West Bengal, India., Nov. 15 - As the Vatican moves inexorably towards declaring Mother Teresa a saint, Monika Besra, whose stomach tumour was 'miraculously' cured by the Mother's blessings, basks in the afterglow of the beatification. Monika, a poor Santhal girl steeped in poverty, is today fully reaping the benefits of the miracle. There are yet others in Kolkata who unflinchingly vouch for the Mother making a miraculous difference in their lives.
Life hasn't been the same for the tiny non-descript hamlet of Nakor in the South Dinajpur district of West Bengal, where even a couple of years ago nearly every second household was below poverty line. No more. For, Nakor today is a hot tourist destination; or, if you like, the first door to sainthood.
September 5, 1998, turned things around for the humble village in general and in the life of a gaunt and cleaned out Monika Besra and her husband Selku Murmu (a boozer, yet a devoted spouse) in particular.
For the 33-year-old impecunious mother of five, the 'blessed' date heralded a chain of events that revolutionised her life and also afforded the Missionaries of Charity, stationed 250 miles downstream, a long-cherished mission - beatification of the Albania-born Mother Teresa, whom many have already 'beatified' as Saint of the Gutters.
Monika had an angry tumour in her belly. Refusing to respond to treatment, the lump sucked the family white with Selku pawning five out of his eight bighas of cultivable land. Monika visited tens of doctors and at least four hospitals and nursing homes for succour. At Harirampur, the doctors X-rayed her stomach, but failed to diagnose the disease. With the pain persisting, she was taken to the Rajipur hospital where a doctor detected a heart beating inside her stomach and ruled: She should be happy as it was a baby giving her the pain!
But when the ultra-sound tests proved the stethoscope wrong, she was referred to the district hospital at Balurghat where medicos fought a losing battle for a couple of months before forwarding the case to the North Bengal Medical College in Siliguri.
Here, the surgeons said an operation was needed but was not possible as Monika was very weak. She was asked to report three months later. Unable to live with the pain, the tribal woman tried out a few nursing homes like the one in Malda. But when private practitioners multiplied her pains with a hefty Rs 5,000 bill for three nights, the Besras decided enough was enough.
Says a nun requesting anonymity at the Mother's House in Kolkata, "Monika was then taken to Mother Teresa's Nabajiban Ashram at Patiram near Balurghat on her first death anniversary. She prayed holding the 'miraculous medal' to her stomach, after which she got cured."
According to a close relative of the 'blessed patient', "she saw a beam of light entering her stomach." The next morning, she found to her utter astonishment that the pain was gone. "Even the swollen tummy had subsided to a great extent." Rest is history and a tale of the Besras' journey from rags to fame. For Monika, "This was the best thing that happened in my life. I was relieved of the nagging pain by the Mother's blessings. It was nothing but a miracle. The Mother had said once, 'God's ways are strange'... I have no doubts about that."
Such has been the impact of the miracle on the illiterate tribal woman that today her neighbours do not stop rattling out tomes of similar anecdotes testifying how Monika herself has acquired healing powers. According to Harihar, a resident of Kumargram several villages away, "Monika's healing powers have reached the people here. She has been healing children suffering from diarrhoea." According to one such story, Monika once prayed for a number of youngsters suffering from the dreaded disease which afflicts the villages during the rainy season. "She prayed the whole night till they felt relieved and when they were going out in the morning to a doctor she handed them some tablets," says an acquaintance.
Besra is now a Christian. She was not when she was cured.
Monica, it seems, has triggered a trail of miracle stories, now emanating even from Kolkata - where the Missionaries of Charity is headquartered.
Take, for instance, Anju Rosario of Talatala who feels she had been healed of a "seemingly carcinogenic" breast tumour by Mother's grace. "One day, I found a tumour-like thing in my breast. I consulted a doctor who advised an X-ray. The report showed a growth and the doctor suggested a metastasis."
A horrified Anjali ran towards the Mother's House at AJC Bose Road and prayed for hours. "I literally wept in front of Mother's grave and took a medallion prescribed for healing. I continued praying till after 15 days a second X-ray confirmed that there was no tumour in my breast," Anjali narrates in one breath.
Then there is 34-year-old Elizabeth Sinha who feels she was cured by Mother when she was alive, 25 years ago. "I was eight and suffered from breathing trouble and related chest complications. Doctors feared a perforation in my heart. My parents had no money to treat me and they had almost given up on me till Mother came into my life," she reminisces.
One day, a group of bastiwallahs at Park Circus, where she lived with her parents, took her to Mother's House. "She caressed me... I still remember the next few moments when I felt light and cured." Soon, she shifted to Mother's House till she attained the age of 18 when "the Mother got me married to a labourer. I have been living happily thereafter."
For Ms Mary Margaret Samuels at Rippon Street, it was a slightly different experience. "I am 68 and had been suffering from arthritis, spondolitis, bronchial asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and a lot many ailments. I had to use a walker to move around. I had been an admirer of Mother. But I also visited the church and other priests. One day, at the Bible Convention, Father Augustine said, 'Look at Jesus, he is in the Host'. As we worshipped I saw Jesus come out of the Host... He hugged me... Later that evening, I needed no walker to come back home. I was healed that day and I walk around freely now," Though Ms Samuel's healing had no direct link with Mother's miraculous powers, "I believe in her miraculous capabilities. She was a great saint."
Elsewhere, law graduate Samrat Sen, felt "the Mother's presence in me throughout my examinations." Samrat had given up, even attempted suicide due to depression and had to be hospitalised for a whole week before his exams. "Finally, I went to Mother. She blessed me and I passed, securing a first class," he says, adding, "my life is Mother's gift."
Besra, Anjali, Elizabeth. The 'blessed' list is long and growing. One reason can be seen in the way Monika's life has changed. Monika, a shy village belle who hadn't seen an aeroplane till she was reached by one to the Pope at The Vatican, says, "I will like my son to be a doctor and the daughter a school teacher."
Compare these aspirations to what she inherited as a poor Santhal woman who hadn't seen a third 'ism' beyond feudalism and 'communism', and you know why miracles have their modern-day seekers.