A special encounter

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I can never forget a Friday morning in 1992; the time was around 11.30 am and I was in my Alipore ­Bungalow, the official residence of the District Magistrate of South 24 Parganas, which was next to the Presidency Jail in ­Calcutta. All of a sudden, Mother Teresa walked in unannounced. I jumped up from my chair and touched her feet. She told me in a frail voice, “Jyoti has sent me to you to seek the release of the 22 ladies languishing in the Presidency Jail as lunatics. I will take them home. Give them peace before they die… I want to see smiles on their faces.”

Jyoti Basu, the revered Marxist and the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, was an avowed fan of Mother and Mother was a big fan of ‘Jyoti’, as she called him. He studied from class 1–6 in the Loreto Convent for girls, which was co-ed in junior school. In later days, he used to meet Mother Teresa periodically and visit her at Shishu Bhawan, the Home set up by the Missionaries of Charity.

Mother had just recovered from a heart ailment and the first visit she made was to the Writers Buildings to meet her friend Jyoti. He told her these 22 girls were languishing in the jail as they had none to look after them and had been labeled lunatics. Mother immediately volunteered to take care of them and asked him how she could get to them.

Jyoti Basu apparently told her: “Go to Patra, he is the guy who will hand them over to you today! Perhaps his confidence in me came after my recent successful handling of the burning Darjeeling Gorkha agitation!

But I wasn’t aware of Mother’s meeting with Jyoti Basu, and nobody had alerted me to expect her.

So Mother came straight from Writers Building to my residence — a regal sprawling Bungalow of the time of Hastings. (William Thackeray had lived here as an infant.)

On seeing her, I fell from my chair. I could not believe my eyes. She had an aura, a halo, a presence… about her that cannot be described. She represented all that was good and noble in the world.

Even though taken unawares, I told her gently: “Mother, I will arrange this, but it will take some time. She said, “Talk to Jyoti, my son, and get your orders. I will wait here.”

I was in a fix. I immediately talked to the CM and got the instructions to move the appropriate court for the release of those 22 women. Then I explained to her that the Court procedure will take a couple of days. It was very difficult for me to convince her about this.

Luckily, Sister Nirmala was kind and took pity on me. She told Mother that it was beyond my powers to get the immediate release of those women and the legal process would take some time. Then she smiled, and said, “Yes my son, I understand. But I will come again to take them.”

She gave her blessings and gave me a silver chain — a sign of good luck for my wife, who was away at our home town in Bhubaneswar. She left after one hour.

By the time she left, around 200 staff and their and family members had gathered outside the bungalow to seek her blessings. She obliged all of them one by one. Some were crying— all were overjoyed.

I was truly blessed to see her in person — there was an instant feeling that she was saintly, had an air of divinity and peace. Thereafter, she came back twice to take the girls in two batches, after the release orders were obtained from the court.

It really hurts me when some people question her motives and malign her role and work.

She was a living Saint. There won’t ever be another Mother Teresa for generations to come.

The writer is an IAS officer of 1979 batch, and presently Executive Chairman of a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation at Kolkata.

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