The Meher Baba Archival Foundation
An interview with Naosherwan Anzar
By Margaret Magnus
What is the purpose of Beloved Archives?
The primary purpose of Beloved Archives is to carefully restore and preserve all material associated with the life, work and teachings of Avatar Meher Baba and, more importantly, to make all this material accessible to seekers worldwide.
Beloved Archives: The Meher Baba Archival Foundation is a 501 ( c ) 3 non-profit, tax-exempt foundation registered in the United States. Although many of the items in the collection were originally given to my family by Meher Baba and his close disciples, these items are now housed in Beloved Archives in Hamilton, New Jersey.
More than anything else, I am anxious to preserve and share the material that Meher Baba has entrusted to me. While it is vital to carefully preserve material on the life and work of the Avatar, I feel it is equally vital to share the material with seekers and lovers of God. And that is the mandate of Beloved Archives.
Did Meher Baba himself say anything to you about sharing?
Yes, in May 1965 when I met Meher Baba at Guruprasad in Poona, he gave me the mandate to tell the world that he is God in human form. In the later years he gave me specific instructions about disseminating his message through GLOW INTERNATIONAL. He also instructed his sister Mani S. Irani to send a complete collection of photographs, especially of the early years. She did send them to me, and they are a part of Beloved Archives.
How did Beloved Archives start?
Beloved Archives essentially was set into motion when my parents, Keki and Freiny Nalavala, first met Meher Baba in the 1940's. Both my father and mother had an innate sense of preserving every piece of paper, every object that Meher Baba touched, every piece of correspondence, and all books, discourses and photographs. Consequently, Beloved Archives is a collection of saved and preserved material on the life and work of Meher Baba spanning 60 plus years.
Did this material expand beyond those items collected by your family?
Apart from the collection of the Nalavala family, which itself is fairly extensive, Beloved Archives has materials from several collections: Chanji, Gulmai Irani, Adi K. Irani, Adi S. Irani, Mani S. Irani, Eruch Jessawala, Francis Brabazon, Kishan Singh, Col. M. S. Irani, Murshida Ivy Duce, Kitty Davy, Elizabeth Patterson, Bili Eaton, Adele Wolkin, Enid Corfe, Delia de Leon, Ganna Walska, Mercedes de Costa, Meredith Starr (we have his photo album), Graham Phelps Stokes, Rom Landau, to name a few. Beloved Archives also has a large collection of artifacts, including a lock of Babajan's hair.
The collection has one-of-a-kind material, specially the material inherited from Col. M. S. Irani, a critic of Meher Baba who collected an enormous amount of material in its original format in order to launch scurrilous attacks on Meher Baba. These materials ended up in the hands of my mother's maternal uncle, Major Sohrab Bamji, also a critic of Meher Baba, who eventually handed it all to me. It is an incredible record of Meher Baba's life, ironically collected and preserved by the Avatar's critics.
Why were these materials given to you and then to Beloved Archives?
Letters, diaries and print materials were given to Beloved Archives with the understanding that we would share this material with humanity. Over a 45-year period, Beloved Archives has sincerely and diligently been disseminating this material through the Meher Baba journal, GLOW INTERNATIONAL, and several books published over the years. For example, the book THE ANSWER: Conversations with Meher Baba, published by Beloved Archives, is a collection of questions and answers preserved in the diaries of Chanji, Meher Baba's secretary in the 1930's and early 1940's. While Beloved Archives has been the publisher of Meher Baba's words, the copyright of the Avatar's words has always rested with the Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust in India as decreed in Meher Baba's Will.
What types of items are in the collection?
Beloved Archives is divided into five parts: print material, photographs, tapes, films and artifacts. We have talked about the document collection in Beloved Archives. As for photographs, we preserve a rare collection, including archival photographs of places associated with Meher Baba going back to 1894, the year of the Avatar's birth. These photographs were taken by Raja Deen Dayal, India's first Indian photographer. Beloved Archives also has a collection of photographs of Meher Baba that had deteriorated completely (you could not see the Master in the photographs). They have since been restored at considerable cost one-photograph-at-a-time to their original "look" by a Romanian restorer in New York.
The artifacts in the Beloved Archives collection are primarily from Meher Baba's mandali and closest disciples, Mehera, Mani, Naja, Khorshed, Arnavaz Dadachanji, Gaimai Jessawala and Padri. Again, some of the artifacts were given personally by Meher Baba himself.
The tape collection is of the mandali, people who have met Meher Baba, and the recordings of Murshida Ivy Duce. The film collection includes all the films that have been distributed by various sources around the world and a few from private collections.
What would be your estimate of the size of the collection?
Beloved Archives was officially evaluated by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadephia. They estimated between 40,000 and 50,000 documents, about 5,000 photographs and more than 1,200 audio recordings.
Are you still adding items to the archives? How?
Yes, indeed, the collection continues to grow each day. In 2009, Beloved Archives obtained the Meher Baba segment of the archive of the opera singer Ganna Walska, who met Meher Baba in 1932. Earlier the Archives obtained the collection of Mercedes de Costa, a Hollywood celebrity who met Meher Baba in the same year. Recently, the Foundation was very fortunate to receive the entire collection of original slides taken both at the East West Gathering and at Myrtle Beach in 1958 by an American Baba lover. The slides have since being cleaned and restored by experts at Sufism Reoriented. In 2009 we obtained the entire collection of Graham Phelps Stokes and Rom Landau.
What are your plans for preservation?
With limited funds, Beloved Archives has taken the necessary first step in preservation by scanning all documents and photographs. This is an enormous job and is ongoing. At the same time all our tapes are being digitized and some are being transcribed (with the possibility of publication in the future). And many of the one-of-a-kind photographs have been completely restored.
As funds become available through tax-deductible donations, Beloved Archives will continue with this massive restoration and preservation project.
Is Beloved archives getting professional advice on preservation?
Beloved Archives has had some preliminary advice on storage, treatment and preservation. All of Meher Baba's artifacts like sadras, sandals, coats and other garments have been expertly preserved by a trained Baba lover who has learned preservation techniques from the experts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. As for Meher Baba's hair and other personal artifacts, mainly from the 1920's, Murshida Ivy Duce had them preserved in blown glass in 1978. They are preserved at Beloved Archives.
Are the materials available for those doing research on Avatar Meher Baba and his life and work?
The materials are preserved by Beloved Archives with the intention of sharing — and sharing quickly. In fact, with all the documents in the process of being scanned, we are getting closer to the goal of sharing the material with researchers.
When I was a teenager I had a dream: I wished that we could record each day of Meher Baba's life. Soon after Beloved Baba dropped his body, my dream became a reality; I had access to the diaries of disciples who recorded their lives with Meher Baba (if they were in his presence). Consequently, Beloved Archives has a near daily record of Meher Baba's life from 1932 through 1969.
How does the Meher Baba Archival Foundation support the long-range plan for preservation and access?
The long-term plan for Beloved Archives has been fulfilled this year with the purchase of the House of the Beloved in Hamilton, New Jersey. We have now been able to put all material in one place, in a physical building where volunteers can conduct inventory, catalogue, create records on databases, duplicate certain materials for wider dissemination, conduct long-term conservation and treatment and eventually create an environmentally sound atmosphere for people to come in and do research on the life and times of Meher Baba. It is a unique place to study the Advent of Avatar Meher Baba.
What are future plans for sharing the items or information in Beloved Archives?
Material from the Beloved Archives collection will continue to be extensively featured in GLOW INTERNATIONAL. In addition four books of archive-oriented unpublished material are now in various stages of production.
Will any of the items be available for viewing via the Internet?
Yes, absolutely. At this time the Beloved Archives' MeherMaster Database is under construction with the active assistance of the Beloved Archives scanmaster. Once all the material is scanned and catalogued in a database, we plan to upload material onto the Web.
How is Beloved Archives supported?
Beloved Archives is entirely supported by donations and volunteers. Friends and supporters have and continue to make specific donations to Beloved Archives to fulfill its mission of restoration, preservation and access. In addition, Beloved Archives receives donations in small amounts from GLOW INTERNATIONAL's subscribers. The current level of support allows minimal progress towards the goals we have discussed.
At this time we have incurred considerable expenditure towards reconstruction of the House. We have sent out Pledge Cards globally and do hope that seekers everywhere will support this initiative.
Can you give us an idea of some of the individual costs of preservation?
Beloved Archives has been very fortunate. The scanning is being done by a scanmaster who worked for the United Nations. Since he is doing bulk work, he gives us a subsidized rate and that helps us keep the work ongoing.
The Archives now needs funds for re-housing all the documents and for ongoing transcription work. The Senior Conservator from the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadephia who evaluated and estimated re-housing costs for Beloved Archives, indicated that $270,000 was needed to re-house documents and photographs. Given limited funding, Beloved Archives divided the project into smaller assignments and is working on preservation in degrees. All donations, which are tax-deductible, go towards these projects.
What kinds of funding or donations are needed?
All the archival projects are underway — scanning, digitizing and transcribing. Re-housing work has not begun, but it will soon. We do need funds for all these projects.
How can volunteers help?
Volunteer help is always welcome. Given the ambitious plan to develop the Foundation, help is needed to conduct a multi-year capital campaign. In addition, expert help is needed to make selected items accessible on the Internet. Finally, there are other administrative and restorative opportunities for those who are willing to live in Central New Jersey, where the archives are currently located.
How is Beloved Archives structured? How does that help generate support?
Beloved Archives is a non-profit corporation. All those who contribute receive a tax exemption in accordance with the law. I am merely the protector of the material that Meher Baba has given me. The real beneficiaries are those who would come to Meher Baba's threshold to learn more about the Avatar. The intention is to make access simple and beneficial to future researchers, biographers and seekers.
How are you ensuring the continuity of Beloved Archives for future generations?
The Foundation has been established to ensure the continuation of Beloved Archives. All material is being prepared and preserved with the intent to benefit posterity spiritually. While some of the original material will be sent to the Trust in India after my death in keeping with a promise made to Mani S. Irani, a complete set of materials, including material sent to India, will be available for seekers to come and do research in the United States.
For Beloved Archives to be sustained for years to come, it is important for it to be financially viable. Towards that end, friends of the Foundation will need to continue to make contributions to keep it alive and well. We are now in the process of setting up a Team of Companions, an global advisory group to assist with the various aspects of the Archive.
If Baba lovers wish to leave their artifacts or letters to Beloved Archives or wish to volunteer or make donations, whom should they contact?
At the outset I would like to thank all those lovers of the Beloved who have over the years donated to Beloved Archives and helped us with our commitment to uphold the mandate Meher Baba has given us. We continue to share the Avatar's message of love, truth and spiritual unity. Soon after the House of the Beloved was established, we received several calls and emails asking us to preserve and share Baba material that are in the hands of Baba lovers in America, India, United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere. We are fully equipped to protect, preserve and share all material pertaining to Meher Baba.
All are welcome to contact me at
. Donors are welcome to contact us for advice on sustaining Beloved Archives.