14. The Wedding Gift

Subarata was an accomplished and tireless shopper and for years she chided me for my own disappointing lack of interest. Occasionally, usually on Christmas trips, I would be persuaded to tag along with her while she explored the local markets, bought prasad or found a birthday gift. After an hour though of traipsing about, I would plead tiredness or a headache and head home. Occasionally we would come across Guru, and Subarata’s zeal was vindicated when he would talk to us or wave or smile. “See!” Subarata would say to me reprovingly, as though to suggest that all those long, hot, interminable hours had simply been intended for this.

In Guatemala City in December of 1997, exactly this happened. On an epic morning shopping foray, a café suddenly appeared before my relieved eyes and I sank gratefully into a chair, refusing to venture further. Subarata sighed in exasperation, then finally joined me. Suddenly Guru appeared as though from thin air and stood by our table. He spoke beautifully about his love for us and how much it pained him when we could not feel this and so became unhappy. Guru gave me 100 per cent for my smile and Subarata 82 per cent. How he loved husband-and-wife rivalry! Then Guru said his love for us would take away all our sufferings, smiled hugely and walked away.

Familiar as we are with our numerous shortcomings, and ranking ourselves well down on the “deservedly lovable” scale, we usually find it difficult to believe that we can be unconditionally loved. The reassurance of Guru’s love from Guru’s own person was always a radiant and joyful surprise that lingered in our hearts and souls for ages, banishing all the shadows in an illuming burst of sunshine.

Once, in our pre-disciple days when Subarata’s shopping skills were in their infancy, she caused a minor embarrassment in my life. In those days we lived far from any city and on one visit to civilisation for supplies I had asked her to buy a token wedding gift for a distant friend. When she surprisingly declined, I phoned my mother – she lived in the town where the wedding was scheduled – and asked for her help in procuring a suitable gift. She talked about cutlery sets, clothing, oven dishes, furniture – practical things – while my eyes began glazing over with indifference.

“Get him a pair of socks or an egg-whisk,” I joked. She promised to buy a gift and send it along to the wedding on my behalf – and there our conversation ended.

The wedding went smoothly, the usual dreadful mix of suits and bonhomie and that mysterious air of triumphal achievement, and afterwards the bride and groom surveyed the impressive display of wedding gifts, acknowledging and thanking each person. I had no idea what my mother had bought and considered the many items with curiosity. Would it be the bedroom linen, the hairdryer, the Waterford crystal set, that casket of champagne, the pearl-handled dinner set, the furniture, the golf clubs – which was my present? The table groaned under the weight of expensive and elaborate gifts.

Then, with horror, there at the end of the long table I saw it, my name embossed beneath on a card. My mother had taken my wry suggestion literally and bought a three-dollar hand-held egg-beater. I quietly slunk away and drove off into the sanctuary of night...