Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bridging the racial divide at Mother Teresa’s Home

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 4 p.m., on November 9, 1991, I am present with a group of South Africans at the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity on AJC Bose Road in Kolkata. They are the senior officials of the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA).

After a few minutes of waiting, Mother Teresa, 81, suddenly walks in. The South Africans, as well as I, who are sitting on benches, instinctively stand up. She is a short, stooping figure, in her familiar white and blue striped saree, with a wonderful and innocent smile on her face. “Thank you very much for coming,” she says. “If I remember right a group of South Africans had come here this morning.”

Geoff Dakin, the president of the UBSCA, says, “Yes, Mother. They are the cricketers.” (South Africa, after being banned from international cricket for twenty years for its anti-apartheid policy, is going to play its first-ever one day international against India at the Eden Gardens the next day).

Dakin pauses and says, “We have come to give you a donation.”

Mother Teresa says, “Thank you very much for your concern for the poor.”

The venerable nun speaks so softly that all the visitors, including the 6’ 2” Dakin have to bend to hear her. And then the magic and power of her personality hits me. Ambition, pride, greed, lust, anger and rage – all this is swept away, and in its place I experience a tranquil feeling. It is clear that I am in the presence of somebody holy, with a powerful sense of integrity.

Dakin gives her a paper bundle.

“My, what a big packet you have given me,” she says.

“There is one hundred thousand rupees there,” says Krish Mackerdhuj, the vice-president of the UCBSA.

“A hundred thousand,” exclaims Mother. “Thank you very much. We need the money. We can open a children’s home at Cape Town.”

Before the meeting, Mackherdhuj had told me that the UCBSA had not initially planned to give a contribution. “But when we saw the work she is doing, we felt compelled to help in some way,” he says.

Meanwhile, Gerald Debock, a white, asks Carl Bongi, a black, “Where do you live?” Both are journalists belonging to the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Carl says, “I live in Soweto, but I am planning to move out. There is too much of violence there.”

“Oh, okay,” says Gerald. It is quite remarkable that these two people, working in the same organisation, are only just getting to know each other.

Suddenly Gerald says, “Hey Carl, do you want to take a baby tiger back home?”

“Where can you get them?” asks Carl.

"At any street corner of Calcutta,” says Gerald. “It’s not very expensive.”

It takes a few seconds before realisation sinks in.

“Hey man,” Carl says, with a smile. “You are pulling my leg.”

Is this the impact of Mother Teresa? Two men, both in their thirties, thousands of kilometres away from home, seem to be taking the first steps to bridge the racial divide that had scarred South Africa for generations. In the process they unknowingly affirm Mother Teresa’s lifelong philosophy: love always triumphs in the end.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

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