TRANSFORMATION OF DOMINICK BROWNE
To start to find out who you are it is necessary to go back to the beginning. But, you will ask, when or even where is the beginning of your life, mine or any of our lives? Some people tell me they remember before they were born in this world, and others remember a previous life. I remember one lady who thought she had “the power” telling me who I was in my past life – the reincarnation of the poet Shelley. I do attempt to be a poet but have never reached the heights of Shelley, one of the most renowned poets in the English language. Anyway, I do not believe in reincarnation. I have never believed in this form of the soul returning to this earth but have always believed, as the Bahá’í Faith teaches, in the progression of the soul through the many worlds of God or, as Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions”.
I was fortunate to have been born into an aristocratic family, and also lucky to have been brought up in the environment my parents lived in. It was not perfect and there was plenty of suffering, as I was stricken with rickets at a very early age. This was because there was not sufficient food sent up to the nursery so my growing body suffered from a lack of vitamins. However, I was still a privileged person in this world. I thank the Creator but where does the joy of living come from? Sometimes it arises from the horror of suffering. Yes, I have suffered much but nothing in comparison with a vast number of the world’s population. Gratitude in this life has been my seat belt. Although these genes gave me a certain pride, at the same time there is tremendous humility in them which could have been a disadvantage in the world of competition and struggle had I not been born of the peerage and my mother related to most of the aristocracy of England, being as she was, a direct descendant of King Henry VII.
Despite my upbringing, which often made me feel a victim, in the finality it has led me to a spiritual change. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has told us that whilst He was in prison He was happy because he was suffering on a spiritual path, the journey of his Father’s Revelation.
When did my birth come about that was to lead me down or up a new road and transform my life?
I was christened in The Church of England in 1929, at Crossboyne church in Co Mayo, Ireland. My godmother was HRH Princess Marie Louise. At my second boarding school I used to go to the Episcopalian Church in Crief, Perthshire. At my public school we had Chapel twice a day and during the holidays I went with my step-grandparents to the Kirk at Inch Stranraer, Wigtownshire, where the Earl and Countess of Stair had a huge private box, like at a theatre only much larger.
The Earl would play the sermon game (a game that goes throughout the alphabet as the person giving the sermon speaks) starting with A (I don’t suppose he ever got to Z) while the Countess Violet would knit scarves for the soldiers because she was head of the WRVS (Women’s Royal Voluntary Service) and the Red Cross.
Later on, during the holidays when I was living with my mother in Ballantrae, we occasionally went to the Kirk. I was confirmed in our own adorable little church in Crossboyne, Co Mayo, by the Bishop of Tuam. This church had all the family plaques on the wall. The church now is sadly a ruin and the plaques have been taken to the Cathedral in Tuam, Co Galway, which means that all that is left are the Browne bones of my ancestors in the vaults!
I was living with my wife and daughter. She was my beloved adopted Indian daughter as my wife and I, not for lack of trying, had been unable to have our own children. This was a great sorrow to us both. However, we were blessed as we were living in an idyllic house in Leckenagh, Burtonport, Co. Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland with everything and nothing – and the best view of the sea and islands in the world. I used to go to the Sunday services in the local Protestant Church, and I was eventually made a member of the Vestry. My wife didn’t appear to like the church services and seldom went. The clergyman was from Belfast and a chain-smoking classical scholar, he spent most of his time, when he wasn’t visiting parishioners, reading Cicero or one of the Greek Tragedies, and knew them nearly by heart, and practically always the sermon would not be from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John but from Euripides.
I had written a stage play entitled “Ave Verum” – “Hail Truth”, afterwards changed to “The Seal of Rome”, a script on the life of Pontius Pilate. My wife had found a producer in Antrim, one of the six counties of Northern Ireland. The play was performed in the small Circle Theatre in Belfast. I had a wonderful professional actress, Agnes Bernelle, playing the role of Claudia, wife of Pontius Pilate. She was beautiful and she also had a wonderful operatic voice. The play got a long and very good review in The Irish Times in the Republic, and in some Belfast newspapers. Because of this encouragement I sent a copy of the script to an American actor, O.Z. Whitehead, living in Dublin, who was running a competition for playwrights. He replied saying that he liked the script but he did not give me the prize for his competition! I next wrote to him – or ‘Zebby’ as he was known – to meet with him to discuss the theatre. On my next visit to Dublin he invited me to his flat at 27 Fitzwilliam Square. In his generous American hospitable style, he offered me tea, and also the best gift I have ever received in my life! Before I even had time to sip my tea, he said, ”CHRIST HAS RETURNED IN THE NAME OF BAHÁ’U’LLÁH”. Zebby and I drank very little tea that afternoon and nothing was spoken of the theatre; instead the discussion was about the beginning of the life and Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh.
When you hear that most resplendent title, Bahá’u’lláh, it has a special vibration which sticks on your chest, in your head, and rings in your heart. On reflection, I remember some many years previously when I was staying in Waterford with the Villiers-Stuart family at Dromana, Patrick Villiers-Stuart spoke of the Bahá’í Faith while I was looking out of the window onto the Blackwater where Patrick’s ancestors used to throw their enemies out of the windows of Dromana House to drown in the dark, dank Blackwater. Patrick first spoke to me of the Bahá’í Faith a long while ago but the title of the Founder of the Faith, The Glory of God, stuck in my mind; years later, while sitting in a pub, a pretty young Bahá’í girl taught me how to pronounce the name.
This branch of the Villiers-Stuarts had relatives in the six counties of Northern Ireland. Jane Villiers-Stuart and her family, all of whom were very devoted and active Bahá’ís, had embraced the Faith with great love and activity. After becoming a Bahá’í myself, I went to give a talk in their house in Northern Ireland.
Zebby Whitehead, having introduced me to the Faith, did not leave me without further guidance. He was known as a very active Bahá’í, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Ireland, a most keen teacher of the Faith, and author of many Bahá’í books. He was a tall, good looking figure often seen walking through the Dublin streets, and often mumbling. Local folk thought he was saying his prayers, but he may have been learning and practising his lines. Zebby was a well-known film actor, especially through having appeared in the film “The Grapes of Wrath”. With this talent, and even though his stay in Dublin was due to having pioneered there from America, he went onto the Irish stage. He was a very distinguished figure in Dublin and well known for his integrity and dignity. Zebby carefully looked after me and often invited me to dinner, usually at a small Chinese restaurant in Anne Street, and always with practically the same choice of menu. However, what was always new was receiving from him fresh information about the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, which I was always ready to devour.
Zebby’s firesides, held every Sunday, were famous. His tea was always special, served from an exceptionally large teapot which had been presented to him by a famous Dublin actress, Marie Keane. She never attended the firesides but said the teapot was her contribution to his meetings; the firesides were open to everyone; a place usually metaphorically ‘by the fire’ where everyone could go and receive spiritual learning and meet new friends, as well as rest from the outside world!
I would often attend Zebby’s firesides where I would meet people from different parts of the world. There I met Philip and Jane O’Brien. Philip, a strong extrovert with an unusual bold heart, had become a Bahá’í as soon as he heard that exalted name, Bahá’u’lláh; the vibration touched his heart. He had served at the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Chicago. There he met his wife Jane, afterwards the two of them pioneering to Dublin. Philip was elected a member of the National Spiritual Assembly. He was often outspoken. He gave public talks and was always very friendly to me, calling me ‘Hon Dom’! Being an actor, he worked in the Dublin theatre, directing and acting. His wife Jane was a sweet and most generous person and they lived in quite a large house with their three children where they hosted a lot of Bahá’í activities. Jane was always a very strong Bahá’í, and a friendly and loving person, becoming a very good secretary of the Spiritual Assembly of Dublin.
It was at Zebby’s firesides that I also met Doris Holley, who was to be a guiding light to me in the introduction of the Bahá’í Faith. She was jolly and bubbly and was the widow of Horace Holley, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States for many years. She said that when the time had come for Horace to visit Haifa and meet the Guardian, he was apprehensive. On Horace’s return, Doris asked him “How was the Guardian?” All Horace could reply was ”Unbelievable”!
Doris took me to many memorable Bahá’í gatherings, one special meeting being at the Buswells Hotel where I listened to a talk on the Faith given by Mr Adib Taherzadeh. I had never heard anyone speak with such purity of heart and clarity of vision. Adib was the author of many books and also a Bahá’í Counsellor. He later became a member of the Universal House of Justice. Although Doris was a lot older than me, she was always there for me as a friend and a guide, telling me stories about the Faith usually in a most humorous way. One of her stories was that she went shopping one day and had a very good lunch in a new restaurant. When she returned home and with great joy told Horace with much pride and glee that she had found this new restaurant, he informed her that the Bahá’í fast was in progress!
Before the fast was due, I have to admit I dreaded the thought and put it out of my mind, but when it came it was relished and led to a new way of living. Time seemed to last forever without those endless breaks for coffee and lunch, but as the evening drew nigh, thirst increased, and the clock ticked slowly on, I always turned to God and was thankful. Spiritual transformation took place and the soul began to grow.
The community was not large, probably at the most thirty-five souls. Frances Beard was the Secretary and Zebby was Chairman. I continued to attend Bahá’í meetings and to read books which Zebby and Doris bought me. Most inquirers liked easy reading but my favourite was always The Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. After about nine months I suddenly received a surprise card from Frances Beard asking me to declare my allegiance to Bahá’u’lláh as The Manifestation of God for this era and to follow His laws. As this card also represented a form of registration, its appearance came as more than a surprise to me. I think Zebby must have thought it was about time I became a member of the Faith. I never wanted to join anything, being very much of an independent nature; and having learnt something about the Faith I did not think I was spiritually good enough to qualify as a member, so I put the card aside. It must have been some nights later that I had a dream when the Guardian came to me. I remember in the morning picking up the card and signing it.
So, my Bahá’í life started. It must have been the period of Ridván because elections were being held and I found myself on the Spiritual Assembly, and elected treasurer. One of the greatly encouraging members of the Assembly was the most sincere dear May Vine; such a sensitive feeling soul. There were all these different wonderful souls, each with their own merit and loving compassion. At this time of the development of the Faith the local treasurer had to send the yearly accounts to the treasurer of the National Spiritual Assembly and this was my first acquaintance with Patrick O’Mara, who was then national treasurer.
As I had this natural love of Bahá’u’lláh, my real happiness was telling people about Him. It came naturally to me. Doris had introduced me to Anne and Fred Halliday. They were an elderly couple who had retired from business in England and were completely and utterly dedicated to the Faith. They lived in a flat in Dun Laoghaire where they held firesides every Wednesday and at which they asked me to speak regularly. They were the sweetest, most generous couple who pioneered from Sheffield to Ireland. At first, they went to Limerick, where they gave firesides which became famous as many people became Bahá’í s at their home. The Limerick declarations had been an exceptional influx. Sadly, the Dun Laoghaire firesides were not quite the same but several came along and declared their Faith in Bahá’u’lláh. The firesides in Dun Laoghaire were smaller in number – I hope it was not because I was the speaker. Admittedly, at the beginning I used to speak for too long, often giving the whole history of the Faith; however quite a few souls did become Bahá’ís as I always endeavoured to invite potential Bahá’ís to come to the meetings.
Anne and Fred were so exceptionally kind that they often used to give me dinner before the meeting and I never forget Anne’s special cake which she always baked.
Doris had bought a small car but as she did not drive she asked me to make use of it. One time I took her up to the north, to the six counties, to stay with Elizabeth Greeves, one of the most spiritual people you could ever meet. She helped many souls to the Faith, one of them being Dermod Knox. At other times I used to travel up to the six counties to give firesides. The car was extremely useful and I always used it for the Faith. Doris used to say I was very like Horace, though this was not the case. Horace had a huge intellect; mine was not small, and was growing. Horace was most spiritual and had written many erudite books. He was also a brilliant administrator, having been secretary to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, first being elected in 1923. He was appointed a Hand of the Cause of God in 1951. I suppose my upbringing and background fostered an ingrained set of family genes such that the divine teachings were not able to achieve in me a sense of spiritual transformation, although I had changed so much I hardly knew myself. Before I became a Bahá’í I hardly dared speak at the dinner table, much less in front of people. Both my mother and father, although born in positions where they were requested to speak as their duty, would shy away from such responsibilities. Even now, before speaking in front of an audience, I get nervous, so I usually say the Bab’s short prayer ‘The Remover of Difficulties’.
I was invited to give talks at the Theosophical Society and at other firesides. Dublin also gave me my first opportunity to host poetry meetings in the name of the Faith. Quite a few of these I arranged and they were very successful. I also held my own firesides every Friday night in my apartment in Leeson Park, Dublin.
One of the first people of what the Faith calls ‘people of capacity’was Shelia Crosbie, a Scots lady of about seventy-five, who had been married to Senator Crosbie, owner of the Cork Examiner. Shelia had a sweet personality and took to the Faith with eagerness. She had quite a grand flat in Ailesbury Road, the posh avenue where all the embassies were located. She used to allow the Bahá’ís to use her apartment for feasts, quite elegant with her Louis Quinze furniture. Most Sunday evenings she invited me out to dinner at the local hotel while she was learning more about the Faith. After I left for London, I lost touch with her and sometime later I heard she had passed away.
About this time Zebby introduced me to David Hofman. He started his adult life as a prestigious actor on the stage. His beautiful American wife Marion had a most attractive deep voice. Television hardly existed in those days but David had become one of the first television announcers. He and Marion were extremely active Bahá’ís, were members of the NSA of the British Isles, and travelled all over England in service of the Faith. When the Universal House of Justice was first elected at Ridván 1963, David was one of the nine elected members. When I first met him in Dublin, he was introduced to me by Zebby Whitehead and Adib Taherzadeh. At the time, he was writing a remarkable biography of Hand of the Cause George Townshend, and asked me to become his researcher on George’s life in Ireland, which was of course an honour and bounty for me; various letters, often cards from David in Haifa, came requesting me to look into and search libraries and other places for specific information.
I spent a lot of time with Professor Bushrui whenever he came to Ireland. I became a great admirer and friend of his for he taught me much wisdom and encouraged me in my literary work. On one occasion I drove him to a summer school in Waterford, where Doris Holley introduced me to Hand of the Cause Mr Furútan, who was most kind and courteous to me. Then, the first time I went on Pilgrimage to Haifa, Mr Furútan was at a reception and came and welcomed me. In 1982 a major conference was held in Dublin, and I had been asked by the National Assembly to drive two Hands of the Cause and their wives, Collis and Madge Featherstone and John and Audrey Robarts, from their hotels to the conference venue, which I did for two days of the conference. Suddenly I received a call from Mrs Mildred Mottahedeh, a devoted American Bahá’í. She ran her husband’s oriental porcelain business and was responsible for producing some beautiful china for the Universal House of Justice, and also for the White House. After I had dropped her off at the conference on the last day, she invited me to dinner. The conference ended and I drove the two Hands of the Cause of God back to their Hotel. Before they got out of the car and without any hesitation they invited me to dinner. Unfortunately, I had to refuse and tell them I had a previous invitation to dine with Mrs Mottahedeh. This was an opportunity missed but a part of destiny. Nevertheless, both of the Hands presented me with copies of Bahá’í books signed by them.
In Dublin every Friday evening, firesides were held in my apartment. I usually cooked and was helped by my daughter Tresa. We often had invited speakers such as Zebby Whitehead, and on one occasion, the Rev. Halliday, previously a Church of England priest who had recognized Bahá’u’lláh. At one time and with great difficulty I persuaded Mr Adib Taherzadeh to come and speak at the fireside. It turned out to be a little disappointing, not because of Mr Taherzadeh’s talk, but because of the lack of response from the potential Bahá’ís. When there was no other speaker for the fireside, I would usually step in. I also held a lot of feasts in the flat, which was a pleasure. I had two jobs during this time. I was employed in the Indian Embassy doing all kinds of jobs, even driving the Ambassadors in their Mercedes saloon. It was only a small income but it gave me a chance to tell staff members about the Faith. Also, at this time I was selling advertising space in magazines, and at other times doing public relations for restaurants and other businesses.
Jane Villiers-Stuart recommended that I go to London to assist her and Mary Hardy (at that time secretary of the National Assembly of the British Isles) to prepare a meeting that was to take place in the House of Lords. For days I sat with Jane, sending out invitations and looking up addresses of peers whom I knew or who were relatives. When the evening arrived, there were four speakers selected from the National Assembly, all talking brilliantly on different aspects of the Faith. Despite such great effort, and money spent, in inviting members of the House of Lords, only a few came. My Bahá’í friend said one person left saying “the blighters speak too long.’’
However, it was an interesting experience and it was wonderful getting to know Mary Hardy, a lady of great power and enthusiasm, whom I was to introduce later to many people. One such person was Robert Spencer, cousin of Lady Diana Spencer, and also a cousin of mine. At this time I was also working with Simon Mortimore and Dr Ridvan Moqbel, both members of the NSA. Ridvan had a smile that radiated the love of Bahá’u’lláh.
This was my Irish cradle in the Faith, often inspiring, well grounded, with deepening classes and Adib Taherzadeh’s knowledgeable presentations. I used to enjoy Zebby Whitehead’s original deep talks on different aspects of the Faith as he and I walked from St Stephen’s Green to my apartment in Lesson Park. Zebby suggested I move to London – a lot of my friends thought he was trying to get rid of me – well he did! I made the rather quick decision to move away from Dublin, which in fact turned out to be one of the best moves I ever made. So it was that I left the cradle of my spiritual birth and moved to London where my physical birth had taken place in a private house at Marble Arch a number of years earlier, in 1929.
I first stayed in rooms at the top of Mrs. Elma Dangerfield’s house whom I had been introduced to by Patricia Ellison who lived in a Grace and Favour house in Buckingham Palace. Elma was a lady of great esteem who was awarded the OBE and the CBE for her extraordinary energizing work. I introduced her to the Faith later, and she declared her belief in Bahá’u’lláh. In London I had been introduced to a family I had met in Dublin and they wanted me to rent their bed-sitter. The man of the house was an ex-marine and the lady a born-again Christian. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I had ordered some Bahá’í books from the publisher George Ronald and had them sent to me at their address. When the lady of the house discovered they were Bahá’í books I was asked to leave. I remember standing outside a red telephone box, and then standing equally as long inside, fiddling with change and attempting to dial numbers. Eventually, after many times saying the prayer the ‘Remover of Difficulties’, I was offered a tiny room about the size of a coffin, belonging to a charity called ‘Family Housing’ in Kensington Square. The great advantage of this room was that it was near where the Djalili family lived and the homes of many of the Kensington and Chelsea Bahá’ís.
The Djalili Family had two large flats joined together. Mrs Djalili was a tremendously jolly and extremely kind lady who, along with her very kind husband, regularly cooked for their Bahá’í friends. Their generosity and hospitality shone out like a beacon. I visited Mrs Djalili when she was in hospital but, unfortunately, she passed away at too early an age.
Dermod Knox, when living in Welling Garden, would ask me to give firesides on poetry. Usually I like to quote from Byron, referring to his selection of poetry on progressive revelation. Dermod, who grew up in the area of the six counties in Northern Ireland, was married to a lovely Persian lady, Roushan (Aftabi), who had been awarded the accolade of Knight of Bahá’u’lláh. In the early 1950s she and her sister had pioneered to Goa, in those days a poor Portuguese colony. Dermod and Roushan were an extremely handsome couple and had twin sons. Dermod had trained in the Army at Sandhurst and had travelled a lot, mainly in the Middle East and Arab countries. He was always reliable and he excelled in charm and ability to get on with all manner of people. Both have been remarkable souls and devoted Bahá’ís. Sadly, Roushan passed away two years ago in Honiton, Devon.
In London, my Bahá’í story continued to grow and change, as I served on the Kensington and Chelsea Assembly and met more wonderful dedicated Bahá’ís, including the unforgettable Dr Minou Foadi, a vitally intelligent lady and a doctor of the highest skill. She was practically always chair-person of the Kensington and Chelsea Assembly because of her extreme dignity, intelligence, and respected status, and her kindness, generosity, and ability to understand, her spirituality and the fact she was an excellent chair person. In her large luxury flat, she used to give important dinner parties and also most original prayer meetings. Another member of the Assembly who became a great friend of mine was Reza Jahangiri, who had a very kind and hugely generous heart. Many times, he invited me out to Persian restaurants and insisted on paying. At this time, I had very little money, but neither had he, and sometimes he would put a few pounds in my hand. Although in Iran he had a chauffeur and a car, he gave it all up to become a Bahá’í and then escaped to the UK.
The Guardian of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi, had told the Bahá’ís to leave their country Persia, as it was likely there would come a time when they would be unable to leave. Three per cent of these wise and obedient souls obeyed the Guardian. Although they had the courage to give up everything and leave their beautiful homes and property, they were able to take much of their wealth with them, whereas those who left after the revolution in 1979 had to escape illegally and surreptitiously. One friend, Keyvan Agahi, had to escape (in 1984) by hanging on to the belly of a camel. It took him two nights to cross the border from Iran into Pakistan. After living there for nine months he was granted the status of a refugee in Pakistan. Then finally he came and settled in Britain.
After David Hofman retired from membership of the Universal House of Justice in 1988, he went to live near Oxford. I became truly friendly with David and I recall he once struck me on the chest saying three times “pray, pray, pray”. What a wonderful man and of course a remarkable Bahá’í. He would often travel down to London for meetings and we would meet up. I continued to help him in whatever way possible. Vafa and Tamineh Payman very kindly hosted a dinner for him on one occasion before a meeting at the Westminster Library, and we sold a lot of his books.
Marion, his wife, was an amazing lady with a lovable heart and a remarkable voice. She used to say that on his deathbed David would be reciting Shakespeare instead of quoting from Bahá’u’lláh. Sadly, Marion became ill with dementia. I went with David to visit her in hospital shortly before she passed away. I continued to visit David, usually with Lilian, Lady Carpenter, always driven by kind and most loyal John Matthew. At least once the beautiful Thelma L’Estrange, the opera singer and newly declared Bahá’í, visited David and took him out to lunch. At the last visit he really was beginning to become ill and that was the last time I saw this very strong-hearted, bold spirited, most thoughtful and kindly, wonderfully steadfast Bahá’í.
I wrote a script ”I Mary Magdalen”, based on Juliet Thompson’s book of the same name. There was a delay, involving copyright, in getting it staged and produced. Eventually David Hofman was proved to be the copyright owner of Juliet Thomson’s works, and the play was first performed in the Canalside Theatre in London. By public request, two other productions were performed at different London fringe theatres. In May 2003 I was driven from London to Oxfordshire for David’s funeral. We arrived late and I was to read a passage from the Bahá’í Writings. We arrived just in time for my turn to read, which was unfortunate as I got out of the car had to walk straight up the aisle to the front of the church to read.
About this time, I was introduced by Farzin Kamranpour to the person who, amongst many others, was probably one of the most influential in my Bahá’í evolution, Mrs Shamsi Navidi, a most elegant, physically and spiritually, beautiful person. Farzin accompanied me to her elegant flat in Belgravia, London, where she lived with her husband, Aziz, a renowned international lawyer. He passed away in July 1987, soon after I met him, and I remember attending his memorial service.
On arrival, I saw that the room was packed with Persians and standing at the door was his beautiful daughter, Guilda, and her husband Graham Walker. I had written a poem for Aziz, so I asked Guilda if I could read it, which was unbelievable bravado since there was obviously a programme arranged. However, I was called up to read the poem and nothing more was heard of it but there is no doubt that I became a frequently invited guest to Shamsi’s apartment during the rest of her life. Whenever Rúhíyyih Khánum was in London she would stay at Shamsi’s home, 41 Eaton Place. At one of her evenings to which I was invited, I got to know Khánum, who was to me a most extraordinarily pure, direct person with complete clarity of thought, and absolute kindness.
I introduced Shamsi to some people and I also attended many meetings at her home with her daughter Guilda and son-in-law Graham, and ambassadors from many different countries. As with all of us, Shamsi’s reign did not last forever, but while she was healthy her time was completely dedicated to the Faith. She was an Auxiliary Board member and she asked me to be one of her Assistants. I remember visiting many Assemblies and was asked by her to talk about the Kitáb-i-Aqdas to one or two Assemblies. On one visit to Shamsi’s home, Guilda introduced me to Mr Ali Nakhjavani and his wife Violette. Mr Nakhjavani took me aside and in that short time poured out on me more pure love than I have ever received. It was as if it were coming straight from the fountain of the Godhead. He has carried on with the same divine love and wisdom through correspondence with me, which has often given me tremendous confidence when needed.
Shamsi Navidi was one of the people who supported me in most of my activities, including when I produced the script I had written for ‘Cast off the Veil’, on the life of Tahirih, the Persian Poet Martyr, at the Chelsea Theatre. It had been approved by the script committee and supported by the Kensington and Chelsea Assembly, but to produce means casting and rehearsals. My admirer Lilian, Lady Carpenter, was capable of putting her hand to anything, and had taught drama, so she agreed to direct my play. After certain rehearsals with actors arriving late and some situations of confusion, Lilian correctly decided she had had enough. There followed a lull and the lead actor went on pilgrimage, so we had to re-cast the whole play. Dr. Kishan Manocha suggested we contact a certain director which we did, and the play went ahead very successfully with a big audience on the opening night. Renowned comedian, film star and actor Omid Djalili played his first part on the stage – one of the Mullas – who was killed early on in the script. After about five nights of performance, a message was received via the National Spiritual Assembly, to the effect that the play had to be discontinued because it was disturbing the Bahá’ís in Iran. It was naturally a very great blow but in no way did we wish to cause such distress, and the decision was accepted with goodgrace.
On two occasions I visited Gibraltar, remaining for about ten days each time. My main contacts there were Suresh Malkani and his beautiful wife and family. I got to know all the Bahá’ís in Gibraltar and twice appeared on local television talking about the Bahá’í Faith by means of sharing poetry. Suresh was an amazing Bahá’í, with a degree in Law and Accountancy.
On 1st November 2003 a room was acquired by Lord and Lady Belhaven and Stenton in Dolphin Square, London, for a Bahá’í community meeting, at which my book of poems, “The Glory of Glories” was launched. A short talk was given on the Faith as an introduction to the book, and a certain number of copies were sold.
One day the custodian of the Guardian’s shrine had to go to hospital and I offered to look after the place for that day. I settled down in the little hut and worked on my play about Tahirih. Around mid-day two very smart men came and stood outside the hut, which had me wondering, then a car drove up and stopped outside the Shrine. Farzin Kamranpour ran up and breathlessly said that Rúhíyyih Khánum had arrived and there were no pots of flowers surrounding the Shrine (but that requirement no longer applies). I went to the Shrine and met Khánum, who was as adorable as usual and invited me to say a prayer.
At the end of one feast, a call was made for pioneers to Poland and someone suggested I should volunteer. Nabil Khodadad was at the feast and willingly offered to support me financially, which he did for the two years I was there. When I arrived in Poland in April 1991 there were only twelve Bahá’ís in Warsaw. I first stayed with Joy Behi, an astounding American Bahá’í who possessed great kindness and inner resources. I was elected Chairman of the Assembly with Marcel, a German, as Secretary. My stay in Poland was most satisfactory and I loved the Polish people; reflecting on this love now so many years later, I realise I was there only to serve Bahá’u’lláh and His Cause.
I found a flat in Warsaw and started giving firesides but at this time there was a language problem as I did not speak Polish. Every day before the fireside I would go to the market and buy food, mainly vegetables, because I cooked a special soup (in Polish, soup is called Zupa) which became one of the specialities of the fireside in Warsaw. In the mornings I also wrote poetry, and a play on Doctor Ludovic Zammenhof, the founder and originator of Esperanto, whose daughter Lydia became a Bahá’í. I was asked to speak at Esperanto meetings, which of course included a lot of the Bahá’í teachings. I also spent some time in Gdansk, where Keyvan Aghai had introduced me to the lovely Polish Mashahesky family, who used to come to stay with me in London. Keyvan arranged firesides for me in Gdansk and meetings at schools where I could teach English, which of course also included teaching the Bahá’í Faith. I developed an art, a method whereby I could always teach English through the Faith.
Anne Parsons, a devoted pioneer from London but originally from the West of Ireland, was giving some excellent firesides in Warsaw. At one of them I met an American Bahá’í, the delightful jolly Dorothy Lee Hansen, a poet, at this time a tremendous help and support in organising the Convention. Dorothy can only be described as exuberant; most Americans certainly are positive and persuasive people, which was what was needed in making big decisions for this National Convention. Dorothy was staying with me in a typical Warsaw apartment. She insisted on inviting Senator Zamoyski, a member of one of the most ancient aristocratic families of Poland, to a meal. The little apartment had no dining room. Dorothy and I placed a white tablecloth on a small table in front of the window in the small living room, with some unsophisticated delicacies; but would the Senator arrive? Sure enough, the door-bell rang and the Senator entered my one-room apartment. The meeting was genial and we took the opportunity of telling him about the Faith.
Before Dorothy passed away in California, she became poet laureate of Napa County, California, and in her book entitled “On a snowy night in Zamosc‘’ she included the following poem.
Warsaw Honorarium for Dominick Browne
I have to admire you dear Dominick Browne
For the way you are able to live in this town.
You are up in the morning, out on the tram,
into the fray, busy all day,
taking your message to all who will listen to the quotes from your Lord
You give from your heart to citizens and Senators,
the man in the street, the girl in the shop.
All over the city you carry this pearl
which will bring a new order, heal the whole world.
So, I have to admire you dear Dominick Browne,
for the tireless devotion you give to this town.
Dorothy Lee Hansen, 2001
The National Spiritual Assembly of Germany asked me to organize the first Convention in Poland on the telephone and by correspondence. I fought against it, mainly because I did not know the language, nor felt I could I cope with the finance. However, I had to succumb in the end and took on the task.
Rúhíyyih Khánum, that wonderful unbelievable lady, had been asked to open National Convention in Warsaw. A five-star hotel was arranged for her and Mrs Nakhjavani, as well as a car. Shamsi Navidi attended the convention and stayed in the same hotel as Madame Rabbani. Convention was to last three days with a dinner celebration to be arranged for the last night. The financial side of things fell to me. To this day I do not know how I managed, as the Polish finance system did not come easy to me. Of course, it was thanks to Baha’u’llah.
On one occasion we failed to get Khánum to a meeting with the then President, Lech Walesa. Her visit to Poland was unforgettable. She was adorable and we all loved her. She gave me lunch one day in her hotel but the greatest memory is of her direct spirituality, sense of fun and humour. Every day on arrival at the Convention, Khánum and Shamsi Navidi would go up in the lift to the place where the Convention was being held looking out over the river. There was no room in the lift for me so I had to run up the stairs in order to get there before them and prepare the members of the convention for their arrival. Sometimes she would be about to enter the room and I would race along the corridor so that I could arrive first in order to inform Keyvan Agahi, standing at the door, to ask the members of the Convention to rise.
Dorothy Lee Hansen, this wonderful pioneer from America, had already been staying in a small historic town called Zamosc. She suggested I go and pioneer there. Zamosc was built with a beautiful rectangular Rynek, the main square, with pillars, perfectly designed by Jan Zamoyski, the founder of the town. Suddenly Dorothy announced she had to return to America, which was sad but a blessing in disguise as I was able to rent her apartment, which was a delight. We had many Bahá’í meetings and I also did some private teaching to Polish students. I gradually began to take part in the local community and became quite a regular visitor to the local mayor, Marchin Zamoyski.
Back to London
At this time Nousha Samari in the Ealing community, was starting up an enterprise which she entitled Ladies Creative Centre. Nousha could not speak much English so I took the main part in the negotiations. Nousha, however, was creative and ambitious, so the Ladies Creative Centre flourished, albeit with a little help from me.
I had met Farjad Farid, a computer expert, before he was a Bahá’í. He had started and developed an organisation which he named The World Citizenship Project. He had been extending this project for some time in The Brent community, and in fact a Persian Bahá’í Mr Hassan Afnan was the main power in the Brent World Citizenship project, which also spread to other communities. I helped Farjad with this project, mainly in the Westminster community. We first tried World Citizenship in Westminster City School and advertised for a teacher at the school who would take some interest in the scheme. We met a member of staff, Mr Rick Ballinger, in a coffee bar. He was a young man who understood the project and was very keen to help Farjad to make the scheme a success in his school. The project was soon functioning, and I gave talks at the school assembly regarding the idea of this scheme. It was designed to involve all ages, the idea being to teach the students to become world citizens. Each year they were given projects connected with the arts, poetry, essay writing and painting, which would express the ideas of world citizenship. At the end of the year a prize-giving was arranged in the school where the community also provided food, and I was always able to get the Lord Mayor of Westminster to give away the prizes. Paintings would be displayed on the walls, essays and poetry read out, and music and songs performed.
One year the Bahá’ís had an African drumming band and I invited Freddy Gore RHA, CBE, to judge the art competition. The World Citizenship Project was arduous but the students and teachers must have acquired some flavour of the Faith. The Westminster Assembly donated some computers to the school and a specially-designed model in remembrance of this project. Every year the Faith receives an invitation to their prize-giving which takes place in the gardens of Westminster Abbey. One of the prizes is the Rick Ballinger and Bahá’í World Citizenship award. Unfortunately, Rick died of cancer some years ago. Farjad and I attended both his funeral and a memorial service held for him in the school, where we each said a few words thanking God for Rick’s life.
Another school I visited with World Citizenship in Westminster was Quentin Kynaston where we had a big prize-giving ceremony. The Honourable Barney Leith was invited as our Master of Ceremonies. I tried many other schools, pushing the idea in the door and giving talks at their assemblies and classes. On reflection, I realise the project was partly successful as a result of the exceptional generosity of one Bahá’í, Mr Sayyah, who has since passed on.
I was also the elected member from the Assembly to represent the community at Interfaith meetings. At one such meeting, each Faith had to describe in a five-minute talk, the healing effects of its faith. At the end of the Bahá’í talk I said the short healing prayer, which I knew by heart. There were probably over a hundred people present and afterwards a lady came up to me to tell me the Bahá’í was the most spiritual; well of course it was only because I recited the short prayer of Bahá’u’lláh.
Another time a young lady, a Rabbi, arranged a big meeting in memory of the victims of the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001, at which I was asked to read a Bahá’í prayer. Nabil Khodadad, a most enlightened and knowledgeable Bahá’í and also a prosperous professional lawyer, also used to finance The World Citizenship Project. Nabil used to have big rented apartments, one in Grosvenor Square and others in different parts of the West End, where he always gave very wonderful firesides. Eventually Ingrid and Nabil bought an apartment and the firesides ceased but now he holds larger meetings.
Iqbal Latif also produced large generous evenings. Iqbal was a giant of a man with a big heart, and the love of Bahá’u’lláh written all over him. With his lovely very talented Persian wife they would entertain fifty to a hundred people in an evening. I generally used to assist in organising the potential Bahá’ís with a Bahá’í talk, and at one time I arranged for a large poetry evening. I officiated at the wedding of Iqbal’s eldest son, and also at several more weddings, and realised the supreme importance of the institution of marriage, as Bahá’u’lláh states in His writings.
While I was still permitted to enter the Palace of Westminster, having been given a pass in error by the office of administration, I used the facilities fairly regularly especially when called on by Guilda Walker, who wanted to use the Palace for the Faith to entertain ambassadors and diplomats from all nations. Endless dinner parties were always skilfully organised by Guilda. Fifteen to twenty guests used to take over the whole of one end of the Peers’ dining room or sometimes the Attlee Room. One evening, after a special big dinner party which Graham Walker also attended, one of my own peers questioned my right to a pass, as only those who were sitting in the chamber at the time of the 1999 act were given a pass, and I did not succeed until my father passed away in 2002 so he would have received a pass. Consequently, Black Rod took my pass away, and because of this I started a law case against the Ministry of Justice. Through Guilda’s generous and skilful working method, added to her charm, very many high-level government officials and ambassadors came to know more of the importance and spiritual quality of the Faith.
Another wonderful enthusiastic Bahá’í I knew was the beautiful opera singer Thelma Le Strange, who had performed in the Royal Albert Hall, and had met the Faith then declared late in life. She had a large house in Hammersmith where I persuaded her to hold meetings which were always musical and poetry evenings built around the Faith. She later moved to Barnet where she used to have similar meetings at which there was often a pianist and a singer, and on one occasion I recited some of my poetry and included an introduction to Bahá’u’lláh and the Bahá’í Faith.
When I returned to Poland, I met Keyvan Agahi in Warsaw May 2012, and went to lunch with Anna Oniszk and her family. Anna I had loved when I first pioneered to Poland and she had given me a drawing with a quotation of Bahá’u’lláh on it, which I used for the cover of my first poetry book. Later Keyvan and I travelled by train to where we were collected by Joanna Starszuk in her car. Joanna was one of the few Bahá’ís left in Zamosc. We had asked her to invite to dinner as many Bahá’ís as she was able, and those interested in the Faith, as well as friends I had known during my stay in Zamosc. One day she brought all her students over to Zamosc and Keyvan and I first gave a talk and an audio video on the faith, and many questions were asked, followed by drinks and refreshments. The students appeared happy. Joanna had kindly and with a lot of enthusiasm arranged that we should meet some border control inspectors and encourage them with their English, which was a worthwhile journey, as we spoke with four or five officers who were most attentive.
On my return to London I met again Maria Rita Philipps, a most elegant lady originally from Chile who had married an Englishman. I was present at most of her lovely dinner parties, at which she did the cooking, and always there was a certain amount of talk about the Faith, usually with Bahá’ís present.
When the writer Jack McLean visited London, I arranged for him to stay in a hotel near me in Pimlico and attend one of Maria’s firesides, and I then looked after him the next day with great pleasure, as he was a man of a lot of knowledge and Bahá’í spirituality. For no particular credit he chose to dedicate the following poem to me.
Dominick is a cool dude He is never rude He always dresses for dinner
And wears his tie to look his best.
He is Bahá’u’lláh’s man among the Noblesse.
He sees the thing as it really is, Spot on with teaching
But never with preaching.
He’s a Lord and commoner All at once, Just the sort of sought out man You would invite to lunch.
He and I are bosom pals Friends by association, He is one of the finest Bahá’ís in all the nation. Dominick and I are friends for life, In perfect harmony with no trace of strife.
A fountain of friendship ever flowing
In a heart of love that is ever glowing.
In my small apartment in Pimlico, it was impossible to have firesides. However, my friend Walter Bamford, who is not young (about my age!), on three evenings lent me his flat for firesides. Walter, a dedicated soul, always dressed as a gentleman, wearing a waistcoat, but suffered much pain. He was most kind and generous and had studied all religions so was a most kind Bahá’í friend; his evenings were always wonderful and most educational. After Walter had sold the flat and moved some distance away, we would meet at least once a week in the Pimlico library and he would read five prayers – his selection included two of the Báb’s prayers for protection and finally the Tablet of Ahmad.
In 2013 I was asked to open an exhibition at the Nehru Centre in South Audley Street, London, and give a talk on a Swarmi. The talk combined the Hindu religion with The Bahá’í Faith. When I had finished, a mass of Indians gave me their cards and asked how much I charged to speak publicly! At this talk, Sid Jiwnani and his mother came, and I asked the officials at the Centre if we could give a meeting there about the ‘Lotus Temple’, the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi. Ellie, who was working for me at this time, insisted we demand a meeting with the Principal. This meeting was a great success, and the Principal gave us permission to have our meetings without charge, and she also gave me a signed copy of her book. A date was arranged for the 8th July and we met Mr and Mrs Jiwnani several times, also Sid and his fiancée Leila, to consult on the agenda for the meeting. Over a hundred people attended and were given soft drinks in the hall before entering the Theatre. A prayer was read, then a magnificent concert given, which was followed by an excellent talk on the Indian House of Worship by Mr Jiwnani, and the showing of a video about The House of Worship which aroused a lot of interest and questions. HRH Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia spoke briefly, then the guests had an Indian dinner. After most of the guests had left, a young American approached me telling me he was homeless. He then procured a lot of food boxes which were filled with the leftover food. Ellie, who had managed the whole evening, and this American walked down Regent Street and nearby areas giving food to those unfortunate people sleeping rough in the doorways. What a blessing and bountiful way to end the evening! Two more similar evenings were held, this time organised by Dr Kishan Manocha, who arranged a choir at one meeting, and a third meeting on United Nations Women’s day, when Mrs Lesley Taherzadeh O’Mara was in the Chair with members from other religions speaking on the stage.
I was asked to give a fireside by Farida in her flat on the life of Bahá’u’lláh. I tackled this large subject with great eagerness and fresh research. Most of the Westminster Bahá’ís attended and the room was crowded. I had invited two or three potential Bahá’ís. I noticed Dr Patrick Noronha watching me very closely and after my talk, I approached him and said he ought to become a Bahá’í. To my astonishment he said “Yes I will”. A lady also expressed her wish to be a Bahá’í so that was two new followers of Bahá’u’lláh in one night.
In 2014 Dermod Knox and I had been invited to HRH Princess Helen of Romania’s wedding. It was a most pleasant and interesting four-day visit (not much direct teaching) but of course at the appropriate opportunity some explanation was given concerning the Faith. The fact that Dermod and I were Bahá’ís, was recognised by the group of guests.
In the late summer of 2014, Sid and Leila’s wedding took place in Portugal. It was a four-day celebration beautifully organized by them. I was honoured to be invited to read a prayer, which I did in my usual loud, expressive manner. My leg was quivering, so great was the power. At the end of the ceremony some people came up and congratulated me; one said he was nearly asleep when I began my reading and he was so shaken he became fully awake.
I attended a prayer meeting last year for Carmen Henry because of her illness, given by The Bahá’ís of Kensington and Chelsea. It took place at the home of Christine Nicholas and it was a beautiful, well-organized evening with sincere prayers, music and a video of the choir singing the song ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’. A week later came the sad news that Carmen had passed away from cancer. She was from Jamaica, a very happy, jolly person; a laughing, joking member of every community where she was present. I had known Carmen for many years and her loss was very sad and a great loss. It was in many ways particularly poignant as I had met her again, after many years, at Maria Rita’s dinner party especially organised for Carmen and her sister. On that occasion Carmen tentatively started to sing and I encouraged her to carry on. We did not know at that time she had the terrible cancer. And then she was gone!
A hidden side I hesitate to write about is that ever since I can remember, dreams have been very prevalent in my life. As a child I endured nightmares, sleep-walking, knocking furniture over and attempting to walk out of a window. Since becoming a Bahá’í I have had many dreams of a different nature.
My life is on a continuing teaching journey, but at age eighty-nine I have found it difficult to organise meetings. However, since the publication of ”Sparkling Fountain” poetry book, I have held several evening meetings of Music and Poetry, attended by fifty to sixty people, at which I always read a passage from the Bahá’í Writings and spoke briefly about the benefits of the Faith. The writings and prayers have changed my life and I will be continually grateful to my teachers and of course to Bahá’u’lláh for His suffering and marvellous unique Revelation.
Dominick Browne, Lord Oranmore and Mereworth
London SW1, October 2018