Arrivals & Departures: Baha'i Sect in Bombay
Director: Madhusree Dutta
Duration: 00:37:20; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 104.747; Saturation: 0.042; Lightness: 0.481; Volume: 0.098; Cuts per Minute: 1.526; Words per Minute: 100.425
Summary: Interviewer: Madhusree Dutta. Shot by Avijit Mukul; Kishore
This interview is part of a series of study on the cemeteries of different communities in Bombay. In order to trace the multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious composition of the city the history, anecdotes, locations and class structures of cemeteries were studied. This cemetery is known as the cemetery for the Baha'i faith. Baha'i is a modern and syncretic faith founded by Baha'u'llah, a nobleman in Tehran, in mid 19th century. There are approximately five million Baha'i believers in the world. Among them around two million Baha'i -s live in the Indian sub-continent.
An offshoot of reformist the Babi movement which spread throughout Iran and Iraq in the mid-nineteenth century, the Baha'i Faith has slowly moved beyond the Shi`ite Islam and established itself as a new and independent religion. The movement's founder, Mirza Husayn 'Ali of Nur, Baha'u'llah (1817-1892), is considered to be a messenger of God - equal in station to, among others,
Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha and Krishna. He was exiled from Iran and lived in Baghdad, Istanbul (Constantinople), Edirne (Adrianople), and, finally, the prison city of Acre (Akka or now Akko) located in the bay near Haifa in what was then Ottoman Syria and is now Israel. After Baha'u'llah's death his eldest son, Abbas Effendi, Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921), visited both Europe and North America to spread the religion. Two members of the Afnan clan who were resident in Bombay, Haji Sayyid Mirza and Sayyid Muhammad, became Baha'is in the 1860s. In 1872, Sulayman Khan Tunukabani (known as Jamal Effendi), who was both a Sufi and a learned scholar of Arabic and Persian, was sent by Baha'u'llah to Bombay. Thus started the organized missionary activity of the Baha'i faith in the subcontinent.
The two Baha'i cemeteries that we document in this event are located in Antop hill in Bombay. Antop hill area is dotted by cemeteries of various communities - Chinese, European, Armenian, Prarthana Samaj etc. It is likely that in colonial period of early 19th century, this area, away from the European head quarters in Fort and beyond the native bazaars and living quarters, was leased out by the British administration for burial grounds for various communities. Now the area has come to be in the heart of the busy and populated city. This causes various social conflicts. The local population resents the wide open space reserved for the dead. There has been encroachment, theft of property and vandalism. Many of these cemeteries are also owned by communities who are miniscule and politically unimportant and thus cannot protect their boundaries.
The second Baha'i cemetery is located in the same compound with an Armenian cemetery. The presence of Armenians in India is very old. It is believed that some Armenians came to India in 325 BC with the forces of Alexander the Great. Since 7th century Armenian settlements can be traced in the Malabar Coast and other parts of Kerala. Mainly a traders' community they flourished in the port cities of Calcutta, Bombay, Surat, Madras, Karachi and Dhaka. These cities still have landmarks of Armenian churches and Armenian cemeteries. But the population started dwindling since the independence of India as overseas trading became more regulated and corporatised. The cemeteries in question was an Armenian cemetery but in late 20th century the community found it very difficult to maintain it. They offered space to the growing Baha'i community in exchange of the service to maintain the plot and the graves. It is quite a heartening story. The Armenians practice a school of Christianity and come from the trans-continental region between Western Asia and Eastern Europe while the Baha'i-s are an off shoot of Shi'ite Islam in Iran. As the contemporary world politics dub these two religions as warring communities such instance of friendship and cooperation in a far away land stands apart.
Antop hill, Mumbai
Interview with the caretaker of the Baha'i cemetery at the Antop hill. It is a peaceful place with lots of greenery and well maintained tomb stones. Some tombstones are elaborately curves and yet others are simple and elegant. In the middle of the cemetery is a roofed station where the interview is being conducted. It is the afternoon time. Abbas appeared nervous and a bit apprehensive. He had earlier agreed for the interview with obvious enthusiasm. But now the actual paraphernalia of the camera and sound equipments may have unnerved him. The interviewer tries to warm him up. Though born in India and speak with an Indian tint Abbas' race origin can be traced in his skin complexion. He obviously is a devout Baha'i. His visit to the land of his origin and the origin of his faith has disappointed him. Brought up in the multi-cultural, multi-religious Bombay he could not digest the state's interference with religious practice. Baha'i is not yet a mass religion. It is somewhat an organization of the elites with a complex philosophy. In Bombay the community is mainly comprised of educated and professional people. Abbas, a lower middle class person, is born into the religion and not personally adopted to it. Hence other than a deep respect for it he does know much about the religion.
Madhusree (M): Abbasbhai, we have heard a lot about you and how you are looking after this whole place, because my young colleagues came and met you, But not very many people know about this place and your relationship with this place, how you maintain it. If you can tell us something about it?
Abbas (A): I have two gardeners who do the maintaining and as you see we have planted many plants of different species... that is how we take care of it.
M: No, Sir what I am saying that... your relationship... how long have you been here in this place?
A: I have been here for the past 15 years.
A: 15 years
M: Oh, you must have been very young when you came?
M: So how you came, I mean it was a job, how you came here?
A: No... I am a Baha'i and Baha'is take care of the community. I had come here in 1989 and the assembly asks me to do up this place, you know. I use to take small contracts and assembly asked me to do up this place so I did it up and slowly slowly I started doing things.
M: Oh I see... so you...
A: My father is buried here and my brother is buried there. So I have an attachment to this place.
M: So your family is from Bombay?
A: Yes... from Iran - originally from Iran.
M: When did your family come to India?
A: about in the '50s
A: 1954 yeah
A: That's when my mother came to India.
M: And your father?
A: My father had come earlier, then he went to Iran and married her and brought her here.
M: Ok, So you are born in India.
A: I was born in India.
M: Have you been to Iran, any memory... how it is to live in India... and then visit Iran, being Iranian, you know... It is a very rich experience, if you can tell us some things about it.
A: Right. I have been in Iran, when I was a very young kid and recently again I went to Iran in 1995 - 96, I was there. So I like the place.
M: But how is it, I mean it is a very different place...
A: It is very different, very.... you know there Iranians are very strict about religion and all - so we can not practice the Baha'i faith over there and I was finding it a little uncomfortable over there. But India is great. I like India.
M: That's nice, So please tell us about that... how many faiths are there in India and how you feel comfortable, tell us a little about that.
A: There are many faiths in India and we believe in the Baha'i faith. The Baha'i faith originated in Iran and the founder was Baha'u'llah and his forerunner was the Bab. Baha'u'llah declared himself to be the manifestation of god and he has come to unite mankind. We believe in all religions, in the oneness of god, in the oneness of mankind and equality of men and women and so on.
M: Sir, How many people of the Baha'i community is now presently in Bombay?
land of origin
oneness of god
If we read carefully this clip we would see the history the city's development emerging out of it. Antop hill, presently, is in the middle of the city. But in 18th century it must have been a far away hill from the European quarter in the Fort and native settlements and bazaars. The port city was full of transitory people from all over the world. The British administration marked separate burial grounds for various communities in the area. Later, since mid-20th century, the city transformed into an industrial hub. The factors such as India's independence, decline of the ports and industrialization resulted in the decline of the foreign nationals. Whereas the industries brought in more and more migrants from other parts of the country and the subcontinent. The city became overpopulated and quiet places like Antop hill got dotted with shanty settlements. These settlements, popularly called slums, often encroached upon the land of the unused cemeteries. Hence it is quite possible to see the marble plaque of a Christian grave adorning a Hindu temples or an epitaph for a British army personnel is used as a lamp post in a Tamil slum.
Since the last decade of the 20th century the small industries around the Antop Hill started giving in to the pressure of the real estate. Presently the area is full of construction activities. The once quiet abode of the dead was first converted into the desperate shelter of the poor and now again into multi-storied apartment buildings for the gentries. In all these inevitable activities of land transfer a precious history of the world communities in Bombay is getting destroyed. In the current trend of claiming Bombay as a monolithic soil belonging to a single linguistic group, it is very important to popularize this part of the history.
M: Sir, you also.... you are a contractor, I mean that's how professionally you first did this place, you said.
M: Yeah, So that means some of this tombstones are also your creation is that so?
A: Yeah, few of them - yes. Not all, few of them.
M: So tell us something about your craft and your work.
M: Maybe later on you can show us some of the things that you did, but...
A: Well I do up a little bit here and there and I made some tombstones - but all these that you see, all are made before I could come here.
M: Mr. Abbas, this area is very fascinating - I mean people like us who live in north Bombay and when we come here... that so many faiths are lying next to each other. There is Chinese cemetery here, then there is Baha'i Community cemetery and others, there were some European cemeteries over there earlier.
M: So how is it so that so many cemeteries are next to each other and concentrated in one place?
A: I guess that time the municipality had this place allotted for cemeteries. So that is the reason why they have allotted cemeteries over here and we have got it not by us asking for it but they have given it to us - that is why it is on Antop Hill
M: Oh, that means this area municipality has demarcated for each community?
A: Before cemeteries, earlier in the 1900's... this cemetery is about 100 years old.
M: And so its more or less at the same time, that all of them started?
A: Yes, yes.
M: And then, how this locality came up? Because this slum coming up here is a very interesting story, so I'm sure you know a little more about that ....difficulties.
A: There were a lot of slums and all over here. There was a Steel industries which was sold to Dosti Builders and they've built some buildings and now they've acquired another - Hume pipe industries -which was a sick industry and they're building (constructing) buildings over there also.
M: There was an European cemetery here?
M: I mean what happened to that? Next to the Chinese cemetery....
A: Yes, yes, that's the Armenian cemetery and we are using it now.
M: No... yes that I know (about Armenian), that we'll come to, that's very nice that two faiths next to each other... that I will talk about. But this side of the Chinese cemetery, there used to be European defense people's graveyards, is that so? Where the slum has come up now, this side?
A: Yes, there was a cemetery I haven't seen that. It was many, many years ago, but on that cemetery, the slums have encroached and they have... you know, made their houses and all.
M: So what happened to those precious tombstones, that history...
A: I don't know, it was all robbed and looted.
M: And whose cemetery was that?
A: It was... I do not know, it was... maybe the British cemetery or maybe the European cemetery, I do not know. But it was not an Indian cemetery, definitely.
M: And it was not functioning at that time, was it?
A: It was a pretty old cemetery because I had seen one tombstone having 1750, you know... date on it... which was thrown on the road. One of the stones was thrown on the road and then... I do not know... (Maybe) the municipality picked up.
M: Tell me the date again.
A: It was 1750s.
Antop hill, Mumbai
Antop hill, Mumbai
Baha'is in Bombay have two cemeteries. One is the original one where the interview is being taken. The other one is on the other side of the road. The second one is originally an Armenian cemetery. But as the Armenian population has dwindled to single digit, the community invited the emerging Baha'i community to share the cemetery space with them in exchange of protecting and maintaining the plot. Armenian is a race identity of the people who came from the Eorasian region of Armenia. They practice Christianity. Baha'i is a reformist offshoot of the Shi'ite Islam and has an international following. Yet in this case the two could work out a survival deal.
Being a contemporary religion (it is around 160 years old) Baha'i sect is administered by a elected body and not by any privileged individual. The administrative structure is evolved in a democratic structure of local-national-regional-international format. The body is called Spiritual Assembly.
The interviewer is finding it difficult to engage Abbas in her search for multi-culturalism.
M: And this Armenian cemetery and Iranian cemetery that in the same venue, how did that happen?
A: One of our LSA members, that's the Local Spiritual Assembly members, who was a very good friend of the Armenians, he had good relations with them and all, and that is how we got it from them. They gave it to us to use.
M: So, it first started as Armenian cemetery.
M: When did that start, any idea?
A: He had written in his will to be buried over there and the first burial that we had over there, the Baha'i burial was in 1985.
M: Ok, pretty recent
A: Yes, yes
M: And the Armenian started...
A: The Armenians are there from; I have seen tombstones of 1878, dating back to 1878....
M: So, that means this area is very old area, I mean.
A: Yes, very old
M: Mid 19th Century?
M: So since you're such a knowledgeable person, also you're here, if you can tell us some thing about the history about this place, which you know.
A: I have been here for the past fifteen years. Before that, there were people older than me who knew more than me. But you have to specify what you are looking for exactly.
M: No... Mr. Abbas, I just want young generation to have some respect about the history of this city. It did not happen in one single day. It has been build for centuries by many many people who came to Bombay.
M: Because it is a port city many people came. So we are looking for small history, small small history... which are in people's memory. Which are somehow not in the textbook. We want to bring it out... so if you can help us in that.
A: Ok, when you say history you mean to say the history of the people who buried here.
M: Yes, History of the people, history of the community, history of... you know... contributions, everything.
A: Ok, See there were few Baha'is who has sent by Baha'u'llah to India and they came to India and they started spreading the Baha'i faiths. That is how, you know, Baha'i faith was introduced in Bombay and there were many Zorashtrians who became Baha'is. From Iranian background they became Baha'i and they formed the community and then we had Local Spiritual Assembly elected. Because we do not have the priest or pandit, maulanas in our faith. We have got an administrative body that's called Local Spiritual Assembly and they govern the... you know, Baha'i activities in Bombay. Then we have the National Spiritual Assembly which is in Delhi, they govern the whole of India and we have Universal House of Justice which is in Haifa in Israel and they govern the whole world, whole Baha'i world, so that's how it works.
M: Ok, and how many other graveyards Baha'i community have in India?
A: In India I do not know exactly but in Bombay we have two.
M: Two you have?
A: Yes, This is one and we are using the Armenian one.
M: These two in same area?
Heins Road, Chincpokli, Antop hill, Mumbai
M: Abbas-bhai, it is like this - that as history goes - a community comes to a country, flourishes, contributes to the city, to the civilization and then for various reasons - some time political, some time just social - that they get extinct...
M: Like there was an European cemetery here that every body is talking about.
M: Then there was also a Jewish cemetery...
A: Yes, there was a Jewish cemetery and now it is no more. That was before I could come here, I have not seen it myself but this is what I have heard.
M: But I mean there was a good....
A: It wasn't being used by that particular Jewish group. I do not know and it is no more now.
M: I don't know, I am sorry, I am ignorant, what I am asking is that when a graveyard is demarcated...
M: People are buried there, so how it becomes 'no more'? I mean that graveyard tombstones are there, graves are there....
A: Due to encroachment
M: So this Jewish cemetery was also encroached upon?
A: Maybe... because it is 'no more'.
M: No, I want to just find it... because there is a strong Jew community here. It is not like the Europeans who are not here, who could not protect their graveyard.
M: So where are the Jewish people buried now.
A: They are buried in Heins Road and in Chichpokali
M: So they themselves were not looking after the place.
A: People... they used to not come and attended because it was a very small cemetery and for some reason or other nobody used to come... so it's just gone.
A: Even the Armenian cemetery has been enchroached upon by hutments.
M: Is that so?
M: But there is good number of Armenian people here. They are not taking objection?
A: There are few Armenians in Bombay and their cemetery was being encroached upon. That is when we got it and we have put up a wall, we put a fence and we stopped the encroachment and we have done up the place. Since they gave it to us on that basis that we have to take care of their tombstones as well as we can buried our dead (people) over there and take care of the place.
The interviewer tries again to persuade Abbas into a more free flowing discussion based on stray observations, oral histories and memoirs. But Abbas seems more defensive. He appears afraid to make any definitative comment lest it becomes contested and he gets implicated in some sense. Maybe he is finding this interest in his community and in his workplace, on part of somebody who obviously belongs to the mainstream, a bit odd and thus getting suspicious. He is particularly reluctant to discuss anything about the cemeteries of other communities. Maybe it is more of a territorial issue for him, while for the crew it is a question of academic interest.
Antop hill, Mumbai
M: Are the death ritual between Armenian and Iranian very different... Baha'i faith ritual must be very different from...
A: In the Baha'i we do not have any rites or rituals and Armenians, they do have but I do not know their rituals.
M: You just administratively look after that place.
M: Baha'i faith has no death rites, no ritual?
A: We do not have any rites or rituals but we have prayers and we bury our dead in holes - not like the Christians or the Muslims who bury directly in the ground. We have a whole system in which the coffin goes and it is sealed.
M: Ok. But you professionally design some of the tombstone.
M: That's a traditional family business?
M: You started it?
Mukul (cameraman): How you got to designing tombstone?
A: Well I came here in 1989 and before that I did a lot of trades where I wasn't so successful. And this... since my father and brother are buried here I... sort of have an attachment to this place and I used to came here very often. Somehow, I do not know how but I think destiny took me into this line. That's how I have... and now I have sort of passion for building tombstone.
M: that's your main profession now?
M: I mean you obviously get some kind of artistic satisfaction also in designing...
The modern religion of the Baha'is has adopted a simpler convention which is more conducive to the contemporary life style. The crew is still trying to find a story or art in Abbas' choice of profession, but for him it is a simple livelihood choice.
Abbas looks distinctly more comfortable while walking through the cemetery than giving a sit-in interview. His affection and pride for the place is obvious. Member of a miniscule minority in the vast and vibrant Bombay, this space is his primary validity. He talks about the deceased Baha'is in palpable owe. The century old tombstones in the shadowy graveyards make the place distinct and independent of the city. And that in effect cures Abbas' insecurity. The place in immaculately maintained without any flashing paraphernalia.
M: You must be having lots of memories in places...
A: Yes, This is the tomb of one of the first Baha'i believers who was sent by Baha'u'llah to India and he died here and this is his tombstone, the name is Mirja Maharam. There was a anther Baha'i by the name of Jamal Effendi who had also been sent by Baha'u'llah to India and he came here in 1992 and he was traveling all over India and other countries.
M: Ok, and he is not berried here?
A: He is not berried here.
A: These are the tombs of some very old Baha'is who died...
M: Doesn't look very old ...
A: No, this is a recent one but... for example you know - that tomb is very old tomb.
M: That one?
M: Can we go there, can you explain it?
A: Yes, sure why not.
A: This is one of our dear Baha'i friends who is buried here.
A: Yes, he died in 86 and he was born in 1903.
M: 1903, Ok, This is also must be very old...
A: These are very old tombstone but they are not taken care of. So we are going to do something about these tombs.
M: Ok, What will be the earliest tombstone here?
A: Earliest one is Mirja Maharam, who he died in 1913.
Renu: Abbas you have told us about how you found Mirja Maharam's, you know that whole story that you told us...
M: So tell us also.
A: His tomb was in bad shape. I had to, you know, unearthed the remains and we have to make proper volt and make a new tomb stone for him. So that's what we did.
Antop hill, Mumbai
A: This is the tombstone of Espandiyal Ygangi. He was a pioneer from Puna, he was a very good Baha'i, he died in Bombay and in Baha'i faith whoever dies wherever he has to be buried at the same place. So if a person from Puna dies in Bombay he has to buried here.
M: Ok, There is no question of transporting the body.
A: This is tombstone of Espandiyal Behram Rowhani, one of the early Baha'is in Bombay.
M: What is abhakingdam?
A: Abhakingdam means heven actually.
M: Some are very old, some are very new...
A: Yes, Yes...
M: So this cemetery is not used any more? It is full now?
A: There... we have some more place. But people, you know, want to be buried... some want to bury on top (the other cemetery across the road and up on the slope) so... we do that.
M: Ok, peoples choose where they want to be buried.
A: Yes, Yes.
M: Ok, Now can we see that cemetery?
Antop hill, Mumbai
It seems before the camera appeared Abbas narrated the stories with much more panache. But now he is either refusing to come on record or failing to repeat that ease. He cleans the surface of some tomb, taking a personal pride in presenting the cemetery to the camera.
M: Very peaceful place... Now I can imagine why some people insist that they want to buried here and not there...
A: Yes, yes ...
M: Because that is next to the road and this is much peaceful.
M: So which side is Armenian side and which side is Bahai's
A: This side is Armenian side and this side is Baha'i side.
M: Ok, I can make out but I thought... Armenian side looks older
A: Yes, plus they have crosses... because they are from Christian background.
M: When did this section start?
A: It was in... The last, I told you that there are tombstone dating back to 1878 and there was a recent burial last year. One old Armenian leady died and she was buried in that corner. That burial was done in 2002.
M: So Abbas how it happened... standing here if you tell us that whole incidence, if you narrate... how you came to share the place.
A: There was a Baha'i who was the friend of an Armenian and they were very good friends and you know, Armenian cemetery was encroached. So then they said - ok we can used it and that's how we got it.
The Armenian-Baha'I cemetery. The cemetery is divided into two by a wide path across the length of the plot. One side is the Armenian graves and the other side is for the Baha'is. The tombs are different in their looks. The Armenian graves are obviously much older with old fashioned marbles and the telling signs of the cross. While the Baha'i graves are much newer with modern granite tomb stones and no insignia. Some Baha'i graves are also adorned with photos of the deceased. This interview was conducted in October 2004 and the last burial was only in 2002. This means there has been no death in Armenian community in the city in the previous three years. The death rate obviously indicated the miniscule size of the community. No wonder that the Armenians found it difficult to maintain this place and leased it out to the Baha'is around 1985. By the dates inscribed on the tombstones, it is obvious that the sizable presence of the Armenian community in the city was from mid 19th century to early 20th century - the pick of the Bombay port.
Antop hill, Mumbai
Abbas narrates the story of the merger of the Armenian cemetery and the Baha'i cemetery. In the Armenian section there are some small tombs which are shaped like tablets. They look old and there is no cross in any of these tombs. Camera pans on the spread of the tombs. A skyscraper, like a reminder of the world outside, peeps into the frame. The space crunch of the city has influenced the space management of the Armenian cemetery too. They had to rearrange the tombs in neat rows to make space. As a result the feeling of it being at least 125 years old is somehow lost.
M: They are here? I mean the people who started this - are they buried here?
A: Yes, you see Mr. Shapoor Rohani, He was very friendly with the Armenians...
M: And that Armenian person is also here?
M: Can you just tell us who the person was?
A: Dr. Aram was his very good friend and then a lady, who is still living, she was his friend.
A: That's how they knew each other and that's how we got it, they gave it to us to use.
M: These tombstone, these are different... isn't it? I mean, I know it is not your faith, but what is the difference? Those old ones? These are children's or...
A: Yes, they are children's.
M: Ok, so they don't put cross on children's grave... is that true?
A: No is not like that. There is cross on child's grave over there... but this is how they had done it many year back.
M: 1878 at the age of seventy years...
M: That means he came in eighteen hundred... almost.
A: Yes, she came...
M: She, Ok.
A: Even this Dr. Jecab he died in 1899...
A: It was recently done. Recently they have re-done it up.
M: Why? I didn't get it.
A: It was... this place, it was recently done up again you know to align all the tombstones. About 2 years back it was done up.
M: How was it earlier?
A: It was the same, only I think some few graves which were not polished, few grave there were broken... So that all was done up recently, about 2 years back.
M: Are there many Armenian people now in Bombay.
A: few, few are still living...
M: So they only took the initiative
M: All the grave are here? I mean which was there (earlier)
A: Yes, these are all the graves that were there. Only some were move to align you know.
dr. aram y yegiazarian
Abbas does not make a good missionary, his conversion speech was pathetic. But then he was not the spokesperson of the community. Still it is a big thing to say that you will have to study in order to understand the faith. Especially since most of the religious conversions happen around belief in miracles and salvation. In that sense it is truly a modern faith. Though the first preacher in India came to Bombay, the percentage of the Baha'i population in Bombay is very less.
Baha'i is a syncretic faith. The founder Baha'u'llah is projected as the last messiah/avatar on earth, in accordance to every religious scripture. The faith propagates for global unification of spiritual and religious kind. It believes in one god, one people theory. Baha'u'llah is believed to be the successor of Moses, Christ, Mohammed, Buddha and Christ. While talking to the crew Abbas was extra careful to emphasis on his connection with the Hindu icons- Krishna and Kalki. Not sure whether he knows how contested the legacy of Hinduism in today's Indian politics has become.
Antop hill, Mumbai
M: Mr. Abbas since not many people know about Baha'i faith if you can tell us... I mean how one can convert to Baha'i, not very many people are born to Baha'i faith, how do you do that? How one goes about it?
A: Right. You have to read books and understand the Baha'i faith because it is a very recent faith and then you can become a Baha'i, by signing a card.
M: How? I mean one needs to apply or ...
A: No you don't have to apply, you have to understand Baha'i faith first, you have to understand what Baha'u'llah has to say and then if you want, out of your own will, you can sign the card and become a Baha'i.
M: Anybody can become a Baha'i...
A: Anybody can become a Baha'i.
M: There is no restriction.
A: No restriction.
M: And if you tell us a few points about what Baha'u'llah wants us to know?
A: You see Baha'u'llah has come to unite the mankind. He is the promised one (he means predicted) by all religions and we believe in all religions. We believe that all manifestation sent by god, right from Krishna, (are) all from the same god. It is only the time interval that they come. They come at different time to educate mankind as per that period. So as mankind develops his brain and as mankind start understanding more, god sends anther messenger to educate mankind and give them laws for that period. So Baha'u'llah has comes for this period. You know in the Bhagavad Gita it is written that Krishna said he would come back as Kalki in Kaliyug. We are in Kaliyug now and we believe that Baha'u'llah is Kalki. Its upto you to understand and read books and find out for yourself and then become a Baha'i.
M: And which country has like substantial number of Baha'i?
A: We have, We have Baha'is in all over the world but in India we have about 2.2 million Baha'is.
M: And it's mainly in Bombay?
A: In Bombay we have just 374 but all over India we have got 2.2 million.
M: That is a large numbers and is there any body here who, later on... as adult, converted? Like you are born to Baha'i faith right?
oneness of god
Abbas took the crew around the Baha'i graves. The community does not have a clear cultural identity such as in the names of its followers. Most of the tombs bear the names of their previous religion or the regional identities. It could be because of the unorthodox practice of the Baha'is where a convert need not be renamed. Or it could also be that since it is a new faith most of the people who are buried here were the first generation Baha'is and hence they carried the names which were associated with their previous identities.
Antop hill, Mumbai
M: Anybody who are buried here... who have been...
A: Yes, yes there are many. You see that person was a Hindu...
M: Who, which name?
A: Padmavati Khaana she was a Hindu and just 3 months before she could died she became a Baha'i. That is why she is buried here. Then there is another girl, the name was Shardha, her parents were Baha'i, one of her parents was under Baha'i... one was a Baha'i. So she became (one too)... she is buried here. Then there are many people like this person, Yusuf Bookwala, who was from a, you know, Muslim background he became a Baha'i. In Baha'I faith we have people from all background.
M: One can see in the names ...
A: Yes, yes there are Hindu names, Muslim names, Parsi names.
M: There is anybody Parsi?
A: Yes, see Sohel Espandiya Rohani, he was called Soly. Soly is a Parsi name. They were from Zoroastrian background and became Baha'i.
M: Anybody from Christianity.
A: Yes, see Firangi Lobo - her husband was a Christian, but she was a Baha'i, so she was buried here.
sohel espandiya rohani
Detail shot of the tombs. Section. One tomb in the Armenian section in shining black granite reads in loving memory of Dr. Aram Y Yegiazarian. He was the person who made the deal with the Baha'is. He died in 1983 which explains the contemporary look of his tomb. General shots of the Armenian cemetery with white marble tomb stones and crosses. There is an evidence of simple elegance. An industrial structure with the name Indian Oil printed on it hover in the background.
dr. aram y yegiazarian
Camera on the Baha'i section of the cemetery. Compared to the Armenian section this part is modern in its texture and shape. The tombs are mainly made of coloured granite as opposed to the white marble in the Armenian tombs. What is most interesting in this part is the names of the deceased. The names are a reminiscent of their previous religions or of the regional/linguistic identities. There is nothing distinct about Baha'i identity. One tombstone reads 'In loving memory of Kavita R. Khemani' indicating the woman's origin in the Sindhi community. The detail of the tomb of Sapoor Rostami. Another one of Mehru Shapoor Rowhani. The last two names bear the sign of connection with Iran.
Long shot of the cemetery. The white marble crosses at the Armenian tombs are in the foreground. At the background in a higher land are shanties of the people whom Abbas called encroachers. One woman come out of one of the huts and discards some dirty water in the cemetery compound. Her action makes the land of the dead come alive and at the same time enhance the contesting status of the land. Her pink saree creates a direct contrast against the white marble tombs.