Friday, January 19, 2018

The Sadhu of Ajax

Trinidad-born, Canada-based Hindu spiritual leader...


‘MY WORK SPEAKS FOR ITSELF’: Mahantji Balliram Chadee at the Hanuman Jayanti in Varanasi, India, last month.

Mark Fraser

Mahantji Dr Balliram Chadee rarely does press. It’s a shame; he has so much to say.

Since he migrated to Canada 30 years ago, Sadhu Chadee has been quietly and steadily doing his part in advancing the Indo-Trinbagonian, Indian, Hindu presence in his hometown of Ajax, Ontario.

The Fyzabad-born Sadhu Chadee is the founder and spiritual leader of the Hanuman Mission based here in Trinidad and Canada. His work takes him around the world to those in need, he said, and includes counselling, final rites, patra reading, conflict mediation and family support—all free of charge and using the principles of Hanuman.

Social media like Skype and Facebook have made it possible for him to connect with those who are far away but in need of prayer or counselling.

As the country prepares to celebrate 169 years of Indian arrival to this country, Sadhu Chadee was reflective on his own life and the advancement of Indo-Trinbagonians in general.

He was a boy living with his parents, Polly and Bisnath, and his four siblings when he decided that he wanted to be a spiritual leader .

“I saw myself praying for sick people in hospitals,” Sadhu Chadee said in a phone interview from his office in Canada.

“Even though I always talked about being a missionary, I never really understood what it all meant, except for praying for sick people.”

Sadhu Chadee may have well been prophetic since his work as the founder of Haumanji Missions now involves chaplaincy in 12 Canadian hospitals.

The Hanuman Mission was established in 2002 as a service-oriented organisation in Canada to help all Canadians as needed and required.

Sadhu Chadee also created the Ramayan Distribution Project, which ensured that the Ramayan, or Hindu sacred text, was placed in the chapel facility of every hospital in Ontario and he introduced initiatives like Buy a Brick and A Hand for Hanuman and Live Tribute to Hanuman Food Drive as charity and fund-raising projects.  

Seven years ago, he co-authored the book East West Traditions — An Ethical Perspective on Hinduism and Comparative Religion, which was published in Bangalore, India.

For his contributions to Indian culture and his charity work, he has received many awards, including the most recent Hind Rattan Award presented to him by the NRI (Non-Resident of India) Society of India a month ago, the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship and The June Calwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism, among several others.

While he cherishes all the accolades bestowed on him, Sadhu Chadee admits that it was receiving the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Gold Medal at the House of Lords, London, England, in October 2012 for international service in the areas of Hinduism, religion and spirituality was the most humbling for the former Sewlal Trace, Fyzabad, resident.

“It was very special to me, the pinnacle of my career to receive such an award. I was the only West Indian standing in front of 35 people receiving it. I was honoured.”

The husband of Merle and father of Aarti and Avesh, Sadhu Chadee said Indo-Trinbagonians have come a long way and have successfully established themselves, their culture and Hinduism wherever they settle on the world map.

“When I first came out here there was nothing related to Hinduism and T&T—No temples or anything.

“To get your hands on anything Indian or Hindu, you had to go to Little India. There was not much Indo-Trinbagonian-controlled business. For our food, you had to go to someone’s puja.

“Now, I can take my visitors to have a good doubles and red Solo,” he said with a laugh.

Recognising the void among the Hindu Trinbagonians out in Canada, Sadhu Chadee has also established the Hanuman Temple for Religious and Cultural Research in Ajax, Ontario.

Indian culture, its religion and heritage are still proving to be alive and well, Sadhu Chadee notes, but so is the caste and clique mentality, which he described as real—not just in Canada but in this country.

“As a younger person who was on his way to becoming a pundit, I was incensed. There was a lot of conflict, confusion, discrimination and retaliation among Hindu organisations; but I rose above the politics.

“In some quarters, I am still not respected and liked; but my work speaks for itself.”

Sadhu Chadee is finding out the language barrier is another challenge in his work—especially since he has to travel to India often.

“Growing up, my father and mother didn’t teach us Hindi. But as I got older I understood why.

“They wanted us to learn the English in order to be competitive and to get out of the lagoon and the rice fields.”

He noted that Indo-Trinbagonians have made some strides in their family and professional lives; but in some cases some things remain the same.

Sadhu Chadee’s father was a hard worker and his mother a housewife—a role that made her the chief cook, bottle washer and pampers changer, while his father was out in the field earning the money to feed his family.

When he became a father, the younger Chadee was able to break the mould. His parenting was more hands-on. He earned a living for his family, yes, but he also helped change their diapers, bathe and feed them.

Comparing his day to his father’s, Sadhu Chadee said there has been no change in temple attendance.

“The women still outweigh the men in the numbers.” He called on men to get back to the temples for the sakes of their families.

“A lot of things have changed for logical, obvious and man-made reasons for the Indo-Trinbagonian. In all, we have made a lot of progress—with two prime ministers, an attorney general and the first woman prime minister.

“We have rose above the challenges to ensure our children get more than we got.  It’s been a long journey but I understand my heritage; I understand being Trinbagonian.”

Sadhu Chadee wanted to emphasise that migrating does not make him a stranger in his land of T&T.

“I am always visiting and I have gained a lot of wisdom over the years. I still feel I have much to offer Trinbagonians and Hindus of this country.”