A compilation of questions sent to the author David Fenster and his replies (prepared in 2003):
Have you been compiling data since you began residing in India?
Pretty much. I decided early on to tape Mehera as much as I could, as I found her way of speaking and information both fascinating and inspiring, being so one-pointed and focused in her love for Baba.
How was this project conceived?
I was editing Lord Meher and saw that there was a lot of material that Mehera was speaking about that wasn't in Lord Meher. So I thought it would be nice to include it as a companion volume to Baba's biography.
From where did the material come?
Almost all of the material in the book is from taped interviews I made. Besides taping Mehera and the women mandali, I went to Europe and America in 1981 to tape some of Baba's close Western followers for Lord Meher. While interviewing them, I also asked the women followers questions relating to Mehera, for Mehera-Meher. I also went to Nasik to meet Mehera's sister Freiny and contacted Colonel Irani's surviving relatives in Poona.
I made use of diaries, letters, and other written sources - if it pertained to Mehera and the women, and if it had not been published elsewhere. I was also fortunate to be living in India and to be able to spend time with the mandali informally, and note down their comments and additional information.
I'm in the first chapters of the second volume. I've been wishing for more information about Mehera specifically, as was the case throughout Volume One. Although the details of Meher Baba's activities during the World War II are extremely interesting.
Others have remarked on the same thing. I wanted to publish the parts of Mani's diary that weren't reproduced in Lord Meher (parts that dealt with household details, for example). Mani's diary ends before the end of WWII - so more of Mehera's voice picks up after this.
What was it like to tape Mehera:
At first, Mehera was very shy and self-conscious about having a microphone planted in front of her each time she sat on the verandah. I was able to make her feel more at ease by using this idea: Before each session, I tied a big Baba button on the microphone stand and decorated it with flowers. It worked amazingly well. Looking directly at Baba's photograph not only made Mehera feel comfortable as she spoke, but it also served to have her speak towards the microphone rather than to someone sitting on either side of her. So the recordings became clearer. Eventually, Mehera got so used to me sitting on her verandah with my tape-recorder that she didn't mind.
Did she know you would be writing a book about her?
It was never mentioned specifically, because at that time I was only concerned with collecting as much material as I could. I began transcribing the tapes while Mehera was still alive, but I never discussed an actual book project with her.
What was Meheru's involvement?:
Initially, I gave Meheru only a very few pages of the first volume, concerning her parents' marriage, as I thought she might be interested in reading what was new material. Meheru was pleased with it and asked, "Where's the rest of the book?" So I printed the entire manuscript, all three volumes, and sent it to her.
For a year-and-a-half, I didn't hear one word from her about it. I wasn't even sure she was reading it. Finally, I sent her a note explaining that the book was being readied for publication, and if she had any comments about it, now was the time to let me know so that I could include them.
I was flabbergasted when she returned the manuscript. On almost every page were Meheru's handwritten notes in the margins – to change something, or a comment about an incident. I incorporated everything, and it made the text so much richer to have her insight and additions.
I thought that the production was excellent - the choice of paper, font, the photos, and especially the covers and the box were exquisite.
While I oversaw the photographic side, including selecting the cover photos, all of the credit for the design, including the boxes, goes to Ed Legum of Atlanta – who carefully chose the paper and fonts, and spent five years on the entire layout.
Tell us about the photos:
The photos took three years to compile and edit. They were collected from sources all over the world. Each image was worked on in Photoshop by at least three and sometimes six individuals. They are printed in Duotone, a double printing process, to render them in the best possible way, on the paper chosen (which was specially imported from America into India for the book). Many of the photos have never been printed before, because they are slightly out of focus. But I felt they "fit" in the context of the story of the women's household, like family snapshots. So I believe they are a valuable addition to the material, even though they may not be of the highest quality. Most were shot by amateurs, of course.
To enhance the later years, I captured some color images from films. Some of these also are a bit fuzzy, because it was done within the constraints of equipment and copies of films available at Meherabad at the time, which was limited in quality. And I was learning as I did it.
I appreciated how you kept yourself out of the story, except for your very interesting speculations which I found very thought-provoking. I also appreciated your gentle humor, which I felt really added to the story.
I did consciously try and stay out of the narrative as much as possible, so that the reader could experience and reflect on Mehera's words directly. I thought some of the stories were very funny, so I'm glad you appreciated that angle.
Do you have a background in writing?
Not really. I had to do a lot of papers for school and wrote a few articles for the old Meher News Exchange, in addition to editing several of Bhauji's books; but writing never came easily to me. That's part of the reason this book took so long to produce: I kept going back and re-writing it. I wanted to be sure to get it right; to do justice to the material.
Are you pleased with how the book turned out?
I am very pleased. It is still amazing to me that certain individuals felt compelled to render their wholehearted help to this project. Meheru, Janet Judson, Julia Ross, Ed Legum, Anne Giles, Hugh MacDonald, Balaji and others put their hearts into it and helped enormously. Of course, many, many times what I am sure was Baba's 'direct' help arrived: in finding a photo or resolving a printing problem, et cetera.
What are you working on now ?
Since Mehera-Meher was published in 2003, many small additions and corrections have come my way, which I have incorporated in the paperback and more recently in the updated digital PDF edition. (A list of the additions and corrections can be found by clicking the CORRECTIONS & ADDITIONS tab above).
[Bhau's daughter] Sheela's book Growing Up With God [click on the title to read an excerpt from this work] was completed several years ago and an updated PDF of that book is also now available. Meanwhile, I am curating the large collection of photographs of Meher Baba and the mandali of the Meher Nazar Publications collection. I also consult and review forthcoming books about Meher Baba and his mandali, as well as edit unpublished diaries and other material.
To me, Mehera-Meher seems definitely a part of "the active present-tense" of God's work on this earth. Your thoughts?
It is wonderful to know that Baba is still active in the world, as Bhauji so often repeats. To imagine that this work is part of His work is a great compliment.
To keep Baba's presence present is one of the central lessons of Mehera-Meher. That is why Mehera always reminded us to say to ourselves, "Baba, be in the car with me as I am driving it ... and eat with me at the table ... Be next to me as I type this email ..." to bring Baba's presence near and keep him with us always. Mehera was able to do this so naturally, and it is possible for us also, but it requires sincere dedication.
You have given me many, many hours of reading pleasure. Thank you so very much.
It's very gratifying to hear such feedback. For twenty years, I lived with this project, working alone at home with the beauty, power, and love of this magnificent story. For me, it was like seeing a terrific movie and then wanting to talk about it with your friends - but no one else had seen it. Finally, others are enjoying it!
I tried my best to capture a little of Mehera's unique qualities, and make the books worthy of her great, great love. I'm glad some of that came through.