I’m still in India, somewhat hiding from the travel scene for a bit. I’m staying with friends who have hosted me each time I’ve been in India, at their home here in Kolkata. Amid the traffic, pollution, people and general craziness, their home is a loving refuge, and they’re a large part of how I came to hold so much love for this country.
Nine years ago I was doing research on coming here. I started talking to someone on a photography website about the area, and after much correspondence, he invited me to stay with his family when I arrived. He met me at the airport and brought me to their house, his wife fed me to the gills with delicious food, and his family welcomed me in, truly making the trip. They showed me around Kolkata and gave me a gradual immersion into the culture here. I now call them my Bengali family.
For the last five months I’ve been traipsing around India, mostly on my own. And while I will certainly remember the beautiful places and rich experiences here, it’s been the kindness of so many people like these that have kept me going. People who have temporarily “adopted” me; feeding me, looking out for me, giving me advice and generally taking me under their wing. Sometimes it was just simple honesty from a rare rickshaw driver who asked for a fair price instead of charging the tourist three times the going rate, or a local stepping in when the drivers weren’t so honest. Very often it was simple curiosity and being friendly towards a lone stranger in their midst.
All these things will not be forgotten, and I am very grateful.
Here in India there aren’t the usual Christmas cues that one gets in the west. It may be snowing up in the Himalayas, but certainly not here. Temperatures are low for Kolkata, but still practically balmy. I haven’t heard any Christmas music on the taxi radios, and have seen very few Christmas decorations.
But what I have received throughout the trip is more consistent with the meaning of the holiday season, which is good will, love and generosity of heart.
In that spirit, I have also been able to see the results of generosity given to others.
I first visited a school set up by my friend and others for disadvantaged children near Kolkata. The students, who might not have a chance otherwise, are being trained in regular school subjects as well as trades, and are given room and board also. My friend and his colleagues volunteer their time to teach these energetic young students, and it makes a great difference in the lives of the children.
I also was able to meet a child I’ve been sponsoring through Children International for the last few years. For about $1 a day, CI helps to provide tutoring and school fees for the children in their program, along with medical check-ups and some helpful gifts throughout the year. I’ve been slowly getting to know this girl through letters, but it was wonderful to see her shy smile in person, and to meet some of her family members. The day started with seeing the CI center, then visiting her house and meeting her family. We all went from there on a shopping trip at a local store, where her family was able to receive some household items and a toy for her. I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt so see them be able to get these things that we take for granted.