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"Memories of Mother Teresa" published in The Hindu August 26, 2006
Asked what he, a Communist and atheist, could possibly have in common with Mother Teresa for whom God was everything, Jyoti Basu said with a smile: “We both share a love for the poor.”
"One of the miracles that occurred over the years," Mother Teresa once told me, "is that no one is allowed to die on streets; someone, somewhere brings the person to us." A biographer's tribute on her 96th birth anniversary.
Recently, I made a private visit to Kolkata to re-visit a few of Mother Teresa's `homes,' meaning Missionaries of Charity institutions. It was also an opportunity for me to meet the Sisters I know well — as also to see how the organisation Mother Teresa founded in 1950 was doing nine years after her passing. At Motherhouse, their headquarters on AJC Bose Road, I found a brand new block recessed within the compound, to better accommodate the growing number of nuns. Sister Lynn took me through a small museum, which was a new addition. On display were a number of objects testifying to the simplicity of Mother Teresa's life. There were a number of her own notes written in her strong writing.
I looked for the Nobel Peace Prize, the Bharat Ratna, and the Padma Shri citations; the Order of Merit given by the Queen of England as her personal prerogative; the Magsaysay Award; the Templeton Prize. None of her hundreds of awards was on display. I understood why. None of them ever mattered to the recipient, who believed that she herself was nothing, merely a pencil in the hands of the Lord. My eye was attracted to the sari Mother Teresa had last worn, neatly darned in several places. I knew that this sari and indeed all the saris worn by the Sisters of the Order were invariably woven by leprosy patients on their handlooms in the `home' at Titagarh on the outskirts of Kolkata. Also on display were Mother Teresa's sandals, roughly stitched and repaired, a testimony to her enduring frugality.
On the subject of her frugality, I had once teasingly said to her that she switched off lights faster then anyone could switch them on! Her face became serious. She replied that when a little child could give her one rupee saved by his not eating any sugar for three days, in conscience she could not waste "sacrifice" money on unnecessary expenditure. I never referred to her frugality again. I completed my visit to Motherhouse with a visit to her little room where she died on September 5, 1997. I had seen her room only once before, but now visitors could observe it behind a grill. It contained an iron cot with a thin mattress, a plain writing desk, a cupboard, a chair, a `meeting' table with two stools.
Nothing matched; it was obviously the room of a person who knew no comfort. On one side of her bed hung a picture of Jesus — Jesus not at peace but dying in agony, wearing a crown of thorns, blood trickling down his head.
In her last few days as she lay in pain, caused by her years of continuous toil in picking up the dead or rescuing the dying or the abandoned in streets all over the world, she constantly turned to this picture asking her God again and again whether she too had not suffered enough, and when would He call her to Him. Sister Nirmala and her other companions had realised that the time had come and there was nothing a hospital could now do. Although a doctor was present and the weeping Sisters themselves were nursing her, it was a priest who was called to administer the final rites.