THE EARLY YEARS
Chapter 1 :
This webpage is the first of several in this section after the 'Introduction' page that will showcase the life of Meher Baba during his advent. This page illustrates his 'beginnings' prior to his eventual meeting with all the Perfect Masters of the Age who awakened him to his Avatarhood.
The webpage will also show some of the various homes, cafes & schools that Merwan Irani
( Meher Baba ) lived in & attended up to his first contact with Perfect Master Babajan who lived in Poona.
The historical information primarily comes from Bhau Kalchuri's "Lord Meher" set of books and the 'On-line' version of the same, which is hosted by David Fester. This is not meant to be an in-depth look at his upbringing which are covered thoroughly by other written publications.
Click on images and maps to enlarge them, also click on the under-scored names to visit their web-pages.
Links to the other pages of Meher Baba's advent are located at the end of each web-page.
Meher Baba was born Merwan Sheriar Irani on 25th February 1894 in the city of Poona
( Pune ), British India. His surname indicated
that the family was 'from Iran'.
( 3 died in childhood - Freni, Shirmand & Jehangir).
The family was of the Zoroastrian faith ( an ancient faith that originated in Persia, now Iran ) founded by Zoroaster.
To see more details of Meher Baba's family, click on the following link.
SHERIAR M. IRANI SHIREEN D. IRANI MERWAN S. IRANI
Merwan's younger years were not out of the ordinary, although he had a keen interest in poetry and literature - from Shakespeare to the Persian Perfect Master Hafiz. He was very adept at sports especially cricket whilst attending a Roman Catholic high school. He went onto to attend Deccan College.
Merwan led a normal childhood and showed no particular inclination toward spiritual matters.
POONA ( PUNE )
The Peshwars were the local rulers in the early 1800s who were later defeated by the British in Kirkee, north of Pune. The area was placed under the administration of the Bombay Presidency and the British built a large military cantonment to the east of the city in 1895.
Poona Municipality was established in 1858 & the railway line from Bombay to the city opened in the same year, run by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR).
Poona is 119 miles / 191 kms by rail from Bombay at about 1,850 ft./ 563.9 metres above sea level.
DAVID SASSOON GENERAL HOSPITAL
Shireen's labor pains started and a Catholic nun was summoned from her morning prayers. Golandoon sat near her daughter, watching anxiously. Sheriar waited outside the hospital room, continuously repeating God's name.
The hospital's night watchman made his rounds. As he struck the gong five times, the crying of a baby was heard. The birds increased their joyous notes as if to welcome the child, and even the sun seemed excited — eager to rise over the horizon.
Golandoon emerged from the room. "Sheriar, it's a boy!" she exclaimed, beaming. "You have another son!" Sheriar was filled with happiness and immediately rushed into the room to see his newborn child.
The relatives and neighbors soon came to the hospital to see the newborn child. They were overjoyed and admired the baby's beauty. "A full moon has arisen in Sheriar's house!" one person remarked. The joy that abounded in the hearts of all who saw the child was indeed most extraordinary, for the joy of that sacred day will last for ages to come. The atmosphere was filled with a wonderful freshness and spontaneity of goodness; and only Sheriar knew that the source of it was his child.
MEHER BABA LANE, PUNE
The exact details and dates of where the family resided when their second child was born and during his childhood are not known. But some believe Sheriar and Shireen were residing at the time at 816 Butler Mohalla (locality) in Poona. The house was called Bhopla
( Pumpkin ) House because next to its entrance way was a large round stone
resembling the shape of a pumpkin. Across the nearby courtyard was a "wishing" well, which the locals considered auspicious.
( see Maps 1 & 2 for location )
MERWAN IRANI'S 1ST HOME "PUMPKIN HOUSE"
In 1940, the Cantonment Board of Poona changed the name of the address to Meher Moholla.
The house is 30' long X 20' wide ( 9 X 6 m.). It has 2 bedrooms of equal size, a kitchen, bathroom & a garret (a top-floor or attic room) which was Merwan's room. (see image above )
Sheriar had repaired it when he bought
This is the house Merwan spent most of his childhood except for a couple of years.
Present Postal address : 816 Dastur Meher Road, Meher Mohalla Camp, Pune 411101
SHIREEN D. IRANI
With the infant in her arms, Shireen returned home in a tonga ( horse-drawn carriage ).
The news of Shireen's newborn son spread throughout the neighborhood, and those who went to see the infant came away wonderfully contented. When their eyes gazed upon the infant, they felt peaceful and forgot their cares and woes.
The child was given the Persian name Merwan, but his family always called him Merog. Shireen loved Merwan intensely and thought of him as her firstborn. The infant nursed well and the bond between mother and son was strong.
When Merwan started talking, he called his mother Memo, and his father Bobo. Merwan started walking before he was a year old.
** Merwan was the 2nd born child to Shireen & Sheriar.
On 2 January 1893, Shireen, at the age of fifteen, gave birth to a son who was named Jamshed after a Persian king . However, as she was too young to fully accept the responsibilities of motherhood, her older sister, Dowla, began caring for the baby.
Dowla and her husband, Faredoon Naoroj Irani, were childless and lived in the resort town of Lonavla not far from Poona, where they owned a restaurant near the railway station. As was the common custom among Zoroastrian relatives, Dowla and Faredoon accepted complete responsibility for the child and raised Jamshed as their own son.
Little Merwan was adored by the entire neighborhood and doted upon by all. He had three maternal aunts (masis) — Dowla Masi, Pila (or Piroja) Masi, and Banu Masi — and two maternal uncles (mamas) — Dinsha Mama and Rustom Mama. All loved their nephew, and they would come to the family's house just to see "our Merog."
As a boy, Merwan followed the normal course of life. When he was about five years old, he was admitted to the primary section of the Gujarati-medium Pudumjee School, where he learned the Gujarati ABCs and basic arithmetic. He studied at this school for three years. Merwan did not like arithmetic and would complain about it to Bobo ( Sheriar ). Although Merwan was extremely intelligent, studying mathematics became a bane to him.
Dinshaw Irani Rustom 'Masaji' Irani Khohadad M. Irani
Sheriar saved his money and, after some time, opened a teashop in Char Bawdi ( exact location not known ) which is now the area near Hazrat Babajan's burial shrine ( dargah ). He, Shireen and little Merwan lived behind the shop for some months.
Sheriar later opened another tea-shop on Sachapir Street, ( exact location not known ).
( see Maps 1 & 2 for location ). See image
They moved to Quarter Gate when Sheriar bought another tea-shop, his 3rd,
christened Café Sheriar, where he also sold cold drinks, sandalwood and incense used by the Zoroastrians in their religious ceremonies. They lived
behind this tea-shop, also later, upstairs in a building on Pandita Ramabai Road which faced Quarter Gate Square.
( see house images below )
see Maps 1 & 2 for location in Poona
QUARTER GATE SQUARE, POONA
On Monday, 1 September 1902, at the age of eight, Merwan was admitted to the Sardar Khan Dastur Noshirwan Zoroastrian School in the Camp (cantonment) area, which he attended for a year. In the Pudumjee School, boys and girls were taught separately, but in the Dastur School, classes were coeducational. Merwan did not like it. He felt shy in front of girls. The very first day of school, when he went home for lunch, he refused to go back in the afternoon. Despite entreaties from his mother, he would not reveal the reason for his attitude.
Among Merwan's childhood friends were a Muslim, Abdul S. Ghani (later known as Dr. Ghani ), Ghani's younger brother Abdur, Khodadad Shirzad Irani (nicknamed Khodu and later Sailor Mama), Khodu's relative Bairam Jamshed Irani (nicknamed Baily), Miya Khan, Palkhiwala and several others, most of whom were of Persian descent like himself. They comprised his neighborhood playmates. With them, Merwan delighted in flying kites, playing marbles, Hide-and-Seek, gilli-danda, and, at night, a game called Night-time in the Moonlight.
BABA'S HOUSE, PUNE
Postal address : 765 Dastur Meher Road, Meher Mohalla Camp, Pune 411101
Later during the year 1919, Sheriar Irani ( Merwan's father ) purchased the house across the lane from Pumpkin House - the new address was ; 765 Butler Moholla - this house was more spacious, which was needed for the 7 children.
On 31 August 1903, at the age of nine, Merwan entered the Poona Camp Government English School. He attended this school for five years. It was an all-boys school, a beautifully constructed building located on Main Street (near what is now Poona Drug Stores). It was an old school built by the British for students from the wealthier families of Poona and Bombay. Here Merwan encountered older students and became a favorite of many. He had an outgoing, gregarious nature and was sympathetic and helpful to all. His companions loved him dearly and looked to him as their natural leader.
THE LOCAL PARSI AGIARY / TEMPLE
Merwan was devoutly religious. Like all faithful Zoroastrians, he would attend his local agyari (fire-temple) with his parents, and the priests were impressed by the youngster's devotion. Merwan and Jamshed's navjot (sacred thread ceremony) was performed before a gathering of Poona Zoroastrians when Merwan was about ten years old. Yet the boy was not drawn to the ceremonial atmosphere of the fire temple, and used to thumb rapidly through the pages of the prayer book, hoping the service would end soon.
Merwan's sister Freni Sheriar Irani is born. She died aged 6 years old in 1905.
Merwan's brother Shirmand Sheriar Irani is born but only lives for 7 months, dying in 1898.
Merwan Irani aged 5 attends Pudumjee Gujarati School, Poona for 3 years.
Merwan's brother Jehangir Sheriar Irani is born. He only lives for 2 years and dies in 1902.
1902 ; Sept.1st.
Merwan aged 8½ attends Sardar Khan Dastur Noshirwan Zoroastrian School, Poona.
1902 ; September 15th
Merwan's brother Jal Sheriar Irani is born. He lives for 79 years, passing away on 21st Feb.1982 in Poona.
1903 ; 31st August attends for 5½ years at this school.
POONA CAMP GOVT. ENGLISH SCHOOL, later became
ANGLO-URDU HIGH SCHOOL
Dowla Masi and Faredoon Masa owned a successful restaurant in Lonavla. It was noticed that every time Merwan visited, a mast (God-intoxicated person) and a wali (saint) would come to the restaurant. The ragged mast would stay seated outside, while the neatly dressed wali would enter. Both advanced souls were venerated by the townspeople, and both lived on the outskirts of the town, seldom leaving their spiritual seats. Yet, no sooner would Merwan arrive in Lonavla than both would appear at the restaurant and remain daily from morning until night.
The local people tried to offer the mast and wali tea or food, but they would accept things only from the young boy. Merwan would usually give the wali tea, and the mast a loaf of bread. On the day Merwan would return to Poona, both spiritual personages would stop coming to the restaurant — much to the curiosity of the local observers.
After some time, Dowla Masi, Faredoon Masa, and Jamshed moved back to Poona for Jamshed's high school education. Here, too, the couple opened a restaurant. Jamshed, though he had lived apart from his parents for some years, always felt very close to his younger brother. From the time they were babies, the two brothers had been raised more like twins. For example, whenever it was Jamshed's birthday, Dowla Masi would insist that Merwan receive the same gift (such as an identical suit of clothes) so that, whenever any new toy or gift was bought for one, the other brother would receive the same as well.
Faredoon Masa Irani Dowla Masi D. Irani Jamshed S. Irani
Sometimes, Merwan would visit Bombay and spend part of his vacation with his other maternal aunt and uncle, Banu Masi and her husband Khodadad Masa, and their children.
Khodadad Masa managed several flourishing teashops in Bombay and they lived in a large house with a spacious compound where the children played. Merwan's paternal uncle, Khodadad Kaka, and members of his family had also settled in Bombay, and Merwan would visit them as well, befriending Khodadad Kaka's sons.
Lonvala is a hill station is between Bombay & Poona serviced by a major road and railway.
It's located 10 miles / 64 Kms from Poona & 60 miles / 96 Kms from Bombay.
1908 - 20th June
Merwan's brother Beheram Sheriar Irani is born. He lives till 30th June 1974 in Poona ( 66 years old ).
1909 - January
ST. VINCENT'S HIGH SCHOOL
When Merwan first went to St. Vincent's High School when he was 14 years and 11 months old on 4th January 1909.
He attends this school for almost 3 years, leaving in late 1911 after he matriculated he applied for the reputable Deccan College in which he passed his entrance exams there.
St. Vincent's High school was Roman Catholic run by Christian Jesuit missionaries, and most of the boys were from wealthier families, but boys of all castes and faiths were admitted. Unusual for a Catholic school,
religious instruction was not mandatory. Discipline was strict.
The principal, a German priest named Wilhelm Windhausen.
The school had a large courtyard for athletic exercises and sports. Merwan excelled in long distance running, high jumping, field hockey and soccer, in which he also won many cups and medals. But his favorite game throughout his life was cricket. It was at St. Vincent's that Merwan joined the high school's cricket team and became an excellent wicket keeper.
The team members were usually seniors but Merwan, though younger, played first string for St. Vincent's and set many school cricket records which remained unbroken for years.
Merwan had a great interest in literature reading the English works of Shelley, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Sir Water Scott, John Donne, also, in Farsi the Divan of Hafiz , Hindi works of Sadgurus Tukaram and Swami Ramdas, the entire Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana. Many of these he committed to memory.
He also read the Gujarat works of Sohrab Desai of Navsari and also favo(u)red detective stories many of which featured in the British weekly magazine the Union Jack, featuring Sexton Blake, Sherlock Holmes and others. Merwan even wrote to Sexton Blake ( which had many writers contributing ).
Lord Meher on-line Page 138
Merwan also began writing articles in English and Gujarati, which were published in different Indian newspapers, under the pen name of Huma. Similarly, his poems, shairees (couplets), and ghazals, written in English, Gujarati, Persian, Farsi, Urdu and Hindi under the same pen name, were greatly appreciated. With Merwan's permission, Baily mailed one of Huma's Urdu ghazals to the popular Gujarati newspaper Sanj Vartaman (The Evening News) of Bombay, which published it in its Saturday issue. Thereafter, every Saturday issue contained one of Huma's compositions or articles.
Merwan was also drawn to drama and would act in plays at school as well as participating in the local Y.M.C.A. (Young Men's Christian Association) productions. He played his roles so brilliantly that he won prizes for his performances several times. On one occasion at St. Vincent's, he acted in a play titled Here She Goes, There She Goes, for which he was given a standing ovation. Jamshed would also take part in the school plays and the two brothers would frequently rehearse together.
Lord Meher on-line Page 138-9
Since Merwan had changed schools, it was not possible for him to see his old friends as often as he would have liked, so he established the Cosmopolitan Club on the first floor of a building not far from Char Bawdi — the neighborhood that Hazrat Babajan inhabited. Boys of different religions would gather at the club, and nominal membership fees were collected to pay the rent and make purchases. A treasurer and secretary were appointed, and the president was Merwan.
Some of the rules of the club were : - Feeling oneself to be superior to others on the basis of one's community — Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Zoroastrian — is forbidden.
- The goals of the members are to love all and maintain unity and brotherhood.
They would do inconspicuously, without any fanfare or publicity use their collected funds to
do charitable work by helping needy people in their community.
When Merwan was sixteen he had to resign as president of the Cosmopolitan Club, since he had to prepare for his matriculation examination. He needed to concentrate on his studies and, considering his other activities, it was not possible to continue as president.
The club soon disbanded because others too left to pursue higher studies.
In 1909, Merwan's family had grown, so they moved into rented rooms at Bhagwandas Chawl, where they lived for about two years.
This property was more than likely on Rao Saheb (RS) Kedari Road.
A chawl is a residential apartment block, usually multi-storied, consisting of series of small rooms or tenements on each floor, linked by a hallway.
In December 1911, Merwan passed the matriculation exam given by Bombay University. He then joined the previous (freshman) class of Deccan College in Poona for higher studies in Inter Arts. Deccan College was considered among the better college-level institutions. It had a boat club with excellent facilities for sports, and its students formed an integrated student body taken from different religions and communities in the area.
December 1911 to Mid-1913
When Merwan first attended Deccan College, he was 17 years and 9 months old in December 1911.
Merwan also became a member of the college boat club, and, with his close friends, he would row along the Mula-Mutha River some evenings, spending many pleasant hours in this manner.
While at Deccan College, Merwan formed a drama (theater) troupe that rehearsed at the home of his aunt Pila Masi and uncle Rustom Masa (Masaji) on Sachapir Street. The group staged two or three public performances at a local theater with the proceeds donated to charity.
Merwan and his friends would sometimes attend kirtan performances — songs with narration about God or gurus and saints. Gadge Maharaj was a Hindu saint of the sixth plane, who, in his youth, wandered in India living off alms. Once Merwan heard the great saint perform a kirtan in Poona. Although the humble saint was dressed in rags, Gadge Maharaj radiated divine love, and all who attended were profoundly impressed
At one point, Baily recorded, Merwan wrote a complete film scenario of nearly 200
typed pages in English, along with other story ideas, and mailed it to Universal Film Company in America. Unfortunately,
what became of the screenplay is unknown. Merwan's brother Jal mentioned once that the studio did reply, but at that
Merwan was engrossed with Hazrat Babajan.
After passing his freshman exam, Merwan entered the inter (sophomore) class of Deccan College in 1912. At this time, some of Merwan's friends drank beer, and he would occasionally join them for one or two drinks, but he detested drunkenness. Merwan was good company and a cheerful, merry friend who appreciated a good joke; he always tried to keep those around him happy.
Merwan it seems, showed no particular aptitude or ambition in college.
Famous author Prof. F.W. Bain taught at the school whilst Merwan attended.
One day in 1912, while Merwan was sitting outside his house, suddenly his inner sight opened. He saw the divine effulgence of God and immediately lost all bodily consciousness. Although his eyelids remained open, he was merged in divine bliss.
Merwan's aunt happened to walk by and, noticing him sitting in an awkward position, called his name but received no reply or acknowledgement of her presence. Memo ( Merwan's mother ) was informed and came running. Shaking him, she called, "Merog ! Merog !"
At last his eyelids quivered and he saw his mother before him. "Memo, please," he mumbled. "Please don't disturb me." He remained stunned for a few minutes more before rising to his feet. His mother could only conclude that he must have had a dizzy spell.
After that experience of the noor state (the light of God), Merwan increasingly felt some great urge within — some powerful feeling that he was different from other men. This feeling of being different persisted, though he still had no consciousness of his real spiritual identity. Merwan was still veiled by the Perfect Ones from knowing his true greatness — but that was about to change.
Merwan would ride his bicycle to college every day from his house. In the (Indian) summer of 1913, he was preparing for his final exams as a college sophomore, studying diligently at the Khorshed Wadi fire-temple, where it was quieter.
One terribly scorching day in May 1913, as Merwan was riding his bicycle (** along RS Kedari Road ) on his way to Deccan College, something extraordinary happened which caused everything to change for this nineteen-year-old youth. He noticed a large crowd gathered on Malcolm Tank Road (** at the intersection of RS Kedari Rd ) near Char Bawdi. The crowd was surrounding the old woman, Hazrat Babajan, who was seated under her neem tree as usual.
Merwan had passed this woman many times, but had never paid much attention to her, although he was aware that Babajan was regarded as a saint by the local Mohammedan community.
Lord Meher On-line page 151
** added by Anthony Zois
As Merwan rode by that day, he happened to glance at Babajan who, at that very moment, looked directly at him — and, with a nod of her head, beckoned him to her. As a polite and courteous young gentleman, Merwan could not disregard her. He got off his bicycle and walked over to her. Their eyes met and Merwan could sense that the old woman was extremely happy to see him.
Babajan had been eagerly awaiting him, and as Merwan approached her, he felt as if he were being drawn to her magnetically. Babajan stood up with her arms spread wide. The old woman embraced Merwan with the fervor of a mother finding her long lost child. Tears streamed down her wrinkled cheeks as she repeated, "Mera piarra beta ... Mera piarra beta [My beloved son]!"
Merwan was speechless and stood as motionless as a statue in front of the ancient woman. From the moment of her embrace, he felt as if an electric current was passing through his body, sending impulses from his head to his toes. What he then experienced is indescribable — his individual consciousness was merging with the Ocean of bliss!
Although Merwan was dazzled by the effect of Babajan's embrace, he maintained some consciousness of his environment and walked home, leaving his bicycle behind. Although, inwardly, his total being was profoundly affected, outwardly he appeared, for the most part, normal.
Lord Meher On-line page 152
Hazrat Babajan's Dargah & Char Bawdi area, Pune
Life was now totally empty except for one person: Hazrat Babajan. From that day in May 1913 onward, for the next seven months the only thing Merwan did regularly was to visit Babajan every evening.
He longed to be in her company. For hours he would sit by the old woman's side — sometimes late into the night. They hardly spoke.
Nevertheless, every evening without fail Merwan would go to Babajan. He did not care about the remarks of people who shook their heads, clucked their tongues, and wondered, "Merwan was such a good boy — the son of respectable, devout Zoroastrian parents. What has happened to him to make him sit by that old woman every night?" His good name and admirable character were routinely slandered. But it did not concern him, for with that one embrace from Babajan, Merwan's life in illusion had ended and the merging of his life in divinity had begun.
Lord Meher On-line page 152-3
Merwan had awakened and his spiritual journey was commencing. Eventually as Meher Baba he would declare himself the Avatar.
The next chapter details his journey with the 5 Perfect Masters at that time.
Click here : " Spiritual Awakening " to visit that webpage.
The reference books that were used on this webpage :
Lord Meher Vol.1 - Bhau Kalchuri
The Perfect Master - Charles B. Purdom
The God-Man - Charles B. Purdom
Lord Meher on-line - David Fenster
LINKS TO THE OTHER PAGES OF MEHER BABA'S LIFE
Click on the following buttons to visit those webpages.