Friday morning at six

We are walking to school.  I am in the front, Seema in the back.  We no longer walk in line, except if there is traffic.  Rather we become two groups, some of the girls in the front with me, some behind with Seema.  It’s a process of natural seclection.  I am a fast walker, so the girls who walk fast are with me.  A chill has come in the mornings, but the girls are dressed as if it were late Fall in the Northeast USA.  They have red sweaters, red head scarves, and red leggings under their uniforms.  This is the custom now.  And our girls, who never had any uniforms before, are certain to put every possible accessory on, whatever the weather.  They love their uniforms.  some of them wake in the night and slip into the other room, dress for school, sweater, leggings, uniforms, scarves, and go back to sleep!

On this morning, as we are walking, we see just off to the side of us, at an intersection, two women and two children, boys about 7 or eight, climbing out of a fancy gray Tata Sumo.  We all stop, looking back transfixed…. the women look discheveled; the boys look weary.  I see one man get back into the car.  it all just looks bad.  Then the car passes us, with four well-dressed men grinning, grinning at us.  I learn later that the group in the back heard the woman protesting to the man, as he gave her money, "Is that all I get?"

For the rest of the way to school we talk about it, and the girls talk with Seema.  They all know what is going on.  They lived on the street.  We tell them this is why they are with us, so this doesn’t happen to them; this is why we educate them, so they do not live on the street; this is why we watch them all the time and don’t let them out of our sight.  One of the girls tells Seema that the night before she dreamed about her mother and cried all night.  "Is she safe? Is she hungry?"  Seema tells her, and all of them, that they must work to make their mothers proud, wherever they are, here or with the Gods.  She tells them that they will grow up to help other children like themselves, because they know how much pain there is.  Always she/we tell the girls they must make their parents proud.

A poem I wrote some years ago:

There are Cobwebs in my Heart

There are cobwebs in my heart

Where mama used to be,

A room preserved…

Frozen in the moment of her


The growing strands of thin floating filaments


From the corners of

Her room,

And gather over time to mark the emptiness.


An alter of love remains,

Built long ago to call for God,

— Just in case he was listening –

A dainty layette,

Delicately embroidered

White on white

Awaits the newborn,

Booties, hand sewn in some distant land,

Where women feed their own

Knitting for the children they’ll never know.

A lullaby plays, the needle jammed —

The cradle will fall.

The cobwebs soften the harsh notes of the broken music,

They blur the searing loss,

And comfort the dying infant

Like gentle shrouds of lingering memory.

Oh mama, if only you had stayed.

Cyclone Sidr veered off to the East

This is a revised post about Cyclone Sidr.  I didn’t get a chance to finish writing about the morning we woke to a clear sky, a light breeze, and no sign of the hurricane force winds we had been expecting.    We all had fun laughing at my preparations — but our moods changed over the course of the day, and then over the next several days as we learned about the devastation caused by Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh.  Kolkata was braced for the storm.  As of midnight, trains were still canceled.  Much of the Sunderbans was evacuated.  But then sometime after midnight, Sidr shifted East.

I grew up in the US when "atom bomb drills" were common in school, and when people built underground shelters stored with food and water.  Part of my childhood was spent on a farm, where we were often snowed in for days at a time.  So getting food in, making sure we had enough coal, closing windows and shutters against hurricanes, making sure the animals were safe — these are ingrained routines for me.

My preparations:

1. We brought in food supplies for a several days.  We had plenty of staples, but added vegetables, eggs, and bread — flexible foods.

2. We made sure we had enough kerosene for the generator in case electricity stopped.

3. Bijoy and I went hunting for warm clothes for little and big girls.  It was raining, and this was the day when local stores are closed.  But we found a lone hawker selling from under a tarpaulin, and bought him out.

4. We got out the wool blankets from last year.

5. Our building is part old, and part new.  I moved us to the newer part, 2 story and a very strong roof.  Most of the girls slept upstairs with massis.  I stayed downstairs with two of the little ones — Poomina needs her crib, and Ganga just wants to be with me.  The others are happier with the big girls.

6. I had staff stay overnight because in bad weather they couldn’t get here in the morning. 

7. Bijoy’s wife was sick at home so we brought her here so she wouldn’t be alone, without electricity or water when the storm hit.

8. I simply didn’t consider the possibility that the weather would be clear, with NO wind or rain this morning.  So I didn’t get up to wake girls, check, etc.  So, they missed school today.

I’d shown the girls the red colored cyclone on the map.  And I’d made all sorts of sounds to describe thunder and rain and wind… making them all laugh, but teaching about Bay of Bengal, and Bangladesh, and Kolkata…   We followed the weather map as late as 8 pm, and the cyclone was still coming our way.  Lowland villages and islands nearby were evacuated.  The next day we looked at where the cyclone had been…. It was all an experience in Time, Place, and Person — essentials of consciousness, and anchors to reality —

I slept so well knowing I’d prepared.  A few times I woke, aware of the LACK of sound of wind or rain, and fell back to sleep.  I slept right through what should have been the time to go to school, which of course was open.  I felt really stupid.

p.s. Cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons are more about where they are located geographically than about their properties.  This is my conclusion after Googling "hurricane vs cyclone."

Coming up for air

We are all fine.  We had a beautiful Diwali/Kali Puja/Lakshmi-Ganesh Puja.  I am consumed with work regarding our battle with the government.  I’m working around the clock to prepare a formal history of the difficulties and harassment.  We are still knocking on doors, still trying to find someone who will match their outrage with action on our behalf.

It’s exhausting and painful, painful because of the extent of the lies and betrayals.  None of this is about the children.  Everyone knows they are fine and that we are taking excellent care of them.  It is a warped and perverted game of control, in a system that perpetrates abuses of power.

But, we have the children.  That is what is most important.  They are with us instead of living in a government institution.  This is just ‘stuff’ we have to go through to keep them.

I love thinking about this blog, writing in my head, but until I get all this work done, I may not have the time to make the leap from thought to post.

Why Traveling Cloud

Traveling Cloud, a line from a poem I wrote — The name, the lines from the poem, comfort me in hard times, if only a reminder of hard times that have been, and hard times that are now, and will pass. as the others have.

Some days are hard and lonely.  Here is the poem:


If you came into my skin

It would take you a long time to

Get used to

All the trouble,

I am a rooting weed ,

A broken rock,

A traveling cloud

You cannot touch,

I am a bridge,

I am Jerusalem,

The Intefada,

The Holocaust,


Looking for Redemption,

To be in my skin is

To feel God,

Know Satan,

And make my birthday wish

For World Peace.



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November 2007
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