The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Indian is right

Sir — Why is it that an individual of Indian origin who wins even a minor distinction abroad can grab the headlines, while those who choose to stay in India and work for their countrymen hardly ever do (“American born confident desi”, Oct 12)' Yes, Piyush Jindal has broken into a white bastion, but what are the things he has had to do before that' Shed his name in favour of “Bobby” and convert to Christianity (remember, the South is a Christian stronghold too). And although he married his Indian sweetheart, Supriya Jolly, they chose to call their daughter Selia Elizabeth. But then if he is all set to become “the first Indian American to be elected state governor”, then he must be India’s favourite son, no matter whether he has tried to remove all traces of “Indianness” from his life. And in a world ridden by fundamentalism, his right-wing views are enough to tell anyone who cares to understand that he is only interested in playing to the gallery.

Yours faithfully,
Sumita Majumdar, CalcuttaMother superior

Sir — On Sunday, October 19, most Calcuttans must have watched the ceremony at the Vatican for the beatification of Mother Teresa. It was undoubtedly a proud moment for Indians, more so for Calcuttans. Many have wondered why the Pope did not confer sainthood on the Mother straightaway. This is because according to the terms of the Roman Catholic Church, it has to be proved conclusively that a person has performed “miracles” before he or she can be called a saint.

But whatever the controversy surrounding the Monica Besra case, is there any dearth of miracles as far as Mother Teresa is concerned' Was the very advent of Mother Teresa among the poor not a miracle in itself' Wasn’t the very fact that thousands of hopeless people found hope in her not a miracle' Wasn’t the immense following she enjoyed, breaking geographical and religious borders, not a miracle too' With due respect to the Roman Catholic Church, dare I ask why in the 21st century it is looking for something that defies practical science'

Yours faithfully,
Siddhartha S. Bose, Calcutta

Sir — While there is enough reason to agree with Ashis Chakrabarti’s reservations against the beatification of Mother Teresa, I strongly feel that political commentators in India should evolve their own standards of assessing her work and influence (“So many saints, so little saintliness”, Oct 20). Germaine Greer, Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ali have said enough, and I think their comments need to be regarded with a degree of scepticism. For, if according to Greer, the Mother’s love for the poor was motivated by a personal ambition to achieve “spiritual” acclaim, it could be said of Greer that her postures of irreverance were motivated by similar aspirations to secular acclaim. And even if one accepted Greer’s assessment of the Mother, it could still be said that the world needs more people like Mother Teresa, than like Greer. Charity motivated by self-interest may sound Machiavellian, but in a world where respect for the underprivileged is rare, the imputed Machiavellianism of Mother Teresa and her followers is welcome.

Yours faithfully,
Sharmila Sen, Calcutta

Sir — The Vatican, by declaring Mother Teresa as “the blessed Teresa of Calcutta”, has not managed to bestow any honour on the late nun which the poor of Calcutta had not already bestowed on her. The silent worker who shied away from publicity all her life will continue to remain the “mother” to people, a status that is far greater than that of a “saint”.

Yours faithfully,
Adin Shankar Manna, Calcutta

Sir — There is much in the editorial, “Blessed by the heathen” (Oct 19), on the beatification of Mother Teresa, that is fair and sympathetic. Let me, however, pick up one contestable point.

It has been asserted that “her spirituality was always underplayed. The most important part of her message was her work.” This betrays a very remote acquaintance with Mother Teresa personally, and with the message she addressed to her sisters, volunteers and the world. This message is always intensely spiritual. Mother Teresa was bent both on action and on prayer. Normally she prayed for about three hours every day, often more. Every free moment she found in action she snatched for prayer. This daily commitment to prayer she firmly inserted in the directions given to the sisters. She established a contemplative branch of sisters in her congregation: for them work would be limited, and prayer given the lion’s share. From a whole collection of letters in which she sought spiritual counsel from Father L.T. Picachy (later archbishop of Calcutta and cardinal), it is clear that she was one of the great mystics of our time. Her energy for work for the poor was prodigious, but this would not be the first case among saints (of all faiths) where such astounding energy is rooted in mysticism and deep prayer. She most strongly insisted that she and her sisters were not social workers: “we do it for Jesus”. Her spiritual friendship did not extend only to Christians but to a large circle of friends of other faiths.

One can understand how secularistic minds view things (“Calcutta needs less, not more, spirituality”), but let them not try and haul Mother Teresa onto their bandwagon. She would be a most unsuitable candidate.

The editorial also mentions that this beatification will only have meaning within “the arcane world of the Vatican”. A look at the other pages of the newspaper that day would prove that it is hardly so.

Yours faithfully,
Albert Huart, Calcutta

Sir — In a syndicated feature in The Irish Times (Dublin October 18), an Indian writer describes Calcutta as a city of utmost squalor and gives the impression that its citizens depended on Mother Teresa for all their needs. He also quotes Rudyard Kipling to run Calcutta down. It is a pity that Indians quote Kipling — he was a sworn racist who detested Indians. As long as Mother Teresa’s legacy is alive, Calcutta will be associated with poverty, destitution, leprosy and other diseases by the world. But it is sad that Indians themselves connive in this Western conspiracy to put Calcutta down.

Yours faithfully,
Fiona Dodd, Essex, UK

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