Peace in the Neighborhood

We have peace in the neighborhood.  We have our new security guards.  The Dadas are quiet and we are back to our former polite and respectful behavior.  Maybe it will happen again, but of course in my persistent optimism I feel like the trouble is over.  In the quiet and not so quiet conflict I achieved two important goals.  I changed the security company in spite of the community agitation to prevent their transfer.  I also proved that the police would come if called.  When the police came they quieted the Dadas and said they would call everyone to the station to tell their "sides" but this never happened.  Everything went quiet instead.  I had more meetings with local officials and put the blame on my former security company who lost control of their guards leading to this agitation.  I am relieved.

Life goes on.  Two days ago, in the midst of all this I visited the State Archaeological Museum close by.  We visited there last year and it's a really beautiful quiet museum.  I have an idea to take the children out to one of the digs, so I went to discuss it.  My orphans love history.  It gives them a sense of rootedness.  So there I was, absorbed looking at First Century A.D. sculpture, an inner trip away from the neighborhood conflicts.  This has been my practice through many times of trouble, to once a day do something totally unrelated to the trouble, something that takes me away from the thoughts and emotions.  Looking at the model of a recently dug Buddhist Monetary, seeing the rooms of the students, the teachers, the common courtyard… a bit of travel away.  And yes, at some time we will visit the site.    I imagine some of our girls working at a dig.  They would be great at identifying artifact vs, stone as they rocked the strainers.


Today was a Bengali examination at school.  Seven girls went, including the home schooled (who are enrolled but who we teach at home).  The girls did exceptionally well, including the two being taught at home.  One of our girls is struggling so we will teach her at home for a while, and send one of the two home schooled back to school.  I love having that flexibility.  Last night was beautiful here as the girls read Bengali in preparation for the exam.  They each read out loud, making a hum of lyrical sounds through the house.  Bengali is a lyrical language.

I've made a lot of school changes for the children with disabilities, which I'll write about separately.  I'm actually trying to enter them into the government school that the big girls go to.  India in law has free education at primary level and must accept all children into the schools.  But that doesn't mean it will happen.

Things are quiet within Shishur Sevay too.  We seem to have a staff that gets along with each other and with me.  One of the massis is educated and so she has taken on more responsibility as an assistant teacher.  She also does well with the older girls in terms of discipline.  Other massis sometimes listen in to classes, which is also nice.  One of the night massis usually brings one of her two daughters with her.  On Sundays all staff has lunch, our main meal, and they can bring their children for the day.  Our girls love having the visitors — my little mothers all love taking care of them.


I am terribly behind on work.  The trouble was consuming.  For now it is over, and this feels very good.

I Feel Like Knitting

I feel like knitting.  I want to pretend I'm sitting in a quiet garden, no maybe on a beach, with quiet little waves lapping on the shore… my children playing…. I feel like knitting as I sit here at my computer.  In one room the children are learning math, learning to tell time, with words in Bengali and English.  Circles, little hands, big hands, numbers, appear on the chalkboard.

In the other room the little ones are sleeping, afternoon nap time, and some of the staff are napping too.  I love the sounds, the teaching; i love the faces of the little ones sleeping, so much at peace.  I love this home and these children and what we have together.

Outside the new guards sit and I hear their voices too… everything so mellow as we wait for the police to arrive.  The trouble has not gone away.  It has gotten worse, but maybe now after all this time the police will really show up.  Last week I met with the head of the local police and he promised to visit, set a time and all, and didn't come… Earlier today when the mob was gathered outside I called him again and he said he would send someone right away — maybe three hours ago.  In the meantime it has been awful, and maybe he won't even show.

Today my new security company started.  Immediately another political Dada came and this one I actually invited in to talk.  But maybe he will call a protest and block our road.  The issue is my changing the security company because the guards were now answering to the Dada's and not to me.  As I write, they are riding past our house on their bicycles, not part of the Dada's.


Few things have shocked me, but I am shocked by the absencee of any protection from the police or the political people.  I'm shocked as a woman (too many romantic movies) that when I call for help, when I make clear I am frightened, no one responds.  I try to identify what I am afraid of…  I am afraid of violence, and sexual violence.  I feel the anger.  I am alone, as are my twelve girls and our female staff.  One of the Dada's yelled at one of our teachers, 'You should walk with your head down."  They want me to walk with my head down, which actually I often do… but that's not the point.  I'm afraid they will invade our home.  The situation has become volatile.  Main Dada is not rational, even when he is sober.


I'm afraid because of how much this consumes of my time and energy.  I made a list of urgent things I had to do.  It's an important list involving our future, licenses, money, etc., but I have gotten to NONE of it today, or yesterday.  I blog because I have no yarn or knitting needles but this keeps my mind steady and passes the time as I wait for the police, who probably will not come.  It has been fifty minutes since they called and said half an hour.  I know that.  But still I can't get started on any work I have to do.


I used to knit a lot, at home, on airplanes, at meetings…. my last knitting was a pair of booties for the baby of the young woman who we thought was my daughter's birth sister… such tangled lies here.. she had the baby but I don't see them anymore.  That's another story altogether….

The local women gathered too, this time to make fun of me, to belittle me.  there is much jealousy about my girls, about how they live, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, and that they are being educated.


I interrupt my knitting/blogging to report that three police arrived, two in uniform and one detective I've met before when two kids ran from school and he is an angel!  I was so happy to see him, and he understood.  So, first, the police WILL come!!!  This is so incredibly meaningful.  He gave me his cell phone number.  I am relieved.  He tried to talk to the Dadas, and more screaming by the men and now a chorus of women.  He decided that we will all meet to discuss this at the police station in the next day or so.  He instructed the new security company to carry on as ordered by police.  I told him I'd talk but I wasn't changing companies.  He understood.  I found out he knew the political person who came, who is nephew to councilor.  I took the officer through Shishur Sevay and he met the kids.


So now I have no excuses not to get the work done that is waiting, but I'm exhausted.  I got a response.  I called for help and I got a response, not when I wanted it, but it came and that is wonderful.  It doesn't take much to put me back in my most optimistic frame of mind.  But I'm sad because I worked so hard to have a good relationship with our neighbors.  It's too big a divide, and they are obligated to be more angry than their men. They are given to screaming fights in the night, when instead of quiet it is more like bar brawls outside.

I cleaned out the electric shed where the guards kept their things.  I found a bag of condoms… I don't know what really went on here at night.  We once had a guard who locked us in and went for tea while we were still asleep in the early morning.  Our two guards (who still have jobs with their company) are still outside pacing, hanging out with the Dadas, giving evidence as to why I had to fire them.

Our physiotherapist has come and I hear Bornali squealing in happiness as her calipers are put on so she can stand.  My kids are so happy — me too.

Drunken Dadas at the Gates

Dada actually means brother in Bengali, older brother, as Didi is older sister.  But Dada is also the term for the men who rule over the neighborhoods.  Some rule by guns, others by political influence.  The two are linked.  It's been a long time since we had serious trouble with the Dadas.  I've paid a lot of protection money but I have refused to hire the people they want me to hire.  I paid extortion money just before the children came because the gov. official connected to us made it clear that we wouldn't get the kids if there was trouble.


Unknowlingly, I had hired the chief Dada as my building contractor for the renovations.  He and his men turned the house into a clubhouse of theirs and I had a major fight to get them out.  Then they wanted access to the home any time they wanted, even after the girls were here.  I've had threats against my life.  And I'm pretty much on my own in fighting them.  I've been told they own the police.  I don't know.  My single largest budget expense is security.  I may move to armed security which will cost even more.  I will also set up meetings with higher officials.


One of the dangers of having the Dadas living so close is that over time my security men become friends with them, and then cannot provide security I can trust.  Yesterday and then over the course of today I discovered that my two guards (two twelve hour shifts) we lying about how our pandal (the temporary temple for Saraswati Puja) got to be the insulation of a neighbor's ceiling.  We had put it together and decorated it and I'd planned to put it in our back garden for the kids to use as a playhouse.  Then I discovered it was gone, and then that it was the ceiling insulation of a neighbor's house.  The "big deal" of it was the evolving lies that made it clear I was not being told the truth.  I had three interpreters, teachers who speak English helping, so it was not a matter of translation.  One of the teachers came with me to the house of the neighbor to find out.  It's a great use for the woven and covered panels. The woman understood I was trying to find out how she got it….   Yes, this is how I spend my time…. but I have to know who I can trust and when my securit is lying.  In the process I also discovered they were faking the books of their times.  I called the boss and he said he had been remiss in not changing them earlier, as is policy.


I assume my guard let the Dadas know he might be moved and they came to his rescue and thus we had a screaming match at the gate.  Before I got outside, the girls had gone out and had heard one of the Dadas saying he would send me back to America, that I couldn't stay here.  So the girls were terrified and crying and I started yelling at the Dada for upsetting my girls and in the course he said he could do anything he wanted to me because he is Indian and I said the only way he was getting me out of here was by killing me and he said he could do what he wanted and no point to call the police because he owned them.  And I also threw in his stealing my money in the past and trying all this before and he accused me of misusing public money (really drunk and derranged) but I truly wanted to girls to see I was ready to fight him, and I did not back down. 


I made a call to the local councillor and he said he would come tomorrow and talk to them.  I called a couple of other people I thought would be helpful but they weren't.  I sat and talked with the kids about it all.  They are used to drunken men, or at least they were used to that in their lives.  We have talked about that before.  I laughed and made it clear I was fine, and that I was calling people because when men try to intimidate you, it's better to tell people, not to hide it, to fight back… not to slink away.


I will change the guards…. but I won't let them stay so long.  I used to have a hard time with getting guards, etc.  Our first security company (arranged for by a member of our Board) was a fake company.  If I have to bring in a new company I will… it's just draining.   I know what to do though.


Well, after all this trouble, now well after bedtime, Bijoy and his wife still here… I came up with the only logical solution.  I asked Bijoy if he felt safe going out (this was a joke) and suggested he bring back ice cream!  We had a great ice cream fest and I gave two pops to two of the local men still outside….  In the end the girls giggled about it all as we ate the ice cream and looked at pictures from a wedding reception we had all gone to yesterday.


I don't like this stuff.  I had started the day on a really happy note.  Yesterday I'd remembered a children's story I'd written in 1971, and realized the girls would love it… and I found it on my computer and read it, just a low key story from when I lived on a sailboat in the Bahamas and I wrote a story about two girls in a village not unlike villages here… and a kitten they found.  It's a peaceful story with about as much tension as I can manage to enjoy in a story, which is almost none.  It felt like I was living in this wonderful peaceful place.


The story, A Trip to Turtletown…. This is my Turtletown but today the harsh reality of violence, power, greed, anti foreigner, anti woman, came full force.  But that's why I'm here, creating a bit of Turtletown for my girls and teaching them how to be strong and careful in the face of drunken Dadas.

Tollygunge Circular Road

I travel Tollygunge Circular Road four times a day now.  It is the only way to get from Shishur Sevay in Sahapur to the school in Golf Green where the handicapped children now attend.  As with the earlier school, I will do drop off and pick up until all seems known to me, my staff, the school staff, and the kids.  (The kids are always the easiest.) We leave the Home at 8:15 to get the kids there before nine, and then to drop off our dyslexic child at her school, which is near the school for the handicapped.   We get home about ten.  AT 11:15 we start off again, to pick up the little ones, then the big girl, then home by one pm.


Tollygunge Circular Road is a two lane street, lined with sidewalk hawkers, and produce sellers.  It is a major thoroughfare so there are big trucks and buses squeezing through.  AT the other end of the Road is construction so before the major intersection traffic moves one lane at a time.minu The trip can take as little as 20 minutes or a long as and hour and a half. Sometimes I doze off.


Tollygunge Circular Road, its name reverberating in my head — a name from the past… Tollygunge Circular Road, the address where my younger daughter spent the first two months of her life.  I pass the building every day, four times a day.  India is where so many threads of my life come together.  I am here doing what I wrote of wanting to do when I was in High School, namely taking care of orphans.  I am here picking up the pieces of some of the people left behind.  In some odd way, as my Indian daughter has written, we have changed lives.  I am here taking care of business, some business left over from adoption lies.  I'm here because my children are here and I won't leave them, but my roots are actually deep.


An old haiku of mine:

In nature's order

A tree grows as its roots grow

Not from stretching truth.

February 2009
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