Symbols of the world's religions



Ward Parks

An Interview with Eric Nadel in 1999

In August of 1936, Kaikhushru Pleader, one of Meher Baba's mandali, found a mast on the streets of Bombay and brought him back to Rahuri, where Baba had recently established His first ashram for the mad and the God-intoxicated.

Mohammed, as this young man was called among the community of Bombay Muslims on whose shore the whim of divine intoxication had washed him up, proved to be, in the words of William Donkin, very much a "problem mast, entangled in the brambles of the spiritual path."

For as Baba subsequently explained, he was at this time caught between the third and fourth planes of consciousness in a particularly difficult hairat or state of enchantment from which it is almost impossible to extricate oneself without the help of a Master.

The sublimities and sensitivities of this condition no doubt help to account for his behaviour, which, again to use Donkin's word, was "grotesque" even by mast standards.

Thus, in Rahuri, Mohammed would sit near the door to the ashram and pour torrents of vituperation and abuse at anyone who approached him; at other times, for hours together, he would scratch and pick in the dust, looking for what he called "deesh." (Mohammed's hunched and stooped form today attests to this life-long habit of his.)

Yet "however contumacious and difficult he may have been towards everyone else, he really seemed to adore Baba, and long for his daily visits. Every day when Baba came, it was as if a flame were kindled in the depths of Mohammed's being, that for a moment lit up the dark and tangled ways..." (Wayfarers, p. 48).

In this fashion, Mohammed took his place among that original group of masts through whom Baba's fifteen-year phase of sustained and concentrated mast work was inaugurated. Today, more than 63 years later, when all the other masts and saints and spiritually advanced souls whom Baba contacted have long since disappeared from the scene, Mohammed is still among us, living at Lower Meherabad as the ashram's longest-term permanent resident and (presumably) carrying on with his work there.

All of this suggests a very unique connection with the Avatar and His work. Indeed, as a wali of the fifth plane, Mohammed carries the further distinction of being the only current ashramite whom we know to be spiritually advanced. He is, beyond this, a man of great destiny, for Baba said of him that he would become a Perfect Master in several more lifetimes.

One would hardly guess such rare distinction to see Mohammed today, who, with his bent form and slow shuffle, looks like nothing quite so much as a Maharashtrian version of "E.T."

Over the years the irritability and jalali fieriness have subsided, and he has become more obviously childlike, both in appearance and manner. Yet even a superficial observer could not help being struck by his eyes, and the ancient feeling that saturates his atmosphere and ambience continues, as it has always done, to command a sense of respect and even awe.

Who is this remarkable man? Apart from what William Donkin recorded in his magnificent book fifty years ago, what do we know about him? Where does he come from, and how did he become as he is?

On a hot summer's morning not long ago I put these questions to Eric Nadel, a resident of Meherabad since the mid-1970s who lives in the room next door to "Mo," as he calls him, and who is intimately involved in the mast's personal care.

Fluent in Marathi, which is Mohammed's mother tongue, Erico is adept in the art of mast-wheedling, through the practice of which he has, over the years, gleaned much information about the great man's youth and earlier life. What follows, then, are a few pickings from Erico's biographical treasure-hoard.

Since "mastology" (or the study of masts) is very much an infant science, these details are particularly interesting, since they illuminate, from an advanced mast's own point of view, how he came to inhabit the world of higher awareness which is his true domain and field of action at the present time.

"Don't think," Erico began, "that Mo told us about himself directly and all in one sitting. At the beginning it was very difficult for him to recall anything from his earlier life, because his mind is functioning in a completely different fashion now than it was when he had these experiences. Also, the mind of any mast functions slowly: that is one of its characteristics."

As Baba Himself explained,

Mind stopped is God.
Mind working, is man.
Mind slowed down, is mast.
Mind working fast, is mad.

In certain respects, Mo — like other masts — is quite childlike, and the process of inducing him to recall and reminisce requires patience, a certain kind of charm, and a talent in attuning oneself to the rhythm of his consciousness.

"I would ask him a question," Erico said, "and have one of the Marathi-speaking servants repeat the question, gently nagging him; and then I would ask him again. He would answer us — in Marathi, of course — saying, 'I'm recollecting, I'm recalling.' After this had gone on for a while, he would say, 'Shall I tell you? Shall I tell you?' And we would say, 'Yes, please tell us!' This would repeat several times: 'Shall I tell you?' 'Yes, tell us!' Finally he would say, 'I'm telling you!' and he would begin to come out with his answer. Once he had gotten going, he would not only answer our questions but sometimes would volunteer his own reminiscences.

"For example, he might say, 'Shall I tell you? Shall I tell you? In my village the houses are made of leaves and grass.'

"By encouraging him in this way to recall his early childhood and describe it to us, we learned that he had been the youngest in an extended family of 14 children. Thus he was called 'Nana Bhau,' which means 'little brother.' Knowing this became very useful to us. It made it easy for us to encourage him to eat or drink water or sit outside or exercise. We would just say to him, 'Nana Bhau, come and have your milk.' He gets immense pleasure from this."

In fact, Mohammed's "real" name — the name given to him by his parents — was Tukaram Lakshman Chavan. Thus, despite the sobriquet "Mohammed" given to him later, he was by birth a Hindu and not a Muslim at all.

He grew up in Ratnagiri, a small coastal town in southern Maharashtra not far from the Goan border. His father was a potter, and he still remembers some of the rudiments of pot-making taught to him as a boy.

"After the wheels of memory had been greased a bit by several sessions of recollection," Erico went on, "I asked him how he became a mast. The actual word that I used was 'deva' (or 'god'): 'How did you become a deva?' For the third plane (from which station Mohammed began his spiritual journey in this lifetime) is the abode of devas, and he used to see them there.

"When I asked him this, Mo snapped his fingers, as if to imply that it happened very quickly: 'Just like that!'

"I asked where he was at the time. He told us that he was at home in his house. His wife and two children were sleeping.

"I asked him what was the time of day. He answered, 'Early in the morning.' Having just woken from sleep, he stood up to tie on the red piece of cloth he used as underwear. When he finished tying on his underwear, he told us, he became a deva.

"'What did you do then?' I asked him. Mo replied with animation, 'I put up my arms like this!' — and he raised both arms above his head.

"'How long did you do that for?'

"'About ten days, two weeks.'

"'And then what did you do?'

"'I put on my shoes and I went to Bombay.'

"'Why did you go to Bombay?' I asked him.

"And here, Mo told me — these are the words in Marathi — 'Pushkal dalinder bawaji ahay tita,' which means, roughly, 'There are many unkempt respectable old men there.' The literal sense of these words was easily enough understood, but it seemed that there was something more to be grasped than this. What made this answer especially confusing was that Mo uses the word 'bawaji' to refer to old Parsi gentlemen. Why would the presence of old, unkempt, respectable Parsi gentlemen be something that would attract him to Bombay?

"Puzzling this over for a few days, suddenly I realized what Mo was saying. He was not talking about unkempt Parsis or unkempt old men in Bombay. What he meant was that there were plenty of masts there. And when I asked him questions to this effect later, he gave answers that confirmed this interpretation."

So Mohammed left his home and family and took up residence in Bombay. During this period, as William Donkin recorded, Mohammed was much pursued by number bettors who gambled on the "day-to-day fluctuations of cotton prices" and who, for this purpose, would pester men perceived as spiritually advanced for profitable hints and tips.

At the time Pleader found him, Mohammed was living in the streets of the city, sleeping under a small stall at night, and providing tips to these cotton speculators in exchange for meals.

"It seems that one of his problems when he became a mast," said Erico, "is that he no longer knew exactly how to get food to eat."

In fact, Pleader gave Mohammed the first good meal that he had had for years.

"Mo told us that, when he met Baba in Rahuri for the first time, he didn't recognize Him, but he nonetheless wanted to embrace Baba, and Baba wanted to embrace him. They did embrace, Mo says, and they both were very, very happy. And after some days, Mo recognized who Baba was: 'Dharma cha Dada,' that is, 'the Elder Brother of the ancient faith of mankind.'"

All these recollections derive from the earlier years of Mohammed's life, in the '20s and '30s. But occasionally Mohammed has alluded to experiences from a previous lifetime — presumably the most recent incarnation before this current one — in which foundations for his present career as a mast appear to have been laid.

His name in that lifetime was Vithoba, and as the priest in a Hindu temple, he spent much time worshipping a statue of the temple's presiding deity. Gradually the intensity of his devotion increased, until at length he wandered off into the jungle and spent the remainder of his life there, inwardly absorbed. It was at this time, one presumes, that he became a mast and entered into the spiritual path.

"So now today," says Erico, "we have a delightful 'Nana Bhau' (Little Brother) sitting on his chair on the back veranda of a 1948 bungalow at Lower Meherabad. He doesn't appear to be doing much, but when I ask him casually, 'What are you doing?' sometimes he'll reply, 'Danda chaloo hay,' which means, 'I am practising my profession.'"

This narration completed, Erico and I paid a visit to the grand old man himself, who was seated in his chair in the back veranda near the door to Mandali Hall. After the appropriate pourparlers, Erico asked him, in Marathi, of course, "Do you hear Dada's voice?"

Mohammed answered in the affirmative.

"What does Dada's voice sound like?"

In reply, Mohammed made a sound something like "hu" or "hun as one would say if one were to nasalize "Hoo," the Islamic name for God. As a wali of the fifth plane, of course, Mohammed has attained to a station where he can actually hear the Word of God, the Primal Sound, the Nada Brahmin that upholds and sustains creation.

Does he hear Dada's voice all the time?

I hear it in the morning, Mohammed replied.

"Do you hear it at night also?"


And on this note our conversation came to a close.

Mohammed the mast is now in the neighbourhood of 87 or 88 years old. During Amartithi some eight or nine years ago he became so ill that a grave was dug for him in the men's cemetery in Lower Meherabad.

The grave is still unoccupied, serving as a catchment pit for "dead balls" that fly over the hedge in the course of late-afternoon volleyball games at the Pilgrim Centre, while Mohammed himself can still be found "practising his profession" on the veranda of Mandali Hall.

As the years pass and the life of the Avatar of the Age gradually passes out of first-hand memory into the realm of history and written record, Mohammed the mast is one of the last living reminders of one of the most significant phases and aspects of Beloved Baba's work.

What Baba was really doing with the masts, no one can tell. Even if someone could tell, that vast majority of us locked in the plane of gross consciousness could never understand. Whatever that game may have been, Mohammed the mast appears to have been one of Baba's first-string players.

Through the ages to come, his name and memory will be cherished as one of the beloved children of the Eternal Beloved of all mankind.

MEHERANA MESSENGER, Issue 1999, pp. 1-3, 5
1999 © Meherana, Inc.


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