Calcutta: Mother Teresa’s Healing Legacy

Nirmal Hriday, Mother Teresa’s hospice for the sick and dying in Calcutta, is alongside the somewhat terrifying Kalighat Temple (rapacious Brahmin priests, animal sacrifices), in the south of the city. There is a small placard in a front room, changed daily by a young nun in a white-and-blue sari, with the day’s listings: 47 females, 40 males, 3 admissions, 2 deaths. Novices from the motherhouse as well as volunteers, both foreign and Indian, clean the hospice, feed and bathe the dying, and prepare food. There are often 50 people giving their service—Japanese, German, Americans—some of whom have been in attendance for 30 years. The hospice, founded in 1952, still sends nuns into the city each day to find the destitute, dying, and starving, but many make their way here from all parts of India as well. Volunteers may also spend a few hours or several days at Shishu Bhavan, the children’s orphanage in the central part of the city. Hundreds of children, of all ages and afflictions, sit in cribs in several large rooms, the nuns and volunteers moving among them providing care. The work can often be harrowing in both refuges and requires moral toughness. Although I have learned from my visits over the years that it is not strictly necessary to make previous arrangements at either shelter, prospective volunteers may be in touch with Sister M. Karina at the Missionaries of Charity Motherhouse (54A A.J.C. Bose Rd.; 91-33/ 2249-7115; motherteresa.org), which welcomes volunteers for registration at 7 A.M. every day except Thursdays, a day of prayer. Shishu Bhavan holds registration on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons.