One Rupee Ethics

Dec 8, 2005

It's a common phenomena in India. You hop in a three-wheeler rickshaw, to get from one doorstep to another. And the rickshaw charges you an extra rupee or two, or more.

Now, incomes of city-goers (in all strata of society) are usually far lower than their perceived needs, and enveloped in this sphere of insecurity and fear, people are always enterprising new ways to make more money ... even if those new methods of getting that extra cash involve some corruption, some lying, some stealing. "Everyone does it and so why not me? Otherwise, me and mine will just get left behind in this man-eat-man world," people rationalize to themselves.

And rickshaw drivers are no exception. Unfortunately for them, their ethical breakdown is very visible and prominent in the public eye. It's not always easy to like them and that, for me, is always a challenge I'm up for.

The other day, Guri and I went on a routine rickshaw ride. The driver says, "10 rupees." I know it should've been eight so I tell the guy, "Are you sure?" He rudely retorts, "Yeah, ten." I ask him again, "Is it really 10?" With a impatient anger, he says, "Didn't I already tell you?"

I hand over a ten. I peer through the front of the rickshaw, look inside and whispher to him, "You know, I don't want those extra 2 rupees you're after. But I don't think you want it either." He's a bit taken back, so I continue: "You cheat me today and your left pocket has two extra rupees. Tomorrow, someone else will cheat your own right pocket and it'll all be even in God's mathematics. This is not about me versus you. It is about you versus you. You choose the games you want to play." Having suffered through my own gross forms of greed and insecurity, there is a strong sense of confidence in my voice and a geniune wish for the rickshaw driver's well being.

The driver starts his rickshaw, as I smile and turn around to catch up with Guri (who is all too familiar with my ongoing antics :)). He sincerely heard me, so I am content with our interaction.

Just then, he calls out to me, "Sir!" I glance back. His hand goes into the top right pocket of his shirt and manifests a coin. Like a child eager to show off his report card, he holds up the coin and says, "Sir, this is only change I have."

He hands me a one rupee coin, avoids eye contact and rides away.

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