stitch some, and so on. Rani and I laid out the pieces of material, and I drew some guide lines for us to follow with our stitches. She started, and did the first two seams. The it was my turn. It was a simple stitch. I figured I could rattle right through it. Rani held the material tight to make it easier for me. Well, I am not a seamstress. On my first stitch I pushed the needle through the cloth and, apparently, into Rani's finger. At least I think that's why she yanked her hand back. After two more painstaking stitches, she took the thing out of my hands and resumed her work. It turned out very well. I was a little afraid that she was getting tired of my ineptitude, but she was thrilled when it was done, and smiled ear to ear at how pleased I was with it. (I will post a picture of the two of us - forgot to bring my SD card with me to the cafe). We all finished our bags and posed for pictures, and then the most amazing thing happened. The girls, it seems, also perform plays and skits. With almost no prodding, they got up and acted out a little play for us, a comedy. Even though we couldn't understand a word, we could tell when a comic character would appear, and they laughed and giggled along with the rest of the girls who watched. They also danced for us. It is remarkable how self-confident these girls are, particularly in this culture where girls are expected to work. From sewing school they will go on to learn tailoring, so they can design and make clothes. Rosalie says that they are being taught to be self-reliant, and we could see it in everything they did while we were there. In Indian fashion, it took as long to say goodbye as it did to do the sewing, but I was rewarded with a big hug from Rani.
On Tuesday, we went to the village of Kharmagachi, about a two and a half hour, hair-raising drive from Kolkata. Through the city, then its outskirts, then through acres of cement factories and steel factories, and finally into flat countryside planted with mustard, we drove over potholed roads, playing chicken with oncoming traffic with every car, truck, pedicar and bicycle we passed. And our drivers felt that no car on the road should remain un-passed. At one point we stopped at a railroad crossing. Stay in line? Not on your life. On either side of the tracks, behind the crossing gates, the cars and trucks lined up like the linemen on a football field. When the gates lifted, it was nose to nose vehicles. But in some kind of well-understood ballet, the drivers pushed their way around each other, and we were on our way. Every kind of transportation seems to work that way here, from driving to walking down a sidewalk. There are just so many people! Everywhere!
[More to come . . . have to get ready for a memorial service for someone we knew from the Fairlawn, the artist Norman Douglas Hutchinson, who died last June. His widow Gloria has asked us to attend, at the Old Mission Church, on Dalhousie Square.]

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