The Sainthood Project, Rome by Kounteya Sinha

The Sainthood Project, Rome, Italy

by Kounteya Sinha

Mother Teresa will be canonized as Saint on September 4 in Vatican. From then on, our popular Mother will be recognized and referred to as a Saint Mother Teresa. While the whole world tunes into and turns up for the canonization ceremony, acclaimed journalist and photographer Kounteya Sinha has taken it upon himself to showcase the city where Mother lived and served humanity. He is hosting an open air exhibition of photographs of Kolkata across Rome to let the world know more about the city that was home to one of the most prominent and compassionate personalities to have ever lived. Here’s our interaction with Kounteya about this one of its kind The Sainthood Project...


This crowd sourced project named The Sainthood Project is Sinha’s initiative to tell the world about his beloved city that fondly gave Mother Teresa her name. He plans to turn Rome’s fabled cobbled streets into an open air gallery depicting Kolkata — the place where Mother spent 45 years serving the poor and sick on the streets.

How did you think about this project?

Kolkata is the “city that gave Mother Teresa her name.”
The Sainthood Project is the first ever crowd funded show to portray the city of my birth – Kolkata in Rome. Crowd funding is the practice of funding a project by raising money through donations from a large number of people. I have lived outside the City of Joy for nearly 16 years and I wanted to turn Rome’s iconic cobbled streets as an open air gallery. Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun spent 45 years serving the poor and sick on the streets of Kolkata.
Thousands of people will gather outside the Vatican to witness the historic canonisation. They would have travelled across the world to be part of this. I wondered how many of these people would have come to Kolkata or even intend to? That’s when I decided to do The Sainthood Project. I wanted to tell these people that why not come to Kolkata and see the city that gave Mother Teresa her name – her original home where she spent 45 years of her life. Go to Skopje in Macedonia where she was born and you will not see the madness or that much of reverence. Come to Kolkata and see how this city declared her a saint long time back.
This is my way of doing a small thing for the city I so love. For me Kolkata isn’t just about Victoria Memorial or the Howrah Bridge. Kolkata’s real soul lies hidden in its incredible by-lanes, among meandering streets where the energy of this ancient city is so very palpable. Kolkata’s magnanimity comes from its people – the unknown faces that I intend to reveal.
The Sainthood Project diminishes everyone involved with it into a nobody. Everyone stands at the same pedestal with one single commonality – their love for Kolkata and Teresa.
Anybody is free to join The Sainthood Project. This is a civilian project.
Everyone coming on board is purely doing so for the love of Kolkata
 and Teresa. It will be a very proud moment for the whole of India
when Mother Teresa is declared a Saint. She was India’s Teresa.
It is an incredibly difficult idea to execute. But like Mother Teresa who fought the most immense obstacles to serve the poor, I am standing on the streets of Rome in scorching heat and telling millions gathered there about Kolkata, Mother Teresa and this city’s incredible legacy.

"Thousands of people will gather outside the Vatican to witness the historic canonisation. They would have travelled across the world to be part of this. I wondered how many of these people would have come to Kolkata or even intend to?"


How many months did you devote in clicking the pics and how many pics are you showcasing?

I have spent the last three months shooting all across Kolkata. I have woken up at 5 am every day and driven around the city in a yellow cab randomly stopping wherever my heart wanted and shooting photographs.

What aspect of the city you wish to highlight through your images to the world?

This is about Kolkata’s unknown streets — People and places. This is about Kolkata’s incredible slums and its shimmering shards and sky scrapers. It is about Kolkata’s soul. This is about Kolkata’s unknown communities. You will see forgotten people and their lives. You will Kolkata’s laziness and its vigour. You will see its warmth and its drama. You will see a city that loves beyond measure.

 "For me a city is very similar to a woman. She looks most beautiful when she wakes up –
without any make up or pretence. She is pure, beautiful and above all genuine at that moment."

How are you supporting this initiative?

This is not a tourism pitch. This isn’t about 
Howrah Bridge or the Victoria Memorial.
I believed Kolkata would have been generous when I first thought of the idea. I believed Kolkata would open their heart and purse to fund this project. But they didn’t. They had money for everything but not for the portrayal of their city. People didn’t want to give a penny. Some of my friends did and were incredibly generous. I raised Rs 1 lakh and bought the ticket and paid for the hotel of a volunteer – a young girl named Surasree Seal – a photographer from Government Art College who was to document the project.
But she has never been abroad. In fact she comes from such a humble background that she has never been into an airport. But The Italian Embassy rejected her visa. I lost all the money I had raised because the ticket was non-refundable and so was the hotel booking.
I am now in Rome alone fighting it out. Nothing could stop me from this dream project. I am therefore paying everything from my own pocket. Kolkatans told me how this was such an amazing idea but they didn’t donate anything.

"I had put together a team of volunteers – proud Kolkatans from across the world who would do their bit to popularise the city. I called them the “the nobody’s”. I had put together musicians and story tellers, film makers and photographers – all of them who would stand on the roads of Rome, telling people what Kolkata is all about."

We wanted the world to come to Kolkata and see it – feel its pulse, embrace its warmth, communicate with its ever so charming people, eat its finger licking food, walk through its clean and dirty streets, sit and have a meal with those who live in the slums and above all walk the same roads that Mother Teresa once did.
But no one gave money. Sigh

Where, when and how are you hosting the exhibitions in Rome?

I am standing on the streets of Rome and showcasing photographs of Kolkata.
I have picked 11 major spots which have become my open air gallery – Vatican City, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Palantine Hill, Vatican Museum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Colosseum, St Peter’s Basilica, Galleria Borghese and in front of the Roman Forum.
I am exhibiting about 50 photographs of Kolkata under The Sainthood Project.


Kounteya Sinha is an award winning journalist. He was the United Kingdom correspondent of The Times of India – the world’s largest circulated English newspaper and was considered India’s  most prolific foreign correspondents. In just 10 years with The Times of India, Kounteya has to his credit a whopping 11,400 articles with 12 million hits online.
He has worked in London for the past three years and has won at least a dozen awards for his work.
Last year, he received the world’s most prestigious Bill Gates fellowship to work in Mexico and advice governments from across the world on how to reduce maternal and child deaths.
Last week, he became the world’s first European Union Fellow on diaspora which will see him travel for two months to dig out successful Indian families living in Europe in 11 countries including Italy, Slovenia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Greece. The seminal photographic research will then be exhibited all over the world to be hosted by the European Union president and will ultimately culminate into a book. Kounteya is now on a year long sabbatical and has decided to move from words to pictures to tell a story. He is now a photographer who has done three seminal shows in the past two years – all of them becoming a rage international.

What: The Sainthood Project, Open Air Photography Exhibition, Rome, Italy
Where: Vatican City, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Palantine Hill, Vatican Museum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Colosseum, St Peter’s Basilica, Galleria Borghese and in front of the Roman Forum

Kounteya can be reached at ksinha78@gmail.com or on his Rome no: +39-3802446691

In between running his shows, Kounteya was kind enough to discuss
his unique project with Tuba Mirza and Nausheen Tareen

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