REMEMBERING SHANTHA SUNDRAM

REMEMBERING SHANTHA SUNDRAM

REMEMBERING SHANTHA MARY SUNDRAM
 6  April 1926 – 7  February 2017

It all 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. I had heard of the Sundrams even before stepping into their house, that they lived quite a comfortable life, and eminently placed in society. It did not take long before I discovered that the Sundrams had sacrificed their lot and dedicated their lives and made their home a sanctuary for everyone who entered therein.


A young Shantha

Shantha was of an arresting personality, always of radiant spirit, and her qualities of being constantly active with Bahá’í work with no rest was one that distinguished her personality.  When she took up a task she would utilize all her thoughts and energy on completing them even if she had to go sleepless for days. I remember in 1966 when I was still new to Penang and as a guest of the Sundram family, Shantha made arrangements with Nita, who had just passed her driving license to be driven around to meet friends and see places. The four daughters Navanita, Padma, Susheel, and Malini would gather around me singing and joking. They were well-brought-up, always polite, sweet-smiling and full of mannerism.


The Sundrams bonded perfectly to serve the Cause in later years.


The Sundrams opened their home for the Faith from the time they accepted the Faith.  


The four daughters were well brought up to serve the Cause.


The four daughters with Hand of the Cause of God Abu’l-Qásim Faizi
at the South East Asia Regional Youth Conference 1968.

Shantha became a household name in the Malaysian Bahá’í community when she started in 1965 as the editor of the Malaysian Bahá’í News Magazine, an effective organ of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia. The magazine carried tons of information, news, and deepening materials and linked the believers of her time from all parts of Malaysia and abroad. The Magazine was read by believers and institutions abroad and received high commendations from individual members of the Universal House of Justice, National Spiritual Assemblies, Hands of the Cause of God and pioneers. That was a tiring job carried out with love and enthusiasm.


Display of copies of the Malaysian Bahá’í News Magazines at
the Oceanic Conference of the South China Seas in Singapore, 1971.

On several occasions, Shantha spent time sitting beside me and asking questions about the believers and the Bahá’í activities in Iran which I visited from time to time. She also enquired about my pioneering life and activities in Laos. Our discussions would also center on the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh released in Persian and yet to be translated. It was not easy for me to explain in words the profound spiritual concepts and the hidden meanings especially on the Kitab-i-Iqán but answered to the best of my knowledge and understanding, with my limited knowledge of the English language that I had picked up. Following such casual conversations, I read in the magazine featuring stories about my family and our pioneering life of service. She would be on the lookout for news at every opportunity and from everyone whom she came across. It is still mind-boggling how she was able to accomplish so much with no background training in journalism. Starting with an editorial team she was able to grow and develop and Dr. Sundram providing ideas to improve and promote the magazine all over the globe.

Shantha was full of innovative ideas and creativity. Shantha believed in excellence in all things as her guiding principle in her life, which is evident in all her undertakings. In the mid-1960s Shantha designed, planned and produced most of the Bahá‘í prayer books, posters, and books. Special mention must be made about the white pocket-sized prayer book that the National Spiritual Assembly commissioned Shantha to design and produce in 1974. This essential publication has been reprinted many times over and is found in homes in many parts of the world to this day. Dr. Sundram and Shantha developed Bahá’í songs from the 1960s as they saw in music and songs an effective instrument to keep the spirit of the youth high. She composed some 20 beautiful songs on various Bahá‘í themes, with simple lyrics set to the tunes of popular folk songs. In her book Mystic Connections, she explains in a style of her own how some prominent believers had mysteriously and dramatically come into her life.

Right from the early days, Shantha had spent much of her time as an excellent communicator, keeping in touch with friends through letters, postcards, and phone calls. In later years she communicated through electronic mails. She was a balm to those downtrodden, spending many days of her life moving the hearts of individuals and cheering the hearts in the communities she visited or gatherings she attended. In all these visits she poured forth the needed strength, encouragement and guidance to the Bahá‘í communities.  She was always on the lookout of what was happening where. Whenever she met the Bahá‘í women she encouraged them to rise to greater heights of service. Her constant message to the women was, “The kitchen is not your place, you should be out on the field and in service.” She cared for the spiritual well-being of one and all. With her innate generosity of spirit, Shantha identified talents and with her approach of empowerment brought out the best in them to promote the Cause of Bahá‘u‘lláh.


Shantha in the middle among other early heroines of the Faith, Summer School 1960.


With Betty, another great worker for the Cause she had known since 1958.

Shantha, as I knew, had shouldered various responsibilities. She had served on national committees. In 1969 she was elected into the National Spiritual Assembly, in 1973 appointed Auxiliary Board Member, and served as Counselor from 1988 to 1995 for a wide range of countries with steadfast dedication. During her second term as Counselor, she was also a Trustee of the Continental Fund. She traveled widely and met many communities, giving invaluable advice and guidance, winning the hearts of individuals and institutions.  She moved like a colossal figure with a magnetic personality that drew people to her.

Shantha had an acute sense of the needs of the Faith in diverse areas such as in the fields of teaching, Bahá’í scholarship, arts and creativity, community service and the importance of contributing to the Bahá’í funds. Shantha was of the firm conviction that the believers should not only sharpen their administrative or teaching acumen. Several times she mentioned to me the need to immerse in the Holy Writings to be mystically connected to our Creator. The opportune moment was when Jenabe Caldwell an Auxiliary Board Member from Canada and Knight of Bahá’u’lláh for the Aleutian Islands, introduced the Nine Day Institutes in Malaysia in 1972. She herself took a leading role in getting these deepening sessions organized in various parts of the country. She again gave her fullest support to the spiritualization institutes that Jack Davis, an American pioneer to the Philippines, organized in Malaysia in 1989. For years Shantha kept on recalling the impact that such institutes had created in the community.

1972 at 9Day Institure
Nine-Day Spiritualization Institute in Port Dickson, 1972. L-R: Theresa Chee, Betty, Jenabe Caldwell, Koh Ai Leen, and Shantha.

Both Shantha and I had served as members of the National Spiritual Assembly, on the Auxiliary Board and on the Continental Board of Counselors. With such a common background and having worked with her closely, I feel I am qualified to say that in whatever position Shantha served, she had profound respect for the institutions and gave her fullest support to all their undertakings. Her respect and reverence for the Hands of the Cause of God is something that I have witnessed.

I am also aware of the close relationship she had developed with several other Hands of the Cause. She told me that her heart leaped out when coming face to face with several Hands of the Cause at the First Bahá’í World Congress in London in 1963. Some of those Hands had visited Malaysia, while some did not. Yet she was in direct contact with them, who all invariably had admired her resourcefulness. In  Ridván 1974, Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum attended the National Convention of the Bahá’ís of Myanmar. Shantha participated as a member of the Auxiliary Board from Malaysia, while I attended the convention representing the Continental Board of Counsellors.  In the course of the three days of the National Convention, Shantha had a very delightful time of being with Amatu’l-Bahá. Shantha told me that she had always wished for an opportunity of spending more time with Amatu’l-Bahá, having been in her company at the First National Convention held in Malaysia in 1964. She said that at this convention her wish was fulfilled, and she had remained in communication with Amatu’l-Bahá until the latter’s passing.


With Amatu’l-Bahá at the first National Convention of Malaysia in 1964. Lily Chinniah and Koh Ai Leen are standing at the back,                     and  Dr. R.J. Wolff standing at the extreme right.


With Hand of the Cause of God Mr.`Alí-Akbar Furútan


With Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Abu’l-Qásim Faizi 


With Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir

Shantha was always on the lookout for serving the Cause and no hindrance that came by was too much trouble for her. In early June 1974 after Shantha and I attended a teaching and consolidation conference in Bangkok. On an evening of a tiring day, a few of us went to a Thai restaurant for light dinner.  There Shantha asked some questions regarding the progress of the Faith in Laos, which I explained. She also said that she had never been to Laos and hoped one day she could go over to Laos.  Since I was going back to Vientiane on the next evening, I courteously invited her to join me and offered her a complimentary ticket for the overnight bus trip from Bangkok to Vientiane.  I was a sales agent for a bus company and was eligible for complimentary tickets. She gladly accepted the invitation there and then. The next evening we boarded the bus to Vientiane. During the four days that she stayed in Vientiane she met the friends at their individual homes and at the National Bahá’í Center. She gave one full day of deepening on the topic of “New approaches and lessons in teaching the Faith.” Her impact on the youth and particularly the women were excellent.  They were attracted to her and after each meeting, they stayed back to converse with her. One young lady even followed Shantha and me nearly every day and everywhere we went. One afternoon she even joined us on a small tour of the city. When Shantha was leaving Laos the young lady urged her to come to Laos often.  That was her first visit to Laos.  I asked if she would rather travel back by air to Bangkok, but she felt fine traveling by the overnight bus.  I presented her with a return ticket with the same tour bus to Bangkok. She visited a few more places in Thailand before returning to Malaysia.


Firaydun with Shantha at the South East Asia Regional Conference, Port Dickson, 1976

Perhaps Shantha had a unique role to play. From the early days, I detected the great ability of  Shantha in promoting the Faith in the highest echelons of society. In May 1975, representatives of the Bahá’í Communities in Southeast Asia were invited to the Regional Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations organized in Bangkok, by the Office of Public Information of the United Nations in cooperation with the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. The Bahá’í delegation was small composed of four members led by Mrs. Shantha Sundram. Other members were Counsellor Vicente Samaniego from the Philippines, Auxiliary Board member Mrs. Chusiri Faridian from Bangkok and me as a Counsellor from Laos.  Shantha was excellent in putting forth the Bahá’í views at the conference that was attended by several countries.  At lunch on an earlier day, it happened that we sat together with a prominent delegate from India who was a Member of Legislative Assembly from New Delhi, India and well informed about the Bahá’í Faith. He entered into a profound conversation with Shantha.  On the final day, a few delegates were invited to deliver short speeches.  When delivering his speech, the Member of Legislative Assembly praised the Bahá’í Teachings and the services and activities of the Bahá’í communities in India. He spoke highly of the Bahá’í Faith and remarked that the final solution to the many problems that had been discussed at that conference lied in the Teachings of the Bahá’í Faith.  He said that he was learning valuable lessons from the Bahá’í social Teachings on governance that is based on consultation and invited the delegates of the conference to study them.  We knew that Shantha’s conversation with him had prompted him to express his admiration for the Faith. Shantha never missed an opportunity to create an impact on those who are eminently placed in society.


Regional Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations organized in Bangkok.
L-R: Firaydun, Vicente Samaniego and Shantha

In Malaysia, she had moved mainly with a large pool of the believers from the upper and urban brackets. And yet I must admit that I have known of Shantha visiting some rural communities in the interiors and spending nights with them in the absence of even the basic sanitary facilities- all for the love of the Cause. One such trips, Shantha told me was undertaken with Amatu’l-Bahá.


Shantha with her granddaughter Zarrin Tahmasebian crossing the river while visiting rural communities in Mentawai.

Shantha believed that a project that was successful in one part of the world should be repeated or at least experimented in other parts of the world. In the mid-seventies, the Malaysian Bahá’í communities in Penang and Alor Star had developed teaching the Faith through musical firesides.  Shantha was a strong supporter of the musical firesides.  The youth put the Bahá’í teachings and principles into the songs and performed in public venues in towns.  After each performance, the audience gathered around Bahá’ís to listen to direct teaching. In the process many declared.  I had attended a few musical firesides and appreciated this method of presentations, its effectiveness, joy, and excitement. From 1975 to 1977 when I lived and served the Faith in Hong Kong, I discussed with Shantha about the possibility of bringing the youth group to Hong Kong and Macao to perform for a week.  Although supportive and welcoming, she was not sure about how to finance it. I suggested that if the group could pay for their air tickets they can be the guests of the Hong Kong Bahá’í community for expenses for hotel accommodation, food, local transportation or miscellaneous expenses.  It worked out well. In the middle of August 1975, the group of youths led by Shantha arrived in Hong Kong. The choir included, if I remember correctly, Lee Su Hock, Giak Bee, Soh Aik Leng, Ah Chuan, Loh Wan Wan, Lim Li Suan, T. K. Lee, and Shantha’s daughters, Padma and Malini. My wife Giti, our children Sahba aged 7, Samoa aged 2, and Giti’s brother Kamal Maani joined the group. All of us stayed at the Kowloon YMCA hostel located within ten minutes of walking distance from the National Bahá’í Center. But practices for the musical fireside and preparations took place at our meeting room in the YMCA building. The seven days of musical firesides in Hong Kong and Macao attracted many people. Among them were a few Chinese youths who later joined the Faith and took part in the Bahá’í activities.  The musical fireside was followed by a  14 day Hong Kong National Teaching Campaign that reinforced the works of the youth and paved the way for intensified teaching activities in Hong Kong.  These musical firesides were popular in Malaysia but having them performed in Hong Kong for the first time was significant in promoting the Faith in that very busy and materialistic city where people had little time to pray or think about God.


A promoter and motivator  of talents among the youths

Shantha had a tremendous influence on building the talents of the youth wherever she went. Her home was a sanctuary for the youths. Shantha identified the talents in the youths and gave them the fullest encouragement to scale beyond their horizon. She employed various approaches in motivating them, from the Writings and from the success stories she had heard from other parts of the world and from interesting anecdotes she had picked up when visiting communities abroad.

Bahá’u’lláh selects His servants to perform specific tasks for His Cause. Having associated with and observed  Shantha from the early days, I am more than convinced that Baháʼu’lláh had planned her life. Her first role as Secretary of the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Penang, as editor of the Malaysian Bahá’í magazine, as member in several national committees, as a highly charged speaker at conferences, as member of the National Spiritual Assembly since 1969, as Auxiliary Board member since 1973 and as Continental Board of Counselor in 1988 until she migrated to Australia, she had left indelible traces.

 


Visiting East Malaysia with fellow members of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia. Shantha is flanked by Tony Fernandez (L) and Inbum Chinniah (R). Standing second from left is Nagaratnam.

Shantha had a burning passion never to miss any Bahá’í gathering, both within Malaysia and abroad. Her first major gathering was the historic Inter- Continental conference held in Singapore in September 1958. I would not be wrong to say that Shantha must be a believer who could have attended most of such international conferences, including the First Bahá’í World Congress held in London in 1963  and the Intercontinental Conference of 1967 in New Delhi. Only under unavoidable situations, she had missed local gatherings within Malaysia.


First Bahá’í World Congress in London, 1963. Back row L-R: Dr. R. J. Wolff, S. Bhaskaran, Leong Ho San, Anthony Fernandez,
Jeanne Frankel (Spiritual Mother of Shantha) and Appu Raman. Front row L-R: Lily Chinniah, Chiang Kim Lin, Shantha and Elinor Wolff.


Boarding the chartered Thai Airways in Butterworth town to participate in the Bahá’í International Conference in Hong Kong, 1976.              She is followed by Sathia Narayan a.k.a. Arun Balaji, one of her spiritual sons.


Meeting of members of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Malaysia and Auxiliary Board Members with Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhájir at the National Bahá’í Center, Kuala Lumpur, 1978. L-R: Isaac D’Cruz, Theresa Chee, Dr. Sreenivasan, Counselor Yankee Leong, Dr. Muhájir, Inbum Chinniah, Shantha Sundram, R. Ganasa Murthi, S. Nagaratnam, S.Balasekaran.

As I have seen, even while visiting her family overseas, any call to serve the Faith was her priority. In about 1987 when Shantha was visiting her children in Perth, Australia my family and I had migrated to Australia and lived in Carnarvon, a small aboriginal town, located 1,000 km north of Perth.  I had to go to Perth for a meeting and to invite a number of believers to our Naw-Rúz celebration to be held that weekend. A day of the proclamation of the Faith was planned in Carnarvon in conjunction with Naw-Rúz celebrations. Upon seeing Shantha I happily invited her to our celebrations in Carnarvon but cautioned that it was a ten-hour drive. To my surprise, Shantha readily accepted the invitation with no second thought. In a couple of days, we were on the road to Carnarvon where Shantha stayed with us for four days.  She attended the celebrations, took part in the proclamation activities, met the aboriginal friends in Mengella village and had a lot of fun visiting plantations and picking fruits and vegetables. Eight other friends from Perth joined the celebration and the proclamation as well.  Some stayed with us and some stayed with other friends. In the evenings we all gathered together, dined, prayed, sang, chatted, joked and had much fun.  One evening we had invited a group of friends to a lamb and Kangaroo barbeque in our backyard. Shantha gave an inspiring talk suitable and apt for our contacts present on that evening.  Shantha as I noticed never needed prior notice. One can tell her at the last moment and yet she would turn to be a master storyteller and captor of hearts, with the right choice of words, quoting relevant stories to substantiate her points. Her constant advice to believers was to lace up their boots and stoke up excellence in all they did for the glorious Cause. This was truly remarkable God-given talent in a remarkable lady, Shantha. On the fifth day, Shantha got a lift from one of the visiting cars and returned to Perth.  The impact she left behind was phenomenal, especially on the aboriginal women that she had met. Each time I met the aboriginal friends and neighbors, they remembered Shantha and asked about her and wanted to know if she was coming to Carnarvon for another visit.

With more than half a century of association with Shantha, I can state that she did her very best in carrying out her duties, religiously and with absolute sincerity. At times I used to get copies of her letters and reports that she sent to other higher institutions. It was always a pleasure to read those communications. What an analytical mind she had, just like her husband. The choice of her words, her analysis and conclusions and the recommendations she forwarded were inspiring.

Counselor Shantha speaks at the conference of Auxiliary Board Members and their Assistance in Port Dickson, 1988


Counselor Shantha and Dr. Chellie Sundram cutting a ribbon to open the Chellie Sundram’s Institute for Children Class in Penang, 1991.


Among her close co-workers she had known since 1963- S. Nagaratnam (left) and Ganasa Murthi Ramasamy (right). She had served with both of them on the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia, and with Nagaratnam on the Continental Board of Counselors for Asia.


World Religion Day observation, Singapore 1997. L-R: Shantha, Selvam Satanam, Nemat Sabapathy, S. Satanam and William Hui.

Having migrated to Australia, her heart and soul were still glued to the Malaysian Bahá’í community. In many of her conversations with me Shantha had mentioned how much she loved the Malaysian Bahá’í community. She, together with her daughter Susheel made annual visits to Malaysia until three years before her passing. In each of the visits, she met up with her old friends. In each community Shantha visited, she always had a list of names of believers, both serving or had distanced themselves of whom she would enquire. From wherever she was accommodated, Shantha would phone them or pay them a visit with a genuine concern for them.  Mr. Manisegaran shares an interesting incident in which he was present. In 1998 Shantha was present as an observer at the National Bahá’í Convention held in Hotel Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. Dato Dr. M. Singaravelu who was Chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly invited her to say a few words. As Shantha walked to the microphone, she broke down and sobbed, quite uncontrollably, looking for appropriate words to express herself. She said to this effect, “You would not know how wonderful a community you Malaysian believers are. And you may not know how much I am already missing this lovable and loving community with which I had grown from 1958. If at all I have one regret in my life, it is not being able to live among you Malaysian believers. One thing for sure, the Malaysian believers and the national institution have received so many praises and accolades from the Supreme Body, the Hands of the Cause of God and visitors, as no other country that I had known. You are indeed a special breed of people who shall always occupy a permanent place in the innermost center of my heart….” As she was sobbing and choking, several believers who had known did not have dry eyes.


One of her last visits to Malaysia. L-R: S. Bhaskaran, Shantha, Sarojini Bhaskaran, and Lily Chinniah.
In the front row are James Liew (L) and Shusheel Croft (R).


With Theresa Chee, whom Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhájir called  “Spiritual Mother of the Northern believers.”
Shantha and Theresa had known each other since 1958.

Shantha was a very loving mother figure to the Bahá’í community, not only to her family members. When Dr. Sundram suffered a stroke in April 1989, I still remember the loving care with which she enveloped him, and taking him to different places. Dr. Sundram was a painter, artist, and photographer. Soon he recovered and started to paint again, with the support that Shantha gave. Sad to say that he was called to the kingdom on high on February 22, 1993, leaving a void in the Malaysian Bahá’í community and the wider community.

Seldom had I seen both husband and wife serving with unbridled zeal and energy, with the Faith in the center of their lives. The Sundrams are of this rare kind.  My friendship and association with the Sundram family have deepened and reinforced in the span of over five decades since 1966, and during this period I also got to know the four angels of the Sundrams – Navanita, Padma, Susheel, and Malini. Undoubtedly, they have inherited from their parents the mighty energies for the service of the Cause of God.


One heart, one soul and one aim – to serve the Blessed Beauty


With the four daughters L-R: Malini Parker, Susheel Croft, Padma Wong, and Navanita Sundram.

Despite old age, Shantha kept conversing with an erudition that belied her age. Sadly that was not to last till the end of her life. The last time I saw her was in Perth at Malini’s home by which time she was quite thin and had lost part of her memory. Fortunately, and surprisingly she recognized me immediately and said, “I know this guy”. Naturally, I was happy that she recognized me. From what i knew, she had a photographic memory when she was alert in her earlier days in Malaysia. I was living in China when I learned she had passed away on 7 February 2017. My mind immediately recalled her as a person full of love, wisdom, insight and above all a sincere and devoted servant of the Cause of God. I prayed fervently for the progress of her pure soul and wished her progress in all the eternal realms of God.  Then I could only visit her blessed grave, offer humble prayers and beseech her assistance from the realms of the Abhá Kingdom. No Bahá’í can truthfully ignore any thinking on the subject that Shantha had a unique role in the development of the Faith in Malaysia and the region. From the day she accepted the Faith, till her last days she remained like a “Rock of Gibraltar” in the Covenant.


A master story-teller and a great motivator from the early days.

A radiance that was always of Shantha.


Celebrating her 80th birthday.


A warmth of sincere love that Shantha radiated throughout.


Photography – a teenage hobby that remained with her throughout.


Hers was a colorful life – herself a Rose among roses.


From acceptance of the Faith to ascension to the Abhá Kingdom – led an exemplary and legendary life for many to emulate.


A beautiful resting place at Freemantle Cemetery, Palmyra.

In its message to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá‘ís of Australia dated 9 February 2017, the Supreme Body stated:

We were grieved to learn of the passing of Shantha Sundram, consecrated handmaiden of the Blessed Beauty. Her long years of tireless, sacrificial, and devoted labour to promote the Cause of God—as a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Asia, an Auxiliary Board member, and a member of the Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia—are recalled with deep admiration. May her shining example of a life dedicated to the service of the Faith be a source of inspiration for generations to come. We ardently supplicate at the Sacred Threshold for the progress of her radiant soul throughout the heavenly realms, and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to her daughters, Nita, Padma, Susheel, and Malini, and all other members of her family.

We call on your National Assembly and the Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia to hold memorial gatherings in her honour, and we ask that the National Assembly of India arrange a memorial service in the Bahá’í House of  Worship in New Delhi.

Dr. Firaydun Mithaq
Chieng Mai
Thailand

31 March 2020

P.S: My gratitude to  Mr. Manisegaran for providing additional information, and for uploading photographs and a video clipping of Shantha.

To get a fuller picture of Shantha, the author recommends the readers to read this other story on her husband Dr. Chellie Sundram:

REMEMBERING DR. CHELLIE SUNDRAM

Copyright@bahairecollections.com

 

 

45 thoughts on “REMEMBERING SHANTHA SUNDRAM

  1. Dear Dr. Firaydun,

    Thank you immensely for this inspiring and touching remembrance of our luminous and revered Baha’i devoted servant Mrs. Shantha Sundram. I read the entire collection and truly its unbelievable of such a dedicated esteemed servant of Baha’u’llah. She is so highly blessed with all her unimaginable quality services to the Cause of Baha’u’llah during the course of her distinguished life. May her blessed soul assist us in our daily life to walk on the steps she took in the service.

    With many thanks and appreciations,
    Saradj Avaregan
    New Jersey
    United States

  2. Dear Firaydun
    Thank you for penning a wonderful account of Mrs. Shantha Sundram and her services to humanity and the Bahá’í Faith. This is indeed an impressive contribution from you.

    With warmest regards,
    Bijan Bayzaee
    CHICAGO
    USA

  3. Aunty Shantha Sundram was truly a “Rose among the roses.” What a befitting tribute for this beautiful soul! She was a true a servant , soldier and a co-worker of Bahaullah. She was always sweet, radiant , pretty and smiling. The beautiful and rare photographs add value to the story. Surprised to see a video clipping of Shantha Sundram in the story. I felt so happy after watching the video and hearing her voice. I find it difficult to accept she is no more with us. May her soul rest in eternal peace in the heavenly realms of the Abba-kingdom.
    Gurubalan JFK Balan
    Ipoh

  4. Shantha was a strong and firm Baha’i stalwart. During her era, she was matchless and relentless. Proclaiming this new Revelation was her only occupation; her full time job! She believed in each one teach one and was always teaching someone and had surely taught hundreds! To her, there wass no “ifs and buts” about the Baha’i Faith being the latest and newest Revelation from God.

    Tens, hundreds, nay thousands were touched by her words, and her no-nonsense approach in the study of religion and facilitating and seeking the ultimate truth for every generation. She was audacious, and simply went on and on about the latest Cause of God to which humanity is given and yet hesitant to imbibe.
    She leaves behind a legacy that is
    unforgettable, memorable and unique in the annals of the Baha’i Faith 8n Malaysia and the region.

    Merican
    Singapore

  5. Thank you so much Dr. Firaydun and Manisegaran, for sharing such a comprehensive story about our lovely Mum. There were some bits I had never seen myself and many little recollections which were new to me as well.

    Dr. Firaydun, you had the great advantage of knowing my Mum and Dad in person in the early days in Malaysia and also spending time with mum when she migrated to Australia. I had been very much a part of musical firesides with the Penang youth in Penang when we traveled all around Malaysia and Thailand, and missed out on the musical fireside in Hong Kong, as I had already left for Australia. I did not not realize it was at your initiative that got them there. God Bless you and Manisegaran for keeping the story alive in the blog. This coming 6 April will be Mum’s birthday. I am sure she is delighting in this timely celebration.
    Thanks again.
    Susheel Sundram Croft
    Perth
    AUSTRALIA

  6. Well done Firaydun Mithaq!
    You have written a BOOK about mum! What an astounding memory, and a loving tribute to your friend.
    Manisegaran, your dedication to this task has been amazing. Thank you
    Malini Parker
    Perth
    AUSTRALIA

  7. Thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful recollections of Aunty Shanta by Dr. Firaydun. What a vivid description of this remarkable handmaiden of the Faith. Having spent most of my youth days in Penang, I had some privilege of being in the presence of Aunty Shanta; be it a conference, summer school or institutional meeting. In each of these occasions, it was simply a joy hearing her speak with such passion, drive and energy. How she would quote the Writings or verses of the Hidden Words precisely would not only inspire us but simply give us all an elated feeling. She no doubt had that photographic memory that Mr Firaydun aptly described as one of her qualities.

    Aunty Shanta was a legacy for the Malaysians to remember her dedicated service that many of us would struggle to emulate. She will always be fondly remembered.

    Once again Thank you Dr. Firaydun for sharing the timeless recollections of Aunty Shanta.

    Kudos to you Manisegaran for painstakingly hosting this blog that preserves the history.

    Sandran Govindasamy
    Subang Jaya
    Malaysia

  8. Dear Dr. Firaydun Mithaq,

    Thank you for sharing the wonderful story of Mrs. Shantha Sundram and the lovely photographs.

    Shantha Sundram was amazing person and took every opportunity to promote the Faith. I recall the musical firesides that we had in Hong Kong to promote the Faith when youths from Malaysia encouraged by Mrs. Shantha Sundram came and performed. Some youths from Thailand also joined the musical firesides.

    We were also pleasantly surprised when around 100 participants from Malaysia chartered a plane to attend the International Conference held in Hong Kong in 1976. There has always been a special bond between Hong Kong and Malaysia.

    Mrs. Sundram relied much on the power of prayers and I remember she bringing Dr. Chellie Sundram to our house in Teluk Intan in Malaysia, after he was recovering from his stroke. Before our planned visit to one of the families to share the Faith, I found that she was immersed in prayers and recital of the Tablet of Ahmad.

    Looking back I am sure she is so much loved and dearly missed by all the friends of Malaysia who knew her. May God bless her soul.

    With much love,
    Ranee Datwani Sreedharan.
    Kuala Lumpur
    Malaysia

  9. Dr. Firaydun
    Thank you for penning on another Bahai heroine immortalized in the Malaysian Bahai history. Aunty Shantha had certainly left a legendary life. I met her on a few occasions when she was a Counselor. When I was staying at Sungei Nibong in Penang my simple residence was one of the venues for Feast. Aunty Shantha had attended a Feast which is still raw in my mind. She was with us on the Asli Committee when we were planning meetings for Asli teaching both in the towns of Bidor and at the Yankee Leong Bahai Institute in Balakong. At these meetings she gave all the encouragement and the needed moral support. I remember I was translating her speech in Kampong Menderang, during her rare visit to that village. Later she sponsored me to attend the first Ruhi study books that was conducted in northern Thailand.

    She was always full of energy and so persistent in her approach when comes to the work of the Faith. Seldom have I seen such a vibrant and energetic worker for the Cause who was always there to serve the Cause. Aunty Shantha must have been hand picked and singled out for the divers areas of service she was able to perform with excellence. May her pure soul rest in eternal peace in the invisible realms on high.

    On a personal note, I am happy her story has been covered along with that of her husband Dr. Sundram in this highly historical blog.

    Nehru Arunasalam
    Chicago
    USA

  10. Reading this write up, I can still see her – a lone figure sitting on the swing outside her house in Glugor in Penang, deep in prayers. Shantha was an angel and a heroine in the Cause of the Blessed Beauty.

    She was a mother to the youths, a motivator of the friends in the Community and especially of pioneers from Malaysia who were dispersed to many parts of the world. She will always be remembered with loving admiration by many of us.

    Her letters and newsletters would be a source of inspiration to us. Her pleasant and smiling disposition could be very disarming. Audacious without being arrogant, she interacted with all kinds of people whether high or low. Through her Tupperware parties she was able to partly fund the publication the Malaysian Bahai News magazine and prayer cards. Her designing of the pocket sized white prayer book commissioned to her by the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia are still widely sought after in the Bahai world.

    Her painstaking editorship of the Malaysia Bahai News Magazine for many years resulted in enriching the annals of the early growth of the Faith in this part of Asia.

    After returning from pioneering from Hong Kong in 1971 and once again back to working in the Straits Echo daily in Penang, I would visit her home from time to time after work. Shantha could whip up a delicious meal at the snap of a finger for a scrawny lad like me.

    I also had the opportunity to serve with her on the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia in 1973.

    When I heard that she had passed away in Perth, I was very sad, but knew that she would join the legions of spiritual giants like Uncle Yankee Leong, Hands of the Cause and many other wonderful souls.

    O Baha’u’llah, thank you for giving us such a wonderful couple Shantha and Chellie! Bless them for their loving steadfastness and exemplary service. May they continue from the kingdom of Abha to help us to attract more souls into our Community!

    Yin Hong Shuen
    Singapore

  11. Dr. Firaydun
    Thank you for penning the stories on Aunty Shantha and Dr. Sundram.

    When I read about Aunty Shanta my memories drift back to the days I spent at her residence for some years since 1985. I called her “Mum” when the rest of the Bahais called her “Aunty”. Basking under her loving wings in Penang, I learned so much on the Faith from her. She brought me up as her own daughter. When I first saw her she looked like an Indian lady from high class. But after working with her I saw so much simplicity in her. She never had expensive sarees. But she dressed well with the simple sarees and carried herself well and gracefully with those sarees she had. Throughout her life she was graceful in dressing and in her approach.

    Admittedly, I could not read her story with that much ease. With every paragraph, nay every sentence I read, tears gushed in me. I wish she is still around where I can talk to her. Definitely Mum was a loving and caring person.

    Mum was unrestrained as wind in serving the Cause. She had this unbelievable strength where she could go on and on without sleep when she was serving as a Counselor. She knew 24 hours was not sufficient to carry out the manifold tasks she had at hand. That is why some friends called her an “Iron Lady”. She had the courage to do what she wanted for the Faith. When she needed help someone in need, she will find ways to get it done.

    Thilaga
    Skudai
    Johor
    Malaysia

  12. What a lovely tribute on Aunty Shantha.

    I personally met her at a Bahai event in Port Dickson. She also gave me a compilation of the issues of the Malaysian Bahai News from 1965 to 1974.I still refer to them from time to time. At that time her husband Dr.Sundram was not feeling well.

    She came to the town of Miri in the state of Sarawak for a conference and stayed few days. I drove her from Miri to a Brunei to visit Mr. Chin Yun Sung an early and elderly believer. We also visited a few Bahai families in Brunei. On the way she wanted to visit the the main state Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan. She told me that Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhajir went to that mosque and chanted the Tablet of Ahmad. We stopped at Tutong and said some prayers and returned to Miri. From Miri she flew to Kuching visited Dr. Fozdar.

    She remains as one of the most unforgettable Bahais

    Dorai Vethanayagam
    Miri
    Sarawak

  13. This is such a wonderful, beautiful story of Shantha, a life so rich in her devoted, dedicated services to the Faith in Malaysia and beyond. She had a charisma about her, a spiritual charm that attracted many to her talks and her animated conversations. These enquirers became her friends and who subsequently accepted the Faith.

    Our family came to know her, her dearly loved husband Chellie and their four young daughters back in 1958, if my memory serves me right! Shantha and Chellie were a formidable pair, they played such a great role in the growth and development of the community in the northern states of Malaysia.

    It was Jeanne Frankel, the travel teacher from America, who recounted to us how she taught the Sundrams about the Faith, a very interesting story indeed. She had dental treatment by Chellie and of course mentioned to him the teachings of the Faith. The rest is history, as they say; soon after the Sundrams immersed themselves in the Faith, and became totally involved with the teaching and administrative work that was so much in need in those early days.

    Thank you for sharing this spirited account of Shantha and her life of service, she has made her mark on the annals of the Baha’i community in Malaysia, and will always be remembered with love and gratitude.

    Leong Ho San
    Wollongong
    AUSTRALIA

  14. Having read this wonderful story, how can I not write about my ‘Spiritual Mother’. To me, Shantha Sundram was my solace and refuge under all conditions and circumstances. When I came back to Penang, after completing my tertiary education at the Kuala Lumpur Technical College I was not a Baha’i then, but was introduced to Shantha by Lai Chye Thiam who was my roommate in the Technical College . Chye Thiam accepted the Faith through Choo Yoke Boon, who was instrumental in bringing in many souls during those days in the Technical College.

    Oh ! The problems and difficulties I faced in the acceptance of the Faith, the obstacles in getting consent for my marriage and the challenges in arising to serve were too many to recount. Needless to say, I had no one to turn to, except Shantha Sundram who played the role of my “Remover of Difficulties”. For this I am forever indebted and eternally grateful in nurturing me to become firm and steadfast in the Covenant and the Cause of God.
    May the Almighty continue to shower upon this Handmaiden the love and blessings as ordained for the true lovers of the Almighty.

    Ya’ Baha’u’Abha!
    Wong Meng Fook
    Singapore

  15. Lovely that Shantha Sundram is remembered through this story in the blog.

    When I first became at the Summer School in Port Dickson in 1960,Shanta told me l could always call upon her for any help with firesides in my house in Alor Star. This was a promise she fulfilled many times. Each time I sent an SOS, she would rush up with Chellie, Lily Janz and a few other Bahais from Penang.

    I would go to Penang to spend Chinese New Year. Immediately after the New Year celebrations, I would rush over to Shanta’s house and spend many hours there. I remember seeing many letters from overseas Baha’is spread over her bed. She would tell me inspiring stories that these overseas Baha’is shared with her. I really treasure those days!

    Shanta became my lifelong friend and confidant. Whenever she came back from Perth after migrating to Australia, we would reminisce over the past and have a good laugh.

    Now that she is no more with us, I know that in the not too distant future, we will meet again. Chellie and her are in my daily prayers.
    May Bahaullah ah shower His blessings on both of them.

    Theresa Chee
    Ipoh

  16. What a fantastic job Dr. Firaydun did with the recollection of Mrs. Shantha Sundram! I feel he captured not just the achievements but the essence of Shantha. My religion is Baha’i while her whole being is Baha’i – every thought, every action, every cell is Baha’i. She told me at one time, “Many are willing to die for the Faith but not many are willing to live for the Faith, which is sometimes more difficult to do”. Live for the Faith she did, and how magnificently she did it, inspiring many along the way without a trace of condescension but with lots of love.

    I was very close to her and after she emigrated to Perth would often come back for a few months on a yearly basis. Almost every year when she was doing this, she would stay in my house and the room she stayed in became known in the family as “Shantha’s Room”.

    Our relationship was not one of natural affinity but one that grew in the course of working together in Bahai activities. She was always polite and courteous to all but it seemed to me initially that it lacked any warmth and was simply the mannerisms of a well-brought up lady. It was later when she opened up her heart and showed the tremendous love she was capable to giving that one is left awestruck. I soon realized that her love was not like the air which is light but more like the ocean which is heavy and very deep. I still remember when she opened her heart to me, I thought to myself that this was a different Shantha than the Shantha I knew earlier. I realized that she was brilliant, which she vehemently denied, from our discussions or arguments on some spiritual points. As Dr. Firaydun pointed out she was always guided. Many a time I observed that when she wanted to do something but lacked the funds for it, the money would mysteriously come to her. Too many times to be a coincidence.

    Good she is well remembered in history through this blog

    James Liew Pen Poh
    Petaling Jaya
    Malaysia

  17. Another very fascinating story, this time about Aunty Shantha Sundram. A very well written accounts of a lovely soul whom we all treasure. Both Dr. Chellie Sundram and Aunty Shantha have left an indelible mark in the growth of the Faith not only in Malaysia but across the region where they served as Counselors.

    I am touched by what the Universal House of Justice had said of her- “Shantha Sundram, consecrated handmaiden of the Blessed Beauty . Her long years of tireless, sacrificial, and devoted labour to promote the Cause of God – as a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Asia, an Auxiliary Board member, and a member of the Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia—are recalled with deep admiration. May her shining example of a life dedicated to the service of the Faith be a source of inspiration for generations to come.”

    I had the privilege of meeting Aunty Shantha and Dr. Sundram at their beautiful home in Penang. Aunty Shantha left a good impression with her warmth, friendly and energetic personality during that very first meeting. Though I had heard of the Baháʼí Faith in the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia, she seemed to have a mystic connection with me during the first encounter as she explained with ease and simplicity who Baháʼís are, what they do and why Baháʼu’lláh came to sacrifice for humanity and to establish peace and unity, and sharing the principles of the Faith. She then gave me a prayer book. I found her explanations pragmatic and realistic for the benefit of mankind. I was a free thinker until meeting her, coming from Taoism background, exposed to Buddhism and Christianity in college, and Hinduism and Islam in my hometown in Slim River, state of Perak. After meeting her and receiving her explanations, I was no more a free thinker. I was freed from the fetters of free thinking, and became convinced of the truth of the mission of Baháʼu’lláh. The next day, I declared my faith in Baháʼu’lláh.

    Later on had several other chances of meeting her at winter schools or at other Baha’i conferences or home meetings. I made sure l always listened attentively to her talks. I was always attracted to Aunty Shantha motivating us on teaching and development of the Faith. Suffice to say I am much blessed, privileged and honored to have known Aunty Shantha who played a big role in deepening me in the Faith.

    A special thanks of a thousand fold for uploading the video clipping of Aunty Shantha. Saw her and heard her resonating voice. Simply cannot believe she is no more with us. This story and the video clipping keep her alive in our midst.

    I pray for this wonderful soul to be always under the sheltering care of Baháʼu’lláh in the Abha Kingdom

    Dr. Leong Yow Peng
    Subang Jaya
    Malaysia

  18. My dear Bahai brother Dr. Firaydun Mithaq,

    Thank you so much for writing such a wonderful and comprehensive story about Mrs. Shantha Mary Sundaram.

    I am very much delighted to look at rare beautiful and lovely photographs, which have added meaning to this heart-touching and inspiring story. One of the photos in the story has a caption- “Rose among the roses”. How appropriate to describe her colorful life!

    I had known Mrs. Shantha Sundaram personally when she was cordially invited to the Baha’i Academy at Panchgani, Maharashtra, India, as a special speaker to the Baha’i Academy where I was one of the participants of the higher Institutions of the Baha’i Faith among more than one hundred others present. I got an opportunity to be interviewed for more than half a hour by Mrs. Shantha Sundaram. The interview was recorded. I also know some of her close co-workers personally and some of them by name through my Baha’i studies.

    What I learnt from the story is that she had served with both the elected and appointed Baha’i Institutions i.e. on the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia, as Auxiliary Board Member and on the Continental Board of Counselors for Asia. She must have discharged her duties well and with distinction in all these institutions, for the Universal House of Justice to call her “Consecrated Handmaiden of the Blessed Beauty.”

    I did learn from the story that she was a master story-teller and great motivator from the early days. I can see Mrs. Shantha was a very loving mother figure to not only the Bahá’í community, but also to her husband and daughters. Mrs. Shantha Sundaram had ensured her daughters were well brought up to serve the Cause of Baha’u’llah.

    I was happy to feel her coming back to life when I saw the video of her speaking at the conference of Auxiliary Board Members and their Assistance in Port Dickson, 1988.
    This is really one of the best stories that I read in this popular Bahai historical blog. I am sure having served with Mrs. Shantha Sundram, Dr. Firaydun has much more to say about her. Perhaps you had to summarise and present only some aspects since there is space constraints in the blog. Looking forward to reading more stories of this kind.

    Jaya Raju Thota
    Greater Visakhapatnam
    Andhra Pradesh
    India

  19. Dear Dr. Firaydun,
    Thank you for writing on Mrs. Shantha Sundram whom I had met when she came to Malacca many years ago, for a visit. I was in my teens then. She was a hard working Baha’i. And I remember she wrote the “Mystic Connections”- a book on selected friends of the early days in Malacca and the rest of Malaysia. Reading her story, it is clear as broad daylight that she has a special place in the history of the Faith in Malaysia and the region.

    Mamata Kanti Paul
    Cairns
    Australia

  20. Dear Firaydun,
    The article on my mother was amazing.
    You remembered so many details, caught the spirit of her life as well as the facts.

    Navanita Tahmasebian
    INDONESIA

  21. She did contribute so much in the progress of our Baha’i activities in particular also towards the coming of our building the Most Great Peace.

    Marco Keppenberger
    Apia
    Samoa

  22. A wonderful recollection and a good write up by Dr. Firaydun. A true reflection and story of Aunty Shantha’s life.

    Three valiant ladies guided me in my early Bahai life were Aunty Shantha and Lily Janz Burha of Penang and Mrs.Betty Fernandez who was my teacher in Bagan Serai Their love and influence in my growing up was measureless. They are in my prayers daily for many years and shall continue so.

    Especially Aunty Shantha’s inspiration is still being felt and remembered around the globe.

    Keng Tong Hua
    Johor Baru
    Malaysia

  23. Dear Firaydun and Mani,
    Thank you for this marvelous collaborative work, which has brought solace and comfort to many who knew my Mum, and many others who just heard about her!

    I can see so many wonderful comments posted by the worldwide readers. A great effort.

    Thank you very much!
    Kind regards,

    Padma Wong
    Perth
    Australia

  24. Always remembered dear Shantha as an inspirational mentor. May eternal joy be yours for the love and many other gifts you showered upon us all.

    Marjorie Tidman

    1. Dear Majorie,
      Thank you very much for your comment on the story of dear Shantha who has left a legacy for generations to emulate. I am glad that you liked the story as you acknowledge drawing inspiration from her devoted and exemplary life. I look forward to seeing you again possibly in August 2020.

      Cheers
      Firaydun

  25. What a fascinating and inspiring account of Shantha…like a gentle breeze. Her book “Mystic Connections” and the litter white prayer book that she designed on the instruction of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of Malaysia somehow found it’s way to the shores of Samoa and in my hands at a time of despair and desperation. Now its influence has been a source of joy & light.

    Thank you Shantha for your mighty contributions and especially for leaving behind your most precious legacy-your wonderful family especially our Aunty Padma and Uncle Wing from you and through them my family is blessed.

    Athene MacDonald

    1. Dear Athene MacDonald,
      Thank you very much for the comment you have given on the story of our dear Shantha Sundram. I am glad that you liked the story and you see that one can draw inspiration from her exemplary life of service to our beloved Cause of God.

      Last July when I was in Australia I did not find the chance of meeting you, but I hope to see you possibly this coming August when I will visit Perth, Addalade and Melbourne.
      Best wishes
      Firaydun

  26. This was a riveting reading. So moving, so inspiring and breathtaking at times.

    “Her constant advice to believers was to lace up their boots and stoke up excellence in all they did for the glorious Cause.”– very appropriately stated.

    Aunty Shantha and Dr. Sundram both had high expectations, complete commitment to the Faith, and were tireless workers with huge, loving, generous and compassionate hearts.

    How lucky we are that the articles were accompanied by a treasure trove of photographs and the video clips.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    Lindi Pelkowitz
    Geraldton,
    Western Australia

    1. Dear Lindi,
      Thank you very much for your comment on the story of Shantha Sundram. I am glad that you liked the story and you can draw inspiration from her devoted and the exemplary life she had led.

      Cheers
      Firaydun

  27. So many wonderfully warm memories flooded over me as I read this loving article about Shanta. Thank you for sharing this.

    Shantha and Chellie drew youth to them, including me, and demonstrated through their loving actions how to rely on God through prayers and the Writings, and the quiet joy of being a warm and generous host, which are qualities that are clearly evident in all four daughters.

    It has been my privilege over the now many years to partake of the warm generosity of the Sundram family. Such precious photos in this article.

    Margaret Mangan

    Glenorchy
    Tasmanian
    Australia

  28. Dr. Firaydun,
    Just managed to finish reading the moving story about Aunty Shantha…. Wow! What a beautiful account of her continuous and selfless service and devotion to her faith.

    I first met her at the South East Asia Regional Conference in December 1976, in Port Dickson when I was 12 years old. I clearly remember what an excellent orator and story teller she was. She wore a beautiful smile always and was a such dynamic lady.

    Thank you for sharing glimpses of her life and her service with us. It is truly inspiring, and she is all deserving to earn our apppreciatons

    V. Parameswary
    Subang Jaya
    Malaysia

  29. Dear Dr. Firaydun,
    Reading your beautiful and comprehensive recollections on Aunty Shantha brought back so many of my own little memories of this gracious and articulate woman. Your article captured facets of that devoted lady whose entire life revolved around serving the Faith, which was reflected in the amazing range of her services to the Faith in Malaysia. She and my parents (Inbum Chinniah and Lily Chinniah) were good friends, and so I knew her and Uncle Chellie from my youngest days. The numerous baby photos of my siblings and I from her camera attest to that and to her creativity.

    Our house would be a place where she and Uncle Chellie visited and often stayed whenever they were in Kuala Lumpur. I remember once, as a child, thinking that I have ever only seen her in a saree in the day time and a kaftan at night! After my father passed away, she would still stay with us every now and then and I am sure it was to be a comfort to my mother as they were good friends and they would spend hours talking together. I used to be so enthralled by all her little stories and always sharing some snippet from the Baha’i Writings. Once she told me how Uncle Chellie had two first class tickets to attend a conference in Europe and she got that changed to economy class so that they could visit more countries. On the map, she said, the countries were only 1 or 2 inches apart! This way, she visited many European countries and also visited the Holy Land which she could due to Uncle Chellie’s UN passport. Later, I would be quite awed in Perth to see a photo of her with Fujita in Haifa.

    She was a great believer in the intercession of the concourse on high and said that we should ask them for help and told me the story of this Baha’i who inadvertently attended a seance and out of nervousness started to pray and the medium then asked her to leave the room because she had “brought rank upon rank” of angels into the seance!

    The National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia commissioned her to design the famous Malaysian small white prayer book with some selected prayers. I remember one new year’s eve in our house, she said let us all say prayers to welcome in the new year at midnight and I felt a little annoyed because I wanted to watch the count down on TV! She had a whole array of little Writings which she loved and many of them made it into subsequent revisions of the little prayer book and even the “Words of Wisdom” inserted. She said this was because we are supposed to read the holy writings twice a day and sometimes we did not have a book with us, so at least in was in the prayer book and we wouldn’t miss this commandment of Baha’u’llah.

    I remember she told me that she was quite surprised to find that Baha’u’llah said that “the essence of true safety is to observe silence….”. She told me the story of her mother who was one of the earliest women to have a Masters degree in Singapore and how her daughter Navanita got her name from a dream she had had. I attended the 9 day institute conducted by her and she used Jenabe Caldwell’s method of analyzing each word of the Writings. How it opened my eyes to the depths of the Baha’i Writings and what spirit she generated at the institute! She talked about reliance on Abdu’l Baha and how if we think we should not teach someone, then that is the person we should teach as we have no right to determine who should hear of the Faith, we must give the Faith to all. She gave us so many practical advice about teaching, things that I still remember till today. How if one Baha’i is talking about the Faith, the others other should quietly pray for that person and not interrupt even if he says something incorrect; to steel ourselves with many hours of prayers before going out into the teaching field; not to be a “know it all” and be prepared to say I don’t know if asked a difficult question; how we must leave the seeker with a good opinion of the Faith such as “they might be misguided but they are nice people”.

    When she was appointed Counsellor when Uncle Chellie was relieved from that role, she told me she found it difficult to accept her appointment but found the answer in the Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah, “With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee ….” and in this way found the strength to come to terms with her new responsibilities. When my grandmother (Mrs. Leong Tat Chee) passed away and my mother was grieving so much, she told her it’s ok to cry but then after some time you must stop otherwise the soul of the departed one would be so sad.

    Before my children were born, she gave me a prayer for the new born babe to say for them. After my twins were born, she visited us from one of her visits from Australia and I still have a photo of her with my two oldest children, babies at that time, on her lap. When my mother told her my twins were often ill, she said to tell me that I should call on the concourse on high, especially those after whom I had named my children, to come to their assistance.

    She sold Pyrex and Tupperware to earn money to partly fund the publication of the Malaysian Baha’i News magazine and she roped my mother in to be her downline. and I remember her teaching my mother how to introduce Tupperware and how to do sales.

    When she sold her house in Penang, she said that she needed to pay the Huququ’llah which was such a new thing for us at that time. She had a great love for the Malaysian Baha’is and in her later years after she was no longer serving as Counselor, she threw her energies into writing her book Mystic Connections. She asked me for some recollections which I did and I was quite delighted when I found a story I told her about Leong Ho Chiew printed in her book. Because of that, she signed a copy of her book and presented it to me.

    In a way, I was fortunate to maintain contact with her when she was living in Perth, Australia when I moved to the same city some years later. Over the years, it was always a delight to meet her at some Baha’i function or other. She was very fond of my mother and father till the end of her life and always seemed to remember me in her later years although I am quite sure it was due to some family semblance to my father.

    Attending her funeral, I was deeply saddened and felt as if a great connection to a special period of the development of the Faith in Malaysia was now gone. However, the cherished memory of this “consecrated handmaiden of the Blessed Beauty” is indelibly etched in Malaysian Baha’i history and I am firmly convinced that the purity of her services and those of her peers are reflected in the devoted services of the younger generation in that country.

    With warmest Baha’i love

    Soheil Chinniah
    Perth, Australia

  30. Dear Dr. Furaydun,

    Again it was a pleasure reading your write up on Aunty Shanta. It refreshes my mind on the activities by Aunty Shanta in developing communities in Malaysia.

    When she was an Auxiliary Board Member I was serving as on the Local Spiritual Assembly of Taiping town in the state of Perak. Her caring for us and sharing of the appropriate Writings gave a great opportunity to deepen in the Faith. Her husband Counsellor Chellie Sundram had initiated a Social Economic Education Development Project [ SEED PROJECT ] at Kubu Gajah village near Selama town in Perak. Both Dr. Chellie and Aunty Shantha making frequent visits added strength in developing both Selama and Taiping towns.

    Aunty Shantha always emphasised on the power of divine assistance, and urged us to rely more on prayers.

    There was one Mr. Kartik Muniandy from Taiping who was another person whom the Sundrams developed into a professional. He was guided to take up profession as a dental denture developer. He now serves in Cambodia with his Cambodian wife.

    Thanks for the wonderful write up, illustrated by the best photos which I had never seen before.

    Thank you,
    R. Gopal
    Sungei Petani
    Malaysia

  31. Dr. Firaydun,
    Thank you so much for sharing the wonderful story of our beloved Shantha. It renewed all the unforgettable memories we had with her and her loving family.

    I met Shantha first in Perth, Australia after 1987 when we returned from pioneering in Zambia ,and soon after we moved to the home front pioneering in Geraldton, some 500 Kilometres north of Perth.

    First we met her two beloved daughters, Padma and Malini and family who were living in Perth. Both with their enthusiasm, dedication and tireless services to the Cause, were the true exemplars of their mother Shantha.

    On many occasions my wife and I had the chance to have a visit by Shantha and enjoyed her insights and hearing many heart-warming stories of Baha’i activities in Malaysia and other South East Asian countries.

    On one occasion Shantha was traveling with us on a trip to visit some Baha’i families in Bunbury and Busselton in the southern part of West Australia. In that trip we were sharing stories. Shantha was revealing many teaching stories with her sweet tongue and radiant smiles that we could not feel the passing of time.

    On another occasion we had the honour of hosting Shantha in our house in Geraldton. That gathering coincided with the occasion of Christmas.

    After 2005 when we moved back and joined the family in Perth, we had more chances of having home visits with Shantha, attending her special birthday party, and enjoying her presence. I remember once she was saying on the great importance of spiritual education of children, and the responsibility of parents to ensure that. She had compiled a booklet of special prayers and quotations on this subject.

    Shantha was a brilliant and luminous soul and one who inspired anyone who came across her.

    May the blessings of Baha’u’llah be always with her soul in the Abha Kingdom

    Heshmat Beyzaie
    Perth
    Australia

  32. Dear Firaydun,

    Thank you for sharing this write up on some salient aspects of the life and achievements of Shantha Sundram, and the beautiful photos as well.

    I still remember how she used to speak. She was so expressive with a lot of gestures. I remember how knowledgeable she was about the Faith. She was ever ready to share her knowledge with anyone who was ready to listen to her. God bless her. She lived to a ripe old age surrounded by her 4 beautiful and talented daughters, as talented as their mother.

    Sad to say I lost touch with her when she moved to Australia.
    What a pity! Whenever she came on visits to Kuala Lumpur we would meet and have our either lunch or dinner together, depending on the time she was free. We shared so much. Any questions I posted to her she could answer me. Such a knowledgeable person.

    Of course we still have Betty Benson, another devoted Bahai.
    I wish Betty is still in Malaysia. I just love to listen to Betty’s talks! Both Betty and Shantha are equally intelligent and knowledgeable. I miss them both tremendously! I really hope there will be more Bahai women who can rise to their standard! This is my prayer and ardent hope!

    Lily Chinniah
    Kuala Lumpur
    Malaysia

  33. I had heard the name Mrs. Sundram long before we met.
    It is her birthday today 6 April. She would have been 94.
    My late husband Francis Singam was – as he was teased- ‘ an ardent fan’ not just of Mrs. Sundram but two other lovely stalwarts in the Faith, Mrs. Betty Benson and Mrs. Lily Chinniah. Theirs was a unique friendship. He was determined to be their official chauffeur at every Baha’i conference, Summer School and Winter School and that was exactly what he did!

    Most friends referred to her as Aunty Shantha , but I followed Francis’ lead . It was Mrs. Sundram. Period. Mrs. Sundram wrote me countless letters while I was investigating the Faith and supported me through my struggles and challenges as I was a ‘born again’ Christian. How simple and uncluttered it all became as she put it to me that I was not rejecting Christ by accepting Bahá’u’lláh, rather that I was honoring the return of my Saviour. Those letters are precious indeed, now bound and filed together for safe keeping.

    I accepted the Faith in Aug 1978 after the Summer School held in Kuantan, Malaysia.

    Late one night, and she must have been physically and mentally drained after those whirlwind 4 days of the Summer School she sat with me and recited this prayer of Abdul Baha: O Compassionate God , thanks be to Thee for Thou hast awakened and made me conscious…’

    Thank you my beloved Mrs. Sundram. May your soul be exalted in all of God’s worlds.

    I send you my eternal love and gratitude.

    Usha Cheryan
    Australia

  34. What a coincidence! Today is Aunty Shantha’s birthday. Many more happy returns of the day in the eternal abode. It takes me back to the late 1980s when I came in contact with Aunty Shantha – a woman in saree with an evergreen sweet smile! Though my association with Aunty Shantha was not to that great extent, but she has left an everlasting impact. As part of my work, I do travel to Penang Island almost on a daily basis. As my work also deals with the printing of product labels for the company I had worked for, I had established a good relationship with the Ganesh Printing Works – the same printing press where Aunty Shantha secured her orders of Bahá’í printed materials. As such, we used to assist Aunty Shanta to collect Bahá’í materials from the Ganesh Printing Works. Whenever we got the opportunity, we used to pass by her residence at Minden Heights. At times Aunty Shantha would call us over for a cup of tea and share news on the progress of the Faith. I consider Aunty Shantha to be very sweet, humble, kindhearted, absolutely hospitable, full of radiance and a reservoir of positive energy. She always carried with her that ‘Bahá’í identity’ rather effectively.

    I had particularly enjoyed her speeches and motivational talks at various gatherings, conferences and summer schools in her capacity as Counselor. Aunty Shantha was equally talented and creative like her husband – as a photographer, composer, editor, designer, presenter, motivator and the list goes on and on! Being one of the stalwarts and heroines from within the country, she had set fine examples to the Malaysian Bahá’í women. May her radiant soul progress and reach the greatest pinnacle in the everlasting Kingdom of God.

    “Happy is the faithful one who is attired with the vesture of high endeavour and hath arisen to serve this Cause. Such a soul hath truly attained the desired Goal and hath apprehended the Object for which it hath been created.” – (TOB, p. 257)

    Vela Gopal
    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

  35. Aunty Shantha’s life was indeed extraordinary and exemplary for our Bahá’í friends. Since the initial days of her Bahá’í life she has contributed so much exalted services in various capacities to the best of her ability. Her whole family too followed her footsteps to serve the Faith. Her life story shall certainly inspire all the dear Bahá’í friends. Her special skill and art of story-telling at Baha’i gatherings talks is very admirable and a good way of attracting hearts. She has been a pillar of strength to whoever crossed her path, especially to the Baha’i women. It is my wish the Bahai women in our generation can learn from her how well to serve the Cause as she has served in her entire Bahá’í life . Thanks to the authors Dr. Firaydun who has done a great job to highlight some of her sincere services in the Divine Cause.

    Arumugam Thanapah
    Klang
    Malaysia

  36. Dr. Firaydun
    Thank you so much for sharing this fascinating and touching with me! So brilliant a story! I became so emotional while reading her story. I did not meet her but her husband Dr. Chellie Sundram. He visited Tonga in the 1980s while I was still there. He was a great teacher.

    Kalo Fakatou
    East Palo Alto
    California
    USA

  37. From what I have read from this story, I feel that Mrss Shantha was a spiritual giant. She gave much of her time for the Faith.

    I came to know Shantha and her family when I was studying at the Malayan Teachers College in Penang. Her home was always open for use for Bahai Feasts and other gatherings. As young and new believers, we were always reminded by her to deepen, pray and teach. With the encouragement and help of Shantha and Chellie, the Malayan Teachers College Bahai Society was formed in 1967.

    Tan Keat Fong
    Australia

  38. Beautiful story. I met our beloved Shantha for the first time in my life in Penang on my way to Bangkok during the early 70’s. I spent a few weeks at late Counsellor Chellie and Shantha Sundram’s house. Shantha was a dedicated soul, became known for her special qualities and deep knowledge of the Faith. Their house was always with full of youth discussing teaching plans with her. She expressed an outstanding eloquence and inimitable charm. I met her again when I was at the RiverDale school, Pune in India. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet her with my wife Debbie and our youngest daughter Natascha. I did not spend much time with Chellie Sundram during my visit to Penang. But, when I moved to Thailand, he visited the Thai Bahá’í community as one of the members of the Board of Counselors for Southeast Asia and I had the pleasure of meeting him several times. I remember him for his unwavering devotion to the Faith. He was dynamic, very organized and full of energy and enthusiasm. The time I spent with Shantha will always be fresh in my mind.

    Nat Yogachandra
    Wilmette
    Chicago
    USA

  39. Dear Manisegaran,
    Thank you very much for all your inspiring history about all our beloved Bahá’í angels. Your description about Aunty Shantha Sundram is really very true and motivating!

    I am very grateful and thankful to Auntie Shantha Sundram. Early in 1969, when I was doing my training as a dental technician in the Penang Dental Training school, my 3 other lady trainees and I were invited by our instructor to attend 3 firesides. The speaker at the first fireside was Uncle Yankee Leong. At the second one the speaker was Yin Hong Shuen. at the third fireside the speaker was Auntie Shantha Sundram. In fact in the first fireside itself I was already quite convinced about the Bahá’í faith for the unity of mankind. When auntie Shantha finished talking about the Bahá’í faith, she asked me, “Do you want to be a Bahá’í?” My spontaneous answer was “Yes.” Auntie Shantha is my Spiritual Mother! I am very thankful to her! May God bless her soul forever!

    Warm regards,
    Catherine Balasingam
    Australia

  40. Thank you Dr. Firaydun.
    As a Baha’i from Germany, it is more rare to have intimate connections to the Asian region. How lucky I am to have met some of the outstanding pearls of the Faith in Asia, while living in Indonesia and the Asia-Pacific region. Only once I met Mrs. Shanta in the house of her daughter Navanita in Medan, during the time I was living in Sumatra, around 2003. I still remember her radiant smile and energy. At that time, I had no idea about the full life of service of this beautiful soul. Thanks to your incredible story about her life, I much appreciate to have at least met her once.

    Sending much love to Chiang Mai from Germany
    Paula

  41. Aunty Shantha told me that when she was living in Penang and newly married and not yet a Baha’i, a westerner Christian lady knocked on her door one day and wanted to talk about the Bible. Being a Christian herself, Aunty Shantha was of course interested and welcomed her in. The lady offered to do Bible Classes with Aunty Shantha and she agreed. So the lady would come regularly and they would study the Bible together. There was a verse in the Bible (she told me which one which I have forgotten, but I believe it was to do with wives obeying their husbands) which they read together and as they read it, Aunty Shantha made some comments and she realized to her horror that the lady believed in those verses literally while she understood them to be a metaphor. That soon ended the Bible classes! But in my mind, this showed that Aunty Shantha was already close to the Baha’i way of thinking about words used in the Holy Writings and the need to understand some literally and some figuratively.

    This leads me to another recollection of her. Coming from a Christian background, Aunty Shantha was certainly familiar with the fires of hell in the Bible and also similar references to “fire” and “burn” in the Baha’i Faith. She told me that the did some research on pain and the measurement of pain which was DOL units. The most intense pain is when you have 3rd degree burns and it would hit the maximum number of DOL units which a person could endure. Again, to me this was a reflection of how she studied the Writings and not just read it.

    Another recollection I have is when she said that ‘Abdu’l-Baha said we must have the Greatest Name as the last thing on our lips and the first thing when we arise in the morning. It would be many, many years later that I myself came across this text, again a great testimony to how she researched the Writings.

    Soheil Chinniah
    Perth
    Australia

  42. Auntie Shantha was truly an example of the “pure. kindly and radiant’ person that we all like to be. Some of the things which impressed me most were the way she presented the Malaysian Bahai News to channel, news, love, and spirit to all those who came in contact with it. It also served as a reliable source of record of the steady growth of the Faith for future historians. Apart from serving as a fine example of the “emancipated” woman that her generation stood for. In addition to the remarkable example, she set as mother and wife, her dedicated services to the Faith in different capacities will always remain unparalleled in the Bahai history of Malaysia.

    Joseph Swaminathan
    Cambodia

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