LIFE’S learnings do not come only through wise words of sages and scholars. Even less from the inanities being circulated on social media. They often come from the deeds of ordinary people.
I studied at Government College, Rohtak, in the 1950s; it was then located in the heart of the city. In the summer evenings, after dinner in the hostel, I often walked up to a fruit seller. He always kept chilled slices of mangoes in an icebox. I addressed him as Baba, like everyone else.
One evening, halfway through my treat, I realised I had not carried my wallet. I feared a humiliating tongue-lashing, if not worse. Baba must have noticed the colour drain from my face; he asked me if all was well. Hesitantly, I told him. He smiled, gave me another slice on the house and said, ‘Beta, koi baat nahin, kal de dena.’ I was left speechless.
Overwhelmed, I went to the hostel and came back promptly to pay his dues. He asked my name and told me that I could pay by the month-end. With his small gesture, he taught me a great lesson in helping someone in distress. Even after leaving college, whenever I visited Rohtak, I made it a point to pay my respects to Baba. His stubbled smiling face is etched in my memory.
At the National Defence Academy, a movie was screened every Wednesday evening. Once shown free, from 1959 onwards one had to buy a ticket for eight annas. The academy always managed to get relatively new movies. One evening in late April of 1961, a popular Hindi movie was being screened. Most of the cadets went off to watch. Unfortunately, it was the month-end and I had run out of my pocket money of Rs 30. Being the Academy Cadet Captain, my ego did not allow me to borrow from juniors living in nearby cabins. Unhappily, I decided to stay back.
The washerman used to deliver our starched uniform in the evenings. When Nanhu Ram came that evening, he was surprised to find me in the almost empty squadron building. A lean man with cobwebbed eyes, he had a kind, avuncular face. On being asked why I hadn’t gone for the movie, I blurted out the truth.
‘Arre saab, yeh kya baat hui?’ he said. Taking out an eight-anna coin from his pocket, he pushed it into my hand. Flabbergasted, I was still searching for appropriate words to thank him when he said, ‘Jaldi karo, aap late ho rahe ho’, and walked out. I don’t know how much the amount meant to him as a poor Class IV employee; for me that evening, it was the world. What his gesture taught me matched the best lessons I had received in that hallowed institution.
I have watched that evening’s iconic film, Dev Anand starrer Hum Dono, many times since. Each time, I can almost read Nanhu Ram’s name in the credits.
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