By Ranbir Parmar
“It is a strange world, Sir. Here earthworms have to prove that they are earthworms, not snakes”. I am reminded of this, and the man who said it, whenever some stranger comes to my rescue.
An army friend had come to Delhi to get his wife treated of a kidney stone. I accompanied them to the hospital. We waited in the visiting room while laser-generated shock was being administered to the patient. The doctor came out to say, “Another shock will be necessary to dissolve the stone. If you deposit the fee and bring the receipt in an hour, I can give the shock right now.
There was a problem. The fee for a single shock was Rs.6,000. Neither of us had that much money with us and the banks would have closed for the day. My friend had to return to Ladakh within a week and, if the shock was not given that day, we would have to wait for weeks for the next appointment.
Anxiously, we walked to the administrative wing and told the accountant our problem. He studied our faces and after a few questions, issued a receipt for the amount on our assurance to pay him the money next morning.
When we returned, the doctor was chatting with my friend's wife. He shook my friend's hand warmly, “A pleasant surprise, captain. Your wife is the daughter of a dear friend whom I've not met for 10 years. I shall give this second shock free of cost. Get this receipt cancelled and take your money back”.
Glad at this turn of events, we again went to the accountant. He took the receipt, put it away, and resumed posting entries in a ledger. My friend was suspicious, “But Sir, you have not cancelled the receipt?”
Looking up, he said “Captain, you haven't paid me anything. Your work has been done. It matters little to you if I cancel the receipt or not. You may leave now”. For days after that my friend maintained that the accountant had ulterior motives and that babus were know to be greedy and corrupt.
A month later, on a visit to the hospital, I met the accountant and asked him casually about his odd behavior that day. He replied in a matter of fact tone, “Your friend was in distress, I helped him, even took a risk that I could not afford. Yet, he suspects my motives”.
Taking a deep breath, he added in a sad tone, “It is a strange world, Sir. Here earthworms have to prove that they are earthworms, not snakes”.