Miracle on 72B Park Street

In Annie Joseph's words...

I was just 27 years old when I started Ankur Kala as a batik centre for destitute women, out of a single room in Salkia, Howrah in the year 1982. Times were tough but the women were determined to work harder and with commitment they ploughed on. We continued to use one room till we moved into a small three room rented apartment in 1984 at 9A,Meher Ali Road. Ankur Kala functioned out of these three rooms as the showroom shared space with the batik training unit, the accounts department shared space with the canteen while the JSP unit shared space with the packaging unit. Often with no place left, I would meet counselees on the stairs of the building!

When the canteen needed more space owing to large orders, they would set up stoves on the landing and cook. Ankur Kala empowered 40 women from this 700sq foot apartment during the years 1984 - 2005. However the landlord was displeased with the arrangement and asked that we find a place elsewhere. With no place to go and orders pouring in we requested the landlord to give us time to make arrangements. We decided to search for a place big enough to accommodate a training centre.

The women and I prayed fervently that we would get a suitable place soon. Every morning on my way to work I would admire the 72B Park Street Building as I walked past it. My heart was soon set on it as the place for Ankur Kala as I began to clearly visualise it during Prayer and meditation. For 6 months I tirelessly asked my husband to speak to the lady who lived in the building along with her mentally challenged son, as she was a client of his. He fondly referred to her as Didi Ma (Grand Mother) as Didi Ma’s daughter and my husband were class mates in law school. Being an extremely professional man my husband flatly refused to ask his client any such thing! When I finally said I was willing to hear Didi Ma say no provided we at least asked and she said no rather than taking no for an answer without even asking? My husband finally relented! When we approached Didi Ma and asked her if she would be willing to give Ankur Kala space at 72 B Park Street, Didi Ma reflected tearfully that she has been praying since the last two years for God to guide her with what she should do with the house as it was becoming difficult to maintain such a big house and to give the house to Ankur Kala to continue its noble work was just as her husband would have wished to do.

It was beautiful to experience how the prayers of so many marginalised women were interconnected with those of one generous well settled woman… Didi Ma, however, was a tenant so the task of negotiating with the landlord was undertaken by Shahana, Tanuka and myself. We set a date and boldly went to speak to the landlord, Mr Roy Chowdhary and confidently told him we would organise the funds of Rs. 20 Lakhs. All we needed was three months to make arrangements! Three months passed and we asked the landlord to extend our deadline. All of us prayed morning and evening in unision. We worked cheerfully in spite of the situation.

One day Sr. Assumpta brought two European visitors to purchase handicrafts at Ankur Kala. In the course of conversation I asked Sr. Assumpta to please keep us in her prayers. Sister immediately asked if there was any special intention… I told Sister of our need. Sister immediately told me why don’t you speak to Marc and Christiane. They were the two European Fathers from Luxembourg! They were a couple who were associated with an organisation called “Indeschpaten Schaften“. Upon hearing my story, Marc immediately asked me—“If I send you a ticket to Luxembourg to meet the Prime Minister will you come?” Without much thinking I just said yes! As I prepared for the journey I packed my best sari! Marc and Christiane met me at the airport and took me to their home, I stayed with them for four days. On the appointed day I met the Prime Minister who was highly impressed with the work Ankur Kala was doing and showed a keen interest in helping us.

He said he would call for a cabinet meeting and within a week after the meeting he would give me an answer –his answer was yes! To receive building in the heart of the city, undeniably purchased by Prayer where Ankur Kala could continue to sow seeds of hope in the hearts of women who were victims of violence, children of trafficking, marginalized by not only society but their own families ---if this is not a miracle then I don’t know what a miracle is… In the year 1992 when Prime Minister His Excellency Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker was on a diplomatic visit to Delhi he extended his journey to Kolkata just to visit Ankur Kala! During the week preceding his visit many security arrangements were made. On the day of Luxembourg Prime Minister’s visit two hundred and fifty policemen lined the street outside Ankur Kala! Journalists jostled for space! Flash lights in hand! However I did not want extensive media coverage as I felt that the work we do is much more important than the glitter and glamour.

The women now have a place of their own where they can come together to pray, work and share their joys and sorrows! A place where they are greeted with love and not judgement or condemnation. A place where there are respected and not ridiculed. A place where they are encouraged to grow in self reliance and empowered to reach their fullest potential. It is here that they stand-- not by charity, nor by sympathy but through sheer hard work and dignity. Ankur Kala is a source of pride not just for the women who come here but also for their children…

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Ankur Kala is a registered charity, in Calcutta, India.