True honesty

My joy came from the toast I raised to an unknown and semi-literate man.

Life’s most inspiring moments often come from the most modest of circumstances and from the least expected quarters of society. Or so it was for me. Returning from an errand, I stopped at a small market in the locality to pick up some fish for the sea-food dinner I had planned. “Four hundred and fifty rupees, madam,” said the elderly fishmonger after processing my order. Rummaging through my purse for change and finding none I handed him a thousand rupee note. While the fishmonger dug into his money box for change, my mind wandered into the variety of dishes I could cook with the freshly cut fish fillets in the packet.

I heard my son’s voice saying ‘fish-fingers,; while my daughter’s emphatic tone, ‘tandoori-fillets,’ echoed in my mind. In this preoccupied state I did not pay any attention to the change that I got from the fishmonger. Thrusting these few rupee notes into the purse, I headed to the car park. As I turned the ignition key, I got a glimpse of the fishmonger in the rear view mirror.  He was running towards my car.  
“Madam, I only gave you fifty rupees, before I could give you the balance you left.  Perhaps you’ve forgotten that you gave me a one-thousand rupee note, here is the balance,” he said handing me a crisp 500 rupee note. Feeling neglectful, I thanked him and offered a tip equalling fifty rupees, for his honesty.  He declined my offer saying, “Madam, honesty has always been my policy.  This is just the way I have worked all my life, if at all you want to do me a good turn, please be my regular customer,” he responded, with the poise of a true gentleman.  I drove back home, richer not just by Rs. 500 that I would have lost had it not been for the honesty of the gentleman, but also by the whole experience of meeting an honest person.

That night, my children did enjoy the dinner of ‘fish and chips’ over some butter-toasted garlic rolls. But my joy came from the toast I raised to an unknown and semi-literate man who defined honesty by his conduct. His weather-beaten face flashed before my eyes, even as I recollected the grace that his personality radiated. I realised then, that age-old virtues when religiously inculcated had the power to transform not just our lives but that of the whole world around us. How true it is, of the words of Thomas Carlyle who said, “Make yourself an honest man and then you may be sure that there is one less rascal in the world!”

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