Wednesday, March 2, 2016

2. Monica House

The taxi dropped me off at the Mother House, which sits at 54-A A.J.C. Bose Road. It is a gray structure that nearly touches the buildings to its left and right, rowhouse-style. I scooted up to the doorway and pulled the doorbell--literally a bell on a string--and waited until one of the Sisters of Charity opened it for me. A young girl, a novice I would later learn, studying and training to be a Sister, in a white sari with blue stripes greeted me with a smile and led me to the Sister in charge of volunteers.

Volunteers arrived every day; the Sisters requested that we check in and say how long we expect to be in Calcutta to volunteer, and to choose one of the homes for our entire stay. I chose Prem Dan, the home for sick and dying destitutes, and I told her: "Six months." Really, I would stay for as long as my college graduation money allowed me to stay.
The door to Mother House. Paint stays on nothing in Calcutta!

The next order of business? I needed a place to stay. The young sister suggested I see if there was a bed available in Monica House, a boarding house just one block away. One block seemed close, and I was weary from traveling. My eyes needed a break from taking in new, shocking images, and my brain needed a break from processing the images. One block meant that I passed only one family living on the street under a blanket-turned-tent, and only a few rickety rickshaws with their even more rickety rickshaw wallahs (drivers, though they actually pull the rickshaw).

Monica House used to be a single family home in Calcutta, when the city was more regal than filthy, and it sat back from the street with an actual yard around it. I can't remember grass and can't imagine it would grow much without serious attention and care, but I remember distance between the city and the house, and that distance was a godsend those first days. After checking in, I was ushered to the women's wing--a large room with a dozen beds thrown in all haphazard. No organization or neat rows here. Beds were about a foot apart. No privacy here. Mosquito nets hung from the canopy-tops of the beds, making it look fancy but was actually practical. No one wanted to get malaria here. The mosquito nets were second-rate: most had holes here and there. And the mosquito nets were horrible because they trapped in the heat, making the tiny sleeping area hotter in an already stifling room.

This bed in Monica House was going to be home for me--until I figured out this maze of a city enough to sleep somewhere else.

1 comment: