Thursday, March 20, 2014

Holi in Kolkata and More

The Holi Festival in simple terms is a celebration of good over evil. Depending on who you ask you'll get different answers of who is who because the history and meaning has evolved over time. For me, it was a hectic morning parade with live drumming, photographers galore, men spraying water from their rooftops, kids using squirt guns with bright liquid hues, and hundreds of people jammed tight in the streets spreading color all over each others faces and body. I came prepared with 5 bags of gulal, the name for the vegetable starch dye. Pink, purple, orange, green and yellow would be my color weapons of choice as I smeared it in hair, on faces and foreheads, around necks and even on backs. We walked along the tight corridors around Sudder St., throwing the dye on everyone. What I gave, I also received and each time the simple words "happy holi" went along with it. It was a lot of fun and good thing I pre-soaked my hair and face in coconut oil to absorb the color or otherwise I'd still be scrubbing it off! America does a version of this festival with a fun run attached. I'll withhold judgment on it until I experience that too but I doubt it comes close to the thrill of the real thing. 

My work at the Mother Teresa hospitals was very rewarding and instead of going into too much detail, I'll offer up some anecdotes.  For 4 days in the mornings, I went to Daya Dan, a home for physically and mentally handicapped children from about 4-16yrs or so. Starting in the laundry room, we washed everything by hand and then took it to the roof to hang out to dry.  After that we helped the kids with their classes. For older kids it was learning some English and basic math. But for the younger kids, we did physical therapy and light and sound therapy. Helping them use a walker, brace themselves, stand, hand coordination, that kind of stuff. One small child who was blind took a liking to me and would end up sleeping in my lap when we went into a dark room to listen to soft music while gentle lights flashed around a mirror ball. I'm not sure if he could see much of anything, but he seemed to enjoy the music and resting in my arms.  I was told that some of these kids were orphans and also abandoned by their families when they saw what issues they had. But here, the Sisters created a new family and thanks to the volunteers, an almost endless supply of laps to sleep in, hands to high five and people who can see the value and hope in every child. 
My time at Kali Ghat, the home for the destitute and the dying was also rewarding and I gotta say, I'm glad I took this ukulele with me. I got to play for the men and their faces lit up and a few danced and tried to sing or whistle along. I was also asked to play for the old women and one Sister told me that the patients got the most exercise in a long time when I played and they did a conga line around the bed strewn room. But, it wasn't all fun and games. I changed a lot of soiled pants, dressed many festering wounds, administered meds to reluctant men and even had food thrown at me from a grumpy Gus who just wanted to go home. But sadly, he had no home. I tried not to take any of it personal and put myself in their spot. It was humbling.
I'm back in Delhi now, I'll have updates soon on the school under the bridge I was helping out and also update you on my last two days here that I plan to spend in Rishikesh. White water rafting, yoga, swimming in the Ganges and enjoying the foothills of the Himalayas should be an ideal way to end this trip. Until then, take care.

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