I was born in Singapore into a Hindu family in May 1957. The city was at that time still part of the British Empire, as was Malaya, which received its independence on 31st August of that year, the one in which on 4th November the beloved Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, Shoghi Effendi, passed away.
Our Indian (Tamil) family, which consisted of my Grandma and Grandpa (maternal), lived quite close to the Istana Negara or Nations Palace Grounds on Mt. Emily in Singapore city. In 1970 my father died, so at the age of thirteen I was a child one day and woke up the next fiercely angry that I had to grow up to be a pseudo-adult and be protective of my Mother and my younger sister. I had three elder brothers.
However, I threw myself into my secondary education, studied well and got good results in my O levels which took me on to my A levels and two years to get into university education. At this time, being a Hindu (and a Buddhist in secret) I came into contact with Christianity and Islam, as well as Catholicism, as I was four years in a Presbyterian School and two years in St. Patrick’s. Back-tracking briefly, when I was only nine or ten a school friend exposed me briefly to Islam by inviting me to his home to meet his parents who were devout Muslims. They asked me to read from an English translation of the Koran. I turned the pages to a verse that mentioned about God being like a light, which I took to my heart and read out to them. Their mouths dropped open and before they recovered I grabbed my friend’s hand and dashed out to play. That was my exposure to Islam.
In Singapore we had National Service (a compulsory period in the armed services). I, however, was in the National Cadet Corps (AIR) as a Cadet Lieutenant, and at the age of seventeen spent December 1974 in New Zealand. In June or July 1978, when my military service was due to end, my mother wrong-footed me. I had already secured a place in London at the South Bank Polytechnic to study Electrical & Electronic Engineering, but she reminded me that the financial standing of the family would be affected disastrously if I were to leave my army career, as such a step would affect the mortgage on our house. I was a full Lieutenant and my stars were shining, but after getting an assurance that she would not impose the money problem on me ‘next time around’, I stayed in the army until June or July 1984. Those additional six years flew by.
How I became a Bahá’í
After I left the SAF/RSAF (Army/Air force) in Singapore in August 1984 I was full of apprehension as I took the plane to London Heathrow, a nineteen-hour flight. I was hot and tired and full of anxiety. I had been seen off by family and friends, amongst them a primary school classmate of mine, David Chia Boon Meng, the first Chinese Christian with whom I had exchanged religious views at the age of twelve. I told him about Hinduism and he told me about the love of Jesus Christ. After years of no contact I had met him again on the day of my flight to London – quite a coincidence.
I spent my first two years in London reading Law, but changed direction and in May 1989 qualified as a Registered Mental Nurse (RMN). However, dissatisfied with broken promises regarding promotion, in October 1990 I left Claybury Hospital in Chigwell, worked in Germany for a while, and then returned to the UK. In the summer before the Germany job, through the priest of the Christian Community Church Movement, I had accepted Jesus Christ. Bodily my life was in full movement but my soul was happy and free. I was experiencing joy and sorrow like a ping-pong ball and eight months later I got an E grade RMN job in Warminster, Wiltshire, about two hours drive west of London.
There was a period when I made a great friend there of one Evelyn Capel of the Christian Community and the Renewal of Christianity Movement. She was the first woman priest from the 1922 era. Dear Evelyn was 86 years of age. I joined one of her short study courses and as I studied I felt very close to Christ Jesus and told Evelyn I wanted Christ in my life. At the mid-summer Festival I was accepted into the Christian community with two of my friends as my witnesses and I was allowed to keep Siva as my Christian name. Two weeks later I was asked to prepare a talk to be delivered to most of the congregation. My subject was Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus and what it meant to me, and I said the main sentence which is still in my mind. Saul saw the vision of His Lord but I received no such revelation; mine was a slow, progressive and more gentle coming to know Christ. The talk kind of impressed the audience who afterwards all complimented me on my delivery and sincerity. It was all very civilised, very English.
I spent Christmas of that year with a German family in Hamburg; the celebrations in north Germany take place on Christmas Eve. There were naked candles on fir trees; one tree caught fire and was safely put out but the stench of the burned branch lingered in the air. That night in a strange dream I approached a man from a very white environment (which could have been snow) and as I came closer I realised he was wearing a Santa Claus outfit and had a beautiful white beard which I remember focusing on, then I awoke, with the acrid smell of the burned fir branch in my nostrils. It suddenly occurred to me what was wrong or right about the dream. The man who smiled so broadly was dark skinned and did not have rosy-cheeks, and the reason I woke up so suddenly was that he spoke to me and said: “Continue your search … it is not finished”. I thought no more of it until nineteen months down the road, in Chippenham, when I was invited to a Bahá’í fireside; this was the reality of the dream!
I moved with my job from Warminster to Chippenham. In the month of May I was walking in the town, care-free and happy in the atmosphere of Chippenham’s annual Folk Festival when suddenly I saw behind a table a huge poster depicting the world, in green and blue, with stick figures standing on it representing children. Emblazoned across the painting was “Bahá’í Faith” and the message “One Planet, One People”. I was thirty-five but had never heard the name Bahá’í. The message was similar to ones I was used to seeing in Singapore, where social engineering by the government always had one campaign or another on the go, e.g. “Keep Singapore Clean”, or “Do NOT litter”, or “SMILE! Give way and be courteous”, so I related well to “One Planet! One People”.
As I approached the table, there was a gorgeous lady seated on a director’s chair, wearing sun-glasses and enjoying a chocolate ice-cream lollipop. I smiled and said ‘good afternoon’, which was bad timing, as she had just bitten into her lolly, but she recovered rapidly and greeted me with a huge smile. I asked about the name “Bahá’í Faith” and she handed me a leaflet. The words therein hit me – Bahá’u’lláh, Persia – and as I was looking through the leaflet a young Middle Eastern man came up to the lady and asked if everything was alright. He then began to address me, but we had to move to a quiet spot to escape the deafening jolly clamour of a passing band of Morris Dancers.
We sat on a park bench and I bombarded my new friend Shamim with many questions which he did his best to answer. I could see that he was earnest in his replies but he remained cool when not sure how to answer some of them, which pleased me very much. Before we parted he invited me to a Bahá’í presentation in the town of Malmesbury. Back at the table was one Payam Foroudi, who said he would give me a lift to the event. When I arrived home I looked more closely at the leaflet and read the quote, “…Royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty”. My heart was beating at a faster rate than usual and I was unable to remain calm. I tried saying different Christian and Hindu prayers and did some breathing meditation I had learned as a Buddhist but my pulse was still racing.
The day of the presentation was one of my days off. Payam turned up promptly and apologised for the chairs cluttering his car – they were needed for the meeting. At the venue I met David and Manijeh Smith and their baby boy Bayán. Someone called Manijeh away, so she said “You’re a nurse aren’t you” and with that, plonked Bayán in my arms and dashed off. Payam smiled at the shocked look on my face. I looked at him, wondering if this was a test of whether I could cope as a man with a baby. I was the eldest of thirteen cousins and was used to babies and children so Bayán was no problem. Manijeh came back later to rescue me from Bayán and was impressed that we were getting on like a house on fire. “So you want to be a Bahá’í?” she said. I was very surprised at her directness and chose not to say anything. The programme was about to start so I took my seat next to someone who sounded American and who introduced himself to me as Derek Dacey. He eventually realised I was a new enquirer and invited me to his home in Bath. The presentation began and I met Payam’s wife, Dr. Shirin Fozdar-Foroudi. She spoke over the presentation; the music was stupendous – Parish & Toppano – “The Royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty”! The tune was in my head and heart all that week, during which I received a phone call from Shirin with an invitation to a fireside at her home in Chippenham on the Friday.
All these activities reminded me of when I was with the Christian Community so I thought nothing of it while busily reading pamphlets and the small white pocket-size Malaysian prayer book given to me by Shirin. I loved the prayers and was curious to know more. I loved the Báb’s Invocation, “O God! My God! My Beloved! My Heart’s desire!” which, with many more, came to rest naturally in my heart and stay there.
Arriving in Bath on the Wednesday I was given a lift by Sally Dacey in her car to her home in Lansdown Crescent. As we were going upstairs we met Payam and Shirin on the staircase. I found out later that there had been a meeting of the National Teaching Committee at the Daceys’ home. I joined a group sitting in a circle to say prayers. One of the Bahá’ís who to me stood out was Hugh Fixsen from Oxfordshire. After the prayers we moved to the large kitchen, where Sally placed me beside the window seat; years later I found out that was where prospective Bahá’ís sat.
Anyway I sat and ate, and sipped my drink, and then the room went quiet. I looked up and all eyes were on me. Someone asked me what I thought of the Bahá’í Faith. I had already read the twelve principles and so I said I agreed unreservedly with nine of them but was not so sure of the other three, concerning a universal auxiliary language and two more. Pauline Decruz said “If you agree to these nine principles, why do you hesitate?” I asked to be excused and was shown to the bathroom, where I sat pondering and wondering the same thing. What was I waiting for? My mind cleared and I heard a knock at the door and a voice asking me if everything was all right. I emerged to see Derek and Sally looking concerned.
Back in the kitchen, where some were still sitting, I looked at Pauline, who then asked me in the Malay Language, ‘Apa tunku-lagi?’ (‘Why wait some more?’). I smiled and asked her for the card, which I signed immediately. The next moment the room erupted in welcoming me into the Faith with hugs and warmth that was truly wondrous. I was greeted and congratulated and was on a spiritual ‘high’. Suddenly Payam and Shirin were there to give me a lift back to Chippenham and I thanked them profusely for their prayers and their kindness. Shirin reminded me about the forthcoming fireside and I said I’d be there. I was still on a ‘high’ and was the first to arrive at their home on the Friday. I was in their lounge and gazing around when I saw Him. Shirin had just come into the room and as I stood up I nearly lost my balance as my knees went weak. She asked me to sit down and called Payam from the kitchen to bring me a glass of water. I asked Shirin who the person was in the photograph I was pointing towards. She identified the picture as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
That was the man in my dream in Hamburg some nineteen months before, and I had not seen His likeness until I gazed on His photograph; strangely, I never mentioned this to my closest friends Shirin and Payam and to this day I still don’t know why. In November of that Holy Year, 1992, the Auxiliary Board member for South West England and Wales, Viv Bartlett, asked me to be his Assistant and I said yes! Service to the Faith saved my soul in numerous tests and trials.
In June 1996 I moved to Bristol and felt I came very close to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in so many ways during the four lovely years I spent there. Nothing was easy in the succession of tests and trials, personal struggles, sacrifices and the need for perseverance at every turn in my everyday life and in serving the Faith up to July 1998 as an Assistant. In November 1997 Viv Bartlett stood down as Board member; Habib Behi was appointed to succeed him and I continued as Assistant until I completed my degree in February 2000, when I was asked to serve in the new locality of Mendip Hills.
In 1999 I met my future wife Frances while on a teacher training course. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá advised us to attempt to teach one soul each year, with purity of motive; how I struggled with that is another book. At the hour of the millennium between 1999 and 2000 Frances asked to look at a declaration card. I always carried a blank card with me and as I was watching the striking of Big-Ben on TV announcing the New Year, and not paying much attention to what Frances was doing, she quietly signed and dated her declaration card. As the hour struck midnight she asked me to have a look at the card and to put the time on it as 00.01hrs GMT, i.e. 01/01/2000.
On television people were going mad in London and here we were doing the same at home. My mind was having difficulty registering but my heart understood. My being was in limbo and then suddenly it sank in and I was the happiest man ever. I went on my knees and wept. It was the craziest sensation of emotions and thoughts and gladness all mixed together and I felt my being was not in this world, it was somewhere else. We finally calmed down and in those early hours of the morning drove to Bath. Beside the train station was the Royal Mail Sorting Office closed at 4am on New Year’s Day of course, but we put a stamp on the card, kissed it for luck, posted it and went home. Three months later Frances and I were on a trip through the North Yorkshire Moors on a steam railway train going through a tunnel. On emerging into the light, Frances found me on one knee on the floor of the carriage asking for her hand in marriage. We were married in August 2001.
My first three-day visit to Haifa and Bahji had been in October 1995. Then, during a twelve-day Roman Catholic pilgrimage to Israel with my Catholic uncle, I was granted a three day pilgrimage at the Bahá’í World Centre, meeting up with a Bahá’í group at Ben Gurion Airport. I was already on the waiting list for a nine-day pilgrimage, so when Frances became my wife I was able to update my status and include her, and together we went on pilgrimage in October 2002. All-in-all some astounding times were had and new friendships developed with more Bahá’ís around the world. The whole Bahá’í cause is to me simply amazing and awesome in so many dimensions and on so many levels. Our trips to the Holy Land are full of confirmation and insight. As an individual believer I began to develop independently of the institutions and the Bahá’í community at large. The Bahá’í Faith is ever-changing, true to the beloved Guardian’s vision, as in more recent times is the beloved Universal House of Justice. We as Bahá’ís are so blessed. The path is not always smooth and, like the waves of the sea, there are peaks and troughs, highs and lows, crises and victories.