TRIBUTE TO ALOBA
Compiled by Shelley Marrich
1 October 2002
At the age of 86, Ali Akbar Shapurzaman joined his Beloved Meher Baba on 13th August 2002, at 1:15 pm in a Pune hospital, not far from where Baba Himself was born. His reunion came after 75 years lived in service devoted only to Him. As with many of the Mandali, Aloba's last year was marked by illness and increasing physical handicap. At April end he became unwell due to the terrific heat experienced last summer (110-112 F, 42-44C), and this illness hallmarked the physical decline which eventually would carry Aloba across his Beloved's threshold and into His waiting embrace. As dear Aloba's struggles unfolded making life more difficult, he sadly told those around him, "the charm is gone."
In early May, as Aloba was bowing down to Baba's chair in Mandali Hall imploring Him to expedite his "exit visa," he suffered a collapsed vertebra in his low back due to osteoporosis, causing pain and limitation in his daily life. The healing and rehabilitation of this fractured vertebra progressed smoothly for the most part, but after a few weeks he developed a recurrent urinary infection which required prolonged antibiotic treatment. While ridding Aloba of this pesky infection, the medications also weakened him and took away his appetite, making eating and drinking a challenge. Because of this weakness, Aloba found himself spending more and more time in bed. Although this series of difficulties dimmed the light of his fire, Aloba's humor, spirit, and fervent love for Meher Baba remained undiminished till the very end.
Soon after these problems started, Aloba began to tell those around him that his time for going to Baba had come. Not only was he preparing himself for this departure from our midst, he was also preparing all of us. He even asked Meherdokht Khosravi, one of his caregivers during his last few months, to write the Persian Baba-lovers in Iran and America to tell them he would soon be going, and to urge them to remember Baba all the time to think of Him and to repeat His Name.
Before one Sunday program in July, with great physical effort, Aloba entered Mandali Hall to make an announcement. He stated first, with intense feeling as he held back his tears, "I am not important. He (pointing upwards) is important." Then, after a short pause, again filled with deep emotion, he said, "My days are numbered." Aloba then had the following Baba quote read out; "Meher Baba says that the fate of the Universe hangs on His Seclusion, and the redemption of mankind depends upon His manifestation...." He urgently told those gathered in Mandali Hall, "Remember this. Write this down. Inscribe it on your heart. Do not forget." He instructed the crowd to forgive anyone who had insulted them because of their love for Baba. Aloba said, "If they say anything against Baba it is because they do not know. They are innocent. Forgive them. They know not what they do."
On July 28th the following Sunday, Aloba again entered Mandali Hall to speak to the pilgrims for the last time (as he so correctly predicted on that day), bringing beautiful garlands for Baba's chair and photo, and prasad for all. Once again Aloba, from the depths of his being, implored one and all in the Hall, "Remember Baba, repeat His Name, love Him with all your heart." Everyone felt the mighty effort he was making to share what he obviously believed was an urgent message. The atmosphere was very intense as all gathered there sensed this could indeed be his last time speaking in the Hall.
On August 3rd, Aloba fell and suffered the fateful fracture to his left hip which, in order for him to walk again, would need an operation. The following day, when an x-ray confirmed the fracture, plans were made by Dr. Goher and Shelley Marrich to shift Aloba to Pune for admission at Inlaks Hospital where he would undergo a hip replacement. On Monday, August 5th, after settling into his hospital room, Aloba's case was reviewed by a constant flow of doctors. The orthopedic surgeon and anesthesiologists decided to postpone surgery until Aloba's medical condition was more stable.
Gil Alvarado, Ryan Brown, and Meherdokht Khosravi, who accompanied Aloba to Pune, and Dolly Kerawala who resides in Pune, were fortunate to spend this last week with him, and they tell how deeply touched they were by Aloba's focus on and surrenderance to Baba till the very end. Ryan writes, "The times with Aloba were priceless ... so challenging, so tiring ... so wonderful, so intimate, so Baba. He really had turned from the lion of his youth into a lamb."
Aloba faced many difficulties during his last days in the hospital and yet through it all his humor and sweetness prevailed. Gil writes, "He was so helpless, and I felt so helpless trying to assist him. Communication was often difficult and frustrating. He suffered through it, and yet there were many moments of wonderful and playful humor where he would make us laugh and enjoy being with him. It was impossible to do enough to help him, and still he was accommodating and helpful in the process. Even his night nurse, Alika, commented on how exceptionally helpful Aloba was for someone in his circumstances."
Ryan also notes:
"Despite his physical pain and discomfort, Aloba kept his humor till the end. When feeling well he would let out a loud 'Meooow' while laying in his hospital bed. At first the nurses weren't quite sure what to make of it. Very funny. Then one day there was a peacock outside calling out which actually sounded like a cat's meow! Aloba was so thrilled! The peacock would 'kaw' three times and Aloba would respond with three 'meows.' He kept exclaiming what a lovely animal it was to be able to make such a loud meow. In the evening, when Aloba was more tired, he and the nurse, Alika, would bicker good naturedly back and forth about the lousy food, and about how he was getting too many injections and too many pills. Then, on one of these nights, Aloba started to meow, and to his pleasant surprise she barked in response. Aloba would meow again and the nurse would bark back her reply. Back and forth they'd go having a good time of it, thus shifting the mood. This is just one example of the many sweet and incredibly cute things Aloba would do to relieve the monotony of the hospital, as well as lift the spirits of those around him."
Aloba's fervor for and interest in world affairs was undiminished during his hospital stay. In fact, if anything this interest intensified in his last days. Meherdokht tells us, "During Aloba's stay in the hospital, his attention was often on Iran, matters concerning Iran, Persian poetry. His love for the country was great. His waking moments were spent with great attention on Iran and this steadily increased as the days passed. He would ask me to repeat certain lines of Persian poetry over and over again, and on hearing them, he would cry. Aloba took a promise from me to get a certain book of Sahbaf Esfahani (a Persian mystic poet) brought to him. On the 12th of August, Zahra and Arjang Ajang, who had earlier come to India from Iran, arrived at the hospital to help with Aloba's care after the operation. Aloba also entreated Arjang's and Zahra's help in getting the book. He was so adamant we even called Iran and emailed many people for this reason." But alas, despite all their efforts, it could not be found.*
During his last days, it was clear that Aloba could no longer contain his love for Beloved Baba in his heart as it would often overflow in spontaneous weeping while he was speaking with those around him. When asked why he was crying, Aloba would simply say, "Do not worry these are tears of joy and I cannot control them it is out of my hands." He was very warm and affectionate with those who came to visit him and especially thankful to the ones who brought home-cooked food as he was missing Katie's delicious cooking at Meherazad. In fact, the hospital food was the main subject of his daily phone calls with Bhauji, who was in another Pune hospital across town!
Aloba's nights in the hospital were usually active for him and his caregivers. Gil writes, "He spent most of each night restlessly calling out either 'Meher Baba' or 'O God!' in Persian. During the day, Aloba would be involved with the day's events, but when these were put aside, his deep longing for God was exposed." Aloba's last night was no exception. He was almost constantly moving his arms and his right leg, rolling from side to side as much as the leg traction would allow and reaching up in the air with his arms extended as if entreating the heavens to rescue him from his plight. And there was a difference in the mood. Despite his restlessness, there was a sense of quiet anticipation in the room. Throughout his illness Aloba had hinted at his imminent departure, and just one day prior to the surgery he told a visitor, "The train has left the station, no one can stop it now!" This last night in the hospital, Aloba did indeed seem to be waiting patiently on the platform.
Every morning during Aloba's hospital stay, Meherdokht would bring jasmine flowers from the Pune Baba Centre where she was staying at night. She would offer some to Baba's photos in Aloba's room and then give some to Aloba so he, too, could appreciate the fragrance. On August 13th, the morning of surgery, after enjoying the jasmine flowers, Aloba told Meherdokht, "From tomorrow there is no need to bring flowers." He spent his last hour before being taken for the operation speaking earnestly in Persian with Meherdokht, Zahra and Arjang as they sat around his bed quietly absorbing Aloba's messages to them. Then finally Aloba fell asleep, resting for some time before the orderlies came to bring him to surgery.
Aloba passed through the operation without a hitch. He received spinal anesthesia, so he was awake and alert during the surgery and would often speak to the anesthesiologists and to Dr. Arvind Chopra (a Baba-lover who married into Baba's Pune family), who was in the operating room with him. Towards the end of the surgery, Arvind asked Aloba to save his strength by resting quietly during the remainder of the operation. To his own surprise, Arvind used the word maun, which refers to the kind of silence that Baba kept, and is not used when asking someone to be quiet for the moment. After Aloba agreed to be silent, Arvind responded spontaneously with "Jai Baba!" to which Aloba replied with a hearty "Jai Baba!". He promptly fell into a deep sleep and soon after, as the surgeon was placing the final stitches in his incision, Aloba's heart, which had been behaving perfectly until then, began to show signs of distress. His blood pressure and pulse suddenly dropped and were immediately treated with medications and the installation of a temporary pacemaker. Though Aloba's condition stabilized, the anesthesiologists decided to place him on a respirator in case further problems arose.
When Arvind reported to those waiting in Aloba's room, he told them that the surgery had been a success that the spinal anesthesia had gone in easily despite the recent fracture in his low back, and that the implant had been secured into his thigh bone in record time. He also informed them of the drop in blood pressure but said that Aloba was presently stable in ICU, that he was on a respirator though he had been breathing on his own, and that they could see him soon.
Shelley, who had come to Pune to be with Aloba for the surgery, entered ICU just as the nurses and doctors were settling him in, and could see at first glance that his condition was grave. The cardiologist arrived with an echocardiogram machine to examine Aloba's heart, and found that his heart muscle had ceased to beat on its own. He turned off the respirator momentarily and it was clear that Aloba was also no longer breathing on his own. The cardiologist then turned to Shelley and simply said, "He is gone." It seems that as the doctors and nurses were transporting Aloba from the operating theatre where Arvind had just left him, to the ICU, his condition had suddenly worsened and he saw this much-awaited opportunity to slip away into the arms of his Beloved.
At this very moment in Mandali Hall at Meherazad, the Mandali were being entertained by a large group of Sufis from California and Washington D.C. with beautiful songs written by Mischa Rutenberg and performed by Mischa, Hank Mindlin and others. The Hall was packed with Baba-lovers from all over India the verandah, windows, and doors of the Hall were overflowing with Western lovers from the 200-member Sufi group who had travelled to Baba's Home for the purpose of sharing their love for Him through songs and theatre. And the atmosphere was suffused with Baba's Presence. The program began at 11:45 am, just as Aloba was being settled into ICU, with Mischa explaining that the song he was about to present had its genesis in a line from Sri Ramakrishna which Mani had shared with him years ago. This line "The winds of grace are blowing all the time, you have only to raise your sail" had been incorporated into the following lovely song entitled "Winds of Grace":
"Sail away on the winds of grace and steer a course that goes straight to the heart of the Sun ... Soaring high like the pure white swan far above ... heading towards the One. Soaring free ... disappear in the heart of the Sun ... Sail into the arms of Love."
As these lines were being sung, Falu Mistry received a phone call from Shelley with news of Aloba's condition. When she realized that the machines supporting the life of Aloba's body would have to be turned off, Shelley requested that the head of ICU allow Dr. Goher to make this final decision. Falu entered the Hall with the phone in hand and quietly told Goher the news. Naturally it was a shock and an immediate decision could not be made, so Goher allowed the next song, "Meher Baba's Leela," which had already begun, to continue. As it came to an end, Meheru announced that Aloba's surgery had been a success. The performers and audience erupted into spontaneous applause, and Meheru raised her hand to silence them. "But," she added, "we have been informed that Aloba's heart stopped shortly after coming out of the operation theatre and he has been placed on a respirator." For everyone digesting this news, one line of "Meher Baba's Leela" stood out: "All is God's love at play every day ... divine play."
The Sufis were asked to continue with their program and they sang the beautiful "Shrine in My Heart" with words so appropriate for dear Aloba, Baba's very own Sufi, in his reunion with Beloved Baba:
"Meher Beloved my Lord, how You shine from the shrine on the hill in my heart. Dancing, rejoicing in wonder we come ... Home at last, with love's promise fulfilled ... Your Silence we share, Beauty Eternal, in Your Presence Divine, our shining eyes see You everywhere, And we realize every heart is Your Shrine, in every heart Your Presence Divine." As the program ended with a resounding "Beloved Avatar Meher Baba ki Jai!" Meheru told the crowd, "Whether Aloba returns home to Meherazad or into his Beloved's embrace, it is his gain."
Shortly thereafter, Goher called Shelley at the hospital and Aloba was taken off life support at 1:15 pm with his caregivers from India, America, and Iran gathered around him, joining together in Baba's "Jai" as his last breath was taken. When the announcement was made at Meherazad that now indeed Aloba was in his Beloved's embrace, some wept feeling the loss. And when a young worker at Meherazad began to ring the bell signaling "Time to depart," there was a communal sigh as this reminder of Aloba's absence rang throughout Meherazad. But no matter how sad everyone felt, the prevailing sentiment was one of joy, for dear Aloba's wish to be reunited with Baba had finally been granted.
Aloba and his caregivers returned from Pune by ambulance to Meherazad arriving about 6:00 o'clock in the evening. He was first taken to the clinic where the men gathered there lovingly bathed him with a lavendar spray given by Dr. Goher. His clothing was changed, and he was wrapped in a flowered sheet for his final darshan before Beloved Baba's chair in Mandali Hall. The Hall was filled with the quietly waiting Mandali, residents, and pilgrims who had come to pay their respects to Aloba and to spend one last night with their companion, friend and passionate example of love and devotion to Meher Baba. Naturally and spontaneously everyone present began sharing memorable and endearing stories about Aloba, filled with humor and always reflective of his undivided focus on Baba. And as everyone's attention centered on Baba and His dear Aloba, Aloba's expression seemed to transform, giving one the impression of a twinkle sparkling from behind his closed eyes and a gentle smile upon his lips. Baba's Presence and Love filled the Hall with joy.
Although the Mandali and most of those visiting Meherazad turned to their beds after several hours of reminiscing, Peter Booth from Meherabad and Farhad, kept vigil all night long. They passed the hours sharing stories, opening faal's from Hafiz and reading poetry to him as he lay before Baba's chair. But before everyone left the Hall that evening, Baba's prayers were said by all and Aloba's Persian Arti was sung by Farhad. Aloba's fervent love for Baba is beautifully depicted in these following lines of his Arti translated from Persian:
"We adore You, we worship You with our hearts and souls, Day and night we shower Your threshold with kisses of love."
Farhad writes about that night, "Here is the first faal from Hafiz that we opened for our dearest Aloba on the night of August 13th, as his body lay quietly at his Beloved's feet ... The poem that we opened seemed to perfectly describe Aloba's predicament ... how patience and putting up with thorns is needed before the company of the Rose (symbol for the Christ) is achieved." The following is Farhad's translation from Aloba's own copy of Hafiz in the original Farsi which was read aloud by Peter and Farhad to Aloba as he lay in state that night:
The following morning, the 14th of August, the men and women Mandali gathered again in the Hall with Aloba still resting before Baba's chair, to say His prayers and Arti; and, for many of the women who could not manage the trip to Meherabad, this was their chance to say goodbye to their dear life-long companion in Baba's Love and Service. Aloba was then carried out of Mandali Hall with a repeated "Avatar Meher Baba ki Jai" until he was secured in the Swanee (the Trust van named by Mani) for his final journey to Baba's Samadhi at Meherabad.
Upon his arrival at Meherabad, Aloba was placed in the Tomb at Baba's feet as the prayers were said by the large crowd gathered outside. He once again was carried to the Swanee and driven to old Mandali Hall at Lower Meherabad. There his body lay in state for several hours, allowing time for everyone from near and far to bid dear Aloba farewell with songs, remembrances, flowers and heartful goodbyes. At 2:00 pm, Aloba was lovingly carried to the burial ground where he was placed next to Eruch, whose first year anniversary of going to Baba was only days away. Aloba had been so keen to be buried beside Eruch that during his last months he would often ask Meherdokht to check this spot making sure it was indeed available. Again the prayers were said in English and Persian and Aloba's Arti was translated into English so everyone present could share in its meaning. And finally, Aloba's body was gently lowered into the ground with Beloved Baba's Name on everyone's lips and in everyone's hearts.
In the early 1950's, Keshav Nigam, an old lover of Baba's from Hamirpur, wrote 40 beautiful couplets in praise of Baba which He particularly liked and would have Keshav recite whenever he came to stay with Him. When Aloba heard Keshav's poem, he wondered to himself, "If Keshav can write 40 such couplets of poetry for Baba, then why can't I?" and so he did some years later. At the time of their completion, Aloba read his couplets aloud to Baba, couplets which concerned Beloved Baba's manifestation. But when he finished reading, Baba asked, "Where is your takhallus, your nom de plume?" And because Aloba had failed to place his own name at the end of the poem as was customary, Baba added this final, precious couplet on his behalf:
There is no better way to end this tribute to Baba's dear Aloba than with the eulogy written by Rick and Sheryl Chapman and received by the Meherazad Mandali soon after his body arrived at Meherazad and was placed in Mandali Hall:
"Ali Akbar Shapurzaman Meher Baba's disciple 'Aloba' lived a life of rare and extraordinary spiritual privilege. He attended the Master's Meher Ashram as a child, accompanied the God-Man as a companion in the New Life, and remained with His Beloved as one of a handful of resident mandali until the end. Aloba was so unusual a disciple that Meher Baba had not one but three different nicknames for him: Electricity, The General, and Snake-killer. Each gives a glimmer of insight into his personality and attributes, but neither these pet names nor any number of words can really describe the uniqueness of Meher Baba's dear Aloba.
Aloba lived for his Beloved Master with a passion and intensity unknown to most. He breathed Baba's words, lived His commands with a do-or-die tenacity, meditated upon His divinely human Life with every waking moment, and was graced with innumerable wondrous and vivid dreams about Him which he shared generously. His enthusiastic determination to uphold Baba's Wish in all things was boundless and contagious, and his storytelling, which inevitably revolved around the majesty of His Beloved's working in his life and with others, was always a drama to behold, with gestures, props and full-body contortions for emphasis. It was a gift to witness his great love in action and to be privy to his homespun but so often disarmingly profound observations and commentary on the ways of the Avatar.
And Aloba was Persian. Born in the land of the Avatar's own heritage, Aloba both characterized and represented Persia in Baba's court in innumerable ways, but perhaps most of all through his knowledge of Hafiz, Persia's great Perfect Master and Meher Baba's favorite poet. With no more than a few gestures Baba could elicit an entire ghazal from Aloba, sonorous and mesmerizing in his word-perfect Persian recitation. What astonishing grace to be able to entertain the Beloved with the words of Poetry which were always Perfect!
Aloba, dear friend and great disciple of the Beloved! What an indelible impression you have made upon the hearts of all lovers of the Beloved who were blessed with the opportunity to know you! We celebrate your glorious life of total dedication to the Beloved Lord, and we will never forget you: "Cat says meow!" "Time for Tea!" "Few drops!" "Who belongs this?" Your playful, childlike nature together with your meticulous passion for duty always struggled to hide a veritable inferno of love for your Beloved Master. Now you are consumed by His Embrace, one with the Fire of His Infinity, and a beacon of light for us all forevermore!"
And so at last, we join together, Baba's hearts from around the world, to bid a loving adieu to the unique, the unparalleled, the exemplary disciple of Meher Baba, Ali Akbar Shapurzaman!
AVATAR MEHER BABA KI JAI!!!
Rick and Sheryl Chapman
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