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The honest and the not-so-honest

Three encounters that tell a story of their own about people you would typically meet

Here are three instances that I, a retired academic, have experienced over time, and these vignettes could be said to provide some lessons about people you come to deal with in daily life — and an indication of the kind of person I am myself.

The watch-repairer

I had brought a small desk clock from Germany. When we were living on the campus of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, it stopped working. I took it to a watch-repairer in Velachery, just outside the campus. He looked at the watch and said, “Sir, I will check it. If I repair it you have to pay Rs.40, else Rs.20.”

I readily agreed and he asked me to come in the evening. I did so; the watch was running and I paid Rs.40 as agreed. Unfortunately, it stopped the very next day. I took it back and told him he can keep it for a week to check and I will come after a week. He agreed. I went after a week but he said he needed another week. This went on for another two weeks! At last he said he had tried hard but could not repair it and gave back the watch. Then I reminded him of our agreement that he should charge only Rs.20. He remained silent for a moment and then gave back Rs.20.

I came home and told Sharada what had happened and also gave her the Rs.20 that I had got back. She was not convinced and said it was not right for me to have got back Rs.20 as he had tried for such a long time. I argued that it was the agreement, and I was justified in taking Rs.20 back.

She kept quiet. In the night I was troubled and felt what I had done was not correct. I went back in the morning and told the watch-repairer he had really tried hard and gave back Rs.20. However, he refused to accept it! He said he had failed to repair as agreed and he did not want the 20. I went on pressing him to take it and he continued to refuse.

Finally, I told him, “Let us come to a compromise. You take Rs.10 at least so that I will feel easy in my mind.” He accepted it and I was relieved.

I mention this to indicate how honest our countrymen are in spite of being poor. I could see that 20 was not a very small amount for him but still he refused. I deeply respect him for that.

The vegetable vendor

We used to go to Kotturpuram on Sundays to buy vegetables. Sharada and I enjoyed this very much. Though the surroundings used to be a bit unclean, we did not mind. I recount an incident that occurred during one of our visits.

I usually would stay in the background. Sharada usually does not bargain, which I feel is a good policy. That day she purchased vegetables for about Rs. 15 from a vendor and put them in a bag. But wevforgot to take the bag and left it at that spot itself. We used to have three or four bags for different purchases and the rush was heavy in the narrow street. After we returned to the IIT campus residence she noticed what had happened. I asked her to forget it.

However, when we went to the market the following week, Sharada asked the vegetable woman if she had seen the bag we had left the previous week. She replied in the affirmative and said we could take vegetables for that amount or she would give back the amount! We were touched. I had been concerned that there would be a scene if we brought up the subject. Instead we got the opportunity to witness the honesty of the so-called ‘poor’ of our country.

The elusive coconut-climber

In this instance, my experience has not been so nice. Last year we moved to our own house in JP Nagar in Bengaluru. We have a coconut tree and I have found that getting a person to harvest the nuts is not an easy job.

I was taking a walk early in the morning, and very near my house I found a person atop a coconut tree and doing the job. The owner of the house was standing outside and I enquired about having the person to pluck the nuts from our tree. He recommended the person and said he was paying Rs.30 per tree for the work.

When the person climbed down I asked him about coming to my house to pluck nuts. He wanted to know how tall the tree was. I replied that it was the usual height; he could see it from where we were standing. He saw it and agreed to come after attending to a few regular customers. His name was Thambiah.

He came after about two hours, and before climbing I told him I would pay Rs.30, the usual charges. He said that was the old rate for regular customers and I should pay Rs.40. I agreed and he climbed the tree and brought down two gutthis only. When I shouted from the ground that he could pluck some more, he simply refused, saying they were not ripe.

After he came down, I asked him whether he could make a bigger paathi around the tree on the ground and what should be done to improve the yield. He said that both manure and red soil had to be put: that would cost Rs.140. And the labour cost would be Rs.100. I asked him when he can do that and he responded ‘tomorrow’. He asked for Rs.140 for the manure and the soil. I paid Rs.200, forty for the day’s work and 160 for the promised work, as I did not have the exact amount of Rs.180 with me.

Before he left, I asked him what time he would come and he replied he could not say for sure; but he would finish the work the next day.

Several months have passed and still he is in the process of coming! I mentioned this to the owner of the house where I first saw Thambiah and he promised to speak to him the next time when he came to his house. I am still looking for Thambiah! My wife and some of my friends laughed at me for being so gullible and acting as I did. I kept quiet.

bhlgowda@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 4:14:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-honest-and-the-not-so-honest/article24000726.ece

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