Experiences of with Prakash Gulabdas Panchal Meher Baba
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha
“My name is Prakash Gulabdas Panchal. I have been told that the first time I was in the physical presence of Baba was when I was at the age of three years. My papa got to know of Meher Baba in 1953. Papa was an atheist initially. He believed only in the concept of hard work. He did not believe in God, religion or destiny. For him, the only thing that defined a human being was hard work and dedication. He had a friend named Ratilal Panchal from Navsari. He was our distant relative too. He was working in the Railways, in Bombay. Every evening he would come to our factory and both, he and my papa, would go to a café and have tea and some snacks. Then, they would leave for their respective homes. This was their daily routine. One day, Ratilal told my papa that a Sage by the Name of Meher Baba had come to Bombay to give darshan, ‘so, Gulab, come with me and we will go and take His darshan’. My father refused. Baba came to Bombay and Ratilal went to meet Baba at Arnavaz’s place. Baba was adorned with a beautiful rose garland. Baba removed a rose from the garland and gave it to him and told him that, ‘you have a friend whose name is Gulab, give this rose to him’. As you know in Hindi, a rose is called gulab.
“As usual, Ratilal came to papa’s factory in the evening and told my dad, ‘take this rose, Meher Baba has given it to you. He has said to give this rose to Gulab’. For the first time, my father got into a dilemma regarding what to make out of this God-Man. He had never ever met Baba, never seen Him; still, Baba knew about him along with his name! He was confused. All this went against his simple belief that there is no God. He still took the rose and plucked one petal of the rose and ate it and then kept the rose in his pocket. That was the first contact with Baba; not a physical contact but certainly a spiritual contact.
“My papa came home and gave the rose to my mother and told her the story. My mother gave one petal to each one of our family members to eat. Everyone ate the petal with reverence. Then, mummy asked papa, ‘now, what do we do with the rest of the rose?’ Papa was clueless about such matters. My mummy knew that the rose was blessed and she did not want to disrespect it. So, she ate the entire rose, completely, along with the short stem and everything. This was her first contact with Baba. After the rose incident, there was a slight change in my papa. Ratilal would talk about Baba and then, my papa began to pay attention.
“After this incident, a few months later, a sahavas was organized in Ahmednagar. Ratilal asked my father if he was interested in attending it. Ratilal tried to influence my father by telling him that, ‘not only will we get darshan of Meher Baba but we will also be able explore Ahmednagar’. My father loved travelling since childhood, so he agreed. He told Ratilal, ‘I am not interested in Meher Baba; I am interested in roaming around’.
“The rule for attending the sahavas was that one had to fill up a form which was called Baba’s Agreement in those days. There was a tailor, at whose place these forms would arrive. I cannot remember his name though. The tailor was a follower of Baba. My father and Ratilal went to the tailor after having their tea and snacks. He said that all the forms had been distributed and now he had none to give them. Obviously, they got a little disappointed. The tailor told them that if they kept inquiring on and off, who knows, there could be a form available as it did happen that there could be a last minute cancellation of plans by somebody and they could get fortunate. They would visit the tailor every few days. One day, the tailor told them that somebody had cancelled their plan and there was a form available. They had to pay twenty-two rupees for the sahavas. They paid it and filled the form.
“The problem which arose after paying twenty-two rupees was that my papa had not much money to plan the trip for Ahmednagar. Ratilal and he managed to get fifteen rupees but they realized that there was no way by which they could plan a trip with just this much money. They pondered on what to do. My grandfather would give my father a limited amount per month. Papa had to run the house expenses and also keep aside a little for two of his pleasures in life. My papa loved to smoke cigarettes, later on in life he switched to bidis and the second was to watch English movies. He had no other pleasures. He kept pondering what was to be done to garner more money. Suddenly, he remembered that he had given money to one of his friends. He decided to ask his friend to return the money. One Sunday, after having his breakfast, he got ready to approach his friend who lived at a little distance. He stepped out of the house and to his pleasant surprise, he saw the same friend approaching him. The friend met my papa and said, ‘Gulab, this is the money which you had lent to me, I have come to return it’. My papa returned home completely shell shocked. That was the first time when he told himself, ‘this Meher Baba is really good, He managed to make my money walk up to me.’ ”
Both of us began to laugh. I turned and looked at Baba’s Samadhi. We were seated very close to Baba’s Samadhi in Meherabad.
“My father got back his twenty-five rupees, which, in those days, was a lot of money but if they had a little more money, it would make their trip so much more comfortable. My father very indirectly told Meher Baba, ‘if You want us to come for the trip comfortably, organize for a little more money’. Few days later, my mother’s grand-mother passed away. She was very old and her time had come. My great grand-father was a multi-millionaire in those days. We have a ritual where we give money to our son-in-law. Thus, in the ceremony, a packet of money was given to my father. My papa went to the bathroom and opened the packet. There was hundred rupees in the envelope, which was a very large sum in those days. He told himself, ‘this Meher Baba is very nice (bau majono chey), I have got a lot of money’.
“They travelled to Meherabad for the sahavas. It was a very big sahavas held in lower Meherabad, for about three to four days in 1954. For this sahavas, Baba had truly made excellent arrangements. My father was given a bed just next to the oldest and most prominent person from the Bombay group, Hari kaka. Proper beds for everybody, electricity, clean place, proper bathrooms and simple but delicious food. Baba had made extraordinary arrangements. In those days, no one would believe that such arrangements could take place. My papa was absolutely stunned. Even I have attended sahavas programs, so I know the kind of arrangements which Baba made for His lovers. The first day, Hari kaka sat on one bed and on the other bed six other people squatted and in a matter of time, the bed collapsed. They re-adjusted the bed, after a good laugh at themselves everyone went to sleep. Early next morning, papa woke up with a start. Hari kaka was sitting on his bed, completely awake and ready. My papa told Hari kaka, ‘I got a dream that Meher Baba has come here’. Hari kaka said, ‘doba, Baba had come here and didn’t meet anyone else nor interacted with anyone. He only came and saw you sleeping, took a round around your bed and went away’. Papa got ready and had breakfast. It was time for the programme to start and for Baba to arrive. Papa stood by the side and was enjoying his cigarette, when suddenly; Baba came from the front, walking towards my father. This was the first live meeting of Baba with my father. He saw Baba and immediately threw the cigarette away. Baba clapped His hands and gestured to say, ‘money was paid for that cigarette, now have it, mast reh (be cool) and after you finish it, then come to Me’.
“The strange thing about this first meeting between Baba and my father is that the moment my father saw Baba, he realized that, ‘He is sakshaat (incarnation of)Lord Vishnu’ and my father surrendered to Baba at that very moment. In the first meeting, Baba had not only won over my father but had possessed my father. Baba had His attention on every small little thing, always. He knew all that which transpired. From that moment, my father surrendered himself completely to Baba. When Baba came to Ashiana Building, papa took us to take darshan of Baba. I don’t remember the exact year. It should be in 1954, as I was three or four years old.”
“Do you have any memory of that meeting?”
“Strangely, I have a faint memory. During those days, to be given an imported chocolate was a rare event, like a miracle. Baba gave me Hershey’s chocolate.”
“Which must have been very rare?”
“Yes, very rare! I remember, I ran out of the door, ran down, and ate the chocolate, without offering it to anybody. That was my first contact with Baba. Then, we began to meet Baba regularly. I was still growing up and can’t remember the exact details but all I know is that, for my father, Baba was God, so, naturally for all of us, Baba became God too. I remember that we would come to Poona to meet Baba at Guruprasad or travel to Meherabad or Meherazad. Whenever Baba called for us, we would all get very happy. To meet Baba, was an adventure in itself. We sat in a train, passed through the Khandala ghat, it was an adventure and the whole family would be excited. Those days, the ticket was about two rupees and fifty paise for an adult and half the price for a child. Those were simpler times. My father kept meeting Meher Baba often but we got a chance only when Baba called for the entire family.”
“What about your mother’s faith in Baba?”
“When mummy saw Baba for the first time, she said, ‘He is Lord Shiv’. Papa would say that He is our Bhagwan and we would say yes, He is our God. He became our only family. He became the elder of our family as once we came into His fold, our entire circle changed. We suddenly had only Parsi friends. The entire Bombay Parsi Baba circle became our extended family. Sohrabji Siganporia, Keki Elavia, Sarosh Irani, Khorshed masi then Jal kaka, Dolly, Shapur Parekh. We were boycotted from our family anyway. They said that we had begun following a Muslim Guru, so they did not want to have anything to do with us. We were boycotted by all our family members because we followed Meher Baba. Thus, our family became the Baba family.
“One day, it so happened that my grand-father asked my father, ‘do you want Meher Baba or my property?’ Papa shut his eyes and Meher Baba came in front of his eyes and gestured, ‘java day property nay, My Nazar is on you’. (Let the property go, My Nazar is on you.) Baba said this often to us. Baba again told my father in his vision, ‘My Nazar is there on all of you’. Daddy told his father, ‘I want Meher Baba’. My father left the house that very moment, on the clothes which were on him. He let go of a tremendous amount of money; for the greatest wealth, Meher Baba. It was as though Baba took away everything, the factory, wadi, everything and in return kept His Nazar on us for eternity. He said, ‘give it away, don’t keep anything but My nazar’. Yes, after a while, the reality of his situation hit my father. What would we eat?” Prakash began to cry. “How would we survive? My father was dependent on my grand-father. There was a factory and he worked in that factory. Sometime before, when my mother’s father had gone to meet Meher Baba, Baba had taken a promise from my mother’s father in Poona by clapping His hands and gesturing, ‘promise Me, that you will look after Gulab’s family’. Anyway, life got difficult for all of us. It was hand to mouth. Papa would go here and there, seeking a job, trying to make money to feed all of us. He loved smoking a particular cigarette but began to smoke bidis (hand rolled, tiny cigarillos), as it was much cheaper. We couldn’t understand everything as we were small but we understood that something was terribly wrong,” he again choked up remembering those days.
“Then, one day, Kanji kaka came home at six in the morning. He loved my mother a lot. He came early morning and we were all surprised to see him. He showed us the hand cart which he had dragged from Nal Bazaar. On the cart were boxes of oil, ghee, dal, rice, everything. He got everything for us. All this is only Baba’s work,” he began to cry once again. “Mehera, Mani and Goher passed a message to us that, ‘whatever is cut, do not try to join it. Just because you all are in difficulty, do not think of going back. Baba has done some work on you all. Don’t go back ever’.”
“What about your maternal grand-father’s promise to Meher Baba?”
“Yes. He did not have any sons and my mother had two sisters. We received everything ten-fold over. We were without a house, we got a better house. Money and comfort came through. Everything settled for us.”
“Your paternal grand-father did not compromise or come back till the end?”
“We too did not go back ever. My paternal grand-father came home once. He cried a lot but my father said, ‘no, I shall never return and never take anything from you’. He had specially come to meet us. He realized that he had not done the right thing. My elder uncle, my father’s elder brother, he wasn’t…what should I say…let us say that he was a different man. Today, I feel that, to blame my uncle for having done what he did, would be wrong as if he had not instigated my grand-father and we had not gone our separate ways, then, we would have not got Meher Baba’s Nazar on us; it is because of him that we got Meher Baba. Do you understand me? This is a very big thing.” I nodded.
“Khuda or God puts everyone at crossroads at some time in life, where the decision taken becomes the turning point in one’s life which affects one’s life for eternity. This is my belief. My father’s brother, sister, everyone was against us but my mother’s family suddenly decided to stand by us and my mother’s family was at least ten times or more richer than my father’s family. My father looked like an Irani gentleman completely. I also resemble a Parsi Irani and my mumma was also very beautiful.”
“How often did you meet Meher Baba?”
“Many times, unlimited times but it was never enough. You wanted to meet Him more and more.”
“Was it usually at Guruprasad?”
“Yes. People from Bombay, Poona and Nagar were very lucky. Baba called us every week. From March to June, we could meet Baba very often. We lived in a guest house, a dharamshala, Moraji Kokudas. Mumma and papa or papa alone would go to meet Baba often. Sometimes, Baba would say, ‘get your wife’, sometimes, He said, ‘get your family’. It all depended on Baba. Around once a month, our chance would come. Baba gave a chance to everyone. I remember, as kids, we kept running to Baba to get our prasad. I remember jumping the queue or continuing to enter the prasad queue, time and again. The prasad was very delicious. Ladoos, chikkis were rare delicacies and we even got sugar balls. In those sugar balls were peanuts and then we got chocolates as prasad. Baba would say, ‘ayo pacho’, (you have come again) and He would laugh. This was done by our entire gang, not just me alone. Baba wouldn’t say anything, He would indicate, maja kar (have fun).
“I remember, in 1962, I was very mischievous and Sohrabji Siganporia and Kishinchand Gajwani had made calendars of Baba in four different poses or postures. Both of them decided that, as I was very restless and active, I should be given some work regarding the distribution of these calendars. They placed a table in Guruprasad and made me sit there. Other children, especially Rustom and Sohrab, would signal to me to come and play. We had a large gang of children, all Baba lovers who met at Guruprasad every summer. They would keep calling out to me and I couldn’t leave, as I was on calendar duty. The reality was, I would have left but the elders had their eyes on me. If I tried to sneak out, one of them would shout and say, ‘where are you going?’ So, I would make excuses like, I wanted to drink water or go to the loo and then sneak out and play,” he began to laugh.
“Once, I got fried waiting for people to come and get the calendars as my logic was that if the calendars were sold out, I would be able to get on with playing with my friends. I took the calendars in my hands, began waving them and started to shout at the top of my voice, ‘doh rupaye may char Baba lekay jao’ (in two rupees get four Baba). Everybody had a good laugh. Baba loved children a real lot but He would want the smallest child also to obey Him and most importantly, love Him the most in the world. He would really be particular about everybody obeying His every word. Yes, He was very strict. There were rules and if He had said children were not to attend a particular meeting, then, it meant that no child was allowed. There were no exceptions made.”
“When Baba took Samadhi, were you present?”
“Yes, I had come from Bombay and I had got many people along with me to pay our last darshan to Baba’s body.”
“What about your parents?”
“They had left earlier, before me. They just rushed off to Meherabad. I was doing a job at my uncle’s place. I had finished automobile engineering and my uncle had a 20th century model garage at Tardeo, in the Soonawalla Compound. So, I went to my maasa and he gave me twenty rupees to leave for Meherabad and then my granny, my elder sister, her relatives, my neighbour, a friend and myself, around ten of us left together from Mumbai for Meherabad. We took the night bus and came here. I stood in the bus, all through the way. The bus was choker packed. We stayed for a day. As soon as we arrived, we went inside and took Baba’s darshan. There was no problem at that time for darshan.”
“What was going on within you, when Baba left His body?”
“There was a little sadness but seeing the situation, we weren’t able to cry or express our sorrow. Others were crying but we were told clearly that Baba is still with us and that Baba is not the body. My parents got the opportunity to go and sit down with Baba and fan Baba’s body and do His seva. Mummy opened what was tied around Baba’s toes and touched His toe too. They were Baba lovers till the end. All of us came back to Mumbai and my parents again left for Meherabad as there was talk that they would not shut the crypt for seven days. There was a lot of discussion amongst Baba lovers as to whether they should seal the crypt or not. There was some kind of petition going around. People took my father’s opinion seriously as they knew that Baba loved my father dearly. They all knew who Gulab was to Baba. Baba would tell one and all, ‘Moro gulab chey’, means ‘he is My rose’.
“My parents, in reality, were devastated and missed Baba’s physical proximity till the end. My mummy passed over on 6th February, 2019. She always said, ‘I am going to leave the body on 31st January’. I would tell her, ‘if you go on that date, there will be a major issue as all the trustees will have to leave all their work and attend to you. They won’t be able to focus on Baba and will have to focus on you. So, she would mumble, ‘oh really, oh is it, no, then I will leave a few days later’. Eventually, she left on the 6th of February, 2019. She kept chanting Baba’s Name all the time. My father’s last wish was to leave his body in Meherabad. Daddy left his body on 10th of July, 2001, on the Maun Day (Silence Day) in Meherabad. When he passed away, someone had got thousands of roses. We had offered them to Baba on the 9th of July, 2001. Early in the morning, around two, pappa left his body. Immediately, Jal kaka and the others came. The roses which were offered to Baba and then kept aside, they got those roses to the Mandali Hall. They said that, ‘these are Baba’s gulabs (roses) and let all the people offer those thousands of gulabs to Baba’s Gulab.”
“They had settled here in Meherabad?”
“We are settled here. Since 2007, it has been mumma and me. Pappa’s wish was that his last breath be left from here. So, we came to Meherabad. I have to tell you this story. You see, my father was going to pass over exactly one year before the time when he actually left his body. Exactly one year before he left his body, he woke up and started to bang his head against his hands. I was sleeping beside him and said, ‘what happened, pappa?’ He said go to sleep. He started banging his head with such speed that I could barely see his head moving. Everyone woke up and then, as though nothing had happened, he went to sleep. Exactly one year later, he passed away. Pappa was involved with all the work at Hamirpur, Meherpuri. He was involved with the Mandir which was constructed. It was as though Baba had specially sent him to go and make the Temple. We were supposed to go there too and Bhauji was also supposed to come along but we went earlier.”
“This was in which year?”
“This was in 1999. Bhauji did the inauguration of the Temple. We had a house in Hamirpur too. Everybody would come to eat at our place. Bhauji had a lot of rules and regulations as to, how to cook and one had to do a particular thing only in one particular way etc.
“We are only lucky that we are in the fold of the Avatar of the Age, Meher Baba. I haven’t caught Baba, neither have you, neither has anyone! Baba has caught all of us. It is His Divine Plan and we fit somewhere in His Divine Plan. My wife passed over in 2008, she joined Baba. She had brain cancer but nobody could diagnose it. She would keep feeling giddy and then in mid March she fell down. Eventually, they took an MRI and they saw three dots, like poppy seeds, initially. They said these three dots could be problematic. Three dots increased to seven dots. We got her reports around the 16th of March and by the 28th of March, she passed over. Kiran, my wife, during the MRI had said, ‘see, Baba is standing there near the machine’. I told her, ‘you will get well if Baba has come’. The meaning of Him coming was different. He had come to take her. I asked her, what has Baba worn? She said that He was in a white Sadra. Just before she left the body, she could see Baba’s Samadhi Mandir, and Baba came out in a white long Sadra and called her. She told me, ‘Baba is calling me’ and then she passed over. My son is thirty years old now. He had gone away to Bombay. He told me, ‘there is nothing here’. So, he went away to Bombay. Then, after his mother passed away, I got him back here, at gunpoint. After coming here, he told me sometime later that, ‘I lost six years in Bombay, I made a big mistake’. Everybody here, each and every trustee, every person loves him a lot.
“All these incidents are very unusual and that is because we are in His fold. He knows all and He knows everything. Baba has openly told everything, He hasn’t hidden anything. No Avatar till date has revealed everything. But Baba’s work means gajab (miracle) work. This means that He has personally selected all of us. We are all Baba’s selected ones. All those who have not met Baba personally too are selected ones. Now, people like us, who have personally met Baba are very few in numbers. We shall pass over soon. Yes, it is unfortunate that a lot of people who may not have met Baba or may have just seen Him from far are making claims of how they spent time with Baba and all that. It is very sad. Now, we meet many people who say that they had Baba’s darshan; I cannot understand the reason why these people say such things.
“I remember this story that took place sometime back which shows how tender but strict Baba was with those who came in contact with Him. We had celebrated Baba’s 75th birthday in Bombay. Everyday somebody was supposed to do a programme at their house to celebrate Baba’s birthday. So, everyday a programme would take place in somebody’s house. I remember that these programmes would rarely take place in Zoroastrian homes. Anyway, everybody went to this house to attend the celebration. Mummy and papa were present. The regular person who played the tabla was not present, so somebody else had replaced him. He played the dholak. Everyone was happy and praised him for the way he played the dholak. Then, everyone said, ‘since you play so well, why don’t you sing too’. He began to sing. He started singing, ‘jag roothay chal jayay, par Tum na rootho, Tum rootho toh gajab ho jayay. (If the world gets upset it is fine but You please do not get upset as if You get upset, everything goes haywire.)” saying this Prakash began to cry. He began to sob. It was a heartbreaking sight. I looked towards the Samadhi Mandir. It is hard to see a grown man cry for His Master without any pretense.
“Sorry. This dholak person was singing this song and then after a while he began to cry loudly. Papa pacified him and asked him, as to why was he crying so intensely? Then, he showed Baba’s photo and said, ‘I was in His Prem Ashram as a child. My father had kept me there and because of my masti (stupid behaviour) I let go of Baba. This story shows how the Master works. Once the Master rejects you (dithkari nakhya) then at least Meher Baba doesn’t accept that person back at all. I have seen this happen. This man narrated his story. His father was a very rich man; he was a fruit business trader. When they would come to meet their child, his father had given him some money just in case the boy, this dholak player needed it. At Baba’s place the food was ordinary, healthy and simple. This person’s desires of eating non-vegetarian food wouldn’t leave. He pondered what to do. Baba would say, ‘My Nazar is on everybody, I am Khuda’. Anyway, one night everyone was asleep by seven-thirty in the evening, this boy got out quietly and went running to Nagar. He went to the original Emperial Hotel. In those times, bun pav, bun maska etc. was available there. He went there and ate all non-vegetarian food which he could eat, to his heart’s content. He returned and went off to sleep. He thought that if Meher Baba says that He is Khuda and that He knows everything, let us see now. He still had some money left with Him. Next day, he went back and again ate a lot and came back running and went back to sleep quietly. Till then, Baba did not say anything and no one got to know of anything either. On the third night, this boy went out again, ate and came back running. After he slept, in a short while, Baba reached the ashram and clapped His hands and woke up everybody. Everybody stood in a line. Baba asked, who broke the rules of the ashram and went to Nagar? All denied ever leaving the ashram. Baba approached our boy. His name was either Dost Muhammed or Fakir Muhammed. Baba said, ‘I know that you had gone and broken the ashram rules. I know that in your mind, you have been saying that if Baba is Khuda, how come Khuda has not got to know of anything. I know this is what you are thinking. Even now, speak the truth’. The boy still denied that he had left the ashram. Baba asked him thrice, the boy still lied. Baba then narrated everything. He said that he had bunked and eaten outside food for three nights and revealed all that the boy had eaten and where he had eaten. The boy knew that he was caught and confessed. Baba told Pendu, ‘immediately take him out from here and go and drop him to his father’s house’. The boy was immediately packed off and dropped at his father’s place, late at night. For the first few days, the boy had a lot of fun. He was with his parents, his brother and sister, eating delicious non-vegetarian food. Then, after a few days, he began to start crying. He began to miss Baba. He kept remembering Baba’s face, his friends in the ashram. He played the dholki along with Baba and He was a master in playing the dholki. He kept missing Baba and then, finally, he told his father, ‘please take me and drop me to Meher Baba’. The father said, ‘nai beta, He will not keep you now, He has removed you, you have lied’. The boy said, ‘I will ask for forgiveness, you please take me back to Baba’. The boy had begun to get restless without Baba. So, his father took him back to meet Baba. As soon as his father reached here with the boy, Baba was missing. Baba had gone away to someplace else for work. When they inquired where Baba had gone, they said that Baba had gone to Daund. They immediately rushed from here to Daund. The father took his son along with him. When they reached Daund, they got to know that Baba had left from there for Nasik. For years, not just one or two years, but years, they tried and tried to meet Baba and whenever they would reach where Baba was supposed to be, Baba would have just left for some other place. The boy was truly repentant and wanted to be with Baba but for some reason, Baba had decided otherwise. On that day, he said, ‘after so many years of repenting and aching for Baba, today, I have received Baba’s darshan here and I could sing for Baba and once again play the dholak for Baba’. He said this to everyone there. Imagine, he played the dholak and sang along with Baba. This means that Baba has His reasons. I can’t even say that Baba had left the boy as one thing is clear, all these years the boy only pined more and more for Baba. So, in a way, Baba had made the boy come closer to Him; by keeping the boy at a distance. Strange are the ways of our Baba, our beloved Avatar Meher Baba.”
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