|Day 7 Murshidabad and Baranagar
The Face of Hope
We saw a different face of rural India today. Still some of the same things we’ve seen in other villages—poverty, poor living conditions, questionable food safety issues. But this time, we saw it all through the eyes of some of the children we met there.
We met Subodeep shortly after we entered the village. Ten years old with deep brown eyes, a shock of dark hair, and a confident smile, he and several of his friends followed us for a while and proudly tried out the hand full of English words they knew. No surprise that the first words in our conversation were “Apple phone” as he pointed to John’s hand. We learned that he is an only child and wants to be a doctor when he grows up. He and his friends kept up with our group for a while, giving us flowers they had picked or showing us little trinkets they were hoping we might buy. They loved having their picture taken with us and nothing about Subodeep or his friends gave even a hint that their dreams were deterred by their circumstance.
Our next big dose of hope came from a visit to a school started by a local village boy. Sumin had mentioned the story earlier about how he met a young boy in this village many years ago while giving a tour, and the kid stopped him to tell him that his dream was to learn English. Sumin was so touched by that conversation that he personally funded the young boy to get an education. The young man, now twenty-five, has taught English to about 300 village children at this point. They meet in a small classroom and have limited books and resources but endless motivation. The school enrollment has outgrown their meager room, and a new school is being built next door. It’s very near completion but just short of the final thousand dollars needed to finish it.
Our tour group chatted with the students encouraging their efforts to practice their English. Most of the conversations went very well, but I am a little worried about the young female student who asked Eileen where her husband was. That poor young woman is probably still scouring her English vocabulary books to understand where she went wrong to get the answer, “I have a wife.”
After visiting a couple more 18th century brick temples with stunning examples of Bengal terra cotta art, we said our goodbyes to our new friends of Baranagar and headed back to the boat for lunch before an afternoon excursion to Murshidabad.
Just to round out our repertoire of Indian modes of transportation beyond a tuk tuk and a rickshaw, John and I jumped in the back of a four person horse drawn cart. It was described as a “scenic ride” but who had time to look while hanging on for dear life every time the driver announced, “Speed bump.” We actually did enjoy it but wouldn’t want to take a long trip that way.
We visited the Katra Mosque with its unique minarets, and the Hazarduari Palace built in the Greek Doric style by a Scottish architect. Filled with colonial-era antiques, artwork and manuscripts, it also boasts more than a thousand real and false doors in its vast corridors. We stopped at the Imambara (pilgrimage center) across from the Palace where lots of local tourists stopped our group with smiles and requests to take pictures together. They were especially intrigued with tall, white men in our group, but Eileen and Cindy were also big hits on the “can I take a picture with you” circuit.
If you thought an Indian clothing demonstration was big hit with this crowd, you should have seen us shopping for kurtas (a long loose shirt worn by men and women.) As usual, John thought we “needed” to buy one for each of us, but I was having trouble picturing us wearing them on the Thea Foss Esplanade back home. I got over it when I found out that an entire ensemble of kurta and pants cost about $7.50 per person, and as usual for me, I couldn’t pass up a bargain.
The staff working behind the counter waited on customers one at a time and determined the right size just by looking at us. We told our guy that John wanted blue and I wanted orange, and the rest is history.
We returned to the boat for social hour and dinner, and that night Brand g collected $1,100 from our group to donate to the school we had visited earlier that day. It was enough to help them finish their school, and hopefully, enough to keep their hope and dreams alive, at least for now.