Noah at The Zoo Fence

A young friend of TZF spent the month of December, 1997 in Calcutta, India with his grandmother. His name is Noah.

We asked him to submit brief reports from time to time to TZF about his experiences there. We present those here.

Being with Mother Teresa

CALCUTTA (December 11) — Today, I visited the tomb of Mother Teresa. It is in Calcutta, in the convent where Mother Teresa had lived. Before going in, I had to remove my shoes.

As I walked into the room, I saw on the floor a big, white box in which Mother Teresa lies. It is made simply of wood, nothing fancy, with a tombstone on top of it. On the stone there is written, “Love One Another As I Have Loved You.” [cf. John 13.34]

There is a beautiful ring of flowers on top of the box, too.

Even though I could not see Mother Teresa, I could feel her. It was as if her presence was standing right in front of me.

While I was there, many people came to pay their respects to Mother Teresa. Each of them kissed her tomb.

Finally, when I stood and thought about all the things Mother Teresa had done during her lifetime, I was overwhelmed.

Then, after I left the room, I spoke with one of the nuns. I noticed that she had a smile on her face the whole time we spoke. Then I noticed that each of the nuns there had a smile on her face. They all enjoy what they do, just as Mother Teresa did.

When I left the building, I felt a cold sweep over me. It was then that I realized that the building I was just in was filled with warmth, happiness, and love.

May her work live on.

The Zoo Fence

The Armenian Church

CALCUTTA (December 15) — Today, I visited the Armenian Church of Holy Nazareth on Armenian Street in Calcutta. Built in 1707, this is the only Armenian church in the city, and is known locally simply as “the Armenian church.”

I knew that this visit was going to be special, because my great-grandfather is buried at this church. 

Before I entered the building, I looked around the grounds. They are located between a wall that surrounds the church property and the church itself. What got to me was that the only thing I was walking on was tombstones. The ground is covered with large, flat tombstones. It is as if the ground is made up of the lives of all the people buried there.

I found my great-grandfather’s tombstone. It shone out of the bunch around it. Then, I started toward the church itself.

Now, Calcutta is pretty noisy, and while I was outside on the grounds, I could hear it. The sounds of honking horns, people selling and buying and haggling for goods, is all normal in Calcutta. But when I stepped into the church, I was stunned by how quiet it is inside. It was as if someone suddenly put very good earplugs on me. I mean, you could hear a pin drop. And its echo!

Once inside, the first thing that struck me was the church’s beauty, and particularly the small, simple stained glass windows.

The chairs set out for the congregation all seem to point toward a painting of the Last Supper that is above the altar. The lights below the painting are made to look like candles, and when I squinted, they seemed like twinkling stars.

Being inside the church was like being in another world. Outside, the building shows its age, but inside it appears brand new, with only a couple of spots of wear.

Then, I saw my great-grandfather’s brother’s plaque. Although he is not buried in this church, he is honored here, for he was an Archpriest.

Being partially of Armenian descent, I was very interested in all of this. It gives me a better sense of my roots, what my ancestors did, and where they worshipped.

But what made the greatest impression of all were the stained glass windows. The sunlight that shone through the blue in them cast blue dots all over the church. It is a beautiful sight.

When I left the church, I was back in the hectic environment that is Calcutta. But I was peaceful inside.

I pray that this church will remain for many generations to come.

The Zoo Fence

The Ghat at Belur Math

CALCUTTA (December 11) — This time I visited the ghat at Belur Math on the Hooghly [sometimes speeled Hugli] River, a branch of the Ganges that flows through Calcutta. [In India, a ghat is a set of wide steps that descend to a river used for bathing.]

Now, Belur Math is a holy and spiritual place. It is where Swami Vivekananda founded the monastic Order of Ramakrishna.

I sat on a wall near the steps leading down to the river. My very first impression of the Hooghly was that it is a muddy, dirty, polluted river. Then, after a few minutes, I started to change my thinking. I saw flowers on the shore, and also pots, some trash, and food. The thing that convinced me was the way the people treat the river.

On entering the water, they wave their arms around in a circle to clear any trash away from them. Then, they press their palms together in prayer, and finally, they duck their heads below the surface. After that each one does what he or she needs to do, like wash their hair, clean their children, or just swim around. I was particularly impressed watching a child, about four years old, getting a bath. He was naked, and as his dad poured water over him, the boy shook himself, and rubbed his body vigorously. It was apparent he was enjoying the experience totally.

There were never many people in the water at any one time. But as soon as some would leave, others came to replace them. My feelings were that to them the water is a blessing, and it is, for anyone can bathe here. They are free to wash their hair, brush their teeth, the list goes on. It really helps because people have a bath waiting for them any time they want.

An important reason they choose to bathe here in particular is that it is in Belur Math, the holy site. This may explain why the people seem to worship the water.

I think that the Hooghly is a blessing to this area, and it showed me what an influence a river can be.

The Zoo Fence

The People of Calcutta

SARASOTA FL (January 17) — One thing that fascinated me about Calcutta is the people’s devotion to their religion.

Taxi drivers have little shrines on their dashboard. Shop owners all pray each morning for good business. Lots of people have something in their homes they give offering to. You can also find shrines in the street, where everybody offers things to it. Also, there are holy men who walk around the streets when they are not in prayer.

This lifestyle is not limited to Calcutta. Many people in New Delhi, Agra, and Bombay, and so on, have the same feeling about their religon. Perhaps it is this devotion that has allowed the peoples of India to achieve such amazing feats.

They raised some of the biggest temples and mosques in the world. Not only that, but often they outnumber the tourists at these places. This could be the main reason India’s great number of diverse peoples are able to live amongst each other so well.

The Zoo Fence