It was the dawn of 11 March, 1978. We — my friends, Sunil Surve, Leonard, Paras and I — were to meet Mother Teresa at 5.30 am at Nirmal Hirday, Pratap Pura, Agra, courtesy my brother Subir. We kept awake the whole night in fear that we may oversleep and miss the appointed hour of our meeting. We reached Nirmal Hirday at 5.00 am and waited eagerly for Mother to complete her morning prayers. Surve had painted overnight, two life-like portraits of Mother and brought it for her. I carried a copy of the Sunday magazine which featured a story on the immortal deeds of Mother for the purpose of endorsing it with her autograph. We had also taken a tape-recorder to record our conversation with Mother.
Mother emerged out of her prayers at 5.30 am, draped in a coarse blue-bordered saree and a grey woolen sweater. How like an extremely effectual angel beating her luminous wings to assuage the suffering of mankind did this great international celebrity look in her attire of simplicity ! How does one describe the profile of such an angel! A frail woman with compassionate eyes filled with pain at the plight of the homeless and destitute and yet emanating hope and peace for everything which comes within their infinite range. The deepset creases on her face almost resembled a map of the world and told the story of suffering and pain she had seen all over in the human domain, and her small dainty little hands seemed to be embracing the entire suffering world in a spirit of indescribable humility.
Mother Teresa greeted us with a smile and blessed each of us in turn with kind words of inspiration. She spoke so softly that we had to strain our ears to hear her. Perhaps she meant to convey what she felt about the inefficacy of speech for one engaged in God’s noble work. I deliberately didn’t switch on the recorder for I knew it was superfluous. I told her we had come to receive her blessings and to present to her the two portraits that Surve had painted. She looked at the paintings and praised Surve’s skill as an artist. Her eyes glowed with sadness as she said very gently: “How I wish you may have utilised the amount of money you have spent in painting my portrait for buying food and milk for little hungry orphans.” Her words which came out from her innermost being made us a little uncomfortable. Perhaps it was her way of telling us without hurting our feelings that true service is the practical expression of devotion to God. She asked us about the professions we were in and told us how we could make our lives useful : “I do not want you to perform miracles with unkindness, rather I prefer you to make mistakes in kindness. Always remember that the language of caring is universal.”
Across the span of twenty seven years those gentle words continue to reverberate, bringing back to the mind, in a flash, the indelible impression of the closest touch we would ever have with living divinity.