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Compassion and Conversion

Mr S K Sharma with Sawan students at Premdaan
Photo courtesy: Mr S K Sharma


My evening walks in Delhi invariably took me by the gate of Premdaan, an institution run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Premdaan stood just a kilometre from Sawan Public School where I worked as a teacher for 14 years. Both the school and the missionary institution stood on the side of the only road that connected the metropolis of Delhi with the rural outskirts of Bhatti Mines.
I met Krishnan during one of those walks. He was the gatekeeper of Premdaan. He looked a tough person caught in a fragile body: he was less than 5 feet in height and extremely attenuated. Many encounters and casual conversations during my regular evening walks created an unusual bond between Krishnan and me.
“How did you reach here?” I asked him once in Malayalam, the language that both us spoke fluently.
He grinned showing me his irregular teeth many of which were missing. “It’s a long story,” he said. He had some problems with his wife, and his son had abandoned the family. He left home one day without any destination in mind. He boarded a train which took him northward. He changed trains several times until he found himself in Jaipur without a paisa. He was hungry and thirsty. Having drunk water from a tap in the railway station, he started walking. Somewhere on the torrid streets of royal Jaipur, the scorching sun brought him down. The Jaipur police found him lying unconscious on the roadside and carried him to an institution for the destitute run by the Missionaries of Charity. He had been with the nuns ever since. They gave him the job as a gatekeeper at their institution on the Mehrauli-Bhatti Road, a job which he carried on for decades.
He took a brief holiday every year to visit his wife in Kerala. “A few words and a lot of silence keep the relationship alive,” he said. “I do miss her when I’m away from her. But when I meet her, I want to be away from her.”
Premdaan housed mentally challenged people. The nuns looked after the 100-odd inmates all of whom suffered from varying degrees of psychological disorder. “The nuns are very compassionate and dedicated,” Krishnan told me once. “You’ll be amazed by the service they render to these insane people. No ordinary person will be able to do what the nuns here do.”
I began to visit Premdaan. Initially I went with Maggie, my wife, who used to go there every Sunday for the morning Mass. I attended the Mass too with her now. I saw the nuns and some of their patients too who came to attend the Mass. Soon I became a benefactor. I made occasional contributions in solidarity with the humanitarian mission that the nuns were carrying out.
In the meanwhile, I learnt that my school was always extending support to Premdaan much before I discovered it. The nuns used to seek occasional assistance from the resident doctor of my school. Mr S K Sharma, one of my colleagues and a person who did much to create a social consciousness among the students, used to take groups of students to Premdaan occasionally and offer financial as well as other contributions.
“Didn’t the nuns ever try to convert you?” I asked Krishnan when a unique friendly bond had emerged between us.
“Never,” he asserted. “I’ve been with them for decades now and not once have they asked me to become a Christian.”
“Have you ever attended the church services?”
“No. I’m free to attend, if I wish. But I have not felt the urge yet.”
I had given up my Sunday morning visits too because the Mass failed to make sense to me. But I continued to make my occasional financial contributions. I loved the service that the nuns were providing to the utterly helpless people of Premdaan.
Krishnan began to show signs of aging as my life in Sawan was drawing to a close. “I’m losing my eyesight,” he told me one evening. The nuns had taken him for a medical check-up and there was little that medical science could do to restore his flagging vision.
Eventually Krishnan disappeared from the gate of Premdaan. I told Maggie to enquire about him the next Sunday when she went as usual for the morning Mass.  
“Krishnettan [Krishnan bhai] has lost his eyesight completely,” Maggie told me as soon as she returned from Premdaan. “He is another inmate of Premdaan now.”
I visited Premdaan the next Christmas and met Krishnan. He needed help to walk around. He was brought to the church for the Christmas celebration and ceremony. He had become a regular presence at the church, he told me. It was his choice. “I felt the urge,” he said.
I never met Krishnan after that. My school’s management changed and the troubles and tribulations at school kept me preoccupied. Until I left Delhi in 2015.
I still remember Krishnan and the nuns of Premdaan. But it is only Krishnan’s face that rises clearly in my memory. The nuns never articulated their faces. Service was their face and it has no distinct individuality.
 
Outside Sawan's staff quarters in 2015
My last winter in Delhi
PS. August 26 is the birth anniversary of Mother Teresa, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.



Comments

  1. Loved to know about the services of Premdaan and the story of Krishnan. Very nice post sir.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am not sure if it is true but, Mother Teresa have been frequently accused of doing conditional service, only condition being poor people have to be converted to get her services. Osho was a staunch critic of Mother Teresa as he was about many of the practices of Hinduism and other religions. I think even books have been written exposing her hypocrisies. Voluntarily or involuntarily the service receivers of Mother Teresa Institutes end up being Christians.

    By the way I loved your profile in the photo at the bottom of your post.

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    Replies
    1. My personal familiarity with the Missionaries of Charity is limited to Premdaan and hence I can't speak authoritatively about the other institutions and their works. Conversion would be absurd in Premdaan since it housed mentally ill people. In other institutions, I'm inclined to assume that people would eventually wish to join in the prayers and other activities which ultimately would look like conversion. I'm familiar with criticism of the Mother vis-a-vis conversion. But I have read her biography written by Navin Chawla who quotes her as saying, "Yes, I do convert. I convert a Hindu into a better Hindu, a Muslim into a better Muslim, etc." Chawla has countered the allegation about conversion many times.

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