Many years ago, I was working as a Chief System Analyst. The job involved a lot of travelling for project work, sometimes to a small village, sometimes to a neighbouring city. Often, work compelled me to travel on holidays as well.
One particular Friday, I was looking forward to the weekend. The coming Monday was a holiday for some festival and taking advantage of the long weekend, my sisters and I had decided to meet at our grandmother’s house in our native Shiggaon. Sunday was a full-moon night and a special moonlight dinner was going to be arranged for us.
Moonlight dinners are favourite family occasions for the people of northern Karnataka.
We were all in a hurry to wind up for the day when I heard someone calling out, ‘Kulkarni! Can you come to my office?’
My heart sank. It was my boss calling me by my maiden name, and judging by his tone, the matter was urgent. Even though I was on my way out of the office, I stopped to enquire what he wanted.
‘Sorry for disturbing you, but your service is required urgently,’ he said, handing over a letter for me to read. It said that I had to visit a project site within the next two days.
‘No problem at all, sir. I shall attend to it,’ I said. I was used to working throughout the week, so cancelling my travel plans didn’t bother me. My work gave me more happiness than any celebration or outing.
The next morning, I left for the small town where the project was based. By the time I reached the town it was already noon, but it looked as though the day had just begun there. The shops were just opening and folks were setting out to work.
As I was walking from the bus stand, a young lad hurried towards me and said, ‘Sorry I am late, ma’am. I was supposed to receive you at the bus stop.’ He was our clients’ representative and had come to take me to their office.
We reached the office after a few minutes’ walk. It was a small office. Though by no means modern, it was neatly furnished with some old but reconditioned furniture, everything in its right place. They were all waiting for me and I felt comfortable as I sat down. The cool buttermilk they offered me was most refreshing.
Before beginning my work, I was introduced to a neatly dressed young man who was supposed to coordinate with me. He was quite well-mannered and seemed very confident and bright. I was pleasantly surprised to see the good quality of his work. It had a professional touch. I was told that he was the most well-read man in that town.
He had documented his work very well and efficiently. Because of this, our job was completed sooner than expected. I did not forget to compliment him when I was about to leave. He went pink at my appreciation and insisted that I join him for tea at his residence nearby.
His house was also well kept. By teatime his conversation had taken on a personal note. He talked about his parents, his job. He introduced his wife and two-year-old son. He spoke with admiration about his wife’s cooking, her beautiful voice, her achievements during her school days. Then he called for his son who immediately came in and stood by my side with folded arms, almost as if he had been trained to do so. As soon as his father asked him to recite a rhyme, he started to do so in his clear, childish voice.
I acknowledged his recitation by nodding my head. The father did not seem satisfied with such nominal recognition of his son’s talents. He asked the child to identify all the letters of the alphabet from an old chart hanging on the wall.
These are things that children usually hate to do, yet parents continue to force them. Poor kids!
The demonstration in my host’s house went on for nearly half an hour until the child began to show signs of restlessness and irritability. The mother, wisely, took him away to the kitchen, hopefully to reward him with a chocolate or a biscuit.
I realized that the father was expecting to hear some compliment from me about his son. ‘Your child is very bright for his age,’ I said. ‘Naturally! I have trained him like that from infancy,’ he said with pride. It sounded like he had been training his two-year-old child from the day of his birth!
‘So you feel that it is only by training that a child can become bright like this?’ I asked. ‘No, no. Heredity and genes also play an important role. My son has taken after me.’ His face shone with pride and I was curious to hear more. After all, I had an hour to spare before my bus departed.
‘You must have been a good student in your college days?’ I probed.
‘Yes, I was always a first-ranker in my school and college days,’ he replied, clearly appreciative of himself.
‘Where did you graduate from?’ ‘I graduated from BVB Engineering College, Hubli.’
I became alert. I knew Hubli. It was my college. ‘Which year?’ I asked. ‘In 1972, with the first rank.’
‘Did you secure the gold medal also?’ I persisted. ‘Yes, I did obtain the gold medal for that year,’ he said, glowing with self satisfaction.
By this time I was able to size him up quite clearly. And what I saw saddened me.
‘May I see your gold medal?’ I inquired. Suddenly, the mood in the room changed. ‘Why? Don’t you believe me?’ His voice was uncertain.
‘No, I just want to see the gold medal you secured in 1972,’ I repeated. ‘It is very precious to me and so I have kept it in a bank locker,’ he said. I did not give up. ‘Which bank?’
‘Why should I give you such details?’ he demanded, annoyed with my persistence. Everything was clear by now. I think it was clear to him too. The warmth of hospitality was gone. It was time for me to go. While walking towards the door, I said, ‘I don’t have to know any of the details about your bank or gold medal. It’s none of my business. But I am sure that the medal cannot be with you.’
‘How can you say that? And that too so confidently?’ He was quite angry by now. ‘Because,’ I told him sadly, ‘I secured that gold medal in 1972 and only one gold medal is awarded each year.’
He was stunned by this revelation and stared blankly at me.
I looked at him and asked gently, ‘You are bright. You are good in your job. Why do you have to lie? What do you gain from it?’
The click of the front door shutting behind me was the only reply I received.