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Author: Ramachandran Rajah

To Pioneer or Not to Pioneer

To Pioneer or Not to Pioneer

rama-in-nepal

Ramachandran- Nepal

I learnt of the Faith while studying in Seremban. But it was only after coming to Kuala Lumpur that I accepted the Faith.  It must have been in 1970, as I remember it was around that time that I was accepted as a trainee for the Medical Laboratory Technologist training at the Teaching Hospital. I remember attending the first Nineteen Day Feast at the National Baha’i Center in Kuala Lumpur, where I was introduced as a new Baha’i by Mrs. Elizabeth Gibson, who also presented me with a prayer book. That was a turning point and a new beginning in my spiritual life.

The ten years that followed were probably my most active days as a Bahá’i. I was fortunate to become a Bahá’i in Kuala Lumpur. As one of the most active communities in the country, and also sharing the same roof of the National Center, I was in the midst of both local and national activities. The exposure I had when meeting the many Bahá’is -the learned, the experienced, the matured and those coming from different parts of the country, and the members of the National Spiritual Assembly members coming for their meetings, and the international visitors- all these provided me with lots of opportunities to learn more and more about the Faith. It was only a matter of few months, perhaps weeks, that I was appointed to the Local Bahá’i Youth Committee and elected its treasurer. I remember how uncomfortable and nervous I felt not knowing what a treasurer was supposed to do. But the friends put me at ease saying, “Don’t worry, there is nothing much to do, you will learn all about it as time goes by.” I was constantly encouraged by the friends, both youth and adults. There were the families of Inbum Chinniah, A.P. Arumugam, Munusamy and Jamie Maniam and youth like Kanagaratnam, Govindasamy, Kamachee, Yaw Kam Sim, Balasekaran, Yin Thing Shih, Palanisamy, and Lau the typist. For a person with little friends, and for quite not knowing what to do in life, to be put into a community with so loving and friendly people and with such a noble mission was indeed a gift from God.

After some time in the Local Bahá’i Youth Committee I was appointed to the National Bahá’i Youth Committee.  Later on to the National Teaching Committee and also elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly of Kuala Lumpur. All these responsibilities provided me the opportunity to learn, and as well as to practice the many aspects of the Baha’í teachings. When I first learnt that many Bahá’is were going to Singapore to attend the Oceanic Conference I just could not understand how people were spending so much money and time to go and attend a Conference so far away. It was only a matter of time before I saw the significance. Soon, I too started travelling for the sake of the Faith-to participate in such conferences and summer schools and to help organize them. It was thoroughly enjoyable at the same time. Completing a Bahai task always gave me a great sense of satisfaction, whether organizing a conference, going on a teaching trip, or complete typing a set of minutes.

I was staying with my brother at a relative’s place. When my sister came over to KL, we moved to a rented flat in Brickfields. My home commitments were little, as I did not want to get myself too involved. My sister prepared the meals, my brothers did the shopping and ran errands. And I was most of the time at the Bahai Center. On a typical day after work at the Teaching Hospital I would rush home, have a bath, early dinner and then off I go to the Bahai Center. I would be there till 10.00 or 1 1.00pm attending meetings, doing some committee work, going out on a teaching trip or simply enjoying the company of the Baha’is. Having supper or just late tea with Baha’is was common and such a fun. When preparing for major events like the National Convention, we will be helping out at the center till as late as 1.00 or 2.00 am. Being involved in the many committees and activities kept my spirit alive. The Kuala Lumpur Assembly met every week. For several years I was the secretary. Getting the minutes ready for the forthcoming meeting and attending to other secretarial duties week after week takes some discipline and at times could be challenging.

For the most part I experienced steady growth, but should admit that I was a bad teacher. In spite of the many teaching activities I participated in, I was bad at convincing people and accept the Faith.  While attending conferences and conventions, I used to listen with keen interest to the calls made by the National Assembly and the Universal House of Justice. In a way I felt these calls to fulfill goals are challenges given by God to us Baha’is. Getting volunteers to do travel teaching can at times be difficult. At such times I felt whether I was failing God, in arising to answer the call for duty.

 My mother was sickly, off and on she had to be taken to the Teaching Hospital and I played the key role. I could not abandon this only key responsibility I was shouldering for my family and go pioneering. In 1976 my mother passed away. The call for pioneering was coming up unfailingly year after year. That was one of the most challenging and prestigious goal for any country to fulfill. The question whether I should go or should not kept on bothering me. If only I knew that was the right thing for me to do, everything would have been made easy. The Guardian has said that the decision to go pioneering should be made by the individual concerned. I believed in playing safe and never wanted to take risks. I knew of pioneers who had returned home and had a difficult time readjusting and making ends meet. I already had a trouble-free permanent job and eligible for pension. If I put in the required years of service, what I would have earned was enough to pay my share of contribution for the up-keep of the house and for my personal expenses. I was generous in contributing to the Fund and at times helped out the youth who needed financial support. But I just could not save towards buying a car or a house as some of my colleagues did. The Vespa scooter which I obtained on hire-purchase could take me almost anywhere I wanted to go. All this made my life very independent and going pioneering meant giving up all. I wondered what guarantee was there that I would successful at my pioneering post, I thought. Apart from that I was also running into my late twenties and was an eligible bachelor to get settled down; but again things were not just working out.

At the South East Asia Regional Conference held Port Dickson in December 1976, Jamshed Fozdar was speaking. He was talking on serving the Cause and particularly on pioneering, and related an example. He said something to the effect that “When the Hindus pray they make offerings to the Gods with flowers and fruits. From among the bananas and flowers available they pick the best and use them for the offering. They don’t pick a fruit that is half rotten. Likewise, when you offer yourself for the service to the Cause, do it when you are still in possession of your physical vigor, and you will be able to accomplish a lot. Do not wait until you have retired and have accomplished all your commitments. Then you will be too old and will need a walking stick, and you will need someone to look after you. Of course there is nothing wrong with pioneering at old age, and I have personally come across several doing a good job” That talk moved me.  As far as I was concerned Jamshed did ‘strike the nail right on the head’.

 

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 Kuala Lumpur Baha’i Center 

At another time when the call for pioneering was made it was repeatedly emphasized that these goals must be fulfilled. I looked around and thought who were the possible people who could go. Some were still youth at school, mothers with young children and men with family responsibilities. A few appeared to be in a better position than I to pioneer. I was not a scholar in the Baha’i teachings, but I could always say something. I was not a degree holder, but I had a skill. There were no family responsibilities, and no sign of settling down in the near future. Perhaps these are signs from Baha’u’llah wanting me to go, I thought. I never went up the stage but pledged myself to give it a try. Inbum Chinniah was one person I use to turn to for any advice. l asked him,” Do you think I should go pioneering, or support others to go instead? I can easily support two pioneers in the Indian sub-continent” His advice, as usual, was clear and to the point. He said, ‘Money of course is of great help, but if you could go pioneering, then you should. Getting the right people to go pioneering is more important, the funds are secondary.”

In the meantime, my work at the Teaching Hospital was going on smoothly and my superiors were satisfied with my work. However, l was beginning to feel bored. ln my Baha’i work too I was ready for a change. The words of Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhajir uttered at one of the meetings were ringing in my ears ” The Gardner trims the plants to get rid of the old leaves and the wayward shoots so that the young shoots could grow well; let the senior and experienced Bahais go pioneering and set example. The young in the community can grow and assume their responsibilities.” I was in my early thirties, if I had to go pioneering I better moved now, otherwise it might be too late, and opportunities might be lost forever.

Again I wanted to play safe, why go to South America or the African continent. Going to those places may pose difficulties in returning home during times of urgency. Why not go to East Malaysia, hopefully get a job transfer. Thereby my job will be secure and I also will be fulfilling the pioneering goal too. Although I tried, things just did not work out – no way. Next I tried applying for jobs in some of the goal areas in the Pacific islands. Even that did not work out. Finally, I took the decision, and wrote to the National Assembly stating that I am prepared to resign my job and try and fulfill one of the pioneering goals in the Indian Sub-continent, even if that meant that I may have to come back after a period of time and start my life all over again. I specifically chose Nepal because there were two pioneering goals to be fulfilled then, and no Malaysian Baha’is had been there. Also I had this crazy idea, the name Nepal sounded a little exotic, and after being in Kuala Lumpur all the years. I thought Nepal might be a good place to go and get ‘lost’.

I explained to the National Assembly that I had no savings and that I will have to be subsidized both for my travels and for my stay there, until I am able to earn and support myself. Praise be to God! The National Assembly approved my application, but advised me not to resign my job, but to take a three month no pay leave and go to Nepal and study the situation first. My conscious was clear. The prime purpose to go pioneering was to serve the Cause, and my urge to fulfill a pioneering goal for Malaysia was genuine. That gave me conviction that all doors would open through the grace of Baha’u’llah, and that I would be able to retain my pioneering post if I wanted to. With this in mind I made my preparations to leave Malaysia for good. My leave approval went through easily. I read and got to know all I could about Nepal, and sought the advice of ex-pioneers. At that time, I was staying in a rented flat with friends. My belongings were little, the furniture was handed to my family, most of the Bahai books were given to friends and a new-motorcycle I had bought on hire-purchase was handed to a friend. There was no way I could maintain a life insurance policy I had taken. I surrendered it and handed over whatever money I got in return to a youth, whom I was supporting at that time to complete the studies.

Krishnamurthy from Sentul and S. Ravichandran provided me with some winter clothing which was not of much use to them in Malaysia. The National Assembly Informed the Baha’i contacts in Nepal of my coming, for which I received a warm and welcoming reply. At that time Counsellor Afshin from India made a visit to Malaysia. He had visited Nepal several times before and personally knew some of the key believers. He was very happy to learn of my pioneering plans and greatly encouraged me. As for my family members, no one could understand my plans, leave alone appreciating me. But they did not stand in my way either. At the most they told me to have a good holiday and to return home. It was a consolation that my father then was in good health and was still working.

My departure was fixed for 3 July,1980. I was to take a 36-hour train journey to Bangkok, take a flight to Yangon in Myanmar, do a week of travel teaching there, and then fly to Kathmandu with a night stop over at Dacca in Bangladesh. My only worldly possessions then were in those in a suit case and a shoulder bag that I carried along. Members of my family took me to the railway station in Kuala Lumpur, where about 10 Baha’is had gathered to bid me farewell. It was hard to describe how I felt that day, it was mixed feelings. As I got into the train one of the Baha’is shouted to me, “Don’t come back!” That must have been hard for members of my family to hear. As the train pulled off I said to Baha’u’llah, “I have given up all I had and now it is up to you to guide my fate.” I was sitting on my berth saying prayers after prayers for guidance and confirmation. Perhaps I would have said all the prayers in the prayer book, wondering where all these would lead me, and whether I will ever return to Malaysia.

Recalling those moments, it is as though pioneers have a special bounty of starting their lives all over again, and this time they could so tread the path as to adhere to every teachings of Baha’u’llah. After a journey of two nights and a day, I reached Bangkok. A familiar face Bharatkumar from Malacca was waiting to receive me at the railway station.

After two days in Bangkok, a week of travel teaching in Yangon, and a night stop-over at Dacca, I reached Kathmandu on 14 July, 1980. Two car loads of Baha’is were at the airport to receive me. They had no problems recognizing me among the predominantly western tourists. They all greeted me with a big smile and a warm “Allah-u-Abha”. Little did I realize then that they were truly spiritual giants and the very cream of the Nepal Baha’i community. Among them were the Koiralas, Walkers and Larry Robertson. After a short rest at the Walkers residence, I was taken to the National Baha’i center and introduced the room that was to be my home for the next 6 years. The same day Larry took me around the bazar which was just two minutes’ walk from the center.

Kathmandu was in no way close to the place I had imagined or read about. I could buy almost all I wanted right there. Many Indians from India came over to Kathmandu just to buy foreign goods. But that which put me at ease was again the community – such warm and loving personalities who were only too willing to help at the slightest request.

Being a pioneer does not mean one will be spared of tests. For example, for foreigners to continue to stay in Nepal for a long period of time is difficult. One can get a 3-month tourist visa after which he or she has to leave the country. For the first year in Nepal I was doing exactly that. Towards the end of the visa period I had to take a long and tiring journey to a border town, cross over to India stay there for a few hours or days, and then re-enter Nepal. The following year I was able to get a 6-monthly student-visa as I was studying Nepali language at a local institute. Even then, I will have to leave the country after every semester, each semester lasting 6 months. During those times although I tried my best, and yet I was unable to secure a job.

It was only in the middle of 1982 that I was able to get a job, as a part-time laboratory technician at a newly opened project clinic called the CIWEC Clinic (CIWEC: Canadian International Water and Energy Consultants) which was catering primarily for their staff then. I believe it was God’s blessings. It was through this clinic that I was eventually able to become self-supporting, and was able to secure the visa to stay here year after year. The work I do here is exactly the same as I would be doing in Malaysia, and what I am paid here is equivalent to that I would be receiving had I continued to work there, minus the pension of course. This is the only international clinic of its kind in the country and it has a long history of its own. Had it not been for this clinic, my life would have been very different indeed.

 

In September 1986 l got married to a Nepali girl -a non-Bahai at that time. I was introduced to her by friends helping me to get settled down here. The story of how I finally got settled down is not as straight forward as it sounds. That is another story and not forgetting my share of tests. I vividly remember Hand of the Cause Ruhiyyih Khanum saying something to the effect that problems do follow you to your pioneering post.

It’s now October 2016, a full thirty-six years have passed. What are my blessings and what have I lost by leaving Malaysia? Guess this primarily depends on what one is seeking in life, and to what extent it is being fulfilled. As for me I am happy that I have come here and being able to serve the Cause. To put it short, I have been doing all I could do for the Faith here, or at least trying to.

I had served on the Local Spiritual Assembly, the National Assembly and the National Teaching Committee, thanks to the training I have had in Kuala Lumpur. Had I stayed on in Malaysia my life-style would have been somewhat the same initially, and I would have continued to be an active Baha’i. The difference is that, being a pioneer, I am privileged to render all these services here in Nepal instead of at home. Guess this is for what we need pioneers for.  As it is I’m, still now on the Local Spiritual Assembly of Kathmandu and the Deputy Trustee for Nepal.

My work at the CIWEC Clinic, now renamed the CIWEC Hospital is another interesting story. Nevertheless, will be retiring soon. I was presented with a Long Service Award by the Hospital just last month – 34 years of service.

 

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            Long Service Award        

 

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                           Huquq Meeting                                                                                                                                       

We are a happy family of three -thanks to Baha’u’llah. We have a house in Kathmandu and I still get around on a motorcycle. My daughter Anita is 29 years. She completed her A levels in Kathmandu, did her degree in Business Studies at the Nilai University and has been working in Kuala Lumpur. Right now she is making preparation to move over to Hong Kong to take on a new offer.

Over the years, to put it brief, the Nepal Baha’i community has shown steady growth, from about several hundred Baha’is since I came to around fifteen thousand now. There were no Assemblies then. Now there 70 plus Local Assemblies in 100 over Clusters (PG and IPG). At my place, Saturdays – being the off day- have the busiest and most satisfying day of the week: at 7.00am Devotional, at 8.00am Classes for the children and junior youths and at 10.00am classes for youth and adults. Often in the Afternoons we are off to the Center for Feasts, meetings etc. Except for little interruptions it has been this way week after week and year after year.

 

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Childrens Junior youth classes

One will have to know the political climate here to understand and appreciate growth. Democracy and freedom of religion are relatively new and as promised, all barriers will finally make way. As it is I feel honored to serve in this country. It is my sincere prayers that Baha’u’llah will enable me to remain here and strengthen me to render more years of active service to His Cause.

Please God, may I achieve it!

 

 

my-family

Blessed with a happy family

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