We set off far too early into the pink morning of Jaipur, with Aslan, our trusty tuk-tuk driver, who Andrew had prematurely hired the previous evening, after meeting him at a local beer shop. It transpired Aslan was not as trusty as we’d hoped, when our first stop turned out to be his textile shop on the edge of town.
After many attempts to stitch us up with overpriced garments, we eventually set out for our ‘city-tour’!
Within five minutes we made our first stop, picking up an impossibly chirpy chap from a scruffy street corner. We assumed he was cadging a lift, but as we screeched to a bumpy halt, Aslan informed us that unfortunately, he was compelled to work in his shop for the day, and instead, his young nephew, Hussein, would be our tour guide. He gave his ward a list of instructions in rapid ‘Hindish’, and bid us farewell, making it it clear we were to pay him later, and not our young chauffeur. Then, with several indecipherable nods of the head, he took his leave.
Hussein though, was wonderful. Cheeky, energetic and most importantly, with two hands almost firmly on the handlebars! He told us he was Muslim, but not to worry, he was not a terrorist. As he hurtled down the centre of the road at a suicidal pace, we were glad to hear this. Cows, pigs, goats, dogs, cats, peacocks and humans made their escape as we continued at ‘break-someone’s-neck’ speed on our city slalom.
It was definitely what one would call, a brown-knuckle ride!
After we’d eaten lunch, at a slightly frightening ‘restaurant’ Hussein had recommended, or rather, insisted we break paratha at, our enthusiastic driver informed us he had managed to contact the guru, and that he had agreed to see us.
I should add that earlier, the boy’s uncle, had suggested it may be possible for Andrew and I to visit a famous soothsayer, who resided behind a jewellery shop in a suburb of Jaipur. He assured us we were not obliged to buy anything if we so wished, as this sage was a ‘very good man’, who only shared his gift for the love of giving, not to promote his other, more earthly gifts.
‘Oh, he’s not the man who was on the television recently?’ I squawked excitedly, in my best tourist fashion, ‘with Jan Leeming – you know, the old newsreader?’
‘Yes, that is him. On the British BBC. The Marigold Hotel man,’ Aslan crowed.
‘We saw him’, Andrew piped in, almost as uncool as me, (but not quite), ‘he was great’.
We had both watched the BBC series ‘The Real Marigold Hotel’ a few months ago, kindly recorded by our good friend Stella, and one of our favourite moments had been the former BBC newsreader in tears whilst visiting a psychic in Jaipur. Unkind I know, but terribly camp!
‘Well if he is not busy he can see you, but he rarely see’s tourists, but I will phone him and let you know’.
So, after lunch, happy Hussein took us on a manic ‘Pacman’ style tour, eating up the back alleys of north Jaipur, searching for the famous fortune-teller’s premises.
After twenty minutes of getting no-where, I suggested perhaps we needed a psychic to find the place. Hussein didn’t get it, or if he did, he didn’t find it funny. Neither did my husband, who was now sweating like a glass blower’s arse and more than ready for his usual siesta.
Finally we came upon the place. A very ordinary shop, on an average road, but one that Andrew and I both recognised from the television as the establishment that Jan Leeming, the broadcaster, had gone to meet her forecaster.
We removed our shoes and entered the jewellery shop. We knew from the telly that the guru was to be found at the back of the store, behind some smoked glass. But he was nowhere to be seen. Instead, we were forced to listen to a sales pitch on Blue Topaz for quarter of an hour, as a smiling salesman emptied bag after bag of earrings onto the counter.
‘This Topaz, favourite of the girls. Believe me.’
After many polite refusals, we eventually pierced the guy’s sales technique, when we told him we absolutely knew of no women with any holes we would be eager to fill. So he was wasting his precious time. We then got up to leave, believing the whole affair a scam, and feeling slightly stupid that,as seasoned travellers, we were fooled by this gem of a ploy.
As we re-shod, and headed past the cattle towards our transport, the shopkeeper suddenly called after us.
‘Why did you come here? It was not to buy jewellery?’
‘No it most certainly was not’, I answered in my best Maggie Smith, ‘it was to visit the guru- that’s what we were promised!’
‘Then go and see him’ the vendor said simply, ‘he is in the back. He will see you now.’
Slightly puzzled I turned to Andrew. I’d assumed that as we hadn’t even sampled any of his wares, the espy man wouldn’t want to see us, but I was obviously wrong.
‘Go on babe’, Andrew said kindly, ‘you go in first.’
I thought this was my partner being considerate, as he knew I was slightly worried about the whole experience and so smiled at him with nervous love. Then I saw he had a fag on the go and obviously wanted to finish it!
I went into the back room I had seen on the TV, and there, behind his desk, was the famous guru of Jaipur.
‘Sit down’, he intoned softly, ‘I knew you were not here to buy jewellery, but when I saw you in the shop I asked my man to come and bring you back. Do you know you are very special?’
I blushed. Before I had a chance to answer the silkily spoken, moustachioed fakir asked me my mother’s age.
‘Sixty-Eight’ I answered.
Suddenly his dark brown hands thrust a calculator toward me with the figure 68 already input and displayed on the screen.
I was slightly taken aback, as I had had to think about the answer and this stranger seemed to have the knowledge literally at his fingertips.
‘And is your father alive?’
‘No’, I replied, cynically trying to give nothing away.
‘If he were alive, how old would he be now?’
I had to concentrate once more. Mathematics has never been my strong point,
‘Seventy’ I answered, slightly unsure.
Again the magic calculator was turned towards me and my response verified, as a big 70 digitally sprung from the machine.
‘What do you want to ask me?’ The mystic went on.
I was blank, I was so shocked by the seemingly intimate knowledge this man already possessed. I daren’t ask a thing unless I got the answer I wasn’t looking for.
We continued in conversation as the guru asked me a few questions.
‘You are in a relationship?’
‘Yes’ I answered.
‘And she is a water sign.’
‘Yes’, I lied, knowing ‘She!’ was an Arian and most definitely of the fiery variety. Some doubt began to creep in, but then,
‘How long have you been with him?’
Now I was confused. This guy was slightly weirding me out.
‘Twenty-five years’ I responded.
‘And he is how old?’
‘Forty-six’ I said.
Surprise, surprise! The magic calculator was spun on me again and there it was, in plain black and grey, four and six. The number 46. Bingo!
Before I had a chance to go on the mystic began his rant.
He told me I lived in Spain. I had a complicated childhood, but I should forgive my mother. She had much guilt. My sister was similar to me but very different. She was creative like me. He told me I was not happy and should change my career. Go into nature and carry on writing! You cannot be loved by everyone, he said, so stop trying. And forgive your mother. By this point my head was spinning. There was a brief silence. Then suddenly, he continued,
‘You do know you were abused as a child?’ It was half question, half statement.
‘No!’ I said firmly, ‘I don’t believe I was.’
‘Emotionally – yes you were.’
Before I had a chance to respond he went on,
‘And I don’t mean to upset you, but your father killed himself.’
‘No’ I interjected again, ‘he died of cancer.’
‘But he gave up on life’ he said quickly, ‘he wanted this.’
‘Who had dementia in the family?’ he demanded.
‘My grandmother’ I offered up.
‘You must watch for this – and lung cancer. You must stop the smoking!’
This confounded me. As I rarely smoke – and then only in a secondary fashion!
The spiritual meeting had gone on longer than I’d anticipated, and the confusing information I was being given made me unsteady.
The session was completed with me being asked to hold a green stone in the palm of my hand and keep my eyes closed. After some time I timidly opened my eyes to see a larger version of the gemstone I was holding laying on the desk in front of me.
‘This is an emerald. It will unblock your heart chakra and help you achieve all you desire’ the guru, who I now knew to be called Ajay explained.
‘I can sell you this stone for 320,000 rupees.’
‘Oh’, I said, slightly aghast, ‘and what is that in English money?’
‘340 quid’ said Ajay, quick as a cobra.
‘We’ll, I don’t think I can spend that kind of money, I’ll need to speak to Andrew and if he ….’
‘This is a smaller stone, with the same power’ said Ajay, pouncing like a mongoose, ‘you can have this for a hundred and forty quid.’
I stared at the green stone in front of me, wondering what Jan Leeming would do. As if he read my mind, Ajay suddenly explained,
‘You can get these stones cheaper, but I charge this for my institution. To help poor children. All the profits go there. You know Jan Leeming from the BBC, she works for my charity now.’
‘Jan’s a very kind woman’, I said, as if I knew her personally, ‘I’m sure she’s wonderful with the children’, but I’ll still need to talk to Andrew.’
‘OK’ said the guru, ‘then send him in.’
He smiled, told me I was very special again and to stop hurting myself, not only with drink and drugs, but mentally. We shook hands and I left, slightly shaken. And in need of a drink!
I found Andrew outside, not sharing his final cigarette with one of the shop assistants.
‘You can go in’ I announced, emotion making my voice quiver, and tears welling in my eyes.
‘Jesus!’ He exclaimed, ‘what’s up with you?’
‘Oh my God’, I told him, ‘he was so good’.
‘How?’ Andrew asked.
‘Just go in’, I said, ‘you’ll see.’
I waited outside with a charming Croatian jewellery designer as Andrew went in to see the sage.
After a much briefer period than I had spent inside, Andrew and Ajay came out of the shop, just as the charming Croatian was telling me far too loudly the name of the Indian whisky I’d asked her about.
‘It’s Royal Stag’ she announced firmly, ‘it’s great. And no hangover!’
I don’t think Ajay was impressed.
Andrew was fingering a stone whilst the guru told him to hold it in the sun. They then returned to the back of the shop, and I thanked the Croatian for the alcoholic tip.
Two minutes later Andrew made his exit. He looked distinctly unemotional and completely dry-eyed.
‘I’ll think about it mate’ he shouted behind to the guru as we climbed back into our rickshaw.
‘Well’ I asked, ‘what happened?’
‘Nothing much’, my partner said blankly, ‘he told me someone in my family was diabetic, I had possible bowel cancer and you were special but annoying.’
I wasn’t quite sure whether he’d added the last bit, but didn’t pursue it.
We shuddered along the slightly squalid streets discussing the details of our respective encounters. Andrew knocking away any thoughts that he might be suffering from bowel cancer, and me wondering what to forgive my mother for, as she’s always been quite exemplary as a parent. Perhaps her choice in men has on occasion been troublesome, but I could hardly blame her for that. I have the same problem.
I also went into deep contemplation – wondering just why I was so special, and how had he known of my aching ambition to write some day. My ego ballooned becoming as large as an Indian elephant – that is until we got back to our hotel.
Then Andrew decided to look up the guru’s credentials on the internet, and promptly shot my elephant stone dead!
Post after post online, revealed the man with the magic calculator to be a charlatan. There were a few egotistical idiots, like myself, who had believed some of the fakir’s fakery, must most had seen through it straight away – just like Andrew!
‘But what about the calculator’ I asked desperately, ‘how did he do that?’
‘For fuck’s sake darl, even Ian Mckellen can do that!’
He’d lost me for a moment.
‘What? As Gandalf?’
Andrew looked blank.
‘No. Not him. I mean Paul McKenna.’
And then I remembered another television special when Mr McKenna, the famous mentalist, proved exactly how easy it was to be a guru, without using any special powers at all. Less hocus-pocus, more hokum poor us!!!
Andrew then began to read me the comments from a blogging site he’d found. It was uncomfortably uncanny to learn how many of the poor creatures were told they were special, had been abused, someone or other in their clan had been suicidal and nearly always an older member of the family had dementia. Most of them were also assured of their creativity and told to stop self-harming. All of them were advised that the way to deal with these issues was to buy an overpriced emerald to unblock their heart chakra.
Some even did!
When sanity was restored and my ego had partially shrunk back to it’s usual inflated size, I wondered how the faker had known about Spain. I then remembered I’d spoken in Spanish to happy Hussein, our charming chauffeur, after he told me he had an Argentinian girlfriend. I even told him Andrew and I were performers – and that we were together!
So it turns out Ajay was a psychic with a sidekick. More fucker than fakir!
‘At least he told me to pursue my writing’ I said desperately to Andrew, who was still busy on the iPad.
There was a loud chuckle.
‘What’s so funny’ I asked.
‘What?’ I insisted.
Andrew continued to read out some of the blogs in a highly amused fashion. They all finished with the same kind of sentence, which read along the lines of,
‘I’m just so grateful that at least he told me to continue with my writing’.
What an idiot.
I’ve never liked Jan Leeming!