India always comes as a shock – particularly the contrast with the kind of winter we have been having in Scotland. Misty smog may prevent the sun shining. But the temperature is 26C and there is a riot of noise and colour. We watch what we eat really carefully – and then remember that the driving is simply terrifying. On a long drive yesterday, I decided it was necessary to lose interest in my surroundings and got on with the email. There is a lack of clarity about which side of the road they drive on. This may be a post-colonial urge to move from left to right.
We’ve been with one of the most impressive of the agencies of the Diocese of Calcutta – Cathedral Relief Services. The dynamic leader, Rig, took us to the Dum Dum Project which is an area of Kolkata where communities of the poorest are being moved to make way for the development of apartments. The project provides support for women – helping them to develop sewing skills and to become economically independent – and offering education for their children. It seemed to us hugely important and positive.
The schools are fascinating. St John’s Diocesan School for Girls provides high quality fee-paying education for girls. There are 4000 pupils and it is deeply impressive. I found the staff extraordinary in their commitment to the future of the next generation of women in this society – for India has big issues about the place and the safety of women. While we are here, we will be taking part in a seminar on women’s issues run by Moumita Biswas.
By contrast, we visited yesterday the Chinsurah Project which provides for children who come from homes where there is simply nothing. Before or after school, they come for a range of activities and are given a good meal. It’s a simple project but it is hugely important and effective. And of course the founder of the school next door was Alexander Duff from Scotland