LAST WEEK’S CHAT/MEETING SUMMARY
On Sunday, 25th Sept. 2016, Shridhar Kelkar (who presently serves as Chairman of AMB Trust), gave us a wonderful account of his journey to Meher Baba through friendship with his office colleague Perviz Talati, then an invitation from Arnavaz Dadachanji to accompany Perviz to the East West gathering, his first darshan with Beloved Baba in 1962, their marriage in 1966, his second meeting with Beloved Baba at Meherazad in 1968, and his deeper and deeper connection with service in Meherabad after Baba dropped His body.
He also answered some questions about long-term challenges for the Trust, told some stories of Baba’s life which inspire and guide us as to how to behave with others when we are serving Him, and gave some beautiful descriptions of the Talati family’s contact with Upasni Maharaj and young Merwan at Sakori in the early 1920s.
Shridhar spoke most engagingly as he told us of his childhood in a small village of Guhagar in Ratnagiri district, on the Maharashtran coast. As a child, he was not at all interested in spirituality. They lived near a famous temple for Ganapati situated scenically on a lovely hill by the sea – a rock formation in the shape of Ganesh had inspired the building of the temple. His father was the chairman of the Board of Trustees at the temple; they visited it often. He took part respectfully in the daily Hindu family rituals – all the small idols of deities around the home were washed, then adorned with sandalwood paste and flowers – but his heart was not in it, and he would try to avoid it at times.
His father would always invite any holy person passing through their village to visit their home for kirtan and discourses; sometimes the guest would stay a few days.
He lost his father when he was five. After leaving home at age 12 to attend high school, Shridhar finished 11th standard and then went to Mumbai seeking employment. There at his first office job as a clerk, he developed a friendship with his colleague Perviz Talati (whose parents had been in contact with both Upasni Maharaj and Meher Baba since the 1920s.)
He used to make fun of her for rushing off on Saturday afternoons in the summer to catch the train to Poona. He did not know anything about Meher Baba – and would say, “This crowded train, all the pushing at the station, same thing on the return…who is this ‘Baba’ you are doing all this for?’” (‘Baba’ was, at that time, often a derogatory term for a bogus person taking other people’s money.)
His fate was sealed during a long weekend in 1962 when he went to see a cousin in Poona. When Perviz told him she would be in Poona also, he queried, “Why? Doesn’t this Baba only come in summer?”
Perviz told him about the a special event called ‘the East-West Gathering’ several groups were invited to Guruprasad for a 3-day program. Shridhar had “happened” to come to Poona on the day of Meher Baba’s public darshan. When he visited Perviz at her cousin’s, Arnavaz Dadachanji entered the room, he was introduced, and he was suddenly swept along with them to Guruprasad.
He thought, “Oh, what is this? I’ve landed myself in some hot water!’”
Even at the gathering, seeing Baba on the dais in front, the seated crowds of ladies and gents, the long queue winding forward on the side, he felt reluctant.
“Whether I should go to have His darshan, or just scoot away? But, she will ask me…and what will I say?”
A person dressed in white saw the hesitant look on his face, grabbed his arm and urged him to join the queue. Shridhar passed by Meher Baba with folded hands, he looked into His eyes and saw His face just for a few seconds – but, “Something good happened in my heart. I thought…okay…to this day, I cannot describe what happened.”
[Years later, Eruch invited him to meet the men Mandali for the first time – outside a Poona cinema, after they had attended a movie. When Shridhar saw Pendu, he exclaimed, “This was the gentleman who pushed me into the queue! Thank you! It is because of you I had Baba’s darshan!”]
His friendship with Perviz grew stronger, and one day, on the spur of the moment, he said to her, “Why don’t we get married?”
Her reply was, “I don’t mind.”
As Shridhar related, “Of course, there is a background to this: whenever Arnavaz was in Poona, they would talk about Perveen getting married. The ladies would say, ‘Arnavaz, why don’t you find somebody? Find a friend.’
“Arnavaz must have told Baba, ‘She is going out with one person.’ He might have had some pre-knowledge. Anyhow, this happened! Whatever happens, happens for the best. This was a wonderful thing to happen! Probably it was Baba who wanted me to come to Him; on my own I might not have come. It was He who drew me to Him. This is how my journey started, I would say.”
Arnavaz suggested he meet Perviz’ mother Dina Talati. He went with some apprehension about meeting her approval – because of his slender means and their different backgrounds – Perviz was Zoroastrian, he was Hindu; she was from the city, he from the village and so on.
But Dina told him, “I am not the one to give consent, to say yes or no. Meher Baba is the head of our family. You have to ask Him.”
Shridhar asked, “Where will I meet Him, should I go to Ahmednagar?”
Dina answered, “No, He is in seclusion. You’ll have to write a letter.”
Shridhar wrote a long letter to Meher Baba, explaining his background, his prospects, his wish to marry Perviz, and their idea of staying with her mother Dina so she would not be alone, and sent it to Adi K. Irani in Ahmednagar.
Four days later, he received the same letter, with Eruch’s reply from Baba in the margin: Baba is happy…He gives His blessings to you both…He wants you to take care of Dina.
A deeply memorable moment in his inner and outer journey with Baba occurred when the couple visited Bindra House in Poona in 1965. He vividly described the loving warmth he felt from Gaimai and other members of the Jessawala family. Perviz was like a family member to them, as she had stayed with Gaimai as a child, and Perviz’ father Naval Talati was very close to Eruch. The front door opened into the kitchen, where the kettle on the Centurion stove was always on; Gaimai, Meherwan and Manu greeted him so lovingly. Eruch, when he came home for the night after the day with Baba in Guruprasad, talked to him ‘as a very close person’. They were invited to have dinner with Eruch and the family for several nights in a row.
When Eruch asked if they wanted to have Baba’s darshan, they remembered Dina’s warning to them: they will ask you, but say you don’t want to break Baba’s orders, He is in seclusion.
Eruch took the message to Baba that they did not want to break His orders by requesting darshan. Baba did not call them, but sent a very profound message: “Tell them they have no idea what they have gained by not asking for My darshan. And later, they will have My darshan.”
Shridhar reflected on the ways in which he felt he gained by not asking for His physical darshan at that time, obeying His orders. And he recounted the wonderful moment when Beloved Baba kept His promise. They did have His darshan, at Meherazad in 1968, on the occasion of Dara-Amrit’s wedding.
At Mehera’s request, they were wearing their own wedding clothing and jewelry, which Arnavaz had brought to Baba before their marriage two years earlier, and which He had touched. He had even played with the rings!
At this meeting in 1968, they were shy with Baba because of His frail health, but Eruch urged them both to kiss Him on the cheek and to embrace Him.
Shridhar and Perviz Talati had married in 1966 in a simple registry marriage before Baba’s picture. He humorously narrated the way in which Beloved Baba compassionately amplified the frugal feast he could provide for their reception guests.
They lived very, very happily together, they had Baba’s darshan together in 1968, he got his promotion, they had two children; Eruch urged them to come to Meherabad after his retirement, and they did so the very day he retired in 1996. Dear Perviz joined Beloved Baba in 2009.
In another detailed section of the very generous talk by Shridhar, there was an evocative depiction of the wonderful comaraderie of the young Bombay Baba-lovers of the late 60s and 70s, eager to go to Meherabad at every chance. He described the joyful and frequent train trips with Jal and Dolly Dastoor, Rhoda and Jimmy Mistry, Dr. Ginde’s wife Mrs. Ginde, Najoo Kotwalla and others in the compartment, later the Mistry brothers Framroze, Sarosh and Merwan; Nargis’ brother and others – sharing Baba stories, jokes, teasing, tiffins from home and snacks from each station!
The place of Shridhar & Perviz’ early stays in Ahmednagar was decided “in Baba’s presence.” As there were no accommodations yet at Meherabad, the group – except Mrs. Ginde who stayed at Viloo Villa – would stay at the Parsi Dharamshala next to the Zoroastrian fire temple. (ed. Near Khushru Quarters – the place that Adi K’s own parents, Kaikhushru and Gulmai, lived for many years, before shifting to Sarosh Manzil and Khushru Quarters).
Though Parsis only are allowed to stay there – Baba Himself sent a message to the dastoor (priest) at the fire temple to permit Shridhar, a Hindu, to stay in the Dharamshala in the temple/agyari Compound. In His compassion, Baba did not want Perviz and Shridhar to be separated from the group. The dastoor agreed; some there even began to call him “Sheriar!”
Shridhar and others of this group served as volunteers for the first Amartithi in 1970, and ever after. He has missed only one since then. They would stay at lower Meherabad, the first year sleeping around Baba’s Table (House). On the first Amarithi, Padri woke them in the middle of the night to unload 350 mattresses that had arrived by truck – for the pandal which was set up in the place where MPC now stands.
On other days, they would wake up to early morning tea made by Padri, and a frugal breakfast of hot bhakri and chutney. Later Donkin’s Cabin was made available, a bhai from the village came to cook rice and dal; then the Interview Cabin, the small rooms near Mandali Hall, and then the New Dharamshala was built. Finally the MPC was built in 1980. From 1985 onwards, Shridhar and Perviz would stay with Jal and Dolly in their house down the hill from Samadhi.
There were more very interesting comments from Shridhar about the evolution, growth and changes in the Amartithi celebration since those early days.
Shridhar had delightful Skype exchanges with Charlie M in Arizona, and Betty L in Portland Oregon, who gave him news of Portland Baba group’s activities. (Where are our friends from Europe, Israel, Argentina, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Iran, Russia, China?)
One person from USA sent a question through text chat, asking what he felt was the biggest long-term challenge to the Trust.
He answered, “Today I feel that the biggest challenge is people to work here, volunteers. In the 70s people dedicated their lives, started working, they are still working – but gradually we are feeling a need for more people to come forward, from anywhere..and from India. But we always tell people: whoever can come, two months, three months, do some work here…if people are not able to come for life, due to responsibilities, come even for three months, four months, they can do a lot of work!
“Archives has a lot of material to be scanned – Hyderabad youngsters came for three days, all did their own work, 12 hours a day. Dedicated people who can come for few day, work like that…we’ll be very happy. Especially people from India, they know the local languages, they can supervise, speak.
“These days, money will come, Baba will never make a problem where money is concerned, Baba will definitely come, but manpower is also needed.”
Shridhar narrated a story from Baba’s life involving Buasaheb, Padri and Naval Talati – which he considers ‘the best management story!’ It reminds us that it is the way we deal with people that is most important in our service here – and that this is Meher Baba’s place, not ours. Another instructive incident he related was of Baba asking Adi K. Irani to bow down to a man – because Adi had become so annoyed with the man, and asked him to leave, for repeatedly asking Baba annoying questions!
In a fascinating closing, Shridhar brought us full circle and back several generations to the early, quiet, fire and lantern-lit days in peaceful Sakori – where Sadguru Upasni Maharaj first captured the hearts of so many. When he “gave the key” to his “mad” disciple Merwan – who had also entranced their hearts – they became Meher Baba’s earliest followers.
Shridhar had heard first-hand from Dina of her own experience at Sakori. Upasni Maharaj had urged Dina’s mother Rupamai, who was visiting him often when her actor-husband was away on tour, to bring her children to him.
“Dina and her sister, as teenagers, felt apprehensive to go to him – she had heard that Maharaj was tall and dark, with no clothes, just a gunny sack across lap. Due to their mother’s pressure, they were “dragged” there to meet him.
“They traveled by train from Bombay to Kopergaon, then in a bullock cart to Sakori. It was a very tiring journey up the dusty road, and they arrived at five in the evening.
“As soon as they reached there, Durgamai took them to see Maharaj. Dina said that the moment she saw him, the love and luster in his eyes, the love and kindness in his face was so absorbing, that she never felt that he was naked. He was ‘like her own person, like a father.’ And that’s how they went and bowed down to him.
“He told the girls, ‘You must be very tired after a long journey; there is hot water, have a good bath, eat dinner, and go to sleep. Then from tomorrow, you are free to do whatever you like. Don’t listen to your mother.’ That is how he made them feel so free.
“Dina was very fond of music – she had been learning Indian classical music as a young girl. Her first recollection of Merwan was this: one day at Sakori, she woke up early in the morning, at 4:30 or 5 AM. She heard a very melodious voice, singing a bhajan – the beautiful voice would sing one line, and children would sing after Him.
The voice was so melodious that Dina came out of dark to find where that person was sitting. She saw a man with long hair, with children on His knees, and He was teaching them a bhajan.
Shridhar added that Baba, Merwan, had a very good voice – “everybody who heard Baba singing or talking said He had a wonderful voice – pity He kept silence!”
Dina would say, “The first sound I heard from Merwan is still ringing in my ears.”
Shridhar told us he has more great stories of Sakori, and also of Baba’s time in Nasik, which he can share the next time he joins us! We convey our loving gratitude to Shridhar Kelkar for his generous sharing, and always to Beloved Baba for these opportunities to be in His sahavas.
And with that sweet song of Merwan singing in our hearts, we closed our Chat.