Raj Bali – Our Heritage

I was born in India, Punjab where I lived my life until 1958. I was a teacher – I taught English and History in a secondary school, and I enjoyed my life there. Life has been comfortable without any real hardship or difficulty. I wouldn’t call myself a millionaire, but in my life, I feel like a millionaire – people made money, but I made my stamp in other ways doing charity work. In 1958, I got married and in that year I sailed from India to Kenya. I came there to settle but it was not easy to get a teaching job. It was a difficult time. I managed to get a job in the Forestry Department and in the end I became an accountant and field officer working in a wildlife reserve in 1969. 1969 to 1974 was one of the best periods of my life for me. During that period I met the Prince of Wales and, later in my life when I met him again, I told him, “Your Majesty, I met you 44 years ago in Nairobi National Park.” “Oh really…?”, he said. He was 21 at the time! He came to see the wildlife with Princess Anne. My office was just next door to the rhino pen!

In those five years, I met many dignitaries of the world, who visited the Nairobi National Park. Then, in 1974, with my children growing up, I decided to leave. Giving my children the education they needed was beyond my means in Nairobi. I was offered a job in the USA at the time but decided on UK instead as my brother was already here – he came to Britain in 1962. Most of the people who came over settled in London, but I came to Derby. I didn’t want to go to London – it was so expensive, and I didn’t want to rent. I wanted to own my home, and now have lived happily in the same house for nearly 40 years. I got a job in Derby with International Combustion – which became part of Rolls Royce – as a Finance Analyst. As soon as I settled I began giving up my evenings to do charity work, starting within the Hindu community. At the time there was no Hindu temple and so we used to meet in each other’s houses. Then we bought an old house in Normanton Road– it used to be a solicitor’s office. The Hindu Community grew over time and we needed to get bigger premises. We started acquiring land to build a new temple.

It took me five years to buy all the land! We had to search through the Records Office to find out who owned all these bits of land, and we bought land owned from members of different communities. The Hindu temple in Normanton was built with the help of all the different communities. At the time, the largest communities in Normanton were Muslims, then Sikhs, then Hindus. It was very difficult to create a sense of community, but the temple gave us pride in Normanton. We introduced the Diwali lights from the temple. Normanton became a very welcoming place – I made friends with all sorts of different people, and I began to represent Derby’s communities on different boards and committees.

There was a time when I was a member of 40 different organisations – even now, in my 80s, I’m a member of the Hindu Council UK, a trustee of the Open Centre, and a committee member for the Hindu temple. We had to really work hard to reach the happy point we are now at, it was not an easy task to build a sense of community cohesion. I was part of the team that raised £2 million to build the Multi-Faith Centre – that’s not easy. It’s all about bringing communities together, and talking to people.

One of my photographs shows me with the past Bishop of Derby, John Bailey – he’s passed away now, but he was my friend. When Bishop Bailey first came to Derby, the community welcomed him, and I greeted him on behalf of Derby’s Hindus. When I met him I said, “You’re Bailey, and I’m Bali. We’re cousins!”. He always called me cousin after that. He was the chairman of the Multi-Faith Centre, and he always used to say to me that I spent more time in the Cathedral than in the temple. I went there a lot for meetings between the communities. I have some photos of the old temple; we used to have all of the community leaders come to the temple in the ‘90s. If you’re not in touch with the different communities, you’re not doing the right thing by the city, and that’s the work I did. This temple was attacked by arsonists in 1992, so, the same night, I invited all of the communities and we held our prayers, by candlelight, inside the ruins of the temple to show that the actions of a few cannot deter us from the work we do as a community.