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The Rediff Special/Vaihayasi P Daniel

'She was there in between heaven and earth'

Even though she was one of the planet's bestknown people, Mother Teresa remained an enigma all her life. Vaihayasi P Daniel spoke to some of those who knew her best to discover the human being behind the legend.

I met her first in 1991 in California. She was on one of her trips to the United States. And she had gone to Tijuana which is on the border of Mexico and the United States, where she has several homes. When she was there she fell ill with pneumonia. That affected her heart and I was called. Since then we have been related. I was very attached to her. Mother felt comfortable with me

It was a blessing to know here. Being with her has touched my life. Mother has taught me to so much about people. I have learnt so much.

It is impossible to describe Mother. She was a unique being. I am not even sure that she was one of us. She was there in between heaven and earth. It was often difficult to understand her. She was far beyond us. She was a unique, extraordinary human being.

-- Dr Patricia Aubanel, her cardiologist

What kind of patient was she? You know how good she was. In one word I cannot describe her. She was so full of activity. So spiritual. She was very different.

I have been treating her since 1989, but I could not reach there on the last day. An hour before she died, they called one of my colleagues. And there were two missionary doctors in the house. I was a great distance away. Ten or 15 minutes before she died, they called me. And then they called me to say that the old lady was no more.

It will be very difficult for me to forget her. I will remember her every day of my life.

She was an excellent patient. She never complained. She had her own natural therapy that helped her. She expected to be treated as if she was one of the poor. She never expressed pain. We had to always ask her how she was and how she was feeling. She was so happy with the simple things that were done for her.

Mother Teresa was such a great person. How do you expect me, somebody of such small stature, to judge her? But she was such an active person. And I have seen her level of activity (industriousness) with my own eyes. She would begin at 6 and end only at 10 or 11. She was so different -- her spirituality, her activity, her willpower, her energy… And her spirituality was her main asset. She would pray a minimum of four times a day. She worked for the poor and never took rest even for her own health.

I thought the funeral was excellent. There was such a big gathering. And the poor people stood for hours waiting to pay their respects. I was part of the funeral procession.

What do I think Mother would have thought of this funeral?… I must say that the world has given her great respect. But Mother would have never wanted anything for herself. She wanted money only to be spent on the poor. She would not even celebrate her birthday. The money she would save she spent on the poor.

As an Indian and as a Bengali, I have not seen such a big telecast that went all over the world. And while I feel sorrow at her passing, I am proud that everybody paid their respects.

--Dr A K Bardhan, her personal physician

It has been a wonderful gift to be with her all week. I am very glad I came. I felt very close to Mother, being there with her in the church and spending these last hours with her. I have been praying. And remembering her.

Mother has touched the lives of so many people. Mine in particular. My life changed after I met her. I came to Calcutta to meet her in 1981.

For me she was, well, like my mother. When I looked into her face I saw the face of an angel. When you met her and talked to her she gave you her full attention. And she was like that with everyone. She made you feel you that you were the only person in the world.

--Sandra McMurtrie, close friend and co-worker

The funeral was excellent. I went to the funeral with my family. People from all over the world were there. It went down very well. But I feel very depressed. I am feeling very bad. (he nearly breaks down and there is a pause in the conversation as he recovers.)

I first started treating the Mother in 1993. In 1993 September she had a massive heart attack. Dr Patricia Aubanel and I did an angiography.

She was sometimes a very difficult patient. She would refuse to take her medicines. She would refuse to rest. She would say 'I am well. I want to go home. I have a lot of work to do.' And we would tell her, "Mother stay a little longer".

She was very fond of me. When I would come to see her the sisters would say, "Your son has come". It was a mother and son kind of relationship.

She was like a god. She was very simple and very kind-hearted. I will never see anyone like her again in my lifetime. She was very simple. She would always, always, always be talking about the poor.

--Dr Tarun Praharaj, her cardiologist

The atmosphere in the church this last week has been wonderful. There has been a huge crowd. It has been very beautiful to see Mother there. Everybody has been able to come and see her. It is not as if she was tucked away in some corner. There has been music and flowers. The sisters have been singing all her favourite hymns. Some in English, some in Bengali. Prayers of all religions have been conducted. Bhajans have been sung. When the Muslims came to pay their respects, they recited prayers from the Quran. It was very beautiful. This is exactly what Mother is all about.

The crowds have been huge. People have had to wait about two or three hours to get into the church to pay their respects. The queue went around the block, right down Middleton Street to Camac Street. Everybody came holding a flower. They touched the coffin with the flower and filed out. There are so many flowers. They have been taking them out of the church and filling them in the garden. And the church looks so beautiful.

Many people have come to pay their last respects there. So many well known people – Phoolan Devi, M F Husain, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sunil Dutt, Jayaprada, Deve Gowda. There have been so many people, it is hard to remember who was there.

The arrangements that the government made for the funeral did not come as a surprise. She was after all considered a saint. She was Indian and she didn’t consider herself a foreigner.

I have had a wonderful relationship with her. She has been a friend and a guide. I started working with her in 1966. I helped make packets for pills out of newspapers. She taught us to fold these packets in a particular way so that lepers would be able to take out their medicines. We are still making those packets once a week. And she taught us how to seek comfort in prayer.

She had a fantastic sense of humour. It was not that she would always be cracking jokes. It is just that she always looked at the lighter side of things. She was always cheerful and had a smile on her face. What can I say about her if I am called to pay her a tribute? Well, she was the angel of the poor. That’s all there is to say.

-- Sunita Kumar, co-worker and friend

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