Centenary of Abdul Baha's stay in the United Kingdom
Abdul Baha (centre) staying in September 1911 at the guest house of
Wellesley Tudor Pole (kneeling and smiling, left)
A hundred years ago a remarkable person arrived in England. He had been imprisoned for forty years during which time his hair and beard had turned white - but nothing could affect his smile or cheerfulness. He was Abdul Baha, son of Baha'u'llah, the Persian prophet who had founded the Bahai faith.
Abdul Baha too was regarded as a prophet, and when the Young Turkish Revolution in 1908 liberated him from his prison house in Acre, Palestine, he was able to bring his message to Europe and America.
“The universal message that he brought from the East – of peace and unity, of equality between men and women, of the oneness of mankind, of the harmony between science and religion, of the need for universal education, justice, independent search for truth and the abandonment of superstition and abolition of prejudice – won a great many adherents in the West.”
On Thursday, 29th September 2011, there was a gathering at the National Bahai Centre at 27 Rutland Gate, London, to commemorate his visit to the United Kingdom in 1911. Wellesley Tudor Pole had played a prominent role in his welcome, and as biographer of WTP I was privileged to be invitated, along, of course, with Chris.
At first we I mingled with the guests who included a couple of well known names. I didn’t get talking to Omid Djalili (comedian and actor) but was able to swop some affable words with Edward Tudor-Pole (Crystal Maze, Sex Pistols, Tenpole Tudor, Eddie Tenpole, various films – and grandson, of course, to Wellesley Tudor Pole).
The main programme for the evening began with a speech of introduction from Barnabas Leith who drew some information from my biography, The Two Worlds of Wellesley Tudor Pole. At one point he even invited me, flatteringly, to chip in.
After this the evening took on a more spiritual dimension, and I hastily reached for my pen because there were some special impressions to record. Once again I used the ‘Twitter’ form (of 140 characters or less) as a kind of condensed poetry, or quasi-Haiku. There were two beautiful and dignified young Bahais providing the music, Samar on guitar, his style rhythmic and involving, while Layli sang, her timbre perhaps comparable to Dido’s. Here is the response I wrote:
- The rhythm gathered us in a unity, while the voice poured clarity into that unity – so daily pettiness was dissolved in grace
Extracts from Abdul Baha’s talks were read, and the gathering, about 40 in number, seemed transformed by the words and, especially, the music:
- We each of us a set of complex currents – merging together, till our separate energies became unified in an underlying vibration
There followed an extract from the play 97 Cadogan Gardens, the address where Lady Blomfield and her Irish servant hosted Abdul Baha during his stay in London. The two actresses, both called Sarah, were so well in role that we simultaneously perceived not just the characterisation but the exhilaration of their art:
- The expression behind the expression was delight – like skaters flying in arcs, free of text or constraint, gliding for the mastery of it
All the while a portrait of Abdul Baha looked down from the wall onto actors and audience with the sort of painted eyes that appear to follow and see through you:
- And the gaze in the painting looking down – so formal, so mournful – yet beneath its exterior, a light of compassion, inviting us on
The room, on the first floor of 27 Rutland Gate, was part of the overall impression with its delicately coloured walls and panels:
- Dawn blue the walls, panelled with sun-touched buff of clouds – as if the sky were civilised into squares to feed our human sense of space
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the evening was the youthful helpers, prompt to assist, to offer food, or to hurry away and fetch whatever we lacked:
- The young people – calm, beautiful, endlessly helpful – a vision of a society which is not yet
It was an environment liable to have a positive effect:
- As my look shines it sees the shine of the world – each person, bird and flower – how can I fail to respond?
The following day Chris and I sailed down river, visiting the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. To stand astride the Meridian line dividing East from West had a particular significance after the meeting:
- One foot in the East, one in the West – in prospect a city where the world will gather – in 2012 when the door, perhaps, begins to open
As for whether a door really will open, bringing a new era – of all the qualities Abdul Baha promoted 100 years ago – well, that remains to be seen.
May I invite you to make certain purchases? (I may? Why, thank you...)
(a) The Salamander Stone (by my most excellent and trusty pal, Mrs Me) from one of these outlets:
Direct from the publisher, Burst Books: click here
Amazon UK: click here
(b) The Two Worlds of Wellesley Tudor Pole (by Mrs Me’s most excellent and trusty pal, Me):
Amazon UK: click here
Amazon.com (US): click here
(You’ll be getting both of them? Well, that is an admirable choice, if I may say so...)