December 2011

Nishtatai: Devoted to India


There have been umpteen instances of foreign nationals coming to India and making it their home. The most famous example is that of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu who became renowned as Mother Teresa.

On November 20, 2011, a French woman, Juliette Pierre-Marie, passed away at Pune in Maharashtra at the age of 88. She had been ailing from liver cancer.

Juliette Pierre Marie had arrived at Pune in early 1970, adopted the Marathi name of "Nishta" and became an Indian citizen. She silently carried on social work in the Pune slums which earned her respect as "Nishtatai (tai in Marathi is elder sister)".

Nishtatai had always been interested in the vedas and upanishads - this love for India had made her bid adieu to her place of birth and arrive in India at the age of 47. She took to the Indian way of dressing in a sari and wearing a "bindi" on the forehead. She took up a job as a professor of French in a college here. While teaching French in the college, she herself took to learning to read, write and speak in Marathi. Incidentally, the meaning of the word "nishta" is "devotedness"

She took up residence near the slums and started a kindergarten for the slum children. Nishtatai launched the Pune unit of the Alliance Francaise de Pune with just two students in 1972. Today, the Alliance Francaise is a significant part of the Pune cultural set-up, teaching the French language to several hundred students every year.

Nishtatai started a women's empowerment and cultural centre in Kamshet village near Pune in 1983. She concentrated on the higher education for girls by counseling parents and teachers in the village, and encouraged village women to stitch cotton quilts to generate personal income.

She was awarded France's "Knight of the National Order of Merit" in 2004. The French Government had bestowed the award to Nishtatai for her work of teaching French here, acting as a cultural bridge between India and France and for her efforts towards the upliftment of the underprivileged.

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