Some people belong in books, they are just that good. R is one of those people. My first day in Kalighat I sat with a man for some time who I was convinced was on death’s door. His skin was cold to the touch, he was unresponsive. Somebody called one of the sisters over to examine him. “HEY, R!!!!! Wake up! What’s wrong with you!” She shouted cheerfully at this imminent corpse, this man on death’s door. She then proceeded to slap his face a number of times. The next day he was up and about. That was my first encounter with Richard.
R endeared himself to me quickly for a number of reasons. First of all, he speaks better English than any of the other residents, workers and sisters. He told me he learned it in school. The fact that he speaks English so well meant that unlike a number of the residents who could only communicate with me through either ferocious and increasingly frustrated Bengali, or the waving of arms, R can actually tell me what he wants. He’s also just cute. His head is shaped like a potato with another potato for a nose. When he’s aware, which has become more and more often over the past 2 months, his eyes brighten up, and transform his face. He forgets my name almost every day, but usually gets there when I give him the first letter–“it starts with a J…” “…Jim…Jack!”
He never complains, which impressed me more when I learned his story. He used to be either a secretary or a janitor at a church here in Kolkata when he fell off a bus and incurred brain damage. He typically attributes even recent bumps and bruises to this–“R, what happened to your leg?” “I fell off the bus.” When I asked him one day if he had any family he said yes, he has brothers and sisters who all live in London. Apparently they just left him here when he couldn’t work anymore. Imagining myself in that position, even with brain damage, I would be much less calm about it, but he seems honestly all right. He impresses me so much.
Most days, I walk with him around the men’s side of Kalighat for 20 minutes or so. I love chatting with him. Yesterday, we sang a number of American/Western Christmas carols together. I don’t know why he seems so familiar with so much of western culture. He also know rhymes and poems from home. When I told him my name was Jack he said, “Jack and Jill, went up the hill…”
Just wanted to tell you all a little about him. Helping to take care of him has been one of the biggest blessing of this trip. Hope you’re all well and happy! I leave Kolkata in less than a week to head to Italy, and from there home sometime in April. I look forward to seeing everyone soon.
With love from India,