News EventSunday, May 16, 2021 @ 1700
A Tarnished Jewel
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)
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
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.