Saturday, September 3, 2016

Saint or sinner

Around 1977, I lived for almost a year in Kolkata. Several times I visited Mother Teresa's flagship project, her home for the dying in Kalighat, Nirmal Hriday. Each time I went, I was appalled by what I saw. Clearly, almost none of the many millions of dollars that were raised for that project actually went into the project. (Apparently, almost all of the money was passed along to the Pope.)

Conditions at Nirmal Hriday were primitive. And, despite the name of the project ("pure heart"), the treatment of patients was so heartless and substandard that the place should have been shut down by the government. But, of course, that never happened. Jyoti Basu (the communist and atheist Chief Minister of West Bengal) and Mother Teresa (the Catholic nun) were friends. They pretended to have a common love for the poor, each basking in the other's popularity.

That same year, I also met personally with Teresa. I formally requested her support for nothing more than a high-level and independent investigation into the alleged poisoning of Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar by a prison doctor. She flatly refused to endorse that.

So what I can say about Mother Teresa is this. Despite her religious guise – and possibly because of her religious dogma – Teresa was a very worldly person. If she was a saint, then she was the first saint who never opposed - who always propped up and who was in turn propped up by - any sundry governmental or religious authority.

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