Money vs. Conscience

Near my office, there is a major market for fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. And I often shop there while coming home from work. Before reaching the main market, there are a number of temporary vegetables and fruits vendors who just sit on the pavement, starting from the bus stop. One such fruit-seller sits just next to the bus stop every evening with the seasonal fruits. He’s an old fellow and normally wears a white dhoti and shirt. He’s probably originally from Bihar side, but speaks fluent Assamese. I started buying stuff from him since the mango season. Almost a couple of months back, one evening I bought a kilo of mangoes. The amount I needed to pay was in multiples of five. I didn’t have a five rupees change and neither did he. Very trustfully he told me that I can pay the balance the next time.

It was not the first time that a vendor/shopkeeper had told me that I could pay the change later. But they are ones who know me and where I am a regular customer. And here was this old man, for whom I was only an occasional buyer, and yet he trusted me to come back and pay him the change later.

Anyways, I was sure that I am going to buy fruits from him in the next couple of days and then make up the due. But somehow I didn’t have to buy anything to buy from him that soon. My mother was here and she used to buy all the fruits near my place. Then I was out of station for sometime. And like that it has been near about two months now. Although I saw him almost every evening and remembered that I owe him, somehow it was left at that. 

But today evening I was very determined that I am going to buy fruits from him. These days, he has been selling  apples and sweet lime. I bought half a kilo of apples and paid him along with the due five rupees. He gave me a wide bright grin and said that he didn’t remembered that I owed him. I said it was a long time ago. He said that in five and ten rupees he has left hundreds to people and he doesn’t always remember. If the buyer had dharma (I think he meant conscience), he/she came back and paid.

I think he was quite bemused that I came to pay such a small amount. He stood up and started narrating this incident to me. Once when it was the season of oranges, a well-dressed man, wearing shoes worth around two thousand rupees, was waiting near his stall. Then the man started eating oranges from him. One by one, he ate four oranges. When the old man asked him to pay for them, he vainly replied that he’s an inspector somewhere (obviously meaning that he’s not going to pay). When the vendor still insisted that he pays, the main replied that he doesn’t have the money. During that time, oranges were quite cheap and the payable amount came to only around twenty rupees. The vendor was obviously annoyed and told the man that he should have said that he doesn’t have money to pay for the oranges before eating. If it had been a single orange, he would have considered, but it was four oranges. Sadly he said to the man that he could walk away without paying but he had sinned. And quite shamelessly, the man walked away.

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