In his recent “Across the Palk Straits” column (The Sunday Times, October 5), Kuldip Nayar wrote about India's forgotten hero Lal Bahadur Shastri, the third prime minister of independent India. In his article, he touched on Shastri’s great humility and simple way of life.
There is a story about Shastri that is worth repeating, especially at a time when making money and still more money by hook or by crook has become the be-all and end-all for most of our people, especially those in high places.
When Shastri was a volunteer worker in the Indian National Congress, before Independence, he was paid a monthly allowance of Rs. 25. The sum was later increased to Rs. 30.
One day a good friend asked Shastri for a loan of Rs. 25 for an urgent matter. Shastri had no savings.
He would give his entire monthly allowance to his wife to run the house. With great regret, Shastri told his friend he could not help him in his hour of need. When the disappointed friend left the house, Shastri’s wife, who had overheard the conversation, told Shastri that she had Rs. 30 saved, and that she could spare Rs. 25. Shastri ran after his friend and called him back and gave him the money his wife had offered.
Shastri later asked his wife how it was that she had money saved, when the family was struggling to make ends meet with the little money he gave her every month.
She replied that from the time Shastri’s monthly allowance went up from Rs. 25 to Rs. 30, she started saving the extra Rs. 5, and somehow managed with Rs. 25, as before. The next day, when Shastri went to the Congress office, the first thing he did was instruct those in charge of payments to go back to paying him his original Rs. 25 allowance, saying his wife had been able to manage on Rs. 25 for six months!
Later, when Shastri was Minister of Railways and there was a train disaster, he took responsibility for the incident and gave up his minister’s portfolio.
With the news so full of frauds and swindles and general dishonesty at every level, it is good to be reminded of honest and honourable people like the great Indian statesman, Lal Bahadur Shastri.