When it comes to popular culture in India, a sure sign that a ‘historical’ character has made it to the canon is probably an Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) title dedicated to him/her. And Mother Teresa is the latest to join the club, with an ACK title released on her to coincide with her birth centenary celebrations this year.
At Mother House, the Missionaries of Charity headquarters in Kolkata where she lived and worked, a glossy black poster exhorts everyone to ‘grab your copy now’. Alongside, a detailed programme of the centenary celebrations lists such events as sit-and-draw contests and cultural programmes, presumably related to Mother Teresa’s life.
If there’s such a thing as a pop culture canon, Mother Teresa probably doesn’t belong to it… yet. But, one senses an attempt to bring her closer to people who otherwise may not have cared.
Take the ongoing Mother Teresa International Film Festival at Nandan, Kolkata’s much-revered cultural complex. Stretching over three days, the festival features films on the life and times of Mother Teresa, among them a made for TV mini-series by Dominique Lapierre starring Geraldine Chaplin and a feature film by Kevin Connor starring Olivia Hussey, as well as what the festival brochure describes as the “first animation film on Mother Teresa” The Fifth Word.
On the first day, August 26, volunteers easily outnumber audience members in the evening, but organisers say the morning was crowded, and Archana Sonthalia of Lions Club of Kolkata, which is supporting the festival, says most shows are sold out. This despite the news that the government had cancelled the booking for the auditorium for the second half on Saturday. Among the audience are the 50-something Mr and Mrs Vasudevan, just arrived from Kerala, who were walking past Nandan and decided to drop in.
As a sideshow, near the main entrance, Lions Club has put up a large flex for people to write birthday messages. Oli, Sarmi, and Sumanta, sauntering around the complex with no intention of watching a single film, find time to scrawl ‘Happy Birthday Mother Teresa’, working hard to find space among the crowd of fervent messages.
Many of those messages, as well as some of the films, already declare Teresa a saint. As do a group of little girls, on a tour of Mother House on the eve of the anniversary, who are handed pictures and pendants of Mother Teresa, which they reverentially touch to their foreheads. In actions if not in words, they probably echo the overriding popular sentiment of our time.