The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Visa cloud over nirvana mission
- Thai woman facing deportation vows to die in land of Buddha

Nalanda, June 9: Everyday at noon, in a little patch of forest in Rajgir, the monkeys wait for an old woman with a basket. When they see her, they come scampering down in dozens.

Then the feast begins.

From the basket, out come loaves of bread. The old woman tears off pieces and tosses them among the simians.

After bread, its time for fruits and finally, sweets.

The lunch over, the 70-year-old Thai woman folds her hands, bends down and prays to Lord Buddha. She then picks up a handful of dust and scatters them to the wind — a Buddhist ritual.

Come rain or shine, this has been a daily routine for Mechiori Fengsai, either in Rajgir or in the Thai temple complex in Nalanda near the ruins of the ancient university where she lives.

Everyday, Fengsai — or Mataji as she is known locally — feeds 100 goats, 20 dogs and at least a hundred birds. It’s her way of paying her debt for her long stay in the Buddha’s land of nirvana.

Fengsai has vowed not to return to her country, Thailand, which she left in the early sixties. “My heartfelt wish is to die here in this land of Buddha’s nirvana. This is my aim of life,” she says.

But it may not work out the way she wants. Fengsai faces a deportation notice from the Indian government after failing to get Indian citizenship even though she married a farmer in Nalanda two years ago. Recently, Nalanda police told her she would have to leave as her visa had expired long ago.

“All I know is that her visa has expired. My foreign section found out that her stay in India is unauthorised,” says Nalanda superintendent of police Amit Lodha.

Vijay Kumar, the officer-in-charge of Nalanda police station, says the police have received “petitions from locals against her stay”. “She does not have any valid papers,” he adds.

The notice has left Fengsai stunned. “Before I am deported, there is only one option left for me,” she says. “I have first to poison all the animals I feed everyday to death for without me they will all die, and then kill myself. After all, I want to spend the rest of my life here.”

The death threat has got the district administration worried. “We are keeping a watch on her,” says an officer.

Fengsai lives in Wat Thai, a Thai temple in Nalanda. On one side is a three-storeyed building where there are places allotted for different animals. There are goats, monkeys and cats, too. The small cages for the animals and statues of the Buddha coexist. “For me, love of animals is love for God,” says the old woman who also feeds orphans.

Fengsai, who comes from a rich farmer family in south Thailand, first came to India as a student of Buddhism. She studied Buddhism in Nepal and Sri Lanka, too, before settling down in Bihar. She also completed her thesis on Buddhist art. “I got quickly sucked in by the ethos of Buddhist nirvana and I believe I can achieve salvation by dying here. But with the government reminding me that I am a foreigner, I don’t know what will happen now,” she says.

Since 1973, when her visa was not renewed, Fengsai has been running from pillar to post for an Indian citizenship. “I never thought it would be so difficult. Why are the boundaries of cultures so rigid'” she asks. “Are not the last 30 years of my stay here any record'”

Two years ago, she married Mangal Paswan, a farmer in Nalanda’s Murgiachowk village. Paswan, already married with four children, agreed to marry her because he was “touched by Fengsai’s sincerity”.

Though he stands by her, the administration says the marriage at her age and done privately does not have any validity. Besides, the police complain, Fengsai does not stay with her husband.

For the 70-year-old, the pain of leaving India is, perhaps, more acute than the uncertainty of her life. “I have come to love India as my own (country),” she says, tears trickling down her cheeks.

But she quickly controls herself. “But did not Lord Buddha say life is the first cause for death'” she asks, a smile lighting up her face. “Why should I mind dying here'”

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