Saturday, November 15, 2014

We are as happy as we wish to be

I do not know how many of us know the name of our postman who comes to deliver our letters almost daily? No, we hardly talk to him even when he delivers us a registered letter or a parcel. We silently receive the mail and sign in acknowledgement in the form he produces. Our encounter or should I say non-encounter with him is over in a minute or two. He invariably comes on his cycle when the sun is over the head and  is hot. He would visit any number of homes and would not have remembered a single exchange of words worth remembering at the end of the day.
My first encounter with my postman started with a tiff. It was very hot that day and after a heavy lunch, I had dozed off. My wife was away. The postman had rung the bell twice or thrice. I opened the door with a frown on my face at the disturbance. He had a registered parcel for my wife and asked for her.
 I told him in abrasive tone”she has gone out. You may deliver it to me.”
 Possibly upset with my harsh tone he replied “I would need an authorization letter as per rules.”
“You are very punctilious especially when you know the addressee is my wife” I remonstrated with him.
 He politely replied” I was only doing my duty. Since I know both of you, I would have readily  delivered it to you had you been a little gentle”
It was only then that I noticed he was perspiring heavily standing in the hot sun with a big bundle. I requested him to come in and asked him to sit under the fan. He was hesitant initially but sat down when pressed. I gave him a glass of cold butter milk. I ascertained his name was Radhakrishnan and that he has been on this beat for the last twenty years. He had two sons and one girl and all of them studying.
He was touched by my kind enquiries and said “This was the first time anyone ever invited me into the drawing room and offered me a glass of cold water let alone buttermilk.”
“Do you like this arduous work of going out daily in hot sun or in rains on rainy days?”
 “I have no choice as I need to earn and so I decided to like it. Sorting of the letters was easy once one gets experienced. I have the opportunity to meet all sorts of people though the hazard of unchained dogs and tiresome climbing of the stairs of multi storied apartments poses  me a problem.You see I am getting older”he said with a smile.”
“I understand fully” I said in empathy
“It is not without its joy. I enjoy helping the illiterate with the occasional reading out the post cards. Though there are a few insensitive people making me wait at their doors taking their own time to chain the dogs or open the doors, most of the people are good and happy to see me at their doors.. I have no reason to be unhappy though walking through slushy roads during rainy days is difficult.”
Six months later, I had to get an affidavit urgently from a notary public. I didn’t know of anyone in the locality. The neighbours also could not help. It was then I saw Radhakrishnan in my colony on his beat. When I mentioned about this, he reeled out half a dozen names within a kilometer of my house. It was then I found that he knew well the people who lived in his area and enjoyed being helpful whenever approached.
 It was then the thought occurred to me that how many of us who work in the cool comfort of air-conditioned offices with transport or pick up facility  and yet keep griping about the well paid work little realizing there are people who enjoy their work even in unfavourable circumstances.
I was surprised at Radhakrishnan’s positive attitude and remarked “I am surprised how you like your work which to me does not appear comfortable.”
He laughed and said “Unlike you big officers, I am not chained to a table or a cabin all through the day. I am mostly in the open breathing fresh air and meeting a cross section of people. Most of them cheer up and smile when they see me bringing  a letter or a money order.. At the end of the day I do not have to carry the worries of the office to my home. I have many friends and interests. Life is not about earning money alone. I am quite happy,Sir.”

I realized that the postman had developed a robust and positive outlook towards life. He liked his job, worked efficiently, helped illiterate people, made friends and was cheerful. How many of us could boast of such a privilege? We are as happy as we wish to be.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fostering moral courage

Decades back when I was a young boy studying in class 6, there was a heavily built bully in the class. Being the son of the class teacher he ran amuck doing things that pleased him with none bold enough to question him or complain against him. He stole lunch boxes and took away from  school bags of others whatever he desired. He beat the weak boys and frequently pushed a polio affected boy without any provocation. The poor teacher was not aware of the misdeeds of this bully as none informed him.
 It was a hot summer. There was a big earthen pot kept in the corner of the class room. The water boy filled the pot with water each morning before the classes commenced. There was a brass tumbler kept by the side of the pot. The boys slaked their thirst in between the two classes. It so happened one day the bully commanded one boy to fetch him the water in the tumbler. The boy strangely ignored him and after drinking the water returned to his seat.
 The bully roared” how dare you disobey me? If you do not get me water within the next minute, I will make you pay for it.”
 The boy did not budge. All the other boys watched anxiously suppressing their glee at his defiance. The bully got up in anger and thrashed the boy. He took the black board wiper and hit the pot breaking it into pieces with all the water spilling out. It was a little later the class teacher entered and saw the damage. He took the cane in his hand and asked generally who broke the pot. There was a deafening silence.
The bully stood up and said pointing out the boy who refused to give him the water”Sir,he broke  the pot in anger as others were drinking water and he did not get the tumbler when he wanted.”
The good teacher unusually lost his temper  and beat the boy once when there was a sudden shriek “Stop it, Sir”.
 Everyone turned towards the direction of the voice. It was the polio affected boy who stood up.and said “Sir, the pot was broken by your son in anger as that boy refused to bring him water when commanded by your son. He thrashed the boy mercilessly and pushed him down. He is tormenting us daily in several ways.”
The teacher looked at the class and asked the boys “Is it true? You do not have to fear him or me. Please raise your hands if what the boy said is true.”
All the boys,except the bully and a couple of his buddies raised their hands,, and shouted”Yes, sir” in chorus
The teacher full of remorse for his rash behavior rubbed softly the arm of the boy and said “I was rash and should have asked others. I am sorry. Please go to your seat and sit down.”
He called the polio affected boy to his side and affectionately put his arm around him and said “I really appreciate your boldly speaking out the truth. I do not know why all the others did not have the courage you showed.. I am thankful to you and proud of you as my student.
 He called his son near him and caned him thrice telling that he was ashamed of his despicable behavior.
The point of this story is that most of us lack the moral courage to stand up against injustice wherever we see. While the soldiers who fight the war, the firemen who fight the raging fires and the policemen controlling a violent mob are all courageous in the course of their duty, ordinary people remain mute witnesses to the atrocities out of fear. The daring few whistle blowers pay a heavy price for their courage in this unethical system.
 While individually we cannot fight the corrupt politicians, the greedy mafia, the defrauding traders, we should collectively raise our voice of protest at the appropriate times. I have read that ‘moral courage is not just an intellectual exercise. Having the strength to do what is right when faced with difficult decisions is the key to being an ethical leader.”
If the ration shop or a petrol bunk deals with adulterated goods, we must have the courage to appeal to the consumer protection organization. If the auto driver fleeces you, you must stand up for your right and take a public bus than succumb to his unreasonable demand. It is difficult and inconvenient no doubt but we must at some stage learn lessons from great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi or a Nelson Mandela. The latter had said that "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."
We should teach our children by personal example in the ordinary daily transactions about the values of integrity and moral character. Even in the sphere of games, how many players have the willingness to walk without waiting for the umpire’s ruling when they know they are out? We must develop the strength to stand up for what we believe. Our actions should be based on our ethical values and willingness to undergo hardships and even face some risks. We should not be willing accessories to manipulative bosses in office, cunning politicians during elections and corrupt bureaucrats in our dealings.

 It is high time that schools set apart an hour for moral instruction to children even from the small classes to build a nation of high moral fibre.