The year was 1970. I had just joined the services of a nationalised bank at Shimoga city. I was one of the first persons from our village to get a job in a bank. Naturally the curiosity factor of the villagers to know the monthly salary I was getting was very high. The first question I was supposed to answer whenever I met some person from our village was about the salary. Needless to say it was quite irritating for me. But slowly I developed thick skin to answer the query without much irritation. But there was one person who went to the extreme and tested my patience to the maximum. He was from a place called Kanoor (N R Pura Taluk) and was distantly related our family.
This gentleman used to visit the Shimoga city very often. It seems somebody had told him that bank employees get a raise in salary every three months. It was true that the bank employees’ used to get a quarterly revision in the dearness allowance based on the consumer price index. It could have been a raise or cut depending on the variation. But the version given to this gentleman was that the salary was revised upwards every three months! He used to stay in the same mess where I used to have my meals. He had made it a point to ask my salary every three months!
During one particular quarter (end of three months) there was no change in our DA as the consumer index had remained at the same level. Somehow the gentleman had missed his Shimoga visit that quarter. I was happy that I had escaped his query that particular quarter. One day I was late in starting to the office. My office was just 15 minutes walking distance from my room. As I was already late I was walking very fast to the office when I found somebody following me desperately! I turned back to see the same gentleman running behind me! It seems he had just alighted from the bus and was on his way to the mess when he saw me. He found me walking briskly and thought that I was running away from him to avoid giving him a brief on my latest salary revision! Seeing him, I speeded up my walk and almost started running. But just like the legendary Thrivikrama (remember: Vikram and Vethal stories) he did not give up. He started running behind me. It was virtually a running race between me and him! We were passing through the well known Big Bazaar in Shimoga and people were wondering why an elderly person was running behind another young man!
Suddenly I remembered that there was no revision in DA that quarter. Without reducing my speed I turned back and shouted at him that there was no change in my salary that particular quarter! I thought he might stop pursuing and go away on hearing me. But it was not to be. He was not all convinced and thought I was hiding my salary raise so that he could not reveal it to my father! He pursued me more vigorously. By that time I had reached the doors of my office duly followed by the Thrivikrama! I saw my colleague Mr.Katti there. I requested him to convince the gentleman that there had been no change in my salary that quarter and simply ran inside my office! Katti was naturally quite amused. But he managed to send back the gentleman by convincing him fully that there was no change in my salary that quarter! That was the last time I saw that person. He stopped visiting the mess thereafter.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be!
The above quotation from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet proved very apt in my case once. I was studying at Shri J C B M College in Sringeri at that time. The value of money was quite high in those days. So much so I had to repent for having lent Rs2 to a known person!
It happened like this. My father was giving me a pocket money of Rs2 per week at that time. My mother often used to ask me what I was doing with that sort of money! I was finding it difficult to account my expenses. Let me tell you - the famous Mallika Mandir Hotel in Sringeri used to charge 20 paise for a Masala Dosa at that time. In other words, an amount of Rs2 would have fetched ten Masala Dosas for me! Right at that time one particular day a gentleman known to our family called on me. After a lot of round about talking, he came to the point.
Actually it was a simple matter. He was in urgent need of money and his requirement was just two rupees. To his good luck (or call it my bad luck) I had just returned from my week-end visit to my home. I had in my pocket one Rs2 note handed over to me by my beloved father as my weekly pocket money. The gentleman’s requirement just tallied with my cash balance! There were only two possibilities for me. Either I had to tell him a lie that I had no money or I had to lend him that entire week’s pocket money.
The first choice would have been preferred by me in the normal course. I was aware that telling a harmless lie was not a sin. But unfortunately I had finished reading the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi – The Story of My Experiences with Truth – just a week back. I had on my own taken the oath that I would not tell a lie under any circumstances! So that was it! The gentleman collected the money from me and packed off thanking me profusely! Of course he did promise me that he would return the money within a week.
Forget the matter of returning the money in a week, the gentleman was not to be seen in Sringeri even after one month! Earlier he used to be in town almost every day even though he stayed in a nearby village! I was desperate to get back my one week’s pocket money. But I was just helpless. Fortunately for me my mother also forgot to ask me the details of my expenses that week. But I was determined to recover my valuable money!
A week after the next month, while on my way to college, I found this gentleman on the road in conversation with somebody. He had seen me; but was deliberately behaving as if he had not seen me at all. I could then make out that my money was as good as gone. I was aware that pursuing such willful defaulters was futile. Still I committed the mistake of asking him why he had failed to pay me back. As expected he offered several excuses for his failure to meet his commitment. However, he promised to pay the amount by next week. I decided then and there that I would not pursue the matter anymore. I wrote it off in my books like a diligent banker!
A week later I was on my way to college with one of my classmates. Suddenly this man appeared as if from nowhere and called me aside. I asked my friend to wait and went near him. He started telling me stories with lot of facial and other physical expressions. My classmate was watching the drama with curiosity. When I came back to him he asked me what it was all about. I told him it was something personal and left it at that.
I saw him again in the next week when I was with the same classmate. Even though I ignored him this time he called me aside again. He repeated the story. On my part I told my classmate that it was just nothing. But the story did not end there. The scene repeated again after another week. This time my classmate was watching closely. He overheard the person telling something about two rupees. When I joined him back after the drama, he asked me only one question – why I was not paying back the Rs2 which I appeared to have borrowed from that poor gentleman!
----- (To be continued) ------
A V Krishnamurthy
22nd January 2013