Rising has been an extremely popular word in Ireland this year and it summed up the feeling in Kolkata, India, while I was there. Both Ireland and India were once colonies of the British Empire before breaking free for independence.
I wanted to see multi-faith education in Kolkata and what Ireland could learn. I landed into Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on a Thursday morning and the soaring heat hit me as I sauntered off the plane into the 40 degree temperatures. I learned very quickly that warm is a relative term.
While I lined up to get a taxi, the horns honked everywhere. I soon realised that this was the soundtrack of the ‘city of joy’ and would be an ever present noise for my stay. Drivers beep at anything that moves on the road.
However, the Indian people are incredibly kind and look to help you as much as they can. Crowds stream through every street. The only times I had seen anything similar in Ireland was on the way into Croke Park before an All-Ireland final, or a St Patrick’s Day parade on O’Connell Street in Dublin. Every street feels like it couldn’t possibly fit one more person.
India is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world. There is a sense that the 5 million people who live in the city are moving fast to keep up with the changes that are taking place throughout the country. If you walk down the street, you will see young children, women and men begging. It is a hard sight and you want to help every single one of them.
I met many Irish people who have dedicated their entire lives to helping the poorest of the poor. I asked one Irish woman how she wasn’t overwhelmed by all those who need help. She responded: “You can only help one person at a time, that’s all you can control, focus on that.”
I was surprised at the access to the latest technology and the amount of people who spoke fluent English. Football and cricket were two of the major pastimes that I saw Indian people enjoying in the parks in the city or playing on the streets.
There is an incredible amount of charity work happening in Kolkata helping to improve people’s lives. One example of this was an evening feeding project that I took part in at St Mary’s Day School and Orphanage in Dum Dum, Kolkata. Children and women were fed first, before men. We gave them a drink before being they were handed rice and vegetables.
The Indian people are very tough and are battling through a lot of adversity right now. There are many cultures living together and I believe one of the keys to having harmony is tolerance and celebrating our differences.
I met young students in several schools. I asked one what he thought of India and Kolkata at the moment. He said proudly: “India is the second biggest population in the world. There is a lot that needs to be improved here, the poverty is bad, but we are on the rise.”
Colin Brennan is Deputy Editor Online of the Irish Mirror and a recipient of the winter 2015 round. He was funded to travel to India to report on multi-faith schools in Kolkata and what Ireland can learn. He had a series of three articles published in the Irish Mirror and online in April 2016.