Nineteen Christmases back, Dr Devi Prasad Shetty, world-renowned heart surgeon and medical entrepreneur par excellence, said this of Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, also known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or Blessed Teresa of Albania, on whom he had performed a cardiac operation barely five days before: "Strictly medically speaking, she has responded to the treatment like anybody else of her age, but there is a definite spiritual or divine power which keeps her going..."
Dr Shetty, then a cardiologist at Calcutta's (now Kolkata) BM Birla Heart Research Centre, was apparently enthralled by the sheer fact that the Mother, barely out from the intensive care unit, would not only attend the midnight mass on Christmas, but would actively recite prayers, sing along the hymns and become the physical centre of the Catholic Christian celebrations despite her puny, 86-year-old and now failing body.
What Dr Shetty obviously forgot to mention was that Mother Teresa - the founder of Missionaries of Charity and perhaps also, as that iconoclast Christopher Hitchens had famously inferred, the inventor of Calcutta's "poverty porn" - chose medical intervention of the best kind available when confronted with physiological distress while denying, systematically through years rolling into several decades, the very same to millions of young and old, sick and dying, desperately in need of standard medical care.
The cult of the Holy Mother, beatified in 2003 by Pope John Paul II, running and heading an outpost of one of the most obnoxious strands of Catholic conservatism for nearly 50 years (from 1950 to 1997, the year she died at the age of 87, barely one year after her heart surgery), will be given the ultimate stamp of Vatican's approval when in September 2016, Teresa is canonised, or consecrated to a "saint". Pope Francis, that so-called bridge between the secular and the Catholic Christian universes, has recognised Blessed Teresa's "second miracle", a reported healing of brain tumour in a Brazilian man in 2008, 11 years after the Mother's death in 1997! (He had, reportedly, dreamt of the Mother an hour before his brain surgery, and woke up all hale and hearty, minus the tumours.)
|Mother Teresa on the cover of the iconic Time magazine.|
What is "sainthood"?
Surely, Vatican's understanding, still premised on religious obstinacies, superstitions and much-discarded ideas on the world that have been utterly debunked by modern science, is limited, at best. It is egged on only by a strict sense of religious evangelism, an expansionist idea of widening the spiritual dominion, the kingdom of God. Proselytisation, still remains, at the heart of this imperial exercise, which, ironically enough, cites "charity" and "compassion" as the raison d'être of its existence.
Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, while proclaiming to "serve the poorest of the poor", in fact, has allowed exactly those conditions to thrive that are directly responsible for the dereliction and abjection of Calcutta's poor that the Mother, and her "sacred order", find so holy. Even after her death, Mother Teresa continues to rely on and market "poverty" as a godliness of sort, deifying unbearable suffering as the "road to heaven", actively denying and hindering empowerment and healing - medical, educational, sociolegal - of the very human beings she allegedly loved.
The discovery of "Mother Teresa as a global brand" was basically the product of the superb hagiographic genius of Malcolm Muggeridge, British journalist whose transformation from a hardnosed agnostic to a Jesus-loving, miracle-shouting practising Catholic has been attributed to the Mother. His book, Something Beautiful for God, and a highly controversial 1969 documentary for the BBC, showed Muggeridge and the Mother wading through shanty streets "littered with the sick and dying of Calcutta", and declared it to be a testimony of the Mother's love for the poor. That catapulted the Mother to planetary fame, earning her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. But then she stunned the world during her Nobel acceptance speech, dubbing abortion as the "greatest destroyer of peace in the world".
Strange are the ways of the world, so replete in smug ironies of everyday crests and troughs, that India and Indians can't stop gushing about Mother Teresa's forthcoming ascension to "sainthood" despite being also saddened by what was nothing less than an institutional murder of Savita Halappanavar in an Irish hospital, governed by an archaic law that deems abortion illegal.
Isn't it interesting that though Mother Teresa, and her Missionaries of Charity, serve to perpetuate the heteronormative family of preferably Catholic Christian faith, while actively opposing and deterring medical and socio-political practices such as abortion, contraception and other kinds of birth control, among other secular, feminist positions, we get excited about her imminent canonisation? Wouldn't it be a stab at the memory of Savita Halappanavar, and many others, who died because religious proscriptions came in the way of basic humanism, that of saving lives?
In October this year, the Missionaries of Charity decided to altogether shut down their adoption facilities instead of complying with the newly altered government rules under which single and divorced individuals would be eligible to adopt orphans up to 12 years of age. Homophobia was the chief reason behind this widely criticised move, yet the nuns and the new Mother Superior, Sister Mary Prema Pierick, were candid about it.
So, while Pope Francis bats for gay rights amongst his fraternity of brothers and friars, he has no qualms in canonising Teresa who was not just anti-LGBTQs, but also was the gist of that very fanatic and fraudulent strain of religion (in this case Roman Catholicism) that oppresses the weak, the poor, as well as women and children, by glorifying suffering and poverty, enlisting soul-emptying service of virginal female sentinels, the "spouses of Jesus", to run one of the world's shoddiest hospice.
Recently, Trinamool Congress MP, Derek O' Brien, wrote a piece narrating how his full-time foray into the uncertain world of literature and culture started with publishing a book of Mother Teresa's photographs, taken by his friend Sunil K Dutt, but captioned with the lady's own lines collated from her various talks and speeches by O'Brien himself. He also says how that project resulted in a cheque of Rs 5 lakh and a brand new ambulance for the Mother's organisation, because the "banker sponsors" wanted to look good promoting a book on Teresa. But did O'Brien ever follow up on how that money was spent?
It has been alleged by none other than former workers and volunteers at Missionaries of Charity that while almost 50 million US dollars sat in the New York account sometime in the early nineties, used needles were not even sterilised before they were redeployed on the ill. Horrific descriptions of intentional squalor at the Missionaries of Charity, which we can assume only to be for advertorial purposes, abound in accounts of undercover journalists, documentary filmmakers, writers like Hitchens, former volunteers and medical practitioners who became witnesses of gross, institutional negligence posturing as compassion for the poor. Nothing but obscurantism and conservative obduracy can see "saintliness" in such a "miracle worker".
Today, we are all parroting Devi Shetty, the good doctor, and Malcolm Muggeridge, the convert, in our hypocrisy. "She responded like a normal person, but there was a divine power/light driving her." Just the Kodak film we need to keep our blinkers on.