No longer tourists nor family historians, my wife and I are now members of the worldwide AJWS Volunteer Corps. As such, we have begun a two-and-a-half month commitment with the West Bengal-based non-profit organization, Jana Sanghati Kendra (JSK, in Sanskrit, “People’s Integration Center).
We arrived in Calcutta on a two-hour commuter flight from Delhi, thus completing our traverse of the Indian subcontinent and beginning this new phase of our journey. The small cluttered office of JSK is in the far northern section of Calcutta, as is our hotel, so we have yet to see any of this famous one-time capital of the British Raj.
Still, we have more than enough stimuli with which to deal, not least of which is meeting all the amazing people who make up this humble NGO. There are the founders, Anuradha and Swapan, a couple who met while working in Calcuttaâ€™s slums in the early 1980s. Soon after, they formed JSK together, then founded a commune, where they still live with 52 other people. But this was no hippie pipe dream â€“ the collective was formed purely as a means to facilitate their activism â€“ i.e. communal cooking and childcare.
Iâ€™ll be writing plenty more about Anuradha and Swapan â€“ and the others with whom Tay and I will be working and living. For now, I just want to declare how amazing it is to meet people who have dedicated their lives to social justice activism, all the more so when it happens in an otherwise faraway and foreign place. I have had the honor of knowing such people in many different countries now, and I remain in awe of whatever it is â€“ this impulse which knows no political, cultural, or linguistic boundaries â€“ which these people share and which drives them to do the work that they do.