The Question of Names and Pictures

So, here is the dilemma I struggle with…. the use of names (easily changed as I’ve done so far) and pictures — which I haven’t used so far.  I still don’t have a clear answer for myself after months and months.  The tensions I feel are between privacy for the children, v. the danger of invisibility.  The same questions come up over the website, which is currently stalled as "Under Construction."

I am generally opposed to the use of any children’s pictures online.  So, I use the measure of, "would I put pictures of my two daughters online?"  The answer is no.  In fact, I leave their names out too.  It is for them to identify with what I write, if they so choose.  So why would I use a different standard for my children here?   

Well, I know my readers are interested.  But in a way, so what?  Before photography we wrote stories with no pictures, stories about people that moved us, to feel their presence, to feel we knew them.  As I will write more about the children — coming out of a period of self-absorption regarding the legal problems — I must write in ways that serve to connect them with the reader.

ON THE OTHER HAND — when I am feeling frightened about the government trying to close us, and trying to put the children back into a prison-like institution, then I think, "These children don’t have the privilege of privacy, because their lives and futures depend on people identifying with them and caring about them."  A picture is a wonderful way of making that connection, of making the children real.  My mind is constantly busy.

Orphans are invisible — but then again, I am giving them voice — a non-illustrated voice.

What about the web page?  Why do I want a website?  We need a website for a certain level of credibility (in perception) and so we can be found easily.  We want a website because we are learning so much about care of the children and especially educating them.  We are proud of what we are doing.  We need a website for gathering support from others interested in the welfare of orphans.  Money is not a critical issue.  I’ve written over and over, "I am an anxious mother."  As such, I could not have started with without enough money to raise these children.  I hadn’t counted on the children with handicaps, but we will manage, and I know many people want to help.  This is why we are small.  At some point, if we want to expand, we will need funds.  But my fantasy anyway is that we will have a wonderful and effective model of care, and others will follow. 

The question I ask myself over and over, to counter my impulse to show off how beautiful they are, is, "How will putting up their pictures benefit the children?"   I don’t have an affirmative to that right now.  For the present, I think we are safe.  Right now the children have everything they need.  They are secure, healthy, being educated intensively, and in a quiet way, just being kids. 

Then again…..  and I go round and round.

4 December 2007 – an “average” day

A quick rundown of an ordinary day…………..

Up at 4:30 to get kids ready for school.  One massi is usually on duty for the night.  We do this together.  Ganga wakes when i do, and chirps a sort of "chirp-humph" louder and louder until I pick her up.  As soon as others are up she is happy to go with her Didis to watch them get dressed.  The girls do a pretty good job of getting themselves into uniform — after our hard work of getting them up.  They love their winter uniforms and by the time of breakfast they are in uniform, leggings, scarves, socks, gloves — all of it.   Shoes stay outside.  I shower and dress while they eat breakfast.  By 6:10 we are out the door.  It used to be 6:am but because of "winter" the time is shifted ten minutes.  This morning we also took Ganga with us in the stroller. 

I love the mornings, the walk to school — saying hello to head teacher.  i used to be intimidated by her, seemed I was always "getting it wrong" but now we are comfortable with each other.  last week I was made President of the Mother-Teacher’s Association, the Indian form of the PTA. 


(Now the next day)

The above is as far as I got last night when I got a phone call about a meeting today, and then made a call to find out yet another avenue, and it seems some meetings on the part of people trying to help are happening today (the 5th) so I was VERY tense.  I’m getting better though.  I slept, interrupted by a sick baby who needed medicine, but then slept the rest of the night.  All of this is what my ORDINARY life is like here. I have constant interruptions, caused primarily by my always being underfoot, or rather at the computer which is the "everything" room.  So I laugh at myself when I get irritated at being interrupted.

Also yesterday:

1. A teacher called Gibi to say she wasn’t coming back.  This was a total surprise, and it looks like she is going through some major personal crisis that no one seems to know much about.  So, we will look for another teacher.  Our Special Ed teacher will also fill in.

2. The washing machine takes two hours for a one hour cycle.  The repair man came.  The problem is the water pressure, so we will move the machine down to the first floor today, and put it in the outside bathroom.

3. I posted a blog about the politics here, which affects me a lot — on my mind a lot.  I’m actually writing a lot about my early life… and politics, and trying to decide what to put on the blog.  I know I have to learn how to categorize blog subjects or an index but i don’t have time.

4. I talked on the phone with my older daughter.  It was her birthday in the US and we had sent her flowers.  She works late and calls me from the car on her way home.  We talk several times a week.  I was a single mother, so the phone was always a big part of communication when I wasn’t home.  It still is.

5. I chatted online with my younger daughter in the US.  She works at night, which is day here, so when she has down time, we chat.  It’s funny.  I love her night job. 

6. A homeopathic doctor came to see the handicapped children.  He is evaluating each one, and giving us medicine.  This doctor has taken care of me in my migraines, for which allopathic medicine has little to offer.  Maybe he can help with the spasticity of the handicapped children…. I do use antibiotics for infections, probably I over-use them.  But remember, I’m an anxious mother before I’m a doctor.

In between all this I talk to kids, check exam results for a list, sign exam books, buy fruit from the fruit man who comes each day.  Vegetables I buy in the morning on my way home from school.  I give hugs and scoldings throughout the day.

And i worry, and wonder how to make my "nerves of steel" even harder, how not to worry, how to "let go" at times because others are working on this too.  My eating is OK, but I do not exercise, which upsets me, but I haven’t figured out what to do. 

So now it’s the end of the 5th December, and this average day was similar.  We had a meeting with the local councilor. I put together more files. The two other meetings planned for today were canceled because of schedule conflicts… (so I wait and try to be patient).   The plumber came and we moved the washing machine downstairs.  A former staff person came to visit.  This wasn’t the right job for her here, but she has found a really good job, and I’m happy and relieved. 

As I write now the time is 8 pm, and the night massi has just arrived.  The younger children have been fed and are watching Damu, the Bengali movie about a father who wants to find an elephant for his daughter.  The older girls have just come downstairs from Spoken English class and are eating supper.  Then three girls will clean and wash the classroom and stairs; three others will clean up the kitchen and the downstairs floors.  The remaining three did the lunch clean up.  Then they will all shower and change into night clothes and begin the slow process of going to bed.


Kolkata was burning last week

I have so little time to blog… though I want to a lot.  So I’ll try to make this short so I can finish it and send it… and maybe add pieces later.

Yesterday’s The Sunday Statesman had three articles on the editorial pages, each one having a lot of meaning for me.

The Dual Danger, part 1 by Sandeep Pandey.  I know of Pandey because he was the founder of Asha for Education in the US, a volunteer organization of mostly NRI’s with a commitment to education in India.  I’ve been a part of ASHA for several years.  He writes of seeing a "face of Left fascism" in the operation of the current government.  For me, having grown up in the era of McCarthyism in the US, the spying on individuals, the persecution of communists, Leftists, and the general atmosphere of fear — "Loyalty Oaths" as entrapments – these are familiar but ominous.

On the next editorial page, the headline read, "CPM’s parallel Governance" which proposes there is a "government inside a government" that is actually ruling in West Bengal.  This is exactly what we are discovering as we try to make our way through this nightmare over the licensing and the security of our children.

The last of the three is "Taslima and the Bengali Literati" questioning why the "intelligentsia" of Kolkata were silent when she was hounded out of Kolkata by fundamentalist mobs whose "sentiments she hurt" by writing about women in Islam.  The intelligentsia were not the only silent ones.  In fact, even the liberal left caved in to the mob violence.  That was what upset me most, that people in the government who I assumed would protect her instead conspired for her removal.  She was spirited out of Kolkata by the "government within the government" which was the theme of the first of these three articles.

Well, this is the political atmosphere of my life in Kolkata.  One would think we were removed from all this, but the politics and alliances carry down to the smallest units of governance.  If we had simply gotten our license, and then the renewal, all this would be of interest, but would not feel so critical or relevant to my life.

I am reminded also of Academia in the US and what can happen to Ph.D candidates if they find themselves with a recalcitrant or hostile or jealous adviser.  Their degrees and careers can literally be ended; the truth will be buried under the guise of "non-interference" which is a way of everyone else avoiding responsibility.

Saturday evening Gibi and I passed a small group of women demonstrating on behalf of Taslima Nasreen.  They were standing as a group on the corner of Rash Behari and Gariahat Aves, only partly blocking traffic.  We parked the car and went back just to say hello.  They invited us to join the demonstration.  I said I couldn’t as we were on our way to meet someone.  But I can’t be in a demonstration.  I am vulnerable myself.  My children are vulnerable. 

Three recent major events have shaken the surface calm of Kolkata:  1. the police complicity in the death of a Muslim man married to a Hindu woman, each educated and professional.  For this the city banded together across religions.  2. the second is the CPM (socialist party) murder of farmers in Nandigram who were fighting to protect their land from forced seizure for industrialization.  This resulted in splits across political parties, but with general non-sectarian alliances in support of the farmers. 3. Taslima Nasreen, exiled Bangladeshi writer, who has been living in Kolkata.  A fundamentalist group was able to stir the passions of some Muslim groups, and this created a split along religious lines and boosted the power of those committed to violence in the name of religion.

In the end, and in a very reductionist way, we have a city torn by police and government brutality, but the only issue that can be "safely" raised is persecution of a woman for what she wrote.  Murder is less crime than truth.  For this, Kolkata was burning last week, to punish the truth.

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December 2007
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