My wife and I boarded the Janmabhoomi train at Visakhapatnam station to attend my friend’s daughter’s wedding at Rajahmundry.
The early morning breeze and the train’s rocking movement were soporific and we dozed off until the train halted at Tuni.
I hailed a passing vendor and asked for two cups of coffee.
I handed over one cup to my wife and took a sip. I complimented him on the coffee and asked, “How much?” as I opened my wallet to find that it had only 200-rupee notes.
Hearing his response of twenty rupees, I handed over a 200-rupees note to him.
“Don’t you have change?” he asked as he put down his flask and started searching for change in his shirt pocket.
The train started, before he could take the change out of his pocket and sped away.
Our compartment was next to the engine so he got no chance to hand over the change though he did attempt to run after the train.
I blamed myself for having ordered coffee without checking the availability of change.
“Oh my God! How foolish of you! Could you not have taken the change and then handed over the note?
What’s the use of your age and experience?”, my wife gleefully took the opportunity to snub me.
I tried to justify my action,“Okay, suppose he had given the change and the train had started before I could give him the note…then would it not have been a loss to him?”
“What loss? From morning, he would have met ten people like you and at the end of the day he will have only profit, no loss!” replied my wife, with a cynical smile on her face.
“We should trust people; poor fellow, what can he do if the train started?
Will he subsist on our money?”
My better half was irritated to hear me defending him.
“They wait for just such opportunities. If he meets four simpletons like you, it will be enough to earn a day’s living,” grumbled my wife glaring at me.
I maintained a stoic silence.
“Anyway, you cannot expect him be as honest and as principled as you are”, she concluded looking around at the other co-passengers, who were all looking at us.
The train had picked up speed and we crossed the next station Annavaram. Gradually, I let go of the slender hope that I had of getting back the change.
My wife believes that I get cheated by people since I have a naïve faith in mankind and am kind.
I was quite accustomed to being put down by her and being scolded since I believe that she is not correct in distrusting others.
I strongly believe that we should see goodness in others and if anyone lacks it, their baseness should be attributed to the environment and conditions in which they grew up.
I believe that inside each of us, there is the potential for both good and evil – what we choose depends on the circumstances.
Though I have been proved wrong by her on many similar occasions, it did not affect my faith.
I believe that dharma or righteousness is upheld by its fourth leg of trustfulness.
“Let it go! Poor people! Are they going to build palaces with our money?
Forget it!” I said trying to pacify her.
She stayed silent, out of her affection for me and I was in no mood to prolong the conversation.
The compartment was filled with many standing passengers.
I let my gaze slide outside to the fleeing fields. By then many of my co passengers were looking at me and assessing me according to their perception – some were thinking of me as a fool while others were looking at me with sympathy and pity; some were smiling to themselves about the free entertainment they had enjoyed and some were curious to see what would happen next.
By the time the train reached the outskirts of Pitapuram, all had lost their interest in us and were lost in their thoughts.
It was then that I heard a voice, “Sir, was it not you who bought two coffees and gave a 200- rupees note?”
I turned towards the voice. Pushing his way through the crowd was a teenage boy, who stopped in front of my seat.
Suddenly I felt elated though he did not look like the coffee vendor whom I remembered as being middle aged.
“Yes, Son! I did give a 200-rupee note to a coffee vendor but the train sped away before I could receive the change. However, I do not remember buying coffee from you,” I said honestly.
“Yes, Sir! But are you the person, who drank the coffee at Tuni station”, he asked me again.
“Why would I lie? If you want you can ask these people here.”
“No! No, Sir! I do not doubt you but I was just confirming to avoid making a mistake!” Saying this, he took out the change of 180 rupees from his pocket and handed it over to me.
“I am his son, Sir”
I looked at him with surprise since he seemed to have guessed my doubt.
“Sir, every day one or two such incidents happen at Tuni station because the train does not stop for long.
In that short time many people panic, give a note and the train starts before they can receive back the change.
That is why, I usually board the train and wait. My father messages me giving details of the persons (of the amount, compartment and seat number) to whom the change has to be returned.
I return the change and get down at the next station and return back to Tuni by another train.
My father leaves some change with me for such transactions.”
I was surprised but still managed to ask, “Are you studying?”
“Tenth class, Sir! My elder brother helps father in the afternoon and I help him in the mornings”.
When I heard his this, I felt like talking to his father, so asked him for his father’s phone number and dialled the number.
“Your son has just returned the change for the 200-rupees note.
I am calling to express my appreciation for your actions. I am so very happy that you are not only educating your children but more important instilling in them the values of honesty and integrity”, I said complimenting him.
“That is very nice of you, Sir! I feel honoured that you are taking the trouble to call just to express your appreciation.
I have only studied up to fifth class. In those days, short stories about ethics and morality were narrated to us and textbooks also had material that strengthened values like honesty and integrity so we learnt to differentiate between good and bad, right from wrong.
It is those principles, which guide me to lead a trouble-free honest life.”
As I listened to his words on the phone, I was amazed by his words and thought process.
He continued, “But today those values are not taught in schools.
What children are taught these days is as unhealthy as giving spicy food to babies.
When my children were studying at home, I used to listen to them and I noticed that the curriculum no longer has moral stories, inspiring poetry or children’s books by Paravastu Chinnayasuri – nothing of value! That is why I entrust them with simple tasks like these to pass on the few values that I know.
That is all!” I was amazed by the foresight of this man and I just patted the son on his shoulders.
My wife was taken aback seeing the glow of joy on my face as I placed the 180 rupees, returned by the boy in my wallet. She gave me an apologetic sheepish smile because she knew that the joy was not for the money regained!
I remembered that in Srimad Bhagavatham, righteousness or dharma is described as Nandi the ‘bull’ who stands on four ‘legs’—austerity, cleanliness, kindness and trust or truthfulness.
The Bhagavatham also predicts that all the four legs will not be equally strong over epochs of time – representing the degree of decline of righteousness. In the world, during the Satya Yuga, the first stage of development, the bull would stand firmly on all four legs but as the yugas changed, one by one the legs would be broken and lost until finally in Kali-yuga (the present age) only truthfulness or trust would be the dominant form of Dharma or righteousness.
This humble coffee vendor’s action appears to be proof that as predicted righteousness or dharma still flourishes in this World though it is on its fourth leg of truthfulness.
As I watched the boy move down the compartment, I mentally saluted the coffee vendor!
(Shri J.P.Sarma is a State Bank of India employee and the author of Edari Parugu: Kadhala Samputi in Telugu)