Two Honest Confessions

I had two interesting encounters during my official tours in the month of November – one in Chennai and the other in Delhi. Both the episodes involved guys coming from a poor background struggling to eke out a decent living. One was an aspiring young taxi driver from Delhi and the other a 55 year old auto-riksha driver in Chennai. Let me narrate the two tales:

The Delhi episode:
The taxi driver was a young guy from Haryana who settled down in Delhi as a driver for the past 5 years. His education is nothing much to speak of. Let me explain how I got into his taxi. I attended a one-day conference in Delhi having taken the morning flight from Mumbai. Having finished with my meetings by 4 pm  at the Habitat centre on the Lodhi road, I was in a hurry to get to the airport. I went to the security watchman’s cabin of the building and sought his help. He promptly offered his services to fetch a cab. He made a call on his cell and instantly a Wagon R zoomed in front of me. I got into the cab expecting that he would switch on the meter. After travelling a kilometer or so, I reminded him to put on the meter. He refused and quietly demanded a fare of 750 rupees. I cried foul and took pains to explain to him that only in the morning I paid 450 rupees from the airport to Lodhi Road by a more luxurious LOGAN (Surely a LOGAN is a much superior vehicle in comparison to a WAGON R). After a heated argument he realized I was not going to budge and came down to 600 rupees, which was still way above the normal fare of 450 rupees. I had to agree for the revised fare since I had no choice and accused him of rank dishonesty. That was enough provocation for him to come up with an elaborate explanation and a honest confession. He said – ‘Yes sir I am fleecing you – but then in Delhi I can’t survive if I am honest, as everyone around me is dishonest and corrupt. kya karega saheb, mujhe security watchmen ko sau rupya dena padta hai- uske baad maalik ko bhi paisa dena padta hai- mujhe kya bachega?’

His point is that the security watchman and the owner of the vehicle are both exploiting him which forces him in turn to exploit me!  But then if one were to probe the matter further and question the security watchman, I am sure he would tell you stories of how badly his employer exploits him. So it’s a chain reaction which is triggered by the rich class after all, to start with. Under the circumstances who is to judge whom? Frankly, I think we are all partners in crime blaming each other of dishonesty!

The Chennai episode:
The encounter I had in Chennai on the following week was somewhat different. I took an auto riksha from Triplicane to the airport. The driver was around 55 years old. He quoted a fare of 300 rupees and finally settled for 275. As I tried to strike up a conversation on the way, the guy made a number of confessions. He said he was a drunkard at one point of time and neglected his family and children. His family got frustrated and finally left him for good when he was in his early fifties. He continued with his old habits for some more years. His health turned very bad and eventually all his drinking friends also abandoned him. Suddenly one day wisdom dawned on him. Apparently he completely stopped drinking as he realized that there would be no one to look after him if he fell ill. Then he went on to share with me his future retirement plans. He would like to work as a lorry driver for a few years, make a few lacs of rupees(!) and then retire with that money. I asked him how on earth could anyone make a few lacs within a few years driving a lorry. He claimed that one could make up to 60000 (yes,sixty thousand rupees per month)as a truck driver. As I listened to his story with an incredulous smile, he gave the following explanation:
I quote-
“I will take ‘cutting’ loads(‘cutting load’ is a Tamil expression for unauthorized part loads on the way), I will make money by taking loads of passengers on the way as I pass through small villages and towns, I will cook up accounts to show high expenses on truck maintenance (isn’t this pretty much the equivalent of ‘creative accounting’ practiced by dishonest corporates)and finally I will take out valuable stuff from the truck loads, sell it and replace the same with fillers(this is what we refer to as pilferage)”

I asked how he could do such atrocious things. He countered me with a strong defence: “Sir, who will take care of me in my old age otherwise. My family has abandoned me. Friends and relatives can’t be relied upon. The transport company is not going to pay me a fair salary. Govt will not care either. I am a driver and all I know is how to drive a vehicle. Under the circumstances, I will be forced to make money only by such means”.
I was at my wit’s end to respond.

Given such a scenario, how can we complain about dishonesty at lower levels(poor class),when the rich don’t care to be honest. The poor have a compulsion to make money by any means, but do the rich have any justification for being dishonest except of course for reasons of their greed?

Published in: on January 21, 2012 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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