Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) is an overnight train ride from Delhi. We travelled 3-AC on the train, meaning that the bunks are stacked three high…and the ladder to get down is not so easy to use! I managed to fall on Reuben, knock my Kindle off into another guy and basically look totally uncoordinated getting to the top bunk. Good times!
We spent most of our time in Calcutta hanging out with our friend Pip and doing bits and pieces to help out at Freeset. Freeset is a fantastic organisation that works in one of Kolkata’s redlight districts. Nearly 200 women work in a bag factory, earning a good wage that means they do not have to work in prostitution to survive. Walking into Freeset in the morning, the first thing you see is the no cameras sign, there to protect the dignity of the women and to avoid the factory feeling like a zoo. If you arrive at 10am, you will see the women gathered for morning devotions, children being passed from arm to arm, and a staff member sharing words of hope and freedom from the front. Later in the day all hands are busy – the women work in different areas, some sewing, some printing, some doing the finer embroidering. The children are busy in the creche, and the women work hard – 8 hours a day – but there is a sense of purpose and industry in what they do. We were able to spend some time volunteering here – Reubs’ IT skills were particularly helpful! If you are interested in purchasing some of their beautiful products, you can find them online here.
Another afternoon we checked out Love Calcutta Arts, which sells beautiful cards, books and bags. It’s another business that works to provide alternate employment for women who are at risk of being part of the red light district. We were inspired and challenged by these businesses who work to provide alternatives and hope in areas of great need.
We did do a few tourist things in Kolkata – we visited the stunning Victoria memorial (and had a few giggles that we had found Kolkata’s date park – nearly every park bench had a couple on it on a date!) We saw the St Paul’s cathedral, a beautiful cathedral that called to mind the cathedrals we had visited in England.
We checked out the gallery of fine arts, with a really cool exhibition of work by prison inmates and art students (the fifty or so police around were a little concerning!) Check it the story behind it here. We ate some amazing Bengali food and had some great Western food too (first time we had ever been to a restaurant with ipods for menus!) We had a nightmare technology week…check out our next blog for the grisly details. Despite this, we absolutely loved hanging out with Pip in Kolkata!