Friday, August 21, 2009

MUST READ : When the shoe pinches the other fellow

During my tenure at Indian Army Headquarters as an Officer in early eighties, employees of Army HQ used to visit me for their official work. The more people I met, the more I learned about life and also about difficulties faced by others.

One thing I was sure of, that everyone was in need of money i.e. their own payments, as early as possible. And one day tears rolled down the cheeks of one gentleman.

I distinctly remember that on a bright sunny day in March 1981, one very well dressed elderly person entered my office.

“May I come in?”

“Yes,”- I said, adding, “Please sit down, what can I do for you?”

“I am Suri, Staff Officer at MS branch. One of my traveling allowance claims is pending in your Section and I request that the same may be cleared.”

“OK – do you have the details?” I inquired.

He gave me the details and I asked a clerk to give his claim form to me. On seeing the form I realized that the total claim was for Rs 158/-(then around Six dollars) and out of this sum he had already drawn an advance of Rs. 100/-.(Three and a half dollars) I was thunderstruck, and I kept glancing at this well to do gentleman sitting next to me wearing an immaculate suit with a gold plated watch and a gold ring in his left hand, and tought about his claim form – the small sum he had come to claim.

And wondering how much money he would have spent on fuel alone to come to me for this paltry sum.However, he got the cheque for Rs.58/- after 20 minutes.

He then thanked me for the work which I used to do everyday. I never deserved the accolades he showered for this little work I had done. And then, inadvertently, the question roaming in my mind popped out of my mouth.

“Mr Suri, why did you take the trouble to come personally for this paltry payment? You could have called me on phone.”

“It is not about this small payment. It is the advance of Rs. 100/- that was pending against my name and was creating problems. See, I have retired and my retirement benefits have been withheld because there is one advance pending against me.”

“Have your pension documents arrived here?”

“Yes , a month ago,” he said.

I picked up the phone and told the pension payment section to help him quickly and informed him that the advance has been adjusted..

I told him not to worry; it shall be done within the week. And then tears rolled down his cheek and he said: -

“I was planning all along that whenever we got the retirement benefits, we would go places for sight-seeing. But now this money has no value. I lost my wife three months ago.”

I was dumb struck – my heart stopped beating for a second and I controlled myself with great difficulty, all I could mutter and mumble was – “I am very sorry.”

And then he left.

That day I learnt a major lesson.

You can never know where the shoe is pinching the other fellow. How aptly said: “One day you will meet someone who will tell you what you don’t know, but should know”.

- Ravi Matah writes for Vancouverite from New Delhi, India. His short stories and features have been published in several Indian magazines. Ravi will write a weekly column here and more often if necessary. He is a great story teller, he writes beautifully about life’s little happenings. And he’ll cover other aspects of life in India too, ranging from politics to cricket.

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