24. Hat Heaven

In Myanmar, during the Christmas trip of 1994, Guru invited us all to buy hats and bring them to the evening function. It was one of those extraordinary suggestions of charming inventiveness and limitless entertainment in which Guru always excelled. With infinite, serene patience he donned each piece of finery and we stood behind him while he smiled for our photograph. There were princely golden crowns, naval and boating hats, a Turkish fez, berets, boaters and bowlers, trilbies and tuques, an African kofia or two, fedoras and homburgs, cricket and cowboy hats, a pork pie felt hat, plumed and floral hats, baseball caps and Russian bearskins and endless others. What amazed me was that an Asian town would stock all these multitudinous hats – why? And who on earth, other than us, would ever buy them? It must have seemed a heavenly miracle: a hundred foreigners converging on your shop and purchasing a retail decade’s worth of hats in one astonishing, madly lucrative afternoon.

Subarata purchased a wide-brimmed purple Stetson with gorgeously plumed feathers, overshadowing my own acquisition, of course; but in an act of measureless generosity agreed, after a little initial lip-gnawing, to swap hats. So in my photograph, standing with sky-high smile behind Guru’s chair, I’m actually posing with Subarata’s hat. If nothing else, that moment when an eminent shopper relinquished her carefully selected purchase for a friend, even managing to smile with his rather dubious hat for her photograph, must rank up there among the Great Occasions in the annals of true saintliness.