One day, a small boy visited my grandfather’s shop and handed over the grocery list his folks had written on a piece of paper. Accordingly, grandfather packed all the items, wrapped them with a string and gave it to him. The boy put his hand in his pocket to take out money. Nothing. He searched again. Once again, this time feverishly. Nothing. Anxiety on his face. He could visualize the horror if he went home: severe beatings on his back. His eyes welled up with tears and he began to wail. Grandfather understood the situation. He consoled the boy and asked him how much he had lost. The boy told him the amount. Grandfather said, “look, don’t weep for your loss. It has gone to Krishna. Now say after me, ‘Krishnarpanamastu.” The boy said, “Krishnarpanamastu.” After this, grandfather put the groceries in the boy’s bag. Next, he placed the change due to the boy in a paper, wrapped it tightly, put it in the boy’s pocket and fastened it with a safety pin, and sent him away. That boy is Dr. Jagadish Vaidya, now a pediatrician in Bhadravati. He was my brother Ratnakar’s classmate.
Tobacco petals were in great demand in that era. People in our coastal region habituated to chewing betel and betel-nut typically use these tobacco petals in their concoction. Tobacco would rot if it was exposed to moisture. However, if it was exposed to sun, it would turn brittle, break into pieces and lose the pungency sought by its connoisseur. Thus, it was common practice to bury it in sand. This practice still persists in the region. After some time, this tobacco would be unearthed and purified. In this purification process, grandfather would collect the sand particles separately, weigh it and distribute its price equitably among the tobacco petals. He would pack the purified tobacco petals in small plastic pouches, paste a price tag on each pouch, and place them in a tin so that it retained its pungency without being exposed to moisture. Thus, the customer would be saved the trouble of purifying the tobacco. However, grandfather would not give any amount the customer asked. He had to buy tobacco only in pouches and at the price grandfather had prefixed: 12 paisa, 15 paisa, etc. If the customer wanted tobacco for 8 paisa, he would be denied: grandfather was absolutely sure of the integrity of his price and weight.
Today, it is commonplace to find gum (or glue) everywhere. However, in those days, it was rare to find it even in a post office. Today, it is difficult to find even post offices! Children would have a hard time finding gum for making kites, or for pasting coloured paper in and around their toy houses during the Kartika season. They would use Maida for making gum. However, that posed a problem because in no time, roaches, ants and insects would eat them. Grandfather decided to mitigate this problem. He prepared a glue using copper sulphate. The children were elated. Grandfather had observed the process of making this gum at printing presses, and learned it on his own. He manufactured this gum for the benefit of his routine customers and sold it in his shop.
Running a shopping establishment in this manner, based on compassion and magnanimity came to an end after Sri Krishnadevaraya. It is nice to read about such business ethics only in books but is inapplicable to this century. Thus, it is natural for readers of this essay to doubt whether my grandfather actually ran his business in this manner. My grandfather’s magnanimity was misused. His cash register eventually accumulated debt. He suffered significant losses.
Cheating and fraud have existed throughout history. The fight between integrity and cheating remains eternal. Desire and greed are as true as breathing. Honesty and fraud are two ways of fulfilling it. The person whose sole goal is the attainment of his desire has no qualms about the method he chooses. However, the attainment of desire becomes immaterial for a person who is scrupulous about the means he adopts to satisfy it: grandfather’s business was founded on this edifice. Which is why he suffered significant losses by giving credit. Yet, he did not lose his equanimity. However, his family was angry precisely for this reason. On such occasions, these were the words grandfather said:
Although I couldn’t grasp the full gamut of these words at that young age, the foundational principle that I should never deceive anyone in business was firmly seeded in my subconscious. Ever since, I have trodden the path of my entire life in the soothing shadow of that great tree. Still, I would get annoyed at the constant invocation of “God” by grandfather (as long as he was alive) and father because I advocated the importance of human effort. But now I have understood what or who they meant when they said God. By invoking the principle of Bhagavan, they erased the ego and arrogance that accompanies the success of human effort. I needed Art to overcome the arrogance that comes with not believing in God.
It was not in my grandfather’s nature to threaten debtors and retrieve his loan by force. Therefore, he learned a new lesson from these losses. He stopped selling groceries. There was another fundamental reason for it: he did not have the heart to refuse if someone asked him, “There is no sugar or rice at home. Please give it on credit.” These are basic, essential items needed to satisfy one’s hunger. Thus, grandfather’s compassionate heart would melt each time he heard these words. And so, now, he only stocked items that were required by fishermen, farmers, potters, masons, and Purohitas. These apart, he also sold some common medicines. He resolved not to give any credit. Thus, potential debtors completely stopped visiting his shop. Even today, this is a common trait in habitual debtors. Perchance grandfather happened to meet such old debtors, he would tell them to their face, “look, you don’t need to return your previous debt to me. But I won’t give you any credit from now on.”
This new measure gradually improved his business. Losses were minimized. Saving cash for the future was a largely unknown concept in that era. It was regarded as a mark of wealth if a person was absolutely debt free and had enough to eat and live a contented life. Thus, grandfather didn’t bother to save the profit generated by this improvement in business.
Instead, he spent more time and resources for doing work that was beneficial to people.
To be continued
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