Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar and Vijay Merchant are the only 3 cricketers who have had the honour of having stands at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium named after them. Vijay Merchant is considered by many as India’s best ever opening batsman, better than Sunil Gavaskar. That question remains unresolved. But, there’s absolutely no doubt that Vijay Merchant was a very fine human being. Today, on his 102nd birth anniversary, I am sharing a heart-warming and thought-provoking incident involving my friend Ramesh (name changed) and the late Mr. Vijay Merchant. (Please also read about Mr. Vijay Merchant on dnaindia.com, mid-day.com, espncricinfo.com, and this piece by Sunil Gavaskar)
Ramesh was ecstatic! He had passed the written test with flying colours. Now, only the medical examination remained before he received his Appointment Letter. He had no doubt the medical examination was just a formality for a fitness-conscious person like him. During the few months he had worked as a temporary employee with this multinational company in Mumbai, he had always dreamt of permanent employment in this company. Now his dream was about to come true!
Three days later, his dream was shattered! While he was totally fit in all other respects, the medical examination revealed that only his right eye was good; his left eye was affected by a condition called ‘Lazy eye’. Hence, he had failed the medical examination and could not be offered permanent employment.
Ramesh and his parents were heartbroken. Getting a job was extremely difficult. It would become even more difficult as he grew older, with younger people joining the already huge number of ‘educated unemployed’. His father was nearing retirement age. His younger brother was still in college. They were totally demoralised.
That Sunday afternoon, as the family listened to their favourite radio programme, “Cricket with Vijay Merchant”, Ramesh saw the first faint flicker of hope. He remembered that Vijay Merchant had helped many handicapped persons secure employment. Ramesh’s family friend, Mr. Joshi had some connection with Mr. Merchant’s social work. Ramesh and his parents met Mr. Joshi that evening. Mr. Joshi assured them that he would arrange a meeting with Mr. Merchant. The next day, Mr. Joshi asked Ramesh to meet Mr. Merchant at his office at 11.00 am on Tuesday, the very next day.
Ramesh had butterflies in his stomach! It was the first time he was meeting a famous person! The butterflies vanished the moment he entered Mr. Merchant’s room and was greeted by a smiling and fatherly Mr. Vijay Merchant. After spending a few seconds on pleasantries, Mr. Merchant asked Ramesh for the details of his case. As Ramesh spoke, Mr. Merchant kept writing on a sheet of paper, interrupting Ramesh a few times to ask for some details. Finally, he said, “Ramesh, I will write a letter to the General Manager of the company. I will send you a copy of the letter. I think I will be able to convince him to offer you a permanent employment. However, if that does not happen, don’t worry. Please meet me again. I will arrange a suitable job for you, either in my own company or in some other company. The salary will be considerably less than what you are being offered now, but at least you will be able to open your professional innings!”
Two days later, Ramesh received the copy of Mr. Merchant’s letter addressed to the company’s General Manager. Please click on the image to read the letter, which shows Mr. Merchant’s humility, politeness and meticulous approach. Note how nicely he cited the appropriate example of Tiger Pataudi to further Ramesh’s case!
The next day, Ramesh received a letter from the company asking him to meet the Personnel Manager at 3.00 pm on Monday. When he met the Personnel Manager at the appointed time, he was given his Appointment Letter. Ramesh was ecstatic again!
As soon as he completed the meeting with the Personnel Manager, Ramesh went to a public telephone, called Mr. Merchant’s office and requested for a meeting with Mr. Merchant. He was asked to come at 10.30 am the next day. That evening, Ramesh and his parents went to Mr. Joshi’s house with a box of sweets and thanked Mr. Joshi for his help.
At 10.30 am the next day, Ramesh was greeted by the same smiling face. Ramesh gave Mr. Merchant the good news, offered him a box of sweets and thanked him. He was concerned to see Mr. Merchant’s eyes were watery, and shocked when Mr. Merchant said, ‘Ramesh, you are the first person who has come here to thank me after the job is done.’
I have thought a lot about this statement of Mr. Merchant’s. As far as I know, before Ramesh met him, he had helped hundreds of young men and women secure employment. I find it disturbing that not even one of these persons or their family members had thanked Mr. Merchant after receiving his help. I’d like to give them the benefit of doubt by saying that, being handicapped persons, they found it difficult to travel all the way to his office to thank him. But, if that is so, how did they manage to travel to the same office to ask for his help?
Ramesh joined this company in ‘Staff’ cadre, worked conscientiously, constantly increased his knowledge and qualifications through part-time and distance courses, moved up the ladder, and retired as an ‘Executive’ 36 years later. A journey of a thousand miles (or 36 years) begins with a single step. Sometimes, the first step is the most difficult. In Ramesh’s case, the first step was possible only because of Vijay Merchant who was both a great cricketer and a great human being!