Symbols of the world's religions



Davana Brown

"Beloved Avatar Meher Baba fulfilled His promise to Eruch B. Jessawala on 31st August 2001 at 2:31 a.m. when He gave Eruch His hand and pulled him out of the muck of illusion to live eternally in Him."

For those of the Baba-family who have been blessed to visit Meherazad in the past thirty two years since Beloved Avatar Meher Baba dropped His physical form, the above message sent out to the worldwide Baba family will need no explanation. But for those who have not been able to make the pilgrimage to Meherabad and Meherazad and meet Eruch personally, the story behind this message perhaps needs telling.

In the 32 years since Baba dropped His physical form, not a pilgrim season would pass without Eruch sharing with the Baba-lovers gathered in Mandali Hall how he was waiting for that day when Baba would give him His hand and lift him out of the muck of illusion. He would then regale the crowd with the story behind his statement.

The year was 1949, before the commencement of the New Life. Baba wanted a period of relaxation, so He asked Eruch to think of a place where He could go and relax. Eruch knew that there were two requirements to be met in finding a place for Baba: first, that it was secluded, and secondly that there would be a good mast contact. Eruch suggested a place on the coast, not far from Bombay, called Vengurla; it had long stretches of beautiful secluded beaches and he knew that there was a mast staying in the vicinity who Baba could contact. Baba agreed and plans were made for Baba and a few of the mandali to stay in the Government rest house there.

One day shortly after their arrival, Baba directed the women mandali to proceed to the beach, go swimming for as long as they wished, and when they were finished, to return to the rest house alone. He and Eruch would continue further along the beach, as Baba wanted to contact the mast.

It was midday and the sun was beating down upon them. Eruch explained to Baba they would have to walk about three miles to reach the distant town across the stretch of backwaters, but Baba wouldn't hear of it. Baba gestured to Eruch that it was too far and too hot and why couldn't they cross the inlet waters in one of the dug-out canoes that the fisher boys used to haul the catch.

Vengurla was a fishing community and for as far as Baba and Eruch could see, the waters were dotted with peculiar makeshift fishing boats. These canoes were really huge tree trunks which had their centers carved out to form a hold for the fish and the boys would swim alongside, guiding the boats to the far shore. Eruch didn't like the idea at all and told Baba that it was very dangerous because the boats couldn't hold their weight — they were made for fish not people. But Baba was adamant that everything would be fine and that He was not about to walk the distance in the hot sun, so Eruch had no choice but to acquiesce to Baba's wish, dangerous as he felt it might be.

Eruch called a couple of the young boys aside and told them that if they ferried them safely to the other side he would give the boys a good tip. Of course, the boys assured Eruch that they would be careful. Then Baba climbed into the makeshift boat and Eruch followed.

Eruch would describe how he and Baba could hardly move for fear that the boat would tip over, and how, halfway across this backwater bay one of the boys from another fishing boat saw these two strange figures in the boat and swam over to play some mischief on his friends. He dove under the water and pulled the feet of one of the boys ferrying them across, toppling the boat into the murky depths within seconds.

When Eruch would describe this incident in Mandali Hall, he would emphasize how filthy and black these waters were. The moment the boat capsized, he lost sight of Baba and frantically flailed his arms everywhere in the waters trying to catch hold of Baba by feel as he could not see anything. Suddenly, he caught hold of Baba's arm and as they sank to the bottom, with a tight kick, Eruch pushed off with his feet and in a few moments Baba and Eruch shot up to the surface. With one hand holding on to Baba and the other holding Baba's satchel, all Eruch could do was kick with his feet and direct Baba to paddle with His hands. They finally reached the shore, exhausted but safe.

Baba told Eruch to run back to the guesthouse and get Him some fresh clothes. This posed a problem as it would leave Baba unattended for some time, but there was no choice. This was one of the few times in Baba's ministry when He was left alone.

Eruch ran back to the bungalow to get the fresh clothes, while Baba remained seated under a nearby tree. However, when he got to the bungalow he found it locked, as the women had not yet returned. With Baba waiting alone under a tree there was no time to lose, so he broke into the quarters through a bathroom window, retrieved some clean clothes for Baba and ran all the way back as fast as he could. Eruch found Baba where he had left Him and quickly helped Him to wash with water from a nearby well and change into a clean sadra. Baba then contacted the mast in the town.

As Eruch would often explain when he told this story, a good mast contact for Baba was His real relaxation, and after such a contact Baba would be in an especially good mood, with even His stride reflecting His happiness. As they stood together, Eruch said to Baba, "I told you it was dangerous Baba. What would the world have thought if you had drowned? It would have been a terrible thing, Baba."

Baba then turned to Eruch and said, "Just as today you have given Me your hand and pulled Me out of these murky waters, a day will come when I will lend you My hand and pull you out of the muck of illusion."

Eruch would then sigh and say, "I am waiting for that day."

And that day finally did arrive on 31st August 2001, in the wee hours of the morning in his room, the Manonash cabin, surrounded by his family and the Meherazad mandali. As Eruch's final moments gained momentum, a clear, barely audible "O Baba . . . O Baba" slipped from his lips as his breath became more and more irregular. His Beloved's name was the last word Eruch spoke aloud.

From the medical perspective, Eruch died of a heart attack, and his official medical report states this, but in the real sense, his vanquished heart found its final fulfillment in the Beloved's victory!

There had been many recent signs that the time was drawing near, with Eruch's increasing breathlessness, difficulty in walking and profound weakness shaping his last hours and days. But there were also many earlier hints that the last chapter was about to commence.

'On a quiet Wednesday morning in October 2000, Eruch decided he would like to go to Meherabad unannounced so that he could take darshan. After having Baba's darshan, he turned to those of us accompanying him and said very seriously, "I think this is my last pilgrimage." And although Eruch came to Meherabad three more times — on Mehera's Birthday, for Amartithi on January 30th and for Baba's birthday, the quality of those visits was different, for he had to hurry in and out before the huge crowds pressed in upon him. That quiet Wednesday in October was, as Eruch foretold, his last personal pilgrimage.

Where to begin this account of his last days depends surely upon the teller of the tale, but for myself I shall always remember 8th November 2000 as the date from which Eruch took his final plunge to swim the last laps of the race.

As most of the Baba world knew, Eruch's health had been failing for a number of years. His battle with Myasthenia Gravis, a rare auto-immune neuro-muscular disease, and the ensuing Congestive Heart Failure, never deterred him from carrying out his duties. He was determined not to pamper his body but remain active in Baba's work till his last breath. Often Eruch would joke half seriously, when he was asked about his condition, that he was suffering from "my sins," his own name for the Myasthenia.

That morning on the 8th of November, Eruch felt unusually low and extremely weak, yet in spite of this, he attended the Trust Office as usual. As he walked slowly towards Bhauji's office at the other end of the long verandah, I heard him say so fervently and in a tone he was not wont to use, "Baba I can't bear any more. Baba please take me now....please, Baba....I just can't bear any more...."

And within myself, I felt that Baba heard his plea and responded, for from that day forward Eruch's health took a steep and rapid decline from which there was no return.

In the following months, Eruch continued on in spite of infection after infection, increasing problems with his circulation and blood pressure which would cause him to experience fainting episodes and increasing weakness, especially in his legs. His energy decreased until it became apparent that greeting the many pilgrims who would visit Meherazad on each pilgrim day was taking a serious toll on his reserves. Even the energy required to speak and engage with others was becoming more tenuous, difficult and tiring. So in his inimitable fashion Eruch began to switch gears, sharing his love in various ways that did not require his verbal exchange or physical touch. At tea time, Eruch began to personally give out biscuits to those who were with him — including Meherazad's pet dog Moti who loved Eruch and never failed to sit nearby during these little sessions.

The biscuits were anointed with the name "puppy biscuits" — as we all became eager puppies wanting to receive one of these love-packed cookies from Eruch's hand. But even that finally became too much of a chore for Eruch to attend to personally and he delegated the giving out to one of the men residents who were always by his side during the tea times at Meherazad.

During this period, Eruch would enjoy watching videos of the saints and Perfect Masters, particularly the life stories of Tukaram and Dyaneshwar and the Indian Epics, Mahabharat and the Ramayana. In his ever loving way, he would invite those close to him to watch these movies with him, and so we would sit together in silence, enjoying his proximity and the rare and only chance it gave him to relax and feel free from the cares of the day. In the TV room Eruch could be in his own thoughts, enjoy the stories of the great saints, and have a few moments where he could remain undisturbed.

Throughout the years, Eruch would occasionally tell the story of Tukaram to pilgrims in Mandali Hall. As a result of his fondness for the story of this Perfect Master from Maharashtra, Heather Nadel and Alan Wagner chose this story for the annual play performed on Baba's Birthday. Although Eruch had been quite ill in the weeks before Baba's Birthday, he was intent on going to Meherabad on 25th February to see the play, based on the old 1937 film Tukaram which he loved watching at Meherazad. Looking back on the energy Eruch had to muster to get through that incredibly intense day, one cannot help but be amazed that he did it. The energy expended on Baba's Birthday was surely the most he expended in any one day until the end. Although the immensity of the day's activities did take its toll on Eruch's health, he truly loved the play and felt tremendous satisfaction in having seen it.

When the new season opened, Eruch's health was so precarious that he only managed to sit in the hall on his usual Thursday a few times. Although the old days of telling stories nonstop had come to an end, he did share with the pilgrims on each of those Thursdays what he felt compelled to share. The Vengurla story related above was told by Eruch on his first day back in the hall, but the main thrust this season revolved around one particular incident in his life with Meher Baba.

It so happened that Baba one day asked the mandali, "Who do you take Me to be?" There were many answers the mandali offered in reply, Eruch said, from "You are the Avatar, the God-man, the Highest of the High" to "You are the Eternal Beloved and the Ancient One." But none of these answers were satisfactory to Baba. Finally, Baba himself gave the mandali the answer. "Who is Meher Baba? He is the One who provokes this question in you. The Being of all Beings."

If at all Eruch wanted to convey anything to the pilgrims gathered in Mandali Hall this season, it was this legacy — "Who is Meher Baba?" On one occasion, Eruch told this same story twice in one session, not because he had forgotten that he had already told it, but rather because he was compelled to make sure that we got it!

On the last Sunday, Mandali Hall was packed with a large group of Indian and western pilgrims. Notably that Sunday, there was a large group from Hamirpur, in the north of India. Eruch was in a happy mood during the program, which included some of his favorite songs, "Victory Unto Thee", "Amazing Grace," and a rousing upbeat song written and sung by Stephen Edelman called "Meher Baba's Daaman". Eruch even joined in on the chorus of the song and clapped his hands in rhythm. One of the Hamirpur Baba-lovers sang his own composition "Meher Baba loves you", in English, to the enjoyment of all and then before the films began, Eruch spoke to the crowd.

"Do you know what it means to hold on to Baba's daaman?" he asked. Eruch paused for a long moment. Then he continued, relating how he used to think when Baba gestured "Hold onto My Daaman" that it meant literally to hold on to His the hem of His garment. But years later he realized that it was not that — not the physical garment that Baba wanted His lovers to hold onto, but rather His Form — that Form which housed Reality. "And how do we do that?" Eruch emphasized, "We hold on to His Feet."

After the program was over, Eruch stood up to leave Mandali Hall for his room. As he approached Baba's Seat, he stopped before it, bowed his head momentarily, and then he turned back to the pilgrims still seated in the hall. "If anyone were to ask you, Who is Meher Baba? the answer is, 'He is the One who provokes this question in you....The Being of all Beings.'" And in a final gesture of emphasis he raised both hands as he repeated — "The Being of all Beings." Then with great effort and assistance, he left Mandali Hall to rest in his room. It was to be the last time Eruch spoke in Mandali Hall.

During the last week, Eruch was watching the Indian Epic the Ramayana — the story of Ram and Sita. He loved this series as it depicts quite beautifully the story of the Avatar's Advent as Ram, the Upholder of Righteousness.

On the 30th of August, Eruch as usual wanted to watch the video after tea. With two residents on either side of him, lovingly helping to support his steps, Eruch traversed the distance from the verandah to the TV room situated behind the Blue Bus. Although the distance is just a few feet, even this much walking had become increasingly difficult for him in the last week. This episode enacted Sita and Ram and Laxman's crossing of the Sharayu river and the beginning of their fourteen year exile from Ayodhya.

The episode opens with the boatman slyly telling Ram that he cannot allow Ram's feet to touch his boat for fear that His very touch might destroy the boat. This is a well-known reference to how the touch of Ram's foot freed a soul that had been incarcerated in a rock by a rishi's curse.

Ram smiles and the boatman tells him that only if he is allowed to wash Ram's feet, by cooling them first with the river water, can Ram be ferried across in his boat. Ram agrees and the boatman and his wife wash Ram's feet and then, overjoyed, drink the water. When they reach the other shore, Ram tries to give the boatman Sita's ring in payment. But the boatman refuses, telling Ram, "You think you can pay me merely with a ring? Just as today I have ferried you across these waters, let the day come when you, Ram, ferry me across the waters of illusion."

Every day our video sessions would end at 5:00 o'clock exactly. This would be the time when Dr. Goher would drive over in her "Duckie", a motorized little scooter-chair. Eruch's brother Meherwan, sister Manu and other close ones would all sit together on the men mandali's verandah and share news of the day or reminisce about the golden years of life with Baba. It also became their time to just be with Eruch.

When the hour was up, Meherwan would lovingly assist Eruch in walking the distance from his chair in front of the Blue Bus to Baba's Mandali Hall, where he would be with Baba on his own for some minutes before retiring to his room for dinner and his night rest.

But that day as we sat together watching the Ramayana, Eruch did not make a move to get up even when it was 5:00 pm. He would always want me to tell him the time and so as usual I leaned towards him and asked if he wanted me to stop the video as it was 5 pm. With a gesture of his hand he indicated that it should continue. He looked so entranced by the scene being portrayed on the screen that I can only now in retrospect wonder whether Eruch was himself silently reliving the event in his life that drew such a sharp parallel to what we were witnessing in the story.

It felt as though Eruch, on some unspoken level, knew that the hour was approaching when His Beloved Baba would finally give him His hand and lift him from the muck of illusion. But whatever he may have felt only he knows, and this is merely my own conjecture. Nevertheless, the air was filled with an indefinable completion as the scene ended and Eruch announced "enough." I turned off the video and helped him out of his chair to begin the "long" walk back to the verandah.

With Stephen Edelman and Gary Kleiner lending him their arms for support, Eruch would walk slowly to his seat on the verandah. Gary and Stephen became Eruch's walking sticks and he enjoyed their company tremendously. As the days drew to a close, his own unique team of helpers remained close at hand, never wanting to miss a moment in his company. For Eruch's companionship remained as dynamic in his fragility, as commanding in his silence and as overwhelming in his humility as it had always been. He accepted whatever Baba gave him with an equanimity and graciousness that was more than just inspiring; it was a glimpse of 'Mastery in Servitude'. A glimpse, perhaps, of what made Eruch so dearly beloved of Baba that Baba once commented that if He could be said to enjoy the company of any man, He enjoyed the company of Eruch.

Eruch continued to attend the Trust Office up until the end. That last week, he came to the Trust Office on Monday and Tuesday although he was too weak to attend on Wednesday. When Thursday rolled around, he surprised everyone by announcing he was going to the Trust Office. When reminded it was his day to be in Mandali Hall with the pilgrims, he quipped that morning, "Those days are over now." He insisted that he must go to the Office as he had important work to do and he must greet Bhauji who had just returned from his trip to France. "Be ready at 9:30 am sharp," he announced to those of us who accompanied him to the Office.

Eruch was so determined to go that day that there was nothing more to be said. Again, in retrospect, it marked the final tying up of loose ends; it was in his meticulous nature to see that nothing was left unattended, that Baba's work came first. As he commented one late afternoon at Meherazad during that last week when he was feeling so weak, "I must go to the Trust Office for I am Baba's Eruch." And Baba's Eruch he was till the very end, seeing to the correspondence, attending to the Trust Office routine, meeting dear Bhauji, even checking that the calendar date for the next day was changed before he left for Meherazad.

For years on end, Eruch had made it a point to embrace each and every worker gathered at the Trust Office on his arrival there and on his departure. But the energy required for individual embraces was no longer possible and so, as Eruch walked towards the car that Thursday noon, he stopped momentarily and raised both his hands in an endearing gesture of love and care to each and all before getting into the car for his final return to Meherazad.

Just as the Trust Office staff eagerly awaited Eruch's arrival, those working and living at Meherazad eagerly anticipated his return. No matter what activities one was engaged in, when the honk of the car's horn heralded his imminent return everyone waited in greeting as he disembarked slowly from the car.

On that last Thursday, Eruch's weakened state was most apparent as he walked with much effort to the nearby chair where he would sort out the mail for Meherazad before returning to his room. He sat quietly for several minutes that day, catching his breath before he could gather his strength even to sort the post and discuss the events of the day. But through it all, Eruch maintained his ever loving attitude of care and concern for all, extending a hand of greeting to one worker and a smile of care for another. As he rose from his seat, he paused and looked around at all of us, breaking the ice of concern writ on our faces with his favorite expression, "Another day, another life."

That evening appeared to be like any other of the last few days. It was only later, when we all came together in Mandali Hall to remember Eruch, that Manu revealed that his goodnight hugs to the family came with a special message that last night. Manu said Eruch told them, "Be brave, be united, and remain harmonious with all your brothers and sisters." That was his last message to his family.

It was around 12 midnight when the watchman knocked on Meherwan's door to inform him of Eruch's suddenly worsening condition. Then the watchman rushed to the women's side to inform Dr. Goher and Shelley Marrich that Eruch needed urgent medical help. Eruch's travail had come to its final act.

By 12:30 am he was having difficulty breathing. He was given oxygen but he felt extremely restless and would remove the oxygen tube over and over again. During this time, Dr. Goher Irani was by Eruch's side as were Meherwan, Manu and a few others. At 1:30 am Goher's sister Katie came by his room and he turned his face and saw her standing in the doorway. With a strong, clear voice, he greeted Katie as he would do each evening when they saw each other. "Jai Baba, Katie!" Eruch said. It was his last greeting to her.

Eruch's time was drawing near. The Meherazad mandali by now had gathered within the Manonash cabin. The hands of the clock were moving towards the hour of his release and Eruch, still breathing with difficulty, was helped to sit up in his bed to facilitate his breathing.

As Eruch's breathing became more and more laboured, a barely audible "O Baba . . . O Baba" gently slipped out of his lips. He was now facing a framed photo of Baba that had hung for many years from a nail hammered into one of the original beams of the Manonash cabin. But Eruch needed no photo of Baba, for etched upon his heart was the image of his Beloved Lord Avatar Meher Baba and his eyes surely saw none at the end but the One who was Eruch's All in all. With his last breath, Eruch's head fell to his chest, in a final bow of salutation and surrender to his Eternal Beloved. The time was 2:31 am and twenty seconds. He had finally crossed the finish line and all present shouted out in unison "Avatar Meher Baba Ki Jai!"

Many years ago Eruch shared with those of us gathered in Mandali Hall, a prayer that Baba had asked him to recite:

I am not the body
I am not the mind
I am not this and I am not that
I am nothing but a living lie
Of that Truth that is Me
And unless the lie is dead
The Truth cannot be.

For all those who aspire to the Truth, for all those who believe in the glory of Love, and for all those who long to efface themselves in total surrender to the Eternal Beloved, Eruch will ever be a shining example of a true slave. He took great pains to ensure that everyone who came in his contact never forgot who was the Beloved and who the slave. He stressed time and again that one's focus should be directed on Avatar Meher Baba and no one else. Such a matchless life will not be witnessed again for another seven hundred years!

TAVERN TALK, 21 September 2001
2001 © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust


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