INTO THE OCEAN
While in Karwar, Mehera even learned how to swim. It happened soon after they arrived. Baba took them for a walk to the nearby seashore, which was full of shallow inlets and small, private beaches: "To get to the seashore, we had to walk for half a mile on the main road and then cut through a shady pine forest to the sea. The pine trees were tall, with pinecones. The best thing was that there were no people on the road. When you came out of the pine forest, there was a lovely beach. It was a nice atmosphere.
"We reached the beach at about 9:00 or 10:00 A.M. The beach was on a big bay, with gentle waves not too strong. Baba told us he was going for a walk. We should also walk or look for shells. It was very private, with hardly anybody about. There were only a few elderly people, sitting on the sand. Kharman Masi & Banumasi [Kerawala] sat down. Baba had a nice, quick walk. Then he snapped his fingers loudly. All gathered, & we began walking back with him."
Before they emerged from the pine forest, Mani and Katie, who were bringing up the rear, began whispering and giggling about something. Baba turned around and asked why they were laughing.
"Baba, the sea and beach are so lovely and quiet," they said, "we would like to learn how to swim. Could we, Baba?"
"Swimming?" Baba asked.
"Yes, we don't know how to swim. And since we are staying so near the sea, and the Westerners are here with us, they can teach us."
Baba thought about it for a second, then turned to Mehera and said, "If Mehera says yes and learns to swim, then you all can learn. If she agrees, only then can you learn to swim."
"I had never thought about learning to swim," Mehera said, "but Mani and Katie told me, 'Say yes, Mehera. Say yes.'"
Mehera was hesitant, however, and answered, "I don't care about learning to swim."
Baba did not order her to learn. He merely said, "If you learn to swim, they too can learn."
Mehera did not relish the idea of getting wet and being cold not to mention the problem of what to wear. She was also somewhat afraid to go into the water.
"I was caught in the middle in the trap," she continued. "I didn't at all care to learn to swim, but the others wanted to and pressured and coaxed me into saying yes."
Reluctantly, she agreed, saying, "All right, Baba," but wondering, "Let's see how Baba manages this," thinking of what they would wear, how they would learn, and so on.
The others were jumping for joy. When they got home, they were so excited. Immediately, they told Margaret about the plan, who said, "The first thing all of you must do is decide what you will wear."
"Everyone began improvising a swimming costume. What each one came out wearing, you can just imagine. It was too funny. Like a madhouse!
"Irene was a very nice girl. She called me into her room and said, 'Mehera, I know you would like something to wear, and I know you don't like short things.'"
Since Mehera did not wish to bare her legs, Irene brought out a pair of knitted, blue slacks from Switzerland, saying, "These will fit you nicely." But, as Irene was rather broad, they needed to be altered. Baba gave Mehera a bathing suit, and although it too was a little big on her, Mehera used it, tucking it into the slacks.(1)
The next day, off they went to the beach. Fortunately, not another soul was about. Across the beautiful, large bay, far, far away, they could barely see some fishermen. They changed clothes on the beach by four of the women holding up a large sheet, like a screen, while one of them changed in the middle. That first day only Mehera, Mani, and Katie were permitted to go in the water, with Margaret and Irene as instructors.
"I looked like a sheep being taken to slaughter," Mehera recalled ruefully. "I didn't look happy at all."
Cautiously, she stepped into the water and went in waist-deep, before saying, "That's enough! Now tell me what I am supposed to do."
Margaret and Irene laid her flat in the water and told her to breathe in and out. Afraid of sinking, she clutched and grabbed at them, but did everything they told her. "What if a crab bites my toes?" she wondered aloud.
"Nothing is going to bite you," Margaret assured her. "Just think about how to float and listen to what I say. Keep your mind on that."
Since it was their first day, Baba had said to come out of the water after half an hour. When they got home, Margaret told them that they must practice their strokes on land. The women got their pillows and lay down with the pillows under their tummies. "We were determined to swim," Mehera said. "Nearly everyone was doing it in each room, in every corner. It was a very funny sight."
Mehera and Mani went into their room and began practicing. "The whole house has gone crazy," Mehera remarked. "It's like an insane asylum!"
Every morning after that, Baba permitted them to go swimming. Mani noted in her diary: "Swimming in the sea in the mornings and walks in the evenings. A lovely time."
Before they left for the beach on the fourth day, Baba told them, "Tomorrow is the fifth and last day for swimming. So each of you has to do ten strokes. Then, no more going to the beach, and no more swimming."
At the beach that day, Margaret and Irene told Mehera, "Think positively. If you try hard, you can do it. Tomorrow is the last day."
Margaret was a fine teacher and gave Mehera confidence, but Mehera was having another problem: Irene's woolen britches became so saturated with water that they pulled Mehera's legs down. She only did two strokes and then felt her legs sinking.
The following morning, Baba accompanied them to the beach. The water was cold, but the waves were not rough and broke gently. Mehera was nervous. Baba told Margaret to take her out to where it was deep, almost over her head. Mehera, still unsure of herself, clung to Margaret and Irene. Irene tried to bolster her courage. "Be brave, Mehera. Don't be nervous. You know how to swim. Breathe hard, in and then out."
Baba had indicated that he would clap out ten strokes from the beach, where he stood watching. One woman stood next to him to shout the count. In the water, Mehera was taking Baba's name. She took a deep breath and set out. "One ... two ... three," Baba clapped, as Mehera did the strokes.
"By the tenth stroke, I was on the bottom of the ocean," she said, laughing. "Margaret and Irene pulled me up. I looked like a wet rat."
Baba said, "Very good. Now come out!"
"You did five strokes at least," Margaret told her. "Then you went under."
But Baba gave her a few "grace marks," so she passed the test. "Baba said, 'Very good,' because he didn't want us to come again the next day!" Mehera surmised.
Now it was Katie's turn. She was taken in the water, her ears stuffed with cotton wool, and she did the same thing Mehera did. At ten strokes, she was at the bottom. But again, Baba said, "Very good. Come out." So Katie too had passed.
Lastly, Mani was taken out to the deep water. She took a breath, and they let her go. On the very first stroke, down Mani went. She was not able to do even one stroke.
"What happened?" Baba asked. "The others did at least five."
"She doesn't have her balance," Margaret explained. "She hasn't learned. Mani's legs are longer than the others," which, Margaret said, made it heavier for her (even though Mani's legs were slim).
"All right," Baba said. "Mani can come for a few more days to learn properly."
After that, Margaret taught only Mani, though Kitty went along to watch. Still, Mani had trouble learning. So Baba said, "Never mind," and the subject was dropped. They no longer went to the seashore, but they continued their walks along the road.
Later, Margaret recalled the lessons: "If Baba were in a hurry, he expected you to give them one lesson and then they could swim to Australia! So I taught them the strokes over chairs, lying on pillows, et cetera. Mehera was in deepest seclusion and even the idea of showing her limbs was frightening to her. She got a long pair of slacks and sank in them. When she asked Baba if she could make something shorter, he allowed her to take them up. Mehera had athletic inclination. She had ridden horses and had an athletic body. Mani didn't."
Mehera concluded: "I like the sea, but if one stays near it too long, one gets tired, as it becomes monotonous. I love mountains and water [better] rivers, streams, and lakes."
(1)Mani remembered Mehera being "covered up to her ankles in her 'bathing suit.'" BACK
MEHERA-MEHER, A Divine Romance, Vol. 2, pp. 170-173
2003 © David Fenster