Early in May A.A.s in India joyfully gathered for the 27th General Service Conference of A.A. in India. Conference members were seated in the front and, unlike our Conference, other A.A.s and Al-Anons could observe from the back of the room. On hand to witness the group conscience process were two members of the General Service Office, New York-Greg M., general manager, and Eva S., who has the International assignment. Both carried away memories of what Eva recalls as “the shining example of A.A.’s love and service that we encountered everywhere we went.” Adds Greg: “So many moving experiences unfolded each day and forever altered my own life for the better. I pray to be able to transform what I’ve learned into a real benefit in my personal A.A. life.”
A.A. in India was introduced by Harry M., a traveller who found sobriety in New Delhi and then moved to Mumbai (formerly called Bombay), where A.A. was founded. Then there’s a story that appeared in the July 1957 Grapevine relating that in February 1956, G.S.O. (then called General Service Head quarters) “set the loom for India’s magic carpet” in New Delhi by answering the inquiries of an English housewife [Sylvia] and an Indian national [Subatti]; both had been told about A.A. by an Indian psychiatrist, who, in turn, had learned of it from Francis Braceland, M.D., psychiatrist-in-chief at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut.
The following December one Charlie M., of Montreal, Canada , wrote to G.S.O. asking for the names of A.A. contacts in southeast Asia, where he was being transferred for two years. In January Charlie wrote again: “It took me a week to locate your correspondents, Sylvia and Subatti. When I did, I found them close friends who were toying with the idea of doing something about their drinking but just hadn’t been able to make a start. They have been dry a week now, and we’re going to run an ad in the paper.” A few weeks later Charlie announced: “We were hopefully expecting some inquiries [about our ad]. Well, we got them! Seven replies to the first ad and 23 to the second, from all over India!”
He noted, “You will see we have listed our membership as five-all of them successful so far. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be given the opportunity of sharing with others in this part of the world the program which has meant so much in my life . … “
Yet another anecdotal nugget turns up in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (pg. 80-81). Writing circa 1956, A.A. co-founder Bill W. relates, “The New York office [G.S.O.] recently received a letter written by a Jesuit priest in India. It told .the story of a Hindu schoolteacher who owned a cow and a tiny plot of ground. His wife was stone deaf and he had a sister who, like himself, drank like a fish. His salary as a teacher was about 50 cents a day. The Jesuit translated A.A.’s Twelve Steps for him. And … in spite of his domineering and drunker sister, he was staying sober. We know that this lone Hindu is probably feeling just the same worries that Dr. Bob and I did back there in the living room in Akron. This Hindu pioneer is probably asking, ‘Can I carry this message? Will I be able to form a group?’ Yes, he is asking those very questions. But he will soon be in communication with our world office and we can send solid assurance to that distant outpost that we are with him, all of us, and that our experience is his to draw on.”
This expression of unity echoed strongly with Greg and Eva as they gained first hand acquaintance with the workings of A.A.’s Conference structure in India. Every intergroup has an office and supplies Twelfth Step services, including literature distribution for the groups in their local areas. Literature is published in local languages and dialects. (The Big Book and basic A.A. pamphlets are now published and printed in India in English, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi and Bengali.)
In Mumbai, which sits on India’s west-central coast, Greg and Eva toured India’s G.S.O ., where they were warmly welcomed by Lawrie F., Class B (alcoholic) chairman of the board of trustees, Shashi P., general manager, and other staff members and volunteers. “The office,” Greg says, “consists of three rooms where board meetings are held, literature is stored and service is supplied. I was struck by the unique way in which Shashi and his volunteers give so much service with so few resources. A true labor of love!”
At an East Mumbai Intergroup meeting the following day, Eva and Greg shared their experience in service, responded to questions about the U.S./Canada committee system, and spoke of the many international services offered by G.S.O . New York. After several hours they were whisked away to share their stories at a meeting of the Reviver Group. Men sat on one side of the room, women and children on the other.
Midway through their visit, the Americans, along with Lawrie, boarded the Udayan Express for the 24- hour train ride from Mumbai to Bangalore, which is down near the southernmost tip of India. “During one of our many conversations with Lawrie,” Greg says, “we noticed that a fellow in the neighbouring berth was listening intently as he nursed a drink. Finally he turned to us and asked if we were from A.A. When we nodded in the affirmative, he shook his head in disbelief and proceeded to tell us of his drinking and visits to a few A.A. meetings. As we shared our stories, our new friend continued to drink. But he did give us his phone number and address so we could alert local A.A. to make a follow-up call.”
In Mumbai, Greg and Eva sat in on the 27th annual meeting of A.A.’s governing body in India, its General Service Conference. Greg, who gave the opening address on the topic, “I Am Responsible,” told the participants, “Bill W. wrote in Concept One of the Twelve Concepts for World Service that ‘the final responsibility and the ultimate authority for A.A. world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole Fellowship.’ This weekend, as you gather together . .. your voice expressed through the group conscience will codify your acceptance of responsibility for A.A.’s future in India, and assure that the doors of A.A. will remain open for those yet to come.” Then Eva gave a presentation on the Conference theme, “Service Sponsorship.”
In the past, Greg explains, “there had been no committee system within the A.A. service structure in India, although their Service Manual depicts a flow chart similar to ours. A committee system was outlined but not practiced. The Conference was still in its early hours when the chairman introduced the concept of the committee system. After several rounds of questions, followed by discussion, there was a unanimous vote to seat two Conference committees-Agenda and Public Information-with the agreement that at the close of the Conference, the chairman would appoint corresponding trustees’ committees. Everyone sensed that something great had been accomplished-that the groups had accepted responsibility for the future of A.A. in India.”
After the Conference, Greg and Eva attended a meeting of the Sarvodya Group in the poorer section of Bangalore. “The group meets in a small room off a dark alley, made available by Sister Nancy, a local nun,” says Greg. “Its format is based on the A.A. book Daily Reflections and has about 15 to 20 members, most of them men. That night Eva and I had been invited to share our stories, and afterward we were received with open arms and embraced by each member. It was a memorable moment.” Next day the visiting Americans joined their new friends in celebrating the 35th anniversary of A.A.’s arrival in Bangalore. Remembers Eva: “The speakers emphasized sponsorship, gratitude and A.A.’s singleness of purpose, and were inspiring to hear.” She notes that “Al-Anons are very active and go to open A.A. meetings though they don’t share. Also, at the three meetings I attended, there didn’t seem to be people with problems other than alcohol. Narcotics Anonymous is strong in India and appears to be attracting those with drug-related difficulties. The A.A.s are good about steering non-alcoholic addicts to these meetings.”
As they took off for the 16-hour flight back home to New York, Greg and Eva hoped that their sharing of A.A.’s rich history in the U.S./Canada would help members in India to know they are not alone. Observes Greg: “I believe the true beneficiary of the week’s work is the yet unborn alcoholic in India who will reach out for help-and find that the hand of A.A. is there.” Looking back on the memorable journey, Eva recalls the assurance in the Big Book (p. 164) that God ‘will show you how to create the fellowship you crave . . .. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.’ “In India,” she says, “that’s how it was.”Originally published in News and Notes From the General Service Office of AA. ® Box 459 Vol. 47, No. 4 Aug-Sep 2001 www.aa.org