IN FIRST PERSON
An incident that lights hope in the midst of the many things going wrong in our country today.
I had 10 days to submit 30 illustrations and was depending on a brilliant artist as sweet and as irritating as a baby and as elusive as a tailor.
“Tomorrow…tomorrow,” he smiled every time I tried to pin him down to a date of delivery, knowing that we both knew he was lying.
I always smiled back.
My project was clearly not in my hands.
The working plan we set up was that on receiving his illustrations I would rush home to send the images on to Production electronically. Responses came within the hour. Back again to the tapasya of waiting for the next lot of pictures and a discussion on how to improve the previous lot.
On a rainy morning, when even the telephone operator asked “When will your project get over Ma’am?”, I splashed my way into an auto-rickshaw thinking hysterically of Pope Julius asking Michelangelo, “When will you make an end?” My 30 illustrations were beginning to take on the dimensions of a Sistine Chapel ceiling.
“Near Apollo Hospital…” I gasped at the driver of the auto and huddled protectively over the illustrations. When the vehicle reached my gate, I groped for the right change (Rs. 25) and came up with a 100-rupee note.
“Have you any change?” I asked the mild-eyed driver.
“I have only Rs. 50,” he said.
“Oh, never mind. Here, take this and let me have Rs. 50,” I said, in a tearing hurry to reach the scanner upstairs in my study.
“No Amma,” he said, “No, that’s too much. I can’t take that much from you.”
“Never mind — never mind….” I tried to persuade him.
“No, Amma,” he said again, firmly, turning to me respectfully before looking ahead again. “Perhaps an extra five rupees but no more.”
Spirit of dharma
As I slowed the pace of my life to find the right change in my house upstairs, many sacred verses tumbled and flashed through my memory. I was filled with wonder at the glory and tenacity of dharma.
There were bloody riots in the country every day.
Children starved slowly to death or were sold into bondage.
Half the population was in virtual slavery.
Families collapsed overnight.
Friends lied blithely.
Colleagues torched careers and moved on unscathed.
The rich spent in a minute what a poor family lived on for a whole month.
Yet. ….the spirit of dharmic India was alive.
It was here in this man’s calm refusal to accept more than his due. No grand statements, no trumpeting about sacrifices or which religion he belonged to, no condemnation of another. A single glance at my house was enough to satisfy him that what he had refused would make no difference to me but would have meant something to his family.
When I returned with the right change, he was waiting patiently. He accepted his fare and left with a slight nod of acknowledgement. As I watched the ancient auto spluttering and jolting before picking up speed and merging with the traffic I marvelled at the strange and wonderful coincidence; because the packet of illustrations that I had protected against the rain were for a series of children’s books on value systems and personal ethics; and here, helping me to bring them home was this living illustration of ethics in action.
I went upstairs very slowly.
I had forgotten to ask his name.
Send this article to Friends by