Sunday, February 15, 2015

Two Masala Dosas, please

The frail looking short man entered the restaurant near the bus stand of the district town. He sat on a chair at the corner table and wiped the flowing sweat on his face with the long towel around his neck. The summer heat and stay outdoors since morning had made his appearance a big mess.  The dhoti and shirt he wore were indeed white when purchased from the cloth shop, but due to continuous use in the dusty fields had now turned yellowish orange.  He placed his worn out leather bag on the table and beckoned the waiter boy.  The boy moved casually with a steel tumbler of water, placed it on the table and looked at the man quizzically. "Two Masala Dosas, please" said the man.  "Where is the other person?", asked the waiter.  "There is no other person.  Both dosas are for me.  Put them in the same plate and bring it fast.  I am in a hurry to catch a bus", said the frail man. The boy had not seen anyone order two masala dosas for oneself.  He was surprised. "That would cost two Annas. Do you have the money?", derisively asked the waiter. In those days, fifty years ago (1965), sixteen Annas made a rupee. Though decimal system was introduced in 1957 and a rupee was made up of 100 "Naya Paisa", meaning new paisa, Anna was a common usage for sometime thereafter as well. "Do not worry about the money.  Do your job. Bring the Dosas fast", said the man as he moved to the wash basin in the corner of the hall to wash his face and hands. When he returned to his chair, the boy again looked at him. "Have you ordered the dosas?" asked the man.  "You have not yet shown me the two annas", said the waiter boy.
*****  
Christine Francis was the personal assistant of the owner and Managing Director of the big Hotel.  The hotel was in financial trouble and the owner was unable to get renewal of the mortgage due that week.  Many in the administrative circle of the hotel knew that the hotel may be up for sale.  The owner of a large chain of hotel was arriving that day for discussion and finalization of the purchase. Everyone of the employees, Christine and Assistant General Manager McDermott included, were tense and worried about the continuance of their own employment. On the way to lunch, Christine stopped at the AGM's office and realized that he was seized with many problems at the hotel that had cropped up all at once. One of the problems was that one of the guests was moaning heavily in his room. Having come to know that the name of the guest was Albert Wells, she recalled that he was a regular guest at the hotel.  She remembered the name specifically because during one of his earlier visits, Albert Wells had a complaint about a laundry bill of 75 cents.  He insisted that the bill did not relate to his room.  The supervisor offered to waive the charge with a view to avoid a complaint.  The guest did not accept waiver, but insisted that it be withdrawn properly and not treated as a waiver. On verification of the records, it was found that the bill actually belonged to some other room and was deleted.  Since he was a regular guest at the hotel, Christine offered to check on the guest personally.

When the room was opened with a passkey, it was found that Mr Wells was very sick and unable to breathe due to acute bronchitis. He had very little luggage and modest belongings.  The old man was shifted to this least preferred room by the front office staff to accomodate another guest as Mr Wells would not protest such a change.  The air conditioner of the room was not working properly and the guest became very sick.  Christine acted swiftly, arranged a doctor and got the guest shifted to a better room. Wen the doctor advised hospitalization, Wells did not agree and asked for a attending nurse round the clock.  The nurse was arranged, but Christine was worried about payment of the bills.  On her advice, the credit investigator of the hotel contacted the bank through which earlier payments were received. The bank informed that Mr Wells's cheques would be honored by it.

The old man invited Christine and the AGM for lunch at one of the expensive dining rooms of the hotel, as a gesture of thanking them for their prompt action and arranging for medical aid.  Christine wondered how this man could pay the heavy bill of the restaurant.  On his visits, the old man stayed in modest rooms and his bills were always small.  He was not known to spend on tips and luxuries.  She did not want to burden the host.  She found a way out by contacting the head waiter at the restaurant.  A small bill was to be presented to Mr Wells and the remaining amount to be debited to Christine's account.

*****  
"You have not yet shown me the two annas", said the waiter boy. Summer heat and hunger had made the man tense already.  This derisive comment by the boy infuriated him. "Call your manager or owner.  I want to talk to him", said the man in a high voice.  The boy was now afraid and did not know what to do.  "Dosas will be ready by now.  I will get it fast", he said.  "I do not want dosas now.  I want to talk to your owner", shouted the man. Hearing the commotion in the restaurant hall, the owner of the place came to the table.  "What is the problem, Sir?" asked the owner politely.  "I asked for two masala dosas. Your waiter boy wanted to see my two annas before ordering the dosas.  I now want to buy your hotel. Please fix a price and I am ready", he said.  Before the owner could say something else, he took out the wide belt from his dress.  The belt had many pockets  with wads of currency with them.  He placed them on the table and told the owner, "Cash is ready.  If this is not sufficient, treat this as an advance.  Fix a fair price for this place and tell me the amount.  I will be back with the remaining amount tomorrow morning to conclude the deal", thundered the frail man.

Parappa Basavannappa Patil was short and frail, but he was one of the biggest farmers of the area.  He was also a commission agent and brought the produce from other farmers and by years of hard work had built an empire.  Cotton, Chillies and pulses were his forte.  His appearance was deceptive and he never flashed his status or financial strength.  The owner of the restaurant and others present there profusely apologized and pacified him.
*****

While having lunch with the old man, Christine enquired about his profession and what he did for a living.  When he detailed his life's story, Christine suddenly realized that Mr Wells actually owned a Gold Mine and such other things.  The Assistant General Manager asked, "If you will pardon my curiosity, other things such as what?".  "I am not sure of all of it. There is a couple of newspapers, some ships, an insurance company, buildings and other bits and pieces.  I bought a food chain last year".  The head waiter presented the bill.  The old man looked at it, smiled, signed it off.  He had understood what was the reason behind the small bill. As the startled Christine and AGM stared at the old man, he smiled mischievously and said , "I wanted to tell you tomorrow.  I may as well tell you now.  I just bought this hotel." Then they realized that the old man's frequent visits to the hotel was actually to study its status and strike a deal without anyone suspecting it.
*****      
My father had been on a to a trip to North Karnataka in 1965.  He told Parappa Basavannappa Patil's story to us on his return from the trip.  Christine and Albert Well's story is a part of the famous novel "Hotel" by Arthur Hailey.  This novel was also first published in 1965.  Details differ but the central theme remains the same. In both instances, hotel staff doubted the capacity of the guest to pay the bills.  If arrogance was the underlying feeling in Patil's case, it was compassion in Albert Well's instance.

The message from both stories is simple and straight forward.  A person is not to be judged from his appearance or habits alone.  There are many who lead a simple life despite their affluence.  This also applies to knowledge and scholarship. Those with depth and profound insights may keep a low profile.  Empty vessels often make much more noise!          

14 comments:

  1. VERY NICE SIR .....AFFLUENCE IZ LIKE THIS THT NOBODY HAS THT MUCH AFFFLUENT TO NOTICE ....

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  2. Wonderful story sir....don't judge book by its cover....

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  3. This has a message of good lesson for bankers.May I be permitted to use this as a CASE Study for our students.Your permission is awited.
    B.K.Umesh
    BMSB

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  4. Beautiful! so well compared!we get so much knowledge ....naya paisa...new paisa...it had not struck me. Both Patil and
    well were confident...

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  5. I immensely enjoyed the article. Humility is the hall mark of all great persons. Keep up the good work Murthyji. Raveendran

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  6. They say that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. But today's beholder leaps into deciding before he looks...
    Its a beautiful lesson you've narrated to us, the lesson imperative for a banker to learn, thank you so much Sir.

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  7. Keshav mama, it was on your suggestion that I read Hotel... and I may as well add, it was the first English novel I ever read and it still is one of the best ... a big thank you to you for making me a voracious reader of English books

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  8. In today's world, when everything about a person is judged by his appearance this story gives a strong lesson. At the same time, it lays emphasis on the importance of public image you want to portray. If you want respect or atleast not disrespect or ignorance at very first interaction with a person, be dressed like a person who would demand respect.

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  9. Still waters run deep, Judging someone from appearance could be at one's own peril. Clothes make a man , or so they say, but the same rule evidently does not apply universally.

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  10. Similar story 9is narrated in HOTEL by arthur haily

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  11. a wonderful narration and a very important lesson to be learnt in judging people. Connecting Arthur Hailey's story to the native Basavanna Patil's anecdote was a master stroke by you. Hats off!!

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  12. Simple story effectively and meaningfully nerrated. "THUMBIDA KODA TULUKOLLA" - a saying in Kannda is an apt refrence to both the characters.

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  13. Just amazing! Deep narration of thoughts with simple parables.

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  14. A good lesson for bankers.Thanks for sharing sir.

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