REMEMBERING DR. CHELLIE SUNDRAM

REMEMBERING DR. CHELLIE SUNDRAM

REMEMBERING DR. CHELLIE  JOHN SUNDRAM

This is a humble effort to recollect in brevity my personal interactions and friendship with Dr. Chellie John Sundram. It began in 1966 when I traveled from Laos where I had been pioneering since 1962  to attend a  Summer School in Malacca. On the way, stopped in Penang and was taken to a gathering of friends in the Peel Avenue home of the Sundrams and was introduced to the host Mrs. Shantha Sundram. At once I noticed that she was a marvelous lady with a radiant face, sharp eyes and a sweet smile. Her husband Dr. Sundram had high regard for pioneers. As I was introduced to them, they greeted me with a warm welcoming smile. In that first meeting itself, they became my instant friends. This was the beginning of about thirty years of intimate friendship with Dr. Sundram, and forty-five years with Shantha Sundram. In total, that adds up to more than half a century of the fondest bonds with the Sundram family. When I got married to Giti in 1968, she too entered into friendship with the Sundram family. From the beginning, they treated Giti and me as members of their family.

My second visit was a follow-up with Dr. Sundram to have my tooth checked that was fixed on my previous trip. Checking into a small Inn in downtown Georgetown area, I telephoned Dr. Sundram at his Dental Nursing School the following morning to let him know that I was about to come over to the Dental Nursing School to get the tooth fixed. He immediately sent me a car driven by Miss Khoo Siew Thay. Arriving at the Inn she informed me that Dr. Sundram had instructed that I must check out of the Inn and stay with the Sundrams as their guest.  I guessed the Sundrams must have known the financial dilemmas we pioneers go through.  I gladly accepted the offer and arrived in his Dental Nursing School to have my tooth fixed and stayed in their home.


A family picture of 1976. L-R: Malini, Susheel, Padma, and Navanita

I must admit that it was not easy for anyone to befriend Dr. Sundram in the first encounter itself. Chemistry would not click right away, as they say. My first encounter in working with him was indeed rough as there were differences of opinions and approaches between us. In Dr. Sundram there was always a spark of critical thinking that spoke of a keen and intellectual mind — the very reason why it was not always easy for everyone to understand him. Dr. Sundram set a high standard of serving the Cause and he was straightforward, open and vocal with those believers who had high capacity. He would encourage those friends to tap their own talents to the maximum. He himself would do what would take ten persons to perform, and all his tasks were performed with excellence. When he appointed Auxiliary Board members, he expected a high standard from them as well. But since I understood him well enough, we teamed up quite well to work together amicably for the Cause during the thirty years of our friendship that lasted until his passing.

A quality that I appreciated all along, was the relentless and hardworking attitude that he employed throughout his life. He was a very distinguished personality well accepted and recognized by the friends within the Faith and among the academic and the professional circles in the wider world. Both of us had served on the National Spiritual Assembly and as Counselors, and when dealing with him, I always admired the meticulous ways by which he performed his tasks, giving careful attention to all the minute details. He was far ahead in his thoughts, plans, and vision, and at times I found it difficult to follow. My high regard for Dr. Sundram in no way diminished my love and respect towards my other fellow Counsellors of the time such as  Mr. Yankee Leong from Malaysia,  Mr. Khudarahm H. Payman from Indonesia and Mr. Vicente Samaniego from the Philippines. They were each unique and unparalleled spiritual giants in their own ways.


Among the first batch of Counselors, 1968. L-R: K.H.Payman, Yankee Leong and Chellie Sundram.

Dr. Sundram was highly knowledgeable, meticulous and precise in whatever task that he handled. The one event that is etched in my memory is the exhibition that he single-handedly put up at the Oceanic Conference held in Singapore in January 1971 which invited accolades from none other than the Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Enoch Olinga who was the representative of the Supreme Body at that historical conference. The multi-talented Dr. Sundram had set a magnificent, dignified and beautiful exhibition, a standard that has yet to be surpassed.


Dr. Sundram welcoming the Hands of the Cause Mr. Collis Featherstone and Enoch Olinga at the exhibition held at the Oceanic Conference, Singapore 1971. At the extreme right is Counselor Yankee Leong. At the extreme left is S. Bhaskaran with Dr. Astani of Indonesia next to him.


Meeting of Counselors in Manila, 1973. L-R: Dr. Sundram, K. H. Payman, Firaydun, Yankee Leong, Vicente Samaniego.

In the early seventies, Dr. Sundram came to Laos on a project for the World Health Organization on which he was serving as a Dental Consultant since 1971.  Fortunately, the hotel where he stayed in Vientiane was less than ten minutes’ walking distance from where we lived.  Dr. Sundram spent time with my family after his office hours were over. I took him around in Vientiane to meet the friends, visit our new temple land, participate in the Feast held in the Bahá’í Center, and last toured the city. Yet his interest was always centered on the health of the Bahá’í community of Laos.  He came to our house most of the afternoons for tea or in the evenings for simple dinners that Giti cooked.  One day Giti made a sweet dessert from broken wheat which Dr. Sundram liked very much.  He asked, “Where did you get this stuff from?  It must be expensive and imported.” Giti replied, “It was from the USA, given as an aid to the refugees.  Since the refugees do not like eating broken wheat, they exchanged it for other goods at the market. Sadly, it is sold as animal feed, especially for pigs. That is why it is cheaply, and we conveniently bought them.” Dr. Sundram immediately shot back, “So you have decided to give me animal feed meant for pigs.” We laughed our lungs out. But he well understood as pioneers we were cutting corners to sustain ourselves. But what interested him more was to see a copy of the Lao Bahá’í News that I had produced in a primitive form and got them photocopied. Dr. Sundram was impressed, and with his artistic mind suggested some improvements.

A few incidents that followed soon convinced me that Dr. Sundram was always aware and conscious of the problems and difficulties that the pioneers had to face in the unfamiliar conditions. He was always ready to help them so that they could stay on and serve the Cause.

When I was in his home in Penang again as his guest, Dr. Sundram surprised everyone by presenting a beautiful music keyboard to his children to take up music lessons, particularly for Malini to encourage her.  The following day, he presented me with a manually-operated cyclostyle machine that he had been using for some time. He handed it over to me and said it will assist me in printing the Lao Bahá’í News that he had seen in his previous visit.  How sharp was his observation and how well he had registered the needs of the Faith.  He asked Nirmala, a dental nurse who worked with him and who was treated as a member of his family to teach me how to operate it.  I took the machine to Laos and placed it at the National Bahá’í Center, and it well served the community.  He was a keen observer of details when visiting communities.

When I was at his home in Minden Heights in 1973, Dr. Sundram took me to his dental laboratory and showed me an electrically operated Offset-Printing Machine that weighed about 400 kilograms, together with its accessories. He said, “It is for you, take it to Laos.  Now you can print anything you want with this machine.”  I thanked him but declined the offer. But he insisted, “You can print pamphlets and teaching materials for the Faith, and perhaps could also generate some income out of it for your family. I know the life of pioneers is not easy.” I thanked him as tears welled in my eyes.  It took a few days to work out the export papers and transport them by train to Vientiane.  The machine was placed at the National Bahá’í Center and was used to print teaching materials.  I did not use the machine for generating personal income as printing was not directly related to my line of business activity.

In the seventies, there were about 350 Iranian student pioneers in the Philippines. Whenever I visited the Philippines on Bahá’í official duties, I could see the strong love that Dr. Sundram had for the pioneers.  He always had some readily available programs for supporting the pioneers and provided them workshops, academic advice, or guidance on financial matters.  The youth and the pioneers found Dr. Sundram as their trusted mentor and often expressed their admiration for him.  When a youth in the Philippines started a small scale side-business to partially finance his living expenses, Dr. Sundram, unasked purchased and offered to him several packages of the items that he was selling to help sustain himself in the field. On another occasion, he gave a no-interest loan to yet another youth to start a small business.  He gave similar help to a young sister and her brother who were going from Malaysia to Sarawak for pioneering. They had just completed studying a hair-dressing course and were going to open a beauty salon and barbershop in Sarawak. He gave them some money in case what they had in their possession was insufficient.

In 1980 Dr. Sundram helped my youngest brother Farzad Shirazi, a student pioneer in Manila.  Dr. Sundram brought Farzad under his supporting wings when he faced difficulties and needed fatherly care and guidance. It was clear that Dr. Sundram did not help Farzad just because he was my brother, but because of the genuine care and guidance that Farzad needed, which Dr. Sundram was able to provide.  Farzad loved and respected Dr. Sundram like a father figure, and was devastated when he learned of the passing of Dr. Sundram.

Dr. Sundram extended a helping hand to friends who were not Bahá’ís. Once when he was visiting South Korea he asked me to take him to a shop selling suitcases, to buy a handle for his colleague whose handle of the suitcase had broken.  Since no spare handle was available in the shops we visited, he ended up buying a whole new suitcase for his colleague.  Dr. Sundram said that he had to take care of the needs of his colleague when they asked for his help.

Dr. Sundram had a very soft and loving heart, something which not many would know. In  Manila, his housemaid absconded with some cash and jewelry. Surprisingly, Dr. Sundram did not report the incident to the police. Instead, he took me to the maid’s family where he encouraged her to come back with the missing money and jewelry, promising that she could still keep her job.  The maid regretted her actions and subsequently did come back with the jewelry, but not the money.  Dr. Sundram lovingly told her that she could return the money gradually in installments and promised that he himself would help her towards making that happen.

Dr. Sundram was making frequent visits to Vietnam when he was with the WHO. The National Spiritual Assembly of Vietnam held Dr. Sundram who was a Counselor then in high esteem since he often met with them and gave suggestions and guidance in dealing with government authorities with diplomacy.  His approach helped the steady growth of that Faith in that war-torn country.  In 1975 we held the meeting of the Board of Counsellors in Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam. Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhajir blessed us with his gracious presence. Dr. Sundram had very high respect for Dr. Muhajir and was always humbled in his presence. Dr. Sundram used to refer Dr. Muhajir as a man with super-brain, a great organizer and a true visionary.

While sitting with the National Spiritual Assembly in that meeting, Dr. Muhajir reviewed their goals and gave them practical suggestions for teaching, publications, management, and maintenance of Bahá’í properties. After the meetings with the National Assembly and the Board of Counselors were over everyone returned.  I had to stay back for a few more days for additional work to be accomplished.  But Dr. Sundram told me not to stay in the hotel anymore but to move into his flat and stay with him to keep him company, and of course to avoid unnecessary expenses. I squeezed into his single-room studio flat.  To my surprise, he offered his bed to me saying that he liked sleeping on the couch. I knew he was sincere in providing the better part of the comfort for me. But since he was older, I felt it would be disrespectful if I took his bed. I kept declining while he kept insisting. As I was not relenting, he finally gave up and said “Okay man! Do as you wish.”  I took it to the couch and had a good sleep. A few days passed this way.

At nights we talked about the needs of the Faith until past midnight and in the mornings we had late breakfasts before going out to his office and downtown to meet people and friends. When discussing community matters, Dr. Sundram would bring out details, some of which I missed observing. He was quick to detect the problems prevailing in those communities, and he was always right.  There was a case of serious disunity among some friends and Dr. Sundram detected the root cause – they joining hands to do business. I mentioned to him what Dr. Muhajir told me that believers are not mature and spiritual enough to enter into business arrangements, and they would be placing too many expectations on each other and when the business failed they would invariably blame each other. Dr. Sundram concurred with the thoughts of Dr. Muhajir.

What amazed me and fellow Counselors as well as the health index chart that he devised, where he listed the various activities and related matters on a chart and to be ticked against. The sum total score would give the Bahá’í health situation of the community. Likewise, Dr. Sundram always went for the latest gadgets in the market to be utilized for the Faith. He was one of the earliest to use the slide projector to show slides of Bahá’í activities. Likewise, he was one of the earliest to use the overhead projector in his talks.


Driving home a serious point  with a style of his own.


Explaining with the aid of an overhead projector, at Alor Setar Bahá’í Centre.

When in South Korea I had to struggle to support my family and bear the cost of education of our two daughters – Sahba and Samo.  He was also well aware of my little abilities and skills and was concerned about helping me to get my daughters educated  One day he phoned me from his office in Manila, where he was based and told me that he had recruited me for a short-term consultancy job at WHO. I was to give workshops on preventive maintenance of dental equipment and to write a book on “Guideline to Dental Preventive Maintenance.” I was very grateful for his offer but made it clear that organizing workshops were fine, but to write a book that required technical expertise and a good command of the English language was beyond my capacity. But he assured that he himself would guide and advise me in that writing task. That was how I started the WHO consultancy job and worked intermittently in that capacity for three years and finally published the book for WHO.  I received two certificates and three letters of commendation for what WHO considered my distinguished services. There was also benefits that Dr. Sundram had in his mind when recruiting me for that UN job.  In that capacity with WHO, I was given special visa privileges to visit Laos and other countries with ease. I visited Laos three times and served the Ministry of Health during the 1980s when no other visitors could easily to enter Laos.  With that job I also visited and served many countries, such as the US-Trust Territories and Micronesia in the Pacific Islands, Thailand, Vietnam, Guam, Saipan, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines.  I could never thank Dr. Sundram enough for opening the path for me to sustain me and my family financially and for enabling me to serve the Cause more effectively.

Both Dr. Sundram and I were emotional personalities. There were moments when we had direct clashes and arguments. But they were only clashes of opinions and had nothing personal. Despite such heated moments our mutual love, respect, and unity always remained intact and never dimmed over time. Dr. Sundram knew well his weak points and struggled to have them controlled. I remember at meetings of the Board of Counsellors he used to ask me to sit next to him. The arrangement was I was to give him a knock on his knee in case of he became highly emotional so that he could calm down.

Once in 1976, a misunderstanding occurred between Dr. Sundram and a member of a National Spiritual Assembly.  This case reached the Board of Counselors and the National Spiritual Assembly. Dr. Sundram was naturally hurt that a personal clash between two individuals that could have been amicably settled outside was dragged into the institutions. An upset Dr. Sundram sent a letter of resignation from the Board of Counsellors to the Universal House of Justice.  Following that he did not attend the meetings of the Board of Counselors. But the House of Justice being an infallible body diffused the situation and cleared up the matter.  Dr. Sundram continued to serve as a Counselor. Interestingly enough, it did not take long before the other believer on that National Spiritual Assembly and Dr. Sundram became the thickest of friends. In Dr. Sundram I saw was a man of dignity and principles. He was not interested in holding any position in the Faith for the sake of it.

I personally knew Dr. Sundram was a painter, artist, and author of books. He wrote books on health administration and training and some Bahá’í training materials. As the situation in Indonesia began to recede in the 1960s the Bahá’ís organized plans to offer education to Mentawai children by adopting some Bahá’í children sponsoring their education in nearby Padang and raising them in their homes as Bahá’ís. Dr. Muhajir was the prime mover of this plan. In 1968-1969 the  plans were formulated and approved by the Universal House of Justice. thus the hostel was born.  Today Navanita and her husband Dr. Manoochehr Tahmasebian are managing the hostel. Dr. Sundram wrote a comprehensive report about the children and youth from Mentawai Island who were cared for at the Bahá’í hostel and received Bahá’í moral education, in addition to attending the local public school. Shantha Sundram who visited the hostel several times helped greatly in this project. She would buy the artworks of the Greatest Name that were made by the children to help in their upkeep, and sell them in other parts of the world. This served to increase their income and even helped to place one of the children through a medical school. He later graduated as the first doctor from Mentawai Island – Dr. Saralek.

A MAN OF RARE TALENTS

It was not surprising for the outside world to grab such a genius with keen insight and resourcefulness. After the passing of Dr. Sundram, I started gathering information to study this believer who was in my humble view the first in Malaysia to add luster to the Faith among those eminently placed in society. Dr. Sundram manifested signs of intelligence from his early schooldays and joined the King Edward VII Medical College the only higher institution of education in Singapore, and in 1946 obtained his degree in dentistry. He joined the Malayan civil service as a Dental Surgeon and was posted to Kuala Pilah in 1950 where the Director of Dental services recognized his talents and sent him in 1952 to the New Zealand Dental Service. Upon return, he set up the School for the Training of Dental Nurses in Penang of which he was the Principal for 15 years. That was the first of its kind in the Asia Pacific Zone and second in the world. Almost every aspect of the designs and models within this school and even the curriculum were  the products created from the emanation of his brilliance. His paintings too decorated walls of the dental school. The school attracted trainees from several parts of the world.

He was a very hardworking worker who would clock in early and leave the office not earlier than 6 in the evening, sometimes stretching to midnight. Though a taskmaster who set the benchmark for service, he had a warm heart for his subordinates. He was excellent in preparing documents and papers based on intense research and in-depth analysis. He would never take a moment’s rest until the task he had embarked on would have been completed in full and to his satisfaction. While an average man would look into the horizon, Dr. Sundram would look “beyond the horizon” to see if he could discover something new. Such was his discovery spirit at all times.


Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Collis Featherstone visiting the School for the Training of Dental Nurses in Penang

His excellent performance at the school earned the recognition of the World Health Organization, which in 1958 appointed him on the advisory panel on Dental Health right through 1968. This prestigious position took him places at international for running seminars and training. His career was brightened further with he obtaining his Master in Dentistry in 1960 at the University Malaya in Singapore followed by a Doctorate in Dental  Science from the Tokyo Nihon University in 1961, thus becoming the first Malaysian to have acquired a doctorate in that field. In the same year, the Malayan government awarded Dr. Sundram the Ahli Mangku Negara (AMN) for his meritorious services to the country. He gained further name and fame by serving as the chief editor of the Malaysian Dental Journal for a few years effective 1964 and as President of the Malaysian Dental Association in 1967 and 1968. In 1967 the King of Malaysia decorated Dr. Sundram with the Pingat Peringatan Negara (PPN) for his meritorious services. In 1972 he resigned from the Government service and joined WHO as a Dental Consultant. And there he created a number of “firsts.” In March 1981 WHO sent a team of advisors and consultants and for the Tenth Asian-Pacific Dental Congress held in Singapore. That was the largest and most important dental assembly in the region. This event led by Dr. Sundram as the Regional Advisor in Oral Health and this event marked the beginning of a new era in forging closer cooperation between the Asian Pacific Dental Federation and WHO.  Serving on WHO, Dr. Sundram created a great impact in the international arena and received accolades and commendations, of which he never mentioned in the community- a sign of magnanimity of the man. While serving with WHO he was responsible for some 35 countries and millions had benefited from his project of upgrading their personal oral care. Professor Mori Morimoto from Nihon University in Tokyo where Dr. Sundram obtained his Doctorate in Dentistry visited the Dental School in Penang in 1993, and noting the legacy left by Dr. Sundram he had entered in the visitor’s book as follows, “It has been my dram to visit this school ever since I knew Dr. Chellie Sundram in 1960. Now my dream is realized.”

DIVINE WILL HAD BEEN OTHERWISE

He told me that he was offered a highly paid job with perks in Singapore, with a grant of Singaporean citizenship, but he had respectfully declined it. Dr. Sundram explained that he considered it a matter of loyalty to the Malaysian government which had decorated him with awards in recognition of his meritorious services to the country.

It is only natural any organization or government would grab such a genius. While the outside world was on the lookout for such a person with a host of rare talents, the Blessed Beauty brought him under His sheltering care to use his talents for the furtherance of His glorious Cause. I happened to read the book “Why They Became Bahais” compiled by Annamarie Honnold, and it was in a story that Shantha wrote in that book that I could see the Divine intervention in guiding the Sundrams into the Faith. Bahai pioneers from the USA Jeanne Frankel and her mother Mrs. Bates who had pioneered to the Nicobar Islands came over to Penang on their way to their next post in Cocos Keeling Islands. In the course of Jeanne looking for a dentist to fix her tooth, she and her mother befriended Shantha Sundram and in stages gave her the message. When Shantha accepted the Faith Dr. Sundram dropped in and was informed that Shantha had accepted the Faith.  Dr. Sundram remarked, “If it is good enough for my wife, it’s good enough for me. Where’s the card…” And Dr. Sundram signed in the declaration card. On a later conversation with Dr. Sundram I asked how strange a circumstance in which he had accepted the Faith. Dr. Sundram winked, smiled and remarked that people come into the Faith in different ways, and his coming into the Faith was destined to be that way. He was shaving and walked into the living room where he signed up. He further added that he started to investigate the Faith deeper starting with reading the book “Baha’u’llah and the New Era”, and his continuous discussions with Jeanne Frankel till Ridvan 1958. His turning point was when he was elected Chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Penang in Ridvan 1958. He soon emerged a convinced believer, and there was no looking back. The rest is history.


Jeanne Frankel, Spiritual Mother of the Sundrams


First Local Spiritual Assembly of Penang, 1958. Chairman Dr. Sundram is standing in the middle, while Shantha is seated third from left.


Penang became a dynamic community that led the way in administrative excellence. Dr. Sundram seated second from left, and Shantha seated on the floor clad in saree. (1959)


A trip to North Carolina, USA to meet with their spiritual mother Jeanne Frankel


Dr. Sundram as Counselor and Shantha as member of the National Spiritual Assembly working together at the Summer School in Port Dickson, 1970


An endless energetic worker, taskmaster and one who was results-orientated – Proclamation Seminar in December 1970, Singapore

A natural orator

I met Dr. Sundram a few times in Perth, Australia after he had suffered a stroke that completely changed his personality from a highly energized and dynamic person to a mild, meek and soft person.  His speech, use of his arms and remembrance of the past were impaired. Yet the fighting spirit inborn in him started to manifest, and soon he was able to start painting once again with even better expressions. He started to slowly recollect the past. Next I heard Dr. Sundram had passed away on 23 February 1993, I was devastated to have lost a true friend.

Privileged to have brought the Sundrams into my life

It gives me a sense of gratifying joy to know that the services of Dr. Sundram were recognized not only by the Universal House of Justice but by the other institutions of the Faith and the believers at large. In the outside world too, he earned the name as a man of great substance, ability, and intelligence.

Saddened learn passing Dr. Chellie Sundram, stalwart servant Baha’u’llah, whose loving nature, academic achievements and sincerity won for him recognition and opportunities render distinguished services through World Health Organization. His indefatigable services Cause God, including two decades as member Continental Board of Counsellors in Asia, until ill health forced his retirement, lent lustre to the Faith and are lovingly remembered. Convey his clear wife, members his family and friends, particularly the beloved Malaysian community, deepest love and sympathy, assurance prayers Holy Shrines progress his soul all worlds of God. – The Universal House of Justice.

Mrs. Shantha Sundram received a large number of condolence messages from various individuals and institutions of high standing both from within Malaysia and abroad, far too many to list.

Hand of the Cause of God Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum faxed: DEEPLY REGRET PASSING DEAR CHELLIE. HIS LOVE FOR OUR FAITH, DEVOTION AND TIRELESS SERVICES WILL ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED. I HOPE HIS OWN FAMILY AS WELL AS HIS FELLOW BELIEVERS WILL FOLLOW IN HIS DEVOTED FOOTSTEPS AND RENDER EQUALLY OUTSTANDING SERVICES. I WILL ADD MY LOVING PRAYERS FOR THIS DEVOTED SERVANT OF BAHA’U’LLAH TO THOSE OF MANY OTHERS WHO LOVED AND ESTEEMED HIM.

The International Teaching Center:We are deeply grieved to hear of dear Chellie’s passing and recall with tender and abiding affection his devoted services as a Continental Counselor, and his unremitting labours in teaching and deepening in the many countries where he served his beloved Lord. We send assurance of our petitions at the Sacred Thresholds for the progress of his radiant soul and of our prayers that his loved ones may be consoled by their Faith, the fragrances of Chellie’s memory, and the surrounding love of the friends.”

The Continental Board of Counselors for Asia: “He was  very precious to all of us and a stalwart of the much admired Malaysian community. From the earliest days of the Cause in Malaysia and later in South East Asia and the Asian continent, Chellie was in the forefront of its expansion and by his wise actions protected our beloved Faith. We well never forget him. We have prayed for the progress of his soul and are informing the international Teaching Center about our sad loss.”

Counselor Ruhullah Mumtazi based in  Japan: “Chellie was very frank,  pure with a heart full of love for all his colleagues, very systematic, always respected the administration of the Faith and was the only one among the 36 Counselors at that time to have stored all Bahai statistics on his computer.”

Counselor Dr. Sabir Afaqi from Pakistan: “Dr. Sundram’s life will continue to inspire the friends in this region as it was full of devoted service on behalf of His  Cause.”

The National Spiritual Assembly of Australia: “Dr. Sundram’s distinguished and devoted service to the Cause of Baha’u’llah will ensure him a place in Bahá’í  history around the world as well as in his home country.”

Dr. S. T. Han who was the Regional Director at the time of the passing of Dr. Sundram: “Chellie was a great person. Professionally he was extremely competent and hardworking and as a personal friend he was most sincere and helpful. Those who had the opportunity of working with him and knowing him personally remember him for his dedication to his work and his kindness.

An officer from the WHO Western Pacific Region Office: “He was professional in his approach to work. His reports were the best examples of his handiwork- well written, very neat and beautifully illustrated.  He seemed to have a deep concern for people. He had kind words for the general service  that he worked with and showed his appreciation not only by his souvenir gift items, but also through kind remarks that truly warmed the heart.”

The Director of Children’s Dental Center  and Dental Nurses Training school mentioned  “Dr. Sundram was a man of superlatively high standards and boundless enthusiasm for whatever task he took in hand.”

 

The author recommends the  readers to visit the story on Shantha Sundram who teamed up perfectly with her husband Dr. Chellie Sundram in serving the Cause  with distinction:

REMEMBERING SHANTHA SUNDRAM

 

 


Resting place of Dr. Sundram at the Batu Lanchang Indian Cemetery, Penang

Dr. Firaydun Mithaq
Chieng Mai
Thailand

31 January 2020

P.S: I wish to thank the four daughters of the Sundrams for providing me some family-related information, and my gratitude to  Mr. Manisegaran for providing additional information and some great photographs for this story.

Copyright@bahairecollections.com

 

 

 

42 thoughts on “REMEMBERING DR. CHELLIE SUNDRAM

  1. Dear Firaydun
    Thank you for penning this beautiful recollection of a great servant of Baha’u’llah. It is our good fortune to have had such brilliant workers for the Faith during those days.

    R. Kanthakumar
    Jitra
    Malaysia

  2. I am responding from Nigeria in the African continent. What a great story! And what a great soul Dr. Sundram has been. This is the kind of believers the world needs now and forever. Thanks to the Bahai blog that has shared this wonderful stories with me. The talented Dr. Sundram would have made it very big in the outiside world. But he chose a path of service by which he would be remembered by his Creator. God has given him such a driving force to be utilised for his Cause, the way the story has unfolded. And the way he was guided into the Faith, I am not surprised as many have come into the Faith in mysterious ways and circumstances.

    Brother Firaydun, the interesting story of your dear wife’s simple desert prepared from broken wheat which Dr. Sundram liked and on knowing the source of the desert, jokingly said that your wife fed him with animal feed and you laughed out your lungs. I have an epsiode quite parallel to your story.

    This reminded me of my spiritual father, Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Enoch Olinga. He used to laugh until tears came out from his eyes whenever jokes were cracked.
    He used to love telling and listening to jokes. He was a jolly good human gem with a high sense of humour. He taught me how to laugh. He, till the day he was brutally killed was always smiling under any condition. That is one habit I have emulated from him. He taught me that laughter is the best medicine and advised me that I should always laugh to get cured. He also told me that Abdul’L-Baha has said that happiness is the King of all virtues. That people should always be happy under all conditions. There is one song we always sing in Africa to remember that one and the only black African Hand of the Cause of God. The song goes like this: “The time to be happy is now and the place to happy is here and the way to be happy is to make others happy and to bring a little heaven down here, ‘be happy be happy be happy be happy in Baha’u’llah’.”

    Once again thank you for making my day.
    Ekpe Friday
    Nigeria

  3. Dear Bahai Brother Firaydun,
    After reading your write up on Dr. Chellie Sundram I tend to agree that many people feared him because he seemed unapproachable. But one has to understand him well before forming a conclusion. Somehow he took a liking to me and my husband, Inbum Chinniah. I felt it was easy talking to him. In fact, he gave me some very good advice. At one time , I was acting in movies taken for the Malaysian television. Chellie told me, ” Lily, don’t be typecast!” Chellie was so right, because after my first role as a bad and prejudiced mother in law, not allowing my Chinese daughter to be married to a Malay guy, my producer told me, “Mrs.Lily, don’t go to Dato Keramat area in Kuala Lumpur city .They called” Mak Jahat” and they were going to throw bad eggs at you. I asked “What? they don’t read my name on the billboard? I am LILY CHINNIAH. Chinniah, my husband is not a Chinese. From my name, they should know I am not prejudiced against other races! My producer said, ” They don’t read your name. They only know the negative role you portray in the movie. True cinemas is a make belief art. People tend to believe whatever they see. After that I made sure I have other roles to portray in . No more the bad or wicked mother in law. Chellie was ahead of my producer in giving the right advice. I was happy he was quietly watching my TV series.

    I remember Chellie as a very kind hearted person. After my husband’s passing, somehow he knew I was hard pressed for financial aid. He came to my house one day and gave me RM 500-unaksed- to ride me over my difficult times. He never told anyone what he had done for me. I believe his wife Shantha too was not aware. Up to this day, I am so grateful to him! That amount of money he gave me had helped me so much during those difficult days!

    Chellie was a tough master and yet a perfectionist. Anything he did or any project he promised to undertake he must accomplish it one hundred percent well. That was why his subordinate staff was so scared of him. They were afraid to displease him.

    Chellie deserved all the praises showered on by THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE after his passing.

    He had rendered excellent services to the Cause of God. Not easy to find another person like Chellie, so intelligent, so dedicated and so generous to the Faith and his fellow believers. I have always known him as Chellie and not easy for me to address him as Dr. Sundram.

    I have known Dr. Chellie since the time he accepted the Faith. He was my contemporary. Surprisingly I learnt many new things about him in this story.

    Thank you brother Firaydun

    Lily Chinniah
    Kuala Lumpur
    Malaysia

  4. Thank you dear Mani and Feridoun for these detailed memories of Chellie Sundram. You have recorded experiences and memories which we his children had little knowledge about!

    Padma Wong
    Australia

  5. Thank you for the precious part of the history of the Faith in Malaysia ( Malaya) that is interwoven with Dr Chellie Sundram. I had briefa moment to meet with Dr Chellie Sundram during one of the Winter schools in my early Bahá’í life. The man had huge impact on me. I was amazed the way he was explaining to few of us about Abdul Baha’s exhortation- excellence in every thing . And Dr. Sundram said each one of us can attain our full potential.

    Later I was sad to learn of his ailment. I had the privilege of attending his funeral in Penang. It was a dignified send off for a legendary man and servant of the Almighty.

    The story now places his life and mission in a proper perspective, revealing many facets of Dr. Sundram that is new and news to me. I seem to have understood him better and in a way fuller through this story. I hope another story would follow up on Mrs. Shantha Sundram who was equally dynamic in serving the Cause.

    Thank you
    Nehru Arunasalam
    Chicago
    USA

  6. I was most pleased to read the remarkable story of Dr. Chellie Sundram, truly a great soul and servant of the Cause. I had the opportunity to meet Dr Sundram in the late 1980s at his home in Penang. He graciously showed us around his house and took us to the room where he kept the exhibits used at the Oceanic Conference in Singapore. One glance at the exhibits convinced me that Dr. Sundram was certainly one with great talents and creativity. He certainly has a speciail place in the hearts of the believers who met him, and in the history of the Faith.

    Dr. Yow Peng Leong
    Subang Jaya
    Malaysia

  7. What a lovley story that brought back some of the fondest memories. Dr Sundram, was indeed a unique soul. During my first year travel teaching in Thailand I used to come back to Penang for visa application in the Thai Consulate. I had the priviledge to stay in his Minden heights home and met him there. He looked at me and asked what was I going to do in Thailand and my reply was that I was planning to stay on as a student pioneer by enrolling in a Commercial College. Again he looked at me seriously and asked what would be the use of doing the diploma. I left his home with a kind of a discouraged feeling. But today after reading about his meaningful life he lived, I realised that what he asked was was out of sincere concern, as how a father would guide his son. Fortunately I graduated with a university degree rather than a mere diploma, which helped me to secure a proper job with which I stayed on and served in the Land of Smiles for 14 years. As I recollect, I can say with all sincerity that Dr. Sundram was a visionary.
    May His soul rest in peace

    Nagen Marimuthu,
    Sabah
    Malaysia

  8. Thanks Firaydoun and Mani for this detailed sharing about my dad.
    It is heartwarming to read the perspectives of those who worked and served so closely with him and appreciated his many sides and the stories of how he helped in different ways.

    He was a unique human being and did serve and help empower others in his way and through his struggles to overcome his own challenges as well.

    My children’s and grandchildren’s generation only remember the Chellie Sundram post -stroke.

    Thanks to those who have shared their experiences with him so he will be remembered.

    Susheel Croft
    Perth
    Australia

    1. Dear Susheel,
      What has been shared is only the tip of the iceberg. This being a blog, it is not possible to otherwise share what could be presented in volumes.

      You will be happy to know that some good number of people around the globe have already read this story, with the numbers increasing with each passing hour.

      Best regards
      Manisegaran

  9. Brother Firaydun,
    Thank you for provoking my memory with your most wonderful story on Dr.Chellie Sundram with whom I was associated from 1961.

    The acceptance of the Faith tby the Sundrams in 1958 through Jeanne Frankel and her mother was indeed a turning point in the history of the Bahai Faith of Penang. From that time what took place seems to remind me of the story of the Midas touch.

    Already brought into the world as a dynamic personality, Dr. Sundram serving the new found Faith was like a jet taking off at full speed. He has been instrumental in bringing in some souls of high capacity to the Faith. He used to visit many of the Baha’I communities inspite of his heavy schedule of work. I remember he was the main speaker at the Bahai Youth Conference at the Vivekananda Hall at Seremban. I was one of the youths taking part among many other youths. At dinner held in the nearby Century Hotel, the youths were laughing loudly and enjoying themselves. After dinner we were chatting outside the hotel. Dr.Chellie came over and started chatting with us. Although he was a person very high ranking in the government he never at any moment showed his pride of positions nor did he talk highly of it.

    At that Conference he saw me sneezing and coughing. He came to me and asked me if I had asthma. I told him I did not have it, but was thinking myself how could a dental surgeon diagnose my non dental medical problem. But true to his obervation, later on I realized what he said was right. Indeed I did develop asthmatic complications later. I came to realize what a man of huge knowledge and talents he was. We are indeed lucky and proud to have such a great person in our midst.

    At yet another conference held in Kuala Lumpur in which he was a speaker he told the hundred over friends gathered there that he would like to
    do things in the best possible way. He went for excellance in whatever he did.
    Of course that is true as per the details mentioned in the story by FIraydun and Mani.

    There was also the humorous and yet practical part of him. He told the friends he had eight pockets in his trousers. He said that was very useful to him as he need not
    search around whenever he needed anything like a pen, a pencil or a marker.

    I also have read with great interest his booklet on the “Religion as the Change agent in the multiracial society.” It was very well written clearly on the growth of various religions in Malaysia at that time.

    I was engaged in teaching the Faith to the Aboriginal people called the Orang Asli in Bidor area in the state of Perak. He encouraged me to translate Baha’i prayers into Semai dialect. On completing the translation I forwarded the manuscript to him. He improvised by designing a beautifully coloured cover and got it printed it as well. It goes to show he never did anything for the sake of doing but he demanded excellance in anything he did.

    As a Counsellor he paid a visit to Brunei in May 1970. At that time I was to the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Brunei. He stayed there for three days. During that time he not only met us for consultation but he produced a printed report on Brunei. It was a eight page report consisting of 165 paragraphs. In the same report he wrote about me, “Finally we found one Mr. K.Krishnan, a Baha’i who has shouldered the duties of Secretaryship of the NSA of Brunei so valiantly, who has proven abilities to serve the NSA of Brunei with distinction.…….. In Malaysia, Krishnan was referred to as “Tiger” because his Bahai activities were so prominently brilliant…….” I was happy to have received such accolades from Dr. Sundram.

    At a Summer School held in Malacca he made a simple situation remark which I call to remembrance each morning. At that Summer School we were allocated a hostel in the nearby High School. Suprisingly, and out away from his usual aloofness he too stayed with us in the hostel. In the early morning were hastily and busily brushing our teeth in the washroom to be on time for the morning session. Dr. Sundram came by and remarked,
    “My dear Krishnan. Why on earth are you brushing your teeth so vehemently as though they are your enemy. Please do try to treat them as your friends. Brush them gently, so they will serve you well for a long time to come.” How true he was. My method of brushing was by no means gentle until his advice that day. Of course my prior method of rough brushing had already caused some dental problems, but I was more careful after that, thanks to the dental expert. Dr. Sundram never flinched his words but always put it in a friendly way.

    I had the good fortune of taking part in a Spiritualization Course conducted by Dr. Sundram in Sentosa Island in Singapore. What a beautiful place for us to study and reflect on the Cause of the Baha’I Faith. I vividly recall the numerous slides he showed depicting the early history of the Faith to the present time. To our great delight he showed slides of drawings drawn by his grand children. In their view those hand drawn pictures supposed to be God. Who are we to judge? It is what the innocent children think. He also taught us meditation. He demonstrated how to use auto suggestion to make us all go to sleep.

    In another encounter in Kuala Lumpur he introduced his grandchildren to me and said
    to them “Mr. Krishnan is a great teacher and pioneer”. He was always very lavish in his praise of others. Such is the good nature of this wonderful teacher of the Faith. He said that when we do anything for the Faith we must know that Baha’u’llah is observing whatever we do. So, we have to do only the very for His Cause.

    Thank you Firaydun and Mani. If not for your story I would not have reproduced all these thoughts that had been sleeping within me all these years

    K.Krishnan
    Muar
    Malaysia

  10. What a charming and an amazing story on Dr. Sundram.
    He was one who had a strong character to motivate others to do something in a positive direction. He must have been a very captivating believer whose spirit of dedication is phenomenal.

    When reading the story I felt how much I had missed meeting Dr. Sundram in person.

    As believers of this generation, we should appreciate what our elders like Dr. Sundram had done for us to emulate. They are the mirrors for us in serving the Cause.

    I am very grateful to Dr. Firaydun for sharing this extraordinary and very meaningful story.

    Chosin Abdullah
    Jakarta
    Indonesia

  11. Firaydun and Mani
    Thank you so much my friends for sharing the story of such an excellent and great spiritual life of one of the lions of our beloved Faith.

    I am just not able to explain very well about my true and sincere feelings towards this great spiritual soul. Suffice to say my soul gets me to cry, reading the great service Dr. Sundram has done for the Faith of Bahaullah. All these feeling arenothing but signs of our spiritual connection.

    Kind regards
    Bayan
    Sydney

  12. Dr. Firaydun,
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story on Dr. Chellie John Sundram. I had fond memories of Dr. Sundram. One day he came to National Bahai Centre for a meeting when I was a staff there. I casually mentioned to him that he had come to the centre on that day on which happened to be my birthday. He and Mr. Ganasa Murthi Ramasamy went out and came back with a birthday cake, and each had a birthday gift for me. I still have the fish shaped glass serving plate at my old house.

    Next I was a guest at his residence in Minden Heights when Dr. Sundram had suffered a stroke by then. Yet he showed me his abandoned clinic. I was thrown into much sorrow.

    Dr. Sundram remind me of how meticulous he was in all that he did for the Cause.

    Man Kei Cheah
    Seremban
    Malaysia

  13. Thank you for the recollection on Dr. Chellie Sundram. I have fond memories of Dr. Sundram throughout my time at the National Bahai Center of Malaysia, especially working together with him, Mr. Ganasa Murthi Ramasamy, Mr. Yin Hong Shuen and Dr. Sree Ganesh in formulating the various national plans for the Malaysian Bahai community. He used to send telegrams to convey his appreciations. He was o appreciative of my work that he wanted to buy me a Personal Computer to work from home.

    S. Doraisamy
    Kuala Lumpur
    Malaysia

  14. Dear Dr. Firaydun and Mani,
    Thank you for writing about Dr. Chellie Sundram. Dr. Sundram as I remember, was a jovial, humorous and a pleasant person. I had the privilege of meeting this great man several times at the National Bahai centre at 32 Jalan Angsana, Kuala Lumpur. As rightly mentioned in the story he was meticulous in everything he did. He set a high standard of service.

    In the recollections you have shared the about the overhead projector presentations that Dr. Sundram made. Back in those days it was the most high-tech equipment and seeing Dr. Sundram using it simply awed the audience. Contrary to some viewing Dr. Sundram as a strict person, this story has proven with substantive incidents how warm a person he had been. I believe one has to understand him and his heart.

    Thank you for sharing the story

    Arulnathan
    Kuala Lumpur
    Malaysia

  15. Firaydun
    It is a very beautiful article and I really enjoyed finding out about my father and who he really was. And for my children too … it was very enlightening. Some had never met him and some knew very little of him, while some had met him only after his stroke. So thank you very much.

    I actually read the article from some one else who posted it to me. So it means it is circulating in cyber space.

    Navanita Tahmasebian
    Indonesia

  16. That was a great story and reminded me of the wonderful moments I had with Dr. Sundram. Allow me to share my encounter with Dr. Sundram. My first meeting with Dr. Sundram was sometime in late 1976. I had just become a Baha’i in September 1976. I met Dr. Sundram and Mrs. Shantha in their home in Singapore. My first impression was that he was an impatient man. Little did I realize that he had sized me up in that few moments and became my mentor and guiding light especially when it came to my role as a member on the National Assembly and the relationship of the Assembly to the Counsellors. He had the ability to immediately recognize the source of disunity prevailing at that time and smoothened the way for greater unity to exist.

    On a personal level he helped shape my working life by assisting me in preparing presentations that were needed for my work. He would painstakingly read the materials and then design the instruction for the courses I would conduct. He was the best Instructional Designer I have ever encountered and that helped me organize my thoughts and objectives. I was successful in business to a large extent due to the influence and involvement of Dr. Sundram through his unfailing guidance. I am sure he must have assisted many believers in their endeavor to succeed as he was also concerned about their material wellbeing.

    To sum up my interactions with him…he was ‘a flame of fire’ and ‘a river of life’ to foe and friend respectively.

    Thanks & Regards,
    Murray J. Samuel
    Simgapore

  17. Thank you for the story on Dr. Chellie Sundram. When I think of beloved Chellie, I think of this brilliant, articulate and generous Counselor. Dr Sundram always had a smiling face, mischievous eyes and loves to crack jokes and tease us. He could be quite serious and to the point when he needed to. We all had great respects for this man. He relished good food just as he had intense love of art. I can still hear him praise my wife Doreen’s cooking especially the dish of salted vegetable and bean sprout whenever he and Shantha could visit with us. A learned and yet very practical person, for instance, he liked wearing cargo pants (long pants with many pockets on each side of the pants where you could put all sorts of pens and stuff.)

    In 1984, then well settled as a senior manager in an oil company and serving as secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia, I was offered a regional job in Singapore. I was undecided whether or not to accept. Chellie was most vocal and persuasive in helping me move to Singapore despite my own fears of unemployment. I did. My fears of unemployment also came true. This was because within a short span of time my employer decided to close the semiconductor business and retrenched many workers. Yet despite the stress and strains of professional life, I was given two offers: by the new owners of the business as well as my previous employer who also said that I could go back to Kuala Lumpur to my old job. Bahá’u’llah always watches over us. I decided to go back to my employer but this time in Singapore. That became another turning point in my life. There I eventually reached the peak of my career as a director. In looking back I am indeed grateful to Counselor Chellie for helping me to take a leap of faith.

    What is most important is that even before he was appointed a Counsellor in 1968, Chellie showed strong leadership in helping the Faith to obtain governmental recognition of the Baha’i Holy Days. When a bill was proposed by a state government that was influenced by ill-informed elements intent on banning the Faith, he was one of those actively involved in dispellinh that. It was very serious times in the growth of the Bahá’i Community in West Malaysia. Indeed believers like Chellie were key to the defence of the Faith because of his network and ability to present the Faith well.
    Perhaps, this quotation from the beloved Master is relevant to describe beloved Chellie:
    O ye beloved of the Lord! The greatest of all things is the protection of the True Faith of God, the preservation of His Law, the safeguarding of His Cause and service unto His Word. (Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 439)

    Yin Hong Shuen
    Singapore

  18. Firaydun
    Thank you for this very inspiring story on the late Dr. Chellie Sundram. There are so many details of which I was not aware.

    I have been to Dr. Sundrum’s house in Penang and attended a few of his talks. I thoroughly enjoyed his talks, although they were sometimes too serious and highly intellectual. He was certainly a good speaker

    He was also a very quick learner, ever willking to learn new things. He picked up things very quickly and was a self taught person. I remember him saying that he took up gemenology (study of gemstones ) on his own and became an expert in that field. It appears that he was an all-rounder. It is good you have written about this genius of a believer, who, in every way deserves to be remembered in history.

    Leong Foo Cheong
    Butterworth
    Malaysia

  19. Dear Firaydun
    Thank you so much for writing about my dear friend Dr.Chellie Sundram who accepted the Faith around the same time as I did. I first met him at his home in March 1958 when I accompanied Yankee Leong to attend a fireside. At that time, as a new believer he was still investingating more about the Faith. Over the years I have seen him grow in the Faith holding various administrative post and was a Counselor at the evening of his life.

    He was a man of many talents and was always there to serve the Cause in some way. And he was a visionary who could see many things. I had admired him as a good orator, administrator, defender of the Faith, writer of analytical reports and organiser of great events. He would keep the crowd attentive and in stitches with his witty jokes. The one thing I admired him most was when he used to explain the messages from the Supreme Body. He would extract paragraphs from the messages from the Supreme Body, assimilate them and present in bullet points with the assistance of the overhead projector, which was a novelty then. He would make the entire message so simple and yet covering in entirety.

    Dr. Sundram was viewed as a person difficult to approach. To me that was never the case. Our chemistry clicked from the first time we met in Penang in 1958 and he would always approach me at Bahai gatherings, rather than expecting me to make the first move. He had many friends with whom he moved very freely. But admittedly he was a man of no patience. He always wanted to get things done on the spot. He would never postpone for tomorrow what could be done today. And when he delegated some task to someone, he would expect the same speed to get the work done.

    Much more could be said of this great soul that has been certainly handpicked by Bahaullah for the furtherence of His Cause. I am happy that the essence of his life has been well captured in this story, and the current and future generations would be proud to have had in their midst one who shall always be remembered. Kudos to you Firaydun for a splendid job done.

    Anthony Casimir Louis
    Malacca
    Malaysia

  20. Dear Dr. Firdaydun,
    Thank you for this beautiful article on your recollections of one of the vanguards of the Faith in Malaysia and the region, Dr Chellie Sundram or Uncle Chellie as I knew him. He and his wife Aunty Shantha were good friends with my parents and as such I knew them from my childhood. I remember their regular visits to our house in Kuala Lumpur and a visit we made to them in Penang and being quite fascinated with models of dental and human bodies that he had in one of the rooms in his house! Later, I found out from Aunty Shantha that he had made those models himself.

    Uncle Chellie struck me as a very intelligent man, vibrant and very well spoken. He was very kind to us children though I was a little afraid of him as he seemed very stern to me. I remember attending a talk by uncle Chellie at the Petaling Jaya Baha’i Centre and it was the first time I saw a presentation using transparencies, quite an innovation in those days. He had a drawing on one of the slides – a picture of a man watering a healthy plant and ignoring the wilting one. He was making the point that as Baha’is we need to visit weaker communities too. But he didn’t suffer fools gladly and I remember him shutting down someone who was making some irrelevant comments at a meeting. Another recollection was that at that time, Charlie’s Angels was a popular TV show and the Baha’is would in good humour refer to his 4 daughters as Chellie’s Angels.

    He and my father were smokers and I remember Uncle’s very stylish “Moore” cigarettes that he used to smoke and he and my father would have long conversations happily smoking away (for the young readers please note that my father, and probably Uncle Chellie too, struggled for years to kick the habit unsuccessfully!). The poignant message he sent in a telegram on my father’s passing “LOSS CLOSEST FRIEND UNBEARABLE SUNDRAM” I think he captured the close spiritual bond they shared.

    After my father’s passing, Uncle Chellie visited us a few times from the Philippines as he was living there at that time with the WHO and would bring our family gifts. He told me that he and my father discovered this prayer and both of them loved it so much, ” O Compassionate God! Thanks be to Thee for Thou hast awakened and made me conscious…” and it was because of this story of his that I memorised that prayer. He said that when he was retiring from the WHO he had the choice to select either Singapore or Malaysian citizenship and when he asked his brother what he thought, the brother said, which country needs you more? And he said immediately Malaysia and he then chose Malaysian citizenship. He said he actually felt embarrassed that his brother who was not a Baha’i would be the one who made him realise this.

    After his stroke, he was unable to speak which was a terrible test to one as articulate and intelligent as he was. By that time we were older and would visit him at Uncle Ganasa Murthi’s government bungalow in Jalan Belfield and take him out in the car on occasion. We enjoyed his company and would make all kinds of lousy jokes to entertain him and I would like to believe he enjoyed our company too. The news of his passing was deeply saddening but unfortunately, I did not attend his funeral as I was travelling in Indonesia then and was unaware that he had passed until I got back.

    Thank you once again for bringing back to our minds the memory of this radiant servant of Baha’u’llah.

    Soheil Chinniah
    Perth, Australia

  21. Well done! Great man of wisdom, insight and knowledge. We miss such believers in today’ s world. Excellent in all things.

    Panjawarnam Shanmugam Pillay
    Subang Jaya
    Malaysia

  22. I remember him, a remarkable intelligent man! He came to Tonga Island in the 1980s I think as a travel teacher but he was on the Continental Board of Counselors in Malaysia. He ran a seminar for 3 days and the friends were inspired. He was so knowledgeable, humble and very friendly.

    I admire his sense of humor. Blessings

    Kalo Fakatou
    California
    USA

  23. Dear Dr. Firaydun,
    I read your recollections on Dr. Chellie Sundram with the greatest interest. At the outset I must say he was truly a man of dignity and principle. I do not think we are going to meet one more believer of this kind who was not only a wonderful and a marvellous soul, but one who has done so much for the Cause in the early days. You made me feel the greatness of Dr. Sundram through your splendid writing skills. I just do not have the right words to thank you adequately. Any future effort to recollect the life of Dr. Sundram never ignore reference to this blog that has unearthed so much information hitherto unknown to we current generation of believers.

    Thank you once again
    Kumaresan Subramaniam
    Sungei Petani
    Malaysia

  24. Chellie’s service was unique, peerless and extremely valuable for the Cause of Baha’u’llah. He really belonged to the stratospheric element of Baha’is- super-intelligent and enthused with energy. The Faith was given that kind of man – one of his kind – in the seminal stages of our growth. It wasn’t easy for him to put up with simpletons like most of us. I realised that he was of a different character and we all need to respect that!
    Yet he did and because of him and his wife Shantha, their home became a magnet for so many those days. Many of those in his department embraced the Faith!
    Because of them both in Penang, so many well-to-do people have their hearts to Baha’u’llah.

    Isaac D’Cruz
    United Kingdom

    1. Dear Isaac,
      Thank you for kind and presise comments on Chellie Sundram. It is so hareat warming to see many of those who met and attended Dr. Sundram’s talks and workshops to have a high opinion of his unique personality and devotion to service at early time of the growth of the Malaysian community. You remind me of the sixties when Bayzaee and I went with you, Vishnu, Choo Yeok Boon, Satanam and Raymond Peter on teaching and consolidation tours to communities in Southern Malayasia, Kuala Lumpur and the Asli communities.

      Much love,
      Firaydun

  25. Dear Dr. Firaydun,
    Remembering Chellie Sundram is to recall a time fragrant with the love of the Faith and a time of coming upon great souls. One such a discovery was D.r Chellie Sundram, the accomplished and dynamic Principal of the Dental Nurses and Technicians Training School in Penang.

    It was in 1960, the year of my declaration as a Baha’i, when I attended the Peak Conference in Kuala Lumpur’s Baden Powell Hall. Set up as conference room the arrangements for consultations were impressive. Behind it all was Dr. Sundram who had driven in from Penang with his team of Baha’is. There were Baha’is from across Malaya, and it throbbed with the spirit of efficiency and encouragement.

    This picture of a perfectionist wedded to the Faith is the one I carry in my heart – always. Behind that picture I see Shantha, his wife, vibrant with the spirit of the Cause, who always looked fresh and who made everyone feel special in the community of lovers and servants of the Cause. What a combination!

    The conference ended but for three months after we received notes and follow-up that spurred us on in the commitments made that day! Needless to say, Chellie was devoted to whatever service he renderedbut during the days when there was a real danger that the Faith was mentioned along with “deviant” sects of Islam that were to be proscribed in the country, he moved with an alacrity I have seldom witnessed before. I remember three very professional reports he sent as he consulted with people who mattered, across the spectrum of friends and administrators, in the country. These were also the times of “mass teaching” and enrolment. Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhajir had initiated a phase of movement to receptive populations in teaching. From Penang came a series of teaching materials in the form of three booklets and guidance on teaching. They were enclosed in an attractive “carry along” kit. The simplicity of these materials itself invited us to move in the teaching field. Our dear friend and mentor from Penang was indeed a mass communicator.

    Amatul Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum visited Malaya en route to the opening of the Sydney Temple in 1961. In the Port Dickson conference she attended there were new believers who came to see her, many of whom were the fruits of “mass teaching” from Malacca and Seremban.

    The teaching work in Penang was in full swing in the sixties, and many among the new believers were students of Chellie, and remarkably, there were many educated Chinese declarants. They came to the Summer and Winter Schools in Chellie’s ‘micro-bus’. Even after almost fifty years I recall the active group that included Margaret, Khoo Siew Thay, Nirmala, Neeta etc. That Chellie, the ever busy and much respected and loved Principal of the Dental College , could also be a personal friend, spiritual guide and counselor to his many students is a facet of his personality. To our surprise and joy, Chellie led a team of youth singers at the Malacca Summer School of 1965 in a tribute to the visiting member of the Universal House of Justice Mr Hushmand Fatheazam in a “Fatheazam Calypso”. To us, the Baha’i youth of Malaysia, his camaraderie was an honour.

    1965, the second year after the establishment of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia, is a landmark in the development of Baha’i administration in the country. Chellie was elected Chairman of the National Assembly. He set to work with amazing speed and compiled all letters from the World Centre, identifying specific instructions. He overhauled our minutes, and established a way of recording and acting on decisions that became a hall mark for our Assemblies, both local and national. I remember how, at a meeting of

    the National Spiritual Assembly, he casually introduced the Baha’i credential card, excellently designed and printed , that impressed us greatly. But nothing could match the Malaysian Baha’i News Magazine of that time – a contribution from the

    Sundrams, with Shantha as chief editor. The country looked forward to the quarterly magazine with its inspiring write ups for deepening in the Faith and pictures to remember. To the magazine’s unfailing regularity and quality every Malaysian believer will testify.

    Once in a while we come upon a person of rank and toil in the Faith, one who becomes a friend and collaborator, one whose memory is cherished. No one was surprised when he was appointed to the Continental Board of Counsellors for South East Asia in 1968. In his chosen field of dentistry too he went up a notch when he was invited to serve on WHO as regional consultant based in Manila. Incredibly talented, warm-hearted and devoted to the Faith, Chellie was a rare soul whose remembrance is a lasting and spiritually elevating gift.

    I thank and congratulate this Bahai blog for publishing a story of this great soul, whose essence of services and the spiirit with which he served the Cause has been well captured. This story would certainly be a point of reference for any attempt to pen a biography on dear Chellie.

    Dr. S. Vasudevan
    Pune
    India

    1. Dear Vasu Jan,
      I am delighted and as well grateful to see your comments on the article on Dr. Chellie Sundram published in this Bahai Hitorical blog. How gratifying is to see many believers and friends that have met and known Chellie have highly commented about this remarkable man that has left inspiring traces for posterity in the Malaysian history of the Baha’i Faith. Thank you indeed.

      Thank to our mutul friend and historian Manisegaran that helped by providing additional information and rare and right pictures to illustrate and substantiate the write up.

      The unforgettable memories of having met you at numerous occasions in Malaysia and in the teaching fields in India in Hong Kong still remain raw and vivid in my heart. And you may also remember we traveling inTehran and the joint trip we undertook to Isfahan and Shiraz in 1968 and our pilgrimage to the House of the Bab. Time flies and we are all at the evening of our lives, but memories and traces are being preserved forever. Thanks to this Bahai blog that preserves tons of stories and information hitherto never to be seen elswhere.

      Wishing you the bests.
      Supplicating prayers.

      Firaydun
      Chieng Mai
      Thailand

  26. May I compliment Dr Firatdun Mithag for writing about Dr Chellie Sundram for posterity and generation to come to know about those wonderful servants of Baha’u’llah. Well done.

    I have the bounty to know Dr Chellie Sundram since I was a youth as my brother Bobby Seow and his wife Lily would take me to his government resident at 42 Peel Avenue George town Penang for firesides and various Bahai meetings. It was there I also meet Mrs Shantha Sundram and many other wonderful and inspiring Bahais in Penang and from various parts of Malaysia and overseas – Hands of the Cause of Gods, Counsellors, pioneers, travel teachers, LSA members and many others. Needless to say, I also met and got to know the Sundrams lovely 4 daughters – Nita, Padma, Susheel and Malini, whom are my dear friends for life.

    Dr Sundram was indeed a very inspiring, insightful and empowering personality. He would ‘push’ the friends to think out of the box to serve the Faith and introduce many strategic and management concepts to the Bahai community in places he travelled or visited. I recalled Dr Sundram giving us a discourse in Penang on Bono Lateral Thinking and how we can use it for teaching and proclaiming the Faith. To this day I still apply what I learned from Dr Sundram in my Bahai and family life, travel and work.

    Another strength of Dr Sundram was his ability to multi-task. Those days nobody knew about multi-tasking let alone talk about it or apply it. I remember him telling me how he would have various rooms in his Manila WHO house whereby he would go from room to room to do different things and carry various tasks ! – WHO assignment projects, Bahai work, his photography etc. Nobody did that then. He greatly impressed me. And also not many know Dr Sundram was a avid and enthusiastic photographer.

    Dr Sundram can be blunt if one got on the wrong side of him. I recalled he was not impressed or happy when I parked my scooter right in the middle of his car porch at Peel Avenue at a fireside. Oh boy he was not happy. But he talked to me after he calmed down and was forgiving and did not take it to heart.

    There are many I would say feared to talk to Dr Sundram more so of the fact he was well educated and well versed not only on Bahai subject matter but also on various topics and current affairs. Don’t forget those days not many Bahais or even none has a PhD and work for a UN body like WHO. I was fortunate that somehow over the years, Dr Sundram took a liking in me and we had many a conversation not only on the Faith but shared jokes and stories as friends. I recalled when I first met him and attired to be ‘cool’ in 70s clothing and shoes, Dr Sundram thought was I was just passing through life, not to be taken seriously and would not become a Bahai. In fact, he told his daughter, Padma, that I was not to be taken seriously to become a Bahai. However after I became a Bahai at 15 at Peel Avenue, on many occasions and Bahai meetings, Dr Sundram would complement me and say – If Jimmy can become a Bahai others can !

    Indeed, it was big lost to the Bahai world when he passed away as Dr Sundram as a Counsellor and a person would guide many NSAs, communities and the friends strategically to achieve its goals and foresight to build strong Bahai communities. He was also a mentor to many not only for their careers and also meaning of life.

    To me Dr Sundram emulated what we Bahais should strive for – pursuit of excellence, to be well educated, holding a good job and yet be of service to the Bahai Faith and humanity, and love for ones’ wife and children. The balance of meaningful and fruitful life.

    I will always have fond memories of my dear Counsellor friend Dr Chellie Sundram. May God blessed his soul.

    Professor Dr Jimmy Seow
    Perth
    Western Australia

  27. Dear Dr. Firaydun and Mani
    Thank you so much for penning this long awaited story about Dr. Chellie Sundram who certainly occupies a special place in the history of the Faith in Malaysia and the region. I was able to glean from your story several information that I had hitherto not heard of. When reading the comments from the readers, the three daughters of the Sundrams have admitted that they too had not known of some of the information published in this story. That adds credence and weight to this well reserached story. I believe the information provided here is abridged owing to the fact a blog has limitation of space.

    I had known Dr. Sundram when I was a form six student who had just moved into Kuala Lumpur. And I used to see him coming for the meetings of the National Spiritual Assembly at the National Bahai Center in Setapak. Later he used to come to meet the National Institution as a Counselor. I had found it hard to approach him at first for fear of his vocal nature, but this was the same person whom I respected and befriended as time went by. He used to meet with the National Teaching Committee on which I was a member and gave the most practical and concrete guidance on areas of teaching the Cause. He always thought out of the box and in an unheard of angle. And he was always right. His constant advice was “When you undertake a task for the Faith make sure it is done in the spirit of Work is Worship and Service is Prayer.” He himself set the benchmark in whatever he did.

    I found him highly intelligent with a keen mind and a brilliance that very few were endowed with. As mentioned in the story, Dr. Chellie was a man of many facets, multi talented and multi tasked. I am most pleased that the Bahai blog has covered the saliant aspects of Dr. Chellie whose services for the Faith could never be dimmed with the passage of time. He was a school of his own, and a man of all seasons.

    May Bahaullah bless his soul.

    T. Thanabalan,
    Petaling Jaya
    Malaysia

    1. Dear Thanabalan,
      Thank you for your great comments on the story on Dr. Sundram. I remember having met you on several occasions and had exchanged small conversations. I know you have served the Cause with great devotion, love and pain. I am aware of your teaching trip in Africa in 1972. It is the pain of serving that gives us true joy. As you know well every good thing we do, see or cross in life belongs to God. Viewed in that light you are absolutely right in saying that Dr. Sundram’s exemplary life of service is one of those things that is to be remembered forever.

      The stories published in this blog with so much details and supported by the right photographs as well as the comments from the readers do contribute to the preservation of the history of the Faith. I am sure there are still some other believers who would have moved closely with the Sundram family. I do sincerely look forward to seeing comments from them as well.

      Firaydun
      Thailand

  28. Dear Firaydun

    What a lovely story on Dr. Chellie whom I had known well. You have captured the saliant aspects of his life in this story. He had passed several nights in my house on visits to the Alor Star comunity. I recall all the rich, intelligent and meaningful conversations I had had with him. On many occassions, before I completed my sentence he would interjack and complete it for me, and he was right. He could read my mind. He was also able to read the minds of people with the slightest conversations. Undoubtedly he moved in his own plane as a super intelligent and far- sighted believer. God selects people to perform certain tasks for His glorious Cause. I do not have any doubt that Chellie was brought for some purposes which are all well explained in your story.

    Chellie did tell me the cicrumstances in which he accepted the Faith, and you have reconfirmed. I am truly amazed at the amount of information you had provided of a Malaysian believer, though you are not a local resident. It is clearly the product of original research on your part.

    There is a saying that a photo would speak a thousand words. I have been following this blog from the early days and have seen so many photos, the existence of which I had never known. Kudos to the Administators of the blog for uploading these rare photos. When stories are substantiated with the relevant photos with the right captions, life is infused into the stories.

    Thank you for adding the video of Dr.Chellie speaking. That only makes me miss him more than ever. Firaydun, you made my day.

    Chong Boo Haw
    Alor Star
    Malaysia

    1. Dear Boo Haw,
      Thank you for your informative and interesting comments on my story on Dr. Sundram. It is an honour to have received comments from one who had moved closely with Dr. Sundram. I am happy that all those who had moved closely with Dr. Sundram have registered their unforgettable memories and thoughts on Dr. Sundram in response to my story. Of course many others who had moved with Dr. Sundram are no more with us, otherwise I am sure the blog would have been swarmed by copious comments.

      Firaydun

  29. Dear Dr. Firaydun,

    Thank you for this wonderful recollection of the Sundrams. It takes me back to the late 80s when I came to contact with Dr. Chellie John Sundram and his wife Shantha – a woman with an evergreen sweet smile while I was working for Rohini, herbal products direct selling marketing company in Sungai Petani, Kedah. As my work was related to purchasing raw materials for the production of herbal products, I used to travel to Penang almost on a daily basis with my manager Mr. Perumal. As our work also deals with the printing of product labels etc., we had established a good relationship with the Ganesh Printing Works in Penang, the same printing press where Mrs. Shantha secures her orders of Bahá’í printed materials. As such, we used to assist Mrs. Shanta to collect Bahá’í materials from the Ganesh Printing Works. Whenever we get the opportunity, we used to pass by their residence at Minden Height. At times Mrs. Shantha would call us over a cup of tea and share some news on the progress of the Faith. I can say that never before we had left their residence without having eaten something. One fine day, we were there during a lunch hour – and Dr. Chellie who was sitting at the table gesturing at us to try out every dish placed on the table. Both Dr. Chellie and Mrs. Shantha were equally kindhearted, absolutely hospitable, full of radiance and positive energy. Dr. Chellie once asked his helper to show us around the house, his paintings, dental clinic, etc. I marveled at his professional talents and organizational skills.

    The last time I met was in Alor Setar during a youth gathering for the northern region. He was busy walking around like a strict inspector. I was blessed to have attended Dr. Sundram’s funeral service in 1993 and witnessed his greatness from the eulogy delivered by members from the Spiritual Assemblies, friends, and well-wishers. I couldn’t agree less with your statement that “…seldom had I seen both husband and wife serving with unbridled zeal and energy, with the Faith in the center of their lives”. The rare photographs speak volumes. I do also take this opportunity to appreciate the work of uncle Manisegaran on his detailed accounts of the unparalleled services rendered by the Sundrams in his book Jewel Among Nations. I recall Dr. Chellie Sundram’s words, “If you want to do anything for the Faith, do your very best, as though you are serving the “King of Kings”. There must be perfection in your deeds.” I earnestly pray that their souls be richly awarded in all the eternal realms of God.

    With Loving Bahá’í Greetings,
    Vela Gopal
    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

  30. I got to know Dr. Chellie Sundram when I was studying at the Malayan Teachers College in Penang. His home at Peel Avenue was like a Bahai centre where Feasts were held. Dr. Chellie has done a lot for the Faith. He and his wife Shanta always encouraged the youths to serve the Faith. The Bahai Society of the Mlayan Teachers College was formed through their encouragment and support. I remember Dr. Chellie built a large notice board with a rolling glass cover and arranged for it to be secured on the wall of the Malayan Teachers College. It was for the Bahai Society. We used to put information pamphlets etc on the Faith. Students did read them . A book exhibition was held at the College during the inauguration of the Bahai Society. This was facilitated by Chellie and Shantha

    Tan Keat Fong
    Australia

  31. Dear Firaydun,
    I am very grateful to you for your lovely write-up on Dr. Sundram as it revealed many things that I did not know, especially on some of the contributions and activities of Dr. Sundram for the Faith. I was fortunate to have become very close to him especially after his retirement, when he was staying in Singapore for a couple of years. I was a constant visitor there. It was often my first stop upon return from overseas trips. Even earlier, when he was working in Manila , we usually had very good conversations every time he was visiting Malaysia as a Counsellor.

    The first time I met Dr. Sundram was at his house in Minden Heights in Penang, when he had just returned from his base in Manila. I went because his house was the Baha’i Centre. Meeting him for the first time was almost a disaster and I was very close to blowing up and exchanging some harsh words with him. I bit my tongue only because he was a Counsellor and it was his house. It was because of this incident, I avoided him whenever he came back to Malaysia from Manila to have meetings or to give talks. We were both quick-tempered and sharp-tongued and can blow up without warning. But I was quick to learn the trick as to when exactly to stop egging him when he was close to blowing his top. Soon I became quite good at it and his wife, Mrs. Sundram, have always marvelled at my timing in diffusing the tension and returning to the same subject under discussion with a modified approach. It did not take long before we stopped bruising each other and became the thickest of friends. How our relationship became so close and mutually trusting is still a mystery to me today.

    I guess the dramatic change of his attitude towards me becane more cordial after I chaired a session at a National Youth Conference in Port Dickson in December 1973. Dr. Sundram was slotted to give a 30 minutes talk, but was not to be seen in the conference hall. He was rushing from the airport and arrived at the conference just on time for him to start his talk. After the customary introduction, I invited him to the stage. I have no idea what he saw in me or what I said that had caught his attention. After sending him to his hotel, Ganesan came back to me and in a very surprised, excited and almost shocked manner asked me, “Hey what magical spell did you cast on Dr. Sundram? He was singing your praises all the way from the conference hall to his hotel, extolling what a great fellow you are. Dr. Sundram does not easily say things like that of most people!” I told Ganesan that I just chaired the session and introduced him as a speaker, and I have no idea what he heard or saw that made him say all that to him. I added that Dr. Sundram was perhaps referring to another person. Ganesan replied, No! He was certainly asking about you and wanted to know more on who you are, what committees you are serving on and all that.”

    It seemed to me that Dr. Sundram liked the frank, vocal and outspoken friends more than the meek and timid ones. I belong to the former category to which he too belonged, and that could have been the main reason which saw a new beginning in our friendship. It did not take long before he started placing more trust in me and confiding several matters. Thereafter whenever we met we could converse for hours without restrain, and sometimes in colourful language on matters related to the Faith, or otherwise.

    I have reason to believe that Dr. Sundram had an unexplainable morbid fear of death. One night when only the two of us were there at his house in Singapore, all the lights in the house, including those in the huge garden, the verandas and all the rooms were switched on. I wanted to switch off some of the lights to save money on electricity consumption but he told me to leave them on. He told me he did not like darkness and wanted as many lights as possible on, to keep the surroundings as bright as possible. I suspected he associated darkness with death, as he quietly confided in me that he was frightened to die and asked me if I too feared death. It was then that I learned that such a rock-willed person too had some soft spots.

    Dr. Sundram had great talent in organising his thoughts and coming up with tools to implement projects of any sort in a systematic manner. As Firaydun rightly pointed out he had many contributions to the development of the Bahai administration with the help of charts and tools with which he monitored the progress of many projects. The Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia at one time pointed to the chart Dr. Sundram had devised and told me, “This is the most helpful thing for me. At a glance, I can tell the health of any community at any given period and therefore the spiritual health of the country”. I think this chart is not used anymore by the institutions or maybe it was superseded by improved models.

    One time I gave a talk at a Singapore Summer School on the topic of “Little by little, day by day” based on a theme of doing things on a planned and systematic manner relating to our own spiritual training. Dr. Sundram liked the talk and told me to put it into a digestible chart where the people can use to track and monitor their progress. I told him it would be a difficult task for me, admitting that he and I were demarcated by the great and the ordinary. He insisted that I did it. I could not come up with a suitable one and gave up. He kept pressing me for 2 years but sadly I never got to do it for many reasons. In his follow up and persistence I could see the magnanimity of his heart. He wanted everyone to rise above their levels, and once he detected a spark of talent in one, he would want that talent to be developed to its maximum. Dr. Sundram, a work horse, never gave up until he got things done. I can never forget the exhibition that he single-handedly displayed at the Oceanic Conference in Singapore in January 1971. Dr. Sundram not only believed in excellence in all things, but he also practiced it.

    I have to add that Dr. Sundram had an inborn genuine generosity. Many of us may be generous and give away what we can afford. However Dr. Sundram was generous in giving away without any thought of the cost or the fear of losing something very vaulabule, which may not be replaceable. I was a beneficiary of his generous spirit on a few occasions, one of which was a piece of jade from which I have made a ringstone that is still my favourite to this day.

    His complete and instant obedience to the Universal House of Justice was a virtue that marvelled me. Any instruction coming from the Supreme Body was obeyed immediately without any question or slightest doubt. In obeying them he would never provide any explanation or give any lecture. That is one strong example of Dr. Sundram that I have always tried to emulate.

    Once, in a casual conversation I jokingly mentioned to him in passing that if I was a Catholic, I could commit any sin and easily get away as the priests would do the work of interceding on my behalf to remove my sins and secure salvation. However, as a Baha’i, I am not only responsible for my own salvation but that of humanity as well. This is very hard work. Although I meant it as a joke, Dr. Sundram became agitated and upset! In a concerned tone he told me never to say things like that, NOT EVEN AS A JOKE!! It must have occurred to him that even making passing statements of that nature would tantamount to sacrilege that may invite punishment from the Divine Being. I cannot explain it but the impression was very powerful and, needless to say, was engraved in my mind indelibly.

    Suffice to say seldom are we gifted with the calibre of Dr. Chellie Sundram.

    James Liew Ben Poh
    Petaling Jaya
    Malaysia

    1. Dear James,
      Thank you for writing your personal and intimate association with Dr. Sundram which is very candid and comes from your heart. I never knew all those minute details that you had shared with the worldwide readers through your comment. I do not think many had the privilge of moving so closely with Dr. Sundram. From what you have written and from what I know of both of you, it is a clear case of both of you belonging to the same wavelength. My write up with the additional information and rare photographs provided by Manisegaran coupled with comments from readers like you add value and authenticity to the legacy that Dr. Sundram has left behind.

      I also recall, if you too remember, Dr. Sudram purposely arranged for me and family to stay at your home in Kuala Lumpur for three days. Looking back it was his way of bonding the friendship between your family and mine, which worked very well with the warm hospitality that you provided . I cannot forget you insisting on sending us to airport on our departure to Perth in 1985.

      It is so gratifying to see many wonderful comments that have swarmed around my write up on Dr. Sundram. It only shows how much Dr. Sundram is still rememberd, admired and appreciated for his love and devotion to the service of the Faith. I have to thank Manisegaran again for running this blog and for giving me every encouragement to pen about Dr.Sundram, the fruits of which are very apparent. I am tempted now to write about Mrs. Shantha Sundram as well, should brother Manisegaran approve.

      Best regards
      Dr. Firaydun
      Chieng Mai
      Thailand

      1. Dear Firaydun,
        You are most welcome to write about Mrs. Shantha Sundram who certainly deserves to be remembered in the pages of history. She has influenced the lives of many.

        Thanks
        Manisegaran

  32. What a moving story on Dr. Sundram, illustrated with so many photographs!
    I was travelling with Theresa Chee from Seremban to Ipoh, we stopped in the Bahai Canter in Kuala Lumpur. I saw Dr. Sundram there. I found him a most practical man. His approach was brisk and very direct. He never minced his word. When I told him that I was living in Singapore, be brightened up and advised me to assist the Faith in whatever way I could while living in a materialistic Singapore city.

    Later Chellie was living in Manila on a U.N. assignment and would visit Singapore quite often as a Counsellor. Upon arrival in Singapore he would call me on the phone. In one of the visits he called me and asked me out for a lunch. During lunch he told me of a special assignment that the Continental Board of Counselors for South East Asian Zone had tasked me. And that was the dissemination of mail to the Bahai World Center on behalf of the National Assemblies that had no direct access to the World Centre. Looking back I am thankful for the privilege that was given me.

    I still remember vividly the marvelous exhibition that Dr. Sundram put up at the Oceanic Conference in Singapore in early 1971. That was a masterpiece of Dr. Sundram.

    I remember the strong advice from Dr Sundram given at the first national convention of Singapore in 1972. Also present were the Hand of the Cause of God Jalal Khazeh as representative of the Supreme Body. Representing the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia were Dr. John Fozdar and Inbum Chinniah. Counselor Yankee Leong was also there. After the election of the National Spiritual Assembly Dr. Sundram advised the institution to develop an efficient secretariat, set up our funds and go for greater proclamation of the Faith.

    Dr. Sundram used to visit Singapore and meet up with the National Assembly and gave words of encouragement and advice. Later I became a Board Member under him and he went through my reports. Where praises were needed he did praise and where he was not too happy he was very frank. Both these approaches assisted me in discharging my duties.

    Later he suffered from failing health. In his last visit to Singapore he fell ill and Murray Samuel, Christine Lee and I were able to rush him to the hospital before his wife Shantha arrived. Back in Penang the support from his family members enabled him to recover well enough for him to do things himself, especially drawing and painting. At the evening of his life, I sent him a book of paintings since I knew he was a painter himself who loved to draw. Shantha told me that as soon as he received the book he started to draw again. That made me happy.

    Next I was very sad when I heard he passed away. His passing was a great loss to the Bahai world. He served the Faith gallantly and has left a rich legacy. Dr, Sundram was a brilliant man, who lived his life serving the Faith. He is one whose name shall ever be decorated in the pages of Bahai history. And thanks to this Bahai blog, which has led the way in this!

    Rose Ong
    Singapore

    1. Dear Rose,
      What a great comment you have made in your part as a friend and fellow Counselor. You have always been caring and full of love. I clearly remember when I was with Chellie in Singapore when he suffered from serious joints-pain. He could hardly move his arm and did want to do anything about it saying “It was due to stress and will go away”. Actually he had a small pain for a few days in Manila before we flew to Singapore. I did not agree with his lack of attention to his health and insisted on taking him to hospital but he didn’t like that. Finally I called you up and related what was going on. You where quite busy but you left your work and came immediately to our hotel to see what could be done. You knew an expert acupuncturist doctor that was good at healing these kind of problems and one who had successfully treated you. You manged to convince Dr. Chellie to see this doctor. You drove us there and he got the needed treatment. Back in the hotel Chellie said he felt much better. On the next day he said the pain had completely disappeared. He said. Thanks to you and the doctor. On the way back from the acupuncturist to the hotel you stopped at a supermarket and bought some apples and oranges for Chellie. Then you called back several times to see how he was doing. Chellie always admired you resourcefulness especially in discharging your duties as Counsellor.

      Thank you Rose
      Dr. Firaydun Mithaq
      Chieng Mai
      Thailand

  33. Dear Dr. Firaydun
    Thank you for this story on Dr. Chellie Sundram.

    Dr. Sundram had initiated a Social Economic Education Development Project [ SEED PROJECT ] at Kubu Gajah village near Selama town in Perak. Both Dr. Sundram and Aunty Shantha making frequent visits added strength in developing both Selama and Taiping towns.

    There was a Bahai by the name of Mr. Kuppusamy who had a small rubber plantation. Dr. Sundram gave him ideas to develop fish farming on that land. He came again with two other professional surveyors to survey the land. Dr. Sundram himself gave further ideas to develop the fish ponds, using a charts on white papers. Everything was set and Kuppusamy was so excited. unfortunately Kuppusamy died in a car accident and the project could not be pursued.

    But the incident showed how Dr. Sundram went extra miles to get things done, especially in implementing the SEED PROJECT. He had wanted to economically uplift the lives of ordinary people.

    I remember when he came to Taiping, he identified some youth and took them to his residence in Penang to develop them. One was Ms. Thilaga now in Skudai, Johore who was taken as a domestic helper and was appointed on the Youth Committee in Penang. She was treated as a family member, and she has come up well as a believer. The other was one Mr. Karthik whom Dr. Sundram taught to develop denture moulds. He picked up the trade so well and is now settled in Cambodia with a Cambodian wife, and serving the Cause there.

    Dr. Sundram had a great heart.

    R. Gopal
    Sungei Petani
    Malaysia.

  34. I always had high regard for this great and exemplary soul Dr. Chellie Sundram, for the way in which he was holding the horses that pulled the chariot of his life.

    The first horse was his family. He definitely was very careful and vigilant to ensure that the family received his full attention for its maintenance and well-being. The kind of children he raised, that to date their allegiance and service to the Faith is an example appreciated, admired and emulated by so many youths of their generation. His spouse Shantha was not just another housewife tagging along; she was a co-worker in attendance to his tirelessly active life. Their spirit of genuine love, comradeship and community building commitments always radiated joy and happiness that many Bahai partners wished and prayed for. Their family life was a rare combination of two doves in a single nest, of two heads with a single vision. We can almost count the number of Bahai partners that rose to heights of service and sacrifice which they have established.

    The second horse was his profession as a dentist. Being principal of the Dental College in Penang he had many challenges to cope with. He definitely made a lasting impression on both his superiors and subordinates in the manner in which he churned out a breed of nurses most outstanding in their performance. He holds a key position as the initiator of the policy of running a children’s dental clinic in every primary school throughout Malaysia. In this way all children received a continuing dental health care. He later introduced this model to many countries in southeast Asia , while he served the World Health Organization. The kind of expertise he had demonstrated as a World Health official was fully attested by one of his WHO colleagues who gave his heartfelt comments during the occasion of the memorial service held in the Holiday Inn hotel in Kuala Lumpur. All of us were awed at the lavish remarks and praises the speaker enumerated in his moving speech

    The third horse was his humble and selfless servitude to our beloved Faith. For many years he served in the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia and for some years as its Chairman. The first thing one can notice in him was his clarity of thought and keenness of vision. Every Message from the beloved Universal House of Justice, he would break into digestible portions so that every believer can see his role in the scheme of things. He was a strong believer of the power in Institutions. Once I saw him seated beside the Hand of the Cause of God, Dr. Muhajir. He was holding the speaker close to the beloved Hand, to make sure he recorded every bit of whatever he had to say… He would then go back and write down and collate and simplify the ideas and present it to the friends. From this act of his, I understood something of the kind of insight and attitude we should have of the Covenant and its powers.

    The way he carried himself as Counselor and the presentations he made and the dynamic force of the example he demonstrated always left a deep impression on me of how the Faith showed be served . In his Bahai endeavors, I saw the spirit and form of true Bahai leadership, exemplifying the axiom of walking the mystical path with practical feet. He set the standard of how the Faith should be presented to the public; and how the public should respond to a Revelation.

    The fourth horse was his creativity and business entrepreneurship. He saw what funds can do to enhance the speed and progress of the Faith and how the lack of it can stagnate its growth and development. To ensure increased contributions from his income he operated a small ( maybe not that small) business at the back of his house in Menden Heights. He made plaster of Paris models of organs and body parts in cross-sectional views for sale to be used in the medical school laboratories and thereby earned a substantial sum available for the progress of the Faith.

    I have no doubts and so do the many Bahais who were close to him ,that the chariot of Dr Chelle . Sundram did reach its destination of “attaining the good pleasure of the Lord”. His life was an example of heroism, dedication, selflessness, and true mental martyrdom.

    Joseph Swaminathan
    Phnom Penh
    Cambodia

Leave a Reply