`She makes me a bad Marxist, makes me believe in godliness'

Saugata Roy | TNN | Sep 5, 2016, 04.29 PM IST

A Marxist, Jyoti Basu stayed way from the funeral mass at Netaji Indoor Stadium, but attended mother's last journey.

How do a Catholic and a communist get along,"people often wondered while discussing the mu tual respect that Mother Teresa and Jyoti Basu had for each other. Basu was a Communist and atheist. Mother was a Catholic nun with an unflinching belief in God. Yet, Basu's doors were always open for Mother, who used to call on the chief minister at Writers' Buildings without hesitation. Once, she was even allowed to interrupt a cabinet meeting because she needed to meet Basu urgently. "We share a love for the poor," Basu would say in reply to the query. In his book on the Mother, `Messiah of the Poor', B K Chaturvedi quotes Basu as saying: "She makes me a bad Marxist since she makes me believe in godliness."

When Mother addressed Basu, she would prefix `My friend' before she took his name. The mutual understanding has a parallel in Cuba, where Fidel Castro in 1992 welcomed churchgoing Catholics to join the Communist Party of Cuba, shunning the "atheist" tag on communists. Known as a liberal among Mar xists, Basu didn't give up his Marxist identity though. He stayed away from the Mass before Mother's last journey at Netaji Indoor Stadium, where dignitaries like US First Lady Hillary Clinton, opposition leader Atal Behari Vajpayee had assembled to pay tribute. Basu joined the programme only after the Missionaries of Charity spokesperson announced in the stadium: "The Mother will now begin her last journey".

A retired state bureaucrat recoun ted how Basu worked from behind to give Mother Teresa a fitting farewell.He micro-managed the entire programme and also gave the Missionaries of Charity the go-ahead to keep her remains at Mother House, something that usually doesn't happen under the law.

In the book `Seeking Christ in the Crosses & Joys of Aging', Ronda Chervin recounts an incident when Basu called up the Mother asking her to provide a home for some destitute women who were languishing in prison for the want of a better place. She immediately took in 40 and provi sions were made to build a home for them on the land provided by the government.

Former election commissioner Navin Chawla, who was Mother's biographer, recounts how on one occasion when Mother was visiting Delhi, she fell ill and had to be admitted to a hospital. For a week that she was there, Chawla recalls, Basu called every day . When she was hospitalised in Kolkata, Basu would discreetly drop by and speak to the doctors.

It must be sheer providence that Mother House and Pramode Dasgupta Marxist Education Centre exist cheek by jowl. While the former was Mother Teresa's residence and continues to be the nunnery where relatively new entrants to the Missionaries of Charity are trained, the latter is, as the name suggests, a centre that trains comrades.

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