Teresa for Munnabhai Age
EDITORIAL. JOHN DAYAL. VIII. XXX. X
Ma Tujhe Salaam
Teresa for Munnabhai Age
by Dr. John Dayal
out that Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu is not an Albanian
After the current redrawing of maps in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet universe, her birthplace Skopje is firmly in the bosom of Macedonia. The Maid of the Gutters of Kolkata is a Macedonian, a birth region she shares with Phillip, whose son Alexander sought to conquer the world. Alexander the Great failed, of course, dying of chikanguniya or something similar he caught during his brief stay in north India, possibly during the Monsoon.
Teresa, in the event, continued out of Kolkata to capture the hearts of the world – the hearts of dictators and despots, for which she was criticized, as much as the hearts of presidents and other democrats and the common people, for which she was given the Nobel Price. It is perhaps the first time, and the last time too, that Dollars from the fortunes of the dynamite maker and possible drug lords have come to be used to bring a sense of human dignity to the dying and the destitute of modern metropolises.
In a world where just about everyone who matters claims to have known Mother, or worked with her in her many Ashrams, I must be among the few who started with a Fight with Mother, and at a press conference too. Well, not as fight exactly, but a verbal duel for a couple of minutes during which a [then] middle aged English language newspaper Editor found out just how Teresa captured the imagination of the world.
It was in the Delhi Catholic Archdiocesan hall in a setting similar to what all of you must be so familiar from Raghu Rai’s famous portraits illustrating Navin Chawla’s Autobiography of Mother. She was seated on a stool, or just on the ground, her serenity in sharp contradistinction to her blue striped signature dhoti’s ribbed and ruffled porcelain framing ivory-ceramic gnarled hands and a face fractured in deep gullies like Mother Earth after a draught. You could well imagine a shaft of sunlight – made visible to the eye by the dust-dandruff of urban Delhi -- framing her huddled figure. And if you had ears, perhaps you could hear words in the silent hall – words which said `This is Our Favorite Daughter, whom we are well pleased. `
There was no Akashvani, of course. Just Mother insisting that it was a sin to support abortion, that no one could be branded an unwanted child, an abandoned orphan, and that there was enough love in the world to take are of every such life.
Surely that was red rag to the feminine movement of that time, and to their friends, of whom I was one. Ought not women to have control over their bodies, and what of victims of rape of those fearing genetic disorder, basic groups classified in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act? Was the Old Nun not living in a fool’s paradise, out of tune with a nation whose exploding population could smother its development and its future? Was the pro-life movement not anti-woman, anti-development?
I have forgotten her exact words, but by the time Mother was finished, ardent feminists in the group of editors and correspondents were speechless, even sheepish. Many still believed in the MTP, but most agreed that she had a point. There indeed was enough love in the world to take care of the unborn once he or she was allowed an appearance in the lap of the unwed mother, or the willing. This was decades before the gender data from Haryana and Punjab slapped us in the face with its record of millions of unborn girl children murdered in the womb.
An incident in an orphanage or Home run by Mother’s Sisters of Charity answered several other questions. The Orphanage is next to the biggest Catholic school in Jaipur, Rajasthan, where the children of the high and the mighty study. The two storied building is neat, with wards and rooms for the very ill and the very young.
I was there one Sunday. The children looked happy, as any well kept six month old or toddler will, once she is bathed, clothed and given a bottle of warm milk by someone who smiles at her, makes delightful faces and chuckles her under the chin. Surely that is what all Mothers do, even if they have not given birth to the child in their lap.
This was soon to be finessed, as a gambler would say. There was a flurry of activity in the lane in front of the home. A couple of large sedan cars stopped on the gravel. The gravel. They were Mercedes Benz’s, or maybe one of them was a Rolls Royce Maybach. Out stepped as clutch of women, dripping diamonds, wafting fine parfums, and in the best chiffons and silks money could buy. They had come to celebrate the birthday of an only son with some altruistic charity. They handed over the sweats to the sisters, and the bundles of clothes. The elder women personally distributed food to a few. But before they left, some of the younger women were on their knees with dusters in their hand, cleaning the floor in a gesture of humility that transcended their generosity in cash.
That, I knew, was the reason why an ashram of the Mother has never been vandalized, not even by the worst bigots. There was an aroma of love. And the Orphans were from Jaipur’s own lanes, its dark and dirty secret.
Since that first encounter, I have sought to retrace Mother’s footsteps many times, in fits and starts. Kalighat of her first activity, Bandel where she spent many years, Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose Street where Mother’s House is a lodestone to many seekers of a purpose in life. I have seen her Sisters, their trademark blue striped sari-dhoti making them stand out whether their features are Indian, African or European, in the crowds at international airports. More often than not, there would be a child in their arms, being carried to a new home. Once, these children were mostly of Indian origin. Now their faces, like those of their surrogate Mothers, reflect all nationalities and all nations where Mother’s thousands of sisters work.
When passing through Kolkata, I always make it a point to go to Mother’s House, and celebrate Mass with the Sisters and any visiting Priest. It is refreshing to see the compound still busy with little children and young nuns, and attendance at Mass is usually House-full, men women and children reflecting the faces of a hundred nations, and every province of India’s. Here too Mother sits, in a porcelain statue, small, discreet, almost beautiful.
There are people with a story or two about Mother. Some of them, believe me, are funny stories. Like the one narrated by a Baptist woman activist who had lived in the Baptist Mission near Mother’s Home. Mother had her eye on a building the Baptists owned, but were not using. Mother thought she could use the building for her expanding family. Once when she met this lady from London, she told her “Jesus came to me in my dreams last night and told me to ask you for the building. He said you had agreed to part with it. “That’s strange,” said the Lady from London. “Jesus came in my dreams too last night, but he never said a word about the building.” I am sure the two ladies had a hearty laugh.
Mother conquered death when she first tended the dying at Kalighat. After her won death, she has grown in stature. It does not really matter when the Pope in Rome announces that Teresa is a Saint.
To me and to countless others, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu a.k.a Teresa of Kolkata is already a Saint.