24 March 2012

In Memory of A. K. Hazra: Two Book Reviews

 Today we fondly remember Prof. Amiya Kumar Hazra, who passed away today at age 80. Please visit his page at Remembrances. Here are two previously published reviews of two of his books.


The Memoirs of a Zetetic: My Life with Meher Baba 
by Amiya Kumar Hazra
Revised & expanded 2nd ed. Hyderabad: Meher Mownavani Publications, 2001. 394 pages.

Reviewed by Kendra Crossen Burroughs

Professor Hazra’s memoir is one of the most enjoyable collections of reminiscences of Meher Baba that I have ever read. The book was first published in 1987 by Dr. H. P. Bharucha, but now it has been reissued in a good-quality revised and expanded edition, with editing by Keith Gunn, wonderfully large, readable type, a few illustrations (facsimiles of letters), and a gorgeous cover painting of Baba by Nadia Wolinski.

The good professor (of English literature)—who was born into a Bengali brahmin family in 1931--has an endearing way with words. This is not “Indian English”; it is a skillful and animated use of language with a charming Indian flavor and a delight in words such as “zetetic,” which I challenge you to find in an average dictionary, unless you have one of those big Oxford monsters. It means a skeptic and a seeker, and that describes the young Amiya, an intellectual with a great curiosity about truth but a doubting mind. His story is the journey of a “head” that became pure “heart” after falling into Baba’s love-snare. Along the way we read of many entertaining autobiographical details, not to mention the touching and amusing encounters with Baba, correspondence with the Beloved (his first letter to Baba began with the salutation “My Surgeon-Lover!”), and a number of marvelous spiritual experiences.

If you missed this book the first time around, now is the time to grab a copy and let Professor Hazra share with you the thrills of his love affair with God in human form:

In His letter, Meher Baba had asked me to "love Him more." Now, I had a photograph of Meher Baba in my hotel room. His beautiful face shone, His lovely eyes looked at me, His lips concealed a secret smile of affection. I looked and looked at Him and then one day suddenly I seized the photograph of Meher Baba and kissed the lips. I put the photograph on my bosom and pressed it onto my heart. What was I doing? I looked at Baba's face again. Did it shine brighter, was the smile more bewitching? I did not know, I understood nothing. I just madly kissed the photo again and again, hugged it to my heart repeatedly and still felt dissatisfied with all those adorations. Oh God, what was happening? That night I did not lie on my bed alone. Meher Baba's photograph was with me and first I kept it on my heart and then by the side of my pillow. I had the most intimate experience of companionship and the sweetest sleep that night. Morning came, and with it the unebbing conviction that this was the preliminary experience of that longing for the pure, the good, the sublime and the dear¬est entity--the love--that saints have called "love for God."






Seekers of Love

by Amiya Kumar Hazra and Keith Gunn
Hyderabad: Meher Mownawani Publications, 2008. 226 pages.

Reviewed by Kendra Crossen Burroughs

I’m a greater admirer of Amiya Kumar Hazra, author of the unforgettable Memoirs of a Zetetic: My Life with Meher Baba, so I was pleased to see this new book with his name on it, along with that of his friend Keith Gunn. Professor Hazra has collected, over many years, a number of personal stories by Indian Baba-lovers, most of them first-person narratives originally recounted in the speaker’s native Hindi, some of them retold by Amiya or Keith. Here Westerners will encounter some unfamiliar names and faces as well as old friends such as Pratap Ahir and Subhadra Pund of the Pune bhajan group; Shaligram Sharma, who toured the U.S. last year; Gita Ram Tiwari, a familiar figure at Meher Baba’s Samadhi; Pleader, a member of the mandali who was hell-bent on God-Realization; Janglimaster, “Baba’s servant”; and Kharman Masi, an important woman in Baba’s circle who He said would be His father in the next Avataric advent.
 

The book will be a treat for Westerners who appreciate the unique sensibility that Indians bring to their experiences with Baba. In his introduction, Keith points out two notable aspects seen in these stories. One is the degree of hostility that Hindus have had to suffer in their own communities because of their devotion to a “foreign” master—even to the extent of their lives being threatened. For example, in one story an invisible force narrowly saves a Baba-lover from being murdered by co-workers. (The examples in this book are Hindu, but certainly Parsi and Muslim Baba-lovers have also endured social opposition.)
 

The other aspect is the degree to which Indian lovers take “occult realities” for granted. I’ve often thought that the many instances in which Baba discouraged attachment to miracles or unusual spiritual experiences were chiefly aimed at His Eastern lovers. In India people grow up with a much greater awareness of God and the sacred dimension of life than in our society. (However, even an Indian is bound to be a bit startled when, as told here, a smelly, naked mastani suddenly appears and secures a seat for him on a crowded train.) I assume that Baba wanted His Eastern lovers to learn to depend less on the miraculous and to love Him for His own sake. He often told people in America and Europe, “The Eastern lovers revere me, bow down to me and worship me — but I want only love from you" (Lord Meher, 6: 1895). Yet, judging by these stories, Baba has clearly not withheld amazing experiences from His Indian lovers: rooms flooded with the fragrance of roses, Baba mystically standing in for someone taking an examination, the apparition of Baba at the deathbed of a loved one, a tiger lying down like a lamb. We even learn that someone who was harassing a Baba-lover dropped dead! Who says prayers aren’t answered?

Even in India, land of the miraculous, where gurus are common, Meher Baba stands out as something special: Pratap remarks that “in our traditions, Indians have information about God and all that, but until we came to know about Meher Baba, we had no thought of coming in God’s contact.” Incidentally, the book presents Pratap’s own version of a much-misrepresented incident in which Baba asked him as a young teenager to remove all his clothing. The event remains mysterious, in that we don’t know why Baba did it, but I think Pratap’s acceptance of it as a holy moment helps us to contemplate the mystery in the right spirit.
 

I’d love to give away more of the content, but I won’t spoil it for you. Seekers of Love is a welcome contribution to a growing oral history, and I thank Amiya and Keith for bringing us closer to our Indian Baba family through these accounts. The authors promise a sequel with stories from the West and conclude with one sample, from Vreiny Truitmann of Switzerland.

 








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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.