From the pages of legends with the clearest of conscience

P Gopakumar


Legend has it that late one evening the great Greek traveller, Megasthenes, called on Chanakya. As the statesman was busy writing something official by the light of an oil lamp, the visitor was asked to wait. As soon as the job was complete, Chanakya put out the lamp. He then took out another and lit it. Realising the question on the envoy’s face, the reason given was, “Till now, I was executing official duties. The lamp and oil were out of state funds. Now that I am attending to you in my personal capacity, it is only proper that I use items obtained of my own funds.”The incident tells us that ethics and rules were not without a place even in the ancient times. We were told classic stories in primary schools not as a part of the curriculum but to enthuse students and teach values. Mr Verghese, our teacher in the fifth standard, once came up with a very strange example. That day he launched into a sermon on character and the moral fibre of people in other lands.

“Do you know that when student protestors in Germany want to set fire to a railway station, they first buy platform tickets?” After a pause, he asked us what might be the reason. Since no reply was forthcoming, he explained, “It is because they’re law-abiding citizens up to that point of time.”Fear of being caned for rudeness prevented smart Alecks from countering, “Sir, what is law-abiding in their subsequent act?” Since then I have witnessed or heard of other instances of people insisting on going by the book.

A tale, perhaps apocryphal, concerns a mechanic in the automobile plant of a corporate giant. One day, as part of his duties, this gentleman proceeded from one shop floor to another on his bicycle. That evening, the moment he emerged from the factory gates on his way home, he deflated the tyre of his bicycle. He then pushed the vehicle to the nearest repair shop located some half a kilometre away.

To a company executive who was witness to this apparently quaint behaviour, the mechanic explained, “Sir, I got the air filled at the factory air pump so I might perform my duties conveniently. Now that I am going home, I do not think it proper to utilise the company air for my personal use.” It is said that later that year the company honoured the employee for his honesty and uprightness.In an era where instances of misuse of pubic funds keep surfacing, it is refreshing to hear such tales.