Author: shuktara

shuktara boys home for young people with disabilities

David’s Newsletter from Kolkata

shuktara homes for young people with disabilities
28th October 2018

I noticed this morning a note in my diary to remind me to do a newsletter with updates of the Puja festivities here in Kolkata and to make sure that it is done before I leave to spend the Christmas period in the UK.

Little did I know when I made the note to myself to do this update it would have to contain such terribly sad news. Over the period of Durga Puja, in fact just as it ended, my first boy Anna died - last Sunday, 21st October.

Anna, along with Sunil, were the first two boys that I took at the flat in Southern Avenue on 1st July 1999 - and for me, it was always about Anna. Sunil very quickly established himself in the loving arms of Alison Saracena, who lived above me and after we all moved to Jubilee Park, her husband Bryan would take Anna out on little trips to buy cassettes, because he loved music.

Sometimes my love for Anna would be a cause of upset for some of the boys and particularly for Sumon who I don’t think has ever felt that I loved him as much. However, when Anna died last week, Sumon stayed by his side the whole time his body was being prepared for cremation and when Anna left the home, Sumon and I sat together waiting for everyone to come back and I told him that now all my love was for him and everybody else.

Anna really was my world and making a safe place for him was always the most important thing and my number one goal. Everyone else, including Sunil, just happened as a matter of course. But it was always Anna that I looked for, to make sure he was safe, OK and not acting up.

The smiles and laughter have now returned to shuktara and even though I feel heartbroken a friend told me that my heart can’t break - but it can be opened. So I feel now, as I approach 60 years in 2019, that I have finally learnt the meaning of love and letting go. That is a great lesson to learn and I am grateful to Anna for everything he has taught me.

The shuktara girls house is called Lula Bari. Bari is house in Bengali and it is Lula’s house, named after our very dear friend Lula Gibson. It made perfect sense to me, that the boys house will now be called Anna Bari.

Within the last month Anna, who was epileptic and had learning disabilities, had a couple of visits to our doctor because he was losing weight. Although the doctor didn’t think there was much wrong he put him on antibiotics and blood tests revealed low sodium levels. After three days of fever Anna was admitted to hospital on Saturday 13th October and on Monday night he was rushed up to the Intensive Care Unit, not expected to last the night. Pappu and I said our goodbyes and stood outside the hospital until 9am the following morning when we were able to see him again - he was still with us, but not very responsive. They found pneumonia and blasted him with antibiotics and then they found TB, so started courses of medication for this. After one day his lung cleared and the doctor said he could come home.

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He came back to shuktara on Saturday 20th October and died on Sunday 21st surrounded by the people he loved and who loved him at 2:36 in the afternoon.

Anna was taken that evening to be cremated at Kalighat and all of the boys from shuktara who could, accompanied his body. The body takes about 45 minutes for cremation to be completed and then Pappu took the ashes to the Ganges where he immersed himself and came out of the water having made a decision to undertake the ritual mourning for a beloved family member, which would take three days.

Over these three days we fed Anna food, by placing a plate outside the house and on the third day the Shradh Ceremony commenced. This was a full day of ritual where Pappu had his head shaved and with a priest, they prayed for Anna’s soul.

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At the end of the ceremony, the priest sprinkled everyone with holy Ganges water and then the roof was locked so that Anna could come back over night and see what we had done for him.

The roof of the boys house, now known as Anna Bari, was covered in white cotton and scented jasmine flowers adorned two photos of Anna.

The following day we cooked Anna’s favourite food, fish curry. A plate of this was then taken out to the pond outside the house and given as a final offering to Anna.

That was the end of the rituals and then we all ate together. All the girls from Lula Bari came and soon laughter began to come from the roof.

I write this one week to the day that Anna passed away. I know that many of you who met him will have been touched by his wide smile. I miss it so much, but I am grateful that I had him in my life and that shuktara will always remember Anna Das because our boys house is now named after him, forever Anna Bari.

shuktara homes for young people with disabilities

shuktara boys home for young people with disabilities - Anna Bari

Anna Bari

Although the shuktara girls home is called Lula Bari we've never had a name for the boys home - until now. We think the very best way to honour Anna's memory is to name the boys home after him.

First we had our expert sign maker draw up a design. The photos above show the design and it's creation and installation.

The boys home will always be known as Anna Bari.

shuktara homes for young people with disabilities

Happy birthday Pappu!

shuktara homes for young people with disabilitiesIf you know shuktara you probably know Nagendra Kumar Mishra aka Pappu. If you don't, you should. Pappu's official title is Chairman of shuktara but he is so much more.

When shuktara started in Jubilee Park Pappu was finishing university and lived next to our home. Everyone in the neighbourhood was curious about shuktara and Pappu was no exception. Eventually we hired him as a tutor because he just seemed to fit in so well with our shuktara family.

Over the years Pappu became more and more involved with shuktara. He lived in the shuktara home, going to his own house rarely. He learned how to communicate with the deaf boys using sign. All of the young people at shuktara consider him their father. No matter how busy he may be he always has time to talk when someone needs him. His calm presence and infinite patience has made the shuktara house a real home, where everyone feels comfortable and safe.

In the photos below it's obvious that Pappu cares deeply about all of the young people at shuktara, and it's clear that everyone in both homes absolutely adores him.

Today is Pappu's birthday. We can never thank him enough for all that he does for shuktara however we would like to say...
Happy Birthday Pappu from all of us at shuktara!

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Happy Diwali!

Diwali is the Hindu Festival of Lights, celebrated in autumn. This is one of the most popular festivals in India which symbolizes the "victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance."

This is a favorite night at the shuktara homes as everyone helps with lighting up the house and setting off fireworks.

This year our celebration was a bit more subdued as we all remembered Anna and lit candles not only for the festival, but also for him.

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Getting ready for Kali

In West Bengal we are very lucky because we celebrate two festivals of light - first Kali Puja (dedicated to the goddess of Kolkata, Kali) and on the following night, Diwali (Hindu New Year).

On both nights pradeep (shallow clay vessels with oil) and candles are placed all around the house. The short videos and photos below show preparations for lighting up the house on Kali Puja.

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Anna’s Shradh

The week following Anna's passing was filled with ceremonies to honour and celebrate his life.

As head of the shuktara family, Pappu decided to perform the traditional Hindu mourning rituals for a beloved family member.

These rituals ensure the soul has sustenance on the journey and reaches the destination safely.

On 25th October a Shradh to honour Anna, was performed. Pappu began by moulding mud from the Ganges to make a place where he fed Anna.

Prayers were said throughout the day, not only by Pappu but also by the young people of shuktara. Anna was their brother.

Pappu's wife Deepika lights incense and leads the older boys in garlanding Anna's photo.

Pappu has been the centre of this Shradh ceremony all day.
Doing the rituals according to Hindu tradition for Anna.

At the end of the Shradh everyone gathered on the roof and celebrated Anna's life by eating his favourite food - fish curry.

Anna's favourite part of the fish was the tail. Right before eating, Pappu offered this plate of food to Anna, this is called Macher Leja.

Having completed the ritual mourning for a beloved family member everyone sat together and ate.

Bijoya – farewell to Durga

After the goddess Durga's five day sojourn (celebrated as Durga Puja) she returns with her four children (Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesh) to her abode in Kailash. On this day, Bijoya, the clay images of the goddess are taken from the pandals and immersed in rivers, lakes and ponds throughout West Bengal.

Lali and Tamina accompanied David and Pappu to our local house Puja where the immersion of the goddess took place.

(all photos by Raegan Hodge)

shuktara homes for young people with disabilities

Durga Puja – visiting the pandals

If you follow shuktara you know that Durga Puja is the biggest festival of the year in Kolkata. All over the city elaborate handmade pandals are created to house clay statues of the goddess Durga and her family who come down once a year from their heavenly abode for a five day holiday.

This year the young people of shuktara visited the pandals on the 1st day of Pujas which was Shashti and 3rd day which was Ashtami. Everyone dressed up in their new clothes, piled in the cars and went pandal-hopping.

(thank you Raegan Hodge for all the fabulous photos!)

Rest in peace Anna

shuktara homes for young people with disabilitiesThis is probably the most difficult post we've written. Anna Das passed away on Sunday 21st October at 4:00 pm. He was at home, surrounded by people who loved and cared for him.

Anna came to shuktara in 1999, a very frightened young man with serious emotional issues. He always struggled to feel at home in his environment and often it took a very long time for him to feel "at home".

Over the years he had his ups and downs. When the shuktara boys shifted to their home in Behala at first Anna had a difficult time accepting his new home. Over time he really found his place at shuktara and he often smiled. When Anna smiled it would light up the world. It was clear that Anna never forced a smile, his smile came from deep within and gave happiness to everyone who saw it.

Without the love and care given by David, Pappu and all the staff of shuktara Anna would have been a very different person. Shuktara gave Anna the very best life possible, and he had truly found his home.
Rest in peace Anna, we will never forget your smile and you will stay in our hearts forever.