Experiences of Jennifer Keating with Meher Baba
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha
“Over the years, I took to heart Meher Baba saying in one of the family letters, “It’s not so much you being with Me that matters but Me being with you.” Although I was blessed to meet Baba physically, it has become clearer with time that the big thing is being with Him inwardly. My story is just one of many. It reveals, like all the stories do the appealing ways in which Baba enters into your life simply and naturally. It also shows how Beloved Baba worked tirelessly (and still does) to lay cables of love between each soul connected with Him – not a remote God in any sense but the loving Father of a worldwide family.”
“How did Meher Baba enter your life?”
“Let us start at the beginning, to set the scene for my stories of meeting Baba, and to share something about the property in Sydney where I grew up, which Baba blessed with His Presence on both His visits to Australia. It begins in 1949 when Francis Brabazon bought an acre of land at Beacon Hill, an outer coastal suburb of Sydney. It is one of the high points where beacons were lit to guide ships safely into harbour in early settlement days. The land was largely sandstone with pockets of scrubby vegetation. It had panoramic views over surrounding bush land to the ocean, and to the city of Sydney in the far distance.
“At this time a member of the Sufi Movement, Francis’ dream was to build a spiritual centre in Australia. But in 1952 after meeting Baba for the first time at Meher Centre, Myrtle Beach, Francis was convinced that Baba was who He said He was, the Avatar of this Age, the living Christ. He was prepared to do whatever Baba asked of him. When, among other things, Baba ordered him to return immediately to Australia, Francis departed being determined to continue the building work at Beacon Hill as a Centre dedicated to Baba, with the hope that one day He may visit and stay there. To take on this task of learning stonemasonry and building a Centre for Baba showed Francis’ great daring, boldness and his desire to be active for Baba.
“My parents, Bill and Joan Le Page, both heard of Meher Baba in the 1940s in Melbourne. They met through Sufism but were quickly drawn to the discourses of Meher Baba and to the charismatic Francis. Although my father Bill had read the discourses and was convinced that Baba was who He said He was – God in human form – it was only after Francis’ return from meeting Baba in 1952 that he came to know more about Baba, the person. He was very drawn to Francis and his active approach to spirituality. He was fired with enthusiasm to help Francis in spreading Baba’s Name and message in Australia, and in building of a Centre for Baba at Beacon Hill.
“Initially my father, Bill, would come by car from Melbourne, about 600 miles, for short visits and stay with Francis on the property. One time our entire family, Bill, Joan and their two children at the time, my sister and brother, Maree and Michael, came to stay for a period of six weeks. After these visits Bill became determined to move to Sydney permanently. His idea was to buy land nearby the Beacon Hill property so he could be on the spot to help Francis. Then in 1954 through seeming coincidences he found himself employed by the Australian Army as a psychologist in Sydney. In June 1954 he was finally able to make the move, my mother Joan followed him in July with me and my two siblings, I was only three months old at that time.
“On the day when Bill arrived in Sydney, Francis shared with him a circular from India inviting men over the age of sixteen, who loved Baba or wished to do so, to come to India to see Him in September 1954. Francis and my father, Bill, jumped at this rare opportunity and along with another Australian they made the journey to India. This was my father’s first meeting with Baba and a momentous occasion for him. The sahavas became known as the Three Incredible Weeks. It was during this time that Baba made it clear that He wanted to draw Francis more closely to Him. He told Francis ‘to sell all and follow the Cross,’ and at the same time told him to give the Beacon Hill house to Bill for Bill and his family to live there. Also it was at this time that Baba told Bill to spread His Name and message and told my father “do whatever Francis tells you to do”.
“On their return to Australia the change of ownership of the house and land was made legal. Although Bill and Joan, now owned the place, Baba made it clear that it was His place and that Bill was the ‘caretaker’ and that it was ‘never to be sold’. Francis continued to live at Meher House while he and Bill worked on completing the house for family living. At the time of the move to Beacon Hill and meeting Baba for the first time, Bill was only thirty years old and Joan, my mother, twenty-seven. My mother often expressed to me over the years that the time spent with Francis in the mid to late 1950s was a serious time for both her and Bill. There was an emphasis on Baba’s discourses and the life of an aspirant that the discourses refer to. For Francis this was a natural progression – he was a seeker, an artist, a sanyasin at heart.
“In contrast, my parents were married and had the responsibility of raising three children – a very different situation in life. But they were young and looked up to Francis. His poetry and prose inspired and influenced them strongly, as did his deep conviction and understanding of who Baba was and what Baba expected of those who wished to follow Him. I was born into this atmosphere – it was not unlike a strict religious upbringing, somewhat monastic.
“Francis and Bill had what could be called a very masculine view of living for Baba; it was a case of ‘soldiers fighting in the King’s cause’, if you accepted Baba for who He said He was, then working for His cause should be one’s life work. But later in India knowing Mehera and Mani and the women mandali, I came to understand that there were different ways of approaching this work; this was a huge relief – it brought sunshine, the ‘light touch’, humour, and love into focus.
“Early in 1956 two Australian women Clarice Adams and Ena Lemon had the good fortune of meeting Baba in India. After hearing of Baba’s planned trip to America later in the year, Ena with the support of others in the group, decided to invite Baba to come to Australia on His way home across the Pacific to India. Baba accepted this invitation. Finally, two years after our arrival at Beacon Hill, Baba came to stay, fulfilling the dream, the hope of Francis and the group, of the Avatar blessing this land and staying at the place which they had built for Him. Francis, our family and a small group of His lovers were all involved in the preparations for Baba’s first visit to Australia in August 1956. In a letter dated 16th May, 1956, Mani, Baba’s sister, wrote to Bill, ‘I just loved the personal glimpse you gave me of the family preparations for Baba’s coming – wish I were there to give a hand, because far from being an energetic and efficient secretary that I find myself trying to be, I love things like that…but I have a feeling I’d end up following Jenny’s example (perhaps taking a nap). Now I know who that kiss was meant for – please ask Joan to transfer it to Jenny, and to double it’. in the same letter Mani added, ‘Quite often Baba asks me who the letters are from and it was with joy I was able to convey your love and thanks to Baba – He gestured ‘I am happy’…Fond love to you Bill, and to dear Francis, and to Joan and Ruth and Michael and – oh well, Jenny’s already had her kiss’.
“August 9, 1956, was the day of Baba’s arrival in Sydney, Australia for the first time. At the Beacon Hill property, a group of about fifty people waited for Baba to arrive. Most of them were from the Sydney Sufi Movement, some from the Theosophical Society, and some from other groups such as Meditation groups. A part of the work which Francis and Bill did at this time in spreading Baba’s Name and message, involved visiting these groups. On those occasions, Bill would set up the venue, arrange for all the practical details and Francis would give a talk on Baba.
“Soon after His arrival, Beloved Baba came and stood in the doorway of the house to greet all those who had come – the great event had occurred – Baba was finally here. Francis speaks of the momentous nature of this event in his poem Now Has Come The Moment of Joy. ‘Now has come the moment of joy in this land…The moment of Baba and the touch of His feet…the moment of God and His advent in this land of Australia…when each one…when each leaf and piece of Earth and stone on whom and on which falls His glance, must decide the issue of surrenderance, and lay down that much of his life as He will’.
“Later Baba met us inside the house where He greeted people individually and also had group gatherings where He gave discourses. I was only two years old in 1956. A story my father likes to tell is about one of those group gatherings, where Baba talked on the serious topics of God Realisation and the spiritual path, and I fell into deep sleep on my father’s lap! But in a typical instance of Baba’s humour He stopped His talk and gestured to me, peacefully sleeping, remarking to the group around Him: ‘See, as we talk of God, she has gone to God’. Everyone had a good chuckle over this, relaxing and smiling, responding to Baba’s natural way of lightening the mood and bringing humour into a serious situation.”
“What else was told to you about this trip of Baba?”
“On this visit, along with all the other children, I had the good fortune to be embraced and cuddled by Baba. This occurred when He called us in specially to spend some time with Him. Everybody got to watch Eruch comb Baba’s hair, and wash Baba’s face and neck. Then Baba played games with us as a little aside to show the intimate family feeling of that time. Years later I was amazed to hear from Eruch that during this visit he carried me on his shoulders, such a natural uncle sort of thing to do. He would often say to us about Baba’s 1956 visit to Sydney where there was only a small group, ‘You people don’t know how fortunate you are in having had such an intimate contact with Baba!’
“During this first visit to Australia, Baba with His mandali and nineteen extra people, flew south to the city of Melbourne, in the state of Victoria. Although some of the group from Melbourne came to Sydney to be with Baba, there were others who were unable to come, so Baba came to them. He is really the slave of His lover’s love for Him. Our family arrangement for this time was for my mother to fly to Melbourne so she could introduce her mother to Baba. When Baba heard of this arrangement he directed Bill and the three of us, children to stay in the house until His return. We had of course vacated it for Baba and His mandali to use. We slept on mattresses on the floor in front of the fireplace in the big room where Baba was staying. As Bill describes, ‘His Presence seemed palpable, the atmosphere rich and warm and perfumed, as though He was still physically present’.
“Back in Sydney, an outing to see a movie was planned at Baba’s request. Baba emerged dressed in a brand-new suit. Bill described Baba “turning around slowly so that we all could admire His new suit with a Nehru collar, it was blue/grey and He looked incredibly slim, handsome and about twenty years younger than His sixty-two years’. As an aside to this I just love the story that Baba’s Mehera tells of her time in Sakori with Upasni Maharaj before she had joined Baba’s ashram, Upasni Maharaj saying to Her, ‘You wouldn’t like My kind. I’m old and crippled. I don’t put on proper clothes. You would prefer One who is fair, with nice hair and a mustache, a good dresser’. Of course, Upasni Maharaj was referring to Meher Baba and I just love the description of Baba as a ‘good dresser’!
“On August 14th, the date of Baba’s departure for India a particularly special incident occurred for me, though I was too young then to truly understand the depth of the meaning, but it is something that I will never forget. It happened like this – one of the Australian lovers gave Meherjee a toy koala bear as a gift for his grandchild. Anything given to the mandali was automatically given to Baba; their lives were His and everything belonged to Him. So the bear was given to Baba. But before leaving He gave the bear to my mother saying sweetly to her, ‘This is for the little one’. How kind Baba was, not to forget me! Many of the children there at that time have lovely stories to tell of Baba playing games with them; talking with them; sharing with them; and the adults received talks on the spiritual path, God and God-Realisation. I might have felt left out of this, being so much younger but by giving me this toy He let me know that I was not forgotten and I was one of His children too. I called my new ‘toy’ Baba Bear and it became a symbol of Baba’s love and presence for me in my life. It was as if Baba’s Love and Presence was suffused within Baba Bear.
“Apropos of this, I’m sure many remember that Mani, Baba’s sister, would bring out the various soft toys at Meherazad to show visiting children. One time we saw her take these toys to the mandali hall and place them on the cushion at Baba’s feet as if they were bowing down to Him and she remarked, ‘these toys contain so much love and give so much love, why shouldn’t they bow down to the Source of all this love?’ So, I know that I am not strange in feeling that Baba’s love was in Baba Bear and especially so having been touched by Baba.
“One last significant incident at that time; Baba having come and stayed and done His universal work in the Beacon Hill house, Bill felt that it should be left solely for Baba’s use and that we should live elsewhere. So, on August 14th, the day on which Baba was leaving the house to go to the airport, back to India, he expressed this to Baba. From Baba he received the emphatic response that ‘yes, this place was one of His places given in love by Francis and accepted in love by Baba but Bill should continue as its caretaker, that we should live in the house in a natural family way, and that it was never to be sold’.
“On September 5th, 1956 we received a letter from Mani about the sahavas. ‘…it was Baba who gave us the intimate touching details of the sahavas, telling us most lovingly of you each…I’ve been reading Shakespeare again…and can’t get over the profound philosophy packed in some of his simplest lines…a line in Hamlet I particularly love that makes me think of Baba and all us lucky ones: ‘The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty…’ For isn’t it perpetually amazing why Baba cares for us and gives us so much of His love…and how little our all is in return! …Baba’s love to you each and all in Australia’.
“When did Baba return to Australia?”
“Baba’s second visit to Australia, the sahavas was in June 1958, it was held at a place which Baba Himself named as the Avatar’s Abode. When His intention to visit Australia was announced, in a letter from Mani to Francis, Baba indicated a preference for a warmer climate for the upcoming sahavas. An old pineapple farm on the top of a mountain in southeast Queensland was the property which Francis eventually found and purchased with Baba’s approval. On reflection it is amazing that Baba came to Australia, a little-known country in the antipodes away from the real action of the world and came for just a few of His lovers, and then to come again! This time, to establish one of the important centres for the future, as Baba said to Francis and Bill at Meherazad in 1967 that Avatar’s Abode would become a great place of world pilgrimage.
“During His visit to Avatar’s Abode, as was His way, Baba inspected the site and various buildings despite the cold and the mud (it had rained heavily during the preparations). This shows Baba’s endearing habit of taking an interest in every detail: where each one slept; where and how the food was cooked; any other facilities on the property etc. etc. In 1958 at Avatar’s Abode, children had to be over nine years of age to attend the sahavas and so my brother Michael and myself, along with some other children were billeted off the property to stay with nearby neighbours but again! Baba did not forget us little ones and after the general meetings were concluded He called us to be with Him so that He could embrace us, play with us and give us His love.”
“Do you have any memories of those days?”
“I have only vague memories of that time but a sweet moment that Cynthia Borg (nee Adams) remembers when my paternal grandfather Roy Le Page, Pop, as he was known, took me by the hand and brought me to Baba for my embrace. She described this occasion beautifully; ‘during the Open Afternoon (which not many were allowed to attend) we were all seated in Baba’s House on our bench seats as usual. Baba was seated in His chair at the front with the mandali around Him. Baba was glowing with love when each young child was presented to Him. Each child was embraced or lovingly cuddled and stroked by Baba. He looked so different from His usual stern and powerful demeanor of that time that it was a wonderful reminder to us of how much Baba loved His children and cherished them. A very special moment in the program’.
“On the last day of the sahavas at Avatar’s Abode, after allowing each sahavasee to kiss His Hand in the farewell, Baba called Pop to Him specially and although Pop did not consider himself as a Baba lover he approached without hesitation, dropped on one knee and bowed before Baba. He received a long loving embrace which touched everyone present and as one of the sahavasee’s recalled ‘it felt like Baba was embracing us all’.
“Although Pop and my grandmother Alma Le Page did not declare themselves as followers of Baba they were very drawn to Him. They met Him on both His visits to Australia and planned to attend the 1965 darshan (which was later cancelled) and even offered money to Baba when the opportunity arose. In 1958, Baba Himself approved of Bill’s idea of converting the double garage which was next door to the Beacon Hill house, into a cottage for his parents. As a lovely aside to all this, we have found out that Pop’s name is one of the names on the Memorial Tower at Meherabad, Roy Le Page (Bill Le Page’s father).
“In my father’s archives I was very touched to find this cable to Francis from my grandmother at the time of Pop’s passing over. ‘Roy passed away this evening 18th. I know he was moved and happy in meeting Baba during his life. I, Bill, Joan and children send our love to Baba [signed] Alma’. The reply from Francis reads, ‘Baba says that Bill’s love for Baba has brought Roy closer to Baba (stop) Baba sends His love blessing to you Bill Joan & children (stop)’ Francis adds, ‘I think Roy is indeed blessed for to come closer to Baba is the hope of all of us’.
“Much of the early correspondence with our family came from Mani, Baba’s sister. She had met Francis and Bill in 1954 when they came for the Three Incredible Weeks, had been corresponding with Bill since 1955. Francis being very occupied with writing Stay With God had appointed Bill to be the secretary and take care of correspondence and all I can say is: lucky Bill, and lucky us! As most people know, Mani is a writer with unique talents, a delightful flair for word, pictures, a sense of humour and deep wisdom regarding all things to do with Baba. Of course every letter included love from Baba, love from Mani herself, loads of humour, and sometimes special messages for us children. We swapped photos, Bill sending pictures of Joan and us kids and Mani sending a beautiful one of herself which we loved and treasured. Her response to the photos of us speaks of Mani’s ability to reach out, even to people whom she had never met, with such warmth, humour and enthusiastic interest. In one such letter she writes, ‘…And now I’m grabbing this opportunity for an utterly un-secretarial message to a special dear family. Those pictures have brought you and Joan closer than ever, and that Trio!…why didn’t you tell me Ruthie [now Maree] is such a lovely lady – and I love curly-haired Michael – as for Jenny, Jenny is the most huggable child imaginable! Do tell Joan her remark about my letters warmed my heart – as did your dear letter Bill!…love as always to your mother and dad – and as always to Francis and the Rouses and Reggy [Reg Paffle] and the other Beacon Hillers…’
“This is just one of numerous such notes over the years and speaks of Mani’s beautiful character, her warmth, humour and effervescent spirit; she’s like everyone’s dream auntie. The mandali were amazing even back then and I feel it’s a measure of their humility that they made us feel like one of them. They seemed so human, so natural, always putting themselves in the same basket as us all. They naturally became aunties, uncles and Baba encouraged this family feeling by also being natural and human, enquiring about our well-being, sending love, interested in our life, education, health etc. It was a family feeling and I got to know them as my Indian family and for a little girl in remote Australia this was my wonderful secret life.
“In 1958 Baba called Francis to India for ‘an indefinite period’. The following quote is from one of Francis’ letters written on the boat on his way to Baba in January 1959: ‘…I felt so happy with the thought of you all that I felt like weeping – as though I was coming to see you instead of going away. Which proves that I am not going away from you, because in going to Baba I am going to the heart of each one of you. Each one of you should do this daily more & more – leave each other and go to Him in thought & in love. You will find that you are not further away from one another, but nearer to each other. This is the true meaning of spirituality…’
“With Francis now in India with Baba, a new chapter began, not just for him but for all of us here in Australia and for our family in particular. Letters, cables, aerogrammes were forever flying back and forth between my father Bill and Francis regarding Baba’s work in Australia, also with my mother Joan regarding music and with us children. It was Baba Himself who set this up, He would have the letters read to Him and would include messages in the replies. Correspondence was one of the ways how He maintained His link with His lovers all over the world, and we were just one family in one country! How tirelessly Baba worked and had His mandali working also! It was really quite phenomenal.”
“When did you meet Baba again?”
“The next momentous event in our Baba world was beloved Baba’s invitation to His lovers from East and West to meet Him in Poona, India. As Francis wrote at that time ‘…it is an event for which men have long prayed and worked – the coming together of people from many parts of the world in the Name of Love and Truth’. When we travelled to India in 1962 it was the most exciting adventure of my life so far! I was eight years old and I had never travelled further than Avatar’s Abode. We went by boat and it took three weeks each way. The journey was long and adventurous for an eight year old child and the actual gathering felt special and significant from the moment we entered the gates of Guruprasad. The wide gracious driveway bordered by neat hedges and beautiful gardens with white marble statues and sculptures was very grand. Long colourful tents filled with Baba’s books, photos, trinkets and mementos lined on either side of the driveway added a festive feel to the occasion. There were people everywhere mostly from the East but quite a few from the West including our group of thirty-one people from Australia. Everyone was happy and excited to see Baba.
“I’ll never forget meeting Baba at this time. I had internalized a picture of Him as young and beautiful, from photos and from Francis’ poetry and songs but when I first caught a glimpse of Him, as I waited in line on the dais to be greeted, I was shocked to see Him looking so old, grey and tired. I suddenly felt quite anxious as if I was about to meet someone whom I didn’t know but at last when my turn came and I moved towards Baba feeling shy and nervous, His face burst into a smile and He beamed and indicated with His hands, amazement at how I had grown. He looked delighted, impressed and held out welcoming arms and all my childish fears melted away.
“I will never forget the translucent feel of His skin as He kissed me on both my cheeks. His arms around me felt gentle yet strong and I felt joyful in His presence despite there being so much which I didn’t understand. With the innocence and ease of a child I just accepted that Baba was who He said He was and I never questioned or felt any doubt about this and in this feeling there was security, contentment and joy. As I grew older, of course I understood more about who God was and what it meant to believe that Baba was God. In my teens I came to understand through my parent’s guidance how important it was to do whatever Baba asked of us; to not worry about loving Him so much as to try to obey Him and please Him. At this time in my life it was very simple, Baba was our Father and this was His family and I was a part of this family however insignificant I might be. Being here with Him at this time felt completely natural and resonated deep within me as to where I belonged.
“During the East West Gathering it was arranged to have a group photo taken of the western lovers with Baba outside Guruprasad. Being young and small I found myself overshadowed by the crowd of adults but with determination and ingenuity I managed to weave my way through the crowd, finally ducking under someone’s arms and surfacing as it were right next to Baba sitting in His chair! It was so wonderful to at last be close to Him and to again closely see His flashing eyes and His beautiful skin, smooth, translucent, fair but with colour in the cheeks. I carefully watched His graceful gestures as He made sure that everything and everyone was in place for the photo. To find myself so close to Baba filled me with the mixed emotions of awe and curiosity about this Being whom on one hand, on a day to day level, I didn’t really know and yet on another level I did know, intimately, somewhere deep inside. It was such a feeling of mystery and familiarity at one and the same time. Both these worlds were held in paradox in the way children can easily do; a very natural, family feeling; and a sense of wonder at this Being whom we all called Baba. He is our Father and the Head of this large worldwide family of which we are a part.”
“Do you have other memories of the East West Gathering?”
“Other memories of the East West Gathering are of sitting on the floor in a semi-circle in the hall at Guruprasad, with Baba on the couch in front of us, watching Him swaying to the music and watching His obvious enjoyment, being fascinated by His gesturing and by His eyes moving swiftly over the group of faces turned towards Him. He seemed to be seeing us and yet not seeing us, absorbed in His universal work, with His fingers moving swiftly in some mysterious rhythm. Everything was amazing and wonderful, the women mandali, especially Mehera and Mani, were so loving to us kids. They played games with us and gave us gifts of bangles, Baba pendants and badges. I had never seen such pretty things and never had so much love showered on me.
“After the sahavas there was a day trip to visit Meherabad and Meherazad. I remember it as hot, dry and dusty, such a different environment to any that I had been in before. I found the tomb awe inspiring, it was hard to comprehend as an eight-year-old that one day Baba would not be in His body and that He would be buried here in this crypt. I can still remember sitting on the edge of the crypt in silence and looking down into the empty space, seeing the sprays of pink roses painted on the inside walls that came up and over the edge of the crypt. I was disturbed at the thought of Baba dying and yet the soft beauty of the roses imprinted itself on my memory.
“The East West Gathering was a very happy time, there was a feeling of having come Home. Baba was our Father and the mandali were our aunts and uncles. The following letter from Mani sent after the Gathering speaks of this family feeling. ‘We’re still November-struck as no doubt you all are, and although my heart seems to be bursting at the seams with all the things it wants to express, the pen seems dumb. Oh but it was so so good to see you very dear lovely Beacon hillers! and above all to see you with Him for whom you came, and to hug that adorable Jenny (her aunty Maani? still echoes in my ears and haunts me) and to embrace Joanie and Judith and Ruthie and Marco and to greet you Bill! We are constantly nibbling on our store of rich memories of the great family reunion, and yet it grows bigger and bigger with every nibbling! …I do wish I had more time with the little ones – there are so many little games and tricks I wanted to show off to them! Perhaps we’ll have to come to Australia for that…’
“Looking back on the years when Baba was in the physical body and Francis was living with Him in India, the aspects of our family life which stand out for me, is reading Francis’ poetry and prose; music and singing Baba songs which he wrote; Baba’s work which my father Bill was so involved, in which we participated with the enthusiasm of fresh young recruits to the ‘Great Cause’. As a constant sparkling stream running through our days and nights, was the awareness of Baba there in India taking a loving interest in every aspect of our lives, my father’s work, my mother’s health, our education and interests and our growing relationship with Him.
“Life at Beacon Hill was simple. There was no T.V., no modern conveniences for many years, money was scarce, anything spare was used for Baba’s work or travelling to India or to Avatar’s Abode. So, reading, singing and Baba’s work were our preoccupations. At night Bill would read books to us like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, a bit each night after dinner, the whole family would gather as well as anyone who was visiting. Along with Francis’ own writing, this was the ‘food’ that fired our imaginations and helped us put Baba and His role as the Avatar into a historical perspective.
“The East West Gathering confirmed our feeling that we belonged to Baba and were a part of His family and it seemed that after our return from India there was a renewed energy and momentum towards Baba’s work in Australia. The Beacon Hill house was the hub and Bill led a small team of dedicated workers including us kids. I remember helping to distribute thousands of pamphlets, walking from letterbox to letterbox, in the suburbs of Sydney, on the weekend, helping in the work bees to package up books to be mailed out. Between 1963 and 1968, eleven thousand copies of The Everything and the Nothing were distributed. I loved the sense of comradeship, of working together for Baba.
“It was in the mid-sixties that Baba gave the Beacon Hill house the name Meher House. Francis commented later that in giving it His Name, Baba had confirmed Meher House as one of His places. Also at this time, it was decided, with Baba’s blessing, to finally finish the walls in Baba’s room, there was only one feature wall of finished stone, the other walls were rough stone and cement. One wall was subsequently covered with beautiful timber paneling and the other two walls were cement rendered and then painted. Initially Bill was reluctant to make these changes but Baba reassured him saying ‘do whatever you see fit, nothing will ever destroy My Presence there’. In 1967 when Baba called Bill to stay with Him at Meherazad in order to discuss the next phase of the work in Australia: the development of Avatar’s Abode as a Place of world pilgrimage, He gave a special photo of Himself for Meher House, kissing it and saying, ‘How beautiful He is!’
“Growing up, Francis’ poetry and writing, including his songs and my parents love for it, helped shape my sense of who Baba was and it was through Francis’ songs that I began my music education and eventually, with my sister, got to sing for beloved Baba through the medium of a tape recording. Our mother was our first teacher as she had a very good ear and singing voice and played the piano. She sent Francis tunes from folk and classical tradition which he put Baba’s words to and then sent them back for us to learn.
“The following letter excerpt from the early sixties shows how his thinking changed as he spent more time with Baba. ‘When I return I am not going to give long, serious talks, I’m going to sit and listen to whoever can sing and play for beloved Baba, for my own pleasure and… because that will be the only way (people singing, etc.) that beloved Baba’s real message will ever get spread among all the people’. Francis was as he put it ‘tickled pink’ that we loved singing his songs.
“Although my mother taught these songs to the whole family it was my sister and I who showed the most interest. We taught ourselves the guitar and started singing together. Francis was thrilled to hear this and suggested that we sing his songs as a part of the program at Baba meetings and special occasions. Then in 1967 when Baba called Bill to Meherazad for two weeks Francis suggested that he bring a tape recording of us singing his songs in case Baba might be happy to hear us. On February 25th, 1967 my sister and I received the following cable from Baba. ‘I heard your songs today and was touched by your wonderful voices and I want you both to perfect this art of singing to carry My message of love to the people. Love Meher Baba’. Baba sent a further message with Bill about how seriously we should take His wish for us to become one of His musician-singers and how we should ‘forget the world’ and ‘make this our lifework’. Baba said, “I am the only Real One and they should sing about Me to awaken the hearts of all who hear them to the knowledge that I am the only One. They have touched My heart deeply. When I came (into Mandali Hall) this morning I was infinitely sad; now I am filled with happiness after hearing their singing. Be sure to give them the kisses I gave you for them’.
“What’s interesting for me personally in Baba saying this is that I am not a particularly talented or competent musician but Baba has said for me to pursue this and make it my ‘life-work’, I feel that this has been a lesson for me. I believe that He’s not interested in virtuosity or perfection so much, as me being willing and trying my best, to do what He asks of me. When I wrote to Baba saying ‘I would try with all my heart to do as You wish Baba’, He sent a cable saying ‘your letter made Me very happy’.”
“How old were you then?”
“I was fourteen years old when I received this message from Baba. So, as a first step I took music as a subject in my last years of school. I also started learning the piano and in November, 1968 another tape recording of songs and piano pieces was sent to Baba. In a letter to me dated November 1968 Francis writes, ‘Beloved Baba was happy to hear your piano-playing and singing, for He could see that you have taken seriously His wish that you become one of His musician-singers…Beloved Baba enjoyed your sweet singing – especially of the song which says that He is God-Man, Alleluia! …Beloved Baba sends you His love. Be sure, Jenny dear, that you acknowledge this in a letter to me. Don’t ‘thank’ Him just say how happy you were that He liked your playing and singing, and that He sent His love’.
“Bill’s visit to Meherazad in 1967 was a turning point for Baba’s work in Australia and in our sheltered lives. While with Him at Meherazad, Baba told Bill that He would turn the key regarding people in Australia awakening to His love and message, and so it was. During the late 1960s we sometimes had up to eighty people for the programs held in the Big Room at Meher House! Our quiet sheltered existence with Baba became a busy, exciting, challenging time as more and more people in Australia came to know and love Him.
“Then in December 1968 Francis wrote to my sister and me regarding the darshan Baba was planning for April – May, 1969. ‘Now dear singing drop-bubbles of His, there is no indication yet that beloved Baba will wish to be entertained next summer in Poona, but you must be ready with some songs in case He does. Remember! every word must be clear’.
“In January 1969 Baba dropped His body. In April 1969 we did get to sing for Him in the Hall at Guruprasad and also at the Samadhi. I remember two or three of us singing O Glorious Eternal Ancient One (the Australian Arti) in the Samadhi, perhaps the very first time it was ever sung There.”
“What did you feel when you heard that Baba had dropped His physical body?”
“Although our world changed when Baba dropped His body on 31st January, 1969, on another deeper level it didn’t change. Physically He wasn’t available any more, no more receiving of letters, cables and messages to look forward to. Instead we had to go inward to find Him and we had to keep trying to live the life which He wanted of us; trying to obey the orders He had given, trying to remember Him and love Him more and more.
“During the 1970s like many others we started travelling to India every year to go to Baba’s Samadhi and spend time with His mandali. This more frequent contact with Baba’s close mandali was life-changing. They became not just adored aunties and uncles but mentors and guides in helping me to understand better how to love Baba and how to live a life that would please Him. His beloved Mehera particularly was a delight and an inspiration. Like Baba had done, She took an interest in our lives; our marriages, our children, our interests and our concerns.
“In my own life, taking music as a subject at school lead to being offered a scholarship to train as a music teacher. At twenty-one, I left a sheltered life and protected home environment for my first posting at a country school. While I was there I wrote a letter to Eruch and the other mandali expressing among other news, something of my feelings of homesickness and loneliness being so far from home and all that was familiar. Eruch’s wise reply was a turning point. ‘We can very well imagine how homesick you must feel… all by yourself two hundred and fifty miles away from home. Well, such is the way of the mind. When it is at ‘home’ it craves to ‘wander’ and when it has the opportunity to ‘wander’ it longs to be back ‘home’. Make the best of the situation in trying to think of beloved Baba’s companionship when you are left alone and feel homesick – long to feel Him by your side…’ So in trying to feel Baba by my side and bring His companionship more into my life I started writing my own songs.
“In India, in the 1970s I met many of His musician-singers who were like me finding His companionship in writing songs of love to beloved Baba. During these years I found myself struggling with what Baba wanted of me. Feeling inadequate to the task, lacking in talent and enough love for Him to be able to forget myself and not worry about what others might think of me. Despite these feelings, I felt compelled to keep trying to do what He has asked of me. In this following excerpt Francis expresses something of his own feelings of inadequacy. ‘How fortunate we are, you with your singing and I with my song-writing, that beloved Baba is happy to hear us and to encourage us to do better and better. For myself I feel that I have not yet begun to write songs that are really worthy of Him, the Lord of song, the One whose singing supports the Universe and our small lives. It is unbelievable that He, that One, is pleased with our efforts to please Him’.
“Now of course Baba and all His close ones are no longer with us physically and much has changed outwardly in our ‘Baba world’ but inwardly the journey remains the same, to try to love Him by remembering Him and obeying Him and the work continues for me personally of trying to sing for Him and trying to live for Him, as ‘the Only Real One’.”
All quotes from Meher Baba, Mani S. Irani and Eruch Jessawala copyright AMBPPCT. All Francis Brabazon quotes copyright Avatar’s Abode Trust and BLP Archives.
Be blessed always.
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha
I would like to believe that every word that has poured forth, has come through the unbound grace, love, mercy and compassion of Avatar Meher Baba. I would also like to thank my sister Jennifer Bharucha, Jimmy Khan, Mehernath B. Kalchuri, Roshani Shenazz and Jennifer Keating, who have been instruments chosen by Baba, with whose help these interviews have been made possible. I would also like to thank Jimmy Khan and Cyrus Khambata for their invaluable editorial inputs. Be blessed always. Jai Baba.
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha