Tips on an Essay on Mother Teresa as an Example of Love in Action
Mother Teresa is admired for her ability to respond to the needs of the undeserved populations. In fact, her acts of reaching out to everyone in Calcutta and other parts of the world are seen as a pure demonstration of the proverbial idea of loving a neighbor written in the bible. To write the best essay on her and her acts of love, the following tips are critical.
Use an attractive first line
You must introduce your essay in such a way that your readers will want to find out more about mother Theresa. You may, for instance, use some of the words that prominent leaders used to describe her. You can then explain how the words were reflected in her life. You may also include the statistics of the number of people that she helped in her lifetime. You can hence go ahead and link these numbers to her ability to love without conditions. A quote that she may have used on love can also be utilized in the first sentence.
Include your perspective in the thesis statement
What do you think about mother Theresa’ acts of love? What lessons do you think the rest of the world should learn from her life? Do you completely agree that her life and actions were a symbol of love? Well, these questions will assist you to write a thesis statement at the end of the introduction section. Regardless of the perspective that you take, your readers should get a sense of direction from reading the statement.
The life and deeds of mother Theresa are well known by the world. Books, articles, journals have been written about her in the past. Hence, whereas it is easy to find information for your essay, your tutor is likely to look for something unique in your paper to award you good marks. Find a different way of approaching the subject so that your facts do not seem obvious. To achieve this, you must go through different literature materials and identify some of the gaps that the authors may have left.
If you are not sure of how essays should be written, go through various samples for ideas. The online platform has thousands of examples to learn from. You may also buy an already written sample to get the professional idea on how to approach your paper.
Mother Teresa at Nirmal Hriday: 'Wellspring of compassion'"All the time we are touching Christ's body in the poor. In
The words, coming from Mother Teresa, at first strike the listener as oddities. Then, almost imperceptibly, the magic of the words grows upon the mind, invading and enveloping the senses. What seemed, at their best, nebulous comments a few moments ago appear to be based on a superior kind of reasoning.
Then the attention shifts to her face, ravined like parched earth; her frame, small and stooping; her smile, radiant but sad. The visitor scratches his head in bemused wonder, telling himself: "My God, she is so vulnerable herself, and still she thinks it the duty of her love for Jesus to bear the heavy Cross."
Her achievements, though they are legion, temporarily disappear from the reckoning. She herself calls it "a drop in the ocean". What remains uppermost in the mind is the vastness of love packed in so tiny a frame. Hers is the strength of weakness, the affluence of poverty.
She was recently seen walking the streets of West Beirut, leading a bunch of 37 orphaned and retarded Muslim children from the camps to her newly opened home, even though the debris of shelled buildings smouldered on both sides. She was in Columbia, nursing and feeding starved children and attending to jobless workers, most suffering from tuberculosis.
World Figure: Dressed in her familiar all-white habit and a blue-edged sari, with no frills about her except a shining steel cross worn on the left side of her chest. Mother Teresa is today a harbinger of love and sunshine in every area of crisis. The Catholic Church almost brackets her with the Holy Father, the Pope, to whom she is deeply attached.
The heads of states compete with each other to invite her and to help her open more and more houses. The rich industrial houses of the world offer her land, buildings and funds. But, most of all, the people who long for her healing touch are the poor, the unloved and the uncared,rotting in the gloom of their hovels in Calcutta, La Paz, South Bronx or Southall.
Awards have come her way as they have come to no other contemporary human being. Since she was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace in 1979, "for outstanding service to humanity and saintly devotion", 43 national and international honours have been heaped on her, including the Honorary Companionship in the Order of Australia, conferred on her last month, and the Bharat Ratna, the highest Indian honour, in 1980.
A few weeks ago, when she went to Beirut on a follow-up trip, the toddlers whom she had sheltered recognised her instantly and called her "Um", the Arabic for mother. At Nellie, poor women who have had their entire families slaughtered, touched her feet and sobbed as though they had found a long-lost sister.
Edward Kennedy, the US senator who saw her work in Calcutta during the Bangladesh war of 1971 was so moved that, besides signing a fat cheque then and there, he wept in public. The late Jawaharlal Nehru, while inaugurating the children's home in Delhi in 1961, came accompanied by Krishna Menon and a host of the capital's ever-proliferating 'social workers'.
At the end of the function, however, he tore himself away from the crowd and spent a moment alone with Mother Teresa, telling her in a choked voice: "Believe me, Mother, we need you just as much as the poor do." The prime minister of Yemen, lifting in the '60s a 600-year-old ban on permitting Christian missionaries to work, invited Mother Teresa. In an emotion-laden gesture, he presented Mother with the highest honour of the land, a sword, which is still a subject of jokes among the nuns.
Powerful Presence: Important personalities have come to her often without any purpose or prior appointment, only driven by an inner compulsion. Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, the powerful former chief minister of West Bengal, used to drive to her place in the small hours, sit silently through the Mass, and then drive back.
"No, Mother," Mrs Gandhi replied, "pray for my family." The donors to the Missionaries of Charity, however rich and important, have felt humble in Mother Teresa's presence.
When T. Thomas, erstwhile chairman of Hindustan Lever, came to see her to offer her property in Bombay (which became 'Asha Daan'), his first question was typical of a corporate head: "Mother, how is your work financed? What is your budget?"
She gently asked him: "Mr Thomas, who sent you here?" "I felt an urge inside me..." "Well, other people like you come to see me and say the same; that is my budget."
Showering a frank, peasant smile on humanity from her light gray eyes, this septuagenarian missionary of Calcutta has been going out to the people as no other missionary has done since the Jesuits 400 years ago.
"She is a person fit to be canonised in her lifetime," said Fr. De Lastic, auxiliary bishop of Calcutta, and officiating head of the region's Catholic Church.
Widespread Organisation: Her Missionaries of Charity, started as late as 1950 in Calcutta, is now among the world's most widespread congregations. Though its rolls have only 2,400 Sisters and Brothers (as against 26,000 Jesuits, for example) it is present in 52 countries of the world. Its 227 houses are run by members drawn from 35 nationalities. They scour the slums and hospitals of 160 cities and towns, distributing food, clothes and medicines worth Rs 10 lakh every day.
The Teresa Sisters are present everywhere, threading their way down the ghetto streets and the alleys of the poor. They shun the glitter of the fashionable areas and the glamour spots, invariably reaching out for the city's seamy underside, seeking out not only the hungry and the naked but also the old and the alienated. the flotsam for whom society does not care and thinks that its moral obligation towards them is honoured by sweeping them under the carpet of welfare programmes.
They run 140 slum schools all over the world, teaching, and mostly feeding, 27,542 children. Their 304 feeding centres provide cooked food to nearly 50,000 people daily.
The 70 homes for abandoned children run by the congregation house 4,000 children at any given point of time, arranging for the adoption of about 1,000 children every year. The 81 homes for the dying destitutes.
administered by the Missionaries of Charity, admitted 13,000 people last year; 12,000 poor women were taught to earn their living; 5,000 vagrants were given night shelter; and a mind-boggling 6 million people were treated at the 670 mobile clinics.
Observed Rajesh Khaitan, a Calcutta MLA : "There are three things truly international about our city: film maker Satyajit Ray, the city's well-known poverty, and Mother Teresa, who is herself the priestess of poverty."
Limited View: Yet, even a lot of her admirers confuse her with some social worker, and try to gauge her position in the society in terms of hospital beds provided, children fed, lepers treated, or such other material indices of egalitarianism.
Many of them feel somewhat disappointed by the fact that even Mother Teresa's efforts have not made any dent in, for instance, the appalling human squalor of Calcutta. Charity, for them, is investment that should show return.
Beggary cannot be abolished by feeding the beggars." In a tone quite uncharacteristic of the Marxists' generally tolerant attitude towards Mother Teresa, quipped Prasanta Sur, West Bengal minister for urban development: "The impact of Mother Teresa's work on the life in Calcutta is nil. Whatever she might say, she is doing social work, and social work has its limitations."
How much impact Sur's own efforts, as the minister in charge of Calcutta city, have made on urban life there is, of course, a different matter; in terms of quality of life, Calcutta, which once occupied the top position in the country, is now the poorest. But the opinions of Sur and Malihabadi follow a pattern with which Mother Teresa is by now familiar.
"My work is a drop in the ocean," she reiterates, and adds that "if that drop weren't there, the ocean would have been one drop less". She shuns the hauteur of the alms-giver, the arrogance of the altruist, or the self-esteem of the socialist who thinks he alone holds the key to the solution of the problem of poverty.
Clear Understanding: Her own views on poverty (see interview) are however an extension of her personal theology and are therefore quite beyond the pale of reason. She is patently sceptical about the capitalist answer to poverty, that is, the welfare state; her dislike of the Marxist haven of the supposedly classless society is equally unambiguous.
But, when it comes to identifying the root cause of poverty, she does not hesitate for a moment. "It is inequality,"' she snapped back at the questioner, with maybe a trace of remorse in her voice but no anger. "You see, the rich of the world are not prepared to share with the poor, forgetting that God created all of them equal."
But can the rich be persuaded to share with the poor? Is there an apocalyptic dawn looming on the horizon whereupon the children of God will be the same again? Doesn't it sound a bit like a Utopia? When provoked, her eyes sparkle with a kind of cold steely incandescence. "Yes. it will happen." she says calmly, and lapses into a silence which can be respected only by suspending all argument.
The spread of Mother Teresa's presence in India has been phenomenal, rocketing from just one foundation in the '50s to 118 now. True, there have been older - and more broad-based - congregations such as the Ootacamund-based Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, whose workers pioneered in Calcutta the great task of receiving abandoned children from the police.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, which runs a number of old age homes, will observe its centenary this year. Even some of the giant Hindu organisations, such as the Ramakrishna Mission Seba Pratisthan and the Bharat Sevashram Sangh, run feeding centres, free schools and a nation-wide network of relief services.
Unique Style: Still, there is an essential difference between the Missionaries of Charity and all other quasi-religious social organisations. No other organisation professes to serve only the "poorest of the poor", thus obliterating from its ken such extraneous missionary pursuits as setting up elitist schools and serving among the middle classes and the blue-collar workers.
Reads the Constitution of the congregation: "Ouraim is to quench the infinite thirst of Jesus Christ on the Cross for love of souls by the profession of the evangelical counsels and wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor."
In material terms, it leads the Missionaries of Charity to the very destitute, the children, the women, the old and the unemployable - in short, all those who dwell on the fringes of urban life and are quite incapable of organising themselves into militant groups fighting for rights or facilities.
In style and technique, the Missionaries of Charity is entirely different from the other organisations because of this emphasis on poverty. Unlike the Ramakrishna Mission or the Jesuits, it never spends its efforts on rich schools and hospitals and creating an image for itself among the upper classes.
On the other hand, working among the poorest of the poor enables it to develop a rare rapport with the slum dwellers and the beggars. In Calcutta, for instance, the poor rickshaw-pullers can easily guide a visitor to the local centre of the Missionaries of Charity, though the more affluent taxi-driver might look askance if ordered to be taken to "Mother Teresa's place".
In some of Calcutta's poorest eastern suburbs, the Sisters work in slums where even the Marxist party workers do not enter. They pick up the dying destitutes from the Sealdah Station, the city's busy railway portal where the rural poor enter Calcutta in search of jobs; they dress the wounds of leprosy patients at Kalighat, near the temple, and accept in their homes poor railway porters unable to work because of accidents or, what is quite frequent among them, tuberculosis.
As a Sister put it: "We take in people much below the level of politics. In fact, these people have no resistance left in them, and, possibly that's why no political party is interested in them. You see, they have no voting rights."
Last fortnight, Mother Teresa's visit to Assam provided a glimpse of how much awareness she is capable of creating among the innocent victims of political turmoil and in areas where cataclysmic happenings have shattered all moral values.
In one day, she toured 200 kilometres through riot-torn Nowgong district, stopping at the crowded camps, addressing the inmates, kissing the children, and gently offering to take the orphans with her to the Shishu Bhavan (children's home) of her Gauhati foundation, which she inaugurated at the end of the day.
The ovation she received at Nowgong's Borbori camp, in the heart of the Nellie area, was particularly touching. Of the 912 villagers at Borbori, 585 had died in the February carnage. The camp is a cluster of tents by the side of a dirt track that leads to miles of flat green rice paddies, the spot where nearly 2,500 Bengali-speaking peasants were shot or speared to death.
As Mother Teresa entered the camp, a district official brought to her Taijul Islam, a two-year-old, brown and crumpled like a raisin, his eyes perpetually sealed with pus oozing freely and his dark, bare back raw with scabies. Taijul's parents had been shot to death at the edge of the paddies.
Mother Teresa pressed the child close to her breast, blessed it, and patted it till its groaning ceased. Outside the tent, there was a dust storm building up. Inside, some of the accompanying politicians had scented the presence of newsmen, and were busy making speeches. Mother Teresa impetuously waved at them; as she hopped into the waiting car with the child, her eyes looked afar, and her lips quivered to mumble a prayer.
Towering Personality: There is, today in India, hardly a public figure who has been able to rise above sectarian, religious and political interests the way Mother Teresa has been able to. On one hand, she has been a constant friend of Mrs Gandhi with whom she differed only once, during the Emergency and the forced sterilisation campaign; on the other hand, she is also a friend of Jyoti Basu, the Marxist chief minister of West Bengal, to meet whom she needs no prior appointment.
She has been felicitated and assisted by almost every chief minister including Bihar's Jagannath, a Congress(I) stalwart, and Tamil Nadu's M.G. Ramachandran, who belongs to the non-Congress(I) bloc. At another level, and operating from behind the veil of her own mystique, she affects rival world leaders to an equal extent.
On a US tour in 1981, she had a lunch engagement with President Ronald Reagan at the White House, followed immediately by the inauguration in New York's Harlem district of a new foundation for destitutes and drug addicts. On her way back, however, she was in the Communist-controlled German Democratic Republic, opening her first foundation in a Communist country other than her native Yugoslavia.
Her plans for 1983 and 1984 include setting up Missionaries of Charity foundations in Poland and in the People's Republic of China, both countries where, she thinks, people need "a lot of love, and some bread too".
She has lately been to both Israel and the Arab capitals, opening foundations right in the heart of the Gaza strip, at a point which she says is "within the shelling range of both the armies".
She has picked up retarded children from the streets of West Beirut even while Israeli guns were blazing away in the neighbourhood. In Rwanda, her Sisters have received with open arms orphan children escaping from the attacks of the invading columns of the Ugandan army.
Rich Response: Mother Teresa admits with girlish pleasure that she has "an itch to travel", hastening to add that she is prepared to go to the moon "if there are poor there". The point is, her ceaseless travels have now begun to reap a rich harvest of worldwide consciousness about the condition of the poor in the Third World. Samples:
- Over 100,000 schoolchildren in Denmark go without a glass of milk every day to send it to India;
- Belgian donors have been sending medicines and vitaminised powdered milk worth a few million dollars to India through the Missionaries of Charity;
- On a week's notice, the Canadian supporters of Mother Teresa began shipping out 5,000 tonnes of high-quality processed food for the famine-stricken people of Ethiopia and Tanzania; and,
- Her followers in Switzerland send every year nearly 800,000 capsules of Lampren, a medicine for leprosy, for the Missionaries of Charity's two leprosy homes in the state of West Bengal.
The actual transfer of resources done through the Missionaries of Charity is hard to compute. But a senior sister at Mother Teresa House, the international headquarters of the congregation in Calcutta, estimates that articles alone "worth nearly Rs 30 crore" are being channelised every year through the Missionaries of Charity to the poor, "not to speak of the services that are being rendered free of cost everywhere".
The string of awards that Mother Teresa has won is clear recognition of the cause that she espouses. Her earliest honour came 12 years after she had begun her congregation, in 1962, when the Indian Government conferred the title of Padma Shri on her. The same year she received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award. Since then 84 other awards and titles have come her way.
Media Success: She has been a success on television and as the subject of books. Malcolm Muggeridge's 1969 BBC film on her work. Something Beautiful For God, even on a casual showing on a non-prime time slot, yielded pound 20,000 in donations in a few weeks' time.
His book of the same title, whose copyright is owned by the Missionaries of Charity, has sold over 1.5 million copies. Dominique Lapierre, the Frenchman who collaborated with Larry Collins on such successful publications as Is Paris Burning?
Freedom At Midnight and The Fifth Horseman, is now, like Muggeridge in his personal life, a total convert to the faith of Mother Teresa. He is reportedly investing about US$10 mil lion in a film on Mother Teresa: Calcutta film maker and actress Aparna Sen has been approached to play Teresa as a young Loreto nun in the '40s.
In the highly eclectic Bengal society, Mother Teresa has been almost imperceptibly apotheosised over the decades. Around New Year's Day, when thousands of multicolour calendars are put up for sale along the sidewalks of Calcutta's Esplanade, the beaming face of the Mother offers stiff competition to the scantily-clad screen goddesses.
A sketchily written book on her life, written in Bengali, has sold more than 20,000 copies and is now recommended to school libraries. "There is something positively saintly about her," marvels Maharaj Lokeshwarananda Swami. head of the Ramakrishna Mission Cultural Institute. "She is Calcutta's pride," says Jatin Chakravarty, West Bengal housing minister.
THE MISSIONARIES of Charity is sanctified by the Pope in Rome, and hailed by him as the most precious institution that the Catholic Church has produced in recent times. Its recruitment is entirely restricted to Catholics, and its theology and work-style are based on some very authentic canonical ideals.
Mother Teresa herself put it beautifully in her interview with Muggeridge when she said: "Actually we are touching Christ's body in the poor. In the poor it is the hungry Christ that we are feeding, it is the naked Christ that we are clothing, it is to the homeless Christ that we are giving shelter."
Behind this delicate lilt of evangelical prose, there lurks a kernel of hard psychological reality. This is evident from the subtle split personality the Sisters develop after nine and a half years of rigorous training they receive at the society's five training centres in Calcutta, Rome, San Francisco, Manila and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
This is the training to "put our love of God in action", and is divided into aspirancy (six months), postulancy (one year), novitiate (two years), juniorate (five years), and tertianship (one year). The training ends with the profession of four cardinal vows of the Missionaries of Charity: undivided love in chastity; freedom of poverty; surrender in obedience; and "whole-hearted and free service to Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor".
Even after the decade-long training, the profession of the vows is meant to be renewed yearly, until 10 years later, when the Sister is finally consecrated to a life wholly devoted to the service of "Christ in His poverty".
The training is a brainstorming ingestion of religious lore-liturgy, theology, scripture, church history, Vatican documents and the Gospels-topped with a rudimentary study of English grammar (no literature at all), medicine, geography and nursing.
Ceaseless Prayers: The community life of the trainee Sisters is held together only by ceaseless incantation of prayers. At the Missionaries of Charity, there is a prayer for every occasion: drought, flood, war, pestilence, a friend's illness, the outbreak of an epidemic, even a sudden spurt in prices.
The Mother House on Acharya Jagadish Bose Road in Calcutta, where nearly 300 Sisters live at a time, resounds with the chanting of prayers and singing of psalms from morning till midnight. In the shining chapel, a few hundred Sisters in their white saris bend and rise to the rhythm of the hymns many times a day, as if enacting a ballet of purity.
Life at the Missionaries of Charity is incredibly tough. The three daily meals include just that much of fat, protein and hydrocarbon which can keep a human body going through the rigours of 12 to 14 hours of non-stop work in a day.
The litany of the prayers and the messages is, as a close insider admitted, "at first numbing for the senses, and then capable of creating a hallucinatory effect on the mind". The Sisters of course do not emerge out of the training in any way warped as human beings: Mother Teresa said even those who leave the congregation part ways as "elevated men and women, pure at heart and closer to Jesus Christ".
Indeed, the training constitutes a very powerful process of indoctrination. The Sisters, for instance, bring to a point of conviction their belief that Christ lives in the disguise of the poor and the unloved. The result is a total freedom from any inhibition; they nurse the leper and dress the festering sores on the bodies of the dying destitutes, as though they were caressing the prize-winner in a baby show.
When Karan Singh was Union health minister, the Centre had put up a proposal before Mother Teresa to send a team of public health volunteers to her homes in Calcutta for training, so that the government health workers could learn to be different from automatons carrying vaccination needles.
Mother Teresa deliberated upon this with her associates, and later on got back to the Government, arguing that she could not perhaps "train" anybody because the job she was carrying out was far different from "social work" and was "meaningless without the constant guidance of Jesus Christ". The Health Ministry closed the correspondence at this stage.
Frugal Life-style: It is only the religious fervour of the Missionaries of Charity which enables them to cut down overhead expenses to the minimum. Sister Joseph Michael, the Sister in charge of office administration at Mother House, estimates that at no foundation of the organisation would overheads exceed 2 per cent of the total spending.
Except for the parlour at Mother House, no room has a ceiling fan. The Sisters sleep on bedrolls spread over the floor, or on hospital-type cots whose loosened springs have caved in like hammocks.
Mother Teresa alone has a room of her own, measuring 8 ft by 6 ft, with only one window that opens on the impressive new building of the state committee of the Communist Party of India-Marxist. She sleeps on the floor, surrounded by stacks of files, and the only books that she reads - prayer books.
A Missionaries of Charity Sister, calculated Sister Michael, incurs a spending of just about Rs 60 per month on herself for food, clothing, medicine and shelter.
Said Bishop Dinesh Chandra Gorai, head of the Protestant Church of Calcutta and deputy moderator of the Church of North India: "Mother Teresa's work is unique because she has taken the vow of poverty herself. We (the Protestants) too have dedicated people, but even our dedication costs money. Mother Teresa's people just give themselves away. Their dedication doesn't cost anything, it only gives."
Clockwise Set-up: Behind the piety, and the evocative music of prayers, there is an organisation that ticks like clockwork. The framework for it is embedded in an austerely-printed 135-page document, the Constitution of the Missionaries of Charity, wherein the iron rules of life in the society are laid down in hard judicial language.
At the top of the society's hierarchical pyramid sits Mother Teresa, who is the elected Superior General of the congregation, and holds office for six years, at the end of which she must seek re-election by Sisters. She is assisted by a powerful Council General, whose members have decisive votes on various matters; but still the Superior General retains the final say, and the councillors may give advice to her "on being asked to do so".
The congregation's 'vow of obedience' is a kind of steel frame ("steel frame of love": as the insider readily paraphrased) no longer seen in any other Christian order. In none of the 227 units can a Sister stir out of the premises of the convent without prior approval of the Sister Superior.
No Sister is entitled to receive private mail; none can call each other by a pet name because that denotes individual affection and, to that extent, is deemed to take away from their collective affection for Jesus Christ.
When the Sisters travel within the city, the timings are meticulously noted down as a Sister is not supposed to have any personal moment: she is not supposed to see films, keep more than two saris, read books other than those directly related to her work, or entertain personal guests. Failure to conform to any of these regulations may lead to expulsion from the congregation which, though rare, is not altogether unheard of.
Hard Discipline: In fact, some of the discipline of the old Jesuits seems to have rubbed off on the Missionaries of Charity. The spiritual adviser to the congregation is Fr. Van Exem, the septuagenarian vicar of the centenarian St Francis Xavier Church in Calcutta.
Like the Jesuits, the insistence on constant Communion is a way of life at the Missionaries of Charity. "To be without daily Communion is like being without Christ," says Mother Teresa. To her, the sanctity and orderliness of the congregation is synonymous with the sanctity of the Holy Cross.
The little ceremony which accompanies the profession of a Sister's final vow is identical to a Bengali wedding. For a few hours, the woman is dressed like a bride, and is brought to Mother House with the sounding of conch shells, the building's entrance adorned with floral patterns, called alpana in Bengali.
A Sister can of course relinquish her vows and leave; "but," as Mother Teresa says firmly, "leaving the congregation is like being unfaithful to God; it is a marriage, and no wedlock can survive betrayal".
Ironically, the Sisters accept their life of stony hardship with cherubic cheerfulness. When they walk down the grimy backstreets of Calcutta - always in groups of at least three, as decreed by Mother - the sound of their carefree laughter echoes down the road like a murmuring brook. They treat wolf-whistlers with the compassion of an indulgent sister; they flash a winning smile when some local toughs act discourteously.
Forgiveness inevitably pays. When the Missionaries of Charity foundation was opened at Gauhati in 1980, a gaggle of local hoods was after the Sisters, throwing stones at night, insulting them on roads, even trying to strangle one of them in broad daylight. Conversion came about slowly.
Last fortnight, the same boys approached Mother Teresa, profusely scratching their heads, and asking if they could help the Sisters in cleaning up the premises for the inauguration ceremony of the children's home there. Mother beamed, and they were at work.
MOTHER Teresa was born Agnes Goinxha Bejaxhiu in 1910 at Skopje in a thin tongue of land in South Yugoslavia wedged between Albania and Bulgaria. The Bejaxhius come from a stock of hill people, tough and revolutionary. Nicholas Bejaxhiu, her shopkeeper father, wanted her to marry and get settled, but young Agnes was a spiritualist from age 12.
She has a club foot, which probably bred a sense of shame, and a consequent attraction for religion. When she was 18, she took her parent's permission and joined the congregation of Loreto nuns at Rathurnham in Ireland. A year later, in the winter of 1929, a P&O liner carrying her sailed into Calcutta port, heralding the beginning of a long monastic life in the 'Bengal Mission", an important Loreto centre.
The Loreto schools are an elitist institution in Calcutta, and a berth in these was just as much sought after in the past as it is now. The poet Rabindranath sent his daughter to one of the Loretos, and'so do some of the richest businessmen of the country even today.
However, Agnes, as she was then called, was assigned to teach at the Bengali section of Loreto Entally, a grand Edwardian mansion sitting in the middle of rolling greens surrounded with high walls and separated from an endless sprawl of shanty townships, the Motijheel slums, extending right up to the Sealdah railway yard.
Young Agnes rose rapidly in the school and became the headmistress by the time World War II had begun, and Burma-based Japanese planes were raiding Calcutta. There was dislocation all over. Apart from the scare, the Bengal countryside was stricken with the century's worst famine, a man-made crisis in which 5 million people died (as against only 13 killed in Japanese raids).
Poor villagers invaded the streets of Calcutta, squatting, and dying, all over the city. In a matter of months, one of the most beautiful cities of the British empire had turned into a veritable nightmare, marks of which the city still carries.
Divine Call: Agnes, between classes, began going out to the Motijheel slums, nursing the poor and the sick, and carrying little packets of medicine and clothes for the children. The high boundary walls of Loreto, she recalls now, "seemed to me at that moment like a prison wall". Then came God's call.
She was on her way to Darjeeling when, on September 10, 1946, "I heard the call of God". In quiet, intimate prayer with her Lord, she heard distinctly what she says was for her "a call within a call". She had earlier said in an interview with E. Le Joly, vicar of the Sacred Heart church in Calcutta: "The message was quite clear.
I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them, It was an order. I knew where I belonged, but I did not know how to get there." The Missionaries of Charity still observes the day as the most important day in the congregation, the Inspiration Day.
The following four years witnessed a quiet diplomatic battle between Agnes, a frail Loreto nun, and the entire might of the Catholic establishment in India. She could not start out on her own without the concurrence of three authorities: the mother superior of the Loreto Church in Ireland, the Calcutta, and Pope in Rome.
However, Ferdinand Periers, archbishop at that time, was doubtful about Agnes's intentions from the very beginning. He kept Agnes's proposal hanging in the balance for four years, often saying: "I know this woman as a novice. She could not light a candle in the chapel properly, and you expect her to start a congregation?"
New Life: Periers feared that Agnes's diversions might have unwholesome repercussions in the convent, and so he promptly despatched her to a minor Loreto school at Asansol, putting her in charge of the kitchen and ordering a discreet watch on her activities.
The orders were issued in the name of the mother provincial of the Loreto establishments in India. However. Agnes had already made up her mind: she was in direct touch with the mother superior in Dublin as ell as the Pope.
Both agreed in principle with Agnes's proposal, and overruled the archbishop's suggestion that she should be secularised if she wanted to go ahead with her plans. The Pope ordained that she should be exclaustrated instead.
She was thus released from the Loreto order in 1948 with Sister Columba, acting provincial, circulating a letter among all Loreto schools in Bengal which read: "Sister Agnes has left the convent. Do not speak about it. Do not criticise. Do not praise it. Pray."
It was a new life for Agnes, who promptly acquired the new name of Teresa, after St Therese of the Child Jesus, the French saint who died in 1897 at the age of 24, and had written the touching autobiography, The Journey Of A Soul. She was poor and she was alone.
Living in a small room at the Little Sisters of the Poor's old-age home, she would spend the day teaching the alphabet to the children at the Motijheel slums. She kept a small diary then. An entry reads: "Met N., who said there was nothing to eat at home. I gave him the fare for my tram, all the money I had, and walked home."
Enduring Friendship: The Loreto establishment was ever vigilant, ensuring that its nuns were not enticed away from the convent by Teresa, whom many people had begun addressing as Mother. In March 1949, on the Feast of St Joseph, there was a knock at Mother's door. There was a frail figure facing her, that of Subhasini Das, one of her senior students.
Subhasini said: "Mother, 1 have come to join you." Thirty-four years later, she is the second most important person in the Missionaries of Charity - Sister Agnes, a shy little woman with a will of iron. They were like Paul and Timothy, sharing a friendship that has lasted till today. "I am grateful to God for having shown me the right way then." Agnes reminisces now.
It took the 'Paul and Timothy' team months to be joined by others. They hopped from shelter to shelter, until they found a place to stay - free of cost - at Creek Lane, a serpentine alley in the Sealdah area of central Calcutta. Sitting in a small, smoke-filled room in that house, the first Constitution of the new congregation was drafted.
"We are called the Missionaries Of Charity," it read. "God is love. A Missionary of Charity must be a missionary of love. She must be full of charity in her own soul and spread that same charity to the souls of others. Christians and non-Christians". In October 1950, on the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary, Mother received permission to start a new congregation from Rome; the constitution was also consecrated by the Pope.
The journey of the Missionaries of Charity from a two-woman show to the giant set-up of today is a saga of one woman's grit and stamina, a woman who is not particularly educated, nor particularly intelligent and outgoing. On the contrary. Mother Teresa is shy and introvert, shunning the company of VIPs although many of them are eager to help her cause at any cost. Her strength lies in her total devotion to the cause and her identification with local conditions.
Inspiring Example: It is a treat listening to her chiding the naughty ones at her Shishu Bhavan in her earthy Bengali, totally free from jaw-breaking words typical of Bengali clergymen. Often, at the end of the Mass, she recites the Bengali rendering of the beautiful prayer of St Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Coming from her mouth, the simple words assume an eerie poignancy. Her Hindi is halting and, as Sister Camillus, a council member, readily admitted, it is "highly Bengalified". In any event, the language of love that Mother Teresa speaks transcends all other languages.
Even at 73, Mother Teresa keeps herself remarkably fit and has no ailment except a weak vertebral column and some minor dental problems.
She is up at 4 in the morning, and is ready for Mass at 6. From 8, she starts visiting her homes in a station-wagon donated by the Dutch Government, talking to each Sister personally, carrying gifts for the sick and the poor, and often joining in household chores, including scrubbing the floors with her own hands.
She is back in Mother House at 11, meeting an endless stream of visitors. They wait in the main portico , for hours at times, without any complaint. Last fortnight, the visitors included a Western diplomat, a former mp, and a prominent member of the Birla family: they were all waiting patiently, reclining on a concrete seat, and watching the Sisters carry on with their daily grind totally unperturbed by the presence of important people.
Long Day: After a lunch of two chapatis and some boiled vegetables. Mother is back at work, attending to her files, and praying at periodic intervals. At 6, after the evening Mass, she is again on a round of her homes. After dinner, when the entire building goes to sleep, she is still at work, writing her mail by hand in big, round, schoolgirlish letters. Says an inmate: "Mother sleeps for barely three hours."
One evening, lying in his deathbed at Nirmal Hriday, Ibrahim, a rickshaw-puller suffering from tuberculosis in both lungs, said: "I haven't seen God, nor do I need to. But this old woman is the living God - please note this down." The road outside was resounding with the peal of bells at the Kali temple: the evening worship was on.
It was business hour for the beggars who stretched out their shrivelled hands, and whined in unison. The smell of rotten fruit and poverty blended with the smell of flowers, the intermittent wail of conches rent the air with an ineffable sadness.
After leaving the dying rickshaw-puller in his bed. Mother Teresa looked at her watch, and descended the steps of the building with her granny stoop and her rather sprinty, marionette-like gait. For a moment, she was still. Though her gaze was vacant, she mumbled almost inaudibly the beautiful words: "The world is trying to say that God was. But God is."