Symbols of the world's religions



Heather Nadel

As Beloved Baba's family around the world now knows, His darling sister Mani rejoined Him on 19th August 1996, in Meherazad after a prolonged illness.

This account is to share with you some of the events of her final days of love and service to Him.

* * *

A few years ago, Mani related that she had heard a voice, clear and distinct, saying within her:

"I am the bird, I am not the cage."

Perhaps that is why, when her health first began to fail in March 1995, she often would remark, "The bird is singing away, but the cage is in need of repair!" Despite her ensuing struggle against "NPH" (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus) that involved two surgeries (in November '95 and February '96) Mani remained a radiant singing "bird" — meeting Baba-lovers in Meherazad whenever she could, scooting around Mehera's garden in her "Begum" (motorized scooter) as her walking became more and more difficult, and finally greeting people for a few moments from the confines of her chair inside the house in Meherazad. At the end of February 1996, having returned to Meherazad from her second surgery, she appeared on Mehera's porch just before Meherazad closed for the season. She was eager to spend time with her Baba family, and she loved the hour that followed as she "held forth" to a porch full of people and they performed for her, a wonderful giving and receiving of His love. Afterwards many remarked that it was like a darshan, and Mani was more joyous and radiant than they had ever seen her.

That memorable day in February turned out to be her last "love-feast" with pilgrims at Meherazad. When pilgrim season opened again in July 1996, Mani was in the hospital in Poona, having been diagnosed with an inoperable malignant tumor.

How touching in retrospect was the vision of Mehera that Mani had just before leaving Meherazad to go to Poona for what we thought at the time would be a simple investigation! In the middle of the night, Mani sat up for a moment, and gazing over towards Mehera's bed, was amazed to see her darling Mehera lying there. "Oh!" she thought happily, "Mehera's come back to her old place!" and then she saw that Mehera was looking at her with an expression of great compassion and sadness. Mani was deeply touched, and soon afterwards in the hospital, when her diagnosis became known, she was heartened by this evidence of Mehera's loving presence and care.

After three weeks in the hospital, how happy and grateful Mani was to return home to Meherazad in early July! There she was often joyful in spite of her growing pain, and more than anything else in her last weeks, except gazing at pictures and slides of her beloveds, Baba and Mehera, Mani would love to sing. The bird indeed was singing, despite the condition of the cage, and Mani often entertained us with wonderful renditions of all kinds of songs, Baba's artis, her own songs, Baba-songs by others, hymns, traditional Indian songs, Mirabai songs, bhajans, village songs, lines from ghazals. She'd sing alone, or with Khorshed, Katie, Manu or Roda, or with a chorus of us, always very happily.

One day, as Mani was being helped to the dining room, she said, "So this is what Baba wants me to do now." And she turned to this new, most difficult task, with the wholehearted concentration and discipline that always characterized her work for Him. She participated in her care with 100% focus, carefully taking the pills and alternative medicines prescribed for her with such great love and concern by Dr. Goher and Shelley, resting when she was tired (something it had always been hard to get her to do), and in spite of the pain, almost never complaining. In fact, her sweetness and at times genuine cheerfulness often cheered up her caregivers! And we felt she was doing all this for Baba, not for herself. As always, she was striving to live as He wished, moment to moment, wholeheartedly accepting whatever He ordained.

As the weeks went by, Mani seemed to become less and less attached to the world and more and more immersed in thoughts of Baba and Mehera. She would recall old days and reminisce with the women about their happy times with Baba. Or sometimes she'd tell jokes, complete of course with fantastic facial expressions, perfect mimicry, and a myriad of funny voices that would leave everyone in stitches. On Silence Day, she gestured as eloquently as she used to speak — and of all of us, she was the one who managed to maintain total silence! At tea when we inquired through signs as to whether she had finished her nutritional drink, she scribbled on the chalkboard, "Fait accompli"!

"Thank God for a sense of humour," she had remarked during her earlier illness, and her humour lightened many moments as she became weaker and weaker and more and more confined to bed. In the beginning she was able to sit up in her chair in the sitting room or on the porch for short periods, and enjoyed hearing Get-Well cards and heart-messages from Baba-lovers, and especially attending to last-minute details about her new manuscript Dreaming of The Beloved that she had dictated in May with such interest and meticulous attention. Something else she really enjoyed was hearing stories read aloud from her book God-Brother. She would become so childlike and excited reliving her childhood times with Baba, and amused and impressed with her own remarkable story-telling!

Gradually, the sessions at the dining table and in her chair became shorter and more infrequent as she became too weak to sit for long. Eventually she could no longer walk to Baba's Room for her morning darshan which had meant so much.

It was so hard to see her weak and in pain, but true to what she had written in her article "On the Topic of Suffering", Baba was upholding her from within as He dealt her blows of pain and weakness from without. This we knew from things she would say. Once we remarked to her how strongly we felt Baba's and Mehera's presence in her room, and Mani said that she felt as if Baba was there with her always, and even more so Mehera whom she often felt was moving around in their room "doing this and that". One day after hearing from Arnavaz of a beautiful Baba dream had by one of the men mandali, she said so happily, "Baba keeps sending me messages!"

On one of the last days she was able to sit up, Mani sat for a little while on her bed, facing Mehera's bed. All the windows of her room were open and from outside the room, Baba's image tree seemed to lean in to lend her support and strength. As she sat there, our tapewalli played a tape of Mani's song written for Mehera, "To the Glory of Love" and Mani swayed back and forth in time to the music, singing along with closed eyes and a gentle smile, lost in the beauty of the song. Baba and Mehera seemed specially present then, in the atmosphere of the pink room and in the joy of her glowing face.

It was to be our last such session. Despite an IV drip and all possible treatment, a few days later Mani slipped into a semi-conscious state. This was hardest to bear for Goher and the other women, her close companions of so many years. In their distress and concern for Mani, they would often wake at night, and one night around this time, waking from sleep and thinking of Mani, these comforting words came to Meheru as if from her:

"I do not know when or how I go
But this I know to where I go —
It is to a place of indescribable beauty,
Where God's Love enfolds completely."

Yet despite Mani's condition and our sorrow, there remained an atmosphere of overflowing love, sweetness, purity and innocence radiating from her that seemed to grow as the days went by.

Mohammed Mast had said on 9th August, Friday, that "Baba's sister will go tomorrow. Her pain will be over." Mani lived on past that Saturday. But looking back later, we all felt that her state changed that day and as Mohammed had "predicted", she did indeed "go", turning further and further away from this world and closer than ever to Baba. Soon after she was in a coma, and her niece Gulnar, visiting a few days later, upon entering the room perceived the difference immediately, remarking, "She's with Baba now." It was at this time that one of her caregivers dreamt of Mani saying to her "You have no idea how much He loves me. You have no idea how much I love Him. You have no idea how happy I am."

Many dreams about this time heralded her reunion with Baba: dreams of Mani lying weak and sick then suddenly turning into Baba, of Mani skipping and dancing full of joy, of a great celebration soon to take place, of Mani walking down the front steps of her childhood home Baba-House on the arms of her brothers Beheram and Adi and touching each step with reverence as they stepped down and walked away, of Mani entering Baba's Room and inviting everyone outside to come in and meet her. Earlier Mani had been touched by a letter from a Baba lover who wrote that while watching the video of Mani gesturing to "Welcome to My World", she saw Mani's face turn into Baba's face. And someone close to the family saw Baba's brothers Beheram, Jal and Adi, plus Pendu and Padri, standing on Meherabad Hill awaiting Mani, proud of all she had done for her Brother.

Mani had always told her family, "I will go at the moment Baba has chosen for me — not one second before or one second after." His chosen moment for their Reunion was early morning, 7:01 a.m., Monday, the 19th of August, when Mani opened her eyes with a look full of love and wonder, and after a few quiet breaths, slipped softly and gently into her Beloved's welcoming arms. It was as she had wished, in her room in Meherazad, facing her beloved Mehera's bed with the women mandali and a few others around her holding Baba's picture and saying His Name.

From the moment she went, her face assumed an expression of joy and triumph, and as the moments went by her luminous smile seemed to deepen until you could not look at her without feeling her happiness. Once years ago, seeing a picture of herself in which she appeared composed, self-contained, almost regal, Mani had said, "That is me as I was with Baba" and it was that same Mani that I saw now in her.

How could we not rejoice to see the end of all her suffering written so clearly on her beautiful face? We said the prayers around her, and then Eruch — her dear partner in His service these past 27 years — and the rest of the men mandali filed in for their own farewells.

They departed, and after being dressed by the women in one of her favorite "dress up" outfits of pink, mauve and beige, with a chiffon pink scarf framing her lovely face and a tiny "diamond" tilak on her forehead, Mani was gently placed on the same stretcher used for Mehera and taken by Mehera's bed where Arti was sung. Then she was carried into Beloved Baba's Room and as she rested at His feet, the prayers were recited, the Seven Names of God sung, and rose petals and flowers that had been offered to Baba were showered over her form.

From there, across Mehera's garden past her favorite flowering china-box bush, she was carried into Mandali Hall.

* * *

As she lay in her last repose before Baba's chair in the Hall, her face shining, her form covered with flowers, surrounded by singing, Baba-lovers from Meherabad, Ahmednagar, Poona and Bombay streamed in to pay homage. Bhau was first to come, and DaraAmrit, followed soon by Khorshed. What a tribute to her loving personality to see the variety of people who came to honor her: the trustees of His Trust, all of the devoted Trust Office staff from the head clerk and chief accountant to the peons, government officials, Pimpalgaon villagers young and old, the tailor and many other local people who had been touched by her kindness. Late morning, her family from Poona arrived, and despite their grief, RustomSohrab and the "Irani gang" from Baba-House entertained Mani with zest as they had so often before, singing ghazals, songs she had written for them, and comic songs that used to make her laugh.

At 3:15 p.m. it was time for a final Arti, and the Meherazad women mandali, with great love and grief, tenderly kissed their precious sister for the last time in Meherazad, the home she loved so dearly. It was moving to hear even the Meherazad pet dogs calling out a farewell. Then Mani's form was carried on the stretcher into the Swanee, and with Goher, Meheru, Katie, Gulnar and a few other women, she began her last journey to Meherabad. Reaching there, as they turned into the road going up the Hill, some of the women saw her face flush, as if she was exulting in the approach of her final goal.

On the Hill, a group of Baba-lovers carried the stretcher into Baba's Samadhi, where Mani was placed on Baba's right hand side as the prayers were said. From there, she was taken to Mehera's shrine, and lying in the space between her beloveds, she seemed to grow pinker with happiness.

Mani's form was then placed on the Sabha Mandap, the large platform near the Samadhi. It is hard to describe the amazing atmosphere of this gathering, the heightened sense of Baba's presence, of Mani's joy, of the immensity of the event of her Reunion with Him, all against a background of flowers garlanding her form, songs in English, Marathi and Hindi, an outpouring of reverence and respect from the villagers, the intimate moments of farewell from her dear old friends Mansari and Gulu, and others who had just arrived from Bombay, and the combined focus of the huge crowd on her glowing form.

At about 5:30 p.m. once again Mani was carried into the Swanee, and a caravan of cars, motorcycles and people on foot wound down the Hill to the Meherabad cremation ground at the southernmost end of the property.

Mani had always loved the atmosphere of freedom and renunciation surrounding cremations, and especially those that took place at evening time.

As her form rested on the pyre, she looked sublime and serene, like the Princess she truly is. Poignant farewells from her dearest ones, heartbroken with grief. And then all stepped back for the final covering of her form with sandalwood, and the finishing of the pyre. Sometime after 6 p.m., at twilight, a time of day she loved, the men of her devoted family, Jangu, RustomSohrab, Dara, Arvind, Meherdil and Jamshed lit her pyre to resounding calls of "Avatar Meher Baba ki Jai!"

If legends are to grow from this farewell to Mani, surely there will be one about her pyre. For those who have seen many cremations it was extraordinary in many ways. Extraordinarily beautiful, as the flames whipped by a west wind leapt up, dancing, intense, and bright against the deep blue evening sky. Extraordinarily meaningful, as Meheru, dazed by sadness, suddenly saw forms among the flames dancing and bowing to Mani, and then Baba's face and Zoroaster's face alternating in the center. Extraordinarily rare, for as Eruch was standing silently nearby, two sadhus approached him, asking whose pyre was this? They had been passing by, and observed the smoke — but it was not the black smoke of the pyre of an ordinary person, it was the gray-blue smoke of the pyre of a saint. And so they had come to ask about this great soul and to pay their respects. The sister of Meher Baba? Ah, that explained it.

And the pyre was extraordinarily long-lasting, for when all was done and the mandali had returned to Meherazad and others to their homes and resting places, it went on burning and burning and burning. Normally a pyre will burn for twenty-four hours. A very large one, for thirty-six. The fire of Mani's love must have ignited the very air around her, for her pyre burned for three days. Even thereafter the place where she had lain was warm. Those three days were another kind of darshan for the Baba-lovers who kept round-the-clock vigil at the site, passing the time with songs and stories, energized by the atmosphere of great peace and sweetness that came from the fire. How delighted Mani would have been to see among them young people from the Youth Sahavas recently held at Baba's Center in Myrtle Beach (USA). One of them remarked that Mani's song to Baba,"Open Up the Door", which had been sung so often at the Youth Sahavas, for the first time really meant something to him because of this experience.

Even the flora paid her tribute that night. Years ago, Mehera had given a cutting from a "Christ's Cradle" plant at Meherazad to grow in the Pilgrim Centre. The Christ's Cradle flower, which Mehera had shown to Baba, is a beautiful white fragrant flower that blooms only at night, and then rarely. On the night of Mani's reunion, all the Christ Cradles in the Pilgrim Centre bloomed. Only the next morning did anyone notice there was one more plant outside, stuck away in the corner of the nursery, that had given seven blooms in the night — in direct view of the distant pyre.

Mani's ashes, now collected and in Meherazad, will be interred on Meherabad Hill on September 8th, 1996 at 11 a.m. As per Meher Baba's wish, she is to be interred on His left (at the left side of the Samadhi), just as His beloved Mehera is on His right.

* * *

Such touching tributes to Mani have come from Baba-lovers around the world that it is fitting I share some words from them:

"For a while she shone for all of us and lightened our burden with her joy of living, her singing, her laughter, her words of wisdom, her childlike manner — all of her a unique reflection of Baba's diamond that we will always cherish in our hearts....For truly she was teaching us how to love Him. Now when we remember Mani, we will be truly remembering Him, because she was 100% Baba's....."

"It is difficult to imagine that our dearest Mani will no longer be at Meherazad to greet us and cheer us with her incomparable personality. For me, she was the one person, besides Kitty Davy, who never seemed to grow old — who always projected such a magnificent, childlike zest for life and fun, and whose unquestioned faith and surrender to Baba was such that it permeated everything she did. She was, indeed, Beloved Baba's sister, but she was also, in a very real sense, everybody's sister. She was, and is, a beacon of Baba's Light, reflecting not only His Love and Compassion, but also drawing us all closer to Him by her shining example...."

"Mani, we always think of you as the one person who helped us the most through our most difficult time. Your compassion and understanding lifted our hearts. We miss your effervescent presence and heartwarming stories...."

"So thanks! For the jokes, the toys, the scoldings, the hints, the pictures in words and mime, advice, your own good example, and the precious encouragement you gave us to try to love and please Him...."

"The world has lost a luminous star of love and dedication...."

"How we will miss your most special presence uniquely energized with such a keen focus upon your divinely human Brother, enlivened with the very intensity and humor and spirit of the Beloved Himself!.. How much difference you have made — and your memory will continue to make — in the lives of all who have known you! How beautiful and uplifting have been your words and your actions in a life lived solely for your Beloved Meher Baba!...."

* * *

Mani had a dream towards the very end of her life that she related to us. She woke up from sleep, and looking around, asked, weren't we going? When we said, no, we weren't going anywhere, she said, "Oh, it must have been a dream. I dreamt we were all dressed up and going to a great celebration."

So now we can imagine that celebration in His highest Court, with Beloved Baba at the head of the table, Mehera on His right and Mani on His left, as in the celestial company of Perfect Ones, saints and angels, He welcomes her to His World! As one of Mani's close ones wrote: "Surely the heavens and the heavens beyond the heavens are reverberating with Beloved Baba's divine satisfaction at His glorious handiwork in the form of His little sister Mani!"

* * *

To end this account, I turn to Mani. Some years ago, while writing her book God-Brother, Mani laughingly said, "This is what I want for my epitaph!"

She was pointing to a line written by Shireenmai, her mother, in a letter to Baba, describing Mani who was then 7 years old. What Shireenmai wrote to her Son about His little sister was simply:

"Mani remembers You night and day."

There can be no higher tribute than that.


Copyright © Heather Nadel
Meherabad, 24 August 1996


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