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The question of trust

Father's mother's and baby's hand  

The work-at-home, stay-at-home routines necessitated by the lockdown and other precautions against COVID-19 resulted in more time being spent in introspection, nostalgia and the like than before.

I found myself thinking about trust, something that today does not come up readily in first-time meetings or even with acquaintances. With good reason, perhaps. Reports of “biscuit bandits” on trains doping and duping co-passengers are still in memory. Con operations have now become more sophisticated and harder to detect.

However, come to think of it, this was not the case half a century ago, certainly not during my school days in the 1950s. The visionary headmaster of my high school conducted an experiment in which a counter was set up in each of the school’s corridors. It consisted of a table with two containers, one with fried, salted peanuts and the other with fried yellow peas. Measuring cups were provided and a slotted box was kept for depositing the money.

The unique feature of the “on trust” counters, popular as “Pattani counters”, was that there was no supervision. This move was received with incredulity. After all, which schoolboy would pay when he could have his fill free.

Surprisingly most paid. Even the regular pranksters, after a few days of filching, fell in line, either under peer pressure or from the values inculcated in them at home and school. Soon the money deposited matched the nuts taken. The headmaster’s faith in his boys was vindicated.

This experience had a deep and lasting impression on our adolescent psyche. To this day, even with no policemen or camera in sight, I do not break traffic rules.

This trust was also evidenced in one-on-one interactions. I recollect the chance meeting with an English boy in December 1954. I turned 10 the previous month and was promoted from the petrol tank of my father’s motorcycle to the pillion.

My father’s early evening outing on Sundays was a trip to the Madras Literary Society on the sprawling campus of the Directorate of Public Instruction. I would be allowed to ride with him and was free to spend the time in the Children’s Library on the campus.

This boy, a couple of years younger than me, accompanied by an ayah pushing a pram with his baby sister, was searching the shelves. On finding that he was looking for Enid Blyton’s The River of Adventure, I told him it had not reached the library. The first copies reached the Higginbothams Book Shop the previous month, and my father got me one for my birthday before they were sold out.

On an impulse, I offered to lend him my book. His eyes said what his upbringing was preventing him from asking. So the next Sunday, I handed him the book and he gave me a slip of paper from his mother. On it was written his name, house address and his father’s name and place of work. A gesture to appreciate the handing over of a boy’s precious birthday present to a stranger. The next Sunday, he returned the book.

In the brief Sunday interactions, two boys had shown glimpses of the trust that prevailed then. A far cry from now.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 8:32:57 PM |

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