Farewell to Kolkata (for now)

This morning we lifted up out of the smog blanketting the city into a clear blue sky and headed east over Bangladesh to Tripura.  Leaving the city was a smooth operation, but involved some strong emotions; delight at seeing blue sky again, excitement about the next stage of the adventure, and a deep sadness for all we’re leaving behind, back under that blanket of grey.  Firstly for all our friends,especially the kiwi families we’ve visited with.  Our respect for you guys has grown by enormous leaps, as we’ve experienced for a week what you live with for years at a time – and we got it in the relatively comfortable ‘winter’ season, too.  It is weird to see people wearing scarves and jumpers as we’re soaking our t-shirts in sweat!  But the smoky air, the foul local water, the virulence of infections, and the sheer hard slog and long hours you put into your work all rob you of your health and vitality over time.  Only divine energy – being caught up in missio Dei – makes what you do possible at all!  Being around you was inspiring and enlightening.  You won’t be far from our thoughts in the months and years ahead.

Also, leaving behind the familiar faces around the city; the women of Freeset and Inner-logics, the staff of the BMS hostel, even the guards on the metro with their sub-machine guns and scowls, have all become familiar sights, and made their impression on us.  The ones I most regret leavng, though, are those with the least hope; the tiny women at the front gate of the hostel, sleeping amongst her two young boys and baby girl on the pavement each night, clutching at our arms for alms each day.  She, more than any, represents that city.  And my deep regret that before leaving, I had done nothing to change her situation.  Intellectually I know that no-one living so close to the Motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity is without help, but what was my responsibility?  How did I minister to Christ in her?  I have commented previously that the city reminded me forcibly of our time in south China, but though the occupations (including beggar), the attitudes, the activities, the climate, the traffic – were so familiar, the intensity and density of the poverty, almost unrelieved by major developments, was qualitatively different.  It has affected me differently.  It has changed me, and I can only hope for the better. 

Agartala is different; how different we don’t yet know.  The street stalls are larger, the traffic is thinner, and so far I’ve seen no-one begging.  Tomorrow some of us head into Brahminbaria to visit old friends, and some of us head into the hills for a Centenary celebration among the tribes there.  I doubt we’ll have internet, so when I next write, we’ll have a better idea of our new surroundings anyway.

Until then…

Roger

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