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Posts Tagged ‘large-heartedness’

(Based on a True Incident)

A retired couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sharn were living in a small town in India. The ancestral house they were living in was over a hundred years old. The walls of the house were falling apart. There were big cracks in the staircase and floors were unevenly inclined. Under the circumstances, they thought that it was high time to go for its repair. The job looked very expensive besides being exhausting and strenuous. But the condition of the house left them with no choice. They finally called for a mason.  He agreed to come the next day with two other labourers.

The workers started the job. On the second day the two labourers arrived to work fifteen minutes late. Showing her frustration, Mrs. Sharn asked them the reason for being late. Humbly and meekly, they said, “Madam, we both come from a village, twelve miles away from the town. Today the tire of one of our bicycles got flat. We usually aim for reaching to work fifteen minutes early. It takes us around one hour to cycle to the town. But today we had to get the bicycle repaired.” Mrs. Sharn shrugged her shoulders and left them to work.1

 In the afternoon the couple found that the labourers finished their lunch fifteen minutes early and got back to work. Perhaps they were trying to compensate for the delay which had happened that morning.

In India, the supply of labour is much more than the demand. Therefore people quite often change the labourers, depending on whether or not those workers are suitable for them. The worker often comes to know at the end of the day if he will be coming to work the following day.

So, at the end of the day, before taking their leave, both the workers came to Mr. and Mrs. Sharn to seek approval if they could continue tomorrow. Mr. Sharn nodded in consent and the labourers’ faces filled with relief.

The next morning the workers were at the site almost fifteen minutes early and started their work without wasting a single minute. Mr. and Mrs. Sharn were living in the same house during the repairs although they confined themselves to one portion to facilitate the repairs. Quite often, they would go and stand at the worksite to monitor and sometimes to supervise. The third day when Mrs. Sharn was at the site, she happened to notice the contents of one of the labourers’ lunchbox. There were two big and thick rotis (Indian home-made bread). That was it. When they were eating their lunch in the afternoon, she couldn’t help but take a peek. She saw that both of them had the same thing for lunch and they were dipping their morsels in water before eating them, perhaps to soften and to make them easier to chew. She came back to her room but could not stop thinking about it.

 While eating her own lunch with Mr. Sharn, she told him about what she saw. They looked at their own plates cooked vegetables, hot lentil soup, yoghurt, salad and fresh, buttered rotis. Two pieces of Indian sweets lay on the side for their dessert. It was their usual, delicious lunch. But that day, none of them enjoyed the lunch. The thought of what someone else was eating a few yards away from them seemed to have taken away their appetite.

In the evening when the two workers came to them for approval to continue the next day, the couple told them, “We are happy with your work. You won’t need to seek approval every day. You can continue until the renovations are over.”

Later that evening when the couple sat for their dinner, they were a little uneasy. There was an uncomfortable silence. All of a sudden, Mrs. Sharn said, “Okay. Starting tomorrow, I will be serving two cooked curry vegetables to the workers. I will also make a salad for them, and give them a bowl of yoghurt each”.

Mr. Sharn smiled. He said, “I was thinking on the same lines. It is as if you stole my words.”

Both of them seemed as happy as if they had just won the lottery. They realized in that moment how making someone happy gives more joy than anything else in the world.

The next day Mrs. Sharn woke up early. She went into the kitchen and started her preparations for lunch. She forgot to eat her own breakfast in the excitement. The lunch was ready before time and she served it to the labourers during their lunch time. Their faces lit up at the sight of the warm, fresh food. After they had eaten, Mrs. Sharn came back to her room, taking the empty dishes back. She felt some weakness in her legs. She sat on the chair, tired.  She had skipped breakfast and had not taken her usual late morning rest which her body needed at that age. At the same time, what she had done today for the labourers was not a one-day thing. She knew that they would be working for around two months and she wanted to serve them lunch every day.  The thought made her feel very strong on the inside. She felt a lot of contentment and the pleasant feeling of fulfillment. She promised herself that she would try and take care of herself as well, until the construction work continued.2

 Days kept on passing. The work was progressing well each day. The kind-hearted Mr. Sharn was also complementing his wife’s goodness by bringing the labourers some sweets or snacks every other day for their tea-breaks. The workers too put extraordinary efforts in return.

In a couple of weeks, the weather started changing, the winds started getting cooler and the days started getting shorter. Mrs. Sharn was more concerned about the workers now. She would say to them, “Why don’t you end your shift ten minutes early? I am worried about your travel back to your village on those bicycles during the dark, chilly evenings.”  Most of the times, they would listen. Sometimes when they were engrossed deeply in their work, they would still finish the task at hand before going.

The renovation was almost complete now. The work was in its last week and it had been done well. One day Mrs. Sharn expressed a desire to her husband. “I am afraid that the labourers might not have any warm clothes to wear. If they did, they would have started wearing them by now. It’s quite cold. I want to give each of them a warm set of clothes. Also, some of our grand-daughter’s toys are lying in pretty good condition. Even when she is here, she seldom plays with them. Why don’t we give some of those for the labourers’ children?”  Mr. Sharn liked the idea.

Without wasting any more time, they dashed to the market to buy clothes for their workers. The shopkeeper was a friend of theirs. He asked the purpose for the shopping. When he came to know, he started showing them clothes of an inferior quality, thinking that those would suffice. Mrs. Sharn did not like the shopkeeper’s intention. She said, “Please show us something durable and warm. You do realize that these workers have to stay out in the cold for most of the day, don’t you?” Finally, they got what they wanted.

There were only a couple of days before the work ended. Mrs. Sharn thought that it would be a pleasant surprise for the workers when she gives them the clothes and toys along with their final remunerations on the last day.

On the last day of work, she joined Mr. Sharn when he was about to give them their final payment.  As an ongoing practice, Mr. Sharn asked the labourers the number of days they worked during that week. Although he knew that he had to pay them for seven days, still he used to ask them about that every time, to ensure there was no oversight. The labourers looked at each other this time. One of them nodded. The other one cleared his throat and said, “Sir, we need to get paid for six days this week.”

3Mr. Sharn got confused for a moment. He took out his glasses from one of his pockets and a small pocket-notebook from the other. His wife was witnessing the whole thing silently. After turning a few pages forward and backward, Mr. Sharn said, “According to my records, you worked for all the seven days.” The workers confidently replied, “No sir, six days this time. Not more, not less.”

Mr. Sharn was also a stubborn man who wanted to do things the right way. In a firm, yet gentle tone, he said, “My friends, the information in my notebook cannot be wrong.”

When the labourers realized that the dispute is not going anywhere, one of them spoke hesitantly with his head bent down, “Sir, we know that we have worked for seven days. But… both of you have taken very good care of us, so we wanted to give you something in return. We didn’t have much to offer. So you can just keep our one-day’s pay.”

The couple was totally stunned and speechless. The labourers’ generosity of spirit had made the couple feel small. Mrs. Sharn, who wanted to surprise the workers by giving them their packages of clothes and toys, had no idea that such a huge and touching surprise had been awaiting her. She realized that the significance and worth of the gift which the workers wanted to give them was much more than what the couple had planned for them. Mr. Sharn managed to pay the workers for seven days despite their resistance. Mrs. Sharn now offered the gifts, pleading the workers to accept and oblige.

In the end, the couple was left with a strange feeling. The experience had moved them deeply. It seemed there were some inexplicable divine powers that make the poor so generous and large-hearted. The richness that they had just witnessed the richness of the hearts and minds, the willingness to give up the little that they possessed made the couple wonder,  “We are called ‘rich’ and yet, aren’t we poor? So poor! And they? They, in their tattered clothes, are ever so rich!

‘The word ‘rich’ pales in comparison to who they are. And yet, it is them that the society calls ‘poor’?”

~ Prashant Shori

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