As the Irish would say, “He was a darling man.” Padri would have scoffed at that description but it was true. He could be gruff and demanding and he called Westerners who came to Meherabad “savages.” That one had to do with our table manners or lack thereof.
But he was kind and warm and loving, intelligent and blunt. And there was a lot of Meher Baba in his eyes.
I had met Padri in 1962 when Baba sent us up to Meherabad and Meherazad after the East West Gathering, but I don’t remember him very well. But I got to know him a bit when I went back to India in 1971 and then made a point of seeing him on subsequent visits. Baba called him one of “the pillars of Meherabad” and he certainly was that. He was tall and wiry, his hair completely white even then, and his stride covered a lot of ground very quickly. It seemed to me he was aware of everything that was going on at Meherabad. He certainly was aware of everything the visiting pilgrims were up to. He kept an eye on us and kept us firmly in line.
I seldom saw Padri during those days without a tool in his hand, fixing and patching whatever needed his attention. There was no Pilgrim Center then and we got to stay at Meherabad three or four at a time in Dr. Donkin’s old cabin, and only for a few days at a time. Padri oversaw preparation of our food by a wonderful woman who had cooked for Baba, and who cooked for us outside the cabin. Once, Padri brought us some of his buffalo-milk yogurt so we could make our own. I have never tasted such wonderful yogurt. Later, when a small dining room was built, he would appear at mealtime, warning us “savages” to “keep your hands out of the food.”
He insisted that new arrivals go up the hill to the Samadhi “to greet your master” before they did anything else. He was very patient with our attempts to help. When a friend and I got permission from Mani to patch and paint the Rahuri Cabin behind Mandali Hall, I discovered that in India, you did not simply walk into a paint store and buy the color you wanted, already mixed. Oh. no, you had to figure out what colors you needed to get the shade you wanted and then you had to mix them yourself. Padri sat down on the ground with me and showed me how to hold the paint can between the soles of my feet while I used both hands to mix the thick paint. Not something I would have figured out for myself.
One of my most treasured memories of Padri is of him speeding along on his old German motorcycle, free in the wind. Others that stand out are his pointing out the stars to us one night and his explanation of Mohammad Mast’s state of anguished waiting for God-Realization. He didn’t talk a great deal but when he did whatever he was describing came alive. He didn’t smile often, either, but that smile was worth waiting for — it broke through that facade of gruffness to envelop the recipient.
I went back to India a couple of times after Padri died and for me Meherabad has never been the same. It is definitely missing one of its pillars.