A schoolboy, hitch-hiking a ride along a country road, came across an elderly woman driving along a pair of donkeys. He tried to nettle her with: “Good Morning, mother of asses!”
“Good Morning, my son!” came the sweet rejoinder.
Incidents like these and many more amply bring out the fact that village folk in any part of the world should never be taken for granted, for, they can be wiser much beyond our perception.
Abraham Lincoln was fond of relating an instance of a farmhand walking along a deserted road with a pitchfork on the shoulder. Suddenly, a ferocious bulldog appeared almost out of nowhere and charged at him. The man tried to fend it off with the pitchfork but, in the process, stabbed it to death. To the dog’s owner, who soon turned up, the farmhand explained that he had acted only in self-defence. “But you could have tackled it with the blunt end of the implement!” the owner protested.
The irrefutable rejoinder was, “You, dog too could have come at me with his blunt end!”
One of the hallmarks of modernisation is the increasing trend towards seeking material rewards even for seemingly innocuous tasks. In this context, I am reminded of what happened to my son-in-law, Baalu, five years ago at Mumbai’s Sahar International Airport. He was unable to locate the coffee shop there and approached a local for help. This man took him to the right place. Once there, he demanded Rs. 200 for the service rendered. A few bystanders came out in support of this extortionist. Being outnumbered, Baalu had no choice but to pay him.
Contrast this with the experience of Mr. G. C. Khanna, who taught us mathematics in our school in Dehradun way back in the early 1960s. In my own words, “It was somewhere in the late 1950s. A friend of mine and I went to visit an acquaintance staying in a village about 30 miles from this town. The residence of this gentleman was some three miles from the bus stop. There were no rickshaws (auto or cycle) there. The terrain did not permit the plying of tongas or bullock-carts. We noticed a village lad watching us keenly and curtly asked him to take us to the house of so-and-so. With that, we plonked our heavy steel trunk on his head. The boy simply beckoned us to follow.
“Once we reached the destination, we placed a few coins in his hand. He promptly returned these. To our urban minds, his behaviour only suggested that he wanted more money for his labour. Soon a charade started. Every time we would add a few more coins but he continued to spurn these. At last, I yelled in some exasperation, ‘What is wrong with you? Tell me, what exactly do you want!’
“‘Sahib, the fact is that I want nothing from you,’ the boy replied in a matter of fact manner. His explanation totally floored me — a foreign educated academic — ‘Maine aap ki seva ki hai, naukri nahin!’ (What I performed was service — not servitude).”
A very self-assured person, Mr. Khanna became misty-eyed as he concluded this narration.
Let us now move to a materialistic plane. A villager approached the manager of a rural bank for a crop loan. The worthy decided to exploit the person’s usual culture of mortgaging some item of property whenever he took a loan from the local moneylender. The gullible villager left his cow as ‘security’ with the manager. A few months later, the borrower to cleared all his dues and still had some decent amount left with him. The manager now tried out the usual sales pitch of depositing the money in his bank. The villager cut him short: “First show me the cow you will leave with me as long as my money is with you!”
As the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, Khushwant Singh ran a regular jokes column, for which readers were invited to send in their contributions. One of the prize winning entries ran something like this: A counterfeiter printed a wad of currency notes. Unfortunately for him, the denomination shown on these was Rs. 14. He did not want his ‘labour of love’ to go waste. He, therefore, asked a villager to give him change for Rs. 14. The rustic, in all ‘innocence’, handed him two crisp Rs. 7 ‘notes’.
A piece of logic, which this writer — even with three postgraduate degrees (in Science, Journalism and Management) behind him — has not been able to fathom concerns a venerable villager whose precocious son bagged a scholarship to a prestigious American university. Five years later, the boy came on a visit to his native place. Once there, he started speaking to all and sundry only in English. While the others were thoroughly impressed, the father was disconsolate: “If in five years, this boy can forget the Telugu that he had learnt over a period of 20 years, my apprehension is how long can he retain the English language which he has picked up in five years only!”
(The writer’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org)