She is frail, diminutive in her less than five feet frame, her hair is cropped short to keep it manageable and it is rough and white. Her name is Lukhi, she tells me, clasping my hands in hers with warmth that must be as old as the human spirit. Sister Mauricia, who is showing me around, tells me she is Rukhi, not Lukhi. Rukhi is mostly toothless; hence Rukhi becomes Lukhi. Rukhi or Lukhi, she responds much the same way when her fellow inmates call her by either name.
Right now, she is holding my hands and pleading to me like a child, in a dialect of Hindi that is typical to the Gaya area of Bihar.
“Hume train me bithadijiye; hum Gaya chale jayenge.”
(“Put me on the train. I want to go back to Gaya.”)
She sounds like a child who wants to be taken to the fair on the day before her school exams; she knows it is not happening. No one will put her on a train to Gaya. She has little recall of her past, but she remembers the trip to the Mazhar.
“Mazhar gayethe, unhase bhaag aye….”
(“I had been on a pilgrimage. From there, I ran…”)
Then she pleads like a small girl to take her to the train station now.
I comfort her by saying, now this is her place, Mother Teresa’s home in Jaanla near Bhubaneswar where she is, it is her real home. Everyone here loves her. She doesn’t need to go anywhere.
When Mother set up this place, a 42-acre self-contained village, it was for the destitute of another kind: people afflicted by leprosy. It primarily serves their purpose. There are 180 of them in various stages of treatment and rehabilitation at any time. Over time, the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity have added on a separate wing for the Rukhis of the world because they keep coming and no one can be turned away from Mother’s Home.
Rukhi is not alone here. There are women of all ages, all religions united by their misery. Mentally ill, they have all been abandoned by their families, mostly picked up from bus stops and railway stations, in varied state of destitution. When Rukhi came here, she was violent and abusive and very difficult to manage. She had dog bites, septic, sores, lice and maggots on her. Now all that is behind her. Over time, she has become mellow, loving, and sometimes quite cheerful. Until she meets an outsider like me and then her pleading begins.
Rukhi doesn’t let go of my hand. She has to go to Gaya, she says. Why, I ask her?
“Hamara beta haina. Uski shaadi karayenge.”
(“My son you know. I have to get him married.”)
She looks away. Then she looks into my eyes.
“Bhejiye na hame, hamara kaleja phat jaata hai, beteki shadi karayenge. Bambai may silai ka kaam karta hai…..”
(“Please, send me; my heart breaks…I have to get him married. He does tailoring-work in Mumbai.”)
But that is as much as she knows. It is insufficient information for Sister Mauricia to put her on a train to Gaya.
Rukhi is not the only one to get lost in a sea of humanity after visiting a Mazhar, a Dargha, the Ganga Sagar Mela or the Maha Kumbh. Poor people from rural India sometimes bring along a mentally ill, difficult to handle relative on a pilgrimage and simply leave her hand in the milling crowd.
When she realizes that the hand she held no longer holds, she is confused and scared and does not know what actually happened.
She doesn’t now know what to do.
The crowd pushes her on, she panics and then more crowd and more pushing and more crowd until days become nights and nights become days.
If she survives all the trampling, the subsequent hunger, the disease, the heat and the cold and the state of homelessness, one day finally she faints on an Indian Railways platform.
That is when and that is where the Sisters from the Missionaries of Charity find the Rukhis of the world. They bring her with love, dignity and respect. They clean her with the same devotion with which the cathedral of the Lord is cleaned, they give her water because she says, “I thirst” and they clad her and feed her and hold her hand in eternity.