In the 1970s the British Pound was gold in your hand and the ample sum I had landed at Bombay with appeared never to run out. However, my Delhi hotel owner pleaded that he wanted pounds so he could take his dying daughter to a hospital in London where the Indian Rupee had no value. Ever the sucker for a sob story, I changed more than I had spent so far. Leaving the hotel feeling immensely righteous, somebody asked if I wanted a great Pound-Rupee rate – it was far better than the hotel’s. I hesitated, irritated at being betrayed earlier.
Indian hustlers are expert at reading you and he quickly threw his net over me, “Sahib, better rate giving more money to giving your guru! Guru happy, you happy, me happy, everyone happy. Come meeting Happy-Rate people. This verily Flower Power magic sahib!”
I followed the man in a floral pants and shirt who had dressed to haul in fools like me. We ducked in to a narrow alley where various touts tried to draw me in to dark shops to exchange my money. Finally we slipped between two low constructions. With their tin walls touching each shoulder I shuffled along, wondering if I’d be mugged.
We entered a yard and dived quickly into a breeze-block shack. I peered in to a room where two men with oily eyes looked up from a pile of dollars and pounds. One of them snapped impolitely, “How much you change?”
“Fifty Pounds please.”
They wrote down a rate and I suggested a better one that had been flung out from one of the shops we’d passed. I was told this was impossibly low. I made to leave, mentally preparing myself for an attack for not having completed the deal. The man in charge stepped before me, blocking the door. He glared at me without speaking, then said, “When leaving Delhi?”
“In a week’s time.”
“If you promise returning, I giving better rate now.”
I handed over my money and received a huge pile of money in return.
“This special rate. Your destiny to coming back.”
It was immensely special and I intended to return before heading off to see the guru I had longed to meet. I imagined myself handing over a sack full of cash as I was blessed for being such a nice guy.
The hustler slapped my shoulder, “Very Happy Flower Power Rate, sahib!”
The dealer smiled, “Guru very happy!” But he meant his guru and turned to whisper a prayer to a framed photo on his desk.
Intrigued, I looked more closely. A bare chested man wearing a sarong sat on a rock. His eyes were glaring at us as if he was about to perform a trick. “Where does your guru live?”
“Yamuna bank, Brahman temple.”
“You see him regularly?”
“Each dawn as sun rising over holy Yamuna River.”
“He looks very old.”
“These type, sahib, they timeless. They going and coming to heaven and earth like we taking bus across city.”
“The marks on his forehead….”
“Ash from dawn fire to Brahman. You liking this sage sahib?”
“Err, well, you see I’m actually…”
“Excellent. I picking you up tomorrow 4.30am. Waiting outside hotel! You see! Guru-ji, he great man, he arrange us meeting like this. He wishing blessing you!”
During our conversation the man’s countenance had altered dramatically. Gone was the dismal and devious money dealer. He was years younger, bright, alive, excited. Perplexed, I asked, “You are obviously a religious man….”
“Very very religious sahib!” His eyes shone with delight.
“So why do you do this illegal work?”
“Sahib, life very complex. Yamuna River stone, he begin as Himalayan rock. Ice it cut him loose. Boulder falling in Yamuna. Each year for countless year, boulder rolling down river bed, banging other boulder. This tough work he doing. Slowly he enter Plains and one day he land at Delhi shore.” The sermon stopped and the dealer reached forwards and picked up a pebble laying against the photo. He handed it to me.
Feeling how smooth it was, I smiled.
“Eventually all bagging and hard work making this sahib!” It was as if he had defined life. We are each smooth pebbles that are chiselled to perfection by life’s knocks.
“Tomorrow sunrise, sahib, we picking smooth Yamuna pebble for you!”
More cameos are available at – kitmunro.com & kitmunro.blogspot.fr
My Indian based novel will be available on Kindle in a few weeks……