Close Encounter with Mother Teresa
“That’s Mother out there” my mother whispered in my ear, it was in the year 1988 and she had come to our school as the chief guest for the school’s annual sports day. With everyone standing in front of me I could hardly see so my mother lifted me up and made me stand on the chair. In the distance I see a frail old lady bending forward slightly with hand folded accepting the standing ovation that she was receiving. Coincidentally I was wearing deep blue shorts and light blue almost white t-shirt and this was the same color that Mother Teresa was wearing. This was the first and last time that I had seen Mother Teresa up close.
I asked my grandfather what does LipBond mean? With a smile, he replied that it’s a combination of Lipton and Brooke Bond. This was the name of the shop that Mr. Paul had given to his tea leaf shop. There was a time when we never had ready-made pre-packaged tea but instead went to Mr. Paul’s shop where he would personally blend as per the customers’ requirement. A unique thing about this shop was at the back of the counter where Mr. Paul sat there used to hang a black and white photograph of him handing over a cheque to Mother Teresa. Proudly my grandfather would tell me that Mr. Paul had given his entire life worth of saving amounting up to Rs. 2 lakh which was a big sum in the 1980’s. With the rest of the money, he opened up this tea leaf shop to manage his daily life.
I always used to wonder what made him do that, was that an overnight decision or something happened that made him take this drastic step.
Death of Mother Teresa
When she died I was in class eleven and I still remember the hustle and bustle of Park Street. The queue to see Mother Teresa for the last time at St. Thomas Church where she lay in state was so long that the end was near Giggles card shop and people had to wait two to three hours to get a glimpse. Park Street was a place of action, international television crews were seen all over the place trying to position their cameras for the last journey.
Park Street was transformed into a place where people from all over the world were slowly accumulating just to pay their last respect. I would sit right in front of Olypub under a tree and watch Park Street in a way that I had never seen before. People from village standing in the line with a bunch of flowers which have almost dried up in the September sun, a gentleman in black funeral attire standing in the heat just to see her for the last time and school children out of curiosity standing just for being part of it. Some of my friends stood in the queue but somehow I did not feel good to see the mother that way. Fittingly Park Street was later renamed Mother Teresa Sarani although most never use it. And ironically all my work life till date I have worked in that same Park Street and passing by the same tree under which I sat to see it all happen.
All these memories came back to me as a flashback when I read a blog post by my father on Mother Teresa called “Mother Teresa Mai Tera Fan Ban Gaya”. And with this year being a very special when she becomes canonized and becomes a saint for millions it is important that we look back and see her life through the streets of the city.
Revisiting Mother Teresa’s Footstep in Kolkata
It was also a coincidence that my heritage lover friend Anthony Khatchaturian sparked a conversation where he mentioned about a house where Mother Teresa Mother Teresa’s movements in the “City of Joy” from the place she first took refuge to the last place. Along with him team members from LetUsGo also decided to pitch in our quest.
So what we have done is to map out key important spots which is synonymous to Mother Teresa and if one is really interested in her history can check these place out.
In the Beginning
Most of the fact are already present on the Internet, however, let’s do a short revision. She was Albanian born in Skopje on 26th August 1910 as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu but she considered 27th August as her birthday the day she was baptized into the faith. On 15th August 1928, she decided to become a missionary and the same year at the age of 18 she went to Ireland joining the Sisters of Loreto. Finally, in the year 1928, she came to Darjeeling in India to join a convent school.
Mother Teresa at Loreto St. Mary’s School
In 1929 she first came to India and started teaching at St. Teresa’s School in Darjeeling, it is here that she changed her name to Teresa after taking her first religious vows in 1931. She then joined the Loreto order in 1937 with another vow to live a life of poverty, obedience, and chastity. Then she joined Loreto St. Mary’s School as a teacher.
Initially, she used to teach geography to girls in Bengali and later on also became the headmistress of the school. By now her Bengali was so fluent that she could easily interact with the students in their native language.
If you visit this school then you will be able to see the room where she taught students maintained exactly the same way that it used to be. This room is sort of a museum and on the walls, you will be able to see registers and log book of the year 1940 and 1945 which she had written with her very own hand.
Right outside the classroom in the corridor you can see the original chair and table used by Mother Teresa enclosed in a fibreglass casing.
When we went there the girls of the institution were very excited to take us around the campus truly reflecting the teachings of Mother herself. Even though it was late in the evening still the sister in charge greeted us and happily showed us around the room.
Mother Teresa at St Teresa’s School
Along with Loreto St. Mary’s School she also taught at St Teresa’s School at A J C Bose Road near Moulali. This is a small girl’s school right next to St Teresa of Avila Church. I would definitely recommend you to spend some time at the church also and marvel at its architecture.
Rebirth of Mother Teresa
While travelling by train from Darjeeling to Calcutta on 10th September 1946 Mother Teresa had an experience which you can say changed her life forever. She had “a the call within the call” a vision giving her a clear path which she needed to choose. She had a vision from God directly to work for the poor and needy. Accepting this she left the Loreto order in 1948 and started what we now know as Missionaries of Charity.
Mother Teresa at 14 Creek Lane
After leaving the Loreto order Mother Teresa moved to 14 Creek Lane where she spent two years planning and finalising Missionaries of Charity which was launched in 1950 along with 12 sisters. She took one floor in this house and created history when it comes to serving the poor and needy an example which the world recognised as truly remarkable.
Mother Teresa – First Dispensary
The location of St. Teresa’s School is also important as Mother Teresa opened her first free clinic out here primarily for the treatment of leprosy in the year 1948 after she left Loreto convent. The clinic is not the same what it used to be but still quite significant as a part of her history and legacy in this city.
Mother Teresa at 14 Ripon Lane
This is something new which many may not know and this was part of our extensive research that we managed to track this house. Surprisingly this place has a Satyajit Ray connection also in the story “The Secret of the Cemetery” Feluda the protagonist went to 14/1 Ripon Lane during the process of the story.
This is the place where Mother Teresa started teaching children of the slum in a small courtyard two years before starting Missionaries of Charity in 1950.
According to Mrs. Helen Thakur, she vividly remembers her carrying benches from somewhere on her own and bring it to this house and setting up this free school. This is the very house that Anthony’s paternal grandfather Anthony Galstaun used to live and it’s him who had arranged for her to use the covered veranda instead of the open air courtyard. It is to be also noted here that the majority of the students were Muslim slum children living around that locality and Mother Teresa herself taught these children including Mrs. Helen Thakur.
This phase of her life is very important as she had just left Loreto order and was about to start something on her own making this an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
Mother Teresa and Mother House
Possible the most important chapter of Mother Teresa as through Missionaries of Charity established in 1950 at Mother House she worked to help the poor and needy of Calcutta and ultimately which would make her a saint after her canonization on 4th of September 2016.
This is the headquarters of Missionaries of Charity and what was once only helping the people of Calcutta slowly spread its wing across the world working in the impoverished neighbourhood in war zones also.
Here the main thing to see is her grave on the ground floor, her modest small room on the first floor and her relic containing her blood on the first floor.
The blue mail boxes near the bed (pillow side) were used by Mother Teresa to respond and manage business letters and each of the mailboxes had names of sisters to whom she would assign the matter in hand. The plain and simple wooden table and bench were the places where she would sit and write her many letters. This room is actually one of the smallest that I have seen in Mother House truly reflecting her style of simple living.
Mother Teresa at St. Thomas Church
After her death on 5th September 1997 this is the very church where her state funeral service took place on 13th of September 1997 and after the service the coffin was placed on a gun carriage draped in the Indian tricolour and taken to Netaji Indoor Stadium where a joint memorial service took place attended by various dignitaries from across the world. After the service, her burial took place at Mother House.
The church is gearing up for the big day when she would be canonized as a Saint Teresa of Calcutta.
Mother Teresa Statues in Kolkata
Park Street has two statues of Mother Teresa, the first one was installed at the Park Street – Camac Street crossing which was erected a few years back and the second one has been recently installed at the Arch Bishop’s House on Park Street, this was installed to commemorate the sainthood of Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa – Sainthood
There are two groups one who are happy that finally Mother Teresa is being made a saint and then there is a group of people who oppose this move by considering the fact that Mother Teresa herself led a very simple life and would have never wanted to become a saint after her death.
Personally, for me, Mother Teresa is someone who did a lot for the city and was one of the pioneers in social work not only in this city of Kolkata but the world as a whole. Her simple lifestyle attracted a lot of fans just like Mr. Paul who gave his entire life’s earning to her to help her in her development work in the city.
There have been many controversies regarding the miracle work of her and the best example would be that of Mrs. Helen Thakur who when asked about miracle healing just simply answered that “Miraculous healing is something which I would not comment on but just to let you know that me and my husband are both cancer survivors and have been cancer free for the last 18 years.”
Some who believed in her miracles while some believed in her good work I leave that part to my readers to decide that for themselves. It’s not possible for us to become Mother Teresa but the least that we can do on our part are basic social work which may not be as dramatic like her but something to leave a legacy behind.
A Different Opinion about Mother Teresa
As an experiment, I had asked few of my blogger friends of different age group some generic questions about Mother Teresa. This was done specifically to understand the common sentiments of the people.
I was in class 2 when Mother Teresa died. I started reading about her then, her portrait went on to become one of my first exhibited works. Then be it celebrating Diwali with the kids of Shishu Bhawan or taking my UK clients to Mother House on their Calcutta visit; I’ve always wanted to know more and explore Mother Teresa’s life and teachings.
This blog post is just another excuse for the same. http://bit.ly/StTeresaOfKolkata
About negativity: Criticism would always be there. It is a part of life and should be accepted. We all make mistakes, we understand and we rectify not to repeat that. If I can have a good amount of unnecessary criticism when my company is not even national, criticising Mother Teresa should have and have become an industry in itself. Not that it would tarnish Her image in any way.
Sheetal Das, the Ola driver, who studied in the Motijheel School said they already knew that Mother Teresa had healing power.
I met another student who now is a rickshaw driver near Auxilium Parish.
For every critic, you might find one million admirers of Mother Teresa. This does not count.
The trust does.
It would be inappropriate to actually form an opinion on Mother Teresa when in reality I have never met her and secondly never have seen the work that she does. My opinion about her is formed by reading snippets from different sources. In fact, I have not even followed her speeches very much. Thus forming an opinion will be inappropriate on my part. From what I have heard from various sources is that She has done a lot of work for the society. The details I have never verified and actually I am not in a position to verify anything as I personally have never done much social work. Some say Mother Teresa was an angel while some say she did work in a selfish manner limited to a particular circle. Both must have their reason and I hope they have opined based on facts and not here say.
Regarding negative media, I would say that most of these are an opportunity for anyone to jump in and form a set of negative opinion just for the sake of publicity. This is a kind of personal co-branding using Mother Teresa’s fame and name. I am sure most of them have never seen Mother Teresa or worked with her but can clearly form an opinion. This is usually a common approach by the mediocre. One should not judge someone so easily. Mother Teresa herself said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.“
Christianity came to India before it reached Europe. St Thomas was an apostle of Jesus. From Jesus’s Sermon on Mount one can learn about love in its truest sense. They are not very different from tenants of Hinduism . So I don’t mind celebrating Christmas, carrying holy sand of St. Thomas or revering Mother Teresa who came to give love to some of our unfortunate beings. She is a great soul for all humanity to revere. We at Calcutta are fortunate to have her at a time when Bengal was reeling through the aftermath of Partition , one of the greatest exodus of humanity in modern times.
Mother Teresa is no wonder a great person. If you do any good work there is bound to be some error and Mother Teresa is no exception. It’s said that the media is en cashing on it.
Saint or not Mother Teresa will always be remembered as a friend of the poor and needy.
This work of mine has been done after going through multiple sources. If you find any mistakes or discrepancies then please feel free to get in touch with me I would surely get them corrected.