Irene Billo shares some intimate glimpses of her life with Baba
Though I am called Irene in Switzerland, in India I was called Padma. Padma was a Rajput princess and there's a nice story about it. I felt quite flattered by having that name. Once Mehera embroidered a brooch for me in the form of a lotus (Padma) with Baba's hair and nails. I have it at home but I do not carry it with me because I am afraid it might get lost.
Now, I think you'll probably like most to know how I came to Baba. I used to steal chocolates from my father's private office at home; he always hid it from me, it was a game. But then one day I felt tempted to open his secret cupboard which was in a book case with glass doors and a curtain. I opened it and there I saw Baba's photo. That struck me so much, — almost as if I had seen Baba, as if He had been personally present. I can say this now, because later, when I met Baba, I had exactly the same impression: it was something too great to find words for. So I went to my mother and told her I had seen this photo, and asked her, Who was this man? Then she gave me the booklet "Questions and Answers" in German, which had been translated by Walter Mertens. I must say I am not intellectually spiritual. I like love and direct contact. Still I read it. From that time on I went to the meetings at Hedi Merten's place. Then Baba came to Switzerland again, and I asked if I could see Him. But at the last moment I felt He could see all my heart; and when one is a young girl, one thinks one has things to hide, which really one hasn't. There really wasn't anything I could have hidden but I felt I had a secret, so I didn't go. When my parents came back, I cried the whole night, and I felt I had done something wrong not to go. Baba had said someone He had expected hadn't come.
So I went to these meetings at Hedi's place and the photo which my father had given me was always in my room. Suddenly they said Baba would come to Cannes in France. Kitty Davy rang up Hedi to ask for someone to help in the household there. Hedi said, I can't send my daughter because she is not good in household work, but in artistic things. But I didn't mind doing anything, although we had servants at home. So I said, "I'll come, but tomorrow I have a meeting with some friends, the next day something else and after four days I can go." Then Hedi said, "Look here my dear child, this won't work with a Master. Either you say no or yes. It's a razor's edge you walk on here!" So I said, "Alright, I cancel everything and go". I went to Cannes and there I was met by Elizabeth Patterson at the station. She was very kind but I immediately felt it was the way one greets a servant. But I thought I won't mind, I have come to help, if she thinks I'm a servant, it doesn't matter, I'm just there. So I went up to Villa Caldana and I saw Baba. I had exactly the same impression, the same feeling that I had when I saw His photo. So His photo was as strong as His own personality. I stayed in Cannes. I won't tell about that time because others have told so much.
Once it sort of slipped out of my mouth, Could I also come to India one day? They said, Oh, you don't know what you are in for, it's too difficult for Europeans, we have seen the difficulties in Nasik. I thought, Well, I have asked! Months later Kitty wrote to Hedi to ask if some of us could come to India. Afterwards I went to India but that is another story. But this is how I came to Baba. It was through my parents who had been some of the first people who met Baba when He came to Switzerland for the first time.
Q: What were your impressions of Baba that time when you saw him in Cannes?
It was the same, it was overwhelming. I just felt I'd never felt or experienced anything as great as Baba. You know He had a room upstairs and I had a room downstairs and sometimes I would look out at night and a shadow would fall and the shadow would be