The Missing Flour
Aparigraha Story 2
When I was a child we always had plenty of food. The servants too were well fed, but some of them came from families who were not. This was something of a problem for my father. He did not like to think of the brothers and sisters of our servants going hungry. He used to be generous with the sacks of meal that he allowed them to take home. He knew that their families needed help, but the problem did not end there. Each of the families had other contacts; aunts, uncles and in-laws, the number of mouths to feed was apparently infinite, but my father had limited resources.
In order to be fair and to try to cope with this problem in a way that could be afforded by our household, Father was strict about exactly how many sacks of flour or meal could be distributed amongst the servants’ families. “After all, everyone is related to someone else and I cannot be responsible for feeding the whole neighbourhood!” he would say.
This he made clear to the servants. They nodded their heads in agreement and appeared to understand the situation.
It was my mother’s job to keep a record of the number of sacks in the storeroom and to give out the servants’ supplies each week. One day she found herself counting the storeroom sacks a second time, and a third. This room was never locked and normally no problems of theft occurred, but on this occasion two sacks of meal were missing. Mother reported the loss to Father on his return from the temple.
“ Have you asked the servants where the extra sacks are?” enquired father. “No, Dear, I thought that if someone had been stealing they would not tell me if I asked.”
“We must not assume the worst,” replied my father, “Let us go and investigate.”
So saying he and Mother swept off to the storeroom closely followed by my sister Usha and me. This was getting interesting!
“I notice that the ones that are missing are those sacks from the red pile,” said Father. “They were the second grade stores. Now where could they be? Let us summon the servants.”
We had five people working for us at that time. I had to run and fetch them all from the garden, the cowshed and the kitchen. They all stood in a row outside the food store. Father asked them about the sacks. One of the men began to shuffle his feet. He was a large soft man, recently employed to look after the cattle.
“I can explain, Sir, I know where the sacks are. I thought you wouldn’t mind Sir, since we take our meals with you. My problem is that I can never eat with the others as I am too busy with the cattle, so I make my own food, Sir, and I eat in the cowshed.”
“Ah, I remember,“ said Father. “You were always eating when everyone else had finished. You always had one more chapati than everyone else did, and they teased you on account of it. Ramesh told me all about it. Unfortunately he listens to the servants’ gossip… So this is how you have solved the problem of your greed? Eating in secret, I see.”
The man looked very embarrassed. “ I am sorry, Sir. I was always hungry as a child. Now when I have food available I feel compelled to eat as much as I can.”
The other servants laughed.
“You don’t need to do that anymore, my friend,” said Arundada, the wise old gardener. “In this household you will always have enough. Master is generous. You do not need to be greedy. Give back your flour straight away and think of some jokes to tell us at dinnertime. Make sure you wash your hands, though, we don’t want the smell of cows to spoil our meal!”
My father smiled and nodded. There was nothing more to say. Over the next few weeks the cowman became less flabby looking and more relaxed. He started to tell jokes and stories and enjoyed his shared meals with the other servants. He had let go of his greed.
Some questions to ask yourself:
When people are greedy, what happens to
- Their bodies?
- Their health?
- Their appearance?
- Their ‘ feel-good factor’? (You might call this self-esteem.)
- Other people’s attitude towards them?
Looking at greed for possessions such as we see in the West, and all over the world in certain sections of society, how do you think people feel when they are never satisfied with the things they have?
How does it feel to constantly compare yourself to other people who have more than you?
What signs have you noticed that show you how wasteful we are?
If we multiply up all the greed and say ‘If a country is greedy, who goes without?’ Just think about it. Answers are not simple.
Turn to Section 2 to read more about the importance of understanding about greed of both kinds.