ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments
of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of
challenge and controversy. The true neighbour will risk his
position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of
others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will
lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble
Last year sometime, my old mate Korak Day, the Green Saint of
Kolkata (Calcutta), started disappearing daily into one of the
poorest and most dangerous parts of Kolkata. Then to everyone’s
amazement, he would return each time unharmed, if not a little
shaken up. This was despite constant death threats and daily
abuse hurled at him at the place he was going. It was generally
a poor Muslim area, commonly considered off limits to non-Muslims.
It was also not uncommon for people to go missing in this part
of Kolkata owing to the fact that a large butchers community
lived there. So what on earth was he doing?
Well, Korak told me he had gone to this slum and had witnessed
the results of some of the worst poverty in Kolkata.
At the slum he saw amidst the poverty and filth some Muslim
women who were living in great need without any rights, privileges
or hopes. Most of them had received little or no education,
had no opportunities for further education and were being prevented
by their circumstances and highly conservative husbands from
learning a trade or doing anything that would give them any
That’s not unusual in such a poor community. Parents just
don’t have the money to spend on their children’s
future, especially if they are girls. They think that since
they are going to be married anyway, there’s no point.
Better to invest in boys because they are expected by society
to be the breadwinner.
So these women existed as slaves of the world, their husbands
and society. They couldn’t even say no to their husbands
in order to stop producing endless numbers of children.
When Korak tried to speak to these women and girls, they would
either stare at the ground or run away. So Korak went and asked
the parents of some of these girls if they would be happy if
he started a school to educate them. The parents, especially
the mothers, were beside themselves with joy and excitement.
So it was decided, Aamar Nijer Training school (ANTS) would
For some of the less academically minded women, Korak wanted
to start a class to teach them the traditional Muslim art of
‘Zardozi’ so they could have a trade. Zardozi is
a very unique type of hand embroidery stitching, which is one
of the most celebrated of the traditional Muslim hand stitching
skills. In the past it used to be done almost exclusively by
women because their nimble fingers make them most suitable for
it. But these days the men have taken over the craft and pushed
the women inside their homes.
For the more academically minded girls he started teaching an
“English Spoken Confidently” class which was designed
basically to teach them English as well as humanity, confidence,
leadership, concentration, personal development, etc. In other
words he specially designed it to take care of all things related
to their inner development as well as providing them with external
preparations for giving them an ability to speak out in English
and take their proper places once more as human beings in their
communities and society.
Of course the natural result of Korak’s new school was
that nearly all the husbands and boys in the community wanted
to kill him! After all they weren’t to know who he was
and if he could be trusted. For all they knew, here was some
unknown man coming to steel their women and cause trouble. So
naturally each day he came to teach his classes, he had to put
up with verbal abuse and the threats of beatings and death.
But that wasn’t going to stop Korak. His behaviour in
some ways, reminds me of what would happen if Big Arnie Schwarzenegger’s
‘Terminator’ was suddenly programmed to help the
poor and love all people.
For example on one occasion as Korak was on his way to teach,
he passed some butchers who yelled abuse at him before one of
them yelled an order to his son. “ Go catch him and bring
him here, we’ll cut him and that will be the end of him.”
So the young bloke obediently ran after Korak. Even though Korak
had heard what had been yelled he did not run, he just kept
on walking with a smile on his face as if he had not heard.
The young man ran up behind Korak ready to club him over the
head, but as he got up close, he found himself unable to go
through with it and Korak was left unharmed.
Daily, groups of boys would also wait for him in the narrow
lanes, seemingly ready to attack him, but Korak being Korak,
realised that when people are weak and unsure inside they attack.
So he turned on the charm and soon won the hearts and minds
of all his adversaries. For example, once a week, he would offer
his time to the community to help them out with their problems.
On one occasion a light bulb blew out in a bathroom shared by
up to fifteen families. As everyone was so poor they all started
fighting over who was going to replace it. So Korak stepped
in and replaced the bulb with one he bought with his own money,
(even though he himself was poor). Then he went around all the
houses and collected one rupee from each of them to cover the
After a short while Korak started to get stunning results with
the girls he was teaching. They grew in confidence and hope
to the point where they were like completely different people.
Then he had another problem. Many of his students started bringing
their family’s favourite food delicacies to him, that
their families had lovingly prepared for him even though they
had so little food themselves. Of course he could only eat so
much, but it sure put a permanent end to his ‘one meal
a day’ days. To read more about his School please feel
free to visit www.korakday.com.
(Under Direct Work with People in Need.)
So there you have it champions, till next time when we see how
the Green Saint managed to discover more than twenty four hours
in each day and turn his attention to extending ANTS to all
the local kiddies whose parents couldn’t afford to send
them to school.
Take care. Bye Now.
Other articles in the series:
The Green Saint of Kolkata,
Part 1, 25 September 2003