Symbols of the world's religions



Sue Chapman

Only Baba knows when my story really began, but the events I shall describe took place in December, 1983. Though I had not consciously been seeking a spiritual path, it was in my nature to search and question. I had traveled a lot outside England — to the United States and North Africa — and seemed to be constantly changing jobs and directions. After a period of crisis and loss in my work and personal affairs, I was floating like a cork in the stream of life. Then a friend wrote to me and asked if I would like to go with her and her husband to India to study textiles. I was teaching textile arts at that time and jumped at the chance of leaving England for a while and creating some new space for my chaos.

To backtrack a little, I had a friend who was a Baba lover. I had always assumed his "Baba" was just another guru and felt no special attraction to Him. My friend, on the other hand, was convinced I was "ripe for the picking" and had been trying to feed Baba to me for years. He had lent me books that I barely glanced at and returned. He had also given me an album with the Parvardigar prayer sung by Pete Townshend of The Who. I thought it was terrible and passed it on to another Baba lover friend, who had shown me a film he had made about the life of Fred Marks, which I watched just like a TV documentary. In other words, none of it had meant anything to me at the time!

However, in a last final attempt to introduce me to Baba, he had given me the address of the Meher Baba Trust Office in India, with the request that if I should travel anywhere near there, to remember him to Adi K. Irani, Baba's secretary. My friend had attended the '1969 Darshan,' but had not returned to India since then. He did not know that Adi had already passed away. I never gave this address another thought, but stuffed it in my wallet as I packed my things for my intended three-month stay in India.

We arrived in India in mid-November, and for six weeks meandered from Delhi through Ajmer, Agra, Jaipur, the Kutch, Jodhpur, and so on, arriving on December 22 in Aurangabad. We spent two days visiting the caves at Ajanta and Ellora. On December 24, my friends planned to visit a textile workshop in a village nearby. We had seen so many already that I decided to do my own thing for the day. I was standing in the hotel lobby when my eye was attracted to a map of Maharashtra, and I noticed the name Ahmednagar, seemingly close to where we were. Wasn't that the name of the town my friend had given me?

I inquired and was told it was just a few hours ride on the bus. I thought, "What the hell? It would please my friend and I have nothing better to do." I packed up my rucksack and left a note for my friends that, in case I didn't make it back that evening, I would meet them the following day.

I didn't think I had made myself understood at the bus station when I inquired about an Ahmednagar bus. There was some shaking of heads, so I sat down and started to peel an apple and wonder how I might spend the day. But a moment or two later, someone came over and led me to a bus and escorted me on board. At odd moments during the course of the quite long and hot journey, when I would wonder why ever was I doing this, simultaneously would come the thought: "Don't worry, it will be okay."

When we finally reached Ahmednagar, my heart sank. I had imagined a small town as my friend had described from his 1969 experience. I hadn't bargained for the busy place I found on arriving at the bus station. How would I ever find the address? Again I had the thought: "Don't worry." I started walking. I thought I would get my bearings first and I studied the address more carefully. I crossed the street, and as I looked up, I noticed a sign that said "Meher Colony." Seeing the word "Meher," I thought it might have something to do with the address I was looking for, so I went in and asked.

I was led to the bedroom of a disabled, English-speaking woman named Dhun. In my confused state, as fast as I tried to explain what I was doing there, she assumed I was a new pilgrim and she kept saying, "You must hurry, it starts at three!" while at the same time talking to her servant in Marathi and gesticulating that I must follow her.

The next thing I knew, I was bundled into a rickshaw and the servant gave the driver instructions in Marathi. "Oh my God," I thought, "what have I done? I don't know where I am or where I am going, and this guy doesn't even speak English." Again, the thought came to me: "Don't worry."

The rickshaw wound its way out of Ahmednagar, and I resigned myself to the journey. As we got nearer to Meherabad, the rickshaw driver pointed to a rather insignificant-looking tower at the top of a hill. "Oh, great," I thought, "another sightseeing trip to some ruins."

We crossed a railroad track, and in no time the rickshaw parked beside the building called Meher Retreat. No sooner had I stepped down, than a crowd of people appeared, coming from the right and heading down the slope to what appeared to be an outdoor theater.

What a shock! I could clearly see a group of Indian women at the front under umbrellas, and there were fifty or more Westerners — more than I had seen in my previous six weeks traveling in India. I watched for a moment as they settled themselves in the little theater, and tried to appraise what was going on. I thought, "Well, I'll slip in at the back and look for an opportunity to ask someone what is going on, or at least find out if Adi K. Irani is here."

As fast as I tried to make some sense of it all, more fantastic sights occurred. The strains of the "Blue Danube" floated across the sultry air, and from nowhere appeared a ballerina in classical costume. Now I really thought I was dreaming.

Meanwhile, a person sitting close by began to ask me questions: When did I get in? Was this my first visit? How long would I be staying? Slowly, it dawned on him, especially after I dropped in the bit about having a message for Adi K. Irani, that I did not know where I was or what was going on. I did notice the mounting look of amazement and amusement on his face. I had, as it turned out, just dropped in on Mehera's birthday party!

This pilgrim was anxious that I should stay and meet certain people, then come down the hill and have tea after the performance. As I explained that I had to get back to Aurangabad by the evening, a look of anguish flashed across his face. "Why?" I wondered. His wife had joined us and with some brief exchanges, they persuaded me to go up the slope towards what appeared to be a little shrine. I remember them introducing me to Don Stevens, who was in a rush to catch a plane to Bombay (Mumbai). Then they tried to introduce me to Eruch, who asked them to wait a few minutes.

Out of sheer desperation, I suppose on their part not wanting me to slip through Baba's net, they escorted me to Meher Baba's Tomb-Shrine. By now, my mind was doing somersaults. They seemed so sweet and kind and welcoming that I did not want to hurt their feelings, but equally, I did not want to meet a lot of strangers, and I certainly didn't want to do any praying in their shrine. Help! Again, the thought came: "Don't worry. You can just go in out of politeness (true British upbringing!), make your excuses, get in the rickshaw, and ride back to town."

So I watched what other people were doing and thought, "Well, what shall I do?" I could see a photograph inside the Tomb, which struck me as pretty bizarre, but I thought, "Okay, I'll just say a few words." So I stepped in, looked at the photo and thought: "I am here because of my friend Dudley back in England. I suppose he sends You his love." I cannot describe what transpired in that moment. All I know is that I lost all sense of myself and of time. I felt quite joyful and found myself stumbling out, and I think I was crying. I remember someone trying to shove a sweet into my hand, which seemed rather peculiar, in view of the fact that I couldn't even stand up properly.

My "caretakers" encouraged me to come down the hill for a cup of tea, and by then I had totally lost my boundaries anyhow. I found myself agreeing to spend the night in Ahmednagar with a group of Baba lovers in the Sablok Hotel. I didn't even try to understand what was going on at that point. I just went with it.

I remember that I was never left alone, and over the course of the evening meal I heard the story of Baba's life and basis of His teachings. I found myself unconditionally accepting it all. They persuaded me to go with them to Meherazad the next morning — Christmas Day — before joining my friends again in Aurangabad. Having arrived at Meherazad in a light, English type drizzle, I listened to Christmas carols being sung on the porch and then was ushered into Baba's room, "for a few moments on your own." As I knelt in front of the picture on His bed, He seemed to say to me so sweetly: "What took you so long?" I thought of all the miles I had traveled, all the places I had visited, all the searching I had done, and I knew in that moment that here, in a room so like my own grandfather's bedroom, I was finally home.

There would be no more journeys to take. The floodgates opened and I could not stop the dam-burst of tears. I did return to Aurangabad that night, and explained to my bewildered friends that I would not be going any further with them.

They still think to this day that I am crazy. I returned to Meherabad and stayed as long as I could until my visa expired and I flew home to resume my new life with Baba. My dear friend Dudley Edwards was rewarded for his persistence in opening the doors to Baba for me, and to him I am eternally grateful.

It was truly the most amazing gift a person could ever receive, to find the real Christ at Christmas time. There is nothing more to ask for than to remain forever His.

Jai Beloved Meher Baba!


TALES OF MEHER BABA'S LOVE, pp. 20-24, ed Bal Natu
2001 © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust


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