Aswathaama Hatha Kunjaraha*

As children, we were taught that integrity was a binary variable. You were either honest or you were not. There were no intermediate values! Until recently, I believed that I practiced this paradigm correctly. Now, I am not sure. But first, a flash-back.
Flash-Back: It was Diwali time, circa 1997. I gave my son what was then a princely sum — I think it was Rs. 500– and asked him to buy fireworks of his choice. He bought all the goodies of his choice and yet had Rs.100 in his hand. He was beaming. “Appa, I saved Rs.100 for us. I bought stuff precisely for Rs.500; but due to the mad rush in the shop, the shopkeeper erroneously gave me Rs. 100 back.” My wife and I were very upset and immediately admonished him to return the money to the shopkeeper. My son was puzzled. “Appa, his prices are exorbitant, he makes super profits and he wouldn’t even know that he missed Rs.100. Why the fuss?” I gave him a stern lecture on the difference between aggressive negotiation and unjust enrichment. He reluctantly agreed. It appeared that our family values had been preserved. For now.
Back to the present: We recently had to register a legal document at a Government Registry. I was the signatory and my wife and son were the witnesses to the document. Although my lawyer had drafted an impeccable document, the registrar kept rejecting the document on illogical grounds. Frustrated, we re-visited the Registry, this time with the lawyer himself. My lawyer demolished all the objections quite easily and got the registrar to sign off, with a smile too! Then we had to follow the rigmarole – get photographed in Counter A, sign register in Counter B, get acknowledgement in Counter C. The ordeal was about to end.
Now the lawyer sprang a surprise – pay Rs.1000 to clerk A, pay Rs.1000 to clerk B, and Rs.200 to peon C — compulsory ex-gratia known as maamool! “You want me to do that in full public view?” I asked. My lawyer said “Of course! It is the done thing here. I would have done it myself; I asked you to do it because I want them to know that I am not making side-money out of you!” By now, I was a robot following instructions. I did exactly as told. Mission accomplished!
I was extremely happy that my complex interaction with the Government succeeded —- Till my son asked me a question that tore my heart asunder. “Dad, why did you pay?” No, it was not the money; it was not about breaking my own rules (God forgive me) either. It was that I shattered a young man’s idealism: something that I had so lovingly nurtured.
I gave him a stoic smile. What would you have done?
*Note: In Mahabharata, “Aswathaama Hatha Kunjaraha” was a technical lie that the once-honest Yudhishtra uttered. He did that to break the stalemate in a bloody war and enabled the Pandavas to win back their kingdom from the Kaurava usurpers.

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2 thoughts on “Aswathaama Hatha Kunjaraha*

  1. Real tough situation. And am curious. When you asked A “What would you have done”?, what did he say?

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