Experiences of Shridhar Kelkar with Meher Baba
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha
“The first time I saw Meher Baba was in 1962 during the days of the East West Gathering. I did not know anything about Him or who He was.”
“How old were you then?”
“I was about twenty-four years old. A friend told me that some Baba was giving darshan in Poona and she mentioned that His name was Meher Baba. I had never heard of Him before. In reality just to please her I agreed to go to this Baba,” he chuckled. “I went to Guruprasad where the darshan was organized and I just went to impress this girl. I was not interested in having darshan of any holy Man. Just to please her I reached the venue and was irritated to see a long line waiting to have Baba’s darshan.
“A lot of people had gathered as that day was the day for public darshan. So, though everybody had come over for the East West Gathering, on that day Baba had decided to give darshan to one and all. I was hesitant of whether I wanted to stand in that long queue of people but I remember being literally pushed to stand in the line. It took me ten to fifteen minutes to reach Baba. He was seated and I stood in front of Him and I did a namaste and moved on. That’s all I remember about this meeting.
“When this girl met me, she asked whether I met Baba and had His darshan. I told her yes I had Meher Baba’s darshan and she seemed very happy about this, so I had achieved my motive of impressing her,” he again softly laughed. “That was my first glimpse. We were both working in the same office and the fact that I had met Meher Baba, kind of cemented our friendship and three to four years later we got married.”
“She was obviously a Baba lover?”
“Oh yes. She was a staunch Baba lover. Completely and totally devoted to Him. As a child she grew up in Baba’s lap. When she was born in 1933, Baba was abroad. The moment He came back to Nashik, He immediately came to their house and picked her up when she was just few days old. My wife grew up with Baba. She would always say that, ‘yes, Baba is God, but I always take Him as my Father’. Her name is Perviz Talati and she belonged to the Zoroastrian faith. I am a Hindu, Brahmin. Ours was an interfaith marriage. Baba was beyond religion. He was not bound to the dictates of what the world or society thought about Him.
“The fact that I could marry her was obviously because Baba had approved of me as her husband. My wife’s family never took any decision without Baba’s blessings and approval. So, our marriage took place with His blessings. I had to take Baba’s permission. My wife’s mother told me, ‘Baba is the head of our family’ but Baba was in seclusion. I wrote a letter to Him, detailing who I was, my religion and all that I did and Baba replied to go ahead with the marriage and that ‘He is happy’. Arnavaz Dadachanji was the mentor for all Bombay people. She later on told us that she was present when my letter was read out to Baba and she said that Baba’s gesture signified that He was very happy. His fingers indicated ‘excellent’. It seems He was very happy. I remember her telling me, ‘do not for a moment think that Baba does not know you’,” he began to laugh.
“He knows everything. My wife’s love for Meher Baba came from seeing the love which her mother, Dina, had for Meher Baba. My mother-in-law had become a widow after fifteen years of her marriage and she had brought up the children the hard way. Baba helped them no doubt but she had to work and earn money to run the family. One day, her son, wanted to go abroad and she was very reluctant to send him there. She was fearful that her son would go abroad and misbehave or go astray but Baba told her ‘let him go’. He was a young budding photographer and on 25th January 1956 he had a massive heart attack and died on the spot. My wife’s family had not got this news about his demise. Baba had come to Bombay around New Year and had gone back. Nobody knew that He had come back to Bombay around 24th January 1956. Baba’s brother Adi Jr. conveyed the news to Adi K. Irani, Baba’s secretary, in Ahmednagar and he in turn conveyed the news to Baba in Bombay. Baba sent for my mother-in-law and wife to come and meet Him in Ashiana, where Baba stayed when in Bombay. Baba sent Eruch first to convey the news to the family and asked them to come to meet Him. The only condition that Baba kept in front of the family was that nobody would cry when they met Him. Baba told Eruch all this and then Eruch went to meet the family who till then had no idea that the boy had passed away.
“Eruch reached the family and asked of Dina, my mother-in-law, if there was any news from abroad about her son. She said, ‘no, I haven’t received any letter for a long time and I am worried about this boy and what he is doing there and hope he hasn’t gone astray. Baba has given him some instructions while leaving and I hope he follows Baba’s instructions’. Eruch told her that, ‘do not worry he will never go against Baba’s orders’. She again said, ‘no Eruch, you don’t know how these young ones are today and they easily fall prey to temptation’. Eruch once again repeated, ‘no, now he will not break Baba’s orders’. When my mother-in-law heard Eruch say this with certainty, I think she realised something more was going on than that which met the eye. It was then that Eruch informed the family that the boy was no more and that he had died the previous day. He also told them that Baba wanted to meet them but on one condition that there should be no crying and tears.
“When they met Baba, Baba asked Dina, ‘if you want to cry now, you can cry’. Dina told Baba, ‘no Baba once You have said not to cry, my tears have dried. I will not be able to cry’. Till the end she never cried for her son.
“Anyway, Dina Talati (Karani), as a young girl along with her mother Rupamai Karani, would go to Sakori, where Upasni Maharaj had His ashram and she met Meher Baba there. This was after Babajaan had kissed Meher Baba on His forehead, for seven years when Baba would frequent Upasni Maharaj. This family too frequently went to Sakori. Those days Baba was only known as Merwan. Not as Meher Baba. Seven years later Upasni Maharaj told everybody congregated that, ‘whatever I have I have given to Merwan to carry forth His mission’. Thus, this family too began to follow Merwan, who was later called as Meher Baba. Dina’s family had a very close relationship with Meher Baba. I always say that Baba has got me into His fold rather than me coming to Him. He has pulled me towards Him. I have no role to play in my meeting Him or following Him later on.
“The second time I met Him was in 1968. It was at Dara and Amrit’s wedding as well as Mehera’s birthday celebration, in Meherazad. Among the Bombay invitees we too were called. The reason why it took so many years to again see Meher Baba was because He was in seclusion for several years. Even in 1967 – 68, He was rarely meeting anybody. He would meet a very few people. My wife’s family could have forced themselves on to Him but they always respected Baba’s wishes and orders. But in 1968 we were invited to meet Him and thus I had a chance to go and embrace Him on the stage along with my wife. That was my second meeting with Him but I never had a one to one meeting with Him. I had got married in 1966 and even then for two years after that I did not take much interest in Him but I don’t know how or why, I slowly began to be drawn towards Him. I began to visit the Bombay Centre and in a short while I had made a lot of contacts with Baba lovers and I knew more about Him and had begun to love Him and had started believing in Him. The more I heard about Him, the more I got drawn towards Him. By 1968 I was His staunch follower.”
“In 1968 did you have the same conviction as you have now that Meher Baba is the Avatar of the age?”
“Yes. The conviction came about very gradually. See, in 1962 after having His darshan, now I realise that the transformation came about very gradually. It came about so gradually that even I was unaware of it. My wife’s mother would narrate a lot of experiences with Baba and then I began to frequent the Bombay Center and met many senior Baba lovers there who had met Baba personally and I began to listen to their experiences and thus gradually I was convinced that, ‘yes, He is what He calls Himself, The Avatar of the age’.”
“Were you present during the time when Baba dropped His body and took Samadhi?”
“Oh yes, we were there for all the seven days. I was in Bombay when we got the news at around three forty or four in the afternoon on 31st January 1969. We took a night bus and came here to Meherabad. In those days we did not have taxis coming to Meherabad. Whatever conveyance was available, everybody took that conveyance. We did not have telephones to contact each other.”
“True.” I agree.
“Somehow the news reached everybody. Those who had telephones began to connect with each other and each one then went out of their way to inform those who did not have telephones at home. Thus, the next day itself, from Bombay, a lot of us were present in Meherabad. Baba’s body was kept in the crypt in the Tomb which was built several years before under His direction. First it was decided that the internment will take place in the morning on 1st February, 1969. Then a lot of requests came in from everybody that they would like to have Baba’s last darshan, so they kept on postponing the inevitable by a day, every day. Eventually a decision was taken that on 7th February 1969, which was Baba’s birthday as per the Zoroastrian calendar the crypt would be closed. When that announcement was made a lot more devotees came down to Meherabad to have their last darshan of their beloved Avatar. You must understand that those days there were no facilities available in Meherabad. There was absolutely nothing available here. Slowly a tea stall was organized and some people from Andhra arranged for a generator. Some people started serving food.”
“All this began organically?”
“Yes. It began on its own. You see, it was not easy being in Meherabad as not even a cup of tea was available. Those seven days people started living here in make shift arrangements. Some would sleep in the Mandali Hall, some would sleep on the hill, then some people arranged to put up a small pandal or tent on the hill. Gradually over seven days things developed and more and more people started coming. People would sleep wherever they found some place, they would eat whatever they would find. That is how people stayed here. Of course, many people came to Meherabad, had Baba’s darshan and went back. In comparison there were only very few people staying for all the seven days.”
“But you were here for the entire seven days?”
“Yes. We were young at that time thus we could rough it out,” he laughed softly. “But I would like to tell you, it was an unique experience. Baba was no more in the body but nobody felt that He had left us.”
“When you looked at Baba during those seven days, what emotions passed through you?”
“I remember that I was experiencing a sense of loss, but there was no grief on anybody’s face. We did not feel that He had left us. His presence was very strong. Also Baba had prepared every one since the past three years about His failing health. We all knew that His health was failing and He was in pain and discomfort. His health was not good and bulletins were regularly posted about Baba’s ill health. Even newspapers covered news about His failing health. He was in seclusion for a long time for many years before He took Samadhi and people rarely got a chance to have His darshan. So I think though nobody would dwell or admit to themselves or others, we all knew that this day of Him dropping His body was a reality. I think we should have understood it very clearly when Baba had indicated that during the great meeting to be held in 1969, He had said that, if He could not give His darshan sitting down, He would give His darshan lying down. That was a subtle hint to everyone. I think people were being slowly prepared. Baba had always indicated, ‘this is My body but this is not Me’ and that He was going to be in Meherabad permanently and He would be accessible anytime, any day in a short while. Also, that there would be no restrictions on darshans. He had prepared us but nobody wanted to accept the reality of Baba not being in His physical body.
“I remember Mehera telling everybody that as this year, 7th February 1969, was Baba’s Zoroastrian birthday and ‘Baba likes to dress up, you should all dress up’. Nobody had good sarees, so my wife and somebody else went to Ahmednagar and bought twenty odd sarees for the Bombay ladies to dress up for Baba’s birthday. Thus, even Mehera made it clear that though Baba was no more with us physically, ‘He is going to be with us forever’. Mehera was unique. There was nobody like Her. As you know, Mehera was kept by Baba in strict seclusion. Thus, even when She was brought out of seclusion till the end we would never directly look at Her. We met Her in Meherazad when we went there and talk to Her but that feeling of reverence was always present. Mehera was very kind and very loving. She was truly an unique person.
“Back to Baba taking Samadhi, you must also understand that many truly felt that Baba would wake up any moment and come back to His body. His face looked so very fresh. Every day we would have His darshan but we never felt that His body had decomposed or changed in any manner. Yes, it was covered with ice too. Being January, the winter was very much around and in those days the winters were really cold. In the earlier days we slept in tents on the ground and it was horrible; it was so cold.
“I remember coming here to Meherabad after Baba left His body to attend the Amartithi and oh God, it was freezing. In fact the first Amartithi we came as volunteers from Bombay, five or six of us. We slept around Baba’s Table House in the open. Oh, it was freezing there but it was an experience. The dedication was there. We felt we are doing something right. Thus, the cold and the inconvenience of having nothing around us did not bother us. Padri would feed us bhakri with lasoon chutney. That’s it. No lentils, no vegetables.
“I firmly believe that it is Baba who drew me to Him rather than me coming to Him. It’s His grace. Thereafter, we started coming to Meherabad whenever time permitted and years passed by. Eruch always told me…‘Jal Dastur came to stay here in Meherabad since1980, when are you coming?’ I would tell Eruch, ‘I can come right now if you tell me’. He would said ‘no, you have children, so work till your normal retirement age but thereafter you come here, don’t go anywhere else and don’t do anything else but serve in Baba’s Name’. That is exactly what happened. I retired on 31st March, 1996. The same evening I was here in Meherabad and since then I have started working here and am here till now. I am the Chairman of the Trust since the last six years. The first Chairman of the Trust, Kutumba Shastry was appointed by Baba, thereafter Baba’s sister Mani became the Chairman and after her death Bhau Kalchuri (Bhauji) was selected as the Chairman of the Trust. Both Mani and Bhauji were mandali members. After Bhauji the board of trustees decided that there should be a democratic process to select new Trustees and the Chairman of the Trust. The only thing which has not changed is that we all firmly believe that Baba is God. It is this conviction only which helps us to do our work, nothing else.”
“Do you feel Baba with you?”
“Yes, always. His guidance has always been there. Not just after coming here, even before that in my service life also He always guided me. I was working in Life Insurance, in the administrative field. When I retired, I was in charge of the Nashik division. My family was living in Bombay. I would go one weekend to Bombay and one weekend I would go to Meherabad, this was the understanding I had with my wife.”
“Tell me something about your family?”
“My wife died about ten years back. She had become very week and finally she developed septicemia. That is what the doctor told us. She was 75 years old. Her loss was there but we have so many things to do here in Meherabad, that one keeps occupied. Two years later I lost my son. He died in a car crash. He was around forty years old and unmarried. My daughter has now settled in Bombay. She was in Hong Kong earlier.
“My son was named Meherman. Most often the children born to Baba lovers are named after Him or His mandali. There were so many named Meherwan. My wife wanted a little different name for our son. So Eruch jokingly suggested that ‘W’ should be turned upside down. That is what we did but my son always said, ‘You have given me such a unique name that I am always obliged to tell people how it originated and in turn talk about Meher Baba. My daughter’s name is Manije.
“You must also keep in mind that my meetings with Meher Baba were very limited but His presence has always been with me. Whenever there has been some difficulty through my life and like a normal human being I would worry about those difficulties through the night but the next morning, a solution has always emerged. Baba has always provided me with a solution no matter how difficult the situation. I always tell Baba ‘I am a stupid fool and I always wonder why I worry like this. You have always told us, Don’t worry, be happy, leave everything to Me’,” saying this he laughed aloud. “I cannot claim that Baba has told me anything in private or personally. Whatever He has spoken in general I believe that my philosophy is based on this one statement which He had made, ‘Do not do anything that you would be ashamed to do in My presence’. This is my life motto, the very essence of my life. Live the life where Baba is not displeased with whatever we are doing, speaking or thinking.”
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