In conversation with Sujata Mukherjee
Founder, Ashwini Charitable Trust
Sujata Mukherjee is the managing founder-trustee at Ashwini Charitable Trust (ACT) - an NGO she started in the year 2000. Her NGO runs three after-school learning centers and has adopted a Government Tamil Higher Primary school in Bengaluru. ACT assesses each child and family, and steps in to ensure that education is guaranteed. The children are also supported till they find gainful employment.
Sujata feels it is important to impart quality education, and ensure all-round development - including skill building. “This way our underprivileged children living below the poverty line can integrate seamlessly into mainstream society,” she says.
We feature Sujata in this interview on the basis of her passion and deep interest in visiting and exploring centuries old, and legendary temple sites. This is our second interview with the Mukherjee family - Sujata and her husband are long-time members of Evolve Back Resorts - earlier Orange County.
Our first question is related to Evolve Back Resorts, tell us something about your home resort . . .
At Evolve Back, you are right in the middle of nature’s green canvas – blending in with the surroundings. And your vacation is packaged to deliver a unique world class experience – right from their beautifully designed water bodies (swimming pools) to their truly romantic coffee lounge & library – and of course their Ayurvedic Spa, which takes the pampering to a totally different level.
The cottages are absolutely clean, well maintained and spacious. They have truly unique theme restaurants with cuisine options there are really superlative. Sporting activities are available for those who desire, and their guided trekking tours to coffee plantations are something to look forward to.
Over the years, Orange County has become our second home. My family - which includes my husband Abhijit, and our two daughters - agrees with me when I say that we have enjoyed going to Orange County, year after year for our annual vacation.
Could you tell us about your interest in old temple sites? What draws you to these locations?
I am intrinsically drawn to these locations. They continue to tell a story about times that often get abbreviated in history books at school. You need to be there to view, experience and capture the magic instilled by early temple builders in these wonderful works of art and architecture.
I often choose to travel alone and plan my own calendar for these visits – whenever I can take time off from my responsibilities at ACT. Some of my trips to these temple locations have been truly rewarding, helping me witness rare snapshots from history.
You mentioned a trip to Pathra in Midnapore – that must have been interesting?
During September last year, I was on my way to Kolkata from Jamshedpur when on an impulse I decided to make a detour - I always wanted to visit Pathra village in Midnapur district in West Bengal. In the previous year, I went as close by as Dantan, but was unable to visit Pathra.
This time, I just did not want to miss out on the opportunity, as I had read a lot about Yaseen Pathan, who has been responsible for restoring old terracotta temples in the area over the last 40 years.
However, just two kilometers from my destination I noticed that all roads were water-logged due to heavy rains and overflowing of rivers in the region. We couldn't go any further - and just when I was thinking of turning back, something miraculous happened.
Now this is getting interesting…
There was a huge mosque nearby and people had just finished their namaz. (I must have looked sad and lost, because a few people approached me.) I told them that I had actually come to see the Pathra temples. They seemed to sympathize with me, having come all the way from Bangalore to see the temples and I was moved by their concern.
All of a sudden, a gentleman named Asthaq Khan came forward to help me. He offered to take me there on his bike – although it meant going by a longer, roundabout route. And there I was, trusting a complete stranger, simply because he seemed to be genuinely interested in being my guide.
We went along the embankment of the Kongsobati River, and every time it rained I would hold an umbrella with my right hand and the pillion handle with my left. (In the process, also hanging on to my camera and phones.)
How grateful can you be to someone who goes out of his way to help?
After we returned, I saw a bigger crowd out there, and I really must have looked a sight. But the warmth and hospitality I received that day from all the villagers will always be remembered. I was unable to meet Yaseen Pathan, since he was stranded at home due to the floods. But I did manage to see the beautiful temples he had restored, and the results of his dedication.
The ownership and pride that people in that little village have towards those temples is heartwarming. And I will be eternally grateful to Asthaq Khan for his conducted tour of the temple sites.
God works in mysterious ways.
All images used are courtesy of Sujata Mukherjee.
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