Being on silence presented Mani with many awkward situations. "Silence was given to me in England, Switzerland, and in Karachi," Mani related. "I could only talk with Baba in the room at the Rubens. Baba was confined to bed because of the accident. We went downstairs to eat at the hotel. Delia, or sometimes Charmian [who had accompanied them from America], would be with me. When I went down, the lift boy, in his button coat and cap, knew I didn't speak, but I could see in his face that he wanted some excitement. It thrilled him that I couldn't talk (perhaps to go home and tell his brothers).
"He'd say, 'Which floor, Miss?' He knew very well which floor, because I was going up all the time. So I went along and held up three fingers, and his face would be pink with pleasure.
"When I went into the dining hall, the headwaiter was wearing a swallowtail coat. He had a hearing aid; very British, dignified-looking, very correct. He was very nice: He immediately came to me when I entered, although there were others, and conducted me to a table. The other waiters made fun of me. ('Blimey, she can hear but she can't talk!') I glared at them. The headwaiter told me, 'Now I'll read out the menu, Miss, and you just nod your head to tell me what you want.'
"I hadn't the faintest idea what the dishes were. I didn't know what the names meant, for they were very grand names. So I sort of played a tic-tac-toe and counted to six, nodded, then counted to four and nodded. I kept nodding my head, and he ticked off what I wanted. Whatever it was, it worked, because those things were fabulous! Every dish was so good. Once, when Charmian was with me, she said, 'You order, Mani.'
"But I kept gesturing, 'No, you do it!' She insisted, because we would share that dish.
"She would ask, 'What is this?' I shrugged my shoulders, 'Don't ask me!'
"I was always amazed when the English had kippers for breakfast. One day, Delia had a ginger beer. She asked if I would like one and I nodded. She ordered for me. A big mug came, like in old English pictures [films] of Dickens and in stories of old England we'd read. It was foaming. Delia opened her purse, took out a shilling, and plunked it down for the waiter. I liked it a lot, but it wasn't real beer.
"Once at the hotel," Mani continued, "Charmian had the giggles. Delia too was laughing. I was trying to explain something in silence. We were like the Three Monkeys. It was a very funny situation. Another day, the Italian handyman at the hotel was putting in a light bulb and started telling me all his problems. 'I'm from the land of sunshine and I gotta stay in this place with-a fog. I hate this damp weather, but I can't leave because I have-a no money.' He continued recounting all his troubles for a while and then noticed I'm not saying anything. I motioned that I can't talk. Then he forgets his own troubles and thinks how sad, she's so young.
"I left thinking, 'What a pity! He wants to leave England, but he can't because of no money.' I looked down and found a huge coin on the ground. I thought I should go and give it to the man. Maybe it would help him. I go back to look for him, but he's gone. I went to Baba's room and showed everyone, relating the story. Delia said, 'It's good you didn't give it to him that's only a penny!'"
As Mani said, her order about silence lasted until they reached India, though she was permitted to talk with Baba and Mehera. Aside from Baba's work (about which we can never really know anything), there was an additional, more personal, reason that Baba had placed Mani on silence. The author asked her whether she was happy to keep silence because she had not shared in the physical suffering in the accident.
"Baba told me to keep silence," Mani answered. "I never asked to keep it. But he knew my inner need. This order was a restriction for me, as I was a chatterbox by nature. Later, I figured out it was to share in Mehera's suffering."
MEHERA-MEHER, A Divine Romance, Vol. 3, pp. 83-85
2003 © David Fenster