Relationships: a truly heart-warming incident

I am re-posting, with a few changes, The cup of coffee, which was originally posted on July 30, 2013.

“He’s a Maharashtrian,” said the Maharashtrian.

“No, he’s Saraswat,” said the Saraswat.

“Boss, forget all that! He’s a Mumbaikar,” said the Tamil-speaking Mumbaikar.

“Don’t forget his wife is Gujju,” said the Gujarati.

To add fuel to the fire, I added, “What about the fact that his mother-in-law is British?”

A few of us were discussing Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th International Hundred. All were in ‘Apnaa aadmi’ mode, each person trying to claim Sachin as his own man! All in good humour, of course.

This set me thinking. How many people would have claimed, in good humour or otherwise, the same Sachin Tendulkar as their own man when he was just another cricket-playing youngster? Everybody loves to be associated with rich, successful, well-connected persons, but how many people reach out to a struggler or a nobody?

I remember my own experience when I moved alone to a new city on a transfer over 25 years back. I had never visited that city earlier. I did not have any relatives or friends there. Since I worked in a capital equipment sales and service company, I met a large number of people in the course of my work, developed good personal rapport with many of them, but unwritten company policy was professional relationships remained professional unless there was a prior personal connection. I did meet a few persons with whom there was some earlier connection (same community, same ‘home city’, friend’s friend, etc.), but nobody seemed enthusiastic about reaching out to a 20-something newcomer to their city, and I didn’t want to impose. My neighbours were helpful, but not exactly friendly.

One day, a few months after I had shifted to this city, I met my customer, the General Manager – Projects of a leading automotive ancillary at the airport. I was on my way to Mumbai, while he was flying to Delhi. There was another gentleman with him, whom he introduced as his Executive Director. When I handed my Business Card to the ED (let’s call him Mr. K), he immediately broke into a huge smile and said, “Hey, your family name is the same as mine!” He asked about my family tree and looked disappointed when he realised that we were not related. By then, their flight was ready for boarding. He gave me his Business Card and told me to drop in at his residence whenever convenient. He also told me to meet him whenever I visited their Company so that we could “chat over a cup of coffee”.

I had to meet the GM-P the next week. After completing our discussion, I went to Mr. K’s office, handed my Business Card to Mr. K’s secretary and asked to meet Mr. K. The secretary asked if I had an appointment. When I replied in the negative, he asked me what I wanted to discuss with Mr. K. I replied, “I just want to say Hello to him. It’s just a courtesy call.” Now, Mr. K was the Big Boss in that Company. Can you imagine anybody walking into the Prime Minister’s office and asking to meet Narendra Modi “just to say Hello”? The secretary was perplexed! I could almost hear him thinking, “Is this guy mad?” But, he had seen my family name was the same as Mr. K’s. He picked up the intercom, dialled a number, and spoke, “Sir, one Mr. K from XYZ Ltd. wants to meet you. He said it’s a courtesy call.” Within a few seconds, Mr. K walked out from his room, shook my hand, and said, “I’m sorry I’m in a meeting. Is this only a courtesy call, or is there anything specific you had to discuss?” When I said it was only a courtesy call, he replied, “My meeting will go on for some time. So there’s no point in your waiting. I’m sorry I can’t spend time with you now. But please do meet me the next time you come here.”

Two weeks later, I visited that Company again to meet the GM-P. Again, after completing our discussion, I went to Mr. K’s office and asked Mr. K’s secretary if I could meet Mr. K, just a courtesy call. The secretary spoke to Mr. K on the intercom, then asked me to enter Mr. K’s room. Mr. K was in a meeting with 3 other persons. He requested them to wait outside for a few minutes and chatted with me for about 10 minutes over a cup of coffee.

I was touched by Mr. K’s gesture! I was a young person in the early stages of my career, while he was a very highly-placed person who had absolutely nothing to gain by being nice to me.

That cup of coffee was the beginning of a long friendship between Mr. K’s family and mine.

Today is Mr. K’s 81st birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mr. K! May you have many more!!
Thank you for that cup of coffee.
It really meant a lot to me.

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Vijay Merchant: a great cricketer, a great human being, and a Proactive Indian!

Vijay Merchant during the England - All India test match at Old Trafford, 25th July 1936. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Vijay Merchant during the England – All India test match at Old Trafford, 25th July 1936. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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.

Vijay Merchant, 1987 (Source: asianwindow.com)

Vijay Merchant, 1987
(Source: asianwindow.com)

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!”

Mr. Vijay Merchant's letterTwo 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!