That kind act


A kind act by a stranger got G. Venkatesh reflecting on choices we make each day, to be kind or not. Always better to be kind, as what goes around, comes around, he reasons!

There are some people who leave behind memories which touch you so very deeply, whenever you recall them. They magically uplift your faith in God and the Good. You close your eyes and feel your lingering hope swelling up and boosting your ‘can-do’ spirit. Anand at the Turbhe branch of the State Bank of India is one such person. If I write this piece without any hyperbole, you may dismiss it as mundane. But then the context matters, and the context is usually personal and linked to the past, which for every individual again, happens to be personal. I however, will resort to a fact-reporting style of writing….dismiss it if you like, as banal.

The story begins…

I was in New Mumbai visiting my parents in November, to attend to my father, who was just discharged from hospital. I relieved my brother who had to return to work in the USA, in the process. One of the errands which had to be run was the submission of the so-called ‘Life Certificate’ form at the State Bank of India, the bank in which my father’s pension payments are credited. This form, for those who are not aware, needs to be submitted every year to make sure that the pension payments continue for the next twelve months. However, my father could not make the journey to the bank himself for obvious reasons and I had to go and find out if the bank could send someone home to verify his signature, identity etc.

A little background will help to understand the context here. My life in Mumbai till 2004 (I left the country in 2004), was characterised by delays, frustrations, tiffs with government officials of all kinds, being scapegoated, experiencing many a slip between the cup and the lip…and other things of the same ilk. Hence, when I had to visit the SBI for my father’s sake, I wondered if I could get the task completed for him. What gave me some hope was the fact that whenever it came to fulfilling tasks for others – friends, relatives and well-wishers, my success rate was much greater than that associated with getting things done for myself.

The first person I met at the bank was the busy bank manager, who turned out to be surprisingly extremely kind, and helpful! Well begun is half done! She then called one of the office-boys (office-men rather) and asked him to accompany me the next day in the evening to my parents’ home, and do the necessary verification. I looked at him and realised that it was the same man with whom I had a little tiff when he had asked me to join a queue at another counter where I went to update my father’s bank passbook. I thought that the queue had formed after me, but perhaps I was wrong. Lesson: Be kind to one and all. You never know when you will need someone!

The next day, I had to wait for a little longer than expected but learning from the previous day’s experience, I stayed patient and spent my time designing a crossword on the backside of the receipt I had collected after purchasing ‘idli rava’ on my way to the bank.

Anand joined me at 10 minutes past 5 pm, and we took a rickshaw to my place, which was about 10 minutes away from the bank. En route, he told me that the verification was necessary because the bank had been defrauded in the past many times. He told about sons and daughters who had abandoned their parents, and were actually living on their parents’ pensions! He looked pained and told me that everyday he gets to hear stories like these from at least one of the bank’s customers. We have seen such stories being filmed – we remember actors like Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan portraying old fathers abandoned by their self-serving children. But it is necessary for all readers to realise that these things happen in real life – time and time again! The Big B portraying the father of ungrateful children will attract sympathy, or for that matter, Rajesh Khanna! But how many of us can genuinely feel the plight of old fathers and mothers in real life actually enduring this bitter pain – more bitter than anything you can ever imagine. How many of us will volunteer to light a lamp in the temple or a candle in the church or kneel down on Fridays to appeal to Allah…to bring some peace and comfort into the lives of such old people?

On reaching my home, he was gentle and soft-spoken with my father, and looked pained when he tried to step into his shoes and feel the mental agony and physical pain which comes with old age. In fact, I was getting a bit irritated at my father’s behaviour – not focusing on getting the task done, but beating around the bush, even when he knew that Anand had to get back to the bank with the papers as soon as possible. Anand was patient and made good eye-contact with my father and placing a hand on his shoulder, assured him that everything would be fine. He refused to have coffee or tea which my mother requested him to have before leaving.

When we were returning back to the bank, with the signed documents, he said that he was pained to hear stories about ungrateful children. He told me to remember that if there were living Gods on earth, they were one’s parents. One cannot see God, he said, but one can see one’s parents. And God watches everything. He told me to make use of every single opportunity God would throw my way, to serve my parents…for when there are no more opportunities someday, the pain would be unbearable and one would wish one had done enough. He told me that God would reward me in the future…for my good karma. I thought to myself, and have always done – ‘If I have amassed good karma, I would like to give some to people like Anand, so that God could reward them instead of me. I do not bother if my good karma is exhausted. I will collect more and give it away. And do this ad infinitum, with my only purpose for doing good being the ability to collect good karma (like gold coins) and cross-dock it to good people who are suffering in life.’
I may meet Anand again or not. I do not know. But I will remember him always for his words…his kindness and his advice. Lesson: No matter what, we are all bound together by invisible strings, which manifest themselves when we realise that sorrow, pain, anxiety, fear and worries are common to all of us…by helping others, we help ourselves. Prayers have power. They are potent. And like the invisible strings, they travel through invisible channels to the invisible God all around us (note that I refrain from saying, ‘above in the heavens’ on purpose).

If I can donate my good karma every day, that would be a great source of satisfaction for me! Tickets and passports may be non-transferrable, but surely good karma can be?

G. Venkatesh

G. Venkatesh is Associate Professor, Department of Engineering and Chemical Sciences, Faculty of Health, Science and Technology, Karlstad University, Sweden. He is also a freelance writer for several magazines around the world.