Mark’s February 2012 Kolkata Trip!

Mark will be visiting Child In Need Institute to determine how Goodness To Go can augment girl empowerment programs to help prevent their sale into Calcutta brothels.

November 30th, 2011|0 Comments|

Grace writes about Calcutta

Our daughter, Grace Shanti Sherman had the opportunity to share her account of her first visit back to Calcutta.  Her article, A Passage to Calcutta can be found in the Fall 2011 edition of Boulder County Kids.  It’s on pages 28-29.
She talks about the kids she met, what it was like to eat Indian food in India, and how it helps to have a book with you when you travel.  She also talks about kids things like pillow fights and bracelets that glow in the dark.
You can read Grace’s article online or, if you are in the Boulder area, pick up a free copy.

Have you been to Calcutta?
If so, we’d love to hear about your travels, especially if you are a kid or traveled with children.
What brought you to the region?  How was it different than where you live?  Also, we’d love to hear about any humanitarian activities your family participated in during your travels.

October 22nd, 2011|0 Comments|

We leave Kolkata at midnight

November 4, 2010
Calcutta Chaos/Frankfurt Efficiency/Boulder Beauty

“If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called Research.”

Albert Einstein

NO PAST.  NO FUTURE.  JUST NOW. printed on a T-shirt seen in Calcutta

Dear Friends,

Namaste.  Before 1 a.m., Mr. Maity delivered us to the Calcutta airport with plenty of time to check in, although the process is remarkably cumbersome and slow.  In a Happy Diwali card, we’d included a gratuity for Mr. Maity’s week of wonderful assistance and gave him, for his two young daughters, Grace’s last goodie bag which she’d decorated with a peace (shanti) sign.  During the ride to the airport, I asked Grace what was one thing she learned on this trip, and she replied, “That India smells.”  Soon she added, “It’s good to know that I can get used to the air pretty quickly, probably because I’m from here and lived the first five months of my life here.  It smells familiar… We are going home!  I just can’t wait!  Good bye!”

During an enjoyable overnight flight from Calcutta to Frankfurt, Grace said, “I’m glad we’re not in India anymore.”  We slept, ate high quality airline food (not an oxymoron on Lufthansa!), refreshed hands and face with warm moist towels, and watched several movies of our individual choice (including Salt andInception for me and The Last Airbender again for Grace)  Even Lufthansa’s economy class is good – although ironed white linen table cloths are not included with each meal!

As we made our way through security again in Germany, Grace’s cozy blue pull-over was lost, unfortunately.  We waited for several hours in this impeccable, silver and grey stainless steel airport, and I sat on the reflective speckled marble floor, trying to record a fraction of our final, intense days in India.  Somehow, […]

January 19th, 2011|1 Comment|

Last Day in Kolkata

November 3, 2010
Calcutta Farewell

Being here is wonderful.

Rainer Maria Rilke     Duineser Elegien VII, 39

“Freedom is a universe of possibility.  And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.” Gregory David Roberts

Dear Friends,

It has been a difficult journey on many levels to be able to say that being here in Calcutta is wonderful. With its staggering diversity and splendor, there are many places in Mother India with tremendous aesthetic appeal where it is relatively easy to experience that being here is wonderful. However, being in Calcutta has not been wonderful in the sense of sensory beauty or the lightness of being, at least not without changing the prescription of my glasses.  Alice’s wonderland did include disturbing, disorienting experiences that were nevertheless richly infused with wonder.  Challenging adventures matured her strength.

It is humbling to enter the chaos that is Calcutta.  Any illusion or addiction of “being in control” is shredded in its vortex.  Several months ago, a dear friend who has been volunteering her considerable skills with Goodness To Go gave me a book entitled Seven Life Lessons of Chaos – Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change. Within research on the change process, the scientific term “chaos” refers to an underlying interconnectedness that exists in apparently random events.  It’s been found that “systems that self-organize out of chaos survive only by staying open to a constant flow-thorough of energy and material.”  I am committed to being as open as I can be and to experiencing as much interconnectedness as I can in each moment.

There may be a paradoxical order to this seemingly unpredictable chaos. Contradictory names have characterized Calcutta as both the black hole of Calcutta and the city of joy.  Our hearts are challenged to open and hold its paradox.  […]

January 19th, 2011|1 Comment|

Day Seven in Kolkata

November 2, 2010
Child In Need Institute ( CINI) and Dr. Samir Chaudhuri

Do not regret growing old; it is a privilege denied to many.

(hanging on an office wall at CINI, embroidered by a U.K volunteer in 1985)

…my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

Calcutta’s Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore

Dear Friends,

Namaste.    America’s mid-term elections are today, and we’re thankful for the opportunity to have mailed in our ballots before flying to India.  You may want to skip the next few paragraphs if the Tea Party, roused by Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and funded by oil billionaire brothers who’d prefer to be completely “free” of most government services, is your cup of tea.  Taxes are the price of citizenship.  While many continue to trust that President Obama is a thoughtful, brilliant man of dignified integrity who assumed the “globe’s greatest office” at one of the worst possible times, it is obvious that the mood of many Americans is angry impatience.

I’m not a political analyst, but it seems that in such complex times, it’s too easy to simply blame or destructively distort.  Also, it’s alarming to realize the tens of millions of dollars that are made each year by many social and political commentators whose simplistic negativity seems fueled by cynical disrespect for the intelligence and basic goodness of human beings.  Perhaps it’s time for a great hiss in the sneering faces of the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world.

As a dual citizen of Canada and the United States visiting India, I am very grateful for the opportunity to be able to return soon to the clean and relatively safe state of Colorado.  I have great respect for the remarkable tenacity and democratic […]

January 19th, 2011|0 Comments|

Day Six in Kolkata

November 1, 2020
Calcutta Kids’ Slum and Apne Aap Women Worldwide

“There are no rules here.  We’re trying to accomplish something.” Thomas Edison

“Charity has no label, compassion no religion, wisdom no dogma, empathy no rules.”

Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching

Dear Friends,

Namaste and Happy All Saints’ Day!  In many ways, the depth and richness of this journey to India was made possible by Mark’s “hero’s journey” to Calcutta undertaken twenty months ago.  Kind-hearted and brave, Mark researched and met with the philanthropies to which we’re returning this week, and developed relationships that are deeply meaningful.  Mark is both gentle and tough.  Most “macho” men would be brought to their knees by Calcutta.  Mark is not as exhausted by this environment as I am, and can find his way through the chaotic maze of Calcutta, which in itself is remarkable!  With virtually no street signs in a city definitely not built on a grid, Mark knows where he is.  Even in Boulder, I need to refer to the mountains frequently to know which direction is west!

Mr. Das pads through the guesthouse on strong, small bare feet, and greets us every morning with a sweet smile and “Good Morning!”.  Today, Achito shared his sadness, as well.  He showed us a Hindi newspaper which had a front page story about more than 60 people drowning, including many children, when a crowded boat capsized on its way back across the river from visiting “a God place”.  A small color photograph showed a grief-stricken young mother holding her one remaining child; her husband and two other children had drowned in the tragic accident.  Haitians are dying in a cholera outbreak, and the earthquake and tsunami near Sumatra has killed hundreds more.  In […]

January 19th, 2011|0 Comments|

Day Five in Kolkata

October 31, 2010
The Mid-Point of our Calcutta Visit
In the end what matters most is

How well did you live

How well did you love

How well did you learn to let go.

Dear friends,

Happy Hallowed Eve!  It’s Sunday, and Kali puja decorations are going up everywhere in Calcutta.  On this  Sabbath, we did take more rest.  It seems that a  lingering legacy of having been a colony of Christian imperialistic England is that some people get Sunday off and so there’s less traffic congestion.  Awake early, Grace repeatedly had to be gently restrained from going upstairs to check if Dhruvi was ready to begin a morning of play.

We are so fortunate that Grace Shanti has fun, familiar entertainments, including movies and pillow fights, with a new friend that allow a reprieve from the distressing aspects of her first trip to India.  A break from the intensity seems to help Grace rebalance and gather her fortitude.  With unfamiliar adults, Dhruvi, who is also ten years old and about Grace’s size, presents herself as a reserved, soft-spoken girl.  Like many local children, she has this week off from school due to the Indian New Year Diwali celebrations.  Through Grace, I’ve learned that Dhruvi is often irritable with her family, gets tired of translating her parents’ fairly thick accent for Grace, and her play can include aggressive elbowing.

Mark went to see the colony kids, taking his binder with the neighborhood kids’ field note pages.  He wanted to record their names and birthdates under photos of each child whose photo he took during his visit last year.  Many don’t know their date of birth.  Mark also was invited inside several of the very small hovels and learned more about fourteen year old […]

January 19th, 2011|0 Comments|

Day Four in Kolkata

October 30, 2010
The Neighborhood Kids and Mrs. Roy’s Orphanage

Loving regard for the equality of all that lives is the true sign of a bodhisattva…(there is ) necessity for compassion, selfless service, and universal responsibility.

The Dalai Lama

Dear friends,

Namaste.  There are some differences that are making this visit to Calcutta, at times, somewhat less traumatizing visually, psychologically, and energetically.  What is most apparent to me is the near absence so far of maimed children begging; the film industry success of Slumdog Millionaire made those sorts of images more globally familiar.  Yesterday morning, Grace commented, “The Rescue Remedy lozenges help; they mellow your senses.”  (I’d been sharing this homeopathic remedy for stress with her throughout the day.)  A stay in India is not easy, and can be a wild ride.  Hopefully, our sensitive young daughter hasn’t been severely visually traumatized.   For the past ten years, frequent flashbacks of the wretched face of a woman beggar whose eye sockets were vacant, seemingly burned or gouged out, has haunted me.

There continue to be thousands of children in filthy rags picking through garbage, begging at car windows, and millions living and sleeping among trash heaps beside toxic streets.  Village girls as young as five have been sent to the cities to find employment, perhaps as maids or in brothels, and are often terribly abused.  As one practices loving regard for the equality of all that lives, heart can break open with the suffering it encounters.  Mind can try to avoid, ignore, or grey-wash the wretched external ugliness.  It may not be politically correct to use the word ugly. Mother India is ancient and rich in cultural diversity and spiritual wisdom.  Her peoples are beautiful, brilliant, resourceful, and resilient.  Although beauty may be in the eye […]

January 19th, 2011|0 Comments|

Day Three in Kolkata

October 29, 2010
Our Visit to Grace’s Birthplace in Diamond Harbour

Are you going to be a coal digger or a pearl diver?

(Mark’s question to Grace as we began the journey to her place of birth…)

Grace’s response, “It’s how I approach the day.  Yesterday, I was a coal miner…”

Dear Friends.

Namaskar.  This is the Bengali greeting which is translated as Namaste in Hindi.  Yesterday was our first full day in Kolkata and it was exhausting on many levels.  Grace’s moods and tears seemed to be painful mixtures of overwhelming sadness, anger, and attempts of an almost defensive indifference.  “I hate it here.  I want to go home,  It’s awful.  I want to go home, even if it means school.” At 10 p.m. last night, after Mr. Das escorted us to the nearby Domino’s pizza place that seemed safe enough for our Western digestive systems, Grace again said, “I don’t like it here.  It’s awful.  I just wish there was something familiar – like downtown Boulder.”

This morning, however, after more sleep and some reflective time talking with Mark, Grace was much more upbeat.  “We’ve been talking about some mistakes that people make about India.  One is trying to make sense of India.  Another is jumping into trying to help before you’ve gotten used to it.  You need to know where things are before you can know what’s needed.”  Grace is also very glad that she has a new ten year old girlfriend, Dhruvi Singh, living upstairs in this bed and breakfast.  The building  is owned by her maternal grandfather, Mr. Singh; five family members live together on the third floor, which has curtains instead of doors between the rooms.

Today held a rather epic adventure for our family.  After early morning chai […]

January 19th, 2011|0 Comments|

Day Two in Kolkata

October 28 2010
Neighborhood Walks and the Missionaries of Charity

Mr. Singh’s New Alipore B & B in West Bengal, India

Be the light that dispels the darkness…

(on a local billboard showing a flame of worship in preparation for the upcoming Hindi festival of lights, Diwali or Deepawali, which is their New Year’s celebration)

Dear Friends,

While I caught up on some sleep this morning, Grace and Mark went for short neighborhood walk about 8 a.m.   The Kwality Bookstore and photo developing lab that Mark visited twenty months ago when he travelled to Calcutta on his own were already open for business.  Grace chose a color comic book about Mother Teresa for me at the local gift and bookstore.  She also watched a man bow (pranaam) and offer money (dakshina) to a deity at a small, open-air place of worship.

Mr. Das cooked their breakfast of scrambled eggs, chai, and toast.  Grace especially likes the strawberry jam because it tasted like bubblegum to her.  The guest house owner, Mr. Singh, appeared briefly from his residence upstairs.  He’s lost a lot of weight since our visit ten years ago, and mentioned that he’d been sick.  I’d learned from Dr. Sen that Mr. Singh, a former hotelier, had received cardiac bypass surgery recently.  Many families who adopted children from the International Mission of Hope (IMH) orphanage where Dr. Sen worked have stayed at Mr. Singh’s guesthouse over the years.  When the director of IMH, Sunil Prakash, left after a quarter of a century of service, this fine orphanage that cared for our daughter for her first five months closed down.

When I finally got up (sleeping medication can be a very good thing!), I opened the door to the other room that we’ve […]

January 19th, 2011|1 Comment|