In October this year Deborah Mann Smith and Nancy Wall talked with Arnavaz Dadachanji about her forthcoming book, Gift of God. The book is a rare testimony of one women's selfless love and devotion to her Master

Deborah: I think people would like to know how this book 'Gift of God' came to be.

Arnavaz: It started in the early eighties when Dara Irani was recording the mandali talking about their lives with Meher Baba. He had persistently asked me for some time, but I was very busy — Naja had just died and I had taken over the kitchen. With that work and the time I spent talking with pilgrims, it seemed impossible to find time to work with Dara, but finally I agreed. I would talk with him for awhile, then return to my chores, then talk with him some more. At least this time I knew where to start. When Irwin Luck came here to interview us in '70 or '71, none of us had known what to expect. When he said to me, 'Tell us about your life,' I drew a blank that I said, 'There's nothing to tell.' They had brought all that paraphernalia — cameras, microphones, tape recorders — and I knew I had to saysomething. So I said, 'I'll just start at the beginning and go year by year.' And that's exactly how I started with Dara — from the beginning. We made about seven or eight tapes, and then Evie Lindemann came to visit and she offered to have them transcribed for me. And I thought, well, now my family or some Baba lovers may want to do something with that transcription later.

Nancy: You really had no intention of doing anything with it yourself, did you?

Arnavaz: No, I never ever dreamt I would write a book. And even people who know me very well are going to be surprised, because there are many things in this book I just never talked about. But years after we made the tapes I was alone in my room one night — I remember that I had fractured a bone in my instep, and I was having trouble with angina pains — and suddenly Baba said to me inwardly, 'Write your book.' I said, 'Write my book? I'm not well and I don't have the capacity to do it. I don't even have a title for it.' And the title came to me spontaneously: Gift of God. That is the meaning of my name, Arnavaz — but that's another story that I tell in the book. Then, some time later, I was sitting with the transcription of the tapes, wondering how I could begin, and Deborah, you came in to see me. When I told you what I needed to do, you immediately offered to help.

Meher Baba at the home of Arnavaz and Nariman Dadachanji in Bombay

Deborah: I remember the look on your face — as if you were trying to decide whether or not to tell me about it.

Arnavaz: And then for a year or so you and I worked hard on the manuscript, but we weren't sure about so many things — proper English usage, punctuation. Nancy, you came to visit then, and when I told you that I was writing my book, you offered to help too.

Nancy: I had just retired — Baba's timing. If I'd still been teaching, I wouldn't have been able to do it.

Arnavaz: And then we three started redoing the manuscript, and redoing, and redoing. . . .

Nancy: Arnavaz, why do you think Baba wanted you to write this book?

Arnavaz: Well, at first I didn't know. So when I started writing, I said, 'Baba, my life has been so different from others' lives, and I don't know what I should write. Please help me to write what You want.' So I gave it to Him, I left it to Him, and I just started writing. Of course Baba has taken me through many deep experiences that are just between me and Him, but whatever I felt I should write, I wrote down. Then you two started asking, 'Do you have Baba's letters? And your letters to Him?' I hadn't thought of including either Baba's letters or mine in the book, or any of Nariman's writings, so I simply gave you everything and told you to choose what you liked. And now that the book is finished, I think there are certain things Baba wanted readers, Baba lovers, to know.

Deborah: What are some of the specific issues you think Baba wants readers to hear about that you were able to address through your own experience?

Arnavaz: Well, marriage is one important subject. I didn't want to marry, but Baba wanted me to marry Nariman. And after living my married life, I now know that if I had been alone, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do what I did for Baba, having Him and the mandali stay at our place. From the beginning Baba wanted us to have our own home (rather than live with Nariman's mother), but at the time we didn't know He would come to stay with us. And Baba gave us our lovely apartment on a silver platter — finding an apartment was absolutely impossible during the war, but we found a place that was perfect, right down to the smallest detail. Baba gave me this marriage and through it both Nariman and I became closer to Him. It was so beautiful?we were just like a family. Baba would come to Bombay and be with us or we would be with Baba either in Meherazad or at Guruprasad in Poona — we were constantly in touch.

Nancy: I think one of the most important subjects that you discuss in the book is obedience. You married not because you wanted to, but because that was Baba's wish.

Arnavaz: Exactly. Married or unmarried, living in the ashram or in the world, it doesn't make any difference. The important thing is accepting what God ordains for each one of us. I believe Baba wants readers to understand that He does everything just as He wants. We are just puppets. If we will give everything to Him and just keep going on, finally we come to realize that it is He who does everything. In the early chapters of Gift of God I have written about how Baba taught me to obey Him and surrender to Him. When I was sixteen, He told my father that He wanted me to give up my studies. My father was disappointed because he was very proud of me and wanted me to complete my education. And it was very hard for me to leave school — I was a good student and I enjoyed learning. But Baba wanted me to learn obedience. After I had stayed out for a year, he allowed me to go back. For me obedience came before love — it was only later that Baba opened me to love. Obedience, faith, and resignation to His will — these are the lessons that I feel Baba wanted me to convey through the story of my life with Him. These are lessons that all of us must learn.

Deborah: How do we as Baba lovers get in touch with that today? You had Baba to say, "I want you to marry Nariman.O But how does that work now, with Baba not in the body?

Arnavaz learned the lessions of obedience to the Master at a very early age, "it was later that Baba opened me to love"

Arnavaz: So many Baba lovers have asked me that same question. How do we know what Baba wants? I tell them to read the books, to obey Baba's orders. When people ask me how to love Baba, I ask, 'What is love?' Most people think of love as something we feel, that flows from the heart. But that is not Real Love. Love is there, of course, but there is also attachment. To love Baba is to try to please Baba. And what pleases Baba? Obedience, faith and surrenderance. So I say that even though Baba is not in the physical body, you know what Baba wants, and Baba is guiding you all the time. It is often difficult to obey Baba. But if we keep trying, gradually it becomes easier. If you fail, try again. And again. Never give up. And when you fail, ask Baba to forgive you — even if you don't mean it. It makes a difference. Also, Baba will let you know when you are displeasing Him. There is a saying in Gujarati that a goldsmith takes a hundred strokes with the hammer to make a small piece of jewelry, but the hammering is very very light because the work is so delicate. The blacksmith, on the other hand, gives one hard blow. The gold is malleable — it learns. But the iron is hard and requires a firm blow. In the same way Baba has said I forgive you once, I forgive you twice, but I don't forgive you a third time. Of course, He always forgives — even ten times — but what He means is that the third time He has to give a hard blow, like the blacksmith, and it is difficult to bear. But this is not to say that Baba punishes us — that is a very important point that I have discussed in the book.

Nancy: Another subject that comes up frequently in your book is detachment. I think that's a particularly difficult issue. People often ask what they can do to learn detachment.

Arnavaz: It is not in our hands to bring about detachment. It is in Baba's hands. We have to try to do what He wants, and slowly, gradually, He decreases our attachments. I have shown in the book how through the many deaths I had to experience, I gradually became less and less attached, but this process took place over my entire life. Baba wants us to be detached from everyone and everything so that we are attached only to Him — but He alone can bring about detachment.

Deborah: Is there anything that you can suggest that would help people to come closer to God internally? Everyone wants to know, should we meditate, should we say the prayers? How do we spend time with Baba internally?

Arnavaz: Baba has given great significance to two prayers. He said that those who would repeat the Parvardigar Prayer and the Prayer of Repentance after He dropped His body would be benefited. So saying these prayers is important?it is like obeying an indirect order from Baba. And it is most important to take His name more and more. You can sing His songs, say His arti, look at His photograph — or just think of Him and repeat His name. Meher Baba's name is very powerful. In the book I tell a story of a woman who was bothered by disturbing and inappropriate thoughts. When she confided to Baba that she was having this problem, He told her simply to take His name. He said that taking His name was like having the protection of a mosquito curtain. The thoughts, like mosquitoes, might be buzzing around outside, but they wouldn't get through and sting her. I remember another woman who told me that she had terrible thoughts while sitting in the Samadhi — so terrible that she ran out. When I asked her where she went, she said she sat under a tree. 'Isn't Baba under the tree?' I asked. She started laughing. Baba is in all of us, so wherever we go, He is there. Of course we must try to have good thoughts and think of Him, but even if we have undesirable thoughts or emotions, we shouldn't worry. We should just repeat His name and say, 'Look, Baba, I am sorry. I know You are not pleased.' And once we make a practice of repeating His name, it goes on inside even when we are not conscious of it. It's like breathing. We don't think, now I'm going to take a breath; we just do it. And sometimes we realize we've been taking Baba's name without being aware that we were.

Nancy: Your book contains some strong warnings to Baba lovers about certain things, especially the occult. Could you say something about that subject?

Arnavaz: That's so important today because there is so much interest in occult powers. Good and evil are the two sides of the coin, and now evil is raising its head very high. We can see this in what is happening throughout the world. Many people are dabbling in the occult, trying to contact dead loved ones, for instance. When people come to me asking what to do once they are in trouble, I say, 'Well, you have done this and you can't do anything about it except to go on taking Baba's name and thinking of Him. Now you have to give it to Baba, leave it to Him.' What else is there to do?

Deborah: I think a lot of people are confused as to what is occult and what isn't.

Arnavaz: That is one of the reasons Baba said not to visit gurus and saints — because there are many false masters and many false saints. We haven't the capacity to know which ones are real and which are false, so that is why Baba told us not to go anywhere else at all. He is Infinite Power. There is no reason for us to seek power from anyone else — we must stay with Him only.

Deborah: And this brings us full circle — back to obedience.

Arnavaz: Absolutely. Baba has said that obedience is greater than love. Our job is to try our best to surrender to His wish and will, to do what we have to do, and to leave the results to Him. Even if we make mistakes, Baba loves us so much that His compassion will not allow us to get away with anything. That is His mercy. Once you've got hold of Baba, He will never leave you and, therefore, you will never get away from Him. Whatever He wants you to do, He will make you do — if not today, tomorrow; if not tomorrow, the day after. So why waste time?

The book Gift of God is published by Beloved Books and will be released globally in February 1996

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