A lesson in humility from Dada Vaswani

I've always had certain reservations about spiritual masters and figures. I remember, once I got a call from the Sadhu Vaswani Mission in Poona. This happened in 2003. The caller asked me politely whether I could come and meet Dada J P Vaswani. 'But why?', I asked her politely. She told me that a professor at Fergusson College in Poona gave my contact number to the mission as Dada wanted someone to translate Persian parables of Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz Shirazi. Dada was very fond of these great masters' poems and parables. But he didn't know Persian, the language Rumi and Hafiz wrote their mystic poetry in. He came to know from someone at Poona University that Persian was my mother tongue and I was translating Persian/Arabic mystic works into English and European languages.

I went to meet him. He stood up and greeted me with folded hands. I was terribly embarrassed. He didn't sit until I sat. His contagious smile and disarming simplicity floored me. He inquired about me and asked me as to how I knew Persian so well. Since he hailed from Hyderabad, Sindh (Pakistan), he knew how to read and write Urdu as Sindhi script is also a variant of Persio-Arabic script and is written from right to left. But he didn't know Persian. 'I want to read Rumi, Sanai, Khaqani among others in original Persian and imbibe the true mystic essence of their sublime poetry,' he told me in his gentle voice. 

I hardly used to be in India in those days and would frequently shuttle between London and Karachi for my PhD thesis on Islamic Theology and Mysticism. I told him regretfully that I'd not be able to teach him continuously. 'Even a few days in a month will suffice. Even if I can't learn Persian, I'll at least be able to know the intricacies and nuances of Persian mysticism from someone whose mother tongue's Persian,' he said matter-of-factly. 

Though I couldn't teach him regularly, I came closer to him and experienced his love, compassion and humility. We seldom met but he always called me Sir. I requested him not to call me Sir but he insisted on calling me so. His logic was that I was teaching him Persian mysticism and enumerating upon Hafiz's delicate but difficult Persian spiritual metaphors. So I was also a master!

Moreover, he'd often jokingly say, 'You're a week older than I (am)' as I was born on July 26 and he was born on August 2!

I'd to discontinue after a few months as I got an opportunity to teach at Karachi University. But I remained in touch with him. Karachi is in Sindh province of Pakistan and he belonged to that region. I'd often meet his old friends in Pakistan on his behalf.

He never forgot to send me his handwritten wishes in Urdu on my birthday (July 26). I too sent him my birthday wishes on August 2 in Urdu. 

The man was an embodiment of compassion and humility. A truly noble soul, I must say. He had no airs, no spiritual snobbery or arrogance. He was perhaps the only spiritual master in this age who was so accessible and approachable. Anyone could meet him at any time. He obliged every visitor and interacted so animatedly.

The best quality that he had was the complete absence of pontification. He never evinced condescending attitude towards anyone and met all with love and immense cordiality. He was humble to a fault. 

May his soul rest in peace.

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