Thursday, July 2, 2009

Skipping the dinner

As a young chit I remember palming off a counterfeit one rupee coin or a torn two rupee note that I found difficult to dispose of elsewhere in the day to an old woman selling spinach under a dark lamp post without a bulb. I had neither realized the enormity of my act nor felt any remorse then that a poor woman was being deprived of her legitimate earning. I used to put a stone in an empty Hamam soap wrapper and keep it on the middle of the road and watch eagerly for any passerby to lift it to get deceived. There was a childish pleasure in such pranks to mislead people. But one incident changed me completely.
I was then twelve then and my mom asked me to fetch a few things from the grocer. There was a heavy rush in the shop. The bill had come to Rs. 159.I totaled the bill and found that it should have been Rs.179.I checked it again and found the grocer had made a mistake .I kept quiet and produced two hundred rupee notes and took back the balance of Rs.41 without a murmur. When I returned home my father in the hall took the balance and the bill. He found out the mistake and asked me whether I had not checked the bill before paying. I told him with a pride that I had indeed checked and found out the mistake. He thundered “How come you have become a cheat? Should you not have pointed out the mistake and paid the correct amount? Go and return the Rs20” I protested ”I did not cheat him as you accuse me. I had paid whatever amount he had asked for. If he made the mistake, why should I rectify it? Had I given any extra amount inadvertently would he have returned?”
My father flew into rage.” I am ashamed of you. How come you talk like this? True you are not responsible for other’s character. But you are accountable for yours. Do not indulge in specious arguments. Go and apologize to the grocer after returning the money.” As atonement for what he considered as a serious lapse on my part, he did not take his dinner that night. I could see from my mom’s eyes how upset she was with me. This made a deep and lasting impression on me that certain values are not negotiable and should be observed strictly under all circumstances.
That was many decades back but the lessons learnt are fresh as ever. Even when the mistake would remain undetected and none would be the wiser, it would be unethical to take what is not one’s due or do what is not permissible. The instances of some three wheeler or taxi drivers returning the possessions left behind however valuable they are to the owners or to the police are shining examples of such extreme rectitude. Their own wants would not tempt them to retain what was not theirs. As Oprah Winfrey put it real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody is going to know whether you did it or not. Integrity is not a conditional word changing according to circumstances but a relentless pursuit of honesty in all our acts.
There can be occasions when there are conflicts between this virtue and the business requirements of a few companies that one worked for. But one should always remember that personal ethics remain supreme and unalterable and steer clear of any wrong doing personally. Charging the customer more, supplying inferior material not visible to naked eye in lieu of one promised, poor service, not refunding what is due in time may all pass muster in a seller’s market but is nevertheless unethical. Insider trading, false claims in prospectus and sanitized balance sheets all fall under this category. Misuse of office stationery, vehicles and facilities seen as mere peccadilloes are in fact serious ethical aberrations. Everyone will have had some reprimand in the younger age from the elders as the skipped dinner by my father in my case. These should serve as beacon lights to guide us safely from the treacherous shoals of temptation to beat the system. To preserve integrity and to nurture a strong will to do the right in our wards, we must forego occasionally our dinner and punish ourselves for their errant behaviour.


  1. Well-written, well-conveyed message.

  2. Learning starts from home and this post is a classic example of good parenting.This kind of parenting is the need of the hour for a country like ours where the system has gone to the extent where the wrong doers dont realize that what they are doing is wrong.
    Good post Sir

  3. The traditional view of what is right and what is wrong has narrowed down so much these days that what is morally wrong has been given a superficial sense of right.No doubt parenting is a must.But with the ever increasing wants and new found rich even many parents in the middle age group are themselves in need of better counselling and parenting too like the one our grandparents had imparted over the generation.

  4. This is one of your many stories that I admire Sir.. For it conveys in a nice manner the values that we should imbibe.. I wish I had the ability to convey thoughts as well as you do..



  5. nice story this one should be followed by everyone. I firmly believe in honesty. it really feels disgusting to have something we shouldn't have.

  6. there are instances when i kept my word, did was felt was right..i barely remember the exact incidents.But, then there are the times ive cheated, and i clearly remeber them, coz its my conscious that pricks and sad that certain instances cant be undone now.

  7. hmm... that was nice.. loved reading it..

    a post with a valuable lesson.!

    thanks for sharing...

  8. Is this a true story? Loved the Oprah quote..instilling these values really helps us to become honest citizens with integrity.Maybe all of us have committed mistakes or pranks during childhood without thinking about the consequences or implications and we carry that guilt lifelong!