By Roshan Shah
Roshan Shah finds an ingenious and compassionate solution to the vexing problem of loaning money to supplicants
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry
(Polonius, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet)
I could make out from the way he walked up towards me and his smile that he wanted to borrow some money. Immediately – and before he could say a word – I told myself: “You have to say NO if you don’t want to be taken for a ride yet again. If he doesn’t return the money – which seems likelier than that he will – you’ll end up resenting him for the rest of your life. Why spoil things between the two of you? Remember Raja? He borrowed 500 rupees from you a month ago and seems to have conveniently forgotten all about it. Think of how that still rankles in your mind, how it has ruined your relationship with him. Say NO to Shanu, as politely but as firmly as you can. You really have to learn to say ‘no’ when you don’t want to say ‘yes’.”
All these words raced through my mind in just a few seconds as Shanu drew up to me and said, “Sir, can I borrow Rs 500? I’ll return it tomorrow.”
It was with great difficulty that I forced myself to say ‘no’ to him. After all, Shanu is a daily-wage labourer and has three children and a wife to feed, and earns just a tiny fraction of what I do.
I really wasn’t sure that I wanted to turn down his request, though.
“What if he really needs it, for an emergency?” I thought soon after I refused him.
“But why should he ask me for the money?” I quickly countered myself. “Can’t he take a loan from the office? I’m sure they won’t refuse – not a mere Rs 500. And, then, what if it’s not really an emergency? He may just drink up the money or waste it on something equally useless.”
“Poor man, he’s humbling himself by asking you for a loan,” a voice inside me retorted. “Why would he demean himself like that without a genuine reason?”
“But what if he doesn’t return the money – just like Raja did last month?” another voice boomed. “I agree 500 rupees isn’t an enormous sum, but if he doesn’t return the money you’ll think he’s a cheat and a crook and you’ll begin to hate him. Not worth it at all! Just say NO again.’”
“Why do you think he might cheat you? Maybe that’s just a projection of your own crooked self. A cheat thinks that everyone is just like him – devious and dishonest,” another voice interrupted. “You think you’re a big saint or what? As if you’ve never cheated anyone! What about the big bucks you made with the fake bills you manufactured when you were doing all those so-called research projects? What about all those fake smiles you give people when inside you’re snarling at them? Isn’t that also cheating? You conveniently forget all that and condemn this poor man, and that too without any evidence. As if you’re an angel or something!”
Meanwhile, Shanu stood in front of me as I fumbled about, perhaps thinking I might change my decision.
I couldn’t get to look at him in the eye. It was painfully embarrassing.
I stared down at my feet and stuttered, “Sorry, Shanu. The thing is that I just don’t like lending money.”
Saying that, I headed towards my room.
That didn’t settle the matter, though. I had just finished congratulating myself on taking a bold decision and saying NO when I began quarrelling with myself:
“What you did was just disgusting! Turning down a poor man for just Rs 500! You’ve read and heard that God comes in the form of a beggar sometimes – you keep writing and preaching and moralising about such things – and what if you’ve actually turned God away? You miserable hypocrite, you’re so attached to your money!”
I tried to drive the voice away, but it refused to shut up. Instead, it became even more strident:
“How do you know that it wasn’t for some real emergency that Shanu asked you for the money? How do you know he wouldn’t have returned it? Who are you to judge him, to assume things about him? Go and give him the money this very moment! Who knows what sadness you’ve caused him already, and every moment you delay in going to him will cause him even more pain. Go right at once, I say!”
I couldn’t refuse that voice any longer. I rushed up to my room, took out the money from the cupboard, sped down the stairs and, finding Shanu, handed the money to him.
Shanu was probably shocked at my sudden turnaround but he didn’t show it. “Thank you very much, sir,” he said. “My daughter’s unwell. I need to buy medicine for her. I’ll give you the money tomorrow.”
“Oh, I hope she gets well right away,” I replied, at the same time as I said to myself: “How disgusting of you, thinking he was asking you for money to have a drink!”
“I’ll return the money tomorrow,” Shanu repeated as he tucked the note into his pocket.
“There’s no need to return it, Shanu,” I heard myself say.
Without any effort on my part and with no thinking about it at all, I went on, “As I said before, I don’t like lending money. Instead of returning the money to me, if you find someone else in need sometime, you can, if you wish, give the money to him. And, you can ask him to do the same if he likes when he meets another person in need. And so on.”
The words came out of my mouth without any planning at all. It was as if I had no control over them. But as the words unfolded, I knew that they were exactly what I should be saying.
Shanu thought it was a brilliant idea. He shook my hand and went off, leaving me to marvel at my ingenuity.
“What a wonderful solution you devised, and all so spontaneously!” I congratulated myself. “Really clever of you! Shanu now doesn’t need to return the money, and so you don’t have to feel resentful if he doesn’t. Moreover, he doesn’t need to feel beholden to you, because he can, if he likes, pass on the money to someone else. And so, he doesn‘t have to feel that he’s taken something for free.”
The clever solution that I had chanced upon had another wonderful thing about it, I discovered: by passing on the money to someone else in need, Shanu could feel that even though he was poor, he, too, could financially help someone. And that someone could feel the same way, too, if he did likewise. And so on and on, with the money passing on to who knows how many people!
“Wow! What a really long chain of goodness that small sum of money might be able to produce!” I beamed at myself. “How much spiritual merit a little good deed might bring about for so many people!”
“Roshan darling,” I hugged myself and said, “Sometimes, you can be really quite inventive!”
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