To Find Or Not To Find?
June 9, 2010 8 Comments
Part 1: A Finder…
He stood in the queue for quite some time. How long was not known since there were no clocks or watches. When his turn came up, Chitragupta had already seen his records and was ready to conduct the assessment.
‘I’ll call you Subbu as you were known down there.’
‘That’ll be perfect, Sir.’
‘Subbu, I’ve seen all that you’ve done with your life as a broker – some good things and also some not-so-good things. Fortunately for you, the positive deeds just balance out all the negative deeds (*). There is only one left which would decide if you are going to the Heavens or to the Pits.’
‘My Lord, I’m sure you will find it in my favor.’
‘Not so fast, Subbu. Do you remember the day you found a 100-rupee note lying on the footpath near the Ramavakkam rail-station, just outside Bharat Pharmacy? What did you do with it?’
‘Yes, Sir, very clearly. It was a Saturday morning. I checked to see if someone had lost it and was looking for it.’
‘I could not find anyone. So I took it to the Mariamman Temple and dropped it in the hundi. Kindly note, I did not keep it for myself though I didn’t have a steady income to fend for my family. That should count as a positive deed?’
‘Do you know what anartham ensued? This is what I see in the records: The money was being taken by a girl to the pharmacy to buy medicines for her ailing mother. When the girl returned home without the money or the medicines, her father scolded her. The ailing mother passed over. The girl thought she was responsible for her mother’s death; she consumed some kind of poison. She was then taken to a hospital. The doctor in the hospital was alleged to have not attended to her promptly. Her relatives beat up the doctor and took her away to another hospital where she survived. The doctors in the first hospital went on strike. Two patients died on the day due to lack of care….’
‘Please…, Sir. I’m beginning to feel responsible for the oil-spill in Gulf of Mexico.’
‘Frivolity is out-of-place here, Subbu.’
‘I apologize…didn’t know my simple act triggered a chain of events. I’m so sorry about it. You’ll appreciate I wasn’t directly responsible for any of these. What could I’ve done?’
‘You could have gone to the police station and deposited the money for them to return it to the legitimate owner. You took the easy way out. And, see what happened thereafter.’
‘Which world are you in, Sir? Oops…I’m sorry again. There was no way the girl would have got her money back. Some guy at the police station would have simply pocketed it. I know it, Sir.’
’You’re casting aspersions on your law-enforcing authority. At this rate, very soon, you’ll be charging Chitragupta with…’
‘Sir, that’s the way it goes in our place. It must be in your records.’
‘It doesn’t matter what happens out there. You should know rules here are absolute. Large-scale violations, if any, are unfortunate and remain verily punishable. Dharma is not voted in by numbers.’
‘Our Brihaspati (Guru) always said, with regard to practices, ‘Desho va Kaalo va’ (translates to ‘according to place and time’). You’ll agree, Sir, Dharma in Thretha Yuga was not the same as that in Dwapara Yuga. Like-wise Dharma in Dwapara Yuga is not the same as that in Kali Yuga .’
‘While what your Brihaspati said may be true in general, some basics don’t change even in Kali Yuga. Recently we received here an cabbie who had returned, through the authorities, a bag of ornaments to a careless passenger. Do you wish me to call him here?’
‘No need, Sir. If you say so, it must be so. But those are rare occurrences. Perhaps his wife beat him to death? Sorry, don’t mind it, Sir. Let me try this a bit differently. You agree, Gods are the ultimate authorities?’
‘What a question to ask!’
‘Super-ordinate to the police and the law of the land I came from?’
‘I don’t know where you’re headed…I was referring to your polemics.’
‘Bear with me for just a while, Sir. I offered the money to Mariamman? So I have deposited the money with the highest authority? Now it is for the deity to return it to its owner!’
‘Trying to be smart?’
‘No, Sir. I’m dead serious…I mean…I really mean it.’
‘You should know Gods don’t intervene in your lives. Your life is partly Karma of the past and partly of free-will, Karma of the future.’
‘Sir, you mean, all those prayers and pooja’s we do back there go unheeded?’
‘Those mitigate the heat of the Karma by…but we’re digressing.’
‘I can only say this much – under the circumstances, I don’t think I committed any sin.’
‘We’ve already seen how serious were the events that followed because of your action – rather, inaction. It was an act of omission. Don’t you know, in your own world and country, ignorance of law or rules or procedures is not admissible as defense? Having said that, I must also add it is well within the rules to take a view that those affected by your act of omission suffered because of their Karma. Hence it should not be held against you.’
‘There you are, Sir. So, you agree with me?’
‘All I meant is there are certain mitigating circumstances to condone you. That’s all.’
‘OK, have it your way. So, I’m condoned?’
‘It’s not ‘my’ way as you put it. It’s your way to the Heavens or Hell we’re talking about. I’m not yet sure about the part of condoning you.’
‘That’s a nice play on words, Sir – I would’ve never thought of it. I’ve a request to make, if you’ll kindly permit.’
‘What is it?’
‘Let us go to Ramavakkam and wait for the first guy who returns lost property to the police and see what happens. You may then take your call on this matter. I’ll gladly accept your verdict. ‘
‘You seem to think you’ve a choice?’
‘No, sir, that’s not what I meant.’
‘Though it is quite irregular, I accept your request. However I must caution you, odds are stacked high as the Heavens against you. If the goods are returned to the rightful owner, the rule stands validated. If not, I’ve already said non-compliance on a large-scale still does not invalidate the rule. Either way you’re hooked.’
‘I understand, Sir. Nevertheless I would like you to see this one instance. I thank you for acceding to my request.’
‘Let us go.’
Part 2: A Keeper…
Ravi Café was set a little back from the edge of the Station Road. The open space in front, walled on both sides, accommodated a scooter/cycle stand, and a paan stall backing on the side-walls with a shady tree in the middle and near the entrance. Chandru emerged out of the restaurant with the taste of bitter coffee still lingering in his mouth and his hand smelling of sambhar in which the idli’s were dunked. This indulgence was permissible on the pay-day. Surprisingly the crowd was thin for a Saturday evening in the first week of the month. All the same, he had to be careful with the wad of notes in his wallet. He was a little troubled that he was paid in 500-rupee notes – not easy to change in those parts.
Waiting near the cycle stand for his friend Rajan to join, he was idly looking around. That’s when he sighted close to the wall behind the near-empty stand what looked like a currency note. He went up to the wall and picked it up. It was a 500-rupee note. It was a few moments before the find hit him. His first reaction was to pull out his wallet and check if he was short of 500 rupees. He wasn’t. The note was folded and in one quick move tucked away in his trouser pocket. Only then he looked around furtively. To his shock, the window of the police station on the far side of the road opened out directly in his line of sight and he saw some movement inside. Had someone spotted him picking up the currency note? He couldn’t be sure. In any case a 500-rupee note was too big and too hot for him to handle. He decided to go over to the police station and report the find. Meanwhile Rajan arrived and was promptly brought up to speed. After a short exchange they agreed Chandru’s plan was the best thing to do; and, they marched up to the police station.
At the station, there was a cap-less inspector barely contained in a chair sagging under his weight, leafing through a tattered register laid out on a large wooden table; and a constable, no less substantial, stood outside of the single room that was built with more windows on all four sides than bricks, making no attempts to look busy.
Chandru and Rajan appeared at the open doors of the station and were favored with a quizzical look from the inspector who seemed to welcome the interruption. It was a first experience for the duo. Like a bashful bride, nervously they stepped in and up to the inspector. Left standing, Chandru slowly unspooled his account of the unusual proceedings of the immediate past, ending it with a display of the currency note from his trouser pocket. He was asked to repeat himself which he did with reasonable accuracy.
The inspector took the note in his hands, scrutinized it with crinkled eyes, held it against the naked filament light dropping from the ceiling and blew out a sigh like the bellows at a smithy’s.
Chandru: ’Is it a counterfeit?’
Inspector: ‘No, it appears to be genuine.’
In the silence that followed one could almost hear the wheels in the inspector’s head mesh and whir in thought.
Inspector finally broke the spell, assuming a somber aspect: ‘In fact, a person had reported a loss of money only yesterday. I’m calling him to the station right away. If it is his, it gets settled. He might even reward you in appreciation. Now, you wait outside.’
As they trooped out, the Inspector waited for their exit and phoned up a number from his memory – it was impressive that he could easily recall a complainant’s phone number. Though, it was a little odd that the return of the currency note was not recorded anywhere nor a receipt issued.
In a short while a well-groomed man in mid-forties rushed in from somewhere near-by. Scraping of the chair-legs against the linoleum floor meant the visitor was seated. Almost immediately they were called in.
Inspector: ‘Pandyan, today may be your lucky day. This young man here picked up a 500-rupee note outside of Ravi Café a while ago and brought it here quite dutifully. I called you in post-haste to check if it was yours.’
Pandyan: ‘Inspector, I appreciate your alacrity in this regard. Yes, I did go to Ravi Café yesterday to savor their Friday Special – thavalai adai (a lentil preparation like dosa, but lot spicier). Later, I stopped at the paan stall. That’s when I must have dropped the money.’
Inspector: ‘Then, it must be yours. Here it is. Recovering lost money does not happen as often and as quickly. If you wish, you could give him a small token reward as a gesture of appreciation.’
Pandyan, pocketing the note: ‘Certainly, Inspector. As you say it is not often that one loses money and gets it back so soon.’
As before, the transaction went unrecorded.
Pandyan continued: ‘But, Inspector, where is the rest of the money?’
Inspector: ‘How do you mean?’
Pandyan: ‘If you recall, Inspector, I had lost 4 notes of 500 rupees. If one of them was found, other notes are also sure to be found with it.’
Inspector: ‘Oh, yes. That’s right,’ slowly turning to Chandru: ‘Where are the other notes?’
Chandru: ‘I don’t know what you are talking about. I had found just this.’
Pandyan: ’How could that be? They were folded together as a bunch.’
Inspector’s voice took a menacing aspect: ‘Young man, I don’t know what’s your game-plan…could be that returning a 500-rupee note gets you a lot of publicity while you keep the other notes to yourself – two stones and a mango and all that? Here’s your chance – return the other notes and you can go home right now without any trouble. Otherwise it can get quite ugly – don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.’
Chandru and Rajan stood speechless, not knowing if this was real.
Pandyan, on his way out: ‘Inspector, please call me at any time of the day once you retrieve the other notes too from them. And to get it right, the special talent you were alluding to is one of felling two mangoes at once with one throw of a stone.’
Inspector, squarely ignoring the elucidation offered on the mangoes and the stone, called out to the constable: ‘Mutthu, come here. Check this young man if he has more 500-rupee notes on his person and encourage him to produce the missing notes.’
Chandru involuntarily felt for his wallet.
Part 3: And, The Judgement
Chitragupta, back in his seat, wiped the sweat off his forehead. And, got down to writing an amendment to the rule-book.
(*) The erudite hold the view that good deeds do not offset the bad. One experiences the fruits of both kinds in full.