Swann Sisters in Santiniketan

Sunset behind Vidyanagar Setu

I can’t believe that February has already come and gone! Things are heating up here, and we’re just trying not to melt. As I mentioned in my last blog post, last month we had a visit from another Swann, my older sister Martha. Anthony and I had just enough time to settle back into our Kolkata routine before she arrived with her boyfriend Jesse. Jesse is currently gunning for a PhD in Geography, and he unfortunately had to leave India earlier than planned. Before he headed home though, we did have time to visit the Hooghly River and take a sunset boatride.

Martha and Jesse on the Hooghly River

Martha stayed on here with us in Kolkata for a couple of weeks and volunteered her time and expertise as a photographer to Calcutta Rescue.

Those cameras are heavier than they look.

One of the projects which she spent a considerable amount of time and energy on included photographing ALL of the merchandise for sale from our Handicrafts Project. Calcutta Rescue employs former patients, students, and widows and trains them to make these beautiful handicrafts. We currently sell the merchandise once a week on Thursday evenings in the lobby of the Fairlawn Hotel in Sudder Street. Calcutta Rescue hopes to be able to sell the handicrafts online soon, so we needed some nice, professional pictures of them. Thanks for all of your hard work, Martha! We’re excited to see the end result.

The volunteers sell Calcutta Rescue Handicrafts at the Fairlawn Hotel every Thursday from 6-8pm. Stop by and say hi if you’re in the neighborhood!
Handicrafts employee doing some embroidery by hand.
I love the beautiful old foot treadle sewing machines they use here in India.
Martha at the CR Handicrafts Workshop in Gokul Mitra Lane


Martha made a lot of friends while she was working there in Gokul Mitra Lane, which is in a quiet little corner of Shobhabazar, tucked behind the little blue Modan Mohan Temple.


She also braved cockroaches and rats to help me and Anthony clean out the medical room at Tala Park school…and took pictures of it!

before and after medical room

Martha wanted to see some of the Indian countryside before she had to leave, but due to our volunteering obligations, we didn’t have time to go very far. Luckily we didn’t have to! Only 180km (2 hours by train) north of Kolkata is Santiniketan, the ancestral country home of Rabindranath Tagore, where the Nobel Laureate founded the Visva-Bharati University.

Street scene in Santiniketan

The school initially consisted of Patha Bhavana (which means simply “Lesson Building”), and had only five students at its inception in 1901, but was later expanded after Tagore won the Nobel Prize in 1913. The university is “characterized by its philosophy of learning with the heart in closeness to nature without any superficial barriers between teachers and students, as opposed to the strict, repetitive and the rote learning system that was mainstream during Tagore’s childhood” (thanks Wikipedia!). Consistent with Tagore’s belief in “open air education,” and that the presence of walls represent “conditioning of the mind,” many of the classes were, and still are, taught outside.

Students in an outdoor “classroom” area after class.


There were so many beautiful flowers everywhere we looked! and everybody seemed to have a garden that looked like this:

Our neighbor’s gardens

It was nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Calcutta for a few days and enjoy some peace and quiet.

Most houses also had a well in the yard.


Martha is now back in the USA with Jesse, battling the frigid temperatures and hard at work editing all of the photos she took, so make sure you stay tuned to her blog for updates and more pictures of Calcutta Rescue!

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