Naja Irani, one of Meher Baba’s intimate women mandali, was Baba’s cousin, and the daughter and sister of two of Baba’s very close men mandali, Masaji and Pendu. Naja was among the first group of women to join Baba’s ashram in 1924, and she remained with Him throughout her life.

Baba with Naja, Walu, Mani and Soonamasi, Nasik 1935
(Photo courtesy of the MSI Collection)

Naja’s father Masaji was a great cook, and perhaps she inherited the gift from him, for cooking was Naja’s forte too in Baba’s world. Or perhaps it came from the many times Naja’s aunt (and Baba’s mother) Shireenmai (who lived across the street) asked for her help in the kitchen. Whatever it was, from the earliest days in Baba’s women’s ashram at Meherabad, Naja cooked, and even after Baba dropped His body, she continued as cook in the Meherazad kitchen as she had been during His years there. She really was a marvelous cook, and could create something delicious out of just about anything.

Baba with Mehera, Naja and Mani at Meherazad, 1959.
(Photo courtesy of MN Publications)

Often Naja would meet pilgrims at Meherazad in the 1970s and very early ’80s. She occasionally would tell simple stories, sometimes more deeply than you might expect. One day I heard her quietly sum up their life with the Master: “It was fire.”

Naja on Mehera’s Porch at Meherazad, mid-1970s.
(Photo courtesy of MN Publications)

As the later photos of her show, Naja was also very friendly and very cheery. And she could be quite funny. One day Naja came out with a phrase in her straightforward English that some of us still cherish to this day. All the women had their “assigned” seats at Baba’s dining table in the house even in the later years, and Naja’s seat was adjacent to Rano’s. Meheru recounted that one day Rano had asked Naja to move over a bit and give her more legroom under the table. It seemed already crowded to Naja; she could manage to sit as she was, but she couldn’t move over anymore. So she replied to Rano, “This I can; that I can’t.” End of story.

Naja at Upper Meherabad in 1980.
(Photo from author’s private collection)

In the early 1980s, Naja became very ill, and she passed away at Meherazad on May 20th, 1982. As you can see from her shrine on Meherabad Hill next to Mehera’s, it was exactly seven years to the day before Mehera’s own reunion with Baba. Both dates were on “Buddha Purnima,” the day of the full moon in May, which is celebrated by Buddhists the world over as marking Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing away.

Naja’s body was to be cremated at Meherabad, and all the mandali came. As the car from Meherazad pulled up and I went to open Mehera’s door, I was surprised to see her face so full of grief and sadness for the loss of her lifelong friend. Yet at the cremation itself, hearing Naja’s brother Pendu loudly sobbing, Mehera sent him a stern message: Naja was now with Beloved Baba and did not suffer any more, and he must not cry but be happy for her. Hearing all this from Mehera, Pendu pulled himself together and did not cry for his sister after that.

This seemed to me to be an example of how full of feeling the mandali were and how human, and at the same time how capable they could be of completely surrendering themselves to whatever their Beloved Baba gave them to bear.

Baba riding the donkey, Champa, with some of the women on
Meherabad Hill in 1936. Naja is on the left.
(Photo courtesy of the MSI Collection)

—Heather Nadel for Avatar Meher Baba Trust, 24 March 2016