My recollection of my grandfather is hazy since he passed away a soon after I was born. Quite tall and broad-shouldered, he was a ‘gentle giant’. Due to his father’s premature death in a shooting accident, he had to abandon his dreams and take up the job of a clerk offered by the government. He rose to the position of head clerk in the Collectorate. Despite his limited means and a large brood of children, his emphasis on their education never wavered. He even sold whatever land he possessed. In a case in the Small Causes Court relating to a loan he had incurred for financing his children’s education, the judge asked him to record his assets which could be attached. With a detached look he submitted before the court, “My Lord, my sons are my only assets!”
My grandfather had not completed matriculation (a rare achievement in those days), but he could hold his own when it came to the nuances of the English language. It was in this context that he happened to cross swords with his superior, the collector, who was an ICS luminary and one of God’s chosen few. In a draft note prepared by the head clerk, i.e. my grandfather, and put up to the collector, there was a mention of an expenditure of Rs 40. The amount was also written in words as ‘forty rupees’. When the approved draft came back, the collector had struck out the amount in words and written ‘fourty rupees’ in its place. Much against the counsel of his nervous colleagues, my grandfather overrode the collector’s spelling in the final note and restored ‘forty rupees’ to its rightful place. As expected, promptly summons came and the head clerk was given a dressing down on the pitfalls and possible consequences of insubordination. “I’m giving you a reprieve this time,” the supremo concluded, “considering your excellent track record. But there should be no repeat of such foolhardiness!” Grandfather came out without uttering a word. He was unperturbed, unfazed.
Next morning, the entire office was abuzz. The staff got the surprise of their lives when the note in question came out without ‘forty’ being censored to ‘fourty’. Once again grandfather was asked to go inside. This time the collector stood up and said, “I’m sorry, Mr Pati. I checked the spelling of ‘forty’ in the dictionary. You are correct.” For a moment two ‘courageous’ men stood looking at each other — one in authority who had the decency to swallow his pride, and the other a subordinate who had the audacity to defy that authority for a right cause. The respect the collector developed for his head clerk turned a full circle when I married his granddaughter. He had retired by then, but still remembered Mr Pati, his erstwhile head clerk of ages ago.