As a 24-year-old IIT graduate weighing his options in life, Arvind Kejriwal knocked at Mother Teresa’s doors, and ended up working as a volunteer at her ashram for months. Here, in a conversation with News18’s Rupashree Nanda, he reminisces about that period in life. Kejriwal is preparing for his first foreign trip as Delhi Chief Minister to the Vatican to witness the canonization of the Mother on September 4.
As a young engineer with Tata Steel in Jamshedpur, Arvind Kejriwal sought a transfer to the social welfare department of the company, driven by the impulse to "do something" for people. When that request was turned down, Kejriwal resigned. He had any way made up his mind to sit for the civil service exams.
From Jamshedpur, he went to Kolkata. And one morning, along with hundreds of others, he stood in line to have a glimpse of the saint of the City of Joy: Mother Teresa.
“What do you want?” the mother asked Kejriwal, then all of 24. “I want to work with you,” he remembers replying to her. “Go and work in Kalighat,” she said.
For the next few months, he worked as a volunteer amongst the poor and the destitute of Kalighat. Kejriwal remembers Kolkata as a place that had “a lot of poverty and a lot of wealth”. From the streets of the former imperial capital, he picked up the sick and the abandoned and brought them to the shelter of the ashram.
Kejriwal recalls that volunteers came from Kolkata, rest of India, even abroad. “We used to do everything for them: from cleaning beds to disposing off body waste. We used to bathe them, wash their clothes, cook lunch, feed them… everything. It was very, very tiring but it gave a lot of satisfaction,” he says.
Mother Teresa had special instructions for volunteers when it came to looking after those who were in their last moments. Keriwal recalls her words: “They never got dignity in their life, they should get dignity in their death, they should get the warmth of human touch.” He remembers holding people in his lap, caressing them until they breathed their last.
Kejriwal says it was all a spiritual experience, not social.
Meeting Mother Teresa, while working as a volunteer, was rare. In one such meeting on a Sunday, a question was asked to the Mother about imparting skills to people who had been nursed so that they could take care of themselves and not be back at the ashram. Mother Teresa replied: “That is not my job. That is the job of the Government. There is God in every human being. My service to human beings is my service to God”.
After spending a few months with the Missionaries of Charity, Kejriwal also spent time at the Ramakrishna Mission working in villages on the outskirts of Kolkata.
Kejriwal left Missionaries of Charity when he received a call to interview for the Civil Services. He did not meet Mother Teresa before leaving. However, he says that the experience lasted for many, many months. “It was difficult to get back into society. One had a strong urge to go back,” he says. Even while training for the Indian Revenue Service, he and his then colleague Sunita often visited the Missionaries of Charity in Nagpur.
Pope Francis will declare Mother Teresa a Saint on Sunday. And among the audience will be Arvind Kejriwal.