Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Few Good People

Corruption is the flavor of the day and no other issue has captured public attention in the manner that Corruption has. Not surprisingly, in the recent past there has been a spurt in the public expiation of personal wrongdoing by the famous and not-so-famous; and givers as well as takers. I am sharing a personal experience of a slightly different kind.

An important life lesson was learnt on a train one summer evening in 1981.

I was traveling from Ahmedabad- where my parents lived then-to Bangalore (Bengaluru) where I was doing my post-graduation in the Indian Institute of Science. Train connectivity was poor in those days and one had to change trains at Bombay (Mumbai) and Guntakal. Making reservations for all the stages of the journey was a difficult and complicated process. On that trip I did not have a reservation for the Guntakal-Bangalore leg and boarded a reserved coach confident that I could manage the TTE (Train Ticket Examiner) for a berth.

The TTE on this coach was an elderly man and probably close to retirement. As the train pulled out of Guntakal, he got down to the task of checking the reservations. His manner was brusque and businesslike. As he paused in his work, I caught his attention and requested a berth. He told me that the coach was full and that I would have to leave the coach at the station.

I did not give up as I was used to the rapaciousness of the TTEs on the Ahmedabad-Bombay route and assumed that it was only a matter of time before the TTE and I would discuss “business”.  I was the only person in the coach who did not have a reservation; so I rated my chances of success as rather high.

The TTE looked up from his work and was annoyed to see that I was shadowing him.

“What do you want?” he asked, “I have already told you that there is no vacancy.”

I gave him that syrupy, ingratiating smile hoping that he would get the message. He got the message and, in full view of the passengers, gave me a tongue lashing that I have not quite got over even today.

“What kind of a person do you think I am? Do I seem the type who can be bought? Do expect me to make a berth for you with your money? What do you young people think of yourselves? Is this what my country is coming to?”

He went on in this vein and after sometime ordered me to stand near the door and get off at the next station. The alternative was being handed over to the police for traveling without a valid ticket.  Humiliated and defeated, I headed to the door and mentally prepared myself for a sleepless night in a dirty, crowded and smoky coach.

A few minutes later, the TTE called me over and told me to occupy a berth left vacant by a passenger who did not show up. Head bowed, I mumbled my thanks and paid the reservations charges. He made out the receipt and returned the exact change.  He then asked me to join him for a chat at his seat near the door.

By then his demeanor had changed.  His work over, he became a kind and concerned uncle. He apologized for his outburst and went on to criticize his generation for setting a wrong example to young people. He spoke about his own struggle to resist temptation and his isolation among his colleagues. To Mr Sampath- that was name of the TTE- honor and integrity mattered more than anything  else.

Surprisingly, Mr Sampath did not once admonish me for my impudence; nor did he advise me on morals. He spoke simply , matter-of-factly and without rancour. Then we talked about my studies for a few minutes. Soon, it was time for bed. I was tired and wanted to sleep in order to be reasonably alert in class the following morning

“Goodnight, young man,” he said, “do well and bring credit to your family. My shift will end in a few hours and I will be getting off the train when you will still be asleep”.

I went to my berth but, in spite of my exhaustion, could not sleep.

During the course of my career  I realized that things happen not due the “corrupt-but- efficient” many but the dedicated few who place service before self and discharge their duties honestly, diligently and with no expectation of a reward. Whenever I am tempted to take the short-cut, Mr Sampath returns to my mind. I do not claim to be perfect but I have also learned that patience and respect for the rules go a long way in avoiding battles with our conscience. It is people like Mr Sampath who give spine to the struggle against corruption. Without them the Lokpal-or any other- Bill- will remain just one among the countless laws that we have.  Thank you, Mr Sampath, wherever you are.


Hitesh Ashar said...

Good one. I have never come across such a TTE, and always thought that they were to be purchased - nothing wrong with that.

Maybe now I realise my folly. We have all been party to our current state of affairs.

SRINAYAN said...

This was a personal experience that I have not forgotten. Mr Sampath happened to be a TTE. He could have the clerk at the RTO or the ration shop.My point is - we have to cleanse ourselves. Remember that, for every business that has bent the rules to get to the top, there is one that has not compromised on principles to achive success. No names are needed