HUMAN INTEREST: ‘Mother was fun, full of smiles’ – the saint for us sinners in Bengal ?!!
AS TOLD TO SAMHITA CHAKRABORTY LAHIRI
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
DEAR MOTHER – SUNITA KUMAR
Sunita Kumar was Mother Teresa’s closest confidante in Calcutta outside of Mother House
Mother Teresa was a very lively person, full of happiness and smiles. In a way, she was fun. This may seem an odd description given the work she was doing, but Mother did have a great sense of humour. Despite the poverty, disease and squalor that was part of her daily work, I have never seen Mother sad or teary.
And she was caring, very, very so. You could call her up any time of the day and she would answer the phone herself. There were times when I would ring her as late as 11 in the night and she would give my problems a patient hearing. She would never say “I’m tired”, or “I have to go to bed”.
She was a very normal person, just like you or me. I remember once I was wearing my hair in a style that covered my cheeks. Mother tucked the loose strands behind my ear and said: “Ask Naresh (Kumar, her husband) to get you a golden pin.”
Mother would always say that a family that prays together stays together. She would practise this with her co-workers and we continue with the tradition. We have picked up so much of what she said and I hope they have helped make us better human beings.
I would travel with her a lot and the stream of people who came to touch her feet, her sari, amazed me. I could see the love and concern for her in the eyes of the people wherever Mother went.
Her energy level was astounding. She could do so much in one day, we couldn’t cope with her stamina. “How do you carry on like this?” we would ask Mother. “I fill my tank with prayer,” Mother would reply. For her, faith was everything.
It’s been 13 years since Mother passed away. But her home, her sisters and the work she started are flourishing. We never feel that Mother is not with us anymore. The sisters work in the same rhythm as when Mother was around, with great tenacity and with a smile. In 1997, when Mother passed away, there were 605 homes of The Missionaries of Charity across the world. Today, there are 740-odd homes.
Mother always considered Calcutta her home. When she was ill she would want to come back, wherever she was.
In 2003, she was beatified by John Paul II and given the title Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. But the people of the city don’t need her to be canonised to be worshipped. The city loved and revered her when she was around. When she would be driven around the city, people waved out to her from buses and trams. Their love was so spontaneous.
Even now, when we thought of special snack boxes for the children during the centenary celebrations, Nahoum’s in New Market immediately gave us a discount.
There are many people in the city who haven’t met Mother. Many have told me that they regret not having gone and met her when she was alive. Calcuttans think of Mother Teresa as a city icon, much like Victoria Memorial or St Paul’s Cathedral.
This year is Mother’s birth centenary and so many people are celebrating the occasion. But I must say that the way people are going about with the programmes would have met with Mother’s approval.
I remember every time we would drive past Victoria Memorial, Mother would tell me, “Why don’t they give me Victoria Memorial? I would house so many people here!”
Later this year, I wish to hold a painting exhibition with M.F. Husain on Mother at Victoria Memorial. Maybe we can grant Mother her wish then, even if it’s just for a few days!