"You often see the same thing, but much more profoundly, in the eyes of people who are dying. You'll also see it sometimes in mentally ill people – it’s almost as though, through their suffering, they acquire some kind of spiritual insight. It's like a current of divine energy, something so strong and so beautiful, it's impossible to even describe"
THE INDIAN PARADOX
[See Times Of India report 12 September 2012 here]
Switch on your TV in the West and you'll likely see alluring multi-million dollar commercials produced by the Indian Ministry of Tourism enticing you to visit "Incredible !ndia"
This is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with its own space programme, atomic weapons, and 5-star hotel rates rivalling those of Tokyo and London. Many of its citizens are hugely rich - as one obese Lonely-Planet-recommended restaurant/guest house owner confessed to me: "I don't know how to hide all my cash from the tax authorities, it keeps coming in"
Many people therefore find this a huge and objectionable paradox. Why should we support desperately poor people in a country so intrinsically rich? Why doesn't the government stop making missiles and space rockets, and address the problems at street level instead? Why don't the rich people help their own kind?
You might ask the same question about many other mineral-and-asset-rich developing countries.
The tragic fact is that here, wealth, together with education and opportunity, stays lodged at the top. It feeds on rank materialism, greed, power, selfishness, and an amazing ability to ignore the daily suffering of fellow human beings.
In countries like India particularly, it can be conveniently attributed to caste and karma, in other words, you are currently paying for the sins of a past life - so you can just keep on living in the gutter, together with all your daily agony and repulsive diseases, whilst I drive past you in my lovely new car.
And how horrible it is to witness this, so far removed from the glamorous TV commercials, the glossy brochures, and the luxury hotels.
The reality is this: to understand the commitment and objectives of Calcutta Rescue, you must imagine a terrestrial purgatory; human suffering on a large scale, engendered by extreme poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, filth and corruption. Surround this with an economy which enriches the already-rich, thus further enslaving the poor in a vicious spiral of inflation and rising prices.
And if you have not experienced this first-hand, smelled this, and been appalled by it, it is very hard to envisage. Even worst-case homeless people living on the streets of London or
The 'Poorest of the Poor' described by Mother Teresa when she opened her Kalighat home for dying destitutes in this huge city in 1952 are still a tragic, present-day reality, most often observed by foreign visitors from a safe and sanitised distance. Even so, these harrowing sights can overwhelm, and instill a sense of shocked inertia - what can be done?
With a little help from people who understand this paradox, and feel compassion, a lot.
Born in 1979 at Jack Preger's primitive medical clinic at the side of the road, Calcutta Rescue today supports over 100,000 people and their families a year - that's one million people every decade.
With help from understanding from dedicated volunteers and donors who care about humanity, these miserable souls are offered health, hope, dignity and compassion. Calcutta Rescue's objectives might therefore be summed up in six words:
- Save lives
- Relieve suffering
- Create opportunities