An Unsung Song, An Unheard Tale

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A LIVING LEGEND STEEPED IN HISTORY

A first generation Baha’i, Kamruddin Bartar, is not only a great literary person (a poet friend of reputed Nida Fazli) but also a wonderful artist. He is one of the early pillars of Baha’i Faith in India and in Madhya Pradesh. Most importantly, it is he who gave the idea of ‘LOTUS’ for the world-famous Baha’i House of Worship of India, popularly known as the LOTUS TEMPLE.

Here’s a small write-up from him sharing his feelings when the first slides of the ‘upcoming’ Lotus Temple were presented at the Asian Baha’i Women Conference held at Vigyan Bhawan, Delhi, in 1977. His granddaughter, Mona Bartar—herself a third generation Baha’i and a writer and artist like her grandpa—has kindly translated his feelings into English. It’s worth reading!

The Baha’i House of Worship of India, and……..

  • By Kamruddin Bartar

It was the evening of 16th October, 1977, at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi. The last round of Asian Baha’i Women Conference, chaired by Mrs. Bharti Gandhi, was going on. After the speech of Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, some Baha’i songs were being sung, while the arrangements were being made for showing some slides of the Baha’i House of Worship of India.

The Baha’i House of Worship of India- about which Mr. H. Fatheazam (A member of the Universal House of Justice) wrote- ” Baha’i Faith is an independent world religion, and henceforth, the Baha’i House of Worship is the universal place of worshiping God. When the Baha’i Houses of Worship are built, they are offered to the people of the whole world. Every individual, irrespective of their religion, caste, race or belief, is welcomed at the Baha’i House of Worship. Holy writings from all religions are read and chanted here. People gather here like a family, under the same roof, to worship The Almighty God.”

The structure of the Baha’i Houses of Worship are themselves a symbol of unity. They are nine-angled buildings. There is a door in each direction. All these gates open into a large room under a beautiful dome.These nine gates and nine-angled buildings symbolize the nine major religions of the world. They express the fundamental unity of all religions. When we reach the large central hall, upon running our eyes around, we see beautiful doors in every direction. There is no front and back gate in the prayer hall. All the gates are opened in all directions, each receiving rays of the sun and transmitting light to a large central prayer hall, where all kinds of people gather to worship the one God, the Creator of the universe. This is a wonderful way of showing equality and unity of religions in a building.

And-

The screen was fixed to reflect the look of India’s future Baha’i House of Worship. The projector was checked and the slide of a temple in South India was set on the screen with focus.Then, over the mic, Mr. “Sahba”, a noted Iranian architect, explained the outline of the future Baha’i House of Worship of India. He discussed a lot about lotus, the national flower in India and the site of famous deities with religious significance. I liked it.

And it felt very nice when there was a grand appearance of the future Baha’i House of Worship of India, depicted by the slide on the screen. Maybe I liked it even more because it was the sketch I myself made in the presence of three members of National Spiritual Assembly of India- Mr. Sohrab Olyai, Dr. Mrs. Perin Olyai and Mr. R. B. Tripathi- and gave it to the architect, Mr. Sahba. Along with this, details of its different sides were also given- that the sunlight would come directly from above, the gates will be surrounded by water, the water will keep flowing, pathways will be alongside pools, there will be stairs, etc.

All the copies of the design given by me were kept safe by Mr. Sahba, and he expressed gratitude.

But-

Sahba literally means to be a friend or befriend. Friendship was accomplished well that I had no mention of my name anywhere. In praise of Mr. Sahba, Vigyan Bhavan continued to resonate with applause and I – as is natural on such an occasion -stood there with filled eyes. I proceeded to say something and eventually asked permission from the Chairperson, Mrs. Bharti Gandhi, to which she said, “Not now, Let’s talk later about it”.

This reminded me of a famous Indian writer “Minto”. The departed soul, Minto, had written the story of the film “Mirza Ghalib”, which was taken away by the producers and the film was released, to which, his name was nowhere to be seen or heard. The writer lost his life on the stairs of the talkies.

I left from Vigyan Bhawan. There was a strange conflict between my mind and my heart. If anyone asks and confirms with Mr. Sahba,I am sure he will not deny this reality.

dawn….

And it was the dawn of 17th October. The buses started moving towards Bahapur. The foundation stone of the Baha’i House of Worship in Bahapur was to be laid by the hands of Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum.

In the moving bus, some women started singing Bahá’í songs, which were written by me. I was also requested to accompany them in those songs. And then, I not only accompanied them, but sang many of my compositions, to the effect that the artist living inside me- who was filled with the shock that I had last evening- forgot everything.

Buses reached Bahapur. All the Baha’i friends- women and men, children and old- gathered. Meanwhile, I tried to approach the architect, Mr. Sahba. He was at the place where the foundation stone was to be laid. I introduced myself with Baha’i greetings in my broken English.

Mr. Sahba started looking at me with mixed emotions, while a camera-man came to him and took him along, to the video camera. Mr. Sahba kept gazing at me while talking to the camera-man and my eyes kept reading his conscience.

Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum came. Everyone was engaged in her welcome and honor. I felt lonely. I sat down in loneliness.

I remembered God for peace of mind. Read a prayer, and then, my conscience began to convince the artist groaning inside me – It was God’s plan to deliver the design to Architect Mr. Sahba through you, henceforth God had oriented Mr. Sahba towards Gwalior, otherwise why would Mr. Sahba ever think of coming to Gwalior?

And I snapped back from loneliness and came to the point where Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum was laying the foundation stone with her hands. A crowd surrounded her from all sides. The applause was ringing.

I was also cheering happily

Senescence

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Human civilization has evolved, from carts to cars, from leafy costumes to the tuxedos and ball gowns, from wood furnishings to the metallic architecture, and what not. We have the advanced technology now, and the pros and cons of these inventions too. We are so eager to have the luxuries that we fail to realize many important things.

Here, in a small town of Gwalior, I observe the eye-catching scenarios.

Fiction
A street of Gwalior

 In the hustle and bustle of the town, I notice a woman with a sheet of fabric spread over, encroaching on the footpath. It was a shabby mattress, with a thin cotton-stuffed handkerchief to lay her head on.

Was it really a handkerchief?

I wondered to myself. It wasn’t, perhaps. It was a pillow in disguise.  Numerous Tiffin dabbas lined at the borders.

What is she up to?

The woman, 55 or so, could be observed daily by any passer-by, as she holds her 10*10 property. She sleeps there, she sits there, she eats there, and she fixes her tangled hair, there…. The whole day she keeps herself active. 

But, in what activity? 

I wonder, and I keep on wondering.

I never could gather the courage to approach her and ask. Or was I too busy in my own personal jobs, that I couldn’t spare 2 minutes to share a moment with a stranger that struck my mind? She raised my curiosity levels, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.

A beautiful evening

There’s another lady in my life, just like this one. But my relationship with her is a bit different from the former.

I talk to her. No, nothing personal at all! The only exchanges between us are about vegetables- very simple and light hearted.

“Tai, kese diye nimbu?” (Aunty, How much for the lemons?)

“Beta, tu lejaa..bata 10 ke 5 dedu?” (Kid, they cost 10 INR for 5 units. Why don’t you take some?)

“Haan ji, dedo.” (Okay aunty, Please give me some.)

I know I am very poor at buying groceries, while my mom is a pro at bargaining. Moms got those skills, anyway. But I do have my own uniqueness. Keeping aside me bragging about my talents, I shall tell you about the lady.

The lady is a vegetable vendor. She doesn’t own a cart or a shop. She spreads her goods on a printed sheet of fabric, on the floor.

There’s nothing so deep between us, but these minor to and fro exchanges, her pure smile – the purest of all, and a hope in her eyes- an unknown hope, is enough to pull me.

She sits upon the floor amidst the buzzing grocery sellers on carts, with her antiques displayed. She cannot shout, like other vendors do. But, you want a cabbage or the green chillies, or the lemons or the lycopenoids, have a visit to her place, and she greets you the best.

Senescence has its own charisma only a few can see. Do we need to be wise enough to understand the hidden message? But I’m not wise. Then why do I have such a thought process? As philosophically said, “There are no answers to some questions.”