Raj Khilnani from Mumbai visited Meher Center for the first time in January, and on Sunday the 10th we were treated to two talks by him. Here are a few highlights of the afternoon talk.
Raj is one of two sons and six daughters of Prem and Girja Khilnani. His mother is the author of a memoir called Journey to God: True Story of Smt. Girjadevi P. Khilnani, published 2006 in Mumbai. (“Smt.” is a title similar to “Mrs.”; and Girjadevi is the name by which Baba called Girja; devi means goddess.)
The family’s connection with Meher Baba begins with Raj’s father, Prem — in fact, Girja’s book bears the dedication "Thank you Prem for taking me for God’s Divine Darshan in Guruprasad, Poona.” Prem was brought up as “a kind of agricultural aristocrat” in Sindh (then
India, now ), where he had 500 acres of agricultural land. He was trained as a barrister but did initially did not practice since he was wealthy and did not have to work. Pakistan
In 1939 Prem went to stay with his uncle in Nawabshah, and since his uncle was in correspondence with Baba and had his photos and books, this is how Prem was first introduced to Meher Baba. Later, in the 1940s, Prem was a magistrate in another city. He was standing on the balcony of his house when he saw someone in a bicycle rickshaw inquiring about the whereabouts of a certain mast. It was Baidul, one of Baba’s Iranian mandali who used to do the initial legwork during Baba’s mast tours, to find suitable masts for Baba to work with spiritually intoxicated advanced souls. Hearing Baidul’s loud voice, Prem rushed down to offer his help, since he knew where that mast was to be found. Prem told Baidul that the mast liked tea, so along the way they picked up a pot of tea to bring with them. When they arrived and Baidul offered the tea, the mast said, “Why do you give me tea? I am not a magistrate.” Thus he mysteriously showed that he knew Prem’s profession without being told.
After the partition of
in 1947, the Hindus were driven out of Sindh, and the Khilnani family came to Pune as refugees. Now that the family’s circumstances had changed, Prem began to practice his legal profession and became a judge. India
It happened that Prem’s younger brother had an ear ailment and required major surgery. While Prem was at the hospital (clinic of Dr. Apte), standing on the first floor, he saw “a very attractive person” coming down the steps followed by a few companions. Prem was drawn to rush after this wonderful person, but it was not his destiny at that time to meet him, only to see him. Upon inquiry he was told that the gentleman he had been drawn to was Meher Baba with his mandali.
After Prem lost his property, he became disillusioned with the world. He began to read the teachings of Sri Aurobindo every morning and he wrote to Aurobindo’s ashram in
. The Mother (Aurobindo’s spiritual companion, who was a teacher in her own right) replied, sending him a rose and inviting him to the ashram. He was planning the trip when he ran into Baidul again. Baidul recognized Prem and informed him that Baba was in Pune at Guruprasad. He would send for Prem when arrangements could be made for him to meet Baba. But owing to his spiritual restlessness Prem did not wait for Baidul’s call; he went to Guruprasad on his own and waited outside Baba’s bedroom. The attendant stopped him and told him to leave, but Prem persisted until Baba clapped for Eruch and told him to let Prem come in. Thus Prem Khilnani was introduced to Beloved Baba for the first time. Pondicherry
I was quite touched by the way Raj described his father’s first direct contact with Baba. It was summertime, which was quite hot even in Pune (where Baba used to come to escape the heat of Meherazad), so Baba was bare-chested, wearing just his underwear (langot). No doubt it was unusual for people to meet Baba in this half-naked state. Raj described how Prem could thus see “the glow of that glorious form.” With just these few words, combined with the tender expression on Raj’s face, I could feel how this family regarded the sacred human body of the God-Man with such loving reverence.
Perhaps this is something that Indians instinctively recognize. However, I remember once watching a film in which Baba walked with the aid of two walking sticks on the veranda at Guruprasad; there he was also bare from the waist up, and we could see his braided hair down his back as he turned away from the camera to pass through a doorway. I seem to remember you could tell that his hair was damp with perspiration from the heat. My friend Carol made some soft exclamation to me while we watched the film, indicating that she recognized how intimate it was to have this glimpse of Baba’s radiant body. This in turn reminds me that in his talk Raj compared seeing merely a photograph of Meher Baba with seeing Baba in person: it was like the difference between seeing a photo of the sun and viewing the sun itself (which in fact you cannot look at directly because of the intense radiance). Raj commented that those who love Baba without ever having met him are more blessed that those who have seen the “sun” in the sky (the Avatar in person).
Baba told Prem he was going to
America and would call for him after he returned to . Prem thereafter dropped the idea of going to India , and also began to get to know the Pune center members, including Pratap Ahir and others in the bhajan group. Pondicherry
At one of Prem’s later meetings with Baba, Baba told him to bring his wife and two sons. His mother, Girja, was brought up in a religious family, and they had their own gurus to whom they were devoted, a saintly lineage in Sindh and later in Mumbai. Her father was a British-trained doctor in the army. In 1939 when Girja was twelve years old, she used to read scriptures (Guru Granth, the holy book of the Sikhs) and recite prayers, and one time she wrote a letter to God saying, “Dear God, If you are there in this world, I want to meet you! I want to see you in a physical form and hope you will answer my prayer.” She addressed the letter to “God in Heaven” and dropped it in the post box — never dreaming in what manner her request would later be granted.
As a mother, when her husband brought her to Baba, she went hesitantly, worried that Baba might “hypnotize” her sons, Vinod and Raj. Baba embraced them and let them kiss him on the cheek. Girja felt shy about kissing Baba, and when she sat before him, she looked down. Baba told her three or four times to feel free to look at him, but still she looked down. So then he told her: You wrote a letter saying you want to meet me, so why are you so shy? This finally caused her to open up to Baba. She became very close to Mehera, Naja, and the other women mandali. She often cooked food to send to Baba and the mandali.
One time Prem wanted to buy a car, a major purchase in those days, when not many middle-class people had cars. Baba offered his own car to Prem. It was a car that Baba didn’t use anymore; he had sent it to Arnavaz’s brother, who maintained it. Prem bought it for ten thousand rupees. He used it to visit Guruprasad and to drive to and from
, where he was posted in his government job as a railway magistrate. Needless to say, he was thrilled to use the very car Baba had ridden in. Nasik
As the family became closer and closer to Baba, Prem wanted to move to Ahmednagar and requested a posting there. Since Ahmednagar was not considered a very attractive place, he easily got his wish. Now Baba asked Prem where he intended to live. Prem replied that he would hunt for a place. Baba turned to Adi K. Irani and inquired about Khushru Quarters, which was vacant at the time. (It was Adi’s family’s home in those days; today it is the Avatar Meher Baba Trust compound.) Adi was resistant, saying that the place was not in good enough condition, but Prem insisted he would do the necessary repairs. Baba fixed the rent at Rs. 50 and told Prem to deduct the cost of the repairs from the rent. Thus the family lived rent-free for the first year.
Now Raj began attending the Sacred Heart Convent school in Ahmednagar, where he would hear many stories of Jesus. The missionaries of the local Salvation Army Mission of Australia were also very friendly to them, so Raj and his brother used to write “Jesus” on the walls of their home. Prem casually told Baba about this, and Baba said, “Jesus was, and here I am!”
When they went to meet Baba, he would kiss them; they could hear the sound of his kiss on their cheeks. Even at a young age they recognized the thrill of embracing and kissing God. Baba would ask Raj and Vinod, “Who am I?” “Who do you take me to be?” They would say, “You are God.” Baba said, “Are you just talking with your lips, or do you really feel it in your heart?” “Baba, I feel it in my heart.” Baba asked this question many times.
One morning before going to see Baba at Guruprasad, Raj was reading an article in the Reader’s Digest about the evolution of life on earth. Impressed by how science explained this, he wondered, Is there really a God? Now if Baba asked that question again, maybe he would not be able to say honestly, “You are God.” Sure enough, Baba did ask him the question that morning — and somehow “It just came out of my mouth: ‘Baba, You are God.’” Baba said, “Really? Are you saying it to please me, or do you really feel it in your heart?” It was a moment of enlightenment for Raj, who strangely felt all doubts vanish in an instant. Now he felt that God was “the perfect scientist,” who had created the world in a way that is compatible with science. The more scientific things Raj continues to learn, the more he appreciates God.
In the 1960s, although Baba was in seclusion, deeply involved with his inner Universal Work, the family had the good fortune to be invited to Guruprasad to see him. Hearing about it, an elderly relative, Girja’s sister’s mother-in-law, wanted to come along to see the “saint” (Meher Baba has made clear that he is higher than the level of a saint, as explained in his message “The Highest of the High”); so Girja said okay, come with us, although Prem objected that Baba might be displeased. They all trooped into the large hall, and when Baba saw the uninvited lady he stopped them and demanded to know who she was and why she was there. Girja was shocked and tried to explain that this was a devoted person who wanted to meet Baba. The lady relative was also surprised and dismayed at being asked to leave, because she believed that saints would never prevent people from coming to pay respects to them, so she wondered what kind of saint could he be, to insult her and send her away? Girja accompanied the elderly woman home while Prem and their sons remained with Baba. Baba then remarked that “Girja really loves me. She might commit suicide because I sent her away.” So he told Prem to rush after her and call her back (without the other lady). Baba understood Girja’s upset feelings and forgave her the disobedience. But the family had come a little closer to understanding the importance of obedience to Beloved Baba’s wish.
Raj said Baba’s orders were relatively few and usually only given to intimate followers of Baba’s. In those days they didn’t realize the significance of the Master’s orders. One time Baba asked them when they were leaving and they said after lunch. Baba told them to leave by four p.m. Their driver wanted to have lunch with his relatives, and though they asked him to come back in time to leave by four, he didn’t return till five-thirty. They set out, but once they were outside of Pune their car broke down and the driver could not fix it. It started again, but stopped again after five km. This went on until they reached the halfway point of their journey, and it was almost midnight. This should have been only a three-hour trip! Someone suggested bringing the car to 'Nagar by truck. By the time they got back to Khushru Quarters it was four a.m. They had to wake up someone at Sarosh’s garage to get the car down. When all this was accomplished, it was 5:30 in the morning. So it took twenty-four hours to get home, owing to their disobedience.
I do not take such stories to imply that people were “punished’ for not following Meher Baba’s orders; rather, I believe that Baba foresaw the difficulty and his orders were designed to help his lovers avoid accidents and distress. (There may have been other reasons for giving the order, unknown to us.) Apart from that, simply following any order of the Master, no matter how seemingly trivial, would be beneficial. In the words of Hafiz, “Whatever the Master does is of the highest benefit to all concerned.” Although we are all human and make mistakes, it is for us to remember that, as Girja says in her book, “obedience is the greatest way to love Him.”
At times there was much anxiety from failing to obey Baba, Raj told us; at other times nothing bad happened. For instance, when Girja was not well and was told by Baba to take B-complex vitamins and an egg every day, she sometimes forgot to do so; but by Baba’s grace, she did not suffer much from this.
There were so many stories that Raj shared about how Baba enriched this family’s life, I wish I could have taken down all of them, but finally I had to stop scribbling like mad and just sit back and listen. So I’ll end here.
One can view videos online of Raj’s talks on YouTube.
One can view videos online of Raj’s talks on YouTube.