Mother Teresa and Me: An Interview with Ruma Bose
So do you think she make you a better Hindu?
Absolutely. I am a better person today as a result of her influence in my life. Religion provides me with a source of faith and a set of values by which to practice my daily life, and Mother Teresa, by her example, helped me understand different ways to practice my own faith and be a better and more spiritual person.
How did you come to admire Mother Teresa, and what led you to Calcutta to meet her?
My mother used to tell me bedtime stories about Mother Teresa when I was a little girl. When I was 8 years old, I lived in Canada where it was very cold, and one night I saw a homeless man going through our garbage. I asked my mother why he was doing that and she tried to explain to me that there are people less fortunate than us. Apparently, her answer wasn't satisfactory to me, because I decided to write a letter to Mother Teresa. I wrote to her about the old man outside our house, and asked her what I could do. A few months later, I received a response telling me to smile at the old man and that smiling creates happiness around you. She wrote that poor people are wonderful people, looking for our love and acceptance and not our judgment.
My mom tells me that after I got that letter, whenever she'd take me to the park, I'd run to all the homeless people in the park and start talking to them about Mother Teresa. And I would just smile.
After my first year of university, Mother Teresa survived a heart attack, and my father told me if I was really serious about volunteering with her, I should really think about going very soon. So I packed my bags, bought a plane ticket to Calcutta and just showed up and knocked on the door.
Do you ever long to go back there and live in that community?
I was very young when I did this work so the way that it affected me changed and evolved over time. I didn't really comprehend the true influence it has had on me until about 2-3 years ago. I felt fulfilled in some areas of my life, but not in others. I started talking to mentors and teachers to get advice, and in those moments I started looking at my past. And that's when I really started thinking, well, what would Mother Teresa tell me? How would she do this?
I don't think Mother Teresa would tell everybody they should move to an area of abject poverty and give their lives to the poor. I think she would tell us to understand our gifts and first take care of the immediate world around us by making time for our children, our spouses, our families, our friends, our neighbors, creating love around us. Mother Teresa said, "Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody—I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat." It's really understanding what we can do to make a difference in our families, our communities, our countries.
So do I long to go back to Calcutta? I long to give back in a matter that affects a large number of people. I long to find a sustainable model that solves a major problem in the world and empowers people. I don't necessarily need to go to Calcutta to do that.
If Mother Teresa were still alive, what do you think she'd say about your book?
I think Mother Teresa would smile that famous smile of hers and say something like: "Ruma, do you remember what I told you when we had our last meeting? I said that some people are meant to make a difference to the world, and you are one of them, so find your vehicle and never give up. I think that your book and everything that will come from it is a very important step in your path to making a difference."
So what's next for you, in light of this book?
Well, I decided two things I wanted to do around the energy of this book. First, I believe if Mother Teresa were alive today, I think her focus would be on Haiti. The country has experienced so much devastation and needs help to rebuild itself on so many levels. So I want to help bring attention to that country in anyway that I can. Whatever way we can contribute to that is important.
Secondly, I care deeply about the economic empowerment of women and believe that entrepreneurship is a viable and sustainable solution. So I want to start an entrepreneurial and leadership program to teach existing and aspiring entrepreneurs the core skills necessary to run a business. I've been discussing a partnership between the State Department, the United Nations and a very strong entrepreneurial university, and we will hopefully announce in the next couple of weeks this Entrepreneur and Leadership program for women around the world.
I want to spend the rest of my life working on impactful projects that empower women. This is my path and I welcome anyone who would like to join this journey with me.
Read more about Mother Teresa, CEO—including a book excerpt—at the Patheos Book Club here.
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team in 2009, after more than ten years of managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of music/theatre programs for children, and a music minister.