Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 18, 2013

The Man From Paradise

Kolkata, India

While visiting Kolkata earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet Iftekhar “Ifte” Ahsan, the founder of Calcutta Walks. Ifte and his knowledgeable staff offer fascinating guided walking tours of the City of Joy. After my three-hour tour of Sovabazar, the hub of traditional Bengali culture in Kolkata, I determined that we would offer the same opportunity to our student team in July.

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This morning, we joined Ifte and one of his companions for a guided walking tour of Kolkata’s places of worship. As we walked from place to place, Ifte explained how Kolkata was shaped by the different world views represented by churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues. The experience of gaining insight by learning on site is unbeatable. We learned a lot of interesting things from our three-hour crash course in comparative religion.

Kolkata Bishti
As much as I enjoyed learning about how the various world views represented by the places of worship we visited have shaped this city, my favorite take-away happened rather unexpectedly. As Ifte was talking, a man carrying an animal skin filled with water walked by. Ifte paused, pointed at the man, and said, “That is the man from paradise.” That was enough to get my attention.

Ifte explained that the man was a bhishti (pronounced ba•heesh•tee) or water-carrier. The word bhishti is derived from the word behesht, the Persian word for paradise. Over time, these water carriers came to be referred to as coming from Paradise. For hundreds of years the bhishti have carried water to those with little or no access to potable water.

Ifte added an interesting note from Rudyard Kipling’s poem entitled Gunga Din, a story about a bhishti who saved a British soldier’s life but was later shot and killed. After the death of Gunga Din, the British soldier regretted the abuse he had dealt this kind man. In the final lines of the poem, the British soldier lamented: “Tho’ I’ve belted you and flayed you, By the livin’ Gawd that made you, You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!” And, indeed, Gunga Din was a better man — a man from paradise. After all, he had sacrificed his own life to save another.

Team at Wm Carey's Church
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Later in the morning we visited the church founded by William Carey. Believing that the last command of Christ to take the good news to the nations was still operative and not optional, Carey ventured to India in 1792 in spite of strong opposition. The rest is history. Carey unwittingly launched the modern missionary movement because of his willingness to go beyond. He was, in a sense, a bhishti — a man from paradise — because he brought the living water to the thirsty.

I am so glad that the bhishti walked by when he did. I needed to hear the story about the man from paradise. It’s one of those stories that inspires and encourages me to keep doing what I am doing and to encourage others to faithfully carry the living water to those who thirst. Our students have come to Kolkata to fulfill the role of a bhishti. May we all aspire to be the bhishti, the carrier of living water, to the people and in the places where God sends us. Thanks for following our journey.

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PS | Please visit my Instagram account @omarcgarcia for more photos of our students in Kolkata.


Responses

  1. The word “Bhishti” could also possibly be a variation of “Brishti” meaning RAIN (water) in the Bengali language.

    • Fantastic. Thanks for sharing. Love the etymology of words.

  2. The Bhistis were integral part of Calcutta. They are rapidly decreasing in number but one can still spot a few in areas like Bow Barracks, New Market and Tiretta Bazar.

    Sharing my blog entry on Bhisti http://rangandatta.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/bhistis-of-calcutta-kolkata-a-vanishing-tribe/

    • Thanks, Rangan. I enjoyed reading your blog post on the bhistis. Very informative. Thanks for sharing.

      • Thanks Omar, you too have a wonderful blog. By the way Calcutta Walks supports my blog.


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