02 November 2016

Effulgence: A Short-Short Story

I haven't posted in almost a year. This morning I was looking through my files and I found this story. I vaguely recall something happening that caused me to write the story (dated many years ago), an attempt at communication that seemed to fail. But I don't really remember writing it. It's a strange feeling to read my own writing as if for the first time, as if I were a different person.


A man goes to the railway station. He stands apart from the group of people waiting on the platform for a glimpse of the Man. The train pulls in. The Man’s compartment happens to be right next to where the man is standing. The people know that the Man does not want them to enter the compartment. The man slips unnoticed into the compartment and stands at the end opposite from where the Man is sitting. The Man looks at him.

A feeling of effulgence comes over the reader of this story. Later, she tries to impart that same feeling to another person by reading the story aloud. She hears the words coming out of her mouth. They seem dull and her voice sounds monotonous. She gets to the end, where it says the man gets lost in the Man’s beauty, His light. The man forgets to get off the train, and it pulls away from the station while he is lost in Love. 

The person says the story is nice.

Why didn’t the effulgence go from here to there, through her to the person? The story was written by someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew the man who was looked at by the Man. Maybe there were too many layers in between.

Yet it did seem to come to her through the story. Now she wakes up early and feels the effulgence spread over her like a soft, fluffy white wing. It relaxes her being so that there is no pain, no sense of grossness. It breathes in and out. She imagines sharing it with the person and falls back asleep, letting it make its own silent journey.

06 November 2015

In Which I Learn the Gujarati Arti

The story of the Bujaawe Naar Arti, written and composed by Meher Baba in 1925, is currently being recounted in a series of Tavern Talk articles by Cindy Lowe. I am reminded of the time, many years ago, when I decided it was time I learned to sing the Arti by heart. Having a degree in languages, as well as being a stickler for exactitude, I was determined to learn the precisely correct pronunciation of the Gujarati words. 

I was not satisfied with the existing prayer card from India that gave the words in phonetic spellings, some of which I considered highly ambiguous. At that time, Jane Brown’s lovely Westernized rendition was the only recording available to me. But even though rationally I knew that Jane—a trained singer—must have learned it properly, no doubt from the women mandali, I hesitated to accept the recording as the perfect model, since Jane was not a native Gujarati speaker. In a couple of places on the recording, I thought the words did not sound like the spellings on the card, which confused me.

Then I got the loony idea to use an actual Gujarati version, printed in the Gujarati alphabet, which I would learn to pronounce and thus I would learn it perfectly. This idea isn’t as totally far-fetched as it sounds, since I had made a study of the alphabets of various languages (such as Sanskrit, Arabic, Hebrew, Yiddish . . .), in connection with systems of transliteration into our Latin alphabet. Weird, I know, but it was not unheard of for me to learn an alphabet and how to pronounce words in it, even if I did not know the language thoroughly or at all. I can read or sing aloud from the Hebrew prayer book, for example, without understanding more than a few words of the ancient Hebrew and Aramaic in which it is written.

I began to search for my fantasied Gujarati version of the Bujaawe Arti during a pilgrimage to Meherabad. Both Indians and Westerners greeted my inquiries with astonishment. Eyebrows were furrowed in puzzlement. Why on earth would I want such a thing? Several people were absolutely certain that nothing of the kind even existed. How can that be? It was composed in Gujarati; why wouldn’t it be printed on a card or something, for Gujarati speakers? Okay, never mind. I finally understood there was no point pursuing this, so I dropped it.

After I was home, I set the search aside, but my discontent persisted as I stumbled through the text on the prayer card whenever I sang the Arti. Then one day something incredible happened. It was one of those synchronicities that leave no room for doubt that Baba knows one’s every thought and feeling.

I left work early on a Friday, feeling a little under the weather. I decided to skip that evening’s Baba meeting, even though it would be held just a couple of blocks from my place, at (the late) Margaret Brennan’s home in Cambridge, MA. As I trudged home from the subway, who should I see heading toward me but Margaret Brennan herself! From a bit of a distance I could already see her broad smile as she prepared to give me a big hug. Oh no. Now she’ll ask me if I’m coming to the meeting tonight. She did ask me, and I promptly heard the words coming out of my mouth, “Yes, of course! I’ll see you there!” Damn, now I had to go, even though I didn’t feel like it.

I arrived early, to find a couple of friends seated at Margaret’s kitchen table, finishing up some tea before the meeting would begin in the other room. Margaret gestured for me to sit in the one vacant chair.

What the—? Right in front of me on the table, like a placemat, was sheet music for the Bujaawe Arti, with the words in a new, improved phonetic spelling (I recognized that right away). I demanded to know what this was, and Margaret casually said, “Oh, I brought that back from the L.A. Center. Would you like to have it? I have a few copies.”

Soon after, I was able to sing the Bujaawe Arti by heart with no worry about about whether my pronunciation was exactly correct. I now knew what was the important lesson—not a singing or an elocution lesson, and not even the lesson that Baba knows all hearts. Since that day, I am 100% convinced that when our wholehearted desire is to do our best to please Meher Baba, he quickly responds. We may pray for all manner of desires to be fulfilled. But when we sincerely desire to be closer to Meher Baba, when we desire something to help us love him more and more, that desire will be fulfilled, sometimes immediately. Also, Baba’s response, in my experience, is always a surprise.


For two alternative phonetic guides to the pronunciation of the Gujarati Arti, see the article at the Mischievous Peeps site.

All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.