96-MARGARET CRASKE (Zulekha)
Nicknamed Zulekha (Persian name)
Margaret was born in Norfolk, England in 1892. Her father was owner of a small coastal fleet. She started studying dance at an early age; and was always very athletic. At 18 she took up ballet and progressed quickly. She studied with the famous Enrico Cecchetti in the private London studio she ran from 1918 to 1923, while she served as teacher for the Diaghilev Ballet Company.
At the end of her study with him, the Maestro gave her a certificate indicating she was qualified to carry on his teaching tradition, a rare honour.
In one year, she lost five people dear to her, her parents a teacher a friend, a sweetheart. In a depressed mood she searched for a place to get away and heard from a casual acquaintance about a retreat in East Challacombe, Devonshire, run by a man named Meredith Starr. When she went down there for a rest, she was much drawn to a photograph of Meredith's spiritual teacher, Shri Meher Baba. Meredith had recently been to His ashram in India and was expecting Him to visit England.
Baba came much sooner than expected and the small group of souls drawn to Starr's retreat had the privilege of being the first "aspirants" Baba contacted in the West. They included Mabel Ryan, Margaret's partner in her dance school, Delia de Leon, Kitty Davy, and Kim Tolhurst. Baba nicknamed a small group "Kimco" of which Margaret was a part. They were the "light-hearted" ones, as distinguished from those who were spiritually "serious", addicted to long hours of meditation, etc.
The following is Margaret Craske's recollection of the events leading up to her meeting with Baba:
I had read Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and other esoteric writers, but never found what I was looking for. Between 1929 and 1931, everything I valued disappeared. My father died, my mother died, the man I was in love with died. Diaghilev died, Anna Pavlova died. So I was in quite a bad state. I had spent my life looking for God and I now thought it was all nonsense. I was not going to look anymore — I had had enough! I resolved to go somewhere to recover enough to decide what to do next.
On my way to Hastings in South England, where I had gone to judge a dance competition, I met a woman named Dorothea who approached me at the Victoria railroad station and asked where I was going. I told her, and she said, "How wonderful! That's where I spent my honeymoon." The woman wanted to go, but had no money. On the spur of the moment, I paid her fare and we went together.
On the way, I mentioned I wanted to go somewhere for Easter away from friends. She told me about a "wonderful place" down in Devonshire run by Meredith Starr. She wrote to Meredith, and it was arranged. She didn't tell me about it being spiritual. (I wouldn't have gone if I had known.) On the day I went, she came again to see me off, and as I was leaving she said, "Oh, there's just one other thing.
There are four hours a day of meditation required there!"
I went to East Challacombe for Easter in 1931 and was met by Margaret Starr. One had to walk two miles on a dirt road through ditches and fields to get to the retreat, a stone house on a hill. When I walked into the sitting room, on the right I saw Baba's picture on the wall and asked, "Who's that?" Meredith told me about Baba. I stayed at Devonshire for two weeks and toward the end of my stay, Meredith said, "If you work hard for five years, meditating every day, you will be fit to meet Meher Baba when He comes."
But Baba came in five months! Having given up God, He decided to come to me.
Margaret met Baba at the home of Kitty Davy in London. Margaret vividly recalled her first moments with Baba.
The bell rang and I opened the front door. And there at the bottom of the steps stood the most appealing figure that one could ever hope to see. No sign of power. Just a vision of gentleness, grace and love that touched the heart immeasurably. He came up the steps, gave me a passing glance, and accompanied by Meredith, Chanji and others, went up the stairs to His room (in the "children's nursery" level.) I remained in the hall. A few minutes later, Meredith came down the stairs and grandly said, "Meher Baba wishes to see you."
Overcome by nervousness, I said, "Wouldn't He like to see somebody else first?"
Meredith looked at me sternly and said, "Meher Baba wishes to see you." I turned and climbed three flights of stairs to the most important moment of my life, the meeting with my Master.
He was seated quietly in a chair and gestured to Chanji to bring another chair and place it facing close to His. He then beckoned me to sit. For a moment or so, there was intense quiet, and then I had a strong feeling that it was important to look into His eyes. Courage came, and I did so, looking in deeply — deeply, as far as I could.
I have nothing to say about what I saw. In fact, I don't know. I only know that from that moment, whatever rough treatment He may have handed out afterward; there has never been a moment's doubt as to His being the embodiment of Love and Life.
Margaret later wrote to Chanji:
Once having met Baba, it seems that the whole of one's life had been leading up to that minute and that even up to that minute He had been guiding us to go through fogs, clouds and storms safely so that we could meet Him. That first meeting with Him caused time to stop. It was just as if nothing else had ever happened and nothing else would ever happen.
In 1933, Baba called a group of women to India to be with Him permanently. Margaret gave up her ballet school to go. But they were all sent back in a few weeks. She reopened the school and continued teaching, taking part however in Baba's many trips to the West
In 1939, the Master called her to India for the 3rd time. Again, she gave up her ballet school. Baba's order was to come immediately after war broke out: He had to have someone cross the sea after war began. By a series of persistent maneuvers she got on the last boat out of England and arrived in India at a time when Baba was involved in creating the first Universal Spiritual Center at Bangalore.
Some young Baba lover said when you go to India you just exchange Western maya for Eastern maya. Now Margaret became one of the close groups around Baba Easterners and Westerners mingling their sanskaras together. Margaret said that one doesn't know how "Western" one really is until you live in the East. For example, she described some of the intense East-West battles in the kitchen over food and diet. One Eastern lady insisted rice was pure protein! A Westerner, an avid vegetarian, found a piece of pork in the canned beans, but the others showed their sense of humor they took it out in the garden and buried it with great ceremony! Finally, the work of preparing separate menus became too tedious; and all agreed on a common menu. The same happened with religious holidays. There were a tremendous number and Baba insisted each should celebrate the others' holidays. Again, it got to be too much and just a certain number were celebrated by everyone.
In the ashram and on tour Baba made use of her expertise in physical exercise. She taught Baba's Eastern women how to swim. At first they showed up in long-sleeved blouses and pantaloons which Margaret quickly vetoed. She also taught them some basic exercises. Several times at Baba's request, they practiced with sticks called lathi. Margaret felt these "martial" exercises may have had some inner link with outer military events in the world in the ‘40’s.
The seven years of life with Baba in India had many phases. She was one of the few Western women allowed to live intimately with the close Eastern disciples, Mehera, Mani, Dr. Goher, Naja, and Meheru. Ostensibly she joined them because of an illness that needed special care. How kindly Baba circumvented the jealousy of the other Western women! But there were also trying times; for example, when Baba ordered her to "disappear" whenever He came to visit the Eastern women - and without explanation. Surely a most humbling experience.
Another way Baba "peeled" her ego was to ask her to dance for Him, often in the strangest places and ludicrous circumstances! When the famous film project was being worked on, she was asked to devise a "Dance of the Spirits" with two "dancers" only, Delia and Rano, each representing 60 dancers, while Kitty played the piano! Another task Margaret had was to read aloud to Him, especially His favorite detective stories by Wolfe or Edgar Wallace. Zuleika was the Persian name given her by Baba.
Once after Baba and mandali had been served lunch, Baba called Kitty and Margret and gave each a grape explained them the significance of His Prasad. Baba looked tenderly at Margret and gestured “It is your love that brought Me here.
During His London stay, on 2nd October 1931, Baba traveled about London by taxi, they went first to the American Embassy for their visas to the United States, where Baba was required only to sign an "X" on the application form, as He preferred not to sign His name. (Baba's occupation was listed as "Spiritual Teacher," Chanji's as "Secretary" and Ali as "servant.") Baba returned to Margaret and Mabel's dance studio, where He watched a ballet class being taught and stayed for tea. On this occasion, Baba remarked to Margaret, "Your dancing is Mine."
Baba went Margaret Craske to the home for the needy and met with the old people. As Mrs. Davy had said, many of the elderly were blind, dumb or deaf. The Master's ways are his own. Baba "spoke" to these old people for a long time, dictating messages for them on His board. What he revealed was His love. What was said was less important than the love He gave; their conversations were not in the language of words. Much is communicated in silence, but it cannot be written. Baba took form only to speak in that language, through which He conveyed all that, was necessary — without ever uttering a word. His language was his own which touched the heart, and only those for whom it was meant understood what he said.
While in Paris, before Baba and group they left the hotel to go sightseeing, on 13th December 1931, Baba asked Margaret Craske, "Why haven't you put on lipstick today?" At first, she could not follow what He meant. After Baba gestured to her three times, she understood and shed the reserve Meredith had enforced. Baba never indicated anything specific about Meredith's behavior; but with this small hint, He cleared the air and the group then knew that He wanted them to conduct themselves in a natural manner.
Baba had instructed Margaret Craske and Delia DeLeon to come to India from England, if war broke out. Both went to the Home Office in London to get permission to leave the country, but were told that unless they had urgent business abroad, or special reasons for going, permission would not be granted. When Delia applied, she was refused permission. Margaret, however, was given a permit to leave because she had been acting as the guardian for Falu Irani (Rustom and Freiny's son), who was studying in England. She had told the officials the boy could not travel alone. The officials thought Falu was a maharaja's son by the way Margaret was carrying on. So the two of them were able to sail from England on the City of Marseilles (escorted by a convoy of ships) and landed in Colombo on the 30th of October 1939. They arrived in Bangalore on 1st November 1939, where Margaret began living with Baba at the Links. Margaret later speculated, "Perhaps, because of the war, Baba had to have a link to England of someone coming to India."Usually after dinner, Baba would again discourse to the group sitting outside in the garden, or go on a walk before retiring for bed at nine. Whenever Baba would spend the night in Nasik, in the morning, He would sit in an armchair and Delia and Margaret would sometimes brush His hair as He listened to the group recount their dreams.
In 1946, at Dehradun Baba, very abruptly, sent her back home, and she began her career with Ballet Theatre, His significant words "Your dancing is Mine" came true. Gradually a small group of dancers came to hear of Him through contact with her, and came to meet Him in 1952 in Myrtle Beach. She never "pushed" Baba on anyone, but let them seek her out. "I let them knock hard on my door," she says. Some well-known ballet stars have become close Baba lovers.
After the stint with Ballet Theatre, Margaret was a moving force behind the Metropolitan Opera Ballet for nearly 20 years. At 90 years of age she was teaching at the Manhattan School of Ballet. Her aim was of an aspiring dancer to "study with Margaret," and of aspiring Baba lovers to touch base with her and draw from her some of Baba's love, wit and wisdom.
In one of gathering Baba said, “I do not mean you to leave all your responsibilities, but that my will becomes yours. My will should be your pleasure. God is infinite honesty. To love God you should be honest. Who will obey me 100 percent? One must do it! If Baba asks beyond one's capacity and one fails, it is Baba's fault!" "In the spiritual path, there is no compromise," Baba said. "Raise your hands who cannot obey Me." Not one raised a hand. "Now raise your hands who will try to obey Me." Everyone except one of Margaret Craske's ballet dancers raised his hand.
Later Margaret Craske shifted to New York and taught ballet. She lived for number of years with Baba’s mandali and travelled with him both in India and abroad.
She wrote two beautiful books on Baba titled “Dance of Love” and “Still Dancing with Love”