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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) has been one of the prominent and historical cities of Maharashtra State and of the Western India. Apart from rapid expansion of its geographical spread, the city has also evolved through various identities and characters. It has been the land of rulers during Peshva’s regime; has been considered a historical city; has been recognized for its cultural heritage and intellectual capital; has remained a major educational hub for many years and was once acclaimed as “Oxford of India”. Recently, the city which had once established itself as “Pensioners’ Paradise” has metamorphosed itself as a major IT Centre of new-age India, with virtually all biggies in IT industry opening up their major offices here. The city is also rapidly adapting to a cosmopolitan character.
However, there is another extremely unique distinction of this city which is not yet widely known. This city had been bestowed with the fortune of making way to the God man, Avatar of this present age, to take birth on its soil; thereby carving out its crowning position in the spiritual history of the humankind.
Avatar Meher Baba was born here on 25th February, 1894, at David Sassoon Hospital.
During fifties and sixties, the Baba activity at Poona was always at a peak. Meher Baba’s Poona Bhajan Mandali had become well-known across Baba lovers in India. Baba Himself was visiting Pune during His summer break every year to stay at Guruprasad. His stay at Pune would offer special privilege and enviable opportunity to local Baba lovers to see and meet Baba, whenever He allowed, to play with Him, to listen to music along with Him from highly accomplished and professional singers, and above all, to come and feast their eyes on His Divine Beatitude.
However, Poona, despite being Avatar’s birthplace did not have its own place to house Baba Centre. The group was meeting at home of Mudaliar, a Baba lover, at Somwar Peth. Prior to that, in 1954, a young man, KK Ramakrishnan - KKR, has joined the group.
KKR had had Meher Baba’s darshan on the Pune Railway station when Baba was leaving for Andhra tour from Pune. This was on 19th February, 1954 in the morning at 8 O’Clock. KKR Ramakrishnan has noted in his diary that he was watching Meher Baba for almost an hour and half from steps of the railway bridge as he could not take his eyes off. He found Baba’ face as beautiful and lustrous as the setting sun. “I have seen no other man like Him” is what came to his mind and he was so moved that he made on-the-spot resolve to dedicate entire life to Meher Baba. Thereafter, he started meeting Baba people in Pune and attending Baba programs.
K.K. Ramakrishnan had left his home and joined the army when he was just 17. After serving the army for several years, he took voluntary retirement due to ill health and came to Pune.He got a job in the ammunition factory at Khadki and got accommodation in the government quarters in the area called Range Hills.The first man he came across in Poona group was Sh. Ramchandra Gadekar. Ramakrishnan was absolutely focused on doing Baba work.He had his own ideas for accomplishing what he intended to do to spread Baba’s name and message amongst people.
It was with KKR’s initiative and acquaintance that weekly meetings started at Mudliar’s place in right earnest. KKR had also started reading all the Baba literature and started giving well-studied talks on Baba.
When the weekly meetings began, a handbill was prepared and distributed to invite people to regularly attend these meetings. The contents of the handbill was as under:
MEHER BABA LOVERS OF POONA ARE OPENING A NEW CENTRE TO SPREAD THE MESSAGE OF LOVE AND TRUTH OF AVATAR MEHER BABA.
PLACE: SHRI A.T. MUDLIAR HALL
399, SOMWAR PETH, SARASWAT COLONY,
POONA – 2
DATE: MONDAY, THE 22ND APRIL 1957
TIME: EVENING 7 PM TO 8:30 PM
ARTI AND PRASAD
[THERE WILL BE REGULAR SATSANG ON EVERY MONDAY FROM 7PM TO 8:30PM ]
ALL ARE CORDIALLY INVITED!
MEHER BABA LOVERS,
With the active interest and support of local Baba lovers and due to the loving atmosphere created by Mudliar family, the weekly Baba programs went on well, drawing in more and more people day by day.
Beloved Baba was keeping an eye on Poona Centre’s activities and whenever required, he was guiding and motivating KKR. Out of his love for the Poona Group and to encourage this activity, on Saturday, June 8th 1957, at 8 am Baba visited Poona Centre which had been named as “MEHER SPIRITUAL CENTRE” to bless it.
On that day, Baba spent a good amount of time with Poona Lovers, Listened to bhajans sung by Poona bhajan mandali, gave darshan to everyone present and gave His love and blessings to Apparao Mudaliar and his family. This Centre at Mudaliar’s house had started functioning on 22nd April 1957, Baba came to this place and blessed the Centre on 8th June 1957, just after one and half month. What does it indicate? To me, it shows Baba’s interest to have a Centre in His birthplace, Poona and for his lovers to collectively work for spreading His message of Love to Humanity. He must have been happy that a beginning was made to properly organize such an activity.
Activities of Poona Centre were going on well. KKR had started organizing the work methodically and dedicatedly, taking a lead and preparing himself to carry out any type of work without depending upon others. In this work, many Baba lovers were helping him. With the risk of inadvertently omitting some names, we would like to mention few names who were on the forefront in the Centre activity - Bhawsar, Shankarrao Doiphhode, Homai Malati, Narayanrao Vhavale, Ali Ramjoo, Sayaji More, Krishna Bandellu, KrishnaraoThade, Rashid Shaikh, Shri L Venkayya Subramanyam, P.K. Chavan ,Govind Raju and his two sons and several others. A group mainly comprising K.N. Soman, D.N. Irani, Madhavrao Kantak, and Subhash Pokhle was helping in publication work, in translations and in preparing talks.
KKR was a voracious reader. Collecting passages from various books and typing them and using them in his talks and compilations of small books was his major occupation. In his early days, once he had an opportunity to meet Baba at the Bindra house where Jessawala family was staying. Baba’s leg was in cast after the Satara car accident. Madhusudan and Digamber Gadekar introduced KKR to Baba. KKR was carrying few Baba books. Baba made some casual enquiries about him and felt happy. KKR asked Baba how and in what ways he could work for Baba and whether he was required to follow any spiritual practice. On this Baba reacted sharply and said, “What? Do you want to become a yogi? No, nothing doing”. Then Baba looked at the books that KKR was carrying, gave it a cursory look and then said, “You are already doing what you are required to do. And remember, eat, drink and be merry and do my work as a pleasant hobby.” In this short interaction, Baba confirmed the course of KKR’s entire remaining life.
During this time KKR was completely possessed by this thought that Poona Baba lovers should have a place for the Baba Centre of their own. He expressed this thought to several senior members of the Poona group. Some of the senior members were not in favor of this project. There was a tussle of personal egos coming in the way. Moreover, Poona lovers, who were mostly belonging to the lower middle class category, could not even imagine of an independent building for the Centre and the funding needed. But this thought was constantly alive in KKR’s mind, making him restless and not allowing him to even sleep peacefully. One day, he did what was the best way to deal with this issue. He placed this matter before Baba. He argued, “Baba, Poona is your birth place and there is a need for a Centre with a building of its own. Your lovers should be able to assemble there whenever they want, they should be able to sing your name and glory and share your love amongst themselves and with other people.” Baba was attentively and lovingly listening to this young man’s dream. Expressing his anxiety and probably to test this man’s resolve, he asked KKR tauntingly, “You talk of big things but where is the money? How are you going to fund this project?” On this KKR replied, “Baba, from my monthly salary, I have been saving money after spending on my needs and sending some amount to my parents as my duty towards them. So far, I have accumulated this much amount (KKR told some figure to Baba which was not adequate but sizeable) and I am prepared to put this entire saving and my future saving in this project. Whatever additional amount that is needed, I will collect from the lovers in Pune and from my acquaintances and raise the balance amount.” Appreciating KKR’s courage and enthusiasm, Baba said, “If that is so, then go ahead. I will help you.” Thereafter, Baba directed his brother Jal to go to Andhra for collecting funds for the Poona Centre’s project. Accordingly, Jal toured Andhra to raise money. The search for suitable land within Poona City area started and the land was located. The purchase deal was signed, architect and contractors were appointed, plans got approved, and the work was progressing. At every step, KKR was seeking Baba’s instructions and as a result, the mandali started feeling that KKR was bothering Baba too much. Besides this, there were conflicts and ego clashes between senior and younger Baba lovers in Poona, and Baba had to put his mind to these disputes also. The seniors felt that KKR was aggressively moving to the achievement of the goal that almost became his personal goal, and that they were either being sidelined or were being reduced to insignificant value. However, with His masterly tact, Baba was not allowing the equilibrium to get disturbed.
One incident which needs to be mentioned here shows how Baba was concerned about the wellbeing of the Poona Centre.
Once Baba asked KKR, “Do you know Mr. X? Have you asked for and taken any money from him for the Poona Centre’s work? I know you are mad with your Centre project.”
KKR told Baba “Yes, I know him. He appears to be a big man now. He has gotten a job as the Bombay agent of an industrial and mercantile company and has been quite rich. He lives behind the railway station and goes everywhere by taxi. But, I have not asked him for a donation. His wife sends two rupees to the Centre every month. That’s all I receive from them.”
Baba warned KKR not to take any money from that man. It was alright to accept one or two rupees for the Centre work, he clarified, but no large sum of money, even if he gave it on his own, so beware, Baba warned.
Foundation laying ceremony was fixed on 25-2-1961 and Baba sent Joseph Harb, an American Baba lover of the Sufi group, to lay the foundation. During all the years of KKR’s struggle while carrying out Baba work, I have noticed that some sensible people were very supportive of him. I would like to mention few names such as Adi Ghaswala, Beheram Dadachanji, Jhangu Sukhadwalla’s father, (all the three from Mumbai), Venkayya from Hyderabad, Dr. Hoshang Bharucha from Navsari and his brother from Pune, Burjor Bode and also the members of the Sufi group of America that was led by Murshid James Mackie. Another name that comes to my mind is that of Kutumb Shastri. Whatever may be the controversy that surrounded his tenure as the Chairman of Meher Baba Trust, Ahmednagar, his readiness to help Poona Centre in whatever manner, was exemplary. When the land proposed for Poona Centre was shown to him during one of his visits to Poona he advised KKR to purchase the adjoining plot also. RKKR told him that Poona lovers would not be in a position to raise an additional amount of Rs.30000/- that was required for buying these adjoining plots. Hearing this, Kutumb Shastri asked KKR to give him only 8 days to arrange for the money. He went to Andhra, his native state, to collect that extra amount. Kutumb Shastri did go to Andhra and managed to collect the required sum of money but by the time he returned to Pune with the money, the local people who were in close contact with the owner of the land, late Sardar Raste, had already influenced him to buy the land from him, denying this opportunity to the Poona Centre. Perhaps it was not to be as we wished but it was to be as per Baba’s Divine Will.
So it can be seen that KKR was always found struggling with counteracting forces; but at the same time, he was getting necessary help from Beloved Baba’s unseen guiding hands.
I have personally witnessed the opposition and the torturous times that KKR had to face during the initial period. KKR was unable to fathom as to how the people who have been close to Baba for many years could tacitly oppose the creation of a Baba Centre in Poona. Out of sheer frustration, he was provoked to write to Baba that the circumstances had become unbearable for him and that he wished to leave Poona and go far away to live a life in silence remembrance of Baba. Baba then called KKR and said to him, “It is because of you that I have involved myself in the Centre’s affair. How can you even think of leaving everything and going away?” Thereafter, Baba called a meeting of all the workers and also the mandali and discussed the whole issue with them. He listened to various arguments. At this time Baba used His masterly tactics. KKR was sitting on Baba’s left very close to Baba’s feet. Baba’s one hand was on KKR’s shoulder and Baba was gesturing with the other hand explaining to all present. Baba said, “If KKR leaves Poona and goes away, I will not step into Poona.” Later on KKR told us that when Baba was saying this, his fingers of the hand that was resting on KKR’s shoulder were so moving that KKR could hear in his mind Baba’s words that let your ego not get fluffed by this. Baba’s caution to the Poona Baba lovers had such a profound impact that thereafter the workers started working in cooperation with each other.
Meher Baba visited the construction site of Poona Centre on a couple of occasions. Once the construction of the main hall, the adjoining Baba’s room, the office room and a small kitchen was ready, KKR invited Baba for Centre’s inauguration. This was a ceremonial Pratishthapana of our Beloved Meher Baba in the hearts of each one of us in Poona. Baba graciously accepted the invitation. 1st May 1964 was chosen as the day for inauguration. Baba did not want this to be a public function and wanted this to be limited to some families close to Baba. KKR was instructed to send the invitations accordingly. On the inaugural day, by 7 am, the Centre complex and the surrounding area was packed with Baba families, eagerly awaiting fulfilment of the dream that they had carried in their hearts for many years. The doors of the hall were kept locked with a seven-coloured ribbon tied across for the ceremonial ribbon cutting function at Baba’s hands. Key and scissors were ready at hand. Exactly at 8 am, Baba arrived in a car accompanied by some mandali members and was received with the cheers that reverberated in the atmosphere in the morning calm, “AVATAR MEHER BABA KI JAI”. Baba cut the ribbon, opened the lock and put His first step inside the hall and went around looking at the photographs hung on the wall and then took His seat on the cushioned chair placed on the dais. The Poona bhajan mandali sang the bhajans for the first time in that hall. This was followed by a Darshan program. Baba gave his darshan and his loving touch to each one of us present on the occasion. He was taken to the room that was especially reserved for him and was aptly called ‘Baba Room’. There, Baba sat on the bed and had a glass of juice. Thereafter, he entered the office and sat on the chair for a while.
While leaving, Baba promised that he would return for a large Darshan program after one year since this was a closely held private affair. Even then, more than 100 lovers were present. Thus the baton of Baba work brought to Poona by Ramchandra Gadekar was taken over by Dr Ghani’s boys with continued mentorship from Gadekar; and then through the hands of these young boys and girls, the baton ultimately was passed on and was secured to Ramkrishnan’s hands who successfully completed the last lap which culminated in Poona lovers being rewarded with their own place at Poona, that was guided by Beloved himself, in the form of a beautiful building.
Baba kept His promise and gave His Darshan on the first anniversary of the Centre. Thousands of Baba lovers from all over India had gathered at the Centre on the occasion.
1st May 2014 is the Golden Jubilee Anniversary of the Centre’s building.
The first governing body of the Centre was formed in Baba’s presence and was approved by him. The following members were nominated by Baba:
1. Sadashiv Shelke Patil (President)
2. Meherjee Karkaria
3. KN Soman
4. Bapusaheb Shinde
5. DS Bhavsar
6. DN Irani
7. KK Ramakrishnan (life-long Secretary)
The draft memorandum was approved and Baba had remarked, “This will be a model for other centres to follow.”
This was the period when many Baba books were published in the USA or Australia. These books that were published abroad were not affordable to the Indian Baba lovers, thereby, it remained out of bound even to those who had interest in reading them. KKR felt that many Baba lovers were deprived of the easy access to reading Baba books, one, due to two barriers of language and cost.
KKR thought of a solution to this problem. He started compiling small books on different subjects that contained Baba’s explanations, discourses, and clarifications pertaining to that subject. He would publish these books through Poona Centre at affordable price. Remember, those were not the days of google search or word-processing software. So, for those compilations, KKR was reading, making his notes, typing pages after pages and put them in proper logical order; and this would go on for late hours in the night. And since he was absolutely particular about the quality and authenticity of the work, he would go over it again and again. We can imagine the efforts involved in this strenuous task. The first such compilation “Meher Baba on Love” - a book containing Baba’s explanation on love was presented to Baba. Baba put his signature on the copy and asked KKR to preserve it in the Centre. According to KKR, this was the stamp of Baba’s approval for the work that Poona Centre had started. With this endorsement, he brought out several books such as:
In addition, KKR also published, through Poona Centre, various Marathi translations of some of these books. Later Poona Centre compiled and published entire Baba work of Madhusudan and Baba’s biography in Marathi, written by KN Soman.
One of the important contributions of the Poona Centre to the Baba literature also involves the obituary books that it has published on giant Baba lovers, acknowledging their selfless life and work for Baba, such as Dr. Ghani, Sadashiv Shelke-Patil, Francis Brabazon and Mani.
The Poona Centre’s publications had become very popular amongst Baba lovers. Not only that they were being sold at reasonable price making them affordable to Indian Baba lovers but they were also particularly useful to the students of Baba literature as it categorized and brought all Baba’s clarifications and explanations given on one particular subject at one place. These books were in good demand even from the western Baba lovers. Many of them mentioned to KKR that they found the Poona publications useful while preparing for any talk to be delivered on Meher Baba. These publications also provided a source of income for Poona Centre for its sustenance. In some circles of Baba lovers, copyright issues were being raised but then, KKR had prepared himself to face any situation as he believed that whatever he was doing was extremely useful to spread Baba’s name and message.
In the following paragraphs, I would try to take a quick review of the important events that followed after the Centre’s inauguration at Baba’s hands.
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!
Today, there are many persons, including young boys on one end of the spectrum and the retired persons on the other end are aspiring to work together for the Centre’s and Baba’s cause. We all express our gratitude to our Beloved Father, Meher Baba, who has been walking with us in the journey of our Centre of 50 years! The journey of the Poona Centre will continue until every heart cries out to His Name.
(Abridged version of the ‘History Of Poona Centre’ that had appeared in the booklet published by the Centre in the Golden Jubilee Year of the Centre)