Partha lives in Kolkata, which is a really big city in the eastern part of India. It used to be spelled Calcutta, so maybe you are more used to seeing it spelled like that. Kolkata is the capital of the state of West Bengal, and it is located on the Hooghly River. Kolkata is a really big commercial port and cultural center. If you add up all the people in the city and its suburbs, you will come up with about 14.1 million, which is a really big number. Kolkata is the Indian metropolitan area with the third-biggest population, after Mumbai and Delhi. Some of the biggest problems Kolkata has are pollution, traffic congestion, poverty, and overpopulation.
Kolkata has a tropical climate with a wet season and a dry season. In the summer months of March to June, the temperatures are in the 90s F. Sometimes the temperature gets as high as 104º in May and June. During the winter, the lowest temperatures are between 48º and 52º F. In April, May, and June, there are often heavy rains.
Bengali is the language that most people in Kolkata speak, but English, Hindi, and Urdu are also used quite a bit. The literacy rate in Kolkata is 87.14%, which is higher than the overall rate for India, which is 74%. The main religions reported in the 2001 census were 77.68% Hindu, 20.27% Muslim, 0.88% Christian, and 0.46% Jain.
|Photo: Jamie, http://www.followtheboat.com/2012/03/06/kolkata-kewpies-and-kalighat/#.UjH74Bwf3nI|
Lots of people in Kolkata live in slums, which are not very nice places to live. About 2,000 of these slums are "registered" and have some basic services such as water and trash removal. The other type of slums are "unregistered squatter occupied." A 2005 National Family Health Survey said that 33% of Kolkata households were in slums.
|Photo: Biswarup Ganguly|
Mother Teresa, who you might have heard of, started a group in Kolkata called the Missionaries of Charity. The goal of this group is "to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after."
Mom thinks that Partha and his family very likely live in a slum. Their house has brick walls, a tile roof, and a dirt floor. There is only one room for the whole family. When Mom first started sponsoring Partha, he had two younger brothers. We don't know if the family has grown since then or not.
Partha's family cooks on a wood-burning stove. If the family could afford it, they could have electricity, but they can't afford it. They get their water from a community pump. There is no latrine, so they have to use an open field as a toilet. Partha's mom and dad are both daily workers, so I guess that means they go out every day to see if they can find some work to do that day. Between them, they earn an average of $84 per month.
|Basanti ("City of Joy") Slum|
Partha writes letters to Mom in Bengali, and then somebody at the agency office translates the letters into English. Here is the last letter Partha wrote:
And here is the translation:
Dear Ms. Allen,
Hope you are well. I and all of my family are well. I study in class 10. I go to school regularly. There are many classrooms in our school. There is a tube well in our school. We drink water from that tube well. We have bathroom, toilet in school. There are ten male teachers and four female teachers in our school. A play ground lies in school. We play football there. I like to play very much. Worship of Goddess Saraswati was performed in our school. I went to visit worship of deity. I get the aid you send. So my family and I are grateful to you. With love and regards.
--Your loving Partha
I did not know anything about the Goddess Saraswati, so I did a little in-depth research, and what I learned is that she is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, the arts, and science. In pictures, she looks very lovely, and this shows how beautiful learning is. Saraswati has four arms, and she usually wears a white sari and is sitting on a white lotus or white swan. White shows her spotless character and clear mind. She plays an instrument called the vina, which symbolizes harmony.
The way that Saraswati is worshipped is by offering her honey because honey represents perfect knowledge. People also offer a red flower called the Palash, which means they are free from preconceptions.
|Painting by Raja Ravi Varma, 1896|
Hindus who are students or scientists or in the arts like to pray to Saraswati every morning for guidance and knowledge. They recite the Saraswati Vandana Mantra. Here is an English translation of it:
She, who is as fair as the Kunda flower, white as the moon,
and a garland of Tushar flowers, and who is covered in white clothes;
She, whose hands are adorned by the excellent veena,
and whose seat is the pure white lotus;
She, who is praised by Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh;
O Mother Goddess, remove my mental inertia!
Mom says this is a good prayer because we should all wish to have our mental inertia removed. I'm not sure I agree because a certain amount of mental inertia is necessary if you want to take a nice nap, which I often want to do.
Anyway, we don't even know what religion Partha is, not that we care. In the last photo, he was wearing a cross, but he also talked about the worship of Saraswati. But maybe that was just done at his school because most of the students are Hindus.
Partha wants to go to college after he gets out of high school, but he would probably have to get a scholarship from Children International in order to do that. At least by finishing high school, he will have a chance to get a much better job than being a daily worker, and he will not have to raise his children in a slum. Which is the important thing.