Glimpses : Remembering Begum Inayat

Ora Ray Baker, destined to be the support and soul-mate of Hazrat Inayat Khan, was born in Albuquerque on May 8th, 1888, and passed away in Paris on May 2nd, 1949. This week, therefore, is a good time to remember her. The passage below is taken from Hazrat Inayat’s personal account of his life, and following it is a letter written by Ora Ray, signed ‘Sharda,’ one of the names by which Inayat called her*. The letter was written in June of 1914; the circumstances were that while the family, now including the infant Noor, was staying in Paris, Inayat had on an impulse decided to go to Geneva with little more in his pocket than a one-way ticket. The letter gives tender insight into the deep feeling and concern his young wife felt for him.

Ora, afterwards Amina Begum, who was born at New Mexico on May 8th 1892, came of a family from Kentucky called Baker, whose great uncle Judge Baker is known in Chicago. She became the mother of my four children : Noorunnisa or Babuli, born on Friday December the 20th 1913, (Russian date) English date: January 1st 1914; Vilayat or Bhaijan, born on Monday June 19th 1916; Hidayat or Bhaiyajan, born on Monday August 6th 1917 and Khairunnisa or Mamuli, born on Tuesday June 3rd 1919.

In spite of the vast difference of race and nationality and custom she proved to be a friend through joy and sorrow, proving the idea, which I always believed, that outer differences do not matter when the spirit is in at-one-ment.

The tests that my life was destined to go through were not of a usual character, and were not a small trial for her. A life such as mine, which was wholly devoted to the Cause, and which was more and more involved in the ever growing activities of the Sufi Movement, naturally kept me back from that thought and attention which was due to my home and family. Most of the time of my life I was obliged to spend out of home, and when at home, I have always been full of activities, and it naturally fell upon her always to welcome guests with a smile under all circumstances. If I had not been helped by her, my life, laden with a heavy responsibility, would have never enabled me to devote myself entirely to the Order as I have. It is by this continual sacrifice that she has shown her devotion to the Cause.

From a child Ora showed great strength of will. Once, when she was very ill, and a physician had given up hope, and had told her mother so, not knowing that she heard that, as she lay in bed, she began to say in her childish manner emphatically: “I will not die, I don’t want to die.” And then, to the great surprise of the doctor, she lived, and he gave all the credit of her cure to her strength of determination, the spirit which fought against death, in this she showed a tendency of a relation of hers, Mrs. Eddy Baker, who has spread that idea in the world as Christian Science. 

In early youth Ora once saw near her bed a phantom, an Eastern sage, who appeared a moment and passed across. She afterwards had a dream, that an Eastern sage held her in his arms and rose towards the sky, and carried her away overseas.

When Ora saw Inayat, at first sight she felt wholly drawn to him, and thought this was the one after whom her soul had always sought. He then taught her music. Ora thought it too difficult to express her feelings to Inayat, who seemed so reserved and remote from all earthly attachments. But she silently bore in her heart the great power of the attraction she felt. For some time she was under the guardianship of her brother, who was a physician by qualification, and a leader of an Order in America.

Inayat, so fully absorbed in the mission for which he was sent to the West, had not the least thought of anything else in life except his work. At the same time, with a heart born to admire and respond to everything good and beautiful, a heart, brave to venture anything, however difficult or high if he only desired, and that everspringing stream of love and affection running from his heart, he was ready to yield to the call for response from the maiden who was destined to be his life’s partner, he perceived in his meditation indications of his future marriage, also visions which showed him the one who was meant to be his wife, and visions in which his Murshid suggested to him that the life that was to come was a necessary one towards his life’s purpose. Inayat, passive as he was to the inner call, accepted it, in spite of all the difficulties before him, awaiting.

They had only known each other a few days during which their attachment grew most wonderfully and before it reached its blossom Ora had a dream, which she told Inayat, that there came a stream of water between them both, and it spread on until it turned into an ocean, dividing them both. And very soon that dream became a reality. Ora’s brother, who was her guardian, on hearing of her love for Inayat, turned against him, and out of prejudice he held back his sister by force from seeing Inayat at the time when Inayat was on the point of leaving America for England. Months passed in this separation, causing endless misery to both. Not knowing about each other, especially, was the hardest trial for two souls so closely attached. Yet their determination was great. In the end a miracle happened. One day, arranging papers of her brother’s desk she happened to find the address of Inayat’s home in Baroda, and then was able to communicate with him. It seemed as if everything in life helped Ora to unite again with Inayat, and it all worked out so marvelously that it seemed nothing but a miracle, which brought about the long desired moment; and they married in London in 1912.

* * *

My love,
I am wondering how you are and if you intend coming home. My precious, how I miss you, words cannot tell you. I know you must be suffering much, being alone and no one to help you and so much walking to do. I hope you will never go away alone again my love. Do write me a letter every day. I am always longing for your letters. I see nothing but clouds when you are away, my own… My precious take good care of your pin, ring, etc. as it would be so bad to lose them. And in case you send your soiled clothes to the laundry be sure to get them before leaving Geneva, do not leave them behind as they are your best clothes… Good-bye dear heart, take good care of yourself and write (Sharda) all about yourself… Always your most faithful (Sharda) …

To this, her husband replied briefly by telegram: Quite well. Murshid.

*Hazrat Inayat Khan gave Ora Ray the Sufi name Amina, but he also called her Sharda, another name for the goddess Saraswati, consort of lord Brahma. ‘Begum’ is an honorific, meaning ‘Lady.’

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