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Avatar Meher Baba Pune Centre Celebrating 50 years!
Beloved Baba's Birth Day Celebration at Pune Centre.
Pune (or Poona as it was called during the British Era) had a unique distinction and privilege which is not yet widely known. This city had been bestowed with the fortune of welcoming God-man - Avatar of this present age, who chose to take birth on its soil.
If we study the spiritual heritage and spiritual history of Pune and its surrounding area, we can infer how this place was getting ready to receive the advent of Avatar of our time. Although this land was exposed to the onslaught of Allauddin Khilji, followed by many other aggressive attackers such as Nizam and Adil Shah, its people could withstand such invasion without losing their identity and pride. This preservation was primarily attributed to rule of Shivaji Maharaj, who, Baba had explained, was the partial manifestation of the Avatar. The other thing that helped this land and its people to sustain themselves was the spiritual values inculcated by saints like Dnyaneshwara, Tukaram, Namdeo, Eknath and many others.
Hazarat Babajan, the magnificent old lady who was buried alive somewhere in Baluchistan for proclaiming her Godhood, mysteriously re-appeared in Pune and started living there. This was clearly in anticipation of Merwan’s (Baba’s childhood name) birth there. Sheriarji, who was an ardent seeker of God, left Persia and roamed around from one place to the other, becoming a true darvesh had to settle down in Pune to earn his livelihood. This happened after he received an inner awakening that he was not destined to attain God-realization in his life-time but the son that would be born to him, would receive it, and through him, Sheriar. So, much against his temperament, on his sister’s persistence, he married a girl, Shirin, who was younger to him by about 20 years! She was barely 13 and he was 34. The couple lived in Pune in the area called Dastur Meher Road, Pune Camp and Sheriarji got into business.
The couple of Shirin and Sheriar mentioned in the foregoing para had six children. The second child was a boy, named Merwan. He was later known as Meher Baba and lakhs of people throughout the world today regard Him as Avatar of God of the present age. As a child, Meher Baba played marbles, aatya- patya, kabaddi, gilli danda, seven tiles, Kite-flying. But His most favorite game was of cricket. Apart from Cricket, during His high school days, he had also played Hockey and football. He started his primary education in Dastur Girl School, Later he moved to the Camp Government English School and then passed His matriculation from St. Vincent’s High school; a very reputed school run by catholic Christians. Thereafter, he took admission in another reputed educational institute, the famous Deccan College. His first encounter with the perfect master of time Hazarat Babajan took place in Pune camp area. Babajan beckoned him to go near her and kissed on his forehead. This removed the veil over his divinity and Merwan realized who he was. He became conscious of his divine status at that moment. He spent the next nine months thereafter in the state of divine ecstasy at Pune. In the state of this spiritual agony, he used to hit his forehead against stone repeatedly until his forehead and face got covered with blood. The stone and the room in which he used to often do this is still preserved in his family house.
Because of His loving and sober nature and his attitude of helping others, he was always surrounded by many friends from all castes and religions without any distinction. He was their natural leader and well-wisher. They all loved him and followed his advice. In the later period, most of them became his ardent lovers and followers. He also started the Cosmopolitan club in the Camp area. At this time, his heart was filled with love and mind with the divine knowledge and He felt an urge to impart this knowledge to circle of friends. He started gathering his friends at the area called New Modi Khana, in the house of Munshi Abdul Rehman and started imparting them the spiritual knowledge that had naturally occurred to him.
Jal, Meher Baba’s younger brother, once mentioned to me that after that eventful kiss by Hazarat Babajan on Merwan’s forehead, when Merwan returned home that night, his whole personality had undergone a complete transformation that cannot be explained in words. Without talking to or even looking at anyone in the house, Merwan headed straight to his room. Later, this change was noticed by Merwan’s old as well as new friends when they used to meet at Munshi Abdul Rehman’s house in New Modhikana. It is interesting to note that though Munshi Abdul Rehman was an elderly person, he held Merwan in high regard.
We believe that this gathering was the first Centre that was started by Meher Baba himself. This activity of collecting people together, imparting them the knowledge of God, singing the glory of the Perfect Masters and kindling love for God in the hearts of people present, was further continued in an area called Kasba Peth.
In those days, when Merwan was mostly in a dazed state and was not particularly ‘doing anything’, Shirin was all the time worried about the future of her favourite son Merwan because of His abnormal behavior. To keep Him engaged, she asked Merwan’s friend Beheram Irani to secure liquor license. Beheram obtained the required license and started a Toddy shop (toddy is a mild intoxicating drink obtained from the fruits of Palm tree) in partnership with Merwan who had fully not recovered from the influence of God Intoxication. Merwan started doing all the manual work in the toddy shop but simultaneously, also began gathering people in a small room in the neighborhood on regular basis singing bhajans , qawwalis and giving discourses. The gathering of people soon got attracted towards Merwan’s magnetic personality and started following his advice and carrying out his instructions. This course of activity which started in and around 1918 continued till 1921. In 1921, Merwan went on to stay at Sakori with another of his Perfect Masters, Upasani Maharaj, whom he had been frequenting, for the last time and then returned to Pune after 6 months. Here, at Pune, he selected a place on Fergusson College road and he got a small Jhopdi built. While he started living in the hut even during night time, the place was also used for spiritual gatherings of his lovers and followers. During this period, his lovers started adoring Him with the name Meher Baba. The activities gathered momentum with the circle of His fellow-disciples expanding. In May 1922, Meher Baba decided to shift to Mumbai and along with 40 chosen friends, left for Mumbai making the journey on foot. He had completed this phase of his work in Pune. The work started in Modi Khana, spread to Kasba Peth and continued further at Fergusson college road Jhopdi. I feel this phase was for choosing apostles for His future work for which He had descended on earth as Avatar of the Age.
Thus the seed of collective activity for the cause of the God was sown in Pune by Meher Baba himself. We have a strong feeling that Meher Baba made a beginning of his mission at Pune and it is interesting to see how this seed of collective activity germinated, grew and fructified in the years that followed.
In the year 1947 in the month of August, a gentlemen name Ramchandra Kanoji Gadekar came to Pune on his transfer from Sholapur. He was posted as a P.A. to the Director of Social Welfare Department in the Government of Maharashtra. Shri Gadekar was in Meher Baba’s contact since 1924 when he was a student. He was student in Pune and during long vacation he used to teach at Meherabad School. In 1928, after completing his graduation, he chose to stay in Meherabad assisting his master in the capacity of teacher in Meher Ashram School. At the end of 1928 he joined the government service. This service took him to various parts of Maharshtra (it was called Bombay Presidency then) and he stayed at places like Sangamner ,Dhule, Sholapur, Satara and Nashik before getting transferred to Pune. He had remarkable love for his Master, Meher Baba and had a deep faith in him. Out of this faith and love, it was just natural for him to talk about Baba and Baba’s greatness wherever he went and whoever he met with, without any inhibition.
We may be able to see Baba’s guiding hand in all events happening in Shri. Ramchandra Gadekar’s life. He was being made into a fine instrument in Baba’s service. Ramchandra Gadekar, as we have observed him, was a very simple man with a noble and kind heart. Baba’s love and personality has influenced him to such an extent that in his love for Baba, he used to become unconscious of his age, his social status, his post and position as a high ranking officer in the government service and would approach any Baba lover as a simple servant of his Master. During his tenure of service in Nasik and Solapur, he had run Centres for spreading Meher Baba’s name. While in Sholapur, he had made all arrangements for Baba’s visit to Solapur. That was a grand event in the history of the city of Solapur.
When he moved to Pune, he started holding gathering in his house in the area called Bhawani Peth near Pudumjee Gate. People, who were acquainted with him or who had developed some interest in Baba would assemble here on every Monday. They would sing bhajans and would listen to the talk by Gadekar on Meher Baba. Gadekar also had good voice and he had composed few touching Bhajans on Meher Baba. He also used to give regular talks at theosophical lodge in Pune at their usual gathering of intellectuals. Even during that period, he continued telling people that he met, about Meher Baba and a sizeable number of people, mostly from business communities owning footwear shops, came in his contact and through him, were drawn in Meher Baba’s orbit of love. Bapu Shaeb Shinde was one such person. He had a footwear shop in the city and was doing good business. After his contact with Gadekar, he was inspired to start weekly gatherings on Thursday evenings at his shop, Samarth leather works. L. R. Kamble was another person who was in the same business line. He also took active part in weekly programs. Mr. Balasaheb Dhawale also had a modest business. He also used to attend the weekly gathering regularly. The local Baba lovers used to refer to this trio of Shinde, Kamble and Dhawale as Brahma- Vishnu-Mahesh, due to their unflinching dedication to Baba. Through Bapusaheb Shinde and Kamble, many footwear shop-owners were drawn in Baba’s fold such as Pote, Pakhare, Gadre and many more.
Laxmikant Thade, another youth member of the group had recently migrated to Pune from Belgaum in search of a job. He got a Government job in the Social Welfare Department where he met Gadekar. LB Thade was also mesmerized by Baba’s love and has another group, mostly of his relatives and friends who had started developing interest in Meher Baba. Bundelly family, Sadashiv Rao Gaikwad, Ramchandra Rao Gaikawad, the lead singer, Madhusudan were members of this group, LB Thade became a link between the two groups and both these groups started meeting and interacting with each other, spreading Baba’s name.
During the time Meher Baba was in Pune in the early days, there were many families of all classes and communities, who loved and adored him. After Meher Baba left Pune on His Divine Mission and had substantially reduced his visits to Pune, there was a long period when no collective or group activity in Baba’s name was taking place here. Therefore, it was Ramchandra Gadekar who revived activities in Baba’s name at Pune. With his pioneering efforts, collective Baba activity in Pune was taking size and shape. This was the year 1947. As said earlier, at this time, Mr. Laxmikant Balwantrao Thade, a young boy in his 30’s, after securing B.Sc. degree, came to Pune from Belgaum in search of a job. He was the eldest amongst the siblings and had to support the large family. His younger brother, Krishnarao Thade was already studying agriculture sciences in Pune. His parents, Shri Balwantrao and Smt Laxmibai Thade were living in Belgaum bringing up other children, Narendra, Surendra were young boys and Kusum and Shobha were their sisters. It was the destiny of every member of this family to get linked with Meher Baba and later, love and serve him. Laxmikant Thade’s maternal grandparents, Mr Yellapa Bundellu and Laxmibai Bundellu, had settled in Pune. Yellapa and Laxmibai had seven children, 3 sons and 4 daughters. Among the sons, Venkant Swamy, Krishna Swamy and Narayan Swami were strongly drawn to Baba. Krishna and Narayan later became active workers of Poona Centre. Narayan also served the Trust post his retirement. Among sisters, Laxmibai Thade, LB Thade’s mother and Subhadra Bundellu who later married to Madhusudan, were ardent Baba Lovers. Here, I must give some more information about this remarkable lady called Laxmibai Thade. She was affectionately called Amma – meaning Mother - by all the young members of the group and she also shared the same love for us as she had for her own children. She had a caring nature and anyone who came in her contact, could feel and experience the unselfish love in abundance that flowed from her pure heart equally for all, without any pre-conditions or qualifications of the recipient. I have never heard her speaking ill of others or back-biting though she had a responsibility of running a large household with these extended family members with all kinds of friction and deprivation. She was large hearted and tolerant. Meher Baba who is the embodiment of love recognized her nature in His all-knowingness and always would show tenderness towards her. On some special occasions, she had the privilege of cooking special food items for Baba and mandali and Baba always relished the food prepared by her. Her sister, Subhadra had a melodious voice and on many occasions, would sing before Baba. Her marriage with Madhusudan happened with Baba playing a leading role and was sanctified in Baba’s presence. Her contribution in the formation and functioning of Poona Bhajan Mandali is notable and important. Subhadra’s melodious voice had a charming effect on the listeners. Whoever heard her singing, couldn’t suppress his or her desire to attend the gatherings where she would be singing. Mali Baba, a saintly figure of the locality, was very fond of her singing and later, she also used this talent for pleasing Meher Baba. She was the first amongst the newly formed Poona Bhajan Group to have Meher Baba’s Darshan and the occasion was the inauguration of the newly built Mandali Hall at Meherabad. This was also her first time when she sang for Baba. Her singing was obstructed for quite a long time as she was down with a serious disease and was virtually bed-ridden. In that serious condition, as she felt she was going to die, she ventured to go to Meherabad all alone for having last Darshan of Baba. Baba had then said ‘You will not die even if you are banged against a rock. You have to do much work for me’. After returning to Pune, she followed Baba’s advice for her health. Not only did she miraculously recover from her ailment, but true to Baba’s words, she also resumed her singing and truly worked for Baba for years thereafter.
Among those who had been instrumental in the formation of early group in Pune, two were from Hyderabad. The first one who came to Pune was Sadashivrao Gaikwad who was working in military engineering service. He was transferred to Pune. Following him came Mr. Ramchandra Gaikwad who had secured a job in military dairy farm. Both these Gaikwads were closely associated with each other and they both got living accommodation in same premises at 410, Rasta Peth. Sadashivrao had acquaintance with Bundellu family even before moving to Pune and so he started visiting Bundellu family in Pune. Ramchandrao was a singer and was very fond of participating in satsang programs. He along with Sadhashivrao started attending bhajan programs which were held at various places in Pune. Ramchandrarao used to sing bhajans of Kabir, Meera and Brahmanand. He had sonorous high pitch voice and any passerby would invariably stop for a while to hear him singing. He sang Hindi songs and was accompanied on dholak by one Mr. Sadhuramji More who was related to Sadashivrao. All these families of Thade, Bundelllu and Gaikwads used to visit saintly person by name Mali Baba. Mali Baba was a hefty person often found sitting on a small varandah in front of his house. It is said that he was fond of drinking liquor and would also have a spitting pot near him. He had his own following and would guide and help people in their difficulties and domestic problems. It seems he had spiritual connection with Meher Baba and had some role to play in Meher Baba’s Avataric mission. The reason for such an observation is that some of the early Baba lovers of Pune at some point of time, had come in Mali Baba’s contact. In that sense, Mali Baba had become a channel to connect many people with Meher Baba. It is also said that Mali Baba used to refer Baba lovers as “mothya gharchi mandali“, meaning people of elite families. Once, Ramchandra Gadekar fell down from a tonga and had his leg badly injured. LB Thade was staying nearby so Thade took Gadekar to his place for rest and first-aid. Co-incidentally, Mali Baba visited the place at the same time and looking at Ramchandra Gadekar’s swollen leg, made a remark, “Dukkha konache ani bhog kunala”, meaning “for someone’s sorrow, someone else suffers”. Saying this, he departed and swelling on Gadekar’s foot started subsiding. I remember one more incidence that DS Bhawsar, a staunch Baba lover and worker, had narrated to me. Once, at Guruprasad, Bhawsar was telling something to Baba and Baba was listening attentively. During the course of conversation, Malibaba’s name was mentioned by Bhawsar. Bhawsar remembered that on the reference of Malibaba’s name, Baba with a serious expression on his face, folded his hands in salutation, and touched his forehead and said in adoration, “Mali Babana majhe sashtang namskar“, meaning ‘my humble salutations to Mali Baba’. Mali Baba’s small room was central place where Subhadra Bundellu, Ramchandra Gaikwad and some others would sing devotional songs. On some occasions, even Madhusudan and Namdeorao Solapure, another member of the Pune Centre’s bhajan group, sang in a gathering before Mali Baba.
Let us reconnect with our story of Baba activity at Pune. Ramchandrarao and Sadashivrao after finishing dinner used to visit a nearby Paan shop. A young and handsome boy also used to come to this shop for having paan. This youth had a distinctive touch to his hair-style and his mannerism and style of talking was like a cinema hero. Although he was Brahmin, his Urdu speaking and pronunciation was fluent and correct. Ramchandrarao and Sadhashivrao both were from Hyderabad i.e. state of Nizam where Urdu was a colloquial language. These three enjoyed each other’s company as they shared many common interests. This young lad was no other but Madhusudhan who later was to make matchless contribution to the formation and functioning of Pune group. In his last days, Madhusudhan did mention to me that Ramchandrao had played a major role in influencing him to join Baba group in those early days of its formation. Madhusudan had a natural and inborn talent for music which he utilized in the functioning of the group.
One day Mr. Laxmikant Thade along with his brother Kisan Thade and maternal uncles, Narayan and Krishna Bundellu had gone to the Theosophical lodge in Poona camp. In a meeting on that day, Dr. Ghani was delivering talk on Meher Baba. The audience comprised retired judges, collectors, high ranking officers and intellectuals of the society. In his talk, Dr. Ghani unequivocally said that Meher Baba was the Avatar of the Age, the Incarnation of God. On listening to this talk, the young boys got inspired and started gathering more and more information on Baba and were always looking for interacting with people who could tell share more information on Meher Baba. To quench the genuine thirst of their hearts, Gadekar invited Dr. Ghani to address the weekly meetings, who in turn, brought his friends Khaksaheb and Behli Irani to interact with this group. From this time onwards, Dr. Ghani played a major role in satisfying the urge of the young boys and in carving Meher Baba’s name on their clean and impregnable minds. Dr. Ghani spared no efforts to strengthen the conviction of these young boys and girls and establish them firmly in their faith in Meher Baba. Except for the period that Dr. Ghani spent with Meher Baba in New Life, Ghani spent most of his time with this young group till he breathed his last.
From this sequence of events, we can infer that Gadekar played two major roles. On one hand, he brought two major Baba groups of Shinde, Dhawale, Kamble on one hand, and Thade, Bundellu and Gaekwad on the other hand, together. This gave a clear focus and strength to the Baba activity at Pune. He also introduced Dr. Ghani and Khak Saheb to this newly formed group that was bubbling with energy. Some of these early group members had the opportunity of seeing or meeting Meher Baba before Baba left for his New Life. On the first occasion, Dr Ghani had sought special permission from Baba for bringing some members of this group, including the Theosophical Society participants for this meeting. Baba had allowed personal interviews to these people. During this interaction, Laxmikant Thade had mentioned before Baba that he was studying for M.Sc. In response, Baba said to him ‘Do you M.Sc. or Ph.D. but remember one thing, be good to others and I am always with you’.
This first meeting with Baba brought tremendous energy and enthusiasm in those young boys and they demonstrated great hunger in gathering and absorbing every information about Baba whichever sources it came from. Dr. Ghani was largely involved in quenching this thirst. All these boys and girls and their family members would gather around Dr. Ghani to listen to his talks and stories that he recounted of Meher Baba. Most of these meetings were used to be held at L. B. Thade’s government quarters within the compound of backward boys’ hostel run by social welfare department. By this time, Mr. Thade was elevated as the Superintendent of the hostel. Some of the inmates of the hostel like Rangole, Bade, and P.K. Chavan, myself (Pratap Ahir) were also caught up in the web of Meher Baba’s Love. Meetings with Dr Ghani used to take place in the night after 9 pm and would continue till midnight and sometimes till well over mid-night till 1 or 2 AM. Dr. Ghani had been with Baba since the early days of Pune and had a lot to share. Looking at this group’s enthusiasm and sincerity, he opened out the treasure fully that he had accumulated over his time with Baba and probably had preserved for several years seeking for receivers. He not only narrated Baba stories and instances but also explained many spiritual concepts that he had learnt from Baba. To describe those moments I would say that Dr. Ghani had disclosed to us a wide array of Baba-related things and also the “inside’ stories related to life of Meher Baba and of mandali members. “I am placing a costliest diamond in your hands. Don’t lose it even at the cost of your life”, he would often warn us.
In July 1949, Baba had announced that he, along with some select members, was going on New Life and that it would be a life of no return. This announcement shocked the young boys as it meant that they wouldn’t be able to have Baba’s darshan during their lifetime. They virtually started weeping when an elderly person, Sule Kaka, provoked them to go to Adi’s office with a request for Baba’s darshan.
Adi was strict but had a malleable heart that responded to this group’s sincere request. Baba was so busy with thousands of things that asking for his time was out of question. Adi devised a compromise formula. He would be driving Baba to Mehrazad from Meherabad. At a particular place, he would slow down the car and the group members can have a glimpse of Baba who would be sitting at the window. God always listens and responds to heart’s cry and that small group of Pune Baba workers not only got Baba’s glimpse but got his Darshan as Baba asked Adi to stop the car on seeing this group standing by the roadside.
In this group, Madhusudan and Ramchandra Gaikwad had met Baba for the first time. Seeing Baba’s form Madhusudan had lost his senses for some time until Baba himself asked someone to bring him forward. This darshan had a tremendous impact on Madhusudan’s life and his mind. A wave of inspired creativity moved through him from top to toe. Thereafter, Madhusudan started composing Baba bhajans and a series of Hindi – Marathi compositions based on Baba’s messages emerged from Madhusudan’s talent. It synchronized with Ghani’s explanations. Whatever Ghani explained to us, Madhusudan’s lyrics would capture and present it in a poetic form. Ghani accompanied Baba in New life as one of the ‘yes-wallas’ and in his absence, the group kept on running as a machine attached to a coiled spring and left to move on its own. After a span of about 15 months, Ghani was sent back by Baba from Dehradun and he resumed his regular meetings with the Poona group. This time we felt an agony of separation in his behavior. He did not disclose it or never talked about it but one could feel it. Dr, Ghani was a person who could humor and make any tensed situation light but the pangs of being away from Baba was discernible.
Now little about this old man Sule Kaka. Sule Kaka had left his home in Nagpur and had come to live in Pune. For a few days, may be for few months, he stayed with Gadekar and then chose his abode at Devji Buwa Muth near Daruwala Bridge, Pune. We used to address him as Sule Kaka. He was an eccentric old man. His whimsical nature would manifest many-a-times through his words and actions. For example, if he happened to visit a Baba lover’s house at lunch time and if a family member asked him whether he would like to join for lunch, he would retort, “Am I a beggar? Have I come here for your lunch?” And if someone evaded to ask him to join for lunch, he would murmur, “How uncivilized and uncultured these people are! They have no courtesy to ask to join for lunch?” However, this man loved the Poona group very much. Occasionally, on Saturday evenings, at a gathering at Thade’s house, he would go on and on, on his favourite subject of ‘Sanskaras’. For our young minds, this would be a severely boring dose of spirituality but knowing his whimsical nature, no one would dare to utter a word that would dampen his spirit. Sule Kaka used to get a very meager amount from his family for his sustenance. He had to manage his needs with great deal of austerity. Throughout the year, he would get up early and have cold water bath. A thin, worn-out dhoti, a whitish shirt, a black cotton coat and a black cap on his head was his attire. For years, Poona lovers witnessed no change in this attire. The chappals he wore were of the cheapest type bearing tortures of the hot sun and dust. The coat he used to wear was more for the purpose of hiding the patches on his shirt. He would pass his time sipping in the single cup of tea lovingly offered to him by the woman caretaker of Devji Buwa Muth. He would take food at homes of particular Baba lovers. Members of Poona group loved this old man for his pure heart, putting up with his eccentricities.
This old man who had hand to mouth survival, used to save amount from the meagre monthly amount received from his family and would spend the savings in printing Meher Baba’s messages on a cheap quality paper. He would then go from house to house in the wee hours distributing these hand-bills, carrying Baba’s name. For the Poona bhajan group, he had composed the Arti ‘Hey Avatara, Meher Baba , Arti sweekaro’ which the group used to sing until Madhusudan composed the hindi arti ‘Divya Sanatan’. When most members of the Poona group had their first opportunity of meeting Baba on 16th October, 1950 at Mahabaleshwar, This old man had walked 2/3rd distance on foot. For that occasion, he had composed a marching song which the Poona group sang while walking through the narrow streets of Mahabaleshwar in the early hours. I still remember words of this song - ‘Utha Utha o chala sarvajan darshanala, tumha bhetanya swargatalicha paramatma aala ‘- Wake up everyone and come for darshan of God who has descended from his abode in heavens only to meet you. Sule Kaka breathed his last in the same Devji Buwa Muth. All the members of the Poona group had gathered to bid adieu to their dear Sule Kaka.
On 16th Oct 1950 in the meeting held by Meher Baba on the mount of Mahabaleshwar, most of the members of Poona group where I was also present, had the opportunity to meet God in his tangible human form about whom they had only heard and imagined. In that meeting Dr. Ghani was with us. It was a joyful sight to see Baba making Ghani butt of his humour and Dr. Ghani playfully responding to that fun.
Immediately after this meeting, the Poona Bhajan Mandali was invited to sing before Baba. The program was organized to celebrate Mehera’s birthday and it was in December 1950. We sang to our hearts’ content and Baba responded with immense love. We were very happy because we felt we could make God happy.
From this time onwards, Poona Bhajan Mandali came to be known as Meher Baba’s Poona Bhajan Mandali and the group as ‘Dr. Ghani’s Group’.
Thereafter, whenever and wherever need arose, Baba invited rather commanded this group to sing.
The bhajan singing program before Baba at Mahableshwar became a memorable event in the lives of all the members of Baba’s Poona bhajan mandala and also the first Darshan of Baba that many of them had had on 16th October, 1950. As said earlier, most of the members of Poona Group had met Meher Baba for the first time at this meeting at Mahableshwar on 16 October 1950. This was the meeting at the junction of Meher Baba’s Old Life and his New Life. The people who came to Baba at this point of time became the fortunate slaves serving Baba further in their lives. Avatar Meher Baba Poona Centre celebrates this day of 16th October as a day of solemn remembrance every year. Every one of us have special feelings for this day.
Day by Day the Baba activities in Pune were gathering more and more momentum and practically every day of the week was engaged by Baba lovers for having programs at their houses. Besides this, the group was kept informed about Baba’s activities and movements in New Life by senior members like Dr. Ghani and Gadekar. Dr. Ghani was spending more and more time with this group. He seemed to be in a hurry to give to these young boys everything that he had got. He had told us that we should never displease Baba.
Doctor’s talks used to be a joyful experience. He would help us understand and digest heavy doses of esoteric spiritual philosophy with a mixture of humor, interesting stories and insightful incidents of his life with Baba. In fact, that a group of young boys and girls is being nourished and nurtured by Dr. Ghani came to Baba’s notice soon. Also Baba had heard all the praise for this group from Ghani. So Baba’s attention was drawn to the activities of this group. Since Baba was paying attention to this group, Baba’s disciples and mandali members also began treating this group with love and tenderness.
On 20th August 1951, at the time of sunset we received the news that Dr. Ghani passed away due to heart attack. Myself and Laxmikant Thade, we rushed to his house near Poona railway station.
The man who was talking to us ceaselessly for so many years had become silent ….. Silent forever.
Khak Saheb had passed away when we were preparing to go to Mahabaleshwar for singing before Baba. Behli Irani, another old contact of the Pune group had gone and settled at Hyderabad for a permanent stay. He died there. Nobody got to know of his death in time. And now Dr. Ghani had left us. We had attended the funeral of Khakasbeh that took place at Pudamji Park burial ground at Pune. Ghani’s body was taken to Lonavla, his home town, for performing the last rites. LB Thade and I went to Lonavala to attend our dear Dr. Ghani’s funeral. On that day, there were unprecedented rains in Lonavla. From railway station to the burial ground, there was a sea of people holding umbrellas to protect themselves from rains. I still remember that sight. After the funeral we returned to Pune with heavy hearts. The hollowness that Dr. Ghani’s death created was unbearable for all of us. We took long time to reconcile with the situation.
Many Baba lovers all over India who had some connection during decades of 50 and 60 with Pune would have known a tall and hefty person with very thick glass spectacles, a white hat on his head, a white coat and a white trouser as his uniform. Baba lovers knew him because he was serving as a ticket collector at Pune railway station. He was Shri Damodar Shivram Bhawsar who would spot Baba lovers alighting at Pune railway station and would be to help them and guide them to their destination. He also used to help Baba people for getting railway reservations.
Bhawsar came to stay in the same compound where Sadashiv Gaikwad and Ramchandra Gaikwad were staying. In fact, Ramchandra Gaikwad vacated one of the rooms in his house for Bhawsar and his wife to stay. The couple had newly got married. This was around 1950. Ramchandra Gaikwad started telling him about Meher Baba but it did not have much impact on him. He was much engrossed in building his own career, seeking to get a B.A. Degree. So, he was not inclined towards spirituality and was not interested in any spiritual master or Baba. He would avoid any encounter with Baba people. However, he could not avoid Ramchandra Gaikwad because they were sharing the same house. One day, Ramchandra Gaikwad dragged him to Mali baba’s place where there was a bhajan program and Ramchandrarao and Subhadra sang bhajans. Bhawsar was impressed with Subhadra’s singing and was also somewhat drawn to Malibaba. On that day, Malibaba was in a communicative mood and while talking with Bhawsar, he mentioned about Bhawsar’s native place and its history so accurately that Bhawsar wondered how Mali baba knew so much about his native place.
One day, Malibaba was so overjoyed by Subhadra’s songs that he took out a garland from his neck and garlanded Subhadra. Malibaba asked her, “Whose love is great?” “Mother’s love” she replied. On this Malibaba told her that Guru’s love for his disciple was greater than any other love in this world. He also told her that one day she would realize this truth.
One another day, Malibaba told Bhawsar that he was fortunate and that one day he would come in contact with a great Mahamata. Bhawsar was yet to come in contact with Meher Baba but in his childhood days, his parents used to take him to Upasani Maharaj because Bhawsar’s native place was Satana, which was also Upasani Maharaj’s native place. In Pune during his school days, Bhawsar has lived for seven years in Anath Vidhyarthi Gruha.
On 16th October 1951, Bhawsar attended a program in Devji Bua Math. This was the period of ‘manonash’ which was an important phase in Baba’s life. Bhawsar was inspired by Gadekar’s lecture and decided to have Baba’s darshan. He got this opportunity when Baba visited Bindra House on 17th February. 1952. Baba told him, “I am the only Reality, all else is illusion. Love me more and more and your will realize me.” From this time onwards, Bhawsar was stung by Baba’s love and started attending meetings.
Bhawsar had tremendous energy and was an untiring worker. Every day after his duty hours he would work in Poona Centre up to midnight. As his family expanded, he had to work extra to earn some additional income. Through his contacts with some printing presses, he would bring work of proof-reading and compete the work before going to bed. The next day morning, he would return the material to the press on his way to his office. This had made his eyesight worse and he had to use very thick lenses. During this time, Bhawsar and his family had to face a tragedy as he lost the only son which was born after four girl-children. This was a great shock to Bhawsar and his wife. After Baba dropped his body, Bhawsar was transferred to Mumbai and broke all the connections with Baba activities and Baba group. It seems through all the years of hardships in Bhawsar’s life Baba was watching him and his family very closely and helping and guiding him. During the last few years of his life, he came back to the sphere of Baba activity, rejoining his old associates and took interest in Poona Centre’s work. It would be apt to say that Bhawsar was KK Ramakrishnan’s right hand and KKR depended on him for the Centre work. His service to Poona Centre was exemplary and can never be ignored or forgotten. I remember after his long absence from the Baba activity when Bhawsar resumed the Baba work, he emphatically used to say to us,” I have realized one thing in my life though rather painfully; that everything other than Meher Baba is a bog zero.”
Through Bhawsar, another loving family in Pune had come into Baba fold and contributed to the Poona Centre activity. This was the Whavhale family and the head of this family, Narayanrao and his wife kept close contact with Poona Centre till the end of their lives.
In the later years of Guruprasad phase, the Poona group was always in readiness to entertain Baba in multiple ways - by singing, by playing marbles, by playing with Baba the card games of La-risque, Howrah Bridge, by accompanying Baba during house visits, to watch cricket matches and cinema movies and in whatsoever ways Baba wanted them to.
During the East-West Gathering which was held in Guru Prasad in 1962, the whole team of workers, volunteers and Bhajan singers of Poona Centre were working day and night looking after the various arrangements. While the Western lovers were being attended by Meherjee, Merwan Jessawala, and Nariman. The responsibility of making arrangements of accommodation, food, and transportation for Baba lovers from various parts of India was entrusted to Ramakrishnan and his local team which they carried out to Beloved Baba’s satisfaction. It was an unforgettable event of our lives, a life-time opportunity. The Poona group put their mind, their energy, their time, their talents and everything that they had to fulfill the task that was entrusted to them by Baba.
After Baba had dropped his body, Madhusudan participated in the program as leader of the bhajan group for two more years. 25th February of 1970 was the last day of his participation in the Centre’s function. From that day onwards, for some reasons, he and his wife, Subhadra, discontinued their involvement with the Centre and with any Baba activity for a long time. They had completely withdrawn themselves.
There was another phenomenon that was taking shape and was very encouraging. The children of Poona Baba family started presenting dance and drama programs based on Baba’s teaching. The performance gained popularity and was soon being discussed at different Baba forums and Centres. The children’s group was invited to participate at various Baba functions. Young boys like Prashant, Mehernandan, and Nitin More picked up the reigns from the senior members and started writing, directing and acting in Baba plays. This was a big Baba family involving Thade, Ahir and Bundellu families with many participants from the Baba lovers’ families of Poona. All of them were pooling in their talents in Baba programs. Swaroop, Sanjay, Rajiv, Uday, Nitin, Deepak, Raja, Bhushan took up either acting, playing instrument or singing. It was a beautifully collaborative effort and it created a charged atmosphere during Amartithi and Birthday functions. The girls in the family - Alka, Jyoti Ahir, Jyoti Bundellu, kanti, Madhavi, Vaishali, Kalpana, Arpana, Smita, and Arti shared the responsibility of presenting various dance performances. Thereafter, the women members like Smt. Sunita Thade and Shobha, apart from their contribution in singing, picked up the back-stage activities of choreographing dances, making costumes and putting make-up on children. This was a self- sufficient team of artists who were in there teens. Later on Akshay, Amita and Hirabai from the Bundellu family also joined the bandwagon and increased the momentum of this work. Hence, though the exit of Madhusudan and Subhadra from the scene came as a dampener initially, it did not any way hamper the activities of the Centre. All the trustees and local Baba lovers encouraged the children. KKR and Homai Malati showed special affection towards the children. Some of the performances that were presented during those days were so inspiring, heart touching and thrilling that when I recall those days, I feel as if we were enjoying a dream - a long enchanting dream!
The journey of Baba’s Own Poona Bhajan Mandali is continuing through generations….