Missionaries of Charity

This post has very little to do with food, but I thought I’d re-publish it here anyway. I wrote this in 2002 in Kanpur and find it’s still relevant, unfortunately.

On my last visit to Kanpur a little more than 3 years ago, I visited the MOC, an organization started by Mother Theresa. It began with my mother mentioning the good work being done by them for abandoned babies in and around Kanpur.

The gates are unassuming with a modest board proclaiming their name. They throng with people standing outside waiting to enter. We do not know the purpose yet. When we reach the gates, a volunteer opens it and beckons the crowd to stand aside and let us pass. They do so, giving us undisguised looks of curiosity. We drive onto a cobblestone path. An ambulance stands on one side. The main building is dilapidated but cared for as much as their meager funds allow. The grounds, though small, have flower bushes and other plants. As we enter the building, we notice a garlanded picture of Mother Theresa. People pass us on their way out, clutching cardboard boxes containing some sweets and a banana each. These, we learn later, are being given to the poor, on the 5th death anniversary of Mother.

The reception area inside the building contains ancient wooden chairs with latticed plastic seats. The tiled flooring is immaculately clean. On our right we can see a small room with cribs set against the walls. All the cribs are empty. We pass through into another room with 8 cribs. Each has a little girl inside of various ages. Two little girls in tiny yellow frocks stand inside joyously announcing their presence to the world. Fair skinned and fair haired, one stares at us through light brown eyes. A one toothed smile soon follows, which makes me pick her up and think of my own 6 month old daughter secure in the warmth of her mothers love. The little girl is the same size as my daughter and twice her age. Each metal crib, though scratched and old, is clean and so are the little mattresses and sheets within them. Each one contains a little girl, all wearing identical frocks. The material was perhaps donated by a well wisher. I pick up one and she clings to me, all the while staring at me with those beautiful brown eyes. Why would anyone abandon such a beautiful child? The second one looks up at us as if she’s trying to say why not me? My mother picks her up and we continue to look through the mission. The room further ahead contains more cribs with smaller babies, all beautiful children with just one fault, they were all girls. Abandoned by their parents before they had a chance to show the world what they are capable of. Perhaps this will be their second chance at life.

We speak to the nun who is supervising the volunteers and lending a hand in the daily activities. What do they need? What can we do to add a little flavor of meaning to our own empty lives? She has answered this question before. The list of what one can do to help out is endless. The babies are fed milk powder based milk and they consume 60 kilos a month. Sheets, nappies and other consumables fill the list of essentials the babies could do with. Suddenly the amount I had in mind, which for me was a good amount, became paltry.

We go into the neighboring room. Here the babies are even smaller. Some picked up by good Samaritans or the nuns themselves. They are the smallest of the entire family, some weighing less than a kilo. The walls are covered with toys and gay, colorful posters. Two babies wriggle in their sleep in an ancient incubator. They could also do with a new incubator, the nun tells us. One tiny infant has a malformation. Her nose and mouth seem to be one gaping hole with no separating flesh. [Note: cleft palate?] I could imagine an uneducated husband and wife, both horrified by this supposed monstrosity and finally abandoning the child, either on their own or due to pressure from close sources. Though the rest do not have deformities, they are all pathetically small in size, with little wrinkled faces. I go back to where I picked up the little angel in my arms to put her back in her crib. She holds on to my fingers, trying to stand and walk towards me. Still holding my fingers, she does one of those typical baby like things that make her head bob up and down while tugging on my fingers and bending her knees in turn. I gently remove her little fingers from my own and put them on the crib. She stands unsteadily and watches me leave the room. I can’t resist turning back and looking. Shes still watching.

I feel a tug on my trousers. Looking down, I see a little girl of perhaps 6 years looking up at me with arms outstretched. Carry me! I’m only too happy to oblige. She seems properly nourished but she’s so light! I carry her for the rest of our visit around the mission. She clings to me each time I initiate the process of putting her back on her feet. She doesn’t want to go. I cannot imagine the busy nuns have time to administer love to these children; they’re too busy with the care part of things. How do children react to the absence of love in their lives? Some, like this one reach out for it. What do others do? Do they grow up to be loveless individuals, or do they lavish it on others to account for receiving none themselves? Do we really want to find out what happens by experimenting or letting it continue, or ensure it never happens? Nice thought. How do you do it?

We left the mission with a heavy heart. There is so much you want to do for these little souls. What you can do, within your means seems so little. The only meaningful thing I could think of was an initial contribution in cash or kind and continued efforts through a percentage of my income. Another thing I could do was to spread the word, which I’m doing now. Spread the word about kind nuns, tireless efforts, lovely babies in need and much more, none of which can be written, only experienced. Look into the eyes of one of those children who have started their life with rejection, the extent of which could destroy one of us at a much later age. When they look back into your eyes with nothing but love and unrequited hope you’ll know.

– Sid

Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is the founder of Chef at Large, a blog that began in 2007. He enjoys cooking, writing, travelling and technology in addition to being a practising Freemason. Health and wellness is a particularly passionate focus. Sid prefers the company of food and animals to most humans, and can be reached at sid.khullar@chefatlarge.in.