A few houses away from Mother House — Mother Teresa’s residence from the 1950s till her death in 1997, and where she was buried after — on Kolkata’s AJC Bose Road is a tiny shop selling cards and gifts that would have been quite nondescript had it not been for the signboard announcing the availability of Mother Teresa souvenirs.
Inside, racks are stocked up with Mother Teresa posters, medallions, rosaries, crosses, cups, pens and t-shirts with her photographs on them, besides several books on her. One of the racks has a fading paper slip taped on it, informing customers about the products that have been touched to Mother’s tomb. “But that’s an old notice, which is why it is fading now. I haven’t been able to do it for some time now,” says Fatima Choudhury, who runs the shop with her husband Nurul Islam Chowdhury.
Their customers include both Indians and foreigners, and the price range of the mementos vary from Rs 5 to Rs 5,000 (for a 5ft statue of Mother). The couple started selling the mementos a few months after Mother’s death in 1997, but Fatima says their association with Mother was of many years. “Mother had a piano. She would get my husband to go over to Mother House and tune it for her,” says Fatima. In those days the Chowdhurys owned an electronic goods shop. Fatima herself would often meet Mother, while the latter was on her way to or from Mother House. “If she saw me sitting and chatting with the neighbourhood women, she would affectionately scold us and say, “Always wasting time in idle chatter. Why don’t you go and pray. Pray to your own God.’ She was a great lady. The Missionaries of Charity has not been the same since her death,” says Fatima.
The fact that Mother was Christian and they Muslims has never mattered to the Chowdhurys. “Mother never discriminated on the basis of religion. She helped everyone,” says Fatima.
The couple is full of joy at Mother’s impending canonization and say that they themselves have often felt her holy powers. “Once a member of our family was ailing. My husband wanted to give some money to him for his treatment but he was short of cash. The bank was closed that day and he couldn’t withdraw any money. He was very worried and started praying to Mother. But then a foreigner walked into the shop and asked for Mother Teresa photographs. He bought many of them and paid us Rs 4,500, the exact amount we required,” says Fatima.
But has Mother’s sainthood boosted sales for them? “Many people are walking in, but not all of them are buying. I can’t really say that sales have gone up. May be it will, after the canonization,” says Fatima.