Glasgow And Ships Of The Clyde

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 in the harbour 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 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 the Nuns.

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 learn the local language, dialect and culture.

But in another year or so, when her turn came, she would be called upon to enter the colony to tend to the lepers, and would never be able to come back out.   The probability and prospect of spreading the disease in the population 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.

Maybe a year or so later I was back in Madras.  Again there was a knock on the door.   It was a different Nun.   I asked about the Dutch woman.   She was now inside the colony and would remain there for the rest of her life.

That night I went to bed with a heavy heart and said a silent prayer for her and her sister Nuns.

And now, about sixty years later, when I sit and think of things from the past, I still clearly remember the visit by the young and pretty Dutch woman and her purpose in life to care for and help the poorest, starving and most shunned, diseased and isolated people in India.

Both Nuns will be dead by now.   God bless and please take care of them.