Mani S. Irani, Meher Baba’s sister
Joy and Triumph
An Excerpt from “Mani’s Reunion” by Heather Nadel
A few years ago, Mani related that she had heard a voice, clear and distinct, saying within her:
“I am the bird, I am not the cage.”
Perhaps that is why, when her health first began to fail in March 1995, she often would remark, “The bird is singing away, but the cage is in need of repair!” Despite her ensuing struggle against “NPH” (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus) that involved two surgeries (in November ’95 and February ’96) Mani remained a radiant singing “bird” — meeting Baba-lovers in Meherazad whenever she could, scooting around Mehera’s garden in her “Begum” (motorized scooter) as her walking became more and more difficult, and finally greeting people for a few moments from the confines of her chair inside the house in Meherazad. At the end of February 1996, having returned to Meherazad from her second surgery, she appeared on Mehera’s porch just before Meherazad closed for the season. She was eager to spend time with her Baba family, and she loved the hour that followed as she “held forth” to a porch full of people and they performed for her, a wonderful giving and receiving of His love. Afterwards many remarked that it was like a darshan, and Mani was more joyous and radiant than they had ever seen her.
That memorable day in February turned out to be her last “love feast” with pilgrims at Meherazad. When pilgrim season opened again in July 1996, Mani was in the hospital in Poona, having been diagnosed with an inoperable malignant tumor.
How touching in retrospect was the vision of Mehera that Mani had just before leaving Meherazad to go to Poona for what we thought at the time would be a simple investigation! In the middle of the night, Mani sat up for a moment, and gazing over towards Mehera’s bed, was amazed to see her darling Mehera lying there. “Oh!” she thought happily, “Mehera’s come back to her old place!” and then she saw that Mehera was looking at her with an expression of great compassion and sadness. Mani was deeply touched, and soon afterwards in the hospital, when her diagnosis became known, she was heartened by this evidence of Mehera’s loving presence and care.
After three weeks in the hospital, how happy and grateful Mani was to return home to Meherazad in early July! There she was often joyful in spite of her growing pain, and more than anything else in her last weeks, except gazing at pictures and slides of her beloveds, Baba and Mehera, Mani would love to sing. The bird indeed was singing, despite the condition of the cage, and Mani often entertained us with wonderful renditions of all kinds of songs, Baba’s artis, her own songs, Baba-songs by others, hymns, traditional Indian songs, Mirabai songs, bhajans, village songs, lines from ghazals. She’d sing alone, or with Khorshed, Katie, Manu, or Roda, or with a chorus of us, always very happily.
One day, as Mani was being helped to the dining room, she said, “So this is what Baba wants me to do now.” And she turned to this new, most difficult task, with the wholehearted concentration and discipline that always characterized her work for Him. She participated in her care with 100% focus, carefully taking the pills and alternative medicines prescribed for her with such great love and concern by Dr. Goher and Shelley, resting when she was tired (something it had always been hard to get her to do), and in spite of the pain, almost never complaining. In fact, her sweetness and at times genuine cheerfulness often cheered up her caregivers! And we felt she was doing all this for Baba, not for herself. As always, she was striving to live as He wished, moment to moment, wholeheartedly accepting whatever He ordained.
As the weeks went by, Mani seemed to become less and less attached to the world and more and more immersed in thoughts of Baba and Mehera. She would recall old days and reminisce with the women about their happy times with Baba. Or sometimes she’d tell jokes, complete of course with fantastic facial expressions, perfect mimicry, and a myriad of funny voices that would leave everyone in stitches. On Silence Day, she gestured as eloquently as she used to speak — and of all of us, she was the one who managed to maintain total silence! At tea when we inquired through signs as to whether she had finished her nutritional drink, she scribbled on the chalkboard, “Fait accompli”!
“Thank God for a sense of humor,” she had remarked during her earlier illness, and her humor lightened many moments as she became weaker and weaker and more and more confined to bed. In the beginning she was able to sit up in her chair in the sitting room or on the porch for short periods, and enjoyed hearing Get Well cards and heart-messages from Baba-lovers, and especially attending to last-minute details about her new manuscript, Dreaming of the Beloved, that she had dictated in May with such interest and meticulous attention. Something else she really enjoyed was hearing stories read aloud from her book God-Brother. She would become so childlike and excited reliving her childhood times with Baba, and amused and impressed with her own remarkable storytelling!
Gradually, the sessions at the dining table and in her chair became shorter and more infrequent as she became too weak to sit for long. Eventually she could no longer walk to Baba’s Room for her morning darshan which had meant so much.
It was so hard to see her weak and in pain, but true to what she had written in her article “On the Topic of Suffering,” Baba was upholding her from within as He dealt her blows of pain and weakness from without. This we knew from things she would say. Once we remarked to her how strongly we felt Baba’s and Mehera’s presence in her room, and Mani said that she felt as if Baba was there with her always, and even more so Mehera whom she often felt was moving around in their room “doing this and that.” One day after hearing from Arnavaz of a beautiful Baba dream had by one of the men mandali, she said so happily, “Baba keeps sending me messages!”
On one of the last days she was able to sit up, Mani sat for a little while on her bed, facing Mehera’s bed. All the windows of her room were open and from outside the room, Baba’s image tree seemed to lean in to lend her support and strength. As she sat there, our tapewalli played a tape of Mani’s song written for Mehera, “To the Glory of Love” and Mani swayed back and forth in time to the music, singing along with closed eyes and a gentle smile, lost in the beauty of the song. Baba and Mehera seemed specially present then, in the atmosphere of the pink room and in the joy of her glowing face.
It was to be our last such session. Despite an IV drip and all possible treatment, a few days later Mani slipped into a semi-conscious state. This was hardest to bear for Goher and the other women, her close companions of so many years. In their distress and concern for Mani, they would often wake at night, and one night around this time, waking from sleep and thinking of Mani, these comforting words came to Meheru as if from her:
I do not know when or how I go
But this I know to where I go —
It is to a place of indescribable beauty,
Where God’s Love enfolds completely.
Yet despite Mani’s condition and our sorrow, there remained an atmosphere of overflowing love, sweetness, purity and innocence radiating from her that seemed to grow as the days went by.
Mohammed Mast had said on 9th August, Friday, that “Baba’s sister will go tomorrow. Her pain will be over.” Mani lived on past that Saturday. But looking back later, we all felt that her state changed that day and as Mohammed had “predicted,” she did indeed “go”, turning further and further away from this world and closer than ever to Baba. Soon after she was in a coma, and her niece Gulnar, visiting a few days later, upon entering the room perceived the difference immediately, remarking, “She’s with Baba now.” It was at this time that one of her caregivers dreamt of Mani saying to her “You have no idea how much He loves me. You have no idea how much I love Him. You have no idea how happy I am.”
Many dreams about this time heralded her reunion with Baba: dreams of Mani lying weak and sick then suddenly turning into Baba, of Mani skipping and dancing full of joy, of a great celebration soon to take place, of Mani walking down the front steps of her childhood home Baba House on the arms of her brothers Beheram and Adi and touching each step with reverence as they stepped down and walked away, of Mani entering Baba’s Room and inviting everyone outside to come in and meet her. Earlier Mani had been touched by a letter from a Baba lover who wrote that while watching the video of Mani gesturing to “Welcome to My World,” [demonstrating how Baba’s gestured the song] she saw Mani’s face turn into Baba’s face. And someone close to the family saw Baba’s brothers Beheram, Jal and Adi, plus Pendu and Padri, standing on Meherabad Hill awaiting Mani, proud of all she had done for her Brother.
Mani had always told her family, “I will go at the moment Baba has chosen for me — not one second before or one second after.” His chosen moment for their Reunion was early morning, 7:01 a.m., Monday, the 19th of August, when Mani opened her eyes with a look full of love and wonder, and after a few quiet breaths, slipped softly and gently into her Beloved’s welcoming arms. It was as she had wished, in her room in Meherazad, facing her beloved Mehera’s bed with the women mandali and a few others around her holding Baba’s picture and saying His Name.
From the moment she went, her face assumed an expression of joy and triumph, and as the moments went by her luminous smile seemed to deepen until you could not look at her without feeling her happiness. Once years ago, seeing a picture of herself in which she appeared composed, self-contained, almost regal, Mani had said, “That is me as I was with Baba” and it was that same Mani that I saw now in her.
Copyright © Heather Nadel, Meherabad, 24 August 1996