Symbols of the world's religions

               

MEMO AND BOBO

Baba's Parents

Mani S. Irani

 
As you know, Baba's parents are my parents. What you wouldn't know is what Sheriar and Shireen were like as persons, this man and this woman who were chosen to be the Avatar's parents. Here I will give you a few glimpses of their image, reflected through memories of my childhood with them. I wish my brothers Jal, Beheram, and Adi could have done the same.

As a rule, my brothers Merwan, Jamshed, Jal, Beheram, and Adi conversed with my parents in Dari. I did sometimes, more so with my father. Father knew little Gujerati, the language spoken by the Zoroastrians in India, and spoke it with an Irani accent. Mother spoke Gujerati fluently, and when she recounted a story or a film she would enthrall her audience.

It was natural for my parents to address their children by Dari endearments: Merwan was Merog, Beheram was Varom, and so on. In the same way, my parents were Shorog and Shireenog to each other. For us children, our mother was Memo and father was Bobo.

Memo and Bobo were very different from each other in every way. In age they were twenty-five years apart, and in temperament and outlook they were poles apart. But they made a perfect pair as parents for God on earth in this Advent.

Referring to His father, Baba said to us on several occasions, "There is no match for My father, no match for him in the whole wide world. That is why I chose to be born to him."

The last time Baba said this was in 1968 at Guruprasad. Baba's hand gestures were swift and His eyes were soft with love, as He spoke thus of Sheriar, His Bobo.

I was told that Sheriar left his home and family in Persia, at the age of ten, to look for God. The boy's search for God brought him to India, and here he wandered for many years as a dervish (ascetic). He wandered on foot all over India, crossing mountains, fording rivers, nearly dying while tramping across a desert. He went through great adventures and experiences until, at the age of thirty, his wanderings came to an end by the Command of God.

In the midst of his wanderings, one day Sheriar heard a Voice telling him to go back into the world and await Him. In response to this highest Command, Sheriar turned back, married, got a job as gardener, started a tea-restaurant, and finally had a toddy business. In the world, Sheriar carried out every duty and responsibility, but at all times he remained unattached to the results. So here was Baba's father, a living example of what Baba wants us to be: "In the world, but not of it."

This was evident to us in the daily instances of domestic life and in any trials suffered by the family. Whatever befell him or his family, Sheriar accepted as "God`s Will".

My ancestors were Zoroastrians in Persia. When a fresh wave of religious persecution broke out there, my mother's family migrated to India. Such migrants were called Iranis and were absorbed by the Parsi community of Zoroastrians who had left Persia centuries ago. These Parsis in India helped their fellow Zoroastrians who escaped from Persia, giving them jobs in their households, in their shops, and in their gardens.

After he gave up his wandering, the first job my father got was that of a gardener, working for a rich Parsi family in Poona. And what an incredible gardener Sheriar proved to be! Anything he touched in that spacious garden blossomed and flourished with ease. Perhaps this was because while his hands worked in the soil, God's name worked in his soul continually.

Some time later, my father left that job to start a tea-restaurant. At parting, his Parsi employer said, "Please, Sheriarji, please come once in a while and look at my garden. You don't have to do anything. Just let your gaze fall on the trees and the flowers, and they will flourish."

"Also," he added, "whenever you come, please take home any potted plant you fancy."

For years Father continued to visit the gardens. I was delighted every time I saw him walking down Dastur Meher Road, followed by a servant carrying a potted flower plant on his head. My favourite memory is of a little rose-bush with a single red rose bobbing up and down on the servant's head. It seemed to me that the rose was happy it was coming to Father's home, where Father would tend to it along with the other potted flowers circling the well in Baba-House.

I also loved walking with Father along that road, clutching the little finger of his hand. We would stop at the grocer's to buy me candy. What a sight we must have been, this stocky sixty-nine-year-old man with his baby girl out for a walk on a quiet street in Poona!

I made my appearance in the family twenty-four years after Baba. By the time I was born, Father was like a grandfather to me. He was apt to spoil me, which made Mother exert her sense of discipline all the more. Mother was a wonderful cook, and Father was equally good in the kitchen when Mother wasn't well. Like all the family, in fact like all the Iranis I've known, my parents shared a marked sense of humour. Moreover, there was Father's incredible kindness which extended to all, friend and foe. And above all, it was Father's quality of stillness within him which I could feel even as a child. Many a family friend or acquaintance has come into our home to sit for hours beside him in total silence. "Just for the peace of mind we get," they would say.

I too loved sitting beside Father, on that low bed of his. While we sat side by side, I would look up to catch a glimpse of the tip of his tongue moving up and down as he silently repeated God's name, "Yezdan, Yezdan."

Father was a gentle companion and a special friend to me. We had secrets that Mother didn't share. Here's an instance: Water chestnuts are considered a wonderful tonic, and Mother would grind them fine with sugar for Father to have between meals. Father kept that delicious chestnut powder all for me. Whenever Mother was very busy or away from home, he would bring down the jar from the shelf and give me big helpings of it. I must add that I, too, brought him little presents from school. The brown-sugar toffee was one of his favourites.

My respect for Father was special. I hated to displease him, but when I was arguing with Mother it couldn't be helped! Such as, when I pestered Mother for a pleated satin skirt that went "whoosh, whoosh" as you walked — I'd seen one and heard it on an older girl in school. And Mother would tell me, "No, Mani, you can't have it. I told you once, I told you twice, you can't have it. Not until you're much older."

"But I want it," I'd wail. "I want it now. So-and-so has it. Why can't I?"

Then Father would say in his imperfect Gujerati, "Mani, stop pestering Memo!" And I'd know I was displeasing him. But when he was really displeased, he would add, "Mani, may God be good to you." ("Mani, Khodai tara bhala karay.") Even his scolding was a blessing!

I would stop immediately. I never overstepped Father's blessing.

Mother was really an excellent mother. She maintained and managed the house and family with much care, and possessed great intelligence and wit. Mother was the practical one. I guess she had to be, with a husband who was too generous with his worldly goods, giving money and things away to anyone he felt was in need. This would disturb my mother because she would have to penny-pinch on the household budget.

I would often find my parents looking at the same object from two different angles. Mother saw a thing from the material angle. Father looked at it only from the spiritual angle.

Mother always discussed everything with Father at the end of the day. While playing "trains" by myself (making a train out of empty matchboxes), I would hear her say, "Shorog, such and such a thing happened this morning," or "I heard so and so saying this and that about us."

As she went on and on, I would be struck by her logic. Not a single false note fell on my ears, and I would say to myself, "Memo is right. What she says is so true."

But after she finished, Father would gently explain from a spiritual angle: "No, Shireenog, it is not as you see it. It is really like this. . ." and so on. Hearing him I would find myself saying in wonder, "But of course, Bobo is right. What he says is so true!"

And so as a child I learnt much from the daily interactions between my parents. It was like watching the two pans of a hand-scale going up and down, with an issue being weighed till balance was gained. Amazingly, the little that Father said calmed and satisfied Mother every time.

Father taught Mother to read and write Persian, and before long she knew much of Hafiz by heart. I loved to see my parents sit together in the evening, reading the *Shahnama* (Persian history). And I would faintly wonder how Father knew to read and write so well. I was told he had never gone to school; he had left home as a boy to look for God.

Later my wonder grew. I would hear Father converse in Hebrew with a charming old Jewish lady who wore dozens of bangles. I would also see him help a well-known professor to correct some manuscript in Arabic. How was it that Father was so well-versed in these languages when he hadn't gone to school?

When I questioned Father about it, he simply answered, "Well, child, it all came to me suddenly, in a moment."

Years later I asked Baba how such a thing could be possible. And Baba asked me why I was so surprised. He explained, "Knowledge is all inside, hidden behind a curtain. And doesn't it take only a moment to push aside a curtain and reveal what is hidden behind it?"

"However," Baba added, "this pushing aside the curtain is a gift from God. It is given only to the very rare ones who have given up everything for Me, as My father did."

Yes, Father was matchless.

But my heart would often go out to Mother. She had endured a lot for the sake of her Son whom she loved above all, the Son she referred to as "my most beautiful child". Being God's mother is no joke. By her Son's grace, Mother played her role well.

And what did Baba say about Mother? Although in their human relationship of mother and son there were sometimes arguments between them, Baba was never pleased when others were critical of her. One time when someone spoke unkindly about Mother, Baba turned to us and said sadly, "This person doesn't know who My mother is — she is purest crystal!"

I'll end with a little incident you'll enjoy:

Years ago I met a man who remembered playing as a child outside my father's toddy shop in Poona. And he especially recalled "Merwanji", as Baba was politely addressed by outsiders.

"What was Merwanji doing in the toddy shop?" I asked him.

"Merwanji was sitting behind the cash box," he replied. "In the afternoons all these fakirs would come round. Then Merwanji would put his hand in the cash box and bring out fistfuls of silver coins. He'd fling the coins far out onto the road, and all the fakirs would run after them."

"Oh, my poor mother!" I groaned, "having a dervish for a husband and God for a son — and having to raise a big family!"

GOD-BROTHER, Pages 52-61, Mani S. Irani
1993 © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust

               

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