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Month: March 2022

REMEMBERING MEHRAN CHINNIAH

REMEMBERING MEHRAN CHINNIAH

8 July 1969  to  1 September 2021

This is a moving story of one who pioneered at a young age when the call came and served the Cause with such determination and distinction that his services are surely to be remembered in the annals of the Faith. The article is divided into two parts, the first being recollections of Mehran’s early life from his family.

Recollections from Mehran’s family


Mehran at left stealing the show on the occasion of the third birthday celebrations of his elder brother Soheil. Standing at right are Nabil, Soheil and Saffura

It was our mother who recently reminded us of how Mehran got his name. When she was pregnant with her 4th child, our mother was so convinced it would be a girl. So, when Mehran popped out, she panicked and turned to a Persian Bahá’í travel teacher who happened to be visiting and asked him if he could give a name for her new-born son. This man thought for a while and said, “How about Mehran?” My mother said, “I am fine with it but the meaning? What is the meaning of Mehran?” “He who is loved.” And he truly lived up to that name. As a dear friend of his Vela Gopal told us, “I am struggling to recover because of Mehran’s strong, powerful force of love. He pulled me in, pulled me in with his love!”


As he learned to walk


Mehran at the extreme right, with other grandchildren of Mr and Mrs Leong Tat Chee, at the Bahá’í Centre in Malacca

Mehran in the loving embrace of his mother Lily at left and his father Inbum at right


Mehran, always a centre of attraction to visitors, seen here with Ravichandran who was at that time staying at the residence of Inbum


At their home at  Jalan Terkis, Kuala Lumpur, 1971.  L-R:  Ah Lan with Soheil on her lap, Lily Chinniah with Mehran on her lap, Nabil, Saffura and Letchimi, with Inbum Chinniah at the back

Mehran Chinniah was the youngest of four siblings. From young, he and his siblings grew up in a Bahá’í environment where his parents nurtured their children in the Bahá’í way of life as best as they could. They were taught to memorise prayers and holy writings and to recite them at a very early age. Plenty of Bahá’í books were made available. The parents would often share stories of the heroes of the Faith. These stories would have touched Mehran and seems to have fueled his desire to serve the Faith. The siblings were sent to children’s classes without fail, and summer and winter schools were a highlight of their childhood where they learned more about the Faith and community life.


Mehran at right going for the cake that his grandfather Leong Tat Chee cuts on his birthday on March 21, 1971. At left is Saffura  and at the back of Mehran is Nabil

Our father passed away when Mehran was just 10+ years old. It seems that something determined in him that he was going to be like all the wonderful things that people told him about his father and tried to live up to it.


At the Bahá’í Centre in Kuala Lumpur in 1972. L-R: Inbum Chinniah, Saffura, Yaw Kam Sim, Mehran in the arms of  Lily Chinniah, Mrs. Elizabeth Gibson

In the early 1990s, Cambodia emerged from communism and the beloved Universal House of Justice gave the Malaysian Bahá’í community the goal of opening up Cambodia to the Faith. Mehran was an old school pioneer, our family grew up with stories of the early pioneers, the pioneers of the 10 Year Crusade and burying your bones in your pioneering post. He was so keen to pioneer and as soon as he completed his law degree, he left for Cambodia in 1994 where he moved to Phnom Penh and started working for The Cambodia Times. He tried so hard to find a job before leaving for Cambodia and even took a Certificate in Journalism. He started off well in Cambodia however, the years of civil strife took its toll and he struggled with work all the while he was there. He was an intelligent person, and it did not take long before he mastered the Khmer language, and he was so fluent with spoken Khmer that he was as good as a native speaker. This skill steered him through the thick and thin of bonding in love and fellowship with Khmers of all backgrounds.


Part of the 41 Conferences held in Battambang in 2008. Mehran is seated with headphone

He returned to Malaysia for about one year to complete his bar exams and was back in Cambodia in 1996, though he never practiced law. He worked variously as an English teacher and sometimes managed to find work as a translator. He found work as a Human Resources manager in various hotels and as a trainer teaching hospitality service to hotels and worked in executive search as well. Despite setbacks in life in Cambodia, he refused to leave. There were opportunities to go to Australia or return to Malaysia or work in the middle east but he always found some reasons to remain at his post.

In April 1997, he married to an Australian pioneer to Cambodia. Sadly, their marriage did not last, and his ex-wife and his son would later return to Australia. Mehran remained in contact with them until his untimely passing.


Naw-Rúz celebrations in Siem Reap in  2007 with  Mehran standing at back row, third from right. Seated at the extreme right is Mario

Meanwhile, the political situation in Cambodia changed for the worse and owing to a coup d’état tat in July 1997, he and a few other Bahá’ís were forced to leave the country. Mehran and his wife escaped back to Malaysia on a Royal Malaysian Air Force plane. But his heart was still with Cambodia. While back in Malaysia, he told a Bahá’í friend that he was planning to return to Cambodia and when the friend said, why don’t you wait until the upheaval has settled, Mehran replied, “How can we tell the local believers in Cambodia that we love them, but leave them at the first sign of trouble?” So, Mehran and his wife returned to Phnom Penh after a month. Mehran hardly ever spoke of what he did for the Faith in Cambodia, he was humble and coupled with a self-deprecating sense of humour, the family hardly knew what he did. And so we must leave it to his dear friends in Cambodia to fill in the gaps of his pioneering services.


 With children in Siem Reap, 2008

Recollections by friends in Cambodia

He was always  jovial in nature, with a kindly disposition to all and a cheeky sense of humour. He was totally down to earth and had no airs whatsoever. In the early years of his settling down with his family in Phnom Penh, he used to hold children’s classes in his house after the dawn prayers. Almost all the children in his neighbourhood would attend his children’s classes. In that poverty stricken country, Mehran ensured he had a good supply of bread and other food to ensure the children attending were well fed.


Delegate election in Kampong Thom, 2011

In 1996, Mehran became the first believer to own a car in Phnom Penh. The purpose of the car was clear – it was to serve the Cause by providing transport for the friends from the Bahá’í Centre and to send them back after each activity. He also used to pick up children for the children’s classes. After about a year, he changed his car to a van so that he could accommodate more passengers. In fact, whenever travel teachers or visitors arrived from abroad, he was always the first to volunteer to pick up them from the airport and being hospitable to a fault, he unfailingly offered accommodation for the travel teachers in his house and take them teaching to the nearby villages. On days when he was free he would take the visitors for a city tour, and if time permitted, he would drive them to the outskirts as well.  The Local Spiritual Assembly of Phnom Penh would organise a weekend teaching trips to Kor Kerbai and Kien Svay villages and Mehran would use his van all the time to bring friends to on those teaching trips.


During  the first visit of Yogachandran from  the USA to Cambodia in 1998, Mehran provided them with the best hospitality and arranged a few tours for them. Seen here is Yogachandra’s wife Debbie and his youngest daughter Natascha on an auto-rickshaw that Mehran arranged.

Moved Places

In 1998 and 1999, he was the first believer to become a home front pioneer to Ta Khmau city which is about 11 kilometres south of Phnom Penh. There, Mehran opened his house for activities and strengthened the community. In March 2005, he moved to Siem Reap and worked for Sofitel Angkor Hotel as HR Manager and from 2007 – 2010 at Victoria Hotel as HR Manager. He then had a position as trainer for Artisan d’Angkor Duty Free at the airport. In 2013, he moved to Kampong Som (Sihanoukville) once again working for Sokha Angkor Hotel for about 6 months and in 2014 he returned to Phnom Penh to work for a Compagnie Fluviale Du Mekong (Mekong River cruise tour boat company).


Feast at the residence of Mario seated on the floor at the extreme right. Mehran is standing at back row, fourth from right

Wherever he lived, Mehran’s focus was always on service to the Faith. His dear friend and fellow pioneer to Cambodia, Mariapan Muniandy affectionately known as Mario, who arrived had as a pioneer in Siem Reap at the same time as Mehran in 1994 and stayed on in Cambodia for 28 years, said that during Mehran’s stay in Siem Reap, “… without fail he would come to my house to pick me after work, and we will go to teaching to nearby villages not far from town. He was always happy and excited to open his house for Bahá’í activities such as for Ruhi classes, devotional meetings, children’s classes, and Junior Youth spiritual empowerment programs. He even served them with meal before or after the classes as he always said they will learn better when they are not hungry.”

Mehran was a source of great strength to the local people, both believers and non-believers alike in the wake of the troubles they were going through. He was always there to help those who needed assistance. He was deeply touched by the deprivation and plight which Cambodians faced as a result of the war-torn days of Pol Pot, civil war, and ongoing political and economic crises. He had deep feelings for them and his sorrow for what they had and were going through; always with understanding and comforting and helping them in any way possible. He always had time and a place in his heart for any Cambodian with whom he was in contact with and was always with proclaiming and teaching the Faith where possible. Mehran was not one who merely spoke of the high principles of the Bahá’í Faith but rather lived it and showed how happy one can be living the Bahá’í life and sharing that happiness with others.


Mehran, a popular “Uncle” among children celebrating Ayyám-i-Há in Siem Reap community, 2011

In the ten years since his arrival, Mehran served the Faith in various capacities, firstly as member of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Phnom Penh and later the Local Spiritual Assembly of Siem Reap from 2006 to 2011. Mehran came to Siem Reap once again in 2018 and set up the Unity Hostel with a friend and once again served as a member of Local Spiritual Assembly of Siem Reap until he passed away from this mortal world. He also served on the National Spiritual Assembly of Cambodia and often said how privileged he was to represent Cambodia along with other members of the National Spiritual Assembly of Cambodia at the funeral service held in the Holy Land for Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum in 2000. He was an Auxiliary Board member from 2000 to 2003, and was a Representative of the Regional Board of the Trustees of Ḥuqúqu’lláh for South East Asia from  2006 to 2013. He helped organize the first Ḥuqúqu’lláh Regional Conference for South East Asia in Cambodia, Siem Reap in December 2010. Mehran was at the forefront of making arrangements for the Conference and to ensure all representatives were safe, he would go all the way to pick them personally by his car from the airport. He took his duties as a Representative of the Ḥuqúqu’lláh very seriously and never failed to share and educate anyone that he could about the sacred law of Ḥuqúqu’lláh.


Conference of the Regional Board of the Trustees of Ḥuqúqu’lláh South East Asia, held in Siem Reap, 2011. Standing L-R: Thian Boon Meng, Mehran Chinniah, Vasugy Theenathayalu, Paramasvian Sinnasamy, Aaron Young, Theenathayalu, Thoa Nguyen Dinh, Benedict Chee, Sona Liauw, Vijayaletchumy, Subangi Sangaran, Mariapan Muniandy. Sitting L-R: Carol Shamandari, May Bong, Mai Ain, Dr. John Fozdar, Mrs. Keo Yvette, Humaida Jumalon

The National Spiritual Assembly of Cambodia was first elected in Riḍván 1994. Yet, for some years after that it was not able to secure legal recognition as the governing council of the Bahá’í Community of Cambodia. Sometime in 2002, the Institutions of the Faith felt a need for a concerted effort to secure a stronger legal footing for the affairs of the Faith in Cambodia including by the legal registration of the National Spiritual Assembly. A few individuals helped in the important process and one of them was Mehran Chinniah. Mehran was instrumental in helping Selvam Satanam from Singapore who was the resource person assigned to assist  the National Spiritual Assembly of Cambodia to be registered with the Ministry of Religion and Cults in 2003. Mehran played a key role in developing local contacts at the Ministry. His ability to secure appointments and interact informally in Khmer language with government officials, lawyers and even publishers of official government laws and reports, went a long way in finally identifying the best way forward and eventually securing the legal registration of the National Assembly of Cambodia in June 2003. He had an uncanny ability to put people at ease and garner their assistance to help further the interests of the Faith in Cambodia.

Never Compromised

Mario shares another recollection where he and Mehran were tasked by the National Assembly to deliver a letter to an individual about a ‘voting right’ situation. He says, “It was bad news. That was the first time I saw how serious, sad and quiet Mehran was from the time we started travelling, reached the individual’s home, had a little conversation, handed the envelope and headed back to the National Bahá’í Center.”

Always Ready to Help

It was his nature to make everyone happy. He was more than angel to everyone, he treated people and served them, he loved everyone much more than himself, he never kept his own money in his pocket, in fact his bank account had no money. He didn’t have good food to eat, even labourers had better food than him. He only had good food when he met friends from overseas or other friends, and he would bring them to a good restaurant, but he would always quietly pay the bill without letting his friends know. There were moments too where for his daily meal he never spent more than $2 for one meal, because he wanted to save his money to help the friends. Every month when he got his salary, he would distribute to many friends who had no food for their families. Mehran never told anyone how much he sacrificed nor  said a word about his goodly deeds or his services to humankind. He was truly one who sacrificed all his time, his wealth and even his life for Cambodia. He did not have much material wealth at all and never owned a home, epitomising these words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “O ye homeless and wanderers in the path of God!”


At the residence of Mrs. Ramani Vela in Phnom Penh during a Special Devotional Gathering in 2016. Sitting L-R: Mehran’s landlord, Dr. Joseph Swaminathan, Ly Sorsane, Mrs. Srey Mom (Mehran’s landlady) and her daughter Kolin, Thanuja Mahmood, Mrs. Dam Sok Kanya. On the floor L-R: Mehran, Rith Chanveasna, ABM Davith Nou, Thim Eng, Srey Vathey. Children: L-R: Landlady’s son, Anisha Vela and Johnny

On 11 April 2020, Mehran was dealt a terrible blow when his dear friend Mohajir Satanam passed away in Malaysia. They were close and spoke to each other almost every day. Mehran never spoke much about his grief over the loss of Mohajir but penned a most moving tribute for his eulogy. Little did we suspect that Mehran himself would join his friend in the Abhá paradise the following year.

One month before his passing Mehran, came to know that the nephew of his dear friend had Covid-19 and he wanted him to stay in his hostel so that could take care of him, but his uncle refused in order to protect Mehran. Mehran kept insisting and this friend had to threaten to end their friendship if he did that! His friend was most moved by his selflessness, but this was an example of how he tried to live the Bahá’í life.

Mehran was a very happy person and never once showed any anger or sadness to anyone who crossed his path. He went out his way to help others although he himself often needed help. Despite the numerous challenges in his own life, he never showed his difficulties to others. Mehran had no interest in material things and hardly spent money on himself, he always wanted to save money so that he could use that money to help others. This included not repairing his car when it broke down or replacing his spectacles.


Some close friends at the  Bahá’í House of Worship in Battambang, Cambodia in 2017. L-R- Malini Mohajer, Mohajer Satanam, Mehran, Zoran  Theenathayalu, Mario, Mrs Marpha Mario and Kasturi (Singapore)

He ensured that everyone whom he met would hear about Bahá’u’lláh and would tell them something about the Faith. He was always teaching. Countless are the number of Cambodians who learned of the Faith from him, and they undoubtedly would have shed profuse tears on the news of his passing away. The hotel guest who assisted with trying to resuscitate him the evening he passed away said that Mehran was sharing Bahá’í principles with him that very morning.

Feast of Izzat (Might) 7 Sept 2017 following the inauguration of the first local Bahá’í House of Worship, Battambang held at the residence of Mrs. Ramani Vela. Back row L-R: German Bahá’í, Mehran, Thanuja Mahmood and German Bahá’í. Front row: L-R: Ramani Vela, Thim Eng, Anisha Vela, Navin Chamreoun, Siphong Chamreoun, Mrs. Sophany Chamreoun, Sophany’s father and a friend.


Sector Level 19-Day Feast at Phnom Penh Bahá’í Centre in Sept 2017. Standing L:R: Raymond Peter, Ly Sorsane, Rotanak, Mehran, (unknown), Yvette and Phengkia. Seated: L-R: Vela Gopal, Sano, Rajwantee Lepain. On the floor: L-R: Thanuja Mahmood, Anisha Vela, Mona, Moni, (unknown), Aun Livina

For some years, Mehran’s family in Malaysia had been asking him to come back to Malaysia as they knew that life was challenging for him in Cambodia, but he told them he wanted to bury his bones in his pioneering post. A year before Mehran passed away, he was struck by dengue fever and had to be admitted into hospital. Family and friends were asking him to go back to Malaysia as it will better life for him there, but he said that he still has a lot of things to do here in Cambodia and do not wish to go back.


Children and Junior Youth gathering, 2019.  Mehran stands second from right

His Last Days

During the time he was running Unity Hostel in Siem Reap and during the Covid-19 pandemic, he helped so many people including tourists who were stranded in Siem Reap by giving them a very cheap rate just to make sure they had place to stay although he did not make any profit for the hotel. He also helped some guests with getting them a job and provided simple meals during this most difficult time for them. Many long term guests stayed on in his hostel just because they felt his warmth and love as he welcomed them as members of one family. Mehran actively participated in Ruhi study classes during the pandemic and even invited his guests to join a couple of classes. He himself tutored a Book 8 study circle where he encouraged many of his old friends and family members to join his Ruhi classes.


Ayyám-i-Há celebrations in Siem Reap. Mehran is at the extreme left, back row. Like his parents, Mehran’s heart melted for the simple people in simple surroundings.

On the morning of 1 Sept 2021, he invited some of homeless local people who were walking on the street and gave them fried rice for breakfast despite he himself not having much to eat. One of the American tourists who was staying in his hostel was stunned with the act of Mehran in inviting the poor and feeding them. In fact, one of the policemen who came to sign off on the documentation after Mehran had passed away told the Bahá’ís that he knew Mehran and appreciated of his kindness, generosity, and cheerfulness.

That evening, he joined other friends in studying a Ruhi book 8 unit 2. After that, he called a Bahá’í friend in Thailand and then spoke to his brother Nabil in Indonesia to ask him about  a photo of the early  Counsellors he had seen. Just after that call was made, he developed some chest pain. It seems he thought it was just another chest pain and he asked his worker to get him some paracetamol. By the time the pain killer was brought, Mehran quietly slipped into the next world, passing away with his boots on as a pioneer. Mehran always thought of himself as a quiet worker of the Faith and it was in this way that he also left this world, without any fanfare and fuss. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá talks about the “noble soul to follow in the footsteps of their dear father, to show forth his character and conduct amongst all people”. Both father and son passed away  in similar circumstances – sudden and untimely, and in the service of their beloved Faith. How sad the family from Malaysia could not come for the funeral owing to the Covid-19 travel restrictions. Yet the believers from Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang stepped into the shoes of the family and organized the funeral and the final send off just as what his family would have done. To the friends in Cambodia, Mehran was more than a family member to them, and this unexpected and sudden  passing was a difficult blow. But they were consoled that Mehran was called to the Kingdom by His Creator Who certainly loved him more than those on the earthly plane. The family back in Malaysia were moved by the kind gesture of the friends in Cambodia.

Mehran’s services to the Faith have truly brought lustre to his family. He was the grandson of Mr. Leong Tat Chee, the first Auxiliary Board member of Malaysia and who the Supreme Body referred to as a Sincere Promoter of the Cause in their condolence message on his passing, and the son of the late Counsellor Inbum Chinniah, of whose services the Supreme Body said would shed lustre to the annals of the Faith in the region where he served, and he lived up to the high standards they had set. Mehran’s body was laid to rest in a Chinese cemetery near Bakong, which is about 15 kilometres from Siem Reap town, the first Bahá’í to be buried in Siem Reap and an abiding  testimony to one who endeavoured to give his all to Bahá’u’lláh.

Mehran always brought that contagious joy and happiness in family get-together or any gathering

Mehran was always on the lookout for someone or some opportunity to teach the Faith. He would go to places where the youth played games of various kinds. He would find ways of befriending them and slowly introduce the Faith to them. There is a story of him visiting petrol stations almost every day to teach the Faith. Usually car owners would fill their gas tanks to the full, if not half. But in the case of Mehran he used to visit a gas station, and fill gas for only USD 1 per trip. After filling the gas from the pumps, he would go into the office to pay the money and would return the following day to do the same – fill gas for USD 1. A believer who accompanied Mehran asked him why he had to do something out of the usual. And Mehran replied that if he had filled the tank in full he would not be returning for so many days until the gas tank was almost empty. But by filling for only USD 1, he would have the opportunity to meet the cashier inside the office for several days, and over a period of time, Mehran could make friends with the cashier and teach the Faith. Teaching was certainly always in his mind.

He had a strong analytical mind. When going through passages from the Writings in group discussions, he would quickly refer to some other writings on the same subject and bring into focus that subject in discussion with a holistic picture.   That would enable the listeners to get a complete picture. While he was well versed in the teachings and writings, he was also a keen observer of world events, and he had the uncanny ability to connect the Writings with the happenings in the world.

Meeting with Counsellor George Soraya in Siem Reap, 2011. Mehran is at the extreme right

Not that he did not have any difficult moments in life. A pioneer’s life comes with difficulties as part of the package. Mehran would try his best to fight against unpleasant things in life and was determinedly happy. He was a radiator of positive thoughts. When someone felt down in spirit he would lift their spirits not only by his own words of comfort, but also through Bahá’í stories and writings. He always ensured conversations do not drift into negativity vibrations. Upon his passing, messages were received from the National Spiritual Assemblies of Cambodia and Malaysia and the Regional Board of Trustees of Huqúqu’lláh Southeast Asia, extracted below:

Letter from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Cambodia

It is with great sadness that the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Cambodia informs everyone of the passing of dear Mehran Chinniah at around 9:35pm of September 1, 2021 in Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia. He had been a long time pioneer to Cambodia, since 1994. Mehran, as everybody calls him here in Cambodia, has been known for his friendly disposition, generosity and very active in the activities of whichever community he belonged in. It was always nice to be with Mehran in conversation about the Faith which many people in the community, no matter foreigners or Khmer friends, may have enjoyed very much.

The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Malaysia

The Spiritual Assembly recalls with pride and joy his wonderful and dedicated services as our Malaysian pioneer in Cambodia since 1994. Our appreciation of his contribution towards the development of the Faith in his pioneering field, the profound love he had for the people there cannot be adequately put into words.  Mehran was an exceptional supporter of the Cause and dedicated to the path of service he has devoted himself to. He was well loved and will be remembered for his most delightful sense of humour, his ability to make close friends, his humility, his capacity to sacrifice, his generosity, his gentle kindness to all and a source of joy to family and friends, nay even strangers he came across. We find solace in the memory of our dear Mehran and feel assured by the knowledge that he will assuredly find eternal happiness in God’s Paradise.  We are sure you will be comforted with the knowledge that people whose lives have been touched by his spirit and love are thinking and praying for him. Please accept our deepest condolences and our assurance of prayers for the progress of the beautiful and precious soul of Mehran in the Abhá Kingdom and our supplications for you and the family for spiritual strength, comfort and solace of your hearts.


Bi-Centenary Celebrations of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh, 2019.

The Regional Board of Trustees of Huqúqu’lláh Southeast Asia

We will remember Mehran for his gentle and joyful disposition, his generosity of spirit and unquestioned loyalty and unwavering love for the Cause, and always putting the work of the Faith first above all else. He is well loved by all members of the Southeast Asia Huqúqu’lláh Institution. Please be assured that the Board will pray for the elevation and progress of Mehran’s soul as he ascends to the Abha Kingdom. We have informed the Office of Huqúqu’lláh in the World Center and they have assured us that prayers will be offered in the Holy Shrines for the progress of his noble soul.


At the launching of the book on Inbum Chinniah in Malacca, December 2013. L-R: Saffura, Mehran, Nabil and Soheil with Lily seated

Thus ended the life of a sweet spirited one who endeavoured to live his life in accordance to the dictates of the Bahá’í Faith and the example of the beloved Master.


At the burial site L-R: Phen Sody, Nal Vannak (NSA Secretary), Kartik, Counsellor Reth Sokuntheary, Heourn Leakena, Chao Hav and Helena

 

FINAL RESTING PLACE

Bahá’u’lláh Himself testifies:

They that have forsaken their country in the path of God and subsequently ascended unto His presence, such souls shall be blessed by the Concourse on High and their names recorded by the Pen of Glory among such as have laid down their lives as martyrs in the path of God, the Help in peril, the Self- Subsistent.

 

Soheil Chinniah
Perth
Australia
31 March 2022

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