Tag: Calcutta

India in Detail

As I write this, I’m on a plane heading to India, where I will be working for the next couple of weeks. Since I will likely be too busy to post to my blog, I’ve scheduled this post to keep you, and my blog, company while I am away.  Enjoy.

India is incredibly photogenic, however, this is not a post where you’re going to find scenic postcard shots of the Taj Mahal or crowded market scenes.  Rather, I’m going to focus on a few ingredients, a few details, and present them together to give you a taste of… the full flavor….of India.

When I enjoy an Indian meal, I take no spice for granted. I taste every one of them.  It’s like a full-blown symphony plays in my mouth, and each instrument gets a solo at some point during the show.  I become captivated with guessing…”what is that hint of something…that flavor which I would not have expected…”.  I savor it, and appreciate that the dish would be incomplete without it.

The same may be exemplified with a traditional Indian textile:

Each bit is an abstract part that makes up the whole fabric.  Look close and discover various stitches, colors, textures, patterns, and even some mirrors!  As with Indian cuisine, many layers of flavors and spices (scraps and threads) come together to form the perfect masala (or bedspread, in this example).  And there’s always a bit of the unexpected in all of it.

The whole of India is like that, too. 

I’ve scoured the cupboards of my India photo archives to toss together some flavorful ingredients, many of which have never before been published, and present to you a recipe for my visual “Masala of India.”

Incarnations of Vishnu (Khajuraho)

Indian Textiles (Jaipur)

 Mosaic Inlay (Agra)

 Clay Sculpture Faces (Calcutta)

Waters of the Ganges (Varanasi)

Marigolds (Calcutta)

Carved Erotic Temples (Khajuraho)


Carved Floral Relief (Taj Mahal, Agra)

Himalayan Berries (Darjeeling)

Astronomical Map (Observatory, Jaipur)

Ceramic Tiles (Delhi)

Marble Lattice (Amber Palace)

Rounded Stucco Corner (Agra)

Floral Garlands (Calcutta)

Indian Tea Leaves (Darjeeling)

Mix well,  and add enlightenment as needed!

You may also enjoy these related posts on India:


Calcutta the Beautiful

Published in the Rough Guide to India

A Taste of Darjeeling

Gallery of India Images

Reading with Purpose

 Earlier this year, I had a very powerful experience that has stayed with me, and the story of which ties in beautifully with the focus of this year’s Passports With Purpose fundraiser.

It all happened in Calcutta, India, when I went to Mother Teresa’s Ashram.  No words can describe the overwhelming emotional impact of visiting not only the Ashram itself, but the nearby orphanage established by Mother Teresa.  In her words, it is a refuge for…

“The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” — Mother Teresa
 
Before entering the orphanage, the nuns laid out one simple rule:  “please don’t pick them up.”

I stepped into a room where knee-high children with big brown eyes surrounded me, reaching their arms up to me, longing desperately to be held and carried.  This was tough. I wanted to hold them, to touch them, to love them, to let them know they were loved.  I wanted to smother them with affection and motherly care. I wanted to embrace them.  But I could not pick them up!

How was I going to engage with them? What could I do to connect without attachment?

I stood dazed and numb for a moment, towering over them. Then, one child came forward with something in his hand. It was a book.

From his hand to mine, a book. 

I looked over at the nuns were sitting on the only bench in the room.  They did not move to make room for me; so, taking the book from the child’s hand, I sat down on the floor right where I stood.  The kids climbed onto my lap and leaned over my shoulders and touched my hair and watched my face as I was able to engage and connect with them without ever picking one up. The nuns lost sight of me as I was engulfed in a sea of curious children, and there in my hand, a book.

This was an undertaking not for the weak of heart, and all I could think about was finding my strength in compassion and focusing on the power of love. Pure love. The Mother Teresa kind of love – love for all, and attachment to none. Because I was so moved by the emotional investment these children placed in me when I sat amongst them, I had to focus that love on one thing. The book.

Fortunately, it was a basic board book, with only one word on each page.  BALL. CAR. BOY. GIRL. And so on.

I read each page as if I were reading a love letter. With each word, there was a little drawing to illustrate it, but when I read the word, there was only meaning. LOVE.  Word by word, page by page, I read, and the children listened. I read, and the children watched. I read…and the children felt loved.

I somehow made it out without adopting a dozen children – although not without shedding a dozen tears. Photography was not permitted in the orphanage and I would have left the camera anyway.  These children just wanted to be loved. And read to.

So there I found my own little room to read on the floor of an orphanage in Calcutta.  At that moment more than any other in my life, I realized the incredible power of the gift of reading. 

By sharing my story, I hope that you will be inspired to share the gift of reading wherever you are, and wherever you go, in your travels and in life. To that end, please join me in the annual Passports With Purpose travel blogger fundraiser, kicking off on November 30.  The goal is to build two libraries in Zambia. 

Where to start? Keep reading! Check out these 2011 blogger participants who use their gift of writing so that others may know the gift of reading. Be inspired by words, and purposeful in action. Let’s do this!

Calcutta the Beautiful

When you think Calcutta, do you think slums, poverty and filth? Or do you imagine art, joy and beauty? A visitor to Calcutta will see what they want to see, but the camera never lies. It’s all there. Open your eyes.

              
Children of Calcutta

Upon landing by air in Calcutta, I couldn’t help but notice the lush green surroundings – a rather surprising twist on my preconceived image of a sprawling, polluted, crowded city in West Bengal.  I was whisked away by a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle to the luxuriously comfortable and air-conditioned Taj Bengal, where I looked out over a green landscape dotted with purple bougainvillea and bright red flame trees. I was further enchanted by lovely tweeting birds nesting in the plants of the window box.  I grabbed a few quick shots with my iphone….

…before pulling out my camera gear to charge batteries, change memory cards, wipe lenses, and do all that not-so-glamorous maintenance work of a travel photographer.

So this is Calcutta. Through the window….it looks like a beautiful dream.

While it’s certainly more comfortable to sit in an air-conditioned room or vehicle watching everything from behind the glass, you’ll barely scratch the surface.  And it’s easy to be bothered by the heat, groaning every time you step out into it and focusing only on how uncomfortable you are. I’ve seen it happen, I’ve watched, and listened to, others do this. Three words: Get over it. The people of Calcutta live in this heat every day, with no A/C in their homes, cars or rickshaws. Your body will acclimate, you’ll adjust, and you’ll be glad you made the effort to accept it and immerse yourself into everything that is Calcutta.

Once you’ve successfully crossed over into the realm of being completely at one with the hot sticky humid environment of Calcutta, you’re home free. You’re no longer just a visitor…. you’re a part of life….

The afternoon was dedicated to visiting the “must-see” of this off-the-beaten-tourist-track city, Mother Teresa’s Ashram.  No words can describe the overwhelming emotion of visiting not only the Ashram itself, but the nearby orphanage established by Mother Teresa.  In her words, it is a refuge for…

“The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” — Mother Teresa
 
To step into a room where knee-high children with big brown eyes hold their arms up to you, longing desperately to be held and carried, and to be told “please don’t pick them up” was a real test of my maternal heartstrings. But I found an agreeable compromise by sitting on the floor to read a book while the kids climbed onto my lap and leaned over my shoulders and watched my face as I was able to engage and love them without too much emotional bonding.  This was an undertaking not for the weak of heart, and all I could think about was finding my strength in compassion and focusing on the power of love. Pure love. The Mother Teresa kind of love – love for all, and attachment to none. I somehow made it out without adopting a dozen children – although not without shedding a dozen tears. Photography was not permitted in the orphanage and I would have left the camera anyway. Some things are to be experienced with only the widest aperture of heart, not lens.

The next day, Calcutta revealed even more beauty than I could ever have imagined, with a visit to the Calcutta Flower Market on the banks of the Hooghly River.  I always make a point of visiting local markets wherever I travel, for purposes of both cultural immersion and photographic opportunities.  To simply walk through snapping pictures does not the experience make – the photographer must engage all the senses, listening and smelling and touching, in order to capture the image that tells the story.

I’m not so sure I succeeded in just one shot, and I really wish cameras were equipped with a scent-mic, in order to record smell.  Sound, however, can be shared in a video clip, which also gives a good sense of the pace of activity in the flower market.

Now, what the video doesn’t show, and the camera can’t really capture, is the temperature. It’s hot. The outdoor temperature is in the upper 90’s (and it’s early).  As if the heat in itself weren’t enough, it’s humid too. Like, candle-wax-dripping-wet humid. Now imagine that heat and humidity while under tarps in a crowded space, where you can’t walk more than a few steps without brushing, or being brushed by, a hot sticky body of someone else. And there’s your sense of touch put into words.

Still with me? Good. I spent way more time exploring this market than I had anticipated, and I savor every moment of that experience. The hustle, the bustle, the voices, the sounds, the scents, the odors, the feel, the life…..oh, the life.  At times it was like walking through someone’s hot tired breath, but with wafts of freesia and roses.  I was fascinated by vendors who spent hours of their market day just sorting and picking through flowers – imagine, doing that for your living.  Working with flowers, nature’s beauty, and never taking a single one for granted.

                                Calcutta Flower Market – Images by Kymri Wilt

As it turns out, there are flowers and art everywhere in Calcutta, sometimes obvious, other times, not so obvious.  Here, a streetside tattoo artist creates flower tattoos on the arms of a young man, which are then dusted in bee pollen to prevent infection.

A trip to the northern quarter of the city called Kumartuli, also known as the potter’s village, revealed more arts and more body parts. Here sculptors and artisans work to create clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses, for use in shrines and festivals all over India…and the world.

               

So now, if the thought of Calcutta conjures up images of joy, beauty, and art, then I have succeeded in shedding light on this amazing and wondrous city of India… with my images, with my words, and with my heart and lens wide open.  Namaste.

View more:

Calcutta Flower Market Gallery

 India Image Gallery

Favorite Guidebook for India

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