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News of our work India & Bangladesh May - October 2007

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The Chairman’s visit to India & Bangladesh

Mathieson Memorial Music Centre
I have been lucky enough to visit the OM in India and Bangladesh twice within a period of 15 months. This second visit was primarily to be present at the opening of the Mathieson Memorial Music Centre

the rebuilt Band Room -to be dedicated to the memory of my uncle, Father Theodore Mathieson BE. Final completion was not actually due until February this year, but owing to the General Election which was to have taken place in Bangladesh at that time (although it was later postponed) it was not thought wise to plan a visit to coincide. However the building work and the exterior would be complete by December, and only some interior fittings would be missing, so it was decided to go ahead.

I arrived at Kolkata Airport in the small hours of the morning, to be met by the ever cheerful Administrator, Arijeet. After a few hours’ rest and refreshment I was taken off for a tour of inspection of the Behala compound, including of course the new building.The new Music Centre looks very smart and imposing in its newly-built, unweathered, state. It occupies a commanding position in the corner of the sports field, and has splendid reliefs on the front corner which have a distinctive musical theme, combining Western and Indian instruments in the design. It has good acoustics with a high ceiling. The stage is at one end with two small green-rooms to the side (male and female), with toilets. The space between the green-rooms and the pantry contains the large rain tree which used to overhang and shade the old building, and will be used for serving tea and refreshments. The construction is virtually complete except for internal fixings, such as lights and fans, and possibly air-conditioning if enough funds can be found. There will be no fixed seating so it can be hired out as a versatile hall for public use.

Bishop Raju, Simon Wilson and Simon Ling cutting the ceremonial tape

Arijeet took the opportunity to explain the finances to me. The building has almost entirely been paid for from the UK, but our original donation was so long ago that it has grown by a significant amount through accumulated interest, which has provided about 25% of the total. All has been paid for save for a shortfall of about £2,000. The Opening Ceremony was on the following day A large tent or awning had been erected outside the new building, where old boys, staff, ladies from Santi Nivash (the Old People’s Home on the compound), and the boys (who had the day off school) were waiting. The Bishop arrived, and then Simon Wilson, the British Deputy High Commissioner, in his official Range Rover with two Embassy men. We were delighted that the DHC had found time to come. Simon Wilson is quite new to the job and had not previously had any contact with the Oxford Mission, so we were able to tell him something about our history and work. The ceremony took place, with prayers, a hymn and an address from the Bishop, who at one point asked me to say a prayer -I found throughout my stay that I was constantly faced with similar situations which I had not been expecting! The three principal guests, namely the Bishop, the DHC and myself, pulled the curtain in front of the plaque, and simultaneously cut the tape across the door with two pairs of scissors, one with handles of episcopal purple being shared by the DHC and the Bishop.

Guests and boys listen to the speeches

The company then all moved inside the building where various speeches were made, including one by myself (this time I was prepared for it!) during which I read messages from my aunt, Theodore’s sister Barbara Mathieson, and our General Secretary, Mary Marsh. There was a short concert with performances first by a group of Mission old boys, then the juniors conducted by their teacher Ananta, and then the Senior Orchestra with Sanjib. The Bishop gave a blessing, and then processed round the interior of the building sprinkling holy water. Finally Arijeet gave a vote of thanks.After that the DHC left, shortly followed by the Bishop. Biryani was served to the boys and guests under the awning. Arijeet was disappointed that few local guests had come (but it was a working day). I met Ananta Makhal and Subhas Biswas (both former members of the OM staff whom I had first met in 1966), and various other guests including the Revd. Paritosh Canning (Priest at St. Peter’s), Nirmal Banerjee (the OM Chaplain), Ashoke Biswas (who has stayed at Barbara Mathieson’s home in England), Mr. Stephen Gonsalves and Mr. Rai Chaudhury (OMTA members). All are impressed by the magnificence of the new Centre, which will not only improve the facilities for the OM boys’ music, but also be an asset for the local community and earn some income for the Mission. I had three more days in Behala, and before I left I had the opportunity to say farewell and thank you to the Warden of the Boys’ Hostel who was about to retire.

Father Theodore Mathieson BE, teaching cello in days gone by

The experience of finding my way through and out of Dhaka Airport, making contact with the driver sent by Bishop Michael of Dhaka, and travelling to and from Barisal by the river launch, was a traumatic one, unprotected as I was by the smooth organising skills and experience of our General Secretary with whom I had travelled on the previous occasion. However her arrangements made from the Office and the goodwill of Bishop Michael meant that everything was accomplished, and I arrived safely at the times and places planned for me. I visited both Barisal and Jobarpar, and although both were much emptier than usual as the children had generally finished their school terms and gone home for the Christmas holidays, I had the pleasure of attending four end-of-term Christmas celebrations, and consequently consuming considerable quantities of curry and rice!

Sadly during my visit Mother Susila was taken very ill, and for the most part was unable to see or speak to visitors. I did manage two short meetings with her, during which she was in some pain and at times confused. However she did seem to be over the worst crisis by the time I left, although she has since been in hospital in Dhaka. Despite that, I was made very welcome and looked after royally by the Sisters, who were amused by my faltering attempts at Bengali words and phrases. I came away with my spare suitcase stuffed with gifts and Christmas cards for many friends of theirs in the UK.Returning through Dhaka I spent a day with Bishop Michael and the Diocesan staff at St. Thomas’s, and was privileged to be the principal guest at the annual Christmas party for the staff and their families, which of course included yet more eating of curry and rice!I had a splendid time, and am most grateful for all the kind hospitality I received. I look forward to my next visit.

Chairman, UK Committee of the Oxford Mission

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