Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Who Would Have Thought?

Hello Friends. Already, a significant stretch of time has grown between now and my last post. Sorry for the delay, or if I've worried anyone (cough cough...Mom I love you). Please be advised that this post won't come close to capturing all that's transpired recently. I apologize for neglecting to mention some of the basics like the food I eat, what my room is like, the house, etc. For those of you seeking to hear more about that, please forgive me for the time being.
This past weekend, my Dear Dear Friends Dan and Rob Landerholm stopped into Bolpur to spend the last few days of their month-long tour of India with us here at CKS. Thanks Brothers, for stretching your finances and health to share the weekend. I will never forget it, and will likely never be able to repay you.

International Men of Mystery: Dan and Rob Landerholm

For those of you who don't know these fine men, Dan and I have been friends since we were twelve or thirteen years old. We met at Holy Rosary, and went to high school together for three years. We played football together, have many friends in common, and have shared in a plethora of life experiences. Rob is Dan's Father, and has been a mentor of mine for many years. With that said, who would have thought we would meet someday in India, and go through some serious highs and lows in less than seventy-two hours?

To start, much credit is due to Shubhra - one of our two fearless leaders at CKS. She whipped Loren and I into shape all week last week in our efforts to prepare the building for visitors. There was still much hustle and buslte with the plumbing, masonry work, and moving. But, with the impetus and extra efforts of Shubhra, the workers finished up and we all worked as a team to clean the place. It was a relief to end a busy week of juggling internship projects, house work, and moving (shifting, as they say here). After Shubhra stayed up until 2:30am the night before, CKS was sparkling and ready for Rob and Dan by the time they arrived at 8:30am on Saturday Feb. 6th.

Their arrival via auto-rickshaw was surreal. They showed up the front gate of CKS with Puthumai, who picked them up in Kolkata that morning at 5:00am so they could travel together to Bolpur. Instantly, it was like we were in Edmonds. The hugs, the jokes, the laughs, the silly voices, the highly intellectual topics of conversation (i.g. quoting Indiana Jones, Austin Powers, Jurassic Park, etc.). But, it turned out we were in India. Who would have thought?

The whole weekend, Puthumai and Shubhra were awe inspiring with their care and generosity. I'll never forget how gracious they were in hosting Dan, Rob, Loren and I.

After a nice breakfast, it was clear we had a long and exciting day ahead. Before jumping in head-first, everyone cleaned up a bit and the visitors took some time to get settled into their new home for the next two nights. Around 11am, the hired taxi arrived outside our gate and The Team piled in - Dan, Rob, Shubhra, Puthumai, Loren, and I.

The itinerary was packed and we were off to a good start.

The Team walking down one of the long dirt paths that traverse the campus. It is said that Tagore once walked down this one in particular, so some of the faculty take off their sandles out of respect when walking this path. The building to the right is one of the student 'hostels', or dorms.
Puthumai sitting at one of Visva Bharati's outdoor class rooms. Among other things, the university is famous for holding sessions outside. This is where the teacher would sit.

Tourguide Shubhra and The Travelers - the red structure to the left of Dan was once used as the school bell for all of Vivsa Bharati. Shubhra mentioned that it might have been a gift from the Japanese after Loren pointed out its Shinto characteristics.

After visiting Shubhra's alma mater, we packed back into the taxi and drove a few kilometers outside of town to visit the Sonajhuri Forest. It is famous for its rare laterite geology, which occurs in areas rich in iron and aluminum; hence the red soil you see everywhere. Much of the soil is rocky and impermeable, so water runs through and creates amazing gullies and abrupt clifs. It's really beautiful. Uncle Walt (geologist) would have enjoyed this.

We really enjoyed our time at Sonajhuri. Rob made a joke about an episode of 'The Flinstones' when the family goes on a road trip to see the Grand Canyon, and all that is there is a trickle and a sign post. It's interesting to think that this may have been what the Grand Canyon looked like a few million years ago. Anyway, after an hour or so of sight seeing we found out that there was a small fair going on only a short walk away. So, we decided to explore.

Dan receiving a gift from Shubhra and Puthumai

Dan and Loren enjoy the music of the bauls (pronounced baools). They travel around singing about love, life, and god. Loren compares them to the troubadours during the middle ages, without the chivarly.

We made it home that night after visiting Shubhra's parents. They fed us plenty of Chop, which is some my favorite food here so far. They also brought out coffee for us. It was a nice time and I'm glad Rob and Dan were able to meet them. After that, we headed back to CKS for dinner and a few beers.

The next day was another busy one. By this time, Dan was starting to feel a little sick. However, he kept up with everyone else, and managed to have a good time. Dan - I'm sorry to put you through all of that. Thanks for toughing it out. In the morning, we visited one of Shubhra's sisters and her husband; Indira and Bijoy. They live outside of Bolpur, and own a few acres. From what I gathered, it sounds like Bijoy rents some of the land to local villagers, who grow crops and make their wages selling it all during harvest season. We visited that village, which is populated by people of the Santhal Tribe. In India, there are many tribes considered to be indigenous. The Santhals are one of the oldest and largest tribes, and are dispersed all throughout India.

Indira, Snehendu (Indira's little boy), and Shubhra as we left their home for the village.


Double-O Daniel. He swears he wasn't posing.

A Santhal boy showing us a rat trap.

Puthumai saying hello and pointing out some common health problems villagers face.

Home-made rice beer.

Bijoy, Indira's husband, is in the tan collared shirt on the left.

Rob trying out the rice beer. The little boy behind him seemed to be saying 'no, no, don't do it. Save yourself'.

There are large expanses of agricultural land like this all over West Bengal, and probably India in general.

After the visit, we had a nice lunch at one of the local hotels, briefly visited another fair, and went back to CKS for the evening.

Prize winning veggies! There were a lot of parallels between this fair and the ones you see back home, but no deep fried Snickers bars.

On our way out, back to CKS.

There was some time to relax before dinner.

This just about wraps up the two days and two nights Rob and Dan shared with us in Bolpur at CKS. It was an unforgettable weekend. Who would have thought we would have ever had the chance to spend time in India together? Look out for another post very soon. I have plenty of reflecting to do, and plenty to say about the status of my projects. During our final day together we travelled to Kolkata and toured around a bit; capping things off with a bizarre experience at the Kalighat temple. Dan and Rob have already made it back home safe and sound. I hope this is enough for now. More to come soon.




  1. Hi Jeff, nice posts. I liked them. I want you to say something about what you learnt from your visit to the villages and some of the most touching moments in the visit.

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  3. Jeff -

    I just made it to the end of all your posts! You definitely seem to be having a good time. Lovin' all the stories pics brutha! keep them coming and stay in touch. When are you going to be back again?