At two years of age, my grandfather lost his father and his mother died when he was nine years old. His two elder sisters were married into well off families. Yet they did not agree to pay his school fees of five rupees per annum. He could not study beyond class five. The young boy was adopted by a village carpenter who trained him. At eighteen years of age he was a skilled carpenter. To his good luck, the First World War started. There was a great demand for skilled manpower. He joined the railways. But, his quest for knowledge remained unsatiated and he pursued his interest in promoting education to the under privileged.
He married and settled in Amritsar as a factory manager. My mother was their only child. When she went away to Delhi to study medicine, the house became lonely. He adopted a small orphan boy Gurcharan. The young boy was very intelligent and dedicated. Once, grandfather gave him twenty five paisa to spend at the village fair. When Gurcharan came back from the fair in the evening, he had fifty paisa. On enquiring he replied, “Papa ji, I bought five pencils for twenty fine paisa and sold only four of them for twenty five paisa. I was saving one pencil on every sale. By the evening I had doubled the money you gave me”. There is saying in Hindi, “Honhar birwah ke chikne, chkne paat“. He had sharp business acumen even at this young age. My grandfather realized, “Yeh lambi race ka ghora hai” (a long distance runner). He wanted him to study and join government service. Gurcharan studied till class ten and stayed with my grandfather, and then one day he just vanished without informing. He did not return, nor did he contact again.
Cut to 1965: I had come to visit Ludhiana with my grandfather. While walking in the market we heard someone calling “Papa ji, Papa ji”. There was a man in his thirties who came and protracted before my grandfather. He hugged my grandfather and started to cry. “Papa ji, you have not recognized me? I am your long lost Charna”. He took us to his shop, the signboard on his shop read “Waqt- kal kisne dekha” (Time- who has seen tomorrow). It was a big show room selling watches and clocks. He filled in with his life story since the time he left the house; he had become a successful businessman. He said “Papa ji, I am sorry that I did not inform you before leaving. You would have never let me go. I know you wanted me to study and join the government service, but I always wanted to do business”. We were at his shop for an hour and as we got up to leave, he presented a watch to my grandfather saying, “Papa ji, I owe this to you for all you did for me”. Papa ji thanked him for the gift and holding the watch said “Charna, you want to return the time I spent on you”. Gurcharan felt sheepish and apologized. Then my grandfather told him, “If you want to return me the time I spent on you, then you must invest it in educating another boy”. Returning the watch, my grandfather took that promise from him, as we walked out of his shop.
Walking back to the bus stand, his hands on my nimble shoulders my grandfather said, “Did you notice the clocks in the shop. The second’s needle goes in very fast circles. It rotates sixty times before the minute needle moves a step. The minute’s needle in turn rotates sixty times before the hour needle moves a step. The second’s needle operates fastest but covers the least time. Zindagi mein lambi race ka ghora ban na (In life, be a long distance runner).
These small lessons learnt with my grandfather left an indelible impression on my mind since childhood. The gift should be what the others need, not what you want to discard.