By Malladi Rama Rao
On Meherabad hill, every day offers a surprise. The other day, for instance, a family celebrating the birthday of their grandchild, distributed cookies after the evening prayers along with regular prasad. Every one received a cookie packed neatly in a sachet. And in the sachet is a neatly printed Message.
While I missed picking up my sachet being an early bird for the darshan, my friend Ramachandra Gaikwad, a long time resident of Lower Meherabad, proudly displayed his ‘possession’. It read: ‘Baba might reward you with something to meet your expectations or he might give you nothing and that nothing would be everything’.
The cookies were uniform in size; their taste was also the same but not the message they delivered. Every single sachet surprised you with a different message. Who said uniformity is order of the day in Meherabad; who said there is a dull moment with Meher Baba?
Gokaran Srivastav too offers a surprise. He manages the Hill Library along with his wife, Urmila. The Gokarans moved to the Tomb Shrine Township, which is Meherabad, after they retired as Professors of Science from a leading University in Central India. Though a familiar face to me, I met Gokaran formally only this September. The initiative for the meeting was entirely mine.
My impression of Gokaran Srivastav, whom I will henceforth refer to as the Professor, has been that he is a person who is eternally insecure. A timid and withdrawing type, – introvert is not an expression that does full justice to his persona – he is quite humourless. And that he manages the Hill Library, which is his turf, as a personal fiefdom, that he is institutionalising a new order by commemorating important days in Baba’s life, that the ‘event management’ is in the college seminar mode, where speakers are selected on their ability to reciprocate your gesture……
My impressions of his wife, Urmila, were no different, though I found her more relaxed when meeting even strangers. Unlike the Professor, she is quick-witted, and can brighten up any atmosphere. She is given to quick bouts of angry outbursts though. And the seminars the husband and wife team conduct are occasions for a dialogue between the two with an occasional friendly intruder of their choice.
Vaniram’s exposure to the Professors during her first stint on the Hill as a Meher Self-less Volunteer strengthened my perceptions. I felt that there was no need to change my views until I met him to interview him for South Asian Tribune.
The interview brought me face –to-face with a new Professor, who is eager to share his love for Him and who is going the extra mile to spot and nurture talent that will eventually fill the vacancies on the Baba Speakers circuit as the old guard, who had learnt the abcd of life and love at His Feet, are returning to live in Him permanently.
The task is not easy these days when written word has few takers. Reading habit is low in India and the literacy levels are still lower. In most Baba centres there is hardly anyone who is willing to face the mike. The Centres’ libraries are stashed with books, with Lord Meher occupying the pride of place. Not many borrow these books. Yes, most Baba lovers are good listeners – whether it is a bhajan session or a get together to share experiences.
Some old timers like Malhotra in Delhi, Anna Khandale in Meherabad-Akola, B Rama Krishnaiah in Hyderabad, and Ramana Murthy in Srikakulam have introduced the practice of readings from God Speaks and Discourses. Being the products of Remington Age, they don’t do any power point presentation; they don’t confine to mere reading of the passages but educate the listeners with various aspects of Baba’s Life and Message by going beyond the printed word. No surprise, Malhotra, Anna Khandale, Rama Krishnaiah and Ramana Murthy are always on demand with ‘sahvas’ becoming a regular feature at the centres.
Says the Professor: “This is a big gap … people, who can speak, people who are willing to speak. We are trying to address the problem in our own way”.
When he says ‘We’, he means he, and his wife.
I was not impressed. Listening to others’ speak, and write on what they speak has been my brick and mortar business. Well, frankly, my bread and butter business for four-long decades. So, the Professor’s lament on shortage of talent to fill the emerging vacuum surprised me. Till it struck me that the Professor was on Baba’s Love World unlike me whose ears and eyes are focused on the hurly-burly world of politics and the world of economics.
Seeing me turn attentive, the Professor came into his elements.
“Every day new people are coming to Samadhi. How they are coming? May be they have heard about Baba from relatives, friends or acquaintances. May be they think visiting Samadhi would please their relatives who are steeped in Baba’s love. But what happens when they come here. They get a cultural shock of sorts. This is not a place of worship they are familiar with. The silence here stuns them. Most of them are not given to bowing before a Samadhi. That becomes another cultural shock. Will the experience enriches them? Well, that depends on their samsakaras and Baba’s wish. Being casual, unprepared visitors, many of them may carry home an experience that can be said to be not pleasant, negative, bad….
“We, the old timers, who have had the good fortune of His Darshan, should do something. This urge resulted in the shaping of our library. And it led to setting up our Photo exhibition.
“The next logical step is helping every one discover the Avataric legacy. The discovery exercise is not creating a cult. Baba Himself spoke against such things. He Himself said that He is here to awaken us. We have to be wide awake to receive His Nazar. Mark my word. We are saying discovering Avataric legacy. You discover something which is already present and you had missed earlier for one reason or the other. As a scientist I know what I am talking…
“There are so many events in Baba’s Life. Not a single day has been left untouched by Him. We are picking some events to relive those wonderful moments, to educate ourselves on the significance of those events…… Our first effort to relive, to remember, to savour the beauty of the Three Incredible Weeks, was a modest success. Just 20 persons turned up. Were we disheartened? No. Our next offering was 1955 Sahvas. It attracted a bigger turnout. Some 50 lovers from the ‘original sahvas’ joined us in the November of 2005. The arrangements were on the Amartithi scale. What does this tell? We are on the right track with His Blessings. An evolutionary process in discovering Avataric legacy? Well, yes, it is.
“We are yet to come to grips with our main problem –people who can take the mike and speak, tell their experience, their perceptions, their stories of love, understanding…. In a seminar circuit, a speaker is expected to send in advance the theme of his speech, slides for power point presentation and so on, and yes, text of the speech….
“We are nowhere near that stage. We have to coax people, run after them to come forward and speak.
“For the October (2011) programme on Discovering the Avataric Legacy, we suggested some fifteen topics. These are Ten States of God, Theme of Creation, Ten Circles Chart and Baba’s Mandali, Manzil-e-Meem, Lives of Baba’s Parents, Avatars of the Past and the Avataric Cycle, Baba’s Mast Work, Baba’s Travels in India, Baba’s Worldwide Travels, Baba’s Literature, Baba’s Interest in Music, Baba and Poetry, History of Baba Plays, History of Baba Films, and States of Consciousness.
“Having given a long list, we said ‘it is up to you. Pick up any Baba topic of your choice”. How can we fix the topics? The speaker should have the freedom to pick and chose his favourite topic from Baba’s life and message.
“We are not calling them speakers and speeches. These are sessions of sharing experiences and understandings. These are sessions of education to the new comers… Not systematising, not institutionalising. Not creating creeds, not conventions, not setting new traditions.
“From the library what we are doing is present an audio-visual to go with the event. We make use of the old interviews, old film clips and news paper archives. Just to build the mood and tempo. Just to introduce the lovers to the event they have been invited to attend.
“In the coming days, as Baba Himself said, Meherabad is going to be the New Jerusalem of the world. It means there will be a great influx of visitors.
“Yes. Yes. Baba Himself will take care of His new lovers. He doesn’t need you or me. But what if we all chip in and do our bit to welcome the new tide of Baba lovers, make them feel at home, and let them feel happy. This is something within our reach. We must do this.
Professor Gokaran Srivastav would have continued with a torrent of words about the One, who has dispensed with words and has been speaking through the heart. But the clock in his library stuck 7 PM. It was time for evening prayers at the Samadhi.
And it was time for me to discover a new surprise.