On our last day in Kolkata, we visited two starkly different places. The first was the Queen Victoria Memorial built to honor the British matriarch during the British occupation of India. It was palatial, made of pure white marble. It’s surrounded by sprawling gardens, palm trees and reflection pools – all fit for queen. Next to the Taj Mahal, the Memorial would be the crowning architectural achievement in India.
Our second visit was to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in central Kolkata. After Mother Teresa passed away she was entombed right in the main worship area. The building is understated but immaculate – definitely not like the surrounding area. Her tomb was simple and white with orange flowers neatly spelling out the phrase: Prayer is longing for God.
There were several other pilgrims paying their homage and a sense of solemnity filled the small room where she lay. As I walked through the humble museum of her belongings, her level of sacrifice is unfathomable to me. She said her final goodbyes to her mother and sister at the age of 18, never to see them again in order to serve the poorest of the poor on the streets of Kolkata.
I’ve heard many stories about Mother Teresa, but nothing really sunk in until I saw the place (and the people) she spent years serving. Walking through the city and seeing a 2 year old begging on the street by motioning with their hand to her mouth and saying “food” makes it all very real. It puts into context Mother Teresa’s act of obedience to God and the sacrifice she made to love the poor.
One quote that struck me was from Mother Teresa’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
What can we do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family. Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the west so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed the hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society – that poverty is so hurtable and so much, and I find that very difficult.
It’s a little bittersweet to bid farewell to Kolkata. What started as shocking became more understandable. What I’ve seen here and the work that has been done through our courageous friends has left an indelible mark on me. Their commitment and selflessness has really put everything into perspective. I’m reminded that clean water, food to eat, even a place to rest my head on are pure luxuries. I’m thankful for my time in Kolkata and look forward to what lies ahead in Trivandrum.