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A Tarnished Jewel


It was in the 1960s when I went to sea in the

British Merchant Navy.


In 1966 I first came to Madras, (now called Chennai)

in India.


One afternoon I was in my cabin when there was a

knock on the door.

It was a Nun.   She was a European, probably Dutch,

in her early twenties and quite pretty.

She was selling trinkets and explained that she went

around the ships to sell small items.   All money was for

the leprosy colony at the large fort on the hillside and

was used to purchase food and clothing and medicines

for the inmates.   The money that she collected was the 

sole income for the colony.


The colony was staffed by Nuns and she had been

there for two years.  She went to the markets and

used the money collected to buy food and items.

Then to the colony where rattan baskets would be

lowered from the wall and the goods pulled up by Nuns.

No one could enter then leave the colony.


This Nun did not go into the fort or colony as her task

was to sell to the ships and supply the food and

necessities and to acclimatise and learn the language

and culture.


But in another year or so, when her turn came,

she would enter the colony to tend to the lepers,

and would never be able to come back out.   

The risk of spreading the disease was too great.


She knew the risk and outcome and that her

life would be short, and had already said goodbye

to her family and friends at home, knowing that she

would never see them again.


A few years later I was again in Madras and a

 different Nun selling trinkets came aboard.  I asked

her about the previous Nun.   

She was now inside the colony.


I went to bed that night with a sad and heavy



heart and said a silent prayer for her.


And now, about sixty years later, when I sit and think

of things from the past, I still clearly remember the

visit by the wonderful, compassionate young and pretty

Dutch woman and her purpose in life to care for and

help the poorest, starving and most shunned, inflicted and isolated people in India.