104-IRENE RUTH BILLO
Westerner from Switzerland
Irene Billo lived in Switzerland and was one of many westerners to live in Baba’s ashram for a number of years.
Irene Billo told of her eight years' stay with Baba in India where every moment of her life she had been trained toward following Baba's directions. It therefore became a very difficult problem when she was leaving for her home in Switzerland and had no idea of her future. She went to Baba and asked him for instructions. Baba pointed out on the board:
"What do you mean? You have been here eight years and you don't know what you have to do? You should know yourself. Why should I give you any instructions?"
This was very difficult. Irene said, "If he would have given me instructions! But he said, 'You get married if you like; but, you know, you have been here, and if you have not yet learned to know what I wish, well then, what has been the good of these eight years?'"
She reiterated, "To brave the world freely this way was far more difficult than to obey any difficult rules Baba had given, because one could always hold onto the rules. On your own you keep thinking, 'What have I now done? Have I acted in the spirit of Baba or not?' And if others disagree, one can only say, 'Well, I am just a human being and I hope that Baba loves me all the same.'"
In Venice, Baba gave each of His lovers an Eastern name Padmini (lotus) to Irene Billo and many others for years afterward, Baba would address or refer to His close ones by these names; they, in turn, would sign their letters likewise.
Baba and few mandali arrived in Zurich where Baba met Hedi and Walter Mertens and their children. After a while, Baba remarked, "Someone I was expecting has not come. Now, I'll have to come back again (to the West)." He was referring to a young Swiss woman named Irene Billo, whose rendezvous with the Divine Beloved was soon approaching. Irene knew of Baba, but felt too "scared" to come and meet Him. She naively thought she was not pure enough, which Baba of course would know. She had secretly gone to a restaurant nearby with friends, but then cried all night at the opportunity missed.
On 28th June 1938, Irene Billo from Switzerland among four westerners arrived in Bombay on the Conte Verde and was driven to Ahmednagar to join Baba's burgeoning ashram. Irene contracted jaundice shortly after she arrived, so by Baba's orders, Rano began nursing her. Baba supervised her treatment and she gradually recovered.
Irene Billo's father, who had met Baba several times, had died at the end of October. Discussing his death on 27th November 1940, Baba informed her: "You should be happy. Your father was very lucky. He died like Vivekananda, without suffering. He is free. All relations of those who are with Me, whether they know Me or not, or even if they do not believe in Me, get salvation. Krishna has said, 'Seventy-two generations of such lucky ones get liberation.' "
Baba added about present world conditions: "During this period half the world will die — perhaps even My mother."
On Baba's birthday, 14th February 1943, Baba departed Meherabad for Mahabaleshwar with the men and women mandali. Besides the Indian women, Irene Billo, was among four Westerners living with them: In Mahabaleshwar as He had done in Meherabad, Baba formed them into groups, but He now kept Irene with Margaret. Here, too, Baba would not see any women except Mehera and Mani.
Baba and all shifted to Bhilar on Thursday, 1st April 1943. Baba was to be away for most of April and May, arranging another meeting at Meherabad and contacting masts. As a pastime for the women who would be staying in Bhilar, three other horses were purchased — one for Mehera, one for Irene Billo and one for Mani, Meheru and Katie.
Baba arrived in Cannes on 15th August 1937, and moved to Baba villa, situated on a hill, was called Villa Caldana, at Montfleury. Baba had asked Kitty to arrange for two maids, but she had only been able to bring one from London. Baba did not want local women to do the housework as he thought they would gossip about him and the group.
Thereupon, He asked if there was a daughter of one of His European disciples who could come and help with the household chores at Villa Caldana.
Hedi Mertens was cabled in Zurich, but since her own daughter Annakatharina was not used to housekeeping, she turned instead to their family friend, 20-year-old Irene Ruth Billo. Irene was interested in Baba through the influence of her parents, who had met Baba. She accepted Hedi's offer and left soon after she arrived in Cannes on the 15th. Irene recalled the sequence of events that led to her first meeting with Meher Baba:
I remember it was one afternoon in 1936 that I sneaked into my father's office and opened his secret cupboard to steal chocolates and saw for the first time a photograph of Baba taken at Feldmeilen [the Mertenses' house]. It was a beautiful picture and had a profound effect on me. I asked my mother about Baba and she gave me the booklet, Questions and Answers, but I was not intellectually interested in spiritual things.
During the Nasik period, Norina would write to my father and I also began attending meetings in Zurich, though I had not gone to meet Baba when he came in November 1936, as I felt shy. I felt Baba would be able to see all my secrets.
When I arrived at Cannes, Elizabeth picked me up at the station. As soon as I arrived at the villa she brought me before Baba. Somehow I felt that I had come back, I had come home. It was something so great which I had never experienced before or since.
The next evening Baba told me to sit next to Him on one side; Mehera was on the other side. It was very stirring to be with Baba all the time. Meeting Baba was an upheaval which turned me upside down. His was a love much greater than anything else I had ever experienced.
In 1937, Irene would meticulously clean Baba's room and keep things tidy. She also cleaned a small adjoining room where Kaka would sit while on night duty. In the course of her cleaning duties, Irene would collect Baba's hair from His pillows and carefully preserve it.
An amusing story involves Irene's trying to be so careful in saving Baba's hair. At times, Kaka would take a pillow from the bed and keep it behind his head while sitting on the chair during night watch.
Thinking that this hair was also Baba's, Irene would collect it, too, but wondered why Baba slept in two places. This went on for a number of days, after which she discovered she had been carefully collecting Kaka's hair.
Around 26th March 1946, Don accompanied Irene Billo to Bombay, from where she left three weeks later by ship for Switzerland, according to Baba's order.
On 6th August 1952, Charmian drove Baba to the airport. From London, the group flew to Zurich on Swiss Air 111. Irene Billo was waiting at the airport to receive them when they landed two and a half hours later. She had also hired another car and a driver for Baba's visit.
The Western lovers had been informed that Baba intended coming in July 1956, provided the expenses of the trip could be met by his lovers in the West. Nicknamed Energy, Marion Florsheim of Jackson Heights, New York, was appointed by Baba to make all the necessary arrangements for the trip. The "Meher Baba Hospitality Committee" was formed, with Marion as chairman, Fred Winterfeldt as vice-chairman, and seven other members from Baba's following in New York, to raise the estimated $12,000 in expenses for Baba. Irene Billo prepared for Baba's stopover in Zurich. In Australia.
On 16th July 1956, Baba left Satara for Bombay, where he stayed for the day at Ashiana. Same night at midnight, Baba with mandali flew from Santa Cruz airport on Air India Flight 103 (economy class). On the way to London, the plane stopped for about an hour each at Damascus and Beirut. By the afternoon they arrived at Kloten Airport in Zurich, where Baba met about 35 Europeans. Close lovers including Irene Billo. Baba and the mandali disembarked from the plane and walked to the conference room that Irene had reserved. Baba embraced Irene and then the others one by one.
Dr. Shoebel Boss, 53, was a well-known Swiss professor of psychotherapy at the University of Zurich. He later wrote a book about two trips he made to India (A Psychiatrist Discovers India) and his conversations with various gurus, rishis and saints. Irene Billo sent Dr. Boss a copy of God Speaks but Boss returned it unread.
Baba sent this telegram to Irene Billo in Switzerland who, due to ill health, had been unable to come: "While your love is with Me here, I am with you there."