THE ANGUISH OF THAT MOMENT
Elizabeth drove the blue Nash, Baba seated beside her, Mehera, Mani, and Meheru, behind. Sarosh drove the station wagon with myself, Rano, Dr. Goher, and Delia as his passengers. The first day the party ate a sandwich lunch in the cars, and stopped at places of sightseeing interest, then stayed overnight at a motel in Columbia, N.C. The second night we stopped at a place called Murphy and the next day we visited the Ruby waterfalls at Crystal Rock, Rock City. Elizabeth remarked that we would never get to California if we kept stopping for sightseeing. Baba replied, "This is our last sightseeing."
On the night of May 23rd we stayed at Pond Crest Motor Court in the Ozarks. Baba sent us out to a nearby small restaurant for a meal, but he, with Mehera, Mani, Meheru and Dr. Goher, remained in the motel and took just milk and bread. I recall Baba asked me to bring back some milk and bread for the morning. Sarosh, Delia, Rano and I were again sent out for breakfast, but the others stayed with Baba. I think of Baba knowing what was to happen before the day was over, spending the last few hours with that small close group whom he had known since they were children and who had loved him for so many years, finding in their presence the comfort, love and understanding he so much needed in that final hour.
We were up early as usual. About 5 a.m. the group stood waiting in front of the motel for Baba's signal to step into the cars. This morning Baba delayed starting, however. He came out of his room and stood quite still for some minutes on the doorstep, withdrawn, sad and unusually still. No last minute questions, no haste to be off. Elizabeth sat at the wheel awaiting his signal. Ten minutes elapsed before Baba walked to his car, followed by the women. The rest of us got into Sarosh's car as before. After a short distance, Baba's car stopped suddenly and Baba got out and paced up and down on the right side of the road. We too got out and stood by our car. No word was uttered. This happened twice.
I should mention here that on this trip Baba had stipulated that his car, driven by Elizabeth, must lead and the second car, driven by Sarosh, must keep close behind and not on any account lose sight of Baba's car. This was somewhat difficult for Sarosh, as the stopping places agreed upon were not always clearly marked on the route. However, if we did lose sight of his car, Baba would wait for us to catch up or to find him in the town prearranged for our meeting.
On the morning of the 24th Baba reiterated this order. He had been very inconvenienced waiting so often for us in the very great heat. But he would not agree to Sarosh's request that our car go first. When we asked if we might stop to quench our thirst, Baba answered, "Yes, but do not linger." Delia too recalls that Baba had to repeat this warning, as the second car kept getting lost. He said, "If this happens again I will not forgive you."
Delia writes: "That morning (the 24th) Baba seemed very depressed and haggard. He impressed on us again that we must not get lost. At one time in the morning he stopped the car, got out and walked ahead with his head bent, seeming very far away. At one of the villages, we stopped to have a cup of coffee or cokes ... We then put on speed to meet Baba at the appointed place. We could see no sign of his car and were beginning to get worried. It was about 10:05 a.m. We heard an exclamation of alarm from Sarosh. We turned our heads to the right. At first we could not take in what had happened; we could not see clearly from the car. We saw people standing round Baba who seemed to be lying on the ground. The women were lying in various directions. Sarosh exclaimed, "O God, there's been an accident!"
"With lightning speed we jumped out of the car and rushed forward. The anguish of that moment is unforgettable ... Baba's face with blood pouring from his head ... his eyes just staring straight ahead as if into unfathomable distances. He made no sound nor sign ... just lay there motionless ... Elizabeth was in the car doubled over the wheel. Her first question had been 'Is he alive?' The only one not injured was Mani."
Elizabeth describes how the accident occurred: "It had rained the night before and Route No. 64 was slippery, oil-slick. The shoulder of the road was not wide and there were ditches on either side. As we came up over the crest of a small hill a car came along driving on the left-hand side of the road, going at a good clip. I started to slow up. This car continued without slowing up right at us on the left hand side of the road. At any instant I expected him to turn ... at the last instant he saw us and put on the brakes, whirling around to take up the entire side of the road. The point of contact was my bumper which made him whirl all the more. Yet he, and two others with him in the front seat, were not hurt ... We learned later he was a Korean veteran, a double amputee, who was driving for the very first time that day, a car made especially for him; also he was used to driving on the left hand side, in Japan ... My one feeling was 'Don't go in the ditch!' Just before it happened Baba stretched out his hand and pointed at the oncoming car."
The first car to pass the scene was a man driving his wife to the Prague Clinic, 7 miles distant, to have a baby; it was they who summoned the ambulances. The victims had been thrown clear of the car into the soft mud. Delia continues: "In the meantime we brought our coats and covered them ... my little pillow* was put under Baba's head. After what seemed an eternity, the ambulances arrived. Rano, Kitty and Goher went with the injured ones, and I drove with Sarosh to make phone calls and send cables.
"The whole Prague clinic was turned upside down to make the party comfortable. Baba was put in the surgeon's private study, and Elizabeth and Mehera in the only room available. Kitty stayed with them and Rano and Goher with Baba...."
*Now preserved at the Center in Myrtle Beach
THE AWAKENER MAGAZINE, Vol 6, no 4, pp. 39-41
1960 © Circle Productions, Inc.