Mother Teresa was in hospital, critically ill. Dr Aubanel from Scripp’s Clinic, San Diego, California, had flown in with two assistants for intensive treatment and round-the-clock vigil of all parameters. One of the assistants was a strapping six-feet-two-inches tall American called Hank. He was very keen to visit Mother Teresa’s leprosy home at Titagarh. Accompanied by two sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, Hank proceeded to the Sealdah station to catch a train to Titagarh, about 30 miles from Calcutta.
It was morning. From the overbridge at Sealdah, Hank saw in amazement the moving sea of commuters rushing to work like a tidal wave. He had never seen so many people. Hank towered above the crowd. He must have stood out like a beacon as he fought his way through the human twister to the ticket counter, with the sisters in tow.
He put his hand into his hip pocket to pull out his purse, but there was nothing there. His pocket had been picked. He was in a state of shock. The sisters took him to the police station and lodged a complaint.
Hank was staying with us. He returned home completely shattered. All his credit cards and other important papers were in the purse, apart from $ 200 in cash. He made several calls to the United States of America to report the loss of the credit cards. He kept asking me if there was any chance of getting his purse back. Here was somebody who had come halfway round the world giving up his work to help Mother Teresa, the pride of Calcutta, and this was his reward. It was a blow to Calcutta’s reputation.
Tracking him down
I have spent my life in Calcutta and was sure that if the pickpocket had known that Hank had come to help Mother Teresa, he would never have picked his pocket. Embedded deep in the Bengali psyche is a rich seam of bhadrota. I felt that if, in some way or another, I could contact the culprit, I would be able to retrieve Hank’s purse.
In Calcutta paras, the lives of the jobless and the local dadas, as well as of anti-social elements, (most of whom happily prefer to use guile rather than violence), is the adda at the local teashop. Everything from international political events to sport is animatedly discussed threadbare.
From my coal depot in Ultadanga — adjacent to Sealdah — I sent some of my employees to the teashops in the Sealdah area to spread the word about what had happened to Hank and how disillusioned he was about Calcutta. My quarry responded to my ploy promptly. I had hit the bull’s eye. The next morning Hank received a telephone call. The caller in fluent English told Hank that he had found his purse on the ground at Sealdah station, and would like to return it to him. Luckily, Hank had kept a slip with my telephone number in his purse.
The caller took the address and promised to deliver the purse at 5 pm. Sure enough, a young man wearing clean, freshly laundered clothes, with a camera slung over his shoulder, walked into the driveway and asked for Hank. He took out Hank’s purse from his pocket and handed it to him with all the cards and other papers, but the 200 dollars were gone. Hank was overjoyed and thanked him profusely. The young man said that he wanted a favour. Hank braced himself, apprehending a request for money. To his relief, all the man wanted was to be photographed with Hank. A passer-by snapped the two together, and before Hank could say anything, the man was gone.
Hank came into the house shaking his head in disbelief. Later that evening, he asked me: “Are you sure that you do social work and help Mother Teresa' I don’t believe it. You must be the ‘Cappo di Cappi’ of Calcutta. How else did you locate and get my purse back in a city of more than 10 million'”
More than the charisma of Mother Teresa, I would like to attribute this “miracle” to the fact that Calcutta is a city where the embers of old-world values have not been extinguished.