By Ann Conlon
I saw Meherazad for the first time in 1962, when Meher Baba sent us up there right after the East-West Gathering in Pune.
It was extraordinary to see his home, and to be allowed to wander around, looking at everything: the old Blue Bus used on Baba’s tours of India in the 1930s; Mandali Hall, where Baba met regularly with his mandali and where he received guests; Mehera’s garden, Baba’s room in the main house; the dining room. All of that sounds the same as it is today, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. At that time, it was like visiting the home of someone you dearly loved while he was away only for a few days, and you were just waiting for him to return.
When we first arrived at the gates, the mast called “Twelve Coats” was sitting there, as he did off and on. He folded his hands in a namaste to each of us, and between the fingers of one hand was a burning cigarette. He was completely unaware that the cigarette was burning his fingers. Someone suggested I give him another cigarette, which I did, and got another namaste gesture in return.
Kitty Davy and Elizabeth Patterson were on that trip and I remember their faces, their faraway looks of remembering the days they had spent there in the past: Elizabeth sitting totally still in Baba’s room; Kitty diffidently climbing into the Blue Bus, as if she expected to find someone there.
I didn’t see Meherazad again until 1971, when there were still very few Westerners going. What is now a flood had started with one American girl in mid-1969. Not a Baba lover, she had come just to deliver a message from a friend who was a Baba lover. She stayed only long enough to play her guitar for the mandali and then went on her way. Even in 1971, a friend and I were the only ones there for some time. We could go to Meherazad every day except Wednesday, talking to the mandali for hours and listening to stories. We stayed at various places in Ahmednagar and went back and forth to Meherazad usually by local bus, until the time came when Meherabad got its own first small bus.
There were so few of us that all the women could have tea with Mehera, unlike later years when we had to take turns. Mehera would also sit with whoever was there in Baba’s bedroom and tell stories. But still shy from the years of seclusion and the separation from men, she would pick one or two women to look at while she was speaking but still would not look at a man, being so used to all those years with Baba when she had no contact with men. She was warm and loving — and as cheerful as she could manage in what must have been an all-engulfing grief. Impossible for us to understand, just as it was impossible, as least for me, to understand or relate to her utter devotion to Meher Baba. She gave reality to what for most of us would be an old clichÈ when referring to another person as our “whole world.”
We went up Seclusion Hill behind Meherazad frequently in those days, sometimes two or three of us alone, a number of times with Eruch in the lead. I remember one windy day when Eruch led a crowd of about twenty up the winding path. When we got to the first level, where Baba’s seclusion cabin had been, the wind was gusting so alarmingly (to me) that I declined to follow the others to the very top, and I stayed hunkered down on the lower level. When Eruch and the others came back down, Eruch’s face was ashen and I thought he must have had visions of losing a couple of Westerners over the side. He didn’t, but a lot of hats went flying off the hill.
One day, Eruch persuaded an oxen-cart driver to come by and give some of us a ride. It was one of the most spine-rattling experiences of my life. I was hard put to remember my manners and thank Eruch for the opportunity.
If we were there when certain fruit was in season, tea was enlivened by mountains of it, including the never-to-be-forgotten custard apples. Baba’s birthday at Meherazad was marked by wonderful parties on the veranda, including plays and balloons, acrobatics by children from Arangaon, a big chocolate cake brought from Bombay, and prasad given out in front of Baba’s Mandali Hall chair. One birthday party had a circus theme, highlighted by a very life-like elephant costume inhabited by two Western residents of Meherabad.
In those days, Baba’s face which appeared on a tree outside Mehera’s room, was sharp and clear, impossible to miss. In later years, it slowly became dimmed by new bark growth.
The days at Meherazad passed gently and quietly for the most part, in sharp contrast to the last time I was there in 1998. Then, there were so many pilgrims that it sometimes took two buses to bring everyone to Meherazad and the line to greet the mandali on the veranda stretched out to the parking area. And it was noisy. I stayed at the end of the line one day and when I finally bent down to greet one of the mandali, she said to me, “There are so many people, so much noise, and it’s hard on our nerves.” I suggested that she tell us all to go home. But that is something these stalwarts of Meher Baba would never do. They have been extending their hospitality, their wisdom, their compassion, their stories to all visitors for thirty four years and I expect they won’t stop until the last of them is gone, because they believe it is what Meher Baba wants. Lucky us.