The Green Saint of Kolkata Part 2: The Magical School of Hope

By Paul Sinclair (One World One People) 29/08/03

Hello all you champions out there, welcome back as we fire up the old diesel generator that is India, and see what interesting things come to life with the black smoke. Yes my very good friends, today we go back to school, Green Saint style.

But first let's just throw in a quick Martin Luther King quote to set the stage.

The Green Saint of Kolkata with his ANTS students.
Aamar Nijer

“The 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 life.”

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 independence.

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 begin.

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 cost.

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 (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

If you are interested in volunteering with Aamar Nijer they can be contacted through:

Korak awarding a young ANTS student with a prize.
Aamar Nijer

One World One People, 29 August 2003
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