Soaking in the Heart of West Bengal
Written by our fellow, Kunal who is working closely with our field partner, DCBS in Dakshin Barasat, West Bengal. A few days ago, on a chilly winter Monday night, I disembarked at Kolkata’s Howrah Station, after a 29-hour journey from the Milaap office in Bangalore. A new chapter of my life began to unfold.[caption id="attachment_1451" align="alignnone" width="544"] Picturesque rice fields provide the ideal backdrop of a tranquil rural Bengali life.[/caption]I took a 3-hour taxi ride from Kolkata to Dakshin Barasat, a small town in South 24 Parganas District, where my field partner, DCBS, is headquartered. I was warmly greeted by DCBS’ senior management. DCBS is a local MFI, which, among many other initiatives, provides loans for solar-powered lanterns to local women villagers. Milaap and its lenders finance these loans. I will be Milaap’s main representative in assessing the borrowers; particularly in regards to the impact the lanterns are having on their lives of their families and local communities.After my first night sleeping in a typical Bengali village house (quite the experience!), the DCBS staff kindly assisted me the following day in finding me more permanent accommodation. I ended up staying in a guesthouse near a neigbouring town called Laxmikantapur. The guesthouse is part of a picturesque estate; consisting of manicured lawns and fish ponds, in the midst of the breathtakingly beautiful Bengali countryside. There is also the equally charming village of Ullon adjacent to the compound, which I am keen to further explore in the coming weeks.The guesthouse is run by an established MFI called VSSU Vivekananda Sevakendra-O-Sishu Uddyan. VSSU was founded and is headed by Mr. Kapilana Mondal (now my landlord!). He is considered by many to be the pioneer of the microfinance sector in India. He is also an Ashoka Fellow. He and his staff have been very kind to me. He is intending to take me around a nearby mangrove forest; a tour that I am so anticipating. I am honoured to have already met such an esteemed individual in the microfinance and development fields.[caption id="attachment_1458" align="alignnone" width="552"] Kapilana Mondal in front of VSSU's headquarters and guesthouse.[/caption]While my neigbouring Bengali farmers soak rice in their homes, I am equally soaking in the charm of West Bengal; the land of literary giants such as Tagore, spiritual legends such as Vivekenanda, lush green fields and exquisite gastronomic fish dishes!I have already commenced my work with open arms. I am hoping in the coming months to help light up the villages with solar power lanterns, and communicating in Bengali more than just the phrases “Apni Kamon Achen?” (How are you?) and “Subhrabat” (Good morning).I look forward to writing up more blog posts on my experiences in the coming months. But for now, see you soon from Ullon village!