Mother’s Ministrations

Srinivas Rao Sohoni Delhi

Among my friends there may be many who would have seen Mother Teresa – from afar if not from near; and quite some who may also have met with her; and some who would even have worked with her and known her closely.

She had such an amazing presence..

Her smiling face, enclosed by the blue-lined borders of a white khaddar sari, emanated a radiance. So what if that radiance was just one’s imagination? Perception is reality is it not?

It’s now twenty years ago, in 1995, that I last met her.

At the time I was in Rashtrapati Bhavan (The Presidential Palace) as Secretary to the President of India; and it was a blistering hot summer’s day.

The President was away on a tour.

All was serene though in RB, and an uneventful day of routine lay ahead,
it appeared.

Along one side of my high-ceilinged office-room, were windows tall and wide, affording a marvelous view: of the enormity of the black Stupa-like dome of RB seen up close, and the massively thick 60’-long naval ship-masthead that served as a flagstaff.

Highest up, dazzling in brilliant sunlight, floated and flashed our National Flag.

At that lofty altitude, it encountered the most powerful and tormenting summer wind-currents of the day.

Even as the Tricolor atop RB was buffeted by bouts of turbulent pressures, its flapping and fluttering sounded like multiple muffled explosions. (Unforgettable, that sound and image.)

Just then the RAX (Restricted Auxiliary Exchange) telephone
rang shrilly.

Rashtrapati Bhavan’s Chief of Security, Additional Commissioner of Police, S.P. Singh, IPS, was on the line. Singh was an ever-vigilant and able officer, hand-picked from many for
that responsibility.

In an anxious voice, SPS reported that Mother Teresa had driven up to the outer perimeter grill gate of Rashtrapati Bhavan, and wanted to come to RB.

She was accompanied by The Archbishop of Delhi, Alan Basil
de Lastic.

They had no appointment and nor had informed anyone ahead, but said they wanted to meet the President.

They had been informed with utmost respect that the President was away, but were insistent that, in that case the Secretary to the President, whom they said they knew well, forthwith be informed.

Singh paused for instructions.

It was a no-brainer. I asked SPS to conduct Mother Teresa and the Archbishop respectfully to the South Court of Rashtrapati Bhavan, and mentioned that I would await them at the inner entranceway there.

Rushing out of my office, I practically raced through the Cabinet Room, the half-a-furlong-long passageway to two marble flights of broad stairs leading down towards the Central Corridor on the Ground Floor, and then some hundred and more yards through it to the doorway that opens out to RB’s square-cobbled South Court.

I reached in the nick of time, for Mother Teresa and the accompanying Archbishop of Delhi were just about alighting from their van.

As Mother approached, her face wreathed in smiles, a spiritual radiance seemed to emit from her.

I bowed deeply to welcome her, and was thrilled at seeing again her gnarled, contorted feet strapped in weather-beaten, worn-out sandals, heavily repaired.

In countless missions of mercy to save lives, what a range of terrain these feet must have traversed, I wondered.

“We want to meet our President,” she said, in her familiar, soft but clear and business-like voice.

“They kept saying to us the President is away, the President is away, the President is away, but we
came anyway!!”

“Can I see inside?!!”

“If you allow (us), we’ll just take a look?”…“Will you (let us)??!!”

Yes, of course, Mother, I said, you are always most welcome. Please come, I’ll show you around.

Then followed a tour of Rashtrapati Bhavan for Mother Teresa – though of just a part, not the whole of it, as she was in frail health and looked wasted perhaps by the heat outside; - just the Central Corridor of the Ground Floor of the Main Block, and the well-appointed ample chambers alongside: The Grey Dining Room, The Yellow Drawing Room, the Pillared Loggia, The Morning Room, the Visitors’  Room, The Private Dining Room, and past The Study, the ADC (Aides-de-Camp) Roo m each of these witness to and steeped in the history of India through two world wars, political strife, Independence, and the vicissitudes since.. So many scenes and conversations absorbed by those silent walls..

She was delighted and excited as a child might be – looking around and about, and gazing up at the concave ceiling’s ornamentation, the sparkling chandeliers, and the lighting.

I noted also she had an empirical measuring look as she surveyed the length and breadth and dimensions of all the spaces enclosed by glistening high walls on all sides.

As I conducted Mother Teresa around, I thought hard to figure what might be the purpose of her visit.

With her little small hand propped lightly on my shoulder and her deep eyes, now for once with a hint of a glint, came forth rapid punchlines:

“There’s so much space here!!!”

“There’s so much empty space!!!”

“I could fill it all up with
my patients!!”

And then: “Shall I bring
them now?!!”

Archbishop Alan de Lastic wore a wan smile.

Clearly, talk between them on this subject was the antecedent context to their un-notified foray to RB.

“Reverend Mother” I submitted, “This is such an important thought of yours. I know the President fully and absolutely shares your concern for the poor and down-trodden,  especially the most suffering and the dying. You may like to discuss this with the President in person. You could do so in just a couple of days, on his return.”

“Oh! Then I will bring a few today!” she notified, her little intense eyes peering into mine, one hand gripping my forearm tightly.

Carefully, I underscored the importance of the idea she had mentioned, and advised that we wait, - the President was to return very soon, within barely 48 hours.

“Yes, yes … I understand...,” she said, and swivelling to the Archbishop, in a forlorn tone: “We’ll make some other arrangements for today.”

His Grace, The Archbishop of Delhi, Alan Basil de Lastic, had said nothing at all, all the while, but an arched eyebrow and faint smile bespoke a question to Mother: “Did I not tell you?”

The RB Kitchen Establishment, had meanwhile expediently assembled a large package of foodstuff: vegetables, fruits, loaves of bread, dals, rice, oil, tea, etc., for being offered to Mother Teresa for patients under her care.

She was delighted to receive this token contribution from our side, and patiently allowed staff members one by one to pay respects to her.

After blessing a number of us present, Mother left – smiling, cheerful, and as motherly-looking as ever.

I trudged the long way up to my office room, mulling the report I would send for the President’s information.

On entering my office room, I looked around with fresh eyes at the vast spacious chamber and its
impressive accoutrements.

If Mother Teresa had come there she would have estimated how many hospital beds and patients might be fitted in; that would quite easily be eighty or even a hundred, I reflected.

The National Flag outside was flying in spectacular glory, and ‘darshan’ had been had also of one other profound and evocative symbol of India:
Mother Teresa.

Just a reminiscence… Thanks.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JUNE 2015