Saturday, November 28, 2009

A man of substance

Meet Sadashiv Chandrakanth Khodke. His life was turned upside down, exactly one year ago, when the despicable scum called terrorists attacked Mumbai. I heard his tale on a BBC podcast and it touched me – and it’s the subject of this Sunday’s non business post.

Sadashiv was a waiter in a restaurant, holding a steady job. His misfortune was that he was in VT station at exactly the wrong time. He was injured in the shooting and his life turned in an instant. He was taken to a hospital and operated upon to remove shrapnel lodged in his chest. The operation was successful, but he had to spend a long time in hospital and then in recuperation.

It is usual to blame the government for apathy when it comes to disaster victims. I actually think this is often a completely erroneous accusation. The government does do a lot – many a time its just that the scale of the tragedy is simply too big. In Sadashiv’s case, they did all they could. They didn’t charge him for the treatment. Even when he was in the hospital, the Railways and the Maharashtra Government came and gave him Rs 50,000 each in compensation. No red tape, no running around.

But then what happened is the real tragedy. One of his relatives, from whom he had borrowed money earlier, came to the hospital, while he was still there and took away the money that was due to him from the compensation amount. Consider for a moment, how crassly insensitive this was. Here was a man in a hospital bed recovering from being shot by a terrorist and what does his so called relative do ? Take away some of his money.

This is unfortunately not atypical behaviour. I have heard of appalling acts of callousness, motivated by money, even in the face of disasters. It makes you sometimes wonder whether humanity is a rare quality in human beings .

Sadashiv’s misery did not end there. He was in hospital for a month and was fit to go back to work only after six months. When he went back to his restaurant, he was told he had no job. In his absence, the restaurant owner had taken somebody else. Tough luck !

While I can understand the business logic of not being able to wait 6 months for somebody to come back, where is the heart of a businessman, however small he may be, who sacks a guy because he couldn’t come to work after being shot by a terrorist. Public opinion often criticizes the rich and successful businessmen. I submit that insensitivity is not the monopoly of big business. There are inhuman human beings across every spectrum of life.

Sadashiv is now running his own tea stall on the pavement somewhere in Mumbai. He has lost his home – so sleeps on the footpath like thousands of Mumbaikars. He is in debt. He is not able to send much money to his family back in the village.

But listen about Sadashiv on this brief BBC podcast. There doesn’t seem to be much bitterness. He lays his faith in God. He does not complain about his ill fortune. He says God saved him and is thankful for this blessing. He is working hard to earn a living. Its tough to make ends meet running a tea stall on the pavement. But he is giving it his best shot. He serves with a smile.

Sadashiv Chandrakanth Khodke – you are truly a human being to be admired. To my mind, you are the Businessman of the Year. If I ever get to find you on the streets of Mumbai, it shall be my privilege to be your customer and have a cup of tea from you. The fates dealt you a cruel blow on that day a year ago. I pray that they also deal you a kind hand in the future.