During this period, there were numerous reports in the newspapers that famine was stalking Calcutta, Lucknow and other places in India. On October 1st, 1943, Baba expressed a wish to go to Calcutta, and for a month feed the people there, serving the food himself.
He explained: “This work of mine is quite distinct from that done by others. For spiritual reasons, I want to serve the food myself. There are hundreds of institutions engaged in the work of handing out free food, but I do not wish to work through them. The meaning of my feeding people is quite different. It is not to fill the stomachs of the hungry, but to feed humanity spiritually.”
As usual, Baba wanted people not to know of his presence, nor recognize him. This was difficult in Calcutta, where Deshmukh had delivered speeches in 1941, and Baba’s photographs had been well publicized in the newspapers. Another condition Baba laid down was that the feeding should be done in a separate house from the one where he would stay, to further avoid recognition. To arrange all this, Baba sent Chanji and Babadas to Calcutta on October 4th. Eruch was instructed to leave Poona on October 6th and join them in Calcutta.
This was, in a sense, not a “feeding of the poor.” Baba wanted to contact those lower-middle-class people who could not beg, but who had been rendered helpless by circumstances and were now destitute. According to the plan, Eruch, Kaka, Baidul and Babadas were to find and bring about fifty middle-class persons each day, and also arrange for the utensils and food required.
Chanji did his best to rent a bungalow in a quiet locality, but one could not be obtained for only a month. No place was found for cooking and serving the food either.
With much difficulty, Eruch was successful in contacting the chief organizer, Dr. Rai Chowria, of the Puddo Pukkar Relief center, a charitable food-distributing institution, whom he told, “A generous Parsi philanthropist from Bombay is desirous of feeding the poor. If you put some suitable place at our disposal, we would be greatly obliged.”
Dr. Chowria agreed to make a school premises available for the purpose. But before he committed himself, Chanji presented before him the following four written conditions:
None of the members of your organization should meet the Parsi benefactor, except Mr. Chowria, who can share in the work. The Parsi gentleman would like silence while serving the food. (This was specially included so that Chowria would not be inquisitive about Baba.)
No one should observe the generous Parsi and his companions, even from a distance, at the time of serving the food. A room must be arranged for the generous Parsi where he could sit alone to distribute dhotis and saris to the men and women.
Your establishment should make complete arrangements (such as providing a cook, utensils, grains, servants, et cetera) for which all expenses will be paid. Also, the institution should select middle-class persons who need help, and issue invitations to them in the name of the generous Parsi, whose guests they will all be.
Dr. Chowria accepted the conditions, but no private living accommodation for Baba could be made. The original plan was that as soon as all arrangements had been made, Chanji was to telegram Baba at Lahore, and he would come. But, as was Baba’s habit, he arrived unexpectedly on October 14th, with Gustadji and Savak. Since no residential quarters had been available, Chanji took them to a hotel for at least a day. Adi Sr., Deshmukh, Kaka and Baidul arrived the following day.
In the morning, Baba expressed how displeased he was with Chanji, scolding him, “I sent you out ten days in advance to make proper arrangements, but you did not do a damn thing!
“I did not rest. The whole night has been hell for me. Have you no thought for my comfort and convenience? If you now fail to find a peaceful, suitable place for me to stay, I will have you hung upside down!”
Finding Baba in such an awful temper, Chanji said not a word, and quietly went out to make the impossible possible. He again approached the owner of the house who had refused to rent it for a month. The man insisted he wanted to only rent his building for a year, and Chanji’s persuasion had no effect on him.
Nearby, a Madrasi official named C. R. Sunder Rajan was residing. He overheard Chanji and asked, “What exactly do you require, friend?” Chanji explained the benevolent work the philanthropic Parsi wanted to do for those who had suffered misfortune, and the Madrasi said, “You can stay in my house.”
“But you have a family,” Chanji said. “The generous Parsi wants a vacant house.” Rajan immediately arranged to shift his family elsewhere, and they left the same day. Baba came to his house. Seeing him from a distance, Rajan was deeply affected. Rajan told Chanji, “You can also use my car from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.” He gave the use of his driver and included free petrol besides. In those wartime days, gasoline was strictly rationed and could hardly be bought, but Rajan, being a high official in the supplies department, would somehow get it for Baba’s use.
Sunder Rajan moved into a tiny adjoining room, and Baba bothered him every few minutes, sending him word not to make any noise. Rajan had to be content to remain in his room like a statue. When he had to go out, he would carry his shoes in his hands and quietly tiptoe out of the house. He would only put his shoes on when he was well outside the gate.
All this sounds strange and unbelievable for one who did not know who Baba was. But Baba’s attraction was so strong, even atheists changed their minds about God’s existence, and were ready to serve Baba when they encountered him.
The Parsi mandali were accommodated in the Parsi dharamshala, and the Hindus in the hotel Anand Bhavan. All met Baba every morning at Sunder Rajan’s for instructions.
Soon after settling in, Baba changed his plan. Instead of feeding fifty people per day for a month, he now wished to feed all the hundreds of them at once. Chanji went to inform Dr. Chowria, who gladly agreed to the proposal. Every member of his organization worked wholeheartedly. After a thorough selection process, they invited the most needy of the middle class to the feast. Tasty food was prepared, and dhotis and saris were purchased.
The “generous Parsi” arrived at the school building on Tuesday, October 19th, for the program, and was escorted to a private room where he could distribute the food. One of the men mandali was posted to make sure no one except the genuinely needy entered. That day Baba served food to about one thousand hungry people who had become destitute. (1) All the poor people gazed at him. They could not help themselves. Baba was so unique, his uniqueness could not be hidden.
The guests murmured among themselves: “The Parsi must be a real Mahatma. How great he is to feed us so lovingly without any publicity. Others wish their names in the papers and photographers present for any small service.” After the meal, Baba handed each man a dhoti and each woman a sari.
His name was never disclosed,
yet the wave from his Ocean of love
touched every heart and, in so doing,
cleansed it more than they could ever have known.
(1) There is another account written of this feeding of the poor or starving in Calcutta that records that only about three hundred and twenty-five, not one thousand, hungry people were fed.
Lord Meher, Original ed., Bhau Kalchuri, Vol. 8, pp. 2919 – 2922.