You could always tell when Guru was on a mission, he could be so charming, and so determined, and there was nothing could step in his way.
I remember, there were so many incidences when he was in Sri Lanka – in the morning he said “We’re going on a mission. I’ve seen a murthi, somewhere in the hills, so have a big breakfast, because I do not know when we are going to get back.”
Sister Topsy was there with us on that trip, so off we set – Guru’s sister provided us with a car. This driver… either he drove at 100 miles an hour, or 10 miles an hour – he didn’t seem to have a moderate speed – very annoying!
And Guru kept saying “Slow down, slow down” because he was always looking…. not with his eye, but with his mind, his visionary eye. We travelled all over the place – round the hills, and the outskirts of Kandy (at this point the man was doing his 100 miles per hour) and Guru yelled “STOP! REVERSE!”
He got out, and there was this tiny little tin shed of a shop, with a few artefacts. Things hanging up outside – it didn’t look very promising to me, but Guru was in one of those moods… charming, but so determined.
So Sister Topsy and I followed, (well she was old enough to be my mother) but we were a bit like two children, nudging each other, because it exciting. It was always exciting with Guru.
So we walked into this shop, and it was full of fascinating junk – carvings of this and that. There were some lovely statues, images and murthis, temple drums and cymbals and lots of Buddhist stuff. And Guru walked up the man at the back (it was very dark) and said “Have you got an image of Kataragama?” (because Lord Subramanium in Sri Lanka is often known as Kataragama – it’s a more familiar name).
And the man looked a bit worried, and said “No”. But rather too quickly… I noticed that. And I looked at Sister Topsy and thought “He’s got it wrong. We’ll be back in the car and off on another rampage – Guru’s radar has got slightly blurred here!”
And Guru said “Oh, I see, OK, OK… Hmmm. I wonder… in your cupboard at the back – can I just have a little look in there?” And the man said “Urm… it’s my brother’s cupboard and whatever is in there is my brother’s – it’s not mine!” “Oh” said Guru “Is that so? Well I’ll just have a little look” So the man went to get the key… and inside there was this image of Lord Shanmukha.
It was very rusty, but you could see, even in that poor light and in a terrible condition, you could see it was very beautiful. And Guru said “Now. If you brother were here, and he felt like selling it, have you any idea the sort of price he might want?”
And the man was shaking! He just threw a figure at him, which he thought was so big, it would shut Guru up and everything would go back to normal. I can’t remember what it was in rupees… tens of thousands of rupees. And Guru asked him for the amount in British pounds. The man had a calculator for some of the tourists, so he named the figure – it was £400.
Guru asked me to open the wallet, and in the wallet was exactly £400! Not £401, not £399 – and Guru just gave it to him!
And the man… I mean, what could he do? He couldn’t imagine Guru was going to buy it at that price. But £400 – it’s probably worth £400,000! It is the most exquisite… the craftsmanship is extraordinary. So he wrapped it up in newspaper and cloth, and we carried it back to Columbo.
By now Sister Topsy and I were quite meek and a bit contrite, because we thought Guru had got it wrong.
We took it straight to the family jeweller, a lovely man. It’s a sort of tradition in Sri Lanka – you have plumbers and electricians – you also have a family jeweller, because Sri Lankan women are forever changing their jewellery. They’ll have a big bangle one year, and they’ll want it converted into a necklace the next, and then they want earrings and a brooch. It’s the same jewellery that’s taken back and forth.
So you have your jeweller, and this man had been looking after Guru’s family for years. We took him this murthi, and he could see the quality of the workmanship was absolutely beautiful. Guru said “What can you do here?” the jeweller said, “Well the funny thing is that I’ve just come back from a big jewellery fair in Zurich, where I found the most beautiful set of jewellery cleaning instruments. They’ve just come onto the market.”
So he opened this box, and inside was an instrument that looked something like an electric toothbrush, with all these fittings for different shapes and angles. And he said, “Let me see what I can do – I have a very good man here, a pure vegetarian Hindu – I’ll put him on the job. Come back in two weeks.”
So we came back in two weeks and the transformation, from being green and rusty… there was this glistening form, as you see him now. And the only thing that was missing was the chakra, which he had made from what he imagined were the correct dimensions. That’s the only thing… otherwise it’s totally original and beautifully made.
The man in the shop told us that his brother had been given it to sell by a Buddhist monk who had found it – it had been buried and dug up. It had been buried for some time, and was owned by the last king of Sri Lanka before some battle or turmoil, for safekeeping. But it had been left, and that was why it had got so rusty.
It was just one of those examples of Guru on a mission. Very special.