A mother superior

October 31, 1997

Krishna Dutta's review of Anne Sebba's biography of Mother Teresa (THES October 17) was welcome. I was therefore disappointed at inconsistencies in her arguments.

Dutta tells us that the Calcutta in which she was born does not "feature in the public perception of the West" where it is "identified with acute poverty, squalor and Mother Teresa". She then argues that Mother Teresa's "canny understanding of the psychology of charity" made her realise that "images of cripples, deformed orphans, dying human beings - the appalling misery of many lives in the Third World - would trouble the conscience of an affluent and complacent West". If Calcutta is home to Third World misery there is surely some reason for the West to identify it as such?

I was also troubled by Dutta's conclusion: "The West will canonise her to express its own need for an icon of humble humanity, but for the poor of Calcutta who witnessed her state funeral ... she will remain a VIP." This may be true, but it sits oddly with a previous statement that in the temples of Calcutta's poor "Marigold images" of Teresa "are being revered as Devi, the Mother Goddess".

Thomas Rist Lecturer Anglia Polytechnic University

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