Shyamasundar noticed it one mid-February day situated on the mantelpiece of the old iron fireplace in their apartment: a brightly painted wooden figurine standing roughly 3 inches in height. Black in complexion, with a wide euphoric smile, large beaming eyes, and no arms or legs, the object held an other-worldly look, sparking in him an immediate curiosity. What was it? he wondered.
It was, his wife Malati explained, something she had found while browsing the local import shop. There were three wooden barrels near the cash register filled with such figurines of different colors. Particularly attracted to the black one, she had become especially compelled to bring it home when she saw the “Made in India” label attached on the bottom. India, after all, was where the Swami had come from.
The year was 1967, and the Swami, more specifically known today as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, was their guru. Just two years earlier he was still in India, living the life of an ascetic in Vrindavan (the sacred town of Krishna’s birth), painstakingly translating ancient Hindu texts into English.