Tuesday, April 2, 2024

The city of Joy - Dominique Lapierre

Back in the seventies Father Stephan Kovalski, a French-Polish priest, arrives to one of the most infamous of the Indian slums: Calcutta’s “Anand Agar”, also known as the “City of Joy”. Being driven by a fervent faith and an equally ardent desire to help those in need, he definitely landed in the right place: notwithstanding its name, the slum is one of the poorest, dirtiest and socially problematic neighborhoods in India and probably in the whole world. As a western Roman Catholic priest in a slum full of poor Indian Hindus, Muslims and a few Christians, at first Kovalski is looked upon with skepticism. Yet through his willingness to share the same harsh conditions of his neighbors and help them, he slowly manages to win their trust. Towards the end of the book a rich, young and equally committed American doctor - Max Loeb - will join Kowalski’s group of volunteers.
A Bengali family of farmers also arrives to Calcutta as a consequence of a deadly drought. At first they stay wherever they can find a few square meters to set up camp, mostly by the main train station, and after a while they manage to rent a shack at the City of Joy. The father - Hasari Pal - finds a job as a rickshaw puller and will trade his good health for the few rupees needed to support his numerous family.
The names are fictitious but the characters are realistic if not outright real. Nowadays the conditions of the neighborhood have improved a lot, thanks to the commitment of people like Kovalski and his aides, of non profit organizations, of the local authorities and even of the mafia bosses, yet this is a story that everyone living in wealthy, modern and safe countries should read.

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