A natural problem solver

domini Following the lead: Dominique Lapierre interacts with the poor in Kolkata | Salil Bera
  • Mother loved giving away medallions whenever anyone met her. I, too, received many medallions from her. The total weight of my Mother Teresa medallions is one kilogram.

I went to Calcutta after publishing Freedom at Midnight with some money that I got from the sale of the book. In total, I had $50,000 and I was determined that this money should go to the people in India. But I wanted someone deserving to get the money. So very early one morning, I went to 54A Lower Circular Road to meet Mother Teresa and asked her who was deserving enough to get my hard-earned money. She looked at me and said: “You have been sent by God.”

I found out that Mother Teresa was always innovative and had unique crisis-solving skills. My appearance at her door that morning was also a sort of divine crisis resolution. I was told that the Reverend James Stevens, an Englishman, had been running a home for leper children in Calcutta and had run out of money. The home named Udayan was about to be shut down because of lack of funds. Mother Teresa directed me to Udayan. I was already an author but that early morning meeting with her turned me into a social worker. However, it was not easy and I had my doubts. But then during another meeting I realised that this was something worth trying.

That meeting happened at her home for the dying at Kalighat. I saw from a distance Mother offering food to a man who was seriously unwell. To me, the man appeared at the last stage of his life but Mother was feeding him with a lot of affection. I was not able to take my eyes off this sight. So I moved towards her and observed quietly. Mother sensed someone was standing next to her and she turned back and found me staring at her. She promptly gave me the plate and the spoon and gave me the first lesson of social work: “Feed him. With love.”

Seeing her in action was something unforgettable. It was an experience that could change people’s lives. She was old and bent under the weight of her age. Yet she went on from one patient to another serving them at the last moments of their lives. I felt if she, in her age and despite ailments, could do this, then why I could not at least try something that barely resembled her work.

It took me another three to four years to start my social work and today it continues in Calcutta and Bengal. I certainly could not go to the extent that she achieved, nevertheless I tried and made some contribution in reducing poverty and destitution in India.

I was so impressed with Mother’s work that I wanted to make a film on her. But I knew if I made a documentary, then western TV channels would telecast it at 11p.m. and no one would watch it. I decided to make a feature film so that even those unfamiliar with her work would get to know her. Mother gave me permission to make the film but the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity did not want any actor to play Mother’s role. Owing to this difference, the film remained in the planning stage for almost 15 years. Finally, I got Geraldine Chaplin and she did a splendid job. Geraldine looked like Mother Teresa, talked like Mother Teresa and walked like Mother Teresa in the film.

Ever since starting my work in India, I have been recognised both for my social work and my literary work. My involvement with India enriched my work and my life. I wrote Freedom at Midnight, It was Five Past Midnight in Bhopal, and City of Joy—all inspired by India. Recognition followed. I got Padma Bhushan from the Government of India. All this would not have been possible without Mother’s lessons. I have served meal to the needy at Bronx in New York, Paris and London with Mother and shall always cherish the moments of work with her beside me.

Mother loved giving away medallions whenever anyone met her. I, too, received many medallions from her. I have all the medallions she gifted me. The other day, I weighed the entire collection. The total weight of my Mother Teresa medallions is one kilogram.

Dominique Lapierre is a bestselling author-turned philanthropist who made a film on Mother Teresa titled Mother Teresa: In the Name of God’s Poor.

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