NONNY (HENRY BELL) GAYLEY
Nonny Gayley, nicknamed “Kemali” was a sensitive poetess and a devoted disciple. She lived in Baba’s Nasik ashram with her daughter in 1937 and died in Bangalore in 1939.
Her life time contact and conversation with Meher Baba are written in brief as below.
In year 1932, in Venice, Baba gave an Eastern name to Nonny — Kemali; For years afterward, Baba would address or refer to His close ones by these names; they, in turn, would sign their letters likewise.
In Year 1933, Henry Bell Gayley, called Nonny, and her daughter Madeleine, called Rano met Quentin Tod at dinner and he told all three women about Baba.
As Rano listened politely to Quentin’s fantastic narrative, she thought: “Tod is saying all this in exuberance. There cannot be much truth in it.”
Then Quentin gave them a photograph of Baba. When Nonny saw it, she was thrilled. She cried out, “That’s the man!” Rano asked what she meant. Nonny replied that, one day in May of 1932, she had been glancing through the New York Times when she noticed a picture of a man with long hair. She felt compelled to meet Him. This was the same man. It was Meher Baba.
Rano’s heart, too, was gradually smitten by Baba’s countenance; it was the photograph of her Lord, which her heart recognized even as her mind rebelled.
Quentin promised to contact Ruano when Baba arrived in Europe. Quentin explained to Nonny and Rano that Baba planned to travel to the United States and they could meet Him in New York. Shortly thereafter, Nonny and Rano returned to America, anticipating meeting Baba there.
Estelle C. Gayley, known as Nonny, was the widow of a prominent New York attorney. She was then 58 years old. Her daughter Madeleine, called Rano, was 31 and an artist who had worked for some years designing fabrics in New York. They had learned about Meher Baba in Paris the previous summer through their friend Ruano and her contact Quentin, and had expected to meet Baba in America when they returned there. Ruano was in London with Baba and had written Nonny and Rano as soon as she found out about Baba’s change in plans, and they had immediately left for London.
Upon reaching London, it was difficult for them to find out where Baba was staying. Ruano had cabled the address, but Rano had not received it. Nonny was in tears, repeating, “Where is Baba? Where is Baba?” Rano comforted her and they both checked into a hotel.
Rano phoned the English Speaking Union, as her correspondence with Ruano had been through its address, and she was given Ruano’s telephone number. When Rano called, Ruano informed her where Baba was staying. Rano asked when they could meet Baba, and was told that it would be at four that afternoon.
Both Nonny and Rano were eager to meet the Master; however, doubts befell Rano and made her wonder: “What kind of Master is he? Is he aware of our faith? We are longing for His sight, yet He doesn’t seem to care.”
In the evening Nonny and Rano promptly entered Hygeia House to meet the Eternal Beloved. They were greeted by Ruano, who told them with sympathy that Baba was very tired and would not be able to see them then. They were dumbstruck. Crestfallen, they were taken to meet Norina, Elizabeth and the Kimco group. While they were talking about Baba, He sent a message: “Since you have come from such a long distance, I will see you. But you must not ask anything or talk to Me. You should leave after seeing Me.”
Baba sent first for Nonny. While Rano nervously waited outside, her mind began working fast. The door slowly opened and Nonny stepped out — her eyes filled with tears. Rano was taken aback, for up to then she considered any person who gave way to their emotions as “silly and sentimental,” and could not understand what had happened to her mother.
Baba very loved to Nonny, but for His own reason He kept Rano at a distance. Although Baba was outwardly keeping her away, she was inwardly being drawn to him. On various occasions, Baba would go to a movie with all except Rano, or he would have her travel separately if she did accompany them, allowing her only to see him from a distance. Between the lover and the Beloved, the pleasure of the play is only experienced through joy and sorrow — this coming from the Beloved’s playful nature. Nonny and Rano Gayley became permanent blossoms in the Beloved’s garden.1563-1933
On 20th October 1933, Elizabeth departed for New York. Talk of Baba’s departure began, and Baba made Nonny, Rano and Ruano promise to come to India for His birthday in February. The feelings of the approaching separation began — the onset of depression as they counted the remaining hours with the Beloved and experienced the longing to be near Him always.
Throughout December 1933, Baba had been in regular correspondence with His western lovers, through Chanji. Nonny wrote from Paris on 5th December 1933.
I am so blessed in just being able to think about you. I pray I may be able to do something to meet with your approval. My greatest happiness will be to serve you always.
Baba arrived in Paris on 23rd June 1934 and stayed at the Metropolitan Hotel. Rano’s mother Nonny joined the group there; she had arrived earlier and had been awaiting Baba’s arrival.
Rano and Nonny Gayley’s home was in New York. Baba had instructed them to stay there, but to come to the hotel each morning to say good morning to Him before spending the day with their family. When they first went to Baba’s room, they found Nadine Tolstoy posted on guard duty outside. They had never met her before and she prevented them from entering. Rano retorted, “We were with Baba for eight days on the ship. Who are you to stop us from seeing Him? Go tell Him we are here.” She did so, and then allowed them to pass.
Nonny had wanted to bring her four-year-old grandson Oliver to Baba, but the boy’s mother was afraid and would not allow it. When Nonny told Baba, He reassured her, “Because of your connection with Me, your whole family is connected with Me. So, do not be unhappy about the boy.”
Nonny had been told to come to India for Baba’s birthday. But she received cable at this time not to come. Instead, Baba was planning to go to Madras for the occasion.
After ten days in Zurich, on 16th July 1934, Baba departed for Marseilles by train. Accompanying him were the three mandali, Nonny and other four western ladies. Baba dressed in European clothing, but during this trip He always wore His sadra underneath. He turned to Rano during the train ride to ask, “I feel very uncomfortable in this outfit. Would it be all right if I took off my coat and pants?
Baba stayed four-days in Marseilles. While out in the city one day, they passed the bird market. Baba indicated His wish to have some birds. A pair of brightly-colored parakeets was purchased and taken back to the hotel. Baba then said that He wanted four more: one each Nonny and 3 lady disciples. These were brought, but the next morning Baba said that He needed three more. Baba went with them to the shop and selected four Himself a total of thirteen birds. Nonny purchased a beautiful pagoda-shaped cage in which to keep them.
In Marseilles, Rano was given the opportunity to comb Baba’s hair. She was smoking fifteen cigarettes per day then, but through Baba’s influence she gradually tapered down to just two a day. By giving her and Nonny chances to serve Him in small ways, Baba made them feel like they belonged with Him and thus they grew closer to Him. Ruano and Nonny were sent to Paris on the 20th July 1934.
After three days in New York, on 14th December 1934, Baba took a train westward across America, headed for California. Besides the four of the mandali companying Him were Nonny and other six western ladies. During the three-and-a-half-day journey to Los Angeles, the train halted briefly at a few places along the way, such as Chicago (where they changed trains to the Santa Fe California Limited) and Kansas City. Baba was headed for Hollywood and occupied Himself with reviewing the film scripts and discussing the variations in plots and characters.
Baba used to refer to the three women as “the trio” and one day revealed that they had close past connections with Him at the time of Jesus and with one another from a previous life in Egypt. Ruano and Nonny had been brother and sister, and Rano had been Ruano’s son. (Thereafter, Rano jokingly began calling Ruano, “Pappy.”
On 2nd January 1935, Nonny, the wife of the famous director Cecil B. DeMille came for an interview and expressed her desire for her husband, who had met Baba at Pickfair, to meet Baba again. Although Cecil B. DeMille’s second meeting with Baba never took place.
Baba reiterated this theme on 28th March 1936 to Nonny and Rano:
I have your letters and although I didn’t reply by letter, you did have the reply through inner communion which always continues, wherever I am, whatever I may be doing. No call of Love ever remains unresponded, much less from those who love Me and think of Me constantly as you do.
Remember dearest, Baba watches every little act of Love, listens to every little note (voice) of Love, and responds to every little cry given for Love, no matter where these come from. The Fountain Source of Love is ever pouring forth directing its course into different channels wherever needed
And for those of My dearest who love Me as you do, its course is ever open to pour out any moment, anywhere.
On 8th December 1936, Nonny with others arrived in Bombay on the steamer Elysia. They brought two dogs with them — Elizabeth’s Boston terrier Kippy and Anita’s white Siberian husky Canute, which she had given to Baba in Switzerland. About 50 Bombay lovers gathered at the docks to receive the Americans.
On 8th January 1937, Baba began fasting on only two cups of milk and two cups of tea daily, and stated that He would continue to do so for 40 days, until His birthday on the 18th of February. Each of the Westerners was to participate in the fast turn by turn, one each day from the 8th. Nonny and others were to fast on the 23rd. From 24 January, the men and women mandali at Meherabad as a group would alternately fast along with Baba.
From the middle of January 1937, Baba outlined duties for each of the Westerners staying at Nasik. Everyone was to rise at 6:30 A.M., meditate for an hour and together take an hour lesson in learning Urdu from Ramjoo. No one, not even the older ones such as Nonny was allowed to rest in the afternoon. Nonny was assigned individual duty of general typing and translating of Kitty’s shorthand notes of Baba’s discourses and explanations; one hour writing as instructed by Baba; helping everyone as and when she likes and can manage.
On the morning of 25th March 1937, Baba took the Westerners for a picnic at Trimbak, the source of the Godavri River, sixteen miles from Nasik. The group left Nasik in three cars. At the base of the hill, they got out and began ascending 700 carved stone steps. Baba had Jean, Nonny and a few others, who were not well, carried up on seats swung between two poles.
Rano had a rash and fever too. The doctor advised her not to go, but she said, “If Baba is calling me, I am going.” Only Nonny stayed behind as Baba had previously ordered her not to come because she was still on a 40-day fast.
The twelfth anniversary of Baba’s silence was observed privately in Meherabad by the mandali and certain close ones on 10th July 1937. For the occasion, only Norina, Elizabeth and Nonny were called from Nasik. Baba permitted a large expenditure of Rs.50 for the mandali’s food that day. After a meeting of the Trust’s members in the Rahuri Cabin and a brief discussion with the Westerners, the Silence Day program began.
During Baba’s trip to London in November 1936, Rano and her mother Nonny had purchased a three-piece pinstripe suit for Baba. They had found a clerk Baba’s height and guessed the size. It fit perfectly. On this occasion in Bombay, Rano was told to buy a pair of shoes for Baba as a gift from Nonny. She went to a shop with Norina and Elizabeth. They had to guess Baba’s foot size and take them on approval. The shoes fit and Baba wore them in France.
Baba left Meherabad with ladies on 29th July 1937 to begin their journey to France. They traveled first to Vilad railway station (16 km north of Ahmednagar) from where they boarded a train for Bombay. From Nasik, Nonny and others joined. Baba and His group drove to Bombay the same day. When Baba and the women arrived in Bombay early the next morning, Baba did not wish any of His lovers to see Him at the train station, so none in Bombay were informed. After spending a day at the Regent Hotel, Baba and the group boarded the Strathnaver on Saturday, 31st July 1937 and sailed for Marseilles.
Baba held a meeting on 29th September 1937 with Nonny and four lady disciples, to discuss their stay in Cannes, the expenditure thus far incurred, and generally to review.the accounts. Baba commented, “My stay here depends on financial adjustments; otherwise, it is better for Me to return to India. I would like to stay longer, but it is not good if our finances do not permit it.” Money that was expected from Garrett Fort had not been received, and Fort was unable to come to Cannes himself due to lack of funds
After Baba had announced that He would soon be returning to India, Rano began wondering if she would ever see Him again. She knew Norina and Kitty were going back with Him, but there was not a hint about anyone else. On one of the last days, Baba called her into His room and asked, “How would you like to come back to India with me?”
“Would I!” she cried out.
“But what will Nonny say?”
“This time Nonny has no say!” Rano declared.
“Will she pay your passage?”
“I know she won’t refuse.”
“Don’t worry,” Baba assured her, “If Nonny won’t pay then I’ll pay your fare.”
When Baba had asked Rano in Nasik how she liked Meherabad, she had replied honestly, “Very nice, but not for me.” Now, she was only too willing to return to India with her Beloved!
Nonny arrived two days later on the SS Reliance and was also met by Chanji. She too was brought to Meherabad in time for the birthday celebrations, and both began living on the hill with the other women mandali.
Baba presided at a meeting in His Rahuri Cabin at lower Meherabad in morning. On 11th July 1938, with Nonny and others. The purpose of the meeting was to reorganize the Meher Gazette and begin a new magazine. Baba appointed the editors: Elizabeth as managing editor, Norina as literary editor, Chanji as news editor, and Nonny as secretary.
On 25th July 1938, while working with the masts at Meherabad, Baba remarked, “I don’t feel like leaving here. I feel so happy to work with them.” Four days later, Baba brought Nonny to watch Him working at the Meherabad mast ashram. Baba bathed over 20 of the inmates in 40 minutes and looked supremely happy, which made a deep impression on the Westerners.
In the early morning of 8th December 1938, Baba left Meherabad Hill in the Blue Bus with the Nonny and 19 other lady disciples.
During this period, Nonny became seriously ill in Bangalore, and both doctors, Don and Nilu, were treating her according to Baba’s direction. Baba would see to her comfort and visit her, which made her feel somewhat better. On one occasion Baba asked Rano, “If Nonny dies, would you be upset?”
Rano replied, “Whatever your will is will happen.” However, after this, Rano started crying, and Baba asked her the reason. She explained that Nonny’s death would make her brother in America sad. Baba assured her, “Don’t worry about him.
I will take care of him.”
On 13th October 1939, Nonny had a heart attack, and the next evening, at age 64, she closed her eyes forever with a sweet smile on her face.
Baba had been to Byramangala that day. On His way back to the Links, it began raining heavily and their car became stuck in the mud. All, including Baba, got out to push the car free. After they resumed their return, Baba began asking Chanji for the time repeatedly, every few minutes. At 6:40 P.M., He gestured, “Nonny has expired.” When they arrived at the Links ten minutes later, however, Nonny was still alive.
Baba went directly inside to Nonny’s room and looked at her intently. As Baba took Don, Nilu and Rano aside to ask how Nonny had been, Norina came running, saying Nonny was serious. They went to her bedside, and Baba placed two fingers on her closed eyelids. As He did this, Nonny gave a final sigh, and dropped her head to one side. The drop-soul merged into the Ocean of Love forever. It was as if Nonny had been waiting to have the Beloved’s darshan a final time before everlastingly entering His palace, where there is neither happiness nor suffering, but only infinite bliss!
Before breathing her last, Nonny uttered, “What beauty! What beauty!”
Hearing this, Don was deeply moved. He had never seen such a happy death — as if the departing soul were being led somewhere beautiful! Nonny’s smile filled Don’s heart and he realized once more how great Baba’s love was.
Baba took Rano in His embrace and spelled out: “Nonny was one of My greatest lovers. She always gave spontaneously (financially for My work). It is because of her great share of timely contributions, among others, that the center plan could be presently started. Funds will come, and come in plenty, but to the dear, departed soul goes the credit of starting My work that is to serve mankind’s greatest need. I am happy her dear name will be connected and perpetuated with this unique institution.”
Later, Baba stated that it was the first time He had been present at the death of one of His disciples. To Rano, He revealed that He had given Nonny mukti (liberation).
Nonny’s physical remains were cremated in Bangalore the next morning, and 30 of the men and women mandali attended, including Memo. On the 16 October 1939, Baba sent her ashes to Meherabad with Adi Sr.
In December of 1939, a stone monument for Nonny was built adjoining Baba’s Tomb on Meherabad Hill. Sarosh had ordered the headstone from Poona. Baba had instructed that the words Nonny, Baba’s Lover be carved on it. Baba further ordered that food be distributed to the poor on the anniversary of Nonny’s death every year in commemoration of her deep devotion to Him.
The day after Nonny’s death, 15th October 1939, Baba remarked, “Before the war ends, two more of the circle will pass off (on). It may be two male members or one male and one female. But they will be the luckiest to have left their bodies at such an important and critical period of My great work of creating an upheaval all over the world.”
Baba ordered the mandali to give a feast to the Arangaon villagers on 13th October 1940, and Monday, 14th October, in memory of Dowla Masi and Nonny Gayley respectively. On the 13th, women and children from the village came up the hill, and Soonamasi and Kakubai distributed sweets to them. It began to rain, and Baba remarked, “This will make the villagers even happier! They need rain more than sweets, so Dowla Masi gave them rain.”
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