In November and early December I returned to India for the first time since 2015.
I have visited India many times since my first painting trip to Rajasthan many years ago now.
I usually combined volunteering as an art teacher in an NGO in Delhi and Kolkata with joyful adventures exploring the country with David.
This time I travelled alone. I decided to combine a week in Udaipur in Rajasthan with a few days in Mumbai, then on to Kolkata (formally Calcutta), and into the West Bengal countryside to the University of Santiniketan to visit Sweety, the young girl I first met when she was eleven years old.
Above are some random images taken in Udaipur where I began my trip. I love the elderly lady in her sari - a timeless image, but for her mobile phone.
I joined a young American Israeli couple in a cooking course led by Shashi, a brave and feisty woman with a very sad background story. It was a wonderful evening of laughter, learning and eating our delicious creations.
Something I wanted to do whilst in Udaipur was to join the ladies who take to the shores of Lake Pichola at sundown to launch memory candles into the water. I was worried about pollution, but this happens nightly. I thought one small candle in memory of Dave could be permissible..
. I enlisted the help of three young friends from a miniature painting shop. I told them what I wanted to do.They found me a small candle, a holder and some matches and refused any payment. They came with me to the lake and stood quietly and respectfully by the side of the lake whilst I launched my candle. It was a powerful and moving moment
with meant so much to me.
From Udaipur I flew to Mumbai for a few days where I stayed in Colaba and visited museums, then on to Kolkata where I have made many friends over the years. It was good to catch up with these friends and visit the All Bengal Womens Union, an NGO which is home to "destitute women and girls" from the Kolkata area. I have worked there as a volunteer over the years, running art workshops and supervising a mural painted by the girls for their Canteen. It was here at A.B.W.U. that I met Sweety ten years ago. Sweety, then 11 years old had recently arrived at the home. We bonded immediately and she often acted as my translator in workshops. Her knowledge of English even then was extraordinary in a State where English was not widely taught. I agreed to support her through education and had the privilege
of getting to know her well.
Sweety is now a very beautiful and intelligent young woman. She is a fine art student in the prestgeous Kala Bhavan, Viswa Bharti University at Santiniketan. I went with friends in their car to visit her. Santiniketan is in a lovely and rural part of the state of West Bengal. I have never seen Sweety so happy and comfortable with herself. That makes me so happy and I am very proud of her.
Sweety is now twenty one