Missionaries of Charity then grew fast. More and more Sisters joined it as its dedicated service to the poorest, the sickest, abandoned and the orphans earned it fame. It went on adding new branches and homes as donations kept coming at healthy rate.
The time was passing at its natural pace. A lot of things were happening to become history.
Two decades later, in 1971 millions of Bangladesh people had poured into India from the former East Pakistan to escape from brutalities of the Pakistan army that was trying to crush the rebellion by its eastern wing.
Thousands of camps came up around Calcutta to shelter the refugees. The state government and the Indian central government had arranged this. Local foreign charity organisations and NGOs were also contributing in the task of taking care of the refugees.
But magnitude of the problem was so huge that whatever was being done was woefully falling short. The life in the camps was horrific. The tents were crowded with refugees. There was no proper arrangement for distribution of rations, other essentials and relief materials. The supply of electricity and water was grossly inadequate or non-existent. There was filth every where. The camps presented an appalling sight. Unhygienic conditions and malnutrition aggravated the situation.
As feared, cholera broke out. The filth in-creased with vomits and refuse. The air became loaded with a sickening smell. The groans and cries of pain gave one shivers.
The Sisters of Missionaries of Charitiy had arrived to take care of the sick and the dying. The dedication and devotion of the Sisters to their work amazed others. They were a class apart from volunteers of other organisations.
V.I.P.s were descending on the camps to earn brawny points. Then, American Senator Edward Kennedy came to India on a visit. The refugee problem had become a matter of world concern. USA was a major donor of cash and relief goods for the refugees. The purpose of his visit was to see the condition of the camps with his own eyes. The senator was genuinely concerned about the plight of the refugees. He had read so many reports about the refugees and was sympathetic to India.
Senator Kennedy reached Calcutta and he was escorted to campsite hemmed in by usual crowds of newsmen, photographers, TV. crews and native politicians besides the security personnel. The local politicians wanted to grab the chance to get photographed with the senator by sticking close to him for value addition to their political standing.
Edward Kennedy felt besieged by them. So, he said to the Indian government representative, “Please let me see the camps on my own. You guys are taking me on a preset conducted tour having shut me in the confines of a air-conditioned car. I want to see and talk to the suffering people in the actual condition.”
The senator emerged out of the car and walked towards the tents to see what was happening inside actually.
The scene inside was horrifying. The volunteers of different organisations were attending to deathly sick people. It happened to be tent hospital. The senator noticed that several Sisters clad in blue bands sarees were too busy in tending the sickly people to take notice of him. That made him stop and take a hard look.
One Sister of Missionaries of Charity was cleaning the body of an ill and dirt smeared person. The Sister’s saree and hands had become soiled black like greased hands of a motor mechanic.
That overwhelmed the Senator. He stepped forward and extended his hand obviously wishing to shake hands with that devoted Sister.
The Sister was caught unawares. She looked at the visitor and recognised the familiar face of Senator Edward Kennedy.
Impulsively she hid her dirty hand behind her back and apologized, “Sir, I am extremely sorry. My hands are not clean enough for you to touch.”
The Senator extended his other hand also and spoke, “Please Sister, let me shake your hand. More I will feel honoured the more dirt I get from your hands on mine. It is a sacred dirt of the spirit of service.”
And the Senator grabbed her hands with both of his and shook warmly.
He said in choked voice, “Sister, what service you are doing is incredible. I have never seen such spirit of selfless service. It’s fantastic! Your love and compassion for the suffering moves my heart. What I see here is the humanitarian work only the dedicated people can do. It is my privilege to meet you.”
The Sister was Agnes, ex-Subasini Das.