Sep 24, 2013

"The False Charge" from Sermons in the Stroms

Whenever something good or bad is to happen, all the incidental and relative circumstances somehow present themselves and the event comes to pass.
Here is a true incident which depicts the above truth.
Once I was going to Agra by train and accommodation was reserved for me in the sleeping coach. The journey commenced from Bombay after sunset.
Generally, the space between two berths in three tier sleeping coaches is so low that upright sitting is not possible when the upper berth is in use; and since the third class compartments are very seldom treated with insecticides, bugs were plentiful in our coach. As such, I could neither sit nor recline on my berth. That apart, that night's stomach disorder also kept me awake— making me pace up-down the compartment. As for the others who were fast asleep by the time the train reached Bulsar, either they were used to bug-bites or the bugs weren't used to bad blood.
On the following morning, the train was nearing Ratlam station. Most of the passengers woke up and were getting ready for tea and breakfast. A gentleman occupying the lower berth facing that of mine, also got up. After some time, he announced that his money was lost.
On being asked by some passengers, the gentleman informed that Rs. 14/- made up of two fivers and four one rupee notes which he had kept in the left pocket of his pyjama was missing and that he suspected me of the theft. Continuing further, he truthfully said that I was the lone passenger who did not sleep that night but was found moving about in the compartment many a time. He also suggested that other passengers may as well make sure that none of their things were missing.
 Some handful of passengers thronged near me and wanted to know what I had to say to the charge. I plainly told them that I knew nothing about the amount and the theft. Explaining my voluntary wakefulness during the night, I told them that fear of bug-bites and bad belly kept me out of my berth and moving about.

With fixed certitude, that gentleman maintained that by no other way but through my stealing alone could he have lost his money and demanded to search me.
Some passengers asked me as to how much money I had on my person. I did not know how much exactly I had, but felt that I might be having about Rs. 20/- or so in my pockets and another Rs. 300/- in hundred-rupee notes placed elsewhere in my baggage. Telling them so, unhesitatingly I offered myself to be searched.
Thereupon, one among the passengers searched me thoroughly and to the surprise and annoyance of everyone, two five-rupee notes and four one rupee notes plus a little change was brought out of my pocket.
To my good fortune, however, I was not roughly handled. All the passengers in one voice asked the gentleman to hand me over to the Police at the Ratlam station which we were then nearing.
With my baggage, I was taken to the Railway Police Station at the Ratlam station by four passengers among whom were the gentleman who had lost his money and the person who searched me.
The Police Officer-in-Charge there calmly heard the case of the complainant and civilly interrogated me with his head held high. From my statement, general demeanor and the indubitable references which I furnished, the Police Officer was satisfied of my innocence. But in the face of the strong circumstantial evidence, he could himself do nothing. Ultimately he asked the complainant if he wished to pursue the case. On being told in the affirmative, the Police Officer asked the complainant and his witnesses to break their journey at that station and submit a formal written complaint and statements. He also told them that, the amount found on my person would be retained by the Police as an exhibit to be produced in the Judicial Court when the case came up for hearing.
The complainant informed the Officer that he was on an urgent business trip and that it was necessary that he went by that very train. Because he had none, he also wanted the money for his immediate use.
Informing me that I could obviate the privations of a protracted police prosecution. The Police Officer advised me to forego the amount of Rs. 14/-. Feeling that it would be prudent to do so. I readily agreed to the money being given away to the complainant and we resumed the journey.
On the way, many passengers joined the complainant in calling me names and saying so many things full of slander, satire and sarcasm -with shameful satiety.
On reaching Mathura, I changed the train for Agra, The complainant also did the same. He got down at Agra City. My host received me at Agra Cantonment and motored me home.
That complainant—I previously knew not -happened to be a good friend of my host and on the following day he casually called on him. In the course of their talks, my host said to him "we have a Swamiji at our place as a guest; it would delight you to meet him." In a contemptuous tone that complainant gentleman narrated his bad experience of the journey and said that he was not interested in meeting any Sadhu. Whereupon, my host, not knowing that I was the very Sadhu whom his friend had just referred to, persuasively said, 'Now friend, look, just because a Sadhu turned out to be bad, to hold on that flimsy grounds that all Sadhus are so, isn't a wise view. Come with me, you will presently see for yourself that this Swamiji at our place belongs to a honorable and venerable class." With reluctance that gentleman consented to come.
At that time, I was conversing with some devotees in a closed room. There was a knock on the door just then and I caused it to be opened. On its threshold stood my host and the complainant. No sooner he saw me, with his face turned towards my host he bawled out in exasperation 'THIS IS THE VERY SCOUNDREL'. This rash remark riddled all and my host who was obviously hurt asked me as to what had happened. Excepting the theft which was wrongly pinned on to me, the strange incident of the train was true in every detail, said I. After everyone dispersed, I joined my host for lunch.
Now, the actual facts of the case as they later turned out to be, as, the gentleman in question had changed his pyjama in the train before its departure from Bombay. While doing so, he forgot to remove the fourteen rupees which was in its pockets. But even then, he somehow mentally maintained that he had taken out and placed the amount in one of the pockets of the pyjama which he had changed into.
So, naturally, when in the morning he put his hands in the pockets, the money was not found. He searched the small hold-all—his only luggage but cared not to re-search, the pyjama as he was cocksure of having removed the cash from it.
Though the complainant had no cause for grudge or animosity with me, yet, the seemingly suspicious behavior of mine made him accuse me. The most wondrous part of it all was, by a slip of tongue he claimed to have lost two fivers and four one rupee notes and that in exactitude was found from me. In truth, however, the fourteen rupees in the pyjama happened to be in the denomination of 2 fivers and 2 two rupee notes.
On reaching home, he sent his dirty clothes for washing. Normally, before the clothes are clipped into the water, the dhobies search all the pieces having pockets to make sure that nothing is therein. In case they find small items like buttons, buckles, bows, pins, combs, handkerchiefs and such other cheap things, they make a note of them and honestly return them to the respective owners at the time of delivering the clothes. But should they find money or valuables, they slyly pocket them. This is the popular honesty of the dhobies.
To my good luck and perhaps also to teach a good lesson to the complainant, the pyjama containing the money was straightaway washed, dried and subsequently pressed also without being searched and delivered to the gentleman on the third day.
On wearing that pyjama, the complainant found some crumpled bits of paper which when he pulled, out turned out to be the remains of the washed out and ironed 2 five-rupee notes and 2 two-rupee notes which he had wrongly supposed were stolen by me. The whole truth flashed to him.
Immediately he called on my host, told him the whole thing, came to me and entreated me to forgive him for his hasty and thoughtless action.
Best of us at times act in haste and thereafter reap worry and waste. But what particularly pleased me was the praiseworthy fair-play and moral courage of the complainant gentleman who openly revealed the entire truth and admitted his lapse ruefully at the cost of sharp rebukes from my host and others.