Printed in the Spring 2015 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Boyd, Richard."President's Diary" Quest 103.2 (Spring 2015): pg. 74 -75.
At the beginning of October a now familiar scene replayed. My wife, Lily, and I boarded a plane, this time headed for an extended stay at Adyar. Within a couple of days of arriving in Chennai I was on call for the first of many ceremonial duties. While in the U.S. I had been contacted by the director of the Young Men's Indian Association (YMIA) to participate in the celebration of their hundredth anniversary.
My presence was deemed important because as president of the TS I represented a link with the YMIA's founder, Annie Besant. One hundred years earlier, Besant had seen a need for an organization to develop India's future leaders. In her typical fashion she emphasized a balanced development of spirit, mind, and a strong emphasis on physical fitness. In addition to founding the organization, she funded the construction of the large building that still serves as the YMIA's headquarters" Gokhale Hall. Various community leaders attended the meeting.
After a couple of weeks acquainting myself with the people and function of our Adyar headquarters, it was again airport time. This time I was headed for three areas in the north of India. The first stop was Bhubaneshwar in the state of Orisa. Dr. Deepa Padhi and her team of Theosophical Order of Service (TOS) workers had organized a series of events. The first was a conference on "Transformation through Service" at the Utkal University. This was followed by two local TS federation meetings. While in Bhubaneshwar, for the first time in this life I celebrated my birthday in India. While I was on stage presenting an award for service with about 300-400 people in the audience, some of the TOS team members managed to sneak a birthday cake complete with lit candles onto the table behind me. It was a pleasant and utterly unexpected surprise.
|Tim with participants in the Youth Forum following the TS convention.|
During our time in Orisa, Deepa and her team gave us a glimpse of the range of service activities they conduct and support. Within the TOS community their work on consciousness-raising around the issue of abuse of women has become well-known. While there, I participated in the inauguration of their most recent billboard on one of the main roads, which reads, "From the womb to the tomb women are abused." We also visited their day-care facility for the elderly, a home for abused and traumatized women, and an orphanage.
From Bhubanseswar it was on to Calcutta. My schedule had been worked out by Birendra Battacharya, a member who has been active with both TOS and TS functions in the area. Birenedra is remarkably devout and highly respected among all types of people and groups. My first function was participation in a gathering of about 600 people at Siddarth United Social Welfare Mission. Birendra and the founder of the center, Venerable Buddha Priya Mahathera, had collaborated in service work across religious boundaries. In fact one of the programs of the highly motivated monk was a school and orphanage for Muslim children. I gave a short talk, had a meeting with the organization's founder, and was piled high with gifts, garlands, and ceremonial scarves. Next was a journey by car, then boat to an island in Sundarban. The area is a noted nature region famous for its tigers. It borders Bangladesh. Through Birendra's efforts the TS has built and operates a vocational training center for women. It also has a TS lodge associated with it. Like many lodges in India it is named the Besant Lodge. The final activity in Calcutta was a brief talk and presentation of awards and certificates at the local lodge.
|Tim with members and staff after setting up the Christmas tree at the Leadbeater Chambers dining hall in Adyar.|
The next plane brought us to Varanasi (formerly Benares) and the headquarters for the TS in India. Once again I found myself following in the footsteps of Annie Besant. It is impossible to overstate the scope of her influence in the religious, political, and educational life of India. On the TS property in Varanasi four schools are operating today that track back to Besant's founding"”a primary school, high school, girl's intermediate school, and girl's college. The primary university in the area, Benares Hindu University, owes its existence to Annie Besant merging her Central Hindu College with it.
The city of Varanasi has grown up around the TS's twenty-acre compound. It is a tree-lined campus with housing, schools, a hall, and offices. While there, I stayed in the rooms where Besant stayed, sat at her desk, thought and meditated in her chair, spoke in the auditorium where she, Krishnamurti, Jinarajadasa, and other luminaries spoke. It was both humbling and inspiring.
Lily and I returned to Adyar in time for the day of remembrance for Radha Burnier's passing on October 31. At Adyar this year the day started out with a puja, a spiritual celebration, held at her home, Parsi Quarters. The ceremony was followed by a silent walk along the river to the Garden of Remembrance, where her ashes, along with those of other TS presidents, are interred. At lunchtime a special meal was offered for all residents, workers, and their families"”in all, about 300 people. It was served in shifts at Bhojansala, one of two kitchens on campus. The day ended with a program of remembrance at the Headquarters Hall in the evening.
Along with the usual work in my office, the month of November was a time of preparation for our convention in December. As the month came to an end, we were off to New York to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family in New York City, and to continue a related I have been invited to speak at the New York Lodge. Given my new responsibilities, it was iffy whether I could come or not, but we were able to keep it going for at least one more year.
|Tim at the Annie Besant School at the headquarters for the Indian Section in Varanasi.|
From New York it was back home (home #1 or #2, I am no longer sure) to Olcott for a couple of weeks before returning to Adyar. I did not leave before celebrating with staff at our annual Christmas party, which is always a fun time, especially now with no less than three babies stealing all of our attention.
By mid-December I was back at Adyar with preparations in full swing for both the convention and the general council (GC) meeting. Anyone who simply attends the international convention can have no idea about the amount of work and the layers and layers of details involved in arranging for 1200 people to come and stay for a week. For most people the important feature is the talks and meetings. These involve coordination with more than thirty presenters and chairmen from around the world. Then there are the all-important food and accommodations. Temporary structures need to be built. Water, electricity, and sanitation facilities all have to be readied. This year we had the additional need to arrange to livestream all of the programs held in the Adyar Theatre, which went off without a hitch (to see the videos of each talk, visit Theosophical Society Aydar - Youtube).
On December 25, the day before the convention opened, the meeting of the general council was held. The Christmas meeting has been a tradition of unknown heritage for 128 years. Next year we will begin a new tradition"”not having the meeting on Christmas day. By the consensus of the council, the meeting and the annual convention will be moved five days to the right. The GC will meet on December 30, and the convention will open on December 31. One other piece of GC business was that the Subba Row Medal for outstanding contributions to Theosophical literature was awarded to past TSA president and international vice-president John Algeo. Congratulations, John.
Almost 1200 members from thirty-one countries attended the convention this year. We had three nights of high-level dance and music performances. Immediately after the close of the convention we had a youth forum with a lively international group. Already we are planning for next year's program. A few of the things on my wish list are an evening variety show with our own members, prayers by the children in our schools, motorized shuttles for our aging members, and a program during the convention presented by younger members. Stay tuned.