Ram Bhagan: Salvation in the Arts

Calcutta Slum Thrives on the Skills of Musicians, Craftsmen

Ram Bhagan sitar teacher Bimol Pakray

hide captionRam Bhagan sitar teacher Bimol Pakray.

Julian Crandall Hollick

By the middle of the 20th century, Ram Bhagan — once home to the mistresses of rich British and Bengalis — had developed into the main red light district of Calcutta (now Kolkata). And the streets of the tiny slum were as dangerous as any in the world.

But as independent producer Julian Crandall Hollick notes in the second of a three-part audio portrait of modern India, things have changed.

Help came from the local Ramakrishna Mission and its leader Swami Lokeswarananda. The mission built primary and secondary schools, provided teachers and brought the brightest children to its own school.

Since then, Ram Bhagan has thrived on the skills of its native musicians, painters and craftsmen. Of the slum's 3,000 adult residents, nearly 2,000 are involved in the arts.

And the artists give back. They return to teach at the mission school and raise funds to help rebuild the community.

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