D Subramaniam Iyer, hailing from a middle class conservative family from Karur, a charming little town, rather a glorified village of yore, now famous for textiles and an eponymous bank to boot, is an erudite person, knowledgeable in spirituality and science. He had consciously taken up the profession of a priest to serve temples and homes with the objective of spreading India’s ancient scriptures, scientific thought and wisdom. It was not just about the Hindu scriptures, but also about the texts and teachings of Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrian and Jewish in which he was proficient. Subbu, a fond moniker used by his family and friends, was secular and syncretic at heart in all the talk and the walk and could hold forth unequivocally and unbiased at any debates across religion forums. Not just him, his two siblings, a younger brother and a sister, were equally wise and adept at these, though they went off to corporate careers to earn their fame and fortunes. His great grandfather and family had migrated in circa 1905 to the de rigueur city of commerce and opportunities, then called Bombay. His grandfather had found a job in a well-known cotton mill of those days, run by the British and had settled down in the sylvan and shaded suburb of Chembur, a bastion of the South Indian families in those days. He had ensured that his children got the best of education from well-regarded schools/institutes, believing firmly that there can be no better investment.
Subbu was different from his growing up days, unlike his two siblings. Like his father, Subbu too believed that the real growth of a person lies in the traverse from education to knowledge to wisdom and the extent to which one can share that wisdom for societal transformation. He had been greatly influenced by his virtuous great grandfather, who was a well-regarded ‘vadhiyar’ ( a priest ) in the community and by the simple living of his own father, a practising chartered accountant of high integrity and his mother, a loving homemaker famous for her heart-warming generosity and cuisines.
Subbu was frugality personified and saw nature holistically as a sharable and preservable cosmic gift. He never compared himself with anyone nor did he ever rue his financial condition with the firm belief that the divine will provide him with enough sustenance to manage life. So it was, the temple management and his patrons for whom he performed religious rituals and ceremonies were relatively generous in their ‘dakshina’ to him and he somehow managed providing for his family, nary a wrinkle or a furrow on his forehead. After all he had a roof over his head, courtesy the prescience of his father, and a loving family in his wife, Ranjana and two gifted children, Raghavan and Ragini. Like his father, Subbu too managed to secure and ensure some good foundational education for his two children who were about to finish their college graduation and looking forward to post graduation programmes abroad. Little did the children realise that while Subbu and Ranjana could manage their children’s basic education, they had no resources to fund their expensive overseas studies. Neither did it ever occur to the simple living and high thinking couple that their children would want to take wings and cross the seven seas. Their firm belief was that India had enough to offer to every aspirant. After all, did not Subbu’s two siblings make a mark for themselves in India, having passed the best of the competitive examinations and making a mark in their envious careers?
Subbu and Ranjana were pensive, as they sat in their sunny balcony on a Sunday morning, quaffing the ubiquitous filter coffee and discussing how to cope with their current situation and satisfy their children’s dreams. It was daunting to say the least. They personally were very happy with their lot and have had a wonderful life of limited needs and manageable wants. Their children too had been happy and contented and excelled in their studies, but of late had started thinking differently about the paths they want to tread and experience life beyond the borders of Mumbai and the shores of India. The fact is also that neither Subbu nor Ranjana were comfortable asking anyone for help or financial support knowing fully well that they will never be able to repay it. They believed firmly that no one should pass with unpaid debts.
In this state of helplessness, Subbu could not help recalling and sharing with Ranjana the story of his grandfather that his father had often recounted to him in his childhood. His grandfather was apparently holding an important position in the mill that he was employed in and the chief manager had entrusted him the job of scrutinising all cotton purchases for their quality and quantity and passing the invoices for payment only after ascertainment. As a necessary internal process, the mill had three suppliers for the purchase of the cotton. One of the vendors was a person named Iman who had founded Iman Cotton Enterprises and had been supplying cotton to some of the best known mills of those times including the one where Subbu’s grandfather worked.
Iman was an adventurous trader and was financially highly geared. Because of this, he always chased his clients for early payments so that he could turn around his cash flows faster and trade more. Iman in the course of his dealing with the mill had developed a bond with Subbu’s grandfather. Iman knew that Subbu’s grandfather was a very principled man and would not do anything out of turn or out of process and all his actions were merit based. Many times, due to the cash flow pressures, Iman would often approach Subbu’s grandfather and badger him for early payments. At times, Iman had also gone to the extent of offering him a percentage of the payment, as a quid pro quo. Subbu’s grandfather was much agitated at this, but never accepted the offer, as a firm believer in ethics and integrity. He was very happy with the salary that the mill paid him. But he never wrote off Iman as unscrupulous since the quality of his cotton supply was impeccable and as per the specifications and the quantity supplied was always a bit more, never less than what was invoiced. This quality had gained Iman the immense respect of most of his clients, including Subbu’s grandfather and would perhaps explain his successful business expansion and diversification. With an intent to help Iman, Subbu’s grandfather had in fact approached his superiors to agree to an early payment discount, which benefitted the mill as also met Iman’s cash flow needs of the hour.
Soon, Iman’s respect and regard for Subbu’s grandfather grew and a close bond developed between the two families, continuing down the generations. The fact that Iman’s family had flourished and grown ultra-rich over the decades, did not come in the way of their close relationship with the Iyer family. Iman’s grandson, Imran, was a contemporary of Subbu and his siblings, and was now the head of the Iman Group of Companies, which had presence in India and abroad. He maintained a close friendship with Subbu and his family and the mutual relationship was one of deep respect and love.
Imran too had heard from his father about his grandfather, Iman and Subbu’s grandfather’s deep friendship that developed as a result of the latter’s professionalism and integrity at throwing away an opportunity to grow rich by refusing outright Iman’s offer of commission for every payment cleared and instead helping him with official early payments to fuel his expansion. Iman had been deeply touched and attributed his growing wealth to Subbu’s grandfather’s integrity and honesty of purpose. Iman had kept an account of all the payments that Subbu’s grandfather had cleared in the course of his service tenor at the mill. The amounts cleared ran into several crores of rupees and the commission that Iman had offered Subbu’s grandfather, but was refused, would have run into thousands of rupees, a princely sum in those days. Iman had kept an account of this and every year he would keep aside an equivalent amount, in denominations of Rs. 1,000, many of them of the British India rule, issued during King George V’s rule and King George VI’s rule, and some of the Indian Republic’s early period, in a large sealed envelope with a hand written note. Rich as Iman’s family was, none ever bothered or remembered the envelope and it was lying somewhere in one of their many bank lockers and passed down the generations.
As Subbu and Ranjana were ruminating, they heard a doorbell and in walks Imran and his wife, Aaliya, with their customary box of sweets. Truth be told, Imran and his family loved the tasty idli and sambhar made by Ranjana and welcomed themselves to the Iyer’s spartan home to partake of the sumptuous breakfast, as often as possible. It was their way of going light once a week and what better than idli on an idle Sunday at their close friend’s home, followed by the aromatic filter coffee. Subbu’s and Ranjana’s pensiveness was not lost on Imran or his wife; they knew from their own children about Raghavan and Ragini’s wish for overseas studies and it was not difficult to put two and two together to understand and empathise with the Iyer’s worries.
After a hearty brunch, Imran and Aaliya left the Iyer’s home and on their way back home were discussing how to help their friends, knowing fully well that the Iyers will be loath to seek any help. They went to their bank the very next day and were going through their four safe deposit lockers to select a few and valuable heritage jewellery out of the collection that Iman family had collected over the decades, with a view to raise some monies. As they were rummaging through the lockers and the many jewellery, they came across an old sealed envelope. Imran and Aaliya opened the envelope to find a note in Urdu that his grandfather, Iman, had written decades ago. As they read the note, incredulity and smile spread on their visages and they were visibly moved. They immediately knew what needed to be done. They put the old envelope in a sealed pouch and couriered it to the Iyer’s home.
Subbu and Ranjana received the courier the next day at lunch. With much curiosity they opened the envelope and were shocked to see the wad of crisp old Rs.1, 000 notes from the British India era and the early Republic India times. Since Subbu was well versed in Urdu, he could understand what Iman’s note said. Essentially, it was extolling Subbu’s grandfather’s integrity and simplicity and attributing his own business empire’s success to the good intent and wishes of Subbu’s grandfather. Iman’s intent was to keep these notes aside for the Iyer family, should it ever be required by them for any just cause. As it turns out, the Iyer family found out that the old numismatic notes were worth a huge fortune of over Rs. 60 million, many times over the overseas education expenses of Raghavan and Ragini. Subbu and Ranjana could only wonder and marvel at the divine intervention at the right time via the munificent Iman family. They sauntered out for a visit to the temple and to Imran and Aaliya’s abode of love for a warm tete-a-tete over a phirni. God does pay unexpected visits to the conscientious mortals in immortal ways.