Symbols of the world's religions



William Donkin

Chinnaswami was a mast of the third plane, three-quarters, jamali and one-quarter jalali, and he and Shariat Khan kept the ashram sparkling with fun.

Baba first contacted Chinnaswami in Trivandrum in January 1940, and liked him so much that he brought him back to the Bangalore Ashram.

He was a thin old man with a face like a macaco monkey, a very dark skin, and he had a passion for chewing pan, so that his mouth was usually brimming with luscious, red saliva. He drank his tea hotter than anyone else could bear, and when he smoked, he would often put the burning end of his cigarette in his mouth, and having smoked a cigarette to a finish he would extinguish it by masticating the burning stub.

In an alley behind one of the huts there was an electric transmission pole with defective insulation. Everyone else used to steer clear of this pole, which gave an unpleasant electric shock, but Chinnaswami would hug the pole with both hands and dance round it as if he were having no end of a time.

He was a great lover of music, and would often sing and dance. For the diversion of the masts, a singer used to entertain them for two or three hours each day, and at such times Chinnaswami would disport himself in wild and grotesque dances, and in the midst of dancing would sometimes soar into a spiritual ecstasy, and fall senseless to the ground.

He had, therefore, to be watched, lest in falling he might break the fragile bones of his old body. At such times, Baba would remind the mandali of Khwaja Moeinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, who used also to plunge into ecstasy in the midst of a dance.

Despite his age, Chinnaswami was as mischievous as a ten-year old boy, and one day he came a cropper while trying to jump over the garden wall, and split his lip so badly that it had to be stitched. Two or three sutures were put in, and he seemed literally indifferent to the searing pain of the needle as it pierced the margins of the wound.

Chinnaswami was an entertaining and lovable man, but he could not compete with the sempiternal effervescence of Shariat Khan, a high mahbubi mast, with traits of jamali and jalali.

November-December 1992
Excerpted from THE WAYFARERS


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