There’s a slum in India’s west Bengal region called Kolkata, where people despite facing the most wretched of circumstances look at the brighter side of life and feel that its worth living. They named this slum “City Of Joy” made popular by well-known book of the same name by author Dominique Lapierre based on true events.
Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), a home to 16 million is the capital of India’s West Bengal state. Founded as an East India Company trading post, it was India’s capital under the British Raj from 1773-1911. Today it’s known for its grand colonial architecture, and cultural festivals. It’s also home to Mother House, headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa, whose tomb is on site.
Kolkata really is the City Of Joy. This city has left an incredibly deep impression on the team and I who had the privilege to visit in October. This is not a popular city where tourists choose to go but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit. Here you see the full circle of life in all its magnificence and tragedy.
Our first impression of this city was upon leaving the airport well after 1am in the morning after our very long flight due to the connections. We travelled in silence in our two cabs after being met by Hope’s beautiful Gora, who was the go to person handling 100 people who like us had all jetted in to be at the annual Hope Foundation Day where the children from Hope Homes gifted us with a beautiful concert.
Gora was the man to handle all our operational issues. Poor Gora, so it became part of our vocabulary you need anything just ask Gora, including getting that much needed sim card which took almost 3 days to get. More about project SIM gate later. What struck all of us was the amount of people lying on the street sleeping, including young children. This was a humble awakening for us to be greeted by. We had all heard about people living on the streets but now we saw this firsthand, it all of a sudden became very real.
We were staying in the Tolly Gunge Country Club, a protected compound with its beautiful grounds and old somewhat dilapidated buildings with signs of the British colonialism every now and then. Outside the huge walls of the club were towering modern buildings showing the enormous contrast between the wealthy and poor. In fact on the top of the walls we noticed one morning, glass that had been placed there to stop the outside world venturing in. The week spent here was so we could be close to the heart of the Hope Foundation’s projects.
“No one would call crowded Kolkata a peaceful city, but it could teach the world a lot about tolerant coexistence.” – Liz Boulton, The guardian
Now back to project SIM gate. Sim gate was getting a local sim card for our phones. It required enormous patience, arranging strange meeting in little laneways, one of them was at night in almost dark conditions where we needed a passport photo, a letter signed by senior management at our hotel verifying where we were staying in Kolkata and this was even through the connections Gora had set up for us. We felt like we are asking for a fake passport. What we later discovered was that the bombs made to support the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008 were somehow connected to the mobiles using prepaid sim cards purchased in Kolkata.
Visiting Kolkata has been such a humbling and life changing experience.
And it is one of my goals this year to make this Christmas a very special one for our kids at HOPE.
So far we have raised just over 800 of the 1000 shoes. Lets get the extra 200 shoes needed and make this a very special Christmas for these kids; we can all make this difference so easily! To help us support The 1000 shoes for India campaign, please visit here
Watch some of the highlights captured by Gareth, our amazing photographer and videographer here
Until we meet again,