The following is excerpted from "How Lord Meher came about: the history of Meher Baba's biography Lord Meher," by Chris Ott on his blog, Meher Baba Words. Used with permission.
By Chris Ott
In October of 1968, just three months before Avatar Meher Baba dropped His body, a close disciple from Hamirpur, [India], Keshav Nigam, suggested that there ought to be a biography of Baba in the Hindi language for the Indian people.
When Baba heard of Keshav's suggestion from His disciple Bhau Kalchuri, who delivered the message, He agreed strongly that there should be. In fact he told Bhau that he (Bhau) ought to write it.
PRECISE DETAILS GIVEN BY MEHER BABA
…a few months later, on January 24, 1969, a week before Baba dropped his body, Baba gave Bhau precise details on the book He wanted him [Bhau] to write. [Meher Baba] said it should be in Hindi, written in four poetic meters, and be eight hundred pages long.
BHAU KALCHURI INTERVIEWS CLOSE DISCIPLES OF MEHER BABA
Bhau had come to live with Baba as one of His mandali [close disciple] in 1953, the most recent and final addition to Baba's mandali. Thus, he was the least prepared to tell Baba's life story.
Bhau resolved to spend some time in preparation for the Hindi verse book on Baba's life by interviewing Baba's older mandali about their memories. As they told what they could remember, which was much, he took copious notes in Hindi.
He did not interview people throughout the world beyond India, to gather the other stories you now see in Lord Meher. These were added much later by others.
THE FIRST VERSION IS IN PROSE
After two years, Bhau felt he had sufficient material on Baba's whole life. He then decided to write out the story from his notes in a chronological prose form, so that Baba's life would be entirely clear to him before he began to write the verse book. This writing was not intended to be published, but was preparation for the verse.
THE HINDI BIOGRAPHY IN VERSE IS COMPLETED IN FOUR MONTHS
Then Bhau wrote the verse Hindi biography Baba had told him to write. He became inspired and wrote it in less than four months.
Just as Baba requested, it is written in four poetic meters, and also as Baba requested is just over 800 pages. The book is titled Meher Darshan, and is published by Meher Pukar Press in Hamirpur.
THE PROSE VERSION BECOMES THE BASIS FOR LORD MEHER
Bhau had not considered any of his preparatory writing for Meher Darshan to be of any value in and of itself.
However, [close disciple] Feram Workingboxwala suggested that he would translate Bhau's Hindi prose chronology...into English and to type it, so long as Bhau would agree to help him.
Feram went to work [in late 1973] translating Bhau's Hindi writing to English and assembling the first typed manuscript that was titled Meher Prabhu, and later translated to Lord Meher.
TRANSLATING THE HINDI VERSION
Now the routine that Feram and Bhau worked out was that Feram would type nearly all day, marking any part of Bhau's manuscript he found difficult to understand. [See "An Update" below for a different version of the roles.]
Then, each morning Feram would come to Bhau to have him clarify these parts. Bhau, who knew English less well than Feram, would then try to find English words to express what he meant.
Feram would take notes from these points in shorthand, and then return and type them where they went as best he could, and continue on with the translating.
He not only translated and typed all Bhau's Hindi handwritten pages of Baba's life, but he also translated numerous pertinent documents from Gujarati and Marathi and inserted these, increasing the thickness of the manuscript.
Feram was largely finished by 1974 or 1975, though he may have continued to translate and type certain documents when asked. The final manuscript compiled by Feram was 2,900 pages.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL IS ADDED TO LORD MEHER
Eventually this [document] was handed over to David Fenster, an American volunteer who had moved to India to help and work in the [Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable] Trust in 1975.
Fenster in turn continued to type stories from English sources, and to insert these, compiling into the manuscript whatever sources he felt were relevant. With all these hands, the manuscript for Lord Meher reached 4,400 pages.
THE SEARCH FOR A PUBLISHER
Bhau then began to search for a publisher for the book, which by then clearly would require several volumes.
He first contacted Sheriar Press in Myrtle Beach, SC. Ann Conlon, then at Sheriar, turned it down. So Bhau then turned to Lawrence Reiter [in 1979].
Lawrence was a man who had come to be trusted by Mani Irani (Baba's sister) with the printing of the photographs they had at that time of Baba...[and] in time amassing the largest collection of original negatives of Baba in the world.
MANIFESTATION, INC. BECOMES THE PUBLISHER
Lawrence was at first hesitant, as he knew nothing about publishing. However, it began to occur to him that he might be able to learn the art, and when Bhau was persistent, Lawrence finally consented.
Lawrence returned to America and formed his own publishing company in preparation for Bhau's books. He named it Manifestation, Inc.
The company was, for many years, not much more than a small dark brown door along a building in North Myrtle Beach with the words Manifestation, Inc. on the outside.
EDITING AND COMPILATION FOR THE FINAL MANUSCRIPT
So from 1980-1985 David Fenster worked on compiling the manuscript, as well as typing and adding further additions, with other helpers there [in India].
Then, in 1985, as agreed between Lawrence and Bhau in 1979, David handed over his best possible compilation of the manuscript to Lawrence to publish in America. Not being wealthy himself, Lawrence had to raise considerable money for this venture…
Lawrence went to work editing, finding people to proof read, inserting his photographs wherever appropriate, and preparing the files for press.
THE FIRST VOLUME IS PUBLISHED IN 1986
Lawrence changed the name from Meher Prabhu to its English translation Lord Meher, or more fully as it finally appeared, Meher Prabhu—Lord Meher: The Biography of Avatar Meher Baba.
The first volume, covering Baba's life from 1894–1922, came out, to much excitement, in 1986. For the next four years, Lawrence managed to put out about a volume a year. However by 1990, he ran into a snag.
THE EXPENSES OF PUBLISHING ARE UNDERESTIMATED
Lawrence had failed to calculate the full expense it would take to do the work, and the money he had raised by pre-orders proved insufficient.
So he soon found himself out of money, and to some extent feeling disgraced, having printed and distributed only the first five volumes.
…with help from Sufism [Reoriented, Inc.], and other help from numerous Baba lovers who began to come to his aid, Lawrence was able to complete the entire project by 2001.
THE LARGEST COLLECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS ARE INCLUDED
It should be made clear also that Lawrence had the good luck of having amassed by this time the largest collection of original Baba photo negatives in the world, which he carefully distributed throughout the volumes in as proper points as he could determine from research, which he had been doing for years mostly with the help of Mehera, Mani and Padri.
Thus the final set [of Lord Meher] contains about fifteen hundred photos that greatly enhance their biographical interest.
In 1995-96 David Fenster sent Lawrence additional material.
VOLUMES PUBLISHED BY MANIFESTATION, INC.
In the end, the full release of volumes published by Manifestation, Inc. appeared as follows:
- Volume One: 1986
- Volume Two: 1987
- Volume Three: 1988
- Volume Four: 1989,
- Volume Five: 1990.
- Volumes Six, Seven - Part I: 1994
- Volumes Seven - Part II, Eight: 1995
- Volumes Nine, Ten: 1996
- Volumes One, Two: 1997 (Second Edition)
- Volumes Eleven, Twelve: 1998
- Volumes Thirteen, Fourteen: 1999
- Volumes Fifteen, Sixteen: 2000
- Volumes Seventeen, Eighteen: 2000
- Volumes Nineteen, Twenty: 2001
The Manifestation, Inc. original print edition of Lord Meher is now out of print, no longer printed, and Manifestation, Inc. is no more. However, most of the volumes can still be purchased in Baba bookstores from overstock.
TAKING LORD MEHER ONLINE
After the books were complete, Lawrence soon began to grow weary of many people contacting him about where to find a particular quotation in the twenty volumes of weighty tomes.
While raising this concern to a Baba lover named Wendell Brustman, Wendell suggested there be an online version that people could search themselves, and he volunteered the services of his son Tom Brustman, who was skilled in web design.
So with this agreement Lawrence Reiter handed the Macintosh floppy disks containing the text of the book over to Keith Gunn, who was a software developer, who in turn went to work converting the material into html files for the website.
Lord Meher online officially went live in December of 2002. It was carefully designed to conform as closely as possible page by page to the original print edition (which had continuous pages between volumes).
This made the online site an excellent resource for people wishing to cite published books. It did not contain more than a handful of the photographs, a project of including them that never came to fruition.
ASSIGNMENTS OF COPYRIGHTS
Next, on October 16, 2003, Lawrence Reiter assigned the copyright of the English language translation of Lord Meher, which he had purchased from Bhau Kalchuri in 1979, to the Avatar Meher Baba Trust. The U.S. Copyright date of recordation is June 7th 2004.
The online website lordmeher.org is copyrighted by Tom Brustman of Gateway Mediaworks. Bhau Kalchuri's heirs own the copyright to the Hindi original.
In 2005, an eight volume Indian edition of the English translation of Lord Meher was released by Meher Mownavani Publications.
Today David Fenster assumes charge over all changes to Lord Meher. [The online version of Lord Meher is continually updated.]
AN UPDATE ON THE TRANSLATION ROLE
After Meher Mount initially reprinted the above account by Chris Ott, Janice Rieman, a long-time assistant to Bhau Kalchuri, wrote a reply"
Bhau Kalchuri Is the Translator
"Bhauji made it 100% clear to us verbally on many, many occasions that he was the translator, assisted by Feram Workingboxwala, with his wonderful skills as transcriptionist, typist, stenographer, knowledge of Gujarati, his long experience with Baba’s records in Adi K. Irani's office, and his keen enthusiasm."
She quoted a 2013 email dictated to her by Bhau: "It should be very clear to all that Feramji did not translate Lord Meher. I was doing that, and he would help me by typing."
She also noted that in a 1990 letter, Bhau wrote to Hermes (Lawrence Reiter): “Feram did not translate the biography, but he typed the whole thing. Every day I would translate some portions of the biography from Hindi into English orally and he would only hear this and then he would type out the whole thing into English...He did not know Hindi properly and I had to work with him for the translation...I can say that Beloved Baba was also after him for this work because he would remember everything while typing...I would translate very fast.”
Source of Confusion
According to Janice, "confusion came about because the first four volumes of Lord Meher wrongly attributed the translation to Feram Workingboxwala, due to editors' misunderstanding. Bhauji wrote in pure, literary Hindi - it would have been impossible for Feramji to adequately translate this monumental work on the life of Beloved Meher Baba, given that Gujarati and English were his languages and his Hindi was weak. Bhau requested that the correction be made after the first volume was published, but somehow it did not happen until Vol. 4.
Information Is Corrected
"Please note that you will find the correct translation credit, 'English translation by the author, assisted by Feram Workingboxwala,' (or variants) given in Vols 4-20 of Hermes' first edition of Lord Meher, in each of the 8 volumes of the Meher Mownavani edition published in 2005 in India under the auspices of the Avatar Meher Baba Trust, [and] in the online version lordmeher.org."
The original article by Chris Ott has many more details than excerpted here. In addition, the article in its entirety is reprinted on the Meher Legacy site with specific footnotes documenting this account.