The inn-keeper

“If you are ruled by the mind you are a king...” a unit of Cato the Elder’s quote goes. I have always vouched for a similar philosophy: Kings are made, not born. My notion found evidence in Rajasthan. After a tiring journey from Agra during which I drowsily dreamt of a pot-pourri of sand-dunes, spices and desert roses, we had reached Jaipur, its periphery to be precise. With trepidation we approached a seemingly decrepit lodge. One step inside and we blinked, incredulous. It was furnished with exquisite marble, breath-taking chandeliers, carved railings and antique brass-bolts.
At the centre of the lobby stood the stately elderly inn-keeper; long of limb and straight of back. His habiliments were ordinary: he had an old shawl thrown over shirt and trousers and held an ancient lantern in hand. During the next three days we were to witness his solicitude and chivalry. Apparently a relative of the proprietor of the lodge, he was given charge of it. He seemed to have little or no formal education.
In spite of having listed an impressive array of facilities like delicious food, geyser, etc, the equipment in the lodge was nearly nil. The inn-keeper with great alacrity fetched us food from outside, swept our room, changed the sheets and even hauled buckets of water (which he heated downstairs) to our room in spite of our staunchly requesting him not to take the trouble. Come tea-time and the inn-keeper would fetch tea in polythene bags from a shop (the hotel didn’t have a flask).

His son was on duty in the mornings. He was an unprepossessing youth who knew no scruples. The fellow seemed suspiciously eager to do everything for us: book over-priced movie tickets, take us to exorbitantly priced restaurants et al. When he brought tea, my parents and I looked ruefully at quarter cups that we got. “Where is the rest?” we wondered. In all probability the young man had gulped it down!
We were to check out the next morning. A chronic worrier by nature, I tossed and turned in my cot. “What’s the matter?” my mother asked. “The son is going to be on duty in the morning... we’ll have to settle the bills with him. I am wary of any hocus-pocus.” “I wish his venerable father was on morning duty instead,” both my parents voiced.
Early next morning the inn-keeper walked into our room before handing keys over to his son. Much to our awe, he mouthed what we wanted to hear. “Would you like to settle everything with me or my son?” he asked with subtle tact. “With you”, we chorused. Maybe he was aware of his son’s ways, maybe not. But it seemed like he had successfully managed both: refuting his son’s reputation and doing right by his customers. The bill was soon settled with honest precision. We thanked him heartily. He accepted our gratitude with dignity and left with a gracious namaste.
As we were left beholding his retreating form, I felt as if I had indeed come across a king in Rajasthan, which literally means the land of kings.

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