REMEMBERING THANABALAN

REMEMBERING THANABALAN

 

19 November 1946  to  26 September 2021

Mr. Thanabalan Thambipillai, affectionately known as Balan hailed from Kuala Kubu Baru town in the state of Selangor, where he started his primary education and excelled in his studies. At school, as years went by he was a badminton player and Secretary of the Prefects Board and earned appreciations from the teachers as a well-disciplined student. When Balan moved from Kuala Kubu Baru to Kuala Lumpur in 1966, he was studying his upper secondary education and working at the same time in the Inland Revenue Department, Government of Malaysia. It was in this Inland Revenue Department that he worked until his retirement in the year 2002. In Kuala Lumpur, Balan was living in his aunt’s house in Setapak area, a walking distance from the National Bahá’í Centre. One day by chance, he met Mr. S. Vasudevan, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia who was residing in the National Bahá’í Centre. Their casual conversation snowballed into many discussions on the Faith. Balan and some of his friends frequented the Bahá’í Centre to continue conversing with Vasudevan. One of them was one Mr. Anandan who was Balan’s relative. Balan took liking and love for the Cause and accepted the Faith in 1966 at the age of 19. Even before accepting the Faith, Balan was known within  the family circle and in his community in Kuala Kubu Baru town as one with  polished virtues, mannerism, and an exemplary way of life. Through  the acceptance of the Faith Balan started reading the sacred writings which went on to strengthen those noble virtues further.

Each weekend Balan visited his family in Kuala Kubu Baru. In that town there was one sole believer, the late “Big Eye Maniam”. But Balan’s meetings with Maniam were held in some remote corners of the town, for Balan feared that his Orthodox Ceylonese family from strong Hindu background would find it really hard to see him accepting a new Faith. Balan already kept praying, and it did not take long before the family came learned that he had embraced the Bahá’í Faith.

Perhaps one turning point could have been the passing of Balan’s  father Mr. Thambilillai on 4 February 1972,  in Kuala Kubu Baru. The respected father’s funeral procession went through the small town. It was when his father passed away, a carload of believers from Petaling Jaya, including Balan came for the funeral. From then on Balan often came home with some believers, through which the family members were gradually exposed to the Faith. Among others, N. S. S. Silan and S. Ravichandran – both from the Ceylonese community, and Theenathayalu made regular trips with Balan to Kuala Kubu Baru. The family was convinced of the kind of friends Balan mixed with, and in stages he won them over. The house then became open to believers and the believers delightedly met Balan in his house. Balan brought his younger brother Selvakumar into the Faith.

With the passing of Mr Thambipillai, Balan assumed high responsibilities. Balan’s father was running a very successful sundry shop, and the children were in great comfort, with servants to look after them. Balan being the eldest in the family had one nanny to look after him when he a small baby. Sadly, the father had entrusted the business into the hand of a friend who ultimately ruined the business and the family had to face hardship. The family burden naturally fell on the shoulders of Balan, the eldest and one who was most respected among the siblings for his upright character, and of course good upbringing. Balan, though residing in Petaling Jaya came home a few times a month as a dutiful son to look into the family needs.

From the day Balan became a Bahá’í he was actively involved in the activities of the Faith. While in Kuala Lumpur he served the Faith very energetically and assisted in laying a strong foundation for the Cause. He was well-groomed in the Faith by Mr. S. Vasudevan, followed by Mr. Inbum Chinniah who took over as the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia when Vasudevan left as pioneer to India in May 1967. Balan gained a deeper understanding of the Cause at Bahá’í gatherings and by listening to the talks by some Hands of the Cause of God visiting Malaysia and by moving with the early believers who were well deepened in the Cause. He was also a wide reader of Bahá’í books.


Auxiliary Board member Mr. Inbum Chinniah brings laughter to the believers in the  Bahá’í Centre, of Petaling Jaya at Lorong Assunta. Seated in the centre are Thanabalan (L) and Raymond Peter (R).  At their back are L-R Theenathayalu (L) and Vasugy Theenathayalu (R). At the extreme right corner at the back row is Lum Weng Chew.

 

Having moved into Petaling Jaya in 1969, Balan served the Cause through local activities as one of the front liners. Balan stayed with the family of Mr. Leong Ho Chiew, where he was once again well-groomed and deepened in the Faith through the love and warm hospitality of the couple. Among his roommates at different times were Mr. Yin Hong Shuen, Mr. Lum Weng Chiew and Mr. T. K. Lee.

For a short stint Balan also served on the Local Spiritual Assembly of Sungei Way-Subang. This Assembly was then dissolved and Balan was back to his Petaling Jaya community where he became the longest serving Chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Petaling Jaya for close to a quarter century. Balan was a good Chairman, and he ensured every member was well heard. Meetings would invariably drag to past midnight as Balan, being Chairman wanted to be very thorough, detailed, and meticulous.


Local Spiritual Assembly of Petaling Jaya, 1971. Seated L-R: James Liew, Gina, Leong Ho Chiew, and Thanabalan. Standing L-R: V. Theenathayalu, Ying Hong Shuen, M. Singaraveloo, T.K. Lee, and N. S. S. Silan. The Leongs were the only married members of this Assembly.

Balan served actively and effectively on various national committees too. In 1967 and 1968, the National Spiritual Assembly appointed Balan to the National Bahá’í Youth Council that activated the thousands of youths in the country. In 1969, the National Spiritual Assembly appointed Balan into the Coordination Committee for Teaching which later came to be called the National Coordinating Unit. While on this Unit, Balan joined other members in closely monitoring the reports received from the Area Teaching Committees in West Malaysia and helped the National Spiritual Assembly in planning and coordinating all teaching activities and activated the dormant Local Spiritual Assemblies and communities and further encouraged them in teaching work. Each week Balan joined other members of this committee like N. S. S. Silan, S. Ravichandran and Mrs. Elizabeth Gibson in going to several parts of the country to activate teaching activities in the communities. There was a time when no single weekend was spared to carry out this task. In 1972, Balan was appointed on the National Teaching Committee on which he remained till the 1980s.

Balan’s Bahá’í life was further strengthened through his marriage to Miss Chua Loon Hua @ Maureen Chua, which he always recalled as divinely propelled, given the circumstance in which Maureen came into his life. It was while working at the Inland Revenue Department at the Sulaiman Building in Kuala Lumpur, situated next to the Railway Station that Balan befriended his colleague, Maureen. Maureen comes from the Peranakan community of Malacca state. The Peranakans are people of mixed Chinese and Malay or Indonesian heritage whose origins go back to the 15th century Malacca, where their ancestors were thought to be Chinese traders who married local women. In later years, Peranakans have retained many of their particular cultural practices, while a majority have assimilated into the larger Chinese community. The males were called Babas while the females are known Nyonyas. Balan being on the Local Spiritual Assembly of Petaling Jaya sought the assistance of Maureen in typing out some letters and communications for the Assembly, during lunch breaks. Maureen, a strong Christian, had a liking for the Faith through Balan and his other friends like Silan and Ravichandran. Yet she was hesitant in accepting the Faith. Miss Jeanne Frankel, a believer from the United States came on a visit to Malaysia in mid-1968 for some proclamation work. She gave a talk at the Furlong House opposite the National Bahá’í Centre in Setapak. Maureen attended her talk, and after the talk Jeanne had a private talk with Maureen which changed her heart. After further reading and investigation of the Faith Maureen accepted the Faith on 13 May 1969.

Things started to take a more serious note when, in 1971 Balan and Maureen started courting. The news reached Maureen’s parents, and they were opposing her daughter courting Balan from another race. Inter-racial marriage was quite rare in those days, mainly owing to widely prevalent racial prejudice. Maureen was firm that she wanted to marry none other than Balan. Seeing the firmness of Maureen, her parents requested her to invite Balan to meet up with them. On a Saturday evening, as the Bahá’ís in Petaling Jaya were praying at the home of Leong Ho Chiew, where Balan was renting, he took a public bus and arrived in the house of Maureen. Throughout the journey he was reciting the “Remover of Difficulties” prayer. Maureen’s father was at the entrance. What a dramatic change! As soon as the four eyes met, Maureen’s father seemed to have immediately softened. After the exchange of pleasantries, they sat down and started to discuss matters. In their conversation, Balan mentioned about the Bahá’í teachings on the law of parental consent on both sides for the marriage, and further explained on the Bahá’í writings on marriage. The teachings on parental consent impressed Maureen’s parents and invited Balan for dinner. After the dinner, her parents requested Balan to come each week for dinner. Balan reported this unexpected miracle to the group of anxious friends who were praying and waiting at the home of Mr. Leong Ho Chiew, and they all jumped with joy! Each week Maureen’s father and Balan would play drafts after dinner till the late hours of the night, and they became very good friends. That was one incident where Balan witnessed the power of prayers at play right in front of his eyes. That drove him to rely on prayers whenever he had an uphill task in life. It was still half the battle that was won. Maureen’s parents had given the green light. Balan had now to take up the matter with his family, which he knew would not be that easy as his mother too comes from strong Orthodox Ceylonese family where inter-marriages were totally alien and a kind of taboo as well.

But before breaking the news to his parents, another turning point came about – an event that shall ever be engraved in the history of the Faith. In 1972, while serving on the National Teaching Committee, Balan had to leave for Africa on no-pay leave for six months, with Mr. Inbum Chinniah, Mr. N. S. S. Silan and Mr. Bhaskaran from the National Spiritual Assembly and Mr. Ravichandran from the National Teaching Committee and Miss Kamachee, an Assistant to the National Teaching Committee. This trip to Africa was to assist some sister communities there to speed up the completion of the remaining goals of the Nine-Year Plan. That was to answer the call from the Supreme Body, channelled through the Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir. Maureen’s father, respecting the spiritual obligation of Balan took him to a known tailor and had Balan’s coat and suite stitched for him, as his part of the support. On the day of departure, Maureen’s father himself drove Balan to the Subang International Airport to send him off.

Travel teachers to Africa were  accommodated at the Hilltop Hotel, Nairobi as they arrived. The three Malaysians from the right : S. Ravichandran, Thanabalan and  N.S. S. Silan.

Balan was sent to the English-speaking West Cameroon, where he was posted to a town called Mamfe, situated about 50 kilometres east of the Nigerian border. It was great sacrifice and adjustment to the culture shock that awaited Balan in totally an alien territory hitherto unknown and unaccustomed to him. He went to the villages around Mamfe town and spent weeks in places like Tinto, Tali, Bakebe and Fotabe. He also sojourned in Bamenda suburbs. Most of the time he was involved in visiting the tribal villages where he presented the Faith to the simple and humble people, teaching both the adults and children. Balan became very popular among them and immediately won their hearts. Balan was moving as one among them. He was well loved by people of all ages, and members of the institutions of the Faith.

 


Cameroon. L-R:  Bhaskaran, Kamachee, Fred Ramirez from the Philippines, Parvin Behi from Iran and  Thanabalan


Fred Ramirez and Thanablan in Cameroon

Before starting off from Malaysia. Balan had copied down some Bahá’í songs sung in Malaysia into his notebook. In Africa, he taught these songs to children who always flocked to him each time he was coming. Balan was not musically inclined, but he taught the children three of his own favourite and simple songs; namely “Will you give your heart to Bahá’u’lláh”, “Love is something that you give it away” and “Shine the Light on me, Bahá’u’lláh”. And the songs went very well among children and the adults. The local people sang and danced to these songs. With the adults, Balan would discuss on the Faith and at the same time bring much laughter and joy. He would also offer to help the Bahá’í women when they were cooking in the kitchens. Having not met with such a lovable and loving believer like Balan, within the first few months, they appealed to him to settle in Africa for good. But Balan explained that he, being the eldest in the family had commitments at home, and that he was only on a six month leave. Some sad believers quietly went to meet Counsellor Dr. Mihdi Samandarí to persuade Balan to remain in Cameroon forever, or at least extend his stay longer. Counsellor Mihdi replied that he would try to persuade Balan, and he did speak to him. But the Counsellor realized that Balan had to return home for reasons that he could not avoid and beyond his control. When the Counsellor conveyed this to the locals they were sad but had to resign to reality. Balan was moved to see the tremendous love the locals had for him. He also saw the tremendous amount of work that he could do for the Cause in Cameroon. In one of his letters to Maureen, Balan quietly asked if there was any possibility of she flying down to Cameroon where they could get married and settle down. But that was not possible on Maureen’s part as her parents would want her to get married in Malaysia. But the fact remained that the noble thought crossed his mind!

Back in Africa, at one-point Balan brought some 300 villagers into the Faith, he spent one whole day filling-up the declaration cards of a long line of locals. That was seen as a resounding success of the first kind for the Cameroons. On account of that one rare achievement, Balan was given a special appreciation and honor when he returned to Victoria City – a master bedroom to sleep that night. When Balan hesitated, he was pushed into the room and the door locked from outside. After months of staying in simple dwellings, it was only on that night that Balan had a good sound sleep.


Thanabalan with Mrs. Ursula Samandari, member of the National Spiritual Assembly at his left at Bahá’í Advance Deepener’s Training Course at the Tinto Institute


With families in Mamfe town where Thanabalan was stationed.


S. Bhaskaran, sixth from left and Thanabalan ninth from left at a gathering with local believers.


S. Bhaskaran thrid from left and Thanabalan fifth from left with believers.

 


Thanabalan in a very remote village.

Life in Africa was extremely alien and challenging as Balan. When asked how he, having been brought up in urban dwellings could live in such remote places with little comfort he used to say, “You have to love them as your own family members, and that is the secret of pioneering. When asked what was the propelling force in the field he remarked:

“The spirit in the teaching fields was so strong that we felt we could do anything and everything. The credit goes to Dr Muhájir and Counsellor Aziz Yazdi for igniting this flame in us with their noble words of encouragement always ringing in our years throughout our stay in that continent.” Balan had always prayed to pioneer somewhere. In his own words, it was not possible at all for him to pioneer given his family circumstances. Yet he took great consolation that he was able to do his part, very great it was, in Africa.

In early 1973, upon completion of the goals assigned, Balan returned with S. Bhaskaran, another co-pioneer, through India, as requested by Dr. Muhájir. In India they carried out some work in the cities of Bangalore and Mysore, especially among the college students.

Even when Balan was still in Africa, Dr. Muhájir had met with Counsellor Dr. Mihdi Samandarí, Auxiliary Board member Samuel Akaleh and the National Teaching Committees of East and West Cameroon in four different cities – Victoria, Yaoundé, Mamfe and Douala. In all those meetings Dr. Muhájir had praised Balan and the five other Malaysian travel teachers and Nargis Astani from Indonesia serving in Africa. Dr. Muhájir had mentioned that Bahá’ís must learn from the Malaysian believers on how to be committed and fully dedicated and become all-rounders in the field. Dr. Muhájir then told them some of the success stories of the Malaysian  Bahá’í community. Balan’s travel teaching to Africa won the love and admiration of the Supreme Body, Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhajir, the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia and the National Spiritual Assembly of Cameroon, not forgetting the Universal House of Justice. Balan was one of the many others whom Dr. Muhajir greeted with warm smiles in his subsequent visits. And Balan was among those many who could not accept the untimely passing of Dr. Muhajir.

Meanwhile, when Balan was away in Africa, some developments were taking place within his own family in Kuala Kubu Baru. Before going to Africa, Balan had made some arrangements to send monthly remittance to his mother as promised before he started off for Africa. And each month it was Maureen who posted the cheques to the mother, without introducing herself formally. The mother guessed something was out of usual and decided to send Balan’s younger sister Shanti to meet Maureen. These two contacted each other over the phone, and on a Saturday afternoon met in a bus stop in Kuala Lumpur for lunch. After the lunch, Shanti invited herself to pass that night at the home of Maureen. The following day Shanti went back to her mother and gave a very positive report on the kind of cultured and fine family Maureen came from. One of Shanti’s keen observations she reported was that Maureen’s family using their hands to eat meals, and not chopsticks, fork and spoons as used by other Chinese people. It was a simple, but important observation in those days. Maureen too did not divulge her kind of relationship with Balan to Shanthi, but Shanti was old enough to guess. Upon reporting her observations Balan’s mother was convinced that Maureen would make the right daughter-in-law, but decided to wait for Balan return and open the subject.

When Balan returned to Malaysia, he stayed at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Thevar in Happy Gardens, Kuala Lumpur. Finally, Balan and Maureen married on 30 June 1974 at the Girl-Guides Hall in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. The marriage was conducted by Dr. M. M. Sreenivasan. At the time of marriage, they did not have any vehicle of their own, and resorted to public transportation, and yet were full of happiness. It was later that they purchased their first vehicle, a Volkswagen with registration plate BU5889. While building their own family they made sure they visited the parents on both sides and involved in the family obligations. Balan and Maureen were a great balancing figure in both families.


They started their lives together as one soul in two bodies

When contemplating purchasing a house, Maureen’s father encouraged him not to delay as with each delay by one year, the monthly installment would escalate if he took a housing loan. His advice was, “Go for any roof upon your head for the start. You could decide for a better house if need be in later years.” With that Balan and Maureen acquired their own house in which they spent the rest of their lives. Balan was gifted to have had a wonderful father-in-law, who was his good guide and advisor.

Balan and Maureen continued to serve the Cause actively and effectively in Petaling Jaya community. In 1977, when the National Pioneers and Travel Teachers Committee was founded, Balan was appointed on this committee on which he served with distinction.


Teaching trip to Bilut Valley in the state of Pahang. Thanabalan on right and Shirley Wong and Lum Weng Hoe on left


Meeting with S. Vasudevan, face partly hidden, at the Petaling Jaya  Bahá’í Centerat Lorong Assuntha. Thanbalan in the centre with Vasugy and her husband Theenathayalu to his left.

ARTISTIC TALENTS

Right from his childhood days Balan was endowed with some artistic talents which he later put to full use in the Faith. He took the lead in preparing banner for the World Religion Day that was held for the first time in Petaling Jaya in September 1970. Likewise, the banner for the Oceanic Conference of the South China Seas held in Singapore in early 1971. When serving on the Local Spiritual Assembly of Petaling Jaya, Balan created a very beautiful newsletter for the community called the SATELLITE with his every beautiful, artistic and neat handwriting.


Satellite Newsletter  with artistic touch of Thanabalan. Courtesy of Lum Weng Chew, Canada.

When the Petaling Jaya community bought its own building at 15, Jalan 7/20 to be used as the Bahá’í Centre, Balan was given the task of painting the new property with the help of the youths. And he did a marvellous job in 1978 with only three colours – white for the walls and brown for the pillars and beige for the panels. The Centre’s beautiful appearance was always attributed to Balan. He had even at the early part of his days renovated his own house in his hometown of Kuala Kubu Baru, with his talents latent in him. As a meticulous, and well-organized person from childhood days, Balan paid details and was always focused in whatever he did.

After his retirement from government service, Balan became an independent tax consultant and assisted friends in solving their income tax matters. Even while in service with the government, Balan had been assisting ignorant and even innocent members of the public in assessing their tax returns and would always point out ways of paying a lesser amount within the provisions provided for. As a long-time worker with the Inland Revenue Department, Balan was very thorough with the rules, procedures and circulars.

He was fully involved in Bahá’í activities to the best of his ability. There was always a constant flow of visitors to his house to partake of the fun, jokes and laughter that was part of Balan. Deepening classes were held from time to time, with invited speakers from other communities. His favourite which he never wanted to give up till the end of his days was weekly devotional sessions at his home.

ADMIRABLE QUALITIES

Balan had some unique qualities that are to be admired. Balan was well-read in the Writings, especially on principles of Bahá’í Administration. He was soft in speech but never compromised on adhering to the principles of the Faith. As a long-term delegate to the National Conventions, Balan was very eloquent and mature during the consultation sessions. Balan was seen as one of the best, mature, and well-seasoned believers in the art of open and frank consultation. There were times when he consulted Counsellors before taking up at national conventions serious matters of national significance. Delegates used to wonder in awe and admiration when he spoke on the most sensitive matters at the local, regional, and National conventions, with the right tone and with utter sincerity, with the right choice of words. He had truly set an example in that way.

He was known for his integrity both in the community and in the wider world. His trademark was his warm smile and jovial nature. He was always met with a warm smile and a radiant disposition. He was all his Bahá’í life an active participant in many Bahá’í  activities, supporter of the institutions and defender of the Covenant.

Balan always urged believers to put their complete reliance and trust in Bahá’u’lláh and never to doubt His unfailing assistance. His constant advice to those shaken believers would be, “Bahá’u’lláh is surely a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. Are you saying all your prayers have gone to the drain? Wait and see, for everything there is a time and a reason. Have both patience and faith. They come in a package.” Such advice could only be born out of experience.  Balan was a firm believer that every word written by the Blessed Beauty and every promise given shall surely come to pass. Numerous have been incidents of members of the public, especially those illiterate and ignorant in getting assistance from Balan in having their income taxes reduced to the minimum, based on the tax rules and provisions.


Local Spiritual Assembly of Petaling Jaya, 1988. Seated L-R: N. Munusamy, T. K. Lee, Clement Tan. Standing L-R: Lum Weng Hoe, Cheong Khoon Tien, Thanabalan, S. Ravichandran, Anthony Wong and Theenathayalu.

When he gave advice, one could feel the penetrating influence and power, and the sincerity in his tone. That was one reason that drew many downtrodden to him for counsel and they always returned happy and confident. Balan was always considerate to the views of others and never failed to give listening ears. Under all situations, Balan never lost his cool. He was always smiling even when pushed to the wall. There is no reported incident of Balan using harsh words on anyone – under any situation. It is not God alone who loves laughter, but Balan too. Balan enjoyed a high sense of humour, though he would not crack jokes. Whenever he was down he would phone up friends to get some jokes out of them to cheer his own spirit.

Whenever felt hurt, Balan would resort to prayers and leave things in the hands of the Creator. And the ever-forgiving Balan would forget the incident and consort and converse on other matters. Somehow he had developed the uncanny talent of handling even the most difficult of persons and managing the most stressful and difficult situations.


Thanabalan extreme right, discussing the UNIFEM project with other members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Petaling Jaya, 1992


Lum Weng Chew who had migrated to Canada with eight other members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Petaling Jaya, 1998. Squatting L-R: S. Ravichandran, Lum Weng Chew,William Chin and Lum Weng Hoe. Standing L-R: Chow Lai Kuen, Mayalagan, Thanabalan, June Loh and Shirley Wong

He was soft but stood up for justice. Balan was one who made sure justice was always meted out under all situations. Whenever he saw that unfounded accusations were levelled against anyone, Balan invariably came to the defence and ask the believer to pray to Bahá’u’lláh to show justice in my case. Balan clearly was on the same page with Bahá’u’lláh in meting out justice. And he applied the same principle at his workplace. His superior was pushing him around for some time. His patience was wearing thin and one day Balan entered the office of the supervisor and spoke off his mind, short of giving a stern warning to the supervisor who was stunned at the audacity of Balan. Surprising to Balan, in the next round of promotions, Balan’s was promoted to the position of Assistant Assessment Officer with which he retired from service in the year 2002. Of this Balan used to say, “The answer is in the advice of the Master – “Work is Worship; Service is Prayer,” and add that when one is disciplined and does the best, no boss on earth could find room for any fault.  Perhaps these are among the rare and laudable virtues in Balan that won him a very wide circle of friends. He was a friend to many and foe to none. At office he loved all his colleagues of all races and all loved him.


Former colleagues coming together. L-R: Thanabalan, Maureen, Ms Diana, Madam Meriam and her husband.

 A dinner meet that Suresh Bhaskaran organized in 2015 in Klang to honour the visit by Kamachee and her husband to Malaysia.  Seated are the veterans who were in Africa from 1972 . Seated L-R.  N.S. S. Silan,  Thanabalan, Kamachee Martel,  Pierre Martel, Bhaskaran and Saro Bhaskaran. Standing L-R: Suresh Bhaskaran, Maureen Balan, Liu Man San, Maniam, Teh Teik Hoe, Mrs. Komala Veeran, Yeap Hong Ean (partly hidden) Veeran, T. K. Lee  and Goh Kean Kooi.

Of his own marriage that came in well in place, Balan would often say, “Just take care of the Cause of God, and He knows when, how and what to do for your wellbeing.” Balan would say that he had the best married life anyone could ask for, with well brought up children. Balan’s father-in-law would later say that while his two sons were abroad, his other son Balan was in Malaysia, and that Balan was the best son-in-law he could have been blessed with. Balan’s mother had commented later that Maureen was an angelic daughter-in-law. This was one incident Balan would often tell his close friends- to place everything in His hands. Many youths and adults, nay married couple too saw the kind of Bahá’í family that the couple nurtured. It is no exaggeration to say that the couple lived as one soul in different bodies, sharing both joy and pain, and living for each other. Balan and Maureen led a thrifty and yet very happy life.  There was no one important decision that the couple made individually. Fully believing in the gift of consultation bestowed in the teachings, the couple practised that art to the fullest. As their children grew up they too were included in family consultations.


The last birthday celebration for Balan. Standing behind Maureen and Balan are L-R: their granddaughter Keona Navin, daughter in law Sonia, grandson Micah carried by Navin, Rohan and his wife Nur’i.

Sadly, since end of October 2020 Balan’s health was failing and was diagnosed with fourth stage cancer of the liver. This was the time when Balan was also suffering from early stage of dementia. He was at times sharp with memory and at other times totally forgetful of the past. The doctors gave him some six months to live, but he miraculously lived on for some ten months. In these ten months, his wife, children and friends prayed very earnestly for his recovery. Maureen took a very good care of him. As time went by Balan lost weight and could barely walk. But he never gave up what he loved most – communicating with his friends. He kept speaking to his close friends over the phone to cheer himself. As time went by, his strength to speak declined and he spoke very little. Yet he spoke to four of his closest friends with great difficulties till the last month and finally could not proceed anymore. He then passed away in the hospital on 26 September 2021. His passing is an irreplaceable loss to many of the former generations and those belonging to the current generation.

Although Balan had served with distinction in various capacities, history would remember his indelible and impressive services in Africa, where he had conquered the hearts of the multitudes. The best tribute comes from Mr. Samuel Alakafe who was an Auxiliary Board member in Cameroon in those days of Balan  travel teaching in that country. Mr. Alakafe , residing in California, USA at the time of writing, sent this note  to the author, “In the roaring mid months of 1972 like a constellation of flaming stars dropping from the heavens above a group of youthful adults moved massively to Victoria, Cameroon .They had arrived from many various nations around the world. The Malaysian group was made up of Miss Kamachee, Mr. Bhaskaran and Mr. Balan. Mr Thanabalan a humorously thrilling and excitable man opted immediately to go to villages in the hinterland. Mr. Thanabalan after a few boisterous months travelled back to Malaysia. The generation that knew and loved him in Cameroon will sorrowfully think and mourn with prayers and profound sessions of meditations. The Baha’i Community of Cameroon will surely pay homage to a passionately inspiring teacher and mightily hilarious lifetime friend of and to mankind. Oh my dear, dearest Thanabalan. Thou didst descend unto Cameroon from the heightened beauty and best of the human spirit, tightly vested in you, extending the exciting message of unity, love and unity in 1972. The memories of your expressive passion for and of humanity in harmony resonated with and deeply in us throughout ages and time. Your exciting presence and flamboyant liveliness dispelled elements of depression in us, uplifting us experience waves of sweet sensations, rushing us in fast flowing waters of a river, cascading to the sea of the calmness of our hearts and lives.”

Balan remains in the innermost corner of many believers for the shining example he had set. He lived by what he had learnt from the Writings. His last advice to his wife was to commit to memory this passage from the beloved Guardian, which he had memorized and tried his very best to put into practice throughout his life:

One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendour of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh.

Balan was clearly a believer of spotless character who made the Faith the centre of his life and served relentlessly in many capacities and believing in presenting the best for the Cause he loved and served.

 

Comments on this story may be sent to: info@bahairecollections.com

A. Manisegaran

31 December 2021

Copyright@bahairecollections.com

21 thoughts on “REMEMBERING THANABALAN

  1. Dear Uncle Manisegaran,

    Thank you so much for writing this very moving story of Uncle Thanabalan. The story about uncle leaving to Africa on a no pay leave for teaching is very timely and inspiring. I myself was considering travel teaching or pioneering after reading the letter to the Counsellors that was released yesterday by the Universal House of Justice. That letter and this story coming out back to back is a Divine Intervention for sure.

    What a lovely way to start 2022!

    May Bahaullah bless you for your service in capturing history and moving hearts of His believers. Much love.

    S. Sangitaa
    Cheras
    Kuala Lumpur
    Malaysia

  2. I had known Thanabalan well when I was in the Kuala Lumpur community. Thanabalan was the chairman of the National Teaching Committee when I was appointed to the committee immediately after my return from my travel teaching effort in Sarawak.

    Strangely I never knew until now of Thanabalan’s teaching efforts in that part of Africa. Thanabalan was indeed soft in speech and humble in every way.

    The one beautiful thing I cannot forget is I was at his wedding in Petaling Jaya.

    Good, you are doing good work. Keep it up. History should speak well with spirit in every way. When I read these things you write sometimes I feel moved esp. when I see the power of the Covenant at work.

    Keep it up Mani.
    Subbaya
    Sri Lanka

  3. The story of Mr. Thanabalan is so unique in so many ways. The early believers were so active in spreading the Faith to all who come across their ways without any prejudice. Like the say goes that every journey begins with a single step. But you’ll never finish if you don’t start it! They had successfully planted to seed of the Bahá’í Faith in the heart of Mr. Thanabalan. His acceptance makes an incredible fertile soil for the seeds of change.

    Mr. Thanabalan’s spiritual journey was really encouraging and motivating; just like a chain reaction and well interwoven one after the other from the time he had found the Faith, the manner he got himself nurtured and deepened along the way, served in many local and national committees as well as his many decades long services as member of the Local Assemblies, brought into the Faith his brother, the way he had found his wife Maureen; the manner she had learned about the Cause through her volunteer service typing minutes and notes for him during lunch hours; the initiative he had taken to teach her the Faith until her own acceptance; falling in love, complete reliance in the power of prayers, meeting his future father-in-law and establish great relationship with the family prior to his marriage; invited to dinner every week and spent qualitative time with them where along the process creating deeper and stronger bond and thought them the Faith and the laws and principles; observed to the call for pioneering to Africa with unpaid leave for six months together with other great stalwarts of the Faith, fulfilled his spiritual quest to serve the Blessed Beauty outside Malaysia, enrolling to the Bahá’í Faith some hundreds of humble and simple people, the challenges he faced with full reliance in Bahá’u’lláh during this pioneering, supported his own family back home by sending financial support to his mother and siblings through his future wife, how his sister Shanti get herself acquainted with Maureen and her family during a visit, how Shanti’s mother was transformed and fell in love with Maureen to be her daughter-in-law followed by the eminent marriage of her son to Maureen.

    It’s without any doubt that all these hadn’t happened without the blessings of the Blessed Beauty. When one put forward one step for the progress His Faith, in return God will put manifold steps for your progress. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoken, “You must become distinguished for heavenly illumination and for acquiring the bestowals of God. I desire this distinction for you. This must be the point of distinction among you.”

    I pray that his radiant soul is richly rewarded in the realm above. Ya Bahá’u’l-Abhá.

    Velayutham Gopal
    Phnom Penh
    Cambodia

  4. Dear brother Mani, I read your article on Mr. Thanabalan, our good old friend. Undoubtedly he was a living example of a true believer, unwavering steadfastness , relentless in his service for the Cause of God. He was very firm in his Faith, yet humble in his work and service to BAHAULLAH.

    What you have written is very touching and moves the heart and souls . Such a good piece of work on his life. Posterity will benefit much from your most interesting article. God Bless You and all.

    Professor Dr. Ananthan Krishnan
    Puchong
    Malaysia

  5. A great story. A must read for the current and future generations! Reading the story it is difficult to believe he is no more with us. Thanabalan has been brought back to life – with all those lovely photographs in which Thanabalan seem to be smiling right into my eyes. I could feel his presence around me as I was reading his very moving story.

    I had the bounty of meeting Thanabalan a few times, and listening to stories of his services to our beloved Cause. In those recollections he seldom talked about himself. It is too sad that he left us too soon. He was four years junior to me in age.

    This word of the beloved Guardian, which has been quoted in the last paragraph of the article, is a testimony to the life that Thanabalan had lived:
    “One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh.”

    It is the fact that every one of us should pride to remember and emulate.

    If I could write a letter to our dear Thanabaln I would say:
    “Oh, Dear Thanabalan. Blessed be your radiant soul. You who led the exemplary life of a devoted and sincere believer and by that inspired hundreds nay thousands of souls arise to the service of the Cause of God. Your distinguished teaching endeavors in the local and the international arena are praiseworthy and unforgettable. Surely, your radiant soul must be roaming with angels in the realms of heavens where we beg you to remember us.

    Kind regards,
    Dr. Firaydun Mithaq
    Chieng Mai
    Thailand

    ‘Let your vision be world-embracing…’

  6. Mani,
    Firstly what would posterity be without your dedicated records of the lives and services of our early Bahá’ís? Thank you for your research and hard work.
    The many photos brought a lump to my throat and …..my word! that battalion who accepted the Faith in its infancy in Malaysia, was truly a powerhouse of humility and sacrifice. Thanabalan and a host of others like him have set very, very high standards for us all.

    Balan and Maureen were always so kind and loving and I recall them as very happy guests at our wedding. A few short years later they were selfless in coming to my assistance for tax related paperwork, when my husband passed unexpectedly.
    It was both Balan and Maureen’s background work wise, and matters were dealt with minus any complications.

    In later years, we shared many happy times at the Petaling Jaya Baha’i centre, with Maureen and I helping in children’s classes and our 4 kids building bonds of friendship. I think back with gratitude that when children connect early and often in community life, that community is so strengthened and enriched, creating building blocks for the civilisation that Bahá’u’lláh has envisaged for the planet.

    Once I remember, Balan , ever dignified and smiling, was emcee at one of our Intercalary Day events at the Centre, and he did a very entertaining job.
    Looking around at the many gifts wrapped and ready for exchange, he remarked that he personally would very much like it if someone would give him 4 new tyres for his car as their gift. The audience dissolved into laughter and somehow that incident has stuck in my mind from almost 40 years ago.

    Much has been written about his life as an early Baha’i, illustrious and dedicated.If Mani hadn’t taken the time and trouble to record so many of these accounts, we would all be poorer for it. I have learned so much.Thanks again Mani.

    As for MY memory of Thanabalan , he stands tall, well dressed and dignified with a nice sense of humour, a gentle heart and an ever abiding love for the Baha’i Faith that he served till the end.

    Warm regards
    Usha Cheryan
    Melbourne

  7. Dear Mani,

    Thank you very much for sharing the glorious life of our dedicated servant of the Faith, Thanabalan.

    For now, I have just looked at the pictorial story of Thanabalan. If not for your write-up, I wouldn’t know of his loving service to our beloved Faith.

    Thank you.
    Cheng Jooi Sey
    Alor Star
    Malaysia

  8. Thanabalan used to be my roommate in the house of Uncle Leong Ho Chiew in Petaling Jaya many years ago. As a friend and co-worker, I have the greatest admiration for Balan. Not only was he good looking, Maureen and he were such a lovely couple. As a person he was very kind, friendly and a good listener. Most importantly he was humble and steadfast. He never liked the limelight. He was always working in the back.

    Sometimes I ask myself why dear friends like Balan have to suffer. I can only think of the sufferings of the Prophets of God too who allowed themselves to suffer in order to emancipate humanity spiritually. Our sufferings however are more to purify ourselves and make us detest this earthly life. So personally, his life is an example for me personally of humility and steadfastness. We can only pray that we too remain firm and steadfast.

    I shall continue to pray for this lovely co-worker and friend Thanabalan

    Yin Hong Shuen
    Singapore

  9. Dear Manisegaran, I read the entire story of my best friend, Thanabalan. Thanks for sharing the rare and eye-capturing photos in the story.

    Balan, as we knew him was a very loving and caring person. He was always full of smiles under all situations. He will only say things that made everyone happy and comfortable. As for me, I always looked forward to be with him at all the Baha’i meetings and gatherings. I had a very close rapport with Balan with he being Chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Petaling Jaya and I as the secretary.

    While living in Petaling Jaya I was diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes. He was so caring and like a loving brother, he always enquired me on how I was managing. He did not fail to lovingly advise me to use the medications as prescribed.

    He is very sadly missed by me, and everyone close to him.

    He is remembered in my daily prayers.

    Mayalagan
    Adelaide
    Australia

  10. Dear Manisegaran,
    I read the story of the late Thanabalan. It was only after reading your story that I came to know so much about Thanabalan. It is a regret that I did not move closely with Thanabalan, as most of the time I was in East Malaysia. It also dawned upon me that Malaysia had produced so many stalwarts, veterans, heroes and heroines who had not been brought to light.

    Thank you for the timely release of this and several other wonderful and inspiring stories of their selfless service to Baha’u’llah.To me personally, all these stories are very uplifting. If not for your records being made available in this blog, I would not have known such minute and very detailed accounts of all these heroes of the Faith.

    Thank you once again Sir.

    Lim Pun Huat
    Sri Aman
    Sarawak
    Malaysia

  11. Dear Manisegaran
    Thank you for the nice story on Balan. That is very well deserving for a true believer.

    When l was transferred to the Ministry of Defense from Kuantan in 1986 or 87, my wife and I decided to stay in Subang Jaya. At that time, we were all part of Petaling Jaya. Within a short time, l was elected on the Local Spiritual Assembly. And that was the beginning of my long and most pleasant encounter with Balan, what more when he was the Chairman and me the Secretary. He was very well dressed and was a wonderful Chairman.

    Balan was my mentor as in those days I was under extreme work pressure and was very impatient and our meetings dragged on till past midnight into one in the morning. I had to leave for work early next day. I just cannot remember how many times Balan put his arms around my shoulders and pacified me. He was an extremely patient and composed person and have never known him to get angry.

    When l was informed on his passing, l was extremely grieved and heartbroken that in his final days l never had a chance to see him and say a prayer with him. l made many attempts but due to lockdown and privacy that the family wanted l did not get the opportunity to pray with someone l admired and loved very much.

    Thank you for penning the story with those beautiful and photographs, some of which I am seeing for the first time, especially those taken in Africa.

    Regards
    Munusamy
    Rawang
    Malaysia

  12. A Personal Tribute
    When the spiritual eagles from Malaysia the Philippines and Iran rushed into Cameroon-when the Colombuses flew in and perched on the twigs and branches of the trees of the Bahá’í communities of Cameroon in 1972, I was living in Ghana. Therefore, I never met any of them in person. The great spiritual giant Thalabalan was one of them.

    Decades after they had winged their flight out of Cameroon, I came into Cameroon and started to study the happenings and growth of the Cause of God in this dear land. It did not take long for me to discover in the sands of time some of the indelible and spiritual footprints left behind. “Thalabalan! Thalabalan! Thalabalan!” the footprints caroled and intoned. “Thalabalan! Thalabalan! Thalabalan!”

    Now I am able to connect the dots from this story well written by the author Mr. Manisegaran. The story carries tons of information hitherto uncovered, and the spirit with which the story has been written is truly reflective of the exact spirit with which Thanabalan served in Cameroon, along with Kamachee, Bhaskaran, Fred Ramirez, Kamachee and Parvin Behi,and several others. One thing is clear. The Bahai history of Cameroon and the countries those travel teachers came from can never be written without mention of these valiant teachers!

    And the handsome photographs in the story reflected a soul teeming with the desire to serve his Lord. “Thalabalan! Thalabalan! Thalabalan!” He is forever remembered. Even today, with sweet accents of those who knew him physically, this name is uttered.

    What evidence of one’s good work is there better than to leave an eternal trail of fragrance of one’s deeds and name after one’s egress? Certainly, Thalabalan is not one of those who have become “a thing not spoken of” but evidently, he is one of those who have “plucked the fruit of life,” as ’Abdu’l-Bahá says in the Selections from the Writings of ’Abdu’l-Bahá.

    Enoch Tanyi N.
    Cameroon

  13. Dear Manisegaran

    We (my other siblings included) have always regarded ourselves as being so fortunate to be born as Thanabalan’s siblings. “Anna” as we fondly call him, has been a beacon of light for all of us including our relatives; given his humanly qualities; whilst practicing the virtues of God. He was a role model to us; even as a young budding individual during his school days.

    In not gloating about him as he is my eldest brother, my humble and sincere opinion of Thanabalan is that, he is indeed a righteous person with sound moral values. This virtuous base which he had already acquired, was further exposited when he embraced the Baha’i Faith. The Faith enabled him to broaden his spectrum on humanity and was emboldened in the sphere of service to mankind in pursuit of making this world a better place vis-a-vis of what we modestly consider as protagonist in attempts to “establish God’s Kingdom on earth”. He was much part of this modern day building of a spiritual enterprise evolving around community building by like-minded individuals and families residing in various neighbourhoods.

    His demeanour enabled him to interact with people of all walks of life, in a most natural way, always putting the counter-party at much ease. His spouse, Maureen Chua played a pivotal complementary role in establishing this outreach to many people. His adulthood life was dedicated and consumed mostly in his spiritual pursuits; taking him to pioneering in Africa and propagating the Faith in the local establishment of Malaysia; later more dominantly in domiciled Petaling Jaya.

    He was a role model for his two sons and many other children, youths and adults. We salute him for whom he was and how he much influenced our “being” as we pursue this earthly life of ours.

    We pray for the progress of his soul.

    T. Selvakumar
    Damansara
    Kuala Lumpur
    Malaysia

  14. Our dearest Mani,
    On behalf of my two sons, Rohan and Navin and their wives, Nur’i and Sonia, I would want to say a big “Thank You” for your tremendous effort in writing on the life of Balan. A lot of research and pains have clearly gone into putting together so many aspects of Balan’s life into place, especially in assembling all the facts, dates and pictures in a very meticulous manner. You really did a good job. Being a very close friend of Balan, I know you took extra care and effort to write this wonderful account of his life.

    For now we have a good life profile of Balan. The write up of Balan is touching and simple. In reading each of your stories in the blog Balan would say, Mani has a flair for writing and that no ordinary person can simply write articles like him!

    Balan was very firm in the Faith which he loved so much, yet so humble with humility in his service. I am so lucky to be his wife and our two sons are his gift to me.I still miss him so much!!

    Thank you once again from the bottom of my heart for a job well done!!
    Surely, posterity will benefit from what you have written about Balan.
    May his soul rest in peace.

    Maureen Balan
    Petaling Jaya
    Malaysia

  15. Uncle Balan as I used to call him became part of my family when he lived with us at our house 1274 Happy Garden since returning from Africa in 1973, as Uncle Manisegaran has mentioned in the story. I was a child then, but I remember how kind and loving he was. My parents Mr and Mrs Thevar loved him like their own son. He got married to the beautiful Aunty Maureen, another angel while staying in our house. Then they left to their matrimonial home.

    Uncle Balan was known for his integrity and straight forwardness. He would assist anyone when needed help and was there to give advice to the distressed. I have lovely memories of us visiting his family in Kuala Kubu Baru.

    The other day I visited Uncle Balan’s grave in the Bahai Memorial Park in Seremban and said prayers.

    I know he is now with my parents and other loved ones in the Abha Kingdom.

    Chitra Thevar
    Seremban
    Malaysia

  16. I read the story on Thanabalan in one sitting. I had never met or heard of Thanabalan. I read one name of Selvakumar in the story. Now it comes to my mind that he was the same Selvakumar whom I met at the Bahai House of Worhsip in Chicago when he and another believer visited the House of Worship.

    It was such a heart-touching story full of information and going deep into my heart. He had always wanted to be a pioneer, but owing to family circumstances he could not realise his dream. Yet God must have heard of his sincerity in serving abroad, and He opened the path for Thanabalan to serve at least for 6 months in Africa. And the services he rendered there is well recorded in history through this story. I am very touched to learn of the number of institutions – the Supreme Body, Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhajir and the sending and the receiving national institutions all have placed accolades upon this believer. I can only say that Thanabalan has made the history of the Faith, the pioneering service and the Faith proud, along with others who served with him in Africa. His Bahai life seems to be spotless. He has many virtues and characters which are admirable. It is such believers who boost the image of the Faith. His motto in life taken from the Guardian “One thing and only one thing…’ as quoted in the last part of the story is a personal reminder for me as well.

    Yet there is one great regret, and the regret is in not having met this God- intoxicated believer in person.

    I really thank Mr Manisegaran for bringing out this wonderful story for us and future generations to be inspired.

    Nehru Arunalasalam
    Chicago
    USA

  17. I knew Thanabalan since 1970 when I moved to stay at the Jalan Padang Baha’ i Centre, which was the residence of Leong Ho Chiew and Gina in Petaling Jaya. Balan as I called him had earlier moved into the Petaling Jaya Centre from Kuala Lumpur where he was on the Assembly.

    I was groping around trying to live a Baha’i life and Balan was there to provide me with the much needed brotherly guidance. And I was naturally attracted to him because of his gentleness and ever smiling demeanour. He was a good friend to everyone who crossed his path, and I was fortunate to have crossed his path at the Baha’i Centre in Petaling Jaya. I had worked with him as a fellow Assembly member in Petaling Jaya as well as fellow committee member in the National Teaching Committee. I noted that in any committee he was on, the members would naturally elect him as Chairman. He had that ability to conduct meetings, ran them smoothly and efficiently and lead the friends to reach a consensus.

    Mani
    Your detailed account of his teaching activities together with very rare photographs in Africa was very inspirational. Balan had never spoken to me about his exploits in Africa. It filled a void in my relationship with him. Your story tells it all, for the first time. I know that the very fact he arose, took no pay leave and left his comfort zone to go to an unknown and unfamiliar place, was a big challenge to him. He took the challenge, and I am sure Baha’u’llah will bless him greatly for that one act.

    I will miss him immensely in this earthly world and will pray for the progress of his soul in the Worlds beyond. Now that he is in the Concourse, I will invoke him to assist the friends he left behind, to fulfil the Plans of the Universal House of Justice.

    Lum Weng Chew
    Toronto
    Canada

  18. Dear Mani,
    I read with excitement your story about our dear friend Mr Thanabalan. I had known Balan through his occasional visits to the home of Selvakumar, his younger brother in Subang Jaya.  Always amazed with his humorous smile, joyful look and lighter side of him. Amongst Balan’s siblings he was well respected  as ‘anneh’ or brother in the Tamil language.

    I am truly fascinated by the story of this humble soul and his success stories during his travel-teaching days in Africa. He has certainly left his footprints in Cameroon.
    We all owe a big thank you and gratitude to Balan for his tireless service and contributions to the development of the Cause in Malaysia as well.

    May the Blessed Beauty shower this lovely and radiant soul in the spiritual realm.

    Dr. Leong Yow Peng
    Subang Jaya
    Malaysia

  19. Dear Mani,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading life story of Balan. I particularly enjoyed it as some of his characteristics reminded me of the Malaysian Baha’is in Sri Lanka in the 70s and 80s.

    I just mentioned to my husband how much I enjoyed reading the history and stories you write of the early Malaysian believers, just like our beloved Nabil. Your stories is narrative of the dedication, sacrifices and the love each and everyone of them displayed in serving the faith.
    Thank you and God bless you!!

    Fahimeh “Fay” Walker

  20. I really felt uplifted to read the story of Mr Balan and his life of service. I love especially the last quote he had memorized and told his wife to emulate as he had himself done. That quote applies to all of us

    Thank you Mr. Manisagaran.

    Regards
    Gitu Goel
    Portugal

  21. We children lovingly knew dear Uncle Balan as a very kind soft, and friendly person. The Faith was very special part of his life, both as bachelor and as a family man his sweet and kind wife. Even as children we heard them talk about meetings, prayers, teaching and other activities.

    When he lived with us we would see him pray and connected to God. He was close with my mom and dad. His smile and warm eyes radiated love for all he met. Uncle Balan was very resilient in times of tests and difficulties and always turning to the writings and paying attention to holy words. I do remember when he left as a travel teacher for the love of Bahaullah with determination. He surely persevered in a land of unknown culture, language, customs etc. That showed he was a travel-teacher full of courage and trust in Baha u llah.
    God bless his beautiful soul.

    Shyama Evelyn Thevar
    British Columbia
    CANADA

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