It all started when I met John Corrie at the Winchester Art Club Christmas lunch - the possibility of visiting the Oxford Mission when I would be accompanying my husband Norman McDowall, who is a British Airways Captain, to Kolkata in January 2004.
My parents know Gill Wilson, the Editor of the Oxford Mission News, and she put me in touch with the General Secretary, Mary Marsh. Through her our visit to Behala was arranged.
After a delay, due to fog in Kolkata and our f1ight being diverted to Dhaka, we made contact with Arijeet Roy. He sounded so warm and welcoming, and invited us to a celebratory Fellowship Breakfast the following day. A beautiful clear sunny day dawned, and Captain Paul Harrison, my husband and myself were at last on our way to the Mission. I was so excited to be back in India, as I was born in Bombay (now Mumbai). Although I left when a little girl I long for the colour, heat and diversity that is India.
The taxi-driver did not know the way. Thus we arrived five minutes late, to the chagrin of the two pilots. Our first glimpse of the Mission was of a large compound with wide grassy areas interspersed with f1owers and shade-trees. Lined up in the distance were the boys and staff. Arijeet Roy welcomed us. Prayers and readings were made by the boys, in Bengali. This was followed by the Lord's prayer. As it was Republic Day the Indian National Anthem was played, and as the Indian f1ag was raised, petals fluttered down. I felt quite moved and emotional.
We were entertained, and I especially remember the youngest member of the Mission, a four-year-old boy who danced and whistled a tune. What a delight. I made a speech of thanks and said how honoured and flattered we were to be present on such a special day.
A tour of the Mission followed, including the sick bay, the old Pinn School, staff houses, dormitories and refectory. In the latter, the boys were tucking in to a splendid special breakfast. There was a real 'day-off-school' atmosphere! In the grounds we saw boys enjoying a swim in the tank, and playing cricket. Our tour continued with a visit to the Chapel and the main Mission House; we particularly enjoyed the Library, with its rows of old leather-bound books and ancient photographs displayed on the walls: All so fascinating and interesting. Arijeet Roy made us welcome in his quarters. Here we partook of delicious Indian pastries.
We crossed the road to see further Mission buildings. The frenetic noise and hustle and bustle as we did so compared vastly with the calm and tranquillity of the Mission. This part of the Mission (the Sisters' side) was more lush, with another tank and twisting paths which meandered through a 'jungly' area, which we enjoyed sauntering through.
A highlight of our visit was meeting Sister Florence, who last year had celebrated her 100th birthday. We were humbled to be in the presence of such a wonderful lady, who has dedicated her life to the sick and the poor. She was interested in us and our children, and in my work as a Neonatal Nurse. Then she related how, on her last return trip to Kolkata from the UK, she had been invited up on the flight deck of a B.A. plane!
So much to remember - the little boys sitting on their bunk beds with their happy 'smiley' faces. They all solemnly shook our hands. Also visiting the bungalow where the retired staff live (Santi Nivash) - and the prayers in their little Chapel. Their Matron was such a warm, kindly lady.
Regrettably it was time to say our goodbyes. Arijeet Roy hoped we would make a return visit. We certainly hope to do so. We were impressed by Arijeet's hard work and dedication to the smooth and efficient running of the Mission. When he visits the U.K with his wife in June we hope to return his hospitality, and look forward to his visit.
It was a day to remember and cherish. God bless all the staff and children of the Oxford Mission.