Several years ago, I had a colleague, one Mr AKS, whom I might call a compulsive borrower. But I am a bit hesitant to describe him as such because a ‘borrower’ is supposed to give back whatever he has taken. It was money in this case which he never returned.
AKS had a robust physique and a vibrant voice. He was regularly drawing his salary like all others and appeared content and happy leading a middle class person’s life. But he had a typical craving for money so he devised a novel method to make an extra buck that did not involve any additional physical or mental labour. The modus operandi AKS had developed had become a talking point in the social and mid-level bureaucratic circles where he moved.
It was plain and simple: He would ask a municipal engineer or some other official, “Can you please lend me Rs20 (Dh1.14)? I will return it in the first week
of the next month after I get my salary.” However, the first week never came.
The amount being so small, nobody grudged “lending’’ it. Thinking that the guy had perhaps fallen short of funds so there was no harm in doling their bit to help him out. But little did they know that the fellow had collected so many ‘Rs20’ since morning. Assuming he only preyed on five people daily, the amount was not trivial in the 1970s. The beauty lay in the fact that he never asked for a rupee more. If somebody gave him a currency note of Rs50 or Rs100 denomination, he would honestly give him the balance and accept only Rs20. I had heard about his ‘borrow and forget’ habit in the late 1970s when we were working in different organisations. At first I could not believe it and dismissed it as a ‘good joke’. But around 1980, when I switched over to the organisation where AKS worked, I found it was true, though it was quite embarrassing for people like me. However, interestingly when I came in contact with AKS, I found that even after so many years, his demand remained pegged at Rs20. Even when the price index was rising, leading the working class to agitate for a hike in their wages, my friend did not hike his demand.
I must say it was a very thoughtful strategy of my friend. It worked successfully and paid off with fairly good returns. In fact, the magical amount of Rs20 being insignificant, many lenders just forgot about it — to the great advantage of my friend. That encouraged him to go on his daily errand unhindered. He never felt shy of it for after all he was only “borrowing’’ a “petty’’ amount which he always promised to return in the first week of the next month.
A stage came when he asked for the cash almost mechanically, even if he did not require it at that point of time.
As a result, many of the regular victims reconciled with the situation treating it as an inevitable and unavoidable happening. I noticed some persons keeping Rs20 ready the moment they spotted AKS coming towards them. Someone would whisper, “Lo, here he comes’’. The funny thing was that no lender ever reminded my friend of his promise to return the amount on the first of the next month. They treated the amount as ‘gone’ and then gave the same amount again.
One day, I gathered the courage to tell AKS that I did not approve of his ways even when I was moving with him. Without batting an eyelid he replied, “What’s wrong with it? I don’t ask for charity. I only borrow a small amount to be returned later’’. I was speechless. I know some people are incorrigible.
AKS was an excellent PR man, well versed in the art of winning friends and influencing people. I valued his public relationing skills and he admired my friendship, too, but he was “unsparing in applying his trade tactics’’ even on me. One day, when we were walking together, I took out my purse to pick out a currency note to buy something. I noticed AKS peeping into my wallet. I knew what was coming now. I could not have said ‘No’ to him. So, while counting my currency, I told AKS that I had to buy something but had fallen short of money. I asked him bluntly, “Can you lend me Rs20?’’
AKS was flabbergasted. He blurted, “Oye, oye what are you talking? In fact, I was going to ask you if you could lend me Rs20’’. I closed my wallet and pocketed it. I saved Rs20 that day.
Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.