Symbols of the world's religions



Mani S. Irani

Many of my classmates at the Convent School were Goanese Catholics. One of them was Mary de Sousa, who became my best friend. My reason for liking her so much was that she was very opposite to me. She was too serious, while I was too light-hearted. She was not just a staunch Catholic, she was also a very good girl and never told a lie. I admired her so much for it because telling a lie was easy as pie for me. I found it most natural to do so as a child, because I lied in order to avoid a scolding at school or a spanking at home.

Even if I was caught red-handed doing something I wasn't supposed to do, I would look very innocent and firmly deny it, "No, I didn't do it."

But if Mary were asked by the teacher, "Mary de Sousa, did you do this?" she would promptly stand up and say, "Yes, Miss," even if it meant taking punishment for it.

I'd look up at Mary with melting eyes and wonder to myself, "How, oh how does she do it?"

I loved Mary's love for Jesus. Whenever we were together, she would tell me stories of Jesus, Mother Mary, and the dear saints. For my birthday she would give me a beautiful little picture card of Saint Catherine or Saint Anne. On the back she would write, "To my friend Mani, from Mary." Whereas when her birthday came round, I'd get her a bright balloon or something just as silly. But Mary was so good, she'd accept it as if it was exactly what she wanted.

I didn't just love Jesus as someone long ago. For me, Jesus was alive and real and now. Jesus was here again, and His name was Meher Baba. So it was natural for me to say "Baba" instead of "Jesus", as I sometimes did to myself.

In the Catholic churches, the suffering of Jesus is evident everywhere, with the central figure of the Crucified Lord overseeing all. One seldom saw a picture of Jesus without the Cross. By always seeing Jesus on the Cross, one somehow got used to that aspect of His infinite suffering.

But one time, when I saw a portrait of Jesus with a crown of thorns on His head and blood dripping down His forehead, I sobbed. "How could they do that to Baba," I kept saying over and over.

I loved going into the church which stood in the grounds of the Convent. I loved the atmosphere in there.

During our short morning recess, or "interval" as we called it, Mary and I often chose to be in the church instead of playing games in the school grounds. Before that, however, a soon as the recess bell rang, I would run to the big iron gate in back of the school, clutching my precious pocket money. Through the grill I'd buy baked grams (chick-peas) from the old woman selling her goodies outside the gate, and also some sticky brown-sugar toffee which I loved.

One day after coming out of the church Mary and I sat on its entrance steps, our backs to Lord Jesus on the Cross. I offered Mary some toffee and grams, but as usual she said, "No, thank you." She was that good! I didn't mind because then I had more for myself. Mary went on talking, telling stories of saints. I went on eating, the toffee leaving a brown sticky circle around my mouth.

Suddenly I found a torrent of thoughts rushing into my mind. I thought, "Here's Mary, and she's my best friend. She loves Jesus so much. She's so good. I know Jesus is right here on earth, and I haven't told her! All this time I never told her? What kind of a friend am I?"

And then I imagined what she would do when I told her. She would jump up for joy and shout, "Jesus is here!" Or, she might even scold me for not having told her before.

So with the toffee still in my hands and my open mouth all brown and sticky, I had to stop her in the midst of what she was telling me.

"Mary!" I burst out.

She sensed the urgency in my voice and looked into my excited face. "Yes?" she said, looking surprised.

I told her. I said, "Do you know, my brother is Christ!" And then as I was about to tell her His address (He didn't have a phone number, you see), I saw her face and knew that Mary wasn't going to do any of the things I thought she would do. She didn't say a word, but I could feel an icy coldness coming from within her. It was as if the door of a frigidaire had opened. For some reason, there is one little detail that I remember distinctly. Mary got up and brushed off the back of her skirt as she walked away.

I sat dumbfounded. Here I had given her the best news in the world, and she just walked away!

I called out, "Mary! Oh Mary! Mary, listen!"

But she didn't turn. She was so angry that she wouldn't talk to me for a month. Trying to catch her eye, I would wait behind the Convent wall, but she never met my smile. Finally one morning our eyes met and she came over to talk to me, but it was not the same. It never was the same again.

When I told her what a bad Christian she'd been, she said, "Why?"

I said, "Would a good Christian act as you did? Supposing I was wrong — which I am NOT, by the way — but just supposing I was wrong, what about all that Christian charity? How could you not talk to me for weeks?"

No, our friendship was no longer the same. And anyway, some time after that I came to Baba for good and never saw Mary again, nor had any contact with her.

But I couldn't help thinking to myself, "Well, Mani, you weren't good, but you got God. Mary was so good, she missed Him."

It will be interesting for young readers, and surely a relief for their mothers, to know that when I grew older I didn't lie any more — there was no need to. And, most important, I did not tell a lie to Baba at any time.  BACK


GOD-BROTHER, pp. 128-132
1993 © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust


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