The tip-up chair in the lecture theatre creaked as Pete sat back heavily in it. “So, how come all the great prophets were from ancient times? You never really hear about modern-day prophets?” said Pete.
The light emanating from Lisa’s every pour grew slightly brighter as the angel turned with interest to face her companion.
“Good question Pete, theories have been popular that ancient, divine knowledge was given once to humanity.” Lisa warmed to her theme, “knowledge to be either retained or… lost forever! Prisca theologia is the fancy term.”
“Is that what happened?” asked Pete excitedly.
“No!” said Lisa with a grin, “it’s just that in ancient times there were fewer distractions so people could focus more on discerning true reality.”
“Everything true is spirit and all that is spirit is eternal and inexhaustible. Love, laughter, true beauty, courage, kindness, the soul, sacrifice, ideas, all real and all eternal. Nothing real ever dies, you see?”
“So there are modern prophets?”
“Oh yes, one, Meher Baba lived until only a few decades before you were born.”
“Any since then?”
“There are, but they find it very hard to gain an audience given the competition with countless charlatans or just lonely people wanting to feel important. Social media gives everyone a voice, which is great, but it can also dilute into obscurity voices of absolutely vital importance. Let me show you.” The angel sat back and crossed her long legs. The room darkened and a Twitter feed appeared on the projector screen at the front of the room. One tweet expanded to fit the entire screen. There was a Hindu symbol in place of a portrait picture, the tweet read ‘Puruṣārtha are the four proper goals of human life; righteousness, prosperity, love and liberation’. “This tweet is by the current incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu; his teachings are just as valuable as when he came to the world as Krishna and Rama amongst others.”
“But the tweet only has four likes,” said Pete puzzled, “and he only has a hundred and fifty followers.”
“Exactly! But with thousands of people on Twitter falsely claiming to be an incarnation of Vishnu, mostly a lot more photogenic, they get more attention. You see the problem?”
“Yes, that is a pity. So this chap that you mentioned, Meher Baba, can I see him?” Lisa smiled.
“Your wish is my command. Lovely to see you as ever Pete, enjoy!”
Pete smelt salty air and could hear the sound of gulls, the deep whir of a ship’s engines and excited chatter. He opened his eyes to find himself on a turn of the century steam ship. Looking over the rust flecked railings, he saw a large port looming on the horizon. A group of young women in beautiful nineteen-thirties dresses and hats excitedly beckoned him over.
“Hello there, Pete isn’t it? Jolly good to have you with us,” gushed one lady.
“Oh hi there,” said Pete. The lady frowned in puzzlement.
“I’m not that high, we’re on the same deck as you.” Pete briefly thought about the period he was in.
“Oh, well, I meant how do you do?” The lady was all smiles again.
“We do very well thank you Pete, we are just yearning to be with him.”
“With Mahar Baba?” asked Pete. Another lady piped up excitedly.
“Well, clearly, silly! We’re his western disciples, hand-picked to spend six months travelling round the world with him. I sold my ballet school to be here, but small price to pay really.” Another lady rolled her eyes in mock exasperation,
“And we’ve not stopped hearing about your tremendous sacrifice since, Kitty.” Pete paused to allow the deafening blast of the ship’s horn as it entered port.
“So, what made you become his followers?” The women looked at each other, wandering who was going to be first.
“The things he says! They show his true divinity.”
“Oh yes!” cut in another woman, “the real moment for me, was when he said that desire causes reincarnation. Do you see the beauty in that? Deep down, our souls love God so much that they joyously put themselves through the suffering of reincarnation in order to get back to Him. Just like anyone going on a difficult journey to get somewhere really smashing.”
“For me, it’s when he said, ‘when you discard all that does not endure, you realise the truth,” said another, reverently, “you see everything true is spirit and all that is spirit is eternal and inexhaustible. Love, laughter, true beauty, courage, kindness, the soul, sacrifice, ideas, all real and all eternal. Nothing real ever dies, you see?”
”Plus he’s committed to compassion, he opened a school and hospital back in the twenties, all free to all castes and faiths. In India mark you! There’s a reason he’s called Meher Baba, it means compassionate father. Anyway, time to disembark ladies!” The women reached for their suitcases and moved towards the gang plank. Pete stared, awkwardly, unsure what to do.
“Come on silly!” called Kitty, beckoning excitedly. Gratefully, Pete joined them. The group was ushered into what to Pete’s eye were vintage cars waiting on the bustling quayside.
“This car has hydraulic brakes, Sir!” said the driver proudly, upon seeing Pete’s appraising gaze.
“That sounds… impressive,” said the young man politely. The convoy of cars snaked through the hectic streets of Bombay as it was then known. Gradually the vibrant, noisy streets settled down into country lanes with only the occasional horse and cart sharing the road. Kitty poked Pete in the ribs. “Look, here it is!” she cried excitedly. The cars drove into a large clearing in the lush Indian forest with a large, wooden, colonial house in one corner. “Um, is this ok?” said Pete, uneasily, “all you… you…”
“Pretty girls?” asked Kitty, pouting and fluttering her long eye lashes humorously. Although the effect on Pete was slightly more fundamental.
“Um, well yes. Should you all be staying with Meher Baba alone?”
“Oh, you big silly! Meher Baba, loves us all far too much to try anything like that. Besides, look, we have chaperones the whole time! He’s a true spiritual master, he teaches that happiness comes from being hard on ourselves not on others, so his self-discipline is off the chart.”
“Well that sounds fair en_” Pete froze mid-word. Stepping slowly down the porch steps came not so much an Indian man as a vision of peace, harmony and love confined to the shape of a man. Thick long black hair flowed around his broad, kindly, moustached face and he was clad in simple white cotton robes. He stood for a few seconds, smiling to himself as he surveyed everyone. A fundamental change came over the women. No more giggling and joking, just a serene reverence for the master before them. It felt like he was smoothing their paths simply with his very presence as a sun does with its orbiting planets. Baba embraced each disciple in turn as if a favourite daughter before walking back into the house to grant one on one talks. After eagerly awaiting his turn, Pete was shown into the sitting room by an Indian male disciple. Baba was sat cross legged on a large cushion and gestured for Pete to join him. Due to a vow of silence taken several years ago, Baba patiently signed using a wooden alphabet board, but his slight, tranquil smile never left his face. (to be continued)