President's Diary

Printed in the Spring 2016 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Boyd, Tim, "President’s Diary" Quest 104.2 (Spring 2016): pg. 82

 

Tim BoydThe end of September found me in New York City. On my way back to India, I had stopped off to have an early celebration of my mother’s ninety-seventh birthday. For a change I did not have any specific TS responsibilities awaiting me, but while in the city I took time to contact a couple of people doing some fascinating things in the Theosophical realm. Two days after I was scheduled to leave New York, the second and final stage of the academic conference entitled “Enchanted Modernities: Theosophy and the Arts: Texts and Contexts of Modern Enchantment” kicked off. This major conference, whose first session was held in Amsterdam in September 2013, attracted participation from an international group of academics.

Theosophical author and historian Michael Gomes was one of the people presenting. Over lunch we got a chance to catch up. Those who know Michael know that he is a quintessential New Yorker. Even though I was born and raised in New York, whenever I get together with Michael I feel like a tourist. Invariably he exposes me to some new place I didn’t know about, or to some longstanding establishment I have never entered. This meeting was no exception.

While there I also had a meeting with the organizer for this year’s Enchanted Modernities conference, Dr. Gauri Vishvanathan. She is a professor of English literature at Columbia University who is deeply interested in Theosophical texts such as the Mahatma Letters, not just as teachings but as literature. For her, it is not only the ideas and concepts that have value, but the way in which those ideas were expressed and what that says about the time and place in which they were written. We first met last year, strangely enough, at Adyar. Originally she is from Chennai and frequently goes home to visit over the Christmas holiday. Like many people in Chennai, she has a lifelong relationship with the TS in Adyar, complete with memories of the people and places going back to childhood. While in Chennai she tries to attend some of the talks at our convention. After I spoke last year she introduced herself and we exchanged contact information.

From New York it was on to Chennai and Adyar. As you probably know, TS members around the world refer to the international headquarters in India with one word — Adyar. To us it is the name of our spot on the globe. Outside of India it works fine. Back in the 1880s, when the TS set up shop there, we were the only thing in the area. Over time, as the city of Chennai has grown, the sleepy little undeveloped area that once was Adyar has become a busy crowded place. Today Adyar refers to an area within the city, shared by thousands of people and businesses. But for our purposes Adyar is still a good shorthand way of identifying our headquarters.

After I caught up on some of the latest happenings, it was off to Varanasi and the TS India Section’s national headquarters. (Just to make things clear: our international headquarters are in Adyar, near Chennai. The headquarters of the Indian Section, however, are in Varanasi, formerly Benares, some 858 miles north.) Almost a year earlier I had agreed to conduct a North Indian Study Camp on the Three Objects of the TS. In his introduction, the Indian Section president, Mr. S. Sundaram, pointed out that this was the first time that this fundamental subject had been addressed in one of the camps. Around one hundred members, predominantly from North India, but many from all over the country, attended. There was even one lady from Australia who would come to play a significant role in this visit.

The Study Camp lasted five days. It was energizing and quite interactive. During my time there, a large ceremony was held at which I inaugurated the newly constructed building for the Besant Theosophical High School on the campus of the Indian Section. A year earlier when I was visiting, they had just broken ground for the building, and they assured me that when I returned in 2015 I would see the new place.

At the end of the camp my wife, Lily, and I traveled to Rajghat to visit with Prof. P. Krishna and the folks at the Besant School — the second-oldest Krishnamurti school in India. One morning had been arranged for me to talk to, and with, the upper-level students. It was a lively and fascinating exchange. They are a sharp bunch wracked with the normal concerns about adapting to the fast approaching world of responsibilities and meaning outside of the school walls. I left feeling quite hopeful for the future.

During the Study Camp, Bronia, the lady from Australia, and I were talking. It turns out that she is an accomplished artist working in a number of mediums, including photography. In one brief conversation she mentioned the paintings that were used in the groundbreaking book Thought Forms by Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater, published in 1901. For more than a year I had been searching for the original paintings for this book all around the world. In 2014 I had been approached by the curator of a major exhibit in Istanbul, Turkey. This world-class exhibition was named, and focused on, Thought Forms. (A limited version of the show came to Chicago in January.) Its curator, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, wanted us to lend the paintings so that they could be featured. At first we looked in the Adyar archives with no luck. Next was the TS in America with the same result. By the time our search finished, in addition to India and Wheaton, we had looked in London, Australia, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands, all with no result. So when Bronia told me that the paintings were hanging in the library at the TS headquarters in Varanasi — one hundred feet from where I was sitting — I was dumbstruck. I mentioned it to Sundaram, and within an hour all of the paintings were taken down and brought to where they could be closely examined. It turned out that twenty-one of the original forty-five paintings were there. Time had taken a toll on some of them, but overall they are powerful images, a true heritage for Theosophy and the world.

From Varanasi it was back to Adyar for a short time before traveling to Mumbai (Bombay) for meetings at the Bombay Federation and the Blavatsky Lodge in Mumbai. While there, we stayed at the Theosophical Colony in Juhu — a Theosophical community in the north part of the city, situated right at the shoreline of the Arabian Sea. It is a beautiful, long-standing gated community comprising thirty or so houses, available only to members of the Theosophical Society.

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The 2015 School of the Wisdom. Tim Boyd is at center, with Kim Dieu of the French Section on his left.

Back at Adyar we were working out the details for the upcoming convention. The first session of the School of the Wisdom had begun in November, but the anticipated monsoon rains had not appeared. Normally the monsoon season in Chennai begins around October 15 and ends by December 1. Some longtime Adyar residents were starting to voice concerns that this might be a lean year for rain, which would affect our wells and our ability to provide water for the convention. The rains started toward the end of November, intermittently at first, then without stop. Driving throughout the city became tricky as streets and neighborhoods started to flood. On December 1, at about 2 a.m., it started raining heavily. All that day the rains built in intensity until by day’s end we had twenty inches of rain! It was a disaster for the city. Whole neighborhoods were under water. Streets were impassable. Bridges crossing the Adyar River were submerged. The entire city was cut off from the outside world for almost three days. Trains, planes, cars could not get into or out of the city, and the electricity was gone.

Although the TS campus was not badly affected, we did get a good scare. When the tsunami hit in 2004, killing many fishermen and their families along Chennai’s coast, the TS experienced minor flooding, but none of the major buildings were affected. This time the river rose up to the foot of the headquarters building, which houses, among other things, our archives.

Although we did have minor flooding in the ground floors of some buildings, the greatest effects were felt by some of the workers who live off campus. Many of them lost everything. I discovered that the flooding was so severe that many of the people working at our campus were actually hungry. Their food and the means to prepare it had been lost to the waters. Within a day our Bhonjansala kitchen started providing a free meal each day for anyone who came. For over a month, more than one hundred workers ate there every day.

The end of December witnessed the opening of our annual international convention. Although the rains and flooding had severely cramped our preparation time, every department came together to bring off the entire affair like clockwork. This year the proceedings were again live streamed. Chris Bolger and Steve Schweitzer from the IT and AV department at the TSA came to Adyar and did all of the work. I had initially asked for the opening, closing, and main talks to go online. Chris and Steve decided to do every program — evening entertainment, all sessions of the Indian Section’s convention, panels, everything. It was long, demanding work that came out beautifully.

Also during the convention the plans for the future of the Adyar Estate were laid out in an evening program with Michiel Haas and me. A full description of the plans can be found at http://adyar-renovation.org.

Tim Boyd

 

 


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