Today, like October 2 every year, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday will be celebrated in India as Gandhi Jayanti. On this day, we will all remember Mahatma Gandhi and speak and write about the values that he stood for. However, how many of us voluntarily practise these values? Not many, I’m afraid.
I had the privilege of knowing SUB, a person who never claimed to be a Gandhian, but who practised many of the values that Mahatma Gandhi practised and preached. Because he was born on October 2, was bald and bespectacled, and was an extremely principled person, SUB was fondly addressed as ‘our Gandhi’ by some of his family members and close friends!
There are numerous incidents that show one or more of SUB’s many admirable qualities, but one stands out because it sounds completely unbelievable!!
SUB had been living with his wife and 3 children in the state capital, a few hundred kilometres away from their home town. A Chartered Accountant, he worked with a nationalised bank, while his wife was a homemaker. In his late forties, SUB quit his job to become a finance and marketing consultant. He retired from all professional activities in his early sixties and devoted most of his time to social activities.
By the time he was in late sixties, SUB’s children were all well-settled in their respective professions and were living in different cities with their respective families. At this point, since most of their family members and relatives lived in their home town, SUB and his wife decided to sell their house in the city and move to their home town to spend their retired life.
Soon after announcing that his house had been put up for sale, SUB received an offer from a potential buyer. The amount offered met SUB’s expectations, but the potential buyer wanted to pay around 50 % of the payment in unaccounted cash. However, SUB wanted the complete payment to be made officially, that is by Account Payee Cheques. This was not acceptable to the potential buyer. A couple of days later, he offered to make the complete payment officially if the total amount was reduced by 35 %. This was rejected by SUB.
The news spread in the local real estate market that SUB wanted the complete payment to be made officially. As a result, very few potential buyers showed interest in buying SUB’s house. Some agreed to make the complete payment officially, but offered 30 % to 35 % lower than the market rate. Others offered 20 % lower than the market rate if 20 % of the payment could be made in unaccounted cash. SUB rejected all offers.
The house remained unsold for over 2 years. During this time, many people close to SUB advised him to be a bit flexible and accept some unaccounted cash payment, but SUB insisted that cash payment, however small, was not acceptable to him as it was against his principles. He was well aware that his unwillingness to compromise on this matter could mean further delays, but he refused to budge. His wife supported his stand even though she was concerned that the sale be completed soon since both of them were not growing any younger. SUB’s children respected their father’s stand of not accepting cash payment, but thought that he was being too rigid. They hoped he would compromise slightly on the price, but maintained a diplomatic silence, knowing fully well that their father would never compromise on his principles.
Finally, about 3 years after first announcing that his house had been put up for sale, SUB received an offer that was about 15 % below his expected price, but with 100 % payment by Account Payee Cheques. He finalised the deal, much to everybody’s relief.
If he had compromised on his principles and accepted 50% of the payment in unaccounted cash, SUB would have got his expected price 3 years earlier, and he would have had to pay Capital Gains Tax on only 50% of the payment. For sticking to his principles, he got a lower price, he paid more Capital Gains Tax and he lost 3 years’ interest on the amount. In all, SUB lost about 40 % because of his honesty!
Whatever amount SUB lost, he lost it knowingly and with a smile on his face! Just like Mahatma Gandhi, SUB cared much more for his principles than for anything else!
It is equally important to note that SUB’s wife and children have never expressed any regret about this ‘loss’, but have always been proud that SUB stuck to his principles!
SUB was truly a Gandhian in thought and deed!
I’d like to ask you something I’ve asked myself several times:
What would you have done if you had been in SUB’s position? Would you have willingly incurred a 40 % loss for the sake of your principles? Or would you have compromised on your principles and justified it by saying, “Everybody does it”?