Navigating the streets of Kolkata is an adventure. A loud, strong smelling, and often messy adventure. A majority of the time we don’t know where we are going- and usually hope someone else does. Fortunately for us, everyone knows where the temple of Kali is. As we stopped to ask a street vendor where we could find it, several people quickly and automatically pointed to the next street. We continued on our way. Having spent the day walking through mud and cramming ourselves into packed metro cars, we were naturally tired, and of course, covered in a perpetual layer of sweat.
As we drew nearer to the temple, vendors began selling statues and pictures of Kali. Her wide eyes and blood-covered mouth were painted and carved everywhere. Beggars lined the street outside. Dedicated worshippers flooded in to pay their respects, some with goats in tow to offer as a sacrifice. Unclothed children played in the mud.
Kolkata is dedicated to her, the goddess of death and destruction. It’s a disturbing, but big, reality for this city- and Kolkata is trapped by it. Brokenness permeates the streets and lies heavily here. I can see it in the begging children. I can see it in those who bathe in the gutters. I can see it in the men who stare at you because you are a foreign woman, and those who treat you like royalty because you are American.
It is evident in the conditions that people are forced to live in It is hard not to feel it, and easy to question why we even came here in the first place. There are times when it is difficult to see God here, and it feels more like Kali’s city. This thought crossed my mind as we continued on. A few steps past the temple, we found ourselves in front of another building.
It was simple and white, with the words “Mother Teresa’s Home for the dying and destitute” painted in blue above the door. I had to laugh at this, but I was also reminded:
This, too, is a reality of the city.
I was reminded that this city doesn’t really belong to Kali, even though there are times when she is all you see. It doesn’t belong to her even when we want to ask why things are the way they are. Why the suffering? Why the brokenness? Why the desperation?
As I stared at the two buildings next to each other, I could not help but see how God has not forgotten Kolkata or the people living here. Right next door to death is hope, and I don’t ever want to forget that again.