My Life in Themes

I experience my life in Themes… coexisting… sometimes seemingly contradictory, each also seemingly with a life and direction of its own. Periodically they converge, and then it seems as if all roads had been leading to this place and time.


*I am a mother.

Souls sang to her heart
The winds taking them afar
Her nestlings blossomed.

My nestlings blossomed, now fly on their own, forever bound to me and each other by love.  So, I went in search of the others, their souls still singing to my heart.  Today I mother thirteen orphan girls in Kolkata.  The four youngest are severely handicapped.  I hadn’t planned on handicapped children, but then who does? One day I had said to the Indian government, “Today I will take any children you give me.”  I love the children.  I am very happy.  To make a new nest I had to form a charitable society which we named Childlife Preserve: Shishur Sevay.  As a foreigner I couldnot be part of the Governing Body or even a member of the Society.  This is difficult.  Our nest is known as Shishur Sevay. 

* I am a white lady.

I am a rorshach, no single answer, but a projection by others of what my white skin means.  My white skin, for which i am not at all responsible, evokes admiration, jealousy, fear, anger, competitveness, mystery.. the unachievable, even with the skin lightening creams and lotions that flood the market.  My girls want to be white, like I am… but so do the women buying the whitening creams.  Lighter is better, a concept ingrained in everyday speech.  Now there is even a baby oil to make skin “glow” which in the illustrations means lighter and lighter each week of use.

* I am a doctor

I had wanted to be a doctor for as long as I could remember.  I also wanted to be a mother.  it seemed to me that doctoring was a form of mothering; that nurturing and healing came from the same energies, from the same center of my self that wanted to mother.”       From “A Woman in Residence” Random House 1982

I wrote “A Woman in Residence” when I was a single mother, and the first part-time resident in obstetrics and gynecology in the US.  I have worn many hats as a doctor.  I think about the mind, body, mothers and babies, cancer, fate, skills.  i think about capillaries and energy fields.

*I am a boss

I live at the home.  I employ caretakers, teachers, and other professionals to work with the children.  I do not enjoy being a boss.  I prefer people just do what i want without my having to act like a boss.  But that’s not how life is.  I am a tough boss, but I pay well. 

*I am a Spirit

The invitation
Offered a new assignment,
Move Heaven and Earth.

I am not sure what that means.  I am flesh and blood.  I cry.  But I take assignments from a God I talk with often.  I’m here in Kolkata “on assignment.”  I try to manage the assignment as I managed many of the jobs i have held, but for this I especially call on my learning in the corporate world.  I’m a Spirit with skills and experience in building infrastructure, marketing, and communication.  Some things I am able to achieve by sheer will (actually stubbornness).  Sometimes I fail, and grow stronger.

*I am a writer.

To create ideas
Clear the brush, and build the nests,
The Herons will sing.

It’s what I do.  As I think, I imagine the words written, and i hear them being read. When words do not come, I write about how to find them.  Souls sing to my heart, Herons sing from their nests, and crying children call to me in the night.

Gibi – Our Shared Dream

Shishur Sevay is a shared dream.  Gibi, aka Mrs. Jasvinder Kaur, will one day talk about her life, but for now I’ll say simply that she is a woman who retained her humanity through some terrible circumstances.  Gibi is committed to the care of orphans.  For several years she urged me to "do something of our own" but I was not ready.  And we had not defined what to do, whom to take care of, how to do it.  Over the last seven years, with her help, i had been sponsoring children in many schools around Kolkata.  I was here when Kolkata was Calcutta.  We also worked with orphanages which were really hostels, places where poor families put their children for education.

We are committed to the care of orphans because they have no spokespersons, no advocates.  They have lost their ties to family and community.  No one claims them as "mine."  They are mostly invisible.  Girls become absorbed into families as child servants.  Orphans who are found by police go into government institutions.  Younger children are adopted.  Our girls talk about being lined up so families could look at them for adoption.  "No one wanted us because we were too old.  They only take the young ones."  Well, Shishur Sevay takes the older ones, older being over five or six.  These girls are between about 7-12.  We don’t really know because the girls come without papers, histories — only what they remember, and those memories don’t include landmarks of age.

Gibi and her family live a few buildings away.  I used to stay with them until we opened.  We chose this home because it was so close.  From our roof I can see into the room where i used to stay.  I am mother to Gibi.  I am grandmother to her children, and i am mother in law to her husband, which is a very important role here.  We are all close.

At Shishur Sevay we are two mothers, "choto ma" (little mother) and "bhoro ma" big mother.   She is my succession planning.  She will run this place one day.  She loves the children, as i do.  In our different ways we understand their lives, their pain, their hopes, their rebellion, their losses, their mistrust, and their gratitude.  One of our "founding principles" is to have fun with our children, and we do.

If God (any God or Gods) were to appoint someone to make sure everyone in the world had food to eat, they should put Gibi in charge.  She cannot bear to see anyone hungry. 

Here Gibi serves as Vice-President of Childlife Preserve, and Superintendent of Shishur Sevay. Our children, and our staff, eat well.


July 2007
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