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A Saint's Tryst With Agricultural Scholars.

India, Sept. 5 -- So much has already been written about Mother Teresa and her charitable work amongst the poorest of the poor that she scarce needs any introduction. She was already a living saint for millions of Indians long before the Roman Catholic Church decided to canonize her as one on the eve of her 19th death anniversary. The winner of Nobel Peace Prize and Bharat Ratna, she had already found a warm corner in countless Indian hearts-a true testimony to the secular spirit of this Hindu majority country!

Yet I was surprised when the late Prof. SK Sinha, the then Director of the Indian Agricultural Research (IARI), who was a distinguished agricultural scientist and an unorthodox thinker, decided to invite a religious person like Mother Teresa as chief guest for the thirty-first convocation of the Institute held on February 12, 1993. Again to my great surprise, the convocation pandal was packed to capacity just to see and hear this diminutive old nun with a wrinkled face and bent back, clad in a blue bordered white sari! She was no rock star; yet emotion was palpable among the audience as though something had touched the chord of every heart. Many years later, Prof. Sinha remarked that getting Mother Teresa to address the convocation was one of his most cherished achievements! That was the charisma of Mother Teresa, and I felt immensely honoured to cover the event for the Institute's newsletter and other publications.

Mother Teresa, MC at IARI Convocation (1993)

Much accustomed to long, hackneyed convocation addresses with their soporific statistics and endless details (barring a few honourable exceptions, of course), for many the Mother's convocation address or what passed for convocation address was too short. She just called upon the agricultural scientific community to help the poor with their knowledge so that the poor could get at least two square meals a day. Describing farm knowledge as "gift of God" she entreated the recipients of PhD and MSc degrees to help the poor and the needy to access food in return for the joy of their love. The Mother also appealed to the alumni to help cultivate large pieces of land attached to leprosy centers and other welfare institutions to produce food for the hungry, which was the greatest service they could do to humanity and God. As I recollect, her address was over in about fifteen minutes!

Mother Teresa blessing a student at IARI Convocation

The greatest surprise of the convocation however was when students broke with the custom usually followed on such formal occasions to spontaneously touch the feet of the Mother as she handed over the degrees and blessed them by placing her palms upon their heads as a mother would do to her own children! The students were ecstatic and seemed to have well received her short message delivered in a simple, direct and uncomplicated style as possibly only a mother could have.

Mother Teresa was born Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu ( gonxhe meaning "rosebud" or "little flower" in Albanian) into an Albanian family . Little wonder then IARI released a hybrid rose in her honour named Mother Teresa!

An IARI hybrid rose named after Mother Teresa

* The writer was formerly Editor at IARI.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Date:Sep 5, 2016
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