I accepted the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh during the Bahá’í fasting period as it was Sunday 15th March 1969 when a travelling Indian female travel teacher from the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius visited Guyana in South America to assist in teaching the Faith to the East Indian communities here. I was then only a mere 19 year old rebellious brat who had a sympathetic tendency for left wing politics and a noticeable respect for Black Power ideas that were in vogue in the sixties. The song ‘Hotel California’ was my favourite then. I wanted to know what or who is the “beast”. I remember vividly that it was a warm sunny day when my cousin who attended the first Bahá’í meeting in my rural village the week before, asked me to go with him the next week, when some ‘white people’ would come and talk about a new religion. The ‘white people’ did not come that promised week on Sunday but Shanta Murday (her then husband was a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh) the Mauritian came instead in her handsome dazzling sari. Then afterwards the persons who nurtured, protected and sheltered me in my early Bahá’í days were Ed and Ellen Widmer an American couple who had rendered yeoman services to the cause in Guyana. Ellen’s mother as a young girl met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with her mother. Ellen wrote about her late mother “my dear mother came to Guyana several times and visited communities for the purpose of sharing her experience of meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. She was already into her eighties but she and her husband (Dr Rex Parmelee) felt committed to serving as they could in teaching children’s classes and all others. Also my dear friend and brother the Counselor Dr Peter McLaren, who still lives in Caracas, Venezuela in South America, was helpful to me in my formative ages as a Bahá’í.
Many local villagers did not go as invited, so I had an almost one to one chat with Shanta speaking to me in her fluent English/French and Hindi manner. At that time I espoused the Hindu religion and learned of the Christian religion as a subject at the British Anglican School in my nearby community. I also had several Muslim friends as there was a mosque in my small village/hamlet. Almost every day at dawn and evening I could hear the melodious Muslim call to prayer, which at times I regarded with awe and fascination. I also used to ponder in my small mind and world: why, if there is one God – a principle that most people accept without question – then why can’t there be one religion? I listened to Shanta’s sweet voice and was pleased and enthralled to listen to her melodious Indian accent talking and explaining to me about Bahá’u’lláh, the Persian prophet from Iran (a country I knew nothing about except for currants, raisins, and turbaned mullahs)!
I must also state here that in my primary school days, I can still to this day remember that on one particular morning the deputy Head of the school was giving morning briefings of Anglican hymns, songs and readings from the Bible and he stopped midway and read from the then national newspaper of Guyana from a news item headline captioned ‘Christ has returned’. Now I cannot remember what he read but the captioned headline remained in my mind and even lingers to this day. My primary school mind embedded that for a long time, and wanted to know more of it, but could not, it seems at that time. One was not allowed to ask questions of that religious morning session. One was only supposed to listen and sing, or mumble, hymns.
Fast forward . . . Shanta Murday, a Bahá’í traveling teacher from the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, first told me about the Bahá’í faith and I did not remember all that she told me that memorable warm tropical day under my neighbour’s ground floor flat, but what I learnt from reading the now famous William Sears’ book Thief in the Night made me accept the faith of Bahá’u’lláh. I literally started to read that book immediately and before I reached home I learnt of the Báb as the Messenger of God for this day and I accepted Him and thought then that was it. Thinking that He was the return of Christ I read on and discovered the person of Bahá’u’lláh and the rest, as they say, is history.
I am blessed that it is now 43 years ago since I became a Bahá’í.
One young Bahá’í I would like to mention in particular was Hooman Momen who arrived in Guyana in 1969. He was the first British youth travel teacher to come to our shores and he spent about six months here. At that time he was a quiet young man who didn’t speak much but liked to travel and teach. Hooman gave me three special gifts: first, he gave me my first two Baha’i books: William Sears; God Loves Laughter and The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys by Bahá’u’lláh, both of which I read several times. It was difficult for me to understand The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys. At that time I was not in a position financially to buy even non Bahá’í books. Hooman was very kind and considerate to me, which left a lasting impression. Most of all, he taught me to be brave and audacious when teaching the Faith. Several years later, in the UK, I met his brother Dr Moojan Momen, whom I heard lecture, and Moojan’s wife Dr Wendi Momen. And finally Hooman also took me on most of his teaching trips around Guyana. This left me with a lasting impression of him and a love of travel teaching for the Faith.
The next year, 1970, after I accepted the faith, the first National Convention of Guyana took place and I had the bounty of meeting Hand of the Cause Rúhhíyih Khánum, Betty Reed who was at that time the secretary of the NSA of the British Isles, and several veteran international travel teachers and visitors who attended; also Mr Hooper Dunbar coming from Argentina. Our country, like my mind, was also in uncertain political turmoil.
After accepting the faith of Bahá’u’lláh I had the bounty during that turbulent decade of Malcolm X, and Angela Davis version of Black Power in the USA, to travel the length and breadth of Guyana teaching and meeting thousands of my fellow countrymen and women and being able to tell and share with them tales about the Cause and to assist friends to accept Bahá’u’lláh. During the years that passed by so swiftly I also had the bounty of meeting several Hands of the Cause of God and I am pleased that at my invitation from his busy schedule the Hand of the Cause of God Mr Enoch Olinga visited my local small hamlet named Annandale on the east coast of Demerara in Guyana.
I spent long hours afterwards reading Bahá’í books, trying to understand what I was reading and to understand the Cause of God for this day. And all I can say is “be thankful for the opportunity”.
In 1972 when the institution of the assistant to the Auxiliary Board was created by the Universal House of Justice I was asked to serve as an assistant to the Auxiliary Board member and was the first from my Indian race to serve on that distinguished institution. In that year also I was elected to serve on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. It was the next year, 1973, that the then government of Guyana incorporated by an Act of Parliament the National Spiritual Assembly of Guyana. I served for the next two years on that erstwhile regional institution and the next year the NSA of Guyana was separated from the two other Guyanas. I considered myself honoured to serve on those two august institutions in my formative age as a Bahá’í.
My parents were poor East Indians whose parents came to Guyana with the last steam ship (the SS Ganges) that came here loaded with bonded coolies from the Indian sub-continent at the end of the 19th century by the British colonists – to work slave-like on the plantations owned by the British planters, in hot scorching sugar cane fields. The living conditions of the sugar plantation estates they had to live on were no better than those of the mules and cattle owned by the plantation owners. They were fodder for the sugar industry and slave-like they worked on the estates like indentured servants (a euphemism for slavery).
My late parents were kind and benign Hindu people who loved education and they did not object to us mingling and knowing about other cultures and races. I think that it is because of their open mindedness and their love for education that I was led to find the Cause of God for this day and for this I am forever grateful. As a result, after I accepted the Bahá’í faith, several dozen of my political and religious comrades (including even non-religious educated and non-educated) accepted the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh. A large percentage to this day are still active locally nationally and internationally. Initially my parents lovingly offered their small home as a place for Bahá’í feasts and meetings until later on the community got its own Bahá’í regional Centre, just a stone’s throw away from their residence. My parents never spoke negatively about the Cause as some of our neighbours did, thinking that we were leaving our religion and joining another. My father was a kind man and had some basic education; my mother did not but she had a love for it too.
My favourite time was weekends when I would look forward to joining in with teaching all over Guyana. In my mind I would see it as Christopher Columbus rediscovering Guyana. Those were happy days for me. I had the privilege, on behalf of the Faith, of meeting several distinguished men and women of my country and of discussing and sharing the Message of Bahá’u’lláh with them. And most of all I looked forward to the weekends to literally just put a toothbrush in my back pocket and to go travel teaching for the weekends. Oh those were happy days for me! My mother used to miss me, but she trusted me with my Bahá’í friends.
Another pleasant and memorable chapter of my Bahá’í life commenced in 1979, the year when the infamous but memorable Falkland War started and Jim Jones, the American evangelist and cult leader, reigned supreme with his socialist brand of Christianity in the Jungle of Guyana poisoning and killing several hundred of his ‘followers’.
Forlornly I left Guyana to live in the UK, the very week my dear mother passed away. I was privileged and honoured at the time to live in Hull by the Humber Bridge when it was being built. I spent two or maybe three very cold winters there with the memorable and distinguished Bahá’í community of Hull and I have indelible memories of those sacrificial humble friends. The chilling thing I experienced there were the cold icy winds blowing into that flat region of the UK. Instead of wearing one pair of long-johns I had to wear two with a couple of thick jerseys. At Hull University, where I would go for visits, I met several students from all over the world, and undeterred by customs we would teach the Faith to all races and faces.
But then I must move on . . . I made friends and, like the rolling stone, I must move on with my memories etched on my mind forever.
I then lived another memorable era of my Bahá’í life active within the Bahá’í community of Horsham in West Sussex. What I liked about those days was summer time when one could attend summer schools and other summer informal impromptu gatherings around the countryside of Sussex and Horsham, sometimes bashing lawn tennis balls with my noble and distinguished friend Soheil Azordegan and his equally distinguished family from Crawley. Those were pleasant, memorable days, for we shared and we talked and we played tennis and we went for walks and, most important of all, we changed children’s nappies more times than we could remember. I should mention here that during the time I lived in Horsham I was married and had a family. We also taught the Faith to interested people. My Bahá’í brother Soheil introduced me to the game of squash and I introduced him to lawn tennis accompanied by a good dollop of deepening and teaching the Faith around Sussex.
I had equally distinguished and steadfast friends in Crawley and other rural areas. Though not a Bahá’í, Mrs Eva Oakeshott, my Quaker mother-in-law, was very gracious, helpful and kind to the Bahá’ís of Horsham and Sussex while I was living there. Most summers she would willingly and graciously allow us to use her large farmhouse (and lawn tennis court) and spacious land for the purposes of Bahá’í gatherings. She was also instrumental in assisting the Bahá’ís to have publicity about the Faith in the local newspaper. I remember the Smith family with fondest memories. There were also other memorable and distinguished Bahá’í friends I had in Sussex, too numerous to mention here. They know me and I still have cherished memories of them and their families. In the Abha Kingdom I am sure there will be summer times and tennis times too, and surely I would have cherishable times like I had with Ron Batchelor playing lawn tennis in Leatherhead.
Another period of my marked Bahá’í life in the UK was, for three consecutive or maybe four years, the august and noble National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom appointed me and some other West Indian and African friends to serve on the first African and West Indian Committee. Our most memorable achievement was to have a Bahá’í float annually in the Notting Hill Carnival. I was so happy serving on that committee as its secretary.
In 1995 I returned to my beloved sunshine warm homeland to find that my father had passed away the year before and I did not know. Here in Guyana I am active in the Faith and eagerly participate in its varied and myriad activities. I served from 1995 until now as national delegate to the National Convention. I do enjoy those annual sessions. It is a time I much look forward to “grounding” (chat) with my Bahá’í friends old and new.
I have had the bounty and also the blessing of visiting the Holy land twice and to place my undeserved forehead on the resting place of the “most precious Being ever to have drawn breath on this planet”. First I went on pilgrimage in 1981 and had the bounty of seeing the construction of the building of the Universal House of Justice. Then in 2001, at the Opening of the Terraces I was blessed to be asked by the National Spiritual Assembly of Guyana to attend the occasion with eighteen other souls. Those two memorable events for me were like the cream on the cake of my Bahá’í life ….. Oh happy days! I also had the bounty of meeting again with some of my British Bahá’í friends ascending and descending the Mountain of God.
These days in the winter of my life I enjoy reading of the growth of the Cause of God and blogging with Bahá’í friends all over the world, and gazing at and listening to the mighty Atlantic Ocean as it roars not less than a quarter of a mile away from my humble home.
My first job was working in the sugar industry, as was the custom of most Guyanese those days because it was the only place of employment for country kids like me. I was a checker of sugar cane barges (punts). I had to wake up early in the mornings at 4 am along with my dear mother, who did the cooking. I did that for a year or so but in the sugar cane fields the ashes and the sun were too much for me.
When I returned to Guyana, my beloved country, from the UK in 1995 I worked with the Guyana Water Authority as an Administrator in a small village named Bachelors Adventure just four miles east of my hamlet/village. There too I met several people daily and had the bounty and privilege of teaching them the faith, but I had to move on.
I was appointed the manager of the Government main and only dental centre in the capital Georgetown and there too I met several hundred of my fellow countrymen and taught them the faith. The then Minister of Health knows me as a Bahá’í and at one time sent Naw-Rúz greetings via the national newspaper to the Bahá’í community here
Then later I was offered an exciting job far away from home as an Area Manager of the Guyana Post Office Corporation. I had to live away from home in another county of Guyana nearer to the border of Venezuela. (Guyana is made up of three large counties, that is: Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice). I enjoyed my time there as I travelled to several dozen villages to visit and inspect over eighteen post offices which I administered. I had the bounty of visiting many of the Bahá’í friends, new and old. On the Essequibo coast where I was offered a home and office to live and work, a Bahá’í community existed, of which I was an active member. I have pleasant memories of my Bahá’í friends there.
These days, due to illness, I have retired, and I go for long walks and jog along the Atlantic coast, which is just about one eighth of a mile away north from my home. I go and have walks every day and most times I meet someone to tell them of Bahá’u’lláh and the Bahá’í faith of which I have been an adherent for the past forty three years of my earthly life. My walks are most satisfying if I meet someone to tell about the faith.
One of my favourite pieces of advice from ‘Abdul-Bahá is this:
‘Abdu’l-Baha was sitting at a window, listening quietly to the outpourings of a distressed young girl. The girl couldn’t understand why her life was so full of trials, especially when, as she told him, she read the ninety-first psalm and the twenty-third psalm, every night before she went to bed.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá responded: “To pray is not to read psalms. To pray is to trust in God and to be submissive in all things to Him. . . . Strong ships are not conquered by the sea, they ride the waves! Now be a strong ship, not a battered one.”