I came to know Diana from about 1990 when I had joined the East-West Cultural Center and she used to come by for the Gita classes with her fried Mrs. Bawa. She had a quiet gentle manner but I realized very quickly how widely she was read and how deep and varied were her interests – Indian spiritual figures, Asian art, Indian music, poetry, horticulture and medicinal plants, cooking, history, geography and travel, her unassuming mind ranged over a vast inner country. We quickly became friends and spent many evenings together, often along with the Des, who she also knew from her past association with Judith Tyberg, (Jyotipriya) and the East-West Cultural Center. She had a natural affinity for Indian teachers and took me to Ojai, where we met Mark and Asha Lee of the Krishnamurti Foundation and Beatrice Woods, the famous ceramicist. She spoke sometimes of her memories of Krishnamurti. She lived right across from Yogananda’s Mother Center and we went there sometimes. We also went to the Vedanta Center, sometimes for all-night Kali Pujas. She was enamored of close East-West connections, such as that of Swami Vivekanada and Sister Nivedita or Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Particularly, she repeatedly spoke of and showed interest in Josephine McLeod, a wealthy American disciple of Vivekananda, who sponsored many activities of the Ramakrishna Mission and was instrumental in fostering important transnational cultural connections at the turn of the 19th and 20th c. Gradually I came to know of Diana’s own Scottish heritage, her McLeod clan identity. In 1992, we went together in a group of five, including also Manjari De, to the Sri Aurobindo ashram, Pondicherry. This was the first of several visits to India we made together. She knew many people in Pondicherry who went there from the USA or had visited earlier. One of the most interesting of these was Santosh Devdas, a diminutive old man who would come in the afternoons to sell Diana old Indian stamps and take her out to teach her photography. We used to spend many afternoons sipping Darjeeling tea in the ashram room of Nirodbaran, Sri Aurobindo’s attendant, who commended Diana for her quiet wholesome presence; and other times with Manoj Das, the famous Oriya novelist, discussing at length Diana’s two maiden attempts at juvenile literature, Fame for the Rajah and How Far is Far. Unfortunately all those who knew Diana are still figuring out how far far really is, while she who could never complete the story in life, now knows the answer.
In Los Angeles, Diana would visit me at my first residence in Sylmar and both there and at the Center, during pot-lucks, she would often turn her hand to the most delicious Indian cooking. I learnt about her past as a restaurant owner with “The Road to Mandalay” and her connections during those days with Indian musicians. Once we went to visit Ali Akbar Khan’s native home in Calcutta, where we came across Ashish Khan and his mother, who cooked us a fabulous Bengali fish head lunch. Through Diana I met Barbara Hansen, a food critic of Los Angeles. Diana also had a deep interest in the Tagores and was happy to meet my mother, Abanindranath Tagore’s grand-daughter, whom she quickly befriended. Ben and my father also became friends and Diana would invite us as a family to all her family gatherings, Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving. We came together as one big family, and I took Vicky, Louise and Sarah as my sisters. While my sister, Amrita, was in Los Angeles, Diana grew close to her too and appreciated her painting very much. Later, when she moved to the ashram in Pondicherry, she would send her paints so she could continue her art. Diana and Ben took several long driving trips with my parents and me. The most memorable trip of this kind was one to Mexico. Anyone who knew Diana even a little could not but become aware of her epic disappearances in thrift shops and second hand bookstores. Ben was undoubtedly the most long-suffering recipient of this habit as of Diana’s legendary Scottish miserliness, whose greatest target was the parking lot. Often she would make Ben park his car a mile away from the destination because there was free parking there. Even when all is forgotten, I’m sure Diana will make us laugh by reminding us of these long hours of waiting while she pored over the pages of every book in the bookstore. During this trip to Mexico, while returning, we were stopped at the border by patrolmen who wanted to see our papers. We all showed him our passports but Diana kept rummaging slowly through her handbag for what seemed an hour while a mile of cars honked away behind us and the border sentry grew more impatient by the second. Finally, he barked out “GO!” Diana raised her smiling face and said, “Officer I had a question for you.” Ben said “Never mind your question” and we sped away as fast as we could.
Diana was very appreciative of the work of Judith Tyberg and the East-West Cultural Center. She believed in the great aspiration of the American counterculture and its manifestations in spiritual communities, such as Auroville. She often spoke of her dream for a cultural, spiritual and educational center, where aspiring people could join together in a common life with a higher purpose. She wanted the East-West Cultural Center to move to an appropriate space for a greater collective manifestation. When I found a large heritage house in Highland Park, with extensive grounds, she was most appreciative and felt it would be right for the future growth of Dr. Tyberg’s wishes. Alas, it was not to be and as a fall-out of my attempt to move the Center, I eventually had to leave. Diana was very concerned with what she considered the collapse of the Center, its beautiful Indological library, and the dreams of culture and higher learning it embodied. She spoke about it repeatedly and tried to shore up this purpose to some extent at 64th Street on Highland Park, where for some time we had study groups in Sri Aurobindo’s writings and where, once the cottage became available, she began furnishing a space for scholarship and sharing. I stayed in the cottage at times and we spent many magic evenings in soirees sipping fine teas and discussing epiphanies of the human spirit.
Diana believed in the immortality of the soul and its evolution in complexity and wholeness through many lives. Death to her was only a shedding of the physical sheath and a transit towards a gathering of new experiences. Her radiant constant gentle happiness in life has passed unchanged to the astral plane. She valued very much the life and words of the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo ashram, who said that the best way to depart was gradually, like a tree, departing inwards with one’s life-force and capacities into another world. Diana loved trees and passed as trees do, slowly and gently in a coma. Now free of her physical bondage she is with us as her ever-smiling presence, a persistent goodwill for a future of peace and oneness. Diana thought often and highly of Auroville, the Mother’s planetary city in India, dedicated to integral spiritual growth and human unity. She passed on Auroville’s birthday. The Mother has said that the best one can do to help the soul in its continued journey after death is to quietly concentrate one’s good thoughts and love for the person. In her words, “Because when you think of her with affection (without any inner disorder, without weeping, without any of those distraught passions), if you can be calm, your atmosphere becomes a kind of beacon for her.” Let us all remember Diana’s smiling face and spend a quiet moment gathering our happy thoughts and affection for her soul which is with us now.