The 4th of September 2016, Mother Teresa was declared as a saint in Vatican. She will from today be called the Saint Teresa of Calcutta. We hear of celebrations in Kolkata, Vatican, and the hundreds of Missionaries of Charity centres across the world. I have such mixed feelings about this canonization.
I am of course delighted that none other than the Pope of the Catholic Church is bestowing her this honour considering she had the courage to leave her convent in 1976 although she had taken a vow never to leave it. I have heard from the some of the early nuns, some of who are no more, about her inner turmoil and struggle to leave the Loreto Convent. I too was a Loreto student and studied in the Loreto Covent in Darjeeling where Mother Teresa started one of her earliest centres. That was the beginning of my volunteering days with Mother Teresa. I volunteered with her for seven years in Kolkata right through college and higher studies. I was just one of the many volunteers she had but she was the one amongst many for me.
Amidst all these celebrations I wonder what would Mother Teresa say if she was alive. She truly demonstrated selfless service and had no personal benefit in mind when she would roll up her sleeves to take away the maggots one by one from an infected wound of a dying man. I have seen her do that so often in Nirmal Hriday, a hospice that she started in her early days to tend to the sick and abandoned people in Kolkata. There were hundreds of patients with terminal illnesses like cancer and sometimes very infectious diseases as well. This centre actually smelled of death but you could never believe that when you saw the tenderness with which Mother Teresa would speak and handle the dying. I know Mother had no ambition of recognition and awards, leave alone canonization, when she served the poor. Her only ambition was to make people around her feel love.
Mother Teresa was such an antithesis to the images one creates when one hears about a world leader. She barely had any physical presence…I will always remember her as a diminutive, bent and wrinkled figure, shuffling around in her large sandals. She was a leader who had none of the qualities that a traditional leader is expected to have. She was so soft-spoken that it was sometimes difficult to hear her. She was never good at oratory but whenever she spoke there was a pin drop silence. Her eyes were soft and kind and not the piercing eyes that leaders are reputed to have. I believe she was the best CEO I have ever worked for because she had thousands of us doing things for her without her ever asking us to do it. But she was not at all conscious of her image and the impact she had on people. I remember when I had taken one of my friends from Denmark to meet her; she was quite shocked that Sonja had come all the way from Europe just to meet her. She thought all that was so unnecessary.
I remember that even when I would go to Nirmal Hriday during the weekends, which was adjacent to the iconic Hindu Kalighat temple, I would hear the rumble of criticism about her. She has been criticized for hobnobbing with tyrants, for taking photographs with political leaders but mostly for “converting” the dying with her Christian prayer. I would be often asked if that was true. I of course saw her pray with and for the dying. It was the most poignant and serene sight. I don’t think Mother was ever conscience or even aware of the religion of the sick she tended. To her it was the suffering that mattered. Her prayer brought calmness around all of us and many times the patient died with a smile. I learnt from Mother that the best gift one can give anyone is the sense of dignity and that does not require any money or material wealth.
And, so I sit here wondering what would Mother Teresa do to see all the “tamasha” to use her own words, around her canonization today? I think she would just quietly kneel down and pray.