His hair cropped short as a measure against lice, his rags replaced by a clean cotton shirt and pants, the emaciated man lay listlessly on cot 32 of Mother Teresa's home for the destitute dying in Calcutta.
One of nearly 50 men in a roomful of living skeletons, he occasionally moved his limbs and eyes. Then, a few brief twitches and he was dead.
The two nuns and six postulants who had arrived minutes earlier with large steel pots of food for the evening meal quickly gathered and prayed over his body. He had spent a week at the shelter operated by the woman known to many as a living saint, but food and medicine were no match for his advanced malnutrition and diarrhea.
Like half of the men and women found dying alone by Mother Teresas's workers on the pavements of Calcutta, he was caried out dead on a stretcher for cremation. He might have been in his mid-30s.
Just down the street from the Nirmal Hriday home, worshipers flocked to the Temple of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, for the evening devotions. At the home, with human destruction all around them in the 111 cots of the men's and women's wards, Mother Teresa's nuns, brothers and volunteers spoon-fed the disabled, cleaned up the incontinent and touched and talked to the lonely.
"There's utter loneliness in the street," says Sister Luke, the Indian nursing nun in charge of the shelter for the past six years. "Our aim is to make them feel that there is love in the world."
For the abandoned street people of Calcutta who have no families to take care of them, love is a clean place to die with some dignity and a caring person nearby.
"They are sometimes brought in in such condition that you wouldn't recognize them as human beings," says Sister Luke. "They come in lonely and dejected. Some of them don't want to live. They go into such an extent of depression that they refuse to eat. The only way of countering that depression is love. The only thing to do is to conquer them by love."
Mother Teresa, 69, born in what is now Yugoslavia, won the Nobel Peace Prize last week for her help to suffering humanity in India and around the world.She founded the home for dying and destitute near Kali's temple in 1952. Too busy not to visit every day, she still comes on Sundays to wash and to touch the sick and dying and to clean their toilets and empty their bedpans.
"It's beautiful work," she says.
"This is the first home that Mother started when she just began her work," explains Sister Luke. "So this is her first love." There are now 62 such homes for the dying poor operated worldwide by the Society of Missionaries of Charity, the order Mother Teresa founded in 1950.
Mike is 27, a product of Catholic grade and high schools in Milwaukee. Tall and bearded, he worked for nine months as a truck driver and salesman to pay his fare to Calcutta and work with Mother Teresa.
"I wanted to be in the presence of a living saint." he says, "and I wanted to see things at their source. I came looking for Jesus.'
Wearing a long gray apron, he moves through the men's ward of the home for dying and destitute, helping to ladle out rice, meat broth and milk for the evening meal. A few minutes earlier, he had helped carry out the dead man.
"I can say I've found Jesus in these patients," he declares. "I was very frightened when I first came. I didn't know where I would stay or what I would do. I did know I wanted to see Mother Teresa.I trust in God, and things just worked themselves out."
"I never considered myself the traditional type of religious man," Mike adds. "I was not involved in the States. I couldn't find anything that really reached the guts and the hearts of the poor man the way I wanted to do it. I don't think I'm unlike many people who are searching for something that is real.
"Coming here, my faith has been restored. I'll stay as long as I'm legally allowed on my tourist visa. Then I plan to go back to the States and continue working with the poorest of the poor in some way. I'm not so interested in whether I have a vocation as a brother, but I think I've found my vocation as a Christian."
He has been staying with the order of brothers affiliated with Mother Teresa's nuns and coming to the home each morning and afternoon for more than three months. He tells his last name, a common one, but asks that it not be used.
Like Mother Teresa, Sister Dionysia has a face that crinkles often with smiles and laughter. From Kerala, the Indian state with the largest Christian population, she has a happy job with the Missionaries of Charity. She helps to arrange adoptions for the abandoned babies and children at Mother Teresa's Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, a children's home just a short walk walk from the motherhouse where 310 novices are in two-year training to take their first vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and charity. Their order's purpose is specific: to work with the very poorest of the poor.
Sister Dionysia walks through rows of tiny cribs, tickling the cheeks and waists of huge-eyed babies and cooing their names.
"This is laissa and she's going to Italy in two months," she announces proudly. "This boy id going to Belgium."
Indian families, she notes, get first preference for the children found on the streets, abandoned at police stations and clinics, and surrendered by women who do not want or cannot afford to feed their babies. Some of the infants have been coaxed into life by the sisters, who have persuaded young women not to have abortions because Mother Teresa would take their children and find them homes.
There is not enough room in the home for the 147 children under five years of age and the 200 older youngsters. Many of the older ones are in boarding schools, but 4- to 8-year-olds sleep in rows on cloth mats on the floor because there are not enough beds. There are plans to expand the home to the next building.
The nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa insists, "has nothing to do with me. For the poor, it's very beautiful. It's a recognition that works of love are works of peace. Persoanlly, I am unworthy." But her face breaks into smiles of delight.
She will use the prize money of about $190,000 to build housing for the lepers, handicapped children and poor families that her society of 1,800 nuns serve arount the world.
"I want to create that oneness of family, to bring the family together," she says. "'Unless they have a home, they can't live together. If a family is to live in peace and love and unity, you must have them together."
Her habit, one of two that she owns, is a long white robe made of rough handspun cotton draped with a blue banded white sari with a crucifix pinned on the left shoulder.