The good Indian
Chronicles of Fredrick D. Sauma, Part 4
September 10, 2006
After Maria told me that she was having an affair with a fellow student I thought it was going to be a while before I could go out with any one again. But all my lamentation and heartache diminished considerably when I met Jo one night at the local pub. We found ourselves at the same table discussing religion while drinking and smoking with other foreigners. She said she was fed up with the organized religions and considered herself a follower of Meher Baba. Then she turned toward me and said, 'Did you know Meher Baba was a Zoroastrian and his parents had migrated to India from Yazd?' I said I had no idea who Meher Baba was, let alone his pedigree. Albeit, I was fascinated and loved to find out more about him.
Jo accepted my invitation to lunch in the Italian restaurant with a wide-angle view of the river Rhine.
I interpreted the perfect timing of our arrival together as a good omen.
She asked me if I were a Moslem. Religion was a complicated subject for me. I told her that I was still undecided. She thought I was a perfect candidate for conversion to the creed of Meher Baba, whatever that was. I said it's going take some time before I converted into anything. Beside I had a good understanding of Islam and Christianity, and knew perfectly well how to contradict myself on most important theological issues. She said Meher Baba is beyond all creeds or religious doctrine. I said I'm not spiritually that advanced to plunge into the wild currents of New Age, yet, but willing, with her guiding hand, to explore the nooks and crannies of his 'beyond theology' approach. I always longed to embrace a body of faith, totally, knowing that it was me, or part of me.
Jo's dad was a diplomat posted to the U.S. embassy in Germany. The family lived in the American residential quarter. Jo had a round, chubby face with long auburn hair. She had taken after her mother, she told me, who was an Indian from the tribe of Cheyenne. She was as much a relic as my Nestorian mother I thought.
'I want to introduce you to my parents?' She told me on one of our afternoon walks along the river.
'Don't you think that's a bit too soon, we've only being going out for a few weeks?'
'No, dad would love to talk to someone like you. He's been to Iran during the reign of the Shah. He likes Iranians.'
'Well, that's reassuring.' I told her.
'He's told me all about the country and her past. I love Iran, although I've never been there. It's a shame about the new government. Isn't it?'
I sensed politics could be creeping in again, Iran, Shah, ayatollahs, CIA, coup d'etat, the communists and all those fiascoes.
'Tell me about Meher Baba. How did you find him, I'd like to know the whole story?'
'We live in South Carolina not far from Myrtle Beach, where Meher Baba's headquarter is. One day I was sauntering aimlessly along this dirt road, not knowing where it'd lead me and wandered into his ashram and walked out as a disciple.'
'Did you meet him?'
'No, he died in 69, the year I was born. But I met his followers sitting around together, singing and reciting poetry to each other.'
'Do you like poetry?'
'I love poetry. My mom likes poetry too.'
'Did Meher Baba like poetry?'
'Oh yes he did. He wrote a lot of poetry.'
'What did Meher Baba say about sex?'
'He remained a celibate all his life. But he approved of sex within marriage. He loved arts. Many of his followers were artists, dancers, actors, writers and even a famous rock star.'
'Yes, Pete Townsend from The Who was his disciple. He started the first Meher Baba home fellowships in London.'
'I like The Who.'
'I don't mind them.' She told me.
'What kind of music do you like?' I asked her.
'Celtic and Folk.'
'Are you an artist?' I asked her.
'I wish I was. I don't know where my talent is. I don't particularly like studying. I was a truant during my high school years. But I'm very curious about things. I like philosophy, spirituality and literature. But all in my own time. I don't like structured learning.'
I was learning that Jo didn't like structured things much, be it religion or education.
I was starting to wonder how she felt about a structured relationship.
I woke to the sound of Jo's yawning the next morning. She rushed into the bathroom and after a quick shower scurried out like a burglar.
'See you tonight at the party?' I shouted.
'Yes, see you tonight, don't be late.' I barely heard her response.
The party at her home was very similar to the ones I used to attend on the diplomatic circuit except this one was exclusively for the Americans. Jo's mom approached me with a plate of finger food in her hands.
'Take some Fred, they are delicious, Jo and I baked them together.'
I took a few small quiches and placed them on a small paper plate.
'I'm glad you could come tonight.'
'Pleasure is all mine.' I told her.
'I'm going to be a bit busy tonight. But later on I'll hope we could find time to chew the fat together. Jo has told me a bit about you but I'd like to hear it all from yourself.'
I wondered what could Jo have told her family about me.
'In all my dealings with Americans I've never met a Cheyenne. I'd like to hear your story too.' I told her.
'That's a long one Fred, a long one.'
She moves on to other guests with a lasting smile on her friendly face.
John, Jo's dad, with his long gray hair stood in one spot while talking to any one who happened to be in his vicinity. He looked just as contented when no one talked to him, sipping from the wineglass in his hand, browsing at everyone like a window shopper. He acknowledged me by moving his big, green, heavy lidded eyes around sternly. I stared back at him with some intensity, focusing sharply on him with my black eyes.
It was not as easy to be among the Americans, particularly when relations between our countries was at an all time low. I didn't want to be singled out but I didn't discount the possibility of being asked to give a talk, preferably against the new fanatical government. Americans liked speeches. I had spoken at their embassy function once before, when our ambassador was absent. Although, I was now on my own, representing no government and protecting no interests, I was prepared to give my own political analysis of the situation. I drank enough wine to be able to rise to the occasion if it happened. And under the influence of alcohol I'd always imagined my words to echo in all the appropriate corridors of power, an illusion that satisfied my craving to be heard.
I didn't recognize any of the people from the old embassy parties except Jeff, who had managed to hang on to his clerical job and obviously wasn't ready to go back home yet. He smiled at me from cross the hall, and I was happy to see him, once again.
I wanted to talk to John, remembering Jo telling me about his trips to Middle East, but I found it hard to position myself in front of him as he somehow stood exactly at the thoroughfare like a border officer. I began to shift along as Jo began introducing me to other guests telling everyone where I was from, as if it was a kind of honor. A middle-aged man engaged me in the hostage crisis talks in Lebanon. I immediately condemned it. Another person queried about the war, and another about Hezballah's operation in Southern Lebanon. I was trapped as more and more people began to talk to me about the revolution, kidnapping and the rise of fundamentalists to power. I gradually withdrew and veered toward Jeff. Different topics were discussed on that side of the room and it felt more like neutral ground and I began to relax a bit.
'Are you going out with Jo?' Jeff asked.
'I'd like to. She's great.'
'She's nice. The whole family is wonderful. I'm going out with her sister, Nancy.' Pointing to the girl standing near the table heaped with food.
'The Middle East crisis is going to dominate all discussions tonight' Jeff told me.
'I know, I can't get away from it. I don't know if I'd like to attend another American party.'
'It's incredible how everything quickly changed in your neck of the wood. "The sea of stability" turned into the tsunami of the century.' Jeff was referring and mocking one of Carter's speeches on Iran.
'Well, let's not talk politics. What do you make of John?' I asked Jeff. 'He hasn't moved an inch since I've arrived here.'
'He's a nice guy', Jeff said, 'a bit eccentric I have to say.'
'Where did he find a Cheyenne wife?'
'Georgina is lovely.'
'I couldn't agree more.' I told him.
'What's the plan for you Fred? Are you going to return home?'
'As long as this government is in power, I've made a vow to myself not to.'
'What if they remained in power forever?'
'Then I stay out forever.'
'Do you think you can tolerate not seeing your family and friends?'
'I'll get used to it. They can come and visit me over here. I won't carry the passport of a fundamentalist government.'
Despite my firm, uncompromising stance, I wasn't sure how long I was prepared to handle the separation. I had seen dissidents of my father's generation dried out and withered, taking refuge in alcohol, drugs or cocooned in their own loneliness, dying like sick, abandoned dogs in their hovels.
'When do you think you go back home?' I asked Jeff.
'Well, not much longer. I'll see how I go with Nancy. I want to start a family. I love it over here. I'm more European at heart than American. But they won't keep me at the embassy forever. In fact they want me to leave.'
'It's a shame you can't apply for asylum on cultural grounds.' I told him with a smirk.
'Yes. cultural or political. I hate Reagan. I can make a good political case for myself. This is one of the disadvantages of coming from a democratic country. You can't run away from things.'
'Nobody will give you shelter if you do.' I added.
Jo came and grabbed my elbow and pulled me away.
'Come I want to show you something.'
She took me to her room and pointed to the picture hanging on the wall.
'That's Meher Baba.'
'He's handsome. Now I see why you became his follower.' I told her.
'Yes he was.'
I had to keep reminding myself that he was dead.
'I better go back. I'm one of the hosts. '
'I'm not sure if I want to join your guests.'
'What do you mean?'
'Most people are talking about politics. And I'm just fed up with it.'
'I know what you mean. We need God, Fred. Meher Baba told us that it's only under God that East and West could come together as one.'
I thought only if East and West learned to leave each other alone.
'Yes you're right Jo. God is all we need. But let's not forget about love.'
I kissed her again.
'Fred did you want to go to your place? You don't have to stay here if you don't want to. You can go and I'll come over a bit later. I want to stay back and help mom.'
'Sure. It's a good idea. I'll go and put a bottle of wine in the fridge and wait for you.'
'I don't think I'll drink tonight. I just want to talk.' She told me softly.
'What about, Meher Baba?'
'My plans. Perhaps your plans.'
'Sounds like an after midnight powwow. I'll make sure we're going to have enough smoke.'
'Well, time is passing us by. We've got to start doing things for our world. We can't go on killing each other like we do.'
'What do you want to do?' I asked her.
'We have to tell people about Baba and his message, I'm sure people will listen. They're hungry for meaning and purpose in their lives. I was going to tell you tonight. But I'm going to India next month. I've talked to my parents about it. I always wanted to go there, I mean since I became Meher Baba's follower.'
'Are your parents okay about it?'
'They understand my devotion.'
'You're going to come back aren't you?'
'I don't know. I might decide to go somewhere else after that.'
'Why are you going to India anyway?'
'I feel India is calling me to go there. I want to team up with others. People with the same heart and mind can achieve a lot more together, that's what Meher Baba told us. I just want to play my little part. India would be a good training ground.'
She looked at me with her sanguine countenance that made her look fierce and desirable at the same time.
* * *
In our last night together we patiently weaved some continuity into our memories of the past. She thought nothing but a divine providence had brought us here at this point in time. And that it was up to us to finish the rest of the picture. Naturally it was the future that engaged us mostly. The present was nothing but a watchtower on which we stood and peeked into the unknown
'Did you want to come to India with me?'
'I can't travel yet Jo. You know that.'
'Then join me later. I'll be in touch with you. I'll write you, I promise. You're bound to get your passport sooner or later.'
'By the time I get my passport you could be out of India, God knows where.'
'I could be. You can still join me.'
I told her perhaps we could go to Yazd one day and visit Meher Baba's house. Who knows under more propitious political circumstances she could even set up an ashram there, if Myrtle Beach was his center in the West, Yazd could become his headquarters in the East, where it all began. And then seekers would come from all over the world to visit or stay. I told her there are no shimmering white, sandy beaches in Yazd, but rufous soil of the desert underneath the garish sun. She could organize poetry nights, with drama and dance. Or invite Pete Townsend to come and perform his song O'Parvardigar, that he composed for Baba, accompanied with santur, tar, tonbak and daf , using one of the ancient Zoroastrian temple's, where Meher Baba's ancestors used to worship as the stage.
Jo was marked out for Baba, it was apparent. She was as determined and brave as her ancestors in the Battle of Little Bighorn to annihilate disunity and bring love and peace to the distraught and the injured. That was her true talent, I believed. Just as she walked into my life and calmed my stormy feelings into ripples of tranquility, she was going to do the same for the wounded soul of the world, be it in Yazd, India or Myrtle Beach.
© Farid Parsa