Why I wrote the story of Fr James Stevens

Author Deborah Bedford with Fr James Stevens at the launch of the book, Father, in Kolkata September 2018

My name is Deborah Bedford and I am the writer of the book, Father. What an amazing experience it has been to delve into the life and motivations of this man who has done so much for children who, before he intervened, had no hope, no future, no ability to get out of the slums of Kolkata.

I had always wanted to write a book but I had no idea about how, where or why. I just wanted to write a book. At the same time, I somehow knew that one day this opportunity would present itself to me and that I would feel compelled to tell the story, whatever that story was. This is exactly what happened six years ago.

On my first visit to India, I travelled to Kolkata to see friends. One friend had already been involved with Fr James Stevens and his work at Udayan finding children of leprosy sufferers in the Kolkata slums and giving them an education and much much more at the haven he called Udayan.

On my friend’s suggestion I travelled out to visit the place, about one and a half hours by car from Kolkata at a place called Barrackpore. It’s a dusty hot road that is one continuous traffic jam the entire route.

Father James with some of the children at Udayan, Barrackpore near Kolkata

Father James with some of the children at Udayan

When I arrived at Udayan, the large metal gate swung open to reveal a peaceful and colourful residence for the children who are living and learning there. I was so moved by the scene of happy, smiling, laughing children, topped only by the pleasure of meeting Fr James. I was not sure what I was expecting him to be like. By now, he had been running Udayan for nearly 50 years. So here he was, still engaged and utterly engaging. In his 70s with white hair and beard, this Englishman was right at home in his adopted country. I sat with him and had a thoroughly English afternoon tea. Fr James told me he had started the place with 11 boys and girls in 1968 from the Pilkhana leprosy slums in Kolkata. Sad to say, there are many slum areas in the city. Now, I sat in this place with new buildings housing the children, beautiful gardens which the children help maintain and the grounds full of the children laughing and playing. I was gobsmacked.

I left Udayan that day knowing I would be involved with Udayan and Fr James. I had no idea where this would take me, I just knew I couldn’t turn down any chance to be involved.

The Steve Waugh Foundation in Australia supports this wonderful project – that’s a story in itself which is covered in the book. It was initially through the Foundation that I started thinking about documenting the story of Fr James’ life. I talked this over with Father and we started the long and sometimes daunting process of writing the book.

The book, Father, written by Deborah Bedford about Fr James Stevens

Father is published by Saffron & Gold, 2018. It tells the wonderful story of Fr James Stevens who founded a home and school for some of the poorest children in Kolkata.

I had found my book to write – a book about extraordinary conviction and belief that led to a home and school that has seen thousands of children get a chance at living a better life. I’m delighted that Fr James loves the book as I know the readers will.

And Udayan? The more books we sell, the more financial support Udayan receives.

I am very proud to have written the biography of Udayan’s founder, Fr James Stevens. As the book says, James is ‘a ripple who created a tsunami of change’.

Buy a book now – or three and give two as presents to friends or family.

Visit Udayan’s website.

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