Straight from a Goof’s Heart: Guru Nanakji & Golf

My drive from the third tee and the conversation following it changed my life forever.

That day I had landed at the golf course without a plan; I often do. Bansi, the Starter let me tee off with another golfer waiting to start.

He was a Sikh gentleman. He must have been in his early seventies; his grey hair and thick glasses suggested so. In his appearance, he resembled the legendary Khushwant Singh. He walked slowly and deliberately. He swung equally slowly with a perfect follow through. He must have been a very good golfer in his heydays. He was hitting short distances but his ball was following the path intended and directed by him. On the first hole he missed a five-foot putt and a par by a whisker. I barely managed to get a bogie.

On the second hole he got an easy par; I missed it narrowly.

The third fairway at the Race Course Golf Course is narrow in the beginning and widens in the later part. There are OBs on either side. One has to hit a long straight drive to be in a comfortable position for the rest of the par-five hole. He cleared the first hurdle comfortably.

It was my turn to tee off. I placed my ball on the tee; walked back a few paces to align myself and took stance. I thought of some of the 50 and more elements that go into making a perfect drive: the grip, the stance, the swing, the follow through, the transfer of weight, eye on the ball etc. I must have done really well at that because it was a long and straight drive, way ahead of the Sikh gentleman. There was instant accolade from him. “That’s a marvellous hit,” he said.

As we walked down the fairway to play our second shots, he appreciated my drive. The praise from the otherwise quiet man filled with joy and pride. Outwardly I didn’t express much; I wanted to be modest; look modest.

“It just happened. I didn’t do anything. I just struck the ball, said “Wahe Guru” and prayed that it went long and straight.”

“Come on! You can’t get this good result with prayers alone,” he said. “You surely have worked hard for it.”

I tried to look even more modest. That’s when he narrated this story and I reproduce it:

“A Sikh youth was looking for a five-rupee coin that he had accidentally dropped in wet mud. He was praying to the gods to help him find his coin. There was a peculiar thing about his prayers­­––he was praying to all the gods other than the Sikh gods. When a curious bystander asked him, why he was remembering the other gods when his prayers could be (obviously) responded better by Guru Nanakji or other Sikh saints, he said, “Come on! Don’t expect me to ask Guru Nanakji to go into the mud for my five rupees. I’ll bother Him when I have a bigger problem or need. If I keep bothering him for petty things, He might not come to my rescue when I actually need Him.”

Returning to my good drive and prayers to Nanakji, he chuckled and said, “Don’t bother Guru Nanakji for small things in life. Save your prayers for the day when you are in dire need of His intervention.”

The message was loud and clear. That moment onwards, I have always done my bit; and done my bit well, and never nagged God for small favours.

Pray, I still do.




One Anna

In the early sixties one anna used to be big money for a little kid in a small sleepy town likeAnna Ujjain. It was equal to six naye paise. It had the power to buy half a dozen candies, or to hire a bicycle for an hour, or to buy a bus ticket to travel half way across the city. An anna wrapped in appreciation could do much more.

Read on to truly appreciate the power of the copper-nickel coin.

I was barely five then. Dr Lalit Khanna had given me the coin in appreciation of a poem I had copied on my slate at the behest of my sister under whose tutelage I had learnt to form the letters of alphabet. I had gone around showing off my handwriting to every moving thing in my small world. I was fishing for compliments. Dr Khanna appreciated my handwriting amidst a group of three adults as he presented the coin to me.

When I grew up, I realised that there was nothing great about how I had written the poem that day. My handwriting wasn’t all that beautiful; I had just arranged the letters and words neatly in straight lines. Dr Khanna, the great motivator that he used to be, wanted to encourage me. The reward let my innocent mind believe that my handwriting was actually beautiful.

It marked a turning point in my life. That moment onwards, everything became a writing instrument and I used all the blank spaces on any piece of paper that I came across, to write. Writing became a passion. The word ‘calligraphy’ entered my vocabulary much later in life, after the art had become my hobby.

Thanks to Dr Khanna, I have a cherished hobby.


Postscript to “It Happens Only in India!”

The other day I wrote about my experience with a couple whose vehicle had broken down on their way to the airport. It was incidental that I saw them stranded on the roadside and offered them a lift. And when the lady (an NRI settled in the US), expressed disbelief––“I never expected this to happen in India”––I responded spontaneously: “Young lady, it happens only in India.”

Kavita, my niece, now a US citizen, has responded to the post with:

“LOL! Though it happens outside India too, I can say for sure, having been on the receiving end of so many gracious gestures from so many strangers; country or continent no bar…”

I have revisited the incident in the light of Kavita’s remark. And, now I see an all new dimension of the incident.

The lady I wrote about was carrying a perception of India and the people here. For that reason, she did not expect such assistance in India.

My response was spontaneous, rather impulsive. Today when I look back, and analyse it dispassionately, I find two reasons for it. One, when she said: “I didn’t expect this to happen in India,” she inadvertently assaulted my pride as an Indian. And two, I haven’t been many places; I haven’t experienced much of the good behaviour of the people IMG_3770abroad. To say––“It happens only in India”––is, I guess, incorrect.

I love my India so do others love their countries.

What would I tell the lady if I were to go back in time and meet her under the same circumstances?

I would perhaps tell her (of course with a more pleasant smile), “My lady, there is more to India than you have seen, read or heard about. Now go, feel the heartbeat of my country.”

Thank you Kavita for sharing that thought. I value your opinion  🙂

It Happens Only in India!

Early one summer morning, I was on my way to Gurgaon to participate in a golf tourney. It was an annual feature in which the logistics officers (serving and the veterans) of the Indian Air Force vie for honours. The modest prizes mean little; actually it is an occasion for the logistics officers to meet and catch up with friends. I had started a tad early from Noida to be able to spend some quality time with buddies before teeing off.

I saw a white Ambassador car parked by the roadside as I was driving past the Film City. Someone was working under the bonnet. Another person, back towards the car, was looking expectantly at the passing vehicles. It was daybreak and there were very few of them on the road. The man was fidgety, gesturing to stop the passing cars.

I stopped abeam his car and lowered my window. “What’s the matter?”

“Sir, my car has broken down. I have to catch a flight from the Indira Gandhi International Airport. The driver has not been able to place his finger on the fault yet. I’ll miss the flight if I wait till the car gets repaired…”

“Hop in,” I said cutting him short. “You are lucky. I am heading for a golf course in Gurgaon. The airport is on my way and I have some time in hand. With a small detour, I’ll be able to drop you.”

He was accompanied by a lady who stepped out of the car as we spoke. They sat in my car; the gentleman by my side and the lady on the rear seat. We exchanged niceties. Then the gentleman expressed their profound gratefulness. What he couldn’t express in words, he tried to convey with his body language.

They were in their late twenties; maybe early thirties. Just married. They were on their way to Leh for a honeymoon. The gentleman was a senior executive with a Government of India enterprise. The lady was an NRI settled in the US. She had come to India after decades.

As we drove along, we indulged in polite meaningless conversation, the type we make with strangers to while away the time––we talked about the weather, about the beauty of nature, about global warming, about congestion on the roads… The lady, who was a bit reserved in the beginning, started participating actively.

I was buIMG_3770sy making calculations as I drove; I wanted to be in time for the golf tournament after dropping the couple at the airport. With the mind racing ahead of the car and trying to reach the golf course, I was participating passively in the discussion. But then, the lady said something, which drew all my attention. After thanking me for the lift she said, “I never expected this to happen in India.”

I turned my head for the first time, smiled at her and said: Young lady, it happens only in India.” There was silence.

The silence was broken by the man. He gave a long monologue, which was meant for his sweetheart. He highlighted every good thing that happens in India.

The lady was sheepish when I left the honeymooners at the airport.

Straight from a Goof’s Heart: The “Putting Ball”

It just happened one day half way through the game; on the tenth tee. I hit the ball 60 degrees off the intended line. I thought my stance, swing, follow through, …the works––which I had perfected by playing regularly over a year––were just fine. It didn’t end there; it repeated with every shot thereafter. The error of 60 degrees was a constant. What was disheartening was the inconsistency of the direction, left or right, which made corrective action impossible. I took six strokes to make it to the green (par 4). With shattered confidence, I carefully aligned my ‘putting ball’ and struck. A seven-foot putt just made it to the hole; dead centre. The sound of the ball falling into the cup was music to the ears.

The story repeated on the eleventh, the twelfth and the thirteenth holes––dismal performance along the fairway. But the putts were face-saving. The stance I took to prevent the ball going off the fairway was funny and yet it did not work because I was inconsistent with the direction, left or right. Then there was an assault on my self-esteem as a golfer.

“Sir, I think you need to take a break of a few days and go to the range,” advised my caddie. I took a sip of water and swallowed it as I did the pearl of wisdom given by the caddie. My golfing world was coming crumbling down..

As I trudged to the fourteenth tee, I banged the palm of my left hand with the right fist with the ball in my hand. It was a desperate physical and psychological action to retrieve what ever remained of my confidence. That’s when I found something strange; something weird. I could feel and hear the ball rattling. I shook the ball close to my ear and I could hear tIMG_3928.jpghe rattling more clearly.

“Eureka!” I was playing with an old golf ball. Its core had separated from its shell. And the shell was chipped too. Its dislocated centre of gravity and adversely affected aerodynamics were causing it to travel erratically through the air. Elementary Phisics!

I played the remaining game with my ‘Putting Ball’. I regained my form as instantly as I had lost it. That was the day I threw the idea of a ‘Putting Ball’ from my mind. I started playing with the best ball in my bag. Thanks to friends and dear ones abroad, my stock of new balls never depletes. Very soon I earned a handicap card of 14. IMG_3934Although modest by all standards, it was enviable handicap in that environment.

Lately, my passion for writing has made my visits to the golf course less frequent. I do hit a few balls across a football ground with a pitching wedge to retain my muscle memory. But when I do return to the course (once in a blue moon, though) I feel comfortable betting with friends who use a ‘Putting Ball’.

 The probability of hitting the target is high when one uses the best arrow in one’s quiver.

“Can you make me look like Shah Rukh Khan?”

It was a terribly warm day in mid-May; the outside temperature was in excess of 40C. I had wound up early from the office and was driving back to Noida. I wanted to get home fast. A traffic jam on the Ashram flyover had caused a holdup. I entered the Delhi-Noida-Delhi Expressway and heaved a sigh of relief. “I can speed up now.” I thought. Just then, I saw a man on foot, about a hundred metres ahead, dragging a motorbike.

I stopped by his side, lowered the glass and asked him if I could be of any assistance. He was sweating at each pore. Wiping his forehead, he said, “ Sir, my bike is not starting. I don’t think you can do anything.”

“Don’t tell me you will drag your bike four kms across the DND Flyway in this scorching heat.”

“I don’t have a choice.”

By then I had come out of the car. “Why don’t you lock your bike and come along with me to Noida and get a mechanic.”

“Sir it will be a big exercise, if the mechanic is unable to detect the fault. Besides, he’ll fleece me for coming here. Please do not bother. I’ll manage. Thanks anyway.”

He was in a pitiable condition. I wanted to help him somehow. I had my towrope in the car. And I had had sufficient experience of towing cars––until then I had towed more than sixty cars on Delhi roads. “Would I be able to tow a bike behind my car?” I debated in my mind. “I just have to tow the bike the way I have been towing cars. It is this guy who has to balance the bike.”

“I have a towrope. What if I tow your bike?” I asked him. “Will you be able to manage? It’s a long distance.”

“I can give it a try.” He was hesitant.

“Are you sure? It will be a tad risky.”

He mustered courage and said, “I’ll do it.”

I tied the towrope to his bike and connected it to my car. I then briefed him on the hand signals that I would use along the way. And finally, I briefed him about the likely emergencies, and the actions in those situations. I wished him good luck and settled in my car.

Thumbs up! And we rolled slowly. I gained confidence as we moved. I had an eye on him in the rear view mirror. I gave him another thumbs up; this time, to indicate that I was going to accelerate. He smiled and gave me thumbs up to go ahead. I was tense all along the way, worrying about his safety.

When we reached the tollbooth at the other end of the DND Flyway, I disengaged the bike to get past the barrier and asked him to re-join me on the other side. When we met on the other side, he looked at the IAF stickers on my windscreen and enquired, “Sir, are you from the Air Force.”

“Yes, I am a Wing Commander,” I nodded.

With gratitude in his eyes, he said a few sentences in praise of the armed forces. I cut him short politely and asked him to reposition his bike for towing further, he said that it was OK and that he would manage further. When I said I had no issues towing him up to a mechanic, he said that he had to go close by. “Sir, Thank you so much. Please don’t bother anymore. I have to go to the Film City. It is just here.”

“Do you work there?”

“Yes Sir, I am a makeup artist,” he said with a sense of pride.

IMG_3925I was impressed. I posed to look smart, and winked, “Can you make me look like Shah Rukh Khan?” That question was just for fun; I didn’t want an answer.

He smiled and said, “Sir, you must be joking. Shah Rukh Khan is just an actor. You are a real hero. Does he do what you are doing? If at all, the likes of Shah Rukh Khan must crave to be you; act your role.” He gave a pause and winked back at me and said, “In any case it would be easier for me to make you look like Anupam Kher rather than Shah Rukh Khan.”

We parted on that light note.


Years later…

My book on Operation Cactus had been published (I had participated in that Operation in November 1988). Discovery channel had telecast a documentary on Operation Cactus (they had given me the credit as ‘Episode Consultant’). Bollywood producers had expressed a desire to make a feature film on Operation Cactus.

I was sitting with two producers, a director and a scriptwriter and was discussing the film in Mumbai. I recalled with a sense of déjà vu what the makeup artist had said that day. I thought, “If all goes well, a Bollywood star would be acting my role in the film.”


Making Reluctant Horses Drink Water

Never in a quarter of a century of my service as a commissioned officer had I been so grossly off the mark in gauging the collective behaviour of my men.

It was like this:

The year was 2005. I was commanding the Logistics Squadron at Air Force Station Jalahalli. “Logistics Squadron” was a fancy new term coined for the erstwhile “Logistics Section.” Only the name had been changed, all else had remained same.

On a routine round, I came across an airwarrior preparing a report on a desktop computer. I was taken aback when I saw him typing raw data in the columns of an MS Word Table; then carrying out calculations on a calculator, and finally entering the calculated figures in the last column of the Word Table.

“Sergeant Dhillon, Why don’t you prepare the report using MS Excel?” I asked.

“Sir, I don’t know how to use Excel.”IMG_3915

On more inquiry, I learnt to my dismay that among my staff of close to forty men, just about four or five knew how to use Excel. Most of them were using calculators to produce reports. The three desktop computers on our inventory were being used as dignified typewriters. The reports that were being put up to me had much room for error, errors that would be difficult to detect until the reports were made afresh.

It was a sad state considering that computers were introduced at the unit level in the Air Force two decades ago. Something had to be done to change that uneasy state of being.

Education was the way forward. I mustered my men and addressed them. I told them the advantages of using Excel over the calculator. Briefly, a hundred per cent accuracy was assured and it was time saving too. It was a powerful tool in the hands of a logistician who had a lot of data to handle and to generate reports. In the interest of the Air Force and in their own interest, it was essential that they learnt how to use it. “It is easy, even I can use it,” I said.

I told them that I would soon commence classes of one-hour duration for them. “I want six to eight volunteers for the first batch. Please raise your hands.” I expected at least a dozen hands to go up.

Never in a quarter of a century of my service as a commissioned officer had I been so grossly off the mark in gauging the collective behaviour of my men.

Not one hand came up. It was a rude shock for me. I asked them, “Why don’t you want to learn Excel?”

Very sheepishly one of them said, “Sir, I guess you will conduct the classes in the afternoon. That will eat into our time.”

“I too love my golf in the afternoon. I will conduct classes during office hours,” I laughed, “Your afternoon rest will not be sacrificed. Any volunteers?” People looked at each other; no hand came up. There was something in their minds that they were holding back. I was determined to know: “Why?”

After much needling and nudging (read: “coercing”) Sergeant Mishra opened up, “Sir if we learn MS Excel we’ll get more work to do.”

I was shell-shocked. I did not know what hit me. “My men not wanting to learn something because it would increase their workload? …Did I hear him correctly?” I wondered.

It was a clear case of attitudinal deficiency. Intolerable! Such behaviour was just not acceptable. Letting the men get away with that attitude would amount to promoting inefficiency; nurturing penguins in the Air Force. Something had to be done. “Now! How?” My mind was working in overdrive.

I waited for a brief while till murmuring stopped and men gave me their full attention. “Gentlemen!” I began, “Trust me, if you do not volunteer to learn Excel the Squadron or the Air Force will not come to a grinding halt. The Air Force will continue to fly. I know how to use Excel, and with the four or five men in the Squadron who know it, the work will go on.” I continued.

“But let me tell you. And listen to this carefully….” I gave a long pause. “If you do not learn Excel today, in a few days from now, you will fall in the category of illiterate people. Those of your mates who know how to use applications on computers will be sitting and working in the cosy comfort of air-conditioned rooms… you, who will be illiterate, will be sweeping the floors and dusting the stores. You will be doomed to do menial work.”

“Worse still,” I continued with greater emphasis. “If you don’t learn computer applications today, at a later date, you will not be able to guide your children. Their progress will be slow. They will have to struggle hard to achieve their dreams. You are smart young air warriors, I don’t have to talk of the worst case scenario.” I painted the gloomiest possible picture of their future.

After another long pause, I ended my address to them, “With that I rest my case. Get back to your workstations. Be happy! No Excel for you! Jai Hind!” And with that I walked out of the room very briskly, and returned to my office.

My orderly was awaiting me with the usual cup of tea. I settled in my chair to have it. I had barely taken the first sip when more than a dozen men barged into my office. They stood in a row, saluted smartly and said in a chorus, “ Sir, we want to learn Excel!”

We got down to business; men learnt Excel enthusiastically; there was a sense of purpose. I enjoyed those classes as much as they did.

Epilogue: Months later, one of my equipment assistants who was under posting orders came to me to bid bye. “Sir,” he said with tears in his eyes. “You opened our eyes that day. I have not only learnt Excel, I have bought a PC for my family. I am learning more applications and teaching my children too.”

One can take a horse to the water but to make him drink, one has to whisper things in his ear, which strike the right chord in his heart.

“I’ll hit you!” to “I’ll stitch a lounge suit for you.” in two hours

The planets had conspired to get me on the Ashram flyover that day at that time….

There was more than the usual traffic. Two cars had stopped (one behind the other) in the middle of the road. The drivers were arguing to establish culpability for a prang involving their cars. Having settled the scores, the athletic young driver of the lead car walked back to his vehicle. Unmindful of my car passing his through the narrow passage, he flung open the door. His wrist got caught between his door and the rear view mirror of my car as I was trying to manoeuvre through the passage. He shrieked as the mirror assembly of my car broke and hung by its wires––he was hurt badly.

It was the beginning of a two-hour ordeal.

“Are you blind? You can’t see even with specs on. I’ll hit you!” He raised a closed fist as I lowered the glass.

Here was a youth half my age, threatening to cause me physical harm. It felt as if he was challenging my years of training and grooming in the Air Force. A deluge of memories of my days as an instructor in the Paratroopers Training School and as the Chief Instructor at the Garud Regimental Training Centre flooded my cranium.

It was difficult to hold back the urge to counter rage with rage. His last words were still echoing menacingly in my ears: “I’ll hit you!” I looked piercingly into his eyes and said  calmly, “Please go ahead. Just try.”

I don’t know what did him in. “Get lost!” He said with his clenched teeth; turned and walked back to his car.

I drove off slowly not knowing that the ordeal was not over yet.

The youngster blocked my car at the end of the underpass near Moolchand Hospital. He raised his bleeding wrist and asked, “Who will get me first aid?”

“I will,” was my instant reply. He refused to go along with me to the Air Force Medicare Centre for treatment. So I followed him to a nursing home of his choice. At 8:30 am, the night duty staff were leaving; the day duty staff had not taken charge. They were not in a position to treat him. Half-heartedly, he let me take charge.

I made him park his vehicle and drove him to Moolchand Hospital in my car. He was given first aid and medicines. “Take these tablets after eating something and return for further treatment,” the doctor said handing over the prescription. His wrist had suffered a hairline fracture.

He had calmed down considerably when we reached the cafeteria. “Sir, I’ll have a coffee and half a pizza if you don’t mind having the other half.”

We chatted as we ate. He was Atul Batra (name changed), a fashion designer, educated in London and worked from there; had an office in Delhi too. His father was a retired Inspector General of Police. He was a kick boxer. After we agreed that it was an accident in the true sense of the term, we opened up and talked on more interesting subjects including fashion. Having served as the Assistant Quality Assurance Officer in the Ordnance Parachute Factory––where they manufactured parachutes and a wide range of garments for the Indian armed forces––I had a fair knowledge of garment manufacturing.

Just for fun, I asked him if he knew why the buttons on the garments for ladies and gents were stitched on the opposite sides. He did not have an answer. He guessed that it had something to do with the two lobes (left and right) of the brain, which functioned in diametrically opposite way for the two sexes.

“Did people have the knowledge of difference in the brains of the two sexes in the era when buttons were invented?” I winked as I asked.

“No, people of that era did not have this knowledge about brains.” He looked quizzically at me. “Do you know the answer to that question?”

I told him that when buttons were invented several centuries ago, only the kings and the membeIMG_6640rs of the royal family could afford them. The men folk used to dress up on their own––the buttons were placed on the right side for convenience. The queens and the other ladies of the royal family, on the other hand were assisted by maids. For the convenience of the maids, the buttons on the garments of the queens and the princesses were stitched on the opposite side. The practice has continued.

He was impressed by my knowledge. “I didn’t know that,” he said.

Both of us laughed when I told him that my source of information was Google.

Our interaction lasted two hours. His parting words when I left him by his car were: “Sir I’ll stitch a lounge suit for you.”

An instance of road rage need not always end in broken noses.

Being a Player

The seeds of this endeavour were sown in the December of 1996 when I arrived in Delhi on posting to Air Headquarters. For one like me, who had until then lived in small towns, the transfer was a cultural shock. I was not used to the fast paced life of Delhi. Heavy traffic, growing heavier by the day troubled me most. It was painful travelling every day by the Air Force bus from my home in Noida to the office in Vayu Bhawan and back. It was even worse if one were driving a car. Being stuck for long hours in traffic was a routine, almost. The stretch between Outer Ring Road and Akshardham was particularly bad. The traffic jams could be kilometres long and could take in excess of an hour, at times, to clear up.

Those jams sucked, turning helplessness into a permanent emotion.

The inauguration of the new bridge across the Yamuna, and the road connecting the Ring Road and Akshardham, came as a big respite. I did not enjoy the benefits of it for long. I was posted out to the tranquil town of Tezpur.

Everything had changed by the time I returned to Delhi on posting about eight years later. More than a dozen new flyovers had come up. Infrastructure to support the Commonwealth Games was also nearing completion. Ideally, these developments should have solved the problem of hold-ups in traffic and should have provided succour to the commuters. But the respite was short-lived because Delhi and the NCR had contributed vehicles to the roads at a very high rate.

The infrastructure development fell well short of the need. Traffic snarls returned with a vengeance. They were unpredictable in terms of time and location. The choice was between accepting the situation as it were (fate) or to do something about it. I chose not to be a sorry spectator; but to be a player and to contribute my tiny bit to address the problem.

I had observed that on many occasions the trigger for a jam used to be a broken down vehicle. The recovery van used to take some time to reach the spot and remove the vehicle. Ironically, the jam caused by the broken down vehicle used to hamper its recovery. For the jam to be eased it was imperative that the vehicle be taken away to a location where it would not obstruct the traffic; and it had to be done expeditiously.

IMG_3800I started carrying a towrope with shackles in my car. And, whenever I came across a broken down vehicle causing traffic jam, I started towing it away to a location that would ease the traffic situation. Drivers of such vehicles are always surprised getting help from a stranger and at a time when they need it most (and expect it the least). For me the glow in their eyes is a big reward.

In the last ten years, I have towed more than a hundred vehicles to comfortable locations. In addition, I have helped others looking for assistance on the roadside. Each encounter has been a memorable experience.

Author’s Note: Some of those who were towed/ assisted by me, and some others with whom I have shared these experiences, have resolved to follow suit. Some have even started carrying contraptions (rope and shackles) to provide assistance likewise. The contagiousness of the endeavour has nudged me to write this post and the ones that follow in the Section: “O Delhi!”

Being ‘a spectator’ or ‘a player’ is a personal choice.


Banwarilal was his name––a man my age (nearing 60) but who appeared to be years older. He seemed to have seen 75 summers. He was a gardener and had undergone accelerated aging working in the lush lawns of Lutyens’ Delhi. Squatting on his haunches and working long hours in the sun, had given him a permanent stoop and a dark tan.

We met first when I saw him trudging on the roadside, a walking stick in hand, and had offered him a lift in my car. He was taken aback. He sat on the edge of the seat for that’s how poor people are supposed to sit in the presence of the well-to-do. At least, that’s how Bollywood depicts them. Overwhelmed and full of gratitude in his eyes, he sat quietly looking at the road ahead and occasionally stealing a glance at me.

Baba, kaise ho?” I tried to make him feel easy.

“ I am fine, Sir.”

“Where are you coming from?”

“Delhi Sir. I work in a government nursery.”

A polite meaningless conversation ensued. When I dropped him a kilometre further, he showered blessings as expected.

I saw him again the next day and pulled up by the roadside. He got into the car with a smile. It being the second time, his demeanour was devoid of apprehension. We resumed our conversation. He was immune to governments and governance. His life revolved around his small family––a son, a daughter-in-law and some grandchildren.

It became a routine––the business of me offering him a lift. It was two to three times a week. It continued for over two months. With time he opened up and became talkative. He even offered to take care of my lawn. Then there was a long break. I started car-pooling to the office. As a result our timings did not match any longer.

I forgot Banwarilal.

Until another warm day over three months later…

I returned early and found him again. I stopped the car for him to get in. He wasn’t his chirpy self.

“All’s well Banwarilal?” I asked.

“Not really, Sir. I have not got my pay for three months. There has been some hold-up in the computerised system of payment since de-monetisation drive began.”

“Life must be awfully difficult…” I sympathised.

“Our reserves have touched rock-bottom; life has indeed become very difficult…” he went on. It was a monologue and I was a mute listener. Here was a man tortured by fate. He was silently suffering––not begging for a job or largesse.

A thought engulfed me: “Is there anything I can do for him?”

My chain of thoughts was disrupted when he asked me to stop.

As he opened the door to get out, I asked him if I could give him some money to overcome the crisis in his life.

To be honest, it was a half-hearted offer borne out of my feeling of helplessness to do something to mitigate Banwarilal’s misery. There were two diametrically opposite reasons for my hesitation. One: I was sceptical that Banwarilal might accept the offer and demand a huge amount of money that I would not like to dish out. On my part, I had decided to give him Rs 3000/- an amount that I had just received as remuneration for writing an article for the Defence and diplomacy Journal. Two: Banwarilal might get offended or feel demeaned.

Banwarilal declined the offer. He said that conditions were bad but not so bad so as to seek largesse. It was still possible for his family to stay afloat. I made a counter offer: “If you are determined not to take money, consider it to be a loan and return it to me whenever you are comfortable.

Banwarilal smiled again. With a broader grin this time, he said, “Sir, I am touched by your gesture. But I really do not need money; all I need is your prayers so that there is an end to my misery.

Being rich, poor or well-to-do is but a figment of imagination.