This month, the ‘grease­ball guru’ who fooled Mrs Thatcher checks out and the psy­che­delic al­chemist be­hind Ti­mothy Leary’s favourite acid takes a fi­nal trip

Fortean Times - - Strange Days -


Chandraswami was born in Ra­jasthan, the son of a money­len­der. The fam­ily moved to Hy­der­abad, though Chandraswami would claim that he had spent his youth med­i­tat­ing in the jun­gles of Bi­har, where he ac­quired ‘tantric’ pow­ers. By the 1970s he was a glo­be­trot­ting mys­tic and self-styled “god­man”, re­garded by his devo­tees as an avatar of the Hindu mon­key god Hanu­man. To many oth­ers, how­ever, he was the “grease­ball guru”, a mod­ern-day Rasputin who ex­ploited his role as spir­i­tual ad­viser to a host of in­ter­na­tional film stars, se­nior politi­cians and busi­ness­men for fi­nan­cial gain and had a walkon part in a string of scan­dals, in­clud­ing fi­nanc­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion of Ra­jiv Ghandi.

The bearded and portly holy man, ad­dressed by his fol­low­ers as “Your Ho­li­ness”, claimed mirac­u­lous tantric pow­ers and was said to have dis­pensed spir­i­tual ad­vice to, among oth­ers, Elizabeth Tay­lor (who claimed he had brought her breast can­cer un­der con­trol), the Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, the Sul­tan of

Brunei, the pres­i­dents of Kenya and Zam­bia, and Fer­di­nand Mar­cos (who cred­ited him with once sav­ing his life). In her book Gu­rus: Sto­ries of In­dia’s

Lead­ing Babas, Bhavdeep Kang wrote that Mobutu Sese Seko, the klep­to­cratic dic­ta­tor of Zaire, would in­vite Chandraswami to Kin­shasa and ask him to hide be­hind a cur­tain dur­ing an im­por­tant meet­ing, then ask his ad­vice on whether the vis­i­tor could be trusted.

Chandraswami (who spoke only Hindi) was adept at such ap­par­ently su­per­nat­u­ral feats as mind read­ing. Of­ten he would ask a new ac­quain­tance to write ques­tions on scraps of pa­per, crum­ple the scraps into balls, and then re­peat each ques­tion as they un­folded the pa­per. “He closed his eyes and went into a trance,” said K Nat­war Singh, a for­mer In­dian deputy high com­mis­sioner in Lon­don. “Sud­denly he asked my wife to pick up any of the pa­per balls. She did so. Opened it. Chandraswami then told her what the ques­tion was. He was spot on.”

Ac­cord­ing to Singh, Chandraswami met Mar­garet Thatcher in 1975, shortly af­ter she had be­come leader of the Con­ser­va­tive Party. The swami, Singh re­called, “proph­e­sied that she would be prime min­is­ter for nine, 11 or 13 years” and “Mrs Thatcher be­gan to look at Chandraswami not as a fraud, but as a holy man”. When he took off his chap­pals and sat on the sofa in her Com­mons of­fice in the lotus po­si­tion, “Mrs Thatcher seemed to ap­prove.” Mrs T was so im­pressed, said Singh, that she asked for a se­cond ap­point­ment, and even agreed to the god­man’s re­quest that she wear a red dress.

Chandraswami played a shad­owy role in the bat­tle be­tween Mo­hammed al Fayed and Lon­rho’s chief, “Tiny” Roland, over the con­trol of the House of Fraser, own­ers of Har­rods, dur­ing which he played both sides for fi­nan­cial gain. He was also im­pli­cated as a mid­dle­man in the Iran-Con­tra arms-run­ning scan­dal.

Back in In­dia, he rose to promi­nence on the coat-tails of Narasimha Rao, who was sworn in as In­dia’s prime min­ster in 1991 on an aus­pi­cious date picked by the canny swami, who soon af­ter­wards built a multi-storey ashram in New Delhi where he held court sit­ting on a large tiger skin. For the next five years, he breezed in and out of the prime min­ster’s res­i­dence, be­com­ing his chief as­trologer, fund man­ager and power bro­ker.

Chandraswami’s luck be­gan to turn in the run-up to the 1996 elec­tions, when Rao was de­feated by the right-wing BJP. In 1995 his fol­low­ers were ac­cused or or­ches­trat­ing a wave of “mir­a­cles” as a dis­trac­tion from in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the swami’s af­fairs, in­clud­ing sev­eral days in which stat­ues of the ele­phant god Ganesh were be­lieved to be “drink­ing” milk fed to them, a craze that spread within hours to Hindu com­mu­ni­ties world­wide [ FT84:16-17]. In 1996 Rao and Chandraswami were ar­rested on charges of de­fraud­ing Lakhub­hai Pathak, the Bri­tish-based “pickle king”, of $100,000 back in 1983. Rao won bail, but the god­man spent 10 months in jail. Both men were later ac­quit­ted. In 1998, asked if he would keep silent over his past, Chandraswami replied: “I have to. If I open my mouth, an earth­quake will re­sult.” He was cre­mated on the banks of the Ya­muna River in a cer­e­mony at­tended by a hand­ful of mourn­ers, none of whom were VIPs. Nemi Chand Jain, aka Chandraswami, tantric char­la­tan, born Behror, Ra­jasthan Nov 1948; died 23 May 2017, aged 69.


Sand was the son of Clarence Hiskey, a chemist and (since his col­lege days) a com­mit­ted Com­mu­nist. Clarence was re­cruited by Soviet in­tel­li­gence dur­ing World War II while work­ing on the Man­hat­tan Project, from which he was ex­pelled af­ter he was seen meet­ing a Rus­sian agent. His wife Mar­cia di­vorced him and re­verted to her maiden name, Sand, pass­ing it on to her son. Nick Sand em­barked on his “chem­i­cal ca­reer” af­ter tak­ing mesca­line as a stu­dent in Brook­lyn Col­lege in 1962, but it was his first ex­pe­ri­ence with LSD in 1964 (when it was still le­gal) that turned him into an acid prophet. “I was float­ing in this im­mense black space,” he re­called in The Sun­shine Mak­ers (2015), a doc­u­men­tary by Cosmo Feild­ing-Mellen. “I said, ‘What am I do­ing here?’ And sud­denly a voice came through my body and it said, ‘Your job on this planet is to make psychedelics and turn on the world’.” Like Moses re­ceiv­ing the tablets, Sand took this com­mand­ment to heart.

En­cour­aged by Owsley Stan­ley, Amer­ica’s premier acid chemist, and fi­nanced by Billy Hitch­cock, heir to a bank­ing and oil for­tune, Sand and com­puter ex­pert Tim Scully (Owsley’s lab part­ner) set up a lab in Wind­sor, Cal­i­for­nia, in 1968. Within a year they had made 10 mil­lion tabs of “Or­ange Sun­shine”, touted by Tim Leary as the finest acid avail­able, which was dis­trib­uted by the Brother­hood of Eter­nal Love from their base at La­guna Beach, Cal­i­for­nia. (One source states this was the first step in a planned pro­duc­tion of 750 mil­lion trips.) Sand made sure that Or­ange Sun­shine was avail­able to Amer­i­can sol­diers in Viet­nam, whose minds he hoped to bend in the di­rec­tion of non-vi­o­lence and broth­erly love. The goal was sim­ple: “If we could turn on every­one in the world, then maybe we’d have a new world of peace and love.”

When the sup­ply be­gan to run out, a cer­tain Ron­ald Stark turned up with a large quan­tity of pure LSD and took over the fi­nanc­ing. Stark, how­ever, turned out to be an in­former; Sand and Scully was given 15-year sen­tences in 1971; Sand was let out on bail pend­ing ap­peal, and slipped into Canada, where he lived for two decades un­der the as­sumed name Theodore Ed­ward Par­ody III and con­tin­ued with his psy­che­delic alchemy. He was un­masked in 1996 and sent back to the US where he served six years in jail, af­ter which he moved to Ecuador. He re­mained to­tally com­mit­ted to the be­atific vi­sion granted to him on his first trip. Gina Raetze, his long-time com­pan­ion (and some­time part­ner of the sit­u­a­tion­ist Chris Gray,

FT252:26), said he died of a heart at­tack. Ni­cholas Fran­cis Hiskey, af­ter­wards Sand, acid chemist, born Brook­lyn, New York City 10 May 1941; died La­gu­ni­tas, Cal­i­for­nia, 24 April 2017, aged 75.

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