Symbols of the world's religions

               

MEHER BABA'S LAST YEAR

Arnavaz N. Dadachanji

 

"I have taken on the form of Man
to take on the suffering of man."
~~ Meher Baba

 
When I had first met Beloved Baba, His beauty was indescribable. In the early years His eyes were like fiery, radiant pools, and as a teenager I sometimes trembled after bowing down to Him. Baba's entire physical form was expressive, His hands eloquently gesturing, as if He were performing a dance. Sometimes when I looked at Him, I would feel that He looked like Jesus. Over the years Baba's eyes changed, softening and shining with even more love and compassion, and His once graceful walk became laboured. After the second accident the doctors had not expected Baba to walk again; although He did, walking was both difficult and painful for Him. As more years went by, we could see Baba's tremendous universal suffering increasingly taking its toll on Him physically. Despite what those of us closest to Him saw in the privacy of Meherazad or Guruprasad, however, when our Beloved God-Man sat in His chair at a darshan programme, He appeared renewed, His face glowing. Those who had come for His darshan would never have guessed what agony we saw when He returned to His room afterwards, drawn and exhausted.

At the time of His birthday in 1967, Baba was extremely restless; He was also experiencing a great deal of pain. During lunch on 24th February He said, "My time has come. My time is very near." We were to hear Baba repeat these words frequently from then on. The following morning, His birthday, Baba was feeling quite low. Although He was dizzy, He tried hard to appear cheerful, as He wanted all of us to be happy. We placed the pink cake I had brought from Bombay before Him. After lighting the candles and singing "Happy Birthday" to Baba, we read aloud all of the many birthday telegrammes He had received.

We celebrated quietly in Meherazad, but that evening a big birthday programme featuring Begam Akhtar, one of the most famous ghazal singers in India, took place at the Ahmednagar Baba Centre. She had sung for Baba twice at Guruprasad, and at her request Baba allowed her to come to Meherazad. We were happy to see the joy that her singing brought to Baba's face. Begum Akhtar was going to Mecca on a pilgrimage, and Baba asked her who would accompany her. When she told Him she was going alone, Baba said, "Am I not going with you?" He then gave her a handkerchief, asking her to place it on the Kaaba (the holy site of pilgrimage for all Muslims) and then bring it back to Him. After returning from Mecca she wrote Baba a letter sadly telling Him that she had lost the handkerchief on the way there.

On the evening of His birthday, after Baba had retired, the women gathered in the sitting room and our conversation drifted to Jesus. We discussed books such as "The Robe," "The Emperor's Physician," and "The Great Fisherman." I remembered Baba once saying that Jesus had also broken a hip, but not in an accident — Jesus had made His disciples break His hip with a big stone. Another time when Baba was sitting on His bed before supper, looking very tired and helpless, He told us that Jesus had been crucified once, but He was being crucified every moment.

Seeing Baba's suffering made our own seem insignificant. Whenever we went to Meherazad, Nariman and I would greet Baba together in mandali hall, and He always inquired about Nariman's business and our health. Once Baba asked Nariman, who was suffering from the after-effects of surgery for glaucoma, "How is your eye?" Nariman replied, "Baba, just the same. The strain and gritty feeling are still there." Baba said, "I worry about your eye. So does Mehera. She keeps asking Me to relieve your pain, as you are so important to Me. But what are these eyes? When I open your third eye, it will be beyond your conception!" Baba then turned to me and asked about my chronic cold and rheumatic pain. I smiled and said, "Baba it goes on. It's the same." Then Baba said, "I suffer so much, and I give you just a few drops. You are very fortunate."

Baba's words reminded me of the time one of His close ones in Bombay, in an outburst of love, said, "Baba, why don't You give me some of Your suffering?" Later I said to her, "Do you realize what you are asking for? We're not capable of enduring even an iota of Baba's burden." I also remembered a lover once asking to keep silence in order to help Baba in His silence. Baba replied, "My one second of silence is equivalent to your hundred years of keeping silence."

During the last years, when Baba was no longer giving darshan programmes, He did not conceal His suffering, and all those around Him looked for ways to distract Him from His pain and entertain Him, often by reading to Him. One story from "Reader's Digest" that particularly struck me concerned an artist who wanted to paint Jesus as a child. He found a beautiful young boy for a model and completed the painting. Many years later the artist was again looking for a model, this time to portray Judas. After a long search he found in a tavern a miserable looking man dressed in tattered clothes. This man agreed to pose for the artist because he needed money, but in the end, when he was paid, he began to cry. The artist asked him what was wrong, and the man replied, "I am crying because you have painted me as Judas, but as a small boy I was your model when you painted the Christ child." Baba, obviously touched by this story, said, "Judas loved Jesus very much. If there has been no Judas, there would be no Jesus." Jesus, being the God-Man, was the Highest of the High, yet He needed others to play certain roles for His work to be done. Judas had to act as he did in order that Jesus be crucified and suffer for humanity.

When someone was reading aloud, Baba was very particular that everyone listen intently to the story. He wanted everyone's attention on a single focal point, and He always knew if someone's concentration had drifted. Baba would snap His fingers and say, "Listen to the story. Don't let your thoughts wander." Sometimes Baba would lie down on His bed while Mani read a story to Him. He would appear to have fallen asleep, and we would sometimes even hear Him snoring. As soon as Mani stopped reading, however, Baba would say, "Why have you stopped? I am listening. Go on." Other times we felt that Baba's attention was far away, that there was something else on His mind. Looking at His eyes, we would feel that He wasn't "there" with us, that He was elsewhere. Even then, if Mani stopped reading, Baba would say, "Go on. I am listening."

When "Time" magazine arrived each week it was Rano, the only one of the American women mandali living at Meherazad, who read it aloud to Baba over a period of two or three days. Baba's favourite reading material, however, was the detective story; he particularly liked the novels of Edgar Wallace and the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout. Rano was reading an Edgar Wallace story to Baba one morning while I was massaging Him. After lunch we reassembled in Baba's room, and Mani began to read a Nero Wolfe story, which she continued reading after dinner. I suddenly wondered what had happened to a character named Thomas, so I asked. Rano said, "Oh Arnavaz, you're confused. Thomas is in my book, not in Mani's" Hearing two murder mysteries at the same time and switching from one to the other was too much for me. Baba enjoyed the joke and laughed silently, gesturing and smiling. His eyes full of mischief. It was a joy to see His suffering alleviated, even for a moment.

On 31st January, 1968, an important event took place that indicated some of the dramatic changes that were to come. Beloved Baba called all the men mandali from Meherabad and a few intimate ones from Ahmednagar together with those who were living at Meherazad. The men filed past Baba, who was seated on the front verandah of the main house with Mehera standing at His side. Following Baba's order, she folded her hands and said, "Jai Baba" to each man, and each said "Jai Baba" to her in return. This was the first time that Mehera had greeted male Baba lovers. To prepare her for greeting these men, Baba had previously introduced her to Dr. Harry Kenmore, who was blind. In the past Mehera had been kept in strict seclusion, in the early days from even seeing men or hearing their voices. Now, through this brief meeting with men, Baba was preparing Mehera for what she would face later, though at this time she had no way of knowing what the future held for her.

Baba went into deeper seclusion in 1968, and although He went to Guruprasad for the summer months as usual, not even the very intimate ones in Poona were allowed to see Him, nor were the mandali allowed to leave Guruprasad. For a few hours in the morning Baba would sit alone in His bedroom in a big chair, which no one except Mehera was allowed to touch. He would hit His thighs until they were black and blue; He said His universal work was so heavy at that time that He was using the pain to keep Himself connected to the gross world. Every day Baba listened to the songs of Jim Reeves, especially "Diamond in the Sky" and "There's a Heartache Following Me." Baba said there was great "dard" (pathos) in Jim Reeves' voice, and these songs helped to relieve the strain of His work.

During this period Baba sent a circular to His lovers all over the world, saying that He wanted them to repeat The Parvardigar Prayer and the Prayer of Repentance audibly, once a day, for the months of April, May and June. Twice every day Baba would have these prayers said, once by the men mandali and once by the women, Baba joining in both times. Due to His intensely heavy work and the constant pounding on His thighs, Baba had become very frail and weak. He sometimes supported Himself on the arms of the men on either side of Him in order to remain standing through the prayers. Once when Baba couldn't stand alone, the mandali suggested that He sit down, but Baba said, "Continue the prayers." After they were finished, Baba said, "By My standing and participating in these prayers, all those who say them after I drop My body will be greatly benefitted." When I was told about Baba's words, I felt He was giving an indirect order to repeat the prayers regularly, and from that time on I have done so daily.

In October Baba called lovers in charge of Baba centres from all over India to Meherazad to discuss the arrangements for the darshan He was planning to give at Guruprasad during the summer of 1969. Later Nariman and I were also called to make arrangements for an entirely different programme to be held in December to celebrate Mehera's birthday. At the same time Baba would perform the Navjote of four children: Hoshang's daughter Meherrukh and his son Rayomand, my brother Dara's son Nozer, and my cousin Dolly Dastur's niece Mehernaaz. The final part of the programme would be the engagement and wedding of Baba's nephew Dara, Adi, Jr.'s son, and Shatrughan Kumar's daughter Amrit from Dehra Dun.

While we were there Baba said to us, "Henceforth you don't need to tell or ask Me anything. I will give you internal guidance." Baba had previously told Eruch and Mani to reply to letters from Baba lovers without asking Him what they should write. Beloved Baba was preparing us for the time when He would no longer be with us in the physical body.

GIFT OF GOD, pp. 181-185
1966 © Meherazad Trust for Avatar Meher Baba

               

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