As Kolkata mourns and prepares for the “shesh jatra” (final journey) of veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu on Tuesday, many are reminded of a public funeral more than a decade ago, when Mr. Basu, as the West Bengal Chief Minister, came to offer a wreath to Mother Teresa to sustained applause from a stadium full of people.
“The special association between Jyoti Basu and Mother Teresa was marked by a mutual admiration that they felt for each other. As far as Mr. Basu was concerned, there were standing instructions that should she ever seek an appointment with him, there was to be no delay,” said Joykrishno Ghosh, a personal aide of Mr. Basu since 1977.
Mr. Basu always tried to be supportive of her work and personally oversaw the arrangements for her funeral, Mr. Ghosh said.
“She makes me a bad Marxist since she makes me believe in godliness,” is what Mr. Basu reportedly remarked after one of their frequent meetings, according to Messiah of the Poor, a book on the life of Mother Teresa by B. K. Chaturvedi.
The remarkable, if somewhat paradoxical relationship between the Catholic nun, now known as Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, and the committed Communist leader is well known and widely written about.
In the book, Seeking Christ in the Crosses & Joys of Aging, Ronda Chervin recounts an incident when Mr. Basu called up Mother Teresa 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 of them and provisions were made to build a home for them on the land provided by the government.
Mother Teresa was once allowed to interrupt a Cabinet meeting when she needed to meet Mr. Basu urgently, film-maker T. Rajeevnath, who has been planning a film on the life of Mother Teresa over the past few years, told The Hindu over the telephone.
“A year ago I was surprised to receive a call from Jyoti Basu’s secretary. Jyoti Babu had read media reports about my film and called me up to assure me that the whole of Bengal will be with me if I made my film. Such was his regard for her,” Mr. Rajeevnath said.