By Steve Klein
Back in the 70s when we first started visiting India, it seemed to me that there were an amazing number of pilgrims who were incredibly talented. If it wasn’t Bob Brown, it was some other fantastic singer, songwriter, musician. And if people weren’t musical, it seemed they could dance (which always delighted Mehera) or they could draw beautiful sketches of Baba. Or simply delight everyone with humorous stories in the hall. And while it was certainly fun to have the opportunity to enjoy their entertaining Baba and the mandali, there was always a part of me (rather a large part, but we needn’t get into actual percentages) that was jealous.
It wasn’t so much that I wished I had talent per se; it was just that I wanted to be able to do something, anything, that would get the mandali to pay attention to me. Of course, if I had tried singing, I would have gotten a lot of attention, but not exactly of the sort I was seeking. (Somewhat like the time, years later, when I made a chocolate cake for Mani. We didn’t have an oven, so we had to use a small metal box which we put over a burner. This box had a glass door that didn’t fit very well and a bottom that had burnt out in one corner. The result was a cake that rose unevenly. It got baked, but, architecturally, it resembled some avant-garde creation, rather than the traditional “cake” shape. I thought it tasted pretty good, but Mani’s only reaction was that it was “interesting.” For years, she would occasionally make reference to the “interesting” cake I had made for her, invariably reduced to laughter at the memory.)
But well before the cake episode, I intuitively knew that that was where I was heading if I tried to sing. So, as one weekend approached (Sunday being the day that featured an entertainment program at Meherazad), I desperately tried to figure out how I could get center stage. I finally decided that I would write a “poem.” Which I did. As it turned out, I was so excited that I couldn’t wait until Sunday, and I caught Mani as she was walking from the women’s side to the men’s and asked if I could read it to her. I think it was three or four pages long, but I was so nervous that I finished it in about 20 seconds. Mani just stared at me when I finished. As quick and clever as she was, even she didn’t know how to reply. After careful consideration she very gently said, “May I make one suggestion?” “Sure,” I replied. And she said, “Next time, read it a little more slowly.”
Well, I had hoped for more but at least she didn’t say anything negative about the poem itself so, emboldened, I tried to read it to Eruch. Eruch was also clever, so, before I could even begin, he confessed that he didn’t know anything about poetry and there was no point in reading it to him but that I should read it to his brother, Meherwan, who would be able to appreciate it. Meherwan was living in Poona at the time, so this seemed like an especially elegant solution for Eruch. Not only would he not be put in the embarrassing position of having to comment, but it would get me out of town altogether.
Naturally, I was a little disappointed but then someone suggested that Bhau knew a lot about poetry and I should read it to him. At this time Bhau was holed up in a little room adjacent to Mandali Hall where he was working some 16 or 18 hours a day on Baba’s biography. He only came out to go to the toilet, but since he was suffering from dysentery, this happened periodically. Knowing this, I lurked outside his door and trapped him on his way back to his room and asked if he would listen to what I had written. He did, and when I was finished he said, “Good. Very good.” And then he paused and concluded, “I tell you, it’s sublime.”
Now that was more like it, I thought, and with great enthusiasm I wrote another poem that evening. The next day I caught Bhau again and read it out to him. When I finished he said, “Good. Very Good.” He paused, and added, “I tell you, it’s sublime.”
This was nice to hear but not quite as thrilling as it had been the first time. And when the third and fourth poem produced the exact same response, I began to realize that I could read out a page from the Ahmednagar phone book (assuming such a thing existed) and Bhau would say with equal seriousness, “Good. Very good. I tell you, it’s sublime.”
Anyway, for better or worse, I continued to write poems and I continued to inflict them on the mandali. After years of this, Eruch once said to me that the day would come when I would want to burn all of them, but that I shouldn’t. I never asked him to explain what he meant by this because I felt I knew. I assumed he meant that, at some point, I would feel overwhelmed at my hypocrisy in writing about love and Baba when I didn’t know anything about either. I often do feel this in relation to my poetry but have heeded Eruch’s advice and haven’t burnt it all up.
But Eruch never said anything about writing columns for ABTC, and I have reached the point where it is hard not to feel self-conscious about continuing to write when I have already said whatever little I may have had to contribute. Especially now, when there are fresh voices with new insights, it is past time for me to step back and limit my participation to the enjoyment and appreciation of everyone else’s columns. Before turning off the computer, just let me say how much I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to share thoughts with all of you, and I want to thank you all for putting up with me as long as you have.