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The Perfect Master
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C. B. Purdom's 1937 book
The Perfect Master - Shri Meher Baba
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Account of the English girls' visit to Baba in India in April, 1933
[The notes are from the diary of two unnamed members of the party.]
We left on the Britannia, April 27th.
[A fuller diary by another of the girls reads as follows:]
Needless to say, those of us who had parents or close relations found them to be displeased at our plans, they could not approve of what we were doing, but that did not keep any of us back. What a feeling it must be to be free to decide one's own life and plans ! It wastes so much energy, doing things in the face of much opposition.
The journey was interesting, pleasant, and uneventful. We broke the journey at Port Said and Aden, and some went to a dance. Baba had sent us definite orders not to sun-bathe when on the Red Sea, and about taking plenty of iced lemonade, etc. Until leaving London we had been allowed to eat fish. After leaving London, no fish allowed. Not one detail did he leave us to settle. He thought out everything beforehand. We kept our plans very much to ourselves -and it was not till the last night that they leaked out. This I think was the cause of so much trouble with the Press later. We got up one show on the boat for the band as we had danced most evenings in the second-class saloon.
At Bombay we were met by many of Baba's disciples. Most of us went direct to the hotel, while two or three stayed behind to see after the luggage. We had on the spot to decide about luggage, as all heavy stuff was to go through Cook's direct to Colombo and there we were to pick it up on our way to Japan. The boys were rather horrified at all our luggage, but it was for six months, and though wardrobe trunks are very large, and not practicable for travelling, we had all been advised to buy them; a trunk for furs we left to be sent direct to America.
Baba was about twenty-five miles outside Bombay at Kandevely, with a group of twelve Indian women disciples. I think the boys were staying elsewhere.
At 2 p.m. the car arrived at the hotel to take us all to him. Imagine our excitement ! We all put on our summer clothes and our best - the only occasion on which we ever wore our best clothes: nearly all we had was unsuitable as it turned out.
It was a pleasant drive, especially around Bombay - seeing the gardens and looking down from above over Bombay harbour. The rest of the journey was a little dull and uninteresting, on the flat all the time. At last we arrived. We were shown into a large salon upstairs leading on to a large balcony, two rooms leading out from left to right. We made for the right and found the girls with many saris lying around on beds and on the floor, and Dolly lying rather ill on the bed, but no Baba. In the other room Baba was awaiting us. I got there first, slipping as usual on the floor - and falling, for Baba to save me in time.
The women were delighted and charming, and made us all feel at home and happy. First we took off our European clothes and dressed in gorgeous saris, each choosing what she felt suited her best. We all sat together in the centre of the room. After an hour we had to change again into our own things as downstairs there had already been assembled, for two hours or more, a large group of people coming to pay their respects to Baba - people of all ages, men, women, children, each with a garland of flowers to lay at his feet.
At the appointed hour Baba came downstairs with us all, excepting Mehera and the sick lady. He sat on a sofa dressed in his white robes - and the rest of us about the room, some on chairs, some on the floor. It was a wonderful scene: men, women, and children. To some Baba gave advice and help, to others just his blessing. Most, I believe, came for help rather than just out of love. I suppose about a hundred came. When the last had gone, Baba retired upstairs and we set about planning the little performance we had thought out for him.
Towards eight o'clock we felt Baba was getting tired. The boys motored us back to Bombay, and we were glad to get to bed. The next afternoon we spent a short time with Baba. We had that morning got our Chinese visas and brought them to Baba to see. I don't remember very clearly about this afternoon. Many group photographs were taken on the balcony. Norina tried to comfort the Indian women, who were already feeling sad at Baba's leaving them the following day. Some of us seemed very tired and slept. There were many private interviews and much business discussed, and we talked freely with the Indian women, trying to get to know them better. Baba was leaving Sunday morning early for Bhandardara.
Chanji and one or two of the other boys remained to see us off early on Monday at 6 a.m. for Igatpuri Station, where we had to change. Here we arrived at about ten and found two cars and a wagon for our luggage. The first part of the drive was slow. Within ten minutes of starting we were held up nearly twenty minutes or more at a railway crossing. There we remained with cows all around in the broiling sun. Some of us got out and walked about. You can imagine how we disliked any pause on the way. One car was comfortable and had a good driver, not so the other. The boys travelled with the luggage behind. The drive became more and more interesting as we got up higher - 5,000 feet up. About two-thirds of the way we ran short of water - one car went ahead and we had some difficulty in obtaining water. The engine got very hot with so much climbing. We started off again and later overtook the other car which was waiting for water. You need wonderful drivers in these parts - the roads curve and curve and are very narrow. On either side we saw wonderful trees and flowers. At one point the door of the car flew open, and I should have been in the roadway in a heap had not Margaret caught hold of me in the nick of time.
At last we arrived in Bhandardara about 4 p.m. - a most lovely spot. First we crossed one of the biggest viaducts in the world. We lost our way and had to ask the direction as we drew near. After crossing the viaduct we passed Lake Arthur on the right and came to two gates. We then found ourselves in a wonderful garden, gay with bright-coloured flowers, trees, etc., and a low-built bungalow. At the back were mountains. It was a dream - and we felt so happy, miles away from everyone. It was a perfect two or three days - Norina, Elizabeth, and Vivienne had one room, Margaret, Mabel, Delia, and Minta another, Audrey, Christina, and I the other - but these two adjoined. The boys slept in another part of the bungalow or on the balcony. They all had their beds with them. Christina had a bad finger, but it did not really heal until the return journey, although Dr. Ghani treated it.
The weather was perfect and each of the three days we were there we went for bathes and walks up the mountains. Elizabeth and I could not walk as far as the others. The nights with stars and moon were wonderful, such a peaceful atmosphere. Coming back from a long walk one evening we saw a magnificent sight - lightning, clouds, sun setting, moon rising. We stopped to watch for some minutes. Baba seemed displeased that we were not all with him to see it.
Another day we walked along the viaduct among beautiful flowers and exotic plants. Audrey took many photos of Baba. We picked fruit - a red fruit - as I remember Baba smiling at our red lips and fingers. We also picked white flowers, but the keepers were not pleased to see us doing it. Once Baba held a long meeting in his room - over an hour - and Ramju waited and kept watch outside the door.
In many ways these three days were the best, so free from cares and worries. There was one little disturbance. Audrey and Christina had met two quite nice young men on the boat and naturally they wanted to correspond with them. Both had come out from English firms to jobs in Bombay. But Baba had to stop this for his own reasons. It was necessary that our visit should be kept to its original plan - to visit a spiritual teacher and contact his Eastern disciples, and visit certain places for spiritual reasons. It was hard for the young ones to understand, but they obeyed Baba's orders in this matter.
Well, our three days were up and we had to depart. Three days is the longest period for which the Government lets these bungalows.
From Igatpuri we travelled direct to Agra, spending one night in the train. Wonderful trains: our compartment like a sitting-room, with plenty of room in the centre for luggage, food, etc. We had one break en route, as I remember changing and Delia feeling very sick sitting on her luggage on the platform. Baba had all his meals in the compartment. We took our dinner in the restaurant and tea in the compartment.
On the way to Agra we stopped at Nasik Station. Here was a large gathering of people to see Baba. A few entered his carriage and laid garlands of flowers at his feet. Some kissed his feet and some wept. As the train passed out they all cheered in their native tongue - Jai ! Jai ! (Hail !)
A curious man travelling on the same train constantly kept on watching us and noting our actions. I was awakened in the night by the noise of a blind moving. Baba in his turban was up in a twinkling and the man disappeared. This same man followed us to a hotel at Agra, and watched us continually.
We arrived at Agra - such a clear and beautiful spot, and three cars drove us to an English hotel, or what seemed to us like one. The servants were all Indian - very quiet. You could not hear a sound when they walked. The food was excellent here. The hotel was large - consisting of one storey only but of several bungalows. We were all in different parts. Audrey and I shared one next to Baba and Kaka. Out of our bedrooms were ante-rooms including tubs, etc., for baths - all spotlessly clean.
It was very hot here and Baba would not let us go out at mid-day. That same evening at ten we set out in cars for the Taj Mahal. Again this same inquisitive man followed us closely all the time, which made some of us laugh, when we should have been struck dumb at the beauty confronting us.
The long pathway leading up to the Taj is beautiful with its wide extent of garden on either side of the path and stream. We waited patiently for the moon to rise and were afraid it would not. But it rose after 10 p.m. and the glories of the white marble revealed themselves slowly, a bit at a time.
We went again next day without Baba. He was very tired, as he had not slept all night and Kaka had sat up with him.
Baba called me to him this second day and said that it might be necessary for us to return home after our tour. Would we go, and obey all his instructions ? He said the boys would remain with him. He continued that he had money put aside for such an emergency and would later tell us what his instructions would be. I never saw him quite so unhappy as when he said this. After lunch some of us, Delia, Margaret, Norina, and I, were told the same story, and all, of course, said they would obey his will, whatever it was. Minta was not told till we got to Srinagar, and the others at Murree.
On the second day we left our hotel at 3 p.m. and made again for the station for Rawalpindi - en route for Meerut and Kashmir. I do not recall anything very special about this journey. Baba asked for a map and seemed disappointed that we could not supply one. He thought we should have one of Europe. He wanted to plan another European trip on his returning West again. It was hot, but for the time of the year very cool - remarkably so, Baba said. There was a slight storm, rain and thunder which helped to cool the air.
We had ample provisions. The boys were wonderful. In the centre of the room we had an ice-box, kept always replenished, and on top soda-water, mangoes, tangerines, butter, cheese, water melon. Of these we partook frequently. Baba insisted on our having ice-packs. These he put on our heads himself. What we noticed most was the enormous amount of dust. Our clothes got filthy. One day's wear was enough. In fact, two changes would have been acceptable.
Still, to have Baba the whole day, visiting only at short intervals the boys who were in another compartment, and the rest of the party who came for most of the time into our compartment, was real joy. There seemed not a care in the world beyond that of thinking how best to look after Baba's needs and wishes and moods. Often as is usual he would leave us, apparently leaving only his body with us. He usually retired early on these trips and arose early at dawn - long before any of us were awake.
At last, about 3 p.m. the following day, we arrived at Rawalpindi and were met by Vishnu, Adi, and Pendu. After seeing that all our small baggage had got safely out of the train, and leaving this in charge of the boys, we followed Baba out of the station. Every where we seemed to cause attraction. To see a group of young English girls with a group of young Indian boys is no common sight. Baba always took the initiative, supervising each detail himself. On most occasions, to hide his identity, he wore a pair of coloured glasses, and a hat drawn well over his ears. Between stations he let his hair loose and in stations wore his beret. At stations we were a curiosity. We in weird head-dresses and light coloured frocks, and Baba among us. All peeped in to look and we enjoyed the fun immensely.
At Rawalpindi there lived, so Baba told us, a wonderful saint who was one of his chief agents in India and gave orders to thousands on lower planes. It is a very important junction, for here all must change for Kashmir province. Outside the station were three private cars, very carefully chosen by the boys as regards the drivers. The drive up to Srinagar is one of the most dangerous in all India. Baba arranged the different cars - Norina and Elizabeth drove with him. I was in the second with Audrey and Christina and two others. The boys were with the luggage, the rest in the third car. Off we started, and what a drive ! Mountains all around. Just after starting we pulled up to take in petrol. I remember a number of toll-gates and money being paid out. I don’t know why, but I was always afraid for some reason or other that we should be stopped and sent back.
We stopped after an hour or so and had tea en route. We were interested in the little bazaars, but what we did not care for were the everlasting streams of beggars who surrounded us whenever we were at a standstill. And what a pitiable sight - the blind - the halt - the maimed - the sick; children, young and old - scantily clothed in the usual rug. Such poverty. Nothing like it in the West, I should think. But Baba did not allow us to give, if I remember. We bought biscuits and lemonade often. The journey was mostly up-hill. We were mounting every inch of the way to Murree, among woods, valleys, and lakes. On either side were the everlasting rice-fields - a beautiful green when ripening, otherwise just marshy plots of ground. Another interesting sight was the carts drawn by oxen - another peculiarity of India.
At last we sighted Murree. We stopped outside the camp quarters. Crowds around the hotel, a great stir. The hotel is just opening for the season under new management.
Well, to continue. Think of the sight ! Three cars arriving and one wagon with about thirty to forty suitcases, beds, etc. All the unemployed men just fought for the job of earning about one-tenth of a penny. On this they live per day, on rice and dahl. They were unshaven and dressed in a coarse rug, and here were we in our coolest dresses, looking gay, happy, prosperous, and full of laughter, and clean, and they dirty and miserable. Baba dismounted first to go and inspect what accommodation the boys had selected. The hotel was in two parts - a chalet and a main building.
Baba, the boys, T., Margaret, and Mabel slept in the chalet - having lovely balconies and what we would call a suite, bedroom, sitting-room, and a tubroom for ablutions. The rest were on a level with the street. It was still cold - we were glad to have a wood fire. I remember one night the seven of us slept around this fire to keep warm.
Well, we got settled in; Baba again looking to each detail in each room, and settling where each was to sleep. The food was not bad and the place was clean. It was rather expensive. I remember trying to get something off the bill. We asked for ices and they charged us about 1s. 6d. a head.
Murree itself is beautiful, but once up into the camp quarters it is hideous with Government buildings and bungalows - no idea of respecting the landscape. It is just a military camp, a military hospital, a training camp, too. The feeling between English and Indians is anything but friendly in this part, and the army scorn the people of the land. You feel it every second you are there. They really seem a down-trodden race. We went for some lovely walks the three days we were there. Baba was not really happy. He was working terribly hard. It was for a spiritual purpose that we were there.
Vivienne Giesen, I remember, could never keep warm and was not well here at all -so tired all the time, poor girl.
We had tea on our balcony. From Baba's balcony we saw some of the most beautiful sunsets and watched them for an hour or more. To look, he said, straight at the setting sun was very beneficial to the eyes.
We visited the bazaars and took some walks with Baba. We were never allowed to go out alone, only in couples, or more.
There was much to discuss here, especially with Elizabeth and Norina. Baba told them both he was probably sending them back to New York, and cabling to and fro began. There were also walks in the evenings, but I cannot at the moment remember what was discussed.
After two days we prepared to continue our trip. Baba ordered T. and the boys to go ahead at 5 a.m. with the luggage; we were to follow in the same cars at 8 a.m. I remember being called at 4.30 by Adi to show him the luggage going in advance. (I was in a bad mood !)
We got off at eight and started on the most beautiful trip in the world. As it was almost a twelve-hour run by car, Baba broke the journey three times and we took it in turns to be in his car. His car went fastest and always led the way. We stopped at eleven for tea in a wayside inn, or Government building, and were glad to stretch our legs. The tolls extracted from travellers in Kashmir are notorious. Every few miles cars are held up, papers signed, and money paid. To go into Kashmir State cost our party £25. Baba knew these people well. They liked him. After the refreshing tea and a wash and brush-up, we continued our journey for an hour or so - with the lovely scenery of mountains, Jehlum valley, and rice-fields on all sides.
At noon we decided to stop and picnic alongside the Jehlum valley. We got out of our cars and walked through a couple of fields to the water's edge and shade of a couple of trees. Our drivers carried rugs, cushions, and food to the spot. An old man belonging to the valley brought Baba two jars of drinking spring water. This pleased Baba. He gave him some fruit, always a sign with Baba that he is happy and pleased. We spent about an hour and a half here, and then made our way to the main road and off again for our destination. The road became more dangerous, less straight, and curved in and out. From time to time we would meet bands of Government workers repairing the roadway. In this part are continual landslides owing to heavy rains - but in spite of this we drove at a great speed, Baba's car always leading, ours second. Higher and higher we got, till within twenty miles of Srinagar, and there we got on to the flat and for miles drove through long avenues of trees. Just before we reached there I remember a little incident. Audrey was sitting next to the driver and was eating oranges, as we all did, and naturally offered the driver a piece and spoke a few words. I was not aware that Baba had seen the incident, but shortly after we were all stopped, Baba called Audrey and took her off a little distance with Adi and lectured her, telling her she must not talk to these men. Poor Audrey ! I don’t think she quite understood, and was very silent for the rest of the journey. She had to sit at the back and I in front.
At last Srinagar, and we sighted the boys, Tod, and our huge car-load of baggage. The boys had been awaiting us a couple of hours or more. Imagine the excitement we all caused and the crowds that stood around as we parked in the open square. Baba held a long chat (on the alphabet board) with the boys. They had already been to look at the house-boats and were now reporting to Baba. The alternative was a hotel. After much debating and the cries of many boat-owners, all advertising their own boats, we got started. Srinagar is not a big town. It has its main river and little back waters. It was one of these that we now went to look at. We stopped half-way down the street, got out of the cars, and Baba and the boys inspected the boats. After twenty minutes Baba returned and ordered us to prepare to cross over. We climbed down the bank one by one into a kind of ferry-boat and on to the house-boat. These boats are unique. They each accommodate about five, and we being a party of fifteen took three boats and the cook's boat for service. The boats consist of a terrace on top and beneath two sitting-rooms and three bedrooms each with their own offices. The owners of ours, father and son, were used to English visitors and their ways, and I am inclined to think were cleaner than most. Ours were very well furnished. We had tea all together in the bungalow, Baba's boat. Other meals, we were divided. Baba, Kaka, Margaret, Minta, and I were in one boat; Mabel, Audrey, Delia, Tod in another; Christina, Vivienne, Elizabeth, and Norina in the third, and the boys in a fourth. As usual Baba arranged everything and we lacked nothing in comfort and food.
Baba took all his meals with the boys and would often come and sit at our table while we ate, if he was finished first. The one thing that marred this week in one of the most beautiful spots in the world was the weather. It was wet and cold. When the sun did shine, what a transformation ! Only one day could we sit on the terrace and bathe in the sunshine. We shivered at night, not having brought any warm clothes. Our winter clothing lay in our big trunks at Colombo. Norina and Elizabeth were wiser and had both air beds and blankets with them. Vivienne was never warm the whole week and looked like a ghost. When the sellers of Kashmir wool pestered us in our boats, we all fell and ordered dresses, coatees, or suits, just because we had nothing warm with us.
The other slightly disturbing factor was the future uncertainty of our plans. These were definitely settled four days before leaving - Minta took it very well. Christina could not understand quite. Audrey, thrilled with the spirit of adventure, saw excitement in it all. The rest of us were sad, but knew Baba's will had to be obeyed. Some say Baba knew all along that we would not visit China with him, and that it was a test to us all.
For the most part Baba planned each day. There were the lovely gardens to see. It was a little early for the flowers, but even so they were beautiful and interesting in the Oriental way. We who had been brought up with Kew, Hampton Court, and the many beautiful private gardens in England, did not view them with the same amount of ecstasy as the Indians. As we sat on one of the terraces, Mohammedans in front of us knelt in prayer. Baba bade us watch silently.
Baba gave us the choice of still moving about in three cars or taking one open bus. We chose the latter, as this enabled us to be together and to sit with Baba. Baba seems to be always very susceptible to draught round his head. Maybe it interferes with his working in some way - but I remember so often wrapping his head round with woollen scarves, coats, etc., and pulling up the tarpaulin on the bus.
Perhaps the outstanding experience during the week was our visit one afternoon to Harvan and the reservoir, and trout streams. The indescribable peace that hung about Harvan ! You felt like speaking only in whispers. Why this indescribable calmness, serenity ? Why had Baba taken us to this spot - the culminating point of our journey ? It was within a few yards of this spot that Baba had fasted and spent four months two years previously. Baba was averse to getting out of the car, as he did not want to be recognized. He remained until we were departing, and then some little boys who remembered him from the previous visit ran after our car, but we went too fast for them. We saw the actual spot where Baba remained, but it being wet and damp Baba would not let us climb the hillside, as some of us would like to have done.
Baba had told us previously that at Kashmir he was going to explain many spiritual things to us, but this never happened. The only explanation we had was about the beginnings of creation. Another wonderful afternoon was spent at another lake - some two or three hours away. It was a rough drive and we were inclined to get our wheels stuck in the mud, and before reaching our destination Baba bade us all get out and walk. This was a real picnic. We heated water that Pendu fetched from the hotel nearby, and made our tea and ate the cake and sandwiches we had brought with us. Baba ran about with us all, up and down the lawns, full of fun and energy. We returned home by a different route.
Evenings were spent in Baba's room altogether, sometimes talking, music, etc. - other times explanations. We went to bed always early, and Baba liked us all to be up early - soon after seven we were called. The other outstanding excursion was the morning we went into the town by little boats, visiting en route the backs of factories, etc., on the river. A misunderstanding arose. We were in three or four different boats. Baba had meant us to go direct to the Bank, P.O., etc. Instead, we wandered around for one hour at least and missed each other. We were all cold. To add to Baba's troubles that day, we had left Tod in bed on the boat. Baba returned to the boat telling Tod he had had a miserable morning - everything had gone wrong. But out of the misunderstanding Baba can turn all for good. He arouses our feelings and emotions and so increases our love and energy.
Baba gave us the alternative of remaining on at Srinagar two extra days, or going down to visit a certain place where a number of his followers were gathered together. We did not want to part from Baba a moment before it was necessary, so the vote was to remain where we were to the last minute. The last days were spent in Baba giving each one of us a talk about future plans. Norina and Elizabeth to return to New York. Tod to remain on the Continent, going to St. Margherita to await further orders. We to return to Marseilles and there await a cable at Cook's from Baba, saying whether we return to London or await him there and go with him to New York.
At last came the final day. We departed early in the morning to arrive at Rawalpindi to catch the 9 p.m. two-day express to Bombay. The drive back was as beautiful, we all thought, as the upward journey - but our plans were frustrated by an enormous landslide caused by the heavy rains. We did think of returning by the Jammu Pass, but thought the rains there would have been more severe. As it turned out that pass was perfect, and there was no landslide.
Baba bade us all get out of our cars - and those with the luggage met us at this spot. We were delayed four to five hours. It was almost miraculous to watch the speed of the workers - to see how quickly they rebuilt the bank. We ate meanwhile our lunch - took walks up and down - it was sunny and hot. At last the repaired road was pronounced safe, but before Baba would allow any of us to cross, he first went alone in the car.
We continued. It grew dark and cool. We got as far as Murree; here the luggage wagon was forbidden by martial law to go further, as it was after dark. Baba decided that the boys and luggage must remain on the road, and the boys sleep as best they could. (They never slept a wink - were cold, hungry, and uncomfortable.) But Baba never worries over their comforts. Rather the reverse. He likes them to face hardships. We continued, having got with us our necessities for the night.
The last part of the journey seemed long. I was in Baba's car. He was working or sleeping most of the time. From time to time we passed those quaint oxen-driven carts - now on their way - lit up by quaint lanterns. It was after ten when we got to Rawalpindi. Here we slept for the night, very comfortably - oh, how tired we were ! In the morning we had baths, tea, and assembled altogether to a good breakfast in the restaurant. The train left at two. Baba would not allow us to leave the platform. We had two excellent compartments for the two-day trip, and travelled very comfortably. We had no change. Poor Delia was ill, but recovered after a few hours. We kept cheerful till the last hour approached. Adi senior and Vishnu joined the train at Bandra station before Bombay and handed me ticket money - and the first mail any of us had seen. Baba did not leave us here, but came straight to Bombay, then left us at the docks without a glance of recognition and walked away with his yellow glasses and beret on.
On arriving at the docks there were the usual formalities to attend to. Baba had bidden us take no further notice of him once we disembarked from the train. We had health certificates to be signed, etc. The boys saw to our luggage and came on board to our cabins. We had first-class cabins. The tourist part was full, for Vishnu had only applied two days earlier for our cabins, so we were put in a wing of the first class.
On the voyage we met several very charming people. We preferred to keep our plans to ourselves, but this was not to be. Before leaving Bombay we saw a Daily Mirror of April with a full- page account of our visit to the East - to follow a Hindu Master, etc., etc., describing each of us separately and our addresses in London. Think of our dismay ! But worse was to follow. Second day out came cables from London newspapers, with prepaid replies to know why we were returning, were we being deported, or were we disillusioned, or was money short ? At Marseilles, more fuss. A dozen reporters came on the boat and I being appointed spokesman - Norina and Tod having already gone ashore - they all came to my cabin. I found them polite; afterwards the articles in the French papers were more truthful and far better than those of the English newspapers. The latter were out for sensational news and another Rasputin story. In spite of all precautions, some of us got photographed, and one pressman was clever enough to board the taxi that two of the group had taken and accompanied them to a hairdresser in Marseilles.