Gulu and Jalu

Right behind Meher Baba’s Samadhi is a long building that was the site of many phases of Baba’s work. This structure was a maternity hospital for village women (and eventually their new babies) from 1938 to 1939. The thought of that alone is fascinating, but the building also housed the Cage Room, a mast ashram, and the Meher Baba Journal office—all happening at different times.

The Samadhi and Baba’s Cabin are in the foreground with the Hospital Building, where
Gulu and Jalu stayed, in the background, ~1940. (Photo courtesy of the MSI Collection)

However for many of us who visited or lived at Meherabad in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, the building had another significance. If you came out of the Samadhi after Arti in the morning and looked over at that building, two faces were always peeping out through a window at the people on the Hill. Hmmm … has to be Gulu and Jalu. It was always a pleasure to go around the barbed wire fence, walk up to the window which was suddenly vacant and call out “Jai Baba!” loudly until Gulu appeared and said, “What is it?” or some such statement. “Jai Baba, Gulu. Hi Jalu!” you’d answer, and an interesting conversation would start up. If you were lucky and Gulu assented to let you in, she’d walk around to a side gate of the compound and open it up.

The compound itself was a walk into the 1930s and ’40s, with mystery structures all around … oh, was that the “mast hotel” on the left? … yes, but you were trying to get into the first room on your right, following Gulu. Ah, you’re finally in, and there is Jalu sitting in a chair perhaps looking away like a small child, perhaps giving you a smile and allowing you to hug her (not too hard!), which was like hugging a pure, light cloud. Oops, not too long either!

Although they came to live at Meherabad in 1944 with their father, Baba’s mandali member Kaikobad, and their mother and sister, by the early 1980s Gulu and Jalu were the only ones in the family who had not passed away. They seemed to be like babies from the Maternity Hospital: totally innocent, sheltered, childlike in every way. If you came to see Gulu and Jalu often enough, you might be allowed inside their inner sanctum, the hall which had long ago been used for the hospital patients.

Mehera would visit with them every time she came to Meherabad, and they often discussed with her the fancy dresses they had in mind for an upcoming special occasion on the Hill. These dresses would be sewn by hand, often from cut-up pieces of gorgeous, rare, embroidered saris that they seemed to have brought when they first came from Bombay.

Meheru, Mehera and Gulu, Upper Meherabad, ~1980.
(Photo by Win Coates)

In the 1940s, Baba used to make the three sisters say their names one after another over and over at high speed because they had three different pitches: “Meheru” (low voice), “Gulu” (medium voice), “Jalu” (high voice). At this repetition, all the women in the ashram would laugh along with Baba. In the later years, they continued to seem comical to some on their evening walks on the hilltop, or on their visits to the Samadhi where Jalu would sit down looking around as Gulu stood directly facing Baba’s marble and say the prayers (most memorably a version of the Parvardigar Prayer in which, “You are without color, without expression, without form …” was replaced by, “You are without color, without expiration, without form …”—which actually is also true). Yet to those who knew her, Jalu would occasionally come out with something profound and amazingly intuitive, and the sisters’ devotion to Baba and care for each other was very touching.

Mani once remarked to us, “We laugh about Gulu and Jalu, but now and then I ask myself, who are these souls who have lived all these years 40 feet from Baba’s Samadhi?”

—Heather Nadel for Avatar Meher Baba Trust, 11 June 2015

Baba in the doorway of the Hospital Building, July 30, 1941.
(Photo courtesy of the MSI Collection)

Nadine Tolstoy with a mother and her child in the Maternity Hospital, 1938.
(Photo courtesy of MN Publications)

Baba with some of the women on the Hill in Dec. 1947. Jalu (left) and Gulu are circled.
(Photo courtesy of the MSI Collection)