Calcutta is every bit the bizarre and wonderful experience portrayed
in literature and films. Images of families living in ramshackle
huts under bridges, or sitting with their few earthly possessions
on crowded sidewalks, linger in my mind as if they occurred just
yesterday. Workers toil under heavy loads of rice or wooden wagons.
Rickshaw runners pull overweight women in and out of the congestion
of vehicles, animals and pedestrians. Beggars occupy patches of
sidewalk, hands outstretched to receive any coin or scrap of food
a passerby might choose to offer. In front of the post office a
naked, armless boy jumps up and down, screaming, held on a short
leash by a woman sitting on the hot pavement. She shakes a can of
small coins, requesting donations for her hapless child. Returning
to our hotel in the evening we pass a man lying on the sidewalk,
motionless. He was there this morning when we went out for our days
adventures. I wonder if he is even still alive. These are the poor
unfortunate souls who have for many years been the beneficiaries
of the love and labors of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
I arrived one morning with two traveling companions at Mother Teresas
headquarters, and enquired with a secretary as to the possibility
of seeing her at some point in the future. Moments later, Mother
Teresa appeared, and casually began to chat. Small, lean, soft spoken
and humble, she was hardly the western model of an international
celebrity, the recent recipient of a Nobel Prize for Peace. After
a short conversation which, to my dismay, focused on us rather that
her, she excused herself and returned to a meeting in progress.
I was so taken back by the fact that she had actually taken time
to visit three young hippies that it didnt matter- a few moments
in the presence of a saint was all that I required. I had received
Nirmal Hriday is the famous home for the destitute and dying, and
another defining experience for me on my journey. Rows of low beds
offer a final resting place for many homeless people rescued from
sidewalks and gutters. They are bathed and fed by members of the
Sisters of Charity and volunteers, and allowed to die with dignity.
Those who survive may move ahead to a better life, or end up here
again at a future time or, in some cases, dedicate their lives to
the mission and become members of the order. In my talks on Chinese
medicine, I use a man I saw here as an example, his dull lifeless
eyes indicative of the loss of shen spirit from his
A bus ride to the dusty outskirts of Calcutta brings one to the
neighborhood of the leperosarium. Nearby, low cast harijans
(untouchables) butcher carcasses of dead cattle among hopping, squawking
vultures- a truly hideous spectacle right out of an Edgar Allen
Poe horror story, and one of the creepiest sights I have ever witnessed.
Inside the center is quite another story. Men and women receive
medical care here, as well as employment manufacturing clothing.
The impact of this place on their lives cannot be overstated, for
the disease spells disaster for those seeking to marry and lead
any kind of normal lives. A cure offers the possibility of a happy
future rather than years of isolation and suffering on the streets
while face and limbs are slowly eaten away by the disease. The image
of a young boy seated on his bed staring back at me is another which
I will carry with me always.
At the orphanage I found Mother Teresa in the courtyard, talking
to visitors and directing foot and vehicle traffic like a traffic
cop, tiny yet very energetic and fully in control of the situation.
In contrast to the other facilities, this one is filled with happy,
smiling babies. Some lucky children were destined for lives with
European and American families, and I saw several leaving in the
loving arms of their new parents. One incident I witnessed here
was particularly remarkable moment with Mother Teresa. I spoke with
her briefly, then stood to the side, watching her among the cribs
visiting each child in turn, when a nurse approached to infirm her
that one baby had apparently just passed over. Mother Teresa went
immediately to the child, held her, no doubt offering prayers and
immersing the baby in her aura of pure love and compassion. Moments
later the child returned to life, and I returned to my hotel wondering
just what it was I had witnessed.
Although she has passed over a few years ago, Mother Teresas
work continues and her spirit lives on in the hearts of people such
as myself who have been touched by her incredible power, strength,
compassion and generosity.
Jim Martin, Lic. Ac. is an acupuncturist with offices in Hillsboro
(503-640-3668) and Scappoose (503-543-7266). He presents slide and
lecture programs about travels in search of strange and wonderful
people and places around the world. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org