September 7, 2022
I have never seen any mother holding her child the way she would hold children. Her arms and fingers would simply melt around the baby as if she didn’t have bones” (Raghu Rai, There will be just one Mother, Outlook, 15-09-1997:7).
Early years of life: Blooming Bud:
Born in Albania - Uskub (now Skopje the capital of Macedonia) on August 26, 1910, in a farmer household and named Anjeze Gonxhe Bhojaxhiu by her loving parents (Gonxhe in Albanian meaning Blooming Bud), Mother Teresa, was destined to be a bud that bloomed and spread it's fragrance of love and peace in the lives of those in pain. Those whom she tended with love & nurtured with her gentle words and soothing touch called her ‘Mother’, the most apt title & award bestowed on a woman whom they held very dear.
Scathing attacks on Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity run services: With rising fame came scathing attacks on Mother Teresa and her organization which continue to receive wide courage during these times.
Refuting Accusations - Respectful testimonies of those who knew Mother Teresa well and counter narratives by her supporters: Only three testimonies are reported here:
He spat on her open palm: “Mother Teresa stretched out her hand like a beggar towards a merchant on the streets of Calcutta. “ Give me something for the poor, the hungry, the sick and the lonely,” she said. He smiled diabolically and barked, “Here, take this”, and spat on her open palm. She moved her frail, quivering arm to her heart, wiped her fingers on her sari, bent low and whispered, “Thank you. This is for me. Now give me something for my children”. He was then moved to tears”. “A priest of the Missionaries of Charity, who was witness to this incident – where Mother Teresa had approached a wealthy Calcutta businessman in the age-old manner of a bhikshu – cannot control his own tears as he narrates it to Outlook” (Dola Mitra, Stark White, With Lines, Outlook, 12-09-2016 : 31).
Saintly: A former Bengal IPS officer, B.D. Sharma, narrates his encounter with mother at a leprosy camp: “In the mid-80s, as the Additional SP of North 24 Parganas, where the Missionaries of Charity had set up Bengals’s first home for leprosy patients, I was asked to visit the Gandhi Prem Niwas, as the ashram is called. I was not particularly looking forward to the meeting, as I regarded Mother Teresa to be overrated and this attributed to her being a foreigner working for India’s poor. But I changed my view when I saw her there. She was embracing the lepers, whom I couldn’t imagine even touching, as much as I am ashamed to admit it. She was running her fingers over their open wounds to soothe them, cleaning the oozing blood with her bare hands. This was a show of genuine compassion that cannot be faked. If this isn’t saintly, I don’t know what is” (Outlook, 12-09-2016:33).
Woman of courage and conviction: Dominique Lapierre who knew Mother Teresa well and wrote the book City of Joy says “There is the image of Mother Teresa that I will keep in my heart until my dying day. It is of this frail woman dressed in a white saree with blue border holding a baby. She was standing on the dividing line between Muslim and Christian quarters of Beirut during the civil war. There was shooting everywhere. Machine guns and rifles were firing, grenades were exploding. “She crossed the line and suddenly the firing stopped. At that moment all could see that love was possible, that peace was possible, that sharing was possible”. “For me her whole life was in one way or another extension of this act of courage and love” (Tribute, First published in Los Angeles Times Syndicate and reproduced in Sunday Times of India: Sep 14, 1997: 8).
Mother Teresa did not convert others to Christianity says Naveen Chawla a retired civil servant who knew her well. “She converts a Christian to be a good Christian, a Hindu to be a good Hindu, a Muslim to be good Muslim. She sees Christ in every person she meets. She taught an atheist like me to pray”. Coming to the subject of secretly baptizing the dying, from other religions, Simon Leys has argued in response to such allegation that: “The material act of baptism consists in shedding a few drops of water on the head of a person, while mumbling a dozen simple ritual words. Either you believe in the supernatural effect of this gesture and then you should dearly wish for it. Or you do not believe in it, and the gesture is as innocent and well-meaningly innocuous as chasing a fly away with a wave of the hand (Criticism of Mother Teresa, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - last edited on 22 August 2022:3).
One cannot deny the fact that however lowly and sinful a human is, he or she is not bereft of positives or strengths. However great or saintly a human is, she or he are not free from frailties and faults (often systematically ingrained in innocent, simple and naive minds and sometimes more or less consciously manifested by individuals and groups to please those in power). Mother Teresa too was a human after all with strengths and weaknesses. Her detractors and even some of her supporters will continue to criticize for one or more of her indefensible acts.
Emulation worthy model: Mother Teresa’s life reveals that, despite some of her human frailties, naïve perspectives, lack of certain competencies, dark hours of disbelief in God, and grey areas of her life, she was undeniably emulation worthy humane person, who lived her life affirming some humane values at great cost to self.
Need of the hour: Reaffirming, internalizing and practicing the life affirming core values:
Crisis of our times: The humanity today is caught in a whirlpool of change which many renowned scientists and philosophers say is moving towards a self-destructive trajectory. Although there are those who say these are false alarms, one cannot reject emerging signs of crises all around. Hatred, violence and wars and rising fury of forces of nature are signs still seen.
There is clinching evidence available now from the new Science of Archaeogenetics, that the ancestors of the current day humans are migrants from Africa who arrived and populated all 5 continents of the planet earth between 45000 to 60000 years ago. There are no superiors and inferiors by birth, ethnicity (i.e. race, caste, religion) or nationality. No chosen people. All are kinsfolk - sisters and brothers. There is one planet earth for all life forms of which the humans constitute a small fraction of the whole (Krause, J and Trappe, T., A Short History of Humanity, Penguin, 2021).
Many adults like me have preached but have failed to practice life sustaining values of love, compassion, justice and fraternity in our lives, thus contributing to the present malaise of our time and thus have failed our younger and future generations in more ways than one. Bell tolls for all, women and men, irrespective of their class caste and creed during this greed filled time. They may find the touch of maternal hands like that of Mother Teresa, when love and compassion take root in most of our inner minds.
Thanks to David D'Souza and Veronica Pinto for sharing with me the written materials on Mother Teresa collected by them. I thank Santa Mother Teresa Vichara Vedike for providing me an opportunity to study and write about her.