THE EAST-WEST GATHERING
The programme for the afternoon was very full. Baba seemed very happy listening to the qawwalis (songs of devotion to the Beloved), and He gave explanations of the meaning after each song.
The three well-known Andhra Players gave their unique performance of a story of Baba's life in song and prose.
Throughout the afternoon, at intervals between the singing Baba gave His embrace to the Easterners. The mandali, long accustomed to organising large numbers of people, had earlier given instructions for the lovers to form lines on both sides, and the separate groups of men and women by turns moved up the steps and across the platform to Baba for His embrace, then walked on round the back of His chair and down again to return to their seats.
The mandali and helpers stationed themselves at various spots to guide the lovers, and sometimes those near Baba had to give a gentle push to one or another to remind them they could not prolong their darshan but were to keep moving, otherwise there might not be time for others to come to Baba.
Many were those who brought a garland for Him, or an offering of fruit. Sometimes Baba allowed a garland to be put round His neck, and often He would touch gifts brought to Him and indicate He was returning them as prasad, or they would be placed in baskets to be distributed later.
When several garlands were round Baba's neck, Eruch would lift them off carefully and place them in the basket behind Baba's chair. Frequently, with most loving and gentle movements, Eruch would wipe the perspiration from Baba's brow and face, for the afternoon was very warm and Baba was continually exerting Himself in embracing one after another in rhythmic succession.
Sometimes the flowing movement would be halted momentarily by Baba Himself when a well-known figure reached Him: Baba would smile lovingly, sometimes broadly, ask a question and embrace this one, then the line would move on again.
At other times a child would receive an extra embrace, and occasionally Baba would turn one around, the Westerners catching a glimpse of a bright little face or glowing large dark eyes. Often women with tiny babies in their arms received His embrace, then stooping swiftly would rest the infant's head on Baba's feet.
The very young, the very old, some very poor, some infirm, some large, some thin men and women, boys and girls, all were there to enjoy the company of God, to receive His love and to give Him love.
It was the Easterners' turn to come to Baba in the afternoons, but the Westerners, sitting watching Baba and the bright throngs filing past Him, were also sharing every moment.
Somewhere about 4 o'clock a most unexpected diversion occurred. It rained very suddenly and very heavily. The thin cotton pandal was no protection and everyone was soon drenched.
The packed earth floor became a series of puddles and the bright decorations hung limp and bedraggled. Baba stopped proceedings for a while and there seemed to be some concern that the Westerners, being so wet, might catch colds.
Almost before they knew what was happening, the women were being beckoned up the steps to the platform and taken through the curtained doorway behind Baba's chair to the women mandali's quarters where many were given dresses, saris and other clothes to change into.
It was a happy occasion, for Mehera and the others had not expected to see anything of their Western sisters after the very brief meeting Baba had allowed them on the day of their arrival.
There was much talking and laughing together, the mandali kindness itself in making sure the visitors were well looked after, and handing out everything they had.
I still felt so shy and overwhelmed by meeting Baba and with all that was going on that although I too was wet, I didn't feel it was bad enough to ask for anything but kept rather in the background watching it all.
Even so, it was a heart-warming experience to be there in the intimate 'behind-the-curtain' atmosphere of the women's rooms. (I don't know what happened with the Western men during this time perhaps they just dried out gradually, for the afternoon was still warm.)
Before long all were called back to the platform, and Baba said He would embrace the Westerners as well as more of the Easterners. In India rain is thought of as a blessing, and so indeed it proved to be on this afternoon for the Westerners, as they had an extra embrace from their Beloved and enjoyed extra time in His presence.
It must have been nearly 6 o'clock when Baba signalled the close of the day. Arti was sung to Him, and the thousands dispersed.
Early that evening when some of us were sitting with Francis in his room at the Wellesley Hotel after dinner, Dr Donkin arrived bringing aspirin tablets with Baba's instruction that all were to take one so as to ward off any possible ill-effects of the afternoon's deluge. And each of the Westerners, wherever they were staying in Poona that night, were also sent this token of Baba's loving care.
About 9 PM Francis and two or three of us walked to the railway station with Bill to see him onto the train for Bombay. Always with Baba it seems that an almost incredible number of things keep happening in all directions, and that invariably some people are involved much more than others.
This time of the East-West Gathering was no exception. An example of this was the trip back to Bombay for Bill Baba had sent him to meet the rest of the party on the ship, help them to get quickly through Customs and formalities, and then bring them immediately to Poona by the 8 AM train so that they would arrive in time for the Friday afternoon session of the Gathering. (Bill gives a delightful description of this in his book The Turning of the Key, p.161.)
MEHER BABA'S LOVE My Story, pp. 39-42, Judith Garbett
1999 © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust