The diabetic, the valve pin, and the little finger

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: It was a day like any other and I was going through my daily routine of halting at every traffic light as is usual at the morning peak hour.

I had stopped at the traffic lights near the Mysore Railway Station with my eyes intently focussed on the countdown timer waiting eagerly for the red to become green. I noticed him only when he asked me in his very soft and apologetic voice, “Sir, if you don’t mind, can you please drop me off at the Railway Hospital?”

I turned my head to see a stooped, tired looking, elderly man with bright eyes and a prominent and meticulously applied vermillion caste-mark on his wide forehead.

The green light was still a good minute away and that gave me enough time to weigh my reply. A hassle-free and yet honest answer would have been to tell him that I was not headed that way. My destination clearly lay in an altogether different direction. But it seemed like it was going to break into a steady drizzle anytime now and the entire one kilometre stretch from where we were now stationed to the Railway hospital was an uphill road. Therefore, I decided that a slight detour from my intended route would not be too much trouble and opening the offside car door I asked him to get in.

He got into the car slowly and settled down; keeping on his lap the tattered cloth bag that was hitherto slung on his left shoulder. “Thank you very much sir. It is very kind of you. I hope it is not too much trouble for you.”

“No, not at all. Are you a retired Railway employee?” I asked.

“Yes sir, I am a retired Office Superintendent. I re-tired a good seventeen years ago and since I am a diabetic, I go twice a month to the Railway Hospital to collect my Insulin and other tablets. I usually take the city bus from my home to the place from where you picked me up and then I change buses there or ask some kind soul to give me a lift up to the hospital. People usually oblige. Buses on this route are usually overcrowded at this hour and these days an autorickshaw would be prohibitively expensive.”

The slight wheeze in his voice gave me the impression that he was perhaps an asthmatic too and made me relieved and happy that I had taken the trouble to give him a lift.

“Is the treatment at the Railway Hospital good enough for you to go there all the way from your home twice a month?” I asked.

“It is not too bad and besides, we get all the drugs free of cost. You know, these days no specialist will see me for anything less than a hundred rupees at least.”

He was right. That was my consultation fee too.

“Sir, in the good old days doctors used to feel a patient’s pulse before treating him. Now-a-days they only feel his purse. All the nobility that was attached to their profession is now gone, but I do not blame them. This is Kaliyuga and this is how things are destined to be. It has all been predicted long ago in the puranas and worse days are yet to come. We cannot and should not blame anyone for following what is predestined. We are all just helpless pawns in this game of life and death. By the way sir, what do you do?” he asked abruptly.

It was a rather sensitive question for me, especially after he had just told me about his not-so-high opinion about us doctors but I knew it would come up eventually. I pointed at the red-cross sticker on my windshield. That was expectedly an unexpected jolt for him and I could see his discomfort through the corner of my left eye even as I was driving. He immediately turned to me with both hands held up in a Namaste and said “I am extremely sorry sir; I did not mean to hurt you with my rather careless remarks. I sometimes talk too much.”

“Don’t worry, you have only uttered the truth,” I reassured him with a smile. But he still seemed very ill at ease and perhaps to switch to a more comfortable subject for me he asked me about my family and also briefly told me about his. He also told me where he lived and how he had very good and helpful neighbours and when I soon turned into the driveway of the Railway Hospital, he seemed to be greatly relieved.

After I stopped the car and as I was helping him to open the door, he said, “Sir, you have done me a great favour today. May God bless you.”

“I have done very little to help you and it was really no trouble at all,” I said.

“But sir, very often it is the little things in life that matter most. For example, your car is a very expensive thing but can you please tell me which is its most important part?”

That seemed like a not-so-simple question but to get the right answer from him quickly I said, “The brakes.”

“Pardon me sir, but you are wrong. It is something much, much smaller than that. It is the tiny valve pin that holds the air in your tyres and it costs only a rupee each. Without it, this car that costs so many lakhs of rupees would be useless. Your little act of kindness is just as important to a helpless man like me.” This was a revelation indeed and I nodded my head in agreement.

“Good deeds always bring their rewards sooner or later. You see, I was always a very obedient son to my parents. When I was a little boy, my grandmother was very sick and bedridden for a very long time before she died. I was the one in our family who used to bathe and feed her before going to school every day. She used to always bless me and say that one day I would get a secure job, a very caring and affectionate wife and two obedient sons.”

“Every one of her predictions came true. I now have my own small house and my wife and children look after me very well. My sons who hold good jobs offer me money very liberally but I always refuse, saying that I am not able to spend even my monthly pension fully. For having such a caring heart, you too shall be blessed with everything good in your life. Please mark my words and do visit my humble abode sometime with your wife and kids. There is a lot more to tell you and it will be a pleasure to have you as my guest as every guest is just ano- ther God.”

With these words, he got down from the car and with his hands held in a second namaste he said, “As I already told you, I sometimes talk too much but there is one last thing I would like to tell you to illustrate the greatness of small things, before you go.”

One day very long ago, it appears the five fingers of a man’s hand began to quarrel. The thumb claimed that it was the most important as without it the other five fingers were almost useless. The index finger said that it was the most important as it was the pointing finger. The middle finger remarked that it was the most important as it was the longest. The ring finger proudly said that it was the most important as the most expensive gold and diamond rings were always worn on it.

Hearing all this the little finger felt deeply hurt and tearfully complained to God that he had never given it any role and had also made it the smallest. God smiled and said: ‘do not feel bad little one. You may be small in size but when a person folds his hands in prayer and stands before me, you are the one that is always closest to me!’

With these final words of wisdom and comfort, my self-made sage took leave and turned away. I sat mesmerised for a long while, blankly gazing into the distance and pondering over our brief but enlightening interlude before driving away.

Life might have indeed become a rat race for most of us but the good thing about it is that if we take time off to do an occasional good deed it often ends up offering us unexpected nuggets of happiness and comfort.

K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a column in Star of Mysore where this piece originally appeared

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