Would like to share with you, of course with his kind permission, an anecdote B had told me in a casual conversation – sure to leave you thinking!
Here we go:
It was peak summer day – May of 1991 – that I had gone with my wife to attend the wedding of an office colleague at Goregaon. Wedding over, followed by lunch, we made it to the nearest public (BEST) bus-stop on SV Road to get back home in Chembur.
At the bus-stop, I set aside a ten-rupee note for the bus fare and stowed away the wallet in my wife’s bag for the fear of pick-pockets almost always haunting these boarding points. After a short wait, we boarded a bus plying between Borivli and Ghatkopar and were lucky to find an unoccupied two-seater closest to the entrance.
The conductor took some time to issue tickets to the boarders ahead of us. Just when he handed us our tickets, the bus had reached its next stop. He rushed to the entrance to control a surging crowd wanting to gate-crash all at once. In a little while order was restored and the bus resumed its trip onwards. That done, the conductor turned to me asking for the fare. I reminded him of the ten rupees I had already given him and the balance of three rupees due to me, the cost of two tickets being seven rupees. He struggled for a few moments to recall, took a hard look at us and gave in. Perhaps we didn’t look like one to cheat him out of ten rupees.
That was that. I didn’t think much of it until…
A week later, one evening returning from work I was waiting near Saki Naka. A bit of explanation is due here – with the queue system completely broken down, it was lot easier to board a bus away from the bus-stop at those spots where the bus was forced by the pot-holes to slow down (the one time one is thankful for them). That’s how I came to wait at a one such specimen adorning the road a little ahead of Saki Naka.
Sure enough, soon after, a bus headed for Ghatkopar trundled along. As it slowed down negotiating the crater, I made my move. Just when I was on the verge of boarding the bus, the conductor positioning himself at the entrance pushed me out with “chal chal – mera thus rupia dhoka diya” (go away, you gyped me of ten rupees). Luckily no damage done – the bus sped on leaving me standing on my two feet and gawking.
The penny dropped. I hailed an auto (a three-wheeler) – a feat nothing to sniff at especially in evenings at Saki Naka – and instructed him to rush me to the bus terminus at Ghatkopar by a less crowded albeit a longer route. The auto did the needful like it was chased by a murderous debt collector.
There I was ready for him when the bus finally turned up.
By a strange coincidence and you must have guessed it, he was the same conductor we had run into on our earlier trip to Goregaon.
As he got down last from a now-empty-bus and looked up, he froze. For, he saw me standing before him offering a ten rupee note in my hand extended towards him.
I ‘chided’ him for making me spend an additional fifteen rupees on the auto fare for making good his loss of ten rupees. Had he let me board the bus and raised the matter with me, I would have made amends without any fuss. I knew these guys kept a good account of their daily collections and are generally honest.
He was completely unprepared for my reparations.
Thoroughly mollified, he took me to their resting lounge – a bare room with a couple of backless benches – and ordered tea from the staff canteen. As we sat sipping the sugary concoction he made polite inquiries about where I lived, what I did for living, etc., etc. The story was shared a little later with the bus driver too.
Finally when I took leave, short of turning into long-time buddies, they accorded me the ‘privilege’ of boarding their bus anywhere and anytime I wished – all I had to do was raise my hand for them to spot me – actually quite against the rules. With my move to Worli soon after, I had no occasion to exercise the ‘privilege’ anytime later.
The above episode cannot be complete without an explanation for the ‘missing’ ten-rupee note; it was simply this: I thought I gave him a ten-rupee note and it did not show up in the conductor’s daily collections. There was no question of suspecting him even for a moment of any malfeasance. Well, I guess one of us dropped the ‘ball’. As simple as that.
Most of us would have shrugged it off as a totally unwarranted, uncivil and even unfair outburst from the conductor.
B saw something else in it. Brought up on strong middle-class scruples, the mere possibility of having caused someone to lose was unthinkable to him.
Makes one wonder how did this ‘soft’ guy survive in today’s times?. Well. what to speak of survival – he thrived in the corporate world as a HR professional winning more-than-he-can-remember accolades along the way. His triumphant moment: In 2012, at the World HR Congress held in Mumbai, he was conferred ‘Life Time Achievement Award’ sponsored by The Economic Times and Star TV. At 70, he continues to be active – presently as the chief mentor at a financial services company.
The lesson: It does pay to be good – in private and profession alike.
I’ve seen a different dimension (is it really different?) of him in my social interactions – our professional paths did not intersect. Guys, if you ever have an emotionally charged intractable problem in his space, he’s the man to loosen up the ‘Gordian Knot’ for you.
I must know him for he was my neighbour for long years. Also the father of the highly successful and talented Vidya Balan of Bollywood.