ARTICLES ON MOTHER TERESA

Frontline 1997 Article published in Hindu

A life of selfless caring

Her philosophy on some issues met with criticism, but for her work of charity she will be remembered as Mother Teresa of the Poor.

PARVATHI MENON

MOTHER TERESA will be remembered for many things, but the most enduring memory of her will be that of a person who translated ideas into action quickly - a doer unwavering in her purpose, an unstoppable person. Government bureaucracy and red tape, the criticism of her detractors, the hardship of the street, her close encounters with human misery and her own declining health in the last years of her life - before none of these did she accept defeat. Mother Teresa got on with her job: that of serving the poorest of the poor.

PARTH SANYAL

This trait of Mother Teresa's manifested itself from the day she took the decision to give up the life of a nun and teacher in St. Mary's School, a part of the Loreto Convent in the Calcutta suburb of Entally, and step into the streets. She made up her mind while on a train to Darjeeling in September 1946. "The message was quite clear, it was an order," Mother Teresa later told her biographer, Navin Chawla. "He wanted me to be poor and to love Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor."

What factors underlay the decision of a 36-year-old nun, a teacher for 17 years, remembered for her ordinariness and simplicity (and a sense of fun: "She would hold her waist with both hands and bend double with laughter," recalled a colleague) to leave the protection of the convent and serve the poorest? What Mother Teresa described as an "inner command" or a "Call within a Call" was a profoundly religious and personal experience for her.

Did developments outside the four walls of the convent influence her in taking this decision? The early 1940s were tumultuous years. Following the outbreak of the Second World War came the Great Bengal Famine, in which millions died of starvation. Calcutta was inundated with thousands of starving people and resources were scarce. Then came the communal riots and massacres that accompanied Partition, which was followed by an influx of refugees from East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Calcutta was bursting at its seams - slums and shantytowns mushroomed. Mother Teresa lived through these cataclysmic times and could not have remained unaffected by what was happening around her.

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